Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Walmart at 3 AM

Dear John,
Today was a bit different - I worked 3 pm to 9 pm because there was an evening meeting I needed to be there for. So I worked tonight instead of tomorrow. I left home at 12:30 so I could run some errands on the way to work. I only got one of them done because I ran into Bob at the post office and we talked for an hour. It was such a treat to see him. He's 82 now - doesn't look it - and not quite as steady on his feet as he was. But he's still the same Bob and I love him dearly. No, I'm not planning to leave Topeka. Not until I do so in the back of one of Yeager Funeral Home's hearses.
After work this evening, I had to get to Walmart for some necessities. I discovered that Walmart at 10 pm is about the same as it is at 4 am. Do you remember when you were first working at Essenhaus and I had to drive you to and from work? It was between your first seizure and your brain surgery, and you weren't cleared to drive. You worked the opening kitchen shift, so it was obscenely early in the morning. Since Walmart is open 24 hours I could go there and do my shopping after I dropped you off at work.
Walmart was fascinating at that hour, and it's just the same at 10 at night. There was a lot of stocking going on, with stacks of pallets turning the aisles into obstacle courses. And there were very few customers, all of them looking at each other with distrust, wondering what kind of people would be at Walmart at that hour and whether they were safe. It's a whole different dynamic in the middle of the night.
I watched you like a hawk after that first seizure, you know, especially since you had airway problems with that one. I was so afraid that if you had one alone you wouldn't be able to breathe. Let's face it - after your first heart surgery in 1987 I watched you like a hawk. Before then we thought your cancer was over and done with. And it was, but the effects of the treatment were never to be over. We found out with that surgery in 1987 that there was scar tissue forming where you'd had radiation. And from that moment I never relaxed again. Your second heart surgery in 1995 told us that scar tissue was continuing to form in old and new areas. Your brain surgery taught us that there was damage in places that only got scatter, not direct radiation. And everything after that - the carotid surgery, the vocal cord deterioration, the choking problems, the mitral valve damage and heart failure, and finally the lung cancer, made us face a relentless and endless deterioration. Somewhere along the way we realized that you had survived the cancer and would someday die from the treatment.
And as the damage advanced, my watchfulness increased. I don't know if you ever knew how closely I was watching. I knew you hated things that made you feel "sick," so I kept it as low-key as I could - I didn't want you to be aware that besides having a wife beside you, you had a very alert critical care nurse. And I'm realizing now just how much strain I've been under since 1987, never able to drop the nurse role and relax. Joe has commented on how low my blood pressure is now - lower than it's been in a decade. I still hate sleeping without you, but I sleep better now because I'm not sleeping with one ear open. For months after your seizure I just cat-napped at night - I was afraid to really fall asleep.
You were far and away my favorite patient and I tried very hard to never make you feel like a patient - you would have hated that. But it was necessary to keep you safe. Now that I can relax that vigilance, I'm finding out what it means to relax. And realizing how much stress it was to be on high alert for 30 years.
Well, we kept you alive, active, working, and feeling good decades longer than anyone expected. And we were right - it was the treatment that killed you. But before it did, it gave you 38 more years. And as your mother used to say every time you had a crisis, "It's a good thing he married a nurse." It was a good thing for the nurse, too. Now, enjoy being healthy! Enjoy never needing a doctor or a medicine again. Enjoy a body where sin, death, and illness have no place. And save me a seat beside you.
Love you so very much,

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