ceremonial weight

This is Tessa. Weighing in for the last time before Ian starts hosting his own party again. And what a fantastic party that will be!

Okay, this is for clarity:

Pneumonia. Severe Atypical Pneumonia.

On Sunday we went to the ER. Diagnosed. Went home. Unmanageable head pain. Admitted to the hospital later that night.

Monday, chest x-ray is worse. His doctor brings in an Infectious Disease specialist. Monday night, Ian’s fever climbs and climbs and climbs.

Tuesday, he looks good. Maybe we’ve seen the worst. Then suddenly, he can’t breathe. Very low pulse-oxygen readings. He’s moved to a “step down” unit with more intensive nursing. He’s on a breathing mask.

Wednesday, he’s maxing out the breathing apparatus. Pulse-ox not great but they’ll willing to see where this goes. Intubation or a bi-pap is the next step and everyone wants to avoid that if possible. No one is sure what kind of pneumonia it is. Infectious Disease doctor hedges her bets. There are nine antibiotics and anti-fungals hanging from his IV pole. He has one terrifying crash – his oxygen value plummets and we are suddenly surrounded by fast-moving medical professionals in crisis. Turns out the nursing assistant moved his tube to the “medical air” output rather than oxygen. We never see that assistant again.

Thursday, he is barely conscious. But with the non-rebreather mask he’s holding his own. Doctors are not crazy about how woozy he seems. A friend gently advises me… stable is good but he can’t keep up stable. He’s going to get tired. He needs to get better or he’s going to get worse. ICU is still a very real possibility. But, for some spooky wifey reason, I know he’s turning a corner, even if no one else can see it yet. And then for one magical hour on Thursday night, the clouds part and Ian, my Ian, emerges. Lucy gets to visit. Jokes are made. I am insanely (and probably prematurely) euphoric.

Friday sucks again. He still needs a lot of oxygen but the chest x-ray shows the tiniest improvement. And he’s had no fever for a couple of days. He’s still a really sick guy but he’s no longer a guy who’s going to die.

Lots of misery to follow. But not fear. No more fear.

Now he’s home. And every moment is joyous. Every meal a sacrament.

In a few weeks, we’ll start worrying about stupid stuff again. Some days we’ll be undermined and bedeviled, gripey and small. You just can’t ride sidecar with death all the time. It’s too cumbersome. But we will never be the same. We’ve lived inside something epic. A moment so clarifying that time stopped.

At the worst of it, I knew we were forcing life on Ian. The cliché didn’t hold. He wasn’t fighting for his life; we were.

I thought about what we would be doing in another time or in another culture. We might have been chanting or calling for priests, clearing the way for him to go, saying goodbye.

But we have different rituals. Vital signs, IV bags and oxygen, bedside vigils, stories from friends and the thrumming love from every corner of the globe. We were keeping him alive long enough for him to find his will to live.

And he did.

I said a week ago that Ian would miss all of Lucy’s year-end rituals – piano recital, choral concert, the completion of her school goal, a class poetry reading, her ballet performance and graduation. But I was wrong. Today, our head of school arranged a few chairs in the balcony, away from crowds and germs, perfectly placed for an easy exit. And Ian was there to hear his daughter’s name called.

I looked between the two of them. Lucy on stage, beaming up at us with a light stronger than the sun in her eyes. And Ian, weak but not broken, celebrating his lovely, steady child. They caught each other’s eyes and were instantly magnetized back to each other again, because of a million stars, a thousand friends, some excellent doctors, a few pushy nurses, a great school, and one very determined eight year old girl who needs her dad.


12 thoughts on “ceremonial weight

  1. amy a

    BEYOND happy that he is home and with y’all…
    Tessa, your words and updates were such a bridge to get our thoughts and love and prayers and vibes and all good things to Ian. Please know that is so, so appreciated, beyond measure. Such strength in the time of crisis, you are a wonder.
    Onward to better days!

  2. A reader since 2004

    Thank God.
    I lost my dad at 4 and don’t wish that on anyone. I’m glad Lucy still has her dad.

  3. heike

    such a heart-stopping moment. this all happened so fast! puts right in front of my eyes (once more) how fickle the balance is that it life hangs in. grateful for each happy moment and sending love and warmth to you and out into a world that seems majestic and grand and generous, today.
    heike, david and leo

  4. LFMD

    You are an excellent writer. Hope to see more of you as a guest writer in the future (under much better circumstances, of course).

  5. Jeannette

    Thank God you are all home surrounded with love and recovery, my love to the three of you….a big hug Tessa…

  6. Caroline

    Jesus Christ. That’s all I can say. It’s all so shocking and horrifying. Ian, I’m glad you are home and better. But I can’t shake being completely mystified by this. WTF?! It’s surreal and I have only read about it.
    While you’ve been sick I’ve been trying to teach myself guitar and I always think of how easily it all comes to you.
    Jesus Christ. Every time I read an update that’s pretty much all I can say! I’m speechless. I’m glad your home. Bless.

  7. CM

    Agree with LFMD. And great ending.
    “Turns out the nursing assistant moved his tube to the “medical air” output rather than oxygen.”
    This just makes me wonder how many other people in hospitals make mistakes like that that are not rectified quickly, and no one realizes that that’s what caused the death.

  8. Stasia

    Been doing my serious praying … that involves nuns. Of the cloistered sort. The big guns, if you will.
    Please let us know when you’re up for a phone call.


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