Tuesday, January 26, 2016

The Rime of the Ancient Doldrums

Day after day, day after day,
We stuck, nor breath nor motion;
As idle as a painted ship
Upon a painted ocean.
Water, water, every where,
And all the boards did shrink;
Water, water, every where,
Nor any drop to drink
 
I had always thought of the word "doldrums" as a metaphysical conceptBut as with many phrases, the mental term for sluggishness, lack of vigor, stagnation is derived from something real. In this case, there's an area in the oceans, both Atlantic and Pacific, around the equator where the winds can be calm, even disappear, for days or weeks, trapping sail-powered vessels as with Samuel Taylor Coleridge's Rime of the Ancient Mariner, quoted above.

Ironically, Air France 447 disappeared in the Atlantic Doldrums between Brazil and West Africa, though from high-altitude turbulence rather than calm.

Without being able to put a term to it until this morning, I've been drifting through the doldrum sea for a couple of days. Brain numb and physically listless. With no explanation - no cold, no pains anywhere. Preferring to lose myself in a detective mystery, television drama, or Facebook posts of "Snowzilla" time-lapse videos.
 
Certainly Donna-Lane's battle with the severe fatigue of post-chemo toxin outflow has been a factor. Then there's a good friend who fell and broke her arm. And a young man who was assaulted into unconsciousness. This after one family member is finally through with multiple surgeries from a fall. Another who herself is fighting cancer with a smile. And a sweet woman who beat cancer only to encounter neuro issues. And I won't even get started on the depressing world news - perpetual wars, terrorists, migrants, the wealthy sucking the middle class dry, and a US presidential campaign that would make a great sitcom if none of the candidates had to actually occupy the office.

Oh, I managed to get a few things done here and there. But not nearly as much as I jot on my to-do list in the morning. And nothing that requires serious, sustained thought and creativity.
 
The fact that I'm composing this represents a transitional return to productivity. Certainly it helps my psyche that D-L seems to have turned the corner - her strength gradually returning and the numbness in her hands and feet receding as the chemo slowly drains from her system. Whereas it seemed for a time we might not even make a brief trip down to Argeles (before radio starts in February), there is now hope we may be able to attempt the soul-reviving journey in a couple of days.

Before that, there's that to-do list that's been adrift. I cam feel the water stirring.

Thursday, January 21, 2016

Fly on the Ward

Last night, I was inadvertently the proverbial "fly on the wall" - observing, over several hours, the activities in a Swiss hospital emergency ward (urgence) in the middle of a cold night. 

It was like Grey's Anatomy but without the sex (as far as I could tell).

Donna-Lane had passed out at the dinner table. The effects of a very strong final dose of chimio five days earlier. She had finished the anti-nauseau/cortisone energy boost pills the day before, so this was her first day cold turkey, and the poison taxotere was temporarily winning.

She revived somewhat before the paramedics arrived, but was still extremely weak. EMT Sebastien saw no alarming signs, so offered the option of her staying at home or going to the hospital. I voted for the hospital where she would have professionals around her, just in case. I was not confident that if she relapsed in the middle of the night that I had the knowledge or medications to deal with such a crisis. The EMTs loaded her into the ambulance and headed for HUG. I gathered up her purse, phone, a couple of books, iPad, and pajamas, and trailed them in the car.

After parking in the underground garage, I arrived at the urgence as they were positioning her guerney in a hallway. It was lying room only; all emergency cubbyholes were already filled. D-L was determined not to be as serious as others in the queue.

After not too long, after the silver-bearded gent who was talking in his sleep was wheeled away and I wished his wife, "Courage," they rolled Donna-Lane around the corner into the curtained cubby nearest the nurses' station. I parked myself in a steel-and-plastic chair next to her bed where she could see me but as out of the adjacent traffic pattern as I could; angled my legs under D-L's jacked-up guerney.

After taking four vials of her blood, the nurse who seemed to be in charge of fluids and tubes told me I could go home - Donna-Lane would be there awhile. I declined. I wanted to at least wait until a doctor checked her out and I knew what was wrong and how long she might be there.

Talked with D-L a little but she was overwhelmingly tired and could not keep her eyes open. I contented myself watching her breathe to make sure nothing was wrong rather than pushing her to talk.

As she dozed, her face toward the stark flourescents in the ceiling, I read. And when I realized I had re-read the same passage at least three times, I looked around the emergency to re-stimulate my senses.

Eighteen adults, counting D-L, on wheeled horizontal chariots, give or take a new incoming patient accompanied by mostly young, sober-faced EMTs, minus a now-veteran patient (being there more than two hours qualified them, in my opinion) who was rolled away somewhere unknown. Most returned. Not all.

They were a quiet lot, generally. A white-haired woman catty-corner. A very large man sleeping opposite, his black-clad wife (I presume) silently seated beside him. A very haggard looking woman in the cubby next to the common bathroom. A man, I think, across and beyond the white hair, who had squirmed in his bed such that his hospital gown no longer covered his personal parts. The norm was for the curtains not to be drawn except when the nurses were checking something on a patient that required privacy. (Someone did cover the exposed man with a bedsheet.)

Out in the hall, a few feet away on the other side of the small nurses' desk, a man lay on his side, his baggy jeans butt crack partially exposed to passersby, snoring loudly. Donna-Lane alleges that I fell asleep at some point, perhaps 4 in the morning (we arrived a little after 9 pm), so she had to endure synchronized snoring. At least my butt was covered (I think).

About 1 am, a young man's trolley was parked between D-L's cubby and those opposite. Perhaps because it was the only floor space that would allow a second guerney to be positioned alongside so he could be transferred. Four nurses grabbed the ends of two metal bars wrapped into his bedding and hoisted him across to the fresh-linen bed. But they still had to get the original sheets out from under him, and he was flat on his back. A male EMT joined to hold the patient's head still while the nurses rolled the man in one direction onto his side and tugged the old bedding from under his body. He cried out in obvious agony, but they kept on. He scream-groaned more until they finally got the sheets out. Donna-Lane slept through it. (Did I tell you she was really, really tired?)

A few feet away from Donna-Lane's bed, a woman occasionally sobbed. Then went quiet. Then sobbed some more. Don't know why; didn't want to intrude. D-L heard her and wished she could offer comfort.

Hours passed. I managed to make forward progress on the book, Children of the Revolution, a DCI Banks novel by Peter Robinson. First time I've read him; he's a pretty good writer.

Finally they came for Donna-Lane. I asked where they were taking her, and they said I could come along. I liked that - after all, I am a "helicopter husband." (My interpretation of the term - http://lovinglifeineurope.blogspot.ch/2016/01/helicopter-husband.html; Donna-Lane's view - http://theexpatwriter.blogspot.ch/2016/01/helicopter-husband.html).

She ended up, for perhaps 90 minutes, in what amounted to a private room - actually an examining room where they could hook her into heartrate and blood pressure monitors. Two or three different nurses and a couple of female doctors, who appeared to be barely out of high school, asked D-L questions: about her chemotherapy drugs, the passing out incident, how 'heavy' was what she had to eat at dinner, poking her in various places for possible pain.

Bottom line - all good. Except for the obviously chimio-induced fatigue, that is. They released D-L to go home a little before 6:30 in the morning. We had been at the emergency nine hours.

As I crossed the entranceway of the hospital horseshoe, on my way to retrieve the car, I heard someone call my name ... probably the 1st time this has ever happened in public in Geneva. It was M, friend of J, in her car, leaving after dropping J off to have her arm repaired. She broke it in three places in a fall the day D-L had her toxic taxotere treatment, and this was the first day they could fit her in for the operation.

When we arrived home, I retrieved a pair of shoes for D-L to walk down the stairs to the apartment we now call "Warren Peace." The landlady's stray tiger cat, who has semi-adopted us, was trapped in the bedroom/dining room/office, and was desperate to get outside.

The bed felt good.  

Thursday, January 7, 2016

Helicopter Husband

This is a dueling blog. Donna-Lane's version can be found at: http://theexpatwriter.blogspot.ch/

When I first came to Europe to start our relationship, D-L's friends, as well as her daughter, warned me vociferously not to "hover" around Donna-Lane in the manner of a protective boyfriend/fiance/spouse. After all, she had lived on her own for years, decades, and not only was well capable of fending for herself, she has the sort of alpha female personality that tends to do first and communicate later. For the first few months (maybe even now), I was fearful that I would say or do something to offend her independent spirit and she'd send me packing.

Circumstances have changed recently, albeit temporarily. Since July, D-L has been going through chemotherapy treatments following both gallbladder and breast cancer surgery. The chemicals leave her pretty fatigued most days of the week (after a good day or two immediately following a treatment) and most hours of the day. She does well to sit at the computer for maybe an hour before she has to crawl back into bed to rest and ease her shakiness.

I've transitioned from being her toy boy to being the family chef, butler, opener of the heavy door (that sticks halfway) between our bedroom and the bath, and steady hand when walking up a flight of stairs or through the hospital corridor on our twice-weekly visits.

Because she has passed out once and almost a second time from low blood pressure, I am rarely out of earshot or more than a few feet away. Yes, I hover. So a few days ago D-L dubbed me her "helicopter husband." Like a "helicopter parent" who is over-protective of their kid. (I was that too - when my daughter was learning to drive as a teenager, I first took her to a large, empty parking lot. Since the car we had at the time "idled" at about 20 mph, I saw no need for her to touch the gas pedal!)

Donna-Lane vows that once she is through the chemo and the radio, she wants to balance the scales by waiting on me for awhile. I'll settle for turning in my rotor blades and returning to our normal no-hover lifestyle.

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Reconcilable Differences

Why a cat photo? To get your attention, of course. (Actually there is a connection of sorts.)

When it comes to keeping track of expenses, Donna-Lane and I have very different approaches. She records every expenditure in a spreadsheet - every day. I load expenses into a spreadsheet as well - once a year.

Part of my procrastination personality, I guess. And her CDO (OCD in alphabetical order).

A few days before my tax return is due, I collect up all my bank statements, receipts, etc. and start sorting through them for the relevant numbers. The receipts are usually stuffed in a plastic bag, or maybe multiple small plastic bags, and are typically wadded up, twisted, and folded, so they first have to be straightened and smoothed before I can read what's on them. Then I sit at the computer, entering all the numbers, sorting the columns by date or expense type, or whatever to make sure I'm not missing anything, or not much at least.

D-L's method takes perhaps 5 minutes a day or 1825 minutes a year, or about 30 hours of her time total. My method takes perhaps ... 30 hours, but concentrated in 2-3 days of intense, non-stop, nailbiting effort, and Lord help me if I get interrupted as the filing deadline looms.

One added bonus of my methodology in searching through every receipt for the past 12 months is a mini virtual trip down memory lane. I see receipts for places we've traveled, museums we've strolled, restaurants where we dined together or with friends, even the business card of the very pleasant taxi driver who took us back to the houseboat we stayed on moored in one of Amsterdam's canals.

Oh, the cat. The photo looks a lot like Tummy, our landlady's outdoor tabby who shows up at our garden apartment door pretty much every morning. His mouth-wide-open but silent (the window glass between us) scream clearly says, 'Why haven't you opened the door yet?' As he enters, he scolds me again, this time quite audibly, and jumps on the bed to snuggle into the duvet for the better part of the day.

Yesterday, while I had important papers spread all over the couch and floor, Tummy decided - for the first time in our relationship - that he wanted to be cuddled. Usually, at best, he tolerates it when I pet him as he stretches full length on the bed. I suspect he was secretly tormenting me at a time when I was trying to get organized and did not want his paws messing up my paper piles. His way of sending a message - open the door faster, slave.

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Life Logistics

The good news is we now know the date for Donna-Lane's final chemo treatment. (Cheers, wild applause, fist pumps ...)

It won't be an easy one - a different drug this time, taxotere (aka Docetaxel), which will likely make her even more fatigued than the taxol (Paclitaxel) she's been given the past several weeks. But the new stuff should not cause the numbness and burning sensation in her hands and toes.

The alternative was four more rounds of taxol, extending the ordeal an extra three weeks, and leading up to the consultation with the oncologist we avoided mentioning that elephant in the room so as not to jinx the diagnosis.

Knowing a firm date now allows us to plan the next phase, our post-cancer life, as it were. Any plans, even for the next day or the next hour, have been pretty much on hold, as we never really know when D-L will hit a wall and need to rest. (See Thursdays and Tuesdays - http://lovinglifeineurope.blogspot.ch/2015/12/thursdays-and-tuesdays.html)

But now we're back in planning mode, and all the logistics pop randomly back into our minds. The arrival in Geneva of Donna-Lane's "French daughter" and her family to start her new job. (The doctor kindly scheduled the final chemo after the arrival so D-L will not be in her high-fatigue zone.) Our hoped-for trip down to Argeles-sur-mer for a couple of weeks, returning to Switzerland for five weeks of daily radiation treatments. Then, at last, down to ASM for a longer stretch. And when are our friends from Utah going to be there so we hopefully overlap for at least a few days? Flights for a conference I'll be attending in the States. Meeting up with other friends (who are part-time tour guides) for a few days in Normandy - looking forward to seeing the D-Day beaches. Stopping in Paris enroute to see a couple family of choice.

So many pieces of the puzzle to fit together. What a wonderful, welcome challenge.