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She Saved Me

Updated: Dec 3, 2023

Cancer journey co-pilot's log star date 12.1.23. Late last Sunday, I came down with something. A nasty cough that by Monday night blew up into aches, chills, sweats, runny nose, dry heaves, and gut pain. Not since my 2018 wedding anniversary trip to Hawaii had I felt so gnarly. At the same time, I'd spent much of my youth bedbound by severe respiratory illnesses, so I knew this bug was not as hardcore as some I'd weathered (at least I hoped). Still, coccooned in bed at 7 o'clock on a Monday evening, I realized that whatever was working its way through me, I would have to let it take its course alone.

Since her cancer diagnosis, Kara and I have both written about my role as her caregiver. But long before her health came to the forefront of our concerns, she could be a phenomenal caregiver--in every way, for most of her life, unlike me--never mind that she'd been raised to bring up four much younger siblings while being a kid herself. She was a healer by nature. I'll give just one example (there are a lot of them). This was when I came down with some pretty bad flu while living in my first and only apartment on East Burnside Street in 1997. In those days the area was somewhat less gentrified. A Subway, a frame shop, a record store, a hot dog stand, a convenience store that sold something like 200 varieties of beer (or so it claimed), a Starbucks, a Chinese restaurant, that's about all I remember of the environs back then, that and the drug addicts arguing in the street late at night.

Anyway, I've got this flu, I've called in sick, and I'm sitting on my futon couch staring at my television in this one-bedroom walk-up apartment that already gave me headaches and nausea thanks to the exposed pilot in the furnace in the kitchenette. The hours pass, time-lapse from flu hell, and somehow I've made it from who knows what to Donnie Brasco to Another 48 Hours. By this time it's past six o'clock, I'm dehyrated, head lolling, consciousness swimming in fever and questionable levels of carbon monoxide... and in comes Kara, just off her office shift, sweeping me from the futon, hurrying me down the dank stairwell like I'm a gothic heroine in a romance novel, dragging me across four lanes of traffic into a neighboring building, then storming us with Hitchcockian urgency up four flights of stairs to her own apartment. For the next three or four days she took care of me around her work shifts, setting me up with 7Up, chicken noodle soup, and comic books just like my mom used to (which, speaking of, prior to her rescue mission, she apparently faced some resistance from my mom about passing the nursing torch... but once that torch was passed, Mom was kind of glad to be rid of it, I think--I mean, I was twenty-six by that time).

Seriously. I could barely walk when Kara scooped me out of that futon in front of Another 48 Hours.

So you can imagine then, that on Monday night, shivering in bed as the wind rattled the window panes, I noted with some concern that this was the first time I faced some kind of bug without my co-pilot's powers as a nurse within earthly reach. And I realized I faced a familiar choice in an unfamiliar world with no place for me in it, at least not as I knew such a place anymore. I could go on trying to make sense of my problem--and keep spiraling into panic--or I could stop fighting the situation like I fought everything that frightened me: With hyperfocus and great determination. I could try to lie with what I think of as "the New," not knowing what that meant. It didn't take me long to choose the second option. I don't want to say what I did next, exactly, but, by drawing on imagination and memory--including the one above--it allowed me fairly quickly to reduce my anxiety and gut pain, and at the end of seventy-two hours (yes, I did get up to feed the dog on time), I woke from a quality of sleep I have needed for seven years, since the last time Kara angel-swept me to a place of rest and healing... but that's another story.

Side note: 7Up still rocks when you're in the sick bay.

Until next time.

--Charles Austin Muir

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