Sunday, December 25, 2016

And God Smiled (Revisited)

I wrote this several years is one of my favorite moments in our journey

I play at golf.  I have no faith in my game.  I hit the ball all over the place and when I address the ball I never know if the good Larry or the evil Larry is going to hit the ball.  Lately, my golf game is kind of a metaphor for my religious views.

I continue to play golf in spite of the evil Larry because when the good Larry stands at the ball, takes a back swing and hits the golf ball on the sweet spot of the club and the ball rises and goes straight and true and long, it is a wonderful feeling.  It is why I play golf, eternal hope that the good Larry will prevail more than the evil, chili-dipping, shanking, slicing Larry.  It’s the same with my faith, I try to be eternally optimistic that I’m going to believe as I should believe.

I identify as a Christian because that’s how I was raised and that’s what I want to believe.  I struggle with my belief or more accurately my unbelief.  Not every day, because I don’t think about it every day, I struggle on the days I think about what I just cannot believe.  I have often wondered if I am Christian enough because I have doubts about the Bible, Immaculate Conception, the Holy Ghost and a litany of other beliefs.  But, sometimes, events occur that shine a light on the importance of my doubts. 

On Christmas day Marty and I sat in our van in the parking lot of 1st Presbyterian Church in Waco, our church of 20 years.  It was misting, it was cool, it was overcast and there were only about three other cars in the parking lot.  I looked across the street at the building that is our church and remembered the past, flashed on the events of our lives that revolved around the church and wondered how we fit into this place that has always been such a prominent part of our personal history.

Marty and I were sans caregiver today so I moved her wheelchair to the lift and down she went into the damp parking lot.  We scurried across a sleepy street, up the ramp to the church and the heavy wooden doors came open, opened by a familiar face welcoming us to our church.  

Church services on Christmas day are sparsely attended because of all of the family functions and the fat man with the beard.  It’s a toned down affair where everyone sits at the front for the abbreviated service.  Our minister, Jimmie, was dressed, not in his normal robes but jeans and a plaid pull-over hoody. 

He greeted Marty and I warmly and helped me situate Marty in our pew, the pew we sat in for Erin’s wedding, the pew that had been moved over to accommodate a wheelchair, the pew our children sat in Sunday after Sunday while Marty and I sat behind them.  

The small crowd settled into their spots around us as Jimmie dipped his hands into the waters of the baptismal font and said, “Welcome home children of God.”  There we were, Marty in her wheelchair, me dressed in doubt.

I knew this was going to be a little different service as Becky, the organist, sat at the grand piano right in front of us and began playing “Go Tell it on the Mountain.”  Marty and her women’s chorus rocked this gospel tune many times; it’s a toe-tapper.  Becky was bobbing her head and weaving as she played.  Presbyterians, being the frozen chosen, don’t often bob and weave in a church service.

As the service progressed we said prayers and began singing a Christmas carol.  Marty loved to sing but doesn’t sing very much anymore.  The strokes affected her vocal control and she can’t maintain her pitch very well and she doesn’t like that.  But, there she sat, in our pew, singing “Hark the Herald Angels Sing” just as surely and loudly as the rest of us.  I looked up at Jimmie standing behind the pulpit singing, watching Marty singing, and I remembered why I loved being there, it wasn’t about my belief or unbelief, it was about our belonging to a community of doubters and believers.

We moved through the rest of the service praying, singing and listening, then as the service came to an end Jimmie and his sidekick DeDe came down from the chancel area to stand between the pews and deliver the charge and the benediction.  The charge is the same every week, I have heard it, Marty has heard it hundreds of times, it is part of the service Marty knows and loves.  It is part of the service that carries great meaning for me.

As Jimmie walked past the baptismal font he once again dipped his hands in the water, shook them off, walked up to Marty and put his hands on her face, connecting Marty to him, connecting Marty to our past, cementing Marty to our faith in a loving God.

Jimmie stood and started the charge, “Go out into the world in peace.”  

Marty, surprisingly, without hesitation, without embarrassment or self-consciousness said, in full voice for all to hear “Have courage.”  

Jimmie looked at Marty and continued with the litany, “hold on to what is good,” and Marty replied “return no evil for evil.”

Jimmie then walked up to Marty, bent over and wrapped his arms around her shoulders and together, with her broken memory responding and his gentle reminders, they continued and completed the charge to all Christians, to all people of faith, even those like me who doubt their own belief, “Strengthen the faint-hearted, support the weak and help the suffering, honor all people, love and serve the Lord, rejoicing in the power of the Holy Spirit.”

DeDe, the young woman minister assisting Jimmie that Christmas day struggled with her tears, and closed the service with the Benediction.  I sat there and struggled to tamp down my own tears as I felt Marty’s action bring a sense of peace on this day for all who were there.  It was no longer about my doubts or my faith.

Marty and I went back out the doors of the church, through the heavy mist and across the still deserted road.  I put Marty on the lift and in the van and got her locked down in the van, forgetting about my doubts, not worrying at all about what I didn’t believe.  Through Marty’s unrelenting courage to recover and Jimmie’s recognition of God’s grace through Marty,  I remembered, it’s not about what I don’t understand or struggle over, it’s about what God does and I believe God smiled at us that day through my wife.

Thursday, December 1, 2016

Do It Again

She does it a lot.  You reach down, Marty turns her cheek to you, you kiss it, and she says, “Do it again”.  You kiss her cheek again, she says, “Do it again”.  This repeats four maybe five times, so always be prepared, Marty digs being loved.

That wasn’t always the case; she struggled with feeling loved, with feeling worthy of love.  Marty wasn’t ever sure she deserved the love and affection of those around her, more important; too often she didn’t feel very lovable.

That has changed.

She likes to be hugged, she likes to be kissed, she likes for you to hold her hand, touch her arm, rest your hand on her shoulder, she loves affection.  Mostly she loves knowing she is loved and she eagerly accepts that love and the affection that comes with it.

Marty can still be kind of ornery and occasionally the old tart, acerbic Marty arises.  Like, when she told me that my shaggy hair and shorts and sweat shirt were just a little bit of an embarrassment to her.  But, on the whole, I would call her sweet, loving and someone who loves to be loved and is not shy about saying give me some more.

All of us, at times, struggle with the idea of accepting love, accepting care; even from someone we know loves us.  Marty was/is not alone in that.  We don’t feel worthy of another’s sacrifice, we don’t feel we deserve adulation or praise or affection.  We have that voice in our head rattling around telling us, “You are not worthy, this other person’s love is more than I deserve, I’ve done nothing to cash in such a rich reward. “

Marty felt that, it made her angry, it made her sad, it was frustrating.  Not anymore.  Today, in our new normal, she gets it.  She no longer thinks about being worth loving, she doesn’t run all of the negative around in her head, that would be too hard, she simply says, “Do it again” with a level of assurance and expectation that you are going to kiss her cheek as many times as she asks and that it is okay, it is perfect for her to ask, again and again and again.

I attended some business training years ago that focused, to a small degree, on accepting compliments, accepting nice things people would say to you.  We learn early in life to be humble and too often we take our humility to absurd levels, not accepting kindness, not accepting good things; we must pass on kindness from others if we ourselves are good.  We need to learn to accept those kindnesses and simply say thank you, accept the words, accept the love.

The Marty of today knows, she absolutely knows she is loved and I think she finally believes she is lovable, worthy and deserving of my love, of our children’s love, of our family’s love, of our friends' love.  She gets it, she understands that we can never particularly deserve another’s love and affection, we can never earn that greatest of things through our actions. 

Love, the love of other people, the love of God is given freely, it is not earned, we don’t necessarily deserve the love of others, it is the greatest of things, it is the penultimate gift we give and receive. 

When it’s offered we simply have to accept it; we simply have to say, “Do it again.”

Friday, November 11, 2016

Superman and Heaven, Wisdom from Marty

Spoiler alert on a couple of fronts….If you plan on seeing Batman VS  Superman as it comes out on DVD or HBO and want to be surprised by the end of this less than inspiring movie, stop reading……I’m going to tell you how it ends.

And, if you are planning on dying at any time in your life, I have another spoiler. Both of these come from the all knowing sage, Marty.

First, the Superman thing. 

The Batman vs. Superman movie was pretty well savaged by the movie critics, they weren’t all wrong, it was kind of hard to follow.  We actually kind of liked the movie, but I like film, except the Magic Mike movies, both of them were a special kind of bad.

Superman VS Batman was overly long and chaotic and too visually dark especially if you have to sit up close like we do in the wheel chair section, note to theaters, give us a break please.  But, it was a movie, there was popcorn involved and it was fine, light afternoon entertainment, until the ending.

Here’s the spoiler, Superman dies and is buried at the end (theoretically).  I mean how can that be?  He’s indestructible, he can fly, he can do anything and these morons kill him?  Really?

I grew up a huge, huge Superman fan.  Bought and read all of the comics and watched the old George Reeves version on TV when I was somewhere you could get that station.  I ran around the neighborhood with a towel pinned around my neck flying and jumping off of some really high things until I figured the bath towel was only going to hang me if I didn’t quit. 

I was a pre-adolescent Superman apprentice so naturally I was affected by Superman’s untimely demise.  In fact I’m still a bit shocked, not Trump is our new president shocked, but Superman is dead shocked.

After the film, I sat in the movie darkness next to Marty as the credits were rolling by and with a heavy heart and deep sigh I said to Marty, “I can’t believe they killed off Superman, how can you kill Superman, how can Superman be really dead?”

Marty who was a little bored with the chaos on the screen looked up from her Diet Coke and said with a voice that sounded just like an impatient mother soothing their 10 years olds angst , or a bored partner impatient with her spouses idiocy,  “Ging (the shortened version of a nickname), don’t worry, it’s only a movie.”

Yea, I know, only a movie.  It’s not like I believed in Superman or anything but I wore a bath towel around my neck and jumped from roofs and they killed the man, they killed Superman.  Thanks Marty, I know it’s only a movie, geez….

Then there’s the whole dying and waking up in heaven after life thing.  Marty is a strong believer in the heaven after life thing.  She hasn’t always been there, but she is now.  Almost dying several times can give you a different perspective on this kind of thing.

We were driving down the highway one day talking about stuff and she told me she really believes that she will see her Mom and Dad again someday.  She knows her Mom is in heaven and mostly believes her Dad made it there too.

Remarkably, she believes I’m going to be allowed in her heaven too, with one caveat, she says I will be a lot nicer and not near as bossy.  She doesn’t really much like that whole bossy thing, never did from anyone which is why she is not 100% on her own Pop being in heaven. 

So, there you have it.  A super hero is dead but it’s only a movie and Marty’s apparently bossy grouchy husband will have a free ticket to the good place. 

Hope to see you all there, a long time from now.  You might not recognize me because I will be so much nicer.  I’ll be the guy with the towel pinned around his neck talking to Superman, and of course Marty.

Friday, October 21, 2016

Stripping Down

Two weeks ago I went to Dallas to see number one Grandson play soccer and then I took him to Toys R Us to shop for his birthday.  Marty didn’t go, Marty couldn’t go, it was a fast trip and there was really no way to get her wheelchair to the soccer field.  I don’t know if she really wanted to go, but I went alone wondering if I should have found a way to accommodate her.

Last week we took furniture to our daughter in Dallas in Marty’s new van.  I was amazed at how much stuff we got in the van.  Marty and I were having dinner and I asked her if she wanted to go and she said yes.  I then talked about trying to get all of that stuff in the van and how tight it would be.  Marty looked at me and said, “Do you have room for me?”
Of course I will always make room for her, that’s exactly what I told her, but that's not always the simple truth.

Sometimes to survive you have to simplify, you have to find the bare essentials and strip life down to the basics.  That’s what we had to do in our lives to cope with Marty’s stroke, that’s where I took us, thinking, believing we needed to focus inward to survive.

With Marty, when we came home, it was all about survival, hers and mine. Simply staying alive and mentally stable took all of our energy and efforts and even then we sometimes came up short.

 Recovery from a stroke takes a tremendous amount of energy and focus.  Everything is hard and exhausting.  Thinking, talking, eating, and breathing, basic living skills all require enormous amounts of concentration, calories, and focus.  The extras in life like relationships, work and play are shoved to the back of the closet until you can move out of survival mode.  (See Maslow’s hierarchy of needs….we start with survival)

There are a lot of problems with this whole stripping down thing, like,  you get really tired of looking at yourself naked, you see way too many of your own flaws.  You end up pushing too much in the closet, you get too internal and too focused on just living and you forget that the world outside your sphere still exists and still matters. 

You know, or you think the stripping down is temporary, but it soon becomes an integral part of your life that seems permanent.  You know in the back of your brain that sooner or later you have to start adding elements of life back in and that can be scary, a little daunting.   Reincorporating yourself back into the ebb and flow of life is hard.

The truth is if you step out of the main stream, eventually you get left behind; other people evolve and move on without you.  It only makes sense because the stream, the river is still running, with or without you.  The boat really does leave you where you stepped off and you don’t get the benefit of gently floating down a creek and seeing the same sights as the rest of the world as a leveling experience, you have to get back on where everybody else already is and that is frightening.

And, bringing Marty up to speed adds a real level of complexity and difficulty.  I want her to be part of life, I want her to be able to re engage, but the truth is, on so many levels, she simply can’t, she doesn’t have the physical, mental or emotional bandwidth to do it and I find myself, too often, leaving her sitting on the bank and watching as I start putting my toes back in the water.

It makes me feel horribly guilty.

I will always have room for her, I will leave stuff on the side of the road to make room for her, I hate that she even asked the question, “Do you have room for me?” 

It’s one of those care giving issues.  It’s an issue of caring for yourself and making sure that the cared for are present, are literally cared for, are noticed and are part of the flow of life. 

That’s not always easy, in fact, it’s very rarely easy, but nobody said it would be.  They did say it would be worth it, for once they were right.

Friday, September 9, 2016

Poop or Chocolate?

There it was, poop, on my hand.  I reached for the first thing I could find, a tissue, at tissue on the cabinet, a used tissue, and without thinking wiped away the poop leaving a residue of snot on my hand. 

This is care giving my friends.

The best part about this, and truly, truly, there aren’t many best parts of stuff like this, it doesn’t really bother me anymore.  I no longer dry heave, I no longer shudder and recoil, I just wipe off the dirt with more dirt.  Its life and frankly with warm water and soap you can clean any part of your body. 

You can really tell you are settling into your role with all of this if you can stomach the nasty stuff, then tell the story and laugh about it.  As Marty sat in her chair and I told her, “I just cleaned my poopy hands with your snot,” she busted out laughing.

Caring for someone who is unable to care for themselves is going to be dirty.  People do stuff that is smelly and, at times, a little revolting, it’s just a fact of life when you are dealing with people.   If you haven’t had to get dirty with the person you love, if you haven’t gotten on the ground and smelled the sometimes acrid odor of life just wait, you will.  Caring for someone requires you smell the both the roses and the fertilizer.

Love is not easy.  We watch the rom-coms at the movies and it’s always the same formula, fall in love, things are great, go through an ugly event in life, come back together as the music swells.  In real life you occasionally have to pick up dirty underwear or shave in the company of someone sitting on the toilet.  It’s real life, we gotta do some stuff.

I did some stuff with our kids, I cleaned up puke, I wiped noses and butts.   I don’t remember having to fish poop out of the bath but I’ve seen my son do it.  It’s not something anyone likes, it’s something you get to brag about later and something you get to laugh at your son about when his children make a mess in the tub. 

Here’s the thing (I actually say, “here’s the thing” in real life when I’m going to make a particularly keen point) caring for someone you love, caring for someone who is sick or broken in some way is hard and is messy.  Heck, the truth is loving someone, really loving someone, is hard and messy, it just is and don’t let anyone try to convince you otherwise.  Being in love, loving is hard dirty work.

It’s also incredibly rewarding and life sustaining.  I’ve said it more times than you care to read or hear but caring for Marty is purely and simply the best and most decent thing I have ever done in my 62 years.  I feel more important, more valuable, more loved by my love than ever and that my friend is the greatest reward there is.

I’m reminded of the scene in the movie Baby Momma where the veteran parent looks at the brown spot on her child, wipes it with her finger and asks her child, “Is this poop or chocolate?” as the mother to be looks on horrified that someone would so casually touch what is potentially poop.  The Mom then touches her fouled finger to her tongue and pronounces, “Chocolate.”  Cracked me up.

That’s the way it is, only sometimes it really is poop, which is okay because it washes off.

Monday, August 22, 2016

It's Marty's Birthday

Yesterday two of our grand kids went to school.  Lily started real kindergarten and Noah, the old pro, started first grade.  Today their grandmother, my bride of 40 years has a birthday, she turns 62.  These are big days.

I knew our kids would grow and have kids, I knew when grand kids came along they would grow and go to school.  Frankly, there were many days I did not know if Marty would see her 62nd birthday.  Ten years ago it didn’t seem likely, ten years ago it didn’t seem likely see would see 55.

But, here we are, our kid’s kids being real human beings growing and starting new amazing chapters and Marty surviving against the rather ugly odds of two strokes.

Life is an incredible journey.

I know our grand kids  and their parents, our kids, will survive their first days and the next days.  They are good, smart kids who will thrive.  There will be dark days, even in kindergarten and first grade, that is life, but they will walk through the dark days and find light at the end.

In celebrating Marty’s birthday we understand that the next birthday is not a guarantee.  Eleven years ago we celebrated Marty’s 51st birthday, the one after her first stroke, I was still pretty naive about Marty’s prognosis and how our life was going to turn.  I talked a good game about not taking any days or any firsts or any lasts for granted.  I thought I understood how precarious life could be.  I didn’t.

I think I got it now.  I think I understand that neither Marty nor I are guaranteed a 63rd birthday.  The 2nd stroke pretty well convinced me that we all walk a very thin precious line between here and gone so I think it’s important to recognize and celebrate the milestones.

On Marty’s 62nd birthday I want her to know she is loved, I want her to know she is amazing, I want her to know that I don’t take one day, not one damn day, of her presence for granted.  I want her to know she is, in my eyes a living miracle and a testament to God’s grace.

Today Marty turns 62 and our two of our grand kids go to a 2nd day of school.  Here’s to many a happy day for all and here’s to 63 and all the little days in between.

Friday, August 19, 2016

Class of Seventy-Two

I’m 44 years and 250 miles removed from the red dirt of my home town, Colorado City Texas.  As we drove along the back roads of Texas, as we drove through Bangs and Zephyr and crossed Bearfoot Creek and Yellow Wolf Creek, as we moved from oak to scrub oak to large mesquite to small mesquite I began to feel the familiarity of home, a home long time gone.

Skip, a literal lifelong friend, and I drove into town, from the south.  We drove into a town I left in 1972, the summer after I graduated from high school.  I have returned to west Texas infrequently for reunions, Skip a little more often.  The town is different, it has evolved, it has changed, it has aged, just as we have.

My childhood homes, the houses I grew up in are long gone, no buildings, no foundations, no nothing.  The earth has started the process of reclaiming the road where I learned to play baseball and ride bikes and where I played under the street lights with neighbors.  In time, I suspect, the only thing left to mark our lives there will be two solitary cattle guards, guarding nothing but pasture grass and mesquite trees.

The town is different, it feels different.  Just like me, like Skip, like all who attended this reunion from all six graduating classes, the town has celebrated success, suffered from natural aging, mourned radical change and evolved in a world where evolution leaves nothing unscathed.

It’s interesting that this part of the world still has such a gravitational pull on my psyche.  As we drove into the town it still felt like home.  My old house is gone, every piece of the home I knew for years has been eradicated, but the town, the little west Texas red dirt town still feels a lot like home to me.

The town holds my memories, it holds my history, it connects me to that part of my life where I started to become a real human being.  It connects some of the dots; it connects some of the trails I’ve walked to get to where I am today.

The memories of skies turned orange from the dust from cotton gins in October, learning how to put on footballs pads, and marching down 2nd Street with the junior high band while Bob Newman, the band director, walked the sidewalks confiscating pea shooters from the local hoodlums intent on shooting the band are still very much alive.

 I never feel the first cold winds of winter without thinking of those skies and those times spent with my friends enjoying free life in a small town.

It really does come down to the people, the people who, in spite of the miles and years, are the only ones who know a special part of your life.  It’s the history you have with these people, not the number of years, not the continuous contact.  They are all part of your formation, all part of your connection to your past, to your own history, to your beginnings and your essence.  These are the people that knew who you were before you were an adult, before you were changed by the vagaries of life. 

It all comes down to Skip and Dean and Randy and David and Sherry and Barbara and Sharon and all of those who also hold the memories who are also connected to this little town.  Its Fay and Debra and Sonny and Wayne and Dewain and Mark and Judy and Kathy and Carolyn who lived through the same times, who remember what it was like when we heard about JFK being assassinated, who watched the same dumb television shows and watched the Beatles and listened to American Band Stand and know who Sky King is.  These people hold the key to your memories and they will forever be a part of your beginning, your growing up, your heart break, your tragedy, your victories, your failures and your recoveries.

Sorry guys but you’re there for life whether you want to be or not, you get to all be a part of who I am as I carry on with Marty, with my kids and with my grandchildren.  You are a part of me as I am, like it or not, a part of you. 

That’s why it makes sense to stop in every now and then and talk.  I like that.

Thursday, July 14, 2016

Hearing Fear

I was eavesdropping, sort of, maybe.  I mean can you call it eavesdropping if you are two rooms away listening another person’s phone conversation?  I listened to the mother, I listened to one side of a two sided conversation, I listened to a mother express love…..and fear.

I didn’t know who she was talking to for sure, I figured it was a son, it sounded like a son conversation.   I listened to only her side but I knew what was being said on bother sides of the call.  I think her son was saying I want to go out; I want to go party a little with my friends.  I know the kid, he’s old enough, he’s as responsible as any college kid is, he’s a good young man on the verge of finishing college.

The mother said, that makes me scared.

I heard her end of the conversation, I heard her say that other good kids, good guys had gone out not looking for problems but that problems found them and they were dead.
The mother said she was scared.

I don’t ever remember having or hearing that conversation with our son.  I never had that conversation with my parents.  We told ours and mine told me, always respect the police, they are the authority, respect the authority.  We never felt fear.

Sure we worried like all parents, like my parents, that’s a parent’s job.  I remember worrying about wrecks, about bad behavior, about normal misbehavior.  I never worried about my kid being pulled over by the police, I never worried about my kid getting questioned for DWB (driving while black), I never worried not one time ever that my kid would be shot by the people we fundamentally trust with everything.

The mother was scared; she was scared about things I have never faced, fears I have never felt, fears I suspect, I will never feel, except for children like hers.

I could hear it in her voice, this was real fear, not feigned racial indignation, not noise for a nosy guy eavesdropping, she had no idea I was intruding on her conversation.  She was worried and has been worried, not only for her sons but her brothers.

She has had “the talk” with all of her sons.  Her brothers have had “the talk” with her sons, you know the one, the one where they tell these young black men to watch what they say, to watch how they act, to never question the authority of a law enforcement officer and to always keep their hands where they can be seen.

Is this real?  Is there a real danger to these young men, do they really need to fear for their lives from people we should always, always trust the most?  It doesn’t matter, it matters that a mother is scared. It doesn’t matter if you or I as white folk in America believe it; it is a black man in America’s reality. It is the reality of the mother of those black men.

I love the police and since I gave up a somewhat sketchy youth I am never too concerned about passing a police officer, though I always check my speed.  I am in awe of the job they do and could never do the societal duties we ask of them.

These brave men and women do a job most of us, frankly, would be too frightened to do.  Cops do dirty, hard, dangerous work every day to make the lives of other people better.  Law enforcement deserves our respect, support and appreciation.

None of that means the mother I heard is not scared.  None of that means her sons and her brothers aren’t in more jeopardy than my white son.

I don’t know the answer to the problem.  I am not that smart.  I do know the start of the answer, ask the  people that know the questions, do you fear, do you trust?

Then believe the answer, it’s real.

Thursday, June 23, 2016

Coming Home

It’s June.  It’s a month, it’s an anniversary.

It’s not a birthday, though Lily and Lyle have June birthdays.  It’s not a wedding anniversary, though June is a pretty big “get married” month.  Marty and I got married in January.

It’s a homecoming, more accurately it’s a coming home anniversary and it’s one of those milestone anniversaries.  Eleven years ago this month Marty came home after an April aneurysm, eleven years since she had a better chance of dying than living. 

Ten years ago in June Marty and I came home after her second stroke, the one that took her left side, her independence and part of her fire.

Both times the coming home was relatively short lived.  After the aneurysm Marty had to have one more surgery to replace the cover on her lid, she had a piece of her skull missing.  They had to go back and replace it with prosthesis.   It’s great plastic work, you can’t tell it from the original.

The second time, we weren’t home more than a week before we had to go back to the hospital via the emergency room.  It was the first er/hospital trip of many. 

That was ten years ago, ten years ago when a couple of friends took me to play golf and we got through five holes before I got a call that I needed to come home.  I went home, I talked to the home health nurse, we took Marty to the hospital, again, and checked her in because of pneumonia.  I felt completely and totally overwhelmed.

I clearly remember sitting on the tub in our bathroom (my hideout) trying to catch my breath, trying to calm my racing heart, trying to avoid a full blown anxiety attack.  It felt like, after all we had been through, it was one disaster after another all leading, all culminating in Marty dying on my watch, at our home, where I was supposed to be good enough, smart enough, strong enough to will her alive and healthy.

That was ten years ago and our lives have continued to evolve, largely for the better.  Marty is still broken, Marty is still very susceptible to infection and illness, Marty still requires more care than I ever thought.   Marty is still with me, with all of us, and it’s very much a miracle of medicine, good care, and good old fashioned Watkins women’s perseverance.

We have endured a lot of anxiety and we have lived through tumultuous change.  We have been afraid, we have mourned, we have cried, we have been angry, we have felt guilt, been lonely, isolated, ignorant, sometimes careless and without faith. 

We have felt and experienced pretty much the same emotions as normal people, the same as most of you, yet different, maybe enhanced, maybe not.

What I know is we are living, 11 years after brushing against our own mortality.  We are smarter and more experienced and better able to handle whatever the future may send us. 

I really want everyone to understand that the road the fates have taken us has been, at too many times, awful.  The last 10 or 11 years have been harder than I ever imagined and I was not, not, not remotely prepared or emotionally capable of handling this past decade. 

Guess what, I, we, Marty and me, handled it and we did it, not because we’re special, we aren’t.  There is a simple key, it’s really simple, you do what you have to do, you face what you have to face and you walk your path one tremulous step at a time and you don’t look too far down the trail or it will be way too frightening.

The result of the last decade, I have learned more than I ever wanted to know.  I found my passion, something we all need to find, it turns out I was living with her all the time.  I learned I could learn and so could Marty, I learned we could endure hardship, I learned we are up to the task we have been given, and most importantly I learned you can adapt to anything, to any disaster in your personal journey. 

And if I know anything, I know you can do it too.

Saturday, May 21, 2016

A Legacy In Spite of it All

I’ve whined about this before so let’s continue the whine.  I wish that my grandchildren were able to really get to know Marty, the way Marty was, the energy that was Marty before the strokes.  I wish it for me, I wish it for them, I wish it for our kids, I wish it for Marty.

Alas, wishes like these don’t really come true, sort of.

Our daughter Erin posted the following conversation with her daughter Lily on her face book page:
Me: What did you have for snack today?
Lily: The Snack Fairy brought us red and yellow goldfish. I know the Snack Fairy isn’t real. It’s really Miss Morton. Some kids think she is real though…
Me: Well that’s cool. They can believe whatever they want and I bet it makes them super happy to believe that. So…don’t argue with them about it.
Lily: No…
Me: Why not? Are they hurting anyone if they believe in the Snack Fairy?
Lily: No…I just don’t like it.
Me: Hmmm… Remember how we believe in Jesus and God?
Lily: Yes…they are REALLY real.
Me: Well…yes, but some people don’t believe they are…Some people believe in something else completely different than us. Are we hurting anyone else by believing in God and Jesus?
Lily: No!
Me: Do we have to change what we believe just because someone else doesn’t feel the same way?
Lily: No…
Me: Exactly. It’s not a matter of being right or wrong. It’s about respecting other people. So…as long as we aren’t hurting anyone with what we believe, we can believe whatever we want and other people can too! And guess what?! We can all still be friends. So….if tomorrow a friend at school says, “I know the Snack Fairy is REAL…” You can say, “Hey that’s super cool!” And leave it at that…Got it kid?
Lily: Got it Mom…
This interaction is so Erin, it is so Marty.  In a simple conversation tolerance, love, acceptance, understanding is taught and modeled in a way Lily will always remember.

I see it a lot, I see it in both of our children, I see the mother Marty in the mother Erin, I see the mother Marty in the father Matt, our son, I see so much of Marty in our children and it makes my heart smile.

I too often have worried, will our kids remember the lessons and the life of the real Marty, will their children ever know the fun that was Marty, the crazy that was Marty, the passion, the love, the fire that was Marty. 

The fact is the children of our children will never get to see and feel what was.  I worry, I mourn.
And then I see our kids with their kids, I see Marty; I see her wit and wisdom and passion living through Matt and Erin.

I suspect it’s what all of us want.  We want our good stuff to live on, we want the good stuff that made us who we are carried on by our off spring, it’s positively instinctual.  It makes me feel like a real father, I know it makes Marty feel like a human being again, to see our DNA, our life carried on in the people we raised.

I am in love with and proud of my wife.  I am amazed at who she is today, I am forever grateful to the woman she was and I often long for the person she was before life changed.  That memory and love for Marty, at times, makes me sad for the losses we have all endured and that sadness is magnified at those times when I think our grandchildren will never know what was lost.

And then I watch our children and realize how they carry their mother with them, always. 

That sadness never goes away, that sadness is mollified when I see our children carrying Marty with them.

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Choosing Best Among the Worst

With apologies to Mrs. C Hall, my high school English teacher, this first paragraph is not really a summary of the body of this essay, I promise, I’m not taking you on a political ride.

I hear a whole lot of people expressing disappointment in our choices for President of the USA this cycle.  In all likelihood we will have to choose between Hillary Clinton and Donald Drumpf, oh my bad, Trump.  Most everyone I know does not like our choices.

 It’s kind of like going to a restaurant and only getting to order liver or sweet breads, most don’t want either.  The good thing is we don’t have to go to restaurants like that; we get to make other choices because we have alternatives, in politics, in life, at times, good choices don’t happen, sometimes only hard choice happen, hard choices that absolutely require you select one of the bad choices.

Marty and I, like all of you, sometimes get to choose between hitting our thumb with a hammer, or the other choice, hitting our thumb with a hammer, harder.  That’s life, sometimes our choices simply suck and either way you turn your thumb is going to hurt.

As a young white male growing up in middle class America I have to admit, I was a bit shocked when I discovered that all of our choices weren’t good choices.  I was surprised to learn that sometimes you have to pick things that you don’t particularly like. 

And to top it off, in too many cases, not choosing is not an alternative.  Not voting, not choosing between two candidates you don’t particularly like means you don’t participate in one of the most important acts of a citizen.  Sometimes you just have to suck it up and act, as one of my really smart bosses once told me, “Grieve and get over it,” and then make a choice.

About five years ago while in the hospital for a routine infection  Marty had a bad seizure and broke her right arm, her good strong right arm, the arm not affected by the stroke, the arm she used for everything from support when standing to eating to drinking, you know, little things like that.  We sat in the hospital with two choices, surgery to repair the shattered bone or do nothing and let the arm heel with some level of disability in that arm.  Both choices were real clear, both choices sucked big time.

I, we, talked to each other, we talked to Great and Wise and the Orthopedic guy, we talked to our kids, we talked to friends, we did pros and cons, we thought, we mulled, we cogitated, there were no good choices, none.  It seemed wrong to make the intentional decision to NOT heal a broken wing.  It was frightening to think we would decide to have Marty undergo surgery and all of the associated risks for an unknown result.

We sucked it up and made the decision to not do anything, it wasn’t the best choice, there wasn’t a best choice, it was pick one and live with it, “Grieve and get over it.”

Did we make the correct choice?  I don’t know.   Marty’s life was not jeopardized by anesthesia and invasive surgery, she did not have to go through the pain of recovery and she did not face possible deadly infections.  She does have to endure somewhat limited movement in her arm.  That was the choice; it’s the choice we made, it was a choice she lives with daily.  That’s how life works some times.

We, all of us, are consistently confronted with choices, some good, some bad, some really awful.  Sometimes, like a Hobson's choice, we don’t really get a choice; we have to pick the only real option open to us.  It really is indicative of life, sometimes it all amounts to making the best of what is.
I don’t particularly like the choice between Clinton and Drumpf.  I know who I think is the best qualified of the two and I know who I will probably support.  I won’t tell you who that is but I think, if we can get past some of her baggage she will be fine. 

Marty is not where she is today because anyone would choose her life, but rest assured she is here because she, we made a conscious choice to live the best life she, we could given the options.  Life is not about easy choices or even good choices, but it is about choosing.

Sunday, March 27, 2016

Easter...A Do-Over

Easter, for Christians, is the big one.  It’s about loss, atonement, redemption and salvation, it’s the really big one that defines our faith.  For me, it represents, among all the other things, second chances.

If I could, if dreams were real, I would have my crazy, angry, passionate, driven, brilliant Marty, the one I loved so long ago, warts and all, back.  There is one caveat, I would want to have the experience, the knowledge, the what I now know of the last 11 years.

I guess most of us would like some do-overs based on what we now know. 

Before, before our life was changed by a pin prick sized hole in Marty’s brain vein, I wasn’t a very patient guy, I was an impatient intolerant ass, at times.  Honestly, at times I was selfish, short tempered, self absorbed, too focused on work and maybe a little emotionally distant. 

I was an okay husband, I treated Marty, okay.   I listened, at times, I participated in the home, I worked hard to provide, I wasn’t out running the bars at night and I took my turn bathing the kids. 
I suspect I was an okay father, listening to our children at times, reading to them, taking them to functions, teaching Sunday school, going to ball games and band concerts and all that family stuff.

I’m not sure how engaged I was, I’m not sure I wasn’t constantly distracted by my work and my own angst about life, and I know I was living with too much fear of failure as a husband, a father and an employee.  Fear does weird things to your brain.

As awful as the strokes have been they did give me a do over, they gave me a chance to atone for so many of my past short comings as a husband, and I hope as a father.

It took a cataclysm for me to finally re-order my priorities.  Work went completely away and there has not been one day, not one when I have wished to have my career return.  I miss people; I don’t miss being pulled away from my most important responsibilities, being a partner to Marty and a father to Matt and Erin and their broods.

I still struggle with the whole patience thing and too often I’m not tolerant of change and according to my wife I’m still way too controlling.  To quote Marty, “You tell me what to do, too, too much.”  I’m guilty. 

I am better at waiting; I am better at letting the old lady fiddle with her coupons in the grocery store check-out line, I am better at waiting for Marty to process what she is thinking and translate the thoughts into words.  I think I am anyway.

Mostly, I hope I have learned to focus on what to fear, I hope I have learned to only major on the major issues and not fret about the little stuff, because there is a whole lot of little stuff.  I hope I have learned to give my time and energy where it’s really important and to ultimately fight only those battles that are important.  The little fights eat up your energy and your life and you really need that energy and life for the big stuff.

My do-over, my Easter, is really about showing a woman I fell in love with 40 years ago how much I really love her and how much she is really loved.  My Easter is being the best father I can be to my adult children and their mates.  My Easter do-over is not losing fear, it is finding the appropriate things to fear, facing that fear and acting against it.  My Easter do-over is very simply having this amazing opportunity to use what I have experienced with Marty and our kids and being a better man than I was, being a good man. 

That’s why Easter is the big one for us Christians.  We, the world got the biggest do-over ever.

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

The 2nd One Part V -- Pate Rehab

I'm finishing the story of how we got here....a little at a time.  I'm not sure why it's so hard to write this,  but writing about the actual events is really, really hard.....I remember it clearly, I have notes, but it's hard.  At the end of this post I have inserted the previous parts of our journey if you want the long read.  As always, thanks for reading and I appreciate the feedback.

In March of 2006 we found ourselves on the way to a comprehensive rehab facility in Dallas.  Pate Rehab came highly recommended and I wanted to go there because in addition to the normal therapies they also worked on cognitive therapy.  Pate specialized in traumatic brain injury and we clearly were dealing with a traumatic brain injury.

They came and picked Marty up in a mini-van early one afternoon and I followed them in my car to Dallas to check her in to their program.  Marty had not been out of bed more than a couple of hours at a time in three months and I worried about her being able to physically stand up to the day.  But then, I worried about damn near everything.

We got to Dallas, went through the check-in process and they moved us to an apartment about 30 minutes from the rehab facility.  By the time we got there is was early evening and Marty was really tired and so was I, it had been a very long, trying, tiring day.

Marty was in a three bedroom apartment with two other recovering stroke patients, Max and Earl.  Max was much younger, in a wheel chair but very talkative.  Earl was about Marty’s age, also in a wheel chair and had an incredibly sweet, kind temperament.  They were Pate veterans at this point and knew the routine.

I had managed to talk my way into staying with Marty at sleeping in the room with her.  It was apparently unusual to allow this but it was the only way, the only way I could see us doing this.  It was my opinion that Marty needed her family to protect her.  To Pate’s credit they made an exception and gave me a key to the apartment so I could be there with Marty when she was there and just hang there during the day while Marty and her crew were at rehab.

The apartment was staffed by a Certified Nursing Assistant to tend to the patients needs, dole out meds and prepare meals.  To a person they were all sweet, competent ladies who frankly were a little overmatched by Marty’s needs.  I helped where they would allow but they simply were not accustomed to dealing with a patient like Marty and her medical and dietary needs.

We made it through the first evening and night with me working to make sure all of the correct medicines were transferred to Marty in Dallas, no easy feat.  I helped bathe Marty the first night because bathing Marty, at the time, was a two person job.

I can only imagine how Marty must have felt about the whole thing.  She had to be anxious, afraid, confused, and feeling totally vulnerable.  We were in a strange place with strange people wanting to do new and strange things to her…..and she was exhausted, completely spent by the trip from Waco to Dallas.

The next morning I stood beside the mini-van used to transport Marty, Max, Earl and their in-charge CNA to the rehab facility in Dallas.  They loaded the two men and for the life of me I couldn’t figure out how they planned to get Marty in the van.  

To her credit, Marty, when moved to the van, reached out to grab the bar on the door and tried to pull herself up to a standing position to get in the van. She tried and tried, I stood by, badly wanting to run over and help her.  There she was, three months removed from her 2nd devastating stroke, unable to use her left side, gamely trying to stand, to stand on her own, to make a stand for herself.  I stood off to the side and watched with tears in my eyes, watching as my wife tried to take care of herself.

She couldn’t, but I have never felt more pride in my wife.  Between the CNA and I we got her into the car, loaded it with three wheelchairs and oxygen and they drove off to Marty’s first day of theoretical recovery. 

I cried like I was watching my child go to school for the first day.   It wasn’t a good look.

Part I

We had celebrated Christmas, Marty's mother's 80th birthday and snow skied in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains. It was an epic voyage and an appropriate celebration of Marty's survival from her ruptured aneurysm. It had not been a particularly relaxing return trip out of the mountains and to Waco so celebrating wasn't on anyone’s priority list. Rest and relaxation with mind numbing comedy seemed to be the best way to celebrate this anniversary.

We had been to the doctor that day to see Great and Wise because Marty just didn't feel well and I was worried and anxious, a condition which had become all too familiar. Marty had been having vague symptoms of something, I just didn't know what, it is really hard to explain, I just felt like things weren't right. The good doctor checked Marty over and said she seemed okay but her blood pressure was a bit elevated. We settled in for our fabulous supper of grilled chicken and I felt a bit better just being relaxed in our home.

We finished eating in peace, silently. Marty was to my right in a large recliner, I glanced at her, then I looked again as I saw her slumping to her left. Marty's face was slack, contorted, drooping in a way that could only be one thing. She was drooling just a bit from the left side of her mouth and she tried to talk but couldn't. She had a look of confusion, but confusion mixed with terror. She intuitively knew what was happening, but didn't, all at the same time. On a scale of worst moments in our life, it was at the top, we both knew it was another stroke.

I took the empty plate from her lap, the food gone. I called 911 and tried to tell the person on the other end of the phone what was happening as calmly as I could. I simply could not believe I was standing there, asking for emergency help while the beautiful brain of my wife was starved for blood. Police arrived first; they do that in our community, quickly followed by an ambulance.

Marty began to revive a little as the EMT's did their thing, taking blood pressure, checking oxygen saturation levels, asking Marty questions, asking me questions, looking at her eyes, listening to her heart, all while she sat slumped in her chair. The slack in her face began to slowly recede and Marty began to recover a bit. I was afraid, confused, angry, anxious and probably on the verge of exploding. It's what I wanted to do, just blow up, blood, guts, and soft tissue everywhere, paint the walls of our house.

There was no question we were headed back to the emergency room at Providence Hospital. I just wanted them to hurry. They gently loaded Marty onto the gurney and rolled her out of the house. I had seen this before, I hated seeing it again. I had lived 50 years without seeing anyone I loved being put into an ambulance. Now it was happening again. I watched as they loaded Marty into the back and closed the doors. I stood outside of the ambulance watching through the windows in the doors as they hooked Marty up to IVs and locked her gurney into place. For a brief moment I thought I would just open the doors, push the EMT’s aside, unhook my wife and leave. I wanted, I needed control, I had none.

The upside of going to the ER in an ambulance with stroke symptoms is you get seen quickly. There really aren’t any down sides. They had Marty in an exam room with a doctor by the time I got there. It's a short trip from our house, less than 10 minutes, and in that time I called both of our children and Sue, one of our Persons (see earlier post).

The ER doc immediately ordered a series of tests, most importantly a CAT scan. Marty could no lover have MRI's because of the metal clip in her brain, so a CAT scan would be the most definite test to identify a stroke. Because Marty had previously experienced a cerebral hemorrhage the docs really did not want to give her blood thinners or clot busters. We were really kind of caught between a rock and a hard place; the best treatments for strokes were not really available to us.

Marty symptoms kind of waxed and waned while she was in the exam room. One minute she could still move her left arm and left leg and she was completely lucid. In some ways, at some moments, I could hear and see shadows of Marty before the first stroke. She was funny, she was sarcastic, she was cracking wise and she was trying to entertain. At other moments you could see the classic stroke effects, her face drooped, she was confused, her left side was limp, and her speech was slurred. The doctors, including Great and Wise who made a dash to the hospital, were fairly certain it was a stroke, but the CAT scan did not show bleeding (good), but it also did not show any signs of a stroke, yet.

Marty was stable, it was clear we were dealing with another catastrophic event, but she was stable. After several hours we were joined by Matt, Erin and Sarah, all making mad dashes from their parts of Texas to be with their Mom. It was another case where we just didn’t know, we just really didn’t know what was going to happen next.

They moved Marty to the Intensive Care Unit at Providence. We went to ICU as a precaution and because there were no other rooms available. Just so you know, the first of the year is a particularly sucky time to year to go into the hospital, it's much too crowded.

I went with Marty to the ICU and the nurse there promised me, swore to me she would personally care for Marty and watch over her all night. By this time it was about 3 in the morning. My children and I once again left Marty, once again we went home to try and sleep, once again I looked at my wife and hoped and prayed I would see her again. It’s hard leaving.


Part II

I went back to Providence Hospital early the next day with a real sense of dread. When I left Marty in the ICU just a few short hours ago no one knew definitively what we were dealing with and I didn’t have a clue what I would find when I got to the hospital. I knew it was good no one had called during the night. I thought I had learned a lot from the previous stroke and hospitalization. I really didn’t know what all I didn’t know.

Marty had made it through the night comfortably. She had been monitored and well cared for in ICU. I figured she would be in ICU for a while, I mean she had a stroke, right? The ICU meant she would be under the constant watchful eyes of the best nurses, right? Wrong. We waited for a regular room to become available and then moved. The constant watchful eyes became my eyes.

We moved to a regular room, we had more tests; we got the definitive results, a run of the mill ischemic stroke as opposed to the hemorrhagic stroke six months earlier. One with too much blood, one not enough blood. It was good to know for sure, it was awful to hear the truth.

All of this happened to coincide with one of the few times Marty’s regular doctor, Great and Wise, took a weekend away from work. His partner took call for him that weekend. Marty had been doing pretty well given her weakness from the previous assault, she was reasonably lucid, starting to try and eat and already beginning what would turn out to be a long, tedious, heart wrenching program of rehabilitation.

Then the pneumonia came.

Marty got really sick, really fast. They started her on two very powerful antibiotics. As she got sicker and as her blood pressure dropped the decision was made to move her back to Intensive Care. As I think back I’m pretty amazed at how fast all of this transpired and how truly clueless I was. I thought I knew about the medical milieu, I thought I knew how to deal with the hospital, I thought I was experienced. I really knew nothing about what we were facing. In this case my ignorance once again protected me. Sometimes if you can postpone reality it helps with survival.

In all of that has transpired with Marty there have only been three times when a doctor came to me and tried to prepare me for the worst. Great and Wise’s partner came to me, told me what was going on, what was going to happen, and then said, “I don’t know if she will make it.” The words kind of washed over my numb brain and left me speechless, a condition which just doesn’t happen to me. I simply didn’t know what to say or even how to react. I don’t think I really believed any of this was happening to us, it was all much too surreal.

ICU can provide a needed break to caregivers because in some, in this one, the visiting hours are limited and strictly controlled. The worst part of the ICU is you feel completely helpless and out of control, you are separated from the one you love. I was completely dependent on the snippets of time I got to spend in Marty’s room and the information the good nurses would and could provide. I hated not having constant access to Marty so I could see her condition with my own eyes, I did not like sitting outside of the ICU waiting for the next time the doors would open, and I did not like having to leave my wife alone through any of this time.

Marty’s blood pressure was and is today one of the best indicators of how ill she is. In this case it was precipitously low for her. To top it all off she was clearly allergic to one of the antibiotics she was taking and broke out in a horrendous rash all over her body. This seemed to bother Erin the most, she hated seeing the ugly, painful looking red splotches on her Mom and she hated that she just couldn’t get people to take it seriously.

The worst time occurred one afternoon when I was waiting for the appointed visiting time. I hated the waiting because I never knew what new calamity had hit Marty since the last visit, I hated the tension, I hated the surprises that waited, and I hated the suspense of waiting outside the doors. This day they were late opening the doors as all of the families waiting to visit patients were piled up waiting to enter the ICU. When the nurse came to the door she motioned for me to come with her. She explained the delay, Marty’s blood pressure had dropped so low they were afraid she wasn’t going to make it.

When I walked into her room Marty was very pale, her feet were elevated and they were pouring as many IV fluids into her as they could get. She was barely able to speak and recognize me. I bent over and whispered in her ear, “Don’t you leave me now.” She whispered very quietly, “I’m not going anywhere.”

Days later and the antibiotics started to beat back the pneumonia and Marty slowly began to wake up. I learned that if I stayed quiet and out of everyone’s way I could stay with Marty outside of the regular visiting hours. Occasionally some cranky nurse would make me leave, but for the most part they left me to my own devices and let me stay around and hold Marty’s hand.

The rash from the antibiotics still looked horrendously painful and irritated. Benadryl was given and cold packs were used to help relieve part of the misery. Marty’s overall somnolence was the only saving grace; she essentially was too weak to care and too tired to care. Being ill, having a stroke, is exhausting, and all Marty wanted, what she most needed was sleep.

Then one evening, kind of out of the blue, mostly because there were patients with a greater need for an ICU bed, Marty was moved. It was something of a miracle I happened to be there that night and watched and followed as they moved her out of the ICU. It was good to be leaving but I knew from experience we were leaving the comfort of constant medical attention and Marty’s family would need to be with her 24 hours a day now. I was already tired.

Part III

When they came and got her it was a surprise, we weren’t expecting the move. They came after visiting hours and it was dumb luck that I was there at the time. They moved her from ICU to a surgical recovery area which was really no more than a hallway because there was no room in the inn and they desperately needed the room in the ICU. Apparently the hospital is a very popular place at the first of the year. 

Marty had been in the ICU for about ten days. We were just a few days removed from pneumonia, an allergic reaction to antibiotics and precipitously low blood pressure. She had started to recover as much as one can from the assault of a stroke and it was time to move to a regular room. 

Instead, they moved Marty and her hospital bed to the corner of a little alcove in the recovery area just outside of the operating rooms in front of a nurse’s station; it was like she was in a darkened hall. She had two companion patients, two sleeping men right beside her with just barely enough room to pass between the beds. . The nurse saw he pissy side of Marty’s husband. It wasn’t her fault, she clearly drew the short straw and was charged with caring for these three displaced patients, but I needed an outlet for all of the angst, anger and emotional trauma of the last two weeks and I had found it, Providence Hospital. 

Marty, even in her drug and stroke haze, could see me seething. She mouthed and whispered the words, “It’s okay, I’m okay here,” as she tried to assuage my roiling anger. I kept saying to the nurse, “This is simply not acceptable, this is third world, this is absurd,” thinking if I could phrase the complaint just right she would correct this idiocy. I apparently didn’t find the right phrase. 

I am a wonderful complainer and crusader when necessary. I found it necessary and was in the administration office of Providence Hospital at first light the following day. I started with the nursing manager in pursuit of a goal to talk with the CEO of the hospital. As I said, I found a focus for all of this pent up rage and fear I had been collecting for two weeks and I was a man on a mission. 

I started at the bottom and ended up, not with the CEO, but with the Chief Operating Officer, Otis. By the time I met Otis the COO we were in Marty’s regular hospital room, out of the surgery holding area. Otis came by Marty’s room and tried to explain to a distraught husband why this good hospital would shuffle a patient away for storage as they had my wife. 

As I talked to Otis, extracting my pound of flesh, I realized most of my anger of the night before was initiated by a feeling of failure, a failure to protect and care for Marty. I knew I was doing everything I could to help her yet I couldn’t make sure she didn’t spend the night in the hall with three strangers. I felt like I had failed, I felt incapable of doing the one job I had in this deal, ensure Marty’s comfort and safety. The hospital’s overcrowding had removed one more level of my control.

All of us are imbued with the instinct to protect. Whether it’s to care for your spouse or protect your child or watch over an aged parent, our instinct it to stand in front of our most vulnerable and ward off danger. I was following my instinct; I was frustrated in my most basic need and instinct to care for Marty. She wasn’t in any real danger, but the move and how it was handled pricked the very essence of my maleness. 

In retrospect I realize the people in the hospital were truly between a rock and a hard place. They had done a lousy job of communicating and preparing, and it was cold and flu season and the place was full of flu and elective surgeries which had been put off in celebration of the holidays. In retrospect I know I hadn’t failed Marty and any sense of control over our situation was really no more than a relic of our past, the time before the strokes. The truth is control in the medical milieu is nothing more than a hope and rarely a reality. 

That day I did what I needed to do, purge the emotional bile in my system. Marty was safe, or as safe as one can get in any hospital recovering from a near death experience. Her words, “I’m okay here,” suggested her perspective was much better than mine, I just couldn’t hear anyone at the time.

We stayed in that room one night and in the afternoon of the next day Big John came to pick Marty up and start us on the next part of our journey, St. Catherine’s Sub-Acute Care Center.

Part IV

I remember sitting in the waiting area of our new temporary home, St. Catherine Center, a sub-acute care center in Waco.  It was adjacent to the hospital we had just left and was king of a way station for people too sick to go home, but not acute enough to be in the hospital.  

I remember waiting for her room; they were running a little behind in getting it ready.   I remember how cold she seemed sitting pale and hunched over in her wheelchair as I pulled a blanket tight around her shoulders and rolled her chair into the sun.  We both felt completely lost, afraid and alone.

It was the middle of January, 2006, and we had just moved from the hospital where Marty had stayed for about two weeks as the result of her 2nd stroke and a mortal fight with pneumonia.  We had just recovered from her disconcerting overnight warehousing in a surgical recovery area and I had just recovered from being massively angry and guilty from not being able to protect my very vulnerable wife from the overcrowding at the hospital.  We were now in a new environment and I clearly remember wishing I was smarter and more capable than I was.

We sat there for what seemed an eternity, alone, cold and pathetic.  It really probably wasn’t that long before a pleasant certified nursing assistant came and took us to Marty’s semi-private room that was to be Marty’s home, my home for an undetermined amount of time.  I hated, I still hate, undetermined amounts of time.

The room was gray, of course.  There were a couple of windows, a hospital bed, a phone, a television and a single overstuffed chair that folded out into the single most uncomfortable sleeping device known to man.  

Marty was exhausted from sitting in her wheelchair for the transfer from the hospital.  She was still incredibly weak and seemed so frail and it was the first time she had sat in her chair for an extended period of time.  A couple of attendants carefully moved her to her new bed and she slept.  I fretted, I paced, I stressed, sitting alone in the room with Marty while we waited for the physical therapist to come and evaluate her to determine our next steps.  

The therapist eventually arrived and I felt like I was being evaluated as she pushed and prodded and bent Marty, it felt kind of like a trial. I wish I knew then what I know now, I could have been a better advocate, but back then I was hoping against hope that Marty would walk again, she would be able to care for herself again, she would regain some of what she was before the 2nd stroke.  I was naive and didn’t understand where life had taken us.

Marty rested for a couple of days and started taking antibiotics for a urinary tract infection.  I slept at night next to her in the bed from hell.  Marty never slept alone at St. Catherine’s or for that matter anywhere.  She was just too vulnerable, people with brain injuries need an advocate, I eventually became a good one, but that was much later.

Our kids did the most remarkable thing any 20 something’s could do; they regularly and willingly spent the night with their mother and gave their father respite.  As I look back at what Matt and Erin did, what they willingly did for their mother, for me, I’m amazed.   We all were spending the night stealing and stacking plastic encased pillows on an awful bed without any privacy watching over your very brittle mother.  One word and I hope they know, amazing. 

The hours we spent at St. Catherine’s morphed into days and the days folded into weeks.  I was with Marty most of the time.   The embarrassing upside to this is that I saw every episode of Dawson’s Creek. When I wasn’t there our children were, or my family, my father even took a turn encouraging Marty on the arm bike.  The week days were filled with therapy.  

Physical and Occupation therapy were done a simultaneously in a large room filled with tables, mats, poles, crutches, slings and other broken people trying to heal.  They worked with Marty sitting, trying to get her to touch their hand as they moved it around her, that helped her balance.  They put her in a swing and pushed her back and forth to work on her equilibrium.  They had her use an arm bike and they slowly started training me, showing me what I could do and what I shouldn’t do.

I was like a father watching his young child playing baseball for the first time.  I encouraged, was discouraged, I was proud and at times a bit embarrassed by Marty’s inability to stay awake and focused on the assigned tasks; it was like trying to get your child in the outfield to quit the daisy hunting.  I didn’t know, I didn’t understand how much Marty needed to sleep, to rest, to recover.  It took me three years to understand how hard and exhausting everything was for Marty.

I went with Marty everyday for speech therapy.  Again, cheering her on, hoping she would remember things from the day before, and hoping that the electrodes fixed to her throat would help her to do something as basic, as simple, as swallowing liquid without choking.  Therapy was the same thing every day of the week, the work didn’t seem much but it exhausted Marty every day.

One of the things I didn’t understand from the first stroke was the adverse affect strokes have on swallowing.  It makes sense because her whole left side had been affected  and because of  that swallowing regular fluids or regular food would cause chocking or aspiration.  Stroke patients, based on the results of swallow studies, x-rays while eating barium coated food, get either regular food, soft mechanical, or pureed; all self explanatory. 

Marty ate pureed food and drank thickened fluids, the texture of the food helped with the swallowing and choking.  The food looked awful.  There would be the brown food, the green food and the orange food.  The drinks were all as thick as honey, the water looked like paste.  Marty ate and drank and never complained, not one time, not one day.  She ate for survival and she drank whatever I put in front of her.  I think one of the most remarkable parts of Marty’s recovery was her ability to eat things that were to the eye, inedible.

The undetermined amount of time felt like an eternity, a stay at the Hotel California.  When the therapy began to wane because Marty wasn’t making enough progress, because they knew Marty wasn’t going to physically progress much more, time virtually stopped. That was when the speech pathologist first mentioned Pate Rehab in Dallas.

On our last afternoon at St. Catherine’s, in the blowing April wind, I helped Marty into a van taking her to Pate Rehab center in Dallas.  We started on the next step in our journey; I packed for an undetermined amount of time.