Ch.183 I Am a Witness Who Can’t Witness
Two years ago, my good friend Howard told me he’d been diagnosed with an extremely rare and possibly lethal form of blood cancer. However, he was almost completely symptom free for one year because he’d been treated with a new cancer-delaying medicine. Unfortunately, the medicine quit working a few months ago, which led to chemotherapy treatment that again helped hold off the worst symptoms. But now the chemotherapy seems to be failing and his cancer has metastasized to other parts of his body. Howard’s current symptoms include overwhelming fatigue, weakness, and neuropathy in his hands and feet, necessitating a stay in the hospital. The next step in his treatment will be radiation therapy, beginning soon. Hospice, too, has been called into service.
I was Pat’s primary care partner for most of the five years she endured Lewy Body Dementia. I seldom had time or energy to consider how Pat’s illness might be affecting so many other people who cared about her: my children, of course, and my brothers, but also friends, former clients, professional contacts, and other relatives. But now I am in that position with Howard. And it feels strange because there are significant differences in this experience.
First is the matter of physical contact. I was with Pat almost every day. But I cannot even visit Howard because of the hospital’s strict visitation rules. Only selected family members can attend, which of course is necessary in this era of Covid, flu, and respiratory infections. But, boy, I sure would like to see him right now. I miss Howard. Seeing him might be comforting for him; but, greedily, I have to admit it might be reassuring to me. At least then I would know more exactly how he is doing whereas now all I can do is wonder as I wait for his wife Kay to call me, when she can find the time and energy.
Second is my feeling of helplessness. I was Pat’s advocate. As such, I was in constant communication with her doctors, nurses, hospice staff, and memory care people. I even had the last word on which medicines and treatments Pat could have, although I certainly deferred to those more knowledgeable authorities most of the time. This time, as only a friend, I am powerless to influence his life. Again, that is as it should be. I’m not making a claim. It’s just painful not to be able to fill my emptiness with action.
Third is the realization that others will suffer far more than I when Howard passes away. I will be losing a friend, albeit a very good one. How can that compare to losing a husband or father?
Right now I feel like a witness who can’t be present to witness and a doer who can do nothing at all. I can only hold Howard, and his family, in my heart, and that must be enough.