Thursday, January 03, 2008

A Life and Death Perspective

David (my husband) had a heart valve replacement and ascending and descending aortic route replacement in January of 2003. Seems like just yesterday and at the same time it was eons ago. Recently he wrote about his experience - our experience - on a heart valve replacement support group board. Since he gave some credit to what I was experiencing I, naturally, took great interest in what he wrote. Not know what any of you are going through right now in your own families, I thought perhaps this might interest you. What he wrote applies to any life threatening illness. Here's David ...

When I was nearing surgery my wife mentioned the "D" word for the first time in our marriage. (14 years at that point) We rarely ever fight but for a while we fought quite a bit. I've been thinking about it a lot and thought others probably experience similar things so I thought I'd try to explain what it was in our case that caused this. I don't mean to trivialize it by putting it in bullet points but for me to remember anything I need to itemize it...

She thought:
1) my wife was VERY afraid and thought I was giving up or just waiting to die (her mother and father died young)
2) she didn't understand why for a long time I hadn't been exercising or trying to get fit before things got really bad
3) she thought she'd rather the boys not see me "give up" and that she'd rather they were'nt around me when I was allowing myself to die.
4) she was upset and frightened of losing me and was trying to make sure I didn't like hearing me complain because deep down it increased her fear

I thought:
1) I was more afraid of the surgery and possibilities than actually dying
2) I was in shock and wasn't thinking rationally
3) (subconsciously) I was depressed and it was easy to think of #1
4) I complained a lot because I was scared
5) I kept fantasizing that there was a way out, or that surgery could be postponed

In retrospect I don't blame my wife at all and rather in fact I'm sort of glad she smaked me in the face a bit. I'm still not happy we had those moments which were pretty bad... I was depressed and could have taken the low road and pushed things to the brink because of my feeling sorry for myself. <<>> I hope you can talk about these things before it gets to the point of confontation.

The solution for us seemed to be:
1) (COMMUNICATION) I explained my massive phobia to her and she explained where she was coming from. To really communicate one person has to listen until the other is completely done without interjecting, then the other says their piece. Any other variation has a chance to end up in an argument... at least it was that way for us.
2) I tried to complain less
3) I tried to make plans for after surgery and scheduled holidays away with the family in advance
4) Tried to keep any "just-in-case" planning stuff under the radar or at least not talk about it much
5) She promised to be more understanding of my fear
6) When she did catch me complaining she'd give me a hug because she knew I was feeling scared
7) She came to my doctor appt and talked to my doctor and he helped her realize I had been much sicker than either of us knew which was kind of a wakeup for both of us.
* 8) She logged in here and asked some questions (that was the real turning point) -THAT WAS A HUGE HELP!!-

After surgery things weren't done. I was on cloud 9 for a while as my recovery was going well but later I found myself moderately depressed... My Doc said everyone gets depressed at some point after surgery except those who are 90 or older. Then he joked about that it was probably because they were just so glad to be alive. I was certain I wouldn't get depressed but later I found out he was right about the depression.

The root of my depression after surgery seemed to be:
1) lots of attention before, during and after surgery until people think you're ok then NOTHING
2) reality/work hits again with no additional respect or considerations
3) you feel loved when people serve you, suddenly when you can do pretty much everything again you don't get that feeling any more
4) STUPID PAIN KILLERS (wonderful but nasty things... painkillers sometimes connect you to bad thoughts and things you'd otherwise not contemplate) When i gave these up I felt MUCH happier... of course sleep is important too so pace yourself on weaning off the heavy duty painkillers.
5) Work and other things you thought were important before suddenly don't seem to matter. After surgery and time off work there is a tremendous desire to live in the moment. Work suddently does not satisfy you in this instance. It's difficult to commit yourself fully to work when you really would rather be planning a day on the lake or a trip around the world. For those who's work is their identity this is a hard transition and it's painful at times to go back to working.

How I got over depression:
1) stopping the pain killers
2) EXERCISE! (made a world of difference)
3) getting over my new need for being special and just being happy with trying to live in the moment more often

Well, that's my attempt at playing armchair-psychologist... I don't know if it will help anyone else but I feel that I should put it out there. People are human and we get big feelings happening when lives are on the line. I honestly realize now that all of it was infinitely harder on my wife than on me. And as usual she was right about most things... I was being a wuss but had to get over that before I could really commit myself to healing. When all was said and done the surgery wasn't that bad and once I committed myself to being strong I had a good recovery.

I hope this information MIGHT help you avoid similar issues if you take the path that I took and perhaps it will help you having your eyes open in advance.

God bless you and your families!

David C

He's right that I was ready to divorce him over this. Might seem weird, but seriously, if he didn't love me - us - enough to work hard at sticking around, why wait around for it to happen? To my mind his lack of action on behalf of his health was akin to him killing himself. I've often worried a little over my actions back then as they were not very supportive. It was definitely a 'tough love' sort of thing. I'm glad, reading this, that he has forgiven me (there haven't been any lingering problems or anything - it was just a little nibbling doubt in the back of my mind), and that he's even been able to understand some of what I was feeling.

Hugs to any of you are going through or have been through something like this - a life and death struggle of a loved one, or yourself. There is life on the other side and you will never forget the new life you've been given. I'm so grateful for my husband and can't imagine what my life would have been like without him these past few years or the zillions of years we will have together in the future. He is MY life and the love of my life. It just wouldn't be as much fun without him.