It has been a bumpy couple of weeks since returning from Chicago. Two fellow columnists at The Myeloma Beacon died while I was away, which caused me to scrap the topic I'd plan to write about in August and write about dying and death instead. Death and dying still remain taboo topics by tacit agreement, even at a website dedicated to an incurable, terminal cancer. Cancerland has been a hotbed of activity lately for several friends, and I came back from our trip feeling as if everything had fallen apart while I was gone.
It turns out more than just Cancerland had fallen apart.
My aunt Ginger, who is meandering towards her 85th birthday, somehow gashed her leg while we were out of town. With her increasing dementia (the family curse), she could not remember how or when, but by the time we returned and I got her to her doctor, an infection had set in. There have been rounds of doctor visits, rounds of antibiotics, rounds of my stopping by daily to inspect and then bandage the wound. The physical stress has sent the dementia into a higher frequency, so I have taken control of the antibiotics, so she doesn't take too many in one day, as well as the bandages, tape, and topical ointment for her leg, so she doesn't redistribute the items throughout her apartment, an activity that caused me several merry mornings of "where did she put it today?" Ginger lives a block away, and I carry all the items, including the antibiotics, in a little blue bag. Our public schools went back into session last week, and as I trot back and forth between Ginger's apartment and our house, I feel like a school girl swinging her lunch bag.
In addition to my job at Juvenile Court, I recently took on a fast track court project at Municipal Court, where I used to work. I agreed to the project after a discussion about community legacy building with my good friend Doug, who lives in Cancerland. This new project is legacy building. I committed to the project before Chicago, which means I didn't yet know that the routine with Ginger was going to unravel at least for a few weeks.
Not that I'm counting days. Not really. I feel more like the proverbial camel with the bundles of straw mounting on its back.
My health continues to be baffling. Great lab results, inconsistent physical responses. Earlier this week, my oncologist listened to me, looked at the labs, and then scratched his head. Who knows? Another round of Revlimid, another rounds of labs in a few weeks, another straw on the camel.
So when our almost-daughter Amy called or messaged me with a series of crises over the last ten days, that was the straw that broke this camel's back.
Wednesday night I collapsed into a puddle of tears. Yesterday, helped along by little sleep and miscellaneous medical issues, I just collapsed, period. At one point, I realized I was channeling essayist Jane O'Reilly, describing her own collapse. "Waaaaah," [Jane] wailed, "bills, soot, work deadlines, interpersonal relationships, urban woes, the meaning of life, inflation, equal rights, the human condition, woe, etc."
Okay, so I don't wail about soot and urban woes. Different lyrics, but the same melody. WAAAAAH indeed!
Earlier this week I finished reading Passages in Caregiving by Gail Sheehy. I cannot say enough about this book, other than I am buying it to own it. Reading Sheehy, I smacked my forehead at the obvious error in my thinking. I am the caregiver for Ginger, I am the caregiver for myself, I am a caregiver for the court project. And as Sheehy stresses, over and over, the caregiver needs to take care of his or herself as part of the overall continuum of caregiving, which she compares to a labyrinth. Not a puzzle, not a maze, but a path that is not always visible or predictable. Taking a deep breath and a few steps back from the brink, I can see that I let the events and stresses of the last two weeks invade my personal realm. No wonder I collapsed. Protecting personal time and space, including time and space with Warren, is not only important but critical to my being able to take care of health issues, jobs, Ginger, and even the woebegone Amy.
When this camel's back broke, the straws went flying everywhere. Straw is slippery and hard to gather up and put back just as it was before. That's why in On the Banks of Plum Creek, Pa was so upset with Laura and Mary after they rolled down the straw-stack and scattered it in the barnyard. And straw imagery pops up in other places than on the camel. Straws in the wind are portents, drawing straws signals choices.
I've got straws everywhere. I may just fashion myself a straw hat and bracelet and go off to see the world.