Tuesday, May 28, 2013
Theirs was a storybook romance. Living in separate cities, their relationship began on the telephone: long conversations about her first two disastrous marriages, uncertain that she’d ever want a new man in her life; his pain about caring for two wives and having them both die. He quoted poetry to her. She told him about her life as a psychoanalyst. A nurse and administrator by profession, he had read all of Freud. He studied philosophy and spoke German. By the time he flew down for them to meet for the first time, they were already in love. He wanted more. She was frightened. He persevered. In time she realized how supportive he was of her professional life, of her connection to her women friends. He wanted to add to her life, not take her over.
This love story is neither about me nor any of my patients. It is about my very good friend Emily and her new man, Paul. When Emily first met Paul she told me he looked like George, my deceased husband with whom I too had a storybook relationship. When I met Paul for the first time, I didn’t think he looked that much like George – except for the same strikingly blue eyes – but I thought he was a lot like George, eager to proclaim his admiration, love and devotion for Emily to anyone who would listen.
So, after much trepidation on her part, a year ago Paul moved into Emily’s house. Emily basked in Paul’s love, her radiance and happiness obvious to all. And Paul couldn’t stop talking about his good fortune. It was a joy to be with them, a joy to see them glow in each other’s presence. After more trepidation and uncertainty, Emily agreed to marry Paul. Their wedding date was set for the last Saturday in June.
In April we spent four days together at a psychoanalytic meeting in Boston with another friend and colleague, Donna, continuing to celebrate their most wonderful connection. Not too long after returning home, Paul was hospitalized. Pneumonia. Not a big deal I thought, I know lots of people who’ve been hospitalized with pneumonia, many much older than Paul. There was some concern about his arrhythmia, but nothing to be alarmed about. Time passed. Emily told me Paul had been admitted to ICU. I was shocked. What happened? His pneumonia was unstable. What did that mean? They didn’t know what was causing it. His breathing wasn’t improving despite four different intravenous antibiotics. I started to feel sick.
More time passed. Then Emily called to tell me Paul was on a ventilator, that they’d put him in a medically induced coma and had found blood in his lungs. The cardiologist told Emily he might die. The pulmonologist said to wait and see. I called all our friends. We cried together. It was so impossible to comprehend. We mourned for Emily, for Paul.
And so began the vigil, the up and down of his condition, the roller coaster ride of being buoyed by apparently good news, only to be followed by the sickening drop of more negative information. I knew about this roller coaster ride. I’d lived it with George for sixteen months. Images flashed before me – his agonizing pain from metastatic prostate cancer, his heart attack after his first chemotherapy treatment, the cardiologist suggesting I call his children, his determination to survive, his subdural hematoma resulting from a fall, his becoming jaundiced, his final giving up – “It’s enough already.” But as awful as it had been, as awful as it still was, I had George for twenty-nine years. Emily had Paul for only two! It was incomprehensible. It couldn’t be!
But like their storybook romance, this story has a happy ending. The bleeding in Paul’s lungs was being caused by his blood thinning medication. They took him off, but the drug remained in his body for almost a week. And so the vigil continued, but the hope increased. Finally Emily called and left a message – Paul was off the ventilator, his lungs were improving, he could speak. I burst into tears, tears of relief, of pure joy. I called. Emily put Paul on the phone. He couldn’t speak well, but he could speak! I cried again.
And so, on June 29, 2013 Emily and Paul will be married on Hollywood Beach. And we will all rejoice in their extra-special relationship and good fortune and we will all remember how fragile life is.