Though you’d never know it from my silence, this has been an event filled week. After finishing the scones, yes, all the scones, last Thursday, I escorted Jimmie to his surgical procedure and home the same day, quite a feat for the 91-nearly-92-set, and we settled into the recovery period over the weekend.
Though the surgery had gone well, the dreaded C words still prevail – cancer in the biopsy, and catheter in the “leg” as Jimmie said to his sister Kate when we called her this weekend to wish her a happy belated 84th birthday. I could tell from his expression and from reading the handy captions on our phone, Kate wasn’t getting it. I leaned over and mouthed
It wasn’t in your leg, dear, it was in your penis. That’s where a catheter is.
Which of course cracked us both up.
We weren’t cracking up last Thursday when we got home from the hospital. I had sent this photo of him to our family, taken in the recovery room, showing him beaming in his lilac paper hospital gown, not yet un-numbing from the epidural he’d had. He repeatedly was asking me why we were in the hospital? What happened?
Every time he woke up, I told him again why we were there and what he’d had done. He just wanted to go home. And so we did by about 4:30 that day.
The next four days were painful, dulled only by the heavy doses of Extra Strength Tylenol. This was the darkest time. There’s little worse than seeing your partner in pain, and it started me on a sober accounting:
- is the pain related to an advance of the cancer or just the catheter?
- how to be with him as much as possible
- when to take time off
- how to notify family and friends
- how to organize visits so they wouldn’t tire him out
- the effects of stronger pain medications on his lovely presence and our quality of life
- how much longer do we have
I really went there. I don’t think Jimmie was thinking about it that much, but was just hunkering down with the pain. He was completely distracted and therefore absent, which of course made me worry more. These issues are familiar, having gone through the loss of two other loved ones to cancer, and participating in their final days. But it’s different with your partner than your parent.
Finally, on Tuesday, the fifth day of watching Jimmie suffering in pain, I called his doctor and said we needed something stronger. We went in and much to our surprise, he said he could also remove the catheter. He also gave us a prescription for heavier pain meds; mercifully, we still haven’t had to fill that.
And then, within a day or two, the pain was gone. A miracle. No more Tylenol, the notebook where we’d been recording all the medication sitting on the table untouched now for five days. To say that we won’t resume at some point would be naive, but for now we are out of the woods.
Which brings me to the real reason I started this post. We’ve resumed our lives, the absence of pain and the catheter constantly reassuring. Last night we watched the film Phantom Thread, with Daniel Day Lewis and Vickey Krieps. IMDB summarizes the plot of the movie this way:
Set in 1950’s London, Reynolds Woodcock is a renowned dressmaker whose fastidious life is disrupted by a young, strong-willed woman, Alma, who becomes his muse and lover.
If you’ve seen the movie, you know that it is about so much more than that. For me, the title is a tidy metaphor for Jimmie’s short term memory loss.
We were having dinner tonight- some strange pesto chicken patties I’d gotten at Whole Foods, and sautéed zucchini, an orzo feta salad – when I made an offhanded remark about the texture of the chicken patties. They bordered on pre-chewed, but then I joked about Alma’s cooking from the movie.
Jimmie looked at me and said what movie?
You know, the movie about the couturier who lived in the big house with all the women working there to sew his dresses……..
I then went on to describe the rather bizarre turn the movie took. Aren’t I good to not spoil it for you?
Jimmie: Blank look.
Els: You don’t remember anything about the movie do you?
No, he said, calmly eating his zucchini.
What I love about Jimmie is that he doesn’t seem the least bit perturbed about his loss of short term memory. He is always so present so you could give a fig about whether you have to repeat a story. It used to bother me that when I came home he couldn’t remember what happened in Trumpville that day, but I can easily get caught up with about 10 minutes of CNN. And what a blessing for him that he doesn’t carry this toxic mental waste around like the rest of us have to.
My favorite of his new expressions is “In one head and out the other.”
Els: It doesn’t seem to bother you that you can’t remember details. That’s wonderful that it isn’t causing you worry.
Jimmie: I just feel sorry for you that I don’t remember.
Els: What are you kidding? I can repeat myself endlessly and you never get the least bit bored about what I’m saying. You don’t put your head down on the table and say, For crying out loud, that’s the sixth time you’ve told me that story!
He smiled across the table at me, and we resumed our companionable silence as we ate the rubbery patties. And now I’m worried that I have become Alma…