Saturday, April 28, 2012

Dad. We are not sad because it's over, but we smile because he lived.

Thank you to everyone for all the kind words, notes, meals, and visits. The Clot loves you all.

Sunday, April 15, 2012


Of late I’ve been thinking a lot about voyages, due, no doubt, to the centennial commemoration of the sinking of the Titanic. The Titanic was the largest movable man-made object on earth…and pronounced unsinkable. It was a pitiless deception.

The ship was launched in early April on a great and ambitious adventure, with passengers representing all strata of society, from plutocrats to peasants. The Titanic was an exceedingly ornate and elaborate structure…a model of robust architectural busyness.

A recent documentary concluded that this grand ocean voyager sank because of “negative buoyancy.” Well, Duuh-uh! I always considered “negative buoyancy” a euphemism for age-related geriatric sag. I know well that feeling of betrayal when all things once thought eternally perky eventually sink.

There is an inherent comedic element to natural bodily functions and the tyranny of time…a sort of humorous chagrin about skin like beef jerky or limbs with dimples like inverted Braille. And frequently one’s social calendar is at the mercy of one’s regularity. The finest minds that ever lived have created structures specifically designed to cantilever our bodies to a state of perfect eternal float, until we ferment and fossilize. Women especially are expected to morph into fanciful hybrids of unrelenting youth and graceful maturity. The creations render us anatomically incorrect. Also, they’re anatomically inhumane. These are unrealistic expectations. Anatomy undulates. Our personal architecture loses some of its power, energy and force. We must deal with it, not conceal it. In fact, I think we ought to flaunt it, like medals of honor worn by veterans who have survived the extended warfare of simply getting through this life. What I wouldn’t give to be in charge of selecting the cover for Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue.

Sometimes I think we sign on for voyages assuming it will be a phantasmagoria of festivities and clear sailing on calm seas. But if we take the time to read the fine print on the agreement, we find there are no guarantees. Last week the waters became rather turbulent for us. Dennis had some issues that, at first, seemed to indicate a possible bowel blockage. The doctor at the Acute Care Center also made casual reference to a scan that possibly showed some irregularities (tumors?) in his peritoneum. No matter how frequently such incidents occur, it is never routine. We were stunned. This was news to us, since we had read the scan reports, and there was no mention of peritoneum involvement. The information came like a series of javelins thrown so fast we hardly had time to register collision.

And so we approached Dennis’ PET/CT scan on Monday with a degree of trepidation, preparing ourselves for the blow by conversation omission. We simply did not make our apprehensions audible. Sometimes not naming our demons makes them easier to abide, but my innards were a swollen knot. I did retreat to a small corner of my heart, where I could salvage enough composure to absorb the impact of the impending specifics and remain an intact entity. Not an easy task.

Wednesday we got the radiologist’s report of the scans. We read and re-read the information imbedded on those pages. Apparently, there is no evidence of spread to the peritoneum. There is some lung involvement that indicates a nodule in the left lung has enlarged somewhat. We expected this since Dennis has been off chemo for four months. And we have a battle plan. We are going for complete and utter obliteration.

I have a picture of a river so full of crocodiles that one can hardly see the water. The caption underneath reads, “The only way out is through.” It is by Robert Frost. Our family has adopted that philosophy as our mantra. Often one’s only viable option when trying to get to the other side is to go through.

A dear friend, Sam Arishita, suffered a freak fall that rendered him a quadriplegic. We talk regularly, sharing each other’s triumphs and disappointments. Recently he told me he was able to crawl across the floor. A monumental achievement. We were euphoric. Sam is a cherished and trusted friend, and we care deeply for each other. He is like a strong magnetic field that attracts what is positive and reflects it. He knows better than most how to navigate through treacherous, croc-infested waters. All our lives are interconnected. We were meant to learn from one another. If it is true that, as has been said, we attract what we dread, it is simple logic to stop dreading. If Sam can crawl across the floor and the heavens rejoice, surely I can put one foot in front of the other. There is a certain grace and power that comes with perseverance. It would be an offence to Sam’s miracles, not to mention our own, if we did not keep heading toward the other side of the river.

There are times in this voyage that I wonder if I actually signed up for the adventure, if I cross-checked the weather forecast and prepared for the perils. But I know our destination, and perhaps that knowledge, along with our compass, are the most crucial instruments of the journey. Possibly tempests are the most efficient means of reaching the Promised Land. Still, the only way out is through.

Sometimes I feel like a consort battleship. Other times I feel like I’m a little dingy. But in commemoration of the Titanic, and ALL things once thought unsinkable that have gone down, I’m going braless.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

The Art of Aversion

Last Thursday, Dr. Suri determined that the abscess on Dennis’ liver was sufficiently “offed” by potent medicines (whose main ingredients are arsenic and toxic waste) and he could safely transition from IV antibiotics to oral. I was so thrilled, I made a wanton display of delight, high-fiving the entire office staff from the front desk to the latrine.  For almost eight straight weeks now, we have been cocooning Dennis’ picc line (the portal where the medications are injected) in saran wrap for his daily shower, until he looked like a tightly-bound chrysalis waiting for Mothra to emerge.  Bathing will be greatly simplified.

This whole antibiotics thing has taken its toll.  The medication is potent enough to knock out the monster infection, but it dang near took out his digestive tract, too.  Dennis looks slightly malnourished, because he is. One of the most flagrant side effects of rocephin is, to put it delicately, diarrhea.  I have tried everything, from ransacking health food stores to resorting to dumpster dives in an effort to discover something edible that he can absorb nutritionally, and that will not “come to pass.” This is a monumental task. Desperation has even had me investigating the potential health benefits of yak urine and marshmallows. Dennis has been wary understandably of anything yellow I place on his plate.  He always was a picky eater!

By a happy coincidence, one day on the news, I heard of a new culinary technique from, of all people, Alicia Silverstone.  Apparently, she chews her food until it’s the consistency of pink slime, similar to the pre-digested liquid worm broth mother birds regurgitate down the gullets of their chicks.  Then, in an act of severe depravity and utter disgust, she transfers the wad of simulated cheese curds and fat globules directly into her child’s palette for his nourishment and enjoyment.  She claims it is in the child’s best interest.  OHH-KAYYY.  Did I mention she starred in the movie “Clueless?”

However, always open to innovative ways to show my love AND supplement Dennis’ body mass, I volunteered to do the same for him. Because it’s Easter time, I could substitute “Peeps” for the marshmallows. Perhaps it could be considered an act of affection and triage, the outer manifestation of inner celestial fire…a higher state of decorum and moral virtue. Why not?  Nothing else seemed to be working. 

Unable to appreciate the possibilities, Dennis politely declined my offer, suggesting that Alicia Silverstone suffers from socially disruptive narcissism, and maybe with our combined intellect, we could invent other ways of generating flesh on his bones than by totally grossing ourselves out. That made sense. He suggested that I continue in my official capacity as the “bowel whisperer” in order to mitigate the “liquid assets,” and hinted that I should stop listening to Entertainment Tonight as a viable news source. Wow.  Way to harsh my mellow!  But he’s right.  From now on, I’m sticking with Barbara Walters for truth and guidance.

It takes courage to get through tough times.  The Art of Aversion helps me navigate my way through gray and weary places.  I find that if I don’t look too closely or think too clearly, I am able to do what needs to be done without imprinting painful things.  I simply put on the therapeutic blinders, looking neither left nor right, but straight ahead, and place one foot in front of the other. This is not to be confused with therapeutic denial. Oh no. Aversion is just a coping mechanism that assists one in inculcating the practice of perfect self-control.  And self-control is crucial in trying to avoid spontaneous combustion during times of trial.  It is a viable alternative to mainlining dopamine in the face of a cacophony of lab values.

Although, that higher order of intelligence (aversion) can backfire at times.  Recently, a dear friend of mine passed away.  I was determined to attend the viewing without weeping.  Eyes of cork. Total self control. So I decided not to look closely at anything or anyone.  I would just go through the line, pay my respects, and try to remain composed. 

Well, I signed our names in the Book of Remembrance, and moved, head down, toward the casket.  When we got there, we saw, to our chagrin, that we were at the wrong viewing. It was a man we did not know and had never seen before. His family was so gracious and friendly. And  we were so mortified.  The only thing I could think of to do was grab a handful of Kleenex, cover my face to conceal my embarrassment and humiliation, (not to mention stifle my laughter) and depart quickly, hopefully without being cited by the Behavior Nazis for a flagrant social faux pas.  The whole incident gave new meaning to the term “exit wound.” Dennis just rolled his eyes and continued down the family line. He’s used to frequent mental power outages. His patience should be a controlled substance.

I have been reading Brodi’s sequel to “Everneath.”  It is terrific, and reveals the lay-out of the Hades that was referenced in her first book.  A while ago, she asked our family to give her suggestions as to how we imagined this underworld. I was thrilled to offer my assistance. I came up with ideas that were nothing short of riveting inspiration. My creative juices were on steroids.  I presented these ideas in an uninterrupted monologue worthy of a senate filibuster. Then I sat back in hubristic and bloated self-satisfaction and waited for her grateful ratification. 

Brodi listened patiently, and then made the acerbic observation that Nikki went to Hell, not the ICU!  “Well,” I huffed, “it’s all the same to me.”  Actually, she was right.  The kingdom I had created involved being confined by tethers of plastic tubing to frightening machines which spewed forth alarming numbers and great noise. Her realm was far superior, as if all nine Muses had inspired her to organize an underneath of various geographical locations with different degrees of awfulness. It was brilliant. I deferred and ratified.

The Art of Aversion is a very useful tool when one is trying to pass through the tunnels of despair. 

Dennis and I have turned our clocks to OFST (Old Fart Standard Time) and continue to celebrate joyful things. Adversity has a way of distinguishing between things that matter and things that don’t. And it is at these times that I want to see most clearly.