Wednesday, November 04, 2020

Things That Are Good

Not a lot of things are good right now.

Sunny has a wound on her leg. It started last year, shortly after she finished radiation treatment for skin cancer. A sore, smaller than a dime. She put ointment on it and bandaged it up and it went away. Then it reappeared, and it grew. She reported it to her family doctor, who ordered at-home wound care. (This doctor never saw the wound himself, in the months of it existing while Sunny was in his care: he "had it described" to him. She has since changed doctors.)

She has spent most of this year on various schedules (daily, every other day, back to daily) of having nurses come to the house to change the dressing. They watched the wound grow. A second ulcer appeared below the first. Her doctor sent her to a surgeon to "clean it up," but he had limited success and said it was her fault for not better tolerating the pain. This was in early July, during the height of Covid shutdowns, and she had to go to the appointment alone.

I have since learned that "clean it up" is debridement. When tissue dies in a wound, it forms a useless blob that can interfere with healing and hold in infection-causing bacteria. Debridement is the removal of this necrotic tissue. I have also learned that debridement is extraordinarily painful.

Last night was the second time I held Sunny in my arms while a plastic surgeon "cleaned up" the wound (the two ulcers merged several weeks ago; at its widest spots, the affected area now measures 12cm by 6cm). Sunny was a fucking trooper. She yelled. She sobbed. She held my hand and buried her face in my chest, as best she could while on a hospital bed in a clinic with me sitting on a stool beside her. 

This surgeon is kind and efficient. We will see her again in two weeks after another round of antibiotics and a visit with an infectious disease specialist. Major surgery is likely not an option, but a skin graft may be possible.

I started this post with the title and I'm tempted to change it for, uh, obvious reasons. But I started writing this morning, just after my walk with Cruz, in which he ran and ran and played and played and waited, smiling patiently, outside the drugstore while I dropped off Sunny's prescription. I was thinking about how lucky I am to walk with him every day, to watch him trounce happily through crunchy piles of leaves and to throw a stick for him in the snow. I thought about how lucky and honoured I am to be here with Sunny, to hold her hand and ask her to tell me stories of her childhood to distract her during the painful nurse visits. To help her dry off and rub lotion on her back after her showers. And to hold and comfort her, as she did me for many, many years.

These are things that are good.

Tuesday, September 22, 2020

How It Goes

Sunny has a nurse named Michael who comes daily to change the dressing on her wound. Every 2-3 days, she asks him for an hour lead time so that she has time to shower. Yesterday he said that today his schedule would be light, he could come at 2 p.m. and he'd call an hour before. I blocked my work calendar so I'd be available to help with her shower and to hold her hand while the nurse is here - the wound is incredibly painful when he's cleaning it out.

This morning, Michael called just before 11 to tell her his schedule had changed: he would be here at noon. No big deal, right? She still has an hour. But she also makes herself a protein shake and takes her medicine at 11 every day. So now she has to do those things, and shower, before Michael comes at noon.

I helped her shower on Saturday. Well, more like I hung around and watched. Her movements are both shaky and incredibly deliberate. She thinks about each action - where her feet will go, what she will grab for stability (some of these are really not good options, see: the floor-to-ceiling tension rod that holds her towels). An incredible amount of mental energy goes into each step. She has a system for getting dressed and undressed. There is a rickety chair involved. On Saturday she told me she fell off it once. "Well, the whole thing just toppled over, and then I wondered how I was going to get up." I have since suggested replacing the chair with one that's more sturdy and has arms. "It will be too big, I won't be able to get in that cabinet." We can move the things out of that cabinet, Sunny. We can put the things you use regularly in the other cabinet.

Everything has a system that has evolved out of necessity. The knife rack in the kitchen doesn't have room for even a straight pin. I have tried to make space. Does she use the fish knife? "Yes, I use that to take labels off of jars." OK, we'll leave it. In the bedroom, there are six drawers. What's in these drawers, I have asked? Could we move pajamas up here instead of storing them in the basement? "No, then we won't be able to find anything." The paper recycling bin, currently in a row of bins that has to be moved to use the oven, is 2/3 full of paper bags that just live there. What if we moved the bags and got a smaller bin for paper, I ask. She is thinking about that.

Monday, September 14, 2020

How To Return Home

I had recently been trying to figure out how I could (most effectively? efficiently?) make the trip to Waterloo to visit Sunny. At the start of the pandemic I didn't worry about it too much. I had been to Canada in February, and normally would go every couple of months. By July, however, there were some health issues that weren't improving (don't worry, there will be so much more about those in subsequent posts). Given that Sunny had to go to the ER on August 18, it seemed prudent to hitch a ride to Canada when the opportunity presented itself, even though quarantine requirements meant I wouldn't be able to see Sunny until 14 days after my arrival in the country.

And so: on Thursday, August 20, just after 7 a.m., a jocular yellow Lab named Cruz and I piled into the cab of a U-Haul, driven by our friend Ben. We stopped briefly in the Bronx to have all of Ben's family's worldly possessions loaded into the truck, then made our way along various interstates to the U.S.-Canada border crossing at Lewiston. Within 2 hours of entering Canada, we were quarantining, along with Ben's wife (my beloved LFar) and their handsome son Gus, in a very suburban house in Waterloo.

Gus and Cruz were fast friends. Cruz and I slept on an air mattress in the basement and tried to stay out of the way of a family navigating a pandemic with a working-from-home parent in a city they'd only moved to out of necessity. A friend dropped off a case of wine from LCBO. We ordered a lot of frozen pizzas and bag salads from Instacart. I worked from the kitchen table, and when I needed to close a door, I did a few meetings from the master bedroom.

During our quarantine, Ben and I each received 3 calls from the Ontario government, only one of which was a robocall. The live callers were apologetic: Sorry to bother you, this will only take a few minutes. We are trying to stop the spread of COVID in Ontario and want to make sure you are quarantining. Do you have access to a washroom? Are you able to get outside? Thank you for your time, have a nice day.

On Day 14, in anticipation of spending Labour Day weekend with a friend who is immunocompromised, I did a drive-through COVID test. I assured them that, having recently returned from the U.S., I had completed my quarantine. I received the (negative) results within 2 days (incidentally, the same amount of time it had taken for my prior two test results in New York).

And a week ago, after a cottage weekend that approximated normal life (lake swimming, campfires, too much wine), I arrived at Sunny's.

During quarantine, I was out walking Cruz one day and I heard music. I assumed it was coming from a nearby backyard, but it followed me. I checked my phone and it turned out I had pocket-played a song called "How to Return Home" by Natalie Weiss. I had never heard this song before.

Your bare feet sliding on the old wooden floorboards,
Home just as you left it but still you're shaken,
Like walking into a museum somehow out of time.
It's all the same except the girl in the hallway,
Where she's been and who she will ripen into,
Your childhood's on the other side of a sprawling divide… too wide.

Take a silent breath.
Hold in the change.
Tell yourself you still live here.
Take your bags upstairs.
It's the only way you'll get through today.
Count the hours.
Take a shower.
Wash yourself away.

The house is pulsing with an alien heartbeat,
Was it always here but you never listened?
It's calling you to be the girl that you were way back then… again.

Take a silent breath.
Hold in the change.
Tell yourself you still live here.
Take your bags upstairs.
Put away your clothes, take it nice and slow.
Be their daughter.
Nothing's harder
When nobody knows
How to return home.