I didn’t plan to write this post initially, even though Kirie had suggested some time ago that I should. However, as I write, it begins to take on a life of its own.
Eva had been ill for 15 years. She gradually declined and in the end had no resistance left. In the immediate aftermath of her death, I wondered what more I could have, no should have done. The feelings of guilt at not being able to save a loved one do not go away: they remain with you for ever. But you can at least come to terms with those feelings, and they may co-exist with other memories of happy or happier times. The twin feelings of loss and of emptiness gradually become less strong. Yes, the loss remains, and there is something of selfishness about the emptiness. The loved one who has slipped away does not feel the emptiness.
Eva had first fallen ill in 1993. She was hospitalized for three weeks being treated medically for liver fibrosis. Afterwards she said that compared with other patients she didn’t really feel ill – they were much worse than she was. She recovered well, and we took the illness in our stride. She adjusted her diet – and I followed suit: it was easier to cook the same for both of us. However, within a couple of years she began to suffer unexplained pain. Eventually she was diagnosed with an engorged spleen. For twelve days in hospital, she endured a highly restricted diet (basically fluid only) while her weight dropped to next to nothing. The surgeons wanted to operate, the internists preferred medical treatment. Then suddenly early on a Sunday morning I received a telephone call. A faint voice breathed to me “It’s happened. Come now.” I rushed in and found a flaky white Eva attached to all sorts of apparatus. She could barely speak. The spleen had burst and her blood pressure had plummeted to dangerous levels. A doctor took me aside, explaining that they would operate urgently, but that I had to be prepared for the worst. I cannot remember the emotions I experienced then. I know I realized for the first time that my wife was really very seriously ill. Until that moment she had been cheerful and constantly concerned as to whether I was eating, and of course how the cats were doing. Now as she was wheeled into the operating theatre and the doors closed, I caught a glimpse of her exhausted eyes. I recognized in that last look that she was prepared to die if that was to be the outcome. I was not prepared to lose her. The thoughts had not managed to organize themselves in my brain.
The nurses told me to go home as it would be a long wait. I should ring the recovery unit after a couple of hours. It was impossible to do anything at home. I stood staring out of the window, staring at nothing, but I do not remember how I thought. I remember ringing recovery after an hour and a half, and then every half-hour after that. Always no news. And no news is supposed to be good news. I remember it as a tear-stained wait. Finally after three and a half hours, I got the news: she’s alive and in recovery. I rushed in, and it was incredible. She was unconscious and remained so for the rest of the day, at least when I saw her. Her corpse-like whiteness had gone, and pinkness had already returned. She had returned to the world of the living.
Eva recovered from the splenectomy, but soon we were to learn that she had chronic pancreatitis. What was that? we wondered, and how could she have chronic pancreatitis without having acute pancreatitis first? “It’s chronic,” came the answer. What should she do? “Change her diet,” came the answer again. To what? That was the problem, and we would find out the hard way.
To be continued.