Being a caregiver

Feeling deja vu all over again and not in a good way.

I had this dream last weekend. Rob and I were making love on the living room floor of a house that was apparently ours though judging from the packing boxes and piles of stuff everywhere, we were preparing to move out.

So you took time out to have sex? Yeah, well, all work – no play – dullness ensues, so not us.

In the middle of all this stress relief, I look up and see this shadowy figure drifting towards us. All shades of grey though clearly the outline of a woman with short hair and ruffley bangs and she comes to a stop right over top us. In fact she is standing in the middle of Rob’s back but looking up and off into space.

In the dream I am too freaked out to continue and Rob is a bit annoyed because the ghost standing dead center of us didn’t bother him a bit, and then our older girls show up and the dream moves off into a completely unrelated scene as dreams have a tendency to do.

The dream occurred while we were camping at Garner Lake. It was a Saturday night and Rob came to bed complaining of flu-like symptoms which after his casual announcement of chest pains during our rather weeny-ish hike that afternoon had all my spidey-bells ringing.

But Sunday he was “fine”.

“I am fine,” he said as we drove home, even though hooking up the trailer left him clammy and grey looking. “It’s flu. Going around at work.”

Monday, he slept in. I had to wake him at nine when I got Dee up for swimming. He was dressed and eating breakfast when we left at nine-thirty. He was still sitting at the table, conducting business via his computer when we arrived home shortly after noon,

“I called in sick,” he said.

He was nauseous and winded, but dragged himself in for a 2PM meeting and stayed til after five trying to coax concessions out of various factions who’ve been holding up one of the plants major projects with what amounted to shortsightedness for weeks.

And the pattern played out again and again all week, mimicking the rainy weather – wet and muggy in the morning, sunny-ish mid-day, and cloudy wet or stormy evenings and nights.

Yesterday morning I dragged myself down for tea and a quiet breakfast before waking Dee for her last day of swim lessons to find him pensive at the table, still in his towel and frowning at the computer.

“I think I should go to the ER,” he said.

This was not a firm decision. He was waiting for me to weigh in and possibly concur with his week-long denial that something serious was afoot.

“Yes,” I said. “You should.”

Sharp chest pains in his left upper shoulder region woke him and hadn’t really subsided. Normally I would have agreed with his muscle spasm/flu assessment but not after a week and my growing sense that he was not telling me the whole truth about how he felt.

I probably should’ve driven him.

Retrospect. An interesting way to distract oneself from the bigger picture.

At around eleven, Dee and I were at the Dairy Queen and I planned to stop next at the hospital just a block of so away because I hadn’t heard from Rob yet. My cell rang and he asked where we were and remarked that he was just on his way for an x-ray.

“I was planning to make the hospital our next stop,” I told him.

Fort Saskatchewan Hospital is typical of small communities and would likely scare anyone whose never dealt with health care centers outside larger metro areas to death.

Rob had given me the number of his ER room and I breezed right by admissions, ER triage and into the thick of the emergency room with Dee in tow and not a second look from anyone but other patients in queue. I am not someone one stops and queries when I am in game mode.

“They’re treating this like I had a heart attack,” Rob told me.

The nurse, a very nice and seemingly knowledgable person – which is not standard for the Fort ER, was hooking him back up to the ecg monitor.

“You did have a heart attack then,” I said. Because he had. I was not surprised.

But he was still in denial and wouldn’t concede.

I won’t bore you with details. There are blood tests and suspect enzymes (which according to my Med Tech sister, DNOS, indicate level of damage to the muscle) and x-rays and then a battery of leveled tests that one proceeds through according to severity or emergency.

“What did the doctor say?” I asked him last night before the older girls arrived from the city. He wouldn’t let me call them until late in the afternoon.

“I asked him about the second blood test and he said there was still evidence of the enzyme and when I asked how much he said ‘if a burglar breaks into your house, does it matter whether he took $100 or $1000’,” Rob said. “Which I thought was a terrible analogy.”

I have yet to encounter the Doctor, which is lucky for him. My late husband’s doctors are probably still recovering from dealing with me and that was over five years ago now.

The Dali Lama for a doctor will not do at all.

People keep asking me how I am when I tell them that Rob has had a heart attack. Their eyes explode and their tones imply that I  don’t look the part of the wife of a man who is potentially quite ill.

I’ve been here and there is a definite sense that I shouldn’t be again. Didn’t I pass this grade? Why the remediation?

But there is no “why”, there is only “why not”, and the fact that I remember this is calming because I was not a model of grace under pressure the last time I found myself here.

Health care is a calamity in the United States. Tens of millions of people, mostly women and children, are without the means to see a doctor for preventative medicine as well as treatment for illnesses and accidents. Why? Health insurance was irrevocably wedded to employment after WWII when the government restricted businesses ability to compensate their worker monetarily. Businesses began to use health insurance as a way to attract and keep the workers they needed. Today’s workers find themselves in a much chillier climate with health insurance being limited, dropped or not offered at all by businesses desperate to maintain healthy profits as opposed to healthy workers. Women and their children are especially hard hit by this as they are more likely to be working part time jobs or for small businesses and benefits like health insurance are not available to them. Even two income middle-class families are hard hit by the co-pays and payroll deductions for the coverage they are able to get through their employment. With medical costs sky-rocketing, people find themselves paying more and more for less and less coverage.

And then there are the catastrophes that no family expects. The catastrophic illness of a breadwinner or child. Chronic illnesses that are perfectly treatable but too expensive to do so without insurance. Terminal illnesses. Most Americans are one disastrous illness or accident away from losing everything and this is mainly due to inadequate health insurance or none at all. For these people federally funded programs like Medicaid and CHIPS were created but due to Congressional underfunding, states have to limit those who can participate. There are long waiting lists and some people are forced to quit jobs in order to qualify for these programs – a Catch 22 if ever there was one.

My late husband qualified for Medicaid – barely – due to the nature of his very rare illness, but I have to say that I wish I hadn’t had to take that assistance. I will forever feel like I failed because I couldn’t take care of him myself. Being a part of any type of government assistance program, from my perspective, is not something the majority of people seek out. I found my dealings with social workers and Medicaid frustrating and soul-crushing. I don’t know that I can ever really put into words just how damaging it was at a time when I was already going through one of the worst experiences – watching my husband die. But I would have done anything to make his last months better and I “sucked it up” and did what needed to be done. I was lucky. We qualified. Thousands of people are told every day that they don’t. They make a few hundred or thousand dollars a year too much. There are waiting lists and they must get in line. Or, the worst of all, the program has been cut due to lack of funds.

If you have a minute, check out some of the stories and articles at Moms Speak Up. Leave a comment. Tell a story. Send a quick email to your state senator or representative. We are one of the wealthiest nations in the world and we are not taking care of our children or our desperately ill. We can do better.