Words of occasional wisdom from Bruce Oakley

Powerless against the pain

Posted by boakley59 on May 6, 2008

My illness has brought me a new pain, and no drug will help.

No, I don’t have new gastric symptoms, and I am continuing to gain weight and strength. This new pain is the psychological battering of a father’s weakness and failure.

A few weeks ago my son, Courtney, called to tell me he was on the way to the hospital. Courtney is solid, physically very strong — compact and powerful like his mother, seemingly durable and resistant to pain like me. But he could barely talk as every rattle of the car took his full concentration to control his suffering.

I had never heard him like this, not through sprained ankles, not through jaw surgery and eating through a straw for weeks, not through a car wreck he walked away from without a scratch. I was scared.

I knew I needed to be there (he lives four hours away) to support and comfort my strong son. But could I make the trip? I’ve been sick myself, out of work for nearly a year, and I’m still not up to a full day’s living. I told Suzy I thought I should go, and she started scrambling to make it possible. She contacted the kennel to handle our dogs. She got the suitcase ready. She asked me if I was sure I was up to the long drive. No, I really wasn’t up to the drive, but … my son!

Bad as it sounded, we didn’t know for sure what his condition was, so we didn’t want to leave until we had a firm diagnosis. We got periodic reports from Courtney as the first clinic he went to was closed, as he waited in the emergency room at the second hospital, as the second hospital lost power during a thunderstorm, as he got test results back. With each report and each passing hour, the stress took a worse and worse toll on me.

After hours of uncertainty, the tests finally showed he needed an appendectomy. He was going to yet another hospital that was better prepared for the electrical storm — surgery seemed like a bad idea in a place where the lights weren’t reliable. But Suzy and I knew by now that my power wasn’t reliable, either. I was worn out just from worry and preparation. We were afraid the trip would be more damaging to me than helpful to Courtney.

His mother got in her car and drove four times as far as Suzy and I would have. We felt better knowing she would be there for his recovery, but none of us would be there in time if anything went wrong. I was scared. Worse, I was helpless.

I can tell myself that appendectomies are as common and routine and uneventful as surgery can be, and my baby is a grown man now, but when all is said and done, all that can be said of me is that I did nothing.

The road to my own little hell is paved with plans to care for those I love.

Courtney has recovered, but I am suffering with a new pain. This, too, is autoimmune: I attack myself. I am ashamed when the best I can offer those who mean the most is so little. I am angry that there is so little in me.

I am afraid that I have become small. I am afraid that I have been sick so long that nothing is left of me but the sickness.

My only son had surgery, and I wasn’t there.


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