It is by no means a normal Valentine’s Day. Like most husbands, I try to find creative ideas to celebrate, but this year is tough. No jewelry, she doesn’t want it. No flowers, there have been too many. No candy, she doesn’t eat sugar.
Our lives since the discovery of Maggie’s brain cancer on December 21 have been chaotic, to say the least. But now with more positive medical news—watching her walking again with more mobility and indomitable spirit, things are looking good. Good enough that I can relax a little. Her spirit was shown by the first blog on this subject which was written at the lowest or almost lowest point in this trial. Written in the middle of the night when she could have simply despaired.
Our experience with reputable hospitals was mostly bad in spite of the best efforts of seriously overworked staffs. At the first hospital where we spent several days while they tried to figure out the next step, I heard one nurse tell another that he wished he could be cloned so that he could catch up with the demands put on him. We spent several days before and after Christmas there and that meant many things were closed, unavailable, understaffed etc. We then spent day and a half at another hospital where a neurosurgeon was available, but it was also understaffed and seriously overcrowded.Then on to brain surgery for the biopsy and three days in in the intensive care unit which became overcrowded but was well-staffed.
My point mentioning all of the above is that I had to be with her all of the time, because she was not getting adequate attention from hospital staff. Not that I would have left anyway. The result was that by the time we got home after nine days in hospitals I was fine physically, but my mind was suffering from too much lost sleep. My memory was about gone and my attention span was very short. However, it was all about Maggie and I was glad that I was spending as much time as I could with her while it was still possible. It seemed like a privilege. All I cared about was her survival and recovery. I would do whatever needed to be done and spend whatever needed to be spent without hesitation. Anyone involved that didn’t have the same attitude was irrelevant along with any problems they might have.
I found the possibility of going on without her totally unacceptable. The only way I could handle it was to say to myself, “Fine. if she goes, I’ll be right behind her.” That possibility presented a bleak and pointless life of sadness. To do another painting that I couldn’t show to her would be like a stab in the heart.
I have to admit that I have never felt so totally unqualified and incompetent as I did being a caregiver and nursemaid. I also had never in my life gone through a period when there was no light at the end of the tunnel. Whether recovering from an operation, getting through special forces training, or a nasty divorce, there was always the assurance that it would end and things would get better. It didn’t seem that way during the first month of our trial.
So what to do for Valentine’s? Celebrate the wonderful progress she’s made, talk about all the places we’ve been and things we’ve done, and how wonderful our lives have been together, and how much more there is to come.
The painting, Fond Memories, 11x14, $550, is one of many happy memories from a trip to Scotland. When we go to teach a workshop, we go early to get over jet lag and paint enough to reaquaint ourselves with the local scenery, which very unlike New Mexico. For one thing, it rains. This painting is across Loch Ewe from Gairloch on the northwestern coast of Scotland. We stayed in a quaint hotel—they are all quaint in Scotland—and the next morning, woke to gale force winds pounding the enormous glass windows looking out from the breakfast room. It was spectacular. After a bit, two clearly local fishermen came in for breakfast. They didn’t seem to be used to the place, and we wondered if they had been forced in by the weather. They looked at the menu, rejected the porridge, the full Scottish breakfast (eggs, bacon, sausages, mushrooms, haggis, grilled tomatoes, toasts, marmalade) and ordered kippers. We had never tried those, though we both usually like to try something new frequently when in a foreign country. It turned out to be a good thing. They were enormous spiny fish, smoked, pungently awful. We finished breakfast quickly and went out to more pleasant memories!