For National Domestic Violence Awareness Month I am sharing from my experiences in surviving abuse and some lessons I learned.
To continue the story of my husband’s illness he recovered from the stroke and could walk with a cane. Since he worked on a computer, not being able to walk a lot was not an issue for his return to work. Over the next few years he gained a lot of weight, some of it from fluid in his legs, which became very swollen and reddened; fluid built up in his belly. As a nurse I recognized the worsening symptoms of heart failure.
For several years he had been on fluid medicine for leg swelling and I think for high blood pressure twice a day. One day I noticed that he became short of breath just walking from the truck to the living room about 25 feet. He always recovered after resting but this was not a good sign! I asked him to go see the doctor since I knew he had heart failure. He told me, “What is he going to do? Order more Lasix?”
So I gave up. He had told me two years before that he knew he might die in the next year. Even though this occured the following year, I came home from working night shift every morning with the fear that I would come home and find him dead. In fact one day I came home from work and saw his truck still in the driveway. My heart was in my throat! I rushed inside to find him getting ready to go to an doctor’s appointment that morning and had forgotten to tell me.
In 2009 he called me from work and told me he had collapsed at work and would be home soon. I told him, “Go to the hospital!!” It was just up the road! He said, “No! I am coming home!”
In desperation I yelled at him, “Please go to the hospital!”
He replied,”Don’t tell me what to do!”
A few minutes later he called back and told me he was going to the hospital. In the hospital he was treated very well and he liked the staff. He had to wear an oxygen mask to keep his oxygen level up. His heart was so enlarged that it couldn’t even fill up properly.
The doctor told him he might not leave the hospital alive, because of the severity of the condition his heart was in. The one thing that may have hit my husband hardest was that he would never be able to work again. He wanted to feel like he was making a difference in the world.
The doctor offered an old medicine that was designed origianally for pulmonary edema, or fluid back up into the lung tissues. My husband said that he would try it over the weekend but if he was no better by Monday, he wanted to be placed on Comfort Care Orders. That meant medicate and treat only for comfort: fingerstick blood sugars when he asked for them; and continued supportive care.
I told him I would take him home and take care of him if he wanted to die at home. His words were, “No, I don’t want our home to be remembered as the place I died, but where I lived.”
In retrospect I realized how gracious he had been to make that decision. After his death I noticed a male patient with reddened legs and a big abdomen. I cringed remembering my husband’s condition. My feelings about our home would have been affected. I sincerely believe he knew that.
He also apologized to me for the things he had done and said to me. I accepted his apology and felt nothing but love and compassion for this man who had been a big part of my life for 43 years. (Later I found out that total forgivenss for abuse actually takes years, depending on the abuse and severity of its effects and if one gets counseling.)
Monday he was no better and the orders were placed as he requested. His oxygen levels continued to drop slowly. He refused a ventilator since it would not fix his heart in its condtion and postpone the inevitable. He told me some very loving words and thanked me for helping him when he was sick. We had shared some wonderful times and some painful times. But I had loved him with all of my heart. We both went to sleep.
Early Wednesday morning while I was still asleep the nurses came in and told me he had passed away. I cried some and left his body to be taken to the morgue. Oddly I had packed a lot of the unnecesary items in the car to take a load home the next day, not realizing he wouldn’t reach that day.
After the funeral my brother came and helped me rearrange things and pack away my husband’s clothes to donate. I owe my brother so much for being so loving and supportive.
Since our son had already moved out, and was finding support from his friends, I wanted to get away for a few days after the funeral. I went to visit my brother and his wife in South Carolina. As I was driving along I suddenly realized I would never would see my husband again in this life. That’s when the tears came.