Four words and 50 stories
There’s little sadder than being the only person in a hospital on Christmas.
Me: (picking up phone, anxious) Alison?
Her: (panicked) Where are you!? Where am I!?
Of all the Adam Sandler/Drew Barrymore films, the one I’ve enjoyed most is 50 First Dates.
In it, Barrymore’s character can’t retain recent memories and only remembers things in her distant past, and Sandler’s character has to repeatedly “meet” her again and again. In the end, he records a video – on VHS cassette no less – to remind her of everything the two of them had gone through together.
So let me tell you about our first Christmas as a family…
I woke up and made a cuppa joe before I was going to make my way to the hospital. But then my phone rings and I look down to see it’s Alison. It’s the first time she’s called me in months since this happened so I anxiously answered.
She didn’t remember anything happened and was terrified. Minutes later, I’m in a taxi, rushing across town. She calls again.
Her: (scared) Where are you?
Me: I’m in a car, I’ll be there in 10 minutes.
Her: Hurry. Please. (pause, quieter) I’m all by myself.
In life, there are words that chill you to your core. “Your wife has cancer” were four such words. “I’m all by myself” were four others.
So I said to her what I’ve always thought are the four sweetest words in the English language: I’m on my way.
The cab stopped at a red before the hospital, so I flew out the door and ran up the stairs to her room, still on the phone.
Me: (panting) I’m on the second floor, I’ll be right there…
When I arrived, she turned to me with the same panicked look in her eyes that she had a month ago, when I told her the four words the doctor said to me. Telling her then was one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do.
Then I realized I had to do it all over again.
So I steadied myself, gulped down some air, and sat down next to her bed.
And I saw the look again. Could go a lifetime, never see that look again, and it’d still be too soon.
Dunno how doctors regularly give bad news. Where do they find the strength to tell someone that that their lives are in grave jeopardy on the regular? Do they drink every night at their desk?
Me: …he said you might not wake up. But you did. Then he said you might be permanently damaged…
Me: …but you’re not. And then another doctor said he had to open you again and said you might not come back, but you did. This cancer has been wanting to kill you but you just won’t let it.
Somewhere along the line, the alarms that were going off because of her rapid heartbeat, stopped ringing. And she started breathing normally again. Her voice became stronger.
Her: I can’t believe this is my life.
Me: (sighing) This woman once said, You don’t have a right to the cards you believe you should have been dealt. You have an obligation to play the hell out of the ones you’re holding. It’s a ___ hand, but you’ve been playing the hell out of them. We’re all so proud of you.
Then I took her phone and explained everything a third time – this time via a recording on her phone. And I titled it: WATCH ME!
Told her that if she woke up again and didn’t know where she was, she could watch that and wait for me. Because I would always be on my way.
Her: (quietly) I want to get going and beat this.
Me: That’s my girl. (nodding) That’s my tough girl…
Location: A different room in the same hospital, looking at the same river
Music: Don’t stop, no, I’ll never give up
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