Frightened, relieved.

[From March 12, 2018: The fallout, both physical and psychological, from the “jail weekend,” as it would become known, unfolded slowly at first, then at breakneck speed.]

I spend a lot of time relishing my introverted nature, occasionally to the point of unapologetic misanthropy. Ironically, I’m also terrified at the thought of growing old alone, a prospect that suddenly seems very real. Four of my friends have lost a spouse in this last year and more than anything in this moment, I am terrified of joining their ranks.

So, that’s what I told my doctor. Verbatim.

“Let me help you. Let me support you in this. Both of you,” he said. I don’t believe most people when they say things like that, but I believed him.

We’ve been in communication all weekend, this doctor who came into our lives nearly two years ago and me. Initially, given the cataclysmic effect of her weekend in jail, the plan was to look at hospitalization options for Chelli in the coming week, an effort to both stem the tide of her physical disintegration and to address the widespread psychological fallout from the underlying trauma she experienced. Earlier today, though, for whatever reason, I messaged the doctor and told him what I am seeing when I look at her. I cataloged the symptoms and their progression in as much graphic detail as I could. The picture I ended up painting was of a frail, dying woman… barely 80 pounds, her hair falling out in clumps, her sunken eyes. My wife, completely hollowed out. My words carried with them a sense of immediacy that somehow caught even me by surprise.

“We can’t wait, Jeff.”

And so, now, several hours of sweat and tears and a truly maddening ER experience later, she’s been admitted to the hospital. They’ll start with an assault of fluids and nutrition and electrolytes in order to (hopefully) get her decimated system stabilized. Then, everything else will follow. We’ve avoided this for a long time, always with the best of intentions. Where most people might see hospitals as places you go for care when you’re seriously ill, for Chelli and her shattered immune system, a hospital is a place where all the bad things are, all of the germs and bacteria and death. In fact, after the procedure that started this shit storm — surgery to reduce the swelling in her head caused by severely blocked salivary ducts and glands — Chelli left the hospital with less salivary swelling, but also with a case of MRSA. Since then, hospitals have always been viewed as our treatment option of last resort. As a result, we’ve fashioned a life of infusion clinics, physical therapy offices, and visiting home health care nurses, intentionally keeping our hospital time as limited as possible. Today, though, all the risk seemed worth it — maybe even necessary — in order to have a tomorrow.

Right now, though, I’m sitting in the quiet of the hospital lobby’s late night, exhausted, but trying to get this all purged in print so I can pull myself together enough to safely drive home. I’m scared of losing her still, of course. That feeling didn’t abate because they hooked her up to tubes and machines. What has been weighing on me, though, more than I’ve even admitted to myself, is the feeling that I am the one who will be responsible if — when — she dies. It’s ridiculous and arrogant, I know, but it’s been the poison coursing through my veins for the last year. I love her more than I ever thought I would even be capable, but I need, at least for this moment or two, to let someone else take care of her. And so tonight, the ever-present fear is tempered by something resembling relief. I will feel guilty about the relief tomorrow, I know, but right now…

I need to breathe.

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