It’s been almost six years now, since Petey came home from the hospital the last time.
For months, his back and legs had been in terrible pain that every day, got worse. He was regularly seeing an orthopedic doctor and had had a medical text’s worth of treatments.
Nothing helped, and the pain grew worse.
The pain eventually got so bad it was becoming almost impossible to work. Finally one day, he left the unit he’d worked in for more than twenty-five years in a wheelchair. That shift was the last time he ever worked as a nurse.
Two months later we noticed his feet were the color of a new bruise. He had an appointment to see our family doctor for another matter and I asked him about Petey’s feet. He took one look and ordered us to the emergency room—he’d call and let them know we were on our way.
It turned out, the artery that supplied the blood below his waist was so blocked, it was practically non-functional.
He needed a synthetic replacement artery. But he might still lose his feet which had an unknowable amount of damage because for months had gone without anything close to an adequate blood supply. The surgery, which was supposed to take three hours, took seven. Afterward, he spent days in intensive care, on a respirator.
The good news—his feet were okay.
The bad news—his kidneys had shut down.
This began a nightmare of dialysis, further complications and more surgeries. He’d get stable enough to come home, only to be rushed to the E.R. in a few days for more surgery and another extended hospitalization.
Dialysis took a heavy toll on him. He had it twice a week, usually as an inpatient but occasionally he was at home and would visit a dialysis center. Each session lasted four or five hours, and battered him physically and mentally. By the time he regained a portion of strength, it was time for more dialysis.
The treatments kept him alive, but as each week passed he grew weaker and less able to bounce back. The doctors frequently reminded us that kidney disease went in only one direction—downhill. It was entirely likely he’d eventually need a transplant.
Petey’s world shrank to the few feet around his hospital bed. His days spent in anxiety, pain, and uncertainty. Our lives lurched between worry and the boredom of the sick-room, with brief flashes of abject terror.
In less than a year Petey had gone from cheerful, active nurse, husband and father to a patient. To many of his doctors and a few of his nurses, he became a “case”; his humanity replaced by symptoms, treatments and prognoses.
My days were spent at his bedside, acting as companion and advocate. Petey was too sick and demoralized to take a stand, so I was the one whose foot was regularly put down with doctors and hospital staff on matters ranging from timely test results and procedures to diet and discharge.
At night I returned home to walk the dog, eat, shower, do some laundry, and go to bed. Wash, rinse, and repeat.
Finally, in March, he was well enough to come home for good and defying kidney soothsayers, went off dialysis. But in 160 days, he’d spent almost 120 confined to the hospital.
It’s been just about six years since the illness, and I have thoughts. Next week I’ll share them with you, Gentle Reader, and also tell you what a good friend looks like to the person going through a catastrophic illness and the person who’s taking care of them.
Thanks for your time.
Contact debbie at email@example.com.
2 thoughts on “Hard-Won Wisdom”
Wow, Debbie. I am so sorry your family had to go through this. There is nothing in the world as frightening. In 2012, just about now, my husband was diagnosed with malignant melanoma and died 5 months later. I’m still recovering, and I bet you are too. I’m anxious to read your column next week where you set out the characteristics of a good friend in a time of crisis. To me, that was a person who ran the parts of my life that I couldn’t run, which for the last 6 weeks was everything. As horrible as that time was, my faith in friends and the God who I believe put them right there where they were needed swelled and remains today. I sure hope that Petey remains his healthy self. Hope you don’t mind my sharing my story with you.
Sheryl, I feel honored that you felt able to tell me your story. The entire Matthews Family Band is sending our warmest thoughts to you. I am sorry you had to go through that.
I hope each day it gets easier for you. To me, you are a ray of sunshine and a welcome voice. Hugs to you.
Please take care,