Monday, March 7th, 2016
I got angry at the dog. He was prancing around the room with his pink hippo pillow pet while I watched, numb at first, collapsed in the desk chair. It was an unusual day. He had spent nine of the last twelve hours — at least — locked up. It made sense that he was excited to be out. My parents both work from home for the most part, so he typically had domain throughout the house, but they had both spent today and the day before in the hospital because my step-dad had some right-side weakness and trouble with speech that cropped up out of nowhere. They were worried about a stroke.
It was yesterday evening, Sunday, when he walked into the ER, and by the time they took him back, sorted out that it wasn’t a stroke, and scheduled an MRI, it was already morning. I drove back to Richmond from DC to visit with him. By the time I got home, let the dogs outside (only one has to be penned, he eats things), locked the one back up, and got to the hospital, they had the results back. There is a mass in his brain, that is probably cancer. He’s fifty-three.
My mom initiated the transfer from the community hospital to MCV in Richmond to get doctors better qualified to treat him on his case, and he was transferred by the end of the day. He wasn’t clear on what was happening, and had trouble linking together his concepts to speak. Yesterday he spent chainsaw-in-hand, felling trees as he built our new house. Of all my family, for him to be physically weak and inarticulate (or, better, unable to articulate) presented the biggest contrast possible. It was scary and uncomfortable to be there with him while he was like this — as though I was tarnishing his reputation by seeing him when he was weak. That is to say, the visit felt like I was kicking him when he was down.
Once he was settled at the MCV Neurological Intensive Care Unit — a piece of paper stowed behind a lucite stand in the lobby said “Welcome to the Neurological Intensive Care Unit!” — the biopsy of the mass scheduled for Wednesday, I went home and left my mom and one of my sisters to spend the night in the hospital, and went back to take care of the dogs.
And, after they ran back inside, Marshall started prancing, happily, with his toy. And I got angry at him. I didn’t yell or react. I stewed, in the chair, and felt betrayed. I wanted him to know, to read the room. I wanted him to understand, to lay on the ground and consider what the fuck got us here. But instead, he pranced and chewed, and shook his pink pillow.
This is a part of a series of essays which I began while my step-father Tom — a good man — was undergoing treatment for particularly aggressive brain cancer. He began experiencing acute symptoms on March 6th, 2016, and passed away nineteen days later.
His family and friends started a college scholarship fund in his memory. If you would like to donate, you can do so at tombroadheadscholarship.org.