Crisis is unfamiliar. A father’s stroke, a hometown leveled by tornado, planes flying into Manhattan skyscrapers. You can never forget where you were when you heard the news.
I think Mother’s dying. This, in my sister’s voice, from my cell. I dropped to the floor. I shoveled the phone to a friend, the icy linoleum tiles vivid against my legs as I sobbed, unable to talk or stand.
The mind made ready, receptive, expansive, acquisitive, creative, by the intrusion of a threat. My partner Morgan’s sudden acute renal failure from IV tobramycin, an antibiotic he’d tolerated for years, his brain unable to calculate 2 + 2 (after failing this, and 2 x 3 and Who’s the president? his humor intact, “I didn’t do so good, did I?” he asked); his ankles the size of honeydew melons, his creatinine, a byproduct of protein breakdown the kidneys were no longer clearing, rising off the charts.
Each day I lived half-a-year’s experience, registering every possible sensation to make meaning of such an unknown, frightening impossibility. My phone calls and emails detailed, absurdly, the perfect hair and makeup of the TV-news-anchor-pretty CT scan staff, alongside every hopeful and awful overheard word of the hospitalist with the floor nurses, the hourly changes in blood-Ox levels, CO2—each recitation a long frantic jumbled cascade I struggled to shape along a quavering voice.