She was a nurse. I had lots of patience.
That’s just a little joke I like to tell whenever I’m talking about our relationship. Really it was her with all the patients.
Another joke I like to tell is that we broke up because she ran out of patience.
Actually we broke up because her patients kept dying. There is no laugh after this sentence because at some level this is a very sad thing. The people dying that is. We probably would have broken up anyway at some point, so that in itself is not a tragedy.
The problem was that every time she lost a patient at work, which happened about once a week, she would come home grief stricken and looking for a shoulder to cry on.
I was painfully unprepared to deal with this sort of grieving. At some point during my life I had realized that I would have to be the proverbial emotional rock. I had however thought that I would need to fill this role a maximum of six times. (Once for each of her grandparents death and then for her mother and father. If there had been some way to combine her family’s deaths into one or two instances that would have even been better). I was however not prepared to do it fifty odd times a year.
The first time it had been a young boy that had died of wounds inflicted in a car accident. I was almost as grief stricken as her, as I could easily imagine the son I someday hoped to have dying in similar circumstances. We cried for two days, before finally either of us were able to resume some sort of normality.
The next patient to die happened two weeks later and was an elderly man named John, which is my grandfather’s name. Once again I projected my imagined loss, my grandfather is still very much alive, onto the death and the two of us grieved.
I do not remember any of her other patients’ names or how they died. I suppose this is shameful of me, but I mentally just couldn’t cope with having to grieve so much. For the next couple months I was able to feign bereavement in much the same way I managed to feign interest in my bosses’ golf handicap at work. Externally I appeared to be as grieved as I had been that first time, but internally I wasn’t moved much at all.
In my defense I know nobody who breaks down and cries every time they read of some overseas disaster or American school shooting. People read the morning paper and through it’s bland and anti-septic prose learn of all sorts of shocking things. We all know that right now people are dying in horrible ways all over the world. We simply don’t have the capacity to grieve for everyone who dies. (At most we may spend a few dollars a month to sponsor a starving African child, but it really doesn’t affect our day to day lives). So I don’t think that it was unreasonable after six months (approximately 24 deaths) that I began to expect her to build up some kind of emotional defense.
I didn’t expect her to completely stop caring about her patients or anything but surely people who work in hospitals are able to find someway to deal with it.
When I was young I was very ill for a number of years. Though I was young and I admit I don’t have perfect recall of all the events that surrounded my time (six months) in the Intensive Care Unit of the University of Alberta hospital I imagine that at some point one of the other patients must have died. The law of averages must at least guarantee that. Yet I don’t remember the nurses carrying on as if the world had ended.
Perhaps they did it at home.
After a year of this cycle of death and mourning I had begun to hate her and myself. I hated myself because as much as I rationalize it I felt (and still feel) that I should have felt something every time she came home crying. I did feel something of course, but frustration and boredom are hardly the caring and compassionate thoughts that I felt that a sensitive modern man like myself should be thinking.
I had begun, quietly to myself of course, to create an odd gallows humour based around the ritual. She would come home crying and if she said to me something along the lines of “Today we lost [insert name here]” I would mumble under my breath, “Well did you look for him/her.”
I never said it loud enough for her to hear. Of course.
Finally I decided to take the bull into my own hands. Or something. What happened is I confronted her. This is what advice columnists, telephone psychics and Oprah seem to suggest. Get it out in the open. Talk it out. All will work out.
I am however not as refined as I often like to think I am. Maybe I could have pulled off the talking it over thing. Maybe it could have worked out. Maybe, if I had not chose to do it just after her mother died.
I am evil. I am awful. I didn’t know it was her mother.
She came home regularly unable to talk because she was crying. I had no way of knowing that this time it was because she had received a phone call at work from her father letting her know about it. How was I to know?
The obvious response of course is that I should have known. Somehow. Magically.
The realistic response of course is that I shouldn’t have picked a moment of heightened emotional levels to discuss the problem. I knew that going into the talk but I was frustrated and there never seemed to be a time when she either hadn’t just lost a patient or was recovering from it. Also she had declared that she was intending on transferring to the emergency room, which meant more death. It was vital that I talk to her before the paper work was submitted.
Those are my excuses. In print they don’t look so horrible. They could be taken as honorable even. I was trying to save her, from herself. She would be miserable in the emergency room. She was miserable now and would continue to be if she did not some how learn to cope.
I was filled with this kind of justified outrage. I can’t really remember what I said but I know the last sentence I ended with was “People die, life goes on.” My rage, which surprised me more than her I think, was gone ten seconds later when she told me what happened.
I left. The house. The relationship. Everything. Right then.
I couldn’t think of anything else to do. I felt sick. Ashamed. The one time I really should have been there to help her all I could do was yell about how upset I was that people kept dying at her hospital. The fact that I had tried to put a few jokes into the attack (my joke about looking for the patients they “lost” was in there) made it even worse.
Leaving the relationship at that point of course was even more disgusting. But I didn’t leave it because I was upset with her, but with me.
How could this angel of kindness be burdened with a brute like me? Why was someone who felt inconvenienced by other peoples’ deaths with someone whose sole purpose in life was to prevent those deaths?
I decided she deserved better, and if the timing of my decision was very poor, the intent was good.
I moved out when she was out of town for the funeral. It was low and cowardly, but I thought the last thing she needed was to witness our relationship crumbling. Better to be something she found out about after the fact. As antiseptic, I suppose, as reading the morning paper.