November 20, 2006

Thinking about the weather

For some people, memories are triggered by a song, a scent, or something they see. But it’s weather that conjures all sorts of memories and emotions for me. Rain and fog remind me of a much sadder time in my life, and those memories put me in a somber mood. The odd thing is, that I was living in a fog in 2002, so I’m not sure how I am able to recall what happened four years ago with such clarity.

One week out of every four, each day when I got off work, I immediately raced home. There, I hurriedly grabbed a change of clothes, fed Jasper, took care of the litter box, and drove to the hospital. It was only 15 miles away, but with commute traffic, it could sometimes take up to 45 minutes to get there. Fortunately I didn’t have to think about driving that route. My tires had formed an indention in Highway 280 from the numerous trips, and I could drive on autopilot. This was convenient in the rain and fog.

The first thing I did upon entering the oncology ward was check the board to see which nurse was assigned to him that day. I hoped it was Marlene. When she was his nurse, I knew everything would run smoothly. Anti-nausea medication would have been administered throughout the day and he would be in a chipper mood. Marlene was his favorite. I think he was hers as well.

Once I arrived in his room, I’d hang up my clothes in the tiny, narrow closet, and maneuver my way around the chemo-drip machine on wheels to greet him. He was always happy to see me. So was his mother. For one reason, my arrival meant that her caregiving shift was over and she could go home and take care of her grandchildren, as her older son seemed incapable of rearing his own offspring.

I took my place in the visitors chair and we shared stories about our day. I wish I’d kept a journal then.

When dinner arrived, it was grey, cold, and flavorless. Sometimes on my way in, if I wasn’t running behind and had extra time, I’d stop at one of his favorite places and bring him some good food. I never got anything for myself. I wasn’t hungry. I wasn’t anything. Sometimes my friends would come by with dinner. That was almost the only time I would see my friends.

For much of the evening, we would watch TV or do a jigsaw puzzle. Someone had brought over a Sony Playstation which we used for its DVD-playing abilities (the chemotherapy made him too dizzy to focus on video games). His room was drab and dreary, except for some splashes of color from the occasional flower arrangement and greeting cards. I would often try to get him out of that room to go for a walk through the hospital and get his circulation flowing. His legs were weak, but the wheeled “bug juice” dispenser that he was leashed to provided support for him to lean on as we went up and down the halls.

After we’d run out of TV shows to watch, or had grown tired of talking, it was bedtime. (The Ativan and Benadryl kept the nausea at bay, but also made him drowsy.) Looking back, I don’t recall feeling tired then, but each night, I unfolded the convertible hospital chair, and pulled some linens from the closet in the lobby, and made my “bed.” I guess I slept, because I remember being woken up at least once every night, by a loud beeping. The beeps signaled a chemo bag was empty. A nurse would come in to replace the empty bag with a full one. Sometimes she’d just remove the empty bag. That meant that he was done with that particular poison and he was closer to going home from this place. Home to his own bed, his own food, and his kitties.

In the early morning, I awoke. My alarm clock was the nurse’s aide coming to take a blood sample. I padded across the hall to the shower room, which was a large, beige bathroom, with a sink, toilet, and tub with an attached handheld nozzle. I vividly remember that room where I got ready for work, perhaps because it was my chance to be alone with my thoughts. Although, I don’t remember thinking anything. In a haze, I went about my daily routine, and got ready for work, styling my hair that for some reason had thinned, and looking in the mirror to apply make-up to an unfamiliar face. Then I got dressed. Mysteriously, while being caregiver, my clothes had become too large for me. Each time I went clothes shopping I had to buy one size smaller, until there was no size small enough. Lately, my brand of choice was Gap Kids. Their stuff was cute and less expensive than their adult counterpart.

Breakfast (cold waffles) and his oncologist both usually arrived before I left for the office. The doctor lifted his spirits and raucous laughter filled the room, echoing down the hall. He gave her the daily update on how they were treating him, and she explained what was next in his regimen. When this bout was over, it was home for a few weeks (“Will you be staying with him there, Catheroo?” Of course I would.), then he would return to the oncology ward for more punishment. It seemed like we would never not know Stanford University Hospital.

His doctor asked me if I was eating, taking care of myself. Why was everyone asking me that lately? I brushed her off saying “I’m not the one who is sick here.” But she looked me up and down, and wrote me a referral for an internal medicine doctor. When I told her I didn’t need it, she explained that if I was not healthy, I couldn’t help get her our patient healthy. And because I lived and breathed to accomplish that very task, I accepted her referral and went to the doctor. I also took a medical leave of absence from work, due to stress, joined a caregiver’s support group, began taking anti-depressants, and started to eat again. I got better.

He did too.

For a while he was better.

And then the cancer returned. Fiercely. He fought so hard, terribly hard. But sometimes life throws us something that is insurmountable.

This weather puts me in a melancholy mood.

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