Mark and I spent so much of the last two years of our lives together in waiting rooms – oncology, otolaryngology, radiology, audiology, chemo labs, clinics, blood labs, admit offices, and emergency rooms – in every major hospital in Dallas, and two very intense days in Cancerland down in Houston.
Waiting, waiting, waiting. Waiting for test results. Waiting for appointments. Waiting in traffic. Waiting for x-rays, CT scans, MRIs, PET scans. Waiting for post-biopsy sit-downs with the surgeons. (That little room on the second-floor of Zale Lipshy Hospital? Never, ever want to see it again in my life.) Mark and I waited for hours in emergency rooms, him waiting for medications to kick in and me obsessively watching monitors. Afterward, discharged to home, there was time spent waiting for the home healthcare nurse, for medication and equipment deliveries, watching the clock, waiting for the right time to administer this medication/that can of nutrient/flush the lines. And the longest waits – taking his vitals, hoping for stronger blood pressure readings, and waiting for the call-back from the doctor, for the answer to “Is he okay, or should we go in?”
Medically, the roughest, worst stretch happened between September and November last year when Mark’s health suddenly destabilized and he was admitted to emergency rooms some eight times in less than two months. Thereafter began a new waiting game.
Can he get up from the chair without fainting?
Does he have enough stamina to take a shower?
Can he swallow water without aspirating it, and if he does aspirate it, can he “clear” on his own?
He’s been asleep awhile. He’s too quiet – is he still breathing?
The distance between exhale and inhale is sometimes a million miles long.
When Mark’s death came, we had no waiting. He was lively and even a little rowdy on Wednesday night as the boys and I said our good-night and left the hospital. By the time I got the call on Thursday morning saying “your husband’s not doing well” and began the slow crawl across downtown Dallas in rush hour, he had already left. By the time I arrived on the third floor, breathless and blank, the doctor was waiting for me, at the elevator, with a chaplain.
No more waiting.
When the roof caves in and I am drowning, when I am grasping for, desperate for my husband, my mind does not bring him here, but sees him in the places that had become his other home, the rehab unit and the hospitals, rooms 308 and 312, the courtyard garden where he and I walked…. How strong he was the last time he and I visited there! I loved hearing the uncertainty mixed with pride in his voice, “I’m doing better, I feel better. I think I’m stronger.” And he was, so strong and sure, striding around the garden when just the week prior he had relied on a wheelchair. I miss him there, and in the chapel, a dimly-lit little chapel with the Stations of the Cross on the wall. I miss him in the parking lot where we tried in vain to catch something of a sunset together, and on another venture out when Mark had to stop and rest on a large wooden spool before he could finish the circuit that he was determined that day to finish.
I miss him there, and also at the lake, the one day last winter when he and Caleb, and the dog and I had a rare day outside, away from homes and hospitals, and all the drugs and all the doctors, where I climbed a tree and Mark kissed me and Caleb took a picture.
Mark and I were together so many years, and we took advantage of each other as “old married people” usually do. God, we were always so busy. It took cancer, and his death, for me to realize how deeply I loved him.
I would end this by charging you all with some meaningful duty, a command to go hug your people, and to tell them you love them every day. Well, you know what? We did that. He and I both, especially in the last couple of years. We said it every day, “I love you.” Every day. Sometimes it was meaningful, and sometimes it was just lip-service.
Still glad that we said it.