"You have to let yourself feel everything," a friend reminds me. "You can't keep it all in."
"Oh, don't worry," I say.
* * * * *
It's Diagnosis Day. I'm in the ambulance going from my local hospital into Boston. It's 5:30 in the afternoon and there's a Bruins game; traffic is awful. I've had this news that I have a brain tumor for about an hour and a half now and this ride is giving me too much time to think. I tell myself the same thing I told myself in the E.R. when the doctor said the words that changed everything: find out what it is, and then make a plan to deal with it.
I look at my watch.
I should be home right now. I should be making dinner for the boys right now.
I don't want to cry in front of the EMT who is sitting next to me, monitoring my vitals. I don't want to cry, but I can't help it, a few tears spill over and splash on my red shirt, part of an outfit I will throw away two days later because I never want to see it again.
I'd give anything to be standing in my kitchen right now. I just want to be with my boys, in my kitchen, like a normal Wednesday night.
We're almost at the hospital. I think of my father and my grandmother and am surprised that I can feel them, one on each side of me. I've never felt anything like this before, but the sense that they are each resting a hand on my shoulder is very strong. I'm afraid; I don't know why they are here. I don't know if they're here for reassurance or if they are here because I'm about to be told that there is nothing that can be done.
We're at the hospital now.
And I'm bracing for the next part.
* * * * *
"Where are we?" the doctor asks.
This is part of a neurological exam. I'll do this again and again and again over the course of the next month. In fact, I'll do it with this same doctor immediately before my surgery.
"Brigham & Women's Hospital," I say.
"And where is that?" he asks.
"Boston," I say. Gold star for me.
"What year is it?"
My mind is saying '19'.
I know that's not right, but I can't quite find the right answer.
I look at him. He's waiting, but this is too long, everyone can see it's too long. My mind finally lands on '2000' but I know there's more after that.
I just can't remember what.
Suddenly, I can see it, written out, 2013. But I can't say it. It takes that long to find the information, and then I can't make my mouth say it.
I start to cry.
"It's okay," he says warmly, but it isn't. It really isn't okay, and he knows it and I know it and my two friends who come closer to the bed as I let the whole thing wash over me know it too.
"2013," I finally say through the tears.
But it's still not okay.
I need to get to the next part.
* * * * *
It's a week after surgery and I'm back in the E.R.
I went to bed with building pressure and pain in my head. The neurosurgeon on call told my brother, who is in from Seattle and is staying with me, to bring me in if I have nausea, vomiting, or changes in vision (which, given that I have double vision on a GOOD day, never fails to amuse me).
I woke up at 4 a.m. and started throwing up.
They've given me morphine for the pain and all I want to do is sleep. We're waiting for the CT scan to be read in order to rule out bleeding in my brain.
I have to go the bathroom, but between the dizziness and nausea, I know I can't walk. I don't know if the young woman who brings me a wheelchair is a nurse or not, but she helps me into the chair, hands me something to get sick in should I need it, and pushes me into the bathroom.
"I'm going to be right outside the door if you need me," she says. "Or I can stay in here with you."
I hate this. I HATE it. I am 38 years old.
"I think I need you to stay," I tell her.
I KNOW I need her to stay. I know that I'm too unsteady to take a chance of moving from the chair to the toilet and risk falling. This is humiliating.
She helps me to sit and I start to cry.
"I'm sorry," I say. "I can do the rest, I just...I hate that I need someone to help me with any of this. I'm a grown woman."
"This is what I'm here for. And besides, this is the easiest thing I've done all day," she says, smiling.
Once I'm done, she helps me back into the chair and wheels me to the sink so I can wash my hands. I look at my face in the mirror, my right eye covered so I won't see double, and my head wrapped with a thick turban of gauze. I wipe my tears away as she asks me if I'm ready.
"Yes," I tell her, hoping we'll have the results from the CT scan by the time we get back. The scan will come back clear, but I don't know that yet.
I'm ready for the next part.