The big, ever-present regret

For the few weeks leading up to her final ride to the hospital, Stephanie was feeling poorly and not eating much. And that certainly wasn't unprecedented. Since the kidney diagnosis seven or eight years earlier, she'd occasionally had days or weeks when she'd felt poorly and not eaten much, but always she eventually started feeling better, or made a doctor's appointment. She didn't seem any sicker those last few weeks than she'd sometimes seemed in the past, but it lasted longer than it usually had.

Either three times, or maybe four times during those weeks, I suggested that she see a doctor. Each suggestion was a violation of our rules, and she got cranky and told me not to suggest it again. A few days later I suggested it again, and she got cranky again. In hindsight it's obvious, of course, that I should've insisted and started an argument and raised my voice and never relented. I should've called the doctor's office and made an appointment for her myself, and then demanded that she go, but I didn't do any of that.

Here's the way Stephanie said it, several years before her death: "We can talk about anything, you and I, including my medical issues, but I need my days off from the medical crap. It's not fair talking about kidneys and dialysis and all the related trauma and drama all the time. If we're talking about my medical issues every day, then I've become my medical issues and it's swallowed my life, and we're not going to let that happen. So let me make the decisions, let me be me, and we'll talk about it on days when I have a doctor's appointment, since those days are ruined already. But not on other days."

And that was our deal. We both went to all her medical appointments, and we both engaged with the doctor or nurse, offering up facts or asking and answering questions. She wanted my input before and during every appointment, and my thoughts afterwards, wide open and with no limits. When the post-appointment conversation was over, though, it was over, and she didn't want to discuss her medical matters until her next appointment.

I rarely violated those rules, by talking about medical stuff on non-medical days. And everything always worked out fine, until that one time when it didn't. That time when Stephanie died.

There isn't an hour that goes by (at least while I'm awake) when I don't regret not crossing the line and nagging her more to see a doctor in the last weeks of her life. I'm always wondering whether that would have been the difference, whether she'd still be with me, and I'm pretty sure the answer is yes.

I try not to type it too much here on the website, because there isn't much to say about this particular and painful topic that I haven't said already. This entire post is a rerun, isn't it? I've typed all of this before. 

And I try not to kick myself too much, because Stephanie once said, "If I should've seen a doctor but I postponed it too long, if I end up hospitalized or worse, well that's on me, not on you. It's my decision when to make an appointment."

The regret, though, is always on my mind, or not far from my mind.