The oxygen unit is much louder than the portable he used to use. This hums and makes a shish, thump noise as is shoves life giving air into his lungs. I have developed a love/hate relationship with this beast. It lives next to the bed on his side and is wedged between my vanity and the mattress so trying to vacuum under it requires lugging it out into the middle of the room. It always resists and drops its tube so that I roll over it requiring a new length of tubing and a new nose piece. It drones through the night huffing and puffing me awake and pauses occasionally just to frighten me, I know.
I was used to his snoring. Window rattling, low gurgling, labored breathing and snoring. But it is now joined in a mad chorus that sings a death song. I hate it! But it keeps him here. It supplies his lungs with the air he is no longer strong enough to push and pull on his own. His heart is not as taxed when this machine pumps so I must learn not to hate it. I must remember that as long as it is running, he is still here, with me, still alive.
I used to lie next to him, watching television and scooting up close so that our backs touched and I could feel the warmth of his body. Now I lay in the dark. This machine forbids me playing the television, for to hear it the volume would have to be all the way up and all of the noise is deafening. When he wakes in the night he will sometimes sit in the living room and turn on the portable oxygen. I lie listening then too, making sure he isn’t falling asleep in the chair with this tank that could drop and injure him.
I hurry to do the things out-of-doors that he used to do. I mow the grass at a neck breaking speed and leave the edges long and shaggy. I don’t have the time or strength to pull out the weed eater and try to trim up the yard all neat like he used to. I rush through my shower, sweat stinging my eyes from labor my body is not accustomed to and dress quickly in whatever my hand pulls out of the drawer or closet. I pull my hair back and fasten it with a rubber tie left here by our granddaughter.
I fix his lunch and watch while he eats without interest, without tasting. He hated this new low fat diet and used to argue or even sneak some decent food. He no longer argues, just chews and swallows with difficulty. His beautiful blue eyes no longer shine with life. They are flat and focus only on his food or the television. I can’t tell if he has given up completely or has assumed this attitude of complacency. I, I am livid! I hate watching him dwindle away to a mass of atrophied muscles that won’t allow him the courtesy of supporting his weight as he tries to stand. He refuses the walker and struggles instead with a walking stick he bought to use while mushroom hunting.
The doctor says there is no telling how long his life will be prolonged by using this oxygen and the inhalers, maybe a year, with grace maybe even three. His lungs are so bad now there is no reversing the process but keeping his heart from over working is important and the stint they put in will most likely be joined by others as his veins continue to constrict. We line up his twenty-three pills nightly and put them into a divided container, each compartment bulging with pills to help him pee, keep his blood thinned, break up any cholesterol that sneaks through his diet. Medications to adjust his heart rate, those to help with pain, ones to help with his Depression and another to quiet his Anxiety. He sits on the stool until it leaves a deep red almost bruise, even his digestive system has rebelled at all of this medicine.
My son asks of his step-father, do I really think all of the medicine is good for him? He should get outside, go for a walk, take up a hobby … and I want to slap him across his young strong face. Why yes, let’s plan a ski trip! Or maybe a cross-country motorcycle road trip. You ass … go away and live your life, afraid to admit that all too soon you will have a widowed mother, a situation which will interfere with your time by needing things done for her. And my daughter, who has been told several times that his health is very bad, skips over it and goes on with the conversation she is determined I listen to, about how difficult her life is. Stop calling to “see how I am” when all you want is a sounding board for your frustrations. Can’t you see I am busy loving my husband and trying to have hours, even minutes of time with him that have some sort of meaning?
He does not reminisce, that is too painful. We do not speak of days when he was strong and worked two or three jobs at a time and provided first for his ex-wife and their children and then for us. And what of those grown children? They speak on the phone occasionally, when he calls. The hatred their mother had for him is implanted in their souls and the jealousy of seeing him go on and live his life with a new wife and her children prevents them from caring enough to know he is fading away. It’s too late now to miss him, they don’t even know him.
So, it is what it is. We spend our days and nights with necessary things that keep him breathing and keep his heart pumping. We watch the strong men of The Deadliest Catch and he is lost in the moments of their victories and their defeats. We watch old cowboy movies and he warns the good guys, out loud, that the ones in the black hats are sneaking up on them. We live every minute, every second surround by all of these alien intrusions to our life. They have burrowed into our schedules and replaced our desires. They keep us focused on this time, the next dose, the needed refill and always, always the oxygen. These things have become our life. They are the necessary things.