May 28, 2013

A Canuck in Kantuck: The new normal

LAUREL COUNTY, Ky. — Last Monday night was the hardest I’ve had since my husband William got sick in January.

We had been to see the heart failure specialist earlier in the day, and the doctor had come into the bland room to tell us the preliminary results of the cardiac MRI William had had just a few minutes before. I was wound like a top, and I could tell from the blush on my husband’s neck he was nervous too.

Six weeks before, we’d been told William’s ejection fraction — how well the heart pumps blood — had risen from 30 to 42. For William’s heart to have a normal life span, though, it needed to get to at least 50.

When the doctor came in, he was clearly busy as usual. I’m not sure if doctors actually talk faster than the average person or if you’re just so scared by what they may tell you things don’t register as quickly, but as far as I was concerned he started erupting with information like a volcano.

Of course, after he said “40,” I didn’t hear much else.

“At this point, the best thing you can do is exercise,” he said. “If you’ve stayed at 40 for the past six weeks, the medicine has probably done what it’s going to do.”

Though we’d celebrated 40 a few weeks ago, now it meant something completely different. It wasn’t a death sentence, but it did mean a foreshortened life.

I did not look at my husband, who was bravely nodding. I just stared at this doctor, suddenly angry at him. He probably had kids and a nice wife and was going to go home and eat dinner and then go to the soccer field and watch his nice kids kick the ball and, probably, score a few goals. Meanwhile, he had devastated us.

As he has been through all of this, William was shockingly calm, but, this time, I could not hold it together. When his sister called that night and I heard him having to be upbeat about the news, I couldn’t stop from crying in the bathroom. He was the one having to deal with his own mortality and yet was having to console the rest of us. I felt guilty, but I needed so badly for him to tell me everything was going to be OK. Finally, he just looked at me.

“Let’s wait for the final results,” he said. “Honestly, deep down, I think I’m going to get better.”

I didn’t sleep that night, but I did watch my husband sleep. I was shocked he was able to and finally left the bed and started wandering around, lying down on the couch, in the spare bedroom, hoping that a change of location would mean a change of fate. For a few minutes, I’d fall into a craggy sleep and then suddenly wake up, the acidic wash of our new reality pouring over me again. No, things wouldn’t be getting back to normal. This was permanent. He was permanently damaged.

The next morning, I was completely wired. I was nauseated, had a headache, my joints ached, but I had decided I was going to keep myself very busy and keep out of William’s way so he wouldn’t see that I was upset. I was in the laundry room when I heard him on the phone. William had on his patient, jovial Professional Voice, so I thought he was talking to someone from the bank.

“I’ll be sure to tell her,” he said, and I imagined the complicated form I was going to have to fill out to set up our new account.

He came into the laundry room and put his hand on my shoulder, smiling.

“That was the doctor. The final results are in,” he said. “It wasn’t 40. It was 52.”

Suddenly, I felt our lives shift again, could almost hear the recalibration, and I felt dizzy, terrified I was dreaming. I’m ashamed to say, I didn’t hug my husband. I just cried in my hands harder than I have since all of this started. Suddenly, with one phone call, we’d made it. He’d gotten lucky and he was going to be OK.

I write this now and I still don’t completely trust it. In fact, I’m knocking on wood every few seconds to make sure that writing this won’t somehow plunge us back into the depths. But with every day that passes and I watch him drive away to work and read his funny texts and start to make summer plans, our old life is starting to come back. And I’m not letting one second of it go.


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Now that school is out, what are your family’s summer vacation plans?

A. No major plans. We will probably hang out around Laurel County.
B. Going to the beach!
C. Kentucky has a lot of wonderful state parks, and we plan to visit a few and enjoy quality family time.
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