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.

Saturday, June 21, 2014

Gillian's Eve

With only an hour left in my thirties, here are a few thoughts:

DYKWIL: Depositing cheques with my phone. Technology FTW!

YKGOML: I miss landlines, because sometimes someone other than the person you were trying to reach answered, and you'd have a chance to catch up with your friend's spouse/lover/parent/child/cat.

Ultra Fine Advice: Friends are more important than money, but paying attention to your finances is more important than paying attention to Facebook. is my new spending conscience (and go-to distraction).

(Aside: Mint should let you send thank-you emails when someone buys you drinks or dinner, like, "Hey [insert name here], thanks! You helped Gillian stay in her Restaurants budget for June. Save on! Love,")

Finally and definitely most importantly, a big UFF shout-out to my amazing 10-yr-old godson Griffin, who saw the book I sent to his mom and said, "Why be perfect when you can be awesome!"

That, friends. That.

Monday, June 16, 2014

Unpacking and Packing

"Moving is the worst. You have to touch everything you own, and make a decision about it." - my (very wise) friend Doreen

A friend of mine recently shared with me that she underwent her own crisis several years ago. She said up until then, she thought that her stuff - her baggage, her issues, whatever you want to call it - were all packed up in boxes and locked neatly in a room somewhere. Then she had this crisis, and realized that no, these boxes were actually stacked high on a palette and she was dragging that palette behind her. She went to therapy and one by one, unpacked as many of those boxes as she could.

As I write this, I'm procrastinating the final stages of packing a house's worth of stuff to move to a different country and into a fourth-floor walkup. That last part is key: The thought of carrying everything you own up four narrow flights of stairs is great incentive to own less stuff.

To that end, last Monday I had six full garbage bags and three overflowing recycling bins on the curb for pickup. This morning, a thrift store came to pick up about about six boxes of donation items, plus a bunch of furniture (assorted chairs and tables) (why did we even have "assorted chairs and tables"?). There are at least two more garbage bags going out tonight, and one of the recycling bins is already full.

At the same time I'm doing this physical packing, I'm trying to unpack a bunch of psychic boxes. Normally unpacking is way more fun than packing, but this kind of unpacking is *hard*. It turns out that I didn't make conscious decisions about what to put in these psychic boxes, and now as I unpack them, I have to decide what I really want.

The thing I'm realizing is, there will always be a box labeled Misc., and the only way to find out what's in it will be to unpack it and make decisions about what to do with the stuff. Some of it will probably end up back in the same box, or in another box named Misc. with some other stuff, and in that context maybe it will look different, and the next time I look at it maybe I'll make a different decision about what to do with it. And while it's inevitable that I'll keep adding stuff to these boxes, hopefully I'll do it more deliberately, and eventually I'll end up with fewer of the Misc. boxes.

It might help if I start to think of life as a fourth-floor walkup.

In other news, I'm reworking my last post (the one about relationships that's no longer here, but Google can probably still find it somewhere). It didn't make sense. I wrote it as a response to a conversation, not really deliberately, and if any of you actually understood any of it, you were probably like, um, yeah, no duh (because it was about projecting and is in every relationship book ever written).

The real point of that post was meant to be this. My friend D has a chalkboard in her kitchen, with a TODO list on it. I noticed the other day that under "haircut" is written "rel'ship". I asked her what that was about, and she said, "Oh, that's to remind us us to work on our relationship."

"That's amazing!" I said. "I love that you're conscious about it."

She laughed. "Well, yeah, but it's under 'haircut'."

Fair enough. Getting a haircut is easy.

(Misc. box photo compliments of Mike; box may or may not contain: a shower curtain, one shoe, a fork, half a bottle of wine, his peewee hockey championship jacket, some computer parts, a pillow, and his car keys.)

Saturday, May 17, 2014

The Next Worst Thing

I hope this thing you're going through, that's so awful that you can't eat and you can't sleep and sometimes you can't even breathe - I really do hope this thing is the worst thing you'll ever go through.

You will experience trauma. You will experience loss. You will grieve. You will scream into your pillow. You will sob. You will fight it with every cell in your body, this worst thing. You will hold so tightly to your hopes and fears that you will sometimes become them and forget who you are.

People will try to distract you. You'll love them for it and you'll hate them for it. Maybe you feel like you deserve this worst thing, like you did something to earn it and this worst thing is your punishment. You will feel guilt and shame.

You'll read about forgiveness and not really understand it, maybe for a long time. You'll hold onto that guilt and shame, and it'll get so jumbled up with your hopes and fears that you won't even know which is which and who you are anymore. The guilt and shame (and even the pride) will keep you in the past, and the hopes and fears will distract you with the future, and you'll miss out on the present: The gift that is this very moment, where you are right now, in this body and this breath. Right now is who you are.

From this worst thing you'll emerge, eventually, it happens, I promise. Maybe you'll start to feel better, a little bit at a time, and then you'll remember this worst thing and feel sad and angry and hopeless again. Maybe you'll feel like you don't deserve to feel better. Maybe the times of feeling better will get a little bit longer, and the sadness a little bit less acute. Allow yourself that. Let it be a project.

And maybe, first in just one moment and then in a few of these moments strung together, you will start to wrap your head around this whole forgiveness thing. You will start to accept that we're all a bunch of human beings (yes, even you), and that we all make mistakes (yes, even you). You will start to trust. You will start to allow forgiveness.

I hope it's the worst thing you'll ever go through, this thing that you're going through right now.

The thing about this thing is, it probably isn't the worst thing. There was a worst thing before this one and there will be a worst thing that follows.

And every time you get through a worst thing, you'll be a little bit better at getting through the next worst thing. At accepting it, and forgiving it.

 It's a long, messy, wonderful life, full of next worst things. Fortunately, it's full of next best things, too.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014


I stopped.

After we moved back from Argentina, and settled in the ‘burbs, I stopped.

I stopped writing.

I stopped publishing.

I stopped connecting.

And sometimes, I stopped living, as fully and completely as I could have.

Even at the (previous) lowest points of my life, I was writing here. I told you, Internet, about my separation. I told you about my divorce, and my starting anew, and Beginnings and all of that.

I fell madly in love with an amazing human being. We shacked up then packed up and moved to South America and had crazy awesome adventures, some that even included naked-lady towels.

Then we settled.

My advice to you? Don’t ever settle.

It was fine, for a while. I had a job. We had a nice house with a lawn and a garage and a washer and dryer in the basement. We bought a hammock and I built some benches.

But still: We settled.

Seven years ago, almost to the day, I wrote this blog post. It’s still here, on the internets, for everyone to see. And my, how I wish I’d read it monthly – even annually – for the past seven years.

I didn’t, though, and in that seven years, I forgot some of the lessons I should have learned.

But now, in the immortal words of Britney, I’m back, bitches. I'm back with more honesty, more late night blogging and more blood, sweat, and most definitely tears. I’ve got them all in spades, and as of tomorrow morning, I might even have a new bachelorette pad here in the BK.

If that doesn’t work out, I might be looking to sleep on your couch. I’ll bring the bourbon and the Kleenex.

And you guys, please: Read on. Write on. And most importantly: Love on.