(If I’m honest, this is probably for those who know me too because if my best friend didn’t know half of this stuff until four days ago, you don’t either.)
This morning I did something I knew was going to hurt — I walked the 97 steps from the corner of 165th street and Fort Washington to the middle of that long block. I stopped. Stared. Took a picture on my iPhone. I stopped. Looked at my name on that building and thought what I tend to think every time I see my name there — I may not have given the money to have that hospital building named after me, but fuck if I didn’t leave enough of myself within those walls to earn it.
I’m physically sitting in Starbucks right now as I write this, but my mind’s looking down at worn down UGGs that have seen better days, as I sit on the corner of my bed and ask myself — am I going to go see her die?
This time two years ago, I knew it was a matter of when and not if. At that point the scope had gotten smaller, it was a matter of hours and not days. I knew this, as I looked down at my UGGs, I knew that if I got up and walked the 5 blocks from my apartment to the hospital, it would be the last time I walked that with her waiting for me on the other end.
So I sat there. The anxiety in my stomach made it hard to not crouch over. I wanted to crawl into myself and pretend it wasn’t happening. I wanted a hail mary pass. Instead, I got up. I told my cousin I was going to go.
I walked the distance. I’d walked the distance to this moment, I needed to see it through. I may not have believed it otherwise.
There are 97 steps from the corner of the block to the door of the Vivian and Seymour Milstein Heart Center. When you walk into the Heart Center’s lobby, you have to walk up two steps into the Milstein’s building main lobby. I remember saying, “Blanca Delgado — 8th floor” and thinking, “this is going to be the last time I say her name and the number that has identified her since November 2013.”
It was March 10th. It was sunny outside. I still have the hospital pass I got that day.
I waited for the elevator and I felt like the 10-year-old girl who had taken that elevator for the first time in 2002 excited to see her mom. In 2002, that hospital made me grow up and in 2014, that hospital turned me into an adult.
I made life-ending decisions at the age of 21 that I shouldn’t have been able to make. Two years ago yesterday I said yes to morphine and no to more meds and artificial living. I remember looking down at the shoes of a resident doctor who I felt was far too young and had too little empathy to the road we’d traveled.
When he outlined our options so passively, I wanted to stare him in the eyes and say — “Hey you seem like an alright guy, but I’m going to teach you something they apparently haven’t taught you in med school. I know I’ve bugged you with questions over the last few days, my frustration with you and your team has been more than apparent, but don’t strip her or us of our diginity. If she’s going to die, have the cojones to tell me without using big medical words that only I understand because time taught me to speak your language. Come down to my uncles and brother’s level and tell it to us straight.”
But, instead his words became noise and I interrupted him mid-sentence as I looked up from his shoes and said, “so what you’re saying is that regardless of what we decide she’s going to die?”
He looked taken aback by me — now you know how I feel, buddy. “Yes,” he said.
“Okay, got it. Thanks for that. So let’s go with morphine.”
That sentence was another 97 steps for me. It catapulted me from a 21-year-old who’d just had her first tequila shot 3 months ago to a 21-year-old who carried out someone’s advance directive.
Over two years the weight of knowing that has changed me.
If you knew me two years ago then you know I’m not the same girl. Physically I haven’t changed much — my hair’s a bit longer, I’m more settled in my fashion choices, I’ve learned to use eyeliner. Mentally though I am what a 180 looks like.
I went from the primary caregiver of an 85-year-old woman to the 21-year-old standing outside of Zara having a panic attack because having so much time to live my own life was suffocating.
In two years I started two businesses, made a lot of new friends who will text me after reading this, dated a couple of guys who may or may not text me after reading this, and I learned how to cope.
Therapy gives me tools, my friends give me a cushion to fail and fall. My best friend listens to stories and doesn’t pressure me to share more than I want. It wasn’t until last Sunday that I realized just how good she is at standing back and giving me the space to reach out to her.
She asked me questions about those days before my grandma died that I honestly thought she already knew answers to. She didn’t. How could she? I never really told her everything and yet when I think about the funeral two years ago or the cemetery on the day we buried my grandma one of the clearest things I remember is my best friend since kindergarten holding my hand.
She drove my family from the church to the cemetery. She didn’t leave my side throughout the funeral. She became a crutch because holding myself up was not something I could do.
Over these two years, she’s never asked me anything unless I bring it up. With her I’ve gotten better at bringing things up. I don’t fall short because with her who I am in any given moment is enough.
So it’s why on Sunday I answered honestly.
Was I involved in the life-ending decision making?
Yeah, I was.
Did we know she was going to die?
Yeah, at that point, we did.
Who else was involved in the decision making?
I rattled off names of relatives. I told her who threw up when we were in the middle of a conference room waiting for doctors to talk to us. I told her how my brother was on speakerphone, how I just sat there and listened to strings of words that I’d heard already.
Aspiration. Not retaining food. Four seizure meds. Still having seizures. Not manifesting physically. All in her head.
They were all in my head.
So, it’s two years later and this afternoon I’ll sit on the A train on my way to a DryBar appointment and wonder how the world keeps spinning when two years ago today all I could do was keep on walking as the world behind me fell apart.
Header photo source: @whatkatsby who knows what it is to sit in the hospital and look out onto New Jersey.