I was asked while attending church last Sunday why I had such a strong commitment to caring for those who had disabilities. The person asking the question was not being difficult, but really wanted to know why I had such a strong empathy for the disabled and if it had anything to do with why I had no qualms or reservations when I married my wife. She thought that given all the difficulties my wife and I had gone through, all the health problems my wife had and all the issues with finances and the lack thereof, I would be wanting to get out of the marriage by now.

If a person is a Christian and truly faithful, this is a foolish question, because our Faith leads us to make lifetime commitments and we don’t change direction later unless we are directly led by God to do so. But I was answering someone who had just started coming to church and who, as far as I could tell, was not a committed believer and Christian. So I answered her with the statement, ‘Been there, done that’.

I have been tried by the things I have experienced in the past six years to the point where I was so depressed and defeated that I was beyond tears anymore. There is nothing that words can express that would convey what I feel when I am watching my wife suffer from her physical handicaps and her infections and illnesses. I deal with frustration and disappointment and anger at the whole mess. I look for understanding from the people around me and find none. When I need the support of those closest to me, I often find I cannot rely on them, but somehow and some way we can find our way through the trial.

But maybe the biggest lesson I learned out of the situation I described in the article below is the lesson taught to me by a nurse. I had been laying in a bed in a bed in a different city than the one I lived in. I had no idea how I got there at first and I was in an incredible amount of pain. The chemical poisoning and the resulting effects of that poisoning had made me feel like I had been beaten on every inch of my body and inside too while burning from the inside out in every part of my body as well. I snapped at doctors, nurses and aides. I would be so crude and cruel in my comments and criticisms that even the doctors were tight-lipped when they left the room. I worried about my home in Espanola where I lived and my job and I worried about how I was going to make a living after being discharged from the hospital.

The third day after I woke out of the coma I had been in while I was still mostly paralyzed and very frustrated at the discomfort and pain I was feeling I saw a familiar face in my ICU room. She was a nurse there at that hospital and she was also the mother of one of the deacons in the church I was pastoring on a mountaintop east of Espanola, New Mexico.

Just seeing her brought me to my senses and I realized how terrible my temper tantrums were and how undeserving of those tantrums were my doctors and nurses. I told my nurse that I was so very sorry for the way I had acted toward the hospital staff. I explained to this very sweet woman how I needed to make things right with the staff.

She said something I have never forgotten. She explained that the entire hospital staff deals with the kind of thing I did every day. They all knew it was not me talking and many knew I was a Christian pastor. But I had not acted Christian at all! When I said that, she just smiled and said it was not me talking during those times when I was really sick and in intense pain, it was the pain talking.

I am sharing this because so many times, my wife is cranky, mean, and sometimes cruel in her comments to people caring for her and to her family members. It seems like no one can escape. The only way we can is by walking away. Often, after those episodes are over, she does not remember what she said at all. It is as if it is completely wiped from her mind. I am realizing that is a good thing. Because if she remembered all  the things she said to people, I know she would feel so terrible that it would trigger a bad feeling in her and such regrets and sorrow it could push her deeper into a depression from which she suffers most of the time anyway…….

What I lived through in 1992 through 2004 as I regained feeling and the usual muscle and reflex responses I would normally have before the accidental chemical poisoning, taught me a lot. The greatest lesson I learned was to understand that I was not perfect, and people who truly love me and people I truly loved were not going to be perfect, we were all going to be committed. Our feelings for each other will not always be warm and fuzzy, nor will we always have that wonderful glowing relationship with each other where everything is rose colored even though we don’t wear rose colored glasses. But our commitment and love and dedication for one another is not measured by the warm and fuzzy feelings. It is measured by a standard that is much higher because we have placed that standard there. We have demanded perfection of ourselves, sometimes to our own detriment because we drive ourselves to exhaustion and health failure trying to be the best provider we can to our loved one.

I have a double dose of that drive to be perfect in caregiving. First of all, it seems I was born with it. When I was a child I adopted and cared for every kind of animal, puppy, or kitten I found. And as I got older, I just transferred that care and love and devotion to whatever I happened to be doing at the time. It may make an excellent caregiver, but it doesn’t always do me or my health a lot of good. Because all of us as caregivers burn ourselves out doing what we do. I/we never seem to be able to pace ourselves, so we overextend to the point of self-destruction.

I just wonder if it isn’t because we know that is what people who love each other do? That instinctively, we put the other person first and keep putting them first, content with being close to them, even when the pain is talking through them and we never seem to hear a good word for a long time. Sometimes the giving of ourselves in an effort we know is right is enough for us. I know from visiting the people in the Espanola New Mexico area where I was when the following event happened, that it was enough for some of them even though I was a heavy burden for them to bear for awhile during my recovery.

Read and you will understand why I seldom write without mentioning my Faith and why I am often trying to ‘pay it forward’.

I was working for a water well driller in Espanola, New Mexico. My job involved drilling wells and installing water systems complete with pumps to supply potable water for homes, farms and ranches.

At the time I had been having heart problems that had caused heart attacks and some strokes as well as severe high blood pressure. I do have a condition called Malignant Hypertension. What I did not know at the time was that I suffered from a real issue with chemical poisoning on the job. what is often called Occupational or Environmental disease by doctors now because it is due to our exposure to chemicals on the job which became part of our working day environment. A person can also have this issue when living in a house or working in an office that contains or has certain materials as part of the structure. Plywood and sheetrock have chemicals in them that outgas for years due to the way they are manufactured and those chemicals can cause severe health problems for some people.

So there I was on a job where I was underground running plastic pipe (PVC) in a tunnel from one manhole to the next in a village water system. At each house, I would disconnect the old water line from the house supply water line and connect the house water supply line to the new main line of PVC pipe. It was tedious and time-consuming and the area to work was cramped and restrictive which prevented good ventilation and air flow. My own body would almost create a plug in the tunnel due to its small width and height.

I had a co-worker (Joe) who was on the job above ground and he was to keep a fan going with a tube running down in the manhole on one end to supply the air flow for me to breath and keep the tunnel supplied with fresh cool air for comfort. He was an alcoholic and he had no will power nor resistance to having a drink at any time due to his addiction. So when the bar on a nearby street opened at 10:00 AM, Joe went to get a drink, Leaving the fan/air machine running to supply my air. Joe never returned all day. I heard he was still there in the bar at closing time.

Later the air supply machine was pushing the air against the natural airflow in the tunnel as it had airlocked where I was working as a result of a change in wind direction. I was wiping pipe ends with PVC pipe cleaner, applying PVC Purple Primer to the ends of the PVC and the fittings and then applying the PVC pipe and then assembling everything together as quickly as I could so that I would have a good connection on each house drop without leaks. I was so focused on the work that I did not realize that the air had stopped flowing around me in the tunnel. I soon passed out from the effect of the fumes from the chemical pipe welding I was doing with the very volatile solvent based PVC pipe fitting chemicals.

According to the village Marshal in that small college town where I was working north of Espanola and up on a mountaintop, I was found in the tunnel unconscious at approximately 11:30 at night. My air machine had run out of gas and quit running several hours before as Joe had never returned from the bar to tend the machine. A resident had called the Village Marshal because she had no water and the truck we used and the equipment was sitting in the street near her house. Her call to the Marshal saved my life.

I was found in that little tunnel by the Marshal unconscious and spent the next week in a coma. I was first taken to the hospital in Espanola and when I didn’t respond to treatment, I was transferred to a hospital in Santa Fe, New Mexico. From that hospital, I was airlifted to UNMH (University of New Mexico Hospital) in Albuquerque, New Mexico. It took about a week before I was able to breathe on my own and I no longer needed life support and constant monitoring.

My first betrayal was Joe, who was always assuring me he was my friend and would do anything for me. He was not there to do his job and in spite of his assurances of his care and loyalty to me as his supervisor on the job and in spite of his assurances he was going to not drink on the job anymore, he let me and the company down again like he had a few times before.

The second Betrayal was that when I woke up, a care coordinator and financial advisor for the hospital informed me that Gary, my boss did not have workman’s comp insurance on me as is required for employers of more than three people in the State of New Mexico. I suddenly found myself facing all the hospital and care bills myself without insurance. That was huge and before my care and treatment were over, interrupted as it was by a lack of funds, I owed over a half million dollars to hospitals. It wiped me out financially and bill collectors followed me for years attempting to recover some of the money owed for my treatment.

As if that were not enough, I was to have two more very painful betrayals from my family.

The first was my father. When UNMH doctors and the Sheriff’s department finally figured out where my folks lived and contacted them, they explained that I might not live a week longer as their best efforts were failing and I was losing ground steadily. My father’s response was that he didn’t think I was going to die and he told the doctors they just needed to feed me a special diet of fruits and vegetables and give me some dietary supplements that he used and I would be fine. (I was being fed intravenously at the time) I had never been especially close to my father after he had twice beaten me nearly to death when I was a child, but at this time in my life, I thought we were gaining ground in establishing a normal relationship. I never got close to him again, and from that point forward my feelings for him were no different than what I would feel for any person that I encountered on a job or in a business deal. I made sure I respected boundaries and civil rights, but I was still so hurt by this last response to my health emergency by him that when he died and I was just barely surviving yet another health issue, I did not attend his funeral.

My final betrayal was my wife. I was married to a woman I had met in Los Alamos, New Mexico whose father worked in the Los Alamos National Laboratory. She was located by the doctors and care coordinator and when she had me on the phone which had to be held by a nurse to my ear (the chemical poisoning had paralyzed me for a few weeks), she said she had not married me to watch me die, and I would never see her or my children again. I was crushed! I felt like my whole world had crashed in on me! I had such a huge issue with trusting people after that! And even my own siblings were never allowed by me to get close enough in my heart to ever make me feel that way again! I never wanted to get married again and I never wanted to have friends.

God has such a powerful way of healing us when we belong to Him. That was one friendship that I held onto. When I was discharged from the hospital, I went back to Espanola and the people who were there for me was the Rio Arriba County Sheriff’s department. There were also New Mexico State Police Officers from Station 7 in Espanola. And there were Espanola City Police Officers as well as Santa Clara Pueblo officers and San Juan Pueblo officers who all took turns visiting me at my apartment in Espanola and taking me out to buy me meals as I was not able to work to support myself. I was living in an apartment house owned by a woman doing foster care for the state of New Mexico. Because she had to show the need for my being there she made me the maintenance director for her two foster homes and gave me the apartment to live in and a food allowance in exchange for my advice and instructions to her on how to repair and maintain her properties. Nancy was quite good at doing all kinds of repair tasks and carpentry tasks and I was securely provided for. I also had a position in a local church where I was able to keep ministering and preaching which generated a cash income through the offerings that people gave me. (I was so weak that I had to hold myself up by gripping the pulpit and bracing myself against it to stand to preach). God provided. God never left me alone.

I will never forget the first months out of the hospital while over thirty police officers took turns buying me three meals per day and transporting me to doctors appointments and helping me with cash gifts out of their pockets. I had repaired guns for them, and I had been the spiritual counselor to some of them. Others in the sheriff’s department were very close friends. Two state police officers from station 7 and one from Santa Fe were hard and fast friends until their death. I have no words to express the feelings I have for those men and a few women who took care of me!

So at a time of great betrayal by those who should have been my closest allies and family, God provided a family to me that was not broken and remained strong for years until each individual involved passed away or moved to a rest home. I am overwhelmed with gratitude! I can never ever express enough what it feels like to know that kind of love and care from God and fellow humans. it is breathtaking.

In spite of the worse betrayals of my life, I also was experiencing the strongest loyalties from others in my life.

Written by David Waterman

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