In the 23rd year of our marriage, my husband went into surgery for a rare cancer, and came out a virgin. At first, I wouldn’t know that in the 10-hour ordeal we termed a “slash-and-burn” — a near-disembowelment and bath of hot poison medically referred to as hyperthermic intraperitoneal chemotherapy (HIPEC) — he’d forgotten his life. But in the weeks that followed, we would learn that internal bleeding caused a lack of oxygen to his brain, and the resulting traumatic brain injury destroyed his desire to communicate, and completely altered his personality. Gone was any ability to speak, emote, remember. Lost to him were his past, his passion and his occupation. I didn’t know when his sexual capacity would return, if ever. Who he was, isn’t.
We were mature, in our 40s. We’d been making love for decades, since we were teenagers. We had throw-you-on-the-bed-and-multiple-orgasm-your-heart-out mature sex. Going into an extensive and unpredictable HIPEC surgery for pseudomyxoma peritonei, we’d already decided what would happen if we couldn’t have sex again. If we can’t use makeup sex to resolve disputes, we’ll communicate more, we think. If he’s impotent, we’ll take up running. In any of our ridiculously positive scenarios about cancer, we never could have prepared for what happened. Weeks after we return home, after he’s begun speech therapy for aphasia, after an MRI of his brain, after months of waiting to see a neuropsychologist, we learn that his pleasure has not been removed, but something else is missing.