We found her in the Emergency Room, curled up in a fetal position, eyes glistening in pain. No sign of anything else in them. They took her upstairs and loaded her with narcotics, slipped a needle between her vertebrae and came back with the diagnosis: meningitis. She stayed with us for a day, then slipped into a coma.
They don't let people stay by the bedside twenty-four/seven in ICU; I slept in a chair in the hallway outside her door until they moved her to a different unit, and I moved the chair inside.
Three weeks. Three weeks of getting off work, heading for the hospital, showering in her room, then sitting next to her all night, hoping for a sign of hope. Three weeks, and the doctors and nurses saw nothing when they lifted her lids and looked into her eyes.
But I did. In the middle of the night she would awake to find me beside her; she would look at me and I would know it was her, then she would slip away again.
The palliative care doctor saw no hope, and he recommended pulling her fluids and letting her go. Her family was inclined to go along.
There is no way to describe the feeling of loss when you look into a loved one's eyes and see nothing. I could have gone with the doctor's advice and just ended it all then, but as long as there was the slightest chance, I had to give it to her.
I called a meeting of family members, social workers, doctors, and friends. The morning of the meeting, she woke long enough for me to tell her, "You have to stay awake today. Everyone's meeting here at noon, to decide whether you live and die. You have to be awake to show them you're still here, or they're going to let you die. Do you want that?
"No," she said, and she struggled to stay awake, but slipped away again right before noon.
The meeting progressed. The doctor presented his feelings of hopelessness for improvement of her condition, and his recommendation. Midway through, she opened her eyes. "Do you know why we're here today?" he asked her.
She replied, "To decide whether I live or die."
"Is that what you want?" he asked her, and she replied, "Noo...," before slipping back into unconsciousness.
He took it to mean she wanted to die. I took it to mean she wanted to live, and we had a few sharp words about it. Then I called for a vote. Going around the room, I asked each person, "You know her. Do you think she'd want to go, or do you think she'd want to fight?"
Each person said, "She'd want to fight."
The decision was made to fly her to San Francisco, where they'd bore a hole in her skull and run a drainage tube to her abdomen, to relieve the pressure on her brain. I drove down and was allowed to see her coming directly out of surgery, part of her skull shaved bare, hair matted with blood - but when she came out of the anesthesia, she looked at me and it was her again.
She's fine, now. There was some brain damage - she's a lot more child-like now, and her optic nerves were damaged. She went through a period of vivid hallucinations, and it was hard on both of us, but we're stronger now than we ever were. I take care of her, and she takes care of me.
She tells me, if she'd woken and not found me there those times in the middle of the night, if she'd been all alone, she wouldn't have made it. She'd have let herself go.
I'm glad I stayed.
Mr. Ed said I should use his signature, since he's not anymore. In honor of his good friend Nok, here it is: "As far as smoking a cigar," she said, "I'd not know where to start or how to start." "It's simple," said I, "You light one end and chew on the other and hope to meet in the middle."
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