I love to celebrate birthdays (if you know me at all, you know that I will drag mine out for a full month, if possible) and Brian’s is no exception. This year, however — today, in fact — his birthday has taken on a whole new meaning, with a much different reason to celebrate.
What most of you don’t know because a) his wishes and b) it was too stressful and hectic to report to everyone anyway, is that he spent the last two weeks seriously ill, the last eight days in the hospital (two ER visits, two admissions with no break in between, and a whole kitchen sink of tests, including two spinal taps, CT scan, MRI, x-rays, ultrasounds, etc. etc. etc.). What began the night before we lost our Daisy girl and attributed to stress became a flu diagnosis (incorrect) at a walk-in clinic the next afternoon and another clinic later in the week (still incorrect) and eventually turned into a diagnosis of viral meningitis of unknown origin, with a seriously ill B. He is home as of yesterday, thank God, and on the mend, but I have never been more grateful to celebrate the life of the man I love.
Over the past two weeks, especially during the time he spent in the ER and hospital, I learned some valuable lessons, about myself, about love, and about life.
- Your tribe is everything. Holy cats, am I lucky. Are we lucky. Our BFFs, our neighbors, school/work peeps, our families, our “framily” listened, loved, prayed. You all absolutely rock. And those of you I didn’t call on, I knew you were there anyway. Our tribe is wide and far, and we love you all more than you know.
- Don’t take your health for granted. Or, as the infectious disease specialist put it, you aren’t sick until you’re sick. How many of my friends out there are just like B and me? Never sick, in good or reasonably good shape, eat essentially the right things most of the time (not enough vegetables, probably), and so forth. And then, just like that, you are in the hospital, suffering, for no apparent good reason, from something over which you had no control. Go live that life! Hug the ones you love. Do it.
- Spontaneous public crying may occur. I cried at PetSmart when I told the veterinarian who had helped us with Daisy what was happening with B. I sure did. Just stood at the counter and cried. And I cried in Whole Foods because B wanted ham and I ran into a co-worker and said, randomly, “B wants ham,” and then the waterworks started (I found that same ham in my purse the next morning, by the way, because I carried it up to his room and forgot to give it to him …). And I had to excuse myself from the lunch table with B’s dad because I realized he was the first person in a week that I’d seen in person besides people in the hospital, and that just absolutely overcame me. But you will keep it together when you need to, and you will learn it’s okay to be vulnerable, even at the deli counter.
- “Don’t forget to take care of you” is great advice. But it ain’t happening. In a time of crisis, you may eat a 460-calorie blueberry scone from CC’s for breakfast every single day for eight days (hypothetically, of course), and maybe for lunch or dinner, too. And your sleep will be all jacked up, and you will not exercise. Should you be doing all the right things and “taking care of yourself”? Of course. But you may not, and eventually you will again. Don’t beat yourself up.
- It’s okay to go home. I wanted to spend every waking minute and every night in the hospital by my man’s side. I really did. I tried. The guilt was deep. But at 11:30 the first night, when I had tried every conceivable way to sleep, including upside-down in a recliner with my legs up the back (yes, this happened), I realized that it was okay to sleep (or try to sleep) in our own bed, or to go buy Sam’s flea medicine, or to water the wilting flowers in the garden. Those people watching over B in the hospital? Professionals. Sometimes, in order to give more, you may have to give a tiny bit less.
- That “for better or worse, in sickness and in health” stuff is SERIOUS BUSINESS. I don’t think much hurts worse than seeing the one you love hurting. And when you are just through the wringer, and one or both of you may or may not have had a shower or brushed your teeth, and one or both of you may be crying, the conversation about bodily functions just rolls off everyone’s tongue like butter, and you look up at your spouse and you think now this, this is the real stuff here, as real as love gets.
- Pain brings perspective. I saw a lot of suffering the past two weeks. Some of it was Brian’s, and some of it ours, and some of it other people’s. And some was worse than ours. It’s oh-so-hard to get that perspective when you’re in the thick of it, but that bald lady I saw in the wheelchair or that tiny boy crying his lungs out on a stretcher or all those times “Code Blue” came on the loudspeaker sure gave me some perspective. We’ve got this. He’s going to be okay.
- Don’t forget the man upstairs. I know skeptics say prayer doesn’t “work,” but they can go jump in a lake (sorry, God!). How do you not feel it when you are lifted up by so many people storming heaven? I’ll admit that I got so sucked under that I forgot to a) ask for help and b) say thank you until about hospital Day 5, but the rest of you didn’t forget. And we felt it. We did.
Well, happy birthday, baby. I learned some stuff, thanks to you. All that stuff above plus some serious lessons about patience, humility, and strength. This is my birthday love letter to you, my celebration of you. I would have celebrated the heck out of your special day anyway, but this year’s birthday is my new favorite holiday. I’m glad you’re home and on the mend. I love you.