Thursday, May 18, 2017

Funny? Not Yet

            “Some day,” Kim said, “we will be laughing at this.”

            But not yet.

            Kim is on heavy painkillers to control what her surgery has done to her. Her nurse, Marva, said that her body thinks she has been in a knife fight – it doesn’t know the difference between a scalpel and a switchblade. On Saturday while she was eating breakfast she fell asleep with a spoonful of raisin bran halfway up to her mouth. I removed the cereal bowl from her chest. Funny? Not yet.

            And two days after surgery when Genne’ and I showed up in her hospital room, Kim raved to the nurse about how handsome I am and how beautiful Genne’ is. True, of course, but it was a potentially funny moment with the drugs doing much of the talking. Not quite funny yet. I wonder if I can get hold of those drugs . . ..

            Before her surgery we met with Dr. Schermerhorn, and he described the “cage” he would construct to support the section of Kim’s spine that the cancer had eaten away. “A cage?” Kim said. “Can you put a bird in it?” The doctor, focused on explaining what a massively complex surgery was coming up, gave only a quick smile, but I thought it was very funny, and very Kim. And to round out the story, Genne’ announced that her Mother’s Day and Get Well gift to Kim would be a bird in a cage for Kim to care for and, of course, photograph while she is healing at home. We decided to name it “T-11” after the damaged vertebra that the cage has replaced. Or maybe, Kim suggested, “Tweet-11.”I get pleasure out of picturing our shopping for that bird.

            Sunday was Mother’s Day. Kim told me on Mother’s Day Eve that her first thought when she opened her eyes after surgery was how great it is that she will be around for another Mother’s Day. I would have guessed that her first thought would be, “Ouch! This really f***ing hurts!” That may have been her second thought.

            Monday was rough. Kim transitioned from the hospital to Grand Traverse Pavilions, a “residential care facility.” It was a difficult transition for Kim. She had been making some progress in managing her severe pain, but her pills did not make the journey (about 200 yards through a tunnel) from the hospital, and her medical information (the very serious nature of her surgery, the proper use of her brace, etc.) was not on the computer at the Pavilions, so the staff could not treat her properly. They could not, according to regulations, remove her brace so she could lie down with any comfort – they did not have written instructions. So I removed the brace. And I had to persuade the staff to get her prescribed painkillers from their reserve supply while they were waiting for her own pills – we would pay them back. This part will not have us laughing some day.

            Despite the bureaucratic sludge and the insensitivity of a doctor who examined her, Kim tried to keep up her spirits, and the spirits of those around her. When a nurse brought in some homemade granola bars, Kim could not get hers down, but she insisted that I eat most of it so the chef would feel appreciated. And then when another nurse made the kind of human connection that Kim creates so well, Kim rewarded him with a joke she had just created:
            “Are you Christian?”
            “No, my name is Trevor.”
            “No, Christian – the religion?”
            “No, not really . . ..”
            “Well, anyway. You know in the Bible where it says God created Eve out of Adam’s rib?”
            “Yeah . . .?”
            “Well, God created a brand new creature out of my rib. He created Zack, and God said, ‘It is good.’ And that put an end to prejudice because you could have men, and women, and Zack, who is just an acceptable and lovable creature who could be anywhere on the continuum. . .. I did a lot of good for the world with my rib.”

            Let me provide some context. They had to cut off part of Kim’s rib during her surgery, and “Zack” comes out of Kim’s rib. Of course, Kim has been taking heavy painkilling narcotics. She’s experienced some hallucinations – I’ll write more about them in a future post. And she has been struggling, usually successfully, to frame her experience in a positive light. She thought her joke would help, and she asked Trevor to bring her a joke the next day. Kim’s joke was funny, in a way, but it turned into a serious point about love and acceptance. We will be laughing at this some day, but not today as I head over to the Pavilions to see how my Kim has spent the night.

            Two weeks, they estimate, until I get her home. Kim estimates one week. Now, that puts a smile on my face.

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