Dr. Mel Waldman
The never-ending nightmare whirled and swirled in my mind, and spread to the external world we call reality.
No exit. We were trapped in a dark place. My wife’s body continued to be assaulted by the same infections that had previously transmogrified into sepsis. Nevertheless, the nursing home staff informed us that Michelle would be discharged on April 19, 2012, the four-month anniversary of her total hip replacement surgery.
Why had they decided to discharge her? The reasons were practical. First, Michelle had made significant progress in rehab. Second, the insurance company did not wish to pay to extend her nursing home stay beyond Thursday, April 19. Unfortunately, my wife’s physical well-being was an afterthought to the corporate bottom line concern of money.
Although Michelle had made considerable progress, she did not feel ready. She could walk with a walker. Yet she could not stand up without holding on to her wheelchair or her walker or some other support. She might be able to climb one flight of stairs. But we live in a quaint apartment building with no elevator, and our apartment is perched on the fourth floor.
On Sunday, April 15th, Michelle’s speech became slurred, a symptom and warning sign that she was ill again. Immediately, I shared my concerns with the nursing staff. I mentioned my fear that one or both infections had returned.
On Monday, April 16th, I arrived at the nursing home about 3 p.m. When I kissed my wife, I discovered that her body was on fire. I rushed to the nursing station and informed the nursing staff. An aide took my wife’s temperature. She had a temperature of 101.7.
Throughout the day and night, the nursing staff gave her ice packs, cold compresses, and Tylenol. And they took a stool sample too, for my wife had diarrhea again.
Her temperature rose to 102 and then 103.2. In the late evening, it went down to 102.6.
On Tuesday, April 17th, she had a temperature of 101.7. In the afternoon, it went down to 99.8 and then rose to 100.2 in the late evening.
On Wednesday, April 18, her temperature was normal. But she complained of burning while urinating. I informed the nursing staff and recommended a urinalysis to determine if she had a urinary tract infection. The nursing staff agreed, but my wife could not give an uncontaminated sample.
On Thursday, April 19th, I took my wife home. I received sundry prescriptions but only one for an antibiotic to treat her diarrhea. I debated this issue with the head nurse and insisted my wife get an antibiotic to treat a urinary infection. The nurse spoke with the doctor responsible for my wife’s medical care while in the nursing home. Miraculously, late in the day, the doctor called in a prescription at our pharmacy for the second antibiotic.
Yes, Michelle has come home, discharged from the nursing home with two infections. I watch proudly as she imposes her will on reality, walking slowly and gingerly around our apartment without her walker.
Michelle has survived four months of insidious, life-threatening infections and high fevers. Yet I’m divided into two people -- the man who wears the black robe of darkness, consumed by fear -- and the man dressed in white, gold and turquoise, filled with faith that his wife will heal completely. But what is faith? Perhaps, it is a river of resplendent light that flows through my spirit. When I feel it, I imagine my human mind and body bathed in holy light, covered by the ten spheres of divine energy Kabbalists call Sefirot. I also visualize ten spiritual waves of light flowing through my sacred being.
I am a pendulum swinging back and forth between my private universe of fear and my invisible universe of faith. At times, I fear I may lose Michelle to these repetitive, toxic infections that have invaded her bloodstream in the past four months. I grimace and gesticulate, praise and curse my unknowable G-d. I cringe and withdraw to a secluded place in my home. I shrink and vanish inside a shriveled up ball of fear and terror. On the other hand, my faith shields me from the darkness when I allow it to flow through my whole being. I pray to my G-d, Hashem, for strength to cope with the unnerving uncertainty my wife and I have faced and may continue to confront. And I pray for healing.
I am a risk taker. By loving my wife deeply, fully, and freely, I have opened my soul to joy, revealing a beautiful rose once hidden inside my flesh, blossoming in the glorious light of love. Yet I have also opened my soul to sorrow. Michelle’s pain is mine. The dark thought of living without her is unbearable. And so I tell her every day that I love her.
I love Michelle. And loving is the ultimate meaning of life. Through love, we transcend our mortal existence and discover who we really are.
Through love, we experience the divine.
Tomorrow, wrapped in a sphere of sacred love, we will heal together.
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. This is the fourth in a series of articles about his wife, Michelle, and her recent illness following hip replacement surgery; the first ran in MyStory on February 28th and all can be found through the Search function at the bottom of the blog.