Good Heart Goes Bad

April 23. It seems a lifetime ago. I’ll always remember it because it was the day after the wedding of my third daughter (which is a story in and of itself and I’m still trying to put words to paper about it). It was a gorgeous morning. My husband and I got up early, a rarity for him, and we treated ourselves to breakfast at a popular restaurant. Hubby said he didn’t feel well. Not sick really, just not well. I attributed it to the few hours’ sleep he had gotten. We went home and he took a long nap, then woke up with a cough. It started out as a typical chest cold but within just a few days he was as white as a walking ghost, with so little energy he could barely make it to the bathroom and back to bed. He wasn’t dead so it took some serious arguments before he agreed to go see a doctor.

He came home with an inhaler and some cough medicine. Another week passed and he was even worse. He was coughing so hard he would pass out. Again we argued and my words that “this isn’t normal” finally got him to go back to the doctor. Chest X-rays were all clear, but he came home with antibiotics. And in a few days he had improved. Hurray!

But it wasn’t lasting. As soon as he finished up with the meds he slipped back into a raging respiratory illness. He had to sleep sitting up because of his cough. I had to force liquids on him because he had no appetite. He was sleeping (in a chair) all but just a few hours each day and still he wasn’t improving. He went back to the doctor. Even though it had only been two weeks, the doctor ordered more chest X-rays. Still everything was “clear”. So where was all the phlegm coming from? He was given a different medicine to help with the cough.

As viruses are so wont to do, now it was my turn to be sick. Instead of a chest cold, I got a head cold. And it knocked me flat on my back. I ran a high fever and could barely heat up chicken broth for the two of us. I dragged myself to the doctor and got antibiotics for a sinus infection. I couldn’t function for five or six days. We had food delivered or we ate prepackaged junk. Finally I felt strong enough (or desperate enough) to get to the store for “sick” provisions like Gatorade, Jell-O, chicken noodle soup, canned fruit, ice cream. All that sugar gave me some energy and I came back alive. Not so hubby.

All in all I was sick for about five weeks. I was completely non-functional for about seven days during that time. The rest of the days I worked—mostly from home because I couldn’t stand the dirty looks my coworkers gave me the one day I went into the office and coughed all day.

On the first Sunday in June—six weeks after Hubby came down with his cold—he woke up and told me he was short of breath. It was a new and scary development so I insisted we go to the ER. Because he could still walk and talk, he refused to go. We argued all day. At 3:30 in the afternoon, he finally agreed to go. The ER nurse asked what brought us in. We explained about the respiratory infection and shortness of breath. The nurse took just one minute to check his vitals and said, “You might have come in for your respiratory infection, but I don’t care about that right now. You’re in a-fib and we’re admitting you.” My husband and I looked at each other. WTH?

He spent two nights in the hospital. They ran up a humongous bill of tests and more tests. He came home with ten different medicines to take and a day calendar to remind us of the time each needed to be taken. The good news from the tests is Hubby has a good heart. There is no blockage, no leakage, no bad valves. It’s all good. It just has an “electricity” problem. The top part of his heart thinks he’s running a marathon and the bottom part of his heart thinks he’s sitting in a chair watching TV. The two parts aren’t communicating properly. Seems like a pretty simple problem to solve. Not quite.

It’s now more than eleven weeks since my husband first got sick and he’s still in a-fib. We’ve learned a lot about this condition and we’ve met several fantastic nurses and a few good docs. (They all look so young!!) Today Hubby had a cardioversion procedure, in which they shocked his heart to try to get it to go back into a normal rhythm. It didn’t work. They tried three times—their maximum attempts.

Hubby is not a happy camper at all. I’m relieved and thrilled he’s still alive. What a pair the two of us make! We have no idea what the next step is, other than he has an appointment with his cardiologist at the end of the month. So we’ll continue living in limbo for a couple more weeks.

My husband told me years ago when we were dating that he came from a bloodline with good hearts and people living long lives. I told him that was a good thing because I was going to need him to watch over me when Alzheimer’s hits because that’s what is hiding in my genes. Over the years we’ve had good times and bad, happy days and frustrating days when I was so miffed with him I couldn’t say anything nice. There’s nothing like a good health scare to bring it all into focus. My husband does have a good heart and I want him to stay with me for many, many more years. I think we’ll be acknowledging treasures more often in each of our limbo days.

Down the Rabbit Hole

June solstice? Already?! I nearly missed it. Seems I slipped into a hole a few months ago and one thing after another drove me deeper into the darkness. I wish I could say I had fun or that I lost weight or I won…anything. Nope. But I did learn a few things.

I confirmed that I’m not ready to die; I still have unfinished business and I still have some fight left in me. I learned that people cannot get rest in the hospital, laying in a bed or sitting in a chair watching your spouse lay in the bed. I validated the fact that after all these years I still love my husband and want to stay married even though he aggravates me more than once each day.

The biggest surprise came in understanding and accepting the fact that once in a while I need to put myself first instead of last. Okay, maybe more often than once in a while. It’s going to take me some time to create new habits. Awareness and acceptance are the first step.

On this longest day of the year, I see the light, and I’ve made my way up from the depths to the rabbit hole opening. I’m even putting my head out. Wave if you see me.

The Big Boy

As a parent, I found life frustrating and filled with a sense of powerlessness when I could not get my child to do something I wanted her to do. It might have been as simple as picking up toys before bed, or doing homework, or cleaning her room before company came for a visit. As my daughters got older, such challenges were more complicated. Coming home from a date on time. Going to school instead of skipping class. Attending church. I remember when I was growing up my dad used to tell me when I asked for his advice, “It doesn’t matter what I think because you’re going to do what you want to do anyway.” Ain’t that the truth. So is the fact that apples don’t fall far from the tree. I raised independent thinkers and doers. I like to think of them now as strong and successful women, because they are.

I’m learning that it’s an entirely different challenge when it’s my spouse who doesn’t want to do what I want. I lost the battle long ago about keeping the toilet seat down. I’m just thankful that he’s willing to put out more toilet paper when the old roll is gone. I wish I had won the battle about bringing in the garbage cans on pick-up day or emptying the dishwasher. Maybe I should have fought harder. I remember arguing once about something (can’t recall what exactly the something was) and my husband yelled, “Stop mothering me!” That stopped me cold in my tracks. I wasn’t mothering him, was I?

The learning moment I have right now is that my husband needs to change his way of eating or he’s going to die. Maybe not this month or next, but he’s going to die a lot earlier than he should if he keeps drinking five sugared sodas a day, eating a bowl of ice cream every night, and eating an entire bag of chocolate chips in one sitting. My husband’s doctor says he has diabetes. My husband says the doctor is wrong. This is going on year four.

About three months ago my husband got a sore on his leg, just above his ankle. The sore is still there. This week a sore showed up on one of his arms looking just like the one on his leg. He wants me to pull some magical lotion out of the cupboard and heal him. “Go see the doctor,” I have told him countless times. He doesn’t like what the doctor has to say, so he won’t go.

A couple of weeks ago I sat down with my husband and told him I wanted to do a Whole30 eating plan for the month of September. I’ve been contemplating this for some time and a few things came together to make it the right moment for me to do this. He claimed he’d never heard of Whole30 (although I know that’s not true) and wanted to know what this was going to mean for his meals. After explaining the program and showing him the meal plan I put together, he came on board too. I was thrilled!

My husband has a lot of aches and pains. None of his clothes fit right anymore. His sleep schedule is a mess, and he’s tired all the time. We all know it’s the diabetes taking hold of his body but he won’t admit that. Following a meal plan for 30 days that will allow him to reset his body makes perfect sense. I want this for him. I want to see him free of pain and sleeping through the night. I want him to have energy to go out and do things with me. I want him to live a long life with me so we can grow old together, witnessing each other’s life to the end.

He didn’t even make it past Day 3. I caught him finishing up a bottle of sugared soda and a large bag of peanuts. I was so disappointed, and hurt. The plan I put in place for this month of Whole30 eating was the best offer he’s going to get from anyone to reset his eating habits. And he couldn’t do it. I love this man and yet, I have to wonder if he loves me. Obviously he doesn’t love himself enough to try to improve his life. I can’t mother him through this. I can’t force him to eat right. I can’t take the keys away from him to prevent him from going to the store and buying these snacks.

Remorse is sitting like a big stone in his stomach today and he says he promises to not cheat anymore. Does the old adage “once a cheater, always a cheater” apply to eating habits? Probably.

I’m not going to let this derail my plans. Maybe after 30 days there will be enough of a difference in me that he’ll be more willing to try it. If not, then he will suffer the continued deterioration of his body and an early death. And maybe after all is said and done I’ll feel good enough that I can go to Hawaii with some of the life insurance money. (I didn’t say that out loud, did I?)

 

Surviving Sick-cation

I had planned for weeks that I would take five days off of work for a stay-cation and paint our living room ceiling. And if that went well, then I’d paint our kitchen ceiling. And maybe even paint the walls too. I’ve done a lot of painting over the years, so I knew exactly what I was getting into. Sure, it’s been a few years since I did that big of a job, but I knew I could do it.

I woke up on my first day off feeling determined and energized. I spent the morning prepping the room, then ran some errands, and then just after lunch I cracked open the primer paint. It wasn’t laborious work, just tedious. Ceilings are trickier than walls. Instead of painting the trim all around and then returning to “start” to do the roller painting, with ceilings you have to paint it all at once as you go so it never has a chance to dry. So a little of the trim work, then a little of the roller work, then trim, then roller. Up the ladder, down the ladder, move the ladder, up the ladder, down. You got it.

A couple of times I got light headed and told myself to open the windows a little more and to slow down as I climbed up and down the ladder. Even though my body was aching more than usual, I refused to accept that I was too old to be doing this big of a job. By the afternoon, I noticed I couldn’t hear out of my right ear. Strange. And I found myself a lot more wore out than usual. I reassessed my plan and decided the kitchen ceiling—being twice the size of the living room ceiling—was too big a project for me to handle alone even if I didn’t plan on applying a primer coat. I refused to believe I was getting old and made a rash decision that no one else was going to notice the difference between the “new white” and the “old white” of the two rooms.

Day Two I ran some more errands first thing, waiting for the full light of day before grabbing a paint brush. Since this coat was the “real” paint, I worked a little harder making sure it was applied properly but fast. My hearing was back in my right ear, but I was getting an echo. Not a good sign. By midafternoon, the ceiling was done and it looked fantastic. I loved the “fresh” look but now the walls looked dingy. I had a feeling that might happen, so I was prepared. I started to prep the room to paint the walls.

I stopped at suppertime to run more errands with my husband and have dinner out. At one of our stops I found myself standing next to one of those quick-stop clinics inside a big-box store, so I decided I’d have someone take a look to make sure I didn’t have something going on with my ear. No ear infection but a whole lot of fluid build-up behind the ear drum. So with a prescription of antibiotics in hand for a sinus infection, we stopped at a favorite restaurant for dinner. And as we sat waiting for our food, I suddenly felt very ill. I maybe ate three bites of my meal. My husband said I looked awful. Gee, thanks.

Most of that night I spent in the bathroom. The next day is all a blurry memory. I know I drank lots of fluids and I ate some soup, but I don’t remember much else. But the next morning, I felt rested and ready to get back at it. So I painted the living room walls. And then I cleaned up the room and moved back all the furniture. That’s when I realized the mistake of my earlier decision to not paint the kitchen ceiling. There was no denying people would notice the difference. Still, I knew it was just too big a job for me to do alone and I’d have to find someone to help me or save money to hire out the job. I went to bed feeling satisfied with my hard work in the living room but disappointed that I discovered my limit and couldn’t do the kitchen myself.    

In the middle of the night, I woke up as sick as I had been before. That’s when I realized my second mistakeof thinking I had paced myself. And I spent the next two days laying low, reading a book, watching TV, feeling old. Tomorrow is my last paid day off. I will spend it cleaning bathrooms and doing laundry (I hope). I’m grateful I will work only two days before I have the weekend off.

It’s right up there in the Top 10 list of disappointments for a working person—getting sick while on vacation from work. It doesn’t matter that I hadn’t planned a trip or some extravagant outing. The fact remains, I spent days of hard-earned paid time off laying in bed or on the couch with the double whammy of a sinus infection and the stomach flu. I can’t get that time back. Just thinking about it makes me feel queasy.

Making a Case for The Short List

dandelions

Stop for a moment and think of the saddest novel you’ve ever read or the one movie that made you cry even after the movie was over. I’m guessing more than one answer comes to mind. Maybe even a list. Now think of a book that made you feel happy, deeply happy. No doubt a short list.

What is it about our nature that as writers we are drawn to pen and paper when we are feeling at our lowest or saddest or most depressed? Why don’t we write annoyingly happy stories and post them, just as many people post pesky vacation photos on social media? You know the ones—two feet with freshly manicured toenails resting on the edge of a lounge chair with an ocean view, or the glass(es) of wine standing on a linen-covered table overlooking a mountain scene.

Every time I see such a photo on Facebook or Instagram I want to scream. I’m happy for the person who’s had a great adventure but I can’t afford any such vacation and I’m not in the mood to deal with my envy or jealousy. Those images are akin to my childhood bully taunting, “Haha! You can’t get me!”

Why is it so much easier for us to wallow publicly in self-pity and whine and complain? Why can we easily tap into negative emotions and write epic novels about those experiences? Try to do that about happiness and critics will say it’s boring and trite, or worse, fantasy.

All of this is on my mind since I find myself in a pleasant moment in time. Mind you, I’m not complaining. But it’s highly unusual for me—at least in the last eight years—to have a run of six months of peace and happiness. I’m not stuck in a quagmire of misery or depression, and there’s nothing at the moment for which I need to seek solace or guidance. Sure, I want more money and more sleep. Chocolate would be great too. Beyond that, life is good. Quiet. Uneventful. No drama!

I’ve thought about sharing an ethereal post: “Kids are fine. Work is good. Life is wonderful. Having a fantastic day! Wish you were here.” Maybe even add a photo of a glass of wine. Imagine the comments: “Where are you?” “Have you been drinking?” “You’re no good at writing sarcasm.” “What did so-and-so do now?”

I read a blog post last week written by someone with whom I went to high school. She doesn’t know I’ve been following her journey of watching her husband succumb to ALS. In her writing last week she apologized for not having written much lately, not because she’s been busy or because life has been too hard. She was lamenting the fact that she only writes when she’s overwhelmed with depression or the depth of what her husband is facing, even though she declared that particular day a good day. If my husband were dying a slow and tortuous death, I’d be writing constantly trying to keep depression from suffocating me. Please! Write about the happiness you’re experiencing because I can’t see it!

I also haven’t written much lately, and not because I’ve been too busy or overwhelmed. Perhaps it’s because I don’t want to flaunt my good moment in time, or I don’t want to jinx myself. Maybe I don’t know how to write about happiness; after all, they say you write what you know.

Evidently I’ve been silent too long because people are asking, “Why aren’t you writing? What’s going on?”

No one wants to read about someone having a great day because so few people can relate to that. Maybe I need to start a new trend, call it Random Happy Moment. With small messages, 140-characters at a time, we can quietly create a revolution of good-natured moments. Spread an ounce of happiness here and there, like dandelion seeds. Imagine the possibilities.

Embracing Boredom

The last time I had a block of time with nothing—literally nothing—to do, I was. . . . Hmmm. I guess I need to think about that. Certainly not in the last five years when I worked in a job that was actually three jobs, not one, and I was so overly stressed that my resting heart rate increased. And not the three years prior to that when I desperately looked for a job after losing mine at the beginning of The Great Recession. And I was plenty busy the previous ten years as I survived the ugly end of my marriage, switched jobs four times, single-parented four adolescent girls, authored three books, moved to a new house, and fell in love and married for a second time. Prior to that I was in an abusive marriage for twenty years but was totally clueless and spent every day trying to fix everything. Before that I was a college student and held part-time jobs. I worked all through high school too. And struggled through my own adolescence while each of my parents was diagnosed with cancer and died.

Now that I’ve thought about it, I realize the last time I had a block of time with nothing to do it was 1972 and I was eleven years old, sitting on the couch, staring outside on a rainy summer day. I remember my mom suggesting several things I could do and none of them appealed to me. She didn’t appreciate my attitude, so I didn’t stay idle for long.

I recently switched jobs and I find myself with nothing to do for long stretches of time during my workdays; sometimes the entire workday. It is a very odd sensation to have nothing to do. Everyone knows and accepts that I have no work. We all understand that this is a new position and it’s going to take some time to get my tasks placed in the workflows and for word of my availability (and skills) to spread.

Even though it is widely accepted that I have no work, I’m not allowed to read a book or surf the Internet or learn to knit. I sit. At a desk. Quietly. For eight hours.

I speed-walk at lunch to burn up energy. Other than that, I’m pretty much left alone with my thoughts and nothing to do. Most days I embrace the boredom and see it as a long-term healing. Seriously! If you hadn’t been bored in 44 years, wouldn’t you welcome a little downtime??

Over the holidays I mentioned this unexpected aspect of my new job to several friends and relatives. Each person responded in one of two ways: The person thought I was exaggerating my situation, or the person strongly encouraged me to find a different job fast before I’m let go. Even when I assured the person that it makes sense to be in this predicament right now since my role is like a “start up,” no one was willing to believe that I’ll be okay. And not a single person expressed a desire to be bored.

I have to admit, I kind of like it. Most of my life I’ve fought off traits of perfectionism and overachievement. I’ve been praised throughout my career for creating efficiencies and streamlining processes. I’ve been known to make the most of every moment, multitasking my way through each day. Well, I’m making the most of these moments now. I’m learning to think differently, to exist outside my normal box. My resting heart rate has returned to a healthier level. My blood pressure is back down to its normal spot—which causes the nurse to take it twice because it’s so low and she’s sure she’s made a mistake. For the first time in years I’m sleeping eight hours every single night, one after another! I find myself smiling at strangers. I thank the bus driver when I get on and off the bus. I count my blessings every day, more than once. And I’m not so quick to react to the drama of my four—no, make that our six—daughters.

Maybe I’m all wrong and a pink slip is in my future. I really don’t think so. For now, I’m going to bask in the boredom as if laying on a beach, soaking up vitamin D. Who knows? Maybe one of these days I’ll decide to stop wearing my watch.

Pendulum Swing

It happened six weeks ago. I stepped out of chaos, away from condescension, bullying, and a four-in-one job. Driven by desperation to get away from blatant unprofessionalism and the need to return to an occupational passion, I eagerly crossed over into a new galaxy. Uncertainty squished between my toes, and the past fell off my feet in smelly brown clumps.

Armed with bus routes and skyway maps, I took on this new world with a smile. Easily I carved out a routine and I’m loving the energy of being in the heart of downtown. I ride the bus, so I don’t fight traffic. In the morning I drink a cup of tea and check out the morning news on my Kindle. At the end of my day, I sit back and enjoy the ride while listening to my favorite music. I arrive home happy, which has created a transition of sorts for my husband.

I have to admit, some transitions have been harder to achieve no matter how willing I am to learn new tricks. Everyone on my small team is younger than me, including my boss. I don’t have a problem with that, but some days they seem bothered by it. And the rest of my team make me look like I have a black belt in Toastmasters. One advantage that comes with gray hair is the wisdom to be quiet and let things happen as they may. To my boss and coworkers, I appear calm and collected. They have no idea that they work at a snail’s pace and I’m fighting boredom all day long.

Don’t misunderstand me—I’m not complaining that I’m bored. I’m absolutely loving the fact that I’m not overwhelmed and I can leave work behind at the end of the day. My body is thrilled that I have time to walk on my lunch hour. I know it’s only a matter of time before they’ll figure out how to tap into all of my skills and my days will be filled with work. For now, I just want to bask in the peace and liberty. It’s been a long time coming.