The Nightmares of the Past called Diabetes

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My 2nd husband and our 2 children during the time we were attending college together.
Early 1980’s

Ever dream your 2nd husband is living in the same house with you?

It’s not that he was a bad guy…it’s just…well–he died 30 years ago.

As a bit of historical background for this particular nightmare, when he was alive, my 2nd husband was diabetic, smoked several packs of cigarettes a day (lighting one with the other), became blind 3 years before he passed away, and went through more hell than anyone should have to go through in a lifetime.

At the age of 23, with no understanding of diabetes, I believed my 6’2″ tall 2nd husband when he told me, “All I have to do is take the shots twice a day. No problem.”  He was able to stick to that story for 7 years, until he became blind. One of his doctors, quite concerned about his lack of interest in his health, had written a letter detailing what was going to happen if he didn’t change his diet and quit smoking. I found it hidden in his briefcase after he died, but it had been written 2 years before husband #2 became blind.

That particular doctor could have found a 2nd job as a prophet.

In our 7th year of marriage, we had 2 children under the age of 5. The first 2 years of his blindness, we attended a university together, funded by VR in an effort to help him learn a new vocation. I was his note taker, reader, driver and study partner. The kids were dropped off at a great day care (one with no TV) and I enjoyed spending those 2 together.

The university has one of the best hospitals and research labs in the country, one that was built like a maze (makes you wonder if the architect had a wicked sense of humor?). By the time #2 died, I could have worked as a guide for new lab rats…uh…patients. The only specialist he hadn’t been to was obstetrics & gynecology (sending him there would have been just the other side of sick).

Did I mention it was a 50 mile round trip to the school and hospital?

We had weathered the drive through rain and snow. We had weathered the blindness. At one point he had an ulcer in his foot so deep, the doctor suggested amputation. I used a sterile field 2x a day to pack gauze into the wound–and he kept his foot. In other words, we weathered the ulcers, too. The turning point in his ever growing list of problems secondary to diabetes was kidney failure. That’s when he lost his sense of humor.

No longer able to attend school, he had to go in for dialysis twice a week. He was on the list for a kidney transplant, with little hope of receiving one. I asked if I could donate a kidney, went through the blood test and found I was an absolutely perfect match. He began receiving transfusions of my blood. Then, the mother of Murphy’s Law hit with a vengeance. I was shown the image of the problem, a hot dog shaped kidney on the left hugging the pelvic floor. They refused my request to give him the one on the right.

The last year of his life, he became labile diabetic (also called Brittle Diabetic). He spent a week in the hospital learning to give himself injections with a long needle. Why? He could no longer use 2 tiny insulin shots a day. He had to stab a shot into his thigh 30 minutes before a meal. The pendulum of high and low blood sugar became a daily occurrence. He became verbally abusive toward our son and was hallucinating on a regular basis.

I asked to have a nurse check on him at home and I asked for respite care once in a while. The answer? “He has a caregiver so we can’t provide that service.”

I begged for someone at the hospital to help me understand what I should do. I was told, “You’re so supportive of him. Everyone here thinks you’re his angel.”

Angel? If there were a halo it was being held up by my horns! He refused to walk, used a urinal, and began collecting water weight from congestive heart failure. I had to ask a few of the neighbor men to help him to the bathroom at least twice a week when the urinal wasn’t adequate. I had 2 young children, a husband who bounced between delusion and lucidity, and a house and yard cared for only when neighbors helped. I vacillated between hoping he would die and verbally beating myself up for thinking it.

I asked his family if they would fly in once in a while so I could just get a little rest. The answer was a litany of “solutions” ending with an admonishment about what a shit job I was doing. My parents came though–spending 2 days with him so that I could go to a hotel, take in a movie and sleep for 10 hours straight. It was my first full night of peaceful sleep in years.

The day he died, he was laying on the dialysis table turning an ashen gray. A doctor with red hair stood on one side of me, an Asian doctor on the other.

“We can revive him,” Red said. “He can have his legs amputated and live several more years.”

“Let him go,” Asia said. “There is nothing left to save.”

Dark circles under my eyes, my world crashing, I did what most people exhausted out of their mind would do. The wrong thing. I said, “What am I going to tell his family if I just let him die?”

He was revived and sent to ICU. My hands shaking as I called from the pay phone, I explained what had happened.

What did his mother say? “Why didn’t you just let him die.”

Once his family arrived, he was moved from ICU and given morphine for pain. Did you know that people in a drug induced stupor can react to stimulus around them? This includes arguing. The hell week spent with his family in ICU ended with my statement, “I’m going home. Let me know when the end comes.”

Though he had been taking insulin shots for 12 years before I met him, his family blamed me for his diabetes, the rapid decline in his health, and for his death. The doctors and nurses assured me it had more to do with the fact he was a chain smoker. In fact, I was told by his family that one of his last acts was to inhale a cigarette.

For a year after his death, the nightmares were unremitting. He would beg me to dig up his body because he was still alive. He would ask, “Why didn’t you take better care of me?” Or say, “Please help me. I’m not dead! Why did you bury me?”

Now that you have some background information, I’ll tell you about last night’s dream.

My 2nd husband and I were in a house with several other people. He was lying on a couch with a cover over his legs. The other people and I were talking, sitting on couches and chairs near him. I glanced his way, shocked at the skeletal legs with skin over them sticking out from under the cover. I had to do something to help.

Apparently, there were no telephones in this part of Dream World, so I started to go out the front door to run to the hospital. That’s when I found out that all the doors were wide open, oddly shaped, and difficult to close. People in strange Arab dress, gray robes with a white under-robe (both held together by a dark red belt), were trying to come in. I closed and locked all the doors that I could, wandering out into the street toward the hospital afterward. That’s when I sensed someone was following me.

I began to pick up the pace, grabbed from behind by a tall man with 2 strong arms. The outraged face looking down at me was that of my 2nd husband, though no older than 20 and in perfect health. I was wrapped in a homespun Arab covering with only my face showing as he grabbed one arm, pulling me toward the hospital. Dressed in a thobe, he sat next to me (my arm still in an iron grip), telling the doctor he was selling me for $16.00. At that point in the dream, I couldn’t have been older than 16. Helpless to do more than wait for the end, I asked 2 young girls if they wanted to buy me. They looked up at me and giggled.

The location of this dream is more than a little ironic, considering my 2nd husband was Jewish.

Now that I write about it, the grip of guilt this nightmare held on my brain has vanished. That’s one of the many things I love about writing. It helps to put things into perspective.