Paul spent five days in the hospital that time. There were tests and more tests and doctors and more doctors and everyone trying to decide what was going on. Was the infection in his heart? Was it in his liver? His kidneys?
I was going back and forth from the hospital to work to home. I saw Owen for only minutes at a time. My Mom was being more of a mother to her than I.
One day I was sitting in Paul's room, waiting for him to come back from an MRI or some other such test. I was staring sightlessly at the TV, in a daze of exhaustion and stress, and in walked one of the many angels we encountered during this ordeal. He was short, balding, with glasses and a white coat. He spoke softly and his hands were smooth and gentle when he shook mine. His name was Dr. H. He was an Infectious Disease Specialist and I adored him from the start. Unlike any of the other doctors we had spoken to, Dr. H came in, sat down across from me, looked into my eyes, and asked me to tell him our story. He did not discount me as merely the wife. He did not interrupt me with questions--only asked at appropriate pauses. He did not appear impatient, and even apologized for his beeper, pausing only to turn the sound off. As I spoke, he listened--actively. He took out a piece of paper and drew a time line of events. He made notes on the age of our child, Paul's alma mater, our professions, and other seemingly unimportant details.
When I was done, he nodded, sat quietly, thinking. He didn't rush to fill the silence with some great wealth of knowledge (which I am certain he did possess). He considered my tale with great seriousness, and then, most remarkable of all--he thanked me for telling him so much. I nearly cried for his kindness.
Soon, Paul was returned. I do not remember what Dr. H said to Paul except that he introduced himself, told him what we had talked about, and asked permission to examine him. I don't remember if he gave us any opinion at the time, only his card and a promise that he would be treating Paul while in the hospital and afterward. When he walked out of the room, he left me with more of a peace than I had felt for weeks. I was still stressed and worried and exhausted, but Dr. H made me feel as if someone--if only one person (outside family and friends)--cared.
We would see him again, of course. He visited Paul daily, or sent his colleague when he couldn't come himself. Each time, he spoke in that gentle voice, took his time to listen, appeared to think deeply before responding to our questions. He ordered more tests. Told us in plain, but not condescending, terms of the results. Agreed to consult with Paul's orthopedist (who was in a neighboring town and did not have privileges at this hospital).
He told us, too, how seriously ill Paul had been. He told me Paul could have died from this infection. And he told us he would stick with us and see it through with us. He said we would figure it out and get Paul well--together. I believed him.
We left the hospital under his care. Paul came home gaunt, weak, emotionally exhausted, and with a PICC (Peripherally Inserted Central Catheter, I think) line in his arm--a direct line to his heart for the administration of IV antibiotics. We were to report to Dr. H's office for instructions and training so that I could give Paul his medicine twice (or was it three times at first?) daily.
In addition, the artificial ball on his femur--the prosthetic hip-- had to come out. Infection is a nasty thing. When a person with foreign matter in his body becomes infected with a bacteria, the bacteria will gravitate to that foreign matter, creating an almost slimy film that is impossible to remove through chemical means (i.e. drugs) alone. So his hip joint was to be removed, followed by six weeks--at least--of daily IV antibiotics, and then, if all signs if infection were gone, then he would have the total hip replacement. This was the plan agreed to by Dr. H, the orthopedist, and Paul.
The surgery was scheduled for the Tuesday before Thanksgiving. Once the hip was removed, Paul would need more assistance--help bathing, walking, dressing, getting into and out of bed. We moved our bedroom downstairs. Mom stayed (the first angel of this ordeal) and moved into our bedroom upstairs. Paul's mom (a CNA and another angel) gave us some home assistive devices--a bathtub seat, chamber pot, good crutches, a "reacher/grabber."
For me, something had to give. I could not maintain a work schedule of 24-hour on-call days, find time to sleep, care for Paul, spend any time with Owen, and not collapse. I decided I needed to quit my job. Luckily, another job in my office was coming open. Less pay, but the hours were steady 9-5, and the job itself was much less heart-wrenching and intense (I had been working as a counselor/family support for families of organ donors, going to hospitals to discuss donation options with families and help them through the final hours of their loved one's lives). Paul & I discussed it. He was getting disability pay and the money wasn't enough of a cut to offset the stress I was under. I took the new job, gave notice on the old job. (Unfortunately I let them talk me into keeping one weekend of call a month--a decision I would later regret).
My last full on-call week would be Thanksgiving--with the day of Paul's surgery off if I worked Thanksgiving Day. I agreed. That holiday would turn out to be my lowest point in the entire ordeal, and both the worst and best Thanksgiving I have ever experienced.
To be continued...