“To the sick while there is life there is hope.”–Cicero
The intensity of the days since Joanie came home from her office on February 29th increased slowly, but inexorably nevertheless. Every time a new problem arose, I could feel the pressure mount.
As a caregiver to someone who is going through a critical period in her life, now I found I couldn’t leave her alone, even for a short time. Enter friends who could come and sit with her while I ran to the clinic, grocery store, pharmacy or wherever. One such friend, Peggy Puetz, who was a neighbor, offered to come over in the morning so I could get away for an hour or so to go for coffee at the Elbow Room.
The interlude that Peggy afforded me gave me an hour to go somewhere and see friends in a normal setting, not surrounded by all that this disease had brought into our house. I could walk into the Elbow, see Willie, Wayne, Orv and others, have coffee, and for little while talk about anything but cancer and how Joanie was doing. It was a welcome break, and it is a break any caregiver in a similar situation needs to be able to take, if only to protect your own mental health. I didn’t feel guilty about leaving Joanie for that little bit, plus, Peggy had my number, and I was only five minutes away from home anyway. I didn’t go every morning, but when I would call Peggy, she was always ready to stop over and sit with her friend for a little while.
Joanie remained abed. She had not been ambulatory since they brought the hospital bed into the house, and so the only exercise she was getting was when the nurses would be there to give her a bath, shampoo her hair and change the sheets on the bed. I was always amazed how they could change those sheets without having her get out of the bed. I was there to help them out if they needed something, and one time, when Joanie’s colostomy bag, or the “appliance,” as it is called in medical circles, needed to be changed, I told them I could do that with no problem. I gathered what I needed to change it, something I had done for 10 years, and while they watched, I changed the bag in less than five minutes. Afterward, one of them told me I could be an ostomy tech. I told her I learned out of necessity, not out of desire for a new career.
Dorinda, the head nurse, and I would visit afterwards, and as she had said many times, she didn’t know how Joanie was able to do what she was doing, even though we both knew this wasn’t going to end well. I just told her Joanie was just doing what she had been doing since the beginning, and she wasn’t going to give up. It was obvious to us it wasn’t just hope that was keeping her going, it was her determination and faith.
On Thursday that week, it was late in the afternoon, and I was sitting by Joanie watching NBC Nightly News. Joanie wasn’t watching, in fact she was sleeping. I assured her later she didn’t miss anything, and she didn’t. It was while watching one particular story when I realized how sensitised I had become to certain words, phrases used by reporters.
Andrea Mitchell was doing a story on the presidential primaries, and it focused on Hillary Clinton’s campaign. At the end of the story, Mitchell alluded as to how Hillary was in “the fight of her life.” I know what she meant, but the phrase set me off, and I went right to the computer and fired off this email to NBC.
“To Whom It May Concern:
“I’m not even sure anyone will read this or give a damn, however I watched the story on Hillary Clinton this evening on the Nightly News and found it interesting. I probably won’t vote for her, but the story was good, and Andrea Mitchell did her usual good job. However, and I’m sure you figured something was coming, and it is this. Mitchell should have used a different phrase to end her story. Instead of saying something about “the fight of her life,” she could have found another analogy.
“For when I watched the broadcast, I was sitting in my living room next to a hospital bed upon which a woman, my wife Joan Wigen , who is, “in the fight of her life,” after a twelve year battle with cancer was also watching it, if not very attentively. It is also a battle she is not likely to win despite the fight she has put up for twelve years,
“All Hillary has at stake is the possibility of a different job for a few years. It is not the fight of her life, nor is it the fight for her life. Perhaps Andrea should put away the hyperbole handbook when it comes to reporting on politicians.
Well, needless to say I got that off my chest, and felt better. I didn’t think they would post it anywhere, but I checked back in a couple of days on their web site, and they did, without comment. It helps to ventilate even if it is to some faceless entity on the other end of a computer network somewhere out there in the ether.
Friday arrived, and that afternoon, as promised so did Ed Schafer. Ed, was dropped off by a couple of Secret Service men who accompany cabinet members when they travel. Ed was no stranger to the house, his sister had lived there when she was married to Kent Conrad. We always used to joke, “if the walls could talk.” I welcomed him, and he went into the living room where Joanie was on the bed, and I went outside for a smoke and to give them some private time. They had known each other for so many years, and were such good friends. Ed and Nancy had called Joanie from the White House on the day he was being sworn in as Secretary of Agriculture in January, and she felt special. Joanie’s demeanor changed when he came in, as she mustered something from deep inside to give Ed the idea she was stronger than she was.
He spent a good twenty minutes with her, and when the Secret Service guys pulled up in the driveway, he came out to the garage and we talked for a few minutes. He knew things were not going well, and asked me if there was anything he could do. I assured him everything that could be done was being done, unless he had a miracle or two in his pocket. He thanked me, said good bye and was out the door.
I went into the house, and walked over to the bed, and Joanie was sound asleep. Ed must have tired her out, but I’m sure it was a good tired. I would ask her later how her visit with him went. I was glad he was able to stop by.