I have been tired, the kind of tired that you almost get used to, having been its guest for so long. Last week I worked five out of six days, six long 12 hour days full of being pushed around by the needs of others and assaulted by strobe lights and a chorus of beeps and buzzes. I never do this sort of thing, the work too much thing, I’m not what you would call a “workaholic”, I’m a fan of the work/life balance I usually enjoy, never more than 2 days of jobiness in a row. A meeting threw off my schedule, setting me up for an internal imbalance that has finally, after a 10 hour slumber, followed by a 3 hour nap , set itself back to center, allowing the sack of organic matter , also known as Kate , the clarity to commence writing.
But that’s not what this post is about, this post is about relationships and commitment, and the expansion and contraction that seems to be the predominant dance between hungry hearts and worried heads, hearts hungry to love and be loved, heads hungry for assurances and red flags. This is about commitments made in faith, and commitments faithfully kept under the worst of circumstances. This is about my sleep deprived four-day tour of the heart.
On the last day of my super -duper- work marathon I took care of a man and his wife. This man had come to the hospital with something he and his wife of 32 years outwardly assumed would be easy to fix, but after a few days of waiting to see if this situation would resolve itself with a nasogastric tube and bowel rest, it was decided that a surgical intervention would be required to fix the block causing all the ruckus. The wife was worried even before the surgeons came to lay their gruesome findings at her feet, she was breaking into tears, micromanaging his care, laying pop quizzes on us to make sure we knew what we were doing. I didn’t mind this, I knew she was trying to maintain some control, she and her love had already been through hell with surgeries and chemotherapy, trying to eradicate the big C. I think she knew they were in trouble. She slept in the hospital bed with him, and she thanked me for not scolding her. I told her I thought it was sweet, why would I scold sweetness? I was touched by her devotion, she attended to his every need, their love was well-worn and palpable.
The surgeons, ( ” an opportunity to cut, is an opportunity to cure,” one of my favorite cutters once told me.) both female, came by to speak to the wife who was waiting in his room after it was over. I saw them approaching, and asked how it went. ” It was awful, he’s full of cancer, we couldn’t even fix the obstruction, he’s got a couple of weeks, maybe a month.” They went to the room to tell the wife, I stood there, thinking I should go with them, but I didn’t. I waited. I waited outside the door until the cutter divas came out, then I told them I was going in, they both agreed this was a good idea.
I waited because I was delaying what I was about to not only witness, but also take on. I walked into the room, and there she was, sitting in a chair, hunched over, holding her phone, telling the person on the other end, in broken tearful breaths, ” I can’t take this, how can I tell him he’s dying?” I sat there across from her watching, waiting. Not sure what to do, if I touched her, would that be welcomed, or an invasion of her space at a very delicate time. I sat there for a full two minutes, just being present, then I walked over to her squatted down and put my arms around her while she tried to hold it together. She touched my hand with hers letting me know it was helpful. She said to her friend, ” I’m not alone, the nurse is here.” Okay, now what?
She handed me the phone, and the voice on the other end is asking me to help her, can’t I give her something? Should she fly out now? Is he going to die now? I do my best to assure her I will care for her friend, and I explain that we just don’t know when someone will die, but the “experts” have given a timeline. I hang up and ask her about the sedative her friend told me she takes sometimes, does she have any with her? She is having a hard time breathing now, she is telling me she wants to throw herself out the window, she is trying to dial the phone, trying to call her son. I take the phone away, not now I tell her. I bring her purse to her, I hold her tight and she digs for the teeny pill, I have one hand on her heart, and one in the middle of her back, I am sending her Reiki, and I am praying to god to bring her some peace. I think she might be hyperventilating, she gets the pill down, and I call for backup. She tells me she wants to see him, she doesn’t want to waste one moment away from him.
My supervisor , a big beam of white light, comes to the rescue. She holds her as I call the nurse in the post op. We agree to not bring her down if she isn’t able to calm herself. She hears this conversation, and promises to be calm, she just needs to see him. The magical little pill has begun to temper her nerves. About an hour later they all come back to the room. My patient, back from surgery, has a fresh vertical incision to his abdomen, a head full of anesthesia, and a horrifying prognosis. He has no idea yet what they found.
My shift is over, finally. It is Thursday nite at 1930, thank you! My 6o hours in 6 days ends like this; I hug the wife goodbye, and she says into my ear, ” you go be good every day of your life.” I tell her I will.
Of course I am moved, and it gets me to thinking about love and vulnerability, risks, commitment, and RELATIONSHIPS. It is a miracle any of us ever take that leap. One of us will eventually have to leave the other one alone, whether through death, divorce, infidelity, Alzheimer’s, alien abduction, the list is long, and you just never know how it will end, but it will. It has to. Wouldn’t it just be simpler to never “fall” in the first place?
I have a new love interest, and he came to see me last weekend, 2 days after the episode above, where I was so empathetic I bled. He lives in San Francisco, ( where I will find myself standing quite soon.) and we went to my dear friend Laura’s wedding on Saturday. Laura and I have been friends for several years, she was my last single friend in my age group. She was my commiserator, we would drink wine and sit around her condo sharing stories of dating, singlehood, empty beds, and our mutual desire to “really connect” with a special someone, then we would move the furniture, throw on Abba’s greatest hits, and shake our asses until we no longer cared about men and relationships, we belonged to the moment, full of red wine and Mamma Mia.
Then she met John, and I lost her. I have mixed feelings about her choice, simply because she has mixed feelings about her choice. She has shared with me the incredible sacrifices she has made to be in this relationship, she has voiced her belief that , “nothing is forever, right?” when speaking of what she percieves to be a less than perfect beau. But she wants to be married, she wants a family, and he is a good man she tells me, a good man. What about love?
They love each other. I saw it on Saturday night when they exchanged vows in their backyard. A simple ceremony showcasing their relationship in all it’s splendor. He was chewing gum, and then he threw the blue blob over the fence when it was his turn to recite his vows, Laura’s eyes rolled, she shook her head. There they were, this was how it was. she said, “I do”, and he said, “absolutely!” when asked if they would love, cherish, and keep each other til death do they part.
As we were leaving the festivities, Laura hugs me and says, “ups and downs, ups and downs”, I think it was her way of telling me that all that she had shared with me about being unhappy, and not very excited about their wedding was a “down”, and now she was “up.” Because I was a witness to this bonding, I will support them in their ups and downs, I am part of the community whose job it is to see that they succeed in keeping their vows. I take vows seriously.
As for me, I have decided with not much struggle that love is worth sacrificing everything for. There is no greater gift than loving another, creating intimacy and trust. Building a life with someone, and discarding your selfish pettiness in the hope that it will be replaced with sweetness and long moments of silence lying in the arms of someone whose arms you would like to stay in for a very long time.