It’s taken me a while to get this post together, one, because this particular part in the story is the hardest to write about, and two, because today is the official one year anniversary of Nate’s surgery (which I will eventually get to writing about) and I feel like celebrating instead of reliving this part.
But on with the story so we can get to the good part!
After the devastation from Dr. Gladding, and the initial moments of shock alone in the room, several interactions that followed are burned in my memory, forever I think.
The first was with Allison. I slipped out of Nate’s hospital room and started walking. I saw Al – she had just arrived (after teaching her last day) and just been told the latest. I remember walking up to an empty hospital bed in the hallway next to her, leaning over it, and watching my tears fall onto the blue plastic mattress. Nothing was said. She had her hand on my back, and maybe whispered a prayer just before I stood up and said I was going back to the room.
The second was when Adam and Jon arrived. Nate wanted to be the one to tell them what was going on. I remember sitting on the floor against the wall, with my knees up, avoiding eye contact. Nate told them he might die and I cried into the sweatshirt I was wearing. I listened to him apologize for not being a good enough brother, and good enough friend. I think no one was sure what to really say or do, but in general I remember Adam and Jon’s love and strength.
After the conversation with the guys, I walked out of the hospital thinking through all that had gone on the last hour. It felt too much, too fast. No way was I about to lose my best friend of fourteen years any moment. But the beauty of shock- I’d try and internalize the loss, and the idea would freeze up, refusing to materialize. I was physically unable to comprehend the void of losing Nate.
I sat on a park bench and called my sister, Heather. She’s the voice of reason. She’s so strong, so steady. I sobbed into the phone and again watched my tears fall, this time hitting the pavement. Funny the details of tears and where they landed became significant enough for me to so clearly remember inside the cloud of shock. It was almost like some kind of detachment. The tears were part of me, but I was watching them like an out of body experience. During this phone call, I think I rambled through my confusion and panic, and Heather cried with me.
The horrible hour passed, and the day passed, and we waited. And always the looming question of how much time we had. We still didn’t know if the tumor was cancer and still didn’t know how fast it was growing.
I think for your sake and my sake, I’ll leave that day behind us. It was bad, enough said. I’ve been communicating a lot of details so I’ll try and be more succinct in telling the bigger events of the next two days. These are the highlights:
- Small intestine transplant
- Uncle B
- A beach
- An air ambulance
A small intestine transplant became the new focus. If the tumor wasn’t cancer, Nate might be able to have it removed with a new intestine ready to replace his that would die. Seriously, modern medicine. Amazing.
Dr. Gladding knew of four organ transplant hospitals in the country and started making calls, asking them to take Nate’s case. We heard from her on Thursday and she told us one of the hospitals she was waiting to hear back from was IU Med in Indianapolis. What?! Our families lived two hours from there. She also had diagrams and used big words. Thankfully our friend and genius (who is also a doctor), Oliver, was there to explain all the medical complexities when she or other doctors would leave the room.
Uncle B. He had been driving back and forth, sitting with us, updating my family (since the phone suddenly became an incredibly complicated piece of technology). Uncle B and my aunt Lisa had driven over to the hospital at the beginning of the week, when things were still confusing and the hospital was a ghost town. They were the first face of family in all this and I was so thankful they were in Phoenix. Uncle B would sit with us, being a reassuring presence in the chaos. When Nate needed a distraction from pain, uncle B would humor him with conversation and stories about things like fishing in Canada. He was amazing, and I will forever be thankful that he showed his love for us in that way.
On Friday morning we heard (superhero) Dr. Gladding literally running down the hall shouting “Indianapolis is a go! Indianapolis is a go!” She came bursting into the room, said they accepted him as a patient, and to start making calls to our insurance right away. We needed a flight to Indianapolis and we needed one today. There was a rush of activity- lots of phone calls, Adam and Al posting “does anyone have a private jet we can borrow” on Facebook and Twitter. But this is seriously where my mom shines. I believe she can do anything when it comes to getting things done quickly and efficiently.
Insurance gave the go-ahead and we were booked on an air ambulance for Indy that afternoon. I was told to go home, pack a bag, and get back as soon as possible. There was a surge of hope, and a turn-around in morale for everyone. Al drove me back to my apartment to pack, and while I was gone, lots of amazing people visited Nate. Friends from church, Nate’s coworkers from Canyon Breeze Elementary, and his weekly ManDate crew. Lots of love going around.
Instead of packing, I stood in the middle of our bedroom. I couldn’t concentrate, and couldn’t move. Allison, Adam, and Jon made the decision to drive our car to Indianapolis, leaving the same time as our flight (only getting there 24 hours later). Because of this, Allison needed to stop at her apartment to pack quickly. She got back to an empty suitcase and to me standing in front of a wall of our wedding photos, saying over and over again, “Tell me I’m not coming back here alone. Tell me I’m not coming back here alone.” Al kept repeating “you won’t” and helped me throw things into the suitcase.
Back at the hospital, my pastor, Richard, and his wife Kelli were there to see us off. They had both been back and forth throughout the week, and Richard in particular, had sat with us through one of Nate’s bad (pain) spells. I texted him the memory today and he told me how awful and helpless he felt, and how desperately he was praying. Him and Kelli prayed again for us before we left. I remember telling them how scared I was, and crying as they prayed. Richard told me he had a picture in his mind of Nate and me walking on a beach somewhere several months later…and Nate was healthy. For some reason this stuck with me throughout the rest of our time in the hospital and gave me hope.
Nate was put on a stretcher around 7pm, and my mom, Nate and I were taken outside to an ambulance. We drove right onto the runway of Sky Harbor airport, and oh. my. was that jet tiny. The nurses took one look at my face and offered me an IV of Valium (I declined– but what was I thinking?!). They maneuvered Nate inside and the two flight nurses, pilot, my mom, and I took off for what must have been one of the smoothest, fastest flights ever (I slept the whole time thanks to a new friend and Valium replacement, Xanax).
Part four tomorrow… (thanks for reading!)