Before he died, Dave had to be hospitalized a couple times. Once for an attack of pancreatitis and once for a strange flu-like illness that kept him very ill for over 2 weeks.
Each incidence, separated by years, brought about my complete unhinging. Just the thought of Dave having an illness serious enough to send him to urgent care several times, or the ER, or god-forbid, be hospitalized, would cause me anxiety. I suffered panic attacks both times and was nearly as ill as he was, except my illness was mental. I was crawl-up-the-walls, hysterical, uncontrollable, can't-eat, can't-sleep, lose control of my bodily functions scared.
It was such a primal fear and other than my previous traumas, I could never quite explain it. I was too fearful to be very supportive of Dave, and that sent me to therapy specifically to try to conquer this phobia of mine. It was a phobia, after all. Fear when your loved one is sick is normal. This was an unhinging of the most spectacular variety. At one point, the thought of admitting myself to the psych ward sounded soothing.
His final hospitalization sent me over the edge. I couldn't even drive near that hospital without a full panic attack until months after he died and that was under great duress. I moved away, in part, so I'd never have to see that hospital again.
After he died, I wondered how I'd handle another partner's illnesses if I happened to find love again.
Last week, I was able to find out.
Dirk had been having some symptoms that finally sent him to urgent care Friday evening. Okay, I sent him to urgent care to make sure his heart was okay.
I watched myself in a slightly detached way as we drove there and sat in the waiting room, wondering if the panic would set in, wondering if my body would shut down like it had in the past.
Other than a few moments of my heart rate spiking slightly as the doctor took his blood pressure, I felt okay. Stable. I was able to joke around with Dirk while we waited for the doctor.
I listened to and watched the nurse and doctor raptly, taking in every detail. Heart rate? Normal. Blood pressure? Normal. I asked questions to clarify and I felt on top of things. And he's okay. There seems to be nothing seriously wrong with him and no major lingering worries about his overall health.
I'm so grateful for that and I'm so grateful to have made it through without a panic attack.
Dirk's symptoms weren't as worrisome as Dave's ever were and his diagnosis was not scary at all. Had that evening turned out differently, with a diagnosis of something more scary or violent symptoms of some kind, I'm sure the panic would have set in, though there's no way to know for sure.
But maybe not. Maybe instead of phobic, now I would have a more reasonable fear reaction to a serious illness. One that doesn't take over my whole body and leave me needing hospitalization almost as much as my sick partner.
If so, was the worst happening the key to breaking the fear cycle? I was faced with my biggest fear and survived it, so now it's simply not that scary anymore? Or was my fear back then with Dave because I knew somehow, on some level, that an illness would take him from me eventually?
It doesn't really matter. I just hope I don't have to find out for sure anytime soon. I want to stay out of hospitals for a very long time.
But, maybe, if I have to go near one again, I'll be able to be more supportive and less trapped in my own horrible panic. That would be nice.