Friday, October 17, 2014

Ups and downs

A few years ago, T and I watched a ridiculously cheesy TV show called Forever Eden.  The premise of the show was pairing off single people and seeing how long they could stay at a luxurious resort.  To announce a twist or competition, the hostess would place a huge fake apple on the contestants' bed and remind the audience that the apple could bring good...or EEEEEEEVIL.  I feel like we have had an enormous apple placed on our bed this week, and with it, we have had both the good and the bad.

Monday's surgery went well overall.  It started later than expected, so it was a long day of waiting for everyone.  When the surgeon came out to talk to me, she delivered two kinds of news: the tumor had all been removed but she thought the cancer had spread to the bladder.  Thankfully, we found out the next day that the cancer had not spread any further than they originally thought.  The bladder was perforated, but the explanation was that the radiation had caused the tumor to stick to the bladder and the perforation happened when the tumor was removed.  Score one for good news!!

I stayed in the city on Monday night so I could get to the hospital bright and early Tuesday morning.  It was great to see T, but it was also really weird.  He had a morphine pump, and by God, he was not afraid to use it.  The meds made him flat and expressionless, and if you know T, you know that's not his normal state.  He was in quite a bit of pain, but it was controlled by the meds.  I stayed that afternoon, but I went home later that day to be with the kids.  No matter where I was, my heart was always split in half between Northwestern and home.  

The next day was fantastic.  As soon as I got the kids off to school, I headed into the hospital.  T was up and alert.  His morphine pump was gone, but he had more energy to walk around and be out of bed.  He joked around and talked, and I was thrilled to have my T back.  He shaved, and I helped him wash his hair.  He was even allowed some soft food, although after about four bites, his appetite was gone. When I left that afternoon, I was confident that his recovery was going well and he was on track to come home Friday.

Thursday wasn't so great.  My brother and I drove in to visit, but we ended up only staying fifteen minutes.  T had been nauseous and vomiting all night, so he hadn't gotten any sleep.  He was sitting up in a chair when we got there, but he was obviously fading fast.  He was too exhausted to have anyone around, even me.  He texted me later in the day to let me know that he had still been vomiting, and the docs had decided he needed an NG tube.   The tube was supposed to remove whatever was in T's stomach; apparently his bowels weren't "awake" after surgery and that was causing his nausea.  His nurse assured me that this was all completely normal after anesthesia, but what is normal to her sure seemed completely wrong to me.  The only good news of that day was that T's catheter was finally removed. 

My dad and I arrived at the hospital this morning, Friday, to find a wan and weary T.  The vomiting had continued during the night and into the morning.  At one point, the NG tube started to choke T, and the nurse had to remove it.   Unfortunately, it had to go back in.  Two different people tried to re-insert the tube with no luck.  When the third person came in to try again, T told me to vamoose because he didn't want me in the room while it was going down.  He was so run-down that having people in the room wasn't going to do him any good, so my visit was cut short once again.  There was one bright moment, though, when I saw my guy's true self.  I told him I wished I could stay longer, he told me that I tend to get annoying after ten minutes, fifteen minutes tops.  That's the Trevor I know and love. 

I know that things will get better, and I know that all of this is only temporary.  Even knowing those truths doesn't stop me from feeling completely helpless.  I want to DO something to help him, to fix him, to bring him home.  I also know that the most important thing is that the cancer is out; I'm just selfish enough to want the cancer gone AND for T to be comfortable.  I want him to feel good, and I want him to come home.  The week of good and eeeeeevil continues, and I just hope it comes to an end with more good than anything else. 

Thursday, October 2, 2014


It is one of those perfect fall days: sunny but crisp.  Someone in the neighborhood is burning leaves, and the slightly acrid smell in the air is comforting.  The kids are outside after dinner, and their screams of laughter echo throughout the gloaming.  Those are some of the happiest sounds I have ever heard, and I'm trying to imprint them into my memory.

My mom and I visited a friend a couple of days ago.  We met the year I was student teaching at a small Catholic high school in Indianapolis.  I ended up teaching at that same school for four years, and our friendship grew and cemented.  We're sort of an odd couple: there is a big age difference, we don't have a great deal in common at the core, and we have lead extremely different lives.  And yet, of all the amazing people I met those four years, he is the one I see the most often, the one who has been most consistent in my ever-changing world.

Jim isn't the friend who will bring a pint of ice cream and a DVD when I'm feeling sad.  Quite the contrary.  When I had to move out of my house in Indianapolis rather abruptly because my first husband decided that being married to me wasn't his thing, Jim brought boxes and helped me pack.  I remember crying while I packed my broken life, and he kept telling me to quit crying because it wasn't helping me get anything done.  "Oh, stop it.  You're fine and this is all going to be fine.  Now, where do you want all these books?  You know you have way too many books, don't you?"  And he was right.  Well, one can never have too many books, of course, but I was fine after that mind-numbing heartbreak.  I AM fine.

We travelled together, had meals together, had drinks together, laughed together.  Every time I moved, which was oddly quite often, he came to help put my new places into working order.  He became friends with my whole family, my new (much better) husband, and eventually my children.  He even visited my parents in Valpo when I was still living in Lexington.  We didn't see each other as often as we used to, but we talked on the phone and were always in each other's thoughts.

The phone rang a few months ago as I was making dinner.  The kids were asking for the umpteenth time what I was making, T was in the living room chatting with his parents, and I was frazzled.  Normally I ignore the phone when I'm busy, but I glanced at the caller ID.  I saw the name and number of a friend of Jim's and I went cold.  She told me that there had been an accident, and Jim was in the hospital with what the doctors thought was a stroke.  The next few weeks were agonizing as I made call after call to try to get information.  After a month in the hospital and one measly week in a rehab center, he ended up at his niece's house a little south of Indianapolis.

My mom and I made the trek to see him, and I carried the warning in my head that he was suffering from expressive aphasia.  Logically I knew that he would be different, but the tiny Pollyanna in my head assured me that Those People were wrong.  Physically, he didn't seem much different although he was unshaven, a sight that I had never seen in twenty years.  He knew who we were straightaway and gave us both hugs, but I could immediately see the effects of the stroke.  He claimed he didn't know we were coming to visit, that people had been lying to him.  He couldn't easily find his words, he went off on tangents that we couldn't understand, and he just looked...old.  There were some things that seemed decently fresh in his mind, things about 1995 when a bunch of us starting teaching and hanging out together every free moment outside of school.  He somewhat remembered travelling with me and how much fun we have always had together.  He didn't remember where he was staying or why my mom was there or even his own beloved cat.  Every once in a while, there were glimpses of my old, very funny, very smart friend, but they were few and far between. I tried to stay sunny and happy and positive, but inside, my heart was breaking.

I had a lot of time to think on the three hour drive home.  My mom and I went over and over the conversations, trying to dissect them and find the old Jim.  It all made me tired.  I mean, bone-tired-weary-to-the-core-curl-up-in-bed-on-a-rainy-day-taking-care-of-a-sick-kid-in-the-middle-of-the-night kind of tired.  It's impossible for me not to worry about my friend.  I know he is getting good care with people who truly care about him in every way, but that doesn't stop me from draining my own emotional reserves on his behalf.

And I want this to all mean something.  That's why I am trying so hard to embrace the small things in life and enjoy living as much as I can.  That's why I want to memorize the sounds of the kids' laughter and their weird comments and their beautiful smiles.  Jim obviously isn't gone from this mortal coil, but he's not completely here, either.  So I'm trying to embrace life and enjoy every moment.  Trying.  But that's so much easier said than done sometimes.  I can't always find the joy in every given moment. When I am in the middle of telling Lottie to focus on her homework for the twentieth time while Dallas drones on and on about dinosaurs and the clock is telling me that I should have started dinner already and both kids are hungry but not for what I'm cooking and the phone is ringing and my eye is twitching,  I can't channel my inner-Zen and think about how much I will miss this all when the kids are grown and gone.  Instead, I try to get through the minute by minute drama so I can eventually snuggle with freshly shampooed heads and find a sweet spot of time when no one is fighting or crying or arguing or pouting or hungry or hurt or angry or tired. And I think about Jim and think I should really work hard at finding those great moments because the future is so uncertain and fragile, but I know Jim would think that was a bunch of schmaltzy hooey and tell me to just keep on keepin' on.

So I'm raising my kids the best way I know how; I'm constantly thinking about T's upcoming surgery; I am pretending that the surgery isn't happening; I'm having dreams that end with me waking confused and bleary; I'm attempting to oversee a new deck project at our house; I'm reading books; I'm being a friend, a daughter, a mother, a sister; I'm smiling when I can and crying when I can't; I'm drinking too much coffee; I'm riding my bike; I'm trying not to think too much; I'm over-thinking everything; I want to be left alone; I want to be surrounded by friends; I'm taking one breath at a time.  I'm going to keep going because that's what Jim is doing, and that's what I can do, too.  For now, that's enough.