The first night Mel was home from the hospital, I set an alarm on my phone to get up every two hours to make sure she was okay. No one asked me to do this. It wasn’t expected. No doctors told me to do it. But I’d come so close to losing her, and she’d been so sick, that the thought of things turning bad in the night — and me sleeping through it — felt almost as terrifying as that first night she spent in the intensive care unit.
She was in the hospital for three weeks. She got pneumonia, and it turned into septic shock. The hospital gave her three COVID tests; all came back negative. They tested her for everything else imaginable, and it was finally determined that she had a virus they do not have a test for. It all went badly — really badly. It turned septic, her blood pressure dropped, and at one point we were told that if we’d waited even one hour longer to bring her to the hospital, she’d have died.
As she was in the hospital, each day taking two steps forward in her recovery and then one step back, all I could think about was getting her home. And now that she’s home, all I can do is worry that she might, at any time, have to go back.
Maybe it’s my anxiety, or maybe it’s just the reality of living through a very scary situation with your spouse, but getting up every two hours to check on my wife gave me a sense of comfort I didn’t expect.
In the morning, I told Mel what I’d done. And she told me not to worry so much.
“I almost lost you,” I said. “It will be a long time before I stop worrying.”
I assume that eventually, I won’t have to worry so much. But she’s been home for a month now, and I’m still watching her, worrying about her, praying for her continued recovery. And perhaps this is all normal after almost losing your spouse, but if it is, it’s not often talked about.
Just the other day, I was sitting in a parking lot outside a doctor’s office waiting for Mel to get her eyes checked by a specialist, and to get some labs done. I’d been doing that a lot lately as Mel attends a string of follow up visits. I haven’t been allowed to accompany her because of COVID, so I get all the updates on her recovery secondhand. I’ll admit it’s difficult not to be next to her, able to ask questions and make sense of Mel’s life after sepsis.
I suppose I didn’t realize how much of her body would be impacted by something like this. According to her discharge papers, her liver failed. She’s met with at least five liver specialists to make sure it’s functioning normally again. Her eyes swelled up while in the hospital; there are a lot of questions as to why that happened and whether there is any long term damage. She had blurred vision for quite a while after leaving the hospital, and even after being home for almost a month, she’s still fearful of driving.
All of this waiting in a parking lot for my wife has given me a lot of time to think, and for someone with depression and anxiety, time to think isn’t always the best. I have to fight with myself to keep from getting anxiety about Mel. I still get up in the night sometimes, and softly touch her side to make sure she is still breathing.
This is the part of living through having a spouse in the hospital that people don’t discuss. There is a huge relief when your spouse is discharged, no doubt about it. But the worry, the fear, all of those emotions follow you home. They sit in your lap and refuse to leave. You have stretches of time where you don’t think about your worry — but then when you are alone in the night, those fears of a near-miss come creeping back into your mind. And with so many loved ones spending time in hospitals because of COVID, I can’t help but assume that a lot of spouses, mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters, and friends are living with the hard reality of these same fears.
I know that as Mel continues to improve, with each good doctor meeting and favorable test result, I worry a little less. I focus a little more on moving forward, away from the close call we had a month ago and toward our lives being what they were before her three-week hospital stay. They say it takes time, and I suppose this is what that phrase really looks like.
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