(Sorry. I think I needed to purge myself of the whole experience. I will not be the least bit offended if you lose patience and only make it about halfway through this long -- even more narcissistic than usual -- post.)
It all started with a cold the week before my position at my former company was eliminated. I am afraid I was not the loving, attentive wife I like to pretend I am. When Bob gets sick, my thoughts usually run along these lines, "Oh great. He's sick. And he'll refuse to take care of himself, which means either he won't get well, and I'll be kept awake by his sniffling and coughing for the next two months, or he'll come down with pneumonia, and I'm going to have to take care of everything around here by myself, including him." I also happen to know that when he does find himself bedridden, he is extremely vocal about how horrible it is to be so, and he's very grumpy. In other words, he would never win any awards for "Patient of the Year."
I was right. He didn't take care of himself. He not only had his normal "minister-ly" duties to conduct, but on March 14th, he had to officiate a funeral. All funerals are sad, but this one was particularly so: a 32-year-old young man, diagnosed two years ago with colon cancer, who left behind his young widow and seven-year-old son. One can understand that a minister would want to be there for this family and that he did not want to scrimp on the service, most particularly the eulogy.
Bob's reasons for ignoring illness are always understandable. I didn't know him when he was a teacher, but I'm sure in those days, it was, "I can't take care of myself. I have to grade these papers." (Because, you know, you read in the news all the time about those kids who go on shooting sprees in schools because teachers have taken too long to grade papers.) When we worked together in publishing, it was, "I know I'm coughing up blood, but I have to fly to Buffalo in this blizzard to make this sale; it might not happen otherwise." (Because, quite obviously, the company was going to collapse if that one sale didn't happen.) When he was in school, it was, "I have to write this paper. It's due in two days." (Because seminary professors would far rather see a student drop dead typing out the last sentence of that paper than allow an extra week to write it.) Resentment (whom you need to hold completely responsible for all those parenthetical remarks I didn't just write), however, is not much into understanding.
All this is to say that when I received just about the worst news someone can receive career-wise, Bob was "here for me," but he really wasn't. How could he be when he was off with a grieving family, writing two sermons for two different services, and either sneezing his brains out or blowing his nose every five minutes? He did the best he could, was completely understanding every time I burst into tears of frustration/rage/hurt/worry, but really, I was pretty much on my own. My cell phone rang. Resentment suggested I needed a little company. Well, and you know me: I still haven't learned how to say "no."
I put everything on hold and waited "just to get through Bob's rough weekend," while I entertained resentment. Once the weekend was past, I was sure I'd get to be the center of attention. We'd work through all my emotions, and then, together, we'd set about mapping out a plan for my future. Well, it never happened.
We got to Monday (Bob's "day off"), and instead of my long-awaited, "all-about-me" day, I found myself with a husband who wanted to do nothing but nap. He kept saying, "I don't know why I'm so tired." Resentment calmly patted me on the arm, assuring me I need not respond (especially if I were going to respond in some concerned-wifely way) and sarcastically replied for me, "Gee, I can't imagine. You've got a cold. You've been caring for a grieving family. You spent the whole weekend officiating church services. Oh, and your wife just lost her job. There must be something really wrong with you."
Tuesday morning, he went off to church as usual, but when he came home for lunch, he told me he really wasn't feeling well. He was achy and chilled. He was going to go lie down for a little while. Three hours later, he was still lying down. I convinced him to take his temperature, and, as suspected, it was hovering somewhere just above 100. He started taking aspirin and insisted on beginning the process of doing research for his sermon. Stupidly, I let him. Luckily, I was not so stupid as to agree that he could go for a run when he tried to pull the old, "It's not in my chest. As long as it's not in my chest, it's okay to exercise" routine (I would like to shoot whoever came up with that little rule about exercise). Because my husband's Ten Commandments of Exercising seem to be missing "Thou shalt not exercise with a fever," I had to point out to him that a broken leg isn't in the chest, but that if someone wants a broken leg to heal, running on it is not the answer.
At this point, you can probably tell that no one could have compared me to Florence Nightingale. I was getting pretty annoyed, because his symptoms seemed to be screaming "flu." He'd had a flu shot last fall. My guess is that it isn't exactly easy to get the flu when you've had the shot. Someone has to work pretty damn hard to pick up those one or two odd strands of the virus that are resistant to the vaccine. Part of his job, naturally, involves frequent visits to hospitals and nursing homes. Some might be tempted to compare me to Lady Macbeth the minute I walk through the doors of a hospital, and I may be a bit obsessive, yes, but I am quite sure Bob visits all the time with nary a thought to washing his hands.
By Wednesday night, however, my annoyance was waning. I've known Bob for fifteen years, and I've never seen him so sick. He couldn't keep down any food, and he was in absolute agony. He kept complaining that not only did he feel like someone was squeezing his abdomen and holding it in a vice-like grip but that he also felt like he was being stabbed in the back with a knitting needle. I immediately suspected a kidney stone (my college roommate suffered from occasional kidney stones, and I knew the symptoms). He didn't tell me this at the time, but he was convinced it was colon cancer (some of his symptoms, which are too gross to relate, were eerily similar to those suffered by the poor young man whose funeral Bob had just officiated). He refused to go to the emergency room, however, so we waited until Thursday afternoon when he could get an appointment with our doctor.
Our doctor was somewhat mystified. He said it sounded like Bob had been hit by about three different things. He had blood drawn to be tested and did a quick urine analysis to discover a bladder infection ("How'd you manage that?" he asked, as bladder infections are so uncommon in men). He assured Bob that he did not have colon cancer, while noting he might have a kidney stone or a kidney infection (I was busy patting myself on the back for my brilliant skills at bedside diagnosis while being amused that Bob had jumped to the cancer conclusion). Bob got a prescription for an antibiotic, and we were told the blood test results would most likely be back the next day.
Well, the blood test results weren't. Meanwhile, Bob didn't seem to be getting much better. The pain was gone (again, not to go into the gross details, but we're pretty sure he passed a kidney stone), but he still had no appetite. Despite being on the antibiotic for two days, on Saturday night, his temperature went back up to 102.5. (He conveniently didn't tell me this until it was back down to a respectable 101.4 the next day, so opposed is he to going to the ER. I don't know what I'm going to do if he ever, say, chops off his finger while splitting wood.)
On Monday, resentment packed bags and left town, because I was being a terrible, inattentive host and had made the mistake of inviting worry, care, and concern to pull out sofa beds and unpack sleeping bags. The doctor called to tell us he'd gotten the blood test results and wanted to draw more blood to re-test it, because Bob's white blood cell counts were triple what they should be. When we saw him, he seemed mystified, because he'd expected with a white blood cell count that high, Bob certainly must have a kidney infection. However, the urine analysis showed no signs of that.
Well, anyone who has even had a passing acquaintance with hypochondria knows that elevated white blood cell count = leukemia (despite the fact that this is what the body naturally does when it's fighting off infection). Give a hypochondriac the Internet, and she will take it a little further, coming up with the following equation: elevated white blood cell count + fever that doesn't respond to antibiotic + abdominal pain + loss of appetite = husband dead from leukemia within months and despondent widow driven by her grief to the loony bin (oh, and she will completely forget the fact that just a few days ago, she thought her husband was silly to be worrying about cancer).
Luckily, by Tuesday morning, we had the new blood test results. His white blood cell count was back to normal, so the antibiotics were working, and I could banish all thoughts of leukemia. He had a staph infection. The problem is, we're still not sure why. It could be from a kidney stone, or it could be a heart valve infection. None of this is as serious as leukemia, but it's still serious stuff and needs to be monitored carefully. He had a CT scan on Wednesday, and next Tuesday (once the antibiotics have run their course), he goes to have his heart checked.
Meanwhile, he's beginning to feel much better. He doesn't understand why nobody wants him to preach on Sunday. He's complaining about lying around in bed all day. He's suggesting that, if not a run, he at least might like to go for a walk. He won't listen to me when I tell him he still isn't well, that we still don't know exactly what's wrong with him, that he still needs to take care of himself. Why won't he listen to me after all the care I've been giving him?
Oh, would you look at that? Leukemia walks out the door, and here comes resentment, back for what looks like (judging from the trunks) a rather lengthy stay...