Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Stream of Unconsciousness

I'm going to be frank here and probably not very PC. Tough.

We're going on day four since they disconnected my father's life support. We've been cooped up, sometimes eleven or more of us, in hospital rooms since a week ago yesterday. At best, my family is capable of sustaining good relations for a day or two. And that's if other relatives are invited and there's lots of food. Tensions are so high that the F-word flies when two or more of us escape to blow off steam.

We've tried all the things the doctors and nurses have told us. Leave him alone. Tell him it's okay to go. Play his favorite music. Give him morphine. Give him more morphine. Pray. Read scripture. But my dad always was one who defied the odds (seventeen years on two heart valves with eight-year warranties for starters) and he just keeps breathing. Vitals all over the charts. Blood pressure good. Temperature 104-105 all day today. Oxygen levels high then low. Twice they've called us all to come to the hospital because his death was imminent.

I didn't want my dad to be in this position. I can't imagine what my life will be like without him. But this waiting is unbearable.

We've laughed until we cry to relieve the tension. There have been temper tantrums, disagreements, confrontations, silent treatments, stormy partings, manic shopping sprees, junk food binges, coffee practically through IVs. People are behaving lovingly, manically, selfishly, confusedly, exhausted.

It looks like we're going to have to think about a funeral over the fourth of July weekend. Not many people will be able to make it and it seemed important a few days ago that all the people who knew and loved him be at the service. But we can't make it happen earlier now, and early next week means some family members won't be able to come. A Tuesday funeral means there's not enough time to go home and still make arrangements, people will bring food and we won't need it, and to tell you the truth I don't know how much longer until it all blows up.

I didn't think it would be like this. And it's almost impossible to deal with. I can't even cry anymore.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Happy Birthday

Today is my dad's 88th birthday. It would be wonderful if he would go out on the same day he came into this world. We'll see.

Yesterday had some blessing mixed in with the unbearable waitng. When they first disconnected my dad from the tubes, we anticipated a short wait. The doctors told us it could take a while, and we all relaxed into that. Instead of gathering all at once, we started giving ourselves permission to leave for a while every now and then.

I left to run to his house, make calls, check emails. One of the friends that I've connected with on Facebook is a girl who was my best friend in the second grade. My first best friend, really, and I haven't seen her since high school. Forty years. On my way in from the parking deck to the hospital, I looked up and there she was. Julia? I said. Mamie? she replied. I've been in the hospital chapel praying for you and your father, she said. And we hugged and cried and talked for a few minutes in the lobby. She prayed a beautiful prayer with me, and I felt strong to face the room again.

The nurse came in later, bathed and shaved my dad, combed his hair, changed his bed. At 12:01 this morning in honor of his 88th birthday, my four siblings, two in-laws, three of my nieces, one of my dad's caretakers, and the nursing staff sang happy birthday and ate cake. Tired to the bone, rawer than raw, we all left the hosptial to try to get some rest.

Blessings among the sadness.

Happy Birthday, Dad.

Sunday, June 27, 2010


I guess my grieving muscles haven't been getting much exercise. They're really screaming from the workout.

My dad has been disconnected from life support as of this morning. We've spent the day realizing that our world isn't going to be the same as it was when he was walking and talking among us.

Grief is so darn personal. You can't talk to another friend whose father has died and gain any insight into what it's going to feel like when your father dies. You can't listen to your siblings cry and understand what it is they cry for. All you know is that this saying goodbye is just about the most painful thing you've experienced so far.

So you write a tentative obituary and reflect on what you want to say about your dad so people will understand how great he was. You laugh and bicker and banter with the nurses. In the background your father lies as he has during many family gatherings: snoring loudly, mouth open.

What more can I say? Thanks for all the lessons. Thanks for your sacrifices. I'm sorry your dad died when you were young and that you missed a lot of your childhood. I'm going to miss you like hell. I love you.

Fly away, Dad. I'll catch up with you later.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Not quite what I was planning

Yep, I meant to start those cheery, thought-provoking posts again. Really I did. But it seems that the universe had another idea.

Monday I started a class with Zelda Lockhart. I was on fire! She is so inspiring and original and my writing neurons were blasting against one another.

On Tuesday morning around 7 my phone rang. Never a good sign. It was my brother letting me know that my dad had gone to the emergency room around 4 because of a headache. He was bleeding in his brain cavity, possibly from the fall that broke his hip. They were going to have to do brain surgery.

Uh, what did you say? He's just getting his strength and attitude back and they're taking him to do brain surgery?

Not quite what I was planning.

This time everything seemed dark and critical and all my siblings came to Greensboro. We heard mixed messages about his chances of making it through, and he was talking funeral clothes and music. It was a raw time.

But now the surgery's over and he's back in the room. His veins are collapsing and he's feeling pretty rough, but at least we're not planning any funerals tonight. And that is very thought-provoking from where I sit.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

The next step

Some of you long-time readers may remember this post about my doctor. I went to see him today to decide what I need to do next.

I went with this attitude: I HATE RADIATION THERAPY AND WANT SOMEONE TO TELL ME THAT I DON'T HAVE TO HAVE IT!!!! In the back of my mind though, trying to help me prepare for all things associated with dealing with this little cancer, was a voice telling me that I was probably going to have to face the zapper.

At every step of the way of this diagnosis and treatment, I have been surprised. Unpleasantly so. Every time. And in a way today was no exception. I had been told by the surgeon the best news: the tumor was gone. All of it. So when I went to see my doctor today, I was shocked to find out that out of three grades of tumor, mine was a 3, the most advanced kind. Normally DCIS tumors are a 2.

First, though, he asked me to tell him my understanding of my situation. I explained what I knew. He went over item by item the pathology of the tumor. Then he told me what having radiation therapy would probably be like. And it sounded bearable. Maybe I could do it.

He asked would I be willing to go to the hospital where he knows all the radiation therapists. He likes to match his patient's personality with the therapist's, he said. He said he thinks I will get along great with this particular woman. Can you imagine the compassion of a doctor who thinks that way? God. So he's going to talk to her tomorrow and set up an appointment for us "to talk". That's all he's asking me to do right now.

And so, although I've had shocks along the way, I've been able to handle this one thing at a time. Not thinking or worrying too much ahead. Just doing the next thing I need to do.

Before we left, I told my doctor how grateful I am for him. And I, who thought I'd be bawling when I left, was smiling. Big smile.

Thank you again, Dr. Dunlap. I wish everyone in the world had a doctor like you.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Mostly Sunny

Things are sorting themselves out here, and I'm feeling much better than before. Here's the status of things:

1. My dad is holding his own, and I'm not needing to spend as much time with him as before. Thankfully, my brother and one sister have been holding down the fort because:
2. A few weeks ago I was diagnosed with a very early form of breast cancer called DCIS. There is debate about whether it is actually cancer, whether more sophisticated mammographies are causing over-reactions, and how to diagnose and treat it. But I have had an ultrasound breast core biopsy (local anesthesia) and surgical biopsy (general anesthesia) to figure out what's going on. I got the good news from my surgeon this week that the cancer was confined to the tumor, that I do not a have a genetic marker for breast cancer, and that it is not in my lymph nodes. Excellent report. I may have to have radiation, but will meet with my doctor tomorrow for more details. Let me put this on the table, though: radiation freaks me out.
3. Work has simmered down some. We finally got paid by our client and this has eased the financial pressure that his non-payment had put on us. I have to say, to the credit of our company, that all of our suppliers and subcontractors expressed complete confidence in us during the process. This was gratifying.

So thanks for putting up with the mystery of my discontent and worry. I hope to be writing regularly again, with thoughtful posts and positive thoughts. I haven't been comfortable in the unhappiness.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Feeling Trapped

I'm feeling kind of like this little guy - trapped in a lot of webs. Most of them not making me feel so happy. Work is difficult because of one client, my father is only slowly recovering from his fall, and I'm dealing with a little medical issue of my own. I'm not getting to the coast, the place that I disconnect from all things stressful.

What should happen here and now is that I should take an attitude of gratitude and I am taking stock of all that is good in my life. This sounds corny, doesn't it? but it's working on a day-to-day basis to add up the columns and come out ahead.

The bottom line of all of this for you, my dear followers, is fewer posts. I hope you'll stick around; I hope I can open up a little more about what's happening to me; I hope we shore each other up by interacting through my words. It's not like me to be at a loss for something to say.

Stand by me.