“I hate to take time away from somebody who is really sick.”
It was Monday, February 16th, and we had only been gone from Bismarck for a week, but it seemed like a month. Joanie was awake when I got to the hospital in the morning, and Dick showed up not long afterwards. They got her up for a walk, and to her credit, she made it further than she had on Sunday. She was, however not looking forward to what was coming next…radiation.
During the exenteration surgery, they had placed nylon catheters in the area of her pelvis they considered a “higher risk for local recurrence” of the cancer. Today they would load iridium seeds, and they would remain there for five to six days. The physicists came about noon to load the catheters, and after Dick said good bye to Joanie, I took him to the airport.
She tolerated this part of her recovery better than I had anticipated, remaining alert most of the time despite the drugs and being so tired. On Tuesday, we were told they would take her down to radiology on Wednesday, and increase the dosage so they take it out sooner. Later that afternoon, Dr. Cosin stopped in to see Joanie and tells her she’s doing well, and they may be able to clamp the NG tube, the one that drains her stomach, when the radiation ends, and then, if she doesn’t get nauseous, they will take it out. This would be a major step in the progress of her recovery. Another bit of good news that day was that she was beginning to pass some gas. It was probably the first time in her life she wasn’t embarrassed about doing so. It was especially good news, because she still can’t take anything by mouth until they’re sure her bowel is working. It had been a week now since we checked her into the hospital, and that was the last time she had any solid food.
On Wednesday, I talked with Dr. Dusenbery, and she brought us up to speed on what they were planning to do. She said, they would come up to Joanie’s room, unload the seeds that were in there now and take her down to radiology and put in some stronger stuff so they can take it out a day early, which will mean Friday.
Joanie was doing well that morning, and was alert and joking with the radiologists who were taking her down to the therapeutic radiology department to put in the stronger dosage of seeds.
The next morning, however, wasn’t the same for her. She wasn’t tolerating this as well as I had thought earlier in the week. When I got to the hospital Thursday morning, I found her to be uncomfortable, and slightly agitated. She told me she had a bad night. They hadn’t been in her room yet this morning to clean her up and change clothes, and it was hot in the room. Then she told me she didn’t know if she could go through another week like this one, but then hastened to add, “I won’t have to because the radiation will be gone.” In some ways I felt I had let her down, since my job was to be there and see that she got what she needed.
I went looking for Barb, Joanie’s nurse for the day shift today, and told her that Joanie was uncomfortable and agitated, and wondered how to turn down the heat in her room. When I got back to the room, Joanie said, “I hate to take time away from somebody who is really sick.” I couldn’t believe I heard what she said, but then I realized who I was hearing say those words.
When Barb got to the room, Joanie almost apologized, and said to her what she had said to me a few minutes earlier. Barb told her she had gone far above and beyond the call of duty. Joanie said others had had this surgery, but Barb told her that not all have had radiation during their immediate recovery period like she was having.
Barb got her cleaned up, and clothes changed, and the room began to cool down. The activity tired Joanie out, and she drifted off to sleep.
As I sat and looked around her room then, I continued to be amazed at this whole thing. She lays there with about half a dozen tubes draining out of her into bags hanging on the side of her bed, five in her mid-section and one from her nose. Then she has about half a dozen bags hanging from the IV pole, including the one with the Morphine, all dripping stuff into her through the IV line on the right side of her neck.
All of that, and she hates “to take time away from somebody who is really sick.”
I couldn’t have loved her more at that moment then I did.