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A Caregiver’s Gift
By Darcy Heller Sternberg 


(Page 2 of 3)

Unlike most, who under trying circumstances grab a bite here and there, I devoured Marty’s untouched hospital chicken along with the sushi, burgers and pizza we ordered in. My adrenalin was pumping so much I had the energy back home to return calls, pay bills, work at the computer and even straighten out Marty’s closet at 1 a.m. I felt like Wonder Woman, or so I thought.

One evening, I retired early. At 3 a.m., a sharp pain electrified my right side, my foot was numb and my chest felt as if an elephant herd was plotting its next move on it. I dragged myself to the phone, dialed 911 and screamed, “I’m having a heart attack!” Was this the way it was going to end? Alone on a gurney?

As soon as EMS arrived, my symptoms, except for fear and anxiety, dissipated. Even so, they told me to calm down, get dressed and collect my necessities. Ten days earlier, Marty was in an ambulance racing through traffic; now, I was giving it a go. Since when did our marriage vows include “monkey see – monkey do”?

The next day at the doctor’s, I found out I had had a classic panic attack. I was afraid to be alone or go outside, so this seemingly independent woman accepted help from my mother and sister, who moved in for a few days. How could this happen to me? Indeed. A friend who I thought was unrivalled at multi-tasking confessed that he, too, had suffered from them. Just hearing similar stories and knowing that this was not a heart attack calmed me down. My doctor suggested I keep anti-anxiety medicine handy.

This new health concern, along with the stress of Marty’s hospital and rehab stay, only added to my fear of his return. How was I going to handle it? Before this mishap, thanks to a watch that beeps each time he needs to take a pill, he was virtually self-sufficient; navigating the streets and public transportation system of Manhattan was a challenge, but doable. Would he still be able to manage by himself? Would he hallucinate again? Would he be more likely to fall? More importantly, would I be able to curb my need to control his every movement?

“Don’t run to the phone, don’t carry more than one plate at a time to the sink, don’t make sharp turns. Don’t. Don’t. Don’t.” Turning into a drill sergeant is not what I envisioned as we pronounced our “I do’s” 24 years ago. I keep telling myself that his safety will be secured, but all it does is chip away at Marty’s self-confidence.

“If I fall, I fall. I can’t live in fear of what may happen. Please don’t baby me.”

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