And there I was, once again almost embedded in the hard plastic chair with pretend padding, beside a rolling bed too small and without any comfort, watching a loved one struggle to sleep through the multiple loud noises, overpowering smells and general hum of the emergency room.
Quite often it’s me in the tiny bed. Since I’ve gotten married I feel like we take turns. A couple of weeks ago happened to be his turn. I can’t help but to feel a little panic every time it’s his turn; there was that one time his turn stayed his turn through a lot of hospital visits, treatments and hope. I feel like we used our only life miracle on that one time; granted he’s been declared cured of a cancer that could’ve killed him in less than forty five days, so all of the effort was worth it. Still there is the same sense of panic every time.
When you stand together and promise for better or for worse I don’t think your brain can see the “for worse”. Because divorce is so prevalent on social media and in every publication on Earth (or so it seems, thanks TMZ!), the concept of “for worse” usually focuses on financial or fidelity issues. No one ever thinks of illness. Illness is a “for worse” that only pales in comparison to death itself; but then again illness often leads to death so maybe they’re more equal than I was originally thinking (hours of thinking from the hard plastic chair ….)
Watching your person in pain is emotionally painful. Watching them struggle with the unknown feels like someone is killing you over and over again; like you’re Prometheus chained to the rock waiting to have your liver eaten by an eagle every day. Continuously having to be the strong, always in-charge person when you’d rather panic like a five year old is almost impossible. Yet somehow I always manage, until I don’t. Sometimes I have a meltdown, usually by myself in the car or in the shower where only I bear witness. They have to be quick because truly I don’t have time for weakness.
As I sat waiting I tried not to remember the other times I’ve sat impatient in this chair. I’ve been here with parents and grandparents; many times I’ve been here alone and had to be strong for myself. It’s not a chair of joy. There’s not a good memory attached to it; yet there’s a chance if you add up all of the times I’ve sat in this chair or one identical to it, in this exact hospital or one just like it across the city, it’s longer than I’ve ever sat on some of my chairs at home. This isn’t a heartwarming feeling. It doesn’t bring to mind any moments I cherish. It just makes me sad to think about it.
Perched on the edge, barely sitting on the forgiving surface I’ve heard many synopses and learned some pretty unfortunate diagnosis. No one really delivers happy news when this chair is holding you hostage. No matter how uncomfortable, this chair is often the greatest support you have in these life moments you cannot escape. It keeps you from actually falling on the floor. It prevents the complete loss of dignity emotionally crumbling can cause and it prevents you from injuring yourself when the words you hear knock the wind from your body. At that moment you are grateful for the chair, the dignity it provides and you’ll never forget it.
On the flip side of the life altering bad news is the chance you hear positive news. In the case of good news the fear that has kept you planted in discomfort is replaced by a burst of serotonin that launches you from the chair like a rocket to move your legs, stretch your back and do some in spot pretend yoga movement (you don’t actually do yoga but still think this looks right) you hope will promote blood flow to all of your appendages. That spurt of energy helps you pack up said loved one and get them on the road pointed towards home. If you’re really high energy a pit stop for a celebratory Tim’s or a fast food indulgence might be had before you make it home to your couch and have a complete emotional meltdown. Your couch might still feel like the hospital chair. Hard, unforgiving and like a muscle memory reaction your brain might be stuck on uncomfortable repeat. There’s still a third kind where you get to go home knowing somethings wrong, yet the emergency room full of medical professionals isn’t where you go to address it. We had this third kind of visit.
I didn’t handle this particular hospital visit well. I’m mad at everyone. I’m mad at my spouse for refusing to take better care of himself. He’s spent every day since he beat the Devil inviting him back with just poor lifestyle choices. Not my choices, but still choices I will have to suffer for. I was there through that whole other time, when cancer made sure nothing would ever be the same again. He didn’t fight the struggle on his own and in many ways I payed more attention to all of the details than he did. I certainly listened to the doctors more. They promised the cure could have serious side effects much later in life; they didn’t define later in life. Every new health crisis makes me panic and evaluate him on that basis – is this the later in life? I’m super angry at the pros, especially this condescending emergency crew. As always it’s difficult to get medical professionals to take my knowledge seriously. It amazes me how comfortable they are contradicting every professional that came before them; so assured their knowledge is superior, their experience greater. Pompous ass is the first thing that comes to mind. Not going to be helpful is the second. The one thing I know about my spouse’s condition is that no one really knows what the rest of his life will bring. When treatment options were presented oh so many lifetimes ago we were told to pick this aggressive option for the best chance of a long life. It wasn’t until he’d survived what they consider many lifetimes that the original life expectancy was revealed. The concept of a long life with small cell lung cancer and his treatment regime would have been of six months and we have entered the time period of the unbelievable miracle many years later. All of these unexplainable health issues need an actual explanation.
So here we are floating in a dark hole where no one really has a clue. There are expected options like Parkinson’s or Alzheimer’s or even the return of what we thought was cured, then there’s the unexpected; that cannot be prepared for. I’m angry because this growing list of small health issues that seems like no big deal one at a time could be when added together, the building blocks of a health issue that alters the state of everything in the worst way, forever, and only I see it happening. I think I’m most angry because all of this is seriously déjà vu. I lived through this with my mother and I’m sad to think I’ll likely be forced to live through it again with my husband.
All day, sitting in that merciless chair I had the sense that once again my world would be searching for a new normal. As the doctor tried to laugh off my husband’s struggle that day, reducing it to nothing I concentrated on holding it together. That day’s tests ruled out all of the things that could kill him in the immediate. I could live with that. In my mind I know there’s an underlying cause. It’s been nagging me for months and in turn I have been nagging him. So with lots of anger I had my say again. The many hours spent stuck to the sad chair fueled my rage. His confusing answers to medical questions and willingness to think this attack so severe, it required emergency hospital attention, was nothing or maybe something that just happens from time without explanation; putting faith in the words of a doctor who doesn’t know him, who was able to dismiss the trials of the day as nothing made me feel like I was going to have complete nuclear meltdown.
To say I say I had and quite honestly still have rage over it all is definitely a true statement. I visited his family doctor with him this week. She could see more in the hospital tests than the doctor who assured us “it’s nothing” and took the opportunity to order a lot more. The stress of waiting is crushing; but we’ve been here before. A few times along the way things have been simple, easy to fix; but there’s been a few times they just haven’t. I cannot see the future. My crystal ball is hazy. The one thing I do see is the opportunity to spend a lot more time in the unforgiving chairs of medical offices everywhere. I’ve been considering bringing my own Stadium Seat, the topper meant to save parents at all uncomfortable sporting events. Perhaps it can offer me some additional support for those future moments when I’m going to need it. Maybe I’ll start a trend. Instead of bragging about our offspring and their accomplishments (people get so confused when I share my dogs training accomplishments), users of the medical office support chair can brag about the number of times they’ve survived the unforgiving hard chairs of medical offices everywhere with the Stadium Chair. The tassels and trinkets each person attaches not just for good luck, but for courage, memories of each milestone and proof of the battles fought. Like a bingo bag full of trolls each chair proof of the owners survival skills. Using a Stadium Chair is another one of those thoughts many hours in a moulded chair can bring to mind. Most likely I’ll just suck it up and sit in the sad, uncomfortable chair provided preoccupied with the actual priorities letting life happen as it’s going to anyway.