Back on 7C
Tuesday morning, and we were getting ready to leave for Minneapolis. Joanie took her time getting ready, as she always did, and today she was a little slower getting ready than even I was accustomed to seeing.
When she got up that morning, she took her place on the couch, as if it were a Sunday morning, and we had no place to go. Muffin joined her, and I made some coffee. I knew she would be ready to go when we needed to get on the road. I went to get the car gassed up, pick up the paper and cigarettes for myself. When I got home, she was in the shower.
I finished my packing, assuming we were going to be gone for more than a few days this time. Joanie’s packing was minimal, since she would be admitted to the hospital on the next morning, with the surgery scheduled for Thursday morning, and she only needed a change of clothes for tonight when we went for dinner. Since we’d be going directly home when she was discharged, she would wear the same thing she would wear today, and she wouldn’t care.
As I watched her slowly go about getting ready, much as she had done many times before, I reminded her again that we were in no hurry.
I went about getting the bag of stuff we needed to have with us since the surgery. There were Red Robinson catheters for the Miami Pouch, Surgilube, extra Ziploc bags, saline irrigation fluid, irrigation syringe, a receptacle, ileostomy pouches, stoma adhesive, adhesive remover, and extra bag clips, plus a supply of paper towels and Kleenex included in that important bag.That was the bag of stuff that had become a part of her life, and, like her purse, it went with her everywhere, and she always had it with her at work, ready to handle any emergency. Of course, at the end of this trip, the hope was that the contents of the bag would change with the elimination of any ostomy “appliances.”
The part of this pre-departure ritual that absolutely never changed, was the part where she has her coat on, all of the bags, except for her purse are in the car, and extra food has been put out for Muffin and Peaches, and Joanie would grab a bag of treats, shake it, and call out, “Treats,” and that along with the rattling of the bag brought them running from their morning napping places. She would dole out the treats in separate bowls, bend down to pet and scratch her furry friends, and tell them she would see them again soon. As they attacked their bowl of treats, she stood and looked around the kitchen with a wistful expression on her face, and would tell me it was okay to get going. This ritual never changed, and I never watched it throughout these two plus years but, at times, I wanted to put off leaving myself.
Once on the road, she called her sister Ann, to tell her what she needed to know about taking care of Muffin and Peaches. She had left a written note, but I think she just wanted to talk to her anyway. She called her office to check in, and then the phone was put away.
She asked me if I brought her favorite CD, the Chuck Mangione disc that had “Bellavia” on it. I just turned on the player, and the sound of that song without words filled the car with the music she loved.
By the time we got to Mabel Murphy’s in Fergus Falls, we were both ready for a break. The stops there gave us a chance to take breath, and consider what was waiting at the end of the ride. Joanie didn’t seem as uptight as I expected she’d be, and so we dallied at Mabel’s a little longer than usual. I think this ersatz, old world pub in, a Tudor style building, with it’s whimsical legend of Mabel, made her feel comfortable. The food was okay, and we had gotten to know the bartenders after so many stops there on our visits to the Cities, even before cancer would become the main reason for these trips. We never made a trip without stopping. Never.
We checked in at the Radisson between five and six, and Joanie had a chance to attend to the Miami Pouch and the ileostomy. She changed clothes, and we went to Ginny and Ed’s for cocktails and then to go out for dinner at Billy’s on Grand. Stopping at Ginny and Ed’s also gave her a chance to see her three legged friend, Piper, who was always glad to see her, and she always looked forward to seeing him.
Grand Avenue and the area between Dale and Selby in St. Paul, has many good restaurants, and over these last two years we had eaten at least once in many of them. Ginny and Ed were always good about making Joanie feel comfortable, and our dinners with them were always leisurely and delightful experiences, even when they were on the eve of an event none of us were looking forward to, like another surgery for Joanie, who already had undergone too many.
We got back to the hotel and went for a nightcap, which was usually a Baileys, and then we retired to our room to get some sleep and get ready for tomorrow.
Wednesday morning, I got up early, made coffee, and waited for Joanie to shower and get ready for the short two block walk to the hospital. We were to check her in at 8:30, so they could begin getting her ready for the surgery scheduled for the next morning. This time, they were expecting us, and when we walked to the nurses station on 7C, we were met with some familiar faces. I think it helped Joanie feel a little more comfortable, even though there were a lot of places she would have rather been at that moment.
The first order of business was to get her into the hospital garb she would be wearing for the next week, and hooking her up to an IV line. She talked easily with the nurses, and didn’t seem the least bit stressed. She knew all of the ones who would be taking care of her over the coming days, and that made it easier on her. Dr. Carson had ordered some blood work to be done and pictures to be taken, and while they did that, I went out for a smoke.
Dr. Carson came to see her and do a preliminary examination that afternoon, and she was satisfied that Joanie was doing well, and there were no problems, other than the one she was there to have fixed.
While she was there, Carson talked with us about what was going to happen. It was the first opportunity she had to talk with Joanie and to tell her what problems they might be facing regarding taking down the ileostomy and hooking her bowel back up. She didn’t categorically tell Joanie it couldn’t be done, but she put it in such a way that Joanie couldn’t help but understand that the thing she was hoping so hard to be fixed, might not be able to be fixed, and for the first time since her surgery in February, she had to realistically consider the fact she might be looking at a permanent colostomy. She told Dr. Carson she understood, but she also told her she thought if it could be done, she was confident she could do it.
It was a sobering experience, and it was some time after before Joanie would talk with me about it. After Carson left, she told me she wanted to take a nap. I knew she wanted to be alone for a while, and so I went out for a smoke.
I stood outside of the hospital thinking about what I had just seen, what I knew and remember feeling sad, and helpless there was nothing I could do to make this turn out right. I think one of the hardest parts of being a caregiver in circumstances like these is knowing you have no power to make it work out. You can only be there, and maybe, sometimes, that’s enough.
When I got back upstairs to her room, Joanie was awake and talking with one of the nurses. The nurses that cared for her on 7C had all come to like her, and had gotten to know her well considering she had spent so much time on that wing this year.
She seemed to be in good spirits despite what she had heard from Dr. Carson earlier. I had learned some time ago to not underestimate the strength of her spirit during a difficult time, and I was seeing evidence of it again late on that Wednesday afternoon in a hospital room on 7C, far from her home in Bismarck.
Later that night, when I got ready to leave, I gave her a kiss, told her I loved her and said, “Everythings gonna be all right.” She smiled, told me she loved me, and said, “I’ll see you in the morning.”