In 2013 the connection between my husband’s Dacron descending aorta and his real aorta failed. John was bleeding to death. Surgeons operated on him three times in a desperate attempt to staunch blood loss. During the last operation—13 hours and four surgeons—he suffered a spinal cord injury that made him paraplegic.
Thirteen hours of being anesthetized is a long time. John was transferred to Intensive Care and kept in an artificial coma for a month—more anesthesia. Excessive anesthesia affected John’s short-term memory and his memory is getting worse. If I tell him I’m going to the grocery store he won’t remember this fact two minutes later.
Is this the onset of Alzheimer’s? I don’t know. I do know, however, that he does well on the Mini Mental Status exam.
Yet there are times when John “reads” me wrong. “You look exasperated,” he recently declared. I wasn’t exasperated; I was in pain after undergoing open heart surgery. The long seam in the middle of my chest hurt. My shoulders and under arms hurt too from being strapped to an operating table for hours. I shared these thoughts with John.
John thinks I get angry often. I don’t think this is true. According to his latest hearing test, John hears only 50 percent of what is said. I speak loudly so he can understand me, but John interprets my loud voice as an angry voice. After straining my vocal chords I can barely speak at the end of the day.
The other day John accused me of trying to make him do things he didn’t want to do. When I noticed his sweater was spotted with food drips, I offered to get a clean one for him to wear. John interpreted my offer in an odd way. “Now you’re you telling me I can’t wear what I want to wear!” he accused.
How am I coping with these changes?
First, I mentally reverse roles with John. I would probably say similar things if I spent every day in a wheelchair. Second, I remind myself of all the prescribed medications that John takes. Some medications affect his taste buds and alter his thinking. Third, I take care of myself by getting enough sleep and eating a healthy diet. I also stay in touch with friends. Fourth, I constantly monitor the pitch of my voice. Speaking in a calm voice helps me get my messages across. Fifth, I continue to maintain my writing career because it makes me happy.
In August John and I will celebrate our 62nd wedding anniversary. Each passing year has made us closer. When I put him to bed at night, he thanks me for the care I’ve provided. “I love you to eternity” he has said again and again. This is the John I know. This is the John I love and hurtful words won’t keep my love from growing.
I’m proud to be John’s wife and caregiver.