by Leighann Sturgin
I had been home from the hospital for two days following my 5th major surgery. I still had a drain tube in my abdomen. I guess I was a little too active too soon. Somehow, the drain tube poked a hole through my stomach. I was bleeding internally. I knew something was wrong. Once again it was the middle of the night. My husband and sons were sound asleep. I noticed the drain bulb full of blood. My ostomy had blood in it. I peed blood. I felt like I was going to pass out walking the 8’ from my bed to the bathroom. I waited all night, bleeding from almost every hole in my body, for my husband to wake up in the morning. I told him I didn’t feel well and proceeded to vomit a ¾ of a liter of blood into the graduated cylinder next to my bed. All blood. My husband continued getting ready for work and the kids ready for school. He tells me, “I’m going to drop the kids off at school and head to work. Call me if you need me.” I was thinking, isn’t it obvious that I need you now? But I didn’t want to say anything…I didn’t want to be a burden. Why is it so hard for me to ask for help?
My husband left, dropped the kids off and hadn’t even made it to work when I called him and asked him to come back to get me and take me to the ER. He returned. I told him I didn’t think I could make it on my own it to the car. He’d hurt his back the week before. My 6’9” 250 lb. hulk of a husband couldn’t carry me. I sat on the edge of my bed trying to muster the courage for the 50’ trip to the car. I was pretending to be ‘The Little Engine That Could’ sitting there telling myself ‘I can do it. I can do it. I have to make it.’ I failed. I made it to the front door and passed out in his arms. I started waking up about 20 minutes later. Yes, 20 minutes! I heard Todd on the phone talking to dispatch, saying “They should be here by now. Why aren’t they here yet?”
I was lying on the floor of the entryway. It was a cold January morning. I was freezing. My poor husband had to stand over my pale, lifeless body and call 911 because I was too pigheaded to ask for help when I should have hours earlier. When EMS finally arrived I heard them ask Todd “Is she always this pale?” “Pale, but not this pale.” He answered. Then they asked a series of questions about my medical history and any medications I was taking. Todd had asked me several times in the previous weeks to make a list of medications for him but I didn’t. I was too tired and the list was so long and ever changing. I heard them say they were having trouble finding a pulse. I was screaming in my head, “I CAN HEAR YOU, I MUST HAVE A PULSE.” But I was too weak to speak and drifting in and out of consciousness. I was taken to the local hospital with the sirens wailing, and later transferred 150 miles via ambulance to the hospital where I’d have surgery. Todd stayed home with our young sons at my request. My goal was to always keep their schedules as normal as possible. Living 2-3 hours from any other family members, if I couldn’t be there, I wanted Todd to be home with them. I did a lot by myself. I spent several days in the ICU and received several units of blood. My doctors were able to stop the bleeding but it was the scariest experience for both of us. Todd changed that day; I think he began to push me away after that experience. It was too much for him. He either really thought I was going to die right there in front of him or he realized if it wasn’t this day, it could happen any day.
My husband loves to hunt. He lives to hunt. It is a stress reliever for him and it restores his mental sanity, recharges his batteries and makes him happy. He has been going on 1-2 week long hunting trips every year for almost our entire 17 years of marriage. The first time he left me, I didn’t like it at all and I let him know it. The second year, either consciously or subconsciously, he picked a fight with me and was a big jerk weeks before his departure date. When that day came, I was so mad at him; I was glad he left instead of mad that he was gone. The 3rd year, the big jerk did it again but by the 4th year I’d caught on to him and I called him out on it. He never did it again…until he stood over my pale lifeless body and called 911.
He was mean and nasty, but honest about his feelings for the first time since I got sick. A lot of what he said and did was hurtful and some of it was on purpose, but I was glad he wasn’t keeping it all bottled up inside. Some of it was totally justified, like when he told me my IV pump keeps him awake and getting up for work every morning is difficult. If I left the bedroom he would wake up and panic. Most of the time he’d find me asleep on the toilet, but either way it was difficult for him to sleep and the consistent lack of sleep was wearing on him. Some of it was total crap, like when he said I only felt bad when there was somewhere or something he wanted to go or do and I always felt fine if it was something I wanted to do. That was crap and it hurt. I would’ve loved to play in the yard with my boys or go to their soccer or baseball games but I couldn’t be in the sun or far from the bathroom and couldn’t stand for long periods of time. I would’ve liked him to handle things differently. I would’ve preferred to have constructive conversation but we aren’t good at communicating. I let his rant go on for a few months. It was a miserable few months but I had so much guilt over everything I’d put him through. Even though it wasn’t my choice or my fault, I was, nonetheless, the cause of his pain.
The strife and the stress didn’t help my recovery. I had several complications in addition to the gastric bleed, I was in and out of the hospital so many times, my then 5 year old asked me on one of my ‘visits’ home from the hospital “Are you staying here this time or just visiting?” One day, I talked to my husband from the hospital and called him out on it again. I told him he was doing the same thing he used to do before hunting trips. I think he was so afraid of losing me he was pushing me away. It doesn’t make sense but sometimes people who are hurting try to hurt other people before they themselves can get hurt. I told him, “Choose faith or fear, they cannot coexist. Choose faith that God is here, He is in this, He is bigger than cancer. God loves you and our boys even more than I do and He has a plan for all our lives. You will be okay even when I die.” Being the numbers man that he is I knew this would help; I told him “Statistically, 10 out of 10 people die. But until I actually do die, you have to choose between faith or fear. Not just faith that I’ll be healed, but faith that GOD IS BIGGER than cancer and LOVE is bigger than cancer. Or you can choose to live in fear of the pain that you will feel when, someday, I die.” I told him if he wanted to choose fear that I’d be going to my parent’s house when I was released from the hospital because I couldn’t live in the anger and crap that we’d been living in for the past few months. He said “Come home.”