by Cynthia Wands
Was it just yesterday – really – yesterday. Saturday, November 7. I felt like I had this heavy pressure on my heart for weeks. But on that day, starting at 8:36 in the morning ~ we had phone calls, and messages, and tweets, and emails and Zoom sessions with family and friends. And that’s when I realized I had been holding my breath.
The 2020 Election had been “called”. Joe Biden and Kamala Harris had been declared the President-Elect and the Vice President-Elect.
I watched television from Tuesday, November 3 through Friday, November 6, waiting for the results. It was excruciating. I went to bed, then woke up, then slept on the lumpy couch to watch exhausted newscasters play with projected numbers and revised projected numbers. Could Biden’s numbers go up? Were all the votes counted?
It felt hard to take a deep breath. It was hard to look away, but it was also hard to keep watching. I felt like I had been here before, waiting, for a long time, for something catastrophic or incredibly wonderful to happen. Either or. It felt like four years ago.
Four years ago, Eric, my husband went through a stem cell transplant at the City of Hope hospital. We’d been watching his cancer numbers climb (70% of his bone marrow had multiple myeloma cancer cells) and after a lot of research and soul searching, decided a stem cell transplant was his best choice. That’s when I noticed I was holding my breath. A lot.
During the weeks of preparation for the stem cell transplant (pre-meds, an implanted Hickman port , dozens of blood draws) I learned that all this work they were doing was to get him ready, was to help him survive the days after the transplant.
All his white blood cells would be affected (okay, killed off) by the chemotherapy/transplant procedure, and then, afterwards, the white cells would start to build up again. That was the plan. There would be a countdown of how his body would recover from the transplant, how his white blood cells would come back. According to the treatment plan, 7-10 days after the transplant, we would see his numbers go up.
So he had the transplant. He seemed to do well. But after nine days in recovery at the City of Hope hospital, his white blood count was still 0 -.1 (A normal white blood count is 4.5 – 10)
This was not good. He had several blood transfusions. My twin sister was staying with me and everyday we kept watching his numbers, worried that his recovery wasn’t kicking in. If his white blood count was still 0 after ten days, he would have to be transferred to another hospital setting, and another treatment plan would be suggested.
That’s when I noticed that I was holding my breath a lot. Waiting. Waiting for the numbers to go up. Waiting for the white blood cells to kick in. Waiting for him to survive this stem cell transplant.
And on the tenth day after his transplant, his white blood count rose to .7 – not even 1.
And yes, it was not 1 or 2 or 4.5 – but it rose more than it had in the entire ten day recovery period. So he was allowed to go to the next stage of treatment. I was still holding my breath. After 14 days, he was allowed to go home. Where he has continued to survive, and to go on to different drugs and treatment plans.
But I remember holding my breath. Waiting for numbers. And this election felt like that.
So I followed twitter feeds, and the television, and my phone. We were watching the numbers go up. In Nevada. Arizona. Georgia. Pennsylvania. And this damn Electoral College voting.
On Saturday morning, November 7, at 1:35am I saw this on the television screen:
I decided that I better stop watching the television. I left the lumpy sofa and went to bed. The next morning, I woke up, turned on the television, made some coffee, and then looked at Twitter on my phone. That’s when I saw this:
It was 8:36am in the morning.
I wanted to take a deep breath, but I was afraid my lungs would burst.
I was afraid that I would blink, the moment would pass, and it wouldn’t be true. Or that it would be true, but that it would turn out to be corrupted, and then become sadly untrue .
It was a moment that I had thought would change everything. It was a moment that I thought would feel like relief and validation and a sense of accomplishment. But it didn’t feel that way. I just felt scared to breathe.
As the day went by, it seemed more real. It almost seemed true. I heard from family and friends, and saw dancing in the streets, and heard church bells ringing in Paris in celebration, and saw fireworks in London to cheer the election results. I was able to join the Zoom meeting of the playwrights workshop that I love, and we read scripts where we forgot about an election, and projected votes. And little by little, I felt better.
But truly, it wasn’t until I saw this, on Saturday night, that I was able to really breathe. And cry. And laugh.
And then there was this image:
Here they are. Both of them wearing masks. At a historic moment in history, they are showing up, making the best of it, and trying to breathe.
A good example of what we need to do, to get by in this present moment.