2016 came to a god awful end. Two days after Christmas I was still asleep with plans to get up early and drive 400 miles to see my family after spending the holidays at work. My cell rang with the area code where I used to live out west. Where my old boyfriend still lives. The third try woke me up and I heard his voice obviously struggling to get air. He was calling from trauma icu having been very nearly killed in a motorcycle wreck the night before. It was hard to process this information from a dead sleep. He was able to tell me what happened with the accident, he was t-boned by a jeep, he was lifewinged to hospital, he had “some kind of surgery” for his abdomen, many broken bones. He thought he was going to die when he called. It was not a paranoid thought. Multiple organs damaged. He could have died. He could still die. I know too much because I have worked icu. It has been the most terrifying week of my life since my father was dying.
Because he called me upon becoming conscious and was asking for my help to keep him from dying and those end of life “I love you”s were exchanged, I immediately started making plans to fly out. Upon getting in touch with the wife of a very long-term friend of his, however, it came to my attention that he has a girlfriend and that she is quite threatened by my existence. I thought that if I go, I will be putting him in a bad place with her and he will need her if he lives through this. And he has been too sick to talk, having at least one major surgery per day so I could not ask him what he wants. So I cancelled the arrangements to get there. And I have been in hell. Sobbing, vomiting, can neither eat nor sleep hell because I need him to live, because my heart is broken that he is hurt, because it is killing me as a nurse not to be there to take care of him.
I made contact with his sister who is aware that we are still pretty close and she has kept me reasonably updated on the medical situation. Why he has not mentioned the girlfriend in the few hours a month we talk on the phone or in any of the daily texts we have exchanged for the last ten years is a question to which the answer is known only to him. We live over a thousand miles apart and have not seen each other for years. It fits with his avoidance of difficult things and hard choices though. If I am honest about the last twenty years (yes, TWENTY), he has always avoided the hard stuff and that has always resulted in making difficult situations abject hell for me. The fact that he almost maintained this pattern of behavior all the way to his actual grave is not lost on me.
So we have multiple things going on here, none of which are good for me. Someone I love is hurt and far away. I need to see him for ME but have chosen to stay away because this was rapidly developing the potential for basically two widows to show up to the funeral. My nurse brain is utterly tormented by not being present to check the tubes and the wounds and wash his hair. For days I was fixated on needing to get his hair washed and knowing that nobody at bedside knows how to wash hair on someone who is bedbound and that staff usually doesn’t have time anymore. My shock at hearing “we wanted to ask Lisa (name changed) if you had been contacted but that was just too AWKWARD” left me with the familiar feeling of being blindsided by something he had been avoiding. The realization that if he hadn’t been lucid for ten minutes that first morning, nobody would have known to contact me was horrifying and infuriating.
For fuck’s sake he usually lets me know when he is having surgery (he’s a dirtbiker with a history of the occasional broken bone) because he lists me as his next of kin on surgical intakes. This time he was not conscious on arrival and nobody in his immediate family was aware that he would want me notified right away. Sister said she thought to call me but his phone was destroyed in the accident and she could not find my number anywhere else. He could have died. Been actual DEAD and I would not have known. I have kept my cell number (that we used to share) the same for 16 years because even after I moved away, I wanted him to be able to call me from any phone if something exactly like this happened. And yep, he almost bit it, woke up and was able to use the hospital phone to call because he knew the number and it was local to him.
We finally were able to talk again last night and he was cognitively good. I was able to say “SO…about that time you thought you were gonna die, I was totally gonna come but then found out from Jess that somebody might be pretty pissed about that so I stood down. If you need me there, I am on a plane tomorrow. If that will get your ass dumped while you’re crippled, I’ll stay here. And we’ll table the conversation we need to have about that until after I’m sure you’re recovered.” I was reassured by finally hearing his voice NOT sounding like he was gonna die and I was happy with the quality of his voice and how that reflects the condition of his lungs which had previously collapsed. He said he is doing better and does not need me there right now but if anything goes sideways, his family is now fully aware that I am to be contacted immediately and everybody has my number. I really have to work on not loving him so much but that isn’t going to happen while he is still in a precarious place with his health.
The number of times I wanted to just get drunk and go to sleep during the last week has been many. The number of times “You need to have a drink” was suggested to me was many. I did not touch the alcohol. I knew that I needed to stay as clear-headed as possible to navigate this shit. I knew that getting drunk was going to make me even MORE emotional as the numbness wore off. I had to speak my mantra “I will not hurt MYSELF because someone ELSE is an asshole.” Someone could be him, her, fate, life, what the fuck ever. I also find it interesting that alcohol as a tonic has become so deeply embedded in our society that it is the first thing people suggest even though having your brain altered by a substance does not help one think through difficult situations. I could not be drunk when he called again or drunk when an update came.
I also got to see myself navigate a horrible experience sober. I held it together for two days visiting my grandmother, my mom, my brother and his pregnant wife. I did good being sociable and engaged even though my heart was so, so heavy. I managed a TON of new information coming at me without spinning out of control or getting stuck in obsessive thought patterns. I did become hysterical at work yesterday and a coworker had to hold my hair while I vomited out of emotional distress but that was just the truth of how I was feeling. It passed and I went back to working. I have been able to ride this ocean of despair and hope and then more despair and more hope without drowning. Day 167: dealing with bad life shit sober.