Tuesday, June 26, 2012

waking up after a very, very long sleep

Several weeks ago I called and scheduled today's appointment for my yearly mammogram. 

Last week sometime, I started feeling edgy about the appointment.  I was surprised at the feeling; breast cancer has never been one of the diseases I worry about and I usually breeze through the exam with nothing but the inevitable discomfort that comes from having a fleshy body part pressed flat in a vise for 30 seconds or so.

Today as I drove to the appointment, I examined my edginess.  A dear friend was diagnosed with breast cancer several months ago and has since undergone a double mastectomy and chemotherapy.  I love this woman and have spent more time than usual lately thinking about breast cancer, so I thought that might be the reason for my ripple of fear.

Suddenly, though, I got it.

I have something to lose.  I am living a fascinating, brilliant, challenging, rewarding, exciting life.  In all my 56 years, I cannot recall ever being this happy and fulfilled.  Much of my life has been spent in self imposed misery, most of it, in fact.  No wonder I approached mammograms without a second thought.  I approached most things without a second thought.  I had (or thought I had) little to lose.

Another in a long string of miracles.  Finally, I have something to lose.

Friday, June 15, 2012

Chop those onions a little smaller, will ya?

A couple of months ago my sister called and asked me if I would fly from Alaska to Seattle to take care of my brother in law (her husband) Art after his total knee replacement surgery.  She offered to pay for my flights and pay me a reasonable daily rate for the time I spent at their house.  She explained that Art is "cranky" after he has surgeries.  She knows this as he has had two shoulder surgeries, one thumb surgery, and a total hip replacement in the past several years.  Poor guy has arthritis.  She and Art thought it would be a good idea for me to be there because neither of them wanted her to be in "the line of fire", so to speak.

I have no summer job other than distance tutoring, so I was able to agree to play nurse for Art.  I didn't think too much about it beforehand.  I figured I would be dispensing medications, assisting with physical therapy exercises, providing some company for my sister, and cooking the meals as Art is the primary cook in their household.

Art's surgery was on a Friday morning.  I arrived late on Friday night.  My sister Linda and I spent Saturday and Sunday at the hospital with Art.  We watched him eat heartily, stretch painfully, and walk purposefully.  We witnessed euphoria (too much pain medication), frustration (he had hoped to be discharged Sunday, but was kept until Monday for the sake of safety), and the inevitable pain and lack of bowel cooperation that occurs after just about any surgical procedure.

Art was discharged on Monday just before noon, and we transported him home.  He made it up the stairs to their living area looking like he had been doing it for years.  The guy is very strong.

About fifteen minutes after we got Art home, I understood why my sister had wanted me to be there.

The following 48 hours felt like living hell for all three of us.  We had trouble with effective pain management, Art's lower digestive tract, "crankiness" that was more aptly described as "vicious rage",  ice packs that leaked during the night and soaked their bed, and physical therapy exercises that can only be described as utter torture.  My sister and I felt like we were walking on eggshells, and Art felt like he was walking on hot coals.  All of us had Olympic level mood swings.  Art's were due to the debilitating pain that accompanies recovery from a total knee replacement and ours were due to our inability to predict what words or actions would trigger Art's fury, which was always directed at Linda.  I spent part of my time helping Art, part of my time trying to nurture my sister, and the rest of my time eating chocolate.  Lots and lots of chocolate.

By Wednesday I felt as though it was safe for me to exhale.  Art was an animal with regards to his physical therapy, and making great strides.  He lashed out at Linda only once that day (a vast improvement).  He oversaw everything I cooked, hanging on his walker in the kitchen eyeballing (and correcting) my every move.  And all these years I thought I knew how to make a salad. 

On Thursday, Linda left for a two day trip to Oregon, where her son Russell's girlfriend Amanda was to graduate from nursing school.  All part of the plan.  Art and I accomplished three rounds of physical therapy and three meals with no cross words, and no problems.  We looked forward to Friday's visit from the physical therapist; she had made her initial visit on Tuesday and measured the angles of extension and flexion he could tolerate.  I was certain that she would be impressed with his progress when she came on Friday, and she was.  Art had gained a full twelve degrees of flexion:  he could really bend his foot and calf much further back than he could on Tuesday.  We high-fived each other, after which I retreated to my room to cry for a few minutes.  The patient's progress is a personal victory for the caregiver/coach as well, and I was proud of both of us.

As I write this, I have been in Seattle for one week.  It has been one of the fullest, most trying and most gratifying weeks of my life.  Linda returns tomorrow and I will pass the proverbial torch to her before flying home the following morning.  My relationship with Art has been forever changed: we are closer.  My relationship with Linda has been forever changed:  I have long trusted her, but now I believe that she trusts me, and I have earned it.