Not long after your visit to the internist, you return to the gynecologist for your annual checkup. Nothing has changed, except that you are so angry with your surgeon that it’s making you sick. After your exam, when you have finished dressing, this kind, gentle man pulls up his little doctor stool and sits down in front of you. He takes your hands in his and he looks straight into your eyes. “I know you have every right to be angry, and I am sometimes angry for you, because this should never have happened to you. But you will never heal unless you let go of this anger. It has no effect on your doctor, and I believe it is destroying you.”
At first, you are angry with him. How dare he? He doesn’t have to live with this horrid pain day in and day out. He doesn’t understand. He cannot possibly know what you are going through. It doesn’t take long, however, for your rational self to grasp that this human gift is trying to help you and that what he is saying is true. Problem is, you have no idea how to let go of your rage, which you have bottled and labeled and stored on the shelf for further use. Never mind that the bottle leaks a little every day.
With the advent of the Internet, you discover a wealth of information about the things that ail you. You learn about the low-oxalate diet, supposedly beneficial for vulvar vestibulitis, that suggests you forego just about all the foods you like to eat, which are high in oxalates, and instead eat a bunch of low-oxalate foods you don’t like. You’ve never even heard of oxalates until now and you aren’t very impressed with them. You do your best with that. You read up on fibromyalgia, which describes with textbook accuracy what is happening to your body. A friend tells you about a really great rheumatologist who treats fibro. You call his office and take the first available appointment, three months away.
In the midst of all this, your younger son breaks both his wrists in an after-school bicycle accident, keeping you home with him for seven weeks. This gives you some time to slow down and bond with him. Between your full-time job, your free-lance work, your kids and husband and all your other drama, you are running on empty. You home-school him until he’s healed and back to school. You return to work feeling somewhat better, but still not well. A few months later, the boys’ father takes a powder and is gone for good. The boys are home all the time now on weekends, to which your husband is unaccustomed and does not handle well. The continuous drama since your marriage has taken its toll on him, too. He doesn’t understand why, after all this time, you’re still not “in the mood,” nor can he understand why your older son cannot just “straighten up and fly right.”
The house throbs with tension. Things come to a head one day when your younger son leaves the bologna on the counter after making a sandwich. He might want another. Your husband comes into the kitchen, sees the food left out and goes ballistic. He’s sure it will spoil, but who doesn’t know that you can leave a bologna sandwich in your locker for two weeks without it spoiling? Seriously. They face off, a grown man and a tween; suddenly he’s in your son’s face telling him to go f*ck himself. Now it’s your turn to go ballistic. You step between them and you give your dry drunk husband an ultimatum: either he goes to AA meetings and agrees to marriage counseling or he goes, period.
Relative calm descends, he goes to his AA meetings, the two of you go to counseling and everyone goes about their business. Formally diagnosed with fibromyalgia the previous year, your wonderful rheumatologist helped you design a plan of action to combat its effects. You started walking on a treadmill daily, a minute the first day, two the next, building up to 2 miles after six months. You and your husband walk the dog for two miles every night. The exercise has helped to combat the fibro, but you are still battling vestibulitis. Your rage toward your surgeon stays bottled up on the shelf, the fiery pain a constant reminder.
One morning, in the kitchen having coffee before work and waiting for the boys to come downstairs, you notice your husband’s vitamins spread out all over the counter, the bottle on its side. You cannot imagine how any of your six cats could possibly have accomplished this. Not long after you get to work, you get a call. Your husband has had a stroke at work and is on his way to the hospital. You ask which hospital. Wrong one, your insurance won’t cover it. They must take him to the hospital where they nearly killed you. This does not inspire great confidence.
You meet the paramedics at the hospital. After seven years together, you find out, for the very first time, that your husband wears dentures! How weird is that? As for the stroke, he has a 100% blockage in one of his arteries and he has to have surgery. He survives the stroke without lasting physical effects, but you will forever worry that the tension in your home will either give him another stroke and kill him, or render him helpless and you will have to feed him baby food and change his diapers forever, just like your aunt had to do with her husband.
You tiptoe around, try to keep your kids tiptoeing, but your older son’s mental health issues are escalating. The doctors keep adding medications to the cocktail, this to treat that, this to counteract the side effects of the other. Life becomes a ticking time bomb, and the constant friction is unbearable. Your husband recovers and goes back to work, but he just can’t seem to function properly. He can’t remember things, and he’s having trouble counting money to make change. A few months later, he retires and applies for disability. He is home all the time, really not a good thing for any of you. The drama ratchets up.
Thanksgiving is a somber affair. At least the oven works and the turkey cooks through. No one wants to speak for fear of upsetting your husband. He has plans to go up north for five days to his boyhood friend’s cabin, leaving the next morning. You and the boys see him off and heave a collective sigh of relief. Sunday night, as you work in your studio, it strikes you that the weekend has been unusually quiet; the boys have not had one fight and no one has even raised his voice in three whole days. Surely this is some sort of record. A giant wave washes over you and carries you away. Although it’s not what you want, you know what you must do. You will call your attorney in the morning.
Your mask remains firmly in place as the drama plays out.
(to be continued)