Saturday, August 29, 2015

rags

I was just putzing around in the kitchen, rearranging the salt and pepper shakers so that they looked more like pepper and salt shakers, getting the spices in proper alphabetical order, and wiping off the counters so the crumbs you could see there, and which felt gritty, were only a nuisance on the floor where they crunched under my shoes until they sounded and felt like the sand in the neighbors sandbox.  I have probably done the same thing a thousand times.  I like things neat (I’ll get to cleaning the crunchy floor in short order) and in place.  Doing that arranging and wiping fills a basic need that I just can’t ignore. So there I am, satisfying that primal need when my reverie was disturbed by a shriek that, at that moment, was more primal than my need, which is to say, blood curdling and otherworldly.

Luckily I avoided wetting myself from the shock because I recognized where the scream was coming from.  I’ve heard similar sounds in the past when Mary needs to get my attention or has a bug buzzing up her tutu.  This time her outcry was aimed at me.  
“What are you doing, you idiot? What rag are you using?”  She was out of control over what she saw in my hand. “That’s my (oxymoron alert) GOOD RAG!  You only use that on the counters and nothing else, you moron.  You never listen to me (mostly true). You just grab whatever is handy without thinking about what you’re doing. I’ve told you a million times that that is an (oxymoron alert) EXPENSIVE RAG and now you’ve probably ruined it.”
“I thought it was just a rag.” I answered. “It looks just like all the other rags around here.” I was so surprised by her reaction to my innocent use of a RAG, that I failed to come up with a suitably trenchant retort.  
“This RAG is sacred.  You are not allowed to use it ever again.”  She snatched it from my hand and ritually draped it carefully on the towel bar.

“Sacred?”  I was dumbfounded by that.  “Why is it sacred?  Did Jesus wipe his ass with it or something?” I may have gone too far with that last question. But you all know, don’t you, that I was referring to the donkey that Jesus used to haul his carpenter’s tools from job to job.  Mary, however, is convinced that I now have a place all ready and waiting for me in the hottest corner of hell.  And not necessarily for my blasphemy, but more likely for my misuse of that sacred RAG.

deja vu

Deja vu all over again.  Here I am once again sitting sitting in a hospital waiting area, slouched in an over-stuffed chair that threatens to swallow me whole if I should happen to fall into blissful sleep.  This particular waiting area is dedicated to those who need a dose of radiation for one reason or another. This is one of the last stops on Mary’s journey to wellness.

Mary is here for a scan of her stomach to determine if there has been sufficient healing inside that mysterious vault to allow the last drain tube to be yanked out without any new problems occurring. We are keeping or fingers crossed.

If all goes well with this step, then the next step will be t remove the stent that was inserted to handle the bile drainage from her gallbladder.  We are impatiently waiting for the doctor to decide if we can do that tomorrow, or if more time is needed to ensure that the stent has served its purpose.

Whoa, Trigger, I think I hear the unmistakeable sound of our Texan surgeon returning to the corral.  Yep, pardner, that is the clicking of the high heeled cowboy boots he likes to wear. I hope he left the spurs in the bunkhouse today.  Later......

Tex rode in a white stallion, so he had to be bringing good news.  They won’t let just anyone ride the Good Guy horse while wearing the 10 gallon white hat that put the emphasis on the good news he brought along with him.  The tube was ready to come out and he was ready, willing, and able to do just that right then. You remember how I was worried that the tube might remove itself while I was flushing it out and I would have all sorts of trouble getting the job done?  Nothing to worry about.  I could have wrestled that puppy to the ground without breaking a sweat. All that was left of the tube was a piece about the size of the drinking straw in my bottle of Gatorade. But however it made its exit, I am happy to say that we are now tubeless.

One more return to the hospital tomorrow to remove the aforementioned stent, and we can start living normally again.Of Course, there will still be some pain to deal with, but knowing that this is the homestretch with the finish line sight, will make that pain disappear a lot quicker.

hoping the end is here

We never thought the day would get here when we could say we made it over the hump and came sliding down the other side.  Since last March Mary has been battling heroically against all the stomach problems that were piled in her way--her gallbladder was removed, then pancreatitus took over, then infections tried to bring her down, and always the pain, the sometimes excruciating pain couldn’t defeat her.  Today the last little bit of cleanup was done by the surgeon.  He then declared her the winner of this fight that seemed like it would never end.  

Of course we will have to be vigilantly watching for signs of infection returning.  But the worst is over.  Now her doctor has prescribed normal activity, normal eating, normal exercise, normal everything.  Never before have I thought that “normal” was anything to rave about, but, let me tell you, it sounds like heaven to me now. 



It’s time to start living and laughing again. We will do or best.

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Mary Time

“Come on, let’s go,” I was yelling from the running car in the driveway, trying to get Mary to move her late-for-everything ass, “we’re going to be late as usual.”

“Sorry. I was on hold with Medicare, trying to find out why I owe $490.00 for meds that they said they gave me in the ER,” she explained in her most irate taking-care-of-business voice.

“Did you bother to look at the clock during that frivolous waste of time? You know how I hate to be late for anything, especially doctors’ appointments.” I was whining  I know, but what else could I do? I know for sure that after letting her get away with tormenting me with her lack of timeliness for the past 46 years, I wasn’t about to change her behavior.

“Whenever we have to be somewhere, you start to operate on Mary Time, which bears no resemblance to real time,” I chided her. I was just in a bad mood and looking to pick a fight so we would have something to do during the 40 minute drive to the doctor’s office. 

“You’ve never been on time for anything in your life,” I poked at the hornet’s nest sitting on top of her shoulders. ”And you passed that time-altering gene on to Carrie, whose sense of time is otherworldly,” I reminded her with a little twist of the stiletto.
( Carrie Time is either the most advanced time telling method or the least developed.  Either way, she takes after her mother, who has raised time telling and management to an art, or a handicap for which there is no therapy.)

“”I always get where I have to be, and that’s all that matters,” she responded calmly, not taking the bait.

“Sure you do,” I agreed, “but you’re either a day early or a day late.  Half the time you don’t know what day of the week it is, let alone the date.” I was feeling it now. Unfortunately, her mind was still on that  $490.00 that she would never pay if she could help it, so the argument I was hoping for disappeared into the fog between us.

While she fumed and steamed silently over the injustice of that bill, I tried to engage her in a discussion of the etiquette of timeliness. I tried to explain that it was a show of respect to arrive on time for appointments. 

“Yeah, and when was the last time a doctor respected your time by taking you at the time of your appointment?”  She effectively ended that discussion.  

She then shifted gears and reminded me that she had, more important to her, a coupon for “buy one entree get one entree free” on any Wednesday in August at one of our favorite restaurants.  She had been all excited about that freakin’ coupon ever since it arrived in the mail a few days ago. Mary takes great delight in getting something for nothing, so a coupon that promised a freebie was like manna from heaven.  She had it all figured out.  We would be finished at the doctor’s office by about 4:30 which would give us just the right amount of time to get to the restaurant, take advantage of that coupon, and still get home in time to watch AGT.  I had to admit that the timing seemed like it would work, even if it was arranged in Mary Time.  

Amazingly enough we stuck to the schedule and we were seated in the restaurant right on time.  I had the temerity to believe that this just might be a huge breakthrough in Mary’s grasp of real time.  For a moment I entertained the notion that my life would be different from now on, always being on time with no more shouting from me to “move it!” 

Then the waitress appeared.  Before she had a chance to ask if we wanted something to drink, Mary was waving that precious coupon at her like a victory flag, announcing that we intended to take advantage of the coupon’s promised offer.

The waitress looked at her with an expression that could only be described as pity, and quashed any possibility of a victory dance to go along with the flag waving by kindly pointing out, as if to a child being told the truth about the Easter Bunny, that today was Tuesday.


Mary Time lives on.

good news/ bad news

Don't you just hate it when someone says, "I have good news and bad news. Which do you want first." I can never decide. Should I choose the bad news first and be brave, daring, a man others look to for leadership when the adrenaline is pumping and they need a hero? Or should I play it safe, hedge my bets, live to fight another day by selecting to hear good news? It all depends on the way I feel at that particular moment. The decision is thus left to the ephemeral Fates that lurk in the shadowy corners waiting for the opportunity to mess with our lives.
Today I had the opportunity to be a hero or tempt the Fates. I won't tell you which way I went to get to the information that was some good and some bad. I don't want to influence your opinion of me, either making me seem the hero type, or the wuss that lets the Fates make the determination of his character. I will say that the news was worthy of a hero and/or a tempter of the Fates, so whichever way I went, I could still feel good about myself. And it is all about me isn't it?
Anyway, before I wander too far astray from the news that precipitated this conundrum, I should emphasize that I was having a lousy day; one of those days that happen periodically when I am tired and my meds don't seem adequate to handle my physical shortcomings as well as my somewhat fragile emotional state. I got very little sleep the night before due to Mary's struggle with the still potent pain that was causing her severe discomfort. The usual pain pills weren't handling the pain and she was certain that there was something seriously wrong. Naturally, her pain is my pain and the situation was scaring me half to death.
When the pain meds finally took effect and she she was able to get some much needed relief and eventually sleep, I was left hanging, wonderIng what to do to help her. I spent the rest of the night in that worried state, wishing the hours would move along toward dawn faster than their typical glacial pace. The only hope I had was that she was scheduled to see her doctor in the morning, so if there really was something gone wrong he would handle it. So here comes Mary, all chipper and feeling like nothing unusual had occurred during the past night, ready to get out of the house for her fist social occasion since she got sick 3 months ago. She seemed totally oblivious to me, the basket case standing next to her.
The shape I was in when morning arrived--tense, stressed, and anxious-- dictated that I not drive any vehicle larger than a tricycle, so getting Mary to her appointment would have been problematic if a dear former neighbor (Joanne Parnau who owned the condo next door before she sold it a month ago) had not invited Mary to lunch after her doctor visit, to which she would drive Mary. If Joanne had not set that date up a few days earlier, we would have had a real problem. Instead we received another lesson in good neighborliness and friendly generosity.
I was able to make up for the sleep that eluded me by sleeping the afternoon away, taking quick naps between bits of reading. I was still considerably worried while Mary was with the doctor, wondering what complication he would find that might slow her recovery. I resisted the urge to call her, figuring that if she got bad news from the doctor, she wouldn't want to talk about it on the phone. My worry increased the longer she was gone. She was either still with the doc discussing the treatment she would need for this new onerous malady that had denied me all that sleep, or she was out running around with Joanne celebrating that the doctor had found nothing new and had declared her cured.
When she finally arrived home in the late afternoon , she found me groggy from one of those quick naps that, throughout the day, had helped me cope with the uncertainty and possible actions we would have to take as we continued on the road to recovery. I was ready to sink my fangs into the granite countertop if she didn't immediately recite for me, word by word, what the doctor had told her.
So now that brings us back to the beginning of this treatise. Yes, Mary was the one to pose that
question that has caused me so much angst over the years.
She insisted on teasing me with the news she had. "I have some good news and some bad news. What do you want first?" She was toying with me, treating me like I was a kitten chasing a ball of yarn. By this time I was climbing the

freaking walls ready to howl at the moon and vote for The Donald.
"Just hit me," I nearly begged on hands and knees. I was not about to play the goodnews/badnews game at that point. She saw how I was suffering
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with the anticipation of hearing her news, and so took pity on me, tossing me that whole ball of yarn.
"The good news is that the doctor says I am in great shape, doing very well. There were no new complications to worry about, everything is going smoothly and according to the protocol they

expect at this stage of recovery." She exclaimed, obviously pleased with herself.
She went on to explain that the fluid that flowed through the drain tube in her side (that I was responsible for flushing twice a day) was mostly clear (a good sign) and lessening everyday. The typical timeframe for losing those drain tubes is 3 months after the surgery and she is right on the money with that.
"He says he can remove the tube the next time he sees me," she said, the delight in that prospect lighting up her face, making her eyes shine with happiness.
"That's the good news," she reluctantly announced. "There is one thing to be concerned about, though. Nothing big or too worrysome," she assured me. "But it does involve you directly."
Oh oh, I thought. Here it comes. I'm about to get hammered. I can tell just by the inflection in her voice that I'm not going to like what's coming.
"All right, I'm ready," I obediently stood at attention as I put on my big boy face. "Let me have it."
She took a deep breath to calm her nerves and said, "The doctor says that the tube is ready to come out and since he removed the sutures that were holding it in place (he removed those sutures because they were the cause of a lot of the pain that had been plaguing her for the past couple weeks) it's quite possible that the tube will slide out on it's own while your husband is flushing it." She ran through all that without taking a breath, probably so I couldn't interrupt her with any objections.
"That's it?" I scoffed with all the attitude I could muster.
"You know there is no tube that I can't handle. I have yet to meet the drain tube or collection bag that I can't control or bend to my will." I added with unnecessary bombast. I was overplaying my hand a bit so she wouldn't guess how terrified I am of pulling tubes out of anyone, especially my wife. What if I hurt her? What if the slimy wormlike tube slips out of my fingers and wiggles across the floor? I might break out laughing, making her think I don't take the job seriously or that I'm making fun of her? I can only see bad stuff coming from this. Bad news indeed, but not so bad as bad news can be. It's just that, as usual, I will be the one left holding the bag. 

Saturday, August 22, 2015

and so it goes


I guess that those of you who have followed Mary's medical ordeal would like a progress report. I apologize for not being more communicative lately, but it just seems that finding the time to do so hasn't been a priority for me. Mary has been home now for three weeks and I can honestly say that she is .......worse now than she was the day I brought home. She can't eat because the mere suggestion of food makes her nauseated. And if she does try eating, it will be in such small amounts that it does her no good. Her doctor says she isn't eating enough to sustain life and the healing process is slower because she isn't getting any nutrients to help her get stronger. His recommendation is that she gets a feeding tube installed to get her the nutrients she needs that she isn't getting by eating the way she has been eating.
The constant enduring pain she has had to put up with has drained her of all strength. The longest walk she has taken is the distance from the bed to the couch. For me, seeing her suffer like this without being able to do anything about it, is emasculating. Worst of all is that she seems to have lost her sense of humor.
So back to the hospital we go. There they installed a feeding tube in her nose and down her throat, bypassing her stomach and dumping the food directly into her intestines. The reason for bypassing the stomach is that that is where the nausea is coming from as the food is rejected.
Now I am a medical tech as well as a nurse and a housekeeper and a handyman and a caregiver and last but not least, still a lover. I now know how to set up and operate a tube pump just like a real technician. Add that to my newfound skills acquired during my time in all those roles. I don't mind flushing those tubes or helping her get dressed. We have a visiting nurse coming twice a week to check her vital signs, but I could do that as well. Three times each week a CNA comes by to bathe her, but I could definitely do that better and promise her it would be more fun.
The only downer we have (besides all the pain and the worry and the stress and the fear) is that this is certainly not the way we expected to spend the summer. We have ignored all our friends out there because we are so wrapped up with our situation that we haven't taken the time to enjoy their company. No one can possibly know just how sick Mary has been. She could have died. We are so focused on dodging that bullet that the people we call friends have been relegated to bystanders. That rude ignoring on our part is inexcusable, but the fact that we only select the finest, most honorable, intelligent, and upstanding people as friends means that eventually we will be forgiven and welcomed back into the fold. Please be patient with us. We will be back once we get rid of this burden that's been keeping us down. 

being home


It's been close to a week since Mary was liberated from the hospital. I'd love to say that I mounted a daring raid on that fortress and snatched her from her bed just in the nick of time, disguised her as a cadaver headed for the morgue, snuck hastily down the back corridors avoiding the elevators, and emerged into the sunlight and found our waiting getaway car roaring and rumbling with urgency. Being the superhero I am, I whipped my cape around me and leaping into the driver's seat, sped away before they knew what whirlwind that was that just astonished them.
I'd like to relate that story as the truth, but the fact is, all it took to spring out of there was one signature on an official looking form. Once that happened they hustled us out the door with nary a wave goodbye or a wish for good luck.
Since being home, Mary has shown some improvement overall, but the gains are slow and difficult. She eats little bits of food throughout the day, not enjoying it, but putting up with the necessity of getting some meaningful calories into her so she can build up some strength. Walking is her only exercise, and she is capable of only short walks around the condo. I've challenged her to walker races, but hasn't taken the challenge as of yet. She has yet to venture outside, so she hasn't yet seen all the blooming flowers and maturing plants that we put in last Spring.
I've gotten quite adept at manipulating the saline flushing syringe that I have to use on her drain tube twice a day. The drainage seems to be lessening ml by ml everyday. I think I will actually miss doing that. I have found that I'm an adequate caregiver, not too easy on her and not a pushover. I like being the one to dispense the pills at the appropriate time. And for the most part she listens and does as she's told. She's still too weak to fight back with any conviction, so I am enjoying my temporary dominance.

I pray that all the caregiving will be short lived as Mary continues to improve. i will gladly cede control if it means she is back to her old self. We're getting there one day at a time. 

cruel


Cruel. That's what it is. A broken promise is cruel. Anticipation unrewarded when a promise has been made is the cruelest of all. I feel stomped on, dragged through the mud of disappointment, and left to bake in the steam of realizing that fate (or an especially cruel God) has done it to us again.
Mary won't be coming home tomorrow as they promised. Suddenly her white blood cell count spiked, indicating more infection. Now they are bringing in an infectious disease specialist to look her over and do some more testing because they just can't figure out where the infection is coming from. I feel like they are using her as a lab rat to experiment on.
And Mary is understandably down, frustrated and depressed about this latest turn of events. She just wants to come home and be done with all the poking and sticking of needles. She just wants to be normal again. And I desperately need her here to take care of me. We can take turns being each other's caregiver.
To add more ammunition to the doctors' case for keeping her there where they can monitor her every breath, is the fact that she is not eating enough to sustain life, as her doctor has told her. She just can't stand the thought of food, let alone forcing any of into her mouth and chewing and swallowing it. Until they are convinced that she won't starve to death, they will keep her there.
Yes the circumstances are cruel. The situation is cruel. The disease that has attacked her is cruel.
Life is cruel. When will we be free of all the cruelty? 

Thursday, August 20, 2015

disappointment


It looks like disappointment is the word of the day again. A couple of days ago, today, Sunday, was looking like a winner in the "When Does Mary Get To Go Home" sweepstakes. But as I always pick the wrong lottery numbers, I also missed the call on this one.
The doctors still don't have the infections under control sufficiently to give her the nudge out the door. Nor is Mary able to eat much. Food is still fools gold to her. And while the feeding tube remains in her arm she doesn't have to eat in order to survive. But she has to eat on her own to build the strength she needs to push the exit door open.
Her doctors are taking a very conservative approach in her treatment. They want there to be no chance of an infection reappearing once she is kicked out the door, so the antibiotics she is getting have to have the high ground in their battle against the infection that is tormenting her before they will consider lighting the exit sign.
And as far as her eating a healthy diet, they may believe me or not when I say I am a capable cook (actually an above average gourmand if I do say so myself), who will be able to provide sufficient nourishment to not just keep her alive, but to have her thrive once I get her home where food is not a secretion dripping from the end of a tube, but an experience to look forward to three times a day.
This is the last time I will make a prediction regarding Mary's return to real life. I've learned my lesson and I will not give the fates a chance to humiliate me again. So the next time you see Mary's name in the same sentence as the word home, she will be here at home telling you herself that she made it. In the meantime your prayers and encouragement will continue to bouy her spirits and give her the incentive she needs to return to her family and many friends. 

enough of this


I'm sitting in Mary's hospital room all alone. They have taken her "down" (I'm not sure I like the way that sounds) to have another session with a long needle that will be stuck into her pancreas to suck out more of the accumulated infected fluid. This is the third
or fourth time they have done this procedure and each time brings more pain into her life. Intellectually I know this is necessary, but emotionally I just want it to stop. Enough already. Hasn't she suffered enough? Can't we just find a miracle cure and end all this pain?

If only it were that simple. If it was up to me, and it will be when they make me Emperor of the World, I would ban all pain and suffering for everyone (well, I might retain some of that pain and add some particularly nasty side effects for the more radical Republicans who pop up like noxious weeds whenever a presidential race is in the offing), and we would all gather around and sing or hum along with Kumbaya. Just imagine how nice it would be if there was no disease that could harm us, no infection that could sicken us, or no disorder that could cripple us.
In my unfortunately imaginary world, you couldn't stub your toe no matter how hard you tried. There would be no such thing as a negative reaction to anything that confronts us. Every pass would result in a touchdown, every hit a home run. People would have forgotten how to frown, and when they smiled (which, of course, would be all the time) they would show rows of perfect, pearly white teeth that would reflect a gleaming beam of warm sunlight back to you.
That's the world I want for my Mary. She deserves that far more than the trial she has been subjected to. No one should have to put up with the garbage piled on her plate.
So when you get the chance, vote for me to be your new Emperor and that alternate universe I promised would become reality. 

faint hope


I swear I could see the faintest tiny pinpoint of light at the far distant end of this interminable tunnel we've been crawling through for the past month. Mary, of course, has been doing the crawling, while all I can do is cheer her on. For awhile we didn't even know if she was heading in the right direction, but we kept trying, hoping that we were not on some fork in the road that took us on a tangent unfamiliar to us and at odds with our goal.
But yesterday while we were taking a very short and tiring walk down the hallway outside her hospital room, I saw and felt a faint and indistinct glimmer of the Mary I've loved so much for the nearly 50 years we've known each other. All she did was make a sly comment about something I said or something she saw. I can't remember what precipitated the moment, but her sideways glance at me, punctuated by a naughty half grin, was pure Mary. At that moment I knew she was feeling better and on the solid ground of that tunnel heading for that tiny pinpoint of light in the distance.
Her doctors have maintained for the past few days that she was doing very well. The infection in her pancreas was losing the battle to the antibiotics they have been pouring into her. She was also able to eat some solid food and keep it down where it would do her the most good. She looked better-- the pallor of illness was gone, the sluring of words in her nonsensical conversation was gone, and her eyes were glittering with attention and recognition. She even read me the riot act about my spending the money on a new iPad for her. She called me stupid and irresponsible. That's my Mary. I love it when she scolds me. It means she cares.
The way things are going right now, she will be scolding me a lot more from the comfort of home. I refuse to predict (I've been disappointed too often when I've done that before) when she will move out of the hospital and back to home, but that pinpoint of light seems to be getting bigger by the minute. 

it happened again


t happened again. Yesterday we were confident that Mary had progressed in her recovery far enough that the doctor would release her and let us take her home. But wouldn't you know it, another complication reared its ugly head and put a stop to that all to brief optimism.
It seems that one of the drain tubes they had inserted the day before turned out to be too small to accommodate the volume of infected fluid that needed to come out. That small tube got blocked by debris in the fluid causing the infected fluid to backup in her pancreas and ruining any chance of her coming home. So this morning they will insert a larger tube to get back on track. She will most likely be there in the hospital for at least two more days, assuming nothing else goes wrong.
What else could possibly go wrong? 

Mary's ordeal

By now you all know that Mary has been going through a very difficult recovery after her gallbladder surgery. She is still in the hospital, now due to an infection that has lodged itself in there somewhere and is causing her considerable pain.
If any of you have gone through something like this, then you know the helpless feeling that beats down on you while you watch your loved one suffer. You know that you wouldn't hesitate to change places with her if that were only possible.
You want to attack anything that's related to her pain. You want to scream at the doctors who are obviously not doing what they are supposedly trained to do, that is cure her, or at least mitigate her suffering. When you visit her you see all the nurses busy with other patients and you want to shove them into her room because she deserves all the attention. And then you feel so terribly guilty when you get to walk out of the hospital, get in your car, and drive home to your comfortable existence, while the hurting, the pain and the despair continue unabated in that hospital room. It is hard not to rail at the God that we want to believe is beneficent and loving, and question why He allows this suffering to happen to so many.
In the past when we have been hit with some illness or other misfortune, we have always used the rationale, to make us feel better, that there is always someone out there in the world who is worse off than we are. But that only works for the minor setbacks that come along. This time we are so tuned in to our plight that thinking that there is someone else suffering doesn't help us to cope. I don't want to think that there is anyone else out there who is suffering worse than this. That seems too cruel to contemplate.
For me, coping with the realities of what we are going through, would be nearly impossible if I had to go it alone. I'm not whining or uttering woe is me. In the best of times I have some difficulty coping with the physicality of daily life due to my many skirmishes in the war against Parkinsons Disease. So when you pile on the unusual circumstances of a severe illness of a loved one and all the many changes that brings to bear on someone who requires a daily routine as a coping mechanism, you have someone who also needs a lot of care and attention. I am very fortunate to have friends and neighbors who have stepped up and lent a hand whenever I've needed it. There are times when I simply can't drive a car safely
and friends have generously hauled me around to where I needed to go. Every one I talk to has offered any kind of assistance I might need. Those people have saved me and helped me hold it together. But no one has done more to care for me and to help me to lead a normal life while all this is dragging me down than my daughter, Carrie.
Carrie showed up abruptly and quite unexpectedly last Tuesday with her 4 year old, Ezra in tow. We had expected a visit from her later in the summer, but because of her very busy and somewhat unusual lifestyle we didn't know exactly when that would be. One week she'll be home in Oakland with husband Jeremy, then she will be off to Princeton to do some research, then she will be in Africa doing field research for several weeks (with Ezra following in her wake and learning, learning, learning), then attending a conference of some sort somewhere, and then back home for a short while to recharge her batteries before the next round of activity. This past week she was supposed to be at a conference of some scientific sort in Atlanta, but she blew them off so that she could come here now when we most needed her help. And has she helped! We are most certainly the only people in the world who have a veterinarian research scientist with PhD playing housekeeper and nursemaid to her overwhelmed parents.
Carrie stepped right into the fray, got herself and Ezra settled in, organized and took inventory of the depleted pantry, bought a lot of what she claims is food, and pronounced that from now on she would see to it that I ate properly, took my meds on time on a regular schedule monitored by her, and that she would brook no arguments from me. So there! And she has acted as interpreter of much of the medical jargon and procedures that were thrown at us by haughty doctors who tended to talk down to us. All I have left to do while she is here is worry about Mary. And do my best to spoil Ezra and teach him naughty stuff that only a grandpa (or Papa as he calls me) can get away with.
Having my exceptionally bright, inquisitive, and endlessly curious four year old here has been an unexplainable joy. When he walked into Mary's hospital room that first time and surprised her, she nearly jumped out of bed to hug and squeeze him to make sure he was real and not fevered apparition. That was the first time in a long time that Mary looked happy. I can't wait to see that look on her face again. That will mean she really is getting better.

pneumonia now


Can you say pneumonia?
Mary's doctor says he heard a bit of fluid in her lungs and is now concerned that pneumonia is a real possibility.
The threat of pneumonia is caused by her lack of mobility over the past weeks. She needs to get out of bed and walk around to exercise and clear her lungs. But she is too weak to do a lot of walking or any other kind of exercise because she is not eating. She is still getting most of her food in liquid form through an IV in her arm, but that is just enough to keep her alive. She needs real food for the protein and carbs that will give her the energy to fight through this.

But she just can't stand the sight of food let alone putting any of it into her mouth. The antibiotics they keep pouring into her to fight the infection in her pancreas have that horrible side effect of diarrhea which makes food even less palatable. So the vicious cycle continues. No food, no strength, no healing. 

the call


the call came at about 2:00 PM. Knowing it was Mary calling made me hesitate to answer. I didn't want to hear anymore bad news or hear the desperation in her voice. I picked up the phone and steeled myself for the sure-to-be onslaught of tears.
I hesitated for a moment and then issued a quiet, tentative, "Hello."
Without preamble, she calmly uttered the words I've been longing to hear, "They said I can go home today."
I nearly did a back flip off the stoop I was standing on. How could she be so controlled?
"I'll be there in 20 minutes," was my impetuous answer.
"Hold on," she interrupted my running in circles, "There are some things to take care of first before I can leave."
"Well get 'em done, cause I'm on my way. I want to get the hell out of Dodge before they change their minds."
"Slow down and listen to me so you won't screw it up." She knows me too well.
So I stopped jumping up and down, the better to get my instructions and have a fair chance of getting them right.
"First of all, bring some clean clothes to wear on the way home." Why is she worried about clothes? I'd pick her up buck naked if it meant getting out of there faster. Then I realized she meant clean clothes for her to wear. All I heard was "pants, shirt, and underwear." She was, however, going on and on about color and fabric and fit, expecting me to understand what she was talking about.
"Yeah, yeah, ok, I'll bring your whole wardrobe if you want." What a time to worry about making a fashion statement.
"What made them change their mind? You didn't threaten them with the prospect of having to listen to Mary C stories did you?" Actually that prospect would make them want to keep her there longer because her stories are a laugh riot.
" The infectious disease specialist who ran a two
hour test this morning to try to explain what was happening to me said I was doing fine, that there was nothing to keep me here in the hospital as long as I was capable of flushing the drain tube or had someone who could do it for me," she explained.
"Me, me," I waved my hand up high, eager to volunteer for any duty that would speed her return home. The lesson I learned in the army about never volunteering for anything went right out the window. "There doesn't exist a drain tube that I can't flush," I bragged, trying to convince her that I was up to the task.
"Yes, thats what I told them," she lied. She figured that Carrie would handle that task far better than a shaky old man like me. But just to keep me on task, she let me think I was nurse materiel.
"And we have to wait until the doctor signs the discharge papers, and he's in surgery right now, so it might be a couple hours before that gets done." "Why? what's wrong with him that he needs surgery?" I was getting more and more confused as the conversation continued.
"Try to concentrate you idiot" she scolded. I love when she talks all lovey dovey to me like that. Those terms of endearment , like bonehead, moron, fool,worthless, and the aforementioned idiot make me all warm inside.
We finally agreed on how to accomplish this mission--she would take care of the paperwork on her end, and I would speed like runaway rain to get there. Of course I muttered something about obeying the speed limit, but that was an impossible dream meant to assuage her fears and impossible to enforce. I got there in record time--while obeying all speed limits. (and if you believe that I have some real cheap vinyl gloves used only once in Dr Digit the Proctologer's office to sell you.
When I arrived in Mary's room the Physician's Assistant was ready to reveal the secrets of the flushed tube to me. I payed close attention for once and when it cane my turn to do it I performed flawlessly. I was born to be a nurse.

With some other trivial instructions added on to fill the time as we waited in the pharmacy to collect our stash of drugs, we were closer and closer to our long awaited desire to be home and on the normal path of our lives. It has been an ordeal that I never want to repeat. Now maybe we can get on with our lives. Thank you all for your prayers and support during this trying time. 

what else


What else could possibly go wrong? How about a diarrheal reaction to the antibiotics she is getting to fight the infection in her pancreas. And because that rampant diarrhea seemingly came out of nowhere, they decided she just might be contagious.
So they isolated her yesterday and made anyone who came on contact with her wear masks and hospital gowns to protect themselves from her until the lab could identify what was causing this to happen and whether or not she was in fact contagious. A reasonable practice, but frightening to her. And me.
Today they got the lab results and found that they could trace the diarrhea back to the antibiotics she was getting to combat the pancreatitis that is creating all the pain she is still suffering. So now she is still getting antibiotics despite her severe reaction to them because they have to get rid of the infection first and foremost. But to help her deal with the diarrhea that is plaguing her now, they are adding Valium to the med mix. They want her relaxed, hoping that will help her control her bowels. The expected result of such a medicinal cocktail is a semi-coherent, oblivious, but happy, doper.
I don't want a semi-coherent, oblivious doper. I want my Mary back in her original form.
This is bordering on the absurd. 

waiting


Sometimes the most difficult part of being sick is the waiting to get better. Once the diagnosis is made and medicine prescribed, and the doctor's instructions taken to heart, we like to think that we will recover sooner rather than later. That's why it seems so unfair when we encounter a problem that turns the recovery process on it's ear.
That's what keeps happening to Mary in this ordeal. Several times we have thought we were on the verge of taking her home where she belongs. And each time we have gotten our hopes up, the imp at the left hand of the devil squeezes out another complication like a mad cur shitting on the expectations of the righteous. No matter how "in control" we think we are, that little imp dumps on us again and again, making us wonder what it will take to get rid of the rotten little defecating troublemaker.
I have tried the prayer route, wearing a path in heaven's doormat. As of yet, I haven't gotten the response I expect and have been assured will be in place if I try one more "Hail Mary." Maybe I've been too insistent that my prayers be heard and the Big Guy is getting irritated with me. I may have to play the humble card, difficult as that is for me. All I know is that I have to keep the prayers flowing, with unrelenting effort, until my message gets through.
The doctors assure me that this latest setback is
under control and we can look forward to eventual healing--a full and much deserved recovery from this devilment. But I intend to hedge my bets and break out the rosary, just to give that healing a slight boost in the right direction. 

men do too


I may have to abdicate my standing in the society of men. I might even have to turn in my "man" card and never again grip another man's hand with the secret hand shake.
Ok, you're wondering what heinous crime, what incomprehensible dastardly act could I have committed to make me fall so far so fast. Actually, what I did was something I do frequently around here. I've even done this many times without being asked or told to do so without any dire consequences crashing down on my person. Hell, I've even been thanked repeatedly for doing this.
Why was this time different? The background of my confession, of course, involves Mary, as does everything else in my life. You are familiar with her recent battle with pancreatitis and her nearly month long stay in the hospital. She is home now, but not really doing too well. She still has a lot of pain and refuses to eat anything substantial, so her weight is way down and she has no energy, finding it difficult to just walk from one end of the condo to the other. Naturally, she is unable to do what she always took such great pride in--keeping our domicile clean enough to lick. Mary has always been a fanatical housekeeper, going to great lengths to keep the house dust and dirt free and in a nearly sterile state.
So it has fallen to me to ease her mind about the state of the house. When she was hospitalized, I made sure to keep to her scheduled cleaning list of chores so that she would return to the environment she was accustomed to. The last thing I wanted to do was add to her discomfort by bring her home to a dirty house.
So over the past couple weeks I have kept up with her scheduled cleaning list with a lot of supervision, of course. I've never been reluctant to do my share of cleaning. After all, I live here too, so I am responsible for that trail of cookie crumbs that meanders around place. But I have to admit I was never an enthusiastic participant in the weekly ritual.
Now, however, there has been a change in that participation. And that is where my manhood standing comes into jeopardy. Yesterday while pushing the vacuum, I found myself humming a happy tune instead of just going through the motions. My God, I thought, I'm actually enjoying myself. I was liking what I was doing. I was getting satisfaction out of vacuuming. The line has been crossed. I am becoming my wife.
Now if you'll excuse me, I have a strong urge to do some dusting and maybe clean a bathroom or two. 

Thursday, July 23, 2015

routine

I’ve gotten so bogged down in the daily routine that I haven’t taken the time to stay connected to my best friend. Since I think about you and what you might be doing on any given day, I just assume that you are doing the same and that for me accounts to meeting and having lunch together.  Our imaginary conversations can get quite involved and they have thrown us out of a few places because we laugh too loudly and 
too much.  I hope you enjoy those imaginary lunches as much as I do because they will have to do for awhile.

Mary’s recovery is going very slowly.  She’s been home for three weeks now and doesn’t seem to be any better now than the day I brought her home.  She still has a lot of difficulty with eating even though her nausea has been somewhat under control for some time.  But her stomach refuses to accept most of what food we’ve tried t get into her.  Last week she was so sick and in so much pain that eating anything was a pipe dream.  She is losing weight everyday.  The continued weight loss is the thing that worries her doctor more than anything.

So she insisted when we saw her doc last week that she needed to have a feeding tube put in so she could get some nourishment.  She is convinced that she is dying from malnutrition. So the doctor gave her several options for installing the feeding tube and she chose to have the endoscopy procedure where the tube is pushed down through her nose and throat.  She thought that would be the least painful and most effective. The object was to place the tube outside her stomach, going straight to the intestine with the nourishment since the doc figured that the food going into her stomach when she ate anything was the cause of the nausea.  She was wrong about the nasal tube being the easiest way to go.  She found that she couldn’t tolerate that foreign object in her nose and throat and after four days she begged to have it removed.  The result of all this dancing around, I think, is going to be a new feeding tube surgically installed into her stomach.  Just what she wanted to avoid.

Of course, having the feeding tube put in with her being at home and not in the hospital or a nursing facility, got the insurance company off the hook. Nothing was covered by insurance.  We had to rent the pump and other apparatus from the medical supply company that the Homecare Agency uses and buy the liquid food that gets pumped into her.  Two cases of food plus the all the gizmos to make it work will set us back around $1300 for just one month.  But since she only used four cans of the food and had the equipment for less than a week, we are hoping we can negotiate a lower price for it all.
So we are back to square one as far as eating and getting the healing over with and regaining some strength so she can at least get from the bed to the couch without getting winded.  

Mary is supposed to take her blood pressure, her oxygen level and her weight every day using digital equipment supplied by the Visiting Nurse Homecare Group. Those digital readings are sent wirelessly to their monitoring station where they are recorded and analyzed.  Then someone from the nurses group calls to verbally get the same info from her.  That way they have a couple ways to check up on her everyday.  Then twice a week a e visiting nurse stops by to see her to check vital signs and do whatever needs to be done for her.  Also twice a week a nursing assistant comes to bathe her since she is not strong enough yet to take care of herself. I have to say I am impressed by the quality of the car she is receiving. 

Mary hasn’t set foot outside except to go to see her doc since she came home. I fear she is going to become agoraphobic if this lasts much longer.  She absolutely refuses to see any of her friends.  She is embarrassed by the way she looks and doesn’t want anyone to see her like this. Her closest friends are begging to come visit her, to cheer her up and show that the care about her. But she isn’t buying it. I can’t force her to be sociable any more than I can shove food down her throat.  So our days are spent in isolation indoors.  At least I can still open the shades without argument. 


So this has been the summer from hell so far.  I try to keep a positive attitude and continue to mutter the mantra “one day at a time.”  I admit that I am getting tired of this sickly routine.  My frustration and worry have caused all my physical problems of late as well. If Mary is having what we consider a good day ( being able to keep a little bit of food down, doing a couple or three laps around the condo using my walker, talking on the phone, and not using many pain pills) then I will have a good day.  If she is having a miserable time that day, then I can look forward to stomach cramps, increased Parkinsonian symptoms, trouble breathing, and any number of other things that can go wrong.  When I get like that, I feel so helpless and worry that I won't be able to take care of her.  Worst of all, we don’t laugh anymore.  This medical stuff ain’t no picnic.

good people

Imagine my surprise when I opened the door to stick my nose out into the weather so I would know if I needed a sweatshirt to go with my t-shirt.  I was thinking, "no, it's warm enough now at 7:30 so even an old guy like me who is always cold would be plenty comfortable later on this morning when the sun is high and the breeze off the lake will complement the warmth that my nose promised."  I think I even had my eyes closed so that my heat seeking judgement would not be compromised by the wide-eyed amazement I feel every time I look at the incredible landscape that surrounds us: the shimmering lake reflecting the morning sun, the distant clumps of greenery that are  the summer trees across the lake, swaying wetland grasses that divide the lake into many separate puzzle pieces that your eye must assemble,m  the floating garden of lily pads that hugs the shore and extends out into the lake looking like a carpet to be walked on, and the incomparable light that embraces everything that gets in its way.

Once I had my nose confirm what the thermometer said, I was free to open my eyes, satisfied that I got the right information and could confidently skip the sweatshirt.  With my eyes wide open, I got that first peripheral hint that something wasn't quite normal.  You know, the feeling that someone has at some point invaded your space and,teasingly, left some bit if evidence of their invasion.  I glanced around, not quite sure why, and saw that on the other side of the walkway that the Hostas surrounding the stone bench that the semi-naked cherub stone statue was hiding behind, were in their midsummer deep green glory. So nothing amiss there. Farther down the walkway, just as you would expect, the Fountain Grass was dancing and swaying with the freshening breeze. The tall stalks of the Day Lilies, now with the last of the flowers ready to
fall, looked somewhat forlorn, now that their blossoming was mostly just a memory.  They were drooping a bit as if begging for one more day. All seemed as it should be. I was content that the vibe I was getting was benign and not something that would cause me trouble.

Still, as I was about to close the door and retreat back to my favorite place at the table where my first cup of coffee was cooling, I felt the strong and irresistible urge to look down. And there I saw why the hairs on the back of my neck had been bristling, the reason for the breach in my aura. I was immediately filled with such a sense of gratitude and awe at the generosity of my neighbors that I had to wipe away a tear. There on the stoop was a stack of various baked goods--loaves of bread, sweet rolls and Danish, a pecan pie, and a tray of cinnamon rolls. All these people, who had found out about Mary’s hospitalization and health problems through the neighborhood grape vine, had left these tokens of their caring and had acted on their impulse to help in some way.  I don't even know who left this "manna" from heaven.  There was no note or card attached, so I don't even know whom I should thank. 

Moving here to this condo complex has been a daily reward.  We are surrounded by friendly people who always have a happy hello a friendly wave. I only know the names of a handful of my neighbors, yet here they are, bringing us food and offering to cook whole meals for us. Several have even volunteered to drive us to the hospital if the need arises.  I feel like we've been blessed a thousand times more than we deserve. My faith in the generosity of spirit and the inherent goodwill of people has been given a real boost because of the kindness of these  strangers.  When my turn comes to do something nice for someone who could use a jumpstart I won't hesitate to jump in and do what I can because of the example set by tenses wonderful people. 

PS:  Jean, the corn chowder was great. Sandy, the turkey and gravy and cake and brownies were more than I could ask for.  Donna, you make the best red pepper soup I’ve ever had.


PPS: Tom you could make a great living as a chauffeur.  Rich, I know that I can always count on you to be there for me no matter what the circumstance.

Sunday, June 14, 2015

down and dirty

It's Springtime and a young man's (and an old man's) fancy turns to love....of getting down and dirty in the garden. I just love this time of year when the ground has gotten warm enough to handle without gloves and fear of frost bite, the perennials are poking up out of their winter hideaways, the breezes that ruffle the new buds on the trees are more warm than cold, and the daylight lasts a bit longer each day so we can enjoy Mother Nature's gifts right up to the spectacular sunsets she paints on the western horizon.

Today I finally got outside and dug some dirt. I have a modest little area where I can plant some flowers and do a little bit of landscaping here at our new condo. We are not supposed to change the public areas of the condo grounds, but every one modifies their own immediate front yards to give the buildings a bit of color and interest. That's all I intend to do, make my own immediate surroundings look pretty.
I used to have a huge yard to maintain and satisfy my gardening jones, so it is quite difficult to scale back any landscaping plans. But that's a challenge I will accept and be happy to meet. The truth is, the yard at our old house was getting way too big for me to handle on my own anymore, and I admit I do miss it, but now I think I will have just enough planting and trimming and cutting and watering to keep me interested and in the game without the aching back that usually goes with all those gardening chores.
So here's to Spring, that annual renewal of acquaintance with my fingernail scrub brush.

Monday, May 18, 2015

years of wondering

The incident has haunted me all these years.  I’m still not sure who, if anybody else, knows about it other than the principals involved.  At the time this incident occurred I was in 6th grade and was at a loss  for what to do.  I, of course, had never experienced anything like this before, nor did I know of anyone who had ever been in the same situation. So I suffered through this on my own with only my 6th grade knowledge and intellect to rely on.  

Looking back on this long ago incident, I’m having trouble recalling the name of my 6th grade teacher.  I think perhaps I was so traumatized by this that I blocked out as much as I could as a way of dealing with it.  So I’m asking for help from any St. Peter Claver class of 62 alumni out there who remember the name of that layperson who taught our 6th grade class.  She wasn’t a nun like the rest of the faculty at that time.  It would be nice to put a name on the other participant beside myself in this seminal event of my life.

This crisis in my young life began innocently enough with a homework assignment.  I always prided myself on doing all the homework that the teacher assigned.  My attitude was “bring it on. There is nothing I can’t handle. Pile it on and watch me as I make a mockery of your piddling assignments.”  Despite that arrogance, I was a good student and a good boy.  I would never deliberately cause any one any trouble.  Showing any kind of disrespect to an adult, especially a teacher, was a sure way to head down the path to perdition, to damnation and hell. So I was totally unprepared for the reaction I got when I handed in that day’s homework.

As homework assignments go , it wasn’t anything unusual.  Nothing out of the ordinary.  A simple bit of the typical spelling homework that was a frequent visitor to the homework pile. I barely noticed it sitting on the dining room table where I always sat to do my homework under the watchful eye of my mother and the synchronized glare of my 2 older sisters, who wold have loved to catch me in a mistake so they could rain down abuse on my tender psyche.  Big sisters are like that.  Especially when they are dealing with whom they considered to be a Momma’s boy and the holder of the title “favorite.”  But I made no mistakes that night, and having finished the spelling assignment, which I always put at the bottom of the pile because it was usually easy and even then I was already aware of the need to finish strong so as to build confidence going into the next school day.  

I know you are wondering what could be so traumatic about all this that I have carried it around with me all theses years, haunting me with the uncertainty that comes from not knowing where it all went sideways.  Let us review the assignment so everyone understands why I am still bedeviled by this simple little exercise in spelling and vocabulary.  As was the habit of that particular teacher (she always gave the same type of assignment whether the subject was math or English), she provided us with ten words that we were to learn--that is, memorize-- how to spell and then use the word in a sentence that would demonstrate that we now understood the meaning of the word.  Simple enough so that even the dullards, if there were any, would have a reasonable chance at success if they could understand what to do.

We got this same type of spelling homework all the time. I always found it to be ridiculously easy, even boring at times, but I still put forth the effort necessary to get it right and learn those new vocabulary words.  I’ve always been a good speller and my vocabulary is certainly (not bragging, just stating what is evident in my writing) above 
average.  That may well be because of my sixth grade teacher (what was her name again?) and her insistence that we learn 10 new words each week (I shot for 10 per day).  But much of my vocabulary and the willingness to use it, comes from inside me.  I just love the language and being able to use it.  I’e been known to carry dictionary in my pocket for those times when I am bored need a new word to explain that boredom. So, to get back on track here--I did the assignment, handed it in the next morning, and waited until the following day to get it back after it had been reviewed and graded.

The procedure was always the same: she (the teacher naturally) would walk up and down the aisles between our desks and hand each student his or her paper back with an appropriate comment about the quality of the work. Routine.  Of course, as she approached my desk, I sat up straighter than usual, expecting a breathless string of praise for the outstanding work I had done.  But wait.  There must be some mistake.  She didn’t stop at my desk to lavish praise on me or give me a pat on the back with an accompanying  “well done” issuing from her astounded mouth.  She passed me by without so much as a hint that she knew I was alive and sitting in her classroom.
Nor did she return my paper to me. I was in a state of shock that such an egregious
lapse in the homework routine would land on me, tainting me with a psychedelic splash of color on my back that spelled “wise ass.”  

As the day continued without any hint that anything unusual had happened, I got deeper and deeper into the realization that I was about to get hammered with an unprecedented scolding, maybe even a visit from the FBI (Foolish Boy Interrogators) after the school day ended.  I could just hear her saying as the kids walked out of the classroom after the day’s learning had been completed, “Robert, you stay.”  My mind raced through as many of the reasons I did what I did and came up short of a reasonable explanation.  She probably assumed I got help from an unknown accomplice, since in her experience, no 6th grader could pull off such a stunt alone.
I was certain that my transgression would soon be the scandal that brought shame to stay for a long visit in my family’s house, and caused 2nd glances of disdain at the back of our pastor for his allowing such a rapacious seeker of glory to attend his school.

But nothing happened.  No one said a word.  No one made a move to clear up the confusion I felt.  Mrs. _______ ( I still haven’t remembered her name) never breathed even a sigh of exasperation in my direction for the remainder of the school year to indicate that she knew anything unusual had happened in her classroom.  My paper, being the only evidence that something untoward had occurred, has been lost in the curls of time.  I still don’t know what she believed about me and the infamous spelling homework that I so diligently worked on until I got it just right. Not knowing if she was astounded by my effort, or perhaps unable to believe that I was that intelligent and clever on my own, or if she kept my spelling homework to show as evidence of her superior talent as a teacher, is still driving me crazy after all this time.  Why have I been tortured like this for simply being intelligent enough, bold enough, unconventional enough, and creative enough as a 6th grader to take those 10 spelling words she gave us to learn, memorize, and use in a sentence to show we understand the word’s meaning, and use them all in one sentence that actually made sense.  That’ s correct.  Ten words, one sentence.  I wish I had the list of words to show how it worked out. You’ll have to take my word (or words) for it.  And, yes, I am still bummed out over this.  I feel I was cheated out of a moment’s glory that might ave changed the course of my life.  Ever since that day when I went unrecognized for doing something unique and surprising, I have often been reluctant to take that step into the unusual.  How many opportunities have gone untried because I feared the indifference or the lack of recognition that might occur? How much more tentative am I when faced with a creative decision? How different would I be as an artist and a writer if only Mrs. Whatshername had acknowledged my creation?  We’ll never know and I will remain perplexed and saddened and wondering who I really am.  All because of ten words.