Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Shana Tova - Part 1: Behind in the Count

We're gonna party like it's 5775!
OK, it's actually a week past New Year, but.......
Rosh Hashana, the Jewish New Year, was last week and tonight we observed the arrival of Yom Kippur. Now I'm not about to delve into the deep significance of Yom Kippur, especially since I'm not actually Jewish, but I did see this as a catylist for kicking myself back into existence on my blog.
My poor, neglected blog has been a real trooper, waiting patiently for me to acknowledge it's existence, and not complaining about or showing resentment towards the "other blogs" in my life, even though I spend copious amounts of time at those blogs while my own sits at home being ignored. I am a cad, aren't I?
I am far behind right now in the game of life in general, not just in blogging. There are so many aspects of my life that I am behind in that blogging has had to take a back seat to some of them which are much more critical to our family's well-being. Today being a holiday, however, and a holiday that is dedicated to reflection in particular, I will try to renew my relationship with my own blog, and possibly catch some people who stop by occasionally up on the reasons they have not seen anything new on my blog since August.
Ah, August. The month my behindedness :) really escalated. I tend to stay behind in most aspects of my life anyway. So much so that I feel I could never make a decent pitcher. Besides the fact that I'm over the hill, out of shape, and never could pitch worth a damn anyway, there's the fact that a pitcher should always get ahead of the batter. A pitcher who works "behind in the count" consistently will never get too far. That's me, behind in the count. But in August, things took a nasty turn which was of course made worse by the fact that I was already in my usual "behind" state.
So there are legitimate reasons for my absence at my blogsite. Among them would be following:

Working kind of backwards -

8 - It IS High Holy Days season. This is first on the list because it's the LEAST of the reasons I am so far behind. I did miss a day of work last week, and will not work tomorrow as I will be at Temple all day, but this simply added to an already severe tardiness. It did not cause it. And of course, you could say "well you're not REALLY Jewish, so why hurt yourself to participate?" Well, that's another story. Suffice to say I consider myself a part of the Jewish community and will continue to honor their traditiions and principals, and may even join that community "officially" one day.

7 - The baseball season is in full playoff mode - so there are games almost every night, and I watch the games while chatting with my friends at Joy of Sox, the "other blog". Fortunately, the Sox won the ALDS Monday night, so I will not be missing a game tonight while at service.

6 - Cathy's car is on the blink and if she needs to get anywhere, it's pretty much up to me to take her. She calls on her friends a lot during the day, but in the evening it is, and should be, on me. I in no way, shape, or form have enough money to get her a new one right now, although I'm working feverishly toward that goal. She has actually taken matters into her own hands and has started on on-line fund-raising effort, which I will get into shortly.

5 - Fall Ball is also in full swing, meaning practices or games 2 or 3 nights of every week, field prep work and games on Saturdays, and stat keeping some evenings.

4 - My son, the idiot, has gotten himself in trouble with the law and is "doing time". He has had problems in the past with substance abuse. He had gotten himself straight after his son was born and seemed to be getting more and more on the right path after his wife left him AND the baby, making him the primary parent. But he fell off the wagon a while back, got caught, (which was probably the best thing that could have happened), and because of prior offenses is now the guest of our state for 6 - 8 months. This means I'm working by myself instead of having a helper, and it means a lot of extra time caring for the grandson as well. The "working by myself" part has turned out to be a good thing from a financial standpoint. I had already started leaving him at home on days when I didn't absolutely need him. However it does mean each job takes longer, and since the jobs are really picking up, I am getting behind on the jobs as well as everywhere else.

3 - I have gotten incredibly behind on paperwork for my business, both billing, which you kind of have to do if you want people to pay you, and taxes for last year, which have to get done soon to avoid penalties and also so Cathy can reapply for her Medicare benefits. After the fall LL season got going, there were nights when I would come home at 8:30 or 9 and sit at the computer until after midnight with 4 or 5 screens open, not an easy thing on my antique, overworked hard drive. I was doing bills or taxes, watching the Sox on Gameday, checking out comments on JoS and occasionally jumping in with one of my own, and listening to music on I-tunes, not to mention checking and replying to e-mails.

2 - The pile-up of paperwork is also related to a sudden upswing in business. More billing to do, less time to do it in. After sitting and watching the paint dry an awful lot of the summer, when there were fewer other things going on, the phone is now ringing off the hook. Which is a good thing, but......sheez! It doesn't help to have all this business if people get pissed about waiting too long and call someone else. Fortunately I have some VERY loyal customers, and the ones I've added recently came to me because of very strong recommendations from my loyal regulars and they seem to be willing to wait. But for how long......

1 - To kick off this whole mess, the biggest contributor to my "state of behindedness" was the loss of just about the entire month of August, business wise, baseball wise, and paperwork wise, to an extended stay at the hospital with Cat. We'll start there.

Around the 1st of August, Cat started having a lot of trouble breathing. She went in for an X-ray and they found an effusion (hope I'm spelling that right), a build up of fluid around the lung. They performed a procedure on a Friday to drain it off, an out-patient process that wasn't bad at all. But by Monday she was just as bad as before so she went in for a follow-up X-ray. She went to the Imaging Center first, then was to take the X-ray over to her doctor's office. As luck would have it, she came out of the Imaging Center and had a flat tire. I, of course, was about 40 minutes away on a job. Sounds like a TV sit-com episode, doesn't it? I told her I would head that direction but she said to wait and let her try to find someone closer. When she called back 30 minutes later she had WALKED to the Dr's office. It was only a half a mile or so, but seriously - she's already having trouble breathing, she couldn't walk across the yard without gasping for breath, and on top of that it's freaking August!
The next call, about 30 minutes later, was to tell me it had indeed gotten worse, not better, and she was being admitted. So now I did pack up and leave the job and head straight to the hospital. The next morning more X-rays showed the effusion was getting progressively worse. They said they would put in a drain tube, leave it in a few days, then perform a procedure which involved blowing talcum powder through the same tube into the cavity to irritate the lining around the lung. This was supposed to cause the lining to swell, essentially closing the cavity so there would be no place for fluid to congregate. We'd be home in a week at most.

Nice plan. Easy, right?
Yeah right.

First they didn't put the tube in until Thursday. She was sent down to have it put in on Tuesday, but the radiologist disagreed with Cat's oncologist (cancer doctor) and the pulmonologist (lung doctor) and sent her back without doing it, saying there was not enough fluid to warrant the procedure. Would he have said that if we had insurance? Who knows, but I have to wonder. By the next afternoon the fluid build-up was so bad her pulse-ox (never mind) was getting low so they ordered the tube in again. This time radiology went ahead and did it.

Then it took several days longer than they anticipated for the fluid to drain enough to do the talc powder process. Thoracentesis, I think it was called. I think a lot of the problems that followed were because the fluid never did drain enough to do it properly, but they did it anyway. I'm not 100% sure about the days, but I think it was Wednesday (over a week in) when they tried the talc powder.
It never had a chance.

By thursday night she was in excruciating pain, so they pumped her full of the serious stuff, morphine, etc., and put the tube back in to start the whole process over again. By now the drugs were beginning to seriously affect her. She was getting very anxious, and couldn't sleep at all. I stayed there practically every night, and hardly left during the day either. She would drift off to sleep, never very soundly, and would wake up after only a short time in a state of near-panic. I hated to think of her waking up alone in that state of mind, so I rarely left unless someone else was there to fill in for me. This meant sleeping on the old fold-out chair in the room, not exactly a deep, restful sleep, especially with a nurse popping in every so often. I would get people to come up during the day, at least some days, so I could go try to get a little bit of work done and generate a little income. But even on those days, what with going home to let the poor dog out a while, change into work clothes and get the van, I got very few hours of actual charged out time on a job.

The first weekend she was in an old friend from her high school days came up from Rock Hill, SC and stayed overnight Friday and Saturday. That allowed me to get in a whole day of work on Saturday and also to get the grandson for the night and sleep in my own bed for the first time in a week. There is a great story about how she and Cat reunited that I recounted in brief on JoS because it actually involved that site. But this is already a lengthy post so I'll come back to that another time.

The second weekend I got relief again, this time from another old friend who, strangely enough, we had literally just reacquaited with the day before she went in the hospital. Ran into her at a mutual friend's cookout, not even knowing it was a mutual friend. Hadn't seen her or talked to her in years. Talk about devine providence! But Sunday night things got a little ugly. She was feeling better physically but awoke from a nap with a room full of people there and had no clue what she was doing there or how long she had been there. She was completely panicked and it took a while for me to realize this was not just a case of waking up groggy and getting yourself oriented in a few minutes. After we tried to fill in all the details, she still didn't remember, and was very upset that I was leaving to go somewhere with a friend, not aware that she herself had insisted that I do so just to get a break while her friend was there to stay with her. Eventually I got her somewhat comforted and got her to think back. She remembered going to the doctor's office and learning she was going to be admitted, but she never did remember anything after her arrival at the hospital. With prodding she finally did remember that her friend from SC had been there, but had no recall of when, how long, what they did, or that she had stayed overnight. Since then small parts of those 2 weeks have come back, but not much.

After over 2 1/2 weeks they tried the ..thoracentesis?... again, on a Thursday I believe. This time it worked better although they still kept her a few more days to watch her progress, given the problems with the first attempt. We finally got to return home on the next Tuesday. A day more than 3 full weeks! We had spent practically the entire month of August in that hospital. I was SO glad to get home! The problem is that we are now having to adjust to a new set of parameters. The procedure helped, but it did not get rid of all the fluid, nor did the damage done repair itself. They may have resolved that particular crisis, but the effusion is still there, and will remain there. Cat cannot do nearly as much activity as she could before without getting very short of breath, practically gasping for air. And she was already fairly limited in what she could do before.

She has had to resume chemo treatments, since the assumption is that the effusion is related to an increase in tumor activity, and the marker numbers they use to track these things bear that out. We are hopeful that the chemo will reduce the effect the tumor growth is having and will help her breathing capacity. We can only wait and see. In the meantime she is more frustrated than ever with her limitations. She wants nothing more than to spend time with our grandson, raising him in his father's absence, and to pursue her love of all things crafts, particularly her beading. And she does those things, but has to do them in short doses. That's not so bad with the beads, but as anyone who has raised kids knows, there is no such thing as short doses with a 5-year-old! That's a full time job.

So now I'm going back and changing the title to "part 1", because this is all I can do for this night, not to mention it is already excessively long. I have wanted to get this story down ever since we got home, but you can check out the aforementioned list to see why I haven't. The hospital stay itself compounded all the other things that normally get in the way of my blogging. There is also the undeniable fact that the whole experience was completely overwhelming, and very scary. We've known she has stage 4 cancer now for almost 4 years. But there's always been the defense mechanism of "well, at least we know we've still got several years together to go". This was the first time I had a sense of foreboding, a worry that perhaps my wife of over 30 years now would not be with me much longer. That's a very uncomfortable thought and I guess maybe it took me quite a while to decide I could talk about it. Then, when I did, all those other things on that list kicked in, and it got put off for way too long.

I am now, however, back in the wonderful land of denial. My Fall Little League team has finally won a couple of games, after getting trounced our first 4 times out, and the Red Sox are on their way to the AL Championship Series against Tampa Bay, hopefully just a stop on the way to another World Series! The Tarheel football team is 4-1, something that they haven't been able to say in quite a few years. For the first time in a long time I'm not singing the familiar "wait until basketball season" song. The year 5769 has begun, and tonight I sang in the Temple Choir for the evening Yom Kippur service. I will be back there again tomorrow morning, missing another day of work and getting even further behind, but it's worth it. I said earlier that I'm not actually a Jew. I should have said I'm not technically a Jew, because actually, I believe I am a Jew. I will address all of this and more, soon, very soon, as soon as I'm just a liitle bit less behind, in parts 2 - ?.

Until then - Happy New Year, and Go Red Sox Go!!