Thursday, August 25, 2011


      The last time we met, it was all about birthdays, more specifically tributes to August birthday people and tributes in general.  I know you'll want to hear of Kathy's reaction to HER B-Day tribute.  Hubby Willie had returned home from their summer cottage while Kathy stayed behind to enjoy a visit with Ryan, the child whom she's been teaching since pre-K.  Ryan's parents brought him to Kathy's beach cottage for a most special visit.  He addresses her as "Miss Kathleen" - and that this formerly severely autistic child 'addresses' at all is a tribute to Kathy-the-teacher-lover-of-children.  He's a lucky little shaver who, like all those unfortunate among us who have a 'condition' or illness must seek help and depend on qualified caregivers.  Shortly after her guests departed, the MOST welcome guy, clad in brown shorts and shirt, arrived with a gift I'd sent her.  A token, really - funny book about grandmothers and a copy of her B-Day "tribute".  After 'shedding a few', she wrote a note of gratitude and inquired about our well being in regard to yesterday's quake.  Virginia Beach is but 90 miles from Richmond; Kathy's cottage, at the far end of Rockaway Beach in NY, had somewhat seized, appliances dancing, furniture following suit so she wondered how WE had fared.  In fact, we were on an errand and I barely noticed as Phil was driving.  More impressive was that there was an earthquake in Virginia at at all.  But we don't have time to ponder this because we're all revved up today about our - apparently - weekend guest, Hurricane Irene.  Could get sticky/tricky.  Been there.
      (Thinking of Ryan in the same discussion birthed an analogy I'd not considered before, ie, illness, its accompanying distress/stress, is also a 'storm'.  We 'weather' it; the outcome is often uncertain; we are at the mercy of qualified - or not - care/assistance-givers.  I was reminded of our experience with Phil's sister, Eileen's, protracted 'illness' and the 'weathering' of it.  The necessary reliance on/being at the mercy of others loomed large as I recalled dealing with the "money lady."
On this "special" day, Eileen (pictured left) was pacing & edgy prior to our meeting with the financial aid person. Naturally we were late. She had given us specific instructions - as was her wont - to be in the lobby of specific bldg X at specifically 10 AM whence we would dial a 10 digit number, followed by the cagey & specific "1 2 3 #" which would precipitate her appearance with specificity and punctuality and gracious leading of the way to our specific trysting place.
      Wellll, it was raining, we left our house @ roughly 9:45 AM and amused ourselves during the trek into downtown Norfolk fumbling through a manila envelope stuffed with sheaves of information in the form of documents, bills, various lists of things Eileen did not own - so very short lists - and official proffers of identification, ie, Birth Certificate, Social Security Card, Automobile Titles which she also did not have thereby lightening the manila load considerably.
      We were maneuvering this treasure less trove alternately with the large telephone book because we thought we were to use the magic number ONLY when we were once inside the lobby of Specific X so we were trying to find the general public's access to Ms. Susan M which was complicated by the fact that "the Stone Wall", as Eileen was fond of saying, is employed by "ChamberlinE", Eligibility Specialists.  And I do think they should have kept the 'a' in Chamberlin if they wanted to play with the big girls, don't you? It's of no moment as neither Ms. M nor her august employer were listed. We were getting frazzled - but almost there - it's so hard to scan tumbling pieces of paper AND "manage" a phone book search when you're driving a rented vehicle. (My poor little "back-end er" was still in ICU) with wipers going on when I thought I'd used a directional & vice versa).
      Unfortunately for our family,  we were no strangers to hurricanes either. Many years ago, I - along with a dear friend who played the harp in the Norfolk Symphony and, more importantly, was raised in Corpus Christi, Texas - were at our cottage with 10 children, including one French foreign exchange student, my 68 year-old father and our Brittany spaniel when TV programming was interrupted to bring us a special report on the 'comin -your-way' Charlie-beast-of-a-hurricane.  It was apparently supposed to touch land in Wilmington but had - ready? - changed course and was heading, in the broadcaster's last-heard words, "I wouldn't want to be anywhere near Duck, on the Outer Banks today."  Then. Blank screen.  "WHY, ED," my mind screamed, "what about Duck, Ed?  Ed?"  I'd been wondering why my friend had moved the grill in from the back porch early that morning so right after she said, "I'd best be on my way.  We have a matinee today," I swiftly, quietly, deftly snatched her car keys from the table and rooted them in a hanging plant.
      (Wellll, 3 blocks from the Medical Center Campus, the cell phone rang - somewhere between us - and I found it to be the M WOMAN HERSELF so we went right into gear using those terribly relieved, happy, embarrassed, nauseating tones of voice saved for such occasions as I relayed to Eileen how fortunate we were because you'll never believe. . ."oh, no, really? Please let ME explain to her. . .". And so it was that minutes later, I dropped Eileen off at the Main Hospital adjacent to the Childrens' Hospital, sporting its Charlie-and-the-Chocolate-Factory "look"and went off to the parking garage, visible in the far, bleak distance, telling her I'd meet them wherever. But no, after schlepping back, about to inquire as to Eileen's location, she called my name from behind, simply saying, "Lorane. There she is. She insisted on waiting for you."
      And after settling comfortably into 3 office desk chairs lined against the wall in a hallway, the 'Meeting' began. Forms, forms, forms. . .questions, questions, questions - state and federal - re: who are you, how did you get here, whom are those living at this address and this address? And cryptic comments, her favorite being, "I can only write down what you tell me.". We would take turns with what seemed to be feeble attempts at clarification - "Yes, she's not able to work because she is disabled. (one of her blank-tape glares) "Ah, I see." "She is disabled because the cancer causes a great deal of pain. . . because the cancer prevents her from using her right arm presently. . .because she doesn't have the stamina to point to an unruly student. . .". Finally, she scoured her notes with the order and dexterity of the astigmatic and said, "What was the first thing you said, 'the cancer completely interferes with her ability to function'"? that will have to do.
      After an overly extended discussion of "Of which state is Eileen a resident?" - a matter which will be decided by codified law & the state which harbors her person at this time, Eileen signed 20 or so forms which would be processed, ruled upon and either accepted or appealed.  Our "advocate" scurried off mumbling, to the Great Eligibility Shaman, her Supervisor, where they would chant, choose and chain the matter UP - perhaps to Chamberlin him/herself. . .)
      What with the winds picking up, the little children bellowing excitedly about the water in the commodes sloshing to and fro, the exchange student pestering with "Q'uest que c'est 'CHARLIE" to which I informed her "It's a storm.  We name them over here.  Like gerbals.", my son asking what he should be wearing and my friend's daughter announcing she'd lost contact with her Dad, the Texan took the helm.  First she ordered the 4 oldest to make a run to the nearby rip-off convenience store & buy ANYTHING labeled "to be used during a power outage/emergency"; then all tubs were filled with water; every piece of linen in the house was collected and stuffed along the doors and windows at floor level and the middle school group was ordered to go out and quickly gather any/all pieces of wood slats, etc.  The EMS van  driver arrived to tell us if we saw him return, we were to file into the van to be taken to the Corolla Lighthouse - which has 152 or so steps - as an evacuation destination.  And, chores completed by our excited crew, my friend ordered me to follow her and we went down the stairs - all cottages are on pilings - gripped each other's bodies for SOME stability as we barely made our way to our neighbor's cottage where we had moved her car, thus clearing the way for Charlie to gush under/away from ours should he drop up, retrieved a huge, thick, long rope from her car, then dragged back to our haven through the painfully stinging downpour.  Why/what up with the rope?  She used it to secure her harp.  BUT. if the need arises, we shall don life jackets - actually HAD them - and "tie ourselves one to another to the rope, and "Tally Ho" or some such.  MIND: WHAT'S WRONG WITH THIS PICTURE?
      (It started slowly, this day. Lots of ennui. We sat. And sat. Started to get irritable listlessness, frenzy re: unfinished calender for Dr. Cross. But. Suddenly it was time to leave for the 2 PM progress appt. Calender still not done (to our satisfaction) so notes made re: info he might need; symptoms occurring during this "first round of chemo". We were on time; Eileen signed in @ 2:05 PM. Then we sat. And sat. And went uptstairs shopping for snacks. One hour. and 45 minutes later, she approached the crackerjack receptionist, reminded her that she signed in for a scheduled appointment with Dr. Cross @ 2: 05 PM and what the Hell!!
OOOPs. Lots of scurrying; what's her name? Doctor who?
Did she sign in? etc.
      Then a frenzied worker bee escorted us to Dr. Cross' examining area, muttering the while about checking the shedder, calling ahead to Dr. Cross, etc. . .
And Eileen announced as a 'tada!' to the waiting room, "I don't think I heard an apology, Lorane, did you?" We were ushered right in to the examining room ("You've been sitting too long!") Soon Dr. Cross came in, apologized for Eileen's incarceration in "Reception" and got down to the business of how she was doing.
      He's not a cartwheel kind of guy, but in his measured, dolcet tones he allowed as how, she hadn't had any bad, untoward effects from the chemo, her blood work was fine (what one expects) she seemed less lethargic (she was) and his plan was to start round 2 next week. The mass on he left scapula was smaller so the disease was not progressing and she had no new symptoms. The only pain was in her right arm (would wake her up from sleep) which was from the radiation of the large mass which also destroyed the brachial plexus in that arm.
      He answered questions (she'll have her blood work the afternoon before chemo AT VIRGINIA BEACH GENERAL - WALKABLE - AND HER THERAPY THERE AS WELL WHICH IS GREAT BECAUSE IF THE STRONGER, 2 DRUG TREATMENT HITS HARD, SHE'S CLOSE TO HOME) "Please call me ANY time for ANY thing. I'll see you next week. . .")
      Once back inside, everyone accounted for - Frenchie doing needle work, others playing cards, mostly poker - I had two burning questions:  Why the pieces of wood?  "Well, when the windows go, we'll have SOME protection from the boarding the kids did."  BRAIN: WINDOWS GO WHERE???  And, uh, why do we need the rope again?  Just had to hear THAT ONE REPEATED.  In sum, it was an extremely long 10 + hours.  Water poured through the window/door frames, sopping ALL precautionary absorbancy linens; the wind screamed; I prayed countless rosaries; my friend, by contrast, was a lounging Librium, gazing around at her accomplishments, occasionally seeming to scout around in search of her car keys but too respectable an agnostic to interrupt the silent pleas of the frantic Roman Catholic, pitifully-trying-to-seem-to-have-grace-under-pressure whilst clutching her wooden, papal-blessed beads; AND THEN. SILENCE.  Exhaustion, confusion, quizzical looks, but blessed silence.  She calmly explained, gazing out at the blinding sun and the emerging 'tourons', urging their toddlers to hunt for special shells in the surf, that THIS was the "Eye of the storm" into which one never ventures.
      All the while, my Dad had been calm, silent; Shamus, the Brittany, exceptionally alert. He was quite bright and I've always wondered if he KNEW there would NOT have been a life jacket for ALL human plus Shamus.  Was he planning to take Frenchie out?  We'll never know, dear readers.  But  I can only conclude that HAD Charlie NOT spared our little admixture of a sub-community of humanity, then the "saddest of possible words," would NEVER have been, "Tinker to Evers to Chance".  Later, Lorane