Your confession last week was about smoking. But it reminded me of other confessions that impacted our family. Many years ago, the confessions started. I should have seen it coming … but I didn’t. Every confession was preceded by a period of denial for me. My denial has not worked well for us in the past.
When we went to Ireland, many years ago, It was raining as it often does in Ireland. To get out of the rain, we ducked into an arcade. “Let’s go in here!” you said. It’s drier then out there so I thought - Why not? As we walked about the arcade, we noticed several VLT’s. They were popular. People were lined up to play them. You suggested that we try it. I’m all for new experiences and we were on vacation (our first vacation in years) and having an adventure, why not try it? You put some money in the machine and it was gone. You tried a bit more money, you might have won something but then it was gone too. I had lost interested. It seemed like a stupid past time to me. An expensive past time.
I remember one day while waiting for my lunch to be served, a young man came into the little restaurant and fed the VLT $20. It took less then 5 minutes. He left the building in a sour mood. Not only was it an expensive past time but it doesn’t even make you feel good. I never did see the draw of the VLT. The idea of gambling never really caught on with me.
A few months later, you made your first confession. You had lost $200. You were devastated. You thought you were too clever to lose money. “The machines are made to make money, not lose money. Over time, there is no way you will come out ahead.” I explained stating the obvious. Of course, you knew that. We talk about it and I thought that we had just learned an expensive lesson. I thought logic would make a difference. It didn’t.
I thought you had learned a lesson. I was annoyed with the NS Government for making VLT’s legal. It’s an unfair form of taxation, preying on the people who can least afford to spare the money. I even wrote a few letters to the editor to vent my disgust. You proof read them for me. I pointed out that the tactics of the VLT are the same for training animals. A conditioned response with random rewards. An animal doesn’t need much of a brain to learn this behaviour. Even chickens with their little birdbrain can learn this trick. My point wasn’t that stupid people gamble, it was that anyone can get trapped in this behaviour. I thought that knowledge would make a difference. It didn’t.
A few months later, you confessed to feeding the machines again. More money, more tears. I suggested that you call the 1-800 number on the machine to find some help. It appeared to me that the counselor’s main qualifications to counsel was the fact that he had over come several addictions himself. We saw him together and then you saw him a few more times by yourself. I thought the counseling and the trauma of having to confess to me would make a difference. It didn’t. I was in denial. And worse, my denial was in a strange way enabling your addiction.
There were several more confessions. There were GA meetings. There was a lot more losses. Some of the losses went on your credit card. The problem was getting scary and complicated. We even went to a marriage counselor. I thought that maybe you were unhappy with our marriage. I thought that if you happier in the marriage it would make a difference. It didn’t.
The second to last confession was shortly after Tara was born. I thought that the role of fatherhood would strike a new passion in you that would push out the old one. It didn’t.
I realize now that I had an addiction to denial.
The last confession was the hardest thing you had ever done. You confessed to your parents. You had to confess to them because you had drawn them into your addiction. They didn’t know they were enabling. They thought that they were helping. At the time I didn’t knew that you were being enabled until that money was gone plus more.
The last confession broke you. You had to find something different to be passionate about. Something big, something measurable.
You had always run off and on to keep in shape. Running seemed like a good start. You turned to running. You ran and ran. When it was obvious that you had a streak of running going, you started to mark it on the calendar. I worried that there will be a day that you couldn’t run. I was concerned that the streak would be broken and you would be broken again. I pleaded with you to find something else. But deep down you knew that you were a runner. So you ran. I was proud of you.
Each day you would carefully write the time that you ran on the calendar in black pen. It had to be a black pen – for some reason. I don’t know why. Each month you would carefully bring the total to date forward to the next month and write it in the margin. The streak grew. You would record your two streaks side by side on the calendar. Your running streak and your ‘No G’ streak (as you called it). I have been proud of your streaks ever since. The streaks are a testiment to your character and conviction.
You had been running ever since … until now.
Quinn’s show and tell went well at school. The teacher got the children to ask questions to learn more about it. They couldn’t guess what it was. Quinn feels he won because no one guessed what your PEG tube was for. Now Tara wants to show her class your PEG tube trophy now.
Today you have a support on your arm when I get to the hospital. It straps about your left forearm and belts the arm to your waist. It will prevent the arm from being twisted into a painful position. You are to wear it during transfer from chair to bed and bed to chair. Also you should wear it while you sleep and walk. You say “walk” like it is going to be a fact not a possibility. I like that attitude.
I missed your OT appointment and the talk you had with the dietician. The dietician wants you on a healthy heart diet. This means some sacrifices in the food department. No more 4X4 coffees, less salt and saturated fats with cholesterol. I brought with me a bottle of coffee whitener that I bought last week on grocery day. It’s a coffeemate product called Caramilk Vanilla coffee whitener.
I try to persuade you to go to Tim Horton’s and get a black coffee. Instead of a 4X4 I want to get a black coffee so we could add the coffeemate. You wanted a 4X4. We compromise on a 4X4 and a large coffee with one cream. I added the whitener to this and we did a taste test. You can tell the difference but you agree that the coffeemate isn’t bad. There is no cholesterol in coffeemate. You suggest that this become a staple grocery item.
I’m pleased that will knock a lot of cholesterol off your diet.
“I’m 45 years old and I can’t do anything.” You said bemoaning the fact that all the things that gave you pleasure are gone. Caffeine, cream, smoking, gambling and running. I point out the obvious things that you can do. Be a husband and be a father.
Our children want a father. We want you back home. I don’t believe that it’s too much to ask. You feel that you own us that. I want you to make the best recovery that you can.
You are concerned that you are not a high-energy person. That is how you see me. You think that you have to compete with me and my drive and energy. But that is not what I need you to do. We are a good fit because we complement each other. I am a high-energy person - I always doing something. I don’t know how to relax, you do. You are a low-key guy.
I need your approach to life and you need a little of mine.
The children will see your recovery and you will be a mentor to them. You will show them that things can happen if you believe in yourself. You can do something. You can get better and be the best that you can be. The children need to see you mentor them through this period in their lives. They will grow up to be strong people if you help them through this journey.
They need you as their father and you as a mentor.
Your physiotherapy (PT) appointment consisted of the PT student doing most of your session. She did some sensory tests to your left leg. A tissue twisted into a point was used to touch your lower leg at various sites to see if you could identify the spot. No luck on this. Then she used a paper clip that was half untwisted to do the same. With your eyes closed you tried to guess where she put the point and whether it was a sharp or dull point. You did feel something with this test but you couldn’t locate it to the right area.
Then there was the emergency bathroom trip. This proved to take almost 20 minutes out of the 60 minute appointment. When you got back, there were only 10 minutes left in the hour. The student used this time to check your proprioception. Your innate sense of knowing where your body parts are in space. She started with your toes. She pushed up and down on the toe and you were to say whether she was pushing up or down. You got it wrong. When she did this with you ankle you got it right.
I would imagine that this information is important to know so that the ability to walk can be determined. If you no sense of where your foot is, it would be hard to walk and walk safely. Falling is a serious problem hemiparetic patients. Often the non-load bearing limbs have weaker bones. Falls can lead to nasty fractures. Ironically, the deep pain caused by a fracture is felt quite well.
I could tell that you enjoyed your time with the PT team. They are going to be important to your recovery. It certainly helps if you have a good relationship with the them.
After lunch you called your parents. It was a long phone call. It covered all sorts of feelings. You did most of the talking. You confessed the smoking to them. They were great. Understanding and supportive. Being both ex-smokers, they know how hard it is to quit smoking. You felt so much better after the phone call.
Dr. Askari, the resident, came in as you finished the call with your parents. She wanted some background information about your health. I told her what I could but I had to preface the conversation with “I thought I knew Chris but the smoking thing was a surprise.”
She is married herself. I could almost picture her trying to imagine how I would not have suspected the smoking. To help her understand, I explained about my allergy to dog fur and the chronic nasal congestion that has left me with minimal sense of smell. I couldn’t smell it. Only once did I find circumstantial evidence of smoking – a package of cigarettes. I never caught you in the act.
She asked routine questions like the what to do in case of a sudden life threatening decline in health. An Advanced Directive. We already have our living wills done. When I read the section in the living will to you, you agreed that it was good. “If there is some hope then resuscitate. And when you are done, resuscitate me again. In fact just resuscitate the hell out of me.” You said to drive home the point.
She asked me if I had any questions. I cut right to the big one. I want to see what’s in your crystal ball. “How long will he be here?” and “What does life look like when the intensive rehab is done?” I didn’t expect an answer on the spot and she knew better then to deliver one. She said that after some assessments and a team meeting, a plan will be made and goals set. The crystal ball picture will be given to us at a family meeting possibly next week.
One of your roommates had a doctor’s appointment today. The poor man is from Cape Breton and doesn’t get to go home on weekends. Today his doctor has given his blessing to go home next week. He is pleased. He has improved a lot in six weeks. Leg and arm strength has improved – he can walk. His speech is slow but confident. He is happy to be getting back to his life at home.
We went down to the fourth floor to check it out. You wanted to look on the internet. I let you do the typing. “Cabot Trail Relay” You are happy to see your beloved relay team listed as team 29. I hope the crystal ball sees you leave the rehab before the last weekend in May. You really want to be on the Cabot Trail that weekend.
You want to see the blog. We look it up and I bookmark it for you so that you can look it up easily on your own. You read aloud the latest entry. There was a comment after the posting by an anonymous person. The comment talked about the inspiration that you have been. The mystery person had given up smoking. Little did she know that you secretly smoked. You were very touched by the thoughts and, more importantly, the actions for the author because the author had started to run.
Your story inspires. I tell you that your story is something that many people can identify with. None of us are perfect. We all have strengths to admire and weaknesses to learn by. Your strengths and weakness tell a story that most people can relate to. “Your story does inspire. You are the story.” You don’t see it that way. “You are the writer.” You reply. I concede that without me your story might not get out but without you there is no story. You ARE the story you are the inspiration and we are a team.
Over the past few years, I have felt a distance grow between us. This disturbed me, but I didn’t know what to do about it. I would try to plan family things so that we could spend time together. This worked some but I noticed that you would get irritable after hanging out with us for the day. I had hoped that the time together would bring us together.
I had no idea that the distance was because of your smoking and your worry that your secret double life of a smoker would be found out. The day of your stroke, I realized quickly that I had to focus on something or I would go crazy. Chris and Terry wisely pointed me to the children. As it turned out, I needed them almost more then they needed me. It saved me.
I couldn’t think about the distance that I had been feeling. It would serve no purpose at the time to think of that. I did wonder at one point early on if there would be a place for me in your life when you recovered. I even wrote these worries on a piece of paper and tucked in a book for safekeeping. I knew that I would have to be patient to get the answer. Patience has paid off.
This is the rock bottom of your smoking – you are now accountable for your recovery and everyone who you shared your secret with will hold you accountable. You are now accountable to me, the children, your parents and the family and friends who you have told. You are even accountable to the anonymous person who posted the comment. By exposing yourself, you have discarded your label as a smoker. You are now a reformed smoker and an inspiration.
If you can believe that the challenges are put in front of you are to test your personal growth, then those conquered challenges can become trophies of your success. You are not a quitter by nature but you will be proud to join the quitter’s club. Over the last week, you have come across a lot of ex-smoker. Both patients and staff. It’s amazing how many have opened up to you – most have quit, some haven’t, some aren’t ready. That is their personal challenge. That’s their trophy to win.
Saying good bye is the hardest part of the visit. The day still seems to slip by far too fast. The weeks ahead are going to be tough on both of us.
At the start of this journey we were told that there was a “possibility of a reasonable recovery”. At the time I didn’t know what that meant. Minutes before that phone call from the neurosurgeon I was trying to come to terms with the idea that you were dying. I could not imagine where on the spectrum possible reasonable recovery lay. All I knew was that it meant you weren’t dead and it also meant you wouldn’t be normal.
Now, with five months of experience under my belt I know that whatever your recovery will be – it will be reasonable. It will be reasonable because we will define reasonable. We will make it work for us … even if it involves a wheelchair. But I don’t think it will include a chair. I think you will walk again and possibly you will run again.
The irony of your deception catches up with me on the drive home. You clung to the deception of being a nonsmoker so that you didn’t have to admit that you were a smoker which meant your circle of family and friends could give you no help from to kick the habit.
By denying the people you love the knowledge, you didn’t get their support.
Tonight’s phone call, you finally concede that it will be weeks before you will be able to come home. You sound up for the challenge. I think unburdening yourself has freed your spirit to move ahead.