How the Past Two Years Have Prepared Me to More Calmly Cope With COVAD-19 (Part III)

(The short version…our life’s been like this for us for over two years – falling headlong from one frightening personal disaster to the next.) 

This is the third installment of several chronicling the most difficult two years of our life. (Read all posts in this series.) The purpose is not to whine about our misfortune but rather to offer some perspective and hope to those to whom life-changing, Earth-shattering events haven’t installed themselves (seemingly permanently) into their everyday existence. We were once rookies to the stress. Now, it’s, sadly, we’re old pros at handling disappointment and uncertainty.

Cancer. What the fuck? How can Scott have cancer? He feels fine. He’s perfectly healthy. He’s got no symptoms. How the fuck can he have cancer? We were stunned. Completely blindsided. It didn’t seem like our life anymore. A deep heaviness descended. It was everywhere. In every thought, every breath. At the same time, it was surreal. It couldn’t  be real. Other people, those people were affected by cancer. Not Scott. Not us.

We were starting to feel like life was picking on us… Photo by Photo by Nick Fewings on Unsplash

But yeah. He did indeed. The biopsy confirmed it. A CT scan was scheduled so the doctor could assess the tumor (oh god that word!) to see how contained/widespread it was. My Sweetie had cancer. Fuck. We felt deflated, powerless, crushed by an invisible weight, smothered by an omnipresent fear. After several days of living with the knowledge without much conversation on the subject, we began talking about it. The first thing we realized is that he was hesitant to talk about it for fear of upsetting me and I was avoiding the subject for the same reason. So even in our misery, we were taking care of one another. That’s a tendency that will continue to serve us well.

We started a list one night sitting in bed, unable to sleep for all the unanswered questions swirling around and leading us into endless (and pointless, unfounded) panic. We took stock of the reality and tried not to let it overwhelm us. Let’s not spiral into conjecture, we decided. What do we know? What do we need to know? The list documented everything we knew, everything we thought, every fear, every question we could brainstorm at that point in time. Next steps? Treatment? How the hell did this come about? Was it related to his perforated diverticulitis or it to the cancer? What was his prognosis? Would he need surgery? Chemotherapy? Radiation? What was the timeframe of treatment? When would Scott be cancer free? How soon could we put this all behind us and return to “normal” life?

We sure were learning a lot about insides!

I brought the list to the followup appointment with the doctor who had performed the colonoscopy. He gave us the official findings of the CT scan. And all things considered, he had good news for us. He said that the tumor was contained within the colon; it had not grown through or spread anywhere else. Such a relief! His recommendation was to schedule surgery to have the mass removed and it would be over and done with. No specialist necessary because it was a fairly simple, straightforward procedure that could be performed laparoscopically. He even said that there would be no need for further treatment once the mass had been removed. We left that appointment in higher spirits than we’d felt in weeks! The list was summarily discarded and an appointment with a surgeon was scheduled for November 7. The appointment was brief; he outlined the procedure and surgery was scheduled for early December.

Strike 5

Over the next few weeks, we settled into the awkward reality of having cancer as part of our life. “It’s only a few weeks, then it will be all over,” we reassured ourselves. Thanksgiving was coming up and we’d have a little bit of distraction. We’d focus on the positives of this situation – and on all we had in our life to be grateful for in general – and the time would pass quickly.

But Scott’s colon had a different scenario in mind. Saturday evening, November 17… Scott experienced a familiar feeling: That same abdominal/intestinal pain he’d felt last October when he’d had the perforated diverticulitis. We took this pain very seriously, especially considering last year’s development and the recent cancer diagnosis. At that time, I was uncomfortable driving at night so his mom picked us up and took us to the hospital. A very long, tense wait ensued throughout the night and into the morning.

Sadly, this was becoming an all-too-familiar scene

Hours and hours of passed in the examination room. His temperature had started rising and the pain was increasing. I kept his mom apprised of his condition walking back and forth from the exam room to the waiting room. Finally, another CT scan revealed – son of a bitch – perforated diverticulitisagain! And we were looking at emergency surgery this time. By 7:00 AM the surgical team had arrived and it was time for things to happen very quickly. I shook hands with the man in whose hands my Sweetie’s life would soon be, tearfully kissed Scott and was escorted to the surgical waiting room. The next five hours passed in a slow, heavy fog. I felt helpless, frightened, confused, sad and overwhelmed by all that had transpired since the evening before. It was the Sunday before Thanksgiving and any plans we’d had to celebrate the holiday had changed in a dramatic, profound way.

As I mentioned in my preface, this is third in a series of pieces about life as we’ve lived it lo these past two years plus change. I hope that, combined, they tell a story of how, first and foremost, adversity sucks. It drags you down into the depths of your being; makes you assess your priorities, question your ability to cope and lays bare your vulnerability. Beyond that, I hope they tell the story of how, getting through the adversity – and on the other side of it – you discover a myriad of revelations, truths and perspectives you can only imagine. If we didn’t learn this fully yet, we would certainly have more opportunities coming in the nearer-than-we-could-believe future.

Stay tuned for Parts 4,5,6…

Posted in Coping With COVID-19, Life, Memories, Observations a la Gina | 1 Comment

How the Past Two Years Have Prepared Me to More Calmly Cope With COVAD-19 (Part II)

(The short version…our life’s been like this for us for over two years – falling headlong from one frightening personal disaster to the next.) 

This is the second installment of several chronicling the most difficult two years of our life. (Read all posts in this series.) The purpose is not to whine about our misfortune but rather to offer some perspective and hope to those to whom life-changing, Earth-shattering events haven’t installed themselves (seemingly permanently) into their everyday existence. We were once rookies to the stress. Now, it’s, sadly, we’re old pros at handling disappointment and uncertainty.

Strike 2

So 2017 had turned to 2018… barely. A low-key holiday season passed; we were anxious to put the frightening perforated diverticulitis ordeal in November/December behind us and begin a new year on an optimistic note. That, however, was not in the cards. One of our two cats, Cooper, a spunky, loving, personable feline if ever there was one, began having serious breathing issues. His poor little body struggling to take in breath broke our hearts. Multiple, frustrating visits to our vet throughout the month of January  yielded differing opinions on what was wrong and no viable treatment. When his breathing became dangerously labored and the vets were out of ideas about how to help him, they referred us to an emergency pet clinic in Chicago as his his only chance. There they put him in an oxygen tent and the highly trained doctors ran more tests and tried to help him but to no avail. Without a definitive diagnosis, we had to say a final farewell to our little buddy on February 1. I’ve never cried so hard in my whole life as I did that evening. I felt helpless and cheated to lose him at only 11 years old; we deserved more time with him in our lives. Devastated, heartbroken, crushed don’t even begin to express the depth of our grief at losing this bright light from our life. 

Cooper being hugged by his brother Eggs Benedict

Instead of ringing in a fresh, happy new year, we were dealt this gut punch. A dark sadness descended over us. In the span of just two months, two enormous, life-altering events had happened to us. Life had become so scary, so unsettled, so uncertain. We were beginning to feel an underlying unsettledness, like we were standing on a steep slope that threatened, at any moment, to give way, sending us hurtling down, down, down into an unescapable chasm of despair.

Strike 3

The next several months of 2018 went by in a blur of sadness, missing our Cooper. His absence made our lives seem lonely and joyless. Slowly the grief felt less acute but we certainly felt the void he’d left every day still. We needed desperately to distract ourselves from the emptiness we felt. We decided to delve into a gratitude project that had been percolating in us since the previous summer: Thank You Token. The idea behind it was, simply, to manifest a system to “reward” people for their acts of kindness with physical “tokens” that they could then pass along to others upon witnessing acts of kindness. We created a comprehensive website for the initiative. We even enlisted the help of a graphic designer friend to create a simple logo and requested sample tokens from a manufacturer we researched online. We established a Kickstarter campaign to generate funds to have the tokens made and distributed. It was an exciting, all-consuming and, perhaps most importantly, distracting, undertaking. We were fueled by our desire to make a difference in the world by promoting kindness. We put our hearts and minds into this project and it represented a ray of hope streaming into a very dark several months.  We ran the Kickstarter for two months, from late March to early May, 2018. 

Our logo and sample tokens

Unfortunately, we did not reach our goal on Kickstarter and the project did not get funded…

Another blow. We’d been so excited and optimistic – but it wasn’t to be. By this time, we were feeling like we couldn’t catch a break, even when we took initiative and worked up some enthusiasm. We just couldn’t pull ourselves out of this negative spiral. The next few months were melancholy, to say the least.

Strike 4 

The doctors who cared for Scott during his perforated diverticulitis ordeal back in December advised that once he’d had several months to heal, he should have a colonoscopy to make certain everything was looking good. It would be right on time, as he was turning 50 – the age that it is recommended to have your baseline colonoscopy – in June. After getting past a hiccup with insurance, his colonoscopy was scheduled for October 18. The result? Everything was not looking good. The colonoscopy discovered a malignant tumor in Scott’s sigmoid colon (the lower part of the intestine). We were stunned, scared and overwhelmed by the sudden, unexpected news. You can read all about learning of Scott’s cancer in my blog post entitled, How Our Live Completely Changed in Two Hours. And it really did change dramatically. This information is not easily digested. Suddenly, on top of what we’d already endured in less than a year, now cancer was a part of our life. But you know what? That still wouldn’t be the whole of it. Nope. Stay tuned for the continuing adventures of our Two Years in Hell…

As I mentioned in my preface, this is second in a series of pieces about life as we’ve lived it lo these past two years plus change. I hope that, combined, they tell a story of how, first and foremost, adversity sucks. It drags you down into the depths of your being; makes you assess your priorities, question your ability to cope and lays bare your vulnerability. Beyond that, I hope they tell the story of how, getting through the adversity – and on the other side of it – you discover a myriad of revelations, truths and perspectives you can only imagine. If we didn’t learn this fully yet, we would certainly have more opportunities coming in the nearer-than-we-could-believe future.

Stay tuned for Parts 3. 4, 5…

Posted in Coping With COVID-19, Life, Memories, Observations a la Gina | Leave a comment

How the Past Two Years Have Prepared Me to More Calmly Cope With COVAD-19 (Part I)

(The short version…our life’s been like this for us for over two years – falling headlong from one frightening personal disaster to the next.) 

This is the first installment of several chronicling the most difficult two years of our life. (Read all posts in this series.) The purpose is not to whine about our misfortune but rather to offer some perspective and hope to those to whom life-changing, Earth-shattering events haven’t installed themselves (seemingly permanently) into their everyday existence. We were once rookies to the stress. Now, it’s, sadly, we’re old pros at handling disappointment and uncertainty.

Strike 1

Allow me to turn back the calendar to November 29, 2017, a Thursday night. It was a couple hours after we’d eaten a lovely dinner at home and were about to start some TV time. My husband Scott’s stomach began to hurt. Within a few minutes, he said he was going to go to bed early, hoping that lying down would make him feel better. When I joined him in bed an hour or so later, he was freezing and the pain was still acute. I took his temperature and he did indeed have a fever of over 100 degrees. I continued covering him with blanket after blanket, taking his temperature every hour or so; it continued to rise, spiking to an alarming 102.5 degrees. Soon afterward, the ibuprofen I’d given him started bringing his fever down, the pain subsided a bit and he slept. We were both relieved and thought it – whatever it  was – was over. But we were wrong.

The following morning, Scott got out of bed and immediately doubled over in pain and went down in a heap onto the floor in the hallway. That’s when I called his doctor’s office and spoke with the nurse. She advised me that it was serious and that we needed to get him to the emergency room. I’m convinced that conversation ultimately saved Scott’s life. 

I drove him to the hospital where we waited several hours in the waiting room, and another in the examination room before he was seen by a doctor. CT scans were taken, then more hours passed waiting for the results. At last  a diagnosis: perforated diverticulitis. Well, that’s a big fat medical term. Ready for a mini medical lesson? Here’s what I learned that very day: Diverticula are small, bulging pouches that can form in the lining of your digestive system. Occasionally, one or more of these pouches become inflamed or infected, causing precisely the symptoms he was displaying.

Dubbed “Paul” the IV pole. Photo by Marcelo Leal on Unsplash

Since there was a possibility that his bowel could actually burst from this (in which there would be an operation) he had to be transferred to another facility because the one we were at only performed cardiac surgeries. In order to ensure he healed rather than burst, they set about shutting down his intestines, meaning no food or water for several days. He was hooked up to an IV which administered antibiotics, Ringer’s lactate (think intravenous Gatorade) and morphine to quell his pain. Not only did his bowel go to sleep, but he did too – a lot! This course of treatment was to give his body the opportunity to heal, and if it did, no surgery would be necessary. That’s exactly what did happen; he healed, tolerated liquids, then soft foods, then finally solid foods. It took four days in the hospital, with me by his side for many hours of them, but we got through this without surgery – and for that we were incredibly grateful.

Not that anyone could ever be prepared for this kind of thing, but we were completely blindsided. We’re a couple who works from home, are accustomed to (and enjoy) plenty of together time and are, at heart, the ultimate homebodies. We were both healthy and feeling in our primes. Prior to this ordeal, Scott had spent only one night of our 25+ year marriage in the hospital, decades earlier. He’d been on only a handful of short business trips away from home. So the not being together was rough in and of itself. Pair that with the unprecedented concern for his health and this was an emotional baptism in fire. 

That day, our life went from routine and predictable to uncertain in the snap of a finger. Does it remind you of what we are  currently experiencing in the world? Our collective sense of normalcy is evaporating before our very eyes as we self-isolate and lockdown to help curb the spread of COVAD-19. I am reminded these days of the deep loss of control we experienced. Poof! Gone! Like a rug pulled out from under any sense of security we had.

If, on November 28th, you’d asked us if we could bear something like this, we’d have insisted that we could not. Too scary. Too stressful. Too far out of our range. But what we ended up learning was that despite this being scary, stressful and out of our range, we rose to the occasion and, despite our anxiety, it did not break us. Not only did we meet the challenges, but I dare say we learned some important things about our mettle. We’re stronger than we thought, more resilient than we thought and we have deeper wells of resourcefulness than we ever could have imagined. We gained a perspective to whom only those who’ve gone through such a trial gain access. It’s a unique type of self-confidence; that we now know more about what we can physically and emotionally withstand. An unexpected silver lining, to be sure. A gift from life itself? We knew not where this set of circumstances would play into the game we’d unknowingly begun to play.

The view out Scott’s hospital room window one day at sunset. It gave me hope that there is beauty even as day changes to night.

As I mentioned in my preface, this is first in a series of pieces about life as we’ve lived it lo these past two years plus change. I hope that, combined, they tell a story of how, first and foremost, adversity sucks. It drags you down into the depths of your being; makes you assess your priorities, question your ability to cope and lays bare your vulnerability. Beyond that, I hope they tell the story that through the adversity – and on the other side of it – you discover a myriad of revelations, truths and perspectives you can only imagine. If we didn’t learn this fully yet, we would certainly have more opportunities coming in the nearer-than-we-could-believe future.

Stay tuned for Parts 2, 3, 4…

Posted in Coping With COVID-19, Life, Memories, Observations a la Gina | 1 Comment

One Pandemic, Seven Lessons

I’ve got a little time on my hands as I’m self-quarantining for at least the next couple weeks. Personally, I need to see the bigger picture as we face this unique set of circumstances so, I thought, what better use of my time than to consider the potential lessons we can glean from the COVID-19 pandemic? After all, if we don’t learn from a dirty rotten low down situation, we’re doomed not only to repeat it but fail to leverage new information that can enlighten and inform our future. 

I see this as an opportunity for Americans to do some much-needed personal growth. Otherwise, this whole ordeal serves no purpose than to cement already wide divides among people. I firmly believe that this is a critical, pivotal time that can change us profoundly as Americans (and citizens of planet Earth) for the better. Let’s recognize that despite a contentious political climate, this is not a political issue. It’s real. It’s serious. And we have a humane responsibility to face it head on with our eyes wide open.

I’ve identified seven lessons that this outbreak and our response to it have brought to light. Rather than cram them all into one post, I’m going to take my time and really expound on each lesson in its own blog post. Here’s a list of potential lessons we can learn from COVAD-19:

  1. We are incredibly spoiled, we Americans
  2. Dramatic social events bring out both the best – and the worst of people
  3. We are more connected as a nation – and a planet – than we imagine
  4. Look what we can accomplish when we act as one!
  5. This will shed new, previously unconsidered, light on the importance of high quality healthcare access for all
  6. There is the potential for much good to come of this crisis
  7. There is value in doing nothing and discovering quiet spaces in your life

Photo by Joe Pregadio on Unsplash

I can’t fathom that people are choosing to deny the significance of COVAD-19. I try really hard to see their point of view, but I just can’t. It defies logic. It defies actual information. It doesn’t wash (and they probably aren’t washing their hands enough).

The evidence is overwhelming that: 

  • this pandemic is sweeping the globe
  • it puts a significant population of people at risk 
  • every single person is a potential spreader/carrier
  • America did not respond quickly and decisively enough

To deny that this crisis, this threat to the health of millions is “nothing to worry about” is selfish and yes, willfully ignorant. To the deniers, it represents another inconvenient truth they don’t want to believe. The way I see it is, even nature herself is calling upon us to stop acting as if we aren’t all her children and join together to combat a mutual foe. There is a lot of fertile ground for growing bigger-hearted, better humans in this place and time. Please, let’s not squander this opportunity to evolve as a species! We may never get another chance.

Over the next few days, I’ll be writing my take on those seven lessons I think we can learn from COVAD-19, so please be on the lookout for them. I’ll post links on Facebook and Twitter when they’re published or you can click the box at the bottom of this post to be notified of new posts by email. I hope you’ll read along and that some of what I have to say will inspire you in this challenging time to be a human.

Posted in Inspiration, Observations a la Gina | Leave a comment

Guys, I’m Afraid This Is Our Fault…

Once upon a time in American politics, during my lifetime, a citizen like me could be apathetic, wishy-washy, uninformed, lazy, ignorant, disinterested… I know because I, myself, was. I could afford to be because I was among a particularly privileged group: middle class, white, American born, Christian raised, heterosexual, healthy, of average intelligence. I wouldn’t call life at that time particularly idyllic for me as an average American, but it was acceptable; there was some good and some bad and it somehow seemed to all balance out over time.

In case you weren’t around or don’t remember, this is what living in America felt like as recently as a couple decades ago: Imagine, if you will, a time when young, educated people were without crushing student debt. The idea of eventual home ownership wasn’t a pipe dream. The planet wasn’t in the throes of its own death. The president was far-removed from everyday life. When you heard from him, he spoke coherently and with dignity about important things. He consulted with and learned from experts before claiming to know more than said experts. I didn’t always agree with the powers that were, but nothing that happened in government ever seemed to affect my day-to-day life to any significant degree. Governing happened “over there” and I was “over here.” It was as if the “adults” were handling the important stuff (which is what we elected them to do) and we went along our merry way, reaping the benefits and privileges of being inhabitants of the most powerful, diverse, free, economically strong country on earth. I’d vote in the presidential election every four or eight years but a local race? You’ve got to be kidding me! I couldn’t be bothered. Besides, what did I know about these people or the issues? My life and government were two completely separate entities and never did the twain meet.

Ahh, back then, my life seemed so much simpler than it does today. I had relationships with people of whose political affiliations I was blissfully unaware. No one ever criticized me for being overly sympathetic/empathetic (aka, “a snowflake.”), or referred to me as a socialist as if they were insulting my parentage. I, in turn, never judged a person by the words stitched on their cap, or feared that democracy was in danger of being taken down by a president who thought he could write his own rules for leading America.

Decades ago, I switched from the Republican Party to the Democratic Party because, well, my worldview had changed and their approach to governing better reflected my personal values. But even when there was a Republican president, I’d grin and bear it. While I might not have loved who was in charge, I never considered the country as a whole was in peril under his governance. Now I do. Donald Trump is why I’m compelled to write this commentary on the importance of giving a shit about our nation’s leadership and inner workings.

Years have passed, times have changed and recently, they’ve changed more quickly and significantly than ever before. We live in a society that’s more global, more diverse, more connected than ever before. We don’t have a roadmap for where we’re headed. One place we won’t find the recipe for moving forward, however, is in the past. We’re headed into uncharted territory; the old playbook no longer applies. Nor should it. We’ve evolved as humans a lot in, say, the last couple decades. I resent those who fail to embrace these changes, insisting that it’s better to hearken back to a former sense of national “greatness.” That shirt no longer fits. It’s time to update the wardrobe.

Since the presidential election of 2016 I have felt ashamed to be an American. Our leadership is trying to drag America back into the later years of the previous century. They are using the power of our government not as an instrument for the public good but to broadcast and promote an extremely narrow-minded, self-serving narrative. Our leader and those he has enabled into power stoke fires of division, cruelty, pettiness; they celebrate the lowest common denominator of humanity. They prey on fear; incite and encourage needless drama. And that narrative isn’t based on truth; it’s based on what the president wants you to know. You know who controls the narrative a population gets to hear? Dictators. And then they tell you that you can’t trust any source than them (“fake news!”). That’s some scary shit and it’s happening here in plain sight.

This is (sadly) our new reality. Our government is broken and has been hijacked from right under our noses. And I’m ashamed to admit that, all those, like myself, who were apathetic, uninvolved and who let things churn on, unchecked, for decades are the ones to blame. It was on our watch that this happened. We dropped the ball on democracy by our complacency. We didn’t have its back and, in the dark, icky places where greed, corruption and self-serving reign, it metastasized into a monstrous machine, feeding only itself. 

And now it’s up to us to fix this fine mess we’ve gotten ourselves into. It’s going to take time. It’s going to take difficult decisions, it’s going to take A LOT compromise. Most importantly, it’s going to take getting involved. Yep, you and me, no matter how busy or distracted we are. No matter how inconvenient or distasteful it feels. We have to get off our complacent asses and get involved. Don’t be intimidated. Don’t let anyone fool you into thinking that issues are too complicated for you to comprehend. They’re not. You are an equal to every other American, with a right – and a responsibility, I might add – to express your opinion. Feeling uncertain as to your qualifications to make political choices? Don’t let that stop you. Learn about the issues – that’s why we went to school – to learn how to learn. Even things we didn’t want to learn, like Geometry. Even things we didn’t think we’d ever need in real life, like History. We resisted learning this seemingly random material, but in learning it, we learned how to learn. Now, for the sake of keeping our democracy alive and well, we need to read, remember, do some critical analysis and yes, follow it up with some old fashioned homework.

Please, as you learn and form opinions, remember that part of being informed is being aware that everyone has a unique frame of reference, personal biases and prejudices. Recognizing this fact will help you avoid overgeneralizing or completely overlooking certain people’s needs and concerns. Avoid this bias by:

  • Getting your news from a variety of sources
  • Verifying information before believing and disseminating it
  • Steering clear of “us vs them” mentality
  • Considering unfamiliar viewpoints with respect and an open mind
  • Not being afraid or ashamed to change your mind in light of new information

Recent years have added a new and unique benefit/obstacle to being an informed American: Internet technology. The current dissemination of information is unprecedented; some of it reliable and truthful, some not so much. And the spin is positively dizzying. The information is literally at your fingertips, so put on your big American pants and educate yourself – to the best of your ability (because that’s all anyone can do, right?) – on the world, our nation and the people who decide our fate. Sift through the information, apply your best logic and critical thinking skills, and be confident in your ability to make sound, wise decisions. Because this is no longer an “arms length” situation; it’s a hands on project.

If the last four years has taught us anything, it’s that, when left unchecked, our government officials forget that they work for us. Why wouldn’t they? We failed to remind them. We weren’t paying attention. “Not paying attention” to politics (as dry and mind-numbing as it can be) is no longer an option. We, the Americans who live at THIS point in time, need to do this – or the luxury of democracy will be lost not only to future generations of Americans, but to we ourselves. Democracy isn’t a “set it and forget it” operation, even though we acted as if it was. We officially manifested the, “You snooze, you lose” adage.

We can’t go back to those halcyon days; the belief that government works best when left to the “professionals” is long gone. And that’s actually good, methinks. We’re lucky to get a chance to learn from the mistakes and sins of omission we’ve made and snatch our country back from the precipice of disaster. We have to do things differently, but we have to move forward acting as if we have something to lose. Because indeed we do. If we fail to educate ourselves, form opinions based on more than our own self interest and VOTE accordingly, we don’t deserve to live in this (yes, flawed, confusing and scary; yet also inspired, fortunate and hopeful) country. It’s worth dealing with the flaws, confusion and fright to rediscover the inspiration, fortune and sense of hopefulness to which we are privileged to aspire as Americans. 

 

Posted in Observations a la Gina | Leave a comment