LAUREL COUNTY, Ky. — On the weeks I don’t know what to write my column about, I tend to look back on what I’ve written at the same time in previous years, hoping those past stories will prompt an idea for the present. It’s both a painful and pleasurable thing to do, resulting in me smiling at the memories and wincing at how many ways the writing could have been improved.
This morning, at a loss for a topic, I looked back on last November, and found a column I’d written about our decision to pursue in vitro fertilization, the final step in our efforts to have a baby. At the time — and for the year before it — I was struggling with intense anger concerning our failure to conceive. Part of it was the hormones I was taking, part of it was the extreme desperation I felt: time was getting away and all that was happening was I was getting older by the minute.
Last January, we were weeks away from attempting IVF for the first time. The drugs had been ordered, I’d gone to the training session on how to administer them to myself, and I was somewhat at peace with the fact that this is what we had to resort to to get our baby.
Ten days before I had to prick myself with the first hormone shot, William was admitted into the ICU and diagnosed with viral cardiomyopathy, which had put him into heart failure.
In an instant, our plans changed. Life changed. And what had seemed like such a big deal and what had angered and tormented me for years became very, very small. I was sitting in his hospital room, thinking about how I had to call the IVF doctor and cancel our plans, when I realized we had conceived after all. It’s strange to say it, but in my head I considered William’s recovery a pregnancy. Or, at least, I considered it a countdown similar to a pregnancy. In 10 months, I decided, we would have to be in a different place. Things would have to be better. We wouldn’t have a baby, but if I just waited patiently enough and we were careful enough and I fed him right and he took his medicine every day, my husband would be healthy again and wasn’t that just as, if not even more, important?
On Monday, William will have a test that will show how his heart has recovered and we’ll know once and for all where we stand. Interestingly, that will happen after 9 and a half months — a perfect pregnancy — of time. He’s had other critical tests this past year that have shown big leaps of improvement. If this one does too, we can close this chapter. If it doesn’t, we’re not sure where we’ll stand, but it’s not going to be in a great place.
Thinking about the test, I want so badly to skip into the future I find myself feeling like I may pop out of my skin and climb the walls and scream. So right now, I’m listening to yoga radio on Pandora and drinking chamomile tea, hoping the calm will seep into me like osmosis.
Over the past nine months, I’ve learned a lot. First and foremost, I’ve learned what an incredible person I married. I thought I knew this, but it turns out you don’t know someone all the way until they get sick. Through it all, he’s never complained. He’s never asked why this happened to him. He’s never told me he feels bad. He’s talked me down from panic with steely patience. He studied about his illness and by the time he had his second echocardiogram, he could practically read the study himself. He’s strong. By god, is he strong.
While I was strong in the beginning, the past months have whittled me down. When William went back into atrial fibrillation in May — something I haven’t talked about before and something we expect will happen again — my strength left me. I sunk into a depression and I had little way of climbing out because it had never happened to me before. I couldn’t sleep or eat. I couldn’t even lie in the bed with my husband because my anxiety would get so intense I would start obsessively counting his breaths. I have never been obsessive before. But this past summer, I was.
Slowly, as time passed, I learned to calm down. I turned to intense exercise to help clear my mind. I also leaned heavily on friends for support. As the test approaches though, the fear and anxiety have returned.
So as I sit and write and wonder what the hell kind of instruments they even use in yoga music, I’m trying to review the lessons this illness has taught me: ones of gratitude, perspective, beauty, love. I’ve talked about these lessons in my columns for the past nine and a half months. They are still real and present and on brighter days they are intense reminders. Today, though, I’m just going to focus on getting through it because, in a way, the biggest lesson I’ve learned is just how to plod forward one step at a time. And hopefully, hopefully next November I’ll look back at my columns in search of a topic and find I’m in a completely different place when I open this one.