Posts Tagged ‘chemotherapy’

Ups and Downs

May 2, 2012

I enter the Hampton Roads Tunnel and the rain suddenly stops. Usually I don’t like the tunnel. Going from bright sunshine into darkness illuminated only by artificial lights and knowing I’m underwater frightens me. Today, the tunnel is a relief, it feels like a refuge from the storm. The serenity only lasts a minute or two before I’m spit back out onto the bridge spanning choppy water. My windshield is pelted by rain. I look to the horizon and spot one lonely sailboat, its triangles of white canvas, stark against an all gray waterscape. I think the boat a brave little vessel to be bobbing there.

The tunnel separates my home from the land of my father. He is a retired Navy man. He still wears his USS America Cap with its pins attached when he ventures out for appointments and to run errands. Hampton Roads is home to military families, active and retired. There’s a sense of urgency here that I have not felt in other places.  I only lived here for the first two years of my life, and I don’t remember those. My mother and I moved three hours west in 1963. I’ve only come to visit since then.

Last Thursday and Friday when I was here, I had such hope. My father was better. He was still weak and he tired easily, but he was less pale. His hug felt tighter around my shoulders. He was able to drive us to the commissary for groceries, and to the Mexican Restaurant for dinner. He collected the chicken eggs in the morning and washed a few dishes in the sink. His biting sense of humor seemed to be returning and he had regained ten of the twenty-three pounds he’d lost after the first round of chemo. The suspenders he wore to keep his pants up looked endearing.

Bev called this morning to tell me he was being taken to the Emergency room. We knew this new round of chemo would be difficult, make him weaker, more susceptible to infection, possibly take away his wavy white hair. He took the treatments all day Thursday, half a day Friday and then went for a blood booster shot on Saturday. Bev and I kept in close contact over the phone each day.  We strategized my visit to coincide with our projection of the worst. By our estimation, Sunday would be the day the effects of chemo would begin to hit my father. Our projections were twelve hours off. By Sunday morning, he’d fallen twice from the side of the bed and the pain in his back was so severe he couldn’t move without screaming.

I had spent all day Saturday and early Sunday morning cooking in preparation to leave Sunday afternoon. I wanted to take enough food to carry us through the difficult part of the chemo. No one has the energy to cook after care-giving. I gathered all my things, packed the food in a cooler and picked up the interstate three miles west of our house. I tried to concentrate on the book being read to me on CD as I drove. Twenty minutes into the trip, I gave up, ejected the CD, and listened to my thoughts for the rest of the drive.

The hospital is only four blocks from my father’s house. It’s easy to find. The parking is atrocious though. I circle and circle the emergency lot, hoping for someone to get well enough to leave so I can claim their space. I pull out my cell phone and call Bev.

“We’re still in the emergency room,” she says. “Room thirty-four.”

“As soon as I find a parking space, I’ll be right there,” I say.

I wind my way through the emergency department until I come to the last row of doors on the last hallway. The door is shut, the blinds closed. All I can see is darkness. As I raise my hand to knock, a nurse comes up behind me.

“Can you wait here just a moment?” she asks, not waiting for me to answer. She shuts the door behind her, leaving me to wonder.

Panic sets in. Am I too late? Has he died while I was searching for a place to park? If I had known I would have parked in one of those ‘Employee of the Month’, or ‘Doctor Only’ spaces. I’d have double parked and not worried about the towing bill.  I’d have left the car running with its driver door open, not worrying about it being stolen.

The nurse comes back out and ushers me into the room. My dad is laying flat on a stretcher, his face so pale and drawn, he doesn’t look alive. His eyes are closed. He grimaces; and I let out the breath I’ve been holding.  “We’ve given him morphine,” the nurse says from the door. “It should kick in pretty soon.”

I hug Bev, lean to kiss my dad on his forehead, wheel the rolling stool in the corner of the room closer to his bedside. I take his limp hand in mine, and wait.

Early Spring

March 22, 2012

I look out my open living room window and see bright spring color. A breeze, still cool, but warm enough to hold the promise of April’s temperatures touches my face. Our weather comes from the west and this is the coldest room in the house, but my view is cheerful. The trees, bare, just days ago are full and ripe with bloom. The red-pink of japonica, yellow of forsythia, and white of bridal wreath vie for attention with the purple of crocus and the lavender of violets. Days are longer. People whistle walking down the sidewalk, and smile.

It’s the first full day of spring. Sometimes, in years past it’s been so cold the first day of spring that only the resilient daffodils show their colors above the snow on the ground. This year the season came early. Dogwoods will bloom well before the town festival and the Bradford Pears have already begun to shed their blossoms. The early birth seems to be pushing time forward for me, pulling up that hope still dormant in me.

It’s Wednesday and I know in two more days I’ll see my father. I can’t help but wonder how much thinner he’ll look this time, how much of his hair will be gone, how bent he will be over the walker. I know how he sounds. I talk to him every night. His voice is scratchy and ancient. His breathing is labored. He’s scheduled for a blood transfusion tomorrow. Those make him feel better.

I pick up the phone and make the nightly call. The phone rings and rings, then the line connects. “Can I call you back in ten minutes?” Bev’s harried voice asks as soon as she picks up the phone. Something is terribly wrong, I know it. I pace the floor, looking at my watch every thirty seconds, trying to push the time forward by the sheer force of my will. He’s stopped breathing, I think. He’s fallen again. His temperature has reached that critical one hundred seven degrees that sends you into brain damage. I can see her pouring ice cubes over him to cool his hot skin. I can see his eyes rolling back in his head.

When the phone rings exactly eighteen minutes later, I am breathless. “Hey,” I say.

“I guess you think I can’t tell time,” Bev says, a smile in her voice. My heart rate calms. “That’s OK,” I say. “I knew something was up.”

“We had just walked in the door from the chemo when you called. They started the drip at 9:30 and we didn’t get in the door until the minute you called just after six-thirty.”

“How’s he doing?” I ask.

“Pretty good. For some reason his appetite increases on the days he gets the chemo. He chows down on those peanut butter crackers they give out. I packed a cooler this time to be prepared. He nibbled all day long.”

I’m glad to hear his appetite has increased. The last time I’d seen him he said everything he ate tasted like cardboard or worse. Even fudge ripple ice cream, his favorite, held no appeal. Now he was eating yogurts, peanut butter sandwiches, apple slices, and pretzel sticks. My spirits lift.

“Here’s your Dad,” Bev says, handing the phone to him.

“Hi daughter,” he rasps to me.

“Glad to hear your appetite’s better,” I say.

“Things taste more like they’re supposed to. We stopped on the way home and got a hot fudge sundae.” I imagine him sitting in the car, spoon to mouth, eyes closed, savoring his ice cream. It makes me smile.

“Yum,” I say. “Wish I was there to have one with you.”

“Me too. You still coming this weekend?”

“That’s my plan,” I say. “Anything I can bring you?”

“Some of that warm weather you’ve been having up there,” he answers. “I’ve been waiting all winter for some spring.”

I think I’ll cut some japonica, forsythia, and bridal wreath from the bushes, put the branches in a vase, and carry them to Chesapeake with me. It seems a little early spring is good for the spirit.