THE FULL CATASTROPHE – MEMOIRABILIA PODCAST 13
THE FULL CATASTROPHE – MEMOIRABILIA PODCAST 13
A reading by Karen Lee, author of “THE FULL CATASTROPHE”
What gave birth to “The Full Catastophe“?
According to the book’s author, Karen Lee,
“To the outside world I was a successful business woman dressed in the latest designer suits with matching bag and shoes. But within our home, my life was very different. There, I was screamed at, insulted, threatened and belittled by my husband. I was emotionally and psychologically abused on an almost daily basis and I felt trapped.
Ashamed and embarrassed, I thought it was my responsibility to manage him and keep his outbursts concealed – to show a face to the world that would never indicate what was hidden behind our front door.
Just as I finally got the courage to tell him I wanted a divorce, he was diagnosed with cancer – and ten months later he died.
This reading takes us to the last day and a half of my husband’s life.
A READING from THE FULL CATASTROPHE:
The next day was Monday, July 19. My plan was to go into London to conduct interviews for my research on libido in the workplace, then go to the clinic to see Duncan. I phoned him after my first interview. A nurse answered, then passed the phone to Duncan. In a small, raspy voice, he strained to speak, “Don’t come. Don’t come to see me.”
My chest tightened. Oh, fuck. Something must be very wrong for him to say this. “I’ll be there as soon as I can,” I told him. I cancelled the rest of my interviews and headed to the Clinic.
I went straight to the nurses’ desk on his floor, only to hear complaints, “Mrs. Streeter, you’re going to have to tell your husband we can’t keep running into his room all the time. He wants us to sit with him in the middle of the night and we just don’t have the time.”
I went into his room, wondering, why he didn’t call me in the night?
He wasn’t on his bed. I looked into the private bathroom and saw Duncan naked, sitting on the toilet, staring blankly ahead. Alone. I ran back to the nurses’ desk, shaking and yelling in a strangled voice, “Come quickly, my husband needs help.”
Two nurses stood up and hurried into his room. They moved him back into his bed. When the nurses turned their backs, Duncan whispered to me, “Pills, give me pills.”
Still trying to follow the rules, afraid of asserting myself, not having any real sense of how desperately in pain he was, I looked in my bag, saw some paracetamol, but said, “I didn’t think I’m supposed to.”
I could hear the nurses at the desk just outside Duncan’s door, ringing number after number. His surgeon was away on summer holiday so they contacted an on-call physician. In about twenty minutes, the new doctor came into the room, wearing leathers and carrying a motorcycle helmet. He looked at Duncan, then at me, and barked, “Who are you?”
I registered the contrast between my bright royal blue suit, dark hair and red lipstick and Duncan, lying motionless on the bed, shrunken, bald except for his few wisps of white hair, pale as the sheets, before I answered, “I’m his wife.”
The doctor ordered that Duncan be taken to the intensive care unit on another floor in the clinic. He was in crisis. I followed the gurney down the hall and into the elevator, leaving all my books and papers behind. When we arrived at the new floor, I was asked to wait behind a large white screen while he was lifted into the intensive care bed. The doctor came out around the screen, leaning his helmet against the nurses’ desk.
“Is this the end?”
“No, he’s definitely not near the end. We’ll be installing a central line.”
I didn’t know what that was. I went around the screen and approached the bed. I gave him the stuffed bear my son had given to him for his hospital stay. “The doctors are going to help you. I’m going home. I’ll see you tomorrow.”
As I walked to the door, I passed another bed in the large ward. I could hear a family whispering that there was someone else there in very bad condition. They glanced up guiltily as I passed. I turned and looked back. There was no one else in the ward. I went out the door, down the stairs and out into the sunshine of the late afternoon. As I walked along the street, I heard a clear voice in my head, unbidden, saying, “You can go now.”
The phone rang at seven the next morning, July 20. A voice said I should come as soon as I could. When I arrived, Duncan was lying on a gurney, deep in the basement of the London Clinic, attached to a machine that was keeping him alive until I could come and a priest could be called. I leaned close and said, “I love you,” for the last time and then that lie, “I will be all right,” as the nurse shut off the machines. All the knowledge, memories, joy, and despair that were in that brilliant brain of his, gone.
I can still hear Duncan quote from his favourite movie, Zorba the Greek: “Am I not a man? And is not a man stupid? I am a man. So I married. Wife, children, house, everything. The full catastrophe.”
Duncan and I, we had the full catastrophe.
©KAREN LEE, 2015
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