Posted on Tue, Oct. 14, 2003
Focusing on 'when', not 'if'
A GROUP OF FRIENDS CAN ONLY HOPE A LOVED ONE RECOVERS FROM A SERIOUS ILLNESS
By Kathryn Quigley
Tim lay in the hospital, tubes in his mouth, arm and nose. We sat in a restaurant, plates piled with snapper, shrimp and salmon.
The Washington restaurant was trendy and well-reviewed. More important, it was right across the street from the hospital.
We told stories about Tim. How he proposed to Judy 13 years ago, and then she threw up because of an allergic reaction to mussels at dinner. We kidded how Tim had been dating Judy long before she thought she was dating him.
Tim's friend Bill remembered how he first met Tim at Catholic University 20 years ago during a recruiting meeting for the College Republicans. Tim was wearing a blue blazer, of course. So was Bill. They became fast friends.
"When he gets out of the hospital, I am going to make a fake sign that says, 'President Hillary Clinton,' " Bill joked." Tim will hate that."
When he gets out of the hospital.
When. If? No, when.
He is only 38.
This summer, doctors told Tim he had multiple sclerosis. But his health deteriorated so fast, and that diagnosis turned out to be wrong. Then the doctors thought it was lupus. Now they are at a loss to explain the autoimmune disorder, which is causing lesions on his brain, affecting his speech, sight and breathing.
My brother, Patrick, sat on my left. He and Tim became friends as freshmen at St. Joe's Prep in Philadelphia. Tim spent summers with us in Stone Harbor. He knows all the words to the theme from “The Patty Duke Show.” He recites all the names of the presidents when he gets annoyed.
It felt as if he were there with us at the restaurant. But he was in the ICU. My sister-in-law, Karla, put down her fork.
"I just want him to get better," she said. "If I have to push him around in a wheelchair, I will. I don't care."
We all agreed silently.
Judy sat on my right. I rubbed her back, making her take sips of red wine. She stared into space. Then she went out for a smoke. Since Tim had gone into the hospital, Judy had started smoking instead of eating.
The salmon was cooked perfectly. Our waitress could not have been more efficient. It was almost perfect. But my stomach ached and lurched. How could I be having a good time while Tim lay in the hospital, tubes in his mouth, arm and nose?
We were laughing. It felt good. I felt guilty. We were laughing without him. Judy had snapper. She ate some of it - more than she had eaten the previous night.
Judy might as well be my sister; we have been friends since second grade. We both wore the pantsuit uniform in the winter at St. Timothy's grade school in Northeast Philadelphia. We both had short hair and glasses during high school at St. Basil Academy, causing our teachers to mix us up.
We both went to the junior prom. Tim was my date.
Earlier that day, Judy kissed Tim on the head and talked to him about their 10-year-old daughter, Zoe.
"Zoe is staying with Katie tonight," Judy told Tim. "She is OK."
That wasn't exactly true, but what could Tim do about it? Nothing.
Nothing, nothing, nothing. Except blink, to let us know he was in there, and move his head toward the sound of our voices.
I had put my hand on his forehead. I held his hand as the machines blipped. I was obsessed with the heart monitor. His heart seemed so weak. But Tim was trying so hard.
We took turns going in and out of the ICU to sit with Tim. My brother, the law student, tried to do some homework. He used five different highlighters on each legal document. He looked like Judy's attorney. Maybe that was a good thing.
The day was so long.
After our main course that night, the waitress brought dessert menus. Chocolate bombe. Bananas with cream and caramel. Should we get dessert?
Should we indulge while Tim lay in the hospital? Should we be eating while a tube fed Tim? Should we be glad to be together?
We ordered dessert and toasted to Tim.
Please let it be when, and not if.
Kathryn Quigley is an assistant professor in the department of journalism and creative writing at Rowan University in Glassboro.