Friday, September 25, 2015

Black and White

I have a good friend at my gym for geriatrics that is consistently giving me grief about my choice of athletic footwear.  He says I wear old man shoes; I say I wear what I like, plain colored shoes; it’s what’s cool at WRS.  I will say he’s not the first to point out that I’m a bit behind the work out fashion eight ball.

In the attached picture; I was trolling my buddy at WRS and showing him how I could walk the fashion edge by wearing one black and one white shoe.    He helped me with the shoe laces so I would look even cooler.  Gretchen, my fitness muse and fellow movie aficionado, just shook her head.

I married a woman who never just shook her head and moved on I married a woman who rarely let any chances go by to keep me humble, I married a woman who rarely had any thought that wasn’t given voice.  

In the old Colorado City Texas days in addition to saying stuff like, “far out” and  “that’s cool man” we referred to giving some one grief or teasing them as “rockin’ “ on them.  You know like, “He really rocked on you that time.”  Marty has always been the queen of “rockin” on me.

After lunch on the day of the great shoe war we had a doctor’s appointment.  Because of the shoe laces I decided to go the easy route and just wear the stupid shoes, one black, one white.  Great and Wise is a huge Star Trek fan and I figured I could just tell him it was a homage to the episode, “Let That Be Your Last Battlefield” where two guys with black and white faces hated each other because one was white on the right and the other wasn’t.

Long story to say I was lazy and wore the stupid shoes and Marty noticed.  We were sitting just finished with lunch when she looked down then looked at me and looked back down, she didn’t say anything.  

I asked, “What’s up?”

“Your shoes, they look stupid.”

“Yeah I know one black and one white.”  I conceded the point, she was right, it did look kind of dumb and I tried to explain why I was wearing shoes that looked stupid.

“We are going to go see Great and Wise like this, is that okay, does that embarrass you?”

Marty looked at me, down at the shoes and back to my face and looked deep into my eyes and said, “Your shoes aren’t what embarrass me about you.”  

Boom….rocked on by my sweet, vulnerable, brain broken, little wife.

I laughed, she smiled and said, “Your shoes are fine, you act goofy though.”

She nailed me, my goofiness has finally caught up with me and I have embarrassed the bride.  

Hey I can live with that, because when she nails me it really feels like home and I think deep down she really likes my shoes and she’s the one that counts the most.

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

My Friend Loves My Wife

How people react and approach Marty in her wheel chair means something to me, in fact, it means a lot.  I may place too much emphasis on how friends and strangers treat Marty but if they are afraid, if they are reluctant to greet her or touch her or speak to her I make value judgments.

I don’t know if that’s fair or not, it just is.  It’s a big reason why I trusted son-in-law Lyle when we first met him.  He was not afraid, he did not stand back, he greeted Marty, he kissed her cheek, and he treated Marty like his girlfriend’s mother.  It went a long way with his girlfriend’s father.

I have a lifelong friend who has been my friend, roommate, teammate, counselor and friend for over 50 years.  Like any long term friend ship after we graduated from college and got married we kind of drifted apart, talking from time to time but going years between conversations.  

He is my best friend and he has known Marty since the beginning of Marty and Marty’sHusband.  He knows Marty from when she was the old Marty and now he knows the new Marty.  Post strokes and post his own heart attack Skip became a fairly regular visitor to our homes.  It was a fantastic renewal; his was a very welcome face to both Marty and me. 
Skip and I talk, about everything.  You know the kind of friend, the kind of friend where you can tell your deepest darkest ugliest stuff and they still love you, for me, that’s Skip.  Early on Skip confessed to me that it was hard for him to see Marty in her current state, he was unsure of himself with his old friend.  

He just didn’t know how to “be” with the new Marty and he really missed the old Marty, the sharp as a tack Marty, the killer wit Marty, the totally unpredictable Marty.  He didn’t know what to do with his sadness at the loss of the old Marty and he didn’t know how to act with the new Marty.

Things change with familiarity.  Skip has been with Marty a lot over the last couple of years.  He has sat down with her for meals, he has sat on the edge of her bed, he has celebrated birthdays with her, he has talked to Marty, he has hugged Marty, he has come to know Marty as she is today.

This last birthday I took Marty out for her favorite meal at a local haunt in Waco, chicken fried steak.  Skip came up and went with Marty, Nykkie and me for dinner.  Nykkie needed to drive her car home so Skip rode with Marty and me in our van.  

After we parked I let Marty, in her wheelchair, down from the van and had to go park the van because all of the handicapped spots were filled.  Without Nykkie I watched as my old best friend wheel my very best wife up to the door of the restaurant.   He didn’t ask, he didn’t hesitate he just did. 

It sounds small, it sounds insignificant and maybe it is for some, it’s not to me.  The guy who once confessed his uneasiness with Marty’s new persona was pushing her out of the heat, no questions, no pause, just lending an appropriate hand.  

When we got home ahead of Nykkie, our trusted care giver, I once again got up in the van, unhooked the wheelchair anchors and let Marty down.  Once again, Skip took Marty in her wheelchair and rolled her out of the sun, out of the heat to the garage door.  He struggled a bit getting the wheelchair over the threshold, the same threshold we all struggle with from time to time, but he put his foot on the back of the chair, kicked it back and rolled Marty into her room.  My old friend had become a hand.

Skip loved Marty, he loved that she was smart, he loved that she was funny, he loved that she had spice.  Like me with Skip, like me with Marty, there is a deep and abiding shared history which brings us close.  That shared history, that inevitable closeness surrounds and suffocates the discomfort with the broken Marty.  There is too much history to forget who she really is.
Skip loves Marty today.  He sees past the brokenness to the person she was and is.  Skip kisses her cheek, he sits on her bed beside her and laughs and talks with her and always wants me to tell her hello as we say goodbye from a phone conversation.

It makes me love my friend even more.

Friday, September 11, 2015

We're Meeting New People.....In the Hospital

So far we have met Shireen, Odessa and Katie.  Shireen is from Kenya, we met her in the emergency room, Odessa is not from Odessa and settled us into the room about 1 a.m., Katie is taking care of Marty in her room today.  We are lucky; these three nurses have been great.

Marty got sick last night, she did the body spasm thing and then, right after eating a marvelous dinner I had prepared, she threw up.  I don’t think it was a commentary on the pork tenderloin even though it was a bit dry.  It was, as proven by our ER visit, a systemic response to infection.

It was a surprise to all that we ended up in the ER that evening because we had just visited the good offices of Great and Wise to talk about a myriad of other niggling details.  Marty was sharp, clear, and responsive and at the doctor’s office.

After talking with Great and Wise I was flying solo in the late afternoon to give a couple of our ladies some much needed time away from us.  I kind of like being in the house alone with Marty, it gives us some time just to ourselves and keeps me really connected to all of the little idiosyncrasies of caring for Marty.  

I wish I could accurately describe Marty’s body’s actions when she does these spasm things.  It starts as a yawn and a stretch but is longer and more pronounced.  It is obviously different from a voluntary stretching of stiff muscles.  It almost always ends with a little moan from Marty and her upper torso contracting to the right.  

It’s all pretty subtle but when I see it I almost always start sweating from anxiety.  It’s actually a pretty amazing autonomic reaction on my part, Marty stretches uncontrollably, I sweat.

Dinner had been prepared but I knew, as subtle as it seemed, as much as I just wanted to blow it off and chalk it up to hyper vigilance we were going to make a trip to the ER, I started making plans.  Providence ER allows you to go on-line and set up an “appointment”.  What it really does is gives me some idea of how long we would wait to be seen.  I set up the appointment for 9 p.m.; the emergency room was clearly busy.

We ate supper and as I was cleaning the dishes, Marty still at the table started to heave a little, she was about to puke.  Now here is an amazing piece of rather gross information, I stood beside my bride as stuff came out her mouth, hands under her mouth catching the not digested food in a cloth all the while talking in a soothing voice, encouraging her not to hold back but let it go.  

This is completely contrary to my normal persona, in fact I’m feeling a little bit nauseated just writing about it, but for some mysterious reason that only loved ones and parents of puking little kids understand, how I felt about the vomiting process was not paramount in my mind. 
I immediately started planning a trip to the ER, not at 9 p.m. but right then.

As luck would have it the ER had received my request for an appointment and called and said I should bring Marty now.  I gathered the tools of our trade, the med list, the med history, the spare bag with hygiene essentials, my I pad and I pad charger.  With Marty loaded and locked in the van we got to the hospital about 6:50 and were in a room seeing a doctor and Shereen the Kenyan nurse by about 7:10, God bless Providence.

We made it up to a room on the third floor a little after midnight with the diagnosis of a mild pneumonia.  We met Odessa, the remarkably competent and caring floor nurse, she checked Marty out and in and I gave her my spiel and I left Marty in the competent hands of Odessa and her care giver La Shonda about 2 a.m...

We are still in the hospital hanging out watching Ellen and Jeopardy and CNN.  Marty has slept most of the day which is a good thing since she slept very little last night.  We have seen Great and Wise and will make some decisions about the length of stay after blood tests in the morning.

We don’t like being in the hospital, it really kind of bites.  All things considered we are here because we need to be and will do what we need to do to take our next step on our rather odd and winding journey.  

I never would have thought I could hold warm stomach fluids in my hand.  But it’s like a lot of things, you just do it without thinking because if you think about it too much it makes you kind of queasy.

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Who Survived....Who Thrived?

I wonder what happened to them, the people we met along the way, the sick, the broken, the injured we came to know on our journeys through hospitals, ICUs and rehab units.  I wonder who survived; I wonder who found a way to thrive.

I don’t know that I have ever experienced the same intensity of emotions, good and bad, during our time in hospitals, ICUs and rehab.  You experience the joy of survival and the abject fear of the unknown with complete strangers surrounding you.  You see others experiencing the same thing and you come to understand you are the stranger watching people in very intimate personal times.

The ICU at Parkland Hospital was a desperate place filled with desperately ill people and desperate people who loved them.  At Parkland ICU there were no walls, only curtains separating all of the patients and their visitors. 

Because I was there a lot and there was not much privacy I watched a lot of patients and their people come and go.  I saw them bring in a young man, about 16 or 17, his mother by his side.  He was from a small community north of Dallas and had apparently run his motorcycle into a culvert and suffered major trauma to his body and his brain. 

I watched as his mother and father along with friends come and talk to the unconscious young man.  The men were all in the National Guard and I assumed they must have had medical training because they were working with the young man, working his legs and his arms talking to the comatose young man, encouraging him to keep functioning.  The father was destined to be shipped out for Iraq in about a week, this was 2005.  

While I was completely consumed by my own fear and grief I couldn’t help but feel for the poor mother who was dealing with the catastrophic injuries to her son while waiting for her husband, her partner, to be sent to a war zone. 

I wonder what happened to the kid.

The Zale-Lipshy ICU was much better.  There was a real waiting room and real ICU rooms where you could ignore visiting hours if you were quiet and kept a low profile.  I met the mother of a young man who had been a football player from Texas Tech University, my alma mater.  The kid had been on scholarship and took a hit the wrong way and broke his neck.  

The young man had been paralyzed for years and he and his mom were veterans of ICUs and the illnesses associated with paralysis.  Their story gave me a little hope and a lot of fear about the future for Marty and me.  I could not see me ever doing what this woman was doing, certainly not with the calm and grace she had.

I know what happened with this young man.  He died about three years later.

Marty went to Pate Rehab in Dallas four months after her second stroke.  At this rehab the clients lived in apartments and were trucked into the rehab facility daily.  Marty and I stayed with two men, Max, who was a fairly young man that had lost use of his left hand and leg due to a stroke and Campbell, a really sweet middle aged bald fellow who had also had a stroke and was prone to crying.  Both were confined to wheel chairs but much further along than Marty. 

I kept in touch with Campbell’s wife for a while after we left and I know he eventually got to go home.  I’m not sure how he progressed after that or if he ever got out of his wheelchair.  Max went home and I assumed because he was young had a good chance for recovery.  I got word from Campbell’s wife that he passed away not long after he went home.

Then there was the young woman who died in the ICU at Providence Hospital immediately after child birth.  She was fairly well known in the community and there were a lot of people around the ICU waiting room following her progress.   I don’t know the details; I can’t imagine how devastating it must have been to lose someone on such an amazing occasion. 

I wonder how her husband and child are today.

We saw countless people, husbands, old men, coming and sitting with their injured or ill wives night and day.  We saw mothers caring for children and caring for aging parents.  We saw life, the beginning, the middle and for some, the end, the dirty hard end, the real journey of life.  

Life can be, life is, amazing.  It can be singing at the top of lungs jumping up and down dancing joyous.  I like that part.  

It will also be dirty, down in the mud, broken, bloody, misery at times.  Real living is both.  It helps when you are looking at your journey to remember and you remember the people who have been on the trail with you and have touched you in some way.  

I remember all of their faces; I hope they all have found peace.