Where The Popsicles Are-118

Well, things go south again.

That she was in Minneapolis and I was in Bismarck, we could handle. We had done it before, in that summer of 1998. This time it was harder. The house seemed more empty. I knew this was going to be over in few weeks, but the silence that greeted me when I’d walk in the door was palpable. Bailey and Brandy tried to help, but being cats, they don’t make a lot of noise. They were just glad to see me. One of them, usually Bailey would be in the kitchen window, above the sink, and she would be sitting there no matter what time I drove into the garage. So, while they didn’t make a much noise, at least there was somebody there to talk to. People who have pets understand.

Joanie and I did talk. We talked at least two or three times a day. Either she would call me or I would call her. I would ask her how the radiation was going, and she would ask me how her kitties were doing. I always told her they missed her. I would usually make my last call when I figured she was getting ready for bed so I could wish her good night. Kristi and Murray were taking good care of her, I knew that. The fact that she was with friends made me feel better, but I knew this time was emotionally harder on her than those six weeks in ’98.

By all accounts the first week of the radiation went according to plan. When I talked with  Joanie she told me nothing to the contrary. She always told me everything was fine, and I think she did that so I wouldn’t worry. It wasn’t unlike the times when she told the doctors what she thought they wanted to hear. Patients will do that. I talked to her on the Friday night after the first week was done, and quite frankly, I wasn’t worried. I had faith in what Katie and her crew were doing to take care of Joanie.

My faith wasn’t tested, but on Friday of the following week, I received an email from Kristi expressing concern about Joanie. In her note to me she wrote: “She seemed very tired last night but didn’t want to go to bed because then she wouldn’t sleep all night. I will offer to take her to treatment today. Does the radiation build up in her system? Are there side effects from it?”

Now I was concerned, and I emailed Kristi back:

“Thanks for the note. Being tired is one of the side effects, even though it is not viewed as a serious one. Being tired can also be attributed to the stress of the whole process as well as the radiation. It is not unusual that it makes her a bit nauseous as well. The half life of the radiation she is getting is short lived, and the cumulative effect is minimal. Again stress plays a major part in this process, and the radiation is killing cells in her body will have some residual effect, albeit for not very long.

“By the way, she often stays up when she is at home for the same reason you cited in your second paragraph.

“I’m just glad she is where she is at this point, even though it is hard being separated during this particular time. I appreciate that she is in good hands at your house, and I can’t thank you and M enough.

“Take care, and let me know if something else catches your attention or causes you concern. I don’t often hear much in that regard when talking to Joanie herself.”

I called Joanie to find out what was going on with her, and found out that she was not feeling well at all. She was having bouts of nausea and vomiting, was constipated and the pain was really bothering her. I told her I was coming down. She told me to wait and see how she felt in the morning. On Saturday morning she called me and said she was feeling better and to hold off on coming down until Monday. On Sunday she had called Katie, and  she told me Katie told her that they would give her some IV fluid on Monday, and possibly admit her to the hospital.

Joanie called me late Monday morning, and told me Katie was having her admitted. I didn’t know what for, and now I was really concerned. I had no idea of what had gone wrong this time.  I got busy making arrangements to be gone for the rest of the week. I got someone to look after Bailey and Brandy, turned in the rental car and caught a six o’clock flight to Minneapolis. Murray picked me up at the airport, and drove to their house where I picked up our car, and by about 8:30 that night I was in Joanie’s room on 7C.

This is the first time she had been on that floor since 2003, and this time there were very few familiar faces on the floor. I found her in a double room, and she told me they were going to get her into a private room soon. I had heard that before, and knew that “soon” in hospital time could be tomorrow. About then, I saw a nurse who had been there the last time Joanie was in, and she recognized me as well. I talked to her and stressed how important it would be to get Joanie moved. She told me that as soon as the room was ready they would be moving her.

I would soon learn what was going on with her, and it had nothing to do with the radiation itself. She was admitted for hypercalcemia, or more precisely, hypercalcemia of malignancy, and it is a serious metabolic disorder than can be life threatening if it is not treated. What it meant was that Joanie had high blood calcium levels.

If that weren’t enough, she was also diagnosed with hypokalemia or low potassium levels. All this, and she was dehydrated as well.

She would remain in the hospital for the rest of the week while she finished the radiation regimen and they tried to get her calcium levels back down to the normal range, and her potassium levels back up to the normal range.
Finally that night, about 11:00 they had Joanie’s room ready. She was relieved, and I was thankful. When I left, she was relaxed, and glad I was there. I told her to try and get some sleep, and I’d see her in the morning before her next radiation round.

As I drove back to Sagsveen’s that night, I felt both relieved and troubled. I was relieved that she was in the hospital and they knew now what the problem was and were taking steps to deal with it. I was troubled about the pain she was experiencing. It was the same pain that had been getting more pronounced by the month, and all I could attribute it to was the involvement of her ribs. Of course, I didn’t know for sure.

All I knew for sure was something had gone wrong, but that she was safe, I was tired and tomorrow might have some answers.


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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