I had been engaged for fifteen hours, and I was terrified. Fifteen minutes earlier my fiancé’s coworker called to tell me he had a seizure at his softball game, he was in an ambulance on his way to the emergency room. I was already in my pajamas, letting a pint of ice cream soften on the counter, so as soon as he came home we could snuggle up, watch TV with something sweet, and go to bed early. Within seconds I was in the car, still in my pajamas, inching my way through Chicago's rush hour to meet him at the hospital.
I cried the whole drive. I cried and I yelled at myself for crying, and I fought my way through the hellscape that is Lower Wacker Drive, until I arrived at the emergency room.
I don't know how I parked the car. I don't know how I got from the garage to the emergency room. I do know that as I ran through the doors, I called him "my fiancé" out loud for the first time.
The nurse told me he was in bed twelve, and to go ahead into the triage area. I stepped through the doors and froze. It was a zoo. There were patients everywhere, doctors and nurses running back and forth. I couldn't see any numbers, let alone discern which bed was "bed twelve."
I paced back and forth for a few frantic minutes before stopping a doctor with a white beard and glasses.
"My fiancé's in bed twelve, do you know where that is?"
He looked at me, and clicked his tongue.
"Bed twelve is right over there. Now calm down, sweetie, you're not going to help him like this. He's going to be just fine."
And he left.
For a fleeting moment I was furious. I thought he was being sexist and paternalistic, telling a young, frightened woman to stop being so emotional, and I wanted to punch him in his bearded mouth. Then I marched to the corner the doctor had pointed out, and pulled aside the curtain.
There was the six and a half foot tall, third base playing love of my life. One side of his face looked paralyzed, like he'd had a stroke. The gurney he was lying on was covered in ballpark sand. He looked up at me and shock and fear were written all over his face.
I wrapped my arms around him and he buried his head in my stomach, shaking as he began to cry.
"It's okay," I said, thinking of that stupid doctor. What the hell did he know? "It's okay. You're going to be fine."
Over the next eleven hours M had blood draws, CT scans, and MRIs, and the news was not good. He had several masses in his brain, and as a neurosurgeon and his neurooncologist partner explained, it looked like it was probably cancer.
I thought back to that doctor who had shown me to M's bed. He's going to be just fine.
A few days later, my fiancé went into surgery to diagnose the masses. The news was worse than I could have imagined. They were grade four astrocytoma tumors, otherwise known as glioblastoma. We were told most patients lived as much as 18 months from diagnosis.
"But you never know," the surgeon said. "He could be lucky."
My fiancé's parents cried. His grandfather prayed. My parents hugged me and everyone said they were so sorry. I opened my mouth and a voice I didn't recognize came out.
"It's okay. He's going to be just fine."
Maybe they thought I was crazy, blinded by grief and shock and loss. Whatever they thought of me, they didn't say I was wrong. When M came to and we told him the news, we didn't tell him how long he was supposed to live. Instead I told him, "You're going to be just fine."
I remembered that doctor from the ER. Every day, while my fiancé went through chemo, radiation, and an experimental trial that used arsenic to poison his brain, I remembered him
"You're going to be just fine."
I said it every day, every hour, for nine months. Each time I felt myself start to buckle, I told myself to calm down, I wasn’t doing him any favors like that. And then I married my husband- who's tumors had shrunk more than any of his doctors had ever seen.
I said it every day for another year, until he had been chemo free for seven months and our twin daughters were born.
"He's going to be just fine."
I say it now, more than nine years later, with all three of our children sitting around the dinner table where their father makes funny faces and leads them marching off to bed. With another new tumor and surgery and chemo behind us.
I think of that doctor every day. I wish I knew who he was. I wish I could find him and thank him, and tell him he was right. I wasn't doing my husband any favors by panicking. He is just fine.
I wish I could tell that doctor, thank you. From all of us.
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