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  • Writer's pictureSarah Gibbs Underhill

Saving the Mystic Traveler

Updated: Jan 24, 2022

My phone rang and it was Dave, my former partner and Dad of all my kids who happens to be fighting cancer right now, going down to Sloan Kettering weekly for checkups on his trial of experimental chemo treatments. So I take the call and he asked if I could come over to his house to help our son Davy. Davy had been the designated driver to take his father down to NYC the day before, where they were put up in a hotel room prior to the checkup to make it less exhausting for the patient, in theory. This theory did not account for the decision by Davy to stop taking his antipsychotic meds, which he is meant to take daily, as he was “tapering down the dose and didn’t need them”. This repeating loop of chicken-and-egg behavior predictably started an avalanche of consequences: Davy, contemplating whether to take his meds late in the evening when their effect has all but worn off and his paranoia descends like a harpy to peck out his remaining shreds of common sense, decides against taking the pills, becomes insomniac and miserable, and neither he nor his father get any sleep that night. The next day Davy is incapable of driving and his father, ill as he is, must chauffeur both of them the hell out of the Big Apple and back to the refuge or exile of the quiet farmhouse. Night falls and Davy cannot sleep, is weeping and inconsolable, sometimes swayed by his father’s pleading with him to take the medicine, then backing away like a skittish wild animal approaching a baited trap. Dave asked me to come back to the house where they both live, where I used to live until our parting of the ways five years ago, to help them.

The familiar house was dark, warm from the woodstoves, and for once unlocked. Both Daves were in the big bedroom upstairs, Davy huddled in bed with his father, his face wet with tears. He had reached the point where the meds were completely wearing off and he can feel the approach of his severe malady, whatever that feels like. It manifests in long pauses before he responds to a question; he starts to slip away into being unresponsive, waxy, catatonic. But when I arrived he was ready to accept help and took some more of the meds, then got out of bed and briefly made as if to take a huge overdose of the pills [ we persuaded him to take a normal, if hefty, dose instead], drank some juice, wept, hugged me, and said “We are going to get through this, right?” I reassured him that indeed we were, I was just not quite sure how [ a pat phrase I often use with my Hospice patients and families] and he settled down in his own bed, with me lying beside him. He got up and down a few times, with bouts of the dry heaves. His body became restless, his limbs moving in an agitated way, involuntarily. He would rest for a few minutes, then become agitated again. Gradually over two hours he relaxed more and the restlessness became milder and less frequent as the medicine took hold. Then he slept. I tucked him in, turned off the lights and tiptoed down the narrow, creaky stairs and drove home.

[one of my nicknames for Davy is the Mystic Traveler]

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