How Getting Sick Helped My Marriage
I was paralyzed when I met you.
I was paralyzed.
A crushing pain blossomed cruelly in my chest and my back—I staggered back between the spools of chain-link and the bags of peat moss and knew instantly that something was wrong. We made a dash for the car and drove to a hospital in nearby Torrington. I remember Will tersely counting down the miles.
Only seven more miles to go.
Only six more miles to go.
I doubled over in my seat, negotiating for air. I started to lose feeling in my fingers and toes. At one point, I turned and looked in the backseat and saw my son—his chubby 6-year-old hands clenched in fear, tears silently streaming down his face—mumbling to himself, "Don't make a sound. Don't get in the way. Don't make a sound. Don't get in the way."
I think that was the worst part of all.
Only four more miles to go.
We arrived at the hospital in Torrington, the morphine was plugged in, the bottom dropped out of reality, and I stopped being able to chronicle the events in any organized fashion. At some juncture, the chief neurologist walked in the room and declared herself "completely unqualified to diagnose the problem," which was reassuring. There was talk of airlifting me back to New York but, concerned that the paralysis would spread to my lungs and they would not be able to intubate me midair, an ambulance was deemed preferable. Will's cousin Kate picked up our son so Will could ride with me.
By the time we were racing past Westchester, I was paralyzed from the shoulders down.
When we pulled into the ambulance entrance of Weill Cornell Medical Center on 70th Street, I remember Will musing, "Wow—we made really good time."
The doctors—these being rather more qualified than the ones in Torrington—swiftly arrived at a diagnosis: acute transverse myelitis, a rare idiopathic condition in which a body's immune system attacks the myelin sheath around its own spinal cord. It was unrelated to the cancer, a second fluke, a brilliant stroke of unluck.
I was assigned the top myelitis specialist in the city, Dr. Apatoff, a wiry man in a bow tie with a hyperintelligent face and the bedside manner of a schnauzer.
There were high-dose IV steroids and MRIs and spinal taps and more steroids.
The IV tree grew thicker and thicker with bags. There were drugs to calm the drugs that inflamed and other drugs to calm the calming drugs and then new drugs to counteract the over-calmingness of the drugs before them. The narcotics dogs chased their tails up and down my veins until my mind was burned into the blue-white burst of a flashbulb, all heat and muffled explosion and floating spots.
I remember weakly joking to Will, "What next? Thrush?"
The next day, I got thrush.
A few days after that, steroid-induced edema blew me up like a human blister. In 72 hours, I gained 40 pounds of water weight; as the fluid rushed into my face, my eyelid and the right side of my nose—weakened by a host of secondary infections—collapsed in a heap somewhere above my mouth.
How can you bear to see me like this?