In the Bubble of Emotion, Calm Is the Best Christmas Gift

It's Christmas, right? I remember now.No tree for us this year, no presents, no decorations, no festive shindig. I have been oddly removed from those mainstream preoccupations. They're like a distant shore viewed through binoculars. Since the morning, just over a month ago, when my husband mentioned an annoying pain his gut, I have been sealed away in a private emotional bubble. It's a Bubble of Crazy, a Bubble of Nuts. My husband — who lapsed into life-threatening septic shock after his appendix ruptured — has fought his way back, enduring a half-dozen surgeries, plus innumerable tests, complications, detours and the unavoidable indignities of hospital existence. He has been admirably courageous. I have not. Fear and uncertainty seem to have disabled the apparatus in my noggin that rides herd on emotions and observes social proprieties. Here inside the bubble, I am a holiday fruitcake in human form. A friend and colleague stopped by to visit this week, but found me alone in the hospital room. Mike, I explained, had been taken downstairs for a test — and then I collapsed in a fit of fevered hysteria. He listened calmly, and then we had a long and entertaining talk about the history of American rock 'n' roll music. Later, a doctor — a young resident — stopped by to deliver good news about the test. The unrestrained rocket of emotion fired again, this time blasting me into the stratosphere: "If I knew you, I'd kiss you!" I cried exuberantly. The resident made a hasty retreat. My sister called to offer comfort, and I ended up raging uncharitably against well-meaning people who urge me to "be strong." "I don't want to be strong!" I howled. "When can I quit being strong? It's somebody else's turn to be strong! Let them do it!" I am embarrassed by these bipolar displays, but at a loss to control them. People keep saying, "You have to take care of you." This, I suppose, entails not dissolving into tears because I can't find my car in the hospital parking garage; not firing off crazy text bulletins to people in the middle of the night; not drinking a shot of tequila out of a jelly glass and calling it supper — all behaviors I have modeled in recent weeks. The staff here at Clements University Hospital have been astoundingly patient, putting up with my hysteria while they worked — in quite literal terms — to save my husband's life. I have not been selective: I have broken down on nurses, on doctors, on a kind administrator, on a sweet medical student — not to mention on my own family and friends. "It's a roller coaster," they solemnly assure me. That's the common metaphor, anyway. But roller coasters are a fun ride, a thrill ride. This is just a lunatic ride, like a car spinning out of control or a rabbit being carried in a coyote's jaws. I have been wearing people out. I have been wearing myself out. It all adds up to shouting into the abyss: "Why us? Why me?" And of course, the impersonal answering voice replies: Why not you? Why has a dear colleague just been diagnosed with brain cancer? Why are friends enduring the misery of chemotherapy? Better people than you are suffering more. But to shout "Why me?" is to be human, as are love and suffering and fear and sometimes encroaching on each other's nerves. Life in the hospital exposes our human messiness — our vulnerable bodies, our fragile emotions. At this moment, I don't know where we'll spend Christmas Day: At Clements, at home or in a rehab facility. It doesn't really matter because we have ourselves. We know we have our family, our friends, our co-workers. What Christmas has often meant to me is a moment of peace in our noisy, scary, excitable lives. It's the one day out of the year as quiet as falling snow, as comforting as a warm blanket.That calm is a gift in itself. A little quiet in the bubble is all the Christmas I need.  Continue reading...

Copyright The Dallas Morning News
Contact Us