This story is based on a compilation of stories I have heard through my work  as a registered nurse in the Emergency Department and Hospice.  For the purposes of the story that I feel very passionate about telling, Jake is the character that will represent all the stories I have heard and the situations with which I have been involved.  Although this story is not based on any one person, it is never the less completely true and accurate.

This is about the man of my dreams, Jake. He is my best friend and husband of 35 years.  He is 56 years old and has never looked or acted older.  He struggles everyday and it kills me to see him suffer.  You see, he was diagnosed with Coronary Artery Disease 18 months ago and he has not been the same since the doctors told him the blockages in his arteries were too risky for any type of intervention.  He had been having this pain in his chest and arms at night and every time we tried to go for our treasured walks in the woods.

I miss the old him. We used to hike into the middle of the woods and go camping year-round.  We loved nature. Being in the woods together was like our little piece of heaven on earth.  Now, I am sure neither of us knows where our  “heaven on earth” is any longer.  Jake struggles every day just to muster the strength to get to work.  It is not uncommon for him to miss 4-5 days monthly because he had a bad night and could not sleep.  He is always going between the bed and the chair.  It is rare that he even sleeps for more than 2-3 hours uninterrupted.  He says he gets “the pain” at night and his arms ache.  He gets up to “pop a nitro, or two, or three”, as he says.  He wears oxygen more and more all the time to help deliver more oxygen to his ailing heart. That just worries me terribly. I am afraid I will wake up to find my husband gone. I know it will happen at some point, but I am not ready.

The same company has employed Jake since we were married all those years ago.  His boss has been so kind and understanding about his illness and the fact that there is no cure. The strain on his co-workers has been enormous, however, and that wears on Jake, a lot.  He often talks about how he “burdens them” and how “they should just can him for being so useless”.  Jake was their best salesman and he has numerous awards of recognition adorning his office, resting in memory of who he was and what he could accomplish with ease.  Jake was the money-earner for the company at one time, now he is costing his employer thousands of dollars in health care claims and sick time.  In addition, his absenteeism is placing his responsibilities on the backs of all his co-workers and long-time friends.  These are the things that drive him further into depression. Depression makes his chronic illness more pronounced and the symptoms take over.  Jake, from his perspective, is no longer living life.

Research on chronic illness and depression indicates that depression rates are high among patients with chronic conditions:

Heart Attack: 40% -65% experience depression

Coronary Heart Disease (without heart attack): 18% – 20% experience depression

Stroke: 10% – 27% experience depression

Diabetes: 25% experience depression

Chronic Pain Syndrome: 30% – 54% experience depression

Most disease processes can be controlled through preventative health actions such as yearly visits to the doctor, weight management through proper nutrition and exercise and stress management.

Maybe going for regular check-ups at the doctor and listening to our bodies really is the best way to ensure the best life possible, unfortunately, for Jake, it’s just too late.

For more information on the link between Chronic Illness and Depression:

By Melissa Naborowsky, RN