Standing eight count: A perfect match
A retired officer’s tale of sisterly love
A “standing eight count” is an eight-second “time out” that a referee can afford a boxer who may find themselves in serious trouble. It’s a chance for the ref to assess if there’s any real damage and gives the fighter some time to catch their breath and continue to fight on. In that spirit, this column will feature law enforcement officers or their family members who have overcome serious challenges in their lives, detailing their own standing eight counts, and how they lived to fight on.
“I’m the youngest of eight; four boys, four girls,” she says, brushing a strawberry blonde lock from sea-green eyes; genetic gifts imported from the Emerald Isle — Counties Cavan and Cork — courtesy of her parents.
We sit in the rear of a cop bar frequented by city and suburban departments. Retired over a decade, she retains situational awareness; alert to our surroundings while remaining relaxed and focused on our conversation throughout.
“I can’t help associating my siblings’ birth orders with their names; Mary was number 4. When she was 30, she found a small spot on her chest. The doctors diagnosed melanoma. They removed it and gave her the all-clear,” she says, gazing through the window.
“Just after her 42nd birthday, her best friend joked that she was getting shorter. That was the first sign. Mary laughed it off; she never wanted to hear bad news. God forbid you didn’t seem to be enjoying yourself at a party; she’d make you eat, drink, get up and dance — no gloominess allowed on her watch!”
She pauses as a passing truck rattles the glass.
“She’d been standing on her kitchen counter trying to clean the tops of her cabinets when she took a fall,” she continues, shaking her head. “Somehow, she only broke her collarbone. That’s when the doctors noticed something in her bloodwork. They ran a bunch of tests. The cancer had slowly spread throughout her body, into her bones. That was May of 2001. She was gone by August.”
She dabs at her welling eyes with a napkin, terminating the tears in their tracks.
“Sometime that summer, I ambushed one of the doctors outside Mary’s hospital room. I said ‘Is there anything I can give you to help her?’ The poor guy was so confused, so I tried ‘Can I give her something from my body to help her fight it? Anything at all?’”
She takes a deep breath.
“Despite the usual battles, our family has always been tight. Mary’s passing brought us even closer,” she says.
“My first day back at work after the funeral was September 10th. I’d already felt like I was living in a nightmare since the day Mary was diagnosed. Then it all hit the fan the next morning,” she says, her voice trailing off. “A nightmare inside a nightmare.”
We watch an elderly lady pass outside, walking an equally elderly poodle.
“About ten years ago at a family function, I noticed my brother James — the second born — didn’t seem right. He was cranky; not like him at all. But I knew he had been going back and forth to doctors trying to determine why he was so bloated and tired all the time. Many years earlier he’d been diagnosed with cirrhosis; he had hepatitis C when he was younger. Right around the time of that party, the doctors told him it had progressed to the point of a liver transplant being the only option for his survival.”
A server arrives with our drinks.
“James and my sister-in-law were exploring moving to states where there were better chances of getting a new liver. State by state, the odds of finding a donor vary depending on total population and average age. We were told that familial donation had the best chance of finding a match. Margaret — number 7 — was tested first. As the process is so expensive, they only do one person at a time. John — number 1 — was tested second. Kevin and Eileen — 3 and 5 — did not qualify for testing. Pat — number 6 — was in the process of getting his paperwork together when I jumped the line!” she says with an impish grin.
We toast to sibling rivalry.
“The doctors explained that they would transplant 60% of my liver to James. Leaves a wicked long scar! And you have to sit with a psychiatrist because they want you to be prepared in case the recipient doesn’t make it. The chance of rejection, things like that. Usually, the donor and recipients never meet. But in a case where the donor is family, it’s different.”
I asked if she’d prayed going in.
“I’m not going to lie; I was scared. I believe in a higher power, but it never occurred to me to pray because I felt Mary and our dad were watching over the whole project. I knew they wouldn’t let us down.”
She takes a sip of her beer, followed by a long drink of water.
“I was told I could leave the hospital on day three, but that James was going to be there at least another week. There was no way I was going home without seeing my brother. I demanded to be wheeled to the ICU,” she says.
“He was extremely pale. There were tubes and wires everywhere, a neck catheter. He didn’t look great, but his eyes already looked clearer, less yellow. I whispered his name. He turned to me and mouthed ‘I don’t think I’m going to make it.’ I feel bad now, but I lost it.”
In the low light of the pub, her eyes appear to somehow glow greener.
“I got out of the wheelchair and pulled up my shirt so he could see my incision. ‘No, sir,’ I said ‘Not after what I just went through. You are going to walk out of here!’”
Her melodic laugh soars over the ambient sound of the raucous clientele.
“Tough love. He was released less than a week later. He’s almost 70 now, doing great.”
We sit in silence for almost a full minute.
“My mom is in her 90s; she lives with me. We’re all within an hour’s drive from each other, so with the next generation — my kids, my nieces and nephews — all the birthdays, holidays; there’s always a party at someone’s house; a barbecue. And now the weddings are starting, babies are being born. It feels like we’re always together, the whole clan.
She uses her napkin to take out a few more teardrops before they can even form.
“We threw a huge party celebrating Mary’s life on the 20th anniversary of her passing. I think about her every single day. At every gathering, I feel her and Dad watching us, smiling. And that’s enough, because it has to be.”