IT WASN’T SUPPOSED TO BE
Companion to Robert Buchanon’s Story.
A cobalt sky slowly grows lighter
above the quiet Spanish airport
and the edge of dawn reveals
the silhouette of a Learjet
primed on the tarmac
to receive the stretcher
that supports what I have
suddenly become. I am dazed
by intravenous Ativan, barely able
to focus on those who hover
with resuscitation gear
in case I code
before I find home,
whatever the cost.
In the airport, my wife surrounded
with our luggage and many people
who only partly speak her language,
collapses in tears on the floor.
Botched reservations left her
with no way to get home.
A woman from Japan
reaches out to help.
I began dying in Madrid.
It wasn’t supposed to be that way.
We were going to visit the Prado, Toledo,
the Alhambra and dine at sidewalk cafes.
Then my body locked me
in the seizures of a rare disease.
My central nervous system under attack,
I later learned that I could soon be blind and paralyzed.
There is no known cause, no cure.
I fell further and further into the unknown
places in my soul.
3. Mayo Clinic
The best medical care in the world
kept me stable. But even after months
of practice with damaged nerves,
I wobbled on unreliable ankles
and knocked over glasses
and furniture. My trembling
hands struggled to turn pages
and I couldn’t feel
where my left leg was.
I was slipping into the private hole
of my dying, isolated
in my anger.
4. A Year Later at Mayo
The entire afternoon
problem solving, vocabulary, pattern
recognition—things I’m good at.
Then memory. I am read lists
of twenty words. I repeat
as many as I can remember.
Drum. House. Ocean. Voice.
I never get more than eight.
5. At the Care Center
Silence descends at our dinner table as
Samuel approaches with his walker,
a dull aluminum frame with plastic wheels
that click with each of Samuel’s tiny steps,
Samuel with his old beige pants
loose on flattened buttocks,
Samuel, told by doctors he would
always need a wheelchair, who
works doggedly in physical therapy.
He seems to be a miracle
walking on water without his wheelchair.
He reaches the table,
slowly sits with gentle help,
and quietly weeps.
I lost my independence
and all that gave me identity.
I lost my ability to travel by myself,
or far from expert medical care.
I lost my youth, becoming an old man overnight.
I became too much to live with.
I lost my marriage.
Eventually, it opens the door
to a different kind of love
where humility is a friend.
I see there will be time to understand.
There will be time to reflect
on the sustaining compassion
and generosity that occur in the world.
There will be time throughout my humbling moments
of helplessness for joy, to love
and be loved.