Michael was discharged from the hospital yesterday morning, eight and a half days after being admitted. That’s longer than he was in when he had his initial cancer surgery, and the incision he has rivals that first one – a vertical slice about eight inches long running up the middle of his abdomen. He lost quite a bit of weight in the hospital and looks gaunt. He’s weak and sore and has quite a recovery ahead of him. But he still went to Joey’s baseball game last night. He’s determined not to miss a game. Probably not the best thing for him to have done physically, but clearly what he needed mentally.
To say it’s wonderful to have him home sounds empty and inadequate. All I know is that I feel complete with him here, and when he was gone there was a void. When you’re faced with losing someone, it’s funny how all the little grievances you have fall away, and all that’s left is how much they mean to you.
Today, though, I feel a lethargy settling on me. It’s as if the euphoria of getting him back yesterday has worn off and now I’m decompressing, processing what happened. When he was in the hospital, it was survival mode, and I was running on adrenaline. Just put one foot in front of the other and deal, because that’s just what you have to do. It was hard, and I was scared, and seeing him all hooked up to machines and in pain was awful, but I don’t think I really let myself think about how bad it might be. The truth, though, is that he could have died. He was septic and his body was shutting down. The doctor told him yesterday before he was discharged that had he not been young, he wouldn’t have made it. So why did he languish in a hospital bed in no-man’s land all day on Sunday without seeing a doctor, while they just kept upping his pain meds? He could have died. A few more hours, and he might have died. The reality of that, the gravity of it, it’s doing a number on me.
But he’s here. I don’t want to be one of those people who sits around wringing their hands thinking their life is so hard. There will always be worse circumstances, people who are faced with harsher things. And yet, I can’t help thinking . . . how much more? We’ve been though so much. How much more?
I made an executive decision last night that, sick or not sick, I was going to see Michael in the hospital this morning. It’s been awful to stay away, and going did me a world of good (and hopefully it did him some good, too). I curled up on his bed with him for a while, we walked the halls, talked and even shared a few giggles. Ahhhh, just what the doctor ordered.
Michael is making steps towards recovery and coming home, but it’s slow going. While I was there, some of his medical trappings were removed. This is progress. I also got to see his incision, which was also the first time he’s seen it, and it’s pretty significant – quite a bit longer than I had expected. It’s all put back together by I don’t know how many sutures and eight shiny staples.
An uneventful day as far as newsworthy developments. I don’t even have any new catastrophes to report! I guess the gods are smiling on us for the time being.
Michael is recovering at the pace he’s supposed to be recovering at, which feels very slow to us and I’m sure to him. It’s really hard just waiting . . . waiting for him to be well enough to come home. And it’s made even harder by the fact that for now I have to stay away because of my being sick. And I rarely get sick! The timing is just stupendous, no?
Daisy and Annabelle’s teacher, who was also Joey’s first-grade teacher, and who has also become a true friend, took the five older kids to the hospital to see Dad today. (And she took them to the bookstore – and bought them books – and then out for ice cream! It’s crazy how good she is to us.) I know Michael was thrilled to see his beloved spawn, but apparently was only up for a short visit with them. He’s still got pain and is easily tired. And goodness knows those kids can wear a person out!
Anyway, I think the visit was good and bad. I really can’t say how Michael is feeling about it, but I suspect it might have made him miss home even more. Lilah and Daisy were apparently pretty freaked out seeing Daddy in his current condition, although by the time they got home, Lilah was fine. Daisy, on the other hand, she is having a really tough time with all of this, and the visit may have made things worse for her. Ever since Michael went into the hospital, she’s been mopey and very clingy, following me around like a shadow, needing constant hugs and reassurance, and breaking into spontaneous tears. It’s hard to make a very sensitive, emotional six-year-old understand that Daddy will come home, that we just have to be patient and wait for the doctors to help him get better.
The other kids are doing surprisingly well. Kevin has been a huge help, and he and Joey have been getting along famously, which I love to see. There have been the usual skirmishes among all the kids, but for the most part there is a feeling of pulling together.
No major developments to report today. I woke up with a nasty cough and laryngitis this morning and got to feeling more and more fluish as the day wore on; I’ve had something coming on for a few days but had hoped it would go away if I ignored it. Not so. So unfortunately, I can’t even go visit Michael in the hospital now. I was looking forward to taking the kids to see him today – which I think would do both them and him a world of good – now that he’s out of ICU, but that plan went out the window. So I stayed home and finished cleaning up the garage and feeling a little sorry for myself and for us.
When I talked to Michael last night, he had developed a low-grade fever. When I talked to him first thing this morning, he sounded awful and said he was having trouble breathing. I got really worried – did he have pneumonia now? I swear, one of my biggest worries at this point is that he’s going to develop some secondary infection or illness just by virtue of being in the hospital. Anyway, I talked to his nurse later in the morning who told me that he is FINE, that his trouble breathing has to do with the pain from his incision. She said he’s exactly on the path to recovery where they want him to be, so that was a relief. I know they got him up and walking a little more today, so that’s good. I’m so sad that he’s there alone with no visitors. Apparently his doctor doesn’t think he’ll be home before Monday or Tuesday.
I miss him like crazy. Even with a houseful of kids, there is a terrible Michael-shaped emptiness. All the little things you take for granted become so magnified when they’re suddenly missing. The kids miss him too and his absence is taking a toll on them. I keep thinking about how Saturday started out as a pleasant, average Saturday. We took the kids to the park in the morning, then I took Joey out for ice cream and sightseeing around town, Kevin went to a friend’s for a sleepover . . . never imagining that another smackdown was just around the corner.
We’ve had a tough time the last few months . . . coming back from cancer is harder and more complicated than a lot of people realize. There have been a lot of factors putting a strain on things – health and financial concerns, depression and anxiety, conflict with extended family – and we’ve been faced with the fact that even the most solid of marriages stumble in the face of so much adversity. We’ve only just started coming back from a pretty dark period, and now this, obviously a setback. We’ll get through it, I know we will, but . . . well, it’s just hard. Life is so unpredictable and often unfair. I don’t want to crumble and become a bitter person. I sometimes cry and throw my hands up and shake my fists at the injustice of it all, but I will not let myself lose sight of all we have to be thankful for. Like friends who deliver food and flowers and booze to my house. Seriously, so much love, so many good people.
We’ll get through this.
I don’t know how long Michael was in surgery this morning, I just know that I got a call from his surgeon sooner than I expected to. The surgery went well. They located the obstruction and removed it, as well as some tissue that had died as a result of the obstruction, and put him back together, good as new. After surgery he was taken back to ICU on a ventilator and various other accoutrements. He’s been through a pretty major trauma, and his body needs to rest and heal, so a machine would breathe for him for a while, and various other contraptions would take care of various other tasks for him, so really, all he has to do at this point is enjoy the vacay. Ha. Ha.
I went to see him this afternoon. Remembering how difficult it was to see him after his cancer surgery, whereupon I proceeded to have a sobbing-screaming-pounding-with-my-fists breakdown in my truck in the parking structure of the hospital, I steeled myself on the drive over this afternoon for how he would look, pale and helpless as a baby, hooked up to all kinds of monitors and tubes and whatnot. It wasn’t going to be pretty, and I was going to suck it up and be strong.
So I strode – that’s right, strode – into his room, took one look at him with a giant tube down his throat breathing for him and various other stuff taped across his face, lying there unconscious, and broke down. Of course. The staff was so kind, really. They must see this all the time, various next of kin coming in and falling apart at patients’ bedsides. I was doing the hiccupping sobbing thing, and someone discreetly called a social worker to come talk to me. She took me into a little conference room, sat me down with a box of tissues and proceeded to ask me all kinds of kind, caring questions while I bawled my little heart out. She asked me about family. I hate that question. “I don’t have family. We’re estranged.” This is usually a fork in the road in new relationships – they either get it, or they don’t, and if they don’t, you can see a wall of judgment go up. She said, “I’m estranged from my family too, don’t worry about it.” Ahhh. Okay, maybe she was lying to make me feel better, but I’m totally okay with that.
Michael’s car is still parked in the ER parking lot, since he drove himself there Saturday night. I was looking for his keys and discovered that everything he came into the ER with – his clothes, his keys, his wallet, his phone – were missing. His nurse started making phone calls to try to track it all down. Then a doctor came in to look Michael over. This was during my crying jag (maybe he was the one who called the social worker?), and it came to his attention somehow that Michael’s personal effects were missing. I told him the nurses were trying to track it down. He said to me, “Let’s go find it. Come with me.” And I followed him out and to the unit where Michael was yesterday. He stopped at the nurses’ station and said indignantly, “Where is the charge nurse?” He explained that my husband’s things were missing, in a how-dare-you-cause-this-woman-any-additional-anguish-by-losing-her-husband’s-things sort of manner. I was a little embarrassed (because I really don’t think it was anyone’s fault), but also grateful. One of the nurses at the station pulled a bag from behind the desk. “This it?” she asked. Yep, there were all his things. Phew.
Anyway. Michael was in and out of consciousness. They actually took him off the ventilator while I was there, so that’s a good sign. He’s on major pain meds and can have nothing by mouth for several days. The surgery he had was very much like the surgery Finn had at birth, so a lot of this looks very familiar actually. It’s hard to see someone you love like that – diminished, helpless, in pain. Because he was intubated, he had a lot of difficulty talking, but he wrote on a piece of paper for me, “I’m here,” and “I was scared. Shitless.” That pretty much says it all. I would have given anything to crawl into bed with him and just stay until he’s better. But of course, I couldn’t. I had to get back home to the kids. And that’s tough, being torn like that.
He’ll be in the hospital for several days, possibly a week. And after another major abdominal surgery, I imagine he’ll need several weeks to recover.
Friends are rallying around us, as they have in our times of need before. Another crisis survived. I am grateful.
In an attempt to preserve my sanity, I turn to writing, probably revealing more than Michael would like me to, so I will just hope that he forgives me.
I was awakened at 5:42 this morning by the phone ringing. Michael told me in a scratchy voice (because he has a tube down his throat) that he had been moved to ICU. His symptoms had grown worse overnight, his vital signs were askew, and I guess some labs they did showed signs of trouble. I got another call about an hour later from him telling me that they were taking him into surgery. Holy fuck. Suddenly I’m numb and panicky all at once. And I swear to you, the moment I got off the phone with him, it seemed as if a blood vessel in my nose decided to burst because suddenly I had a major nosebleed on my hands. I held my head over the bathroom sink while the blood flowed for five solid minutes. I guess just my body’s little response to stress.
What to tell the kids? I can’t fall apart, I can’t. So just put one foot in front of the other, try to go about our morning business the same as usual. I left Kevin in charge and ran to Starbucks to get a caffeine fix. I should have gone to a different Starbucks, one where the baristas don’t know me. I swear if one person looks at me kindly, I will come apart.
The good wishes and moral support are pouring in via Facebook and email. I have to let people know what’s going on; otherwise I am truly all alone in this.
I got home with my jumbo coffee and made breakfast for the kids. I haven’t told them anything. They just know that Daddy is still in the hospital because something is wrong in his tummy, and we don’t know when he’ll get to come home. Yesterday they were asking me if he would have to have an operation. I didn’t know, and I told them so. Now I know, but I don’t know what to tell them. Daisy is being hit especially hard by all this. Not surprising – she is our most sensitive, emotional one. I am trying very hard to be patient with her clinginess and give her all the TLC she needs, even as it makes me feel as if I’m coming out of my skin.
The nurse in charge of Michael’s care called me, and I took the phone in the bedroom and not surprisingly, could no longer hold back the tears. Is he going to be okay? Yes, they think so. The surgery is expected to last 2 – 4 hours, and he will likely be in the hospital for 5 – 7 days.
One foot in front of the other.
The four littlest are safely tucked in bed, while Kevin and Joey watch a movie. No change with Michael. He’s still in the hospital, in a great deal of pain even though he’s drugged up on push-button pain meds, and as of an hour ago, he still hadn’t even seen a freaking doctor, just has the nurses looking after him. No idea what’s going to happen. I went to see him this afternoon and I’ll tell you, it was hard. I would have stayed away if I could have; I would have been a coward if I could have gotten away with it. I hate that hospital. I know they saved my husband’s life a while back, but it’s wrapped up with so many bad memories for us. He’s in the same unit now that he was in after his initial cancer surgery, and it all came rushing back to me when the elevator opened to that floor and I walked down that familiar hallway into the familiar-looking room, and found him there in bed, barely coherent or recognizable. I stayed for a while and then made a run for it. He was so out of it, I don’t think he had any idea how long I stayed.
Back home, life goes on. There was still grocery shopping to do, dinner to be cooked and eaten, baths to be given, stories to be read, and fears to be soothed. The house is quiet now, not so different from a night when Michael might work late or go to jam with his buddies at the studio. But of course it feels different because he’s not working or jamming, he’s in the hospital, and so much feels unknown right now.
Michael is in the hospital again. I’ve lost count of how many times he’s been in the hospital over the last two years. Twice it was for scheduled surgeries relating to his cancer. All the other times have been via the emergency room. The last time was back in December, while the kids were on winter break. Abdominal pain that grew worse and worse, two trips to the emergency room in one day, and finally a CT scan revealed an obstruction, and Michael was admitted and spent a couple days in the hospital while they attempted to clear the obstruction by non-surgical means.
And here we are again. The familiar pain started up late yesterday afternoon, and it became clear pretty quickly that the plans we had for the evening would have to be canceled. The pain grew worse and worse until finally he drove himself to the ER at 2:00 a.m. Kevin had gone to a friend’s for a sleepover, so I couldn’t leave the other kids. That, too – Michael driving himself to the ER, either that or my dropping him off there and coming home – has become routine. At about 7:30 this morning, they did a CT scan and discovered another obstruction, and so now he’s been admitted and they will again attempt to clear the obstruction through non-surgical means. I don’t know how long he will be in the hospital. I imagine a day or two.
And here I sit, stewing in anger. Anger at cancer for doing this to my husband, to my family. Yes, the cancer is gone, but this is one of the many scars it’s left: adhesions from the surgery that removed the cancer. Lest we ever get comfortable and begin to see cancer as a distant nightmare, these things rear their heads to remind us that cancer is never really completely gone. It fucks with you forever. There are physical scars and emotional ones, and they never go away, even if cancer itself is gone forever (and who knows if it is gone forever of just taking a little respite?).
I’m angry at Michael’s family for failing so utterly in their capacity to put aside their own selfish feelings and agendas and really be there for us during what has been such a horrific crisis over the last two+ years. There, I said it. I’ve never touched directly on the situation with his family publicly, but I’m tired of being respectfully quiet about it, of taking the high road. They don’t even know what we’ve gone through – yes, WE – because a wall has been constructed as a means of self-preservation for our family. I’ve been here! I’ve experienced all the horrors of cancer and the aftermath – as well as ten years’ worth of other marital ups and downs – alongside Michael. I’ve shown my devotion, my trueness, but I am dismissed as someone “evil,” someone who has “brainwashed” Michael. I am angry, so angry, that we’ve had to go through this alone, without appropriate support, because the people who should be here for us cannot see beyond themselves.
I’m angry at all the people who throw around prayer requests like candy on Facebook and everywhere else, who believe there is some merciful god out there who takes a personal interest in anyone’s life. Really? REALLY??? Come on, people!
My kids are upset that Daddy is gone again. They are beginning to get used to these incidents. I know that I am supposed to be strong and stoic through this, but I’m having a really difficult time grasping any strong or stoic part of myself. I’m tired, and so angry.