Good Heart Goes Bad

April 23. It seems a lifetime ago. I’ll always remember it because it was the day after the wedding of my third daughter (which is a story in and of itself and I’m still trying to put words to paper about it). It was a gorgeous morning. My husband and I got up early, a rarity for him, and we treated ourselves to breakfast at a popular restaurant. Hubby said he didn’t feel well. Not sick really, just not well. I attributed it to the few hours’ sleep he had gotten. We went home and he took a long nap, then woke up with a cough. It started out as a typical chest cold but within just a few days he was as white as a walking ghost, with so little energy he could barely make it to the bathroom and back to bed. He wasn’t dead so it took some serious arguments before he agreed to go see a doctor.

He came home with an inhaler and some cough medicine. Another week passed and he was even worse. He was coughing so hard he would pass out. Again we argued and my words that “this isn’t normal” finally got him to go back to the doctor. Chest X-rays were all clear, but he came home with antibiotics. And in a few days he had improved. Hurray!

But it wasn’t lasting. As soon as he finished up with the meds he slipped back into a raging respiratory illness. He had to sleep sitting up because of his cough. I had to force liquids on him because he had no appetite. He was sleeping (in a chair) all but just a few hours each day and still he wasn’t improving. He went back to the doctor. Even though it had only been two weeks, the doctor ordered more chest X-rays. Still everything was “clear”. So where was all the phlegm coming from? He was given a different medicine to help with the cough.

As viruses are so wont to do, now it was my turn to be sick. Instead of a chest cold, I got a head cold. And it knocked me flat on my back. I ran a high fever and could barely heat up chicken broth for the two of us. I dragged myself to the doctor and got antibiotics for a sinus infection. I couldn’t function for five or six days. We had food delivered or we ate prepackaged junk. Finally I felt strong enough (or desperate enough) to get to the store for “sick” provisions like Gatorade, Jell-O, chicken noodle soup, canned fruit, ice cream. All that sugar gave me some energy and I came back alive. Not so hubby.

All in all I was sick for about five weeks. I was completely non-functional for about seven days during that time. The rest of the days I worked—mostly from home because I couldn’t stand the dirty looks my coworkers gave me the one day I went into the office and coughed all day.

On the first Sunday in June—six weeks after Hubby came down with his cold—he woke up and told me he was short of breath. It was a new and scary development so I insisted we go to the ER. Because he could still walk and talk, he refused to go. We argued all day. At 3:30 in the afternoon, he finally agreed to go. The ER nurse asked what brought us in. We explained about the respiratory infection and shortness of breath. The nurse took just one minute to check his vitals and said, “You might have come in for your respiratory infection, but I don’t care about that right now. You’re in a-fib and we’re admitting you.” My husband and I looked at each other. WTH?

He spent two nights in the hospital. They ran up a humongous bill of tests and more tests. He came home with ten different medicines to take and a day calendar to remind us of the time each needed to be taken. The good news from the tests is Hubby has a good heart. There is no blockage, no leakage, no bad valves. It’s all good. It just has an “electricity” problem. The top part of his heart thinks he’s running a marathon and the bottom part of his heart thinks he’s sitting in a chair watching TV. The two parts aren’t communicating properly. Seems like a pretty simple problem to solve. Not quite.

It’s now more than eleven weeks since my husband first got sick and he’s still in a-fib. We’ve learned a lot about this condition and we’ve met several fantastic nurses and a few good docs. (They all look so young!!) Today Hubby had a cardioversion procedure, in which they shocked his heart to try to get it to go back into a normal rhythm. It didn’t work. They tried three times—their maximum attempts.

Hubby is not a happy camper at all. I’m relieved and thrilled he’s still alive. What a pair the two of us make! We have no idea what the next step is, other than he has an appointment with his cardiologist at the end of the month. So we’ll continue living in limbo for a couple more weeks.

My husband told me years ago when we were dating that he came from a bloodline with good hearts and people living long lives. I told him that was a good thing because I was going to need him to watch over me when Alzheimer’s hits because that’s what is hiding in my genes. Over the years we’ve had good times and bad, happy days and frustrating days when I was so miffed with him I couldn’t say anything nice. There’s nothing like a good health scare to bring it all into focus. My husband does have a good heart and I want him to stay with me for many, many more years. I think we’ll be acknowledging treasures more often in each of our limbo days.


Standing By My Man

It’s no secret that my husband and I are on opposite sides politically. We met and fell in love before we knew that about each other. Shocking statement, I know. But it wasn’t a problem because we both did a lot of bi-partisan work and we each were well-versed in compromise, finding common ground, and negotiating. Besides, the political divide in our country was just a small one at the time. Our core philosophies were the same—work hard, do the right thing, treat each other as you want to be treated, watch out for the less fortunate, help others whenever you can.

I’m old enough to remember when Monica Lewinsky made the evening news, along with Gennifer Flowers, Paula Jones, and others. I remember the backlash Hilary received for standing by her man. I even joked at the time that it was a good thing they lived in a big house with more than one bedroom because that meant Bill had somewhere to sleep.

When Al and Tipper Gore divorced, I was caught by surprise. And I wondered, how is it they didn’t make it but Bill and Hillary have survived as a couple? Political ambitions trump all else? Or maybe having more than one bedroom really did make a difference?

These last few months have challenged my marriage in ways I never expected. At first, I laughed out loud and teased my husband. “Did you hear the latest?” I would ask with each breaking story about Donald Trump’s behavior or bold lie. My husband usually justified whatever it was by saying Trump was misunderstood or misinterpreted. But then the news media began playing videos. Trump denied mocking a disabled reporter, and the media ran video of him doing just that. Trump said he never opposed the Iraq war, and the media gleefully ran old video of Trump saying he opposed it. Trump claimed no one respected women more than he did. Access Hollywood video proved that a lie.

Over the course of this election, I’ve witnessed a shocking turn of personality in my husband. Ten years ago I married a man who valued women as equals, who supported my desire for a career, who would never consider saying a derogatory or defaming statement about anyone. And now he supports a man who has repeatedly verbally abused, bullied, and sexually assaulted women; a man who has ridiculed POWs; a man who has laughed at the grief of a fallen soldier’s parents.

Funny thing about life. The older you get, the more of life experience you have to draw from and sometimes, not always, you’re wiser as a result. Many years ago I was desperately trying to get my daughters and me safely away from their father. Abuse and violence were a daily occurrence and I just wanted to get us out alive. I swore I would never allow myself or my daughters to find themselves in that situation again. Divorce was welcome relief and it saved our lives.

Fast forward to present day, to the political climate we are in. Events of the summer caused me to no longer talk about the election with my husband. Not because I fear for the safety of my life, but because I fear for the preservation of his soul. He has been brainwashed to the point of believing it is okay to joke about a person’s disability, that locker room banter can include sexual assault language, and that there’s little need for truth. His delusional mind now believes he needs to go buy a gun because civil war is going to break out if Trump loses.

No, I do not fear for my safety in the same way I did in my first marriage. But I am concerned about how I’m going to get my husband to walk away from the ledge of the extreme Right and bring him back closer to center. He is lost and needs help. No other woman would have him now. I am his only hope for a nurse to restore him back to a world of respect and love of country. I’m standing by my man. And if our country is going to have a successful future, I pray other women will do the same with their husbands. Gently, lovingly let’s bring these brainwashed souls back into our hearts. Maybe in the process we can restore civility and lessen the political divide.

The Big Boy

As a parent, I found life frustrating and filled with a sense of powerlessness when I could not get my child to do something I wanted her to do. It might have been as simple as picking up toys before bed, or doing homework, or cleaning her room before company came for a visit. As my daughters got older, such challenges were more complicated. Coming home from a date on time. Going to school instead of skipping class. Attending church. I remember when I was growing up my dad used to tell me when I asked for his advice, “It doesn’t matter what I think because you’re going to do what you want to do anyway.” Ain’t that the truth. So is the fact that apples don’t fall far from the tree. I raised independent thinkers and doers. I like to think of them now as strong and successful women, because they are.

I’m learning that it’s an entirely different challenge when it’s my spouse who doesn’t want to do what I want. I lost the battle long ago about keeping the toilet seat down. I’m just thankful that he’s willing to put out more toilet paper when the old roll is gone. I wish I had won the battle about bringing in the garbage cans on pick-up day or emptying the dishwasher. Maybe I should have fought harder. I remember arguing once about something (can’t recall what exactly the something was) and my husband yelled, “Stop mothering me!” That stopped me cold in my tracks. I wasn’t mothering him, was I?

The learning moment I have right now is that my husband needs to change his way of eating or he’s going to die. Maybe not this month or next, but he’s going to die a lot earlier than he should if he keeps drinking five sugared sodas a day, eating a bowl of ice cream every night, and eating an entire bag of chocolate chips in one sitting. My husband’s doctor says he has diabetes. My husband says the doctor is wrong. This is going on year four.

About three months ago my husband got a sore on his leg, just above his ankle. The sore is still there. This week a sore showed up on one of his arms looking just like the one on his leg. He wants me to pull some magical lotion out of the cupboard and heal him. “Go see the doctor,” I have told him countless times. He doesn’t like what the doctor has to say, so he won’t go.

A couple of weeks ago I sat down with my husband and told him I wanted to do a Whole30 eating plan for the month of September. I’ve been contemplating this for some time and a few things came together to make it the right moment for me to do this. He claimed he’d never heard of Whole30 (although I know that’s not true) and wanted to know what this was going to mean for his meals. After explaining the program and showing him the meal plan I put together, he came on board too. I was thrilled!

My husband has a lot of aches and pains. None of his clothes fit right anymore. His sleep schedule is a mess, and he’s tired all the time. We all know it’s the diabetes taking hold of his body but he won’t admit that. Following a meal plan for 30 days that will allow him to reset his body makes perfect sense. I want this for him. I want to see him free of pain and sleeping through the night. I want him to have energy to go out and do things with me. I want him to live a long life with me so we can grow old together, witnessing each other’s life to the end.

He didn’t even make it past Day 3. I caught him finishing up a bottle of sugared soda and a large bag of peanuts. I was so disappointed, and hurt. The plan I put in place for this month of Whole30 eating was the best offer he’s going to get from anyone to reset his eating habits. And he couldn’t do it. I love this man and yet, I have to wonder if he loves me. Obviously he doesn’t love himself enough to try to improve his life. I can’t mother him through this. I can’t force him to eat right. I can’t take the keys away from him to prevent him from going to the store and buying these snacks.

Remorse is sitting like a big stone in his stomach today and he says he promises to not cheat anymore. Does the old adage “once a cheater, always a cheater” apply to eating habits? Probably.

I’m not going to let this derail my plans. Maybe after 30 days there will be enough of a difference in me that he’ll be more willing to try it. If not, then he will suffer the continued deterioration of his body and an early death. And maybe after all is said and done I’ll feel good enough that I can go to Hawaii with some of the life insurance money. (I didn’t say that out loud, did I?)


Body Talk

I headed out this morning to do some errands and shopping. As I pulled into the grocery store parking lot, I saw a woman getting into her car to leave. So I stopped and waited, with my blinker turned on so that anyone coming along would know I was planning to take that spot. As I was waiting for the woman to back out, another car approached in front of me and stopped. The woman who was leaving was taking a very long time, and I was waiting patiently. And so was the car that had come from the other direction. As I sat there I wondered, he’s not going to try to grab the spot when the woman backs out, is he? No, he didn’t. He must have grown impatient waiting for the woman to back out, because after a couple of minutes, he moved on passed me and over to another aisle to park. But as he passed by me, I saw his face and instantly I was taken back to another time in my life.

When a man, any man, has an anger problem, there are tell-tale signs that his body language silently yells. Sadly, too many of us women have experienced first-hand the results of that anger and we became “bilingual.” Our very lives and the lives of our children depended on being able to “hear” the body talk of anger.

As often happens when shoppers enter a store at the same time, I encountered this man and his wife and small child in several places throughout the store. In the canned goods, near the produce, by the milk. His wife was quiet. His child was withdrawn. It was painful for me, and I tried very hard to just keep on moving quickly and out of their way. I did my best to ignore them, to treat them like all the other shoppers that I encountered today but none of whom I noticed. I was grateful that they were not anywhere near when I entered the checkout. I just wanted to get home, where I knew I would be safe.

Perhaps none of the other shoppers today heard this man’s body talk in the way I did. What a blessing it would be if that was the case! And it was a poignant reminder to me of the life I once lived. I was surprised that after thirteen years of being apart from my ex-husband, I am still “bilingual.”

When I got home with my groceries, my loving husband came out to the garage to help carry things in. I gave him a big kiss and told him I love him. He probably thinks it’s for helping carry in the bags. I’ll tell him the real reason later when we have a few moments to ourselves.

Who knew she rode bikes with angels?

More than a week has passed since Rose was hit by a car. Her short-term memory lapses are gone and so are the really bad headaches. Just five days after the accident she took two college finals, acing both of them. Amazing! She had surgery a couple of days ago to put a screw in her wrist and she’s recovering well from that. The bruises on her body have gone to purple and yellow, so they should be gone soon. In two weeks she’ll get her stitches removed from her wrist and transition to a more comfortable, removable hard splint/brace. Four to six weeks later, that too will go away.

What won’t go away for Rose is the fear of getting back on a bike. I suspect her strong will and determination will eventually get her mind to a place where she can ride a bike on certain streets under certain conditions. But I doubt she will ever have the same love for riding bikes. After the accident, one of Rose’s friends comment, “Who knew she rode bikes with angels?” We all laughed at that, but I knew.

The greater challenge for Rose right now is dealing with her husband’s response to stress. This accident brought to light some behaviors that have been hidden well in the shadows for some time. We knew that Al has a tendency to be jealous and to make snide remarks. What we didn’t know is that he can be intentionally cruel and have moments of completely irrational behavior—so much so that Rose called and asked to be brought to our house to stay and recuperate before and after her surgery. It’s been frightening for me to witness Al’s behaviors, but others have witnessed these actions as well. Many are watching him now and I hope that creates a sense of obligation in him. Al has promised Rose he is willing to work on his issues, including getting counseling. I can only pray he follows through on that. Tonight she is returning to their home. It is tough to let go.

This has been a learning moment for me as well. I’ve always been careful about letting my grown children make their own choices. I’ve also been careful in choosing my words when I didn’t think they were making the right choice. I regularly ask myself, who am I to judge another? But this experience has been a lesson in learning how much I need to say, not what is appropriate or politically correct. Nearly every day throughout this process I have reminded myself that Rose is twenty-five years old and a married woman. My role as a parent in her life is a bit part and she must make her own decisions. But I could not allow myself to be silent and not speak my mind this time. My daughter nearly died. And in the days that followed her husband was not supportive and at times was cruel, blaming her for bringing a calamity into their lives. I could not be a silent witness. I said quite a bit to my daughter, probably more than I should have. But every word I said needed to be spoken out loud. She knows I will support her in whatever she chooses for her future, but she also clearly understands that I have strong concerns and fears for her safety. I have an obligation. I am a mother until the day I die.

And in case anyone wonders, I’m still praying to those bike riding angels. I hope they got off their bikes and that they are now walking with Rose and Al, guiding them to a smooth trail.

My Daughter Was Hit by a Car!

Rose and her husband Al were riding bikes after work on Wednesday afternoon. It was a gorgeous day and many people were out doing things. As Rose approached an intersection, she began to slow down. A car was approaching at the same time and it slowed down too. Al, riding on his bike behind Rose, watched the whole thing unfold. He said the car wasn’t going very fast when it hit Rose, but there had to be some speed involved because the impact propelled her up onto the hood of the car. She didn’t hit the windshield, but she slid off the hood, hung in the air for a second, then hit the ground and slid on the pavement for about 5-6 feet. Al thought she was dead.

As luck would have it, there were two nurses riding bikes in the same area. And there is a fire station at that intersection, and standing outside the station were an off-duty EMT and a firefighter. So within seconds of hitting the pavement, four trained professionals surrounded Rose. Rose was knocked out and doesn’t remember the impact. She remembers riding her bike and then the next memory she has is of waking up face down in the street with a mouth full of sand and people yelling at her to not move. She didn’t know how she got there. She didn’t know what day it was or even where she was. She was very confused. They strapped on a collar to protect her neck. They put her on a back board. By then the ambulance was there and she was on her way to the trauma hospital.

I was just getting started making dinner. I had taken out the pan I was going to use and was about to open up a package of meat when the phone rang. It was Al calling from the ambulance. “Rose was in an accident and she is being taken to the hospital. She is awake and conscious and she wants you to meet us at the hospital.” I dropped everything and was out of the house in about three minutes. As I drove into the city, I realized I didn’t have a clue about the extent of her injuries. I prayed out loud in the car.

The CT scan was “clear”, as was the ultrasound of her midsection and the x-ray of her pelvis. She has a broken left wrist and the right side of her body is covered in road rash. She has cuts and scrapes under her beautiful long hair, but none required stitches. She is incredibly lucky to be alive. About six hours after arriving at the hospital, they discharged her and sent her home. Five hours later, she experienced nausea and vomiting. We got that under control for about six hours, then it returned with a vengeance. So we took a second trip to the ER. She was told she has post-concussion syndrome and she was dehydrated. They hooked up an IV and gave her some meds. About four hours later, she was discharged again, with different pain meds and instructions to rest.

It’s been about 55 hours since the accident, so we are still in that critical time frame of the first 72 hours. Rose has had some short-term memory lapses and she admits her thinking is clouded. But she is resting, as best she can. She is not the kind of person to lay around and it’s driving her crazy. She wants to read a book, but she’s not supposed to do that. She is watching movies on TV even though she’s not supposed to do that.

Al is struggling with the shock of thinking Rose had died. He’s overwhelmed with the sudden role of caregiver and has not taken well to it. He’s concerned about how much this is all going to cost them. He’s worried about her missing work because they rely on both of their incomes. He’s been arguing with Rose about money and about being careless enough to let a car hit her. Frankly, he should be focused on giving Rose the care she needs for these first critical days and for the next couple of weeks. But he’s not.

It’s so difficult to know my place in this drama. Rose is a married woman. I am still her mother, but her husband is the person the doctors want to talk with. I’m “second best.”

With each hour, Rose continues to improve. I will feel much better once we pass the 72-hour mark, and more comfortable with each passing day. I’m curious about the things I am going to learn on this journey. And I am curious about whether this will strengthen their marriage or divide it.

It only takes a moment and life changes.

But I am a mother until the day I die.

The April Fool

I had just finished my lunch hour at work on Monday when my cell phone rang. It was my daughter, Rose. She sounded upset and asked if I was still on my lunch break. I told her I had a couple of minutes left and asked her what was going on. She proceeded to tell me about her awful morning. Unknown to me, Rose and Al, her husband of eight months, had been arguing all weekend. They had called a truce when they sat at our table to celebrate Easter, so I had no idea the argument had gone on. It was all centered around a party they had gone to on Friday night with some friends. Rose ran into an old (male) friend at the party and sat and talked to him and got caught up on what was happening in his life. Al didn’t like that Rose was talking to this guy so much and got jealous. When he confronted Rose about it, she just blew it off. That infuriated Al more, and the argument grew. So on Monday morning as Al was getting ready to go to work (Rose had the day off), they argued some more. When he left, he threw $200 on the kitchen table and told her to go to the courthouse and file for divorce. Rose was shocked! She had cried most of the morning and debated what she should do. By noon she had resolved to wait for Al to get home and they could talk, but then Al sent her a text message on his lunch break asking if she had gone to the courthouse yet. Rose was devastated. “What should I do, Mom?” she cried to me.

In that moment, my heart ached for Rose. She said she knew the first year of marriage can be really tough, but she felt Al had taken his jealousy too far this time and she wasn’t sure if she wanted to keep working so hard at making this young marriage work. I struggled to find the correct words to say, being careful to not say something I would later regret. We ended up talking for close to an hour, making the decision that Rose should pack a bag and spend the night at our house and that she should give Al a couple of days to think things through before anyone made any rash decisions or took action on filing for divorce. I went back to my desk and tried to focus on my work but it was pointless. All I could think about was the tears my daughter had cried, the pain she was feeling in her heart, how she felt a failure because she couldn’t make her marriage last one year. Unable to concentrate, I checked in with Rose a couple of hours later. She said Al had called and she told him she was packing a bag and would be at our house for the night. Al had asked her to wait for him to come home so they could talk first. She agreed. A bunch of red flags went up for me and I did my best to counsel her about personal safety in a “domestic.” I told her I would keep her in my thoughts and prayers, and asked her to check in with me later.

My phone never rang. I was worried, but I didn’t know what to do. I could call, but I thought that might escalate the situation with Al. I thought about driving the twenty minutes to their town to check on them, but they live in a third floor apartment. What would I be able to see? I sure wasn’t going to knock on their door and say I happened to be in the neighborhood, what’s up? Besides, my daughter is a married woman and she is twenty-five years old! She’s arguing with her husband. Does that give me a right to barge into their lives? Oh, there was a disgustingly loud symphony of voices going back and forth in my head.

As fate would have it, my daughter Kate called me to check in. “Have you talked with Rose today?” I asked her. “Funny you should ask that,” Kate said. “Dad asked me the same thing.” Whoa! In my mind, there was no way in the world Rose would have said anything to her dad about Al’s behavior. Given the violent past we had all lived with when I was married to him, there was no way Rose would tell her dad about Al’s jealousy. I pressed Kate some more as to what her dad was asking about and she didn’t have a clue. I debated about thirty seconds and confessed to Kate that Rose was having a very bad day. I didn’t give a lot of details, but enough that Kate was willing to call Rose and check in. A few minutes later, Kate called me back. “Everything’s fine with Rose and Al. They’re having a quiet night, watching a movie.”

Take a deep breath, let it out slowly. I told myself that the rest of the night until I fell asleep. How powerless I felt. We bring our children into the world, we do our best at teaching them all they need to know, and then we let go. If I knew then what I know now, I probably wouldn’t have had any children.

The next morning, I hurried through my routine and called Rose on my way to work. I knew she should be on her way to work as well. She answered right away. Thank God! And then she gave me the worst news possible. The whole thing had been a very cruel and hurtful prank. Al had thought it would be a funny April Fool’s joke. Rose was devastated, again. “How do I erase those feelings, Mom?” she asked. “I was ready to walk away from our marriage. I had had enough of his jealousy and the arguments. How do I put those feelings away?”

Ask anyone who knows me and you will discover that I am the Queen of Giving Second Chances. Someone once told me I am the most optimistic person he knew and I laughed out loud. Some days I am so devoid of hope and full of depression that I cannot stand myself. But this friend said that he will always want me as a friend because I forgive everyone, that I always give people the benefit of the doubt, always allow a second chance or third or fourth….

While some may think this is a fine character trait to have, I believe it is a defect. It makes me vulnerable. And it makes me anxious every year when the first day of April rolls around because I am a gullible person and easily fall for pranks. I hate the day so much in fact, that when my children were growing up and learning about April Fool’s Day, I told them I didn’t care for the day and that there would be consequences for anything mean spirited or hurtful. I must have made my point very clear. They were wise to keep such nonsense out of the house. If they played pranks on friends, I never knew about it. I realize now, my children never had any April Fool’s pranks played on them. Until now.

I’ve been trying my whole life to change my character defect without success. At this point, I’m ready to just give up and accept that vulnerability and gullibility are a part of me. And if someone wants to take advantage of that, then I don’t need to keep that person in my life. Does that sound reasonable?