Monday, January 29, 2007

Post-traumatic stress or just plain old life?

In the way of that old Chinese saying, "May you never live in interesting times," it's interesting living with someone with a serious health condition. Kirk was out of town for work weekend before last and came down with a violent stomach bug. Now four years ago, after weeks of him telling me to stop worrying, Kirk was in the ICU because of massive clots around his stomach, liver, spleen, and intestines combined with internal bleeding. They couldn't treat one problem without exaserbating the other. They were getting ready to sign him up for multi-organ transplant. They were telling me he could die. I've been the canary in his coal mine ever since, fretting every time he gets a headache (could be an aneurism!), looks overtired, has a stomach ache, sneezes.....

So when he called me Saturday morning to say he'd been throwing up, etc. all night I didn't flip out; I turned immediately back into Elizabeth of the ICU days -- calm, detached, and unstoppably determined to get him safe, make sure he was OK. And after many phone calls and the great kindness of a cousin I haven't seen in years, Kirk was delivered into safe keeping. And when he got home I fell apart.

Four years ago, he came home from the hospital after an experimental surgery that probably saved his life. And having seen him safely through all that, I fell apart. I was tired beyond anything I'd ever known. I was so tired, I couldn't read anymore (after having spent all my life as an addictive reader). Each day, after taking care of my family's basic needs, all I could do was collapse into the Lazyboy and watch TV -- CSI, Law and Order, shows where the world falls violently apart and get put right again.

That lasted intensely for a bout a year. A psychologist friend said I had "secondary post-traumatic stress disorder." It's diminished slowly ever since. I do read now, though not as much as I did before, and I watch less TV. But whenever anything is really wrong with Kirk, after it's over I take a little trip back to PTS land; I collapse onto the sofa when the kids are in bed and, with a pint of Hagen Daz frozen yogurt at my side for medicinal purposes only, I watch passively while those mini TV world fall apart and get put back together.

So I wonder -- giving something like this a name like PTS is extraordinarily comforting. It makes it a syndrome, and in our medicalized society with its model of disease and cure, it makes it seem more limited, in control, treatable perhaps. But I realize now that whatever we call it, this will never end for me. It might be called PTS, but it's also called the reality of my life (and I'm so thankful for THIS reality, rather than the others Kirk and I were facing four years ago). I can never unknow that the man who is my best friend and the pillar that holds up my sky, is compromised and fragile. Just as, after my two miscarriages, after Charlotte was diagnosed as autistic, I could never forget that bad things happen to our beloved babies. It's the nature of growing up and going on, isn't it? We keep ourselves open to what has happened, is going to happen, and carry it with us as we try to move forward with deeper knowledge, with more compassion, with love. And some days, in order to do that, we have to retreat to the couch with a bucket of icecream and watch Gil Grissom sort it all out without us.

Lots of love to you all, E


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claire said...

Hugs, because what can I say? Having gone through my own recent physical hell and watched everyone around me deal in seven hundred different ways, it all boils down to "whatever gets you through the night." Love you.