Twenty-one years ago todayâ€“at about this time, my life changed forever. Itâ€™s hard to believe it was really that long ago. I was teaching an evening shift, and my husbandâ€™s boss called to say my husband had fallen in Austin earlier that day, landed on his head, had driven back to San Antonio, but he didnâ€™t look good, so theyâ€™d called an ambulance for him (I was stationed in San Antonio). My ex-husband (the husband in this story) was a generator mechanic and traveled most of south central Texas maintaining backup power generators (I used to travel with him when I had time off from work when I was stationed in Montana, so I know more about power production than the average woman).
The emergency room couldnâ€™t find anything wrong, so they sent him home, but when he woke up the next morning, his face didnâ€™t look right. This happened to happen the one week during my adult life my parents ever visited me at my home. (Maybe one reason theyâ€™ve never come back is they donâ€™t want to kill off hubbyâ€¦)
To make a long story short, he was never quite the same. Some of his less desirable characteristics were exaggerated, he suffered from a serious heat intolerance (we lived in San Antonio with an air conditioning system that never worked in a house we purchasedâ€“the pre-purchase inspection said it worked. It didnâ€™t; we couldnâ€™t afford to replace it.), and he was prone to violent outbursts directed at objectsâ€“never people that I knew about, but his doctor contacted me one day about something heâ€™d said. Eventually, I got the message that maybe he could be violent toward peopleâ€“and me in particular, and had a friend store my weapons for me. (Note to readers: Take these things seriouslyâ€“I could have been one of those murder-suicides you hear about on the news.)
By late April, he stabilized, and we made a trip to visit my parents in Mississippi (they were living there at the time). During that visit, my 8 year old sister was diagnosed with brain stem cancer. I stayed for her surgery, and hubby drove back home with the dogs. I came home to find our beloved St. Bernard, Babe, dead in the back yard.
This happened within 8 weekâ€™s time, beginning on the Ides of March, 1985. That was the beginning of the worst two years of my life to date (and Iâ€™m OK with it staying that wayâ€“I learned never to challenge Worse. Life can always get Worse. Never, under any circumstances say things canâ€™t get worse; it ainâ€™t true.).
A routine day for me: Come home from work, pull icepack out of freezer, lay icepack on non-responsive husbandâ€™s forehead, change clothes, see if he revived. If no, call doctor and find way to get him to emergency room for temperature regulation and meds adjustment (people with head injuries sometimes forget to take their medication or take too much of it).
My sister survived two brain stem operations where she was given a 50-50 chance to live through the operation. The first operation was in Gulfport, MS, and the second, a year later was at St. Jude Childrenâ€™s Research Hospital in Memphis, TN. She was an inspiration to my family and me with her positive outlook.
After a year and a half, all known possible treatments were exhausted, and they stopped the final one they tried when she and my parents decided it was worse than the consequences of no treatment. I believe that was in September, 1986. I hope the things they learned from her helped them develop more effective treatments for brain stem cancer. I havenâ€™t followed it closely, but I believe they have made progress. With the cancer in her brain stem, she was fortunate to never feel pain as a result of the cancer. It just ate away a little at a time at the things she could do for herself. Vital functions like breathing and heart beat are in the center of the brain stem, so she would live until the cancer ate all the way to the center.
She, my parents, and my two younger brothers took a Make-A-Wish trip to Disney World before her condition deteriorated too rapidly (October, maybe?). By November, she was only able to take nourishment via IV. We pulled her reclining wheelchair next to the Thanksgiving table and joked with her about changing the flavor of her IV. By then she could hear us, but her brain stem had been consumed enough by the cancer that she could not respond. My parents spent a lot of time holding her and talking to her. I saw her again at Christmas and New Yearâ€™s. I drove home January 2nd. My father called me around 10 pm on Sunday, January 4th. She was gone. The next morning (Monday), I went to work, signed in from leave and arranged for emergency leave. I returned to Mississippi later that day for the funeral service (ex-husband rode with me, and we flew him back after the funeral) and the immediate family drove to Wisconsin for her burial.
Had she survived, she would be 29 this year on July 31st. I think of her whenever I hear Kenny Chesney sing, â€œWho Youâ€™d Be Today.â€ Some days I have to change the channel.
Life did slowly get better after that. Ex-husband and I separated but lived in the same house in the fall of 1985. I did a remote tour in Iceland from September 1987 to October 1988. We were divorced in December, 1988â€“eight years and 8 days after we were married. I have my personal ups and downs since then, of course, but I have no excuses to be less than happy.
Why am I posting this? Two reasons. As life gets bad, it does eventually get betterâ€“never give up. Grief and pain last a long time. You can still function, but if you feel pain, even after everyone seems to think you should be â€œover it,â€ itâ€™s ok. If the pain feels too great, I hope youâ€™ll seek help from a qualified counseling sourceâ€“mental health professional or clergy (for example). Someone reading this needs to know these things. I donâ€™t know who you are (nor do you need to tell me), but I never would have posted it otherwise. And, of course, Beware the Ides of March.