The Other End of Sunset

Friday, November 16, 2007

To sleep, perchance to dream

Heroes die off
Like fathers
who would never stay

I'm reading a book about families and development. Yes, I read strange stuff.

But never mind.

The book spends a lot of time talking about fathers and sons. And spends a lot of time talking about the problems that men have when they grow up.

Makes you wonder, doesn't it.

Once, my father and I were wandering around Venice Beach. We were standing in front of a particular cafe I like. He stood there, looking at me, almost as if he'd never seen me before. He shuffled his feet, and then said "I'm proud of you."

Now, suddenly, I was the one shuffling my feet. And changing the subject.

My mother walked up, just then, and said "No, wait. You need to hear this." My father continued "I love you. You have done well."

I wasn't sure what to do. So I said "thanks", and walked away.

One wonders if that was the right decision.

They say time heals everything.
But I'm still waiting
--Dixie Chicks

I'm sitting here, on the nice blue couch, reliving several -- dozens -- of such moments. Times when I should have been present, not thinking of the next thing.

I wonder what happens to pull one out of the moment, and into ... the next thing.

Ok, if you are reading this, stop, go away, and tell someone that you love them. You may not get another chance.

Apologize. Forgive. Accept. Admit.

Seriously, you may regret choosing not to do this.

OK, go ahead, I'll be right here.

Thanks. I feel better, somehow, by proxy.

Jeanne had a bad reaction to one of the innumerable chemotherapy drugs. She had oral chemo -- pills -- and weekly intravenous stuff.

On her second set of treatments, the pills and the IV changed. On the second week of that run, one day she was very sick, and staggering around. She was messed up.

And I screwed up. I told her "Come on, you're fine! Stop feeling sorry for yourself, you can do this!" I thought I was motivating. In retrospect, I think was a jerk.

Like some horrible southern coach, or other "man figure". No, don't be weak. Get it done. Cowboy up, and get through it. So I pushed her.

Isn't that what men do? Push?

I helped her get dressed. I put into the car that was driving her and her mother to Stanford for therapy.

She arrived at the Cancer center a while later. She was unsteady when she got there. Normally, she would take a chemo chair near the windows, so she could have natural light during her treatments. I have a picture of her in one of those chairs that I'll try to find and post here.

But when she got to treatment that day, she decided to take her treatment in a bed, in one of these side rooms. She never did that. But she did that day. They gave her the antihistamine -- which makes the body tolerate the chemo better -- and she went to sleep. They put her first treatment bottle up, and she was still asleep.

A few hours later she was done. She had taken two bottles of ... something poisonous to her cancer. Her mom woke her up; she told the nurse she didn't feel well. The nurse told her that it would pass.

Then Jeanne stood up to leave. And nearly died. She collapsed and her breathing stopped being regular. Apparently, dozens of nurses were suddenly very interested in her... and weren't sure it was going to pass quickly. They bundled her onto a stretcher and ran her a couple of hundred yards to the ER.

Her sodium levels in her blood were extremely low. So low, in fact, that they were surprised her heart was still beating. It turns out you need sodium for muscles to fire. Yes, I knew that. No, it never occurred to me that I should worry about her sodium level. Her levels were so low when she was in the ER that they reran the test -- they thought it was a data error. It wasn't.

Her mom figured out how to use Jeanne's cell phone and called me at work. I raced to get there. I had no idea what I would find when I got there.

What I found was my girl, semi-conscious, semi-delirious, in a full fledged ulcerative colitis flare, And hanging onto life by a thread. I spent a few hours there with her, and eventually they moved her up to ICU. She spent a couple of weeks there. I got to see her a few hours a day. Her mother never left.

You know one of the first things that Jeanne said to me, a few days later, when she was getting her head back? "See? I wasn't just feeling sorry for myself!"

Yes honey, you weren't. I was a jerk. I apologized then, and I am still sorry.

I pushed you. I should have held you. I'm sorry.

I guess, in some weird way, if I hadn't pushed you to go to treatment that day, you'd have skipped that treatment. You would have been home, and your sodium level would have gone down more. You would have died from a heart attack, at home.

I'd have had 3 months less with you. The doctors told me that.

So, maybe what I did wasn't so wrong? But I'm not actually sure.