Inching Along

Saturday, February 11, 2012

“I’m starting to catch glimpses of some small handwriting on the fireplace wall.” Dave will spend hours sitting on the edge of the bed facing the electric furnace fireplace and mantle in our bedroom. “Fine, handwritten words,” he says with a gesture of writing in the air I’ve seen him do in his sleep. It conjures up an image for me of parchment paper with the Declaration of Independence script transparently imposed over the façade of the white wood.

“What do you suppose that is?” I asked.

“Hallucinations. Pressure on the brain. Lack of oxygen,” he said.

“Not a message from another world?” I wondered aloud.

“No.” he said.

“You are so practical, sometimes.” I let out a little sigh of laughter. I meant logical really. I have a hard time finding words these days, too.

“That’s how us Virgos are,” came the response. Even funnier – answering my question from a stance of analytical logic cloaked in astrology. But then, that is a Virgo.

Inch by inch Dave is heading into a new dimension. One the rest of us can’t attend with him. Inch by inch his body is failing. Something we have to sit by and watch.

It’s has been a difficult week for me. A week measured in those inches and in hours and minutes.

Physically I see more muscle spasms, twitching of his arms and hands mostly. Both feet are swollen often up through the ankles and into the calves. Maybe the left side decreases, but not by much. His right leg does not move on his command, it must be dragged when he walks, and lifted when he turns or sits up in bed. There is pain: pain that makes him cry out if I move him the wrong way; pain that makes me cry when I hurt him inadvertently. I empathize with him all too well after the hip pain and difficulty moving my own leg last December. There’s no cortisone shot for him to make it go away.

I noted to Dave a couple of weeks ago that his body seems to be split in half with the cancer symptoms. It is as if only his right side, the side most affected by his stroke, is under attack. It made me wonder about his brain, which has been relatively intact and communicative, although I have seen a beginning loss of his humor and mixed up language. Creativity is right hemisphere brain functions; logic is found in the left. Since his stroke was in the spinal cord, obviously below the head and brain, I wonder if these weakened areas are where the cancer is taking hold and spreading. It makes sense to me.

(One of the most influential books I’ve read in the last couple of year is My Stroke of Insight, written by Jill Taylor Bolte, a brain researcher who chronicles her own brain stroke and recovery. Amazing!)

Mentally, there are changes about Dave, too. Inch by inch the concept of time is shifting. He seems suspended in animation, usually as he sits up. I wonder if there is a line between awake and asleep. He can’t really answer that for me; an answer in itself. “In a minute” make take several. He responds to something said an hour or even a day earlier as if it was just stated. Time is marked by the next round of pills.

There is a slow motion quality to his presence. The other night as I followed behind him as he headed into the bathroom with the walker, I felt the same sense of caregiver’s support I have provided as a hospice volunteer to patients who need a safety net from falling but room to move independently as much as possible. It is a slow walk of determination and deliberate motivation to a destination. As he stepped up to the sink, I looked up to see an aged man reflected in the mirror contrasted with my own image behind him, younger, more able and carrying the pounds on my body that he has lost. It was a moment of stark contrast and a reminder of how inches become miles.

Every emotion has been heightened this week. Pain hurts more. Laughter is louder. Crying is drowning. Love is deeper.

Inch by inch the cancer is spreading and with it taking our time together further away.

4 replies
  1. Marty Tousley
    Marty Tousley says:

    Dearest Joan, I have no words ~ except to say that your words are being heard and felt, and you are not alone. I continue to hold you both in my heart and in my prayers.

    Reply
  2. Matt Rosemann
    Matt Rosemann says:

    So, so long ago we were so much closer and the details of our lives weren’t lost in school, family, marriage, job, family, on and on. Such is the case these days. We are not so close as those days. However, this also means we are not aware of each other’s life tests and trials, situations and conditions. In what may be the most serious time of your life, I am unaware of it happening at all until today. For this I am sorry, and express my greatest apology for being so disconnected.

    I met Dave the only time I recall when you and he had just gotten married and were travelling back to Washington via Amarillo. You guys were off on your life’s adventure and it briefly intermingled with our own for an hour or perhaps two. Such a brief time it was and certainly not enough to develop an friendship alongside our kinship.

    It was through the flimsiest of grapevines I got to follow the events of your life at all, then facebook reveals a grown up daughter whose life had fast forwarded into adulthood. I don’t recall any talk of David and his condition over the years, even as FB began to grow.

    I hope the journey of the last few hours, days, months and years has been in the company of many people who have blessed and will continue to bless you in the next several hours, days, months and years. Perhaps soon enough we can catch up on all this after we both offer profuse and heartfelt apologies for being so distant over the years.

    Love you, Joan
    Matt

    Reply
    • joan
      joan says:

      Hey cuz! That drive from Ft Worth to Olympia was our honeymoon trip and stopping in Amarillo is one of the story points. That was soon after a stop at a roadside diner in the notable Texas Chainsaw Massacre town of Childress, TX. There we ate the largest and best chicken fried steak, mashed potatoes and gravy EVER, and the only standard of taste for comparison to any chicken fried steak for us since.

      Life does have a way of dividing and distancing among family and friends across the years. Thanks for your thoughtful and loving connection you’ve made here today. Apparently life is circular.

      Love, Joan

      Reply

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