“Joe Schmo sat in the snow. He didn’t know which way to go. All he knew, was his ass was cold.”–JSM
While standing beside my snoring, heavily medicated girlfriend sleeping soundly on the couch, drooling into her pillow, I believed at the time the remainder of Nancy’s life would be filled with hardship. I couldn’t help it. During that period of my journey, I was a bit of a fatalist. Shields were always up, and weapons always ready to fire. Always thinking worst case scenarios and structuring my life around that mentality.
I’ve met others who have had their chests broken open for major medical procedures, and years later, they’re still healing. The thoughts on her future hardships only lasted for a heartbeat, before I buried it deep, and then flipped the robot switch back on into survival mode.
Before bringing her home from the hospital, I was named her official “caretaker”.
I was provided a lengthy list of do’s and don’ts littered with medication doses, and time-frames, acceptable temperature readings, and pertinent information. What to be aware of. Potential side effects. Fliers and various tri-fold brochures with numbers to crisis centers, councilors, groups, and advisers. Advertising, and websites for healthy, organic foods. When to do what, and how often, when its necessary to call 9-1-1, and here’s a bucket of medical supplies to help get us started.
I was angry.
I wasn’t angry with any one specific person. I wasn’t angry at Nancy, or the doctors, or the hospital staff.
I was furious with the situation. It’s fine to be angry with an ugly situation, but the question becomes… what to do about it all?
Arm in arm, guiding her along the twenty minute walk from the car to the inside of the home, one foot at a time. Rest. One more foot. There it is. Don’t rush. One more step. There ya go. Don’t be embarrassed. We’re almost there. I gotcha. One foot on the stair, rest.
Holding her upright as she crept across the grass, I kept thinking to myself, everything happens for a reason. Everything happens for a reason. This is all happening for a reason.
The entire span of time of what should have been a quick 10 second jaunt from the car door, and up the porch stairs, I repeated those words over and over in my mind. I had to.
It was the only way to keep calm, and level headed.
Once inside the house, and she was settled in comfortably, she returned to La-La Land within minutes. I stood at her side until she was fast asleep.
Tip-toeing to the adjacent room, I set the timers for when she needed her medications, pain killers, and the first bandage change. Once calculating the times, organizing the contents of the hospital bucket, and getting all the supplies in order in a straight line, I returned to her side and watched her sleep.
It wasn’t until she was in deep REM, did Joe show up from nowhere.
Hands stuffed in his pockets, rocking back and forth on the heels of his Velcro sneakers the old man appeared in my periphery and said, “If you don’t do something about all this, right now, today, this moment, you’re going to go right out of your fucking mind.”
“What do you suggest? I whispered to him in my mind with my eyes locked on Nancy’s breathing patterns.
“Well, that’s not up for me to decide, but I think you know what you want to do.” He walked by me and slipped into the kitchen, around the corner out of my line of sight.
I kept my attention on her fluttering eye lids. I held my hand out, snapped my fingers with barely enough force to make a slight noise to test her level of consciousness and when she didn’t flinch, I felt safe to leave her side for a moment, I stepped away from the couch and sought him out.
He stood back to me, hands still in his pockets. Staring out the kitchen window facing the neighbors home, he muttered, “We know what she needs, right?”
I stood beside him, looked between my feet and whispered, “She needs sleep.”
“You know why, right?”
“What do you need to do, to allow her sleep?”
“Keep her comfortable. Keep the TV off. No TV, no video games. No audio distractions. Stay out of the squeaky recliner. Memorize all the creaky floorboards. Turn off all device notifications throughout the house. Deactivate all alarms. Plug headphones into every jack, just in case… OK… first… Buy headphones. Keep the music off. Think about purchasing a white noise machine. Keep the dog quiet. No microwave. Do chores only when she’s awake.”
Mulling through the noise cancellation list and home quieting strategies, my brain overloaded. Like light splintering through a prism, bouncing around the room chaotically, fractured thoughts raced around my brain. I was inundated with unfinished ideas, spiraling rabbit holes of what ifs, and questions rattling around.
Oh, no. This is way bigger than I thought. What are we going to do about… How are we going to get around… what happens if… this changes everything… diet, sleep, routine… work… my children… social time… spending habits, what are you going to… next week we have to… tomorrow I have to… I have little back-up. Find someone to help with… send out the messages… call… email… text… This is no-man’s land. Uncharted territory. A ship destined to be dashed to pieces across the rocks.
A wave of dizzy crashed over me and Joe watched calmly as I stepped back from the outside view of my backyard, and slunk into a nearby kitchen chair. I closed my eyes and tried to breath through the anxiety.
How are we going to pull this off?
I felt weak and drained, lost, alone, and completely overwhelmed.
Out of one frying pan, and straight into another with the burner cranked up to full. Nothing can really prepare someone for all the variables involved. It is indeed a paradigm altering, reality shaking cataclysm of epic proportions. I didn’t know which direction to focus my thoughts on, so I sat still and silent in the kitchen, listening to her snore in the other room.
Without speaking a word Joe turned my chair with me in it, to face the table.
Standing behind me, he grabbed my wrists as though I were a puppet on strings and lowered my hands flat on the table’s surface.
Find a balance. There’s a balance to everything.
Right now, there is no we. There is only you. You have to find homeostasis, in order to survive this… in order for her to get through this. It’s up to you to fix it. It’s all on your shoulders… and you know it.
OK. She’s sleeping. I have some time. I thought to myself. What to do with the available time that requires no noise.
A light bulb went off.
A mindless game will help me escape. And I truly needed to escape. I needed to shut my brain off.
I swiped my phone, downloaded the app, switched the music and game sounds to ‘off’ and kicked my feet up on the table.
Joe stepped in front of me and pushed my feet to the floor. I lowered the phone.
“What are you doing?!” He bellowed.
I’m occupying time. I’m doing what I’m comfortable with.
“If you turn that game on, you’ll never forgive yourself.”
I have no idea what you want me to…
“Write something. Anything. Doesn’t matter what it is. Take advantage of this moment.”
Why the hell would I do that?
“Because it’s something you’ve been wanting to try, since childhood. No better time than the present. Take advantage of moments. Take advantage of the quiet. Write just one line. Write me some poetry.”
I laughed, until I cried.
I snatched up a pen and a pad of paper and returned to the chair.
“Just one line.” He stood beside me.
“I have no idea what I’m…”
“Visualize a place. A place you enjoy. Somewhere you’d like to be right now.”
Red faced, feeling ridiculous and no less lost than I felt before, I wrote the first thing that came to mind.
“Joe Schmo sat in the snow. He didn’t know which way to go. All he knew, was his ass was cold.”
I ripped open my nearby filing cabinet, and with a side arm throw I tossed the small pad in the back of a drawer. Enough of that nonsense.
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