Thursday, June 28, 2012

social disease

On June 28, 2011, one year ago today, my dad was diagnosed with large cell B lymphoma.  It was just two weeks after I was diagnosed with small cell B lymphoma, a less aggressive form of cancer.

Unlike me, my dad needed treatment right away—tumor removal and chemotherapy.  I was instructed to "wait and worry."  And that's still what I do, one year later.

Since last fall, after Dad's third chemo treatment, he has gotten sicker and sicker.  He has had so many visits to the ER that I think he has been more in the hospital than out since Halloween. 

Now I'm not a denial kind of person.  I do things deliberately, consciously.  But with every new development of my father's myriad conditions—bleeding ulcer, sepsis, pneumonia, pseudomonas, aortic stenosis—I go to a place of obliteration, denial, debauchery.  I see in him my future, whether that's rational or not.   It's fairly easy to go to that place.  In fact, after his first serious incident, when he was barely still alive and hardly able to talk, Dad said to me, "Don't worry.  This won't happen to you."  It was probably one of his last truly lucid, unselfconscious moments. 

But Dad is a salesman.  I am used to the games he has played.  And I have learned that honesty, no matter how sincere my dad appeared, was never his actual policy.  Love was.  Hope was. 

With each of his trips to the hospital, I became more social—going to bars, concerts, clubs, friends' houses.  I upped my daily beer to two sometimes.

My dad fell on Monday night and wound up back in the hospital.  I had company Tuesday night and went out with friends last night and tonight.  One year after his diagnosis, we are now discussing how to treat the heart attack that, apparently, caused his fall.   

I suppose we all deal with these things in our own ways, and who can say one way is  proper.  Should I lie around crying?  Rest assured I do plenty of that. 

In winter of 2008, I had back surgery.  The slow recovery and medications and lack of sunlight and exercise created a suicide incubator.  The night I broke my tooth (trying to force myself to eat something) had me plotting my own death: by motorcycle exhaust in the leaky garage. 

Maybe this method of social stress release is smart.  Maybe the constant reminders of friendship and laughter and the great taste of food and ale are how I keep from getting swallowed again by the darkest thoughts I've ever had.

So—who's up for bowling?  

Monday, June 25, 2012

no balloons

My husband’s aunt is 85, and she was just diagnosed with ovarian cancer.  It’s late—the cancer, the time, the life.  But the life is precious; they are all precious. 

We visited her on a Wednesday night, just after she’d had a reaction to one of her medications.  It left her stranded beneath herself, somewhere between sleep and panic.  It was temporary.  Did she know?

I sat on the chair beside her, and she reached for me, squeezing my hand. When she fell asleep, I took my hand back, and she awoke again and held both arms out toward me.  I hugged her.  When she fell back to sleep, I got up and surveyed the room.

On the guest’s sofa, far too small for anyone to sleep (though a daughter or granddaughter slept there every night), were magazines and candy bars and assorted toiletries.  In the corner of the ceiling, seven foil balloons, adorned with cheer and imploring Margaret to GET WELL SOON, floated.

1.  Don’t buy me balloons.

I started a list that moment.  No balloons.  These are for children having their tonsils out.  Anyone who brings me a balloon while I am being treated for or recovering from whatever ails me enough that I am in a hospital will be strangulated with their cheerful pastel ribbons. Am I giving too much weight to these helium-filled mood lifters? 

2.  Tell me over and over and over again the truth about my condition.

Make sure you know I understand.  I will squeeze your hand once for yes.   

3.  Ask me lots of yes questions.

“Do you understand?”  Yes.  “Do you want a pizza?”  Yes.   “Should Chuck Prophet come sing at your bedside?”  Yes. Yes. Yes.

4.  If I am never going to get well, get me out.

Don’t let me die in a hospital.  Take me home, and get my daughter to play me out.

I need a longer list: rules about hygiene (mine and yours); lasts—last food, last beer, last song; quality of life stuff. 

Do you think about these things, too?  Does your mind go there when you are beside a loved one’s hospital bed?  Do you look at her gray skin, then at the perky balloons on the ceiling and feel a little bit of rage?

My back hurts. I feel the impending doom of a two-disc fusion.  I worry about the CT scan that checks the progression of my lymphoma.  I fear the fear.  At work, I take a pill and try to put all my black thoughts into a bubble, float that bubble up toward the ceiling. 

But the bubble hits the built-in sprinkler and pops.  Words fall out—on my head, my shoulders, my desk.  I build them into poems. And directives.