Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Who's got your back...

Over 30 days of life has passed since I wrote this entry.  I have seldom hesitated to post any entry, save this one.    

They say a friend in need is a friend indeed.  And sometimes people cross lines and getting back to the other side brings great levels of frustration for those around them.

When it comes to people my first inclination is to be open-minded and accept those I know as is, at face value; a trait which hasn't always been in my best interest.  But it's who I am and so in recent years I've honed the cautious side of my nature as a measure of protection.  I still believe in giving people the benefit of the doubt because we all need a break at times.  Then there are the other times...

I have a friend, a very dear friend, "B #2" who I am seeing with new eyes.  And when I look back over the years in retrospect I wonder how I could have missed so much of what is obvious to me now.

They also say history repeats itself.  And those who do not learn from the past are destined to repeat it.  Two different statements with different and yet similar meanings.

My friend has a bad back and endured every type of spinal surgery practiced in the medical world, with limited success.  I fully understand what a bad back can do to a person; my Mom had one and coping with her problems was part of my teenage rite of passage.  I'm all too familiar with the pain killers, braces, and new fandangled medical gizmos created in the name of pain management...and the lingering effects such cures bring to the surface.  I remember the pain in my mother's eyes and watching the muscles in her face tense as yet another back spasm immobilized her body.  I remember how she changed.  I hated it...the feeling of absolute helplessness, watching her cringe while the memories of the person she once was slowly faded into the recesses of my mind.  That was then with Mom, as it is now with my friend.  I remember when she was vibrant, fun loving, and full of laughter but those qualities no longer shine.  Her life has handed her a few hard blows, but she has been blessed on so many wonderful levels.  I feel she is so focused on her health she has lost sight of life, and the people around her.  I know that feeling well having traveled the same road before, many years ago, with my mother.

Finding myself on this road again has affected me in ways I never imagined, leaving me feeling cold and at times, uncaring.  Me.  Cold.  Uncaring.

At least five times a year my friend is admitted to the hospital, either because she fell or the muscle spasms are unbearable.  To stop the pain, doctors put her into a coma, usually for at least two weeks.  Previous pain management efforts included the insertion of an internal pump under the skin of her abdomen (which made going through airport security an interesting experience), but after three years of her body rejecting the pump (and the medical complications that went with it) the doctor's gave up and removed the equipment.  Before that they tried morphine administered in mass quantities.  But still she complained about the pain.  Nothing seems to work and many times I have listened to her complaints about the pain and the doctors while she disregarded their advise and recommendations.  Wanting to ease her suffering I struggled to find the right words to say, yet in my mind I heard a voice within telling me, "This all sounds strangely familiar." 

De ja vue is a strange thing.

At least a dozen times over the years I've asked myself one question, Why am I going through this again...first with Mom, now with my friend?  I see what's happening, just as I saw it back then.  And when my friend starts talking about her back, I shut down.  I do it every time anyone says something about their back pain.  Never did it before, but I do now.

Many years ago I was drawn to holistic medicine and studied hands on healing; at that time I had another friend, "M" with severe back problems (I'm seeing a definite pattern here).  Her prescribed pain management was like the others, surgery followed by pain meds and during one troubling episode I offered to lay my hands on her...without hesitation she accepted.  The session brought relief, as did repeated sessions and over the course of time she was taking fewer pills and able to spend more time with her two toddler daughters, less time flat on her back.  Seeing the relief on her face held it's own reward for me, but it came with a price; working with that type of energy drains the healer and one has to take steps to keep things in balance.  The other down side was our friendship soon focused on her back and my hands.  I encouraged her to help herself but in the end my words fell on deaf ears; over time I had that sinking feeling that I was being used.  The imbalance reared its ugly head on several different occasions and finally I walked away with the realization that the words we and us no longer came up in our conversations; they had long since been replaced by two other words...I need.  Each time I expressed my concern about where our friendship was heading, she responded with pointed ridicule about my shortcomings...finally I walked away and closed the door.  Another lesson learned.

But I was always struck by the dynamic parallel of my relationship with her and the one I had with my Mom.  I felt hurt, betrayed and confused.

And now, I find myself encompassed by the same thoughts, once again.  When I spend time with my friend "B #2," the focus of our time is spent on her health and she is plagued with many issues; her back, diabetes, congestive heart failure...all have significantly reduced her quality of life.  She can't work...sitting for more than an hour is torture.  She can't drive...her last venture behind the wheel ended in a fatal accident.  All of this has...well, do I really need to spell it out?  I've tried taking her places...shopping...to lunch, but being in public brings on panic attacks.  I've taken time off from work to be with her, but at the last minute she'll call and tell me not to come; giving her the benefit of the doubt I take it all in stride...she's having a bad day. 

During a camping trip last summer with friends, the intensity of the midday heat literally drove us to the river.  We found a nice, accessible beach and parked our pickups on the dirt road.  The guys went fishing and the gals sat in the water, except for "B #2."  She used to come to the water with us, but now she insists on sitting in the pickup, with the engine running and the air conditioner on.  She says she can't handle the heat, and we all quit trying to persuade her otherwise.  When she started doing this I gave up my time on the beach to keep her company, wondering about the sudden change in behavior but understanding that she could easily slip on a rock, fall again, and further damage her spine.  But this time I went to the water and stayed there, hoping that maybe the need to be with her friends would be greater than her need to stay in thepickup; she never made it to the beach.  Two hours later, the rest of us returned to our pickups, then back to our camp.  Within minutes of our return as she and I relaxed in the shade of an old cedar tree, she turned to me and with a deep sigh observed, "Camping just isn't the same anymore.  The girls used to go fishing and do things together."   I turned to her, hardly believing what she just said.  Had she really forgotten that only hours ago she made the decision to sit in a pickup parked on a road while the girls were down playing in the water?  I measured several responses to her statement, but in the end remained silent, knowing full well that previous attempts on my part to redirect her attention to what really happened put a strain on our friendship.  The girls were down in the river, B, where were you?  It was a major turning point in our relationship; that single moment defined so much about her.  Either all those years of medicated pain management has totally fried her brain, or she always had a narcissistic personality.  But she was right, things had changed and the girls who always stood by her side in the dirt road enduring the heat and dust kicked up by passing vehicles while she sat in the comfort of an air conditioned vehicle had decided this time to participate in the group activity.

In order to have a friend you first need to be one.  I feel for her and I've spent countless hours lending my ear as she vocalized frustration with family members and friends who she feels abandoned her.  How could they?  Well, I think I know.  In everything there has to be a balance and over the years I never kept track of the gives and takes with her.  It was after a long awaited honeymoon cruise with Sam, and four other couples, that I began to take stock of our friendship.  And I quickly realized many things...but most of all I realized she was playing a role in order to manipulate sympathy.  And I was one of her biggest sympathizers.  Things she did and said during and after the cruise put a nice big frame around the picture for me.  And I began to wonder if her health issues were actually real or something else.  After all when it comes to caring for the sick many people have a big heart...and who, besides a medical doctor, can question the severity of any health condition?

Suddenly, the cues were obvious to me and when Istepped back down memory lane the colors in the picture began to take clear, definite shapes...and a pattern emerged.  The real eye-opener came during a phone call as she cried in my ear because she felt I ignored her on my honeymoon.  Apparently she forgot I had waited ten years to take that honeymoon with Sam.  Apparently every day when Sam and I saw her husband walking alone on the ship I was supposed to leave Sam, go to her stateroom and spend my time with her.  Apparently all the dialogues we had over dinner--the only time she came out of her stateroom--were my imagination.  Apparently she forgot I was the one who surprised her with birthday decorations for her stateroom, even though the cruise began a week after her birthday.

I felt like I was dealing with my mother...again.  A friendship is not supposed to bring out those kind of feelings...well, at least not a healthy one.  She needs help, professional help, and I've suggested it to her several times.  She doesn't want to hear it, and is so put out by the suggestion that she becomes offended.  After so many years, I quit trying to help her.  But her husband and mine are long-time best friends.

In constrast there is my father, who from the moment he was diagnosed with prostate cancer never once wanted to or ever thought of burdening anyone with his disease.  He held his own through it all, even the chemo.  Until the bitter end he stood in valant determination to fight for his life.  He wanted to live and he had so much to live for.  When it came to dealing with illness, he raised the bar pretty high.

Last month when I started this entry I found myself oddly transported back in time by the wheels of my life today, asking myself why.  Why this, why now, why again.  To everything there is a season, and a time, and a purpose...   

On a side note I must point out that I live with spinal pain as well.  Five years ago I was a patient at the local pain clinic and once a month I received an injection to numb the pain.  My last visit involved a procedure called a discogram (no, not that kind) which enabled the doctor to accurately identify the problem discs.  A necessary step if surgery is recommended down the road.  So far I've been lucky--the pain has been minimal--and I've avoided going under the knife, a goal both my doctor and I set all those years ago.  He fully understands my position on this, andmy friend "B#2" is a former patient of his.  Former patient.  You don't know how many times I've listened to her bad mouth the physician who worked unselffishly to help her.  He's a quack according to her.  She's been a patient of almost every doctor in town--truth is, no one will touch her now.  Within in the medical community she is persona non grata.  And yet through it all my friend reminds me that whatever I may be feeling, it is nothing compared to her pain.

In truth, it all just breaks my heart.  "B#2" sustained her back injury on the job over twenty years ago when she worked as a buyer for a local chain of clothing stores.  She was counting cases of jeans, and while pulling a cumbersome cardboard box of jeans from a high shelf, another box fell.  Instinctly "B#2" twisted her body to stop the second box from hitting the ground.  Now, she wishes she would have let it fall.  There's a lesson to be learned in all this.  If a box of clothing, or anything, falls from a shelf, step aside and let it fall.  Whatever is inside that box can be replaced, but your back can not.  Nothing is worth the cost of ruining your spine, or your life.



robinngabster said...

Oh Dona....sounds like a burden you can no longer carry.  Maybe you need to let go so she can wake up.  feel for you girlfriend...

wildflowersea said...

Sometimes the best thing you can do is walk away from people. No matter how much you love them or care for them. There are just people that give up living, don't let them drag you down with them. Life is wonderful, you can never give it up. Your friend needs to learn this.
Take care,

karebear4x4 said...

Just as you can let a box fall, you can let a friendship fall away from you too   again there is a purpose for everything   this woman sounds very draining in every kind of way  don't allow anyone to take the life out of you  walk away for your own health and self-respect   you're a wonderful woman my friend   keep that in tack...hugz~kbear

stupidsheetguy said...

I often wonder when boundaries are reached and limits are met. Our obligations as friends can be distorted and exaggerated, and so many times the strain can be too much for the bonds of the friendship to sustain.

Sadly, I've found that sometimes enough is never enough, but it doesn't seem to stop us from trying. I think what makes the difference between a good person and a great person in that the great person seems to assess it all, and plunges in anyway.

Consider yourself great.


cdittric77 said...

What's most important in all this is your drive to forgive and love - don't lose that!

boiseladie said...

Pretty heavy thoughts.  I believe you're in a difficult spot, being the husbands are the best of friends, she's not going to go away and it'll be hard for you to disappear.  Hold your head high, continue to be nice, but you do not need to be her door mat... I sure you know that.  Hang in there.

gaboatman said...


I hope writing this entry has been the cartharsis you needed.  Your willingness and determination to work at maintaining your friendship is an admirable and respected trait.  All relationships need to be worked at to fourish and grow.  This work cannot, nor should it ever be, one-sided.

Now that you've finally been able to express what you've been feeling in writing, perhaps you can put this issue to rest.  You have done what you can to nurture this relationship.  In the end, it did not flourish.  

I know you will continue to treat B#2 with courtesy and respect, but you should not feel quilty that you can no longer reward her behaviour.  I think it is time you took a step back from this friendship with a clear conscious.

Thank you for the trust you have given us in sharing these reflections on such a personal situation.  You are a very special lady and we all wish nothing but the best for you that life has to offer.