Thursday, November 3, 2011

Gentle Execution

     When I first started college, I was seventeen years old and desperate to get out of the small town where I'd grown up. There were fifty-eight people in my graduating class and it seemed like every other person I ran into was a cousin of some sort, so you get the idea. (I know, this sounds like the plot of every small-town-girl-makes-good-in-the-big-city TV show ever aired, but stay with me here.) My father was insistent that I do two years at the local community college because it was the practical thing to do and I was even more insistent that I not. Luckily, I was accepted to a small, private university in St. Louis, which was about an hour or so from my home. Though it was expensive, I got a few grants and some loans and made it work. The biggest part of the reason I was able to make it work, though, had nothing to do with financial aid and everything to do with my grandparents.

     Their house was about a mile from the university and not only did they call me to tell me I could live with them, rent-free and with all the grandma-cooked meals I could eat, but they even built me a lovely bedroom and bathroom in their basement so that I would have more privacy. Amazing people, no? I ended up living with them for a little over three years, remain very close to my grandmother (I lost my grandfather last summer) and genuinely enjoy spending time with her. She's recently moved into a new condo and since I had the day off this past Tuesday, I thought I'd go visit. She's wonderful to talk to, very German and no-nonsense in her advice and opinions. It's also nice to catch up on what's going on with the rest of the family, because as we've grown up and started down our separate paths, it's become more difficult to keep tabs on everyone.

     I'm sure that by now you're thinking, "That's all just ducky and as heart-warming as can be, but what the hell does it have anything to do with Marfan's Syndrome?" The thing is, one of the topics that always comes up is my husband and the current state of his health. My family obviously knows about his disorder and though they're not the type to pry into what they view as my private business, they like to know what's going on. So I was telling Grandma the latest on my husband, giving her the run-down of our latest adventures, and the topic turned to aortic aneurysms. It's not the first time I've mentioned them to her, but when Grandma held up her hand and said, "Okay, let me stop you there for a minute," I thought maybe she'd read something somewhere and had a new snippet of information for me.

     Turns out, she did have some new info for me, but not of the variety I was expecting. The thing is, my great aunt passed away a couple of weeks ago and no one was one hundred percent sure why. My great aunt was my grandma's younger sister and it was hard on her, not only because she had lost a sister, but because it seemed to come out of nowhere. My dad was the one who initially broke the news to me and he had very few details to give. He knew that she'd been alone when it happened and it appeared that she'd fallen or something, but beyond that, we would just have to wait for an autopsy. Grandma, though, turned out to be better-informed that her son was.

     The cause of death, according to my grandmother, was an aortic aneurysm that let go suddenly. It must have been a large one, catastrophically large, because my great-aunt was gone almost instantly, from what could be deduced. When she told me that, I was a stunned for a minute, just stared out the window. As Grandma told me more of the details, I kept on staring and I'm pretty sure part of my brain shut down. I won't use any cliches like, "My blood ran cold, " or, "I felt a ball of ice begin to form in my stomach," because that's not what I felt. To be perfectly honest, I didn't really feel anything unusual at that moment, other than a sadness at listening to my grandma talk to me about her little sister's death.

     That's why I believe part of my brain quit on me right at that moment, because I was able to keep talking, to keep thinking, as if one of my worst fears hadn't been realized in a manner that hit much, much too close to home. It's a self-preservation thing, I think, like when you can't remember a traumatic incident. You were there, you experienced it, but your brain knows itself better than you do and so knows it doesn't have the capability to process what happened accurately. It would be too painful and cause too much harm to the body in which it resides, so it just blocks those minutes out like they never happened. A chunk of my brain had the thought, "Oh shit, it's real, he could really die just like that and I'd never be able to save him," and before it could get any further down that path to hysteria, it simply stopped. I'm grateful to it for that.

     I worry about an aortic aneurysm letting go within my husband every damn day. I know the statistics, I know how much more susceptible to them he is than a non-Marfan's kid, I know they're asymptomatic and that if one should burst, he'll bleed out before I can complete a call to 911. I know all this and have known it since before we were married. It's just part of it, this damned disorder that has no right to infringe upon our lives but does, in ways I don't even have words for. And that's saying something, because words are kind of my thing. When I found out exactly why my great aunt had died, how could I not think of my husband? How could I not wonder, "Is that going to be how it'll end with him? Will I have to be there, to see him slip away from me?"

     Please, whatever you do, whatever you say to me, please don't let it be anything along the lines of, "You shouldn't be thinking about these things, you should be cherishing the time you have together." Yes, I'm aware, thank you. I'm not saying that I dwell on this stuff all day every day, but it is something that runs through my head far more often, I'd guess, than a wife with a healthy husband. I think it's normal to have these thoughts and though it's scary as hell, I want to deal with it head-on. I have to deal with it head-on because if I don't, if I just cage it up and let it rattle around up there, it will grow into something far worse. Perhaps being confronted this way is or will be a good thing. Worst fear comes knocking on my door, yes, but people go on living. My family goes on, life goes on, the world keeps spinning. I have to know that whatever happens, the world keeps spinning.

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