Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Walking in Manhattan

After starting the linens in the washing machine, I thought that I would let Brent sleep a bit longer at Ronald McDonald House. (One advantage of him finding sleep on the couch more comfortable than on the bed, is that I do not need to wake him to do the 'exit laundry'). I decided to return the wheelchair to Memorial Sloan Kettering that we borrowed after Brent's needle biopsy yesterday.  I threw my handbag into the empty wheelchair and set off, alone with my thoughts in the city.

This has been an emotional trip, and I am finally alone, without things that I actively need to do like when we were in the hospital.  There is anonymity in the city, especially one this large, and with the understanding that I do not know anyone here.  There is real temptation in screaming right there in the street...wailing to the heavens.  A plea for some mercy, a frustrated cry for insight, a bit of anger at God.  I think that it is ok to be angry with God once in a while.  I do not rage outwardly as I walk, but I am grieving.

My son Brent, who only a day or two ago (could that possibly be right?) expressed to me how he couldn't wait to be able to run again, how much he is looking forward to the freedom to play with Olivia in that physical way almost required of 5 year olds, will never be able to walk normally. We learned that he is in all likelihood, going to lose his leg, after a long year and a half of surgeries and rehab in an effort to save it.  

And that may not be the bad news.  We are now concerned about local relapse of his cancer.

For months, there has been starts and stops with physical therapy.  Concern and frustration nagged at me about the fact that we have not managed to establish a head of steam in his progress.  But, it seemed last week that we might have just turned a corner.  His wound was improving, and I was going to set up PT again for him, beginning tomorrow, upon our return to Ohio.  We turned a second corner here in New York however, when routine X-ray showed that the donor bone is dissolving.

I never saw that coming.

So now, the worry that I have had about infection for a year, has been transformed into my wish.  My fervent prayer is that we have been tamping down an infection for months, despite massive doses of antibiotics and antifungals, and that the infection has damaged this donor bone, degrading it to the point that it must be removed.  That is my new hope.

From an orthopedic perspective, the problem is severe, and the solutions are all unappealing.  But if the causative agent is infection, we have one sort of problem.  If it is cancer, we have much bigger challenges and more difficult "fixes."  

I walked, looking at the flower vendors, and food trucks setting up for the day. The constant movement of people, like a pulse, even in the early hour carried me along. I really love the city, for a country girl.

Along another line of thought, I spoke at length to my oldest son last night.  He, quite understandably, is struggling with this.  He offered up a string of ideas, solutions for this orthopedic problem that do not involve amputation.  "Couldn't you go with metal?  Could you use his fibia?..." He told me that he had loads of ideas, as he wrestled with the changes that Brent faces, that we face, as a family.

I explained to him that while it is not completely decided yet, amputation is what he should really be prepared for. I told him that Brent is not defined by his physical form.  But that this change, which is troubling to Alex, might serve as his own personal inspiration, especially if he has ideas.  Go into biomedical, and make the world better.

We all have hard things. It takes no effort to lie there, curled up in life and bewail our challenges.  Our job, I believe, is to turn those hard things into something good. 

I challenged Alex, that if he has ideas about how to fix this, he should write them down, explore them, find the problems that come with with the solutions (they are always there) and try to fix those problems too. If he feels passionately about this, he should do something about it, and try to help others.  I am trying to do that through my writing, using the hard things we have, and bringing good things to others, making it easier, in all hope.  

I drop off the wheelchair, having borrowed it overnight.  There is a family feeling about this, sort of like when I would take my parents car when I was a teenager.  The discharge nurse had encouraged us to borrow it (He had a needle biopsy only hours before, after all) shouting to the secretary at the desk as we left that we were taking it to RMH, feeling like like a sister of sorts.  Will I ever feel differently about this place, like when you step into your parents house after living on your own?  A bit of a guest, rather than like you belong there?  Should you knock?

I head back to RMH, up First Avenue.

A third line of thought, which I try to sort out...the people that have come into our lives.  I had shared with Brent that I believe that things happen for a reason, that there is a plan.  While God sometimes gives you hard things to do, he also sends you help along the way, guidance and support.  I see too many coincidences to think otherwise.  Lately, there have been people, who visit, and revisit my life in odd ways, at serendipitous times.  

Looking back, I sometimes understand what someone's purpose was in appearing at a particular time. But sometimes, I worry about the future when someone shows up.  I don't want the "help" that they might be offering, or the problems that they are best suited to assist me with. I fear what it might mean, and really wish that they would just go away.

For example, a doctor that has been particularly helpful to us in Ohio is looking for permanent position elsewhere, and unfortunately, has not secured anything as of yet.  He is extending his stay with oncology as a night hospitalist for another 6 months.  Until yesterday, I simply wished good things for him, and left it at that.  Now, that information carries a tinge of anxiety.  I do not want that sort of help, or those sorts of problems.  And I have a half dozen examples of this ilk to worry at me.

It is best not to look ahead in that way, I think. I remind myself that it is not all about me, or my family. And these sorts of things are not prophetic.  There are a multitude of purposes, and reasons, none easily seen or understood from this perspective. 

I have racked my brains, trying to figure out what all of the labs, and symptoms of the past 5 months add up to, in advance of the pathology which will take a week.  How would the CRP behave from infection, from cancer? But I am no doctor, and the doctors don't know.  We all wait.  I wait impatiently. Anxiously.  

I step into a coffee shop, my regular stop on this route. Brent and I were here only 2 days ago, grabbing a bite while people watching, and resting as the 5 block walk to Sloan was a lot for him to crutch. We didn't bring our own wheelchair to New York, and the thought had flitted through my head that day that perhaps I should arrange to return it, as we seldom use it anymore. Brent was looking forward to showing Dr. Healey how he could walk.  We had no idea how different that meeting would be from what we had imagined in that moment.

Brent is still sleeping when I return, an untroubled sleep. I put the linens in the dryer and suddenly it all washes over me.  I need to breathe.  And take one step.  One word.  One moment. One breath.  Then another of each.

I need to take the hard things and make them good.

We came here in solid clouds, that made the landing a leap of faith.  We leave in fog, which obscures the path right in front of us.  I am so grateful for the fact that we have an Angel Flight, so that I do not need to drive for 9 hours and focus on the immediate responsibilities of driving for that long, which are both too much and too little at the same time.  I miss my husband and my other children, and long to be all together.

We wait a week for pathology, to find out what we are doing.

We wait.


  1. Ann you are an incredibly strong woman and an inspirational parent! Your blogs bring tears to my eyes and I just pray that things change and that good news comes to you and your family. I know there's nothing I can put in words but you are and your family are in my thoughts and prayers.

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