Where The Popsicles Are-51

Another disappointment.

The thing about this goddamned disease, cancer, it’s like a pit bull. Once it sets its teeth, it doesn’t want to let go.

Just about two weeks from the time we got Joanie back home from 25 days in the hospital, we were on our way back down to the clinic. It was a disheartening turn of events for both of us. The uncertainty that came with Dr. Cosin telling me to bring her back down this week made us both uneasy. When we left the hospital on the 7th, our next appointment with Dr. Carson was for a month from then. This trip back down, coming so close after her discharge had a way of messing with our minds.

We flew down, assuming Dr. Carson and Dr. Cosin would see her, determine what the source of the infection was and give her some antibiotics and we would fly back home the next day.

We took a cab from the airport to the clinic and first met with Dr. Cosin. They did a physical exam, and before we knew it, he said that they were going to admit Joanie to the hospital. That stunned both of us.

Dr. Cosin said it seemed that some of the skin that had been used in the reconstruction of the neovagina had not taken, and was the source of the infection. That meant she couldn’t go back home, and they would have to operate to remove the source of that infection. That was to be a procedure that meant another trip to the operating room. Dr. Carson would be back tomorrow, and we would know more.

After we got the news, they called for transport, and someone came with a wheelchair to take Joanie back up to 7C. Back on the floor, some of the nurses who knew her from before all expressed some concern she was back so soon, and proceeded to do their best to make her comfortable. While they did that, I went over to check into the Radisson and drop off our bags. We had packed light, for an overnight stay, but it began to look like it would be more than one night.

My suspicion that this wasn’t going to be a quick trip was confirmed on Thursday by both Dr. Carson and Dr. Cosin when they told us it looked like it would be Monday before she would be out of there. They told us they were going to do some preliminary work on her on Friday, and assuming that went okay, we might be out earlier.

All of this was taking a toll on Joanie. She was really tired, and you could see it. On Thursday night, Barb Olson and her daughter Kristen stopped up to see her, and talking to Barb later, she remarked on how concerned she was when she saw Joanie. She wasn’t the only one who was concerned. I wasn’t fully understanding what was going on, and as such, my tension level was elevated. I was careful to not let Joanie see that, and as far as she was concerned, they would take care of the problem and we would go home and she could get on with healing. She still had a ways to go.

On Friday morning, they tired to do some work on Joanie, but decided they would need to put her under to do what they needed. Another disappointment. They said they were looking at Saturday or Sunday now. Joanie was not happy. She wanted this to be over so she could go back home.

Joanie’s sister Ginny came by to see her, and I got a cab and went over to Dayton’s to pick up a few things. I hadn’t packed for a five day trip. That afternoon, I had to check out of the Radisson because they were full for Friday and Saturday nights. I found a motel a couple of blocks further away from the hospital, but one that was still within walking distance. Nothing on this trip seemed to be going right.

Saturday morning, Carson told us the procedure was scheduled for Sunday morning. At least now we had a time table to go by. Around noon that day, my sisters showed up. Jane had driven down from Fargo and picked Joni up in St. Cloud. Ryan came by and so after they spent some time talking to Joanie, the three of us went across the river for lunch, and so I could do a little more shopping for clothes.

I spent the rest of the day with Joanie, trying to keep her occupied and at ease. She wasn’t eating anything, and couldn’t after midnight, but she could have a popsicle when she wanted, I saw to that. I knew where they were.

I arrived at the hospital at 7:30 Sunday morning and went with her to pre op, the same one we had been in before, and ran into some of the same nurses we had before. This put Joanie somewhat at ease seeing familiar faces. Dr. Carson came in and talked to us about what they were going to do, and said the recovery time wouldn’t be that long. When the nurse with the Versed was called over, we knew it was time to go. I squeezed her hand, gave her a kiss and told her I would see her on the other side.

The procedure went as planned. They had to remove the skin that was the source of the infection, skin that had been used when they did the reconstruction of the vagina. The rest of the muscle they used was fine. Joanie was in recovery, and I went up the cafeteria on the 8th floor to get coffee.

As I was sitting there, preparing to leave and go out for a smoke, I saw Dr. Carson and one of her interns and another doctor come into the cafeteria. On my way out I stopped by their table, and Dr. Carson and I talked about what was next. She asked me if one more day her would help or make a difference in how Joanie was doing. I told her no, I needed to get her back home as soon as we could. She agreed, and told me we could be out before noon tomorrow.

Then she dropped a bomb. One that I couldn’t share with Joanie. She told me there was a real possibility, from what they had seen doing this procedure, that they might not be able to take the ileostomy down and hook her bowel back up as they had anticipated they’d be able to do, and that would mean a permanent colostomy. I was stunned, and asked if she was certain. She told me there was a remote possibility they’d be able to do it, but wasn’t very sure.

I told her we can’t tell Joanie this right now, nobody can tell her this right now. Getting rid of the ileostomy and returning her bowel function to normal was the one thing that was keeping her going right now. I couldn’t take that away from her right now, and asked Carson to not do that either. She agreed. I knew that some day down the road we’d have to deal with that reality, but now wasn’t the time.

I left the cafeteria, stopped by to see Joanie in her room, and told her I had to go and check out of the motel I had moved to on Friday and check in at the Radisson.

It was a cloudy, rainy day, and as I walked across the campus heading for the motel on the other side of Huron Boulevard, there was a light rain falling. I started thinking about what I had just heard from Carson, and started crying. As I walked, I couldn’t tell which were raindrops and which were teardrops, but I had never felt so sad, and pissed off at the hand Joanie had been dealt, and how cruel it was, and knowing there was nothing I could do about it. Now this fucking disease was going to take something else from her, and she didn’t deserve that.


About Bob Kallberg

Retired reporter. Concentrating now on recounting Joanie's 12 year battle with cancer, a battle she waged with extreme courage, determination and an indomitable spirit, that, for me, serves as an example.
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