Thursday, December 27, 2012

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Akemi shot me a nervous glance; I knew what she was thinking.  The host of last Saturday night’s Christmas party was going around the room asking everyone to share their favorite Christmas memories.  She and I were in wordless agreement that we hoped he would stop before getting to us.

Certainly we have happy memories of Christmases past.  When put on the spot, we coughed up a couple: me listening to the Dickens carolers at the end of my Christmas Day shift at Disneyland, Akemi listening to her Walkman as we drove Christmas mornings from my family in Anaheim to Bing’s family in Palo Alto.

But Christmas took an irreparable hit exactly ten years ago, and we have been in recovery mode ever since.  I didn’t know it at the time, but Christmas eve 2002 was the last “normal” time I spent with Bing.  I was trying to get him transferred from Huntington Hospital to the City of Hope, but processes were slowing down for the holidays.  I thought Akemi was better off being in Peralta Hills with my family, but I found out much later what a traumatic time she had there, subjected to everyone else’s realizations that Bing was dying.

That Christmas eve night, Randy Huff came by his Huntington Hospital room and we watched “The Sound of Music” on TV.  After Randy left, I knew there was so much Bing and I needed to talk about, but neither of us could.  The next morning, I could tell the impairment to his central nervous system was worse, and from then on, we really weren’t able to have a conversation.  Chris Wong had kindly brought us a Christmas tree and so many others were beside themselves trying to do nice things, but there was no room in the inn for us that year.

As hard as that Christmas was, Akemi and I were to discover that Christmas 2003 would be even harder.   We could not escape the painful reliving of his last days, and could not bear to do the “normal” thing of being with either my family or his.  When Wendy and Craig offered that we spend Christmas with them in Cayucos, we jumped at the invitation.

The first thing Akemi said as we got into our car on our way home from the Saturday night Christmas dinner was that the “best” Christmas was that one in Cayucos, although she couldn’t share that.  I understood, and agreed.  It wasn’t the happiest Christmas for us, clearly, but maybe it was the most meaningful, in that we were given as much of a chance as possible to heal that first Christmas after, and a start to reconciling our sorrow with what should be a time of joy.

I can see that with each Christmas since then, our hearts have become a little less heavy, and the memories of Christmas 2002 a little less painful.  With each Christmas, I have been more willing to be back in the “Christmas spirit,” that is, until last Christmas, when I was feeling so awful.  So as we “wrap” this year’s Christmas, I’m agreeing with Akemi that this has been the “best Christmas ever.”  We have my health mostly regained, and my job retained (at least thus far) through a dean transition.  We have affirmation of love and support from many.  We had a ward Christmas program with music that was described as “epic” and moved the congregation to tears.  We even have heat and cabinet space in the bathroom, and Stanford in the Rose Bowl.  Ten years later, I can say that the joy of the here-and-now finally has overcome grief-filled past.

P.S. This cross-stitched stocking took me a couple of years to finish for Akemi, but I’m so glad I did – I don’t have the eyesight for it now! 

Friday, December 14, 2012

Friday, December 14, 2012

My ace contractor Dave and his team have my master bath remodel on final approach.  The cabinets are getting stained today, and the final installations – countertop, mirror, shower glass, fixtures – are intricately choreographed for Monday and Tuesday.  The guys are taking the goal of having the bathroom “presentation ready” by the time Akemi arrives home from Boston Tuesday night very seriously.

The history behind the almost-joke started when Akemi, a junior high-schooler, came home from a two-week summer orchestra program at Idyllwild to me undertaking a cosmetic up-do of the guest bathroom.  (For those of you who have asked what my next project is, it is the real re-do of that bathroom, although this will not be nearly extensive as this master bath project.)  “I go away and look what got into my mother,” was the gist of her reaction. 

Then a couple of years later, she came home from a long, demanding summer at the Cleveland Institute of Music’s famous Encore program to the kitchen and “big room” completely torn up.  Eager for home-cooked meals after her first exposure to “mystery” dorm food and the Midwest version of Asian and Mexican cuisine, we closed out that summer to her dismay with paper plates, Trader Joe’s, and the toaster oven and microwave on the bathroom counter.

So when Akemi heard that even with a late October start, it would be “no problem” that she would come home for winter break to a new bathroom, she scoffed.  After all, she did grow up with me operating in the real estate development world and her dad being known for taking years to finish a home project.  But as she has maintained her skepticism, Dave and Fred have maintained their sense of contractor’s honor that this will be done on time.  We’ve called a few audibles along the way to keep things on schedule, and truth be told, the Plan Bs have been better than the Plan As. 

Last week, I admit, was not ideal scheduling, to deal with the combination of treatment aftermath, drywall dust, and primer fumes.  I ended up spending more time in the office than I otherwise would have, because there wasn’t much point in being at home with all the construction commotion going on.

 I may not be moved into all the luxurious amount of new cabinet space when I return home with Akemi from LAX next Tuesday night, but this scene with the hole in the ceiling from a burst pipe repair, the rusted sink, and non-functioning toilet of the old bathroom now receding into the past to be added to the family folklore.  Some finish work might be underway while Akemi’s plane is on final approach, but everything is going to be looking very good by then.  Film at 11 for her reaction. 

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

It’s 4 am, and I haven't been able to sleep because the steroids they give me to help the IV keeps me awake the first night.  Other patients on the WM talk-list have written about their experiences with the time-altering effects of treatments, especially as they wreck havoc with sleep patterns the first few days.

Susan Gubar’s November 20th New York Times essay entitled “With Cancer, a Different Rhythm to Life” struck many chords with me.  Gubar, a distinguished emeriti professor of English and ovarian cancer patient, reflects on “the oddity of cancer temporality.”’ She writes, “Every facet of cancer and its treatments transforms times.”  Into year three, I couldn’t agree more.

As I finish a treatment and schedule my next appointment, I think, “A three-month reprieve!” Plenty of time to live life to its fullest, and, of course, that time flies by.  All too soon Barbara is arranging my hospital rides.  All too soon I’m fending off encroachments on my work calendar, as the assistants of other deans ignore the holds I’ve placed on treatment and post-treatment days.  All too soon I’m activating my “prep plan,” so familiar now I operate by memory: pack the hospital bag, stock the frig with soups and juices; clean the house so I’m not tempted to get up and vacuum when I should be resting.  Hey, at least I know myself.

But at the hospital, time seems to slow down.  Gubar nails this when she refers to the interminable tick-tock of waiting, “especially when you are anxiously waiting for test results.”  When we were on this roller coaster with Bing, I tried to tell myself that we can’t live by test results, but that was, and is, futile.  It’s as if you’re going into a play-off game with a celebration standing by off-field in anticipation of a victory.  Everyone hopes for a cause to celebrate and no one wants to contemplate the possibility of defeat. 

I usually get the immunology report from the nurses by mid-day; today Dr. Weitz delivered the good news of another drop, right on the downward trend line.  She was very happy, and so am I.  Every drop in the IgM count is a victory of more time, yet that is tempered by the unpredictability of the unknown.  With the benefit comes the cost, the continual degradation of my immune system, evidenced by the concomitant continual drop in the “good” immunoglobulins and white cells.  The docs remind me that I must skate along one serious infection away from catastrophe.   

I live with the realization that, if this protocol hadn’t kicked in, by now I could have been serious ill, perhaps dying, or even dead.  I live grateful for medical and spiritual advice, a job with excellent health insurance and a national cancer institute in its plan, and ever-ready helpful friends.  Like Gubar, I doubt I will ever escape the feeling of living on borrowed time, “that numinous period beyond the predicted end, like a stay of execution, which must be fraught with its own blessings and curses.” 

Time again to try to sleep, or at least nap.

P.S.  This statue is “The Spirit of Life” by Daniel Chester French is in Congress Park, designed by my urban planning hero Frederick Law Olsted in Saratoga Springs, New York.  The area’s famous natural spring water feeds the streams and this and other fountains in the park.  I was there for last year’s AGLSP conference.