The Treeline

I still don’t recall exactly how it happened, but the decision was made to life flight Chad to Boise.  Following a 20 minute rollicking drive on dirt roads, the ambulance pulled into the helipad site where a chopper awaited.  Gently the medics pulled the stretcher out of the truck, and from there turned Chad over to the life flight paramedics.

All three, the pilot and the two flight medics exchanged a quiet conversation out of earshot, while transferring my husband onto the chopper.  Then the pilot turned toward me and asked my weight.  If I weighed more than a 110 lbs at that point I’ll eat my hat.  I was pretty skinny by then.  I must have looked it, too  because they invited me to take the co-pilot seat for the fifteen minute ride down.

The pilot then offered me a pair of headphones so that I could hear the conversations between the pilot and the medics and the pilot and the hospital.  At once the word came up front that Chad’s vitals had dropped dangerously.  The medics added that the trouble was the altitude and that they would keep me apprised.  Frozen in that seat, frozen in the heat of mid-day August, I hoped he needed nothing more than a fleet enema when we landed.

The helicopter lifted directly up and over the mountain facing the helipad.  Heavy forest quickly thinned as the terrain turned to dry, barren hills.  Les Bois, French for “the trees,” spoke somewhere in my mind, observing the distinct line of forest ending in a golden hilly desert.  While musing over the vista the pilot asked me which hospital to approach, and unable to think, I told him the wrong one.

Heading to the incorrect facility, (home of the tumor center) I could see ground crew on a painted target waving us down.  Outside the pad, another ambulance waited to drive us to the emergency entrance.  Again my mind released unsolicited thoughts–how much was this all going to cost?  I knew we were racking up giant bills, but of course had no more control over the debt than I did the cancer.

Once inside, he was pulled quickly into an examination room.  The nurse assailed him with a blizzard of questions.  “When is your birthday?  What day is this?”  Chad could answer correctly, but crumpled into severe spasms of pain in the effort.  After two injections of Dilaudud the pain stemmed enough for him to describe his symptoms.

An ER doctor breezed into the room, asking many of the same questions as the nurse, then ordered an abdominal x–ray.  He would contact Chad’s chemo doctor, in the meantime, who was on call at the main medical center downtown.

And that was when our daughter walked into the ER, towing her new boyfriend from Salt Lake City.  We were meeting him for the first time.

When My Worst is My Best

The tumor institute quickly became far too familiar, an unsolicited home away from home.  He’d press the down button on the stainless steel elevator, lowering us into that stark, beige basement–the waiting room.  An ordeal.  I pretended to be brave. 

The smell in the unit was a combination of baby powder and rubbing alcohol, probably from the hand sanitizer dispensers positioned everywhere on those bland beige walls.  Fox News blared from a 12 inch television in the corner— while stunned patients and family members stared.  Health magazines and pamphlets were scattered on cookie cutter office chairs and faux-wood end tables. 

We didn’t belong in this surreal place and neither of us were prepared for what was coming. 

Walking phantoms, hairless and fragile, shuffled awkwardly, angular-ly across the nondescript carpet, escorted by unnaturally jolly nurses dressed in flowery scrubs.Patients ambled down one of two passages traversing this subterranean ward.  A straight hall toward the right led to the radiation wing while to the left lay the chemotherapy suite. 

I might have giggled when I imagined we had entered an episode of  the Twilight Zone, encountering wraith-like aliens in a windowless underworld. But there was nothing humorous about this place.  People lived or died here, and I somehow grasped that I couldn’t accept this room, with its contrast of sick men and women tended to by a cheer leading squad. 

And that marked the beginning of my own hell–a disassociation reflex that formed to shield my mind.  I couldn’t process this unexpected, horrifying reality. 

For Chad, well, he was just all eyes, trying with all his might to make the hospital and his condition seem smaller, incidental, a bump in the road—but our surroundings betrayed his assurances.