What I Learn From Marty


Waco, Texas,
March 30
I am the chief caregiver for Marty, my wife of 30+ years. In our previous lives Marty was an Educational Psychologist, I was a call center manager. Marty has had two strokes since 2005 which have caused critical physical and cognitive deficits. We are both in our mid-50's and have two adult children. I would never confuse myself with a professional writer, I do this to document our journey and as an act of self discovery. This is what I have learned over the last years, this is our life.


APRIL 11, 2012 5:39PM

Cheating Death

Rate: 13 Flag

Just north of Waco a woman from Iowa was killed.  She was driving down I-35, a crowded, fast, bone-crushing interstate connecting all of North America.  She was driving north when a tire flew out of the bed of a south bound pick-up flew and through the windshield of her car and instantly killed her.  It was a tragedy, a death of inches and seconds. 

The strokes and the aftermaths of the strokes brought Marty close too many times.   Marty has cheated death, she has pushed through death, she has lived through things others do not survive.

Death, the end of all, I’ve seen it when I didn’t know it was there.  I’ve seen it when the fear of it was completely suppressed by the urgency of the moment.  I’ve seen it when I stood beside and over her pleading with her not to go, not to succumb.  But, I really haven’t seen it at all, I am ignorant of death.

Sometimes, I think I think about it too much.  I know when we first came home after the 2nd stroke it was on my mind every day, every cough, every sneeze, every breath she took.  The thinking of death, the worrying of Marty dying pushed away any semblance of living our new life.  Talking about what happened, understanding the impact of what happened helps with the obsession, it helps with perspective, it helps with focusing on what is important, life itself.

The first stroke, the ruptured aneurysm should have killed her.  The rupture, the bleeding, the surgery, the infections, the vasospasms, the hydrocephalus should have taken her.  They didn’t, she lived, she recovered, and she came home.  I didn’t understand at the time that death was so close. It never occurred to me, the very real possibility of Marty dying was not real; my innocence shielded me from reality.

Weeks later, after multiple procedures, after multiple brain-jarring events, after the ICU and in a regular hospital room I saw it up close.  This time I could see it in her face as she turned blue and couldn’t breathe, this time I was there right beside her.   I was barely awake when I heard Marty cough once and then start gasping for air.  I stood over her as she struggled in the bed to try and pull air into her lungs and couldn’t, the color in her face started to fall away, replaced by a light blue tint as I pushed the call button to get help. 

Nurses and a respiratory therapist came immediately and began clearing her tracheotomy and clearing her airway allowing oxygen to fill her lungs.  Her skin began to return to a more normal color as I sat to the side on the hard built-in couch in the sterile room.  The event was over, it was then I could feel the fear of the moment, the fear of the consequences of that event take hold of my brain.  It was only after the she almost suffocated, only as the lights went off in the room, only after I lay down on the hard couch did I finally confront how close we had been and how afraid I was as I laid in the dark watching over Marty.

After the second stroke, about a week into her hospital stay Marty contracted pneumonia and was put into the ICU at Providence.  The infection she was fighting in her weakened body took a heavy toll and she was incredibly weak.  I stood over her early one afternoon as her blood pressure registered just above death. 

Looking down, I saw Marty inflamed from an allergic reaction to one of the many antibiotics they were pumping through her body through one of the many tubes connected to her.  Her feet were elevated to push blood to her brain and they were running fluids into her as fast as possible.  She was weak, she was quiet and barely aware as I stood there and pleaded with her not to go, not to leave me yet, I was not ready to let her go.  Apparently, Marty wasn’t ready either and through sheer will, through the miracle of modern drugs, through grace, she stayed and pulled away from death once again.

In the grand scheme of life I don’t have a lot of experience with death and dying and I don’t really know much about it.  Frankly, I’m not looking for anymore hands on experience than I already have.  Through Marty, through her courage and her willingness to think and talk about dying I think I understand a lot more about my own fears and misconceptions.  Through Marty’s faith, through her grace, through her comfort with the end I think I have lost part of my fear of death and dying. 

I don’t think I believe that God reaches down and plucks any of us from the jaws of death.  I don’t think I am comfortable saying that God reached down and continued to breathe life into Marty each time she seemed on the precipice of leaving life.  I don’t think God was involved in a tire bouncing across the interstate into some poor soul’s car.  I don’t think it works that way, I think living and dying is much simpler than an act of God, we just break.

What I do believe -- Marty and I still have stuff to do.  I do believe Marty and I have places to go, people to see, and more life to live.  I believe that there are still moments of laughter and smiles for us; I believe there are tears we still need to cry and I believe it is always a lot better to focus on the living and not the dying.  Sometimes, sadly, it just happens. 

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Thank you, Marty's husband. From a different spelling of your Marty, I've been following your posts for quite a long time but commenting seldom. [I'm a better -- more "thoughtful"? reader than writer, methinks?] I really haven't much to contribute here; it's just that I was so amazed to have the chance to be a first comment-er, I couldn't resist the ugly ego-temptation! I will now (mercifully?) shut up again and go back to reading your many fine posts. All my heartfelt best to the both of you!

You may not have a lot of experience with death, as some of us have had, but you sure have a lot of experience of cheating death, and of living life fully with all its difficulties. As usual, your writing is worth a stop to make all of us appreciate it more.
And I realize after all this time that I don't know your name. You are so much more than Marty's husband. You are a wise and helpful guide to living life.
MH : I'm not sure that anyone truly is ready for death of for another to die. I'm also not sure what exactly I'd feel like to witness it. My grandmother died with me in the room, but I was young...and I think the moment was well past before we realized it.
I agree with you that God was not part of a tire bouncing into a windshield, and I don't know that the time and place that Marty will pass is necessarily pre-ordained.
Heck, she may well outlive you!

What I DO know is that you write so well what I think and feel, and I appreciate that.
Every morning just waking up I realize I have cheated death out of one more night. I'm truly thankful for it and I have a feeling you are too.

You make me stop to realize we are all fortunate to be here and doing something with our lives is the opportunity to prove we have purpose. You and Marty certainly have purpose.
I'm beginning to think it is a little easier to deal with the prospect of my own death than with the idea of losing someone I love to death. All I know is you are The Man, Husband!

And you are Rateable, too! :D
I like what you believe. I believe it too. You and Marty have a whole lot more to do and see together. None of us knows when our time will come but until then we must live and love the very best we can.

Best wishes dear L. And to Marty too.
Dear MH, I too think you are more than just Marty's Husband. It takes courage to look at, and talk about death. Courage our society too often lacks. What a part of life we miss by ignoring death. I once was terrified of death, but now realize that it can be as natural as birth. I am going tomorrow to see a friend who died Easter Sunday. She had an infectious laugh, and her facebook page is filled with smiling pictures of her with her children and grandchildren, weak though she must have been. I am honored to have been a part of her life, and am thankful that I could make a small difference in hers as she has in mine. You understand that your life with Marty is a treasure that you will always have. Blessings to you both on your journey.
I think it's easier to give into our fears. Having faith and courage takes work. The fact that you are willing to do the work shows that you two still have many more wonderful moments together./r
The lionhearted are not those who know no fear, but those in whom fear is outweighed by courage and optimism.
Such courage and love in this post. r
You teach us all to appreciate life and love.