Getting the News
After my father died, I made sure I spoke with my mother every day. Dad's death was sudden, if not entirely surprising, and there were a lot of logistical details to sort out. Mom, at 71, was living alone for the first time in her life. She wasn't sleeping well. She was anxious. She didn't understand all the paperwork that flooded into the house. I wasn't surprised that she forgot things; she was overwhelmed with grief. And she'd never been good with technology; when she decided the phones in the house weren't working and replaced them for the third time in a year, we just rolled our eyes. I brushed off suggestions from my brother that she might actually have a problem with her memory. Of course not. She's just tired, anxious and grief-stricken.
I am trying—and failing—to wrap my mind around those four words, to grasp the weight of their meaning, but every time I try to speak or swallow, the sharpness of the word “never” lodges in my throat. Never, meaning never counting the number of fingers on an ultrasound, never feeling the flutter of little toes against your abdomen, never arguing about whether you prefer the name Sophie or Sophia, never wondering if your baby girl will recognize your voice when you get to hold her for the first time.
Mary looks not too bad for having a two-week-old baby only now getting good at nursing. He looks content. His weight is not quite where I would like to see it, but not worrisome.
Lifted in my hands, his tone is great, his gaze intensely locks on mine. Put back down, his arms and legs flail enthusiastically. Cheeks are chubby, soft skin is pink. He passes the gestalt test – no worrisome sense that something is not quite right.
“Dr. Eisenberg, line 6, Dr. B,” I hear over the office intercom. What? The chairman calling me?
And in that split second, as I braced for impact, my life flashed before my eyes. What did I do? My mind could only fathom the worst.
“You do not need an MRI,” I told my father emphatically as he stood in my living room, explaining to me that his beloved doctor had ordered this for his low back pain. He was hoping for a quick fix before meeting his brother in Spain. “You need physical therapy.”
I dislike playing doctor to my family, not trusting myself to dissociate emotion from evidence, but this was just too much. Sure, his back hurt him sometimes, but there was nothing to suggest anything dangerous going on, nothing an intervention would fix. Nothing but the dreadful aches and pains of growing old.
When he emailed two years ago to say he'd been diagnosed with esophogeal cancer, I was concerned. But after radiation and an operation he wrote that his first two scans were good, and the doctors were hopeful. He was always a strong man and had been healthy, so I relaxed my fear somewhat.
The day began like every other summer day. My eight-year-old son and six-year-old daughter ate their cereal, watched Sesame Street, and played—him with his Star Wars figures and her with her Barbies. After lunch, they gathered a few favorite books and toys to entertain them while they waited in the pediatrician’s office for their annual physicals.
Normalcy ended when the physician announced: “Your daughter has a severe curvature of the spine. She needs to see a doctor who specializes in scoliosis.”
This was the third time he coded. Dean had been in the ICU for over a week without any visitors, telephone calls, flowers or balloons. He came in after an out-of-hospital cardiac arrest which he survived and subsequently had another arrest halfway through his stay here. He sure was a fighter.
With special help from the ICU team, we found a contact number for his mother after doing some research on the internet. I was tasked to call her and inform her he was in the hospital.