Saturday, June 2, 2012

No way out but down

Beep.  Beep.  Beep.  Beep.   The measured noise of the heart monitor almost blends into the background except for one thing - it is reassurance that he still lives.  I wonder how long even that will last, even if he survives this time, whether he'll try a fool stunt like that again.  

A medicine cart rattles by, pushed by a nurse doing the morning rounds in this open ward.  There must be about two dozen people lined up in hospital beds, side by side, with just enough room for a chair on one side and a heart monitor on the other. Some have the curtains drawn for a bit of privacy - but nobody can get away from the sterile, no-nonsense activity of this place. 

My mind goes back, unbidden, to the events of the last 24 hours.  The trip to the emergency room, the chest pains that started right in front of the registration nurse.  The blood tests, the intravenous drip to rid him of the poison he ingested. The concern on the doctors' faces as they talked to each other in hushed tones about numbers and letters that would mean nothing to anyone but them.  Occasionally I would catch a snippet I understood - like 'organ failure' for example - and my heart would jump into my throat. They weren't sure they'd transfer him to a hospital in the next province, but if it looked like there was the possibility of endocrine system shut-down, they'd not hesitate to ambulance him over. The words became a blur.  Everything felt somehow out of phase, as if I was there but I wasn't really there.  This couldn't be happening. 

I barely remember the four-hour drive to the second hospital, just that I was on edge the whole time, praying with all the love in my heart, "Please God.  Please."  It was all the prayer I could muster; the Almighty could understand the pain of fear, of panic deep in my heart.  The ambulance had gone on ahead of me and I was going separately in our vehicle with our two children, then aged 17 and 14; we had hastily had packed a few belongings and made arrangements for friends to come and house-sit with the dog.  I kept thinking that I had forgotten something.  What was it?  yet my mind was racing ahead to where I was going, not behind me to where I had been. 

My oldest sat beside me, tight-lipped, pale and fearing to speak aloud what her naturally worrying mind was screaming. "What if he dies?"  The other, full of faith (for she has always been so) simply quipped, "He's going to be fine.  I don't know why you guys are so upset."  I envied her trust in a God she barely spoke to on a regular basis ... but I knew that when she did, God listened. I allowed myself to be comforted - if only a little - by her words. Throughout the whole trip, silence hung over us like a thundercloud. We followed the directions that the doctor had given us to reach the infirmary, and found ourselves - at last - in the parking garage, able to get out and find our way into the place where only the most exhausted ones sleep.

He was vaguely aware of my presence, but unaware of anything at the same time - in and out of consciousness, not even knowing where he was - I knew that he would never remember this.  But I would always remember.  I would never be able to forget.  I stayed as late as I possibly could - the nurses promised me the doctor would see him at ten pm (after which he would call me) and then again in the morning - and I withdrew into the cold February night, leaving the number at my friend's apartment, my friend who opened her small place up to the three of us to stay the night - or however long it took.  I thought how grateful I was to have a friend like her.

And now it is the next day, although the light level inside has stayed the same and one loses all track of what time it is.  I sit by his side in a chair provided by the nurses, holding his hand, listening to the beep of the heart monitor, watching the numbers on the blood pressure monitor hover dangerously high (now I know what I forgot at home! his blood pressure medication!) listening to the noises of the other monitors, the medication carts, the code yellow announcements, and the voices of nurses nattering on about their normal lives.  All of these sounds are miniscule darts that pierce into my soul again and again.  Time seems to have slowed, or my perceptions have quickened.  

My friend is looking after the kids; she is taking them to a birthday party for her granddaughter.  I tear up again - and there have been many such episodes - at her acceptance and her love.  

The curtain parts.  It is the doctor on duty, a young man with a slim physique, black hair and blue eyes. I briefly wonder how fresh out of medical school he is.  "We were thinking about sending him home today ... but there are some concerns.  One is his blood pressure.  Is he on any medication? did he bring any with him?"  

"No-o. I mean yes, he takes medicine for his blood pressure, but I forgot to pack it."  I smile miserably. "Everything happened so fast, I - "

"Do you remember what he was on?  perhaps we can order it at our pharmacy and see those numbers come down..."

"Of course, yes, that's a good idea," I blabber, so weary yet so relieved that the end was in sight.  And I tell him what the medications are, and give him the dosage instructions.

"Very good. We'll get that probably within the hour.  Now.  One more thing."  He takes a deep breath.  "He ingested a known poison. We are treating this as a suicide attempt.  We can't allow him to go home without some sort of assurance that he will get counseling."  He saw my hesitation, the fear, the doubt in my eyes.  "We can refer him to a psychiatrist in your city if you like - or you can go to see a counselor of your own choice, but he would have to be registered."  

"Well, someone did recommend a counselor ..." I gave him the man's name. 

"Ah yes.  I am familiar with him.  Very good then.  We'll get that blood pressure medication in here and then monitor his numbers.  If they come down, we'll release him.  We took him off the drip last night around midnight.  He'll still be a bit groggy (you may have noticed he's a bit more alert today) so he shouldn't drive for the next 24 hours, just to be safe."  He looks at my face, searches my eyes in what is as close to compassion as I have seen from the bustling people in this white, antiseptic place.  "This was a close call, ma'am.  Too close.  Please get him some help."  

"You can count on it, doctor."

Over six years have passed since that day.  We know so much more about what really happened then, and much of it was harder to hear than the original crisis was to experience. But it was the truth, and the truth does set free - albeit through the fire.  

He had never tried to commit suicide.  He had only told us that to hide his addiction problem.  Three years would have to pass and it seemed that every time we ended up in emergency care, things were a little worse.  The monster of addiction took more of his life, affected more and more relationships, even the ones at work, eventually took his job from him.  But those things (hard as they were) needed to happen.  They buffeted him, and pointed out to him how he was trapped in an insane pattern from which he could not escape on his own.  

That process took over three years AFTER that hospital stay was done.  And when he was finally down to his lowest ebb... (and it's hard to imagine anything lower than that experience six years ago, but that's exactly what happened) when he was at his "bottom" - he finally asked for help.  And God stepped in and ever so slowly started to transform his life.  It's not anywhere near perfect; there are still significant struggles and doubts - but the addiction problem has been removed.  

As damaged as he thinks he is ... he's back.  And I am so very grateful.   

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