Today marked the 17th day we’d been gone from Bismarck, and the 14th day since her surgery. It seemed like we’d been gone a month.
What I came to understand about time going through this process was that when you are involved in an intense situation, and your focus is on only one thing, the days just run together, and it was only when I would look at the calendar or my notebook would I think about the actual number of days we’d been gone. This was the longest we’d ever been away from home, and for some reason today, out of the blue, said, “I wonder how my kitties are doing.” Then she dozed off, and I left for lunch with a friend or ours, Tom Forsythe. As I was leaving, I ran into Dr. Cosin in the hall, and he asked me how she was doing. I told him she was sound asleep, and he said she needed to catch up.
By Thursday morning, it became obvious Joanie would not be discharged this weekend, and now, it appeared we might get her out by midweek, assuming there were no more problems cropping up.
When I got to her room that morning, she was sleeping, and the NG tube was in place. After she woke up, she told me the nurses must have heeded Dr. Cosin’s order to not disturb her, and no one had bothered her until about six o’clock in the morning, when they gave her another shot of Ativan. She was tired, and told me she didn’t want to talk to anyone today, so we kept the phone turned off all day.
The rest of that day was quiet, with her sleeping through most of it. Around five I went to Stub and Herb’s for a beer and some munchies. When I got back, she was awake, and waiting for them to take her down for another stomach X-ray. I don’t know how many times they took pictures of her, but it seemed like they were doing it every day. We weren’t even sure what they were looking for, and they didn’t tell us.
Around eight o’clock they gave her another shot of Ativan, and shortly she was out. I left around eight thirty, the earliest I had left since we got here.
Friday morning came, and when I got to Joanie’s room, I saw that the NG tube was gone again. Seems they had been trying to adjust it, when it came out, and they had some trouble trying to reinsert it. Doctor on duty told them as long as she was doing okay to leave it out for now. I considered that a good sign.
The rest of the day was spent sleeping, walking, and for me, watering the plants, doing the crosswords and riding the elevator going out for smokes. Ginny and Ed had stopped by for a while, and the quiet of another Friday washed over the hospital around mid afternoon as another weekend was upon us and time slowed down again.
On Saturday morning I could see that Joanie had improved somewhat. As usual, the process of taking a shower and changing clothes tired her out, but she seemed to be doing better in spite of it. One of the nurses suggested I take her for a ride outside in a wheel chair, and it sounded like a good idea. She hadn’t been outside in a long time, and had nothing to breathe but hospital air.
While it was late February, the weather hadn’t been too bad, and this morning, I thought we might be able to get her out for a few minutes. Well, as luck would have it, that afternoon, it started to snow, not much, just a few flakes, but it was enough to put off the ride outside. Instead of that we walked around the halls of 7C a few times.
The took staples out today, another good sign, and I went to the convenience store and picked up some 7-UP for her. She had had enough of Sprite for the time being.
That evening she was out of sorts, and I mentioned it to Barb. She came in and gave her something to relax, and it wasn’t long before she went to sleep.
Sunday morning and it was March 1st. It was hard to believe that February was gone and Joanie was still in the hospital. It was 17 days since she had surgery.
When I got to the hospital, she said she didn’t have a bad night, and after taking a couple of sips of the real 7-UP, she told me she didn’t want to go walking until later and was going to take a nap. I went for the Sunday paper and some coffee.
It was a quiet day, with the only visitors today, Ginny and Ed, who came by shortly before noon. For the rest of the day it was just Joanie and I, and we would go for a short walk, she would take a nap, I would go for a smoke, a routine we repeated several times that day.
That evening, she was feeling pretty alert, and I thought it would be a good time for us to have a talk about how we were going to handle this change in her life after the hospital. We talked about the reality of the ileostomy, which we hoped would be temporary, and the catherization of her Miami Pouch. Just these two changes alone are enough to put stress on anybody. The other thing we had to live with was the fact that she wouldn’t be considered “cancer free” until five years from now.
I suggested to her that we had two options to choose from. The first one was that we could let this disease dictate the course of our lives from now on outside of the demands of the ileostomy and the Miami Pouch that would have to be dealt with, and go about worrying about what might happen next, and not living for the day.
The other option was that we could take charge of this disease and its affect on our lives from now on, and outside of the clinic appointments and keeping an eye on everything, we could go about living as if this whole thing were something of an inconvenience, albeit a rather significant inconvenience for her, but it was something that could be handled without making it a big deal.
Joanie looked at me while I laid out what I saw were the two options, and she told me as far as she was concerned, there was only one option, and that she was going to get on with her life when she got out of here, and nothing was going to get in her way. She was going to survive, there was no question. She let me know that she was going to take charge, and that was it.
I never doubted her, and I was to see evidence of it later this week.
As I left the hospital that Sunday night, I felt pretty good. It had been the strongest words I had heard from her about her future, and I thought it was a good sign.
When I walked through the empty lobby, the security guy asked me how she was doing. I stopped for a moment and told him I think she is doing pretty good. She told me tonight she was going to take charge.
He smiled and said, “It sounds like she’s getting better.”