Nineteen years ago on August 19th, 1989 this happened: (http://cityroom.blogs.nytimes.com/2007/07/19/the-last-big-steam-blast-gramercy-park-1989). This blew up our apartment, and blew our minds. Jamie was four months old. Everything we owned was in our apartment…but we were out for a walk, miraculously our pets…2 cats and a turtle lived to talk about it…our fish…not so good. In the next seven months we moved from my parent's house, to a corporate apartment, to a temporary rental, to a less temporary rental. In March of 1990 our lives started to feel a bit more normal, and this happened:
I remember a very pivotal moment, although I didn’t know how pivotal it was at the time. I knew that it was memorable, but I didn’t know for how many reasons.
It was July, Jamie was 15 months old; we were out for a walk, communicating non-verbally mostly, when she looked back at me from her stroller and said, “ Hi Mama”. This was amazing. Dada had been uttered, Hi was a bit old news by then, but “Hi Mama”, this was not only great because it was the first time anyone had called me Mama, but because it actually came in the form of a sentence…there was no doubt in my mind that my fifteen month old child was a genius. This simple, happy moment was almost the moment at which everything became a lot less simple. A few days later I woke up and noticed that what at first just seemed like blurry vision, was actually double vision. This was the first sign that something was seriously not right. A few days later, and a few doctors later, an MRI showed that I had a “lesion” (doctor speak for tumor). Then this happened:
On August 29th, 1990 Jamie woke from her afternoon nap, I went into her room to see her as I usually would, but instead of taking her out of her crib to play with her, or feed her, I kissed her goodbye, and I wasn’t sure when I was coming back. I was heading to the hospital to have brain surgery. As I write this on September 3rd, 2008, I still remember that scary sad feeling…I wondered if I would see her again. I wondered if when I did, in what condition I’d be. My Mom came with me to the hospital, and as soon as I walked over that hospital threshold, I went from a person to patient; you immediately feel different. You become a number, you’re issued a paper patient bracelet, you’re asked to change into hospital attire, it’s requested that you fill out your meal plan for the length of your stay, (like you know what you’d want to eat…like you’re going to be eating), nurses come to pinch you and prod you for this and that; doctors, residents, and interns come to your room and continuously ask you the same questions about your medical past and present...and within the span of a very short time you become a part of a new neighborhood…one in which you’d rather not be living. After my Mom left, Jon arrived, and when he left around 10P, that was the end of my company. I remember feeling scared, sad, and a degree of alone that I can’t describe, and that even to this day, have not felt since…I wondered if I would see him again. I wondered if when I did see him, in what condition I’d be.
The next day, on the morning of August 30th (surgery day) a nurse came in at 5A to wake me up. I was asked to get out of bed and wash…like why is that important…where was I going? In those days you checked into the hospital a day before surgery (now you arrive the same day and walk into the operating room). Having done both, I can say neither one is better than the other. After washing, you’re rolled into a holding room on a gurney and there you lay like an extra in the movie Coma, until your number is called. There I was…I was 30 with a 16 month old baby and I was having brain surgery the day before Labor Day weekend. It was at this time that I learned one of my first hospital lessons…don’t have any major procedures performed on any national holidays. My doctor did the surgery, I went to Intensive Care, and the next time I saw him was five days later. The remaining unlucky staff is what makes you an unlucky patient. No procedures on holidays…if you can help it.
Since that day, I have always been particularly aware of where I am on its anniversary. I’ve been outdoors camping, I’ve been bobbing around at sea on a cruise ship during hurricane Charley, I’ve seen U-2 at Yankee Stadium on a beautiful moonlit night, I’ve seen Pearl Jam in a torrential rain storm at Randall's Island Stadium (when they still called it Randall's Island Stadium), I’ve been kayaking, I've been pregnant with Rachel, I’ve watched the sun set at Westhampton; last year I was in Toronto after just having left Jamie at the University at Buffalo to start her first year of college, and this year I lay in bed recovering from last year (a few days after leaving Jamie at college to start her second year of college). Every year on August 30th, no matter where I am I have a moment of silence with myself…I think the same thing…“it’s good to be here, because there have been times that I wasn’t sure I would be”. This year feels especially different given all that has happened, and also because this may be the first year Mr. Dubenschmeimer may not be celebrating as well.