My days become a blur. Cards come in from girlfriends, wishing Gary well. The hospital is better than a half hour from our home. I spend six hour days there – all at once, or in two three-hour stints, day after day. Somewhere around making myself clean and presentable on a daily basis, I manage to move the fall compost to my gardens, and mow the lawns. An external pacemaker is keeping Gary’s heart beating as the days pass. He is placed on and off a respirator repeatedly while doctors debate whether he will need a permanent pacemaker.
Thirty-five years of marriage, schoolwork, office, and old hobbies clutter my basement; and I decide this is a good time to clear it out. I want a winter workout area and a place where I can have friends over for a women’s meeting or a movie night without interrupting Gary’s television watching. I am thinking a total re-do will be therapy. So, I ask his second son, the techie one, to help me sort out all the hanging wires left half-connected from computers long-gone; cable lines running from modems and disappearing into ceiling panels; even cords and connectors to telephone land-lines that we have not had for years.
About this heart surgery…. We were originally told that this was elective surgery – that Gary was not in imminent danger of death – but that, if he did not opt for surgery, he would slowly become more and more tired until, likely within a year, he would suffer a major attack. We were also told to expect two days in intensive care and six more in a general hospital ward. They told us they would have him up and walking, albeit a short distance, the day after surgery. It is now November 3 – ten days post-surgery – and Gary is still in intensive care and not yet out of bed. He is simply too weak to stand. The cardiologists keep re-setting the heart rate on his external pacemaker – anywhere from 45 to 90 beats per minute – trying to get his own heart to kick in.
With the basement cleared, I spend late nights washing the floors and repairing and repainting the baseboards all around. It is a big basement with beautiful, dark wood paneling and a nice drop ceiling. Men arrive to lay a light, bright linoleum over the first half of the basement.
November 4 ~ I feed horses and head to the hospital. They have put Gary on morphine. It eases his pain enough to have the television on for the first time and we watch a Michigan football game together. It is midnight by the time I get home.
November 5 ~ Today is Sunday and the weather is BEAUTIFUL – a bit damp from days of rain, but heading into the 60’s. Kim and Ava meet me at the barn at 9:30 and we enjoy a wonderful – and much needed – trail ride.
When I arrive at the hospital, Gary is sitting in a cardiac chair. His left lung has filled with enough fluid that they opt to drain it manually with a tube inserted through his back and into his lung. They drain off almost two-liters – a huge pop bottle’s worth – and leave a drip line to continue draining into a bag. I was expecting a mostly clear fluid, but this looks like blood.
November 6 ~ I spend scant time at the hospital today because carpeting is delivered for the second half of the basement. A light – if maybe outdated – Berber makes the basement appear warm and welcoming. I am pleased with how comfortable this area has suddenly become. Friends and relatives, none of whom have seen the basement in years, wonder how and why I am forfeiting my sleep to redecorate at a time like this. They do not understand and, maybe, you don’t either.
November 7 ~ Bill visits today to trim hooves. It feels good to stand in the barn and do something – anything – with the horses during the day. My time with them has been limited to a half-hour of sitting quietly, sharing space with them as they begin their evening hay. On some evenings, even this small pleasure is missed because, as Gary slowly comes around, he finds himself lonely and wants my company. There is not much to say, but the gift of time is good for him. I read aloud three books that I have purchased as Christmas gifts for other people.
November 14 ~ Finally, with lung drain removed and permanent pacemaker installed, Gary is moved to the hospital’s in-house physical therapy unit – after three weeks in intensive care.
November 16 ~ Every day, I drive the same, most expedient, route to the hospital. On a couple of occasions, I think about a slightly different route that would take me past the local humane society. In early October, Gary and I visited the shelter, and discussed the six or so dogs who caught our attention. We both agreed that a part-Husky with ample white fur was both our favorites. But, we bemoaned the thought of lint-rollers and vacuums. I said I already had my “dogs” in the barn. Gary said that he was not sure that he “deserved” a dog because he was not very interested in training or playing yard games. And, we both agreed that maybe we weren’t quite ready to “let Skipper go.” But, yesterday, a volunteer brought a service dog – a yellow lab – into the physical therapy room. Gary could not pet it because he was balancing precariously on a walker. When a therapist asked him whether he liked dogs, I was amazed at how quickly he said yes – as eager a little boy! I was truly taken aback. Today, I have a luncheon with my NOW group and it happens to be at a restaurant that is within a mile of the shelter. And, this is what I know…. When Skipper was alive, Gary walked around the ten-acre path twice a day. A dog would at least get him outside. I am twenty-minutes early for the luncheon, so I pull into the Humane Society and find this:
November 20 ~ Gary has asked that I call the furnace guys to do the fall check on the furnaces in our house and the rental house. The serviceman tries to charge me a full hundred dollars more than last year. What’s with that? I balk and he concedes. Twenty years ago, I would have ruminated and paid the money. On the way to the hospital, I visit Luna. She cannot come home until she is spayed.
November 21 ~ We live in a stocky, brick cape-cod house built in the early 1940’s. The ninety-year-old brothers who live in houses across the road, told us they helped drag the basement with their Belgian draft horses. Over this past summer, we noticed some cracking along the ceiling and down the corners of our dining room and, with the fall rain, we were seeing moisture. This is an age problem, not an insurance problem; but our agent offered a referral. That contractor inspected the dining room, the three-season room built above it, and the basement; concluding that, for something over four-thousand-dollars, he could fix it. That was the last we saw of him. We were not sure whether he was too busy or just did not want to handle a job he might not be able to guarantee. After all, water runs in interesting directions, making the source hard to determine. Over the last couple of days, I have researched other repairmen. After searching online and in the (yes) telephone book, I settle on an ad clipped from the placement of a local restaurant. Joe Hardy, a man with a reassuring fix-it-up name no less, stops by to take a look. He spends a fair amount of time inspecting the house inside-and-out before showing me a dime-size hole in my roof. He suggests that I may just need to slap a hefty layer of tar along a corner of the roof where the side porch awning meets the three-season room; and asks whether I have a husband who might be up to that. Without saying that Gary is incapacitated and away – women know better to admit such things to strangers, no matter how nice they might seem – I say that, as long as I am up here discussing the situation with him, I don’t see why I can’t come back up here with a quart of tar. Well, I end up stopping at Larson’s Hardware three days in a row, buying three quarts of tar, and crawling out the upstairs window and onto the roof three times, because I find other areas along the joint that could be suspect. I could have saved big bucks if I would have just purchased a gallon. I will have to watch over the winter to see whether the problem is solved.
When I leave the hospital later in the evening, I head west thirty miles to Durand to watch my granddaughter, Taylor, play on her volleyball team. Yes, my youngest grandchildren are reaching their teens. As much as I enjoy watching her serve and spike the ball, my mind wanders to a four-year-old fairy princes picking moss in the back ten. I ache for those days with her.
Like Halloween, Thanksgiving is spent at the hospital but, on the day after, I bring Luna home. Her micro-chip identifies her as Luna, but I name her Luna Happy Perfect. We will have five days together before Gary comes home to begin a series of near-daily visits from a nurse and an in-house physical therapist.
What a long, long, month!