Tag Archives: family

The Heart of a Hero

Hospital
Image by José Goulão via Flickr

He lay sleeping, slightly listing to one side of the raised hospital bed, head resting on his chest. A once-broad shoulder jutted out of the neck of the thin gown. His hands rested on the covers, calm and free of tremor.

My eyes lingered on his hands. They still looked strong and smooth – the hands of someone twenty years younger. But mostly, they were pale. Almost white. Strange, for my Sicilian-skinned father, but a relief. It was a huge improvement over the yellow tinge he had been sporting in recent months.

My dad has been in and out of the hospital for the past two weeks. He’s had a total of four endoscopies during that time, first to find out why his liver counts were elevated and he was so jaundiced, then to correct the problem.

It turned out he had a precancerous polyp in his small bowel that was blocking his liver and pancreatic ducts. On the third endoscopy, the doctors put in a stent to hold the polyp away from the ducts. This temporary fix allowed the liver to drain while we decided what needed to be done.

Within hours of that procedure, he was sleeping and pale. But a good pale. The kind that meant his skin was no longer holding the toxins his liver couldn’t release. Despite my mortal horror of hospitals, I wended my way through the concrete-blocked and pipe-laden halls, up elevators and through scary sets of double doors to be with him.

The doctor came in to speak with us. She explained his condition and outlined the treatment: Whipple surgery. Whipple surgery, to be completely un-technical and probably slightly inaccurate, is a 5-6 hour ordeal where the surgeon takes out your guts, connects them to things they aren’t normally connected to, removes what needs to be removed, reconnects everything properly and replaces it.

Recovery time is up to two months and involves feeding and drainage tubes. This sounds horrible for a normal person in otherwise good health. For a diabetic Parkinsonian, this news was just left of a full-on catastrophe: heightened risk of infection, possible complications during the surgery and other delights and wonders.

The alternative? A potential for pancreatic cancer – one of the most aggressive forms of cancer. I went home and sobbed on my couch.

The next morning, the sun rose on a new ballgame. My mother called: The doctors think the polyp can be successfully removed endoscopically. The procedure takes about 90 minutes and the recovery time is just a couple of days.

Relief flooded through my family.

The procedure was scheduled for Monday – my birthday. So, yesterday, my dad had his fourth endoscopy. It went well and he came home this afternoon, tired but already on soft foods.

I know my mom and dad both felt bad that they had to be in the hospital on my birthday. Admittedly, I’m a bit of a birthday brat. I’ve always loved my birthday – it’s the one day of the year that I feel belongs to me; that is ripe with possibility; that is, well, special. So, yeah, I was a little disappointed that I wouldn’t be spending time with my family on my Day of Days.

But then I picture my dad, holding a cup of broth in his newly pale hands. He’s not had solid food for almost 48 hours and has only recently been started on liquids. The broth smells delicious and I’m so glad for him. He takes a slow, careful sip.

“That smells really good,” I say, to encourage him.

“Yeah, it really does,” my mom sounds surprised, hospital food having the reputation that it does.

My dad holds the cup out to me. “You want some, Sah?” he says, calling me by the shortened form of my name that maybe only three or four people in this world use. Then he offers it to my mom.

We refuse, of course, but the scene strikes to my heart and stays there. A man who hasn’t eaten in almost two days is still willing, quite literally, to give us the food right out of his bowl. I know he feels like he has so little to give these days, but it’s times like this that he gives more than I can quantify.

How does one measure inspiration? Kindness? Example?

When that scene flashes through my mind, as it has so often during the past week, it ceases to matter that he was in the hospital on my birthday. In fact, suddenly a successful surgery seems like the best birthday present ever.

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The Easter Buddy

Today was a busy day for the Easter Buddy.

Easter Buddy

He had to make his rounds and deliver presents.

Easter Buddy's pack

The Easter Buddy delivered presents to Grampie.

Easter Buddy and Grampie

And to Grammie.

Easter Buddy and Grammie

And then he ate some chocolate coconut cream pie.

chocolate coconut cream pie

Actually, he didn’t because chocolate isn’t good for Easter Buddies. But he did nibble on some ham and a little chicken as he rested from his labors.

The rest of us enjoyed this mouth-wateringly rich and decadent pie made with an almond meal crust (gluten-free) and coconut milk (dairy-free). Recipe courtesy of Elana’s Pantry.

So. Good. You gotta try it. Oh and it’s vegan, so it’s totally healthy, right?

I’m So Low I Have to Look Up to See Whale Poop

Yay! I’ve become the boring person who does nothing but talk about their medical problems. If you knew my family, you’d know it was just a matter of time. This is how conversations with my relatives go:

Me: So, what’s new?

My Mom: Well, Dad had a doctor’s appointment today. Oh, and did I tell you Uncle X came home from the hospital today? His legs are still swollen, but he’s feeling better. Auntie Y’s funeral is on Wednesday and afterwards I’m going to see Cousin Z in the nursing home.

Me: Really? Okay, we’ll I’m going to go throw myself out the sixth floor window. Have a great afternoon.

My grandfather used to give me advice on aging. “Sara Lee,” he’d say, because he had a nickname for everyone. “Sara Lee, don’t get old.”

“Sure beats the alternative,” I’d tell him.

Now I’m not so sure. I’ve seen old. It ain’t pretty.

Anyway, enough about everyone else. Back to me.

Monday I took my two sets of lab orders and I hied me off to a different lab. I walked in the main entrance of the hospital and up to reception. I had to wait a few minutes, but once the receptionist got to me, she was quite pleasant. She took my name, entered it into the computer and asked another lady to escort me to the waiting room.

The attendant was a beautiful little Asian woman who asked me if my hair was natural. When I told her, yes, it was, she sighed with envy and said, “I love it!”

I like this place already.

She courteously pointed me to a chair and told me someone would be right with me. I didn’t have time to do much more than take off my coat and pick up a BHG magazine when a door opened and my name was called.

A third woman ushered me into an office and took my paperwork. Since I had never been there before, it took a few minutes to enter my information into the system, but I suspect that was a one-time thing. She photocopied my ID and insurance card.

I braced myself, waiting to be told I’d need to walk down to East Japeepee to get a blue card or an orange card or a notarized certificate of authenticity, but she simply printed out two documents, asked me to sign the privacy thingamabob and handed me my lab orders back. Then she gave me directions to the lab.

The directions weren’t that great, but there were signs everywhere so I figured it out pretty quickly. I can read like that.

I walked down to the lab and checked in with the lab receptionist. Okay. Admittedly, that’s a lot of check-ins, but so far everyone had been really nice, so I didn’t mind.

Did I mention I didn’t need a blue card?

At the laboratory, the receptionist informed me that if I had both sets of labs sent to both doctors, I would only be charged for one draw instead of two. Sign me up, yo. There’s no reason each doctor couldn’t each see the others’ results, so I said, Yes, please.

I thought it was nice that she showed me that little loophole. She took my paperwork and pointed me to another waiting room. This is the only sub par part of the experience. Not the waiting room – that was fine – but the fact that I was there about ten minutes. I was the only one in there.

It seemed like a long time, but if that was the worst thing that happened to me, it was going to be a pretty good day.

Moreover, the tech who waited on me was both friendly and…wait for it…competent! Yes, that’s right. She managed not to poke the needle through my vein despite the fact that she had to change out six differnt tubes. Count ’em, six.

Rock on.

I am, however, reserving my final judgment until the process is complete. I still need to see how quickly the results are processed and how the billing cycle plays out. I’ve had problems with both before and am in no hurry to repeat the experience.

But, it’s looking good. It’s looking real good.

I did get one set of results back today: the thyroid. And because I know you’re dying to know, here they are:

T4: 0.79 (normal range: 0.90 – 1.70)

TSH: 1.39 (normal range: 0.27 – 4.20)

The good news is that the TSH (the thermostat) is in the normal range. I mean, I guess that’s good news. Again, I’m not sure why it needs to be and, again, I forgot to ask. Because I am a jackwagon.

The other good news is that my T4 (the furnace) is lower than normal. I say good because it was that, combined with the now normal TSH, that prompted the doctor to adjust my meds to every other day.

Yahootie! I’m now taking half of what I was before. And that can only be a good thing, in my book.

Still, it irritates me that I had to get lower than whale poop to get a change made. Today when the nurse was explaining the results she told me that I “may be feeling a little tired”. Clearly, she has no memory of our last conversation. The one where I told her I was exhausted and depressed. The one that happened four weeks ago.

Today, though, I didn’t even care. I was just so happy for the news.

I have not heard the results from my OB/GYN orders yet, but I did take some time yesterday to look up what exactly the tests were. My doc did explain them to me, but she has a soft voice, talks very quickly and has a little bit of a lisp. I can totally understand what she’s saying, but there is a two-second delay there. Make that a three-second delay. I’m adding a second due to the effect the sheer terror of being in any doctor’s office has on my brain.

All I remember hearing is, “Blah blah blah blah, Day 3, blah blah blah.”

Right. Got it.

So I looked it up. And I was horrified. You guys, I’m basically waiting for the phone to ring to find out whether or not I have any eggs left.

Hoe. Lee. Whale poop.

Oh good. Because between my job, my father’s Parkinson’s disease and my husband applying for grad school, I didn’t have enough stress in my life. This makes everything so much better.

I need a drink.

Oh, wait. I stopped doing that so that I could get pregnant.

In that case, I need some ice cream. Stat!

The Bad Wife

Once upon a time there was a curly-haired Princess who didn’t meet her Prince Charming until she was 30 years old. Then, primarily because of a 15-month military deployment to Iraq, she and her Prince did not marry for three and a half more years. Soon after the couple did marry, The Prince was off to Afghanistan for another 13 months. “But don’t worry, baby doll,” he told the Princess. “When I get back we’ll build a castle in the clouds and have little Princelings and live happily ever after.”

“Yay!” she shouted, tossing her tiara into the air and doing cartwheels around the courtyard. “You go save the world. In the meantime, I’ll hitch my wagon to a star and subsist on images of us picking out paint colors and refrigerators together.”

When he finally returned, the now 35-year-old girl greeted him with open arms and joy in her heart. She could hardly wait for the arguments over furniture and feng shui to begin. The two locked arms and pranced into the sunset.

Probably you haven’t figured this out yet, but I am the Princess.

[Sarah \s(a)-rah\ as a girl’s name is pronounced SARE-ah. It is of Hebrew origin, and the meaning of Sarah is “princess. Biblical: originally called Sarai, Sarah shared an adventurous nomadic life with her husband Abraham. She is described as being exceptionally beautiful even into her older years. The name became popular in the 16th century. (Source: baby names by Thinkbabynames.com)]

Just sayin’.

Anyway, that part about prancing into the sunset was a complete and total lie. T and I have had our share of reintegration issues, none of which have been life or divorce serious. They are your average, learning-to-live-together-again problems. Like figuring out who does what for housework, or why he wouldn’t drink out of an open glass for the first month he was home.

That kind of thing.

Then he went back to work. He took a rather large pay cut to return to a much less rewarding job where his skill set is almost entirely wasted. He went from working with groups like the Special Forces and the State Department; from having a tremendous amount of responsibility and autonomy; from working with Afghani locals to make their area more secure and their lives better. He went from all of that to sitting behind a desk and answering phone calls. In short, he went back to being like the rest of us poor working slobs who sit at computers all day long while our vertebra slowly fuse together and we get flat, fat asses, hypertension and Type II diabetes. He can now enjoy making money for someone else while barely taking home enough to cover expenses while saving for retirement.

What’s not to love?

And so, the proverbial sunset into which we were to ride, instead shattered and exploded into a quadrillion shiny, tropical pieces that rained down like lava droplets and seared the flesh off of our bones. We turned to each other in our skeletal nakedness and T said, “This stinks. I have to do something about it.”

That’s when he decided to go back to school to get his Master’s degree.

At first blush, this doesn’t seem like a bad plan. The GI Bill will likely cover most, if not all of his school expenses and in the end a lot more doors will be open to him and, consequently, to us.

However. There are a number of unknowns: Where will he go to school? Will we have to move? How long will it take? Will he go full-time?

Then there are these things to consider: Where will he work afterwards? Would he have mobility at his current company? Will we be able to stay in Maine?

Maine is not terribly notorious for job opportunities and high-paying positions. Commutes are long and the cost of living is very high. It doesn’t seem likely we would end up living in the state I love.

Of course, like a good wife, my first reaction was, “Sure, honey. If that’s what will make you happy and feel fulfilled, I’m behind you 110%.”

Hahaha! That was funny.

Actually, it was more like this:

So, you want to put our house plans on hold for another three years? Do you really think you can handle a job, school, the military and having a family?” Which was pretty rich, considering I’m not pregnant. “When are we going to focus on our relationship instead of everything else under the sun? What about what I want? What about my dreams? This is going to mean a whole lot of extra work for me and I barely have time to focus on my writing now.”

I’m not proud of my bad attitude, but I’m not entirely remorseful yet, either. No one can say I haven’t done my fair share of sucky deployment waiting. I thought this was going to be the year. I really did.

I know T is looking at the big picture and I’m not good at that. I know that he wants to be able to support his family, especially in light of my dreams to stay home and write.

But I just got him back. I don’t want to share him with anything again. Not the military, not college, not anything. And we were so close. It feels like my house dream (and my dream house) is slipping through my fingers again.

It’s not been a pleasant few weeks. There have been tears and fights and silence and more tears.

Ultimately, though, I love and adore my husband. What I need to do is work on trusting him. I need to believe that everything will come out all right in the end. I need to enjoy what we have now and not worry so much that it isn’t my exact vision for us. Maybe we’ll get to that vision someday. Maybe we never will. I need to dust off my sense of adventure and all of that patience I used to survive the deployment. I need to wait and see what happens.

“But it won’t be easy,” the Princess said. She flung her tiara on the ground and stamped her feet in rage. Then she sighed, picked up her tiara, dusted it off and put it back on her head.

The End (not really)

The Jam Presents

Remember back in August?

I try not to. My husband still had more than three months left in Afghanistan at that point. I shudder, then am grateful he’s here. Even if he didn’t go to the dump today like I wanted him to.

But back in August, my mom and I, inspired by an uncharacteristic moment of patriotism on my part, made three kinds of jam: strawberry (red), white peach (white) and blueberry (blue).

red, white and blue jams

The plan was to come up with a cute way to package the 4-oz. jars and give these as gifts at Christmastime. (Thanks to everyone who shared their star-spangled wrapping ideas!)

As with the Christmas cards, I was a little late. With the help of my ridiculously talented mother, I just put the jams together on Sunday and distributed them at work this week.

I decided to go simple. My mom came up with the idea of putting three jam jars in a large water glass to make for easier wrapping. Once the glasses were locked and loaded, we used transparent gift basket plastic to wrap each glass, then tied it with a length of red, white and blue ribbon.

Actually, we tied it with burgundy, cream and navy ribbon. I wanted something more muted to match the jellies and look more holiday-ish. I thought the bright colors would look garish.

wrapped patriotic jams

Nice!

I even kind of thought that the plastic bunched at the top looked like fireworks exploding out of the jars.

But that might be stretching things.

And I did worry that the muted colors might not get the theme across quite right.

Because now that my husband is home I need new things to worry about.

So, just in case…here’s a recap:

strawberry jam

Red…

white peach jam

White (peach)…

blueberry jam

And blue!

The Power of Negative Thinking?

Thanksgiving was rather interesting this year.

Turkey Dog

Turdogken

Traditionally, my family spends Turkey Day at my aunt’s house in Massachusetts. In true Italian style, there are at least fourteen people at dinner, which usually starts with ravioli appetizers and,  five courses later, ends with Sambuca and coffee beans.

We have a lot of laughs and tell a lot of stories and wave a lot of hands. We share who’s sick, who died and who was down at Oliva’s this morning. We kiss and hug and at the end we take forty-five minutes to “complete the circuit”, as my brother and I like to call it. In other words, say good-bye.

Leaving is a lot like going through the reception line at normal people’s weddings. Only it takes more time because people have to tell you how much you’ve grown, and like that. It’s all very overwhelming to those of the Anglo-Saxon persuasion. Just ask my husband.

But I digress. As usual.

Anyway, as much as I enjoy family holidays and our Thanksgiving traditions, I have to admit that I had been dreading this particular one for some time and for several reasons. Things are different now.

First, there have been five baby girls born into my family in the past nineteen months, which – coincidentally – is how long I’ve been married, as well as how long it feels like my husband has been away. (He’s really “only” been gone for thirteen months, but who’s counting? Oh wait, I am.)

Five. That’s a lot of babies. And there was every likelihood that four of them would be there on Thanksgiving. Now, I’m not a kid person to begin with, but when I haven’t seen my own husband in six months, the thought of having to smile and congratulate and smile some more, was very daunting. And downright depressing.

It’s not that I’m not happy for other people’s happiness. I just don’t want to be too close to it until I’ve got my wingman back at my side.

Second, I was dreading all the inevitable “T” questions and conversation.

Where is T?

Have you heard from T?

How is T?

When will T be home?

I do appreciate people’s interest and I know they mean well, but for some reason that I haven’t yet fathomed, these questions drive me batty. And none more so than this dreaded one that makes my stomach drop every time:

Will he have to go back?

<insert wild frenzied scream here>

I have just spent an entire calendar year without my husband. Worrying about his safety. Riding the rollercoaster of emotions. Sometimes I don’t want to face the next five minutes and you want me to think about another deployment? Can we get through this one first? Can I see my husband’s face so that I can remember what he looks like before you send him away again?

Thanks. ‘Preciate it.

For these reasons, I was dreading Thanksgiving this year. As it turned out, I needn’t have worried. About that anyway.

On Tuesday evening, which happened to be my parents’ 42nd wedding anniversary, my father was admitted to the hospital for acute renal something-or-other. Basically, his kidneys had shut down. No one really knows why, but between that and his Parkinson’s Disease, he wasn’t in the best of shape.

My mom called me from the road to say that dad was “taking her out” for their anniversary. Romantic devil.

The good news is that he’s on the mend and his doctors seem to think his kidneys will return to normal, or near normal function. In the meantime, they are rehydrating him through and IV and monitoring him, so he’s been given an extended stay – probably through this weekend.

And that’s how our Thanksgiving ended up looking like this instead:

Thanksgiving at the hospital

Our Thanksgiving

Was it my negative thinking that got us here? No, I won’t be so bold as to think I have that much influence on the universe. But for a few seconds I did have that old Catholic guilt about my pessimistic holiday thoughts.

But honestly, it wasn’t all that bad. My dad has a private room, so we were able to make ourselves at home. The hospital, as you can see, allows dogs, so Owen was able to join us. The cafeteria cooked a really delicious turkey dinner and for the first time in possibly my entire life, I got to wear sneakers on Thanksgiving.

It was very relaxing. We didn’t have to be anywhere, we didn’t have to cook anything and we didn’t have to impress anyone. We just hung out and enjoyed each other’s company.

Daddy

Dad and Pooh

This is my Daddy. Isn’t he cute? He’s such a good sport. Even after 35 years of Parkinson’s Disease, he always has a joke ready. He keeps the hospital staff laughing. I brought him my old Pooh Bear so that he wouldn’t be lonely at night.

My Brother

This is my brother, J. He’s a good sport, too. Owen sometimes bothers his allergies, but he wore his glasses instead of his contacts yesterday so that his eyes wouldn’t itch as much. Owen was grateful that he didn’t have to be left at home. Thanks, Uncle J!

Mommy

Mom and Owen

This is my Mommy. She may be the best sport of all. Life has handed her not one, but an entire truckload of lemons, yet she still manages to make lemonade. By the gallon. And usually for other people. She is a nurturer. Owen isn’t generally a beggar, but – as you can see – he knows an easy mark when he sees one. “Grammie” always saves a bit of turkey…or ham, or steak, or chicken…for her granddog. And he knows it.

Speaking of Owen, we also celebrated his “birthday” yesterday. As of Tuesday, Owen has been with us for one year. Grammie and Grampie brought him a present.

Yay present!

Yay present!

He waited so patiently while I opened it for him. Milkbones! Yum.

I just love him.

Me and Owen

My pally.

Owen was a hit at the hospital. He’s such a gentle dog that most people love him on sight anyway.

But the turkey costume helped.

Turkey costume

We threw it together in the morning. His raincoat, a little cardstock and some packing tape and viola! Instant turkey.

He was a celebrity. We took a few walks to cheer people up and they loved him. They started calling him “the turkey dog”. Nurses came out in gaggles to coo over him. People stood with him to get their picture taken. And Owen stood there wagging his tail, happily absorbing all the attention.

He’s a good sport, too. Poor puppy. He lets me get away with so much. But I think we put smiles on a few faces, so it was for a good cause.

All in all, not a bad day. I think sometimes it can be good to break tradition (not that we did it on purpose). It can be a learning experience.

All the same, I hope no one goes into cardiac arrest over Christmas.

Me and Dad

Happy Thanksgiving!

Fairy Lights and Family Night

Once there was a girl who put her fairy wings on upside down. The other fairies made fun of her, so she decided to create another fairy that had upside down wings just like her.

She waved her magic wand and…

Owen and his Fairy Wings

Bing! Upside down fairy wings!

The girl’s wings were green and the new fairy’s wings were blue, but they each had glow necklaces to match their wings and they were very, very beautiful.

The Blue and Green Fairies

Beautiful!

And after they admired their wings from all different angles…

Side view

...like the side...

Back view

...and the back...

…they lived happily ever after.

But first, they went trick-or-treating with some friends.

     *                    *                    *                    *                    *                    *                    *

Owen loved trick-or-treating. We went around the old ‘hood with K, her kids, K’s sister (Laurie Loo) and her daughter (Little E).

Little E was dressed as one of Tinkerbell’s cohorts, Rosetta (red fairy).

Rosetta

Rosetta

Laurie Loo was dressed as Fawn (orange fairy).

Fawn

Fawn

What we didn’t know was that this, by default, made me Tinkerbell (green fairy) and Owen…

Silvermist

Silvermist

 We had unknowingly completed the set.

Once he got outside, Owen could have cared less what you called him. He was just so happy to be going for a walk, to be with people and, of course, to be the center of attention. He trotted joyfully next to Baby Blue, aka the Ghostbuster, and those two were the first to every house. While BB rang the doorbell with purpose, Owen waited excitedly to see who would come to the door, tail wagging with polite curiosity.

Once the candy was passed out, he was happy to move down the driveway and on to the next house.

Little E kept things interesting by yelling “Ga! Ga!” with her three-year old lungs at every stop. Each time Laurie Loo told her, “Say ‘trick-or-treat’!”, Little E replied matter-of-factly, “I’m going to say, ‘ga ga’.” And she did.

Here we are at the end of the trail:

The whole gang
Cheese!
And we are, clockwise from the left:
1. Me (aka Tinkerbell)
2. Baby Blue (not such a baby anymore)
3. K (the lone adult)
4. Laurie Loo (aka Fawn)
5. Little K (aka Gothic Ragdoll…and not so Little anymore)
6. Silvermist
7. Little E (aka Rosetta)
 
This is my adopted family. I grew up next door to K and Laurie Loo and was over their house so often that their parents called me their third daughter.
 
Looking at this picture brought that strangely home to me. We are just that: family. Sometimes we annoy each other, hurt each other and piss each other off …but we are bonded by many years and many memories…and by love.
 
Love you, Peeps!
 
Happy Halloween, everybody!