Is Enough Ever Enough?
Someone asked me recently as we were discussing my most recent health adventures (heart and hernia, both repeats), because of my long and storied medical history, was there a point when I was ready to say enough and call it for this life?
In fairness, as sweet a friend as this person is, he has not known me for that long, a couple of years out the forty that I have navigated HIV and its ongoing challenges and now, with the onset of “old” age (I’m 68), there sprouts a new batch of medical weeds that demand attention in ever increasing immediacy and variety. It is, actually, like keeping the garden clean of toxic weeds that, if left un-pulled and un-poisoned, will eventually take over the healthy stuff and choke the life out of me. I’m tending my garden as fast as I can.
But it seems that the garden has grown, sprouted new and more virulent fodder that demands more and more time and energy. I don’t have to wake in the night to pee (thankfully) but my heart has been doing a fine job of waking me on its own, reminding me it is in need of attention, soon. While I’m up, those dark and immersing night thoughts inevitable pop up and take on lives of their own. The “what ifs” spread in my mental manure and are suddenly in need of my immediate, radical, attention. My nature is to face issues; look them in the eye, and then strike out on a course to solve them. Eliminate the enemy within. Lately, these Night Terrors have begun to permeate into the waking daylight. Like an un-planned for hangover, they cast a sickly pall over my daily routines that begins to feel almost like the dark night of the soul and all its implications. Unlike St. John of the Cross though, I have not separated from my soul, lost god, or any other religious metaphor. I have simply let a dimness of my natural, light, spirit take effect….in the daylight.
As Thomas Fuller posited in 1650, it truly is always darkest before the dawn. In my experience, I have found that the spiraling, catastrophic thinking that I personally tend towards in the dead of the night always seems to dissipate like the morning mist as the warmth of the sun once again appears. In the bright light of day, I find myself thinking “What was that meaningless waste of dark energy about?” Usually. Almost always. Until.
Now, like the unwanted hangover from a dank night of overindulgence, these grey thoughts seem to take root in the sunny soil of the daylight. They cast a shadow over my waking now and not just a terror over my sleep. They are persistent, harder to shake, malevolent in nature and insidious in their creep and crawl over all aspects of my thinking.
What will it take to “fix” this latest heart escapade? More surgery, How much down time? More drugs?
After nine months of down-time for my rebuilt foot and oxygen chamber treatments, why do my twice replaced hips suddenly seem to be plaguing me? Should I make yet another orthopedic appointment? What if they require yet more intervention?
Oh yeah, there’s that hernia repair and thumb surgery on the schedule for this week!
And don’t forget that really awful anal pre-cancer treatment that is next week!
Add this to the Pill Box; that ever-present pile of pretty (lethal) tablets and tinctures that have kept me alive for these past four decades. I made my peace with them years ago; I take them without thinking, twice a day. They do their jobs well. But add more to the mix? Not my favorite thought and one that really ramps up the anxiety. Even though I am not a side-effect simperer, I do have the occasional, horrific, out-of-body experience with a new med. Don’t mess with my meds!
On the last day of the decade I did pause and in my waking-nightmares actually consider if this was the year. My last year. My last New Year’s. My final chance to change anything I wished to change. When your heart starts to malfunction and you live, light-headed and with bouts of odd, frightening, chest pain; when your heartrate pounds out at 100 bpm instead of its normal 55, you are forced (at least I, in my confrontive nature, am) to look squarely at the realities of age, illness, ailments, and your place in the last line of your life. When you’ve already lost a younger sibling to cancer and have yet another younger sister battling it even now, just when is your Life Lotto number going to be called…..and who’s doing the number pull from the bingo ball cage?
Which rounds the corner back to “When is enough, enough?”.
I have no clarity here and so no answer; for my friend who asked, or even for my usually steadfastly upbeat self. History has proved me more than apt to dive into every challenge and come out the other side smelling rose-like and optimistic; an apparent winner of all confrontations.
But what happens when and if I don’t come through quite so brilliantly?
What if I end up with a slowly degrading heart muscle that requires pampering for the rest of my life? What will my approach be then? How much am I willing to compromise (not my best look, I will say right here) my life for my limitations? For how long? To what end? I’m addicted to the elliptical at the gym, have been for years. Five miles a day and I’m happy. Without that, the endorphins dissipate at an alarming rate and I plunge, mood first, into the abyss.
My punch list of life is fairly well done. I have ticked off almost all the major items I wanted to get done and those that are left are more regrets now instead of realistic endeavors. We will all have a list of these at our ends and I am comfortable with that concept. I have almost thirty years of a happy, successful, relationship that I never dreamed I would get. That alone is an entire bucket list of happiness accrued.
And while we’re talking about him, he’s facing his own mortality and decreasing mobility at the same time. Prostate cancer, six spinal surgeries, a heart attack, and now the first knee replacement looms immanent. I see and feel the frustration and morbidity creeping into his always upbeat nature as well. Our long-standing rule of only one “down” at a time; put in place to allow for the care and tending of the injured party, allows for one of us to remain upright and functioning. This is being tested in new ways. Each of us is facing near-term, disabling, procedures that require all the stamina, mental fortitude, and empathy that the other can muster for their support.
What if we both go down that health-hole at the same time?
Really! I’m thinking about this. Visions of home-health care workers stumbling about in our space popped up yesterday as I was cleaning the stove. Egad! Neither of us would do well with that scenario, trust me.
My husband says he is content to die on the dance floor, waving his flags like a teenager. I have warned all about us that this is a distinct possibility and not to be too shocked or horrified. I posed all these questions to yet another friend in exactly the same circumstances. He is always good for a quippy bon mot.
“Just tell them, when they impertinently ask, that Healthcare is my new age-appropriate hobby……and Fuck Off!”