I Couldn’t Save My Wife

She’s alive — but not living. The last seven years have seen my wife’s spirit be deflated, trampled, crushed and ground to a fine dust. These words are all I have to keep it from blowing away.

Seven years ago she fell down a flight of twenty-some steps. The steady stream of incredulity from her doctors who misdiagnosed her, gave-up on her, proposed utterly inadequate ‘solutions’, accused her of being overly-dramatic or — worst of all — told her the pain was only in her mind, has brought us to where we are today.

Three weeks in. Christina’s knees would make a full recovery; her ankles not so much.

When the injuries and pain were still budding, my innately industrious and active wife tried to temper the frustration she felt from being bedridden by learning new skills.

Crocheted cuties took-up residence on our bookshelves. We soon had the choice of three beautifully-knitted blankets in which to curl up. When that wasn’t enough to keep her occupied, she solved logic puzzles and brain-teasers or she composed short stories.

Here be dragons.

But over the years, with every excursion to another specialist, every trip to the toilet, every time she had to put weight on her ankles, the pain blossomed. It bore a variety of fruit too, among which include unpredictable panic attacks, despairing bouts of anxiety and, of course, relentless debilitating agony. Now she rarely sleeps for more than two hours at a stretch before being wrenched awake by the resurgence of pain. Once in a blue moon — in a brief gap between bouts, and if the pain has subsided just enough — her body finally shuts down and she’s out for ten or more uninterrupted hours.

Every day my wife has to perform a constant and torturous balancing act. She must choose between taking her carefully calculated dose of painkillers, which the doctors were always sure to prescribe as a parting gesture, or try to reduce her dosage to regain a semblance of control over her own body. The first option means having a ‘fuggy-brain’ day where she feels not-quite-herself and overall inept. At best she’ll only be near-totally incapacitated by pain and sleep deprivation. The second is an attempt to wean herself off the pain meds, but it means she can expect to ride the body-twisting, gut-wrenching, skin-crawling tidal-wave-cocktail of pain blended with withdrawal. And yet people still ask her “Why don’t you just work from home?”

Regardless of which choice she makes that day, I have to keep her from being stubborn. Because with all that, from time to time she’ll still try to walk to the kitchen to get herself a drink or some food (if you can call the act of hobbling a pain-riddled body through a hallway while holding to both walls for dear life “walking”). Anything to afford herself a smidgen of dignity and a sense of agency. In those rare moments I’m mindful to only gently chide her.

So while I’m at home I do my best to always be on-call. I try to be only a step or two away, or at the very least within earshot. Like that I can bring her a refill of water or iced-tea; swap the lukewarm ice pack for a fresh, stiff one; bring her breakfast, lunch and dinner; fluff her cushions and straighten the blankets while she’s in the bathroom brushing her teeth; or rush to her side when she wakes up either sobbing uncontrollably from the realisation that ‘this is my life now’, shuddering and hyperventilating from a panic attack, or writhing in pain from a random ‘pain spike’.

When I’m not at home, I’m out getting the groceries, or at the post-office, running a load of laundry up the four floors above our apartment (seriously, who puts the laundry room on the top floor of a building that has no elevator?), or going to the unemployment office for my state-mandated appointment with my counsellor.

That last one is recent. I lost my job last May and have been using every moment I have to look for a new one. Unfortunately, that means I’ve neglected the house-cleaning more than I’d like to admit. The laundry basket is brimming-over. There’s dust pretty-much everywhere, except the bedroom and the bathroom because those are the two main places my wife sees every day. The fridge is a disordered mess because my wife is the “fridge fairy” and I’m the “fridge goblin” and the fridge fairy’s had her wings clipped.

The good news is that I have a new full-time job — I just started last week. The pay won’t cover our bills. I’m contractually prohibited from working a second job. That’s to ensure I remain available to work the occasional evenings and week-ends. At my employer’s whim and the client’s need, I can be posted to another city. So now I don’t know how long I will be near enough to help my wife. But I’ll be employed.

Seven years of my wife’s fertility, and any chance of us having a child of our own, have blown past us. The wailing grief born of that realisation is our uninvited guest — the kind that doesn’t get the hint that it’s time to leave.

My Wonder Woman

And through all this, she puts on a brave face. She only cries when I’m not around or when she thinks I can’t hear her. She finds ways to make me laugh or keep us entertained. She helps me in any way she can — for all she’s going through I’ve too often outsourced my brain to her: she plans the meals so all I have to do is cook them, she reminds me when it’s laundry day, or when her breathing becomes so laboured that it’s really time for me to vacuum the place. And above all, she keeps hold of our dreams so that I don’t drop them from exhaustion.

Because we do have dreams. We dream of a normal life. We dream of a little house with a yard somewhere in the countryside; somewhere near an hospital where knee and ankle experts operate, so my wife can maybe walk freely again. She dreams of opening her therapeutic practice in that home. I dream of working in the city. She dreams of fighting to raise awareness for the thousands of people out there, like her, who’ve fallen through the cracks or who never neatly fit into the procrustean government aid system. The people who feel so alone and who feel that they have nothing ahead of them but to live-out their lives in constant crippling pain. And we dream of having children — not our own, since that’s no longer an option for us, but foster children. We dream of caring for the uncared and helping the unhelped. We dream of raising the hurt to become kind, the tricked become smart, the cheated to become generous, and the abandoned to become brave.

In order to keep pushing towards those dreams, I have created a GoFundMe campaign where you can find out ways to help — be it a donation to help settle our debts and leave this country; sharing this story so we can get a definitive diagnosis, and ultimately the adequate treatment; just to leave a few words of encouragement; or to tell us your story (which you are also encouraged to do in the comments below). Together we can come back to life.

Thank you

P.S. Don’t forget to clap or heart this story, so that more people can see it and read about our journey.