Have you ever eavesdropped on a conversation you weren’t supposed to? Tell us about a time when it was impossible not to overhear a conversation between people who didn’t know you were there. What was the conversation about? How did it make you feel?
I was only away from the hospital for a short time while a good friend visited with Stephen. They had been friends for many years and I knew they had a lot to talk about so I didn’t feel that I had to rush back to the hospital that day when I went home to freshen up while living with Stephen on the oncology ward at the hospital.
When I returned to Stephen’s hospital room, I heard him telling M. about his difficulty with eating. He was emaciated and hadn’t eaten anything for a couple of weeks. Stephen was quietly telling M. that he didn’t know why he couldn’t eat and M. (who was also battling cancer) seemed to understand him.
Stephen hadn’t told me the things he was telling M. I remember the many weeks of my attempts to cajole him to eat something and the many tears I cried as I left the room when he left every meal tray untouched.
I felt miserable when I overheard their conversation because I suddenly realized that Stephen was not deliberately refusing his food. I also felt that he must have thought that I was a horrible person for nagging him about something over which he had no control.
Later that day, Stephen and I discussed what I had overheard that day as I entered his room. When the doctor suggested a feeding tube, I encouraged Stephen to consider having the procedure so that both of us would be relieved of the anxiety over his cachexia and that I would no longer nag him about eating. He agreed to have the feeding tube implanted but it prolonged his life only three weeks longer.
M. provided the eulogy at Stephen’s funeral. M. told Stephen’s friends and family that Stephen had told him that I was his guardian angel. I wish I had arrived early enough to have overheard that part of their conversation. The second-hand information made me feel a bit better though.
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