Trying Times

The past several weeks—approaching a month, now—have seemed impossibly long to me. That span of time must have seemed far longer for my wife. Since she tripped on July 14, she has been poked and prodded and exposed to X-rays and otherwise subjected to invasive and intrusive procedures more times than either of us could count. She has made two trips to the emergency room and has been admitted to the “regular” hospital twice. Between those hospital admissions, she was admitted to a “rehabilitation” hospital for a ten-day stretch. The day after her release from that hospital, she developed an enormous “blister” where fluid from her leg, injured in the fall, collected. That blister was drained during her second trip to the ER, when the medical staff also cut away the skin that had covered the blister, leaving a massive wound that must be treated as if it were a burn. Now, a tad over a week after she was admitted to the “regular” hospital a second time, she will be transferred to a skilled nursing facility for an stay of indeterminate length. The transfer could take place today or tomorrow or two days hence; she awaits the results of her second COVID-19 test within a month. At that facility, she will convalesce so she can return home, where I can care for her. Because of her weakness and severe edema (related to other health issues),  I cannot care for her until she regains her strength and the fluids her body is retaining are reduced.

With the exception of one day, when her sister visited her, I have been to the hospital to see her every day (due to COVID-19 precautions, patients can receive only one visitor per day) since her initial admission. But, in the skilled nursing facility, visitors are not permitted. Contact by phone, video calls, etc. is allowed, but no face-to-face contact. With adequate planning and scheduling, a visit that allows telephone communication while viewing one another through a window is permitted.

Even though both my wife and I are introverts, and she is considerably more private and introverted than I, the separation will be hard. I hope it is not as hard on her as I expect it to be on me. Forced separation by medical necessity is quite different from tolerated separation by work requirements; I know this because we once were separated, with very rare face-to-face encounters, for almost a year when I took a job that involved moving to another state for many months. This time, though, being unable to see her because of COVID-19 precautions (which are absolutely reasonable, in my opinion) is hard, even before it has begun.

Several people—friends and acquaintances and others—have generously offered help and support. Some have dropped food by the house and others have generously offered to deliver more. I’ve been invited to relax with neighbors, properly distanced and all wearing masks, to get my mind off “my trouble.” As truly wonderful as those expressions of support are (and I appreciate them far more than I could ever say), they cannot reduce the sense of impotence I feel. The only thing that will do that is her release back to my care.

My memories of having spent time in the hospital are of discomfort, fear, and boredom. In most cases, I was considerably younger than I am now. I think fear would play a greater part in the emotional brew today than when I was younger. The older we get, the greater the likelihood that hospitalization can be a preview to decline. I hope my wife is not feeling that right now, but I fear she is. And, as one of the world’s consummate introverts, she keeps whatever she feels bottled up inside. I rarely get a glimpse of it, so my compassion is for a presumed emotional state.

I’ve packed a suitcase for her, with clothes and toiletries, for my wife’s transfer to the skilled nursing facility. She has a few books she hasn’t opened yet during her already lengthy stay in the hospitals. I will deliver more to the nursing facility, which in turn will deliver them to her, when when she wants them. All I can do, I think, is to respond to her requests. Maybe I can deliver some flowers or plants or something else that might minimize the stress of being away from home.

I feel guilty for only assuming how she feels and only guessing what I might do to minimize the ongoing strain of hospital confinement. I should feel guilty. In forty years of marriage, I should have learned how to unearth her state of mind. I have not, though, so I have to continue to depend on suppositions and assumptions.

I suspect it will take a month or more for her to recover her strength enough to allow her to return home for me to care for her. If it happens sooner, I will be delighted. All I can do is wait and watch, from a distance, how she progresses. Maybe I can send her cards, so every day she has something new to read, a reminder that she’s on my mind. That might help spur her energy toward regaining her strength. It’s worth a try.

About John Swinburn

"Love not what you are but what you may become."― Miguel de Cervantes
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6 Responses to Trying Times

  1. Thanks to each of you—Dave, Linda, JoAnn, Pat, and Robin—for your kind words. The support of friends is a shield against pain and I really appreciate that shield. I wish I could use it to protect my wife as well as myself. As to cards: I’ve got to make sure they will accept cards (they would have to deliver them, which could interfere with their other more important duties).

  2. davidlegan says:

    EE Cummings (or TS Elliot, I can’t keep them separate) said “Don’t remark about your indigestion, ‘how are you’ is a greeting, not a question.” Now, at our ages, it is unfortunately neither. All too often it is the beginning of a lengthy conversation. We are lucky to have reached “our ages” , I get that. But, it is difficult to go opposite Benjamin Button and watch as things are taken away from us. Nowadays, a birthday does not mean that we get to date or drive or drink. Now, more and more it means we LOSE those things.

    My heart goes out to Mrs. Swinburn, and to you, John, her caregiver. You both have your work defined, and if any of us can help hoist the bale, we are here.

  3. lindakblack says:

    John, I’m so sorry to hear that Janine has to go into skilled care. I’m even more sorry that you won’t be able to visit with her in person. One thing I can say is this pandemic has opened eyes and hearts. Richard had to have an echocardiogram this morning and I couldn’t go in with him. It’s surreal!! It has always been so natural to walk in with him. I know you will miss her being at home. Hang in there! As I’ve said before, if you need us, please don’t hesitate to call us. We will be happy to help out. Give her our love. Thank goodness for FaceTime!! Keep your phone powered up, and she’ll be home in no time, even though it may seem like a lifetime to you. Great idea…the cards.

  4. jmangi1 says:

    Could we send her cards, also?

  5. Pat Newcomb says:

    I think the exercise of a hand-written note is the greatest “win-win” therapy for BOTH of you. Keep posting thoughts and reflections. Hang in there.

  6. robin andrea says:

    This is such sad news. I was so hoping that your wife was fully in recovery at home and doing well. I feel so bad for her and what both of you must be experiencing. It’s all very traumatizing in so many ways. I send you both good wishes for recovery and an easier time ahead. Please take care.

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