Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Score Four

Four years and seven hours ago, Dennis took one for the team and underwent “The Whipple.”  To those whose lives have not required it, “Whipple” may conjure up images of an elderly gentleman inordinately obsessed with Charmin toilet paper.  (Actually, I’m not knocking it.  The older I get, the more obsessed with toilet paper I become. I think it’s a condition of menopause.)

But to those whose health depends upon extreme intervention, The Whipple is much more.  The medical community speaks the name in hushed tones reserved for cathedrals, and genuflect at the mere mention of this formidable operation.

As I understand it, The Whipple is a relatively simple surgical procedure in which the patient is gutted by a skilled doctor with nothing to do for the next 8 to 10 hours, as he performs a total organectomy.  We had the best.  But it was one of the few times I prayed that Dr. Mulvihill had graduated medical school at the top of his class.

Dr. Mulvihill prepared us for what was about to take place by reciting an inventory of preparations for a long list of possible contingencies.  He spoke of “harvesting” the carotid.  “HARVESTING THE CAROTID???”  And then he spoke reassuringly of the tankers of blood should Dennis spring a leak. Oddly enough, I was reassured.

However, I became dizzy with the contingencies. I tried to feign competence, but soon began speaking in sentence fragments.  “What the…?”  “You’re going to put what where?”  “Is that possible?” “Is that legal?”   My final question was, “Are you freakin’ kidding me?” 

That’s not a direct quote.  Anyone who knows The Clot, knows that harsh language is our Mother Tongue.  We actually consider ourselves bilingual.

I looked at Erin and Brodi, whose saucer-eyes resembled the characters in cartoons where only the whites show up in the dark, as Dr. Mulvihill recited all the “what ifs.”  Dennis, on the other hand, seemed quite serene.  But he just had been administered the “I don’t care” drug in impressive quantities. We had not received said drugs. We cared deeply.

By the end of that long day, the girls and I looked pretty disheveled.  But Dr. Mulvihill emerged from the OR looking impressively sheveled. As Dennis surfaced from the anesthetic, the first thing he said was, “What time is it?” I thought it a curious question, but told him it was almost 10:00 p.m. and all was well.  He smiled.  It wasn’t till later I learned that just before going under, Dr. Mulvihill informed him that if he got in and found spread, he would close immediately and terminate the procedure. Dennis accepted the terms of the contract.     
I have always told our girls that you move in the direction you are looking. But  sometimes it is good to look back, if only for a moment.  Certain anniversaries must be observed.

It is no small thing to confront what is fearful.  Allowing angst to lie dormant might cause it to fester and abscess.  There are shadows that hover spectrally, but the best defense against shadows is to flood them with sunshine.

Are the uses of adversity really sweet?  Do we need adversity to appreciate what is of value in our lives?  Perhaps there are many answers to that question.  Four years ago, one life was usurped by another.  It was a hostile take-over, leaving a major paradigm shift in its wake.  This event altered everything. 

We look back on lessons we learned.  What occurred during this re-awakening was good.  We are able to hold on to what was of greatest consequence, and loosen our grasp on the unessential.

We cannot change the past.  Nor would we if we could.  Our task is to move forward.  Our great concern is to be guided by our experience as we plan our present. 

We will be directed by the things we love.

We also celebrate another anniversary today.  It’s been one week since Brodi’s book launch. 

She said to me that day, “What if nobody comes.”  I told her that her family would be there.  When we looked at all those present, I realized we have a very big family.

Some things we don’t understand.  Some things we never will.  Perhaps all that is expected is that we reverence the miracles.

We accept the terms.  

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

It's not about the Book

Last night was Brodi’s book launch. King’s English. 7:00 p.m. Wow!
Yesterday I was not really sure exactly

how to launch a book. Just for the record, we decided not to spray the book with Coke Zero. Being a tribe of “Caf-fiends,” we feared we’d humiliate ourselves, like a pride of snarling lions over a fresh kill, by collectively licking the precious liquid off the pages in a calamitous display of demeaning, degrading Neanderthal anti-polite-society lust for the stimulant. Hey, that stuff is “Mother’s Milk” to the addicted.
No, instead we thought this particular event worthy of slightly elevated decorum. So we pounded down quarter-pound cookies in pairs and stuffed cake into every conceivable unoccupied facial orifice available, then tried to extract tell-tale chocolate chip remnants with our fingers. Nobody can accuse us of a lack of sophistication!
Eventually, Brodi rose to speak. It is a singular sensation as a parent to watch one’s offspring address a group of friends, family, and loved ones who gathered to celebrate her accomplishment.
There is a complex amalgam of emotion…anticipation, pride, excitement. As she was about to begin, there was a mechanics malfunction. The remote for the power-point presentation was not working.
For an anxious parent, the better part of valor is to sit, composed and patient, as she works through the glitch. Not an easy task when said mother is prompted by a primal instinct to protect one’s progeny by tearing off one’s clothes and running in concentric circles shrieking, “We’re all going to die!”
With astonishing grace, Brodi gave humorous audibles to Sam who manually advanced the slides and allowed her to continue her presentation.
I was not surprised. Brodi and Sam are problem-solvers. Just satisfied that random acts of chaos in the universe did not deter Brodi from her appointed remarks. I have always said it is all the unforeseen things that go wrong that make an occasion memorable. Such was the case last night. This was memorable. Nothing could sabotage this moment.
But perhaps the defining elements of this book launch were not entirely about the book. All those that gathered on her behalf were there not just to applaud, but to cheer. It seemed that dear ones came together to celebrate, to rejoice and to invest in one another.
We saw those in attendance embrace each other in reunions and reminiscence that were not just centered on the book.
It was about a spirit of spoken and unspoken exchanges of love and mutual admiration.
It was about seeing generations of family and friends participate in the sweet rituals that renew connections that time and distance do not diminish.
It was about a driving element centered on celebrating the things that make us the elect refined beings that perhaps was originally intended.
The book was the reason for this moment, but not exclusively the essence.
Brodi knew this best of all. With her humorous anecdote about “deletions,” she obliquely taught life lessons about what should be nurtured and maintained.
It was a privilege to be a member at an event that brought together a society of chosen, who reunited, reminisced and rejoiced.
So, to paraphrase Lance Armstrong, ultimately it is not about the book. Last night, it was about all of us.
And that’s how you launch a book.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Out to Launch

Today is Brodi’s book launch.  King’s English.  7:00 p.m.  Wow! 

How do you “launch” a book?  I know how to launch a missile.  All you need is a lot of fuel and  tremendous thrust consisting of foot pounds of pressure per second per second.  “Houston, we have lift off!”  Not exactly rocket science.

And to launch a ship, one needs only a bottle of champagne…and a Royal.  Imagine the flow of the bubbly when Helen’s face launched a thousand ships!  It’s amazing there was anyone sober enough to fight the Trojan War!

But launching a book is different.  Just what is the protocol?  We wanted to do it up right.  However, christening it with any alcoholic beverage would contradict the prohibitions of our chosen life style.  Ditto hot drinks.  After minimal deliberation, we settled on shaking a can of cola and spraying it on the designated book. Of course, it had to be the hard stuff.  Definitely, Coke Zero.  No decaf.  This is a special occasion.

Shakespeare posed the question, “What’s in a name?”  And he reasoned that a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.  I’m sure he’s right, but it seems to me the olfactory senses would be altered ever so slightly if indeed that regal velvet blossom were known as a kumquat. 

Choosing a name for one’s child is never easy.  Recently a man in Wisconsin changed his name to Beezow Doo-Doo Zopittybop Bop Bop.  Doo-Doo for short.  Since Shakespeare and Doo Doo were already spoken for, and because we wanted something a little unique, we opted to name our second daughter Brodi Shawn.  Dennis’ mother was horrified, and feared she would be called “Little B. S.”  I told her that was entirely possible. No doubt there would be times when it was warranted.  Nevertheless, we kept the name, knowing she would grow up to either love it or hate it.  Turns out she loved it.  It serves as her pen name.

I told Brodi I really wanted to find a red dress like the one on the cover of her book to wear for the launch.  She tried to keep her composure and stifle her giggles.  She said that she was sure I could pull it off…with Pamela Anderson implants, lipo suction, and  massive anatomical remodeling…no offense.  I said, “None taken.”  I rose with great dignity, taking the high road, refusing to be offended by brutal reality.  Contrary to the poets, truth is not always beauty.  However, I kept muttering “Little B. S.” under my breath.  I opted for jeans, but I am keeping “Plastic Surgeons Are Us” on speed dial.

 Once, in a state of supreme neuron disfuntion, Brodi asked me to read the manuscript and make suggestions. As an English teacher, she thought I could be of some use.  I told her that I would, but I was not into flattery.  If it was good, I’d tell her.  But I also had my red pen.  She agreed.  When I returned the pages, she wryly commented that some areas looked like I’d opened a vein and hemorrhaged.  I told her the book was phenomenal.  It was not flattery.

I have read Brodi’s book multiple times.  But of all the words on all the pages of this amazing tale, my nine favorites occur on the third page, before the story begins.  They are Dennis’ Father’s Day gift.  She asked me if I could help her say it better.  I could not.  I could launch a thousand words and still not have said it better.  It was her most inspired writing. 

Writers are advised to write about what they know best.  Brodi knows her Dad. 

(Just for the record, I retract everything I muttered under my breath!)

Saturday, January 14, 2012

A Matter of Degrees

January 13, 2012

Dennis’ weight just made an eye-popping quantum leap of five pounds, and with that excess corpulence has come a clarity of recollection of the recent episode in Houston.  He wants to know more of just what took place.  I’m not sure if neuron-function is directly related to greater accumulation of bulk, but if it is, I’m having my IQ re-tested immediately.

Personally, I’m a little reticent to leap blindly into full disclosure.  It’s a little like divulging the facts of life to one’s children.  These things must be done delicately.  Some things may be disturbing.  One must judiciously select what is to be revealed and what is to remain concealed.  When moved upon by discretion, I can actually become the sphinx.

I opted to begin by telling him about steroids.  That’s pretty safe.  The doctors decided to put him on a regimen of prednisone to pump up his batting average, enlarge his quads, and prepare him for his ultimate goal of extreme cage fighting.  They would also assist him in transitioning from NPO to solid food – mainly ice chips.

OK.  The Clot ratified prednisone.  However, as with all potent medications, this one has serious side effects.  Namely:  it increases the appetite and could cause considerable weight gain.  OK.  We can handle that.

Only minutes after Dennis was administered his first dose, The Clot beat a hasty retreat to the nearest exit and headed en masse to Burger King, where we ordered their super-size Orca burger with all the trimmings…and tried to refrain from asking fellow patrons if they wanted the rest of their fries.  Boy Howdy, that stuff is powerful!

We waddled sheepishly back to the ICU, trying to dislodge sesame seeds from our teeth with our tongues as, in a laudable humanitarian gesture, we took turns spooning ice chips into Dennis’ mouth.  Copious consumption of peppermints helped disguise tell-tale whale breath.

Dennis listened to the story without interruption and said, “Sometimes comas are a good thing.”

We are all glad he is off prednisone.  But check out those quads!

I also decided to relate a notable encounter with Dr. Wolff and our daughter Erin.  Dr. Wolff is a brilliant physician whose great brain wields untold quantities of knowledge and information.  His mind is the warehouse of impressive and vital facts.  He is the quarterback of our team.  None better.

One evening he came into Dennis’ room to discuss his condition and current medical circumstance.  We steeled ourselves for a barrage of disheartening information.  And Dr. Wolff did not sugar coat nor mitigate harsh reality.  It was all rather grim.  Dennis’ condition was serious and threatening.  No question about it.

Erin and Brodi listened intently, and I sensed the crushing weight as the severity of the situation settled upon them.  Knowing our daughters as I do, I wondered how long it would be before one of them spoke up. 

Turns out, not long – and, of course, turns out it was Erin.  With great dignity, she said, “Tomorrow my Dad’s going to be better.”

Dr. Wolff responded that he, too, was optimistic.  But, he insisted, “I’m just telling you the facts.”

Once again, Erin, with unmitigated authority, replied, “And I’m telling you my facts.   Tomorrow my Dad will make a 180 percent turn around!”

Dr. Wolff was a little taken aback.  Out of the side of her mouth, Brodi whispered, “Erin, that’s 180 DEGREE turn around.”

Undeterred, Erin continued to pontificate that the day after that, Dennis would make another 180 DEGREE turn around!   

Applied mathematical principles would suggest that two 180 degree turnarounds would put one back where one started.  But such rational calculations had no place when one is making pronouncements.  Erin’s facts defy the numbers.

Dennis emerged from oblivion during this exchange just long enough to mutter, “See what I’ve lived with all these years?”

Dr. Wolff managed a smile after being carpet bombed by a wall of Ashton women, and conceded that both Erin’s facts and scientific facts could reside in peaceful co-existence.

The following day, in fact, Dennis made a 180 degree turn around.  Go figure.

I learned great things that day.  Perhaps, after all, understanding trumps science.  After tracking Dennis’ monitors for 12 straight hours, and watching graphs, numbers, flow charts and alarms react with the latest unnerving news, as well as being swarmed by platoons of technicians, doctors and nurses, even brilliant minds could still arrive at faulty conclusions.  There was no machine to register strength of mind and strength of will.

Erin and Brodi knew their Dad deeper, better than all the technology of modern science.  They possessed the greater understanding that there are certain forces in the universe that conspire and center on someone with particular healing properties.

What the heart understands transcends scientific data.  Erin has always believed that everyone, including the entire medical community at MD Anderson, is entitled to her opinion and the facts as she interprets them.  And why not?  She was right.

After hearing this anecdote, Dennis’ desire to know more seemed sated for the moment.  He’ll eventually get the whole story, but only in degrees.