IntrepidWoman's Journey

Posts Tagged ‘love

Well, it finally happened. After 12 surgeries and surviving cancer twice, I was THISCLOSE to the final exit. Going into my 13th surgery, which was for hernia repair that I had left way too long, I had a sense of impending doom that I kept pushing away in my mind.

My long-time doctor, who actually attended the same high school I did in pre-historic times, came to my rescue when I phoned him because of escalating pain and attacks which were symptoms of hernia strangulation. I had not lived there for the past 4 years, but he immediately connected me with the surgeon in the small town where I had lived and taught for many years.

The surgery seemed to go well, although it lasted many hours and others scheduled after mine had to be cancelled. The surgeon repaired at least five herniated areas and the next day I was up and walking the halls, expecting to go home soon.

On the second day, my blood pressure suddenly plummeted and my kidneys shut down. Staff packed my belongings onto the ambulance gurney for my trip to ICU in the closest city. Ambulance attendants were standing by. I was unaware of this at the time, but I do remember thinking that I was in a very dark place and mentally decided to pull myself out of it. I can only guess that this is when everything started functioning again and they did not send me to the city. My doctor had waited and watched, hoping….

I was alive and functioning again, but was full of drugs from surgery and post surgery that had not been eliminated from my body. This resulted in 6 days of drug detox. I could only have Tylenol Extra Strength every 4 hours for pain, nothing else. During that time, I experienced really horrific hallucinations and thought that I was trapped in a very terrible place forever. I was afraid to close my eyes because I would sink into mind-chilling dreams that ended with me waking in full terror, trying to breathe and attempting to pull out all the tubes that I became tangled in by thrashing around.

The nursing staff was with me constantly, trying to keep me calm. Their voices and those of my sons kept me anchored briefly in reality. Each day got a little better as the dreams lessened. In the beginning, I would try to stay awake all night. One night I remember the nurses appeared to have floating heads and their faces were ghastly white with very bright, scarlet lips and blue-black hair. There was a nauseating floral fragrance that nearly choked me. The room seemed to be a long tunnel with walls moving inward, and I thought I was imprisoned in a terrible institution where I was trapped for the rest of my existence. Only the voices of the caregivers and my sons would bring me back to reality, sometimes only briefly during the first few days. When I was lucid, I would joke with the nurses, calling one The Mean Nurse because she was so firm, making me concentrate on her voice. I trusted her and sensed she was there for me. Later she told me she had over 30 years experience helping people in trauma situations. What a wonderful way to have spent her career years, taking care of people during such dark times in their lives.

This has to have been one of the worst experiences of my long life, but it is also one of the very best. I have always been ‘a rock and an island’, keeping people at arms length and attempting to suppress most emotions as I pounded my way through life. There was lots of happiness along the way but I never let too many people get too close…. once hurt – you likely know that story.

This time I was totally helpless. I had no control over anything about my circumstances. If I had been in a large city hospital, I do not think I would have made it. In all my previous surgeries over the years, I cannot remember any faces or conversations with the many caregivers and surgeons as it was all so impersonal. But this time I knew all the staff. Having lived in this town for over 30 years, I had either taught their children or the younger staff were my past students. Everyone was overwhelmingly kind. The young woman who came daily to take blood had been my student and she would stop in everyday and visit before her shift. Nurses would come in and ask if I remembered them. I have never felt so loved and so cared for in my entire life.

My doctor was there throughout the dark days, making the call to send me to the city, and then deciding to keep me there. The surgeon came in several times a day, even on the long weekend. He was kind and humorous and very compassionate, spending time as well talking with my sons. They were never in a hurry.

When the day finally arrived that I was able to take care of myself, shower and look human, I walked the halls and received numerous hugs from staff as they came on shift, telling me how great I looked.

I am filled with such joy as a result of my near-death experience. I left that hospital after two weeks filled with a humble sense of thankfulness and a desire to live my life differently. I have begun to really listen to people and look them in the eyes when we talk. My sense of my job being the top priority is gone. Nothing matters now but the people in my life. I am thankful to have a good job that I love, but I am most grateful for my family and friends and for that incredible hospital staff that cared for me with such love and compassion. I will never forget how my sons came and were my life line with reality, keeping me sane. It is my turn now to use my gift of more time to make a more meaningful difference in the lives of others. The first person I am starting to take good care of is me.

A post surgery visit with the surgeon a few weeks later ended with him warmly shaking my hand and saying, “Say hi to the boys from me.” Imagine! I grinned all the way home.


How can this be? My middle son is turning 39 on May 15th and in my own mind I am only 20 something. (My 85-year-old mother reacts the same way when she realizes her two daughters are thisclose to being senior citizens.) I can’t decide if it is a blessing or a problem, feeling like that, but it is my son’s 39th birthday and I am so proud of the man he has become.

David has always been the family nurturer. He hurts for everyone’s pain. He picks everyone up and helps them through hard times. He unselfishly gives of his time and his money to take care of his family and his friends. From keeping grandma’s house in working order over the years to offering a strong shoulder through relationship breakdowns and an instant money transfer to save any one of us, he is always there. He will jump in the car or hop on a plane to help friend or family member in a personal crisis.

He often starts a conversation with, “You know what you should do mom….” when I am off on one of my tangents of flying by the seat of my pants with a new life idea.

I look back at his life with such joy in my heart.  I am very proud of the person he has always been. His journey has had its own hard times, but he is a survivor. He is intelligent and has a smile that melts the heart of the crankiest old lady and wins over the trust in any business negotiation. He is honest and has never been afraid of hard work. It is his intelligence, honesty and forthrightness that has made him successful in business but it is his gentle heart and loyalty that has made him so dear to the rest of his family and friends.

His current job carries a lot of stress but he has worked hard at it to give his family a comfortable life. Before he got married, he had already purchased his first home, and before that, had opened a branch of a business in Vancouver while still in his early twenties. Without formal post secondary education, he has accomplished so much and is greatly admired by the rest of our family with our university degrees.

His finest accomplishment is his son Jack. I am in such awe of his love for his son. Coming from a single-parent family with a father who was not around much has made him more aware. David always wanted a ‘dad’ and had many men including grandpa and coaches who stepped in and helped make him the person he is today. He likes to quote his grandpa and truly honors him by being as much like him as he possibly can be.

His grandpa (my dad), had two daughters and a son who died just before age 16. David and his brothers were such gifts as grandsons for my dad, and he loved them with all his heart. David, in turn, idolized his grandpa. When my dad would come to make repairs at our house and asked who was going to help him, Jim and Dean would scatter, but David would carry the tool box and be ready to learn how to fix something.

When he was a teenager, the phone would ring off the hook with calls from girls. He is the only man I know who has stayed friends with nearly all the girls he dated over the years. That winning smile, blond hair and blue eyes never affected his sweet and humble nature though.

When David was three, he had his tonsils out. I remember going to the hospital to find him sitting in the hallway in his pyjamas, waiting for me. It was not a good experience for him and he came away with a great fear of needles. He had several health issues as a very young child that were also hard on him.

Last year Jack fell on a scooter and split his nostril clean through. David and Lyndsey rushed him to the hospital for stitches and pain meds. When David took him to the doctor to get the stitches out, Jack was terrified, so the doctor was unable to remove them. He agreed to let his dad take them out at home, and David did. Can you imagine this man who had his own bad medical experiences growing up, cutting the tiny stitches in his son’s nose because his son trusted him to do it? Now that is a parent-child bond that puts a huge lump in my throat.

A few weeks ago, Jack called to tell me he was going to a Beavers’ campout. I asked if he had to bring anything special. His reply was, “The special thing I am bringing is my Dad.”

In high school, David was an awesome volleyball player. He would scrape off a layer of skin across the gym floor to save the ball. I will always remember going with him to provincial championships with his school team. They were in the finals and the two teams were so evenly matched, with the excitement being almost too much for the spectators. One of our dads leaped up and yelled, “If you win, I will take you all to Vegas!” They did win and Vegas never did happen, but we were such proud parents. I remember crying from the pure joy of it. David’s dad had come to watch and could not figure out why everyone was so emotional. I told him you had to have been there for the whole ride.

I was there for the whole ride. It has been such an awesome trip. Memory lane for me tonight includes all the baseball and volleyball games, and the hockey coach telling me to go sit somewhere else because I was yelling at David to throw himself on the ice to stop the puck at age 7. We travelled to summer games every year. When I was on a walking kick, he would jump in the car and bring me back at the end of an hour, 5 days a week, just because I asked him to. When one of my dearest friends died of cancer several years ago, David came and sat with me at her funeral. When I bought a beat-up, old church with visions of turning it into a cafe, David was there to tear out carpets, etc. I spent three weeks with Jack, Lyndsey and David in France in 2010. It was a wonderful experience.

My wish for my middle child is for many more birthdays. Some may be very special celebrations and others not so much, due to where he will be at in life at the time. I hope they are mostly wonderful celebrations for him.

Like most parents, I just want my children to be happy. For David, I want him to know how much he is loved and cherished as he turns 39 and from the moment I first saw his beautiful smile.

6 + 3 = 9. Today I had a perfect ninth birthday.

Combine a gentle, blue-eyed, blond almost five year old with an exuberant, 5 and a half year old whose hair and eyes are the color of dark chocolate, and sit them side by side in a worse-for-wear 2004 Cavalier to drive across Calgary to Tommy Ks, and everyone knows what you get – bathroom talk in the back seat. It starts with farts and goes downhill from there with giggles and ‘I can do better than that’ comments swinging back and forth.

The birthday girl in the front has the fleeting thought, “What WAS I thinking?” as she misses the turn off Deerfoot and has to backtrack to 130 Ave. (Jack is staying with her for a few days and she has picked up Michael so the boys can spend the afternoon together.)

Upon arrival, the who-can-ever-tell-them-apart cousins make a dash into a world of fun, and Nana makes a bee line for the soft chairs in the front row where parents and grandparents sit and keep a watchful eye on their youngsters as they work their way through the maze of kid-happy things to do.

‘It’s my birthday and I’ll do what I want to’, so Nana checks FB messages on her Ipod, checks her phone for text messages, pulls out a new book on ‘how to write a book’ by Janet Evanovich (Stephanie Plum series – awesome), locates her lime-green Ipod Shuffle containing a zillion songs from a generation ago, plugs in and zones out.

Occasionally, she glance around to see where the ‘twins’ are before jotting down some notes, adjusting music volume and heading into the next chapter. The boys return periodically for cold drinks and snacks, then breathlessly run off again.

Nearly four hours later, the boys are sweat-soaked, worn out, and ready to go home. Again, Nana thinks, as she madly adjusts the air conditioning in the car, “What WAS I thinking?”

Bathroom talk picks up where it left off with the addition of a tickle or two and we head to Michael’s house to be greeted by three year old Laura. She runs up the steps, singing “Happy Birthday Nana!” and “It’s a secret. I can’t tell you! It is a ladybug cake!” as she gives Nana’s legs a bear hug. “Nice,” says mom, Carmen.

Dinner is a delight and the crowning glory is the ladybug cake with three candles, one representing each grandchild. The little ones sing in unison and with enthusiasm, and Nana tries hard to stop time forever at that moment when her throat closes up and she feels the swell of gratitude in her heart for such a blessed life.

Three grand puffs of air extinguish the candles and requests are made for “an eye”, “the icing side”, “a second piece”, etc.

Because cake is just an excuse to eat icing, it disappears within minutes and the kids are off to play for a while.

When it is time to go, Laura jumps behind Nana on the couch and wrapping herself around her neck, says, “I am a backpack!” as she hangs on for dear life.

Jack’s birthday is in 13 days so he gets presents from his cousins and we head back to Okotoks, kids blowing kisses and Nana honking the horn and annoying the neighbors. (You don’t turn 9 that often. Well, after 50 I guess you do, once every 10 years.)

Every year a birthday is different. Each unique celebration of another notch on the belt of life is a present to be unwrapped and savored.

Sometimes a birthday arrives during a fine time in life when all is well with nary a worry and other times, well, let’s just say ‘challenging’ is a polite description of those other times.

Either place is okay to be if it includes the gift of children. Michael, Jack and Laura are Nana’s gifts that ‘keep on giving’. They give joy and laughter and love beyond description.

To sum it up, when Jack asked for toast this morning and Nana said, “What should you say, Jack?” he replied, “Can I have toast PLEASE, Nana Banana?” He grinned from ear to ear and Nana laughed. Happy 9th birthday, if I do say so myself…

“Nana, I think your boat is sinkin . . .” says Jack, standing in his hard hat, wearing fluorescent-yellow water goggles, with socks on his hands and holding a toy drill. This is right after he tells me that my feet are in the water and then I put my feet up in the air to hear that my boat hasn’t got a hope! (I thought hope floats!)

He is in the process of fixing things with his tools – the cat’s tower, the couch, the fireplace. . .  He hands me a bright orange plastic hard hat and tells me it will protect me from all the smoke. Then he adds black, heavy-rimmed glasses to my attire. Did I mention he has bare feet and is home with bronchitis?

Suddenly he verbalizes that mom and dad are not here and it is “just us.” “Just us,” he repeats, then his eyes light up and he smiles. That sweet face melts my heart and heals all that ails me.

We have read books, watched a movie that made him very sad and wanting a hug from dad, bounced a ball around the room and off the walls (oops) and over the ledge to the downstairs. He played his guitar while I danced. Now he is wowing me with his shooting skills. (We all have Nerf guns, all us kids.)

Jack is four. His throat hurts and he coughs periodically and eats his popsicle too fast. Then he cries from the brain freeze and the frozen lump in his chest. A few minutes later, he sings as he cleans up all his toys in anticipation of his mom coming home. “Where can that fire be? Where can that fire be?” he sings.

When mom arrives, Jack announces, “I’ve been working on the cat house!”

Long, busy day working at my list of things to finish while new things just kept popping up and making the list longer. Passing the torch to others now. I am done. Finished. Over. I have a life that does not include work. It includes Jack, my little heart-song. Tonight on the phone he said, “Two sleeps” and “I love you Nana”. Sigh!

Good story: contacted the two winners of our photo show, young people who get a week at Red Deer College in an art program in August. One said she wanted to give her week to another girl because she was a good artist and really would love it. Tried to talk her out of it , explaining you did not have to be a ‘good’ artist to go and enjoy the week. She was adamant, in front of her mom, so I accepted that she wanted to do this for her good friend. Turned out they barely know each other! She just really admires the other girl’s talent. I went to the Arts Council tonight (who are paying for the scholarships to this camp) and told them the story of this unselfish girl. They decided to send her too, as well as the other winners. Nice way to end the very busy and somewhat frustrating day today.

I hope these two girls enjoy the week-long art programs together and especially hope they become fast friends by the end of it! That would be a lovely ending.

And that sound you hear is applause. My hat is off to the Arts Council for their spontaneous generosity. Passing forward is contagious.

Historically Speaking

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