By Michael Picucci
I remember the day we received the diagnosis at NYU hospital. While waiting in the solarium I watched the city lights glimmer against a darkening sky; a colorful sunset was nearly gone peered through the Manhattan skyline. I hadn’t even spoken with the doctor, yet there was a sense of being frozen in time. Charcoal clouds glided over office buildings. The room smelled of disinfectant and institutional food. Girls with red and white striped pinafores over starched white uniforms were carrying fiberglass trays.
All of my senses were heightened. It was like looking at the tiniest detail through a microscope. I noticed the girl’s caps and the pointy shape of their white collars. Yet, at the same time, I had completely lost touch with where I was.
I could feel my eyes were glazing and I nearly forgot my name.
Dr. Wallace, a self-assured specialist invited Sheila’s mom Olga and me into a small office space just off the solarium. We were told that Sheila needed to be admitted immediately.
“Sheila has a rare form of cancer in the leg bone,” he started, his expression earnest. “It’s called Ewing sarcoma” He took a pause and looked at each of us before saying, “We’re going to have to amputate Sheila’s leg above the knee. And we have to do the surgery as soon as possible.”
He shook my hand and continued to speak with Olga while I walked away. He could probably see that I was holding back an urge to just keel over. I’ve discovered that for most caregivers such a time exists, of feeling crushed. It’s a traumatic inability to face this kind of reckoning.
Until Sheila’s passing two years later I was consumed—sometimes consciously, mostly not—by a racy feeling emanating from my stomach then taking over my whole inner condition. She always wanted me, not Olga, to keep her company and to tend to her needs, which where expanding day by day: going through the amputation process, her often-hysterical terrors, being fitted for the prosthetic, phantom pains long after the leg was gone, the chemo, needing to be carried to the bathroom numerous times during the night.
Living in Two Realities, The Anguish
Simultaneous to all of this I was attending to my new job in advertising, a dream come true. I had to show up and do the best job I could. I would go home at lunchtime to see if I could get her to eat something, as only I was allowed this responsibility. My employer showed extraordinary compassion—the constant having to leave to go with Sheila to a doctor’s appointment or the intermittent crises I needed to attend to immediately.
I was living in two incompatible realities. Later I identified this as an often-overlooked suffering of the caregiver. One is the everyday personal existence—self-care, professional responsibilities, social engagement; the other is the intimate world of the sick and fragile loved one, with its ever-changing demands, along with full body/mind consumption.
I discovered that I could bounce between the two awkwardly, yet they never felt integrated. These two aspects of my being suffered greatly even at the thought of bringing them together.
But I learned how I could resource myself. To learn the techniques on how I did it, and how to resource yourself, please check out Resourcing Ourselves: Three Tangible Shifts.
Michael Picucci, PhD, SEP is in private practice in NYC and Ulster County, NY. Michael also passionately teaches Focalizing to individuals and groups, mostly with the Focalizing Institute Or you can reach Michael directly at http://www.michaelpicucci.com.