Falling Slowly

Saturday, April 9, 2011

“It feels like dominoes falling in slow motion.” Cancer. Terminal cancer. Dave can still turn a nice phrase. Words, puns, language are part of our attraction to each other. He is one of the few who catches my dry, subtle and often cynical humor.

Dominoes A few minutes before Dave at been sitting at the side of the bed. I wasn’t sure if he had gotten up, was getting up or just sitting. He sits with a noticeable slump, his back muscles no longer strong enough to pull his body fully upright. This has been a long week, yet a week has passed already. He has endured another urinary tract infection, three days of antibiotics. Only this time the symptoms have not gone away. Another trip to the pharmacy for a refill, this time a stronger dose and longer regimen.  He is sleeping more throughout the day. I first thought he was simply recuperating from playing music and family visitation a week ago Friday. By Wednesday, when Gina, our hospice nurse, made her house call, we were reminded starkly about his cancer.

Because Dave has been feeling better, well, actually more stable (on a plateau) we could place cancer at arm’s length. A weight gain, happy times, eating, alert, self care… We even dropped his nurse visits to once a week, rather than twice. Better is a relative term. On Wednesday, when chatting about the week, his symptoms were discussed: more sleeping, UTI, and yes, staying out ahead of the pain. Quietly, Dave has increased how often and regularly he takes pain meds. Now there are more pulls and tugs, inside along the right side of his lungs, and a backache pops up and now and again. She listens with the stethoscope and reports less sound on the right side. Gina reminded us that his cancer keeps working 24/7, regardless. Yes, cancer is growing all the time. His body tries to repair itself through more sleep, but tells us with pain that it is not going away.

This morning he woke with a sweat. Do you feel feverish I asked him? No, he says it’s another subtle reminder of cancer. His Hodgkins, which had a prominent symptom of night sweats, was curable; he could feel better with treatments, he told me. The kidney cancer he has never felt, he said; surgeons could cut it away. This morning, this cancer is “like dominoes falling in slow motion.”  Does that make sense, he wondered? Yes, perfectly I think.

I rubbed his back as he was still sitting at the edge of the bed.  I can’t help but realize how thin he has become. Under the pajamas and bed covers, it’s so easy to ignore. When he is alert and talking, it all seems like a mistake. In moments of ordinary waking I forget temporarily. And when he climbed back under the covers it became an ordinary moment.

The house was still as we lay in bed talking. About yesterday. Sleep. Just waking up, looking at the ceiling or nothing in particular. Or, maybe my eyes aren’t even open. Talking aloud, softly. These are the moments I imagine I’ll miss most.

We aren’t talking about what the day will be like. There is no more going to work. No more driving. No more dinners out. No more cups of coffee. No more reading the newspaper and doing the crossword puzzle together.  Cancer takes down each activity of his life like dominoes falling in slow motion.

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