Thirty-one weeks post-stroke, I woke to my third Saturday as a full-time caregiver.
In some regard, having Mr. PNU home with me greatly cuts down on my stress. I'm in control of his care, and therefore it is done well and with love all of the time. In the sense of workload, I've noted a drastic increase in physical strain. My energy levels are frequently taxed, as are my arms, back, and shoulders. The therapists at Neuroworx have told me the only way for me to get over the hump of adjusting to the strain is to rest. And so I put my husband to bed by 9 p.m., and we both sleep long hours every night. Sleep is a beautiful healing tool. We both grow stronger.
Every so often I've noted incidents in our story that line up like crosshairs of fate. The less superstitious will find these kooky. Even I am willing to call them coincidence. All the same, they are odd.
In April 2013, almost three years ago, I sat through my husband's lecture covering the work of Peter Singer vs. Bonnie Steinbock on animal ethics. Why justify animal testing of pharmaceuticals over utilizing human subjects if intelligent animals are just as likely to suffer as those found within the margins of human intellectual disability? The debate is filled with terribly uncomfortable tension. I left after the lecture and ended up in an alcove outside the Liberal Arts building in tears. But first, my husband confronted us as his students with the very real possibility that each of us might experience deficits in our lifetime that would rob us of cognitive function that separates us from other animals. As example, Mr. PNU volunteed that his uncle had suffered a stroke that caused vascular dementia prior to his death.
He looked at me directly, blue eyes piercing me as if in challenge. "And so I have that in my genetics," he said.
My husband doesn't remember the exchange, but it's crystalized in my memory and I've returned to it often in the last seven months. I was his student then, not his TA. Although he was always cordial in our student/instructor exchanges, we weren't friends. I knew about his work in psychiatric ethics and was already enthralled, but I was doing my best not to act too interested or even inadvertently flirtatious. I'd taken up sitting on the back row half way through the semester when I suddenly found it too uncomfortable sitting close to the front of the room and either attracting, or not attracting his direct eye contact. A clear swath of empty desks lay between where I sat on the back row that day and where he stood when he'd made the statement—there was no one else in his line of vision. Why I was so struck by his admission I can't say. But at the time, it felt personal.
I remember defensively thinking: Really? You think I'm going to be scared off by that? Even though I wasn't in a position to pursue my interest in him then, nor would I be for another year. And now, here we are.
I dared ask. In the quiet forest my heart pounded, my iron breath burned in my lungs as it mingled with the unseasonably warm spring wind, and the stillness of the canyon answered with a steadying peace and certainty that whatever lay ahead, it was the plan and I would be capable. Though we still aren't sure why Mr. PNU's body went rogue after 47 years of fairly consistent health, and though I hate the concept of God's omniscience, there were harbingers of stroke. These last three weeks I've thought a lot about my husband's lecture, and about those last hikes before the final time I fell asleep in both of his arms. I'm still not scared, and in some ways I appreciate the heads up from the universe.
I read what I've just written to my husband who's laid, resting in this bed next to me for most of the afternoon. He takes me by the hand, looks at me with those piercing eyes, and says, "Mostly because of you, I'm not scared either."