Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Finding my net

My husband deployed 3 weeks ago today. Before he left, I said a silent prayer that the following 3 things would not happen while he was gone:

1. Sudden demise of a major, cannot-live-without-it household appliance
2. Vomiting illness
3. An ER visit for me or my kids

In those 3 weeks, we have had 2 distinct vomiting illnesses tear through the entire household. One of them, in my 3 yr old, was severe enough that we wound up in the hospital with a very scary clinical situation: dehydration, distended tender belly, anion gap metabolic acidosis, elevated LFTs, and alarming lethargy. Fortunately, after lots of fluids and antibiotics, she is now back to normal. Oh, and did I mention that our washing machine began a slow, spiral of death within 12 hrs of my hubby's departure and ultimately took its last breath in the midst of wave two of vom-a-rama, leaving me to wash about 2 dozen loads of vomit-soaked bedding and clothes in total in our tub, wring them in the washer (which would still spin until close to the end), and then dry them...ALL NIGHT LONG on more than one occasion.

Deployment is really not going so well for us. Or so I thought.

But today, I had a fantastic day. Why? I bought a new washing machine over the weekend, and I did four loads of laundry today. Ordinarily, that would not be cause for celebration, but today I felt like whistling a little tune as I watched our clothes gyrating around. Even they looked happy in there. I could have sworn my sweater was flirting with my jeans. And no one vomited. In fact, no one has vomited for 4 days now. And, although I was in a hospital today and my clinic ran hours late, I was on the right side of the stethoscope. Amazing how a little badness can make a whole lot of ordinary look pretty fantastic.

But the real reason that I am feeling on top of the world is that I have found my safety net when I was beginning to think I was flying without one. In the midst of illness and household crises,not to mention general deployment sadness, we were invited to dinner by other Navy families (thanks, KC!) and preschool families we didn't know especially well before. I had acquaintances who heard about what was going on show up unannounced at our door, asking to take our vomit-soaked laundry to their house to wash and dry and return it to our home (!). I watched in awe as our clearly exhausted nanny stepped up with a smile and came to the ER after working a full day with vomiting kids to take my non-sick kids home for dinner and bed so that I could focus on taking care of my desperately sick one without guilt or distraction. And I had busy family members volunteer to drop everything and get in the car or on a plane to come to us as fast as modern transportation would allow if I said the word. Suddenly, I feel strangely lucky that my husband is deployed. Surely these kindhearted, generous friends and acquaintances and relatives were out there all along, and I could have seen them if I had looked hard and long enough, but it took deployment and all the minor crises that ensued to bring them into focus for me. It has dawned on me how much a little nugget of goodness can resonate with someone who is in a crisis, however defined.

Today in clinic, I saw an elderly woman with newly-diagnosed metastatic breast cancer. Through a series of unfortunate self-fulfilling medical prophecies, including misreading of a CT scan and erroneous interpretation of pathology slides, she had been told that her cancer was widely metastatic, required urgent, very aggressive chemotherapy, and that she would almost certainly die within 6 months regardless. I had the distinct pleasure of telling her that while she does have metastatic cancer, it involves only a few spots on her bones, appears biologically quite indolent, and should be easily treated with one pill a day that won't cause nausea or hair loss or any of the things she fears terribly. As she teared up for the first time, about 30 minutes into our visit, I took her hands and said, "Listen to me. It is far more likely that you will die WITH this cancer than OF it. You are going to live for many years to come." It was one of those moments that every cancer patient coming to a large medical institution for a second opinion (and every oncologist seeing such a patient) silently dreams and prays will come to pass, but which very seldom does. Today, she and I shared a moment of joy that was like nothing I have ever experienced in my life except at a birth. In a way, it was a kind of birth. It was her life, unwittingly stolen by a devastating comedy of medical errors, being dusted off and handed back to her. At the end of our visit, she said to me, "I have had people coming out of the woodwork since this diagnosis making such offers of help to me and my wouldn't even believe it, if I told you some of stories. And now, I feel on top of the world even though you confirmed I have metastatic cancer. Who would have thought such bad news could sound so great? Weird. I know that probably doesn't make sense to you at all."

Actually, today, it makes perfect sense.


  1. Neat post. Thanks for sharing. And I'm so glad that your safety net has blossomed for you. I have some deployment widow friends that I have been keeping close tabs on as of late. Anyone who sends their spouse off to fight to keep us safe deserves that.

  2. Thats awesome. I saw one of those once in my first surgical rotation, except the patient had been started on one of those magic (but superduper expensive) tablets. This was a review visit where the general surgeon told her her breast cancer had shrunk, and to go and buy a bottle of champagne. She cried violently with happiness. It was fantastic.

  3. My mom was the recipient of one of those messages of hope. It played out a little less touchingly, though. We were at the Sandwich Spread Clinic, seated in the doctor's office, for the final oncology appointment of a week of tune-ups, imaging and consultation.

    The doctor, a prematurely-silver-haired guy with a rapier wit coupled with astonishing compassion, told Mom that he had dozens of patients with similar disease burdens and tumor genetics, and that she could reasonably expect a slowly progressive disease course and minimal impacts to her life. When she pressed him for numbers, he said that she was already in her sixties and that he would expect her to live "about as long as her peers".

    I was struck dumb. But not dumbstruck enough to be unable to utter "You mean another 20 years of nagging?"

  4. Beautifully written - thanks for sharing and I am glad that things are looking up for you!

  5. I read this just as my cynicism reagarding the world was reaching a peak today - thanks for bringing me back :)

    And I'm glad that everyone is feeling better.


  6. Thanks, I needed this post today. I get to feeling all "why me" and your message of peace in the midst of chaos and thankfulness was just what the doctor ordered. Beautifully written and uplifting.

  7. Thanks to all for the positive words. Seems that happy and calm begets happy and calm. I think I knew that once but had forgotten it. Tempeh

  8. What an incredible moment with that patient. A moment to be savored for a long time. I wish it could happen more often.

    And yay for the washing machine!!!!!

  9. Wow, what wonderful stories! It really is pain that makes the ordinary joyous, isn't it?


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