Someone Else’s Almost-Death, and What it Feels Like

At first it feels like nothing. It’s just a strange voicemail. Your heart rate goes up but a bit but you’re more confused than anything else. You’re not even that worried. You think: car accident, broken leg? Someone needs to drive her home. She’s going to be so pissed about the car.

The phone call goes in unexpected ways. The social worker calls you honey. The social worker doesn’t believe you about your Medical Power of Attorney, probably because you aren’t being an asshole about it, but she is being an asshole about it, and finally you snap. It is a good thing you have the conference room door closed. You inform her of her skewed priorities and it is only when the words “someone I love more than almost anyone else in this entire world is dying right now, so tell me where she is” leave your mouth that you realize that they are true, this is a thing that is happening to you right now, right this minute. She could be dead right now. The social worker wouldn’t know yet.

This is when you start acting irrationally. You say things to people as you leave the office that turn their faces in horrible contorted ways. You are crying and then not crying in hysterical patterns. You are fine for the entire drive until it is time to park, and then you cannot find any of the parking garages and start screaming out the windows at old men crossing the street.

You leave the car parked illegally and run through traffic. Fuck the car, the tow lots can have it.

You still feel nothing when they show you her body, which is not quite her but should be. You say her name quietly. You try to think of important things to say but you don’t need to, you really don’t; you talked to her yesterday, last night. She already knows, so at least all of that is okay.

There are other people there whose names you forget, whose grief and fear is inappropriate and unimportant compared to yours. You accept their hugs and their encouragements and can’t wait for them to leave. Most of all you want to be alone, alone with her and the people who are going to take care of her and bring her back to you. This is business. This is important.

While she is in surgery you make lists. You do work. You call, you console, you inform. You are some straightforward, centered, highly-motivated and unsinkable version of yourself that you only sort-of recognize. You wish you could show this whole episode to your therapist. Is this okay? Is this normal? I feel okay.

No point in feeling the true terror of the situation until you have to, if you have to.

She was seizing when she went into surgery. Like she was responding to your voice, to your being there, except then it turned into some electrical storm wrecking her against the soft restraints, the rails clanking in the small space of the elevator. Her eyes opened but that was not her.

The one thing you did tell her, you told her over and over again. Quietly and firmly and honestly, the way you told her when you told her she had to leave that place, she had to eat something. She listens to you when it really matters because even though you’re an asshole you won’t make asshole decisions on her part. That’s why you have her Power of Attorney. You make the decision for her.

“Come back,” you tell her. “You have to come back.”

You still feel not much. Instead of feeling you just do things: you eat because you should, you pace because you can’t stop pacing. OR staff are sympathetic and kind to you in a way that makes you wonder. A wonder that leads to the terror that you won’t feel until you have to, if you have to.

But you are lucky. A surgeon comes out, and then another surgeon–every time you talk to someone it’s someone else, you never remember names though you remember everything they say, your memory has become elastic and powerful and hungry–and you can feel the teeth of the terror snapping behind your heel. You know already you have vanquished it. You know it will not take her. She heard you, she didn’t hear you, either way she listened. It doesn’t matter. It doesn’t matter. The both of you, you’re free of it. You got away.

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