Saturday, October 25, 2014

The potted palm snotted on the curtains

If I hadn’t been rearranging furniture, months could have passed by before I discovered the sticky residue on the curtains, the carpet, the chair, and the table. The damn palm tree in our bedroom gave me no signs of distress, no yellowed fronds, no brown tips, no smell of rot.

But I don’t have time for sick trees right now. The boy I love had his breastbone sawed apart, his naked heart held, and rotated, and jiggled in the hands of a surgeon, and a vein from his leg used to bypass two clogged arteries.

The above was written September 16th, as I was sitting in John’s hospital room watching him sleep. Now On October 25, I’ll go back in time and then forward...

Over three weeks in August, my husband John had four incidents of chest pain. He didn’t mention it. Hey, what? Just a little tightness. Just a bit of sweat on the forehead. No big deal. Instead he and his brother Walt spent five days re-roofing the garage at the farm in Wisconsin—nearest city, Madison, fifty miles away, past a lot of milk cows and corn—forty-five minutes from an ER. One night, he woke with the same discomfort in his chest that lasted about ten minutes. The next day he was back on the garage roof. He didn’t mention the chest tightness when we spent eight hours on expressways driving back to Detroit—driving at a steady 70 MPH (in case any law enforcement agent is reading this).

Two days after we got back home, he was doing a little mall walking (something he does everyday—two miles at a brisk pace). He was just a quarter mile into his walk, when the tightness in his chest made him stop and get out his cell phone and call our internist.

That night he said to me, “We need to have a talk.” I thought he was joking. We need to have a talk is something I periodically say to him, when I’m agitated about something he’s doing or not doing. Emulating his usual response, I said, “So what did I do wrong now?”

He told me to sit down. Bad sign. He told me he’d made a doctors appointment for the next day, then he told me about the four incidents of chest pain, then I cried.

But still, I don’t think it felt like a real thing to either one of us.

So Thursday morning after he left for our internists, I didn’t worry because it was just a blip, indigestion maybe, he never gets sick—well, maybe a cold every two or three years. It lasts a day and then he’s fine—it wasn’t going to be anything bad.

That morning, while he was off seeing a client and then at the doctor’s office, I decided that I’d better cook some of the zucchini that we brought back from my sister-in-law Katie’s garden in Wisconsin. While we were at the farm, she made lasagna with Italian sausage and zucchini instead of noodles—delicious. I had three huge zucchini and some lovely, fat, juicy tomatoes that Katie sent home with us. I went to the market and bought half a pound of bulk Italian sausage, fat speckled, not looking like the healthiest thing in the world. Then I came home and composed the layers of healthy zucchini and tomatoes and unhealthy sausage.

The lasagna was still on the kitchen counter unbaked when John came home. He told me that our doctor had called a cardiologist, who said that he should go to the emergency room...sooner rather than later. I drove him to the hospital, where they did blood tests and x-rays. Then they scheduled a cardiac catheterization for the next morning—they’d run a line up his arm and shoot dye into his arteries hunting for blockage.

They weren’t letting him go home.

They kept him in the hospital Thursday night—plugged in and wired up to heart monitors and IV tubes—not taking any chances with the widow maker. We were both stunned, how could this be? He looked healthy. He'd been hauling shingles up onto the garage roof just a few days before. Sitting in John’s room while he slept, I busied my thumbs texting his daughters in Colorado and Georgia, our friends and the rest of the family.

We were convinced that they wouldn’t find anything. But on Friday the procedure showed two arteries with blockage. The surgeon called one of the arteries a widow maker, and open heart surgery was scheduled for the following Monday at 7:00 A.M.

“The girls want to know if they should come home?”
“No,” he said. “They don’t need to do that.”

We spent the weekend walking the hospital floor—him in his hospital nighty dragging the pole with the IV, and me being cheerful, optimistic, but meanwhile stressing about everything my imagination could think up. The nurses brought me pages of new rules for his life after surgery: no lifting anything heavier than a half gallon of milk; no lawn mowing; cut out sugar (he was pre diabetic); lower salt and fat (cardiac diet). Oh, and he had AFib—so no spinach, kale, broccoli, chickpeas, lentils or foods high in vitamin K (he was on blood thinners and K has a thickening effect). That last one made him smile. No greens, Yay.

Friends and family softened the long weekend before surgery. Barbara and Dennis came to visit. Dennis had had the same heart bypass surgery eight weeks before. Dennis said the one thing he really wished he’d had was a recliner, especially in the days right after surgery.

So now there was a mission. Instead of stressing about the scary surgery, I stressed about how to get a recliner before John got home...and what to do with the lasagna (that I had just stuck in the refrigerator), and what about the lawn with foot high tassels that hadn’t been mowed since before we left for Wisconsin (I’ve never been able to pull the cord on the mower hard enough to start it), and what about the air conditioner still in the bedroom window (weighing a lot more than a half gallon of milk), and piles of laundry still waiting after our Wisconsin trip. If I tried taking the AC out of the window by myself, it’d probably fall down a story and land on the barbecue. And how would I do any of these things when I was at the hospital from 8:00 a.m. till almost 8:00 p.m. and coming home wiped out. And why was I so tired? I’d been sitting all day, except for walks to the cafeteria.

But then, if you’re lucky, you have wonderful people in your life. My neighbor Cyndi took the lasagna to her house, baked it and froze it in portion size packets for me. Her husband Jim mowed our lawn. My son Jim helped me get the air-conditioner out of the bedroom window.

The night before surgery Barbara and Dennis brought us dinner from Panera (John’s favorite place). Afterward I watched John nap and worried about everything but the surgery, which was way to frightening to think about. The doctor said to be there at 5:30 to be sure to see him before the operation.

At home that night, I put myself into an ice cream comma. Well, I had to get rid of all the bad stuff before he got home, right? And then I couldn’t sleep because I was all sugared up, and cold, and couldn’t get comfortable, because the heater I sleep with was in the hospital.

The next morning I was knocking on the hospital door at 5:00 a.m. Yep, they lock the hospital at night, so terrorists and old women can’t get in. A guard opened the door. When I got to John’s floor, they said I’d have to wait in the visitors' waiting room until he woke up. The room was dark and a man was sleeping across three chairs. Finally a nurse came and said John was awake. We had time for some kisses and hand holding, and then he was rolled away. I followed the gurney, and then was told where to wait.

Barbara was there at 7:00 a.m. She had been through all this just weeks ago. Dennis is alive and doing well. John would be fine. They had the same surgeon. She was a great comfort. We sat with our coffee in the cafeteria, then she left and I went back to my waiting station.

Families filled the cardiac surgery waiting room. An Indian family was in the hallway (standing, waiting, ten or twelve people, women in saris); another family of eight, were speaking Arabic. A few twosomes sat around the room. I was conspicuous in my aloneness. Both my kids were working, and John’s girls were out of state. The person—who would normally be sitting waiting with me in a hospital—was in some cold room having his chest cut open. But then my dear friend, Joy, arrived and waiting was much easier as hours dribbled by.

“Surgery went fine,” Dr. Tepe said, “Wait an hour for him to get set up in recovery, then go see him.” Then he added, “After you see him go home, and don’t come back until 9:00 tomorrow. He’s going to be out of it, and you should rest.”

John was okay! I saw him, and yes, he did look like he’d just been run over by a truck, tubes were coming out of him and emptying into boxes on the floor by his bed. I kissed his head, but he was in a drugged Neverland. His nurse Autumn was dedicated and attentive (also pretty, sweet and fun).

All the way to the parking garage, I said a silent mantra of thank you’s to the surgeon—John was alive and being well cared for, and THE DOCTOR told me to go home and rest. The doc said it, so I could be guilt free.

I hadn’t been home in the afternoon in days. Testing for space for a recliner, I moved a chair from the living room up to our bedroom. That’s when I discovered that the potted palm in our bedroom had evidently been sneezing all over everything.

I watched TV and saw a furniture store commercial—Big Sale Now Through Wednesday. KARMA. Just do it. Tomorrow (Tuesday) I’d find some time to go to the store and buy John a recliner. Just as simple as that, I’m so old that the government says I have to spend some of my 401K every year, so what better thing to do than buy my sweetie a recliner.

Tuesday morning I arrived in his room a few minutes after 9:00. He was awake and upset. He had expected me to be there at 8:30. He was going to wait and have breakfast with me, but I was late. This wasn’t the independent man I married. My reaction was defensive and guilty. But later I realized, that this really wasn’t the man I married. This man was needy and fragile. He told me that when he woke up and felt the awful pain in his chest, he was happy. Pain equals Still Alive. He might have died, and he knew it. He needed me, just like the many times when I’ve been sick and depended on him to just be there.

On September 22, John came home from the hospital. He looked at the recliner, said, “Hmm, it sure is puffy.” Translation: Ugly. Then he sat on it. Then he slept on it for two nights. Then he napped on it every morning and afternoon. This afternoon he was stretched out watching football with his eyes shut and his mouth emitting a buzzing sound. Shhh....we won’t wake him up.

John on the puffy recliner
On Monday it will be six weeks since his heart surgery. He’s been driving himself everywhere he wants to go for the past two weeks. He’s lost 22 pounds. He’s grown a beard. He walks two miles a day, and best of all...he’s ALIVE. Yay!

The sticky mess is in the bedroom is cleaned up, the curtains have been washed and ironed, but all the news isn’t good. The potted palm died.

The dishwasher's been repaired. Yay!
P.S. There are so many people we want to thank for their visits and flowers and treats. So here goes: Thank you, Sue and Jim and Bonnie and Ryan and Judy and Cyndi and Jim and Alex and Diane, and Terry (John still laughs when he squeezes the giggle toy), and Barbara and Dennis (he has a recliner thanks to your good advice, and our night before surgery dinner was awesome), and Gurucharn and Patrick and Ivy and Shayla and Dave and Dennis (the bouquet was gorgeous), and Joy and Keith (the azalea was beautiful and chocolate yummy), and Johnny and Carolee and Betsy and Nancy and Ray (for two beautiful and delicious edible bouquets). There were many cards and Facebook well wishes too. Thank you all!