Wednesday, June 5th
July 4th, 2001, when Ian and had been dating about nine months, we invited a bunch of friends to the barn/house I had rented in Stephentown, NY. We were preparing to shoot our independent film, the ill fated but almost-glorious PINK HOUSE. We were nervous and distracted, but happy to be surrounded by friends. It was a sticky New York summer’s day with thick air you feel on your skin. Ian and Kelly were playing guitar. In the middle of, weirdly, an Indigo Girls medley, Ian abruptly stood up, complaining of pain in his back. He lay down while I tried to WASP the whole thing away… nerves, exhaustion or gas. After an unrelenting hour, he begged me to take him to the hospital.
Stephentown is a long way from anywhere. Or, more to the point, anywhere with a hospital. This was a pre-GPS world, and you just had to KNOW where a hospital was. I could get us to Pittsfield and then I kinda, sorta thought I might have seen a hospital. Once. But, basically, I was relying on my bat sensors.
When we were cresting the small mountain pass between New York and Massachusetts, I looked over to Ian, squirming and seething with pain. Normally, my guy has the strapping ruddy complexion of Welsh sailor. But in that moment, I could see EVERY freckle in his face and I knew we were in serious trouble.
Swimming up from the bottom of his misery, he asked me how much longer. With all my sober love, I said, “It’s going to be a while, honey. At least fifteen minutes. Hang in there. I will get you there as soon as I can.” While secretly, I was hoping beyond hope that I could intuit my way to the ER.
Turns out, he had a kidney stone and they were able vanquish the pain handily. He professed his love to me in an opiate haze as we heard fireworks in the distance.
About a week later, Ian said, “Remember when you told me we were 15 minutes away from the hospital.” “Of course,” I answered, proud of my loving calm in that stressful moment. “That sucked.”
Apparently, one of the first things you’re taught as a lifeguard is to tell the drowning guy that he’s almost to shore… you’re really close, it’s right over there, just another minute.
You definitely don’t say, “Yeah. Wow. It’s going to a be long time before you’re anywhere near help.”
But, today, that’s exactly what I did.
Ian is consistently and visibly sicker than he has been. He’s the sickest person I’ve been around who’s not old and known to be dying
There were no quips today from my smart ass. Barely words. He didn’t eat. And owing to some serious intestinal issues kicked up from the antibiotics and pain meds, he couldn’t bare to see Lucy, which is usually the great pleasure of his day.
We’re still waiting on cultures and blood tests to see if we can narrow down the cause of this atypical pneumonia. The doctors of St. John’s are clustered in the corners, brainstorming, while every antibiotic invented is dripping into his veins.
I had a long, private talk with one of the doctors in order to help me set some expectations for all of us, especially Lucy. Ian has him worried and he warned me to expect things to get worse before they get better. When I asked him what that would look like, he equivocated. There are some things better left unimagined. So I changed tack. If this is our nadir, what does recovery look like?
I needed to make plans for splitting in two – a mom and a wife -and for how much help we might need when Ian gets home. I was thinking ahead. Planning – the privilege of the healthy.
When Ian asked me about the conversation with the doctor, I stupidly told him the truth.
Halting. Good days and bad. Another week in the hospital. A couple more weeks at home.
He’ll miss Lucy’s ballet recital and chorus performance. Her end of school poetry reading and the last day of school.
I saw the light drain from his eyes as I basically announced to him, “Yeah buddy, the shore is miles from here and you’re still going out to sea.”
So, that wasn’t my best move, but here’s what I know: even when I’m afraid, even when I have to explain to Lucy that she can’t see her dad today, or promise his mom that I will call if it gets worse, or hold his hand when he drifts through swells of pain, I know that he will make it to shore. And, more than that, all of you will be there to greet him.