July 10, 1988

The morning began with a discussion of a new bed for Mitchell. The doctors wanted Mitch in a bed that was compartmentalized for his legs and arms and head, covered in nylon like a rain jacket and slowly rotated 45 degrees in each direction. It was an experimental bed and its purpose was to keep fluids from settling anywhere, especially his lungs, and to keep him from getting bed sores. As always, I consulted with the patient, much to the consternation of his doctors. I kept getting the feeling that they thought Mitch’s brain was paralyzed too. They would have known better if they had heard his instructions throughout the day, issued through lips blocked by an intubation tube and in a non-existent whisper because his vocal chords were paralyzed.
“Call Darcy and have her reschedule my court appearance for Tuesday. Tell her to get Joe to handle my closing on Wednesday if he can. Get Donnie to go to court for me in Halfmoon this week. Tell Darcy to call Family Court in Ballston Spa and get adjournments without date for anything going on up there.”
I took notes on any piece of paper I could find, prescription pads, napkins, envelopes. I still had very few supplies or personal property with me, only what my sister’s husband had brought from Malone. My in-laws were bringing me some things from my house where they had spent Saturday night. I finally got a room on the Nursing Home floor in the hospital so I could be available at anytime for Mitchell. I had not seen m y children since Friday, although we spoke every day.
There was tingling in his hands and his feet. I thought his finger twitched. I had hope. The morning was spent organizing, setting up a base at CVPH. I had made my decision that I would stay there with Mitchell until he went home or to another facility. My kids were safe at my parents for the time being. I had enough sick, personal and vacation leave to be out of work for a month. Our health insurance was good insurance through my policy with the State. The experimental bed was covered. Everything would be okay.
Then his parents arrived. The blast of unexpressed anger from his father almost flattened me. The guilt that his mother almost immediately heaped on me is a burden I still bear. I tried to imagine how I would feel if one of my children was lying in a bed, almost completely paralyzed and to feel sympathy for them. I couldn’t. I felt anger and resentment from their actual and implied criticisms of everything from my plan for my kids to the rural and, therefore, inadequate hospital where he was being treated. Obviously, it was all my fault.
And, sadly, it was. If he hadn’t married me, he wouldn’t have been at my family reunion and he would not have jumped in my sister’s pool in the boonies of Northern New York, far from speedy emergency response and cutting edge medical care. That Mitchell had been cannon-balling into pools since at least the age of 12 was ignored by everyone, except Mitchell. He blamed me for nothing after that first morning.
By the end of the day, I was exhausted. I was demoralized. I was terrified.
Around 2:00 a.m., I pulled a sweatshirt over my nightgown and took the elevator down to the second floor Intensive Care Unit. It was quiet when I pushed open the door from the empty waiting room. I walked quietly around the back of the nurses’ station to Mitch’s cubicle. The shift had changed at 11:00 p.m. Some nurses in raspberry scrubs were sitting on high swivel chairs at patient tables, writing reports. But three were gathered around my husband’s bed. My gut clenched. What was wrong now?!
Before I could give voice to my alarm, one nurse turned to the other two and whispered,
“I told you he had the most long curly gorgeous eyelashes you would ever see.”
“I didn’t believe you. They’re amazing.”
“And his eyes are the most beautiful shade of brown and gold.”
“And he belongs to me,” I said as I moved to the foot of the bed. They all smiled at me. The nurse who had spoken first laid her hand on mine and squeezed. Then she said, “Yes, he does. And you are so lucky.”
Yes, I was so lucky to have him, but would I be lucky enough to keep him?


Twenty-five years ago today…

We ran into the Emergency Room. I was still in my swimsuit and was barefoot. They wouldn’t let me see him. They kept me at the desk with forms and questions. Someone put a cotton blanket on me, and soon my sister arrived with my t-shirt, shorts and flip-flops. And my purse with the magic health insurance card.
It seemed like hours but it was not much later when they let me in to see him. He was on the table in the middle of the room, draped in a sheet. I saw his cut up swim suit lying in a sodden mess on the floor. There was an oxygen mask on his face and an IV tube in his arm. Dried blood was in corner of his mouth. His eyes were closed.
“What happened?” I asked them and they asked me at the same time.
“Did he have a heart attack?” I whispered.
“Did he dive into the shallow end of the pool?” they demanded.
“No.” We answered simultaneously.
“He didn’t dive, he did a cannonball…you know where you jump in with your arms wrapped around your knees, pulled up against your chest. He didn’t hit his head.”
“His heart stopped twice in the ambulance, but we don’t think his heart caused the accident. We are sending him to Plattsburgh via helicopter. They are the trauma center for this area. You can follow him there.”
“Will he live? Will he be okay?”
“We don’t know.”
I had been holding his hand. It was cold, and he didn’t squeeze me back. I leaned over and kissed his forehead.
“I love you. If you die on me, I swear, I’ll kill you.”
They shuffled me out. I went to my parents’ house to change. I told my frightened children that daddy was in the hospital and I was going to stay with him. I think I told them that he would be fine. I called his parents. They were speechless.
I drove with my sister and her husbandto Plattsburgh, past the Mohawk Indian enclave. I wondered if they had taken shots at the helicopter transporting my husband over their territory as they had sometimes done in the past. Is he already dead? If he is not, what is he?
We wandered through the halls at CVPH until we found the Intensive Care Unit. They wouldn’t let me in to see him until the doctors met with me. They put me in a conference room with two doctors. They told me that Mitchell had broken his neck, a C1, C2 and C3 fracture, the very worst kind. His heart had stopped in the helicopter. They had intubated him to keep him breathing. I told them he had a living will and that I was his health care proxy and that he did not want extraordinary measures taken if he was not going to have quality of life. And that he had a “do not resuscitate” order. They tried to tell me that it had no effect. I told them he was a lawyer and I was a lawyer. They pushed back from the table in unison, putting distance between me and them.
That is when they said they wanted to drill four holes in his skull to fit him with a halo from which they would hang weights to stabilize his neck.
“You want to drill holes in his head?!” I squeaked, too astonished to scream. “This will help him get better?”
“He isn’t going to get better.”
“Then why do you want to drill holes in his head to stabilize his neck?”
“In case he gets better.”
“You said he wasn’t going to get better. Is he going to die?”
“He might not make it through the night.”
“Then why drill holes in his head tonight if he will be dead by morning?”
“He might live.”
“For how long?”
“We don’t know.”
“What do you know?”
They proceeded to bombard me with statistics for spinal cord injuries. Most people died instantly, especially with this kind of fracture. Mitch was paralyzed from the neck down. He couldn’t speak, he couldn’t move his head, he couldn’t move anything. His muscles would atrophy; his internal organs would start going haywire because of the havoc being played with his nervous system. The prognosis was not good.
“So he is going to die, if not tonight, then soon. Why put him through the ordeal of drilling holes in his head? Why not let him go peacefully.”
“Well, he’s awake.”
“Then why are you talking to me? Is his brain damaged?”
“Not that we can tell.”
“I want to see him and I want you two to come with me and explain the halo deal. He’ll decide. He’s not dead yet.”
I stood and marched to the door. They followed me. We got to the ICU and they made me wait again. A nurse in raspberry scrubs came to get me. The ICU consisted of a nurse’s station in the center of large rectangular room, with curtained cubicle along the perimeter of the room. Mitch was on the far side, just across from the main desk of the nurse’s station. He was lying flat in a hospital bed. A tube was taped to the corner of his mouth; IV’s were running into both arms.
His beautiful brown eyes were blood-shot but open. He looked at me in alarm, and then looked away, his eyes skittering around the small enclosure which now held me, two doctors and two nurses. I took his hand as his glance returned to me.
“Tell him.”
They told Mitch about the halo, told him it would stabilize his neck until the swelling from the broken vertebrae went down and they could ascertain how much damage had been done to his spinal cord. Mitch looked at me and raised his eyebrows.
“They say it will give you your best chance at recovery. Your neck has to be kept still so it can heal. The holes won’t hurt and you won’t feel the halo once it is on your head.
He looked at the doctors and then at me.
“Okay.” He mouthed the word to me.
“He says okay, you can do it.”
I leaned over to kiss his cheek. I couldn’t get near his mouth. I put my face next to his and whispered in his ear.
“I love you, I will always love you. Try to get better for me. Try for the kids. I love you.”
They sent me out to the ICU waiting area, three sofas, three corner tables and a wall-mounted TV. My sister was there, her husband had gone home. It was almost midnight and the lights dimmed and the TV clicked off. I told her what was happening. I was exhausted. I lay down on one of the couches, the one across from the door into the ICU. I was freezing. One of the nurses came out with two pillows and two blankets. My sister and I tucked ourselves in after thanking the nurse and making her promise to get us if anything happened.
I lay there in the dim light, hospital noises fading, until there was only the whoosh of the air conditioning and the bell from the elevator down the hall.
Then I cried.

July 1

I don’t do well in summer. I grew up in Northern New York where one, maybe two, days a year, the temperature reached 90. Most nights were cold enough for a sweatshirt and even the hottest days could not raise the water temperature at the Rec Park above “blue-lips-teeth-chattering-goose-bumps” cold. Heat can bring me to my knees.
I don’t like June. Father’s Day usually starts my doldrums. Graduations can be rough or bring on a major depression. Flag Day is okay, I usually buy a new flag for the front porch.
I mostly hate July. My son’s birthday is July 4. And I can be caught up in fireworks and barbeque and fussing over his party. On our last date on July 6, 1988, my husband and I went to NYC to see “Phantom of the Opera.” I loved it and he tolerated it, having a much better time at the dollar bins at Tower Records before the matinee. We headed north for a Family Reunion on July 8, 1988. That is where he broke his neck. He was completely paralyzed and hospitalized in the ICU of Champlain Valley Physicians Hospital in Plattsburgh, NY. The rest of the month was blazingly hot but I didn’t feel it. I was freezing within the confines of the ICU, praying for my husband to live. I saw my children only a few times. I exerted most of my efforts on directing my husband’s care and trying to wrangle a transfer to a hospital closer to home.
It is August that I really loathe. The transfer of my husband to Ellis Hospital in Schenectady took place on August 8, exactly one month after he sustained his injuries. We arrived at Ellis late on the night of August 8. My in-laws arrived on August 9. My children were returned to me by my parents that same day. On a hot and dry August 10, I visited off and on with my husband, pondering when I should stop by my office and his. My return to work was interrupted by his death in the late afternoon. He was buried in Brooklyn on August 14, 1988. I sat shiva for the next week, and then went back to work.
My husband would have turned 36 on August 21. Our tenth wedding anniversary would have been August 26. Both celebratory events turned into days of “what-might-have-been.”
I don’t really start coming out of my bad mood until after Labor Day and then the Jewish holidays followed by the regular ones, all centering on family, pretty much kick my ass until New Year’s. Valentine’s Day, my birthday in April and Mother’s Day in May are not good either. I’d say my one good month is March; I don’t tend to get into much trouble in March, except on St. Patrick’s Day.
But, the summer is a time when I go a bit crazy, when one perfectly fine day can turn into a day when I dive under my covers, triggered by the smell of hot dogs on the grill. When laughter at the sight of a guy with a bad body cutting grass without his shirt on can turn to sobs. When a refreshing swim in the cool waters of the pool can be heated up and ruined by hot tears spilling from my eyes.
I couldn’t sleep last night. At first, I blamed it on a piece of cake I nibbled on in the late afternoon. But as random troubling thoughts raced through my head before dawn, I reached for my cell phone to check the time: 4:20 a.m. July 1, 2013.
I can’t wait for summer to end.

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