A Tosa resident since 1991, Christine walks the dog, cooks but avoids housework, writes and reads, and enjoys the company of friends and strangers. Her job takes her around the state, learning about people's health. A Quaker (no, they don't wear blue hats or sell oatmeal or motor oil), she has been known to stand on both sides of the political and philosophic fence at the same time, which is very uncomfortable when you think about it. She writes about pretty much whatever stops in to visit her busy mind at the moment. One reader described her as "incredibly opinionated but not judgmental." That sounds like a good thing to strive for!
As I leave the house to make my now weekly pilgrimage to Oshkosh, I spot one of the kids’ iPods on the kitchen floor. It looks a little odd, and then I see that all that high technology is now held together with electric tape.
The surface appeal is gone, but still it manages to work somehow.
It’s a little like that with Mom. A $90,000 chunk of technology about the size of a cigarette pack is implanted under her skin, about where a breast pocket would be. It paces her heart and, when the rhythm goes all kaplooey, it shocks it back in line. Disconcerting, that.
But now, despite the nifty gizmo and all sorts of expensive pharmaceuticals, her giant heart, filling three quarters of her chest cavity, is failing in its job. As a result, her body is filling up with fluid.
In the past two weeks, she’s gained 20 pounds. It’s in her arms and legs, which the physical therapists wrap with elastic bandages, and in odd bulges around her midriff, which they can’t wrap. Because she’s had two radical mastectomies, in some of the places the fluid would normally go, there aren’t places anymore.
Aside from the discomfort (doctor word), pain (patient word), and fear it causes, congestive heart failure is hell on personal vanity.
I call my friends Sabina, a physician, and Susan, a nurse, to get a pre-trip briefing. So I am prepared for the worst.
Still, heading up Highway 41, the sky is so blue, and there are red barns in fields of oat stubble and snow: beauty all around me. I turn off the radio to make a place that’s quiet enough to let in wisdom greater than my own.
I enter the nursing home, a place of old people and middle-aged daughters. Mom is sleeping: I nudge her awake. She rises, in some pain, but manages to get going.
After she stands for a bit, a pocket of fluid forms beneath her buttock. She makes me feel it, and I am suitably horrified. All the people she has made feel her butt today, including her nurse, a man, have been horrified, she says. We laugh about that.
We walk the halls to a waiting room with nursing-home-mauve-and-blue wing-back chairs and an enormous freight elevator. Odd décor even for a nursing home, I suggest. Mom climbs on: 117 pounds.
That’s three less than yesterday. The diuretics are starting to work at last. The many bathroom trips last night begin to feel less onerous.
And today becomes an up-day on the rollercoaster.