Wednesday, February 3, 2016

A Diagnosis Confirmed

I was in full fury, and there was nothing I could do, because even when my back wasn’t broken, could I catch and chastise four cats? Of course not: they had eaten my Cubano sandwich, and then had fled upon seeing me. A sane man would have gone to bed, rested the back, and gotten up to fight again later. But I wasn’t sane, I was raging, because, well, why me?

“Marc, how does it feel to be an angel?” Lady had once asked me. I told her—I’m no angel, though I confess to be pleased to be mistaken for one. But even if I weren’t an angel , it seemed so completely unfai, what was happening to me; I was swearing and shouting (sending the cats even further into exile) and yelling at the god I don’t believe in.


Three weeks or so of pain had boiled over, and I could bear it no longer. I raged for ten minutes, pondered punching a wall, deeply regretted that our own walls are three feet of brick and stone, and then—still angry—retreated to bed.

It was two hours later, when the phone rang: it was from the MRI lab, and they wanted to know how to get a hold of my doctor. I asked why—they had told me I could pick up the results on Monday.

“You’ve got two compression fractures,” said the woman, “and we’ve faxed the results to your doctor, but we want to make sure she sees them today….”

So stunned was I to learn that I had a broken back, I didn’t realize the further implications: when a lab makes all that effort to reach a doctor, the news probably isn’t good.

I had been angry before, but now, I began to weep. What would happen to me? Would I have to have surgery? Here, in Puerto Rico, with its excellent doctors and terrible hospitals? What if something went wrong?

The insanity of what I hade just done struck me—I, with my back broken, had been out riding buses hurtling over potholes. The wonder was that I hadn’t severed my spinal cord—it was a miracle that I could still walk.

And what if I ended up in a wheel chair for the rest of my life? How would that be? I had a routine, in the days of health, of walking by the ocean and listening to music. I dimly remember it: the comfort of walking by the old walls of the old city, of approaching the opening of the San Juan harbor, of seeing the giant ocean swells crash against the rocks. The early morning light made prisms of the drops of water as they shot up and then fell. Did I say prisms? No—diamonds.

It was part of my life, and it was a large part of keeping me sane. I had grappled for years with depression, and the simple joy of walking, hearing music, looking at the ocean—all that was at least as effective as all the pills I was taking. I could go without it for a few months—that was no problem. But never again? Never to walk again?

Crying harder now because it’s so unfair, so unfair, so fucking unfair—why should it be me? What the fuck had I done? I had been, after, a good son, a good husband—well, I hoped—no, goddamn it, I had been a good husband. I had done my best and had done it better than most, and now? A cripple in a wheel chair?

And what, oh God what would this do to Raf? He had looked in my eyes—as I did his—and promised to care for me in sickness and in health, but could he? We are both 59 years old: neither one of us is ready for that kind of blow. How would he handle it? How would he adjust to having a husband in a wheelchair for the rest of his / our lives? What would we become?

Where would we live? The apartment that we had struggled to find—and pay for—is perhaps one of the largest in the city, and we still marvel that we have it. True, there had been toilets in every corner of every room (it had been a boarding house, and had held about thirty people in tiny cubicles throughout the apartment)—we had worked hard to restore it. But it was on the second floor of the building—up some twenty odd steps. Nor was there a way that I could see to install an elevator, or even the little chair that goes up the staircase. So would we have to move?

The idea of moving was almost worse than the idea of being in a wheel chair for the rest of my life, because stuff? We have stuff in abundance—from the seven sets of china to the four sofas to innumerable linen table clothes to….do I have to continue? It would take a crew of highly backboned guys weeks to pack up all of the stuff we have managed to accumulate.

I would need him to do things for me: I would be dependent. Who would shop? Me? In a wheel chair in the tiny store that charges outrageous prices, accompanied by horrendous service? I can barely walk through the aisles, since most of the space is occupied by fixtures holding more merchandise—how would I maneuver with a wheel chair?

I lay in the bed and sobbed, sobbed for a life I didn’t know I could lose, and hadn’t appreciated until I had lost it. Did I consider the possibility that I might, after all, escape paralysis? No. So terrifying was the possibility of being invalided, that it completely darkened any other possibility.

Had I given into despair?

I think not. Rather, I was seeing a future I abhorred—and I was terrified and grieving and mourning what I had not yet lost, and what I had never imagined I could lose.

I heard the front door open. Raf, my husband—coming home from work as he always does, at the same time, saying the same things. How infinitely dear of him—how incredibly comforting, these rituals of ours that make up our lives. “It is so very easy for a man to be somewhere else,” said a female character in a Dorothy L. Sayers novel. But Raf was never anywhere else but there, with me.

My heart was breaking for him.