Sunday, October 22, 2017

A New Chapter

Liz, my dear friend, nurse, sister, mother, and psychologist, opened her home again so that she could nurse me back to health again after my breast reconstruction/reduction. 

This time, I stayed in her son Grant’s man cave in the basement since he’s now rooming with some friends at UK.   She stocked the fridge and cupboard (all in the man cave) with all my favorites: chocolate covered bananas, Oikos Triple Zero Yogurt w/ Redi-Whip, fixins for grilled cheese and Tomato Basil Soup,  tons of fruit, a basket of strawberry cheesecake Quest Protein Bars, corn chips and guacamole, and a pint of Gelato.  What more does a girl need?  Sheesh. I was only staying for a few days!  I knew Jeff had a crazy week scheduled. It made much more sense to stay with my newly retired friend.   Besides, I knew if I stayed home, Henry and Annie would be jumping on my chest.

Liz drove me to the hospital where we promptly arrived at 5:30 a.m.   We walked back to registration where an attractive lady introduced herself, “I’m Rose and I’ll be getting you registered.”  I introduced Liz to Rose and told her that she would be the one driving me home that day.  Rose asked all the usual questions about my address, next of kin, and whether I had a living will.  She smiled when I told her I lived in Prestonsburg.   She used to as well, but she moved away decades ago.  That’s usually the case.  No one ever moves from Lexington to Prestonsburg…except me. Never met anyone, actually.  I asked Rose her last name and who she married there.  Get this. His last name is Rose.  The woman’s name was Rose Rose.  Introducing yourself to anyone would be like Who’s on First?  Liz and I talked her ear off and she said, “Girls, I have 8 minutes to check you in.  They’re waiting on you upstairs, Ann.”  Well, alrighty then.

More nurses came in to ask me my health history.  Again, I was sailing through the questions with no’s until we got to the cancer box. Yes. Breast. 2013. Lumpectomy. Chemo. Radiation. Medications? Tamoxifen because I was estrogen receptor positive and Effexor because it helps with the hot flashes caused by the Tamoxifen.  The nurse said, “I had breast cancer ten years ago and haven’t had a recurrence …BUT... I was just a few months away from ending my 5-year Tamoxifen protocol and I was diagnosed with liver poisoning as a result of the Tamoxifen.  I have cirrhosis. Never drank in my life. I’m on the waiting list for a new liver.”  Well great.  The new protocol is ten years, no doubt so that the drug companies can make double the profits.  I couldn’t focus on such negativity. I had to go into surgery with a positive attitude.   No problem. The anesthesiologist’s assistant came in with some happy serum.

 It was just in time because Dr. Schantz arrived with his purple pen to draw a playground on my chest.   He walked in, all smiles, as always, and sat on the rolling stool by the bed.  Thanks to the happy serum, I didn’t much care that I had to stand up buck naked in front of him while he drew all over my chest or how he was squeezing my boobs together to determine how much he could remove but still have some cleavage.   Then I saw it. It was a bright greenish yellow banana sticking out of his white coat and God help me I said it, “Is that a banana in your pocket or are you happy to see me?”  The room of about six people died laughing.  Dr. Schantz's face turned beat red and I apologized.  So, I asked myself, “If I had the wits about me to apologize, why in the world would I ask such a question?” Good medication was the only answer.

I’ve had many surgeries.  I always do great before and after, but there is one part where I don’t do so well.  When they wheel you to the surgery room and there are bright lights blinding you. The surgeon is scrubbing in, they scoot you onto the actual table, you sometimes get a glimpse of the instruments covered with a cloth. That’s when I usually start hyperventilating and the doctor nods to the anesthesiologist (to knock me out before I take off running).

At UK Health Care (Formerly Good Samaritan), there was no long trip on the gurney to surgery. I was out right after the banana comment.  Don’t remember anything after the laughter.  I guess they thought I was dangerous after that moment!
What a way to go, if that had happened, and thank God it didn’t.  I had made a room full of people laugh on my way out of this world.

As always, I woke up hungry. It had been something like 20 hours since my last bite and I was starving.  The recovery nurse had just left to get me some ice chips. She was gone about 20 seconds and I decided to get myself together and search for food.   I was still hooked to an IV so I struggled to tie the hospital gown in the back. Impossible. I grabbed the gown with my left hand to keep it closed in the back and pushed the IV pole with my right.   I bumped into the nurse as she walked in with the ice chips.  “Whoa. Where are you going?” she asked me, like she hadn’t just heard me beg for a cheeseburger.  “I was just going to try to find the cafeteria.”  Now, I remember that conversation clearly, but for the life of me I can’t imagine what I thought I would do when I got there. I had no money. If I did, I’d have to let go of my hospital gown in the back. Hmmm. A dilemma I didn’t have to solve, thankfully.

She said, “Once you’ve walked around and gone to the bathroom, then you can go home. Boy, you’re a feisty one.”  I told her I didn’t have to go. I was under for over 4 hours. I should have to go. She said they cathed me while I was under.  How smart. They know when to do all the traumatizing events…when you’re under!

Liz came like the hero she is and took me to Chick fil-A.    Best chicken sandwich ever.    Liz didn’t order anything. Whaaat? Who can go to Chick fil-A and not order anything?  She just wasn’t hungry yet.  Wow. I think her last meal was the same time as mine.
She took me back to her house and helped me to bed. 

Lauren brought the babies over after work and seeing the three of them took my mind off my discomfort.  Liz said, “The doctor said she has to wait 48 hours before taking a shower.”  Both of them howled with laughter.  I take a shower every morning and a bath every night without fail.  I’m either the cleanest or the dirtiest person I know.  I guess if you have to have some slight form of OCD, twice a day showers/baths is probably pretty benign. Lauren says, “I’ll bet she can’t do it. I’ll bet money.” 

Friday was supposed to be the big reveal (at the doctor) but I couldn’t stand it.  I was a literal bloody mess and needed to redress the bandages.  I came out of surgery in a bra, well…a vest. A very tight vest that zipped up the front.

A couple of hours after Lauren left I said,  “Get me out of this, Liz. I can’t stand it!”  I’m sure both of us were grateful for her carpet-free basement those few days.  I unzipped the bra expecting a layer of gauze and tape.  There were a few gauze pads stuck to the underside of my breasts and surgical tape (about two feet total) covering all the incisions.  We threw out the gauze and stared at the new girls.  Although they’re supposed to be C’s, they seem much smaller to me.  I was used to D’s.  Liz and I both gasped when we saw them.

I must get to the gym.  My new perky Franken-boobs look like they belong on an 18 year-old! Who could complain, you might be wondering?   No complaints, but imagine wearing a pajama pants with some Manolo Blahnik stillettos or investing in a state of the art sound system in your 30 year-old El Camino.  The new girls must match not only each other but the rest of me!
So, I’m allowed to do strength training after November 10.  For once, I’m looking forward to it. 

Sunday, August 27, 2017


I usually don’t know what I’m feeling unless I write about it.  When I finally do, I often surprise myself.   Right now, I have no idea how this post will end.  

In 1988, at Lauren’s first birthday party, I met my mom’s new boyfriend Dale.  My parents divorced four years earlier and I was just beginning to forgive my mom for leaving my devastated father after 22 years of marriage.  Dad had moved on, but I couldn’t.

Mom’s previous boyfriend was a loser and I thought this one would be too.  I was so wrong.

That birthday party was at Chuck E. Cheese - a ridiculous choice for a first birthday party.  Many people told me so but I was resolved in my decision to let animatronic bears terrify my first-born.  Looking back at photos, I have to laugh.   Lauren has a sad, pouty look on her face, as if to say, “I would have rather had a small party in my familiar surroundings at home.”   I was twenty-three and clueless about nearly everything.

I was engrossed in the new world of motherhood and oblivious to the fact that this single man was in a room full of strangers wearing a cone-shaped birthday hat with one of those pinching elastic bands strapped under his chin.  At the time, I never thought about how awkward a 38 year-old man should feel in this getup.  He was grinning ear to ear.  

They married about a year later and Dale became Grandaddy Dale, a term he loved almost as much as he loved Lauren and Jordan.   He and Mom moved to Akron, and we were limited to visits every few months.  They always came to Prestonsburg for Christmas, when they would bring pictures of children crowded around Santa (Dale) and Mrs. Clause (Mom).   Dale would begin growing out his beard in the early fall so he would look more authentic.  The tradition was to open presents after dinner on Christmas Eve.  Lauren and Jordan would inhale their food and stare at the Christmas presents under the tree in the next room.  Dale knew this but insisted on just one more plate of food.  The kids would scream, “Noooooooooooo!”  and he would laugh the deepest belly laugh.   He loved Christmas and he especially loved singing in the Christmas musical.

Dale has a deep bass singing voice and such a range that he could sing and harmonize with any professional or amateur, always making them sound better.    I saw this several times during Karaoke when he would ask a reluctant intoxicated patron if he could accompany him/her on their song choice.   As soon as he opened his mouth, we all could see the smile on everyone’s faces, especially the guy/girl that picked the song.   Mom always said she wished she could sing half as well as Dale so she could understand his passion for music and the hours he devoted to the Christmas and Easter musicals every year.

Surrounded by months of family drama, my father was buried on my mom’s 50th birthday.   She was forbidden to attend my dad’s funeral (I told you. Drama.).  Dale took her to his grave later that day so she could say her last goodbye to the father of her children.
When someone dies, everyone (or maybe just me) seems to glorify them and forget all offenses big and small.   I was a Daddy’s girl and unwilling to let anyone attempt to fill his shoes.  Dale never even tried, however, because he never had any children, he often referred to my sister and me as his daughters.  
Jeff and I aren’t handy or particularly fond of manual labor so every visit to Prestonsburg, Mom would always put Dale to work fixing things around the house and digging up flower beds.  Looking back, I’m thinking he must have dreaded coming here.  If he did, it never showed.  
After fourteen years of marriage, Mom died of emphysema. I will always be grateful to Dale for caring for her when she was sick, a gift I wish I could have given at the time.   I knew that he would remarry quickly so I wasn’t surprised when he announced his new love Elaine.
We met her at TGIF when we drove north to pick up our mother’s family heirlooms.  She and Dale were already seated and we walked in looking for them.  To get our attention from across the room, Dale’s new girlfriend and soon to be bride, stuck two fingers in her mouth and surprised us all with a commanding whistle you see when New Yorkers hail a cab or a zealous sports fan cheers at a game.  Gail and I looked at each other and laughed. We knew Dale had met his match and we were both relieved.   Elaine plays the piano and comes from a very musical family.  Dale now had someone who could sing with him at her baby grand piano every day.

No new bride wants to live in the shadow of her husband’s late wife, however, Elaine visited us many times over the years, often at Christmas.  I consider myself pretty progressive and tolerant of situations often uncomfortable for most people, but asking a woman with a huge family to spend the holidays with his late wife’s family is too much to ask.  Elaine, however, accepted us all as her own family, laughing and crying along with the rest of us.
Dale was very emotional.   Whether it was a happy or sad occasion, he cried very easily and unapologetically:  when Lauren asked him to sing at her wedding, he received handmade gifts, when prayers were answered, or seeing me during my cancer treatment...  It’s an endearing quality I’ve not experienced often from a man.  
Although Dale and I disagreed on many things, especially political issues, I always knew that he loved us, celebrating all our successes great and small.  
Once I knew that she wouldn’t recover, I had about six months to say goodbye to my mom.  It wasn’t a goodbye, really, just time that I never took before to do her hair and makeup or listen to stories of her childhood.  By the time I had entered the next stage of grief after denial, it was too late to say goodbye to my dad.  One would think that by age 53, I would have learned my lesson.   With Dale, we didn’t see it coming.  It was a massive heart attack- the widow maker. He left for work at 7:25 a.m. as always, kissed Elaine as always and said their “I love yous”.   Two hours later, he was pronounced dead at the hospital.
Elaine later told my sister what I truly believe as the sincerest of all comments, “He’s in glory now…and I know he’s seeing your mom and his dad.”   What an unselfishly beautiful comment.