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Death Rehearsal

 

 

scotchOur cat sleeps on her bed tonight. My wife also sleeps, though her irregular breathing concerns me, as it always does. It’s an idyllic setting in our home, except that I am not just burned out, I am torched from a seven-day death rehearsal, a painful week of intense caregiving. I am empty.

The Thanksgiving week started with optimism, but a meds change I was not initially informed of turned it into a long, uphill battle.  My wife, and a well-meaning nurse, decided to drop a steroid she had been taking for months from her daily regimen because it caused her face to swell. That led to a week of me trying to care for a long list of previously unseen symptoms I later learned was a classic case of steroid withdrawal. I was hit with unmanageable pain to loss of appetite to constant nausea to my wife sleeping sixteen hours a day, but moaning in pain throughout.

All the meds at my disposal were useless. I admit that I was baffled. I thought I had seen everything, but what I was seeing made no sense to me.

After the holiday, I called hospice first thing in the morning and spoke to our primary nurse. Our experience was that the on-call nurses would only provide band-aide care. I wanted our nurse, the one with the most knowledge of my wife’s condition. She was deeply concerned and she contacted one of the doctors, who quickly dropped in for a visit. The doctor’s first thought was the cancer had progressed to a level where institutional care was required. Once she learned the steroid had been stopped, she ordered it restarted, and the positive results arrived hours later. The pain subsided; her appetite returned, and her life went back to a “normal” we recognized and welcomed.

My life, in contrast, has not. I feel very much like a man who has survived a natural disaster or a bad car accident. On the outside I appear “normal”, but I am shaking and exhausted and reliving each traumatic moment over and over again. I imagine this is what combat fatigue feels like; I am having difficulty disengaging from recent battle, and the thought that the battle was self-inflicted makes it tougher to accept.

This is year four of caregiving. What is left of my heart, soul, psyche, and liver do not need useless death rehearsals. Tomorrow hopefully I go back to work for the first time in a week, but as an empty, exhausted shell of an employee.

My severest critics thrive on reminding me that my writing is all about me. They will be pleased to know that as of this evening, “me” no longer exists. I feel beyond empty. I am now a shadow, extinct. I have faded away. I have been completely erased.

Until tomorrow, when it starts again…

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6 Responses to “Death Rehearsal”

  1. Tom Jones says:

    Bob.
    I agree with Mark. Write about what you know and how you are feeling. Watching your wife go through such agony can only be expressed in first person. Most writers can only transmit facts, you have a gift for transmitting feelings – yours.

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