Monday, December 24, 2012

Making Memories

I remember coming back to our rental home in the Texas Tech ghetto in the summer of 1974 after a weekend of water skiing and drinking.  Marty was sitting on the front porch of the house I rented with three other guys, waiting, for me.

I remember sitting in the garage of that same house, Marty and I were sitting on the floor, legs touching, talking quietly as we watched, listened and smelled the summer rain.  I remember being aware of growing close.

I remember the very early summer morning, in Paris (Texas), watching as they wheeled Marty away to the delivery room to give birth to our first child, a son.  I remember how long the wait seemed and how intolerably dumb it was that I had to sit in the waiting room.

I remember watching as my daughter was born in Muenster (again, Texas) and seeing this perfectly round head with dark hair capture my heart as she took her first breath.  This time I was there to see Marty perform a miracle.

I remember sitting in our church, standing to sing a hymn and putting my hand over Marty’s as we both rested our hands on the pew in front of us.

I remember singing along with Pluto and Goofy and the gang as we made one more road trip to west Texas.  

I remember standing at the top of the ski slope with Marty; she was dressed in the bright red ski suit that Erin would wear when she became an adult.  I remember looking at the sky, the snow, our children and being very simply, happy.

I have often worried if our time of making good memories was over.  I have worried that the strokes, which have permeated every facet of our lives, would simply take over and color any and all memories I might have after the strokes.  I have worried that the only memories we were making were the memories of illness and fighting for survival.

Then, I close my eyes, I think, I remember.

Then I remember seeing Marty standing and dancing on a set of steps they used at rehab after her first stroke.  I was amazed because I wasn’t sure Marty would ever be what she was before.  She smiled as she stood there, supported by her therapist and I, once again, I was captured by this woman.

Then I remember sitting with this woman on our boat dock, looking out over the water, no wind to ruffle the lake, the water still, flat, shimmering, the setting sun casting orange and red shades through the fragments of clouds.

Then I remember seeing her clutching and nuzzling our first grandchild after his baptism, I remember her kissing his head.   I remember her holding her second grandchild and smiling and then taking the third in her arm for the first time.

Then I remember gliding along a small dance floor.  Marty sat straight in her wheelchair and said she wanted to dance, so we danced, in a fashion, we danced at our daughter’s wedding.

Then I remember her sitting at the front of our church with Jimmie’s face next to her reciting the charge at the Christmas service.  Jimmie would speak, Marty would speak, and I remember, every word, every phrase.

Then I remember her broken smile, her stubborn laugh at our stupid behavior, her questions, her statements, her requests, her courage, her determination, her patience, her love for her children and her love for me.  

Then I remember her saying, “I love you”.

Then I know our good memories are still being built.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Better is Better

She’s better, she’s pretty much back to normal, for her, I would say we are back to baseline.  Better is indeed better.

It took a few days, it took some angst on my part, it took first rate care on the part of all who care for Marty, it took a lot of gator aid, Diet Coke, soup, Ginger Ale, cranberry juice and Imodium, but we got there last Saturday night, about three days post hospital.  That’s when Marty got back to her normal hypertensive self.

The week of the relatively simple illness was so reminiscent of the bad old days when I was constantly aware of Marty’s mortality and how close we walked to that line and how easy it was to cross that line.  The feelings of anxiety, fear, uncertainty came rushing back quicker than I thought they would.  The thoughts of how do we survive this quickly took over the living of our life from the moment she vomited.

It has made me realize and appreciate how smooth our life has been over the last months.  Certainly life has not been without trial and fear, but it’s been supremely manageable, it’s been almost normal, in our own perverted way.  The low blood pressure, the low oxygen, the illness itself brought back the fretting, the fear and the insecurity of the past medical crises. 

It’s funny, when we are in the hospital, even for a few hours, I generally don’t feel the anxiety I do at our home.  A very surreal sense of calm and confidence suppresses the fear and anxiety churning in my chest and head.  I sit there and provide data to the doctors and nurses, I repeat myself over and over again, I tell our story, I tell Marty’s story, I give her a face, I’m doing something, it calms me.
I know the security the hospital provides is mostly an allusion.  Bad things do and will happen in hospitals.  I’m not sure why I feel more secure there.

I suspect the ability to run blood tests, check urine and perform x-rays and other diagnostics often provide me with some clarity and maybe a false sense of security.  The tests are positive actions that provide concrete data; I like concrete data, even if the data turns out to be…. I don’t know what’s wrong.  Ultimately, the diagnostics help provide more transparency to what is going on with Marty.  I like knowing.

I also suspect that in some small way being in the hospital alleviates part of the burden of making decisions regarding the criticality of issues.  While you can’t leave all of the decisions to the nurses, they help a lot with perspective, like “I’ve seen this a lot, not to worry” or “It’s a good thing you’re here”.

I get that the hospital signifies, for most people, for Marty who hates being hospitalized, a level of illness, a degree of sickness, a level of criticality that is beyond the ordinary fever, cough or puking.  I get that the hospital is populated with sick people and all kinds of nasty viruses, bacteria and medical mishaps and mistakes.  I get all of that.

It’s just that sometimes being in the care of attentive professionals, having technology at hand offers a level of reassurance we (I) simply can’t find at home.  As much as I hate it, as odd as it is, the hospital offers a perverted level of emotional and mental level of comfort.

Marty is better, she is back to where we were, she is feeling well, eating, drinking and a little hypertensive.  Better is better and as the days of better mount we once again move away from medical crisis mode and the bad old days kind of recede into the back of my mind, still there, not forgotten, but repressed enough to sit comfortably in the living room with my Marty and laugh at high brow television like Duck Dynasty.

Saturday, December 1, 2012

She's Sick

It’s been 34 months since we last spent the night in Providence Hospital, an enviable streak for the chronically broken among us.  

We busted the streak Wednesday.

Caregiver Nykkie came in that morning about 7 a.m. and rousted me from a deep sleep, from a sleep aided by one of the few mornings cold enough in central Texas to cool down my sheets.  It had been a good sleep.
Nykkie gently poked my bare shoulder and said, “I’m sorry, but I don’t think Marty feels good.”
It’s a lot like waking and looking at the clock and realizing you have over slept and you have 15 minutes to get to that important meeting, you get up putting your pants on and running, all of the sudden wide awake, all of the sudden moving from sleep to wide awake.  It’s an awful way to start the day.

Nykkie told me Marty had been vomiting and her blood pressure and oxygen levels were well below what is considered normal for Marty.  Puking in your sleep is not a good thing, puking for Marty leads down way treacherous paths like aspiration and dehydration.

I walked briskly down the hall pulling on my shirt from the night before, following Nykkie.  We got to Marty’s room, she was laying in her bed, pale, pallid, clearly ill.    This is an easy decision, “Let’s take her to the emergency room, now,” I said.

Nykkie, who had already, by 7 a.m., cleaned up the products of Marty’s illness,  moved quickly to get Marty dressed so she could get in a cold van and make the five minute ride to Providence Hospital.  I started the van to let it warm up, brushed my teeth, tried to tame my bed head and chased Maggie the dog down after she snuck out while I started the van.  Nykkie suggested a cap for my still untamed hair, I transferred Marty to her wheel chair and we were actually in an ER exam room with a nurse by about 7:45 a.m...

While we were waiting for the triage nurse in the ER I asked Marty is she was afraid.  I think that’s more for me than for her, I think in my own perverted way I’m looking for reassurance from the sick. 
She said, “Yes.”

I asked, “Why?” with my best reassuring tremble.

“I don’t want to admitted.”  She doesn’t want to be in the hospital.

I reassured her that it even if we had to stay in the hospital it probably wouldn’t be too long.  My hope.

Once in the ER we did X-rays, blood tests, urine tests, catheters, IV fluids and oxygen.  The chest X-ray was clear, the white count was elevated, her blood pressure was scary low.  Marty threw up once more for good measure before we made it back to the ER, but that stopped and mostly she slept through all of the needles and tubes.

Ultimately the tentative diagnosis was a stomach virus, the 24 hour kind that is perfectly miserable to everyone involved but extremely debilitating for someone in Marty’s condition.  She was very dehydrated from the puking and pooping and once they started IV fluids she started to perk up just a little bit.

By noon, sure enough we were up in a room on the 4th floor, where the nurses flocked around her to get her checked in and Nykkie and I went into our standard hospital mode.  She went to the house to give Maggie a needed outside potty break and to get our hospital supplies; me, I gave Marty’s story to everyone that darkened our door.

Marty ate, she drank, she was given copious amounts of IV fluids and eventually her blood pressure started to even out to a normal range for a normal person.  It took several hours.

Great and Wise stopped by that evening to reassure all of us that this seemed pretty simple.  He felt good that it would be just short stay; I told him I wasn’t counting this against our 34 month non hospital streak.  

Renea came that evening to relieve her Nykkie, her sister.  I went home about 8 p.m. confidant my bride was in good hands.  We had met the night nurse and Renea, always right and always in charge, who never takes anything off anyone is the perfect person to represent Marty.

By 7 a.m. Great and Wise was back again to spring us.  We left without incident about noon, a 30 hour stay.

Since coming home Marty still feels, to quote her, “Crappy.”  We have struggled with her energy, her blood pressure and her nausea.  I have had to call Great and Wise once to get him to talk me down from the anxiety wall I was climbing.  In my mind, we ain’t done with this yet.

My experience tells me to do this one step at a time and just deal with what is in front of us, don’t try and make plans for longer than what is right in front of us, don’t try and deal with what we don’t know, don’t bury anyone yet, don’t start the eulogies.  I struggle with this many days, the hospital simply amps up the negative wave.  I know in my head not to imagine the worst; my stomach and my heart are hard to drag along.  I tend to fall back to the bad old days of endless worry about what is coming.

I don’t know what is next, I hope this turns soon and we get back to our baseline.  The best we can do is make Marty comfortable and watch and care for her in ways that make sense.  One step at a time, I keep saying it, one step at a time.