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Thursday, February 25, 2010

I'm still here

Michael's first words to me this morning were, "I'm still here" with a slight interrogative lift at the end as though he wasn't quite sure. He'd had a relatively comfortable night, nothing alarming but he had started the night a bit uncertainly.

Since an adjustment a few weeks ago in his medication, Michael's anxiety attacks had all but disappeared. I don't understand why since the change was merely a shifting of the timing of one drug, nothing more, so it really could have just been a coincidence. Nonetheless, it was a welcome relief. That was until last night. All was well, watching the Canada-Russia men's Olympic hockey game which had a satisfying finish and, though it ended a bit late for him, he was happy. His medications had long worn off but he was calm. I got him undressed and into bed, tucked him in and started on our bedtime ritual which consists of me reading aloud from a hockey biography and then spending a long time doing the prayers that have become an essential step to ensure a calm night.

Michael has only recently turned to prayer and I am his voice since he can never remember or read independently the words. I am happy to oblige. It is a peaceful time and having missed the step a couple of times and borne the consequences of a restless night for him, it is something I am motivated to do. But last night I had to jump almost straight to that step after abandoning the book.

I had started reading the book as always, but after a paragraph or two he suddenly stopped me. I looked over at him and he was clearly agitated. I checked his blood pressure - definitely elevated but not dangerously so yet. He had difficulty articulating his problem but it seemed that something about the subject's marital infidelities really bothered him. 

Michael is one of the most morally driven men I know. He is honourable, loyal, kind, honest, loving and utterly trustworthy so I didn't understand his concern. What finally came out was his remorse over what he considered "philandering" during his university days and, specifically, not sticking with a girl he'd met who became very ill. I assured him that as a young man he was probably no worse than most of his peers at the time, if not a million times better if his later treatment of women was any indication of how well he probably treated the females in his youth. Then his anxiety increased as he worried about how much he was hurting us by being ill. I did my best to assure him that we loved him and were far from hurt by his condition, just deeply saddened and worried about him. His worries were like a ball in a pinball machine, zinging about in a seemingly unconnected crazy pattern. I had given him his medication some ten minutes before, one of which is an anti-anxiety drug called clonazepam that works wonders but takes from half an hour to an hour to have its calming effect. So we embarked on prayers, holding hands, all the while I was desperately willing his pain to disappear.

As is the way with drug-induced calm, it hit suddenly. I could see him visibly relax. I didn't bother to recheck the blood pressure because I didn't want anything to alarm him now that he was calm. I kissed him goodnight and took myself off to bed not really worrying anymore about the attack except to stay awake until I could hear him snoring peacefully. Any time I awoke in the night I could hear his steady breathing, obviously sleeping.

But when morning arrived he had obviously believed he would not survive the night and I suppose his anxiety was triggered by a perceived need for atonement. It's a strange aspect of this disease that when his anxiety hits he becomes convinced of his imminent death. I have seen it many times and no longer pay much attention to his predictions. So far, obviously, he has always been wrong. It is now later in the day and he has little or no recollection of the episode, thank goodness, and he is back to being happy.

It is not an easy thing to witness because there is little you can do to calm the sufferer besides administering drugs and prayers. And it's timing is completely unpredictable, a bit like that pinball machine.

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