Last Thursday morning, December 1, I tried to wake my husband so he could prepare for his oncology appointment. I couldn’t. He wasn’t dead. No, he was snoring away on the couch, but completely unconscious. I shook him and yelled at him, but he never even flinched.
This was an almost unbelievable 180 degree turn from the day before, when he’d raced across the house on his walker so that the physical therapist could gauge his fitness, ate dinner, and talked with friends. It seemed he was, all things considered, in good working order.
Shocked and incredulous, I called our village police, who came, emergency ambulance in tow, and carted my husband off to the hospital. By the time I got there about 20 minutes later–after shutting off the coffee, giving directions to my adorable neighbor who’d take care of the dogs until I returned–ER had taken blood, knew he was running 102 fever and from the chest congestion, began treatment for pneumonia.
Later that day he was admitted and placed in a telemetry room, then, overnight, moved to the pulmonary unit as he had bi-lateral or double pneumonia. Day by day, a new issue presented itself. He wasn’t eating. The bi-pap mask dried out his mouth and throat. He couldn’t swallow. He couldn’t bring up gas. He wasn’t eating. Drinking was also a problem. Every sip–juice, milk, grapeade, water–burned his tongue.
After seven days, his doctor, who’d kept me abreast of my husband’s condition all the while, began to prepare me for what could be the end. The antibiotics course of treatment had finished, infection was controlled, but my husband wasn’t showing signs of progress or recuperation. Edema swelled one arm and both legs so he looked like a 300 lb man. He dozed mostly, wasn’t responsive to questions 90% of the time, and hallucinated. Doctor wasn’t sure what was causing this. It could be the cancer, or his very weakened physical state. There was fluid around his lungs and heart, and his kidneys weren’t functioning well–lack of oxygen, perhaps. Something else was contributing to the symptoms my husband was presenting, and doctor had every intention of finding out what those causes were, but he still felt I should be prepared.
And so today we had “the talk.” Patient would be made comfortable, his pain (if any) would be controlled. He could spend time with his family, etc. When the staff had exhausted all efforts to identify and control issues that contributed to my husband’s declining state, he would be moved to a palliative care facility where continued oversight and care were available.
But not yet. Doctor was hunting for causes, for anything that would give my husband better opportunities for the future. To help the edema, he is being given Lasix, which reduces the fluids in the body. A venous doppler echogram showed blood clots in both legs. He began Heparin treatment to thin the blood and hopefully dissolve the clots.
Daily, there are minor victories and defeats. Which side will win the battle only the Immortal Physician knows.
I go to hospital daily, in the morning. I am compelled to know how my husband is, and after knowing him since our college days, only setting my eyes on him will let me adjudge that. I ask questions of the nurse. I speak with his doctor. While I’m there, he has my undivided attention and all my energies. Still, I am no saint. When I leave–and I do after 2-3 hours–I feel relieved, I feel a great weight has been lifted from me. I run what errands I must, begin the round of texts that give family members and friends for their daily updates regarding my husband’s condition, and then I go home. It is my sanctuary, my refuge. My dogs are there. There’s a home to clean, chores to do. My mind often inserts bold questions as I work–if he dies, what about this or that? If he doesn’t die and remains an invalid, what then?What about his fish tanks? HIs car? Well, I’d drain the tanks and sell the car… but let’s not get ahead of ourselves. Still, these are paths my mind turns down.
The up and down nature of the disease and all additional complications infuriates me. I see how my husband suffers–not in pain, but in distress–unable to breathe easily, to be comfortable either in his swollen and emaciated skin or in his bed. I will not have him suffer pain. I will not. But what is the alternative?
The palliative care doctor shocked me when he said that my husband’s stage 3 cancer must be stage 4 by now, even as he admitted that no recent ct-scan had been taken. I was annoyed by his assumption, but I’ll save my energy for what’s to come, whatever it is.
Doctor feels we’ll have a clearer picture of the future in 3-4 days, just in time for our 46th wedding anniversary.