There are many things I don’t tell my wife of ten years: Because she has asked me not to. Because she carries her own burdens. Because she has told me mine are too much.
But then, when the kids are in bed and the kitchen counters are clean and we’re settling in for the evening, she asks about my day. What am I supposed to say?
Overdoses are usually OK to talk about. I tell her how last night at 11 PM, after a long day in the ER, I pulled an unresponsive man from a car. He wore nothing but socks and was slippery and somehow wedged into the back-seat floor of his friend’s SUV. He had a pulse but wasn’t breathing. Three of us wrestled him onto a cot and then wheeled him, naked, through a full waiting room. Everyone sitting there was suddenly struck quiet, and the complaints about the wait let up for an hour. I tell my wife this story because he survived. He’s on a ventilator, but he’s alive.
I do not tell my wife how I drove home with the window down, the cold spring air in my hair, trashing my car’s speakers with the Smashing Pumpkins’ Gish, my go-to album for moments like that — because it’s loud and angry, and because my wife’s cousin recommended it to me between beers at a family barbecue a couple of years ago and that was the last time I saw him before he died of an overdose.
I do tell my wife about the forty-year-old alcoholic with liver failure, so jaundiced she looked like a banana. When I walked into her room, she was sobbing and said, “The doctor just told me I’m going to die.” Later I asked the doctor how long she had, and he said, “I don’t know. A couple of weeks? A month?” never taking his eyes off his computer. He was browsing sailboats.
I don’t tell my wife about the thirty-nine-year-old woman with breast cancer whose scans showed it had metastasized throughout her abdomen. I chatted with her and her husband about their two young boys, who are the same ages as our two boys. I was with them when she decided to go on palliative care, because it’s been three years and they’ve tried everything. Her husband held her hand as she said, so calmly, “I can’t do this anymore.”
I do tell my wife about the twelve-year-old asthmatic we put on a BiPAP machine to force air into his lungs and how we waited three hours for the transport team from the local children’s hospital to show up. I didn’t leave his side that whole time because I thought his body might exhaust itself any minute and he’d need to be intubated. I was on the balls of my feet until that transport team rolled in, and then it was one long sigh of relief.
I want to tell her about the twelve-year-old patient I had the other night, a girl who’d overdosed on psych meds. Her limbs were covered in shallow, linear scars: from her knees up to the tops of her thighs, and from her shoulders down to her wrists. But I don’t, because our oldest is nine, and what he is going through is not what that girl was going through, but she’d been nine once, too, and now there she was.
I want to tell my wife everything. I want to share my worry — but I hold quiet. When we lie down tonight, my wife and I will spoon for a minute — my lips on her neck, my hand on her breast. I’ll keep it simple. I’ll tell her I love her. I’ll tell her good night.