Every night I wake up multiple times out of nightmares in which I am frantically running around performing multiple tasks to hold at bay some faceless enemy. I never win or lose, I just battle on and on until I wake up. The nightmares started when Laura was in hospital. I kept thinking that as I got fitter they would subside. But it is like trapped energy and pain ricocheting around in my body. I don’t experience these fears and anxieties much during the day, but at night they rear up like a serpent from the deep.
In 2004 I was diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) after an intense physical trauma. They say it is when you are confronted with a life or death situation and you have no way out that you absorb all the pain and lock it down in your body because you don’t have time to process it in the moment, you just have to cope. But this holding mechanism when it persists past its usefulness, can harm the person’s physical and mental well-being. Back then I worked with a PTSD specialist to help release the pain, but just a few years ago a healer noticed a constant tremor in my body, which he had only ever seen before in Iraqi war vets.
With Laura by my side, I slept like a baby (her energy seemed to soothe mine). Even when we worked a relentless 7 day week doing the Gerson technique, (which we joked was like manning the engine room on an old fashioned steam ship), I slept fine. I wasn’t traumatized because we were doing this together and there was no pain just exhaustion. It was once Laura’s tumors spread and her pain rose uncontrollably and she began asking me and several of her friends to help her die that I felt panic and terror. It was unbearable to watch her suffering. Every organ in her body (except her heart) was being consumed by the cancer. I tried everything I could to help ease her pain and comfort her, but little or nothing worked. I phoned my sister in England one night and told her it was like watching the person you love, tied to a post and being eaten alive by wild animals and not being able to help. If you had a gun would you shoot them? It is an impossible choice – do nothing or help kill them? Laura was desperate and every day I had to talk her down from slashing her wrists or doing some form of self harm like drinking all the morphine in the fridge.
These were the dark days of having the Visiting Nurse Service of New York look after Laura. The head doctor, who runs the hospice at Bellevue Hopsital, just couldn’t get her pain and nausea medication right. It was only once we arrived at Memorial Sloan Kettering (MSK) and into the capable hands of Drs Moryl and Wolchok that Laura found comfort and calm, and could peacefully confront her own mortality. But it all happened so fast. In some ways it was a blessing. Laura didn’t have to suffer for long. But speed makes the trauma more intense.
On one of our first days at MSK, Dr Moryl took me aside and said ‘I am not worried about Laura. We know what to do for her pain. I’m worried about you. We know that the carers of terminal cancer patients often get cancer, high blood pressure or heart problems themselves’. So my task now is to find a way to unlock this energy trapped inside, let it slowly trickle out and not wreak havoc. Without doubt my nervous system needs a rest. I want to start my own spiritual healing journey soon. But for now, I am still sorting through the mountain of things you have to deal with when someone dies.