It’s hard to write about med things without feeling bitter. So first, let’s get the bitterness out of the way. Even when the day to day is fine, it’s difficult to accept a career trajectory that feels forced upon you. I always thought people close to you come before work. But sacrifice come at a price. Maybe I’m particularly selfish, but I’m finding it a real struggle each day.
The darkest times have often been the minutes and hours before bed. I’ll spare you the creative details but I wrote a story years ago about the monsters Pain, Loneliness and their master Despair – who always visited “at night, when silence and darkness prevailed”.
Apparently I’m not the only one.
The woman in her mid fifties whose husband left her for a younger woman some years ago. “The kids adored the other woman and didn’t understand why I was so bitter. He took my frequent flyer points to take her to the US! He said I didn’t need them anyway. He died suddenly, at the gym on the treadmill. You know, impressing her. He used to say that no one would love me and if another man would sleep with me, he would shake his hand. I used to hear him taunt me, now I don’t. I’m still single and tried dating but it hasn’t worked. Work isn’t as creative as I’d like it to be. The kids are grown up and I flew over to visit them last Christmas. I was sitting in front of the telly eating by myself on Christmas Eve. They love me but I know they have their own lives now… I have a bedtime routine. Read a book, do some relaxation exercises. Then I would turn off the light but flip over and be wide awake. At night I think about these things. About my life, where it’s going, the big questions.”
Often it comes in the form of asking for sleeping pills. Another woman left her ex-husband and three kids back in her country for him. They used to call each other every day before she migrated, though the phone bills were very expensive. They’ve been together for the last two years but now he’s moved to a new job interstate. They still talked but were slowly drifting further and further apart. She kept thinking and thinking and couldn’t sleep.
Occasionally men cry during consults too. The tough looking bloke had workplace troubles and had been feeling down. “I have the missus and the kids. I don’t want them to see me like this. But when it’s quiet, I was thinking,” he grabs a tissue, “…what’s the point. It wouldn’t even matter if I wasn’t here…”
A patient I saw for spirometry results. They were normal. She attributed her symptoms to stress and grief. “It happened last year. He was so healthy, still doing fly-in fly-out months before he got sick. He had mesothelioma and it all happened so suddenly. There’s nothing there for me now. Oh I know I’m not the only woman to be widowed… I know I need to stand on my own feet. But I’ve done nothing, I’ve just been a vegetable. I came here to stay at my sister’s. I’ve only just started to cook a little. My sister and I have different cooking styles, I use a bit more flavour and my brother-in-law is thrilled. We go for walks. I tried a bit of adult colouring-in to relax. But at night when I close the door, I’m all alone and it’s really hard.”