Thursday, January 28, 2016

Love means never having to say, “Get it yourself”

Caring for someone is a tough job.

And I don't mean, “Honey, I care for you;” “Honey, I love you so much;” “Honey, you mean so much to me.”

I mean, “Honey, can you bring the laptop over here?;” “Honey, would you mind getting me a cup of coffee?;” “Honey, could you get me a clean sock for my other foot?”

Yeah. That kind of caring.

I AM NOT complaining. Am I? I don't mean to. Seriously... how could I possibly complain about filling the every need of a woman who has been helping me deal with cancer for over two years? Wait. Don't answer that.

In dealing with Sheri's broken leg, broken ankle, sprained knee, I have discerned two distinct stages.

The first stage was all about the injury and the pain Sheri was experiencing... which was a lot. I was really scared for her. She had obviously really hurt herself and we had to get her to the hospital. Once there, I was anxious to be supportive and make sure she got the help she needed. I had to make sure I understood the instructions for her care and feeding, and then get her home and situated as comfortably as I could, which turned out to be not very much.

There she was biting down on a stick and taking Tylenol, and there I was sort of... well, being around, maybe hovering, just to be sure I could help if needed. Also, I needed to make absolutely sure she didn't fall again, in any way, shape or form.

First stage, part two, was virtually the same. She had surgery on her foot. The doctor added a steel plate, a number of pins and a 7-pound cast to Sheri's considerable attributes. The weight of the cast was an approximation based on Sheri putting her foot on a scale. I tried to tell her, with the rest of her at least somewhat attached through her leg, it wouldn't be accurate. Those of you who have talked to a woman giving birth can guess how well that went. So, seven pounds it is.

Stage two has a mainly different set of challenges. There's no adrenalin left to provide a little fuel when you're getting tired. There's no sense of being... not heroic, really, of stepping into the breach like the 300 gladiators... It's more like being one of the 101 Dalmatians, trying not to step on anyone else's ears.

Stage one is all flash, with little substance; attending to the moment because it really matters. There's a need to act, and pretty much to act right now! There's no time to think; no time to consider yourself and how you might be feeling. It's all pretty visceral.

Stage two is all substance and no flash. Yes, there's a need to act, but most of the time the only thing that makes it important to act quickly is Sheri's comfort. Which, speaking honestly, leaves plenty of time to think of my comfort. After all, thinking about me and what I want is one of my favorite things. In the land of the caregiver, this can be a problem.

Fortunately, my wife is far from demanding. But when you break one of your important pieces of transportation equipment, there are a world of things that you simply can't manage by yourself.

I've been aided in this phase by the fact that I pretty much wait on my wife hand and foot everyday, anyway. (Insert rude riposts and cat calls here.) And by waiting on hand and foot, I don't mean that in a bad way. I enjoy doing things for my wife, mostly. And she enjoys doing things for me. I just get more opportunities in the average day than she does. The more I write about this, the worse I'm going to look as both a husband and a human being, so let me get back to the point.

I think stage two is tougher, really. When Sheri was hurt and in pain, doing what needed to be done was a no brainer. When I've already made four trips to various parts of the house without a stop in between, “Could you please get me a cup of coffee?” becomes a testing moment. Not a, “Why don't you get it yourself moment,” but, “Really? Coffee? It can't wait?”

But then I look at this amazing woman, whom I truly do love; who has been right with me through two of the toughest years of my life, filling my needs and doing things I can't do for myself, and just get her the coffee, or the sock, or her cell phone, or her nail file, or the cough drops, or the pad and paper, or the drink of water, or her Chapstick or....”

There are a variety of versions of the story that gives this blog its name. The pony is the constant in all of them. A man is on his way to a party when he comes across a young boy shoveling ass over tea kettle at an enormous mountain of manure. The man asks the child if he wouldn't rather go with him to the party than shovel all that poop. The kid says, “No way man. With all that poop... there must be a pony in there somewhere

Thursday, January 21, 2016

You've Got a Friend, but Sheri has more

In case you missed last week's post: my wife, Sheri, fell off a chair and broke her leg, her ankle and sprained her knee.

What was she doing up on a chair? That, brothers and sisters, is not really open for discussion given that shortly before she fell Sheri was wondering about the advisability of being up on a chair doing what she was doing,

We were actually winterizing some windows, an act that was way overdue. We didn't expect a reward for finally getting to it, but a punishment like this seems a bit excessive.

It's been strange around our house since it happened. Sheri is pretty much confined to the sofa, with her beverages and electronic devices around her. My job is to hang loose and fill her every waking need.

Now, in the wrong hands, that could be a real pain-in-the-butt sort of thing. But, I must say, Sheri has not been having me deliver her bon bons one at a time,,, as a matter of fact, I haven't seen a bon bon since long before this happened. When she asks for something, it's a genuine need and she tries to bunch her requests so that the amount of up and down, and back and forth I need to do is less.

Still, if you think about how dependent we are on our feet and legs for getting about and reaching our stuff, it still comes out to a lot, and I do it gladly. She has been living with me and my cancer for over two years; two weeks doesn't seem like much in comparison. And it isn't.

But part of the strangeness I've been feeling revolves around my having cancer. I really have to be careful how much I do. Fortunately, it hasn't been much of a problem so far. I can fetch as good as any loyal family dog, and I can help with position changes as well, which covers the bulk of the requests so far.

We do have friends for the more involved things. When Sheri had to visit the surgeon to determine the amount of damage, and how the surgery would be managed, our friend Rita (not her real name) took her and brought her back, and another friend, Rip (not his real name either), carried her to and from the car. I was absolutely worn out. I absolutely hated not being able to be the one to take her. I know that sounds very caveman-like... me drag mate to healer then me drag back. And that's why I let Rita do it. I can't afford to get run down and sick.

Speaking of which- Sheri and been telling me to be careful that I don't trip over this or that; or move that thing so you don't fall; or make sure your shoelaces are tied when you leave the house. (I guess that probably needs further explanation but I'm not giving it.) My thought, naturally, was that she was concerned that, having just broken her leg, she didn't want me to do the same; that she didn't want me to experience the pain that she was.

Well, after further review, I realized that might have been part of it, but, more, I think, than that... if I fall down and break something, we're screwed. Having cancer is one thing- I can still fetch. Being laid up with a broken something and cancer means there's no one but Wolfie, our cat, and fetching isn't one of his best things. In truth, it isn't even one of his things.

It's also strange to see that Sheri has more friends than me. I'm not complaining, just admitting the truth. The phone rings constantly... for her. People are always trying to come out to the house with groceries... for her. And now they're offering to bring cooked meals; cooked groceries, in other words, for her.

To show you what the pain and stress of two ill people doing the best they can to help each other while trying to remain positive can do, witness the following exchange:

Sheri: That's nice that she's willing to bring out the chili.

Me: Yeah. Your friends are way cooler than mine.

Sheri: Look at all the cards, emails, notes, prayers that people have given you.

Me: Yeah. But none of it's food now, is it?

In true fairness, I suppose I should point out that I almost never have my phone on and let it go to voice mail when it does ring, unless it's a doctor calling. As something of a spinoff from the age-old, “Does this dress make me look fat?” question, may I ask, “Does all this grousing make me seem small?”

There are a variety of versions of the story that gives this blog its name. The pony is the constant in all of them. A man is on his way to a party when he comes across a young boy shoveling ass over tea kettle at an enormous mountain of manure. The man asks the child if he wouldn't rather go with him to the party than shovel all that poop. The kid says, “No way man. With all that poop... there must be a pony in there somewhere

Thursday, January 14, 2016

The leg bone's connected to the ankle bone?? Well...

We had to rush to the emergency room the other night, and it wasn't for me.

Normally you'd think that would register a “Yes! Not me!! Outstanding!!!” on the “Thank You Lord Scale of Personal Mishaps,” and, normally, you'd be right. But since it was Sheri we had to get to the hospital? It was more like a 10 on the “Why Didn't This Happen to me instead?” measuring device.

So, what happened? We were winterizing the windows in the living room... Let me pause to say that what happened is an offshoot of my firm belief that no good deed goes unpunished. We were trying to be conscientious and fiscally careful, which is like a good deed, and... Sheri was standing on a chair to reach. I had my back turned to her as I worked on my side, and there was a huge bang/crash, and I turned around to find Sheri lying on the floor. She didn't look like it had been part of the winterizing plan.

She laid there for a couple of minutes- at her request- and then said it really, really hurt. My wife has an amazing tolerance for physical pain, so the fact that she used two reallys really worried me.

Her ankle swelled up almost instantly and turned a variety of colors not seen since Joseph's Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat. Let me pause again... Though in this retelling, I'm applying my amazing talent for humorous turn of phrase- believe me, at the time I was just truly scared. But scared is boring, so...

It was obvious we had to get her to the emergency room and that's what we did. There was a horrific storm a-blowin' and a-rainin', but at least it wasn't snow. What she had to go through just to get her to the car would have made many a man weep, including this one, but there was nary a tear. Of course, it was raining so hard I wouldn't have known, but I know.

We got her to the emergency room, into a wheelchair, up the ramp, through intake and into a room. We apparently arrived right ahead of what the nurse called the post-dinnertime rush, so Sheri was immediately whisked off to x-ray and back.

Verdict: broken ankle on her left foot, both sides. Let me pause a third time... Did you know you really don't break your ankle? No, you break your leg at the ankle. Those ankle nobs are the end of your leg bone and she broke one in three places and the other broke in reaction to the first break. Regardless of what you call it, it obviously hurt and would likely need surgery, according to the nice young doctor in the emergency room.

So, we headed home, a journey not much more comfortable for Sheri than the one to the hospital, even though her ankle was now in a cast. The biggest challenge I faced was filling the doctor's prescription for “A stick for her to bite down on if the pain got too bad,” which was the only aid Sheri would accept. Well, that and ibuprofen.

I decided we surely had a stick at home that would work and, if not, we had plenty of wooden spoons. Getting her back up the three stairs and into the house, still in the driving rain, was tough, but, again, being the trooper that she is, she managed.

Here's a funny thing, funny odd not tunny ha ha. With all the health issues I've had in the last two years, I have not once said, “Why me?” But as I sat watching Sheri suffering, more than once I asked, “Why her?” On Valentine's Day it will be exactly 22 years since she was diagnosed with Type One diabetes; for the last two-plus years she's had to watch he husband suffer from multiple myeloma and an unnamed, but serious, stomach ailment, and she hasn't complained... well, not much. She's terrific, but sainthood does elude her. So, “Why her?” and, of course, the answer is, “Why not her? And, too, “If not her, who?”

After a couple of days she went to the orthopedic surgeon who scheduled surgery for the end of the week. An interesting thing about that. My various health issues have left me with not much strength and I had used up most of it by the time Sheri had to go to the surgeon. So, we had a couple of friends come over to assist and I couldn't help but notice, again, how amazing the human body is. To get Sheri into the car- an act that she did every day, all by herself, without even thinking about it- now took three people, plus herself. Yeah, boy.

They're going to insert a steel plate in her foot to fix it. I think, once the pain that comes from the surgery itself wanes, she should be able to get about a little better since it would seem the ankle will be truly immobile.

How upset have I been about all this? Not once have I said, “Look, Sheri, I know it hurts, but I had a stem cell transplant and you didn't hear me complain,” or any such thing. I just want her to heal and not have to be in pain. That's all.

There are a variety of versions of the story that gives this blog its name. The pony is the constant in all of them. A man is on his way to a party when he comes across a young boy shoveling ass over tea kettle at an enormous mountain of manure. The man asks the child if he wouldn't rather go with him to the party than shovel all that poop. The kid says, “No way man. With all that poop... there must be a pony in there somewhere

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Go West Young Man, and take your cancer with you

I took a look at the weather on my smaht phone after turning off the alarm the other morning and it read 1 degree. It looked odd. Like someone had taken the other numbers. 1 degree. I haven't felt like that since just after my stem cell transplant when I looked at the nurse's board in my room and saw that I had 2 white blood cells, I knew I needed thousands to even be able to leave the hospital, but all I had was 2. What?!

The 1 degree felt similar. I knew I needed a lot more before I would be get out of bed willingly, but there weren't any more.

Still, of all 50 states, Sheri and I made a conscious decision to move to Maine. We were 49 at the time, so it was with full knowledge that we would spend our retirement years here. There was some consolation in the fact that we were leaving a place with much worse winter weather (Syracuse, N.Y.), and that Maine was … well... very Maine-y, which made the winters manageable.

Well, 1 degree it was and I got up, mostly because I was meeting Not-His-Real-Name Walter for our weekly coffee council, so I didn't really have much choice. The Fire Road we live on can be a real bear to navigate when there is snow and ice on the ground, and I've ceased to be surprised if, upon attempting to leave, I end up way further down the hill than when I started. But this day, things were good. My second surprise of the day was to come when I got where I was going.

I reached Not His Real Name's house in time to see a lonely figure walking up his road. I could tell very little about the person because they seemed to be wearing a great number of clothes, covering just about every inch of their body, except for the smallest of slits around their eyes.

As I waited for Walter to appear, the person turned into his driveway and unshielded enough for me to see it was his Wicked Smaht Wife- I'm going to start calling her Sheila (not her real name). As Sheila was telling me how wonderful her walk in 1 degree weather had been, I must confess I was hearing very little of it. I was reworking in my mind what it was that made me think she was Wicked Smaht. So I smiled, and nodded, and muttered encouraging things until Walter came out and we drove off.

“You should think about walking home,” she cried after him. “If you wear lots of clothes it won't be too bad.” Right. So, off Walter and I went in my nice warm car that had taken most of the drive to Walter's to actually warm up. Coffee awaited.

One of the things I like about our Tuesday morning sessions is that NHRH is constantly coming up with theories that are... hmmm... they're... well, certainly convoluted, but almost always fascinating. This week was no different.

“Suppose,” he began, “ you were living in a small village in Vermont in 1850. You were happily married, had a nice life, couple of kids... maybe you were the town newspaper editor and the government came along and told you you had to move West. Had to. There weren't enough people out there and you and yours had to pack up and go.” It took him about five minutes to explain that, but that was the gist.

“You'd have two choices,” he pointed out. “You could fuss and feud and yell about how unfair it was, demand to see a lawyer, and just otherwise be unpleasant and argumentative, even though you were going, and not a lawyer nor a fuss was going to change that. Or,” and he paused for effect, “you could simply say OK and get about the business of heading West. Maybe buy yourself a cowboy hat and some spurs, and look at it as an adventure. It wouldn't necessarily mean you were any happier about it than the other guy; you just understood you had zero options.”

Then he looked at me, and, as he so often does, brought me into it. “That's pretty much what happened to you. A force outside your control said, 'You have multiple myeloma, now deal with it.' Which you have done, like the second guy in the example. You accepted your situation and decided to treat it as an adventure.”

Understand, he had not brought this idea fully formed to the table. It simply developed as he and I were talking. And I realized that, without even realizing it, that was exactly what had happened. In the beginning, my cancer was an adventure; not necessarily a happy one, but still... There was all the new language to learn, health professionals to meet, medicines to take, examinations to undertake, Every week was filled with something new, and quite often, mildly terrifying. It was an adventure.

I think part of the problem I'm having with my overall attitude now, is that the sense of adventure is gone. There's nothing knew. It's become this two-year plus slog through ill health. In the Go West analogy, I've hit Kansas- miles and miles of not much. I dumped the spurs and the cowboy hat somewhere in Missouri. Now there's just constant walking and moving forward, which, though it can be its own reward (if you call it exercise), does wear on a person. And I think that's where I am and what's going on. The adventure has gone, at least for now, and I'm just a guy with cancer and stomach pains trying find an end to all this flatness.

By the way, Walter walked home.

There are a variety of versions of the story that gives this blog its name. The pony is the constant in all of them. A man is on his way to a party when he comes across a young boy shoveling ass over tea kettle at an enormous mountain of manure. The man asks the child if he wouldn't rather go with him to the party than shovel all that poop. The kid says, “No way man. With all that poop... there must be a pony in there somewhere