Well, who knew a blog could induce such a sense of obligation? I regret my absence of new posts for the last two weeks, but I was kind of busy.
For the last few weeks, my household has been on a medical goose chase that ended with teams of highly paid doctors shrugging profoundly. The medical perplexity factor is apparently another way of estimating your out of pocket expense.
At the start of this scan-happy conga line, my husband, who has cardiac issues, was concerned that he was having some manner of heart episode. We went to the emergency room, and after many hours and tests were told that he did not have a problem with his heart, but that they had discovered that he had liver cancer. Right away, it sounded wrong, but once that button is pushed, well, it jams just a little.
When tested, re-tested, and re-retested again, it turned out to be something that can’t be figured out but probably isn’t anything at all, but it will need to be watched, because…well…because definitive all-clears are a huge liability. But he’s fine.
All of this stress has taken its toll in various ways, but, other than that first week when we thought my husband had heart-attack-cancer and our little girl had a virus that resulted in vomiting, fevers, hives, and that helpless feeling that drains the light from your very soul, I’ve tried to keep working, moving forward, at times at the end of a spear (jab, write a line, jab, write a line, jab…), but moving. For one thing, my grad school due dates were neither moveable nor optional and on the chance that we were all going to survive our little season of doom, I did not want to have inadvertently defaulted on my degree plan.
This was not the first time that my husband and I have been in a situation of high medical anxiety. In 1999, he called me from his classroom to say that he didn’t feel well. Several hours, phone calls, and ambulances later, I met him in the ICCU of a downtown hospital as a doctor I had never seen before was performing an echocardiogram and yelling, almost gleefully, “My god, man! Look at that, your heart is as big as a ladies handbag! Oh, surgery, surgery immediately!” The doctor looked up at me as I stood in the doorway, struck motionless, and he turned contrite, sheepish: “You must be the wife…well, ah, just having a bit of a chat with your fella.”
The chat led to an eleven hour open heart surgery to correct adult complications related to a congenital heart defect and the latent ill-effects of earlier attempts at surgical therapies. It was a long winter followed by a perfect spring.
We hadn’t really been married all that long, four years at that time. We’d had a bubbly, romantic beginning though somewhat bogged down in graduating college, finding jobs, getting started, and after four years we were just beginning to feel like we might be adults after all. But the stress of that surgery made our permanence as a family real to us. His recuperation was our second courtship.
Every afternoon, I would pick him up for his prescribed exercise after my workday was done to take him to a park down the street from our apartment. It was just a little sidewalky, koi pondy, feed the birdies kind of spot behind some office buildings. I’ve always loved koi, and circling that pond, probably a third of a mile around, was his way back to strength and my path back to a personal center.
The big fish would rise, turn languidly to see what of any color or interest the other side of their watery window could show them, then they would turn as though in a dreamy sleep and sink again into the mulm.
I started trying to paint them. I tried oil paint and copal resin, Liquin, artists’ varnish, acrylic paint, and ready-mixed glazing emulsion. Finally, I settled on acrylic paint and a glazing formula I worked through myself. I still love these paintings—for me, they hold the undulating feeling of the sleeper’s darkness, but folding and mottled with vivid moments of light and aliveness that was that whole healing experience both for my husband and for me.
Latching onto a symbol helps me. Finding a way to translate a rough energy into something visual or worded is the way I process and come through both the good and the not so good of life. Right now, my symbol for these last weeks is just a color. An ear to ear, eye to eye blue-green ocean color that rides in my mind just before sleep and just as I wake. I need to paint it out, or perhaps, to go find a beach where the water rolls that color toward me and my open eyes and there lie down in the sand for awhile. And then get up again and start painting.