Magic Mushrooms, Cancer and the End of Life – Part 2
Shopping With Terminal Cancer

A TGB READER STORY: After Hours

By Mary

My husband turned 78 in the spring and as the weather warmed and the garden burst into bloom he got weaker and weaker. He was a man of great accomplishment.

He was illegitimate, born to a poor orphan who often couldn't take care of him and so would leave him with her older sister. Then she married an angry alcoholic who beat her and her children.

My husband longed for his real father to come save him from his poverty, from his loving but incompetent mother, from his shame at being a bastard, but to this day we don't know if his father even knew he was born.

So my husband battled his circumstances and used his sharp intelligence and his strength of character to drive himself through college and graduate school and into the Senior Executive Service of the Federal government.

But his family history took its toll, and he was a heavy smoker and at times a compulsive eater. After two sons and a divorce, he decided to take a diet drug that ended up damaging one of his heart valves. And so began over 20 years of surgeries and worsening health.

Almost 10 major and minor surgeries and steadily worsening COPD and heart symptoms led to many hospitalizations and even more trips to the emergency department over the years. He started using oxygen all the time. His judgment showed some deterioration.

He refused home health care. He refused to discuss hospice. He hid worsening symptoms from me and his doctors. He developed occasional incontinence. Then he began to fall.

He wouldn't use a cane, much less a walker. "I don't want to look like some poor old guy", he said.

"But you ARE a poor old guy", I replied. He was not amused.

So he fell, and fell, and never hurt himself much until one night he hit his back on a wall on his way down. He had dreadful pain, but wouldn't go to urgent care until over 24 hours later when he just couldn't stand it any more.

We were the last ones in urgent care when they took him to be x-rayed and by then all the offices were closed. I sat in that huge waiting area watching a housekeeper empty trash and wipe off tables in front of the various departments. And I thought about what was coming.

I try not to cry in public. But I put my face in my hands and wept in that empty, echoing room. I tried not to make much noise so the housekeeper wouldn't know, but when she got close to me she said, "Señora, you ok?".

I answered her, saying for the first time, "My husband is dying". A few minutes later a man came by and asked if he could help me. I told him no, my husband was going to die a miserable death from COPD. He said that I was probably right.

My husband and I went home that evening and I tried to help him get comfortable in bed. The doctors would not give him any opiates for the pain of his broken vertebrae because they might adversely affect his breathing.

And so he suffered, and I suffered, and after two more ER visits he ended up in a nursing home, terrified that he would be neglected. But they took very good care of him there, fortunately. And I went to see him twice a day. He never wanted me to stay long.

He had another ER and ICU stay while he was in the nursing home, and then went back. In less than a week he called me saying he had begun to bleed rectally. I told him I would meet him at the ER.

As I stood outside the entrance waiting for him, I heard sirens as they drove up with him. They had never used them on any of his other ambulance trips. I stood aside as they unloaded him and told him I would see him inside.

Ten hours later he was dead.

EDITORIAL NOTE: You are a prolific bunch of writers and there is now a backlog of reader stories to carry us almost to summer. So for awhile, I am not accepting new stories until we work through some of the ones already on the list.



Comments

This is written descriptively and agonizingly clear. He suffered and he soared, fortunate to have you near.
And you survived being a companion, caretaker and witness. Quite an ordeal for anyone.

Now take good care of yourself and recognize your pride of surviving.

Mary, this is a heartbreaking story. Vivid.

Your husband is a hero in my book. All the years of his life he fought against his past.

He had no control over the circumstances of his birth, yet he worked like a soldier to succeed in his future.

I can't even imagine the stress and pain you both experienced.

Can feel the love you shared through your words.

That siren. Oh no..

Sending you a huge Montreal hug via Costa Rica.

It's hard to read a narrative like this without clear good guys and bad guys, but it's real and it happens and I'm thankful that Mary, and you, Ronni, shared it. As I read it I went back in memory and reflected on a couple of turns that kept this from being about me.
Thank you for being there, Mary.

Two beautiful, accomplished people, insisting on coming out from the long shadow of a wounded childhood. You say so little about yourself, but it rings out, what a loving and strong and caring helpmeet you were. Thank you so much for sharing this with us, but I think you are accustomed to being truly brave. I wish for you that all the love you have given so unstintingly all the years will come back to hold you and bring you peace and happiness.
A hug for you.

My heart aches for you and for your late husband. How he must have suffered and I can commiserate with the pain he must have endured with the fractured vertebrae. I fell and had compound fractures with 2. One night about a week later I tried to go raise up to get out of bed and the pain was unreal. On the third try, I was in the worst pain of my life. They ask you to rate the level of pain on a scale of 1 to 10. I said it was a 15. I was taken by ambulance to the nearest hospital and I still have constant back pain.

I am so sorry you had to go through the agony of the entire trauma. You told this so well that I felt my pain again. You are, indeed, a courageous person and now, as others have said, take good care of yourself.

Mary, My heart started breaking from the first sentence. You are so brave and I know the struggle you endured to take care of your husband, who accomplished so much but somehow never felt worthy because of his terrible childhood.

Grieve for as long as you want and then go forth knowing that you did the best you could and it's time to take care of yourself and re-invent the new you.

You have a ship full of friends that wish the best for you and want you to be happy again.

That core of steel in you is clear, Mary - I am only hoping that you had family and friends to somehow share a this time. As a long-time smoker (remember "More doctors choose Kools than any other cigarette" ?) we stressed folks so often used whatever was handy to make life manageable. Look forward to the day you will be able to remember the strengths he had and the good times you shared. The very best wishes to you from all of us who care.

What am amazing superbly told story.
You write so well that I agonized along with you. It is now your turn , please take very good care of yourself- you obviously took very good care of your husband
Thank you for this!

Beautiful, beautiful thoughts. Both story and comments.

What a brave and steadfast partner you were to this suffering man. Poignant story, thank you!

XO
WWW

Thank you all so much. Your loving comments brought me to tears.

I just got around to reading this lovely and heartbreaking piece. The stoic strength of your husband, who was clearly used to pushing himself to go beyond the fate that life seemed to have dealt him. We strive so hard to not reveal our vulnerabilities and frailty, and yet, we are all so vulnerable and frail. It's inescapable.

I hope that moment in the waiting room where you broke into sobs and where a Latina cleaning woman reached out to you, was at least a little comforting and cathartic. Being able to express our feelings and our humanity is probably the greatest strength we have, but it seems to get harder each day. It's unfortunate that, as a society, we have bought into the nobility or holiness of suffering, when it is neither noble nor holy.

I hope that you are taking good care of yourself and finding some well-deserved rest, comfort, peace and happiness. God bless you!

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