In which I encounter a new disease, and Elf does, too

rose in front
A rose that bloomed in front of my apartment in April

These things I am about to explain would be happening during the Merry Month of May…

While all has been quiet this past month on the blog, much has been happening in my life.  Things not so easy to bring into words from those nonverbal spaces in my mind where hidden fears encounter my normal optimistic outlook for regular show downs.  Or unresolved differences of opinion.

Back in early May there was a mammogram, then a biopsy, followed by a doctor’s surprising announcement that the lump I had discovered back in February qualifies for the undesirable name of Invasive Ductal Carcinoma.

I will skip over the reasons why it took three months to get something done about this lump.  Some of it had to do with Medicare’s byzantine system of obfuscations and deliberate delays.  Nevertheless, living in this country at this particular time I am quite grateful to have regular health insurance.

So here I am, with loved ones who have two feet and four feet, at this the place where an old Polio Survivor gets to try out for a second award, Cancer Survivor.  And feeling very blessed that one of the four-footed ones nearly left us this month, but is now restored, snoozing alongside me.  All bright and sparkly once again.

Hardly anyone knows what polio was all about any more — thankfully.  Yet back in the 1950s polio was the same sort of dreaded, poorly understood scourge that AIDS later became, and Ebola is now.  It killed many, left others permanently paralyzed in differing degrees — and is now known to revisit its survivors many decades later, causing joint and muscle pain and increasing weakness.

The month of May in past years has occasionally brought me other not-so-great life changing events.  Such as my twenty year old brother being killed in a car wreck on May13, 1970.  Such as my beloved daughter coming down with bacterial meningitis on Mother’s Day when she was just four years old.  It turned out to be pneumococcal meningitis, a particularly nasty infection in which there can be a short buildup of illness followed by an abrupt bacterial population explosion that carries the sick person swiftly away.

Spring weather was unusually cold that year.  My daughter became ill during the night, and when I called her pediatrician’s office the next morning the nurse told me to give her tylenol for the fever and keep in touch.  Over the next twenty four hours her symptoms of nausea, fever and photophobia increased, as did the nasty weather.  More calls asking for doctor time as well as suggestions, and the nurse began suggesting that I was “just a little nervous, which some new parents can be ….”  That about put me over the top, since I did not consider myself to be any such thing.  And, well, she was four years old, which hardly made me a new parent.

After speaking with that unhelpful medical professional (who was soon summarily dismissed) I happened to be gazing out my daughter’s window where my landscaper cousin was at work on his small excavator in the backyard.  As I watched through a fine drizzle the scraper accidentally struck the new concrete back step he had poured a week earlier, cracking the corner where my daughter had left her palm print.

That was my now or never moment.  I got my soundly sleeping child out of her bed, fever now touching 105º (40.5º C).  Since a mother on crutches cannot possibly carry a little one regardless of how much she longs to, I basically bullied her out the door and into the car.  Again out of the car and across the doctor’s completely filled parking lot.  Again and again the tiny knees would begin to buckle, and I would urge her on towards the door.  When we finally reached it, in she tottered, collapsed on the rubber mat, as I went off to fetch someone from the doctor’s office for help.

A spinal tap established, via cloudy fluid, that this was a hospital emergency, not something the doctor should handle on his own.  So off we went, a nurse driving, to where Jericha was quickly attached to an IV with antibiotics, and I took to her bedside chair day and night, with relief shifts from my husband.  Leaving, sadly, my Alzheimer’s stricken mother at home alone with the cocker spaniel much of the time.  Happily, with only short visits from us, Grandma got through the four days we spent at the hospital quite well.

She still had it in her to rise to the occasion when a need arose.

On the second day in the hospital the doctor called me in Jericha’s room to say the pathogen had been identified.  It was bacterial rather than a virus, and one that “was about to explode in her.  You very possibly saved her life by getting her in just when you did,” he told me.

Thus lovely May with its glorious flowers, singing birds and fresh fruit has a created a mental knee jerk reaction for me when there is a medical problem.

underground rose garden
Some of the many, many roses at Fresno’s Forestiere Underground Gardens.  These particular ones are along the driveway that enters a tunnel soon after.  The underground home was dug over some forty years by a Sicilian immigrant, Baldissare Forestiere in the early 1900s.  He had the good idea that living below ground level would cool down the fiery Fresno summers for him.  Since he had grown up tending his father’s orange orchards in Italy, he wanted trees near him.  So he punched holes up through the rock that passes for ground in the area, allowing sunshine in for his own trees and flowers.

With my cancer nearly everything lies ahead.  A surgery, radiation, recovery.  A mammogram of the other breast seems to have evoked more medical concern, as at the very beginning of this holiday weekend I received a letter from the hospital informing me that “it is recommended that you have a surgical consultation”.

And I was just beginning to feel as though the problem might be resolved by nothing more drastic than a lumpectomy and a period of radiation.  Since it is a holiday weekend there is little to be done other than waiting for further information later in the week.  Perhaps another biopsy?

That little that remains to be done, however, involves nursing a precious family member — Elf the Corgi.  A few days ago she suffered a serious bout of diarrhea.  As the day moved into darkness there was also vomiting.  Then diarrhea that was pink, then red.  A trip to an emergency veterinary hospital ensued, as her regular vet had closed for the day.

By the time Elf got in the doors at the hospital blood was coming out both ends in a most alarming way.  The dog has a bad habit — shared by many of her species — of scarfing up roadside snacks during her walks.  Some of them are utterly disgusting.  We had her tested right away for Parvo.  Although she and Opus are current on their vaccinations there is a newer strain of the disease that could still have affected her.  Luckily, though, that was not it.  Pancreatitis and “obvious” masses were quickly ruled out as well.  Some form of gastritis it was.

She stayed in the hospital for about 36 hours, on IV antibiotics for what the vets decided was mostly likely an infection,  probably from something she had grabbed during one of her walks.

On Friday morning she came home feeling much more like herself, despite a lingering sleepiness.

Jericha and I had just enough time to buy and cook up a batch of boiled chicken and white rice (I normally keep only brown on hand) for a light meal for her, and to give her one of her various new medications — before it was time to rush off to my first Oncology appointment.

This feels a bit more like a big old wail than a proper blog post, yet I hope it will serve to explain my long silence.

I who firmly believe that Everything Goes Better If You Write About It was flat out of words.

Namasté and tally ho, we will get through this one, too.  One way or another.

“Whatever competent physicians or surgeons prescribe for a patient should be accepted and complied with, provided that they are adorned with the ornament of justice. If they were to be endued with divine understanding, that would certainly be preferable and more desirable.”

      (Bahá’u’lláh, from a Tablet – translated from the Persian)

tunnel to above
One of the Forestiere tunnels.  Baldassare, an intensely religious man, broke every one of these rocks (and many thousands more) with his own hands and the mortar from dust.  He must have been one of the most persistent human beings ever.

Playing with the durm und strang

My daughter has been wearing earrings in the form of black cats, spiders, pumpkins and ghosts for a couple of weeks now.  She works at a pre-school, where naturally a dress-up holiday featuring yummy snacks is a Big Deal.  When I visited the pre-school earlier this month the walls of all the rooms were covered with kids’ renderings of colorful leaves, witches on brooms, fluttering ghosts and lots of other scary things.  Piles of  drying leaf cut outs  were painted and puckered on stacked trays, ready for tiny fingers to squash them into new collages.

This isn’t a holiday I’ve had enthusiasm about over the past few years, since we stopped finding bunches of kids at the door.  It’s become such a commercial event  for adults on the calendar.  It’s fair to mention that my dad was in retail while I was growing up, so a jaded attitude about over commercialization of traditional events occupies space in my mental territory.  I love seeing the fun kids can have with this season, though.

One of my last jobs featured annual decorating contests which got so extreme that long, wide sheets of black plastic were hung from ceiling to desk height in a big central area everybody had to pass through, making it tricky to walk around.  It was supposed to suggest a castle, but the impression was more landfill.  Desks got wrapped and speckled with protruding skulls, swords, broomsticks and rear ends of witches.

Costumes were not quite a job requirement, but came close.  Not everyone working there flourished amidst the hoopla of people racing around demanding admiration for their efforts, leaving their work for others to do.  A few of the Native Americans were distressed — in certain traditions a few Halloween symbols are reminders of darkness, evil, even.  Hispanic people might be saving energy for the highly colorful and more spiritual tradition, the Day of the Dead at the beginning of November. People cook for loved ones who have passed, bringing food to the graves.  Amazingly decorated sugar skulls are way less scary than realistic ones.  Edible artwork.

This year I’m not expecting much activity around the condos.  The west coast has gotten into a rainy spell, for one thing.  Which all causes me to consider how to illustrate the familiar theme of A Dark and Stormy Night for a Facebook creative group I participate in.  This gentle California rain is what the Navajo would call female rain.  New Mexico, where I spent twenty four years of life, rarely gets that, abounding instead with crashing great downpours called …. guess …. Male rain.

Which evokes images of regiments of alpha males, duking it out  up there till the battered clouds are squeezed and crushed out of existence, pouring their misty lives out onto the unready desert below.

And will this appalling US presidential election never end?  Durm und strang, every day dominating news  outlets with its addictive reality show quality.

It sneaks in and sucks people’s brains out — or so it seems. Pay attention to who we really are in our hearts and heads, or we’ll turn into a nation of political zombies.

The essence of male rain, to me, is streams from fire hoses colliding with rooftops, trees, the unprotected.  The soil can’t absorb that much water slamming across it in so short a time, which causes flash flooding and the erosion that gives the Four Corners its amazing mesas and cliffs.  If only something also amazing — and enduringly good for people — would come out of the election…

California rain feels more the way things should be.  Quieter, offering the earth time to open up to it, plant roots the opportunity to take in the bounty without losing their hold or getting their leaves torn off.  Given the multi-year drought in the region, soaking rain is a great bounty.

But… it doesn’t conjure up the kind of image I wanted for a Dark and Stormy Night picture.

What I finally did was pick a favorite model (Elf the Willing Corgi), a window in the condo, and a stormy evening sky from New Mexico.  She’s got a big ball nearby to whack around  AND a biscuit she dropped onto the window sill in her eagerness to see where all the racket was coming from.

Elf on a Dark and Stormy Night.  Drawing by Emily Lee, via iPad and Procreate