Making Peace with It—A Spouse’s Story (Part II)
The following Friday we were at our gym. He’d started to shed a few tears over the fact that he was so tired; he couldn’t do the simplest workout that he’d just given to one of his clients; he felt like his legs were going to give out from under him. He was now ready to figure out what was wrong, he said. He called a doctor friend about 15 minutes later who ordered blood work at the CPL around the corner. His blood was drawn within the hour.
We were at the gym the following morning when we got the results. Many of our clients had stayed after the group class to help my husband redesign the layout of the gym, again— something he’s done countless times since that day. The call from the doctor friend came at around 10:00—my husband passed me the phone and told me I needed to handle it. The voice on the other end was calm, but I could hear an undertone of surprise, too. He told me he was sorry, but my sweetheart was now a person with diabetes and I needed to get him to the hospital.
I didn’t know what that meant, yet—but I wondered if the voice on the other end of the phone had any idea how difficult it would be to achieve what he was asking. Getting my husband to deviate from a project once he’s started is impossible. That’s not a hyperbole. It’s literally impossible. I ended the call and began the first of my series of requests to get him to leave with me and go to the hospital—he told me to wait just an hour or so, so they could all finish the task at hand.
We arrived at the ER about an hour and a half later. He told the nurse behind the counter what his doctor friend had said. She invited him behind the desk and tested his blood sugar — it was close to 700. She ushered him to a room beyond the swinging double doors in under a minute. Truly. It was under a minute. I was allowed to stay with him. I still didn’t understand what was happening or the implications of it all. Within ten minutes they started pumping insulin into him.
It was there, in that sterile, florescent-lit room that I witnessed my first real miracle. As the insulin made its way into his system and began to unlock the key-holes of his cells that had been sealed off for many months, I saw the extinguished lights inside of him begin to flicker. My grey hued husband began to show the faintest signs that he might begin to again resemble the man I first became friends with, then fell in love with, then chose to grow old with. I felt like I was witnessing transfiguration. It felt sacred.
An hour or more later, another doctor friend was there in the room with us. He understood what it all meant. He held his friend’s hand and acknowledged that he must have felt like sh*t over the past few months. And finally, finally, my love could say that he’d indeed felt bad for awhile. Bad. Really. Really. Bad. More doctors came in, said more things I could only vaguely hear, muttered acronyms I’d never heard before that would eventually become part of our everyday lexicon.
They kept him in the hospital for four days. Getting his blood sugar back within a normal range was the straightforward part. Getting his electrolytes back in balance proved to be a bit trickier. They kept him hooked up to an IV 24 hours a day. The nurses called him a “Walkie Talkie” because he was the only patient who wasn’t dutifully playing out their role as “patient” by remaining in their assigned bed. No, my honey walked laps up and down the halls for hours to pass the time and stay sane.
I took him a yoga mat so he could stretch his body on the floor, which really freaked the nurses out the first time they saw it. All those germs, they said. I cooked him as many different kinds of delicious meals as I could think of that wouldn’t spike his blood sugar and he would enjoy. I filled the nurses’ fridge with snacks that were low sugar and made of real food instead of that crap the cafeteria was stocked with. It was hard not to lose my temper one night when someone stopped by his room with an evening snack for him—a package of two Fig Newtons— 78 carbs in one package. It was really hard, but I held my tongue, and looked away as he graciously handled the situation himself.
We all have our ways that we cope with traumatic events—one of mine is to research. To dig and dig until I feel like I get to the core of something—examine its underbelly so I feel like I know it through and through. It can make me an annoying friend and partner when I’m in one of those modes. I simply won’t, simply can’t shut up about the topic I’m immersed in. It gives me a feeling of power, control and ownership over whatever it is, I suppose.
So naturally that’s also what I did when type 1 diabetes (T1D) came into our lives. I researched the hell out of it. I read the different hypotheses for why it and other autoimmune disorders are on the rise in Developed Nations—the connection between celiac genes and T1D—the terrifying statistics and tragic side effects that the medical community seems to agree are likely outcomes from the disease. The more I read, the less I wanted to know. That was a first for me.
I needed to feel useful—a way to channel my anguish and demonstrate my love. So I set about making the most delicious meals I could come up with. I experimented with different recipes that were low glycemic, low carb, gluten-free, diabetic-friendly versions of his favorite foods. It gave me a sense of reprieve from the powerlessness I felt and also a false sense of power once I got on that train.
The biggest fight of our relationship came one night when I started chastising him for eating something I was afraid was going to lead him down the road towards all of the terrifying complications that I’d read about and didn’t fully understand yet. My head was filled with these new boogiemen and I couldn’t ignore them—they simply wouldn’t shut up.
I don’t remember all of the details, but I remember the boom that came out of my even-tempered man. It was nuclear. And completely out of character. It seemed as unlikely of an event as finding out that Mother Teresa had become a skinhead in her later years. I didn’t think it was possible. But there it was in front of me. And in that moment, I realized that the most loving thing I could do for him was back away and give him space to figure out what it all meant for him, instead of me trying to figure out what this meant for me. It was very hard. But I did it. Or at least I did the best I could.
I wonder if admitting to that reveals that I’m an inherently selfish person? Was I really more concerned about what his diabetes meant for me, rather than what it meant for him? But I’d just found him after so many years of fruitless trial and error with other partners who were never partners at all —just practice for the real thing. I wish I’d known then that those experiences were all leading me to my life with this man, who I adore and I’m certain I’ve known before—a man that I’m nowhere close to being ready to lose yet.
So that’s what I’ve continued to do over the past few years. I’ve kept that distance from his diabetes— have given him space to figure out what it’s meant for him on a day-to-day basis. Of course, I check in—prepare good food that’s also good for him, ask him about his workouts, how he’s feeling, what his numbers were that day. But it’s also been like having a third person in our marriage for the past four years. And in some ways she became his primary relationship when she chose him and I think I’ve been pissed about it. After all, he couldn’t actually die if he ignored me for a few weeks, could he? Crazy way to look at it, I know.
I cried many tears when I got home—some were for myself, but most of them were for him. For the ways I haven’t supported him throughout this process and the recognition that he often shields me from his own feelings about what this all means for him because he’s trying to protect me— but who’s been protecting him during all of that?
I think it’s important that when we’re in any long-term relationship that we not become too convinced that the way we see that other person is really all of who they are— to always leave room for the fact that there are most likely things that we don’t see about them either because we can’t or we aren’t ready to see them yet. To leave space for the fact that we also may not see certain things because that person loves us so deeply, that they can easily see our fears, so they may choose to safeguard us from some of the realities of their struggles because it hurts them more to see us hurting than to silently deal with what life served up to them.
I learned many things yesterday. I learned that even strong a** Unicorns need community— need to know that they aren’t the only ones, that even the most able-bodied among us need a break from having to carry their burdens alone and need to be able to feel normal once in awhile, need to spend time with others who were dealt a similar hand.
I was also reminded of the incredible power and freedom that comes when we share our story and listen to other people share theirs. And that’s what makes us most beautiful is almost always born from our biggest burdens and challenges. Even this piece is my attempt to create something beautiful from moments, thoughts and actions that were not.
I wish I had a final paragraph that would neatly wrap this all up—tie things together with one final, elegant truth bomb. But I don’t have one. Because we’re not at the end of this journey, are we? We’ve really just started. We’re simply in the phase where one half of our whole has awoken from the slumber she needed to be in for awhile because it was simply too hard to look at everything all at once. But she’s awake now, or at least more awake than she was a few days ago, and she’s now ready to carry the burden of her own emotions about our third wheel, T1D. So you can rest now, my love— at least as much as life will allow you to rest.