Monday, March 12, 2012

Didn't See It Coming

Hunting for a quote I read this week about death being all around us while we fail to comprehend that the next death could be our own. I'm obese, inactive and don't take medical warning signs seriously so wouldn't have been the least surprised if I had died that night. What totally blindsided me was my husband's death - the most obedient patient a doctor could ever hope to encounter. He'd had an annual physical recently, was conscientious about having colonoscopies, did 100 situps and pushups every morning, gardened, walked every day, had a very limited medical vocabulary because he wasn't medically curious or talkative about health. It's enough to make me want to throw out my entire collection of preventative medical books and declare it's all in the genes or the length of string the muses have knitted or in the stars.

I requested an extensive autopsy and I want that report like I've never wanted anything before in my life. If I could have, I would have followed his body to the autopsy room and made diagrams of everything (can't draw a straight line or get my circles to close but we're talking desire not skill here) The doctors and hospitals were excellent - more upset about Stephen's death than I was. I accepted that he wasn't going to make it as soon as I knew his aorta had dissected from the heart to the groin. The heart surgeon stood by the phone waiting for confirmation that the aorta hadn't separated inside the heart right up to the moment of Stephen's death. He really, really wanted permission to rush him into surgery. Even after Stephen died, the medical staff worked really hard to resuscitate him. I thought he was lucky to leave this world quickly with just enough times to say his goodbyes, prepare his soul and have some quality family time. He talked to me until the second he died. I can't talk running around the block not that I ever run around the block. What were the chances that someone could be so lucky twice. Why bring someone back from an easy death so he can get to do it all over again in some agonizing, nightmare of an exit?
I want that autopsy so I can intellectualize the process in depth. Know exactly what I failed to observe. I don't have any guilt about failing to pick up on things. It would be like a colorblind person feeling guilty about not being able to accurately describe the colors in a painting. I wasn't the kind of wife who checked her husband's outfit before he left the house. In 31 years of marriage, I wouldn't have been able to describe what my husband was wearing to the police on any day. In fact, I'm begging my son to sort through the clothes in the laundry room and tell me which ones are Stephen's. I'd sort clean clothes into 2 categories - clothes belonging to guys and clothes belonging to girls. Stephen wasn't any different. In fact I'm really pissed that he wore my brand new jacket to the hospital instead of his coat. And I'm hoping when I find the bag of clothes returned by the hospital that his new running shoes are in it because I don't want to replace my totally worn out ones when I know his fit me. No, I just want to visualize what was happening inside him. When I fall into bed at night, I see him jumping out of bed and grabbing his chest that night in December. I want to be able to visual the story from beginning to end - from whenever his body first started becoming unglued until the blood reached his brain stem. Did it happen quickly or had my husband slowly and imperceptibly become unglued cell by cell over the course of our marriage?

I feel like Margaret Atwood or Alice Munro. This odd thing happened. I need to write about the inexplicable. I need to visualize it, understand it, communicate it because that's who I am. I don't want to identify myself as the widow. I want to be the observer, the writer, the curious one.

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