I've spent alot, really, an inordinate amount, of time in my head this week. I've been pulled into emotional situations, here and there, over which I have really, little control, but through it all, I've concentrated on listening rather than being heard myself, and when I do really withdraw into my inner life, the complexities that it offers me, I start, no matter what happens, to feel better:
about life, myself in it, and my path.
I continue to thinking about the past and how it has lead up to now, these little chapter headings we call 'months' and 'years' and the labels we assign to things--hard, difficult, trying--labels we give to times in our lives, often, in my case, skimming over the great stuff to once again dwell in that place of the challenging. It is my forte, perhaps. I learn more during the challenges than those few-and-far-between 'easy' times. A friend of mine sent out an email this week to me, musing on this very theme--why is the path so hard sometimes? Because, as my dear friend A. so sagely puts forth--some of us learn only through suffering.
After what is my last Christmas Day with my family intact, I leave the next day on an ill-timed flight to Boston, booked in October by M., at the wrong time, however, this proves to be somehow fortuitous--the northeastern U.S. is being treated to one of their most destructive snowstorms in decades. My early flight is the last flight out of Toronto, to Boston. I have approximately nine lovely days ahead in Maine and the surrounding states to enjoy boxing day shopping and leisure time (read: READING). On the way back from the Boston airport, where M. has picked me up, the snow is picking up real strength; our late lunch in a restaurant outside of Boston, where M. watches a football game on tv while we eat, I notice a slight scratchy throat.
This blossoms into, truly, the worst flu/cold/chest infection that I have had in over a decade.
New Year's Eve finds me mixing the strongest cold medication the U.S. has to offer with beautiful Californian chardonnay, bought at a wine outlet in New Hampshire, which I can barely taste due to my advanced flu. Conjunctivitus rounds out the evening nicely, leaving me looking like a vampire with a wineglass.
After the nor'easter flu, M. and I drive back from Maine to Toronto with minimal weather disruption. Stopping partway in Stockbridge, Mass., I feel a little better, but truly, in the greatest of ironies, I do not fully recover until I am back at work. Even stopping at an outlet mall in Buffalo
does little to mend me. I don't see my parents again until the 25th of January, a full month after Christmas, due to my lingering cough.
Celebrating my sister's birthday in a nearby vodka bar, I will reflect, later, on this being the last time of real mirth for many weeks and months to come.
My nephew's birthday starts this month off; it seems impossible that four short years ago he was busy being born against the backdrop of my mother being treated for a severe, yet-undiagnosed health problem, and my new-home-ownership. His birthday party is attended by all of us, at my sister's ex-husband's beautiful home. M. takes a family photo of the four of us, my father, mother, sister, and me, and as the shutter clicks I smile. Behind that is a terrible sense of foreboding, like something has just ended, and has yet to begin. When my parents get their coats to leave the afternoon party, a cold, icy day in early March, my father is not looking well. He sits down and I kneel to lace up his winter boots for him. He gets too out of breath to do it himself. In the final eerie scene of the day, as they are walking out the door, the stereo, blaring loudly in the background as I say good-bye to my parents, begins playing the song "The Funeral" by Band of Horses, a song I have long loved for its slow processional feel. I shiver.
Later the same day I go for a long run in the freezing cold, my usual antidote to anxiety. This time, it doesn't work.
Over the next few days, the course of a week, my father is in and out of emergency no fewer than three times, rushed there by ambulance, due to the inability to breathe. I still cling to the denial (as do we all) that this is a momentary lapse.
It's barely the second week of March, when, on an ordinary Wednesday or Thursday, my phone rings, early.
It is my aunt; she has been at the emergency ward all night, with my mother, as my father gets oxygen and helium, a combination designed to 'float' down his throat. Although I am showered and dressed for work, I don't go to work that day, or the next.
Instead, we all stay at the hospital, taking turns, a vigil, until a CT scan is finally performed and the results are interpreted by the woefully-inadequate, under-staffed Ajax hospital.
The doctor, oddly, is the same one who attended to my father during his 1996 heart attack.
We wait for the meeting with the doctor innocently, hoping for the best, despite my father being basically unconsious (for his own comfort) for the last four days.
The doctor's prognosis (a stent in his airway, versus a few days left) leaves us, each in our own way, stunned, and a transfer is arranged to the better-equipped, and much further east, Oshawa hospital, during which my father almost dies in transfer.
The stent proves impossible and in a last-minute attempt to save him, a trach is performed, this most barbaric of surgeries, harking back, to me, to a time of medical medieval-ness, of times past, of victims of choking, not for my father, not on him, not my family, not this, not me, not yet.
We pass days in the Oshawa intensive care unit waiting room, the biggest pressure, aside from my father's unstable condition, is that my cousin has made the fateful decision to fly home from her 'permanent' vacation in Europe, one which she has stretched out for the last fifteen years, to 'be with her family'. My sister and I are reasonably stressed by this announcement, but due to my aunt's constant involvement, she needs her daughter, an emotional security blanket. In the best of times, my cousin's behaviour doesn't really approach that of the sane and I steel myself to steer this ship. The morning of my father's first wake up, I am there, with some explanations. He cannot speak, his eyes belie the terror of a trapped animal. Yet his grip on my hand is firm. We speak with our eyes. I am already able to lip read. After all, I grew up learning language from him. With him.
I make him two promises, and nothing seems out of my control that day;
One, that he will be able to leave the hospital and die at home.
Two, that my cousin will not be in our house when he leaves the world. Unfortunately, in the making of this second promise I realize that my aunt will unwittingly not be there either, but there is nothing I can do about that.
At this point, as I mention; nothing seemed out of the realm for me. Even the day the doctors call the family meeting and give us the 'weeks' prognosis, I still remain insulated from this reality.
There is an earthquake in Japan during all our tumult here, and it takes days for me to even realize it. I guard against any outward emotional displays, lest I fall into a pit I am unable to climb out of. St. Patricks Day finds me out with a group of friends, M. among them, downing drinks and recognizing quickly that no food and pints for me, is a recipe for falling into the exact emotional pit I've worked so hard to avoid.
The endless lashing rains of March do little help this feeling of helplessness, and the weeks drag on to the last week of March, my father still in hospital, fighting pnemonia, all of us fighting to keep our strength up, the daily sixty-five kms-plus that I am driving become times when I zone out.
My mother's and aunt's respective birthdays at the end of March are marked only by the cards I buy for my father, that he writes words of love in for them; these are the last cards from him for this occasion. I didn't think of this as I bought them for him. Just that he couldn't get out to get them himself.
M. returns home.
I have a headache that lasts over ten days, and I don't run at all during that time.
On April 5th, I think it reads in my daytimer, my father is 'released'. But really, to what?
Really, to what we call end-of-life care, after my pushing incessantly to get him home, much to the challenge of my aunt and cousin, who feel that home is the worst possible place for someone as sick as him. While I agree in principle, my mother is the informal caregiver, and I know she will do a better job than most of the revolving-door staff at the Oshawa hospital. I continue to fight them on this point up to the last weeks of my father's life, even telling him, over dinner one night, their wishes and goals, should they have been in the driver's seat. My father is taken aback by their assumptions of 'knowing best' where he should be. I am not. And despite the numerous waiting lists that we have my father on, the "Plan B" as the PMH doctor advised, we never have to resort to this type of care.
The weeks are taking on the appearance of whirlwind for me, just numbers, no real passage of time being measured except on how much worse my father is getting day to day. His home care palliative care doctor and his wife, the nurse, are good at getting the medications to ease some of my father's insistent pain, but nothing can stop the march of this disease. Dinners at home, Mother's Day, renting a movie at Rogers, voting, going for drives with my aunt where they talk about the big things, morphine, returning the car on lease from the dealership, talking to banks, to government agencies; all these things fill the days, yet don't stop my fear, my incessant, looming worry. I am at my parents house alot, and I begin bringing my running gear with me every time I go; it's my way of distraction, of getting some perspective on the situation.
to be continued ...