The Other End of Sunset

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

The whole truth, and nothing but...

I’m on a road to nowhere
--Talking Heads


Hello again my OtherEnders. It’s been a while. I’m traveling, as usual, sitting on a plane over the Mediterranean Sea at the moment. Almost everyone around me is asleep, except for two middle aged women two rows in front of me who are talking to each other – very loudly. I’m wearing those squishy earplugs that airplanes give you – the yellow foam ones – and I can hear the women clearly through them. I’m annoyed, I admit it.

But then, I’m apparently moody. Who knew? So, perhaps I’m not really annoyed with them, I’m just annoyed, and taking it out on two lovely innocent women. But I don’t think so.

I’ve been gone from home for a week, today. As usual for my trips, I have lots of people around me, but end up spending hours upon hours alone. So, I’m pretty caught up on my email, and have read a few new books on my Kindle.

And I’ve thought a great deal. I’ve thought about a lot of things, but, characteristically, few of them have been positive. And, naturally, I shall share those with you.

Have you ever noticed the moment you start to cry, as your eyes fill up with tears, but aren’t yet overflowing onto your cheeks. At that moment, something interesting happens – your vision suddenly becomes clear. Suddenly, your eyes are at least 20/20. At the moment that you begin to break down, you can see everything so clearly, nothing is fuzzy, it’s all sharply in focus.

There is psychological research that suggests people who are depressed are far better able to estimate their actual impact on the events around them. People who are feeling “normal” overestimate their own abilities and impact.

Doesn’t that make you wonder? When we are normal and reasonably happy, our vision is blurred and we don’t see things correctly. At the moment that we start to get sad, our vision clears, suddenly, and we can see things as they are. To have a real estimation of the world around you, you need to be sad.

What a terrific policy implication. If you want to know what’s going on around you, get bummed out. And try not to be too annoyed by loud people.

I was re-reading my last few posts, and reading some historical ones as well, and I realized that I’ve never told the full story about how I learned that Jeanne was ill. I was on a business trip, and my phone did ring, but there was more.

Jeanne and I were having a very tough time at the moment. We weren’t broken up, but we were struggling, hard. I knew I loved her, and she knew she loved me, but … well… things weren’t great. As if I needed any elements to add to my guilt.

I was about to leave on a trip, and I noticed the yellow in her eyes, and the rash on her lower back. We were in our home in Northern California at the time. She was living in an apartment in San Diego (she had just started a new job at a pharmaceutical company there). We were on the market for a house in San Diego, but hadn’t bought one yet; the plan was in flux, but had been for me to live in an apartment near my office in the Silicon Valley, and her to have the dogs and the stuff in a house in San Diego, and I’d commute down on weekends.

But, as I said, things were tough between Jeanne and I at the time, so the plans were all in flux. Regardless, we were still living together in our little house in the suburbs when we could.

Weird, I know. But sometimes life is weird.

Anyway, I saw the yellow and the rash, and she told me she’d go to her doctor when she got back to San Diego. I left to go on a quick trip, and, shortly thereafter, she left for San Diego. She saw her general practitioner the next morning, and her GP told her that she likely had Hepatitis. We were both annoyed – both of us assumed the other had been having an affair, and that we’d both have Hep as a result.

How much would I give now for her to have been having an affair, and for her just to have had Hep.

Anyway, a few blood tests, and 24 hours later, it’s not Hepatitis. The GP now thinks it’s an autoimmune disease that destroys your liver. It’s bad news – liver transplants are the best treatment, but the average life expectancy is about 10 years. She’s scared and upset, and I am remembering how much I love her and feeling powerless. I wanted to do something… anything. So, I went to find out about liver transplants, and got myself tested to see if I could donate to her (no dice), and started talking to people about donation lists and private donations and … well, whatever I could. I was trying to cheer her up – I remember telling her “I know, honey, but this is treatable, at least it’s not liver cancer.”

Yeah. Rich, huh? You can cut the irony with a knife just now.

Anyway, it’s about Wednesday, at this point. Jeanne is going to see a liver specialist to verify her diagnosis. She’s in San Diego. I am in an airport in the Midwest somewhere. She calls me to tell me she’s headed in for her appointment – her friend from San Diego is driving her – I tell her I love her, and I’ll talk to her soon. Ironically enough, the connection drops at that moment.
Foreshadowing is a cheap writer’s trick, and I think foreshadowing should NEVER be used by the Powers-That-Be in the World-As-It-Is.

But the call dropped at that moment.

And I didn’t hear from Jeanne again for 4 days.

I called her that night, and got her voice mail. I assumed she’d gone to sleep, or something, so I texted her. She didn’t answer by the next morning, so I guessed she was really mad at me. I called her again every few hours – almost creepy stalker-ish, now that I think about it – but never got her.

After 3 days, I was getting frenetic. By now I was in Phoenix, and barely holding it all together. I called HJP, and he starts packing up his car to meet me in San Diego. I got a plane ticket to San Diego.

What I’m going to do when we get there? I haven’t any idea. I didn’t have her friend’s number, or even her last name. I wasn’t sure which hospital her doctor had been at. I had no idea what I could do.

But I was starting to wonder if, instead of being mad at me, Jeanne had died. And perhaps hadn’t listed me as her emergency contact – we were in some weird relationship point, remember – so maybe I just didn’t know.

Another of my friends, without telling, started calling morgues in San Diego. HJP and I were going to go from hospital to hospital until we found some record of her. He’s a good friend – this was his plan, a smart one, I think. I couldn’t have come up with it. I was no longer rational.
As I’m waiting to board the plane, my phone rings. I was sitting on the floor of the airport, probably blogging, I don’t recall. It was Jeanne. I was mad at first – “why didn’t you call me” was probably my “hello”.

Then I heard her voice. Very thin, reedy, weak. Too breathy. With little whimpers interspersed. And I know that something is wrong.

And something is wrong. She went in to have the autoimmune disorder diagnosis verified. As she got ready for the appointment, she gave her friend her clothes, computer, and cell phone. They hooked Jeanne up to the ultrasound, and discovered that her liver was healthy… except for the 8cm mass blocking the duct to her gall bladder.

And they took her in for emergency surgery to see the mass, take a biopsy of it, and try to clear the duct so that bile could pass out of the liver. The surgery took several hours, and left her with visible bruises on her stomach.

And the first of the three tubes that stayed with her until she died.

They couldn’t clear the duct, and the mass was cancerous, and she died.

She hadn’t called me because her friend took her cell phone. And didn’t turn it on, or bring it back, while Jeanne was in the hospital recovery room. And Jeanne was bad with numbers; she couldn’t remember my phone number to call me from the hospital. Her friend thought it was best if only she was caring for Jeanne, and Jeanne wasn’t together enough to tell her that she wanted to talk to me.

So both Jeanne and I were terrified, and unable to reach each other. I’m still angry with that friend. Not that anything changed.

And, actually, I think my abject terror at not having Jeanne around helped me focus on fixing the relationship – it reminded me how much I loved her.

The end game was the same – Jeanne died. But we were both aware of how much the other meant. And the relationship was better.

I’ve spent my whole life waiting for relationships to end, for people to leave me. Jeanne was leaving, we knew that. But the relationship, after that period without any hope of contact, was better. We held each other like sea anchors.

I still hold her memory. I hope you have someone you can hold.

I think a key measure of the success of a relationship is being able to hold a person, and be held, when you need it. It’s hard for me to know when I need to hold someone, and to tell when I need to be held. I regret the tough times that Jeanne and I had, and treasure the good times. I guess, at the end of the day, how we were at the end will have to fill my memory.

See you all soon, in a taxi, hopefully with no loud people…

4 Comments:

  • We've all had those 'rough' times in our more significant relationships. The important thing is to remember that you hung in there when the 'going got rough' and you where there all the way to the end. You didn't bail just because things got more complicate than you were comfortable with. It takes a strong person to go through all the things that Jeanne went through. Both of you were strong. And you still are! You can believe that. And I would still be angry with her friend too! That was -not- cool.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 7:30 PM  

  • I just received "Fast Company" magazine and decided to read more online about you. I didn't expect to stumble upon such a poignant story. I am so sorry for your loss. Relationships can become so fragile, no matter how much you love the person. It's hard because you never know what is around the corner. It's just a shame when someone as young as Jeanne becomes so ill and such a shock when it's comes out of the blue like that. I don't think I've ever commented on a blog before, but I appreciated the way you expressed your experience. Best, Allyn

    By Blogger Allyn, at 10:20 AM  

  • Doug--

    I was first intrigued by your quote on the cover of Fast Company...about innovation being fragile.

    So I too 'googled' you to learn more and discovered, all at once, that not only is innovation fragile--but so isn't the human condition, and under it all, love.

    And so, don't we need a 'stubborn rebellious attitude' to keep IT alive as well.

    Thank you for your insights, your story, and the way that you just enriched my life.

    Maureen

    By Blogger Maureen, at 9:56 AM  

  • I've known you for the last 3 years and have always thought of you as one of the most passionate Googlers I've seen. I'm so sorry for your loss, but please don't ever lose the faith, hope and love. We need more of stronger and passionate people like you and Jeanne in this world!

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 1:48 AM  

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