The wobble in my voice is new. I sound shaky, frail. I have never heard this sound out of my mouth before. Does Beyoncé ever wake up like this? The next day, after increasingly desperate panting, I learn the term “air hunger.” Hospice arranges a delivery of oxygen. Me: “Um, I don’t know what size I need. Do you have a variety pack?”
I am suddenly coughing through my food, and especially drinks – like some of the flaps aren’t sealing properly. I rely on straws to prevent me from choking. My appetite nosedives, but my body makes the most of it: craves fresh produce or bone broth rather than pasta or spoonfuls of chocolate chip cookie dough.
Breathing becomes increasingly labored. We increase the air flow from 0 to 4. Such heavy equipment to process air. Personally, I appreciate that “canula” integrates seamlessly into our daily dialogue, as in, “CANU-la believe it?” or “Aren’t you my sweeeeeeeeeeet canula?” Random numbness. Urgent pee jags. Teeth that feel like they’re loosening into Shrek formation.
Is this it, I wonder?
by Mary Oliver
Everything needs it: bone, muscles, and even,
while it calls the Earth its home, the soul.
So the merciful, noisy machine
stands in our house working away in its
lung-like voice. I hear it as I kneel
before the fire, stirring with a
stick of iron, letting the logs
lie more loosely. You, in the upstairs room,
are in your usual position, leaning on your
right shoulder which aches
all day. You are breathing
patiently; it is a
beautiful sound. It is
your life, which is so close
to my own that I would not know
where to drop the knife of
separation. And what does this have to do
with love, except
everything? Now the fire rises
and offers a dozen, singing, deep-red
roses of flame. Then it settles
to quietude, or maybe gratitude, as it feeds
as we all do, as we must, upon the invisible gift:
our purest, sweet necessity: the air.
Head On and Heart Strong!
Kids’ Almanac columnist Erica Chase-Salerno was diagnosed with Stage IV breast cancer in the Summer of 2015. To read more about her experience, visit https://hudsonvalleyone.com/tag/ericas-cancer-journey.