Unabridged Me

JUST ANOTHER WRITER

Coming to terms

October 17, 2019

“Did you hear that?” Laurinda asks as silence pulls me from my dozing state.

My mom’s friend and I sit up at the same time, searching the dark recliner ten feet away. Gears activate in my mind, and I count measured seconds. I reach and pass 50 before Mom’s lungs pull and push one breath of air, followed by noiseless darkness pushing my eardrums.

For one heartbeat Laurinda and I look at each other across the dim room. In a synchronized dance choreographed by three days together in a death watch vacuum, we stand up and move over to my mother’s prone figure.

“I think it’s time,” she whispers.

I nod as I move behind my mom, leaning down to kiss her forehead before whispering “I love you.”

Another raspy breath. Two short gasps. Silence.

The hum of electricity invades my ears, threatening a headache with its roar. Darkness wraps my shoulders, an embrace that grows heavier with each passing moment. Air seeps into my nose, my lungs afraid to scratch the night with an inhale as time stretches and presses on me. While my chest suffocates in black ink, my fingers separate from my mind and search for Mom’s pulse.

Nothing.

I shake my head at Laurinda, my fingers caressing Mom’s jaw before I step back. Like a newly wound clock, I move down the hallway with silent but solid footsteps. A strong wind of deep snores occupies the guest room. Minutes tick in each second as I shake Susan’s shoulders, urging her from a sleep drawn from 36 hours of hurried traveling.

“Mom’s gone,” I whisper after my aunt jerks awake.

The silence has followed me into her room, squeezing my neck and shoulders as I step away from the bed. I move in staccato measures, returning to my mom.

My hand finds a phone and hospice’s card. My ears hear echos of my voice talking to the on-call nurse. One hour, she says.

“One hour,” I say to Susan and Laurinda as metal gears direct me towards the recliner that has been my bed for the last two nights.

“Michelle,” Laurinda says, “she’s no longer here, maybe you should, I don’t know, cover her?”

I look at Laurinda, her words taking a minute to ease through the black quilt stitched around my mind. Tick tock, I walk to my mom and pull up her blanket, covering an expressionless face. The task complete, the clock resets to focus on the recliner.

I sit down. I pop up the leg rests. I pull up the blanket, a brown dual sided throw my friend lent me during the first hospital stay. I pull my legs up to my stomach. I put the pillow on the arm rest. I set my head on the pillow. I close my eyes. Except to open the door to the nurse and the mortician, I do not move. I do not sleep.

The silence wins, sinking me into darkness as time stops.

*

On March 31st, my mom and I sat in an ER room, staring in silence at the doctor as she delivered results against the beeps of a heart monitor. A CT scan showed a mass emerging from Mom’s pancreas and partially blocking her intestine, plus what appeared to be numerous cysts or tumors in her abdominal cavity.

On April 24th a biopsy confirmed the tumor was malignant. At the time, there was only 7mm space for food to pass through the duodenum and past the tumor.

On May 1st, we sat with the surgical oncologist and discussed whether it was more important to begin chemo or perform a GI pypass surgery. At the time Mom was still eating small amounts of food and protein shakes.

On May 8th, at the first meeting with the medical oncologist, Mom was hospitalized for emergency surgery.

*

“Mom, you need to get out of bed and walk.”

“I hurt and I’m tired. Just let me rest.”

“Every doctor who comes in here says you need to get moving. That’s the only way for the stomach to start working and for you to eat again.”

“Enough. Let me be.”

*

Due to Mom’s lack of recovery after nearly two weeks, another CT scan was performed. Though the surgery appeared successful, the tumor was threatening the artery to the liver and Mom had a blood clot in her lung. Mom’s GI track was still not working.

During the GI bypass surgery, Mom had a GJ tube installed. It is common practice for cancers involving the GI system, as the gastrostomy tube (G) can bring relief to nausea by draining the stomach contents while the jejunostomy tube (J) can deliver nutrition, hydration, and medication during times when the patient feels no hunger.

The doctors began tube feeding through a GJ tube to increase Mom’s nutrition and strength heading towards chemotherapy. Around receiving tube feeds, Mom drained her stomach to a foley bag. Both the draining and feeding were temporary measures.

Mom was released from the hospital, beginning her chemotherapy sessions that week.

My routine: Wash hands. Put on gloves. Pour formula into a plastic bag. Attach tubing to plastic bag. Prime tubing to remove air. Attach bag and tubing to pump. Put pump and bag in backpack. Flush GJ tube with 100 ml of water. Attach feeding tube. Begin pump. Administer abdominal shot of blood thinner. Wash hands. Try to write for clients.

Two weeks later Mom began vomiting, a common occurrence with chemo so we did not question the symptom. By the end of the weekend the fluid we were pulling from the stomach portion of her GJ tube changed in color and consistency. Over the weekend we took Mom into the ER twice, and both times she was hydrated with saline and sent home. By Monday she started leaking fluid around the tube site in her abdomen, despite draining her stomach regularly. Tuesday we went to her oncologist appointment and ended up in the ER. Mom was diagnosed with acute kidney failure and severe blood shortage.

The first week of June, Mom was hospitalized again. We spent two nights in the ICU as Mom was pumped full of fluids and blood in attempts to recover kidney functioning.

Despite all appearances, the connection between Mom’s stomach and her small intestine healed like a valve. The feeding tube that was directed into her intestine flipped, causing her stomach to close. Mom’s stomach was a closed balloon, filling with liquid every 12 hours.

That was the first time I watched my mom escape death.

After a week in the hospital, we were sent home with Mom carrying the foley bag attached to her G tube. Her stomach was still not pushing anything down into the intestine, causing bile and stomach acid to build up. While in the hospital Mom had a port installed into her chest.

A lot of chemo patients end up getting ports, as it allows IV treatments without having to access veins every week. More importantly, the port gave me access to feed her via VPN (a bag of lipids, fluid, and essential nutrients) for twelve hours every night.

My routine: Wash hands. Put on gloves. Lay out all the necessary tubes, needles, and medication. Via syringe, add multivitamin to the lipid fluid bag. Mix. Set aside. Put battery into pump. Attached tubing to lipid bag, priming tube to ensure no air bubbles. Attach tubing to pump. Put bag and pump into backpack. Put on new sterile gloves. Uncap the access to my mom’s heart. Wipe with alcohol. Flush with saline. Attach lipid tubing. Start pump. Administer shot into abdomen. Pull off gloves. Get a glass of wine.

I emptied the foley bag attached to Mom’s stomach twice a day, mentally noting the volume. Mom was taking in 2400 ml of fluid per VPN, and she was venting 2400 ml by stomach every 24 hours. Intake of water by mouth: nominal.

We went to the ER twice for dehydration, once after Mom passed out when a friend was with her and resulting in a scalp injury that never quite healed. Another time they sent her to the main hospital for overnight watch, just to make sure she was okay due to heart irregularities.

Add to the routine: prescribed saline bags when hydration appears to decrease, approximately 1000 ml every other day.

Mid-July Mom went back to the original GI doctor who performed the biopsy. This time they put in a stint to prop open the connection between her stomach and intestine. He removed the tube for feeding, leaving only a G tube for infrequent venting purposes, and gave Mom permission to start experimenting with solid food. As the doctor said, the plumbing works fine now. We felt a mix of relief, hope, and a little confusion. Mom no longer needed to drain fluid from her stomach, and for the first time in two months she was free from a foley bag.

Add to routine: medicine to move the stomach and intestines. Medicine to block stomach acid to prevent stomach bleeding. Both administered via artery port.

*

“Do you want yogurt or apple sauce?”

“I don’t really want either.”

“Mom, now that your stomach is working you need to eat. If you don’t eat, your stomach won’t work anymore. The doctors have cleared you, no reason to not eat.”

“Fine. Yogurt. Then a protein shake.”

“Thank you. Are we going to take a walk outside today?”

“No. I’m tired.”

*

Mid-August we had completed three cycles of chemo. It was time for another scheduled scan on August 15th to gauge success of the treatment. We never made it to the scheduled scan. Instead, Mom went into the ER with sepsis. A CT scan was performed by the ER doctor, and the infectious disease doctors searched for a source. The scan showed the tumor had blocked Mom’s liver and gall bladder. No source confirmed, but suspicions were blockage of the bile system caused toxins to back up into the blood stream. CT scan also confirmed chemo was not working.

The medical oncologist talked to Mom about options, which were very few in his mind. For him, she needed to recover from sepsis and regain strength before he would discuss any additional treatments. Chemo was off the table. The type of chemo that was ineffective for Mom was proven to be the most effective with the least amount of side effects. Any other version would have more side effects with less likelihood of success.

As the doctor said, he felt it would be practicing bad medicine to submit Mom to the side effects with decreased chances of success.

We had a meeting with the hospital’s palliative team. The doctor explained why radiation was not an option for Mom, as well as reinforcing and supporting why her oncologist was not going to pursue other chemo options.

After five days, Mom went home with IV antibiotics. At her next appointment, she was tested for immunotherapy and gene therapy. The oncologist did not have much hope for either, but there was a chance.

Add to routine: once every 24 hours administer 30 minutes of antibiotic via port.

The prescription was for 7 additional days after the hospital. Only 6 days after her last dose, Mom returned to the ER for her second case of sepsis. I watched my mom’s skin turn jaundiced in the first 24 hours as they tried to pump her full of fluids per protocol.

While in the hospital, we learned Mom was not a candidate for immunotherapy or gene therapy. We spoke with Intervention Radiologists about installing a tube into the liver to drain it to an external foley bag, and we talked with the GI doctors about installing an internal stint for the liver to drain.

The GI procedure was not an option due to the tumor. The IR doctor was honest about the risks of tapping the liver and what it meant, including having a bag she would have to carry around. Mom asked if it would help her live longer. The response was it would make her more comfortable. Risks associated with the procedure, combined with Mom’s current health, had a high chance of killing her. We decided against the procedure.

About three nights into our stay, I mourned my mother. I laid in the recliner next to her hospital bed, covered in my friend’s brown blanket in my nightly hospital repose since the first surgery, sobbing silent tears.

Hospital plan: comfort.

Once again we were sent home with IV antibiotics. Knowing how sepsis works and with no recourse for the source, I watched the days bleed by until we didn’t have antibiotics any longer. My mom gained 60 pounds in a few days, water weight her body shucked into her cells and abdomen. After pulling herself off hospice, my mom went into see her oncologist. He understood if she did not want to utilize hospice, but there was nothing else he could do to help her. He would continue to put in medical orders, but his message was clear: her liver was going to kill her in only a few weeks.

Our summer had been a quiet summer of routine and sleeping, punctuated by medical appointments and hospitalizations. That ended, and the time vacuum began on my birthday, September 10th of 2019.

A few minutes after midnight on September 22nd, my mom passed away from pancreatic cancer complications.

Hollywood and inspirational videos paint cancer as a slow wasting away until the person falls asleep and never wakes up. And maybe that’s the case with other cancers. Not pancreatic cancer. I watched as my mom’s major bodily systems shut down one by one, creating toxicity and decay. Until her last breath, my mom sat in her recliner hoping a miracle would save her life. Her fear of death was strong, but the disease was stronger.

I never questioned moving in with her. I never doubted changing my family’s entire life to be with her. Every choice I made was based on each moment, supporting my mom in the way she requested. I became an encyclopedia of events and medical jargon, medications and procedures.

For six months I didn’t look further than the day I was living. I tried to meet the needs of a five year-old with the increasing needs of a previously independent mother. What had become my life’s purpose ended in one weekend. Since my mom’s death, I have drifted aimlessly. It is not the loss of my mom, though there are traumas I need to process. Death is a part of life, and life continues.

Rather, I’ve tried to reinsert myself into my previous life. I don’t fit anymore.

As I start the process of cleaning out her house and cleaning out my mind, four words continue to haunt my consciousness. The four words started six months ago, but now is the time for me to act on them. I only hope I hold onto what I’ve learned through this experience to avoid inactivity. Instead, I will consciously choose life.

After all, life is too short.

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Cliff Jumping

January 20, 2018

In a couple of days it will be one year since I started blogging.

This blog. Different website. Different hosting platform. Different me, but same blog.

I’ve abandoned my original style, my original model, my original plan. Starting the blog was an impulse, and as usual I did it trial and error. Having learned from my errors, I’ve changed websites and platforms. Now I’m moving over blogs I want to keep, reading as I move.

Reading posts I wrote seven months ago is … odd.

About seven months ago I completely changed my life. Joined social media, quit my job, started a business, and have lost my sense of reality no less than three times. No necessarily in that order. And not necessarily cause and effect.

And the blog has archived the change. My thinking then versus now. Me then and me now.

My writing style has changed. For the better. Probably due to Twitter. Being exposed to concise writers. Getting back into the habit of writing. Or maybe writing regularly has meant finding my voice. Getting away from academia.

Which I admit made my writing verbose and complicated. Not my professors, the things I read. Basic cannon, which included all the old British greats. Jane Austen as a major author. You can see how that might influence grammar choices.

Put it bluntly, my older posts are long winded.

Yet they show an interesting shift in a major part of my life. I chose to 180 my life experience. I walked to the edge. Which I’m prone to do, apparently needing some element of chaos. But instead of walking away and settling, I jumped.

Hoping I didn’t break every bone in my body on the way down.

I can’t take credit for the courage entirely. I owe my eldest sister her due. I watched her move through her own process. Her results gave me courage.

June 2016, about one year before my life change, we went to Panama. Just long enough for me to think I don’t want to come back. Then again, I’ve always been one to want to be anywhere but where I am.

Despite my lifetime urge, I haven’t moved from the state and country in which I was born. Walk to the edge to peek over, only to turn around and try to buy into reality one more time.

So it was not surprising I felt the urge to become an ex-pat in Panama. We stayed in Casco Viejo, full of history and art and an energy that cannot be found at home. I think most of my friends would have felt claustrophobic walking the old streets. I found myself suffering agoraphobia upon our return.

Took me two weeks to feel like things weren’t too far apart, too open, too big.

While there I observed my sister as she processed through a life realization. My sister is a researcher by nature, yet found herself in tenure track at a university. Focusing on classes and curriculum, in a school she wasn’t aligned with, put immense pressure on her.

And I watched as she processed job security versus doing what she enjoys. Paying bills versus being true to her nature.

At the time I just watched. I had just gone through a period of hating my job, but I was on an upswing. I was implementing a new system, doing more IT work than HR work, creating and building and learning.

Yet observing her, and her ultimate choice to go out on her own, influenced me when it was my time. When I inevitably walked to the edge. And stared down. Granted, life circumstances pushed me. But instead of creeping back and trying to settle my unhappy mind, I jumped.

Actually, I might have backed up and taken a running leap off the edge. I’m sure it appeared that way to anyone watching.

And I haven’t landed yet. My business model completely changed, now resting entirely on writing. Trial and error. Pretty happy my writing is a paying gig. As a family, our net monthly budget is almost zero again. Stressful, but manageable.

But I find I’m not done changing, at all. Every day I learn something new about myself. Think about something differently. See my personality show up in new and astonishing ways.

I’m learning my strengths and weaknesses. Especially in writing. Unleashing my imagination for my own writing is still a block. But I’m learning how to work around them. How to put myself in situations that force my weaknesses to step aside.

I’m learning parts of me I can’t let go. Like intellectual reading and discussion. Social interaction despite my introverted nature. A routine, regardless how minimal.

And I’m learning parts of me I couldn’t wait to shed.

Interesting thing about making drastic life changes. Other things start looking different, too. Even a tree looks different from the other side. Reality falling from the cliff looks different than from atop the cliff.

Reality has shifted, and everything is affected.

This can be a good thing. It can be a bad thing. I reserve judgement until the choices are in front of me. But I have noticed one immutable fact in my psyche. Fear is often the one thing holding me back. And once I swallow down fear, my impulsive and creative nature rarely falters.

In this case, I jumped off one of the largest cliffs imaginable. My fear has been silenced. My natural inclination might become cliff jumping.

Drinking a Toxic Potion

November 22, 2017

The cherry seawater might actually be killing me.

I know I said earlier I thought it was the safest bet, but my body is not appreciating the ingredients. Lately my body is cramping and my body’s waste water is reflecting signs of toxicity.

So, all things apothecary from my mother will now be treated with suspicion.

I guess it was worth the attempt of not getting sick, as well as keeping my father from being exposed to anything. I now have data to back up my general suspicions regarding my mom’s medical opinions.

One might challenge my conclusion, stating I cannot be sure the drink is causing my body’s reaction.

Well, one might be correct. Except the only thing changed in my diet was the elixir, and after one day of flushing with water I feel better. Not exactly scientific, but enough to support my already existing bias of resistance.

And it’s not like my body is a computer system, with data points collecting for me to query or analyze with any resounding conclusion. Data points would make debating about food beliefs easier, but I can’t really be sure the data wouldn’t be manipulated and changed to support any argument anyway.

As much as people try to convince me that data is immutable, cannot be changed, and thus entirely trustworthy, I will always disagree. Because data is not understood in it’s raw form, requiring human touch for meaning. And human touch is subjective, fallible, and inclined to support its own biases.

Before I jumped off a cliff, quitting Corporate America, I had been miserable in my job. Well, not entirely, let’s be honest. The structure and premise of my job was a boring enterprise, and entirely unsuited for my way of thinking.

As in the case of medium, lean-and-mean, companies I came in at one position and was allowed to grow and develop as far and as fast as I could prove myself. To a point. What started as an experiment for me, hey let’s give this a try and see where we go, became a several year process of educating myself, researching, trial-and-error, and ultimately ending up in a management position.

Of Human Resources.

Now tell me what is the image you have when you think HR Manager? Yup, me too. And totally not me in personality.

Maintaining things makes me want to scream. Files? Forget about it. Setting standard processes, and making sure they are followed? Be a damn adult already.

I don’t mean to offend anyone who enjoys it. We all have our strengths. HR Operations is not mine.

The early years were awesome, in that I charted my own course and was self-teaching in all possible categories. I learned there are some areas of HR I find interesting, namely those involving psychology or creativity (I know, die of shock) and I was reinforced in the areas that just totally suck.

During that period the company was making me an amazing cocktail of free reign potential, and I was drinking what they were selling.

But as with all things made up to be too good to be true, this potion created a toxicity in me that was impacting my very essence. I was settled into HR operations, with very little respect or acknowledgment regarding what I brought to the table.

It happens. The pat her on her head isn’t she cute, but she doesn’t really know business and isn’t she so young.

Forget I was responsible for a multi-million dollar department with a global company in my previous experience.  Not bitter. Really.

Instead I fell into a pit of despair and ohmagad is this what my life is becoming mentality. I struggled daily with working in a corporate environment, which was never a goal in my non-existent plan, doing things I couldn’t stand. The toxicity was building in my body, and soon my life would be affected irreversibly.

Then things got really busy. Like implementing a new system while integrating three acquisitions busy. And for the first time in my life, I found myself more on the IT side of things, assisting with two systems and understanding large picture theories and how things would fit together.

I enjoyed myself. Despite the stress and exhaustion. And since I was intimately familiar with the systems, it was natural progression to begin data analysis for my boss.

So when things settled back down, and I was back to managing the crap (again no offense), I started looking elsewhere. Thinking maybe data analytics would be something I could really sink my teeth into.

Why not propose a new position at my current company? Because despite the explosion in revenue, it was still a lean and mean shop. A friend was working her way into the Business Analyst position, and the two separate positions were not needed.

And… despite having my boss’ full support, it was still a pat her on her head isn’t she cute she doesn’t really understand business environment. I would never be more than what I had clawed my way to being. And long periods of exposure to the potion caused a toxicity level my body couldn’t flush without full quarantine.

Several interviews and a few companies later, I came upon what I thought would be my mecca of jobs.

A company recently moved their global headquarters to Denver, and they were staffing up, creating new positions, and were rumored to be an amazing place to work.

The position read as my ideal scenario, and when I interviewed in person I could almost believe the rumors were true. The company was a case study for Organizational Psychology everywhere. The sense of support for the company was cult-like, palpable as soon as I walked in the door.

I made it pretty far in the interview process, and almost convinced myself I would have been happy there. I was sipping their tonic.

Lucky for me I didn’t get the position. Instead, life events led me to a different path. One where there is no potion and my stress level is lowest it’s been in years. My body has flushed the toxicity from my system, and I am moving forward with my complete brain rather than creating scenarios where I can be happy with only my left hemisphere working.

Of course, it may be true that I am mixing and consuming my own libation in my current endeavor of writing. Though, since it’s my potion, I’m unlikely to view any of the symptoms as toxic.

Self-Doubt, Let’s Fight

May 24, 2017

(Originally written May 24, 2017)

Traffic has got to be the worst time for anyone with an overactive internal reality. Sitting there in a car among hundreds and hundreds of cars emitting waves of heat into the air, monotone and blah, leaves the mind way too much time and space to push on cracks and fissures ignored the rest of the day.

Currently my commute consists of 19 miles each way which, when combined with regular stop lights, erratic drivers, and overall general congestion of an ever increasing population, usually equates to about 1 – 1.5 hours of my day.

Way too much time to sit alone with my brain and no way to vent it out in a productive way.

Until my recent  and entirely unexpected reality shift, which brought about a) the desire to be a SAH working mom and b) accepting the blessing-curse that is my calling, compulsion, and overall being, I filled the space and time with listening to talk radio or music, depending on what type of touch I needed with the collective conscious.

Of course, that all changed last Wednesday.

​​Now my drives to and fro consist of an entirely different type of gymnastics. I run the course of a practical, business minded, revenue driving strategic mindset to an emotional, irrational, someone kicked the hive in my chest cyclone.

The worst of the latter is self-doubt. Self-doubt is water slowly undercutting dirt and sand which makes the road base of my thoughts.

Driving along at top speed, everything is looking clear as my wheels of creativity and intellect are humming on smooth asphalt when…

Bam.

I’m in a sink hole 6 feet deep.

Wait, what?

The sudden halt in speed gives my awareness whiplash as the wet heavy blanket of panic tightens around my chest.

Well, shit.

Creativity has ground to a halt as self-doubt finds its voice.

You have nothing to say. What makes you think you can do it? You are delusional. You will never be more than average, and average does not pay the bills.

I yank myself in front of my psyche’s mirror and say, knock that pathetic shit off. Self-doubt has always been here, and it’s never stopped the journey before. Just drive around.

You were driving on someone else’s map following a road you didn’t create.

My brain is lit with words and possibilities.  My reality is so altered there is no going back.  I have a taste of fulfillment with happiness.

Possibilities don’t put food on the table, clothing on your baby’s back, or heat the house in the middle of winter.  Happiness does not get traded on Wall Street.

And so goes the internal fight, until something yanks me out of my mind, reminds me reality does exist beyond my brain, and my resolve is further hardened.

​​This morning was one of those mornings. I felt I was opening my eyes into a sand storm with everything grating roughly on my senses. We were able to get dressed and going decently smooth enough, mostly because my daughter is a very sweet and caring child who can read when mommy is about at her break point.

Yet both of us were on the verge of an emotional Vesuvius.

The drive was filled with too bright of sunlight, and when we pulled up her school had a slightly vacant air with art projects and window ads having been taken down. Certainly no human is super awesome at change they didn’t create, and I am no different.

My tone was a little more harsh than it needed to be when Vivian accidentally broke my makeup compact she was using as a phone. In the short 5 seconds it took me to come around to her side of the car, she was crying hysterically at my meanness.

I don’t even wear makeup.

I calm her down, I apologize, I kiss her head and the tears stop. For now. Until we get inside. The rooms look empty, the windows are bare, she is resistant to me leaving.

I give her my standard five minutes of count down cuddle time that usually helps my little one adjust, and we are slightly perked up and ready to sit for cereal. And not let go of my hand.

I kiss, I hug, I remind her I always come back.

I pull my hand away as a teacher moves in to cuddle. As I leave I hear my baby girl scream her mommy-something-is-really-hurting sobs, and I can barely see where I am walking.

To this self-doubt can’t compete. My resolve at changing our reality has grown and hardened into Zeus in my mind, ready to strike down anything that impedes my pathway forward.

Even if I am broken and bleeding, I will claw myself out of self-doubt’s sink hole before I give in.

There will be days when the road is rough, full of sink holes and washboard ruts. Just as there will be days when the asphalt is newly paved, the sun is shining, and I am the only one on the road.

The difference between those who succeed and those who don’t is who can inch forward when the road is rough, the car is broken, and each breath is completed in a waterboard of panic.

I will succeed.