Friday, October 5, 2012

Middle Sister

My visits with Rachael started three years ago, maybe four. She was “assigned” to me by my church when I volunteered to visit local nursing home residents. I was told she was all alone in the world; she needed a friend.

So most Sundays after church, I stop by the nursing home where she lives and give her cookies or Cheetos or shampoo or baby powder. I often grumble about it. I could find other ways to spend my Sunday afternoons.

Rachael is not interesting. And she has no teeth. So I have trouble understanding her. She lives in a facility for Medicaid residents--the poorest of the poor. Not all who live there are old. Nick, a 30-something paraplegic, loves the women. An endless flirt, he made a bad decision when he raced his car after drinking one night. And because of it, he’ll never truly know a woman again. I’m not sure about Bridget; she whirs around in an electric wheelchair and has difficulty speaking. But she seems happy; she smiles and greets me each time I visit. And so does Joe and Linda and Larry and Joyce.

I enjoy going just to see the other residents. And they can be entertaining. Linda, who sings and dances, was wandering the halls recently, naked from the waist down until an aid discovered her. She was trying to put her pants on by herself but balance abandoned her.

Rachael turns 83 this December, and over the years, I’ve learned a little about her family. She's a middle sister, like me. Unlike me, she had no brothers. She grew up on the Southside of Chicago; her father and mother, whom she loved, owned a bar. They were Italian. She married an Irish Catholic; he died young. She loved him very much, too, so never considered remarrying.

“Are your sisters still alive?” I asked her knowing that by now, her parents certainly wouldn’t be. “One is, I think,” Rachael answered. “Would you like to see her?” I asked. “Nah, it don’t matter.” How could that be? Had the disappointment of no visits from family for the 12 years she had been in the nursing facility hardened her heart? I knew I would want to see my sisters and brothers.

After more visits, I learned the sister’s name and the name of her husband. And that they used to live nearby. So I googled them. I found a 2006 obituary for Rachael’s brother-in-law  that listed all the family members, including Rachael’s sister. With that information, I looked up and found their phone numbers.

And those numbers sat on my computer desktop for three months. Don’t ask me why. Lack of courage? Inertia? Low motivation?

Finally, I girded my spirit, picked up the phone, and dialed the number for Rachael’s niece, tentatively explaining who I was (nobody really, just a person who visits Rachael). “Yes, my mother had a sister named Rachael, ” she answered warily. After much explanation on my part, she trilled, “Oh my gosh, I’m going to have Mom call you.”

A few seconds later, my phone rang. A clear, strong Chicago Southside voice was on the other end. I could understand every word she said. Turns out, Marie had been looking for Rachael for 12 years. “One day, Rachael was in the hospital; the next day I called and she had been released and the hospital didn’t know where she had gone. I haven’t been able to find her since.”

Rachael had been placed in a nursing home, leaving no trace for her family.

The day after talking to me, Rachael’s sister and her family visited her in the nursing facility. They stayed for hours, and when they left, they tacked their photos on her bulletin board. Rachael has a family again. When I stopped by Sunday she showed me her new outfit that her sister bought her. And the baby powder and the cookies and the shampoo.

Now my visits with Rachael aren't so necessary, and I am free to enjoy them.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Louie 1997-2012

Our dog Louie died today. He was our Petit Basset Griffon Vendeen, our sweet boy for 14 years. He would have been 15 in October, and he was decrepit and feeble.  We had to push him up the stairs holding onto his rear legs.

That he was failing doesn’t mean his death was easier.  I have been known to say (on several occasions!) I can’t wait till my dogs die. Because sometimes they are just so exasperating. Louie was never fully house trained.  In the mornings, when I went to the basement to let him out, I never quite knew what I might encounter.

This morning I found pee, poop, and vomit. That’s not good. I couldn’t get him up. He was listless, unmoving. After cleaning up after him, I asked Bob to get out of bed and get Louie outside. He was wobbly and disoriented. (And so was Louie.)

We called the vet and Bob took him in. So brave of my husband. I couldn’t do it. I’m a crier. Weak and weepy. The vet said she could do something to make him feel better, but it was only a matter of time. We didn’t want to keep taking him to the vet, and she suggested that erring on the side of early is better than erring on the side of late. So we elected to put him down and spread his ashes on a nearby hill with other dogs who had met the same fate.

I am left with Louie’s remnants—his bed, his doghouse, his treats, his cage. And I must remember when I drop food on the floor, I can no longer count on Louie to scoop it up. Life is going to be different and sad for a while. We still have Spunk, our feisty terrier, but she is also old.

I’m beginning to get a sense of what empty-nester parents feel like. A little lost.

Friday, March 16, 2012

Yippee ya yay!

I'm cured. I had my final meeting with my oncologist this morning. He released me. But not before he showed me all the slides in my CT scan. I saw my lungs, my liver, my spleen, my stomach, my uterus (yep, still there), my bladder, and, of course, my colon.

He apparently had a little time because he stayed with me longer than usual. No students were following him around as they usually do, poking on my stomach. ("Is there a baby in there?" Kate said I should ask when he got a look at the increasing size of my belly.) I'm going to have to work on that; the number on the scales was scary. But that's for later.

So I have been let go. No more CT scans, and only routine colonoscopies. My next is scheduled for 2016. Now maybe I can start putting the money I put in my health flexible spending account each year into my 401K. I'll be rich! And hopefully (if I don't go out and buy a Vespa) I'll be around to spend it.

We got a call from a nurse after my CT scan last week telling me everything was clear. So it was no surprise. Bob posted this sweet note on Facebook:

Very quietly and very calmly the message came in telling the result of Terri Lackey's five-year CT scan: "Hi Ms. Lackey this is L___ calling from Doctor M______'s office and he wanted me to give you a call to let you know that your cat scan was good. If you have any more questions feel free to give us a call back. They call that a statistical cure from colon cancer. I just call it divine.

My stoic doctor, not one to show emotion, gave me a congratulatory handshake, and then cupped his other hand over mine. I'm sure it's a relief for him to see a patient walk out of his office for the last time, rather than going out in a hearse.

For those of you suffering with this disease, I offer prayers you have the same outcome as me.

Friday, March 9, 2012

Year Five: Will I be released?

I'm off for my fifth and final (I hope) CT scan. Scan today, doc next Friday. In April, it will be five years since doctors discovered cancer in my gut. This happened, I might reiterate, during my first, very first, routine colonoscopy. I had no pain (except occasionally when I ate HOT Indian food, and who doesn't have pain with that?).

If I sail through this scan, and get a clean bill of health, I guess I can declare myself cured. I can declare myself cured anyway, but I'd like to get clearance from an expert, my oncologist. I know he'll miss me. My belly has grown more flabby in the five years since I've been seeing him. I can blame that on: menopause, getting my stomach slit open from button to, well, uh, you know. Oh, and food. Chicago food. OMG it's good.

So I must run, I'll let you know if I get released after I see the doc next week.

I'm not drinking during Lent, but I might have to raise a glass to good news.