Tuesday, February 28, 2012

When a Rose Bends

By Dr. Mel Waldman

I’m in shock. I can’t believe what has happened to my lovely, soft, and gentle wife, Michelle, a beautiful and brilliant woman who continues to enchant and captivate me every day of my mysterious life. Years ago, she captured my heart on the dance floor of the St. Moritz. But with the promise of a shared tomorrow, she captures my spirit-my soul with each sunrise.

A delightfully feisty woman of accomplishment, she once directed plays, ice skated on the Perry Como Show, and performed in Tennessee Williams’ “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof” as a child actress. And she had at least one memorable conversation with Tennessee Williams.

A healthy woman, she had one issue: a defective right hip. She talked about getting hip replacement surgery for over a year.

Then, last November, she decided to get the surgery after suffering much pain and consulting with her PCP and two surgeons.

Although I warned my wife about possible complications, some quite severe and potentially life-threatening, she ultimately listened to the hip surgeon who told her she would eventually experience little or no pain after the surgery and rehab.

The surgeon showed us the X-rays of her right hip. Indeed, she needed the surgery. But he did not prepare her psychologically for the worst-case scenarios that might follow surgery. And even though we both attended a class about hip surgery, my wife ignored the possible negative consequences of this major medical procedure.

The surgery took place on December 19, 2011 in a Manhattan hospital. After the surgery, the surgeon spoke to my wife in the recovery room. He did not include me in the brief post-operative conversation. Yet I had spent 14 hours at the hospital before, during, and after the surgery. I waited in the waiting room alone, uninformed, worrying about Michelle.

When the medical staff allowed me to see my wife, they permitted me to see her for only five minutes. My wife smiled widely and glowed in a temporary euphoria probably induced, in part, by the morphine in her body.

“Dr. --- told me the surgery was a success. And I feel no pain.”

“Wonderful,” I said.

But before the social worker transferred my wife to a nursing home, Michelle suffered high and low-grade fevers at the hospital for a week. Soon, my wife experienced a series of high fevers, infections, an overwhelming and debilitating weakness, and multiple trips to the E.R. while receiving rehab in a nursing home.

Once she arrived at the Brooklyn nursing home, she seemed upbeat and ready to complete a short rehab. In the beginning, she progressed rapidly. With the passage of time, however, she learned that the daily tasks of rehab and the ultimate goals of walking and climbing stairs presented formidable obstacles. My wife became a 21st century protagonist in the myth of Sisyphus, rolling the heavy stone of rehab uphill again and again, sometimes gaining momentum, but ultimately watching the stone roll down the hill again. The tasks of rehab became Sisyphean labors.

Assaulted by multiple infections she apparently caught in the nursing home, she looked pale and drained of her life force. She lay in bed and stopped going to rehab. I tried to motivate her and used every bag of psychological tricks I had. I used tough love and soft, gentle love – all to no avail. Nothing seemed to work.

A few days ago, the nursing home staff called EMS. My wife was rushed to the E.R. of a Brooklyn hospital again. Her symptoms included fluid on the lungs, an irregular heartbeat, abdominal pain, and a fever. While in the E.R., the attending doctor informed my wife and me that she was losing blood. She needed a blood transfusion. I signed some consent forms and my wife received the blood transfusion. In the middle of the night, the E.R. doctor transferred my wife to a room in the hospital.

After a gastroenterologist examined Michelle, he ordered a cat scan of her abdomen. He also informed my wife and me that two procedures -- an endoscopy and a colonoscopy -- would be performed once her medical condition became stabilized. In addition, he pointed out that she could not return to the nursing home at this critical point in time. Without knowing why she was losing blood and without treating the cause, she would become ill again in the nursing home and would end up in the E.R. once more.

Before he completed his exam, he also noted that my wife might have colitis. I told him that my wife’s second roommate suffered from colitis. He pointed out that patients in hospitals and nursing homes sometimes develop colitis.

The following evening, Michelle had the cat scan of her abdomen. Twenty-four hours later, the physician’s assistant on call met with me and confirmed that my wife had a mild case of colitis.

Tomorrow morning, my wife will have an endoscopy and colonoscopy. She continues to lose blood. We must find out why.

Two months have passed since Michelle had major surgery. I pray that the doctors solve this medical mystery, discover the cause of her blood loss, and fix the problem. Throughout the endless night, I listen to the beating and pounding of the rain.

And I pray.

And today, I have written this poem:

When a rose bends, it turns toward earth in the
final hours of its existence, as it
leans closer to the inevitable
darkness, the Void that waits for all of us.

When a leaf wafts to earth, gold, yellow, and
yellow-green, drifting toward destiny, the
brown womb of death beckons it to let go
and merge with the timeless usurper of
life. And so it is. Thanatos welcomes
every human and all other beings.

When a wife becomes very ill, she bends
like a rose toward the earth, leaning closer
to the darkness; her husband cries out to
her. She stops abruptly. The Void does not
swallow her now; perhaps, tomorrow or
in the distant future. And so it is.

The wife I speak of is mine, a precious
rose, bending and turning to the brown earth.
But I cry out, “Not now!” And she hears my
desperate voice. And for now, she turns to me,
away from danger, away from darkness,
away from the Void, safe within my love.

Writer Mel Waldman is a psychologist, poet, writer, and artist. His stories have appeared in dozens of magazines including HARDBOILED DETECTIVE, ESPIONAGE, THE SAINT, and AUDIENCE. He is a past winner of the literary GRADIVA AWARD in Psychoanalysis and was nominated for a PUSHCART PRIZE in literature. He is the author of 11 books.

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