Living With Disaster
by MaryAnn Easley
Morning, 11:00 am: he slumps on the stairs, halfway down, halfway up. “Call 9-1-1.”
Oh, no! I rise from my computer. “Are you okay?”
He moans. Another disaster?
I grab my phone and dial.
911 has questions. I translate his garbled responses. He’s damp, obviously in pain. Too many questions. When did he go to bed? I fell asleep early.
911: Did he fall?
I don’t think so. Out of bed onto the floor, he says, passed out. Heart attack.
911: Did he hit his head?
No clue. He’s having a heart attack. Didn’t I already say that?
911: How long has he felt pain?
All night? I don’t know.
911: When did he last eat?
He ate only a few bites at dinner. Nothing much yesterday. And the day before? He didn’t feel good, something he ate, he said, maybe a fast-food burger or a coffee where a server touched the rim of his cup. Germs are prevalent these days.
911: Does he have any health issues?
Too many to mention. Heart. Macular degeneration. Physical. Mental.
911: Are you with him now?
Each day, we begin anew. Love wins every time.
I chose him long ago; I remember the exact moment in time.
911: He shouldn’t move. Keep him still.
He can’t move; he can’t even stand up.
911: Unlock the doors.
I open the front door. I go downstairs to open the garage door and move cases of water, paper towels, and toilet paper out of the way. We’re prepared to outlive our frailties. Each day carries fatal possibilities. We live in a townhome, all angles, edges, stairs; we fall, get up again.
Lights flashing, sirens screaming, two engines roll into the center drive between buildings. The sound could wake the dead. It’s Sunday morning, for God’s sake. People are sleeping late or drinking coffee at windows overlooking this drama.
Uniformed men ask questions. Did he fall? How long has he been in pain? Does he take medications? Does he have an advanced directive? A DNR?
Notes go onto a clipboard. Same notes, different day, a day I was planning to make French toast for breakfast.
I once found him sitting at the kitchen table, not breathing. No pulse. No sign of life. Only his empty plate. I threatened to call 911; I pounded his chest. Nothing roused him. Paramedics resuscitated him on the floor near the dog’s bowl of water. That dog died in my arms last year. I held her for two hours after.
The hospital is exactly 7 minutes away.
No rush, they say. Take your time. It’ll take a while to check him in.
I pick up the Sunday paper, pack granola bars, slice an apple, and gulp down a protein drink. I slip a book into my bag, The Case Against Reality. I check to see if I have my ID, vaccination card, and mask. I find his medical records, insurance cards, power of attorney, the advance directive, the DNR.
In ten minutes, I’m parked on a tortuous ER chair. Attendants edge around me to take information, tests, blood, urine, EKGs, X-rays.
More questions. He can’t remember. Medications? I can’t pronounce the names of the medications. Psych pills. Thyroid pills. Blood pressure pills. Cholesterol lowering pills. Nitro. Eliquis and Plavix, blood thinners to prevent blood clots.
Minutes develop into hours. I text: In ER . . . again.
A loudspeaker plays a lullaby; a baby is born.
Birth. Death. A Code Blue team once surrounded him; he revived and survived.
He’s a cat with nine lives, an artful dodger. Even with blocked arteries, cancer, falls, accidents, mental issues, he survives. My brain rewires itself as I retrieve his moments of rebound, ecstasy, and madness. He once wrote poetry; now he talks to voices in his head, defends himself, presents arguments, plans an attack, communicates with the unseen.
A former lifeguard, he saved me when I fell into the sea. Twice. I’m grateful since he’s accumulated a list of grievances against me. He’s left-handed, scarred by surgeries; he can lose his sense of direction, make suicide attempts; he’s had pulmonary embolisms, some memory loss. We frighten one another.
This is my life living with disaster.
I’m Disaster’s wife. I drive the car, fix the food, do the laundry, sit in the ER.
His reputation precedes him. Surfing friends named him Disaster, but it’s no longer funny since he’s not on the beach or sailing; he has no friends, only me.
Is disaster his self-fulfilling prophesy? One way or another, it seems he’s always trying to kill himself. Once I flushed his pills down the toilet. Another time, hospital staff ordered a 5150; he was transported by force to a lockdown. A bad boy, tattooed, expelled from seventh grade, expelled from high school, his fate preordained, he wound up teaching incarcerated shivved-up gang members in juvenile lockdowns and county jails.
He was very good at it.
I’d never heard of a 5150, but he paced the back garden where cameras observed his every move, tried to feign health. Freedom meant surrendering his weapons. One gun was hidden behind a locked cabinet on the boat. He secretly slipped me coded instructions for retrieval and disposal; my assignment felt like a Dateline episode except no one got killed.
He’s a cowboy at heart, coming to the rescue; the problem is he finds it impossible to rescue himself.
Diagnosis: upper GI ulcer. Bleeding.
Not a heart attack. Hyperbole.
I loved how he diagnosed inadequate current with an O-meter, set us on course with a sextant, rewired sound systems, mended my heart.
We’ve lost things: patience, power, passion.
A nurse rolls him out of the ER to another part of the hospital where he’s heavily sedated to undergo an upper GI endoscopy. A tube must be inserted down his throat and into his stomach.
I wait alone in an adjacent room to eat my snacks as a visible vessel in prepyloric antrum is discovered in his body; clips are placed to stop the bleeding. Eliquis is stopped, as is Plavix.
Neither one of us likes to be told what to do, but—according to my star chart—I’m destined for this role.
He’s placed on the fourth floor and given an all-liquid diet: beef broth, apple juice, and Jell-O. I try to breathe, ease into a cautious equilibrium, talk about exercising more, eating less, making some changes. He prefers the status quo.
Hospital nurses have musical names: Jessica, Michaela, Juliana, Gabriella. Their voices rise as they insert needles and attach tubes filled with blood or clear fluid. How are you feeling? Is there anything else we can do? Monitors hum and beep. Protective masks, gloves, and face shields are worn.
The next day, he gets ice cream.
On day five, he’s discharged, but I dread our future asymmetry.
The following morning, his vision is blurred. His head hurts.
We go back to the ER.
“Are you okay?” I dole out his pills, drive him to doctors, cook dinner.