Creative Nonfiction: The Collapse

By Sarah Kaplan

Suddenly he started to fall. It was as if I could see time and space. Like a mattress of energy that he was laying against, gently lowering him to the ground. His eyes were fixated on mine. My hand was protectively cupping his head while my other hand was independently dialing 911.
Like beautiful flowers that bloom only when you walk out of the room, a crowd suddenly had formed around him. I could hear voices but they were distant. I remember a male voice stating to put my husband on his side, that he had just learned that in a first aid course.
Many streams of time were co-occurring. There was the slow dramatic collapse, the eyes peering into the depths of my soul awakening a terror. There were words circulating around me. Ambulance, seizure, heart attack. There was a manager instructing staff to get a bucket and some type of disinfectant. I did observe the knowing nods between manager and staff. They were afraid of what might be in my husband’s vomit. Smart.
While I was actively involved and simultaneously witnessing this event, a rude voice was on the phone firing questions at me. Can’t she understand that I am not really here? I am floating above this macabre circus, not able to be present in the moment.
The conversation with 911 trailed off somewhere and miraculously an ambulance arrived. It seemed like it was in the next frame of a cartoon. This scene occurred then another, then another with no sense of time in between.
I heard my voice tell the paramedics that I was o.k. to drive to the hospital. My husband was laying on the gurney saying “I’m o.k., I’m o.k.”
The next frame had me at his hospital bedside making up reasonable explanations for what had happened. I even had some nurses concur. I started to feel the essence of who I am shifting back into my body.
Then a larger-than-life shadow approached the bed and began talking in a gentle voice. My body knew to be terrified. A hand that felt like a paw of a large animal radiated heat on my back as these words were revealed to me. “Your husband has a mass on his brain and we will be transferring him immediately.”
I fell to the ground in that same time-controlled manner as my husband. A slow terrifying decline that in reality would be possibly 2 seconds but the experiential amount of time felt more like hours. I was falling into a pit of terror with no way to escape. I couldn’t even be sure what was the destination but I knew it was sheer horror.
My feelings shaped the reality that caused the feelings. In that moment a bullet was fired deep into my being that shattered my beliefs and dislocated my sense of safety. All I knew from that moment on was fear, anxiety, worry and pain.
My movements became robotic. My new normal was to arrive at the hospital at 0645, write tasks on whiteboard, update family, friends, employers, personal care for husband, change sheets, put his dirty clothes in a bag, try to meet with doctors. Don’t think, don’t feel, don’t care.
My world was a war zone now. My body was on constant alert. More bad news, more unknown, more worry. Attach a numerical value to each unit of energy involved in being terrified and the numbers are too high. They grow exponentially each day. I am weighed down by the fear and worry. I am numb, I am fully present and simultaneously fully absent.
I am acting a role. I do and say what the role prescribes and that is the exterior view. The inside is a very dangerous place. Broken spirit, terror, panic and shame.
I plead to the powers that be, just let him live. Take me instead. I bargain for his life.
I walk the long corridors on his floor when he is sleeping. There are others. We move together in a choreographed dance of despair. A quick look, slight nod of recognition and then we retreat back into ourselves. The fear is all around. Death is looking over many shoulders.
The weeping reveals the unwanted guide. You feel its presence as it gets closer. Another dance that continues beside your own. The dance of death so present each day, so possible, so uncontrollable.
I fear my pleas are unheard or not considered. He is getting worse; they don’t know what it is. A doctor tells me he may only have two weeks to live and that I should make arrangements.
I fall again into suspended time. He told me this in a busy corridor. I am alone. My body refuses to accept this information. There is no more room for trauma.
I feel roots growing upwards from my head and have no feeling of my feet on the floor. I am being pulled away. I fight to stay. I do not want to stay in this space but a small but powerful part of me holds my hand. I am like a big girl kite wanting to soar with the wind.
That would be the easy way, just let myself blow away. But my wishes have no bearing on my reality. Not wanting to face it, gives it more power.
He is shaking uncontrollably now. They have put restraints on his wrists so he doesn’t hurt himself or fall off the bed. He is hooked to a dialysis machine. His eyes find mine and he is not o.k. The person that is my baseline for fear is terrified.
I scream inside my body. The sound decreases as it echoes within. I manage to blurt out something and a nurse comes. She mirrors back to me her fear and an urgent call is made for the doctor.
My body feels like there is a rollercoaster inside. I feel the anticipation as the car goes up and am stuck at the top, wobbling as I looking straight down at the terrifying path that lays ahead. Then I try to turn the car around, go back, get off. But I cannot.
I see before me a massive car accident about to happen. I can feel the fear that both drivers must have. Thankfully, they did not crash. They continued. They breathed and after awhile the fear went away and became a story to tell or tweet.
I am stuck permanently in the “just about to crash” moment. I cannot put it into the past because I have nowhere to move forward. There is only more pain ahead of me.
The tornado spins me around making me dizzy with vertigo. I stumble out to stroke his hand, bring him a treat and kiss him.
I assert to myself that I am alive. I take a deep breath, but can’t feel it. For a moment, I feel the fatigue in my body and a strange frenetic energy. Then the medical team comes in and I become invisible. They don’t see me. My words go into an abyss or they are in a language that is foreign to healthcare professionals. I pinch myself to make sure I am really there.
I am there. Alone with others. They see me as outside the experience. I can barely fight this anymore. I acquiesce to so much in order to stay alive. Only him. I do this for him. Nothing else matters.
But inside, deep in the caverns of who I need to be, a very small piece is getting stronger. I can barely feel it. It is more of a knowing, a believing. It lives beside the fear and anxiety. I don’t understand it or how I can leverage it, but it is coming.

Sarah Kaplan MSW (retired) is a healthcare professional and caregiver. She has managed a medical forensic program, lead change projects, focusing on caregiver inclusion in healthcare, new mental health programs and community strategic alliances. Currently, she spends time writing about the health impact of caregiving with special interest in post-traumatic stress disorder.


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