Monday, June 8, 2009

Because You Couldn't Eat, Giving Love

This I am afraid, a serious poem, about real life over a bunch of years. In my second year of sobriety, 1985, Ann (my one wife) started a long journey into disaster. It began with stomach pain that led to a diagnosis of gall bladder. She had it out but the pain continued and they decided ulcer. So they did that surgery. What happened next was seriously wierd. She healed, a nearly perfect result with one problem. It healed almost shut. This meant she couldn't eat, nothing could pass. So they solved it with a second surgery, not only the Bilroth I, but the addition of the Bilroth II. In the process, in case it was a nerve spasm, they cut the vagus nerve. This surgery led to complete disaster.

What should have been routine, better than 90% success with ulcer surgery, turned into the extreme wrong end of the curve. She never recovered. Next came several years of heavy drugs to deal with the danger and the pain, several years of hospital visits and all they create, which includes having her purse stolen three times. (She was not stupid, but they can't protect the purse either, not against staff and she would go to work, then to the hospital, or to the hospital overnight and then to work. Sometimes she didn't come home at all. I would often visit.)

The hospital visits were mainly for nutrition. Every few days for years, she had to have help keeping her electrolytes in balance, and often spent time on the heart patient floor because of dangerously low potassium. She was at the extreme end of bulimia, but it was iatrogenic rather than psychological, at least as far as anyone could see. She had beyond severe acid reflux disease because there was nothing to stop intestinal bile from climbing into her throat. They gave her viscous lidocaine to swig so that her esophageal pain would be anesthetized. Ann also got an unending supply of strong pain meds. There was no choice in this. She had several central lines. Used the way she had to, they fail, or get infected.

In the end, after eight years, the actual trouble began to quiet a bit, but the drugs broke her. She became a severe depressive and began a fall into alcoholism so severe that it was routinely life threatening. We would try alcohol treatment. We would try mental treatment, hospital stays. She had been in therapy for years, including the years before all this. She got me sober based on good work herself under a psychologist. She had looked for healing all her life. She began to try suicide. She wasn't good at it. She also tried to drink to death. There is a stage in that process that becomes terrifying to whatever still can be upright, not Ann. This would be the point where she literally couldn't drink any more. She never had memory of that stage. She was not there, but whatever was there would ask for help. This would be perhaps only hours away from death. A couple of hours in the hospital and the life threatening stage would be over, but the damage would be done, a little further.

Eight years, trying to get better, then eight years trying to die. She succeeded. This poem was written recalling a time perhaps six years into that first eight years, while she was fighting for life.

Because You Couldn't Eat

And I sat beside
You when they collapsed your lung
With the catheter
When you gasped in shock
At the change that made, breathing
Hurt so bad right then.

I ate with nurses
In the cafeteria
Aching for you, me
At this one more time
In this fucking hospital
Chipping more away
From you as if they
Hadn't taken quite enough yet
And I'm losing you.

January 12, 2009 2:29 PM

I wrote this poem in the comment section of Lucy's Box Elder site. Lucy's Tom was in hospital and she was running back and forth, and getting far too familiar with the hospital staff. Me over several years, I had that experience.


This is a very different poem, thank God. I apologize for how heavy that all is. However I know I am not the only one who has had this kind of experience. On the other hand, I know I am not the only one like this next poem either. And what a hypocrite I am. I don't want to look at your kitten pictures but I of course would love for you to look at mine :P

When I see you coo
And purr over some picture she puts
In your face as you
Sit with her, she home
With new child, puppy, kitten
Or some such new life,
Or the photo is
Of another achievement
By the family,
When I see you then
I know you give love better
Than I can, me who

Shrinks back from all that.

January 13, 2009 12:33 PM


  1. Christopher, you need never apologize for the weight of your words. Grief is like that. It sinks.

  2. So incredibly sad that your love...and you...endured all of apology is ever necessary.

  3. --As they said. Going through this kind of tribulation cannot but leave deep deep impressions. I'll post a poem on my blog about my former husband's and my experience with cancer, radiation, chemotherapy and the usual entourage of assorted drugs. Life stops being an adventure, and you feel like a hostage.

  4. Tears in my eyes for you and for Ann. So very sad. I echo Rachel and Linda - no apology necessary.

    The picture one? I've felt that way. Horribly busy and just not interested sometimes. (I hate to admit that.)

  5. {{{Christopher}}} Never apologize. Your words hold so much truth for so many. What an incredibly sad story. Such a long time of suffering for both of you. Makes my heart ache.

    The second poem made me laugh a little. Sometimes I like to look at those cute pictures if they really are of animals...I have a weakness there ;) These days when I am shown pictures of toddlers and babies, I just get this awful pang of "how did my kids grow up so fast??" and a feeling of " kids were just like that too..." Bittersweet.

  6. Thank you all for that, but yes, of course there are places for this expression and other places where it is not so welcome. There is always a risk if only a small one.

    I have staked my survival quite literally on the idea it is all right to lean, to fall back in the arms of unknown friends, that someone will back me at the truly critical moments.

  7. I'm so sorry that Ann's life ended like that, and that you had to endure it. Your courage, both then and now, is astonishing.

    It's true that you need to feel safe about speaking about it, and I think knowing when it is and isn't appropriate to do so is part of the survival; those who end up broken by the experience lose that sense, perhaps, and put themselves in danger by being too vulnerable in the wrong times and places.

    But you are safe here.

    I'm very honoured by your mention, though I feel that anythign I had to cope with was very little by comparison. But when I'm frightened, I think it will help to know there are those like you who can show how to live on well, even if it seems as though nothing will be right again.

  8. Lucy, thank you. You are right about that. Nothing will ever be right again. That's not really how to say it, but I married for life and I have lived far too long after. I don't mean this in a dark way, just in a "I never forget" way. I am okay living on but it is not the life I invested in, not at all. I started over and it was far too late in life to do that.

    I still live in consequences.

  9. I agree with everyone who says no need to apologize. The poem is powerful. Heavy sigh. I am so sorry. I can also relate to knowing doctors and nurses on a first name basis. It's a story that needs to be told, and you do it with tenderness and compassion.

  10. Oh Christopher...I am speechless at this, and thankful you shared it.

  11. Julie, I am several years along in the aftermath now, as this started in 1985 and ended in 2001 when I heard that Ann had died in Ohio in her bedroom alone from kidney failure. Her younger sister took her there, hoping to help. She had moved to Washington, and that failed, after she tried to live alone in Oregon and that too failed. Her depression took her if her alcoholism didn't.

    Catvibe, this is of course really the once over lightly. I have many stories and many lessons. This is the story in my life that steamrollers any sense of fairness out of life for me. There is no way she deserved any of it. That's not only my opinion. She was arguably at one time one of the best child welfare workers with a cross cultural specialization in the state of Oregon, probably in the top three. She had many loyal friends and colleagues.

  12. there's a quietness that comes

    when the soul stares numb
    towards that which God gave witness

    in the warrior's moment
    to comprehend the horrific handiwork of battle

    no joy or sadness

    in the lover's heart
    when finality is realized
    wraith's reach prevails
    and the spirit passes

    when in a clarified instant
    life in whole is revealed
    a finite gesture echoing
    in the infinite

    there's a quietness that comes

    p.s. i was wondering when you would tell us of Ann


  13. Thank you, Ghost Dancing, written like a true friend.

  14. Beautiful poem, Ghost Dansing.


The chicken crossed the road. That's poultry in motion.

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