“Chr***t is that you?” A friend I’d not seen for half a year accosted me in the heart clinic’s parking lot. “What’s going on?” she quizzed. “I hardly recognized you. You look absolutely whacked out.”

Honest maybe, her greeting me that way, but not exactly uplifting after taking a Heart Stress Test. I crumpled crushed. Wondered if I really looked so changed. Wondered if my body was really packing up.

In truth I’d been aware the old me hung in desiccated shreds barely concealed by a fast thinning veneer of cheer. What I hadn’t recognized though, was caregiving stamped its stress signature of lines across my forehead. The plain hard physical work of the daily bodily haulings and heavings, and uppings and downings, and spoonings and dressings and washings and shavings, pill sortings and drivings to this appointment and that, gnawed at the very marrow of both my inner and outer being cutting lines deeper than those I’d earned by advancing age.

I was too down to argue. I knew she was right. Sitting back in the car, I turned the driver’s mirror and saw a face leached of joy.

Orange is the new Black. The meaning of this strange phrase became suddenly clear. Old Mother Hubbard who lived in a cupboard was the new me. Old me was no more.

For the past two, or it three years now, friends warned, “Watch out. You’ll collapse. Make yourself ill if you don’t take care of yourself and get some help. And where would David be then?”

Yeah. Yeah. I’d shrug. Until now that is when my heart misses a beat and gives a series of arrhythmic thumps — something I previously thought of as poetic literature. But a heart missing a beat is physical I’ve discovered. An unpleasant manifestation of stress I don’t much like. So tough as I think I am, maybe it’s happening — I’m unraveling. Physically. Emotionally.

“Too much. Too much. I can’t cope,” I often exclaim out loud to the four walls.

I’ve never been a crybaby, or had massive temper tantrums BEFORE I became a caregiver. Prided myself on my inner calm, and being able to keep a hold on my mind thanks to my meditation practice. Wow. If only… I could command my emotions as I could then.

Increasingly, my frequent outbursts shock David. Shock me.

“It’s Okay Its Okay,” I reach to comfort him as he reaches to comfort me.

Poor man. He looks at me as if I’m a brittle papyrus scroll. American and Psychiatrist that he is, he turns solemn, says, “You need to talk to someone.”

“Better out than in. Crying’s a healthy outlet, and I’m just TIRED,” I sob. “…so tired, that’s all.”

And it really is. Healthy, I mean. Well, if ones crying is occasional.

Better than venting to my long-suffering friends, or seeking out a therapist, I made an appointment to luxuriate in a hot-stone massage with a friend I’ve known for thirty years and then take the two if us out to lunch. Oh, I was looking forward to my day. Oh, so ready.

But the planned morning turned into one from hell. The money transfer arranged ten days back hadn’t happened throwing our account into the red with no funds to buy euros for next week’s trip to France. “Cancelled,” the teller sneered.

On top of that, David’s sitter didn’t turn up and couldn’t be reached; David’s drug prescription hadn’t been filled; the optometrist refused issue the correct eyeglass prescription; the hearing aid place was closed… Siri, deaf to by bidding, wouldn’t dial a single number for me.

Thrown into chaos, no damn help anywhere, I wept defeatist, useless tears, collected David, cancelled my massage, cancelled my lunch date, and headed for home to bury my face in the pillow.

All silly annoyances of daily life I’d have laughed off even a year or two ago, now loomed as insurmountable as Everest.

In my distress it came to me, the course I’d once taken on keeping one’s cool, one’s concentration. And how in the mid-quiet of meditation, sudden bursts of revving motorcycles, followed by bouts of coughing interrupted to test my inner calm right at the moment I sank deep within. No problem then, the sounds buzzed no more bothersome than a distant fly. But now… the smallest upset… and I splatter.

“What the hell has happened to me?”

“You’re in flight or fight mode by necessity,” a friend replied. “Running on adrenaline?”

“I used to smile,” I answered downcast. Saw a vessel empty of the person who resided there back when.

Once, twice and then again last week, the same warnings about cracking up seemed to hound me.

“By the by did you know an enormous percentage of caregivers die before the person they are caring for? And for those caregivers over seventy…well…” chirped a woman sharing my lunch table at the Senior Center.

So how is it I’ve hardly a grey hair on my head? And why it’s not shocked white with all the heart-stopping accidents happening?

At every thump, and crash as David hits the floor I fly to locate him in dread I’ll find him badly injured or stone dead. Nearly came true last Sunday.

Nothing unusual. David alone for an hour. A weekly pattern: the program, David in his chair, sitting safely, content watching the telly’s Sunday Morning and Face the Nation show on his own.

Confession. I was late. Twenty minutes later than usual.

Returning from a mornings writing session with a friend, my head running with all manner of things to share, I was tripping up the path when loud clapping startled me. Confused, I scoured the yard. Spotted him…David stretched straight out on the hot stones face up to the scalding sun redder than a Red Racer snake.

Oh God the shock — David so burned. So still. I’m normally calm in a crisis. Not that one. I raced to him whimpering, “Oh. Oh David, David. Are you hurt? Can you move? What happened? How long have you been here? I’m calling 911.”

“No. Water. Water,” David gasped.

Throwing my papers and sunglasses to the ground I sped to the house for something to shade his face…hat… umbrella…. Backwards and forwards I ran crying aloud, “What to do. What to do? Too heavy. Too heavy, I can’t move you, darling. I’m calling 911.”

“No. No. “Get Best-tenant-ever.” David re-interated.

So I took off…ran for a drinking straw, ran for his mug, ran for Best-tenant-ever thumping his door, bursting it open half sobbing and yelling, “Oh, oh, oh. Quickly. I need help,” and without stopping for his answer circled back to be with David.

Legs, heart, thoughts pounding, I took off to grab the outdoor cushions, one for his head, two beside him to roll onto. Best-tenant-ever appeared. Best-tenant-ever was calm. Best-tenant-ever coped. Best-tenant-ever comforted.

“First let’s get him up.” Deadweight though he was, somehow the two of us managed to heave him up and into a wheelchair. Out of breath, heart pounding, my limbs jellied. But for the Emergency Responder on the line, keeping me together until the crew arrived I’d have collapsed.

Iced cloths, rehydration and a little oxygen later David revived enough to refuse a trip to hospital. Glad he did. Though legs, face scalp and thighs glowed cockscomb scarlet he somehow escaped serious heatstroke and never blistered.

Visions flash…the what ifs…burnt eyeballs if his spectacles hadn’t gone flying as he fell…the fiery concentration of sunbeams…third degree burns…imagining David’s ordeal makes me queasy.

The point of telling this story is the incident manifested itself a day later with a painful four days of colitis forcing me to admit I’m vulnerable and human. Yup. Time to recognize my slip is showing.

Admit to feeling my body and my mind bend to the daily blast of caregiving.

I am as a Saharan dune re-shaped by the desert winds one grain at a time.

On the drive last week to Albuquerque, captivated by the greening of the desert landscape after last week’s torrential rains, I was intrigued by a tangle of interwoven wagon tracks, pale and beige, wending up the hill towards a gap in the otherwise straight ridgeline. Eroded by centuries of plodding feet and hooves and the grinding wheels of pioneers, the pass to the Rio Grande valley lay thirty feet below the skyline. Only a traveler journeying for a second time would recall how the pass looked before man’s be-spoiling.

So to, David, my family, my friends, only they notice the deepening cracks etched in my person.

Please LIKE me if you do, and re-blog my piece. I look forward to your comments.

Next week’s blog: Hmm? Not sure yet.

Previous blogs:

1.Wearing a Hat from Hell * 2.Back Story before the Tidal Wave. * 3.There’s a Mouse in the Room. * 4.Shape-shifting — Husband to Patient:Wife to Caregiver. * 5.Think your Home is your Castle? Think again. * 6.Vision Quest beyond the Box. * 7. Cats in the Belfry. * 8.“En Guard Messieurs”…Dare me: cross this Line. * 9.Like it or No — Prepare to Play God. * 10.’Tis the Season to be Jolly — not for me it isn’t. * 11.Hello. Hello? Anyone Home? * 12.The Blue Hole — 90 miles ahead. * 13.Disabled — Daft — Demented? * 14.Up. Up and Away…* 15.Humble Pie. * 16.What do I have to Complain About. * 17. Come Back Tooth Fairy. * 18. Promises Promises. * 19. Fly Fly Away. * 20. Refresh. Reboot. * 21. Can this be Happening * 22. Hate when David… * 23. What if…? * 24. Hanuman and I have a Birthday.* 25. Happy and Glorious.* 26. High Time. * 27. * Change?…As good as a Rest. * 28. It’s a Long Way… * 29. Missing Something? * 30. Are we there yet? 31.* To voice or not to voice — I’m talking feelings here. 32.* Metamorphisis…grub to?*33. Roller Coaster. * 34. Testing. Testing. * 35. A Bird’s Eye View.* 36. Crossroads.