“For last year’s words belong to last year’s language and next year’s words await another voice.
And to make an end is to make a beginning. –T. S. Eliot
As we sat home on New Year’s Eve of 2007, we were content to let go of the last year’s language and events. It had been a year filled with the language of a progressive disease, radiation, chemotherapy, hypokalemia, rib destruction, pain, lesions, hypercalcemia, and having run out of treatment options. Joanie was ready for a new year, and a new language, one that contained the hope she had always brought with her.
We had some wine that night, but Joanie had but a couple of sips because of the pain meds she was taking were so strong, and she talked of the present and the future, but not the past. She was done with that. Now, she had things to look forward to in 2008. Her boss, John Hoeven and friend Jack Dalrymple were running for reelection, and her job was to help see that they had what they needed to win. She enjoyed her work, and she was very good at it. This new year was not going to be any different.
Her next appointment with Dr. Thomas wasn’t until the 14th of January, and by then we should have another look at how she’s doing from their point of view. From my point of view, she was doing pretty good. The pain was still an issue, and while she was taking Dilaudid about every four hours or so, we were having some minor problems regulating that pain. Dilaudid is one of the brand names for hydromorphone, a powerful synthetic form of morphine, and is considered a narcotic. We were both aware of how strong it could be, and so I did monitor her intake. Regardless of what Dr. Thomas had prescribed, she began taking it more often to stay ahead of the pain curve.
When we met with Dr. Thomas there was no significant change to be noted in the progress of the disease. That was the good news. We did tell him about trying to keep ahead of the pain issue, and he recommended an increase in the dosage from 4 mg every four to six hours to 6 mg every four to six hours.
When we left his office that day, we didn’t have to come back for another month, at which time they would do a CT scan, and a complete lab workup.
So, Joanie went back to work with some renewed vigor, even though it was mostly afternoons. Since she was taking Dilaudid, it wasn’t advisable for her to drive, so I was at her beck and call every day, as I always had been. Besides that, we were down to one car after the VW crapped out on us a year or two earlier.
Her brother Richard came to Bismarck from San Fransisco for a few days in mid-January, and that gave her a lift. It gave them both a good bit of time to spend with each other. Dick knew what was going on, and understood the seriousness of the situation Joanie was facing, and that made his time here more special. The three Wigen kids, Ann, Dick and Joanie had a good reunion. It also gave me a little bit of relief as well.
While Dick and Ann knew how serious things were, and in my heart, I think Joanie did as well, they talked little about it during his visit. When I took the picture of the three of them, I think they knew that would probably by the last one of them together. It was.
As a caregiver to someone who is dealing with a life threatening disease, and an uncertain future, there are times when your job is critical. This was the time for me when I began to focus more intently on subtle changes in behavior, Joanie’s needs, especially when it came to her pain, appetite and moods.
One of the things I learned was that she remained future focused. She would be on the couch going through the catalogs we had received in the mail, and when she’d find something in Eddie Bauer, or L.L.Bean, or some other catalog, whether it was a new pair of khakis, a few of her favorite white turtle necks, a sweater, or a jacket she thought she’d like, she would ask me if it was alright if she ordered something. I told her she could order anything she wanted from where ever. I also reminded her that she could take advantage of their return policy, something she had done in the past.
What it told me when she’d do that, was that she wasn’t giving up on living, and was thinking about the future, something I took to be a positive.
That New Year’s Eve, we watched the ball drop in Times Square, and after that I was ready to retire. Joanie wasn’t, telling me she was going to stay up for a while. She had Bailey and Brandy to keep her company as the new year rolled in across the country.
I kissed her, wished her Happy New Year, told her I loved her and left her to consider her hopes and fears about what the new year would bring, and what language it would speak.