This morning a redheaded woodpecker, pounding on a dead tree pulled my eyelashes from my eyelids. I stared at the ceiling listening to dead bark raining down on the side of the house from each heavy thump. Actually it was nice to be awakened by life. I remember a distant world where most mornings I awoke to the noise of kids fighting and a wife who brought my coffee and would say; “Wake up little biscuit.”
I would never wake up to that world again. Through all the chaos and fast movements out the door and in the door after working all day during those times, I am left with this chipping into dead bark.
Sure, I can pinpoint the exact time life changed. The kids were grown and starting their own life. My wife and I were headed toward security and retirement with all our insurance policies, 401K, and even though the white picket fence needed paint, life had all the quietness of a small town. It was 2007 and my wife was diagnosed with MDS (Myelodysplastic Syndrome), a form of Leukemia, or a type of cancer in which the bone morrow does not make enough healthy blood cells and there are abnormal (blast) cells in the blood and/or bone marrow. She became transfusion dependent and time was running out. The body can only handle so many transfusions. The doctors said about thirty-five. The same amount of chips into dead bark that woodpecker is making every three minutes.
The pounding and the thumping continued. Each day when my eyelashes separated from my eyelids, I wanted to close them again. I had a hard time watching life being taken from her, and counting each transfusion; temporarily making her perk up for a week, only to bring lethargy and bone pain the next. No one, not the kids who were now adults, her sister or brother, or my family could know what level of hell we were in, and maybe only Dante understood because he described a place in hell for lovers, losing everything, and paying the price for our own folly, believing love can conquer all.
There was hope. A bone marrow transplant. The doctors at John Hopkins said my fiercely independent wife, once the transplant was done, within a month, would return to her occupation as an Accountant and resume a normal life bringing me coffee again and saying; “Wake up little biscuit.” Everyone was in agreement except me. I am a cynic when something sounds too good to be true. In this situation there really was no way I could not go along with it, especially when the call came that a 100% match had been found.
They readied her for the transplant and killed everything in her body with chemo. The bone marrow was flown from Tennessee to Baltimore. They released her to me a couple weeks later. On the night of her released, she developed a severe headache. Calling an ambulance was not an option because only Hopkins could deal with her condition, so from my home in Annapolis, I sped her to Baltimore, in the snow, and got there in amazing time.
She had a brain bleed in her Occipital Lobe. A spot about the size of a nickel in her brain that is now just grey matter and dead. Calling the youngest son, my voice stuttered. I’m sure he didn’t like receiving information from me, because I struggled with saying bad news. Try telling a mother’s son that she is now blind. Try and get the words out of your throat and move your hyoid and say your wife is now blind when you know how important her sight is for her occupation, driving, and her independence in life without getting choked up.
Everything was slow and agonizing. The horror continued and kept getting worse. A beautiful and sexy redhead, now bald, blind and seventy-eight pounds. Two intestinal infections making her stomach the size of a basketball, all because her body lost resistance. The brain trauma that left her with rare hallucinatory seizures and incredible fear. Several times walking in on “code blue” being called on your wife. It wasn’t long before that white picket fence fell down around us.
This was just the beginning. I don’t think anyone will ever understand what happened to us in the next two years. To this day my voice still stutters and my eyes well-up just talking about it. I can barely write about it, and I really don’t want to write about it.
But this morning I blame that redheaded woodpecker pounding on that dead tree, and dried bark sounding against this empty house, pulling my eyelashes from my eyelids. It reminds me of her and what she was always able to awaken and bring out of my heart. I made my own coffee, told myself; “Wake up little biscuit,” and wrote this down.