January 14, 2019
Winter has swept in on us in northern Virginia, with a hearty six or seven inches of the white stuff, down from the 10 or more inches promised, or threatened. We looked at it out the windows, then decided to move on. We, and all those out-of-work federal employees, already know it’s the coldest, grayest, bleakest season.
On Thursday Sandy and I got home from our two-day trip to Philadelphia where our son Michael and daughter-in-law Caroline accompanied us to Penn Med, the University of Pennsylvania hospital in downtown Philly to get a sense of what it would be like to get my treatment up there. Like hicks from flyover country we gawked at the hundreds of patients, doctors, and staff people lining up and milling around that overwhelming, humongous institution, famed for the brilliance of its cancer specialists.
In a nice but too-brief chat, the physician assistant who spoke to us before the surgeon showed up demonstrated some shoulder and arm exercises. “Bone heals quickly,” she said with a smile. “Your chest incision is healed.”
That was very good for my morale. She started to talk about how she loved Duke basketball (Duke? Here in Villanova country?), but then the doc walked in with his grim prognosis.
The docs were polite to the Virginia hicks, but I didn’t get having my vital signs checked in back-to-back meetings and being asked the same questions about my mental state three times. Policy, I guess. My blood pressure did rise a bit the second time.
Enough of that. What’s good, what’s positive? I drove for the first time in more than a month up to and back from PA, both ways over the 4.5-mile stretch of the Chesapeake Bay Bridge, which Sandy refuses to attempt. From mid-span you can see twenty miles or more over the glittering bay at the tankers on the horizon. Coming home, the wind was seriously brisk, whipping huge, stormy whitecaps, rocking the van, ours and others. She sank down in the seat, eyes closed.
Yesterday was CAT-scan day, another $250 co-pay, with my junk insurance. The technician made me stretch my arms straight over my head—I managed it without the sharp pain I had got used to since the surgery last month whenever I accidentally stretched. Stepping out boldly, I climbed into my shirt and jacket—by myself. That night I tested the breastbone by lying on my side. Almost no pain—nice. Still, the chest seizes up when I cough, sneeze, or laugh. This isn’t over.
What else? Michael’s and Caroline’s kitchen renovation is complete, and spectacular: new walls, cabinets, appliances, everything shining white, the whole house fitted out with high-tech stuff, like those “smart” light switches they can control with their phones from miles away.
From Colorado, Louisiana, South Carolina, the girls keep calling to check in with us. That matters.
We have something important next weekend: a memorial service for the son of a friend who passed at a too-young age last week. That matters, too.
In the middle of all this I still look occasionally at the Virginia Happy Trails website. I won’t be at the next event, the first-of-the-season Massanutten Mountain 50-kilometer (31-mile) training run, which I’ve done a half-dozen times. In those years Sandy tirelessly prepared veggie chili for the finish. We’d lug the chili, grill, pots, and plasticware out to Strasburg the night before and get a motel room. She’d dump me at the race start in pitch darkness at 5:00 AM. When I struggled into the finish eight hours later she’d be there, since noon, cooking and ladling out chili to famished runners. She became an institution, the “Chili Lady,” who runners would ask for through the training season.
But we won’t make that race, nor the second or third ones. But I still look at the list of entrants and recognize most of the names, friends, fellow trail runners. Once, not now.
Wait a minute, I should cut myself some slack, and everyone else. Right now in this chilly gray January, others everywhere are facing real crises. Looking back at what I’ve written—every week—there most definitely are too many “Is.” I this, I that. Too many people preening, starting, at this moment, in the federal executive branch, is bad for all of us. We struggle, some of us, to recognize it.
We are living through dark times. Still, I’m fine. This sloppy snow will go away in a few days. Michael says that in six or seven weeks, the planned extent of my treatment, this stuff near my heart will be a distant memory. Others have it worse. We’ll learn, gritting our teeth maybe–and move on.