Arthur Miller’s After the Fall, a production of the Lincoln Center Repertory company, directed by Elia Kazan, and produced by Robert Whitehead and Elia Kazan, opened in January 1964 at the Anta Theatre in Washington Square.
Opened in rep with “Marco Millions” and “But For Whom Charlie” then continued into next season and played in rep with “The Changeling”; “Incident at Vichy”; and ‘Tartuffe”.
Jimmie played The Clergyman in the production, which also starred Jason Robards, Barbara Loden, Faye Dunaway, Hal Holbrook and Mariclare Costello among other actor luminaries.
After the Fall has taken on new resonance, as our lives have been shaped by a single event. Our short-lived period of pain-free peace was shattered by the nocturnal victory of gravity over balance at home one night in the middle of October.
Our dear friend Susan was visiting us from South Africa, a trip booked in a previous period of medical panic, and we were basking in the final moments of her visit, the night before her departure. We were enjoying the end of the Major League Baseball playoffs, soon to gift us with a fourth World Series title in 15 years for our Boston Red Sox. Susan’s May visit was punctuated with an ill-timed trip to the ER, and this time, I’d made Jimmie promise we wouldn’t go again while Susan was here. Little did I think I’d be tempting fate with such a promise. The final night of her October visit, Jimmie tumbled, his Lear-like cry and the resultant clatter of his walker against the mirrored closet doors roused me from the murky depths of a deeply restorative sleep.
I rushed to his side, tripping over the too-heavy-for-LA-comforter which lurks on the floor at the foot of our bed. The fall was traumatic; he was shaken, but I checked him over and finding nothing broken, returned him to bed. The next day, we went to the ER. No fractures, thankfully. This photo we took in the hallway on our way to the ER as Susan waited at the apartment for her ride to the airport.After that foray to the ER, we returned home, and spent about 10 painful days there until last Thursday when his visiting niece Martha and I realized we couldn’t manage his care at home. We called 911 and two strong EMTs came and lifted Jimmie onto the chair gurney.
Martha and I followed in the car, and I caught up with him in the third floor ER. After a CT scan, confirming no fracture, he was admitted to hospital overnight.
I never thought this day would happen. I’d always sworn that whatever happened, Jimmie would stay at home. But when your husband’s a dead weight in your arms, it’s a stark reminder that we don’t always control decisions about our circumstances, especially as we age.
Pain meds are powerful and effective. When administered regularly, they have stultifying effects which exacerbate the pain even more. Pain causes lack of hunger. The combination of lack of hunger and pain meds causes a glassy-eyed ghostly non-presence which descended quickly and in our case, irrevocably.
I watched as my normally impish and flirtatious husband become a vision of St. Therese, gazing up in beatific gape-mouthed wonder. I’ve had a lot of time to think in the past days. These are a few of the things I’ve been thinking about.
I’ve worked hard all my life in my job, very often at the sacrifice of cultivating social relationships. I think it’s probably fairly common in an industry where “I can’t. I have rehearsal.” is a slogan on T-shirts. While I love the people I work with, I wouldn’t necessarily call on them to be with me at my husband’s bedside. That’s not the nature of our friendship. When the social worker said, “this is the time you need to call on your friends,” I realized that our son is the only one I can really talk to about this.*
*Shortly after writing this, my phone rang and it was a dear colleague from school “just checking in on me.” It was so meaningful and amazing that such a brief conversation could have such a restorative impact. Since then, I have had numerous outpourings of support which have cheered us on.
No one prepares you for making tough decisions like these by yourself without your loved one’s input. An Advanced Health Care Directive and Medical Power of Attorney are critical to having control over your circumstances. After a day or two in the hospital, Jimmie wasn’t able to answer a question about what his level of pain was – how could he endorse my decision to take him home and cease medical intervention? These are conversations best entertained in the flush of good health during the early part of your life and marriage. Or the middle part. Tough talks. Gotta do it.
So many people have told me that I have to care for myself in order to care for him. Fighting away the doubt and guilt, the third night of his hospitalization, I succumbed and went home to sleep on his side of our bed, lolling drunkenly in his scent like a dog in roadkill. The next morning, Tuesday, I took time to vote before coming back to the hospital. They were right, I felt more like myself, less victimized by grief and loss of control.
Now, about 20 days After the Fall, we sit patiently by his bedside, now home in the comfort of our shared world, Chris by my side, his little dog Cupid affording us all pet therapy.
The Hospital Stay Play (With apologies to actual playwrights)
Jimbo – our hero
Elsa – his wife
Lawrence – Trans Male Night Registered Nurse (Nights 1 and 2)
Emily – Sturdy Pacific Islander Certified Nursing Assistant (Nights 1 and 2 and Days 2 and 3 – they never let her leave)
Delauney – The intravenous gold that allows him to sleep in spurts of 2-3 hours
Ms. Contina – the pill that evens out the pain during the day and night.
Place: Limbo, AKA a room on the fifth floor of Good Sam Hospital
Time: Now, then, whenever, an eternity of time that easily spans hours, days, weeks
Set pieces – two medieval torture racks – one with electric controls to raise and lower the back and feet, the other, a decidedly analog roll out hospital cot. A rolling table that barely fits under the bed and rolls up to within 6″ of the patient’s chest, causes anxiety and revulsion.
Scene 1 – \Transitioning from the ER. Jimbo and Elsa enter, Jimbo on a gurney, Elsa, as usual, carrying too much for the given situation. Jimbo moans in pain. Elsa hovers, holding his hand as Lawrence and Emily get him situated. Emily takes his blood pressure. Lawrence nods.
Lawrence: Jimbo, what is your pain level on a scale of 0-10?
Jimbo’s eyes dart left and right, pupils almost too tiny to see, his hand reaching for a hand to clutch. Elsa provides it. Minutes pass, Lawrence waiting patiently next to the bedstead, holding Delauney and a saline chaser in his hand.
Lawrence: (after several moments, giving him the benefit of the doubt) Jimbo, are you still thinking about what pain level you are at?
Jimbo: (silence. Mews in pain. Soon Delauney saunters into the bloodstream and we enter the Beckett zone. Jimbo’s head lolls back.)
(Hours pass. Elsa climbs onto the second torture rack and falls into fitful sleep. Jimbo’s passed out, sprawled on the pillows on the electrical torture rack.)
Els: (Springing off the rolling rack, wrenching her back) What is it?
Jimbo: Pain! (Els pushes the call button on his rack. Lawrence enters. Unawake, Elsa narrates what Lawrence is doing. Her lack of sleep and general gender confusion cause her to use the wrong pronouns and clumsily, finally, no pronouns at all.)
Elsa: She’s trying to get you positioned, Jimbo! ….helping you to be out of pain.
(once Lawrence has left the room)
Jimbo: Are we alone?
Jimbo: Is she mad at me?
Elsa: Sorry, she is a he, and no he’s not mad at you. (a minute passes)
Jimbo: Is she mad at me?
Elsa: (firmly) No, he’s not mad at you. (a minute passes, and the hellish exchange continues three more times.
Jimbo: (genuinely contritely) I’m sorry I can’t go to the theatre tonight with you.
Elsa: We’re not going to the theatre tonight, Jimbo.
Jimbo: Can they hear my voice on stage?
Elsa: Jimbo, we’re in the hospital. We’re not in the theatre.
Jimbo: But can they hear me on stage? Are we in the wings?
More days have passed. In a fluke of the world showing it’s perfectly kind underbelly of good Karma, we were sent a caregiver at night who turned out to be a theatre buff, and kept saying loudly by Jimmie’s bedside, “He’s a National Treasure!”
We are still in the wings. To a transitional phase that happened so quickly, so unexpectedly. Only two weeks ago we were back to a pain-free life together. Treasure the moments you have. Be present. Plan ahead so you don’t ever have to plan under duress. (She said, sounding like the logistician/stage manager she is.)