MY HUSBAND, JACK, was going to die. He had hepatitis B and needed a liver transplant, but his insurance company refused to cover the procedure. It wouldn’t have mattered anyway. The virus would only have attacked the new liver, killing him eventually.
Jack was a doctor and continued to see patients every day despite his illness. A difficult man, he barked at his staff and took pride in being a curmudgeon. As his health failed, his anger about dying increased. I was a convenient target.
I finally told him I couldn’t take it anymore. As hard as it was for me to do, I would arrange to stay with a friend. “I will come back the minute you need my help,” I told Jack. “I am not abandoning you, but I have to take care of myself.”
My decision only made him madder, and he followed me from room to room as we argued, his feet pounding the floor. But my mind was made up. The time away would help me rebuild my strength so I could be there for him in the last phase of his life.
I slept at home that night, and the next morning Jack rushed to the bathroom and knelt in front of the toilet to vomit. I ran to discover the water in the bowl was bright red. He was hemorrhaging — a side effect of hepatitis B, which weakens the veins in the esophagus.
We rushed to the emergency room, where the physician cauterized the vein to stop the bleeding and admitted Jack to the hospital. The hemorrhage was a sign that the disease had progressed.
The next day I lay in bed, stunned and depressed. I did not eat. I did not shower or get dressed. The bleeding had changed the situation. Jack was nearing the end and would require more help, but I still needed a break from his fury. I had to decide: him or me. I stared at the ceiling. Then I said aloud to the empty room, “When I look back on this at the end of my life, which decision will I be proud of?”
The answer was clear. I got out of bed, threw on some clothes, and drove to the hospital to be with my husband.