So. That happened…

It’s been a while since I last posted… a year and nearly ten months, holy cow…but I have one hell of an excuse.

I think.  You be the judge:

If you haven’t read my last post or you don’t remember it, you might do that now.  I’ll wait.

Yeah, so it turns out that the pancreatitis thing wasn’t over yet. In fact, at my very next checkup, the doctor took one look at me and ordered me directly to the nearest ER. Who had me airlifted for emergency surgery to a hospital an hour away.

The surgeon, the incredible Dr. S, did her best to piece my insides back together–from what I was told later, it was a bit like tatting lace.  Things had melted to other things and had to be pried…well, never mind.

That was September 4th.

Since then, I’ve had five major surgeries (only three planned), about twelve procedures under general anesthesia, and countless adjustments, stitches, rebagging (think ileostomies and colostomies) and retubings. At one point, I was sporting approximately eight drains around my waist, a hula skirt from hell.

Coincidentally, my torso looks a bit like target practice for a small, hungry shark packing a twenty-two.

I spent around eight months in various hospitals, under various levels of sedation and the really good painkillers.* Not to mention various Dante-like circles of PT, learning to sit up and maybe do a little walking, as someone followed me with a wheelchair, just in case.

When I left the first hospital, for a specialty one nearer to home, the nurses and staff lined the corridor and gave me a standing ovation… because (i was told much later) most of them weren’t sure I would make it.

That changes a person, knowing that kind of thing, even more than the 140 pound weight loss (I didn’t eat anything by mouth for a long time), or my new 4-inch belly button. Or having to resign from my beloved job (who am I, if I’m not a librarian?)

I couldn’t write for the longest time, either, even after I came home, this time possibly for good, two months ago.  I was tired and empty and in quite a bit of pain.

But bit by bit, I’m getting stronger. I walk a little every day, sometimes without my walker.  20170202_090039I no longer have a stomach tube and am down to six medications, only one of which is longer than my thumbnail.

Money and insurance are worrisome, buy I’m working on applying for Medicaid and Social Security.  I’m also looking for a stay-at-home job that doesn’t involve stuffing envelopes or fraudulent practices.

And better yet, I have incredibly supportive friends who have stuck with me through all this mess (including those of you who keep asking me when I’ll be blogging again–this is all your fault!)

And I’m writing again. Maybe not well, but there are words now, and sentences, and maybe stories, too, however rusty and convoluted.

And I am here. Battered and bruised but not beaten.

How have y’all been?

________________________

*It is a terrible thing to put someone with a fraught imagination on heavy drugs when they have no outlet.  At one point, and I’m not kidding, I refused to wear my socks because I was convinced they were pregnant…and when they died in childbirth (because they aren’t built for it, obviously), I tried to convince the nurse to call a funeral home so they could have a decent burial.  She’ll be telling that story for decades; I should be getting royalties.

Living with Pancretitis: Beats the alternative…

So. You might have noticed that I haven’t been around here since last Sunday.

That’s because I’d just scheduled my post at We WriWa on Saturday when the worst pain I’ve ever felt grabbed me under the belly and bit down hard.

I just came home from the hospital yesterday.

My pancreas, for no discernable reason—seriously, they don’t know why—decided to dissolve itself with its own IV funenzymes and by the time this was determined, I was sustaining heavy renal damage.  The only treatment was to not feed me, while pumping me full of  gallons of fluids and antibiotics and calcium and drugs and, one assumes, liquid exhaustion.

Frankly, it’s difficult to sit up enough to type, or want to. I’m still having trouble eating—I’m lugging 24 pounds of fluid I didn’t have four days ago.  It saved my life, but it’s terribly uncomfortable now and there’s only so much I can do to get rid of it without ruining my electrolyte balance and going back to the ER.

I have bruises like blackened bananas up both arms from IV needles and blood draws and shots. I have a regimen of six huge horsepills a day.  Dude, we aren’t talking about the diarrhea; I can’t.

But I’m alive to be embarrassed and cranky and in pain. All my loved ones, more than I thought I had, stepped up to help save me.

I’ll take it and I’m grateful to be alive to do so.

I reserve the right to complain about hauling my  water weight to the bathroom every twenty minutes, though. I earned that.

Bruising

The Time You Need

Once upon a time, nearly seventeen years ago, my husband mentioned that the cat of a friend of his had produced a litter of kittens and was looking for homes for them. Long discussion short, he brought one home.

TobyThis little, dark gray scrap, dressed in white shirt front and spats for the occasion, sat at attention, his tail neatly wrapped around his feet, for the next day or two in our spare room, refusing to give an inch to catnappers, even though he was swaying with exhaustion, his green eyes closing every few seconds before snapping open.

We named him Toby, though he had a lot of nicknames over the years: Tober, The Tobes, Tobias Eater of Toes, Howler Kitty, and Bean Brain.

By the time I was carrying Jane, he had forgotten his old life and had taken up his role as Firstborn Son and Heir Apparent. He stretched around my distended tummy, and when Jane poked out a foot, he poked back at her. He wasn’t impressed with her during those first introductions, and spent several months elated when we took her out with us and utterly disgusted when we brought her back. I’ll never forget his face when she took her first steps: “Holy $#&%! You didn’t tell me these things were mobile!”

Typing!He acted exactly the same way when Sunny appeared—there’s a reason we dubbed him Bean Brain. But to the kids, he was part of the family and was always included in school drawings, a small, gray, betailed blob next to Mommy, Daddy, Sister, and Me. Sunny put him in her genealogy tree project last year as an adopted sibling with his own dotted line.

Cat Butt BagHe never met a glass of water he didn’t try to tip over or a blanketed foot he didn’t try to gnaw. He’s the reason I know that a jab to the eye does make you see stars—red ones—and that it hurts when a cat butts your shoulder with the top of his hard, little head when you’re trying to sleep through his bout of the Sudden Terminal Itchies.  He liked to shove things off my desk in the middle of the night, just so I’d wake up and keep him company.

But over this past year, I couldn’t help noticing some changes, though I tried my best.

He couldn’t reliably land onto the counter from the kitchen table anymore, and when he failed, he didn’t bounce up for a do-over. He couldn’t hit the litter box when he was standing in it and it took him a lot of effort to climb in and out—so much so that he rarely bothered. The levels in his food bowl weren’t changing and he didn’t seem to care for wet food or any of his favorite forbidden people treats.

A few days ago, I realized that he weighed less than a full coffee mug and I could feel his bones wherever I touched him. His hind heels were wearing through his white boots and his swagger was worn to a painful hobble.  He couldn’t sit down on my lap, because his hind end didn’t fold anymore and he stopped sleeping on my pillow, because the mattress was too high for him to jump.

He no longer did his nightly opera solos and would disappear from his usual haunts for the whole day. Sometimes two.

I’m not new to the ways of cats. I know what all this means.

Yesterday morning, I called the vet and made the appointment.  I spent the afternoon telling myself I was doing the right thing.

My husband told Janie before I came home from work and she cried and snuggled with Toby until her eyes nearly swelled shut.  “Why?” she cried.  “Why do people have to end?”

I told her that I didn’t know.  But that I was glad we’d given Toby a good home and loved him while he was here, because that was so much better than never knowing him at all.

“Yes, but he’ll be gone.”

“I know.”

“Why can’t we just keep him here until he . . .”

“Because we have a responsibility to take care of him,” I said, not entirely to her.  “He doesn’t know what’s happening to him and we can’t let him suffer just because we don’t want to let him go.  That’s not the right kind of love.”

“Oh, God, Sunny,” she said.

“I know.”

“Don’t tell her.  I mean, let her ask first.”

“If you think it would be better that way.  I won’t tell her until she’s home from camp.”

“Good.”  She teared up again.  “They won’t hurt him?  At the vet?  Don’t you let them hurt him!”

I told her that the vet would take his pain away and he wouldn’t hurt any more.

His pain,” she said. “What about our pain?”

“Time and good memories and hugs,” I said, giving her one.  “They work slowly, but that’s what we have.”

“This sucks, Mom.”

“Yes.  It does.”

Toby HelpAnd it did.

My husband cleaned the pet carrier last night and I put a towel in it early this morning.  After a search that wasn’t helpful to my state of mind, Toby was found and put into the carrier with no fuss, but he let me know the car ride upset him.  It was the first time he’d made a sound in a week and I almost turned to car around—if he could complain, he was okay, right?  That’s the Wesson way, right?

An elderly woman was waiting outside with her barrel-shaped dog.  She smiled as I passed by and said that the weather was beautiful after all the rain we’ve been having.  I said something agreeable and went in.

The receptionist was gentle with both of us and gave me a form to fill out to keep me busy.  Toby rubbed up against the vet when she examined him, friendly, if wary of her probing fingers, and unable to get his hind end to line up right.  He kept going back into his carrier and looking up at me; he was done here and wanted to go home.

So did I.

The vet told me that she could do bloodwork, if I wanted to make sure, but from his general appearance, he had thyroid and kidney problems, which would be chronic.  If she was right, there were treatments, but those would maybe give us a couple of months together, with shots and side effects, ending back where we were.

I signed the papers, marked my preferences for his cremation—I didn’t want his ashes, or a commemorative paw print plaque, I wanted my Toby to be healthy and playful again—and told them I wanted to be present.  I was the one who’d made the decision.  I would be there to see it through.

They took him away for a moment to prepare him with a catheter and I grabbed a handful of tissues and called myself terrible things.

An assistant brought him back, wrapped in a blanket and angrier than I’d ever seen him in his life, but I rubbed his neck until he calmed down, his hard little head pressed against my stomach, like he’d done when he was small.  The vet came back and he tensed up again . . . then relaxed, all at once . . . and was gone.

They told me to take as much time as I needed, and I wondered, not for the first time, if there was some way we could be offered that kindness before the final partings.  And maybe we are, if we’re smart enough to spend it wisely, with spilled water glasses and midnight howls and gnawed toes and fond exasperation.

As I left with the empty carrier and a handful of soggy tissues, the nice elderly lady was just coming in.  She took one look at my face and held the door for me.

Her dog bumped my legs with a cheerful doggy grin.  “Rocket!” she said, pulling him away, but I told her he was helping, too.  “Bless you, honey,” she said.

My husband was home, waiting until the last possible moment to leave for his class so he could give me a hug.  Then I cried for a while, sat down, and wrote this out.

Is it overshare, a 1300+ word, detailed  eulogy for a cat?  Yeah, probably.

But the choices that led up to this post were made for him.  This one is for me.

Time, memories, and hugs are what we’ve got.

And I’m going to miss him.

 

Random Thoughts on the New Year

In the tradition of starting the way I wish to go on, I overslept by several hours this morning.  Then I hopped on the exercise bike* for a while and then showered.  I drank a glass of water and then had some coffee with milk.

This is all being placed under the heading of Taking Care of Myself, which is my theme of 2015.**  Even the milk.

There were several bright spots in 2014, including meeting a few dear friends face-to-face for the first time (Hi, Marion, Lyra, Laura, Lisa, Amy, Dee, and Luis—and also Sherry, because seeing you is always wonderful!), finishing the draft of a novel and receiving some terrific comments on some stories I’ve written in the past.

But those lovely moments were more the exception than the rule.  And I think, looking back, that this was mostly my fault.

I was anxious last year.  Worried and self-conscious and depressed and burnt out.  I experienced several disappointments and disappointed myself in the handling of them.

The biggest reason for this was that I kept holding myself to personal standards I could not possibly meet, and didn’t realize that my mistake wasn’t in failing those standards, but in holding myself to them in the first place.

How can I possibly care for myself when I’m too busy beating myself up?

So I’m going to try not to do that this year.

This year, I’m holding myself to different standards:

I’m going to sleep more without guilt

Sleep QWERTY

Who says sleeping is a waste of my time?

Behind too sleep deprived to function is a waste, too, right?

___

 I’m going to read a little every day

Inside a Book

Why mess with an excellent track record?

___

I’m going to write every day.

Jane Writes

And whatever I write and however much I write will be enough for that day.

Doesn’t mean I can’t improve on the previous day’s efforts.

Does mean I’m not allowed to beat myself up for “falling short”.

___

I’m going to follow Anne Lamott’s anti-diet.

Stop and Eat the Dandelions

I’m throwing out my food journals and exercise journals and apps and scales*** and so on, and will be making my own decisions about what makes my body feel right.

As my nutritionist told me:
“If you need a calculator to tell you how much food you “deserve” to nourish yourself . . . something is wrong.”

___

I’m going to get  up and move a little every day.

Bubble Wrap Dance

And whatever I do and however much I do it will be enough.

Because moving, like writing, is one of those things that gets better with practice.

 ___

I’m going to be the best parent I can be for my children—
not for other people who might be watching.

Rock Star Parenting

I am only beholden to my kids to be a good parent, not to anyone else, strangers or relatives.

If I get it wrong—and this is where the impossible standards will rear their smug-ugly heads, I’m sure—we’ll sort it out in their therapy sessions, later.

 ___

I’m going to be kind to others
but set my own limits.

Zap Sign

Not because I think there should be limits to kindness, but because it isn’t kind to carry people if you can teach them to walk, instead.

And kindness given out of obligation can slide into resentment pretty quickly.
And then into guilt about that resentment.
And then . . .  yeah.

 ___

I will stop apologizing for not matching other people’s assumptions about me.

‘Snot my problem I’m not what you expected.

dorothy-parker-quote-i-shall-stay-the-way-i-am-because-i-do-not-give-a

And to be fair, I will stop assuming that I know what those assumptions are in the first place.

That one’s all on me.

 ___

And the big one:

I will stop blaming myself for not getting all of this right all the time.

Broken cup

 Because that’s another impossible standard I can’t maintain.

 ___

These aren’t resolutions, exactly, but I’m resolved to give them a try.

You?

_____________________

*This is a lie.  There is not enough grace in my body to hop onto anything, much less an exercise bike with a high, extra-wide seat (plan ahead, I always say) that has been wedged between two sold pieces of furniture.  I have to hop several time on one foot to get off the blessed thing without falling face first onto my printer, but that’s not grace, that’s gravity.

**The theme of 2014 was the Year of Health.  I bought and used the exercise bike and dragged myself to the dentist and the eye doctor—the latter just under the wire—and was informed that I have, as Jane gleefully put it “anti-diabetes” or “hypoglycemia” as my doctor and endocrinologist put it.  So now, I also have a nutritionist who is one of the cooler people I’ve ever met.

***Except the food scale, because I use it to weigh ingredients from a couple of my British cookbooks.  And also letters.

Happy Thanksgiving

May all who celebrate Thanksgiving today
Find that they DO have all the necessary ingredients for whatever they’ve decided to serve,
(may we be grateful for having the privilege and means to be able to choose what to eat
and help those who do not)
Find it in themselves to cope with the traditional family arguments and dysfunctional dynamics,
(may we be grateful for those we can lean on in times of trial and total frustration
and be such a person to others)
And easily find the lids that match the containers they have just filled with leftovers
(may we be grateful that we have enough and more than enough
and may we share our fortune with those who do not).

Happy Thanksgiving

(may we extend it indefinitely)

Turkey

(And may the membership of the
Turkey Voluntary Extinction Movement
hold steady until they come to their senses,
for I’m sure they know not what they do.
Just sayin’.)