Thursday, August 30, 2007

Shattered Millstones

Warning - this post is a mini-novel!

Was it only last evening the brilliant glow of the full moon lit the freeways and highways, as I motored the Toylet toward our little house on the prairie? As I headed north, through the mini-blizzards of tiny moths and night bugs, the dark rain clouds eventually gave way to a star sparkled indigo sky and the temperatures began to drop. The cool breeze felt wonderful against my skin, as I flicked ashes from my cigarette out the partly open window. The hour was late, my body exhausted, but it felt as if an millstone had been lifted from my shoulders. A smile soon replaced the new nervous tick that recently began tormenting the corner of my mouth. The car seemed to drive itself, as I lost my thoughts in the beauty of the midnight hour, off the freeway, to the highway, then down the small town street which led to the gravel roads that led to our driveway. I was glad I'd had the foresight to leave the front porch light on, a welcoming beacon to home. As I pulled off the gravel road into the drive, the outside dogs began a chorus of excited yelps and barking, while two of the cats came scampering from the shelter of the moon-washed red barn to greet me. It seemed as if this was the first time, in many, many months, I was glad to come home. The funny thing is, my feelings of guilt about feeling so free were fleeting, then gone. Chikki and Muffin, the house dogs, were both kenneled overnight at the vets, so I only had to thank the outside dogs and kitties for their lovely serenade and take the few belongings into the quiet, empty house.

The house was dark, except for the few corners that were dimly lit by the glowing moon and yard light. A television, left on in Spouse's bedroom, broke the silence, as I left the kitchen and headed toward my own bedroom, where my pajamas laid waiting for me on the bed. It felt wonderful to be home, with no worry of whether Spouse was laying on the floor in his own feces or needing something immediately. I took my time to change into the jammies, enjoying the opportunity to not feel rushed and stressed out. It was the first time in what seemed ages I did not have to walk on eggshells in my own home.

On Sunday afternoon, I decided, after discussing it with a few family members and a friend in the medical profession, to accept that it was time to let go. Spouse was no longer trying to participate in his health & recovery, rather he had taken to his bed and refused to do his exercises and therapies. More and more, he opted to sleep instead of getting up and sharing the day with me. His appetite was nearly non-existent and it was a struggle to get him to eat. I realized there was a possibility of that urinary infection returning, which would explain the behaviors and his muddled thoughts.

On Sunday, it was almost impossible to awaken him and this frightened me, big time. The moment had finally arrived when I knew that no matter how dearly I loved this man, my skills were inadequate to provide the type of care he needed. It was increasingly difficult to pick him up from the floor when he fell, now that my shoulder and back were injured from previous struggles to get him up from the floor. The man is not a feather-weight, but rather a fragile, stiff and heavy person who was unable to understand the lifting process, let alone be of much help when he did have to be lifted. I now understood that if he continued to live at home, not only would my own health be compromised beyond repair, it was no longer safe for him to remain in my care. No, I would never hurt him intentionally, but I could not continue the 24 hour, round the clock care and stress of trying to help him get well. Especially if this blasted urinary infection was going to keep returning and making him so sick every few weeks.

I phoned the neighbor (our neighbors are such a blessing!) and asked for some help in getting Spouse to the car. With his help, I began trying to convince a very impudent Spouse that he needed to get in the car, to make it to a doctor appointment. I knew he would be argumentative if I said we were going to the hospital in Sioux Falls, so I warped the truth a bit. Even so, Spouse refused to stand and began calling me by his previous wife's name and telling me there was no f*#!@ng way he was going anyplace with Veronica. The neighbor's eyes grew as large as saucers, upon hearing me gently remind Spouse that he was no longer married to her, but it was me, his "Pooh" taking him on a road trip. Yep, that was humorous, indeed.

It only took about half an hour to get him down the steps and into the vehicle, then buckled in. My good neighbor stayed outside and chatted with Spouse while I went back inside to grab a few of Spouse's belongings. Even so, in my own frazzled state of mind, I was unable to locate his glasses and totally forgot about his teeth that were soaking in the bathroom. I remembered the teeth, about halfway to the hospital (an hour & 1/2 later), and put them on my mental list of things to take the next time I visited Spouse. With his condition being so compromised, I knew he would have just choked on them anyway.

Once we on the road, he fell back asleep and I was kept company by the radio. As we entered the outskirts of the huge city, Spouse woke up and began reaching for the visor above his head. When asked what he might be doing, he informed me that he was doing my job, arranging the lights. Huh? Arranging the damned lights in the car, of course! Was I an idiot or something? Um, yep, probably so. I watched him, between keeping my eyes on the increasing traffic of the city and I understood what he was doing, finally. The lights from the cars behind us were shining on the visor and he felt they were not in the proper place. I figured it kept him occupied, so just let him have his fun. If only that fun of his had lasted longer.

Suddenly, he had a moment of clarity and he became extremely agitated! He recognized where we were and demanded to know wtf was going on. Why were we in Sioux Falls, in the dark of night and going toward the VA hospital? He struggled to grab the gear shifter on the console between us and we had a minor scuffle over ownership of it. Fortunately, I had gotten off of the freeway by now and was taking a back road to the hospital that is less congested, especially at night. My hand claimed a firm grip on the gear shifter and he relented, sitting back in his seat and going back to sleep.

Another potential for danger averted, I continued on to the Urgent Care parking area. Once I had parked the car, I woke Spouse up long enough to give him his sleeping pills. I knew that once he realized what was going on, he would prove to be difficult inside the triage area. He started to try to get out of the car, but I was able to convince him to wait until I had a wheelchair for him to get around in. Again, he laid back in his seat and started snoring; meanwhile, I hurried inside to get some help and the chariot.

The nurse and the male receptionist came outside to help unload him and we got him into the facility with only a little bit of difficulty. I explained to them how the past week had been, with Spouse going downhill again so fast and how I suspected his urinary infection had returned. Lab work was done, a chest x-ray taken and his vitals were triaged. I was alarmed to learn his
blood pressure was 89/68 and his temperature had finally gotten over 100*F. It hadn't been that high, the temp, when I took it at home, but then it was hard to tell if he had the thermometer under his tongue correctly. Must remember to use the armpit in the future. He slept through the majority of the admitting process and the examinations by the nurses, lab techs and the resident doctor. The tall, young and handsome resident doctor who resembled the character on Grey's Anatomy... not George or McSteamy, but the one called Alex, I think. Yeah, that good looking. The kind of handsome that makes a fat gal gulp and shudder involuntarily.

The results from the tests started to come back from the lab and they admitted Spouse immediately. I was right about the urinary infection and he was malnourished, dehydrated and God knows what else. It was hard to remain firm in my knowledge that I'd tried everything possible to prevent the malnourishment and the dehydration, but I felt painful twinges of guilt, anyway. Even though I had been feeding him, as often as possible, he kept refusing to eat anything after a few bites. He was nearer to death this
time, than he had been on the previous two times I rushed him down there. When I heard about the malnourishment and dehydration, a nub of fear began to fester within me, fear that someone in that system would accuse me of neglecting my beloved. That nub of fear lingers, still, even with my knowing I did my part to get him to eat and drink enough. The kind nurse in the urgent care told me that the side effects of the Lactulose (explosive squirts) probably played the biggest role in that factor of his condition, which was slightly reassuring.

Soon, he was taken upstairs to a private room and we got him settled in. I remained, answering the questions asked by the floor charge nurse and spoke with the doctor on duty. It was well after 3 a.m. when I finally was able to leave, so I left my cell number wth the nurses on duty and began the long trek home. By the time I got home, ate my own breakfast, lunch and dinner for Sunday and settled my weary self into bed, it was 6 a.m., Monday morning. A pounding headache and a thousand thoughts kept me from peaceful slumber, as well as the phone ringing at 7 a.m. (friggin telemarketers!), the meter man coming to read the meter and setting the dogs off and then more phone calls until I gave in and got up at noon. A good, hot shower helped a bit, but I was so frazzled and the headache was making me ill. There's nothing like a good vomit to make such feelings seem so special. Multiplying that by 3 made it all the better.

Spouse telephoned me, with the help of a nurse at just before noon, which was why I got up. He was crying and ordering me to come down there and get him. His agitation grated on my already tormented nerves and I lied to him, saying I'd be there later. My pleas for some rest and mercy had no effect on his still clouded mind, so I told him to take a nap and I'd see him later. I hung up on Spouse and called the nurse back, explaining I had an award winning migraine and would not be coming down that day. There really was no sense in me going back down, knowing full well that he was still very sick, his judgment was impaired and the drive would probably kill me and who knew what or who else, because I would certainly fall asleep behind the wheel in my current condition. I suggested they "knock him out" and let her know I'd be down the following day.

The remainder of Monday is a bit of a blur, but I went to bed rather early and finally got some decent sleep. Tuesday, early in the day, I awoke, feeling refreshed, but nervous. This was the day I planned on speaking to a social worker and inquiring about our options on getting Spouse admitted into a nursing facility near home. I called the vet and made arrangements for Chikki and Muffin, so they would not be stuck in the house all day alone. Found the missing eyeglasses and gathered the teeth and a few other things for Spouse to take along. After dropping the dogs off at the vet, I steered the car toward Sioux Falls, once again.

The sky mimicked my emotions, threatening to burst with a storm of waterworks. Dark, ominous clouds hovered above and spittles of raindrops hit the windshield intermittenly. The air seemed as heavy as my own heart and I was glad we had tinted windows on the Toylet, so nobody could see the tears that were streaming down my cheeks. I was dreading the moment when I would be telling Spouse that something had to change or he would outlive me. My car was on the freeway for less than an hour of the three hour journey when the skys really broke loose. By then, I had no tears left and the headache had returned with a vengance.

It rained the rest of the trip, as I continued southbound to the hospital. When I parked the car in the crowded parking lot, the sun shone for a moment, while I gathered the things to take upstairs to Spouse's room. I stepped out of the car, locked the door and the torrential downpour began, once more. Ah well, at least the bad hair coloring tended to look better when my hair was wet.

When I reached the information-greeter desk in the lobby of the facility, I stopped to ask about the social worker. The volunteer looked in his greeter's manual for the extension to call and dialed someone on the phone. He handed me the reciever and a man on the other end of the line gave me the info I needed to proceed. With the slip of paper in hand, which I had scribbled the name and extension number on, I headed to the elevators, with a heavy lump of dread in my stomach.

When I reached Spouse's room, I tried to paste my best happy waitress face on. He glared at me and started a tirade about me not coming after him the previous day. He refused my kiss and started crying. My own heart was breaking, but I was angry, as well. He was blaming me for his being in the hospital again and not taking any responsibility for his own inaction that led to him needing emergency medical care again. Keeping the state of his mind and emotions, as well as the cause of them, in my own mind, I attempted to kindly inform him that my taking him down there had saved his life. I then explained that I hadn't come the previous day because I was sick, really sick and it would have been dangerous for me to have tried driving.

Soon enough, he softened and acknowledged his behaviors were selfish and childish, asking me for a kiss. We sat and chatted for a short while and then I slipped out into the hall so his nurse could remove the bedpan and clean him up. I made a mental note to put getting a bedpan for future emergencies at home. A nurse in the hall pointed me to an in-house telephone, where I could call the social worker to set up a meeting time. I left a message and returned to Spouse's room, where we talked about a lot of things, but not about my plan to research nursing home options.

The social worker appeared in his doorway about an hour later, followed by his doctor. Spouse was across the hall, in the restroom, trying to take care of some personal business so I suggested we go down the hall, so we could discuss his options without stressing him out. She led me to a conference room and asked me what had been going on at home and I told her as much as I could, while trying my best to hold back my tears. It didn't work, and soon, the makeup I'd applied earlier was decorating my cheeks, instead of my eyes. The doctor told me that their concern was that perhaps he was being over medicated with the morphine and I told them he was not taking more than what was prescribed by the VA docs. I've been wondering if the 30mg doses at 4 times a day wasn't a bit much, but felt the docs would know better than I. The doctor told me that they were decreasing his dosage because they thought he was having such a hard time recovering at home because of the morphine fog that he remained in. Well, duh, Doc! Then I told them that if he wasn't going to be able to participate in his recovery any more than he has in the past, then we were going to have to find alternative means of caring for him, in some sort of health related facility.

Damn, I felt like such a traitor for throwing him to the wolves like that, but my own survival depended upon it, I am sure. A few other doctors entered the conference room, for a pre-scheduled meeting, so I returned to Spouse's room. About an hour later, the social worker came back to his room, sitting on the edge of his bed and told him he was going to need to stay for a long time, if he wanted to live. She then told him they wanted to keep him and help him get strong enough to walk on his own again. Once they were certain he was able to walk again, he could be put back on the transplant list. Hearing this from her, he perked up a little bit and agreed to stay, asking her how long she thought it might take. She told him they want to keep him for at least a month and then they would evaluate his progress with the physical therapy and treatment.

She left the room to begin the paperwork and Spouse asked me to go buy him some bottled water. I took advantage of my time outside the hospital and went over to my grandpuppies' mom's office for a quick visit. Her own husband had recently had a serious health issue and I wanted to give her some supportive hugs. I'm lying. I needed those hugs for myself, just as badly! The grandpups were at the office and it was nice to see the boys again. They were thrilled to see Grandma Kimmi and their enthusiasm was infectious! Their "mom" and I had a lovely visit, a couple of really good hugs and I bid them farewell. Off to the store I went, gassed up the car for my trip home and then back to the hospital.

I sat in the wheelchair, next to Spouse's bed and we watched television together, until I fell asleep for about half an hour. He woke me up around 8 p.m. and we chatted a little more, until it was time for me to head home. Spouse told me about a few more things he hoped I would bring back, when I go to visit him on Friday and I kissed him goodbye until my return. He and I talked about how he might have to go into a nursing home, if he didn't work harder at getting well. He wasn't thrilled about it, but he understood my explanations about how much harder it was getting to be to lift him and be his sole nurse, cook, laundress and lawn keeper at home.

My neck was stiff from falling asleep in the chair and my body was feeling the miles of the past week and the trips to and fro. I dragged myself to the nearly empty parking lot and climbed into the car. The rain started again, just as I was exiting the hospital, making me wonder if the heavens were crying because I had failed my beloved. I rolled my window down a bit and lit another smoke for the cruise to the outer edges of the city. He was going to be okay now, as the antibiotics began doing their magic in his system and the medical staff answered his constant buzzing for them to get the bedpan or take him across the hall to the toilet.

He was going to be there for a month, while I would be able to go home and finally accomplish a few tasks which had been put off for longer than I could remember. My husband would be safe, with lots of help around if he did fall or stumble and I'd be able to finally clean the bathroom and keep it clean for longer than a day. I would be able to return the bathroom door to it's hinges. There would be an entire month for me to cleanse and replenish my soul and spirit, get the ignored chores done before winter without having to worry about him getting hurt and try to be a human being for a while, instead of the human doing that had been owning my body lately.

The freeway opened up in front of me and I headed home, enjoying the cool night air. About halfway home, the clouds disappeared and I noticed the brilliant glow of the full moon lighting the road and fields around me. The Righteous Brothers crooned "Unchained Melody" on the radio and a pleasant thought entered my head. While I had missed the lunar eclipse earlier in the day, I realized there was another eclipse that I would not miss. The total eclipse of my heart that had come from the dark pain which had been shrouding my spirit the past few weeks. was fading away. I turned up the radio, flicked my ashes out the window and enjoyed the rest of my drive home.