Sunday, February 21, 2010

Seems Like Old Times

Sometimes life hurtles by with such velocity, it seems as if it were some sort of perplexing Olympic luge run.  Case in point…I’m somebody’s grandma.  How did THAT happen??!!!

It takes guts to be a grandma – guts, and a healthy self-esteem that is a permanent resident in a state of denial.

I make this observation, because just recently, our only granddaughter, Necie, accused me of being old.  I was astonished…mortified. Every one of my varicose veins quivered with indignity.  Of course, I immediately enshrouded myself in said denial and bellowed, “I am NOT OLD!  Why do you say I’m old???”  She replied with all the logic of a six-year-old, “You’re a grandma.  And grandmas are old.”

Boy Howdy!  What are the penalties in the after-life for excessive blaspheming under one’s chins, in the presence of a minor? 

I patiently tried to explain to her that I was a grandma by the accidental reality of her birth.  She lives…therefore, I am…a grandma.  That does not exactly qualify me as the next candidate for extermination by the euthanasia squad.  Had she not been the natural by-product of a happy “oops,” I would not even BE a grandma, and, therefore, “old!”  (With the notable exception of our five grandsons.  I wonder if age compounds itself with each successive birth.  Hmmmmm…)  Necie looked skeptical.

Well, I had just plucked my unibrow, and was ready for confrontation.  To bolster my case, I presented some rational questions for her consideration:

1.    Do old people have NATURALLY FLAXEN HAIR…(that only needs a total platinum overhaul once every 4-6 weeks)?  Huh?
2.    Do old people roller blade, ice skate and bike ride (albeit at a glacial pace due to air drag) with only the occasional rest stop because one is sucking wind or needs to re-wrap the arthritic knees? 
3.    I ask you, do old people dress up to such an extent that RuPaul is usurped as reigning drag queen just to have tea parties with granddaughters?  Think about it.
4.    Do old people carry a bagful of bubble gum in their purse that is furry with Kleenex fluff, and then chew more wads than the grand kids?...with considerably fewer teeth?  YOU CALL THAT OLD?  Wassa matta witchu, Sistah?

Geez, the whole thing made me want to toss back a glass of prune juice, don my Depends, and take to my bed.

Why can’t youth see things through the eyes of age?  Logic is not always the clearest lense.  Life demands discriminating distortion.  

Now, I concede that Mother Nature can be brutal. The passing years inflict little indignities that accumulate in a conspiracy of cruelty that makes us SEEM old to eyes that have seen the earth rotate on its axis only six times.  That does not translate to OLD!

 I still say Thomas Wolfe was wrong.  You not only CAN go home again, you can go back to high school!  I know.  I did it just last week.

I got together with some old (“old” being figurative) friends and reminisced for several hours about days gone by.  The years melted away into viscous puddles of nostalgia and cellulite, as our conversation resembled a simultaneous filibuster. There are potent endorphins in memory. And nobody had changed.  We all looked exactly the same…sort of.  However, after reviewing the inventories of our combined radical organectomies, we concluded we were only half the women we used to be.

I don’t believe that any woman  actually ages beyond 18, in spite of empirical evidence to the contrary.  Carbon dating can verify that.  We reach that number, and hunker down forever.  We all recall like it was yesterday the time when the only thing that needed plucking was our eyebrows.  Now, they are the single item on our inventories of hair that exists only in memory.  Polite society demands we shave, pluck, and wax our way up from our ankles to our hair line.  Every woman owns a pair of Geezer’s Tweezers to remove any pitiful outgrowth from any pitiful orifice failing eyesight can detect.  The outrage is that we can still sprout the rogue zit.

 Yes, those were the days when it was not necessary to accuse every mirror of having a “fat” defect, or the scale of being in open conflict with the international registry of weights and measures.  We had shampoo-commercial hair, and could actually leave the house without waiting for the Metamucil to kick in. Our goals did not include liposuction, nor did we rely on the jello-and-an-enema diet to lose those few vanity pounds.  We could sneeze and laugh without panty liners.

We were the mini-skirt generation, with svelte figures that could wear blue velvet and itsy, bitsy, teeny, weeny bikinis and not be arrested for felonious butt flab.  Nowdays, due to excessively quivering thigh flesh, and gluteuses (glutei?) that are slightly more maximus, we’re all into “burqa couture.”  We’re less chiseled… more serrated.  Mercifully, we’re not part of the “pants on the ground” generation…unmercifully, that’s where our boobs are.  Our collective centers of gravity have spiraled downward.

I wish the world were a little more more dyslexic…the megapixels of memory can see clearly, but with a kinder, gentler focus.  Being among friends of a lifetime makes me realize that no woman is over 18, and no grandma is old.  Friendship is a powerful narcotic.  We put the “youth” in euthanasia.

I cannot impart that particular wisdom to Necie until she is much older and a grandma herself.  She keeps reminding me I’ll be dead by then. No doubt. But my obit will proclaim I passed away prematurely – at age 18.  In the meantime, I cocooned her in my arm flab and warmed her with a hot flash.  She snuggled down into her favorite solar plexus sink hole as I explained that when she reaches her 18th year of perpetuity, she, too, will understand the complexities of marking out one’s life in female years.  Why, we can trace our evolutionary chain clear back to Eve, who died at 18 after 930 years of prolific begetting, multiplying and suckling. Necie listened, while she lazily swatted at my neck wattles as if shooing flies on a summer afternoon. Her small body fits comfortably into all the folds and pockets so generously provided by Mother Nature as a special gift to grandmas who are old.  I guess in that respect, I’m well endowed.    

All in all, I’m quite content straddling the fine line of youth and age. Lengthening daylight means I don’t don the old “Minnie Mouse” until AFTER the 5:30 news… I am approaching Spring, not Autumn.

Perhaps granddaughters are our best reality check.  But nostalgia trumps reality.  In June, I’ll turn 18 again.  And for the time being, I plan to pluck my big toes, get a pedicure, paint my nails Pepto Bismol pink, and raise a glass of Fleet’s to old times.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Two Years and Counting

January 31st is a date particularly momentous to our family.  It is the two-year anniversary of Dennis’ surgery, The Whipple.  We use capitalize letters, not to deify it, but because that procedure is a very proper noun.  Our experience in general, and this day in particular, have been our Yale and Harvard.

Ordinarily, we would acknowledge the occasion and allow the day to slip quietly into the past.  But it must be duly noted.  It was a pivotal moment then, and has gained greater propriety now.  This second anniversary presents a statistical shift in the landscape.  From this point forward, the numbers become, if not kind, at least less unkind.  The chance the cancer will recur drops dramatically.  Now, the over-all odds are still arrestingly wretched, but two steps ahead and one step back is still progress.

I can chronicle the events of this episode, but not necessarily capture its soul.  It is good to be free of bondage to the ghosts of past adversity.  But it is not an easy task to revisit that day, nor re-live it. 

However, if history makes men, men can also make history.  One must look back before moving forward.  So, here goes.

The Whipple operation (or pancreaticoduoemenctomy) is generally regarded as one of the most extreme surgical procedures in medicine.  This complex abdominal operation is performed on a limited number of patients with cancers involving the pancreas, duodenum, and bile duct.  It is not to be entered into without a great deal of thought.  Not doing it is unthinkable.

Strangely, on that morning two years ago, I was not filled with dread or anguish.  I was confident Dr. Mulvihill had not only the skill for this exquisitely precise operation, but a fierce determination.  He was going to battle, armed and dangerous.

While Dennis was being prepped, Dr. Mulvihill reviewed what was about to take place with lavish and mind-numbing detail.  He presented an auspicious inventory of every possible contingency that might arise during the course of the next 9-10 hours, and an equally ponderous list of preparations for every conceivable scenario – including buckets of blood for hemorrhage and “harvesting” body parts should the need arise.  If his intention was to ensure we were clear on the concept…mission accomplished!

Dr. Mulvihill did not mitigate the peril, but I found this oddly comforting.  Obviously,
neither of us likes surprises. These were the times that tried our souls.  We had to confront the realities before we could deal with them.  The Whipple was our only hope.

The truth was stark and sobering, but it helped us maintain our equilibrium.  There was a curious solidarity within that pre-op huddle.

As Dennis was wheeled into the operation room, we watched an enthusiastic Dr. Mulvihill nearly sprinting, in spite of his cane and broken leg, eager to get this procedure under way.

When those doors closed, I felt a certain peace, assured there were multitudes surrounding us all, buoying us up.

The hours of that day passed, but we had no sense of time.  At one point, Dr. Mulvihill came out to report he had achieved three negative margins.  However, because the tumor was wrapped around and attached to a vital artery, that final margin was elusive, and he had to proceed with extreme caution.  Nicking that vessel would be lethal.

Such a situation would have exceeded the expertise of most surgeons.  But Dr. Mulvihill delicately continued to peel away malignant tissue the width of an onion skin, until the lab results returned and revealed no evidence of cancer.   He got the final negative margin. 

Ancient scripture tells us the world was created in six days.  Then came the Sabbath, a day specifically designed for rest from the labors of the prior week, and preparation for the week to come.

And then Monday dawned – the first day of the rest of eternity – a day of promise, opportunity, inspiration, pristine possibility.

January 31st 2008 closed for us with four negative margins…and Dennis in Recovery.  The world had not changed…only our perception of it.  I don’t know the exact calendar date of that first Monday following The Creation, but I like to think it was February 1st.


The Clot