Monday, August 17, 2015

Dying Decisions

When I took Maggie, our geriatric dachshund, to the vet the last time I stood there and looked at her and confessed to the vet, “Every morning for the last few weeks I looked in her crate to let her out and kept hoping she had died in her sleep.”

The vet looked up from her business with Maggie and said softly, “That rarely happens with dogs who are well cared for.”

Maybe she told me that to assuage my guilt for doing in my old dog, maybe it’s really true, maybe well cared for animals live long, comfortably and fight to the end. Maybe it’s just happy talk, I don’t know.  

I want to believe there is a little truth in what she said and I wonder if the same could be said for people.  I wonder if maybe, as we get older, more infirmed or deathly ill good care means we don’t go easily, good care means we hang on a little longer to live and love those loving us.

My mind, being what it is, obsessed and a bit crazy; I ruminated over the vet’s comment and I eventually thought of how the comment applied to my life with Marty.  Of course that’s where my little pea brain went because all things, especially notions of life, love and death all come back to Marty.

No, I don’t secretly hope she dies in the middle of the night, not at all.  Marty has beaten the odds so many times in this whole journey; she has already outlasted any common sense mortality projections.  Marty has been at death’s door and refused to walk through; in fact she nailed the door shut.

The question is, did she do that because she has had good care, did she do that because she wasn’t ready to go, did she do that because she is one stubborn lady?  All three of those things are dead true but I don’t know how we have arrived at this point in our lives.     

I know that Marty gets exceptionally good care.  She has me watching over this team of amazing people ranging from a marvelous Family Practice Doc to our children and their partners to four fantastic care givers.  She gets good care, she gets good love.

I also know that good care often leads to really hard decisions like telling your doctor to put that purple wrist band on your loved one, you know the one, the one that has DNR scrawled on it.  I know that most of us will eventually be making some of those hard decisions affecting the people we love and some of those decisions will literally be about life and death.  Hard, really hard, impossible decisions lie in wait for all of us.

Having your long time canine companion put down is nothing compared to deciding to end life saving medical treatment, even when you know, even when you are sure with every fiber of your being that you are being true to a loved one’s wishes, even when you know death is a release.  I’m sure it feels like giving up on someone who needs you, someone you love enough to let them go.

I have known Marty for over 40 years.  She and I have talked, like most, about this very thing.  I know with every fiber of my being that she does not want to be on a vent again.  I know very clearly she does not want to have major surgery again, I know she does not want to ever darken the halls of a nursing home, I know what she wants.  

I don’t know what I can do, I’m the weak link in this particular chain, just like so many of the people who stand over their loved one’s bed trying to decide when and whether to unplug.  Knowing what’s right doesn’t make the decision easy at all.

I don’t want Marty to die in the middle of the night like I wished for with Maggie. With Maggie I was in my own way wanting to be spared the weight of having her put to sleep.  I’m not asking to be spared any part of this journey with Marty or any of the gut wrenching decisions that are part of that ride.  Shoot, the way this ride is going it may be Marty and our kids figuring out what to do with me. 

Ultimately, almost all of us will have to make a stop on this ride to contemplate and decide, how best to honor and care for the person we love.  

My wish for me and all of you, I hope it happens rarely, I pray it happens with love, and I hope we all show remarkable courage. 

Sunday, August 9, 2015

Pontificating on Physics

I learned very little when I sat through high school Physics, I really kind of hated Physics.  I do remember learning that it takes energy to maintain an orbit and even more energy to alter an orbit.  Marty’s Husband burst out of his care giving, Waco, Texas heat orbit with a trip to Boston last week (what does it say about you when you talk about yourself in the 3rd person). 

Rudimentary physics taught me that to maintain an orbit without any energy expenditure you have to exist in a perfect vacuum and not even outer space is a perfect vacuum.  When your environment is full of the gunk of life, stuff like responsibility, paying bills, working you clearly have to use energy just to maintain your orbit.

Marty’s first stroke threw us completely off-kilter and blew us out of orbit careening through a vast unknown space.  It took a lot of energy to get back into some kind of reasonable orbit.  Hell, it took a lot of juice to simply stay in orbit and to maintain any sense of regular rotation.  We were just getting into some semblance of a new rhythm; we were just starting to replenish our energy stores when the 2nd stroke happened.

In the interim, between strokes, I had found enough energy, I had found my way to starting a new career, altering my own orbit just a bit.  I had signed up and paid for an alternate teaching certificate program so I could get back into the flow of life with a different kind of job.  I was looking forward to starting the classes when Marty slumped to her left that evening of January 3rd.

After the 2nd stroke we had to establish a completely new life, one that was totally unfamiliar to both Marty and me.  We had to force ourselves into an uncomfortable new orbit and it was exhausting to get there.  I found that it took a great deal more energy to live our lives and keep from succumbing to gravity and burning up as we fell to earth.  We spent a lot of our fuel simply staying alive.

I went to the teaching certification classes and actually took the tests to get my teaching certificate all while Marty recovered in the hospital and rehab.  When it actually came down to looking for and starting a new career I found I was completely out of gas and only had enough fuel to get us into our new orbit and keep us there.  There was no extra for outside interests or exploring new orbits.

We eventually got into a rhythm and learned a lot about our new orbit and the world we were circling.  We got accustomed to our new route and we were both able to maintain status quo without as much energy, but it seemed impossible to find the energy to break out of orbit and do something different.  It was simply too much work, too much worry, too much expense of high cost fuel to try and take a trip or start a new career or develop new friendships.

Things have changed in our world, not completely, it will never be normal, but frankly, normal is not all it’s cracked up to be.

Today I have found the energy and the bandwidth to do some stuff and not completely obsess over my bride when I’m doing said stuff.  Hey, that’s a big thing for a guy who is a 24x7 worrier. 

We have some excellent support in our lives and our children are always willing to spend time and energy in our orbit.  Because of all of that I’ve been out of my box a couple of times, I have seen some new orbits and in doing so I’ve learned some new things, and I love seeing and learning new things from new people and exploring strange new worlds, like Fenway Park.

I miss Marty when I go; mostly I miss not having her to experience the new stuff with me.  I think when I leave Marty misses me, some, but she likes the break, the small alteration to her own orbit.
I think she sees when I am gone her orbit changes just a little too and she too has to work a little harder, she has to use more energy to alter that orbit and not crash.  I think she likes that seeing the world from a little different route. 

A lot of this whole thing is about how much energy you have, what is using that energy and where you want to expend that precious resource.  Always and forever I will circle our world with Marty that is where I will and want to spend the majority of my time and energy. 

I will continue to go and come back, I will continue to break free of our own gravity and explore other worlds and then re-enter our orbit.  Marty will continue to support my temporarily breaking free because I often bring gifts from foreign lands and sometimes that gift is nothing more than a stronger me better equipped to keep us both in orbit.