Tuesday, April 18, 2017

I Fed a Hungry Man Today

I'm not sharing this information to receive accolades from folks.  Rather, I am sharing the inner turmoil that went on regarding this decision.

I rely on my intuition (inner voice) big time.  It has saved me many times or at the very least helped me to avert a difficult situation.  It has led me to a particular line in the grocery store where I found it obvious that the cashier needed a few minutes of pleasant conversation.  It happens a lot.  It also has helped me overcome my fears by "diving in" or "taking the next step."  This happened today.

I had gone to the vet to pick up more medicine for the dogs. (If you follow me on facebook, you know this is sort of becoming a routine that I wish would come to an end.)  I decided I wanted to get Wendy's for lunch.  As I turned off of Route One onto Gorman Rd. I saw an apparently "homeless" man sitting on the median strip.  Immediately it jumped into my head "buy him lunch."

Let me tell you, a thousand thoughts and self doubt popped into my head.  The old tapes began playing.  You don't really know if he is homeless.  He could be a con man.   He could be a drug addict looking for money to buy more drugs.  He could be an alcoholic wanting to buy more alcohol. What about the traffic?  What if the light isn't red when I get there? What if he is no longer there when I get there?  It's out of my way to go back to Route One.

Well, you get the idea.  No matter what this man's situation, he could use a hot meal. But what if lots of people had already bought him one today? 

I struggled with my inner turmoil.  Just do it. You really feel it is the right thing to do.  What's the worse that could happen? You end up with an extra meal. He can always put it in his back pack for later.  It's not that far out of your way.  Just do it.

I discovered something about myself.  I am a giver -- that's not new.  But .... I am also a "behind the scenes" type of individual.  I will collect food for the food bank.  I will pick a family (or students, or from a giving tree) to give during the Holiday season.  All that is good, but it is not interacting with the actual individuals.  It's practically anonymous.  And it's not really because I don't want people to know it was "me." It is because it removes me from the pain of DEEPLY accepting there is this kind of pain right in my own village.  I don't have to "deal with" the people that come to the food bank.  (By the way, I am thinking of doing that soon.)

Growing up we were fairly poor.  My father worked three jobs to put all six of us through Catholic school.  We were definitely taught to "give to the poor" and to "donate to the needy." Unfortunately we were also taught the messages that "We are better than them" and "They are not to be trusted."  "They probably use drugs."

As an adult I have learned that a lot of homeless people have some form of untreated mental illness. It could be bipolar, PTSD, schizophrenia, alcoholism, drug addiction, or depression just to name a few.  They could also just be down on their luck.  Life is expensive.  Most of us are one medical emergency from landing in a heap of trouble.  I could go on and on about how or why someone is homeless, but the reason doesn't really matter.  Homeless people ARE people.  Some are dangerous. Some are friendly.  Some are despondent.  But they are all people.

Prior to today, I never really spent any time talking to anyone I suspected was homeless.  I used to keep granola bars in the van for our trips into Baltimore.  I cannot kick one teaching I have heard over and over again.  DO NOT GIVE THEM MONEY because you don't know what they will buy with it (drugs, alcohol, cigarettes).  So I would give them granola bars and once a pair of gloves.  But it was all done as a drive by.

Jumping around a bit, here is a story about one trip into Baltimore.  I was taking Eric to see his audiologist.  It had snowed recently and the sidewalks and streets were a little icy.  I made the decision to have Eric sit in the front seat so he could get out curbside when we got there. He has cerebral palsy and uses forearm crutches.  As it turns out all of the sidewalks had mounds of snow up against them from the snowplows clearing the streets.  I couldn't figure out how to get Eric out.  I opened the door and took his crutches from him.  I then proceeded to help him get over the snow mound.  Lots of people walked by.  Suddenly there was an older gentleman who grabbed hold of Eric's left arm.  I had his right arm.  Between the three of us we were able to get him over the mound of snow and safely on the sidewalk.  We thanked him, of course.  By time we got ourselves together and had locked the van, the man had moved on.  We considered the fact that perhaps he was an angel to have disappeared so quickly.  He appeared homeless and Eric really wanted to give him money for a hot cup of coffee or a hot meal. He was nowhere to be found.

Maybe today was my chance to pay it forward.  Maybe it was just time to overcome my fear of interacting with the homeless. (No worries, I don't plan on walking down any dark alleys alone.)  Today, I pulled up and the light was red.  I rolled down my window and held out the Wendy's bag.  "I bought you lunch," I said.  Then I handed him the drink.  He responded, "Oh what have you done.  You didn't have to do that.  The drink is really appreciated."  The light remained red.  I told him I really liked his red guitar. It was laying face down on the ground.  He picked it up to show me and said he had gotten it at the pawn shop down the street.  It only had TWO strings, but it made him happy.  He played me a little diddy.  The light was still red.  The woman behind me honked her horn.  He quickly apologized and said, "I don't want to hold you up." I glanced at the light and said, "It's still red, I'm not sure why she is beeping." I looked in my rearview mirror and realized she was holding out a dollar for him.  I said, "Look, she has money for you. You don't want to miss that."

Then I realized, once again, kindness is contagious.  It doesn't have to cost much, or really anything at all.  A simple, "Have a good day," goes far.  I am NOT better than the homeless man ... but I do have it better.  The first time is the hardest. I hope I am brave enough to do this again. Maybe many more "agains."

Sunday, April 9, 2017

I Have Come to the Conclusion That ....

I must accept my chronic condition -- I am an ovarian cancer survivor -- like I do the weather.  My health is somewhat predictable, but not guaranteed. Much like experiencing weather in Maryland, my health can change in a heart beat.  This is particular true when it comes to my stamina.

(Please note, this is MY personal experience. Each persons will be different. I just find it therapeutic to write using "You." It makes me an observer and allows me a little more control.)

You see, once you have undergone the surgery for ovarian cancer, leaving you with a rather long vertical scar on your abdomen, your insides are never the same again.  Now, if you were one of the "lucky" ones who happened to receive intraperitoneal (IP-directly into the abdomen) chemotherapy, as I did, your survival rate increases.  Along with that, so does your chances of growing scar tissue which will trap your intestines so you will experience partial bowel blockages.  These will land you in the hospital for several days.  They may even try to stick a tube down your nose to control the vomiting and not have any luck in getting it down.

Now, if you happen to have THREE bowel blockages within a six month period your surgeon may decide "enough is enough" and will set you up for exploratory surgery to remove all the scar tissue. He may just cut you and give you an even longer vertical incision that now runs from top to bottom of your abdomen.  You may be discharged in two days only to discover you now have an ileus and your colon is now somewhat paralyzed.  You most likely will end up back in the hospital with uncontrolled vomiting.  You might even have to stay for FOURTEEN days.

When you get home you will be so happy to finally take a hot shower in your own home.  But .... when you are drying off the bottom four inches of your incision open up. Of course, YOU can't panic because then your loved ones will.  Of course, you stay calm and call the surgeon.  It's now 10PM and you are texting him pictures of the incision.  You find a friend who will take you to his office the next day. Following his instructions, you have your husband pack that wound every night and wait for it to heal.  After six weeks, you will give up and go to the Wound Center. (Man do I wish I did that straight away, ignoring their requirements on the web site of "your wound must not have healed for at least six weeks".)

Your wound WILL heal. You will be able to eat again. ....... But oddly, now one half of your abdomen hangs down a few inches lower than the other side.  Apparently you weren't put back together evenly.  You will think, "that's okay, I am healthy now." And slowly, very slowly, you will regain some strength.  You will regain hope. "Finally, finally it is over."

You will experience an entire MONTH of feeling good and even begin the long awaited decluttering project. You will be happy. You will be proud. You will enjoy life. You will sweat once again and be tickled that you can now work to that level.  And then ... and then ....

One day you will get dizzy and fall and really scrape your chest up. You see, the neurologist has diagnosed you with neuropathy of the veins.  That means that your blood doesn't return back through the veins as easily as it should. In my case it means, if I dare put my head lower than my heart, I will definitely pass out. What's the treatment? B12.  Sometimes they will give you medication to increase your blood pressure, but I am not a candidate for that because I am being treated for high blood pressure.  I NEED high blood pressure medication to stay safe.  So, I live my life, trying as best I can, not to put myself in those situations.  I have learned many tricks.

One day you might find yourself in the bathtub taking an epsom salt soak trying to relieve your body of abdominal pain. You might just decide to wash your hair while in the tub rather than standing in the shower. You might put your head forward and lean it down so you can rinse the shampoo out. And .... then you might find yourself with that familiar dizzy feeling. There will be a split second chance to raise your head and recompose yourself.  You might just picture your husband coming home from work and finding your drowned in the bathtub. You quickly make a mental note of yet ANOTHER thing you can no longer do.

Speaking of "mental notes" ... chemo-brain is real. Don't even try to say it isn't real. My psychiatrist and neurologist say it is. The treatment? Well, there isn't any.  But you just have to learn how to work with it.  If I'm tired or sick .... I don't make important decisions.  If something is important .... I write it down.  I am very high functioning, but when my bottom falls out, it's over. It used to take me days to recover when I grew exhausted, now I usually can recover in one day.

Now jump ahead to eight months after your magical scar tissue removal surgery.  You might find yourself getting "that feeling" again. You dread another blockage. But, hey, you are experienced. You know what to do. You consume only liquids and wait for it to pass. In the hospital they use an IV, but you know it is safe to stay home and treat it as long as you can get your liquids down. You will listen to your body and know when it is safe to add yogurt.  You will break down and finally buy Ensure. You will joke about adding Kahlua or Bailey's to it. Only, maybe you aren't joking.  Past blockages resolved in three days. You hope for the best. You count your blessing in that you aren't vomiting. But the pain when you swallow is almost unbearable. That's new. But, like all things, it will pass with time.  Time - a very long seven days this time.  That entire week you can barely do anything. You take the dogs on short walks. You make your family simple dinners or they order carry out. And .... you ... drink .... your .... broth.

And just like that, you are eating a taco salad to celebrate your daughter's 23rd birthday.

I am moving toward acceptance of the unpredictability of my future. I can still plan to do the grocery shopping on Wednesday, but I must accept if suddenly I am unable to do so.  Instead of growing frustrated when I find myself having a week where I am physically unable to do things, I must feel that frustration, but then move on and just give my body the rest it requires. I am blessed that my family is so understanding and accepting.  They accept that from day-to-day they cannot assume I will be able to do what I did the day before.  And I .... I must learn to seize the "good" days, the strong days and say, "today I can declutter," "today I can walk the dogs longer."

But I must always listen to my body carefully. A dangerous storm can show up at any time that will require me to lay low until is passes.  Frustrating? Yes. Seize the day must be my mantra. Seize the day ... whenever I am able.