Thursday, January 20, 2005

Another Section

Let's leap over time and space. Backwards, rather than over. It isn't long ago. 3 jobs in 4 years is a long time. My father's 'he is now a patient' stage can't be far. He spent long enough not being a patient, that the healthy 66 years or so have to count for something, so speaks my lizard, primal brain. Fathers get ill. They don't get mortally ill. It simply isn't done.

This must be from September 2002- the file is dated a few months after my father died, converted from PocketWord to .txt to Windows 2000 to an .mbx to...and so on. I don't know, chronologically, when. I know the dinner, however. I know that it didn't yet feel like an hourglass had been overturned, but I knew that it was, for want of a much, MUCH better term, game time. It was an activity. It was the raising of a curtain, the first few minutes on the road as it bends away from familiar territory.

The black humour hadn't kicked in. And it's overwritten (hard to remedy, admittedly). And raw. And came together then, read now.

Example
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My father spent 10 minutes sitting on an easy chair, bending forwards with his head resting on the footstool. I knew what he was doing. He was trying to stretch his back in such a way that the pain in the lower left region would, if not dissipate, at least spread out to feel reduced. So that the pain would spread thin rather than concentrating, the change being something close to a rest.

I could not imagine the pain, I only imagined the nausea, something I was intimately acquainted with from years of a bad stomach. So I sat across from him the couch, feeling nauseous. I had come to my parents house with my wife to make what I'd hoped was a treat for dinner, two small chickens stuffed with lemons and rubbed down with butter and thyme, baked and basted until juicy and infused with citrus. I thought the sharp lemon might even cut through his nausea, which eventually it did (for both of us). He ate well, surprising everyone, and I managed to get a few mouthfuls in myself.

It was an exception to recent history. If my father was too ill to eat, I didn't want to eat. I would if nothing else offer my own waistline as a show of support. I wanted to take nothing more than he could.

The good news of the month was that he did not have any tumours around his lower back, nothing attached to his organs or in the place where his cancerous kidney had once laid. The bad news was that the cancer had probably moved into the bone, in particular the public bone, causing severe pain in the lower waist and making sleeping, sitting and walking a difficult task. I thought of Terry Fox, losing a leg. One cannot lose a pelvis, simply.

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This diagnosis, as it turned out, was almost optimistic. We were afraid of some kind of bone-related pelvic cancer, but at this point the X rays had not revealed the tumour at the base of my father's spine. We were still afraid of lung cancer- it was, statistically speaking, the most likely cancer to develop out of the trouble that had ocurred in his kidney. That never happened- although there was a cough and traces of chest pains and I believe a shadow across his lungs, later. Too later, as it happened, making it all moot. Any lung issues might have killed my father but did not do the job.
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I didn't understand the ramifications of bone cancer, did tumours form within the marrow and cause pain due to pressure or did they simply infect the marrow, knock out the immune system and that was that?

I was trying to avoid the very thing all my instincts were telling me to do, which was to research the topic. I am a technical writer by trade, and excel at researching the different aspects of various topics. But I don't trust the whole process of self-diagnosis when it comes to medicine, and was relatively sure that if I started looking into bone cancer and hypocalcaemia, I would only succeed and upsetting myself. I'd wait until the Oncologist completed his blood tests for my father, and would take it from there.

People develop weird needs during times of crises. I was the kind of person who stopped eating while stressed, rather than overeating, so indulging in donuts or cheeseburgers wasn't an option. The idea simply nauseated me. I didn't drink enough to make life interesting, simply wine with dinner and a long exquisite shot of Scotch before bed (which, granted, I had grown to depend upon).

Since obesity or alcoholism were not threatening, my narcotic of choice was narrative. I became addicted to listening to old radio shows, easily acquired over the internet either as net radio or as mp3's. The CBS Mystery Theatre, The Great Gildersleeve, Suspense! and The Lives of Harry Lime were favourites, not for sentimental value or great artistic appreciation (at best, the shows can be referred to as being 'of their time') but simply for the fact they felt far away and accessible while still feeling alien. The form is dead, but they all tell stories and I needed the distraction.

2001 had been an unsure year- my job of seven years with a software firm began to shake as the dot-com bubble burst. My wing of the company was sold to the Japanese, who laid me off in November. My wife's handmade soap business had just entered the stage where it required capital for milk, lye, olive and essential oils, so money was going out but not coming in. We had wanted to start a family, or at least had tiptoed around the subject, but my unemployment made the idea seem far away. December to March were dead- one interview, a few teasing days with recruiters, nothing else. March brought good interviews, more and more every month, culminating in a position with the Ministry of Transportation in May (7 months after I first applied).

My father's incident was the fourth cancer-related scare in four years, always in autumn. My father had already lost a kidney and his prostate in two supposedly unrelated incidents. My mother had undergone platinum chemotherapy two years before after a malignant ovarian tumour burst suddenly (coincidentally, my aunt was being treated at the same time for the same condition, but did not have her tumour burst). My mother responded unusually well to chemo, hair loss notwithstanding. An interesting gamble- if it doesn't kill you, it'll kill the cancer.

My father did not appear to be doing as well, he'd developed chronic back pain over two months and could not sleep on a flat bed, instead having to sleep on his side, his back pushed into a hot pad resting on the firm back of the living room couch.

My mother had spent years as a palliative care nurse and was an old hand at cancer treatment. Unfortunately, she had the classic Oncologist's problem- she always lost her patients. Our family heard so many stories about Mr. Franken or Ms. Lee being a wonderful older person and specifically requesting my mother's care before slipping gently into that good night that we thought she might have become sort of a pleasant angel of death. Marilyn Monroe of the Mortuary. Tine Turner of the Terminal Ward. My advice to her at the time was, whatever she did, don't loan money.

Years later, having the Palliative care training, she was well equipped to deal with my father's illness in nursing terms. But there is no box around cancer in the early stages, it runs loose or hides and materializes at will. There is cold comfort in the black and white solidity of diagnosis, but it is at least solid, rather than thin, ice. As my father's back pain became worse and his weight slipped further, my mother's nursing resolve slipped and melted. It was not easy for her to not-know how to treat her husband for what was looking more and more like a palliative issue. And it was not easy to watch either of them.

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Puruse, read, find, assimilate. Locate. Perhaps distill.

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