Where The Popsicles Are-70

We go home to wait for a call, and we find “Joanie’s Garden.”

Sunday morning, after I picked up coffee, I headed for the hospital. When I got there it wasn’t long before they came in and told us the x-ray looked good, and they were going to take the chest tube out. Joanie was smiling, and while they went to work on her, I went back to the Radisson to check out. It was just minutes before noon when she walked out the door and we headed for the Interstate to get her home. The nurse told us we should stop every hour or two so Joanie could get out and walk. They said it was a precaution against clots in her lower legs. While she had been in the hospital, she wore those pneumatic calf compression sleeves that would keep blood flowing.

We stopped first in Avon at my sister Joni’s place so Joanie could get a little walk in, and talk to Joni. We didn’t spend much time there. Joanie was in a hurry, and wanted to get home. We also stopped in Fargo, and I stopped in a couple of other rest stops and she reluctantly got out to walk around. I told her I didn’t want anything happening to her while she was in my care, and if it did, I wouldn’t have a clue about what to do. That line seemed to work.

We made it home in near record time despite the stops, and when we crested the hill east of Bismarck and the city came into view, I could see her relax, and she told me she was really glad to be home.

As we pulled up to the driveway of our house on Mandan Street, we noticed something different. There were shrubs in front of the house where there had been none just ten days ago. Then we saw something hanging from the doorknob on the door of the garage. When Joanie opened it, it was a note directing us to look in the backyard. It was one of those, “While You Were Out” notes and when we looked out back, what we saw brought tears to Joanie’s eyes. Someone had landscaped our backyard, and it looked nothing like it did when we left for Minneapolis.

There were flowers everywhere, all along the south side of the pool, with shrubs at the east end. There were hanging plants on the fences, and on the two light poles by the pool, and they had put up lattice around the pool equipment so it disguised it.

Seems it had been the brain child of Tara Holt, one of Joanie’s good friends. Tara had enlisted her husband Doug Prchal, who was a landscape architect, to design the layout, and she then pressed into service, Patsy Thompson, one of Joanie’s long time buddies, along with Clair and Lisa Carlson, Mark Zimmerman, Al and Linda Butts, Bob and Sheri Harms and their kids, and John Mongeon. There may have been others, but those names are of the folks in the pictures in the book Tara created to give to Joanie. They put pictures of all of them at work changing the face of our back yard with Potentilla, Goldmound Spirea, Variegated Weigela, Green Mound Alpine Currant, Dwarf Burning Bush, And Tom Thumb Cotoneaster, a variety of Perennials, Day Lilly and Pansies. There were also any number of hanging plants along with potted plants. Tara and Patsy had also conspired to raise the money for all of the plants and shrubs from many of Joanie’s other friends.

Joanie was overwhelmed with what she saw, and what it meant to her. She found it hard to believe that anyone would do something like this for her. The opening page of the book read, “Joan and Bob’s Garden,” but I knew it to be Joanie’s Garden. She was the one they did it for.

On the trip back, we didn’t talk about what might be next, even though I felt like she knew. All that mattered to her right then was that the surgery was over, it had been successful, and now she had some time to completely heal up before we began to face what was next. After all, it had been major surgery, and she was going to need at least a month to even approach being 100 percent.

We weren’t scheduled to be back for a followup visit with Dr. Maddaus for a month from now, and we figured it would be the same with Dr. Carson, unless she wanted to see her earlier. We had been told Carson would be calling, so we would wait for that call.

Back in Bismarck, her friends really came through. Our house became patient central, with people calling, stopping by and bringing food the patient would need to help get her strength back. On the second day back, Betsy Dalrymple, wife of the lieutenant governor at the time, brought lunch, Mikey Hoeven, the First Lady brought brownies, Pat Smith sent over some bread, and Mary Pat Woodmansee brought a couple of pan-blackened Cajun steak sandwiches from Peacock Alley that evening for dinner. Joanie would just shake her head in amazement at what was going on, as if she didn’t think she deserved this kind of attention.

The phone was also busy with friends and family calling, and that night she got a call from her boss Governor John Hoeven. His instructions to her were to get healed up, and not to worry about the office until she was ready to come back.

Part of my job now was the same as it had been other times, and that was to see she got some exercise. I had been told by the nurse when she got discharged, I needed to get her walking and keep her walking. Her right lung needed the exercise too. On the third day home, I got her out for 15 minutes, and from then on it wasn’t a chore. We would go for walks every day, and each time, I would make it a longer one. She knew what I was doing, and only once or twice resisted my effort to suck her into doing another block or two.

Every day since we had been back, the subject of what came out of the surgery was pretty much avoided. Only on a couple of occasions did we discuss what they had found, and it was in very general terms. I still didn’t feel comfortable telling her what I knew, besides, we were waiting for a call from Dr. Carson, a call that came after she’d been home about ten days. Carson wanted to see her when she came down for her follow up appointment with Maddaus, and said at that time she would discuss the options for future treatment based on what they had learned from the biopsies taken during the surgery. She told Joane that chemotherapy was one of those options, and she would go into it in greater detail when we came down on the 24th of June.

Carson’s news, was what I knew had been coming, and I think Joanie felt it in her bones herself. After she hung up the phone, she just looked at me and didn’t say a word. She sat there for a moment, staring out the window. I went over to where she sat on the couch, with Muffin on her lap, rubbed her shoulders and the only thing I could think of to say was, “You’re gonna’ be all right.” She grabbed my hand and squeezed it, and quietly said, “I’m going to take a nap right now.”

I told her I’d be outside, and went for a smoke.

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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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