Palliative Care

Palliative Care

I loved Ronnie once and still do but it’s hardly about love, is it? It’s about redemption… mine, not his. He’s past redemption and he’ll be dead soon anyway.

No one’s ever credibly explained the paradox of loving one’s abuser, at least to the abused. I’ve always loved Ronnie, regardless of how much pain he brought down on me.

I understand now from his semi-conscious maunderings that his abusive behavior arose from his own sense of powerlessness, both as a child and later on in our marriage. Our only child, Millie, is a rape-child. I wanted to give her a home and a father so when I proposed to my rapist, he agreed but seemed surprised.

I know my story’s a cliché and hardly worth repeating but I need to repeat it to myself. I explained away the endless bruises and black eyes I tried to hide to colleagues and my few friends as clumsy accidents.

Since I was a varsity field hockey star, they knew I was covering for Ronnie and wasn’t clumsy enough to explain the blue-black contusions radiating out from under my pancake makeup – the broken arms and dislocated jaw and shoulder.

My few friends begged me to leave him and build a new life free of his mental and physical abuse. I listened but had no idea how. I never believed I could be safe from his rages if I left, or that I could live without him.

Millie left when she was seventeen and we haven’t seen her since. Often a witness to her father’s aggressions, she hated her father and pleaded with me to leave, but I couldn’t. I heard from her only once after she left when she called to check on me. I told her that her father had been diagnosed with COPD and would not survive. I urged her to come back to see him before he died, but she just said, “good riddance” and hung up.

I’m safe now. I sit in our cramped living room next to the rented hospital bed and medical paraphernalia. I’m hospicing Ronnie in his decline. I took the home-hospice training and now have control over Ronnie’s few remaining weeks as he drowns slowly.

A visiting nurse comes by once a week to help, check on Ronnie’s pain management, and replenish the controlled amounts of morphine I’m trained to dispense to manage his pain. I also monitor his vital signs and record them on a sheet that the nurse reviews and discusses with me.

Since getting into bed for the last time seven weeks ago, Ronnie’s life is completely under my control. The tables are turned. I don’t wish him ill but now that he’s dying, I manage our relationship as I see fit.

I feed him, wash him, manage his incontinence, and his pain. He signals to me with a button by his bed when he’s in pain and I inject a certain number of ccs of liquid morphine into his I.V. tube. But I often don’t.

A high pulse rate indicates serious pain levels, as do his incoherent groans at all hours of the night and day. I’m not a monster but I also don’t feel the need to jump up any more and relieve his pain whenever he pushes the red button. He made no effort to alleviate my pain when he was beating me. It feels only fair now.

Our small living room with its rank odor of leaky catheter, soiled diapers, and damp sheets is my new control room. But I need to leave Ronnie alone sometimes just to get some fresh air and remind myself that I’m alive and finally free of fear and pain.

Yesterday, I left him and went to the market, I stopped on the way home at a local brew-pub and had a few beers by myself which I haven’t done since I was a teenager before I met Ronnie.

When I got home, it was dusk and a light rain had begun falling. I went into the house and heard the steady beat of Ronnie’s buzzer. He was very restless. Last week, the home health nurse intubated him because he was having trouble swallowing so he’s no longer able to talk and I no longer have to spoon pap into him four times a day.

When I settle in, I check his vital signs. His blood-oxygen’s down in the low nineties but his pulse is over 130, an indicator of ferocious pain. I open another brew, sit down and watch his movements for a bit and then inject some morphine into his I.V..

Ten minutes later he settles down and begins moaning again. I squirt some morphine onto my index finger pad, as I usually do, and rub it into my gums until I, too, feel relaxed.

I like the ease and comfort of my new life. I take my palliative responsibility over Ronnie seriously but am also finally comfortable taking care of myself.