My nephrologist (kidney doctor) called me the morning of Tuesday, December 12th. Ten minutes later Wes and I packed up to head to the hospital. Apparently, the ultrasound on my abdomen the day before gave her enough concern to schedule a chest X-ray, another ultrasound on my legs, and an echocardiogram. She wanted to determine what was causing the edema and shortness of breath - heart, kidneys or blood clots. As we were getting ready to leave, standing in the kitchen, I looked at my surroundings where nineteen years of memories with my family had occurred. I felt the love permeate the air. I soaked it all in. The Christmas decorations were at the beginning of their seasonal stay, fresh with the smell of pine, waiting for my sons and their girlfriends to be with us over the holidays. I thought to myself, then voiced to Wes, “What if this is the last time I get to be here?” I envisioned entering a hospital never to leave again. I think he wondered, too. Would this be my last Christmas? I wiped the tears from my eyes, we walked down to the garage, got in the car, and drove to the hospital.
The first day in the hospital consisted of tests. The ultrasound and chest X-ray ruled out blood clots and an echocardiogram looked to be fairly normal. I got settled into my room and the nephrologist came by to explain that the next step would be a kidney biopsy, most likely to occur on Friday. But it's Tuesday?? She explained that my blood pressure needed to be below 140 and my platelet count above 100. Given their current state, I understood why I was going to need three days to get there. All was well until the following morning.
Around 9 AM the hospital internist came into my room and introduced himself. Trying to exude an aura of expertise and authority, donned in khaki pants, shirt, tie and white coat, he glanced at me for about 5 seconds, handed me his business card and said, “Hi, my name is Dr. Evil.” Dr. Evil is not his real name. I can’t remember his real name. He reminded me of someone right out of school who wanted you to see him a certain way because, if you did, he might be able to believe it, too. Without looking at me again he continued, “I’ve looked at the echocardiogram and it looks like you have some heart damage. Normally you could be a candidate for a surgical option whereby we would replace the valve, but considering what you have going on we would probably just manage it with diuretics. And your blood work shows that your kidney function looks much improved so I don’t see why you need to have the kidney biopsy on Friday. What I am going to do is have an oncologist come down this afternoon and talk to you about what might be going on.”
“What could be going on?” I asked sort of stunned.
“Maybe leukemia.” he said. And just as fast, he left my room. I’m making it worse than it really was. He was there for about 5 minutes, yet I made it sound like it was 30 seconds because that’s how his callousness and abruptness felt. He clearly had not learned compassion yet. I was flabbergasted! A second cancer?
Fifteen minutes later Wes walked in. Freshly showered, freshly shaved, a big smile on his face, and Wednesday’s bag of goodies from home in his arms he beamed, “Hi Sweetheart!” and leaned down to kiss me. I waited until he straightened back up and shared what Dr. Evil told me.
“The doctor just came in and thinks I could have leukemia.”
People often say to themselves, “Well, it can’t get any worse.” But my world, our world had just gotten worse. I lay in my bed, tears in my eyes, Wes holding my hand. There is something extraordinary that can happen in those moments of facing an unimaginable reality. Everything that does not matter falls away. Every resentment I ever had towards Wes, every quirk that used to bug me, every thing I wished were different about him fell away. I looked at this man, my rock, who had found a way to accept every choice I have made, every feeling I have shared, every thought I have expressed and never once tried to talk me out of it or brought his own fears into it. All I saw and felt was a profound love. I implored the Universe, “Come on! Let me be around longer so I can live with this kind of love in my life!”
That day we walked the halls. 260 feet/lap. It took about 20 laps to walk a mile. We strolled hand in hand, sometimes with tears in our eyes, other times we found something to laugh about, still other times we stopped and hugged each other. I told him, if it was leukemia, I didn’t want to go through treatment for it. I told him that I didn’t want to be resuscitated should something happen while I was in the hospital. I told him I would rather be me than him because, I imagined how helpless it must feel to watch this happen to your loved one knowing there is nothing you can do. He accepted it all.
Wes and I had settled into this state of devastation and peace, a surreal combination, by the time the nephrologist came by late that afternoon. I shared what Dr. Evil had said. She could see our devastation. “No, no, no” she said. “You don't have heart damage, and leukemia is not what we think is going on!” She pulled out her phone which had the results of the echocardiogram on it, and shared it with us. She reassured us that she thought my kidneys had been damaged by the chemotherapy, that the kidney biopsy was still going to happen and she was going to have a talk with Dr. Evil. I chuckle today realizing that we felt profound relief in that moment. I only had to deal with one cancer and kidney damage, not two!
Needless to say Dr. Evil's demeanor the next day was different - more like a relayer of information rather than an expert. I obviously was able to leave the hospital and I had one of the most memorable Christmas holidays I can remember. In the darkness there is always a speck of light. In one of my darkest moments of my hospital stay I got to realize a profound love that has stayed with me. It may not be as heightened as it was then, but enough has infused me to have changed me, and, for that, I will always have a place of gratitude for Dr. Evil.