I started this year preparing for the next. Next year would be my 50th birthday, and I was already thinking about how I would spend it. Did I need to go to a part of the world I hadn’t been to before? Did I need a fruity drink on a pristine beach? The big 5-0 seemed close, like nothing was between me and it, and I wanted to be prepared. And then it was the first Monday morning in June.
My husband came down the stairs to find me in the kitchen. “What are you doing here?” he asked, profound confusion registering on his face. Barely looking up, I said I was unloading the dishwasher and asked if he wanted breakfast. “You should go. I don’t know what religious group you belong to, but you shouldn’t be in here.” Looking at him, he registered no recognition of me – his wife of 17+ years. I pulled our wedding photo off the shelf and explained I was his wife and everything was okay. I explained again and again.
Finally, he was calm enough that I persuaded him to get in the car. I took him to the local ER. When asked what was wrong, he said, with a nod toward me, “She says I’m confused.” He was taken to an exam room. One doctor came in and talked to us both. I explained the situation with my husband looking on skeptically. The doctor asked him the year. “Nineteen….uh…I don’t know.” he said. A few more doctors came and went, always with at least one question for him. He knew Biden was president, but that’s the only one he got right among the series that included ‘When’s your birthday?’ They wanted to know what medications he took, what he was like normally, and if they admitted him would be okay with me. They suspected many different things after admittance to the neurology floor of the hospital. They performed MRIs, scans, and tests a plenty while, he remained mostly unconscious.
The initial confusion gave way to a period where he was mostly asleep with brief bouts of random muttering to people who weren’t in the room. A month passed, and so did our 18th wedding anniversary. He wasn’t awake at all that day. He did roll toward me so I could brush his hair. His hair had grown longer and tangled from all these weeks in bed. Did he have a ‘do not resuscitate’ order? Have I thought about long-term care? I answered questions and sometimes asked them. It seemed dangerous to ask at a certain point. On a Friday, they stopped all medications and tried a new treatment. I read Mark Gatiss’ book to him that weekend during visiting hours. On Monday, when I arrived for the start of visiting hours at 11 am, I was greeted with “Hi, Hon.” He was confused again but not about who I was; he wanted to know why we were in the hospital. “What happened?” In tears, I told him I honestly didn’t know but was glad he was back. “Okay.” And then – “Hon?....after we get back from your birthday trip, we should look at adopting a dog.”