I’ve managed to get back to writing on Book Two of the memoir and have eased into it by going back to its beginning and doing revision. I was feeling pretty strung out after Conrad’s bad fall and hospitalization, and reading about our winter of 74/75 gave an interesting perspective.
We had moved to an awful basement apartment in Chicago, and Conrad had developed a bizarre medical problem that was making our life hell. There was no diagnosis yet, but it caused sudden manic fits, hallucinations, or sometimes a coma, and life was pure chaos. Our son turned two on November 27th, and Johanna was born December 11th. This is what January was like.
On December 26th, CB went to the hospital for four days of tests. It was a trial run for me—two weeks later he would be admitted for nine days to undergo tests that could clinch his diagnosis. I had recovered enough from my C-section to manage by myself the first time and I told myself that the long haul would be OK. I wasn’t counting on the weather.
The Super Bowl Blizzard has its own Wikipedia entry. It started its rampage on January 9, spawned a historic number of tornadoes, and blew through the Midwest. Howling winds drove snow into drifts that buried cars and killed livestock. By the time it hit Chicago, it had dumped its heaviest snow but still had enough to paralyze all traffic. I have no idea how he got to the hospital on the 13th.
Those days were bizarre. Cooped up in our little domestic dungeon with only my two offspring to judge me, I gave a big fuck-you to proper routine. We ate when we felt like it, Jo could nurse at whim, bedtime was whenever, and my only responsibility was to keep us all clean and fed. It wasn’t long before I was desperately lonely for my mate’s embrace, but we did have phone calls. Being a research patient, his only expense was for a rental TV, and I just about fell down laughing when he told me about his late-night hallucination. He didn’t know what he was watching, but he was sure his brain was playing its tricks—cartoons of Queen Victoria with people opening the lid of her head. Turned out he was watching the early broadcasts of Monty Python.
The rest of it wasn’t funny. It started like the old joke about a toothache: the minute you walk into the dentist’s office, it stops. The doctors needed to provoke an extreme blood-sugar crash so they could draw blood samples, and they stopped feeding him. He starved and starved and nothing happened—until it did. And when it hit, it was like the first time back in Milwaukee when he started pitching a terrifying fit.
His hospital team grabbed whatever parts they could catch and wrestled him down flat on the bed. They finally got their blood, and all during the struggle one nurse kept very still, her face close to his, and whispered, “I know what you’re feeling. The rational part of you is in there watching yourself with horror. I know you can hear me. Believe me when I say this will pass, you’ll be yourself again.” Later, CB thanked her. She told him that she’d had epileptic seizures in the past that were now controlled by medication, but she’d never forgotten seeing what her out-of-control body would do. Chance had sent him an angel.
And it sent me one day I’ll never forget.. The blizzard had blocked the streets with dense drifts, so I had to walk through the snow to the supermarket for food. The baby was on my front in her Snugli and our son was slogging along in snowsuit and boots. Halfway back with frozen hands gripping a heavy grocery bag, I was confronted with my little boy’s refusal to walk. He sat down on his butt and cried. I managed to pick him up, and then I realized, “I can’t do this.” The baby, the boy, and the bag were a huge unwieldy load, and underfoot was drifts, ruts, and ice. I just stood there for a stunned minute. And then I walked us home.