That attack marked the beginning of our struggle to navigate a relationship transformed by trauma. Since then, I think I’ve read just about everything that has been written about how to support a loved one healing from post-traumatic stress. Among other things, I’ve discovered how devastating caregiving can be for those of us partnering someone with PTSD. While Jason’s diagnosis wouldn’t arrive for a few more months, and while my own clinical troubles would take years to emerge, that attack is an incandescent dividing line. Everything else — falling in love, building a life and our unknown future — now arranges itself in relationship to that moment, arrayed before or after what we call the Catastrophe.
After Jason had plastic surgery on Oct. 23, 2015, the hospital didn’t keep him overnight for observation. Instead, they gave me a small set of wire clippers and told me that if the anesthesia or the pain made him sick, I should cut the wires holding his jaws together so that he wouldn’t aspirate on his own vomit. I curled myself into a tiny ball on the corner of the bed and watched him, terrified, holding the wire cutters, until I fell into a restless sleep near dawn.
The next morning, I went to the drugstore to pick up his painkillers. The pharmacist informed me that the prescription had been canceled. The system showed we did not have health insurance.
In a panic, I called our insurance provider. The customer-service rep assured me that it was a technical glitch and reinstated our prescription coverage so I could pick up Jason’s pills. But when I looked up our account on the company’s website, it showed that all our claims for the plastic surgery had been denied. We owed $38,962.47.
I fought to get Jason, in pain and frustrated, gasping and seething through metal and gauze, into his rusted 2008 Hyundai Accent after the plastic surgery that rebuilt his face and skull. I fought — in the end, successfully — to get our medical insurance reinstated and our medical debt cleared. I fought to manage the extraordinary generosity of our community. A fund-raiser to support Jason’s healing made the local news, and 200 people showed up. I had laryngitis, but I attended anyway. Wearing a long scarf, I didn’t say a word the entire evening, gesturing to my throat and shaking my head again and again.
On Halloween, I blended fun-size Butterfingers in milk so Jason could drink them through his extra-wide smoothie straw. On Thanksgiving, I blended turkey, stuffing and chicken stock. I managed Jason’s medications, giving him his oxycodone and then hiding the bottle when he bellowed for more, like a drug-seeking bear, an hour later.
Then, in December, Jason was leaving his first performance after the attack when a drunken homophobe perceived him as queer and tried to attack him in the street. While friends prevented the irate man from landing any punches, Jason endured verbal abuse, death threats and was chased through the street while his jaw was still wired from the surgery.
From the outside, our life looked normal. We hired a wonderful aide with the money from the fund-raiser, and with her help, Jason managed to keep his job as an adjunct instructor of video art at a local college. Jason attended weekly therapy sessions with a clinical psychologist specializing in trauma. He even managed to play a few gigs at house parties.
But our private world was harrowing.
Featured image: Gerald Zaffuts / Shutterstock. Troy, New York/USA – August 24, 2019: Farmers Market on a bright sunny day showing adults, children, dogs and vendors.