His face in my hands, I asked, “Do you mean this?” pointing to the room, the reason he was in the ICU: fever, pneumonia, influenza-like illness. “Or do you mean the whole thing?” gesticulating to mean the big picture of five-plus years of aggressive scleroderma, chemotherapy, autologous stem cell transplant at age thirty, remission, and now a bad toe ulcer for the prior five months.
“The whole thing. The first night, I thought I was dying, drowning. I was so scared.”
He let out a sob and I cried, “I would have come down immediately: that day, not the next.”
“I know, but you do too much for me.”
“No. I will always be here. I would’ve been here.”
We cried, just a little. “Let’s get you through this and then figure out the rest. This is an acute illness and not the future. OK?” He agreed.
I hadn’t seen him cry for years. He had his tribe of support when he was diagnosed at twenty-five; they, Matt and I kept in touch. I watched for signs of anger and sadness. Mostly he shielded us all, building a life, work, loves, adventures.
Day Four: Only needing high-flow nasal prongs, good oxygen saturations, he even sat in a chair for a bit. Maybe this likely viral pneumonia might be turning the corner! “I must be really strong, given how I am fighting this,” he said. I supported this optimism.
Day Five: Worsening, he was intubated and put on the ventilator. I said, “I will be in the hall for the procedure. You’ll be sedated, not awake, but I’ll be here. I’ll be right back the minute the tube is in. You rest for your lungs to recover. You’ll be fine.” He nodded, exhausted from the work of breathing overnight.
Day Six: “We” watched the Seahawks, his team, in his room. They won. I leaned in, “They won! Next weekend, the tube will be out, you will be out of the ICU, and we will watch the next game together. I love you.” A tear rolled down his cheek.