April 18, 2009

A Seesaw Balance

All my paintings come down to a simple issue--in this case a seesaw balance between one thing and another. And as far as I'm concerned, the simpler the issue, the better. When a work become too descriptive, too much involved with what's actually out there, then there's nothing else going on in the painting and it dies on you.
Wolf Kahn

I took care of a young woman about 15 months ago--but maybe that's too literal. A young woman, age 34, worked with me in my church responsibility and was a great help. I felt bound to pull her in to the task I was working on, some invisible something-or-other tied us together.

Then the balance started to shift, the seesaw tilting slowly and imperceptibly away from the centering of our relationship. A former basketball player, she played hard and long and learned to play past the pains and aches of her two knee surgeries on one knee and a knee surgery on the other knee and two shoulder surgeries on one side, and two shoulder surgeries on the other, but perhaps playing past those pains wasn't really in her best interest. For now, at 34, she had lost use of one arm due to the constant and excruciating pain.

This is where the issue gets complicated, and before I knew it she was on morphine clock round and living in my guest bedroom and I was taking her to all her multiple doctor appointments, even if they were an hour away, and to her job as a high school teacher. I had lost my life. It had died on me for I was too involved with her life and her needs and being a charter member of the I Can Fix It-Big Heart Club; I was sucked in.

I had to see my doctor for a check-up and she asked me how I was and I burst into tears. Just like that:
How are you?
Sitting there in my little tissue drape, knees crossed to keep the thing from sliding and tears were streaming down my face uncontrollably.

The (hard) advice came to get myself out of this situation. Today. Fast. I had developed my own set of stress-related health problems. The issue had become too complicated. You are defenseless in the wake of drug abusers.

Drug abusers?

People with chronic pain often develop high tolerance for the pain meds available to them. This young woman had confessed to me earlier that she had abused them, gobbling them down in any order to stop her shoulder pain from her last surgery. And now her tolerance had built up, so nothing much worked.

I went home, still crying, packed her things, drove them over to her apartment and set them on her dining room table (of course, she had given me a key). She was being picked up by someone else and was going to work at home before coming over later to my house to sleep--she had been staying in our home because the drugs gave her nightmares and she was too frightened to stay alone. But she would have to.

I cried off and on for the next week. The guilt was enormous; I was abandoning her and I knew it but there was nothing else I could do. It was all so reminiscent of another time in my life when I had declared to my now ex-husband My Love Can Save Us, but it couldn't, and I was left to pick up the pieces of that parting. I saw, in my listless moments, the parallels. I saw the differences. But the end result was me sitting in the dark, crying over all that I could not change. Or fix.

I did see her through her surgery that fall, driving an hour each way to sit by her bed, bring her things, take her home and get her settled. Her mother came. She went away for Christmas. I signed up for Caller ID.

She knows not to drop in on my front porch. She knows I prefer email, rather than a phone call. After nearly a year-and-half of being pain-free, the pain has started up again. She has progressed to morphine again. I stay clear, but am friendly to her at church and in our email correspondence: my one daily answer to her three daily emails. I still carry some health problems from that tangled, wrenching time. She says I've helped her by getting her into counseling, but she's stronger now and doesn't need it. She says I've helped rebuild the relationship between her and her mother and family. She's developed a closer relationship to her Maker. She says I really help her in all ways. She says I'm just too good to be true.

The phone rang last night while we were eating dinner. We listened for the message, but only dead air, then a dead line. We wondered.

A mutual friend called two hours later, saying this young woman had called them, crying and in pain and could someone bring her food, could someone help her, could someone, could someone?

I harden my heart another notch, and turn away.


  1. I know what a hard thing this must be for you. This pain thing is amazing, the way it takes over one's life and the lives of those around them. I am glad that you have people in your life who are reminding you to be kind to yourself.

  2. Oh Elizabeth, delete the harden your heart- that makes it sound so cold. You were only choosing to pass back the responsibilty to her.
    You were a friend and a Christian, but you must care for yourself and your family first.And, of course, you know this, but it doesn't erase the heart pain or the second guessing.
    She must make her own way and make her own choices along with the consequences from those choices.
    Take care and stay well.