Tuesday, October 23, 2012

“To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven…a time to break down, and a time to build up…a time to mourn, and a time to dance.” (The book of Ecclesiastes)

Epilogue October 20, 2012

To everything….

I dream some nights that I can play guitar again. In the dream I can form chords effortlessly with my left hand as I strum or pick with my right. My left hand bends confidently around the neck, moving up and down playing progressions like it once did. I am surprised that I am able to do this, and the excitement builds as the song continues. Suddenly I am awake, and my fingers on my left hand are stiff. I bend them slightly as I return to sleep.

I am still singing in the choir, though, and intend to do some more composing using my right hand and multi-tracking on the keyboard. I will add vocals as I did before. After I left the hospital the third time my voice was a bit raspy and inconsistent, and it was impossible for me to hit the high notes like Brian Wilson or Jon Anderson of YES. Of course, even in old times on good days with a few beers in me and my inhibitions tossed to the wind, I still had trouble hitting those notes. They’re not the professionals for nothing.

I am getting faster on the computer typing with my right hand. I have experimented with a program that allows me to speak into a microphone and watch the words appear on the computer screen. The words spring across in rapid succession. As I compose a psychological report, I read phrases like “test results suggest that Mark experiences depression and agitation with periods of withdrawal”, but what is on the page is something like “the fat lady serves artichokes in the Caribbean”. I am told I periodically have to proof the report and change a word here and there that the program misinterpreted. Yes, indeed…

I enjoy eating sandwiches again. And I don’t require two glasses of milk each meal anymore to get them down. A glass of water works fine. Big multivatimins still occasionally get stuck, though, so I chop them in half.

I now have a physical oddity – on my stomach are three belly buttons (well, one is actually closer to my side). There is the real one, plus two bogus ones left over from the feeding tubes. One of them fakes my daughters out every time because it looks just like the real thing. I am amazed though that there is not even a mark on my right side from where they pierced me to open my body to work on my insides.

I think the bills have almost stopped coming in (but the credit card is not paid off).

My mom at age 86 is trying to rid her body of the last vestiges of cancer outbreaks that after so many years of leaving her alone, struck her again suddenly when my dad was in his last days with us here. She has endured chemotherapy and radiation and sickness from these and still fights hard to stay on top. She has more courage than anyone I know.

My wife Becah expects me to do everything now with energy and enthusiasm. She endured enough of my being lying on the bed and saying “I can’t”. I love her very much, and her presence beside me through all of this means more than she will ever know.

My oldest daughter Breanna is my sports enthusiast. Softball, swimming, cheerleading, basketball. Then the cycle repeats. She is so good, too. And with her constant desire to be the center of attention, she may step on the stage and turn her singing interest into a career someday.

Brookie is only marginally interested in athletics. She loves to sing too, though, and she enjoys her ballet class. She is also my TV watching buddy, curling up with me on the couch. Although she has moved on to Disney teen sitcoms, she with very little enticement will still join me for a segment of “Lord of the Rings”.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Reflection 9 Sight effects

Medical procedures can produce a myriad of negative side effects. Chemotherapy that makes your hair fall out in accelerated time. Anesthesia that causes seizure-like body shaking that leaves you with physical abnormalities. Rapid weight loss from pneumonia that makes you resemble David Bowie during his “thin white duke” phase (even with some of the drug-pale skin pallor).

I can’t even claim that I wasn’t warned. Of course it’s difficult to focus initially when you sit in a hazy stupor caused by the piercing reality of the combination of a morbid diagnosis and a pile of consent forms with fine print that explains in detail how your very life may be in jeopardy even by the therapy designed to heal you.

It’s like the advertisements in magazines for prescription drugs to fight some emotional problem. The eye-catching ads are sometimes followed by two full pages of cautionary statements about what might happen to you if these drugs are ingested. I tend to not read these pages, choosing to believe in a more optimistic outcome. (Or, more sensibly, opt to just forget about taking the drug).

But these are the negative side effects. There are other outcomes, which I call “sight effects”. These are the positives. Like restructuring life priorities. Having a new appreciation for family. Enjoying small moments. Accepting little nuisances and frustrations for what they are and refusing to let them shape our precious time. Worrying less about what others may think of us. And living our lives more boldly.

Through the darkness we get a second chance, and then we see more clearly.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Reflection 8 Climbing the cliffs

Roughness is relative. I have had events in my life that caused suffering, times I would never want to experience again. I have been ill on occasion – a virus, or the flu can get your attention. A kidney stone has brought tears and nausea and pain that only morphine could extinguish. But my week in the hospital following the radiation and subsequent chemo combo was physically and emotionally draining. I spent each day mostly staring at walls, aching emotionally and physically, and doing little else.

When one of my early esophageal dilations went terribly wrong, I awoke to a second much more traumatic and lengthy hospital stent, having lost movement in the entire left side of my body. I anguished through the next few days with the uncertainty of when or even if I could move normally again. The two weeks plus for that hospital trial were much worse than the prior hospitalization that I thought was so uncomfortable.

But I was totally unprepared for the surprise awaiting me on my third hospitalization, awaking from a nightmare, unable to speak, with a tube in my throat and skeletal from weight loss. I was in that facility even longer, and returned periodically for brief admissions after that because I couldn’t quite shake off the demons.

When you think you can’t handle any more, you amaze yourself when you cross over that peak and discover yourself to be a stronger person when you stand again, on the other side.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Reflection 7 Anchors

I felt untethered in the hospital – adrift and swept away from my world that I had thought was safe and real. Many days I was miserable and afraid. People were nearby, but they were strangers. I found during those times that faith, family, and friends are more valuable than fortune.

When I felt the weakest - from illness, treatment, or when I was hungry – I had many helpful staff persons if not by my side at least within a button press, or, when I couldn’t find the switch, a desperate scream away. They were generally very sweet and tolerant of my less than amicable moods. A night nurse could be a savior when he or she would bring me nourishment (even if that might be just liquids pumped in through a tube). Sometimes just someone coming in and rearranging the sheets (which I always seemed to mangle) could be the high point of my long night and might mean the difference between my drifting off for some escape sleep or staring at the walls all night long. But the people came and went in the night and at shift changes, so I learned better than to get too attached to any individual. Many doctors saw me, and I appreciated their attention, but I often received mixed diagnoses and advice. Right or wrong, I viewed this as their confusion, and not just mine. And although “on call” meant something, it was not enough.

The consistent support from my family meant far more. I could count on my wife to bring in food or wash my hair or find the lost remote when hospital personnel were busy seeing other patients. I could depend on her to correctly re-insert the tube I accidentally yanked out when a nurse wouldn’t do it for fear of some legal repercussion from me if she did it wrong (fortunately for Becah, I may gripe if she erred in replacing my tube but I wouldn’t sue her). I longed for the pictures my kids drew far more than looking at the results of another test that was run on me.

The gifts from family are immeasurable.

Friday, October 19, 2012

Reflection 6 The present moment

Meditation teaches one to focus on breathing. Breathe in slowly, hold it there, and slowly breathe out. Vietnamese Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh explains that if a person focuses just on breathing, he or she can fully enjoy the present moment. This is the time we have. The past is over, the future not arrived. We waste so much of our lives regretting the past or worrying about what might come, that we miss out on the one time we have to live completely.

A serious illness will get your attention. When I was in treatment, I longed for the old days when I was disease-free. Or I hoped for the future when my burden would be lifted. It was hard to live in the present moment at that time, because that moment was not very pleasant.

That time is now in my past. It can be left there.

My advice to others is to enjoy the present moments. Play a guitar, compose a song, play baseball with your kids – whatever your choices of fun may be. Don’t put it off for tomorrow.

I have had to make adjustments to some activities due to the TIA that affected the nerves in my left hand. I must look at my guitar resting on its stand in the corner, unable to play it anymore. I must type the words on this page with my right hand only, as my left hand is splayed and I cannot coordinate it to type letters. My work and my hobbies have been compromised by an unforeseen event.

Many challenges surprise us in our lives. All the more reason to grab every moment and treasure it now.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Reflection 5 Staying fit

There are many ways to be fit and prepared for the highs and lows of life. We exercise our bodies by running, weights, yoga, sports – many activities. We can keep our brains agile by being lifelong learners - reading books, reading music while performing, working crossword puzzles, appearing on “Jeopardy”. We eat healthy foods and limit our little powdered sugar donuts and beer. We can be financially fit by saving money, investing wisely, not ever retiring, and restricting the number of BMWs we park in our driveways and big screen televisions we install in our houses.

Our challenge is to be prepared, not as pessimists or worriers, but just prepared for possible health challenges or catastrophic illnesses. We can’t depend on government handouts or the generosity of the medical and pharmaceutical establishments, or for the insurance companies to pick up the whole tab. They don't get rich paying your bills.

You can’t hide from the mailman when the medical bills come piling up either. Eventually someone will send Vito and Louie to your house to break a few fingers and persuade you to pay (or worse, send your name to the credit department).

You can’t afford to be sick. So try your best not to be. And if you must be, fortify yourself ahead of time.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Reflection 4 The three musketeers vs. the three stooges

Quote: “one for all and all for one!” (the 3 Musketeers)
Quote: “and every man for himself!” (Curley, of the 3 Stooges, after Moe quoted the above)

During my treatment, I was inundated with CNN chatter between Democrats and Republicans about the health care dilemma and ObamaCare. Both sides beating their chests and pointing fingers, believing they were right. I heard medical staff in the hospitals talking about how doctors would flee in droves rather than be a part of the “socialized medicine” that would come if the Democrats passed their reforms. I was, of course, fortunate that I was sick before that happened, because I was personally glad to have the A-team working on me instead of some lettered group further down the alphabet. However, as soon as the bills started flowing to me and I looked at some of the itemized charges (including hundreds of dollars for a single injection and exorbitant fees for therapy sessions), I realized clearly that something is entirely wrong with this.
Bogged down government bureaucracy won’t be the cure. But neither will the unsupervised free market mess that permitted the Enron elite years ago to screw their own unsuspecting supporters to the wall, or the Wall Street debacle that let debt run rampant.

There must be a system that cares for the poor and trims the excess fat off of medical fees and insurance companies’ huge profits. How that system will work will depend on who is elected to office and how well that person can work with individuals of all political persuasions.

Whether that can be accomplished at all is a great mystery. Not very comforting if you are ill.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Reflection 3 Tangibles and intangibles, or, you need a mess of help to stand alone

When I was diagnosed, I received a battery of treatment recommendations. Surgery was ruled out as being too invasive and potentially damaging. An aggressive combination of chemotherapies and radiation was chosen as having the most likelihood of success. I also received various shots to stimulate my salivary glands, as well as medicines and vitamins to regulate my body’s general functioning. For any patient with a similar diagnosis, these tangible methods would be considered. Whatever approach employed would depend upon both the location(s) of the disease, the pervasiveness in the body, and the health of the individual. You can only be slapped silly with therapy if you are in shape enough to handle it. As I have stated, I started out fairly strong, but ended up bruised and battered by the very therapy that was meant to heal me.

There is also the reality of the importance of securing highly qualified, determined, and available medical staff. But even the best and the brightest have their moments when they look to the side, uncertain how to proceed.

There are so many of these tangibles to consider. As songwriter Brian Wilson said, “you need a mess of help to stand alone”.

Independently of these are the intangibles. Prayers, mental attitudes, positive actions – by both the patient and others – must be factored in to the mix. For those who like their approaches measurable, this is a messy business. It’s hard to weigh the benefits of prayer groups, determined positive thinking, desperate pleas to God, and many more of the ways we work outside the medical model to achieve the ultimate outcome – total healing (and with this disease, there is nothing less than total that is acceptable).

We even throw the hail Mary pass on fourth and long, hoping for the big score.

A sign on one of my hospital rooms said, “every day holds the possibility of a miracle”.

That miracle, the greatest of the intangibles, may be what we have to hold on to.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Reflection 2 Three kinds of people

There are people in this world who walk through life with an aura of certainty around them. They can speed down the highway driving a convertible, wearing no seat belt, drinking beer, smoking a cigarette, all while texting a friend and singing to the radio. They will not get pulled over by the police. They will not have an accident. When they arrive home, it will be to, if not a mansion, at least be a fine residence. An attractive spouse and children - sweet, and high-achieving at school – will be waiting.

No illnesses of significance will plague these people. Neither fast food meals, lack of sleep, lack of exercise, cigarettes, or alcohol will slow them down. They can waste their money paying insurance premiums if they like, but the coverage will be unnecessary. They will not darken hospital doors.

Let’s call these people “auras”.

A second group looks very different. These people are destined to be plagued with life’s maladies. They walk through life with genetic “kick me” signs on their backs. For these folks, it’s not a matter of “if”, but rather “when” the boogeyman will strike. A good insurance policy will ease the bite, but they will be bitten, and the hospital staff will welcome them as guests in their facility (maybe even reserving their own rooms).

The “kick me’s” are a battered lot, regardless of how hard they try to ward off predators.

There is, of course, a third, less extreme group, where most of us fall. The “it depends” majority find that eating well, exercising, getting rest, praying, using positive thinking, having a good insurance policy, and storing money for that rainy day will go a long way in blocking life’s slings and arrows. There is still the pesky genetic factor to consider, though. I thought I did a pretty good job of preparing myself in the necessary armor, and boy, was I surprised.

We do, though, have a fighting chance. I refused to give up, and in the land of wellness now, I’m glad I took that attitude.

Sunday, October 14, 2012


Reflection 1 Base of tongue

I was diagnosed in 2009 with what is called “base of tongue” cancer. The doctors have theories as to what causes this. Smoking. Of course. But I never smoked. Drinking alcohol to excess (although one doctor told me I would have to drink almost a fifth daily to contract it that way). I didn’t do this. Another theory is that it is caused by a virus. That’s frightening.

A recent Pulitzer Prize-winning novel called “The Emperor of All Maladies” offers a sobering historical “biography” of this disease that reveals the many faces of cancer and how complicated and tenacious it can be. We hear cheers about “winning the war” and making cancer history, but hundreds and hundreds of years after the first reported cases, it still lives.

Every day a friend or relative gets diagnosed; each of us has had this shocking news delivered to us. We listen in disbelief, but the news is the same. I don’t know if there are really more cases, or if people are just more willing to disclose the problem now. Years ago unfortunate victims simply suffered in silence and didn’t mention the “c word”.

Whether the problem is growing, receding, or treading water, it is still around, lurking in the shadows of our lives, or sometimes brazenly strolling down the streets defying us to put a stop to it. It now stands in the spotlight, in all its many forms. People run marathons, wear ribbons, and collect money – a call to arms for battle.

Maybe in someone’s lifetime we will defeat this enemy for good and that war will be over.

Sunday, September 30, 2012

Part 181 The greatest night of the year

This year it truly will be the greatest night. When I was a child, I loved Christmas Eve. All the anticipation. The next morning, of course, was always the best day of the year. But all the hopes and excitement filled the air on the day before.

During the morning, I read a little and put on music that will play most of the day. I start a few dishes simmering in the afternoon. At five, we drive through the seasonably cold and damp weather to watch the children participate in a youth play at church, joined by my mother, GG, and CC. After this, we pick up a delicious concoction of foods from Pavarotti’s Italian restaurant, including fried artichokes, shrimp stuffed with crab, pasta, salad, and fettuccini alfredo for the kids. Complemented by the homemade veggie meatballs and broccoletti, and the chocolate bourbon pie my mother brought, we really have something. This year I can dive in, rather than watching from the sidelines like last year. We have a dinner theater going on as the kids dance in front of the table to entertain us.

As is required, some of us (including me of course) watch the 1951 classic version of “Scrooge” before bedtime.

Part 182 Dawn

We wake up early to a morning with the chill and Chuck Negron’s “Joy to the World” CD in the air as the kids are thrilled to discover a Wii Mario Brothers game with racing wheel waiting for them in the den. But Brooke’s favorite gift of all is the “My Little Pony” activity book purchased from Target for one dollar. I pull out some books and CDs from a box that I ordered from Amazon a few months ago, long enough that I have forgotten which ones I ordered and am actually surprised (my way of making sure I always get something I really want). Becah has bought me some tighter fitting jeans and a few shirts, as well as an electric shaver that I requested which I feel compelled to put on my list every decade or so.

We drive to CCs in the afternoon, joined by other family members and friends, for Mexican food and a fruit/vegetable tray. CC has bought the kids a karaoke machine which they instantly switch on and entertain us with. I suggest unsuccessfully that it would be a fun item to have at CCs house so they could entertain her whenever they stay over. They agree to the staying over part that night. Becah and I return home later, where she promptly falls asleep on the couch. I go upstairs and watch an old British movie, “Having a Wild Weekend”, starring my once favorite band the Dave Clark Five. While that is on, I am somehow inspired to do a little yoga before downing some leftovers (an international plate of Mexican and Italian). After the movie, I flip on the Green Bay vs. Chicago football game, leaving the sound off and glancing every now and then to see what is happening.

My tale doesn’t end here, but every story has to have its conclusion. I have been through the deep night and I have come out. The trail I took was my own – I had no real choice in that. Many others – family, friends, relatives, professionals, strangers who knew about me and added their support in some way – accompanied me at various times in my journey, shining flashlights that illuminated my steps and caught me when I stumbled. I did not make this trip alone. The dawn that arrived this morning meant so much to me, not just because it is Christmas and for all that entails, but also for what it means for me personally, and where my life is now. I am grateful to God who saved me and has brought the true light to this twenty-fifth of December.

This dawn is well worth walking into...

“Envying Job” will return on October 14 with some reflections and closing thoughts.

Saturday, September 29, 2012

Part 180 The other side of despair

December 23, 2011. It has been exactly two years since I received the dreadful news that ruined Christmas and sent my life tumbling for many long and remorseful days thereafter. A year later it was all not just a distant memory, as was optimistically predicted by one doctor. Even now, its memory is too close for me to slide too comfortably into the easy chair without looking over my shoulder to see what could be creeping up. I have gained a few pounds and my strength and stamina have improved, but I am still “on the mend”. I still many days have to stop and rest, sometimes just after eating a meal, as my heart races and fatigue sets in.

But I have come through this alive. This holiday will be joyful, and many more days will follow in that spirit. I am home, not in a hospital. I can enjoy activities again – just life itself, whatever that may be. Everything looks much better from this side of despair.

The day becomes increasingly chillier, and I enjoy some time at the school playground with the kids. I drive to do a few errands, listening to Traffic’s “Heaven Is In Your Mind” CD (indeed, it is). I pick up Time magazine’s Person of the Year annual issue – this year a tribute to “the protestor”, that sometimes infamous but often anonymous individual who takes the reins away from idle politicians at the top and steps up to improve the world from the bottom up. Later Becah and the kids visit our neighbor before going to eat at Rincon. I opt instead to stay home and watch the Beatles “Help” movie while drinking a few beers and enjoying a favorite combo of mine, pizza and peas.

Later Becah and I transfer my presentation to a power point while listening to Christmas music on cable TV. Before going to bed I read George Rodrigue’s “Blue Dog Christmas” a book about the holiday season and of the author’s evolution as an artist.

Even with work to do over the holidays, isn’t life sweet?

Friday, September 28, 2012

Part 179 Violators

I get up early the next morning to drive to the Department of Public Safety to renew my driver’s license. I have been driving for some time now with an expired permit, violating the law again as I drive over to get it renewed. I sit in the waiting room for about an hour (not bad, I feared worse). While there I look up on the wall and see a poster with the words “stop Houston gangs!” I think how much more ironic it would be if it were spray painted on the wall instead! I doubt that the sober-faced employees would see the irony (much less the humor) in my observation, so I keep my thoughts to myself.

I drive home (legitimately now), listening to the Beatles “Rubber Soul” again on this frosty morning, stopping at a few stores to purchase Christmas gifts. At home, I am filled with a burst of energy, jogging, lifting weights, and doing yoga. At night, I take a look at yet another of the myriad of football bowl games. I pull up the San Diego County Court Poinsettia Bowl (now there’s a mouthful) on TV where my once alma mater Louisiana Tech plays (and ultimately is edged in out by) TCU.

The following day I spend much time working on my presentation on personality development. I review everything (even the jokes I will lead off with) since it will be a big crowd I will be talking to and since the event will take place immediately after returning to work from the holidays. While Becah attends a ladies get together in the afternoon I watch the Texans squander a lead and lose in the last two minutes of the football game following three defensive miscues. As our defensive coordinator is still out, I guess there is an excuse, but after so many wins in a row it is tough losing to last place Indianapolis (with their fourth string quarterback in, no less, who is a former Texan, but still…)

I sleep at night on the couch since Bree is feeling punk and wants to sleep next to mommy.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Part 178 Magical mystery tour (with moose)

Monday morning is a one of the string of days off, but I am sipping coffee and working on a presentation I have been asked to give immediately after returning to work (thanks a lot). The topic is “Personality Development 101”, a crash course that is to include developmental milestones, theorists, implications for education, areas of dysfunction, and remedial strategies (oh sure, I’ll just whip that out). And today we are leaving town to go on a mystery trip the destination of which only I know. It is cloudier today, and the forecast unfortunately is for rain. The prediction for the rest of the week, though, is for cold weather. I am pleased, because I love Christmas to be chilly. It just feels right that way. I need this holiday to be special, since the last two were anything but pleasant.

After I deliberately head off briefly in a different direction to fool my passengers, we head up interstate 45, veering off toward Crockett. Becah has fortunately drifted asleep, so she can’t see the turnoff (she has already suspected where we are going, but this would tip her off for sure). After driving over wooded tiny hills we arrive some time later in Palestine. The rain has not fallen yet. We check into a new Comfort Inn motel up on a hill at the edge of town. As we walk in Becah notices on the wall a big poster for the movie “Polar Express”, confirming what she already guessed. She keeps it a secret from the kids, though, who pay no attention to the poster. In the room, we all get dressed in our new pajamas (mine are dark green with moose on the pants) and drive to the nearby Pizza Hut Bistro (!). The waitress comes up and starts to give away the surprise, but I shush her in time. The kids are totally pumped, believing we drove miles away to another town just to have dinner in our PJs.! Remind me next time that is all I need to do on a trip to excite them! After dinner we drive over to the train depot.

As we walk through the strategically placed gift shop to the ticket booth the theme from “Polar Express” soars overhead. The kids are elated, now realizing this is the holiday train trip we once discussed taking. A light drizzle falls from the cool skies as we board the train, and minutes after the wheels roll several “cooks” walk down the aisle, clapping to music and passing out hot chocolate and cookies. The speaker overhead then projects the spoken story of the polar express as one of the cooks walks around displaying the book, page by page. As we near the North Pole, the inside train lights are turned off so everyone can seen the workshop outside. The train stops, then heads back. St. Nicholas enters to cheers, walking along and handing out a single bell to each child. He exits and the cooks return , dancing as Christmas songs play and everyone sings along.

After the trip we return to the motel, where the kids enjoy swimming in the heated pool. We go to bed shortly after returning to the room and sleep soundly, until…

At 6:30 a.m. someone upstairs is stomping (pounding?) on the floor. It sounds like a wrestling match. I get up and go for coffee, then stay for the Texas-shaped waffle, eggs, yoghurt, and juice. Becah and the kids wake later and eat. We check out and head for the nearby Davey Dogwood Park, which is surprisingly hilly with leaves filled with color on this clearer and brisk morning. After hiking around some, we head back through Crockett, stopping to eat at the Moosehead Café. Animal lover Bree is disturbed (and, admittedly, I am also) by all the moose and deer heads on the wall. Despite this misstep, we return home happy.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Part 177 A golden triangle (pre) Christmas

Friday caps off what are almost the fastest weeks of the year (the interim between Thanksgiving and Christmas breaks), surpassed only by the 16 day interlude without work that will follow. Our family leaves immediately after to spend a few days with Becah’s father and stepmother in Nederland. After the two-hour drive we stop briefly at their house before going out to eat. Becah’s dad Billy is on a sushi kick, so we dine at Tokyo, where we enjoy sushi rolls (except for the kids, who will only eat the rice). We stay up late talking at their house after.

Saturday afternoon Billy and Linda have a party to celebrate Christmas early. The girls are treated to a big dollhouse and many other gifts. I make broccoletti and Linda brings in some gumbo from a nearby restaurant. The plates full of other dishes pile up quickly; soon there are seemingly tons of food. It’s a pretty day outside, clear and having turned colder overnight. Becah’s half-sister Lacey and her husband Jared, as well as Billy’s mother and other relatives show up. A friend sits in an easy chair with his slinky girlfriend in his lap, and another attractive lady walks by accompanied by her boyfriend, who I later have a long talk with after finding out that he was on the Baltimore Orioles pitching roster for a short time and played minor league ball in Winnepeg Canada.

We sleep in late and watch a little of “Ms. Doubtfire” on the huge TV in the den. We must switch it over for the Texans game at noon. They get soundly beaten by Carolina, ending their win streak. That is what happens when defensive ace coach Wade Phillips is out ill for maybe the rest of the season. They made the playoffs, though, and that feat can’t be taken away. We drive back to Houston in the afternoon with gifts in tow, ready for more holidays and free time.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Part 176 Meatless balls and fake bomb threats

Joel Osteen is talking on Sunday morning TV about appreciating others in your life and telling them so. After this we drive to church for the contemporary service, where the shaven-headed singer and his blonde wife/co-singer, clad in boots and cap, lead the service in hip fashion. Although they sing a familiar contemporary song, they surprise me by singing one in Latin. After a Schlotzky’s sandwich for me and pizza for the kids for lunch, we scoot home to catch the Texans vs. Cincinnati game. Behind 19-13, Houston’s backup quarterback tosses a short pass into the end zone with two seconds left to give the team its seventh straight win. After a loss by Tennessee, they are on their way to their first playoff game ever. After the game, Brooke and I drive to nearby Cypress-Champion park to run a little. She enjoys the slides and other diversions.

Late at night I awake and feel like I just dove into a swimming pool and snorted too much chlorine. My nasal cavity burns and I am coughing, almost to the extent that I am nauseous. I have never had these symptoms before. I don’t think this is acid reflux, but whatever it is, I don’t like it.

I wake up tired and somewhat disoriented in the morning. My Monday at work is good, though, and fast (Mondays are always quick days at work for me). At night, I make a tasty meal of meatless balls and fresh pasta, amazed at how closely the taste is to the beef meatballs and spaghetti I ate so often in my youth.

Tuesday night Becah and I attend a dinner hosted by Dr. Bl- at a Mexican restaurant near downtown in Montrose. The facility is the old Tower Theater, and we dine upstairs in a private room while an old John Wayne movie is screened silently on a wall. The attendees are all former or current patients who have had esophageal dysfunctions. Becah and I share mushroom enchiladas. I am still struggling a little to consume the food without drinking a well full of water. The spiciness also stings. But I succeed. I think about how I must, so as to not choke and embarrass the doctor our hostess, who is celebrating our successes with us tonight. After dinner, we hand over cases of Boost and Ensure (which I pray I’ve seen the last of) to Dr.Bl-’s secretary to give to patients who may need them.

The next day is warmer and quite busy at work. Interrupting the proceedings are not one but two separate bomb threats in the high school, compliments of an original comedian and a copycat, both of whom apparently can’t wait two more days to get out for the two-week holiday vacation. I listen to the Moody Blues “Two Our Children’s Children” CD on the way home after the disjointed work day is through. At night while Becah and the kids attend choir camp at church I watch a DVD concert tribute to musician Jim Capaldi of Traffic that is surprisingly good.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Part 175 Weddings and funerals

Four a.m. is early to get up on a Saturday, but Craig and his wife Sherilyn will be by at 5:30 to drive me on this cold and soon to be colder morning to Shreveport, Louisiana to attend the funeral of my dad’s twin brother James. Craig and I talk a lot during the drive. We take a short cut in east Texas down Mansfield road through a town called Keachi, shaving off a few miles on this drive I have made so many times over the years. We arrive early, so we have a little time to drive down streets I once traveled over – Youree, Anniston, to Justin, the street we once lived on. We take King’s Highway down past Captain Shreve High School (where Craig attended for one year before being rudely snapped away when dad was transferred to Houston), down past River Road (a street I cruised down often, hoping to catch a glimpse of a beautiful blonde named Karen whom I finally managed to get one date with), then back again down Justin. The house we grew up in looks tinier each time I see it, and its owners have neglected its upkeep.

Less than a mile away is the Catholic church where my aunt and uncle were members for as long as I can remember. The exterior looks the same, but the inside was remodeled in recent years. I was here last just a few years ago, for the funeral of my aunt Marie, who had been married to James for about as long as my parents have been together. It seems that I only return to my home town for extreme events – weddings or funerals.

After a traditional mass and grandchildren speaking touching words in remembrance of my uncle, we walk out and very briefly mingle with relatives. Billy is back from Colorado and his sister in from California, and some others have driven west from Alabama and Florida. My uncle, as my dad, was well loved by his family and friends.

We exit quickly and my brother wants a hamburger from Strawn’s, a favorite of ours from old days located across the street from Centenary College (where my dad took us to watch basketball games). The place is packed, though, so we drive to Nacogdoches and stop for sandwiches there instead. I duck into a college shop and by a college t-shirt for the first time ever (some time to start supporting your school) and we drive off under progressively clouding and cold skies.

At home, the kids go crazy over my brother and his wife, insisting on showing them their rooms and everything else. Becah has chosen this day to slyly rearrange the den furniture. I fool her by not getting bothered but rather being a good sport and adapting. After Craig and Sherilyn leave, we eat pizza and watch the Three Musketeers on DVD.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Part 174 Holiday cheer and lessons from dogs

The next few days are filled with holiday arts activities, with the kids and I going to a Christmas movie followed by Becah taking them the next day to the Nutcracker ballet. After that our family attends a live nativity re-creation at a nearby church. Impressive, with a real camel too. You can even ride it! Of course, there is a long line to ride it and it is cold outside, so we entice the kids into going inside for other activities.

The next day is winter-like, very cold, and perfect for maintaining a holiday mood. I listen to Christmas music and George Harrison’s “All Things Must Pass” CD while driving between home and work and elsewhere. Work is very busy, but manageable. Mom calls and informs me that her tumor is gone, but she will still require more chemo and radiation for isolated cells that remain in her body. She is happy, though, because the doctor said no bladder surgery. She will start the additional treatments soon.

I continue to read “Year of the Flood”, an interesting futuristic novel by the always entertaining novelist Margaret Atwood. The cold streak has settled in for a few days, so one afternoon I make vegetable soup. I struggle peeling and cutting vegetables, forcing myself to remain slow down and be calm when I drop things due to my hand. Brett the dog teaches me another lesson when he escapes from our back yard after someone left the gate ajar. I enlist a neighbor to help corral him (he finally dodges us both and runs back into the yard). There are apparently times when problems arise and suddenly, inexplicably, correct themselves.

I am soon back inside, out of the cold, relaxing to a John Rutter Christmas CD. The soup is on, the dog is lying on the floor, and the moment is good.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Part 173 Taps and tolling bells

The first of December (unlike the James Taylor song) isn’t covered with snow. But it is seasonably brisk. At work, the developmentally handicapped class has their annual sale of hand made Christmas ornaments/crafts, and I walk away with a birdhouse, some ornaments,a couple of outside decorations - a taste of the season to come.

At night our family drives to mom’s house for what I guess is a wake for my dad. Lots of relatives that I rarely see were there (including one from Colorado and another from California). Although there is sadness, we enjoy many light hearted memories.

I go to work the next morning for a half day. I am busy, as I have been in recent days. I leave for home, and there our family gets dressed to drive across town to Memorial Drive Presbyterian Church, the site of the funeral and the church my parents have attended for many years. Many people file in the waiting room. Becah is bothered that I am the only one not wearing a tie (even my Austin ex-hippie brother David has one on). My reason is legitimate – tying a tie is another one of those lost skills I have to deal with since my TIA last year. I really wouldn’t pick this moment – in respect for my dad – to be rebellious. Never fear, my cousin Billy from Denver pulls off his clip-on tie and hands it to me, withdrawing another from his pocket for himself. My brother Craig would have none of this, though, so he ties a tie for me that I had brought along just in case.

At exactly twelve, the bells outside the church began tolling. The minister Dave walks in first, followed by my family, then Craig’s, then David’s, in the birth order sequence of the brothers. After some music, my mom delivers the eulogy. She tells how she and dad met in college (my dad bumming notes from her in a history class) and how they were engaged the next month. She discusses his great loves: flying, golf, his sons, his twin brother. I do okay through the excellent soloist’s rendition of “Ave Maria”, but I cannot stop the tears when the pianist plays “Fascination”, my dad’s favorite song. The minister follows with a powerful message about the kingdom of heaven. He speaks with drama, towering from the pulpit with his well over six feet height and holding a bible in his right hand as sunlight streams behind him through the stained glass windows. The soloist follows with a strong version of “How Great Thou Art”.

The highlight comes as two uniformed men march down the center isle unveiling the American flag, then slowly and silently and meticulously folding it right before us on the front row, presenting it to my mother. The room is breathlessly silent. Suddenly “Taps” sounds from a trumpet in the back of the sanctuary. It is a stirring ceremony that words cannot adequately covey.

As we walk out, another song, “Alley Cat”, one that my parents danced to many times, plays overhead. The reception is filled with relatives, friends, former business associates, and former neighbors (Kelly, now a grown lady with deep blue eyes just like her long deceased father, I haven’t seen she was a little girl). I recognize friends of Craig’s from way back in Shreveport. Craig’s ex-wife and mother of two of his children is there as well, looking young as she always does. My dad was always very fond of her, even after they broke up. I am amazed at the number of people who have come to honor my father. He is well remembered.

The relatives and a few close friends drive to mom’s house for snacks after. Back at home later, I try a patch in my mouth that is supposed to aid in moisturizing. I drink two Guiness beers, eat three slices of pizza, and finish it off with pound cake topped with whipped cream. It seems to be working pretty well.

Friday, September 21, 2012

Part 172 Business arrangements

My brother Craig, my sister-in-law Diane, my mom, and I gather at her church to discuss funeral arrangements for my father. In the minister’s office we discuss the things that made my father special – topics that the minister will use during the service. When I am asked to offer a memory, I recall that it seemed to me that dad could fix anything and just about do anything. My mom remembers how they began dating many years ago in January and how my dad proposed in February! They were married the following August. No wonder they couldn’t say anything about my whirlwind romance with Becah…

I take Bree at night to her first basketball practice. She will be one of the Lady Lions. The coach is a very tall former basketball player who has four girls of his own. I offer my condolences.

The next day I meet the same trio of relatives at the lawyer’s office, reviewing matters related to the trust/estate. The lawyer turns out to be a former student my mother taught in middle school! That night Becah takes the girls to their choir camp to prep for the kids’ upcoming musical. I opt to skip choir practice that night, cooking a leisurely pasta dinner instead. This gives me an opportunity to reflect on my life, with all its strange, exciting, and sometimes not so welcomed events.

In our childhood we dream of what our lives will be like when we grow older. I usually pictured all the good possibilities, the things I wanted life to be. The past few years I have had to face the unexpected, undesirable turns that life can take.

I think about these as I spend this dinner with myself.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Part 171 Uncle James lets go

A few days later I am back singing in the choir again. A friend there comes up and gives me an enthusiastic hug and welcomes me back. That afternoon I watch the Texans lose their second string quarterback to an injury when leading the game 20-10. They squeeze out a victory 20-13 simply because their opponent is so offensively weak that they cannot capitalize on our playing with a third string passer. This is the Texans’ fifth straight win and playoff talk is all over town, but now it’s anyone’s guess what will happen.

My mouth continues to be quite dry after eating, and I must often lie down immediately after meals to calm my racing heart.

The next day is cold - 33 degrees. The first cold snap of every season I must play “Rubber Soul” by the Beatles, one of my favorite albums of all time and, in my mind, a gateway to the cold season holidays. I arrive at work to receive a phone call from my mom that my dad’s twin brother – my uncle James – has died. I am not surprised, since I knew which ever twin went first, the other would soon let go of this life.

Within two weeks of my dad.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Part 170 Giving thanks

The following day is Thanksgiving, bright and very cool. I drive to get kolaches for all. Later in the morning we are visited by Becah’s cousin and her husband and their little twins. Becah and I head back to Houston shortly after, leaving Bree, Brooke, and Brett to ride back later with CC and GG. We arrive at my mom’s house, and there is a big family turnout. My brothers and most of their children are there, and the back yard is the temporary home to their dogs that they have brought along (keeping my mom’s adopted cat Clancy roaming the front yard all afternoon). The TV is of course set on the annual Dallas football game, this time against Miami (Green Bay has beaten Detroit already, maintaining their undefeated season).

Despite my mom’s health problems of late, she still manages to crank out a menu worthy of a five-star restaurant, including wine, oysters Rockefeller, crab-stuffed mushrooms, shrimp, turkey, oyster dressing, peas, rice, cauliflower in sauce, corn, cranberry sauce, olives, roasted pecans, and rolls. Only the desserts were assigned out – my niece Laura brought the chocolate pie, key lime pie, and bread pudding in whiskey sauce. We toss the football around as usual, commenting about how big the trees in the yard have grown and how they are now obstructing our football field (years ago we just threw passes over them, they were so small). In the process of passing and catching a football, my left index finger is jammed – instant sprain (the nerve damage in that hand has prevented me from bending my fingers quickly enough to avoid this). We laugh about bizarre rough events from our childhood, such as a boy who tied a string around a bee and “attacked” people and the kids on our childhood street who threw cherry bombs at each other playing war games.

It is our first Thanksgiving without dad. It was his favorite holiday.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Part 169 Walking the chilly beach

We head to the Bolivar beach again, the weather warm initially. I bought Bree a boogie board to ride the surf on, but the water was too chilly for that. We have lunch at the Tiki grill, and we’re surprised when some people near us light up cigarettes near the end of our meal. I’m so used to smoke-free restaurants that the odor permeates everything. Fortunately we can pay the tab and leave quickly. Later a fog blows in and the temperature cools. Becah cooks veggie tacos that evening as we listen to Carole King’s new Christmas CD. We watch a show from the 90s “Equalizer” series after the kids fall asleep. After that I flip around on the cable, only to find a myriad of Vietnamese and Arabic channels. Bolivar, of all places to go international.

Carole King shows up again the next morning, performing on the “Today” show. It’s raining today, so the kids opt to paint pictures out on the porch. We drive to Beaumont later to visit Becah’s cousin Kasey and her recently born twins. Afterwards, we meet Becah’s dad and stepmom for dinner at Carabba’s. The kids wanted to stay and spend the night, so Becah and I agreed and headed back to the beach house, listening to U2 as we drove over the flat land and down the beach road.

It is sunny and cool when we awake the next morning. Justin Beiber is on TV, but the kids (big fans) aren’t here to watch. Becah and I ride the ferry to Galveston later in the morning. After walking around a bit, we hit lunch at Shrimp and Stuff, an off the path local favorite. I have the gumbo while Becah enjoys what she claims is the best fish taco ever. We later check out a few shops on the Strand and buy GG a nice bag for her birthday (which is today). We are so enthralled with the restaurant before that we return for more; this time I try shrimp salad while Becah gets another taco. After taking the ferry back, we arrive at the beach house just as CC and GG pull in. Shortly after Becah’s stepmom Linda drives up with the kids. We walk the beach a little while, then head back for dinner. The kids and I watch “Rio” before calling it a night.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Part 168 Brookie

It’s a Friday after work, just before the Thanksgiving holiday break. Becah is at a happy hour with friends, Bree has gone to a sleepover. Brooke and I go shopping at Target for gifts for disadvantaged students enrolled in an alternative school in our district. We grab Mexican food for dinner and bring it home to enjoy it while watching a movie. I’m hoping to pick the show, but I go along with Brooke’s decision of “Barbie Rapunzel” (sometimes you just have to bite the bullet). After the movie, we watch a few episodes of “Big Time Rush” (no complaint from me there).

The next day is Brooke’s birthday party celebration, at a gymnasium. Rolling and tumbling everywhere and somehow no one gets hurt. At night Brookie prays again for granddaddy having a fun time in heaven, but this time adds “and for daddy being out of the hospital and for daddy getting his tube out”. These prayers will be offered from her again and again in almost every evening prayer.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Part 167 Let there be songs!

My niece’s wedding is next on the agenda. Our family stops on the way to pick up my mother, and we stay for a quick drink before finding ourselves in a serious traffic jam heading to Katy due to road construction. Brooke somehow manages to loose the directions to the wedding and we find the place just on the downbeat before the wedding starts. The setting is beautiful and the wedding is outdoors. Dinner is inside – for me that means shrimp appetizers, roasted potatoes, green beans, salad, and slices of both Grand Marnier and chocolate cakes. The girls enjoyed the candy bar (it seems everyone has one of these now) and dancing to the DJ’s music.

At bedtime one night Bree finds herself inspired to write songs. I pull out a book of Bob Dylan song lyrics and read them to her, tentatively, as I fear she might find them bizarre. In fact, she seems intrigued by the poems.

The music thread continues one afternoon at Brooke’s pre-kindergarten school. She and her friends are dressed as turkeys for a Thanksgiving program. She is standing on the highest row, centered. Brooke belts out every tune with total confidence as her little friends bend their heads toward her to catch the lyrics. I am laughing out loud, she is so good and confident.

I have a very busy Wednesday at work, lost in the pace so much that I barely slow down. I am happy to have the stamina to do this. I listen to Christmas music in the car on the way to my first choir practice in months. I am eagerly rushing toward the holidays this year. I even know one of the songs the choir is practicing, glad that I am not completely behind on it. John Rutter’s “Gloria”, however, is another matter.

The next morning, November 17, is Brooke’s birthday. She turns five today. Bree is being the sweet big sister (as she can be at times) and sings a song that she has written for the occasion.

Music is a tonic that simply makes everything in life better.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Part 166 Life continues

The days go by and I am steadily improving. A special Veteran’s Day arrives – the date is 11/11/11. You don’t get that very often! I drive over to check on my friend Brian, doing a training at work, this time with Jason. They are running far ahead of schedule (they tease me that when I am there we are behind because I am so long-winded). I stop at a store on the way home to check on Bree, who is ill and at home with GG. My car won’t restart, even after multiple tries. The battery has been recently changed, so I’m afraid it is a malfunctioning starter. I call AAA to get me, then try one more time. Amazingly, it starts. I call them back to meet me this time at my house. Becah meets me at home and drives me back to work while AAA tows my car to the dealer. I arrive at work and get a phone call from the driver, who tells me I have given him the wrong key. It is the key to Becah’s car. I get a coworker to drive me to the dealer and exchange keys. After work, Becah comes and gets me and drives me back to get the car. After all this, I find the starter is fine – it’s only a loose battery connection!

After watching the enjoyable Disney movie “Geek Charming”, Brooke makes my day by asking me if she can sit by me the next time we go to a restaurant, and then telling me she loves me best.

Friday, September 14, 2012

Part 165 Leaving this earth

The morning of November 9 is cooler, refreshing. I get up early as usual, have coffee, and continue my routine before leaving for work. When I get there, I look out the window and watch the sun rise. As I enter my office the phone is ringing. It is Becah. My mother has just called home and informed her that my dad died. I grab my briefcase, turn, lock the door, and return home. As I open the door, Brooke offers a frank comment. “Daddy, granddaddy passed away”.

I drive to the hospital and meet mom and Craig. Dad is lying in the bed, immobile, hard. His mouth is open, but there are no breaths. He has left us. We stay a while, then we leave to accompany mom to get her final radiation treatment. Before exiting the room, my mom pauses and gives my dad a little kiss on his head, commenting, “oh, you’re so cold already”.

We follow her home afterward and stay a while to comfort each other in this house where my parents and we children have spent so many years. It is a gorgeous morning. On my CD playing is a Christmas album “Three Ships” by YES singer Jon Anderson. I will probably forever associate this song with this day. My youngest brother David and his wife Diane arrive late morning. We sit and talk and laugh about things dad said and did. We all go out for lunch, then return to mom’s house, where she makes some phone calls to give the news to the few of her remaining friends; my mom has managed to outlive most of her old ones.

I drive across town back to my home in the afternoon. For prayers that night Brooke wishes that dad “has a fun time in heaven”. Late in the evening, Bree suddenly becomes sick at her stomach.

We go to sleep to get a reprieve from this day.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Part 164 My dad

“Whatever it takes”. I heard these words spoken by my dad often in my life. That was his motto, I guess, for just about everything. He probably thought these words when he was directed to fly the 33 bombing missions over German refineries during World War II when he was only 21. Unable to edge out all the other pilots looking to fly commercial airlines after the war, he went back to college, where he met my mother. After he graduated and married my mom, he soon found employment in the oil business. When his sons were born, he would pick up supplemental work to his primary job for extra income. Eventually he made his way up the company latter, working first in personnel and then as corporate secretary for Texas Eastern Petroleum Company.

My dad was always active in his younger years, always fixing something in the garage. The garage itself was rigged with all kinds of things, like a door opener for the dog or a stereo to listen to while he worked. He had a smaller scooter that he would hop on and give rides to the kids in the neighborhood. At night he and my mother were often entertaining, with people coming over to play bridge or just hang out.

I remember my dad patiently teaching me to drive using a standard shift on the column in an open country field near the house that he grew up in, around East Point, Louisiana. I lurched the car and angrily declared that I couldn’t do it, but he proved me wrong. He was sports fan, who played many sports growing up. He taught me baseball, basketball, and tennis. He taught my brothers and I to play ping pong so well that eventually we beat him. The only sport he never could interest me in was golf; ironically, that sport, along with flying small airplanes, would be his passion throughout life (my dad was known to keep clubs in the trunk of his car in case he could scare up a game, even when traveling out of town).

I am told that my dad was so proud of his children and talked so much about us around others that he would embarrass my mother. He attended to many things, but he prioritized his family.

All was not bliss, though. When I was in college I had many a fight with dad over my long hair (when he said I looked like a girl, my response was to say that I would grow a beard so he could tell the difference).

In later years, I would usually find my dad lounging in his recliner, tapping his glass and asking for more coke. When his memory bailed on him, he would forget he had just been given more to drink and would get ornery when more was not forthcoming. I had to work at concealing my frustration when he would ask me the same questions, sometimes with only a five minute delay.

He was supposed to live here forever, and still be in his prime. That’s what I wanted.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Part 163 Tearful prayers

I rest at home the day following the procedure, with considerable soreness but nothing
I can’t tolerate. Football games are on TV (which I glance at periodically) with the sound off. I listen to the Beach Boys’ newly released but previously recorded “Smile” album. I enjoy hearing it although much of it I am familiar with from previous albums and from Brian Wilson’s release several years ago of the album in its entirety. In any form, it’s an impressive piece of music. At night I have football still on, and I pay more attention as it is the two top ranked LSU and Alabama teams.

My brother calls me the next day to inform me that my dad is in the ER at the hospital. Bree is at a birthday party, so Becah and Brooke and I drive over in the early afternoon to see him. Tensions have been brewing between Becah and I, and a big argument chooses to surface amid all this. Arriving, we find dad uncommunicative. He appears to have had a stroke, although tests have not indicated this. It was determined that he suffers from liver and kidney problems (his skin does have a yellowish tint). Dad is unable to visually track or to respond to our words. We visit the hospice several floors above. It is roomy, with a nice view. The doctor has determined that he will go directly there instead of being admitted to the hospital.

Dad looks really bad today. He has plummeted downhill in just the past few weeks. Becah and Brooke go to the nearby mall while I stay awhile longer. He has been in ER for over five hours when we leave, but for hospitals, that’s not a surprise.

Prayers tonight at home are tearful.

I take the next day off to rest before driving to the hospice with my family. Despite my reservations, the kids have decided they want to see Granddaddy. My mom had called earlier and said he was “gurgling”. We arrive and Brooke immediately wants to leave the room. Breanna stays longer, but after about fifteen minutes we all leave.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Part One more ailment bites the dust/laughing at pain

After the Halloween “trunk or treat” party at church (where kids go from car to car as owners give them treats from their decorated trunks), we find ourselves with a crowd of neighbors inside our house devouring pizza slices before going out on Halloween night. Bree and Brooke have on their outfits from the previous day as we accompany them on a beautiful, clear, and slightly cool evening.

The next day is officially All Saints Day, and the beautiful weather continues. I meet with Dr. Br- to discuss my hernia surgery. He talks to me at length and is curious about my previous surgeries and procedures. I give him the abbreviated version of my tale. He describes the procedure he will be doing, showing me the synthetic gauze that he will use. The entire thing sounds pretty simple for once, so I set it up.

I take Bree to her basketball tryout, her first attempt at this sport. Playing often as a child, I encourage her. I have to leave her practice early, though, rushing home in pain to ice down my soon to be relieved problem.

The following Friday is very chilly after a cold front blows in, dropping the air to the upper thirties. I drive Brooke and Bree to school, then Becah and I head over to the hospital. This time we are in for a treat – a beautiful, new facility ten minutes from our house. No hour drive to the medical center. Free, plentiful parking. It almost makes me glad that I am having surgery. There are very few patients this morning, and they zip me right in and hook up the IV. I meet with the anesthesiologist, am greeted by Dr. Br-, and promptly on time I am rolled into the operating room. I fall asleep as we enter through the doors. At about 12:30 I start waking up, feeling fine in my groggy state. Becah and I leave shortly after. She treats me to a mushroom swiss sandwich and peppermint mocha to celebrate. GG greets us at the house, having come over last night as a backup in case she was needed. I was told there might be some pain for a few days and that I would have to take it very easy then. They obviously don’t know what I’ve been through, and how I laugh at what they call discomfort. It is, as they say, all relative.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Part 161 Saints and ghosts

Becah is off with the kids much of the following afternoon, so I enjoy a sunny day by myself. A cool front drifts in this evening. Becah calls me to join her at one of the kid’s friend’s Halloween party. I drive over and have a beer before I quickly must leave to sit in the car with my swollen gland.

Sunday is the celebration of All Saints Day at church. Everyone tears up when they show pictures on screen of the two choir members who died this past year. I am grateful for their kindness they extended to me in their lives, and am filled with gratitude that I am standing here today and not a picture projected on a wall.

We dine on pasta with tomato and garlic sauce at an Italian restaurant after, then drive over to my dad’s rehab facility to celebrate his 89th birthday, which will actually be on Halloween day. My brother Craig, his wife, and two of his children are there. Bree is dressed as a vampire bride, while Brooke has opted for pirate chic (Elizabeth Swann from “Pirates of the Caribbean”). Bree had actually won the best original costume at the party the night before. The kids are dressed in costume today for a later party at the church. The cake with raspberry filling perks up this melancholy event – my dad is somewhat alert today, but is only a ghost of his former self. He is only technically here for this celebration. I fear it may be his last. I remember all he has been, and all he has done for me over the years. This is difficult to bear.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Part 160 The real world and the world serious

We arrive at my mother’s house mid afternoon. Craig is there, and we all drive to visit dad in the nursing home. He has been lying in bed, refusing to get up even to go to the bathroom. He says repeatedly that he is going home tomorrow, forgetting the statement as quickly as he utters it. We tough love him – you can go home as soon as you get up and walk over and sit in the chair. It is so hard to leave him here, away from his familiar reclining chair in the home he has lived for so many years. But my mom simply can’t handle it anymore. She’s been trying for years now, often in silence, in denial, resolutely hanging in and working probably harder than we’ll ever know.

Back at her house, Craig and I work on her expenses and budget as the Texans lose to the Ravens on TV. We joke about mom moving in with her longtime friend Ms. Evans for companionship and to save money (I state that I am not really joking). We laugh at the thought of her friend reclining in dad’s chair, tapping an empty glass and asking for more coke to be served.

After breezing through another day of work the following day, I am struck by a bad hernia attack that lasts for well over an hour. Book club meets tonight and I go only because the host has personally invited me and is getting veggie pizza for me to entice me. I bravely head over to his house, playing the odds (successfully, it turns out) that I won’t have another attack.

Having had enough, I meet my general doctor Mu- to discuss my hernia situation. He recommends surgery, which despite my tendencies to scream when I hear the word, sounds pretty easy for this condition. He recommends Dr. Br-, who put in my port so many months ago. He has my trust, so I will set it up.

As the real world soberly knocks at my door, so does one fun perk – the real World Series. St. Louis and Texas meet this year, trading off victories in the first two games. Before St. Louis clobbers Texas 16-7 in the third game, I have walked all of the bright morning in a benefit for autism and spent the early evening dining and dancing with Becah and the kids to the r & b music of Luther and the Healers at Fat Mike’s restaurant.

We sleep in Sunday morning, heading for church in time for the 11:00 service, only to find there was only one (10:00) service today. It is just as well, since my groin flares up and I am soon lying on the couch watching football as the Texans defeat the Titans in a much needed 41-7 win. At night, I watch as Texas ties the baseball series with a 4-0 victory.

The next day is highlighted by my first sandwich in ages. I stop in at Subway for what to me is a true celebration. I am a bread eater from way back, and having to eliminate that from my diet has been so hard. I longed for months to be able to take a big, chewy bite from a sandwich, and I am not disappointed. Tonight Texas wins the game in this exciting series on a bases loaded double.

Two days later the kids and I try carving a pumpkin with the Houston Texans bull logo; we fail, and revise it instead to a heart. A kinder, gentler Halloween is always good. The highly anticipated sixth game of the series is rained out, so we must wait until tomorrow. It arrives, back in St. Louis. The Cardinals start with the lead but quickly fall behind 7-4. They tie the game in the ninth, but the Rangers regain a 9-7 lead. St. Louis jumps back to tie 9-9. Walking Albert Pujols (who I call “Danger Man” because that’s what he is if you are pitching to him) to pitch to Berkman has backfired on the Rangers, and now we are in extra innings. In the 11th inning a local St. Louis boy named Freese socks one over the fence for the win. As he rounds the bases, his teammates in celebration grab him and rip off his jersey.

It is probably the best baseball game I have ever seen.

A cold front slowly passes through the next day. Breanna puts on her New Orleans Saints Brees jersey and we drive to see the new “Three Musketeers” movie. I am amazed they can remake this story so often and still keep it interesting. At night we enjoy pizza while watching St. Louis take the game and the “World Serious”, as Brooke calls it.

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Part 159 Escape, or when all else fails, go back to the beach to hide from the real world

On a Friday afternoon in mid October our family coasts to Bolivar. Half way there my groin pain kicks in again. I struggle to maintain my composure as the pain intensifies and the normally rather brief drive drags. After arriving at the beach house, I promptly lie down and pop enough aspirin to make it stop. After lying out in the sun much of the day, we get a pizza from the new restaurant in town. It features sweet peppers flown in from Pennsylvania, and is delicious. The kids split a fettuccini alfredo which is also terrific. When Brooke and Bree finally fall asleep, Becah and I sit up and watch a show together.

After breakfast the next morning, beautifully sunny, we drive to take the ferry to Galveston, listening to Steve Winwood’s fine “About Time” CD. On the ferry we toss breadcrumbs as the seagulls instantly try to snatch them before the other birds can. We are surprised to see crowds of people here during the off season (an art festival is apparently drawing them in). We check out a few shops, then stop for lunch at Yaga’s. After this, Becah and I treat the kids to a carriage ride drawn by a horse named Pebbles. Our animal-loving children are excited about this. We return on the ferry, throwing the seagulls croutons this time (intended for a dinner salad). As on the trip over, dolphins accompany us. Becah cooks a skillet of shrimp in butter and Italian dressing for us while the kids have more pasta. The highlight of their dinner, though, is, of all things, the canned green beans. They scarf these as if they were a treasure. We watch game six of the American league baseball playoffs, pulling for the Texas Rangers as they come from behind 0-2 in the third inning for a nine-rune rally to eventually pound Detroit 15-5. The real excitement comes, though, when my hernia kicks in and I am writhing on the couch trying to bring the swelling down. I realize that I must take action soon to remedy this.

Brett the dog wakes me up early the next morning with his clicketty-clicketty nails scraping across the hardwood floor as he makes his morning house rounds. I walk to the beach to watch the sunrise. Later I return with Becah and the kids as the children dig in the sand. We head home about noon, but first I must stop at the surf shop to pick up some stylish new flip flops.

I enjoy this time, knowing that another reality awaits me.

Friday, September 7, 2012

Part 158 Flashing back

One day my phone rings, and it’s my brother Craig. He has big concerns about my dad’s rapidly deteriorating condition. We discuss this at length, considering nursing homes, assisted care, things that we so often have avoided facing as we cling to the unrealistic hope that our once invincible father can manage his basic life support needs.

Late in the afternoon on a Monday Becah and I get into an argument about money to be spent on groceries which abruptly lurches into a shower of angry words regarding all my time in the hospital and the burden that placed on our family. Becah admits she struggles with flashbacks of the trauma induced by my illness. She has not worked through this obstacle, and here it is before me. She leaves for the store upset. I stew awhile, frustrated that even though I have come so far my past haunts our relationship. And there is nothing I can do to change all that.

Becah eventually returns and we make up. We talk in bed that night (after she has watches an episode of “Castle”, the mystery TV crime series that always entertains her). I am unable to get to sleep until midnight.

Morning comes too early, and work cannot be put off. In the evening we dine at Berryhill (becoming our Tuesday standard?). After, my brother calls again to inform me that my dad has fallen again and has been taken via ambulance to a nursing home. My mother was unable to lift him off the floor, and even the stocky neighbor nearby could do little. My dad did not get rehab clearance, though, which could have entitled him to a much needed monitored hospital stay for a month.

I am slapped with the reality that he may never go home again to stay.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Part 157 Hearts and hopes

My garage is filled with a lot of stuff, much of which I could part with. I spend a morning dredging up some items, when suddenly my heart starts racing. I come in quickly and lie down, fatigued. During the afternoon I watch three episodes from a DVD of a recent series called “Dollhouse”, a fascinating group of tales about secret organizations and manipulation of individuals’ identities. That evening I make some very tasty tuna creole. I go to sleep early but wake up at one in the morning, and am unable to get back to sleep for two hours.

The following week marks the first full time work week for me in some time. I am tired and experience some of the accelerated heartbeat again on my first work day. This is disturbing, but it recedes when I sit back in a chair or lie down. By the second day, I am doing better. I proceed cautiously, though. There is much of the school year ahead of me.

Becah and I begin planning next summer’s trip. I have missed two summer vacations, replacing them with dismal hospital stays instead, so we feel that we are due an excursion. We discuss possible cruises from Florida to the Bahamas. We discuss a possible driving trip to include the Florida Gulf coast panhandle and New Orleans. We excitedly jump across internet sites, looking for deals, possibilities. Later Becah and I dream of next summer over dinner at Berryhill’s. I am soon stuffed as I down glass after glass of water to cool the spicy food, which nowadays stings my mouth. But it feels great.

After a fired up Friday at work, my stamina going strong, I drive over to Brooke’s preschool for their book fair. An unexpected storm blows in, throwing lots of wind and lightening around but very little rain. That night we enjoy a mushroom, spinach, and onion pizza at DoubleDaves. I am ecstatic that I am now able to enjoy so many of my favorite foods again.

October to me means that autumn has officially arrived. Today’s cooler, clear Saturday is my proof. The joy of summer must be relinquished for the novelty of the fall. In my youth, that meant a new school year (for which I was not always ready), new fall TV shows, football season, and, eventually, a sprinkling of special holidays.

My friend Mike comes by in the afternoon, and he and my family drive over to the nearby Klein stadium to watch the football game. Our real reason today for going, though, is so Bree and Brooke can do their dance routine at halftime with the big girls. The day is full of popcorn and bright skies, despite the fact that our team is clobbered 41-3 by the opponents.

The following day is world communion Sunday at church. I am greeted by a stream of people wishing me health. During the service Todd the organist, accompanied by a cellist, plays “The River Is Wide”, and the rendition is nothing less than gorgeous. The accumulation of so many events and moments lately has lifted me up. I embrace this hopefulness in my life. And it is not just during this moment at church. It is something more profound than this.

On Monday I drive to see Dr. Ly-, who comments that I look “great” and my office exam is “perfect”. He sends me for some routine blood work and wants to see me again in a few months. My world continues to brighten.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Part 156 Uplifted!

At week’s end I attend a morning meeting at work, where I am greeted warmly by colleagues, who come up to me one-by-one and offer kind words. I am uplifted by the experience. I return home to rest, and later watch one of my favorite films, the outstanding “Breaker Morant”, based on a true story about moral ambiguity during war.

On Sunday, we attend the contemporary service, led by a bald singer/guitarist and accompanied on vocals by his blonde wife and a terrific young African-American drummer. Church gets hip! By evening, the swelling and pain in my groin has returned, and it’s pill time again.

The following afternoon I meet with Dr. Be-, who performs a scope of my throat and announces that it looks fine. I celebrate with another order of my favorite dinner from Taco Milagro. This time, however, my stomach feels queasy afterward. I rebound enough to drive nearby to my friend Chris’ house as he hosts this month’s book club. I haven’t attended in months, and the guys are patting me on the back and wishing me well. I leave early, and as I make the drive across town to home, my groin almost instantly starts to swell, and by the time I reach my house I am agonizing with pain as the swelling grows. I enter my house retching from nausea, quickly downing two pills. Becah greets me, exhausted from spending time with my ailing dad, whose condition has deteriorated so much that he can’t even take care of his basic needs.

Three days later I am in Dr. Bl-s’ office, where Allison removes my feeding tube. After all these months of plastic appendages poking out of my body, I cannot believe I am free! It is almost anticlimactic – no surgeries, no hospitals, no preparations – it is just out! (But, trust me, it’s not that anticlimactic). It is still after all this time a little unsettling, since I have been so dependent on artificial aids to meet my nutritional needs for so long, and now I must meet them the old fashioned way.

Becah and the girls are with me, and are excited. We go to Olive Garden to celebrate with salad, breadsticks, and fettuccini alfredo with angel hair pasta (the latter always being a food that can be counted on to slide right down). The red onions in the salad taste the best of anything (my taste buds are in the process of changing, I find). We top it off splitting three deserts. Arriving home, we discover the yard men have been at work, and our home looks beautiful.

The next day, Friday, I work my first full day in some time. Becah and the kids head off for the beach after school, but I will hang out at home. That night, I watch another excellent morally ambiguous war movie, “Gallipoli”. Life is getting better.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Part 155 Clouds and sun

The weather remains pleasant the following week as I continue working half days at the office, plodding along despite lagging in energy and strength. I meet with Dr. Bl- again, who plans on removing the stent next week.

I eat many foods, including crab and swiss cheese, pasta with veggie meatballs, gumbo, pizza, and shrimp nachos, successfully downing all as long as I drink the obligatory two glasses of milk with each meal. At lunch out with co-workers, I am forced to take half of the oyster poboy home in order to finish it, but I am still in there fighting.

I am plagued by bouts of diarrhea, the result I am sure of my still unsteady gastro-intestinal situation. I feel as if my world is still cloudy, with moments of brightness and hope, but other times when I can’t quite pull out of the fog that lingers. My timelines for being well have changed so often over the past many months that I still cannot hang my hat on a place where I am totally healed and able to live as I did before all this started. The ambivalence is weighing me down, almost as badly as when the day’s headline news was always bad.

Some anniversaries are not for celebration; rather, for remembrance and reflection only. Such is the case when September 11, 2011 arrives. It is ten years precisely since the national tragedy occurred. This day, a Sunday, is decidedly far better than that time now so long ago. Despite my continued gastro-intestinal problems and my (now apparent) hernia that sharply pinches my groin as I leave for church with the kids (Becah is doing a triathalon in Kingwood), I feel more emotionally comforted. It is amazing how you can suddenly put things in greater perspective when you pull yourself out of yourself for a moment and take a world view.

I am not out of the woods, though. My pain erupts big time midway through church, and I run to my car and sit there for a time with an ice pack in my lap. When I re-enter the narthex, I am grabbed by stomach pains. The kids and I leave early for home, where I quickly lie on the bed with an ice pack and my legs elevated. The pain grows so intense that I must take a pill for it. The pain gradually diminishes, but nausea grows. I promptly jump out of bed and begin vomiting. I feel something caught in my throat, reach my hand in, and discover a string! I try to pull it out, but it is caught. I realize this is the wire that is attached to my stent that holds it in place. I freak out! Becah (who has returned by now) texts Dr. Bl-, who assures me it will be okay, and that I should just remain calm and continue to swallow.

I continue my abbreviated work week. At lunch I mix crab with egg whites and mayonnaise for a tasty lunch. Dinner features pasta with sun dried tomato sauce, and I am encouraged by my appetite and by how my taste buds are reviving. Brooke catches a fever later, and joins us in bed in the middle of the night. The next evening, she continues to feel punk, but that’s nothing a little “Lord of the Rings” won’t fix.

By midweek, I am at the hospital early in the morning, and by 8:15 Dr. Bl- has relieved me of the stent in my throat and the wire attachment that I have been trying not to gag on. The swallow study that follows looks real good, and we are quickly out of the building. We stop in at Taco Milagro for my favorite dish of theirs- sweet potato enchiladas. After that we drop in to Old Navy to look for some slacks for me, since my weight loss is causing my clothes to fall off me. One pair of pants rings up for 47 cents, so that is the price we are charged! Back home, I take a nap, tired but smiling at the brighter day that has been given me.

Monday, September 3, 2012

Part 154 Keeping the summer alive

My first breakfast of September 2011 is a tasty combo of veggie taco, peaches, yoghurt, and juice, and I am encouraged that I will meet the approaching autumn still standing. After a half day of work and another one on Friday, our family heads for Crystal Beach for Labor Day weekend. We head out in sunny and still drought conditions with the possibility of getting some rain compliments of the tropical depression in the Gulf that eases its way toward Louisiana. The wind at the beach slaps us around as we gaze at CC’s beautiful new beach house.

Before a wicked hurricane Ike carried off the previous beach house, a hand-built structure that Becah’s grandfather had built, we would pile multiple families and friends into an open room filled with adjoining beds, and learn a new meaning for the word “cozy”. Now, in this new home, there are actually separate bedrooms, and our family will have our own room. I like a certain amount of privacy, and find tripping over others to be a little tight for my taste, so I am very happy with these accommodations. The place is beautiful, with a huge kitchen area and fresh paint and new furniture. I walk around and feel as if I am in a photo shoot for Southern Living.

The wind still blows hard the following day, and the clouds roll in with a light rain in the afternoon. I rest well. We have soup and sandwiches for lunch and just hang out for much of the day. At night, we walk over to the neighbors’ house, now chilled as the wind whips the rain into us. Their house is packed with people, all sitting inside due to the weather. I sit on a barstool and watch the host Gary carve mounds of fat off a brisket. I find this bizarre of me since I don’t eat meat. After a short time sipping on a beer, I return to our place.

The next day continues cloudy. I make my special broccoletti dish, which we extend from lunch to dinner. Before going to bed, we watch “Despicable Me” again. After hanging around a while Monday morning, we make our way back home.

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Part 153 Tres leches, cheesecake, and the last threads of summer

I work another half day and return home for a light lunch. But by evening I am at a Mexican restaurant, chowing down on enchilada, taco, tamale, beans, rice, chips, and tres leches cake like a true champion. Later, the kids are building a fort in the den as we watch TV when my mother calls with news that her lung is tumor-free.

Becah drives GG home on Saturday morning as I rest, groggy from waking up often last night. A hurricane is bearing down on the east coast, but it is dry as a bone here. I am not feeling so well today and eat a little clam chowder washed down with Power Ade, doing little to boost my weight from its paltry 141 pounds.

I rebound Sunday, though, rising to the occasion of celebrating my parents 65th anniversary, meeting my parents and brothers, and their families at Landry’s. I try most of what is available on the buffet, filling my plate twice, even making room for cheesecake. I am excited by all the food and am inspired by my heroic efforts!

Some shaky mornings meet me at the start of a new school year. I meet with various school staff members in the oncoming days, both to inform everyone about my temporary restricted schedule and to obtain some assistance in completing my work duties.

I have discovered blood in my urine the past two days. I worry that kidney stones may be lurking. After all I’ve been through, though, this possibility does not bother me greatly.

I work half days, enjoy lunch at home while listening to “Pet Sounds” by the Beach Boys, and hang on to the last threads of the summer that has essentially eluded me this year.

Saturday, September 1, 2012

Part 152 Homecoming happiness

My children were so glad to see me, back at home after yet another setback to them and another dose of insecurity that they don’t need. I am still battling the extremes of dry mouth and excessive mucous, and I’m very shaky. My throat is very sore, which I assume is the result of the stent. I have a protein/weight gain shake, then later some cream of shrimp soup that goes down fairly well. I have observed that food (especially shakes, chocolate milk and other sweets) never tastes right when a stent is placed anywhere near my mouth. I am routinely adding honey to sweeten foods.

I need a lot of rest, no matter how light my activity level is.

During the night the j-tube leaks, but I still sleep well, just being back home. An upset stomach greets me in the morning. Eggs, grits, toast and Pepsi go down well at breakfast, but only if I take very small bites and sips. Before I get away to work, my tube starts to leak again (GG assists me in stopping it). I get to work and talk with several friends, manage to do a few tasks, and stay about a half day.

I am in the process of sorting through some of my audio CDs. I have so many, and I realize life is too short to keep and listen to weak music. I am listening to a Jeff Buckley disc, which although is not moving me greatly, does have its moments, being at times beautiful, odd, and haunting. It makes the keeper list.

After a lunch of mushroom and cheddar soup, I must change the j-tube pad after more leaking. I lie down and read a little Watership Down. When Becah leaves for the store with the kids, I play the new Yes CD. I have eagerly awaited this and enjoy it despite the fact that it is missing vocalist Jon Anderson’s imagination and singing skills, as well as Rick Wakeman’s keyboard wizardry. Still it sounds nice and fresh, and you can hardly blame a band that sets its standards so high.

Dinner is veggie meatballs with pasta and alfredo sauce, which is exciting to me. At bedtime, I read to Breanna, the story of the exciting life of the brave woman Harriet Tubman, whose courage rescued many from slavery. I read a little more of my book later, and ease off to sleep, again content just to be here.

Friday, August 31, 2012

Part 151 Passing the test

I struggle to tolerate the wires inside me and try to stifle the urges to vomit as day breaks. The news is filled with the desperation of Khadafy and his crumbling regime, mixed with reports of earthquakes in Virginia. Dr. Bl- doesn’t make her usual and therefore expected early morning round to see me, so I can’t beg her to pull my wires off. I am very tired and impatient to leave. My mucous is getting worse it seems. In addition, the new nurse Sandy is taking some getting used to. She is tall and stocky, towering over me, and seems to have difficulty hearing me. I raise my voice once and she abruptly says, “don’t talk to me that way”. I apologize, and after I adapt to her rhythms, we get along okay. At night, an attractive Oriental nurse comes in to oversee me as I struggle to fall asleep. When I do, my evening is filled with sexual fantasies, so I must be feeling better.

At six a.m., Jim whisks me out out of the sleep that finally came, with news that they will be conducting a series of upper GI studies ASAP. I mentally fake tossing a football to him and ask if it is real ASAP time or hospital ASAP. My nurse this morning is now a sophisticated African American lady who spends as much time tidying my room as housekeeping does. What a pleasant surprise.

Dr. Bl- comes in, clips the bridal on my nose, and once again, some blessed relief from its constraints after I choke briefly as the wire falls inside me. Then its time for the swallow study again. This time, after so many dismal trials and failures, I pass. Dr. B-, Jim, and the radiologist all say no leaks. “Perfect” is the word I have waited so long to hear. “Discharged” follows, and sounds just as sweet.

My lunch consists of cream of wheat, lemon yoghurt, lemonade, orange juice (the sweet stuff that not long ago Bl- wouldn’t let me near) and chocolate ice cream. Under the circumstances, it is wonderful.

By mid afternoon, our car is heading for home.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Part 150 “The hits keep coming”, or, back to the house of blues

Friday morning I awake with the what-has-become-usual nausea. I take a trip to the medical center to see Dr. Bl-. She has just come back from Fort Lauderdale, but takes time in her office to place a drain in my neck to attempt to alleviate my discomfort. She feels this mucous from my throat could be draining into my system and causing the nausea. She looks me over and decides that I need another stay in the hospital due to my illness and due to my apparent state of dehydration. I am instantly dejected, knowing that if I am admitted today I am in for at least the whole weekend (since everyone crucial to my case will be off until Monday).

That day, however, I get some good news. The CAT scan that was done shows no internal leaking in the esophageal area. My swallowing also looks good.

Waking alone on Saturday morning I still have no relief from the nausea, despite a change in meds. The mucous and dry heaves are becoming old, unwelcomed visitors who won’t go home. Dr. Ki- asserts that there may be leakage from my throat site that is contributing to my nausea, and a stent placed in the throat may be necessary in order to catch the drainage.

I have observed that, ironically, as soon as the nausea intensified, my feeding tube quit leaking. I look for a connection, but cannot discover one.

By weekend’s close I am improved a little, but some retching continues. More irony: just when I get cleared to eat and drink, I’m told not to do so at the hospital until this problem is resolved.

Late in the evening I move in the bed and accidentally pull out the j-tube. I push the button until a nurse comes in to assist me, but she refuses to put it back in (liability issues). Instead, we must summon a physician and wait for his orders. I tell my nurse in an irritated tone that if my wife can reposition a tube then certainly a nurse can, but she refuses. Because of the limited flexibility in my left hand that remains from the TIA over a year ago, I am unable to fix the problem myself. Finally the doctor arrives, and with little effort my tube is back in.

Monday morning means the first day back to school for my children. But I am here in the hospital, unable to see them off. Dr. Ki- and the resident Jim appear abruptly in the afternoon intent on placing the stent in my neck to divert the mucous from causing me to be nauseous. I amazingly undergo the fastest and easiest procedure to date. I am the only one in the prep room (causing me to wonder if I have drifted into an alternative universe). A few words from nurses and techs and off I go.

Dr. Bl- would later tell Becah that my entire throat looked great, along with the esophagus, and she thought the tiny hole in my throat would have healed by itself. Dr. Ki- had made the call already for a stent, though, and she would not override that.

Back in my room I am comfortable except for the wires in my nose that drop back into my throat to keep the stent in position. I must often suppress the urge to gag. At midnight I awake, cough and throw up a few times (a mixture of mucous and other strange substances). I celebrate one perk: I am on a clear liquid diet and get my Sprite, which I have been recently craving.

In the early morning hours I watch CNN televising how the Lybian dictator Khadafy is watching his country slip out of his fingers. And I thought I had problems...

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Part 149 Standing (but mostly lying) on shaky ground

I wobble up the next day with brief nausea and excessive mucous after awaking twice at night to change leaky bandages. I weigh in at a disturbing 145.9 pounds. I manage to get in two and one-half hours at work before driving to the medical center to see Bl-. Brooke entertains her there (addressing Bl- as “hey baby” on one occasion). We traveled afterward to CC's house, where I rested while the others attended a party at Houston Baptist University. Back at home later I attempted eating a little cheddar soup, fighting off nausea until I went to bed.

The next day looks much the same. I try a little eggs, applesauce, and chocolate milk for breakfast before putting in a few hours at work. A speech therapy appointment follows, but I must leave early due to my feeling nauseous from excessive mucous. I lay and rest at home, taking more Phenergen in an unsuccessful effort to relieve the queasiness. The yoghurt I attempt to eat doesn’t work too well, and by six o’clock I am heaving. This condition has abated little by nine at night. Becah is upset, worrying that this far after my release from the hospital I am still in such shape.

I sleep well through the night but awake still feeling sick. I take more Phenergen, reluctantly so since it isn’t working well and just makes me sleepy to boot. GG goes to the pharmacy to retrieve a new med she had a physician call in the night before. By shortly after noon I am in the grasp of a major volley of heaves. I desperately attempt to climb out of bed to check some work emails, but still get no relief. In the midst of this, I remember it is my youngest daughter’s first day back to preschool, and I wonder how she is faring. Becah is doing a presentation at work. Everyone is off doing something useful, except me. I linger here feeling worse each minute. My weight has actually dropped to a new out-of-hospital low of 143.8 pounds. Just when I ask, “what next?”, the phone rings and my mother informs me her physicians think she has a malignancy in one lung.

Becah arrives at home later, confronting me about being more actively involved with my kids. I feel like life is kicking me around.

One bright spot, though. My blood pressure is a strong 121/85, and my voice is clear.