Anxiety and the Heavy Blanket
Anxiety: distress or uneasiness caused by danger or misfortune. …..…………………..Random House College Dictionary
On December 20, 2018, at approximately 4:45 PM, I was standing at my kitchen sink when I heard a noise that sounded to me like metal bending, as if perhaps, some great giant outside and up the hill were crushing aluminum foil… made of steel. It was a sound like I had never heard before, the sort of sound that might not have been out of place in a city, but in the peaceful woods surrounding our home it seemed very odd indeed. I turned to my left and saw my husband jogging almost lazily down the hill but leaning a bit too far to either side as he was doing so. He was holding his face in his hands and I saw something that I first thought, in the late afternoon light, was orange paint on his face. It took only a fraction of a second before I realized that it wasn’t orange at all; it was bright red… it was blood.
I rushed down the stairs and outside.
“My face feels loose,” he kept saying, over and over again, his words muffled as he rushed past me and inside.
It wasn’t good. Whatever had happened, it was, in fact, very bad indeed because there was a lot of blood and my husband takes an anticoagulant because of atrial fibrillation.
I ran inside after him, grabbed a shopping bag and began throwing ice packs and small towels into it. He was standing at the sink, looking at his face, trying to clear the blood from his eyes. “Doesn’t feel right,” he said over and over again, “it feels loose.”
“There’s no time to call 911,” I shouted. He agreed.
We know exactly how long it takes an ambulance to get our house, up in the hills in rural West Virginia, because two years ago the man fell off a roof. The emergency squad had arrived relatively quickly considering where they had to come from and where we are, smack in the middle of nowhere… and the hospital is 30 miles away, over half of that on back roads. I knew that I could be half way to the hospital before an emergency vehicle even arrived and there was no time to waste.
I got the car started quickly and strapped myself in as my husband settled gingerly into the passenger seat. The moment his door slammed shut, I took off. Just as we arrived at the juncture of the small road that connects our community to the barely larger road that leads to an actual road, a school bus passed in front of me. I knew that it was about to stop and let off children approximately half a block ahead at the gate of the next development and I knew exactly what I was going to do about it. I pulled up behind the bus, yanked on the emergency brake, jumped out of the car and ran around to the front door of the bus where children were slowly stepping down and out onto the gravel road.
I leaned around the edge of the door and, peeking up at the driver, hollered, “I’m right behind you and I’ve got a man bleeding in my car.”
He didn’t say a word, just waved me into motion with his right hand while throwing his left arm out the window to wave me around once I got to my car, as if I should get going — and now!
I love our roads out here, they are steep, they are winding, and they are narrow, and as the daughter of a man who raced cars for a hobby and ran hill climbs on a regular basis, I have very much enjoyed handling my vehicle on these roads and, boy, did my playing race car driver pay off because I was whipping just about as fast as that ambulance went two years ago all the way to the “big” two-lane paved road that would lead me, in about 8 miles, to the four-lane road that would lead me, eventually, to the nearest city, if you can really call Winchester, Virginia a city.
There were, however, a number of things I had to deal with. My husband, who was losing what seemed to me to be a remarkable amount of blood, kept having me stop the car so that he could spit it out because there was just so much of it. In addition to that, it was getting dark. Pulling over to the side of a narrow mountain road, especially at dusk, is risky business. It became a little easier when we got to the two-lane road but by then there was more traffic and it was darker and I was half out of my mind. Once we hit the stop sign where the two-lane road joined with the four-lane highway that led into Winchester, I knew I was in real trouble as semis and eighteen-wheelers sped past the juncture.
The sound of my husband making all the noises attendant to someone who is both in pain and choking on his own blood, was just as distracting as you might expect and so I kept telling myself to pay attention, pay attention, pay attention to the road and pretty soon that turned into, “keep your mind on your driving.” Before I knew it — and I assure you this was not a conscious decision — that turned into me singing in my head, over and over and over again: “keep your mind on your driving; keep your hands on the wheel; keep your snoopy eyes on the road ahead,” lyrics from a song called Seven Little Girls (“…sitting in the backseat,” by Paul Evans) that had been popular when I was a senior in high school, eons ago. The next thing I knew I was speeding past the big trucks, doing 75 on a 55 mph road, and wishing with all my might that a police car would spot me. I’d have liked nothing better than to have had them whisk my husband away so that I could creep along in my Subaru allowing my mind to race on its own.
But, no. I got to drive like a demon the whole way, arriving at the wrong emergency doors where I heard, “Sorry, you can’t come in here; this is for ambulances only!” followed by no further instructions or advice whatsoever.
I had greeted this woman with a phrase similar to the one I had used for the bus driver, essentially, “I’ve got a man in my car, bleeding; he’s on blood thinners.” And her answer to that was “Sorry, you can’t come in here; this is for ambulances only!” followed by nothing???
After asking her where it was that I needed to go, she pointed to a door that was approximately 25 feet to the left of where she stood. Had I not been so intent on saving my husband’s life, I think I would’ve punched her out. She stood in the door for ambulances only and frantically waved at me to move my car which, of course, I was intending to do. I glanced in my rear-view mirror to check, to make sure I hadn’t been holding anything up but there was not even one ambulance in sight. I pulled out and around the small semicircular drive and into the front of the next door where I again got out of the car and made for the desk inside, since no one was there at the door to turn me away immediately. I used my magical sentence and within less than two seconds there were two people headed for the door with a wheelchair.
As they wheeled my husband in I could hear him doing the best he could to tell them that they needed to give him something to counteract the anticoagulants. His entire face was so swollen by this time that had the attendants not already known that he was on a so-called blood thinner, they probably wouldn’t have been able to figure it out from his attempted communication.
After they got him settled in a room and took what steps were needed to take to ensure that he wasn’t going to die on the spot, they took him off to what they termed “resuscitation.” They didn’t tell me anything about what they were going to do but I assumed that the reason they took him to a place called “resuscitation” was because they were concerned that they might have to resuscitate him.
After sitting alone quietly in the small emergency intake room and breathing in a semi-normal fashion for a while, I called his children — three of them, from two separate marriages. The eldest two were just as worried and scared as you might expect, asking me to keep them posted of any changes in whatever was going on. The youngest one, however, in his early 30s, went nuts on me, telling me that I had to get his father out of that hospital and into DC, into a “good” hospital, where he could be properly cared for and that I needed to do it Now. I told him to calm down and that we were, thank you very much, in an excellent hospital, that we had previous experience with the hospital, and that we knew from said experience that the medical staff of the hospital knows what they can handle and what they can’t. And then he went nuts again, at which point I told him that I would not subject my husband to a two-hour drive while he was in the process of losing so much blood, and that I was terminating the conversation for the moment.
One of the doctors who would be handling his case — the most difficult part of it — putting his face back together again — came in to assure me that my husband was holding steady and then went on to tell me exactly what had gone on from the medical side of things. After explaining to me everything he could — his use of the word “shattered” was more than a little disturbing — I asked if I could ask him a few questions and kind of grilled him.
I am the daughter of two physicians — both pathologists — I was raised not to trust doctors as my parents had told me that they saw far too many folks in the morgue that were there because of physician error. They had cautioned me to, whenever possible, avoid physicians. So, I wanted to know how it was that this man decided that medicine was what he wanted to do. I asked where he had gone to medical school; how he had decided on his specialty; what his experience was thus far and so on. He was very gracious and, as it happened, his last position had been at the very hospital where my mother had spent her final years in practice… and my mother was rather particular about her choice of venues (to say the least).
What I wanted to know and hoped to gain from talking with him was what kind of person he was, what kind of heart he had, how well-practiced he was at fixing “shattered” faces, because those were the things that would tell me how he would treat my husband, and how he would handle me in a worst-case scenario. By the time I left the hospital that night, with my husband carefully tucked away in the critical care unit, I felt pretty steady and confidant that I had made the right choice.
I took a picture of my husband before I left… just in case I might need it to show to him at some later date… a visual cautionary tale.
By the time I got home, I was exhausted and, after feeding the cats, I crashed on the sofa, falling asleep almost immediately. I was awakened at some ungodly hour of the morning by the telephone. I didn’t recognize the number but, under the circumstances, picked up the phone anyway. It was the mother of my husband’s youngest son, a large and domineering woman who is used to getting her way. After inquiring politely about her ex-husband’s condition, and with a very reasonable approach, she began to voice her opinion which — no surprise — was the exactly the same as her son’s, only she didn’t get nearly as far as he got because I — with what I imagined to be an equally reasonable sounding yet stern voice — but who knows for sure — told her that he was staying right where he was, that he was in good hands, that I had all legal rights in the situation, and that I didn’t want to hear another thing from her. Just to make sure, I hung up the phone before she could say another word.
Before I went back to the hospital, I walked up the hill to the scene of the incident. I saw what had happened. I needed to see what had gone on because he wasn’t at all sure how he had ended up with his face on the ground. The scaffolding on which he had been standing while working on the second level of a shed with clerestory windows had apparently collapsed beneath him. Parts of it were spread out in a jumbled heap. I couldn’t tell why or how, but I took pictures in case they’d be needed for something. There were some two-by-fours stacked beneath some of the fallen equipment, mixed in with the collapsed scaffolding that looked as if they might have been responsible for what the doctor had referred to as “his shattered face.”
Things were really hopping in his room at the critical care unit by the time that I arrived there. Staff were moving in and out of the room with regularity and my husband was hooked up to more machines that made more kinds of hospital noises I had ever been exposed to all at one time. Lights were blinking and glowing status charts with graphs in continual motion added to the chaos. Every time some bodily function was over-acting or under-acting the machine in charge of that function would make beeping noises… and the beeping never seem to stop.
My husband was lying in a semi-elevated position on the bed, hooked up to all these things and looking like a bandaged, blood-soaked Muppet, his face, at that point, as swollen as it would ever be. He could talk… sort of, but it was very clear that there was great effort involved.
To my dismay, a couple of hours after I got there, his two youngest children showed up. His daughter was polite and concerned; his son was the same pain in the ass that he had been over the telephone. I could not believe it. His father was lying there barely able to speak, still not entirely sure that he was going to live through this, and his son was going nuts on him. His tirade roused the head nurse who came in, so he started in on her. In an attempt to assuage his obviously fear-generated concerns, the nurse told him that she would call the doctor and that he could speak directly to him.
The nurse did contact the doctor and my husband’s son did speak to him and, while he tried to be polite, what he was saying to the surgeon was, basically, that he couldn’t possibly be up to this task, that he couldn’t possibly have had the training for, etc., etc. The doctor handled the situation far better than I would have and he shot me a look, just before leaving the room, that let me know that he understood. He’s a professional; that’s exactly what I would’ve hoped for from him. I, on the other hand, was ready to punch something… OK… someone. I maintained control.
I walked the kids out when they left and his son spent a lot of time explaining to me that he just wanted what was best for his father — as if I didn’t? His approach, I explained, as gently as I could, was more than a little ham-handed. I told him that I didn’t think that he was really trying to offend people and that I thought it might be a good idea if he went home and essentially prepared a case which he could present, in a reasonable fashion and with a controlled voice, to his father the next day, presuming that his father would be in better condition next day. His sister backed me up on the idea. He agreed that the proposition sounded fair and everything worked out well on the following day when, after his son’s reasonably presented POV, my husband — sounding much more stable than he had the previous day — let his son know that he’d be staying where he was, and that he trusted the Doctor we had and the hospital where we were.
The next few days were filled with monitoring devices and waiting for the swelling in his face to go down enough so that the doctor could operate on him. They’d determined at intake that he’d also had a broken wrist and the wrist had been cast, so his movements were somewhat restricted. The facial reconstruction went well and easily. I had provided the maxillofacial surgeon with a photograph — blown up life-size — for which he was grateful. By the time my husband was able to come home, he was recognizable if still swollen.
Two days after he came home, the pipes above our little condominium — which is a property that he had owned and lived in while he built the house we now live in and which he has maintained as a rental unit — froze and broke, ruining not only that unit, but totally devastating the one below and seriously damaging those on either side both above and below. In an attempt to mitigate the damage, both of us were out there as soon as we received the news, he with his one good arm, dragging soggy carpet and furniture out and down a flight of stairs. This was, literally, the third day after the surgery. It took two days to finish the job with the help of many of the nearby residents.
Throughout January there were numerous trips into Winchester for checkups. Everything was going fine and even his heart had settled back, with medication, into a regular rhythm. It seemed that I could now take a breath but for some reason… I just couldn’t. I found that I was uncharacteristically on edge most of the time, always just on the verge of tears for practically no reason at all. I was having trouble sleeping. All of this was very much not my ‘normal’ way of being in the world. My whole body and my whole mind seem constantly to be in a waiting-for-the-other-shoe-to-drop state. Combined with all those well-meaning people who kept telling me, “you keep him off those ladders!” (not knowing that a ladder had had nothing to do with the second fall) and the unrelenting feeling of urgency and desperation that I had been carrying with me since earlier in the year when the current administration overtook the White House, I was not in good shape.
I had a couple of sessions with a therapist in attempts to reintegrate my psyche, or whatever the hell was off, and I felt marginally better each time, but only marginally. Then one day, purely accidentally, I came across the phrase “gravity blanket,” online. I didn’t follow up on it, but I found the phrase appealing for some reason. I copied the link and sent it to my daughter with a note that said, “This looks interesting.”
She wrote back and told me that her husband had one — he referred to it as “a heavy blanket” — and she asked me if I would like to try it out. I didn’t even know what it was supposed to do, all I’d seen was the name of the thing… I hadn’t even clicked on the link, but something inside me was urging me on so I said, “Absolutely!” I still didn’t even really know what it was or what it was for but the moment I pulled it over me, as I was lying on their bed, and felt its fill, even, steady weight on me, I knew what it was for instantly because I felt a way that I have never felt — or at least I never recall feeling — in my whole life: safe. I felt safe at a cellular level. It was a marvelously physical feeling of peace… and that had a lovely side effect putting my mind at rest as well.
I lay under the blanket for the longest time. They let me take the blanket home. I still have it.
For a while, I used the heavy blanket twice a day for about 20 minutes each time. After a week or so, I dropped down to once a day. I happened to mention it to a friend of mine who is a PhD pediatric psychology nurse and she told me that she was very familiar with the blanket, that they were often used for autistic children who had been overstimulated. She suggested listening to classical music while under the blanket and possibly using essential oils as well since the state induce by being under the blanket allows the senses to ‘integrate.’
I added both music and the oils to my practice — Mozart is my favorite music as it seems to relax me most profoundly — and, even though by now I don’t need the blanket even every other day, I still use it occasionally because I can now detect almost immediately when something has taken me past a point where my body/mind wants to go.
The following is a quote straight off a website that sells these lifesavers: “The Gravity Blanket uses the power of “deep touch pressure stimulation” to simulate the feeling of being held or hugged. This has been shown to increase serotonin and melatonin, the hormones responsible for calming relaxation, while decreasing cortisol, the hormone responsible for stress.”
Last week I had watched a few minutes long video on some human rights issue that was particularly distressing to me and I noticed immediately afterwards that it had triggered some level of anxiety in me. (It doesn’t help matters that I am empathic by nature and always have been.) When, an hour or so later, I still felt the subtle tremors of deep concern, I pulled out the heavy blanket, got on the bed, rolled it out across my body and let it remind me that, at least for that moment, everything was okay.
PS: I had to do the same after writing the first draft of this piece! The mind can forget but the body never does…