Simple Reflections Before the New Year
It is always important to reflect on the events of the past year, the traces of memory that make a life remembered. This past year has been a doozy with ups and downs that shake one to the core. Some of these events were anticipated while others were not. Some caused great pain while others inspired great joy. To say the least the peaks and valleys of 2012 felt a bit like being on a never ending roller coaster. I want to share the highlights.
- The birth of my second grandson on March 22nd, Eddie is an absolute joy to behold.
- The nomadic wanderings of my son who moved in with Susan and me in June for five months, a terrific re-connection.
- The news from my orthopedic surgeon that I required a total left knee replacement which was then performed in late June–OUCH!
- The diagnosis of prostate cancer, a very aggressive strain, in October, a diagnosis that put my existence on hold, forced me to face my own mortality and reflect on my own value as a human being in this world.
I want to expand one by one.
The Birth of My Grandson Eddie
In March I called my sister to inform her that while she was always a great aunt, she was once again a Great Aunt. Eddie was born on March 22 in Madison, Wisconsin sometime before dawn. Mark, my son-in-law couldn’t wait till the sun came up to call and tell us that we were once again grandparents. Both Susan and I jumped from bed to the showers, dressed, grabbed a bite to eat and brewed some coffee to take along for the 1.5 hour drive to Madison.
Anticipation is an emotion I somehow learned to suppress simply because it makes for doing stupid things. I set the cruise control at precisely 5 mph over the posted speed limit and drove from our house to Madison, following Veronica’s (my gps) instructions to the hospital. We were the first of the grandparents to arrive.
There he was in all of his 4 to 5 hour glory all swaddled with a wool cap covering his head, eyes shut even while awake and cooing. He was smaller than I remembered babies to be but they say that memory is the first thing to go. His fingers and toes were intact, he squirmed and fidgeted, cried a little but mostly he slept. As the other two, yes two, sets of grandparents arrived (my ex and her husband and Mark’s parents) the hospital room got smaller and smaller. After about three hours with Becki (she sometimes goes by Leah but that is a very long story) Mark, Eddie and the rest of the family we decided to leave with a few pictures and a whole lot of joy. Pointing the car back to Gilberts, IL we made the return trip and were home for supper.
Watching Eddie grow and develop for the past nine months has been the joy of all joys. He responds, is getting his top two teeth (he already has his bottom two) and is generally in good health. Who could ask for more?
Re-Connecting with Ben
In December 2011, my firstborn decided to pick up stakes and move from Phoenix to Austin, TX. He is in the throes of a midlife crisis that is quite interesting to watch. The move to Austin was motivated by the fact that his girlfriend wanted to go there, his son Drew (my first grandson and a joy to watch grow into a young man; he is now 14 years old) moved to Albuquerque because his mother landed a terriffic new job and he felt that since he really had no ties to Phoenix, why not.
In late April or Early May his girlfriend moved out leaving him stranded in Austin without any close connections or ties to the city. Within a few weeks the girlfriend decided she wanted back in but by this time Ben decided that he would be best served if he moved back to Chicago, his home town. After some discussion, he and his girlfriend got back together and she agreed to accompany him to Chicago. This is the stuff of soap opera scripting, yes, and it only gets better.
Ben called and asked if they could stay with us. We have a spare room and so it was decided that this would be okay. Now the girlfriend had two kids and Ben had Drew for the summer so, literally five new human beings moved into our house just days prior to my knee replacement. Ouch. It was a madhouse for nearly two months when things calmed down a bit as the two girlfriend kids were shipped back to Phoenix. Then it was Ben, the girlfriend and Drew for a few more weeks. Drew went back to Albuquerque and the house settled down to Ben, his girlfriend, Susan and me. Phew!
In October Ben and his girlfriend moved into a small apartment in the city; Susan and I were finally back to some semblance of normal.
Then the hammer blow, the girlfriend decided she missed her kids too much to stay in Chicago with Ben and she up and moved back to Phoenix leaving much of her stuff in storage in my basement. Ben spent some time agonizing about his move to Austin and then to Chicago, over his relationship with the girlfriend which he finally decided was going nowhere, and the fact that his ex’s contract in Albuquerque was ending and she was moving back to Phoenix to her old job plus a plumb promotion so Drew would be back in Phoenix. Finally, he decided to move back to Phoenix (a place I think he never should have left in the first place) so he could be close to his son.
During all this time we had a chance to talk, share ideas, ask for and provide advice and generally have a powerfully good time. I will miss his leaving at the end of January but I am also quite pleased that he may have stopped his nomadic ways. I can’t wait to see what develops in the coming year.
Then there were the low points. In late April or early May I slipped and suddenly was unable to place any weight on my left knee. Susan was meeting me for lunch that very day; rather than lunch we went to the emergency room where they put me in a brace and told me to make an appointment with an orthopedic surgeon.
I met the orthopedist a couple of days later and he told me I had three choices: First, I could do nothing and suffer, second, I could try injecting the knee with a substitute cartilage that, if it works, will provide relief for six to nine months and could be repeated until it no longer worked, or third, I could opt for a total knee replacement.” I opted for the second choice. Unfortunately it didn’t work.
I believe suffering is reserved for martyrs or saviors so I opted to undergo a total knee replacement. Being no stranger to orthopedic surgery (I have had two total hip replacements and a laminectomy) I thought that I was aware of the recovery period and what I could expect during recovery. The doc told me that knees are more difficult than hips or back surgery so in my mind I compensated for that as I prepared for surgery.
Oh man was I disappointed. Waking from surgery I was in the worst pain I could have ever imagined. Thoughts ran through my head that were as mild as “Why did I ever agree to this?” to “I want to die right now!” In the past I never needed heavy duty pain relief. I recognized the pain as bone trauma and that it would get better over the course of six to eight weeks. But with this knee surgery I was pushing the button on the morphine (or whatever drug was in there) machine as often as I could. The pain was unbearable most of the time.
The morning of the second day, the physical therapist walked into the room and said, “Time for your morning walk, ready?” I was in a fog, but I knew that if I did what I was told that I would get better faster. So with much help I got out of bed to begin my first walk post surgery. Offered a walker or crutches I chose the crutches but I couldn’t find balance that first time so a walker it was. I made it about twenty steps out of my room before I needed to stop. Finally, turning around I slowly walked back to the room where I was ready for bed. No such luck. It was time to learn how to sit in a chair, go to the bathroom and get back into bed with some help.
The afternoon walk was actually a bit easier and I pushed myself to walk to the nurses station. This time the crutches worked, I found balance and they made the walking easier. The next day I was walking up and down stairs, learning how to get in and out of a car and walking longer distances with the aid of crutches. But the constant pain was still there. We tried many drug combinations to help relieve the pain and finally decided that, in spite of my history, Norco in combination with Tramadol would be a reasonable choice. I went home with that cocktail the morning of the third day post-surgery.
I started out patient physical therapy two weeks post surgery (for the first two weeks a home-bound physical therapist visited me 3 times a week); for the next three months I dutifully went to PT and while I could see results in flexibility the pain would simply not go away. I couldn’t sleep well because the pain was agonizing. Drugs helped but couldn’t provide enough relief to make me happy I did this surgery.
One morning in mid-September, I woke up and noticed that my knee, while stiff and a bit swollen, didn’t hurt. It was as if some switch was turned off. I stopped taking the Norco which led to withdrawal symptoms for ten days but that was a small price to pay.
I continued with PT until mid-October and today, six months post surgery, all seems okay with the knee. While I think I have some fluid on my knee, it doesn’t bother me too much, other than making standing for long periods of time difficult. I see my orthopedic surgeon on January 4th so I’ll know more then.
Then there was the kick in the head. In September I saw my internist for what amounted to an annual physical. He was quite concerned that I had a PSA of 23. Wow, so was I. He told me to see my urologist as soon as possible to track down the cause of this spike in PSA. Getting in to see the urologist has always been a difficult thing. Waiting two to three months was not unusual. When I called for an appointment I mentioned that my PSA spiked to 23 and the appointment person said, “Oh, then I can squeeze you in next week, would that be soon enough?” I responded in the affirmative and the appointment was made.
During the week prior to the appointment, I began to puzzle with my own mortality. What would be my contribution to this world? I didn’t much worry about what the transition to death might be like other than it is a deeply personal transition that only I could make, there are no substitutions possible.
When I saw my urologist he drew blood for another PSA (the result was 26) but when he did a prostate exam he felt nothing out of the ordinary. Several years ago I had a spike in PSA which required three needle biopsy procedures of my prostate, all of which were negative. BPH was the diagnosis which led to a procedure called a Trans Urethral Resection of the Prostate (TURP) and the biopsy of the tissue removed was negative for cancer. I vowed that I would never do another needle biopsy again, however, now I had to rescind that vow because of the unusual set of circumstances.
The biopsy was scheduled for the following week (in the past I had to wait two to three months to be inserted into the schedule). When the results came back he called me to tell me, “You have cancer of the prostate.” We set up an appointment for the following week to meet and discuss options. This diagnosis was like being kicked in the head by a mule.
We met and the facts were laid out in front of me. I had a cancer of the prostate with a Gleason score of 8 (4+4) with a PSA of 23 (my internist did a second PSA which came back with a score of 21) so the average of 23 appeared to be the best working number. This meant that I had a very aggressive cancer and that metastasis had to be ruled out or identified. This meant a bone scan and a CAT scan. Both of these turned out negative, but the CAT scan was inconclusive due to interference from my hip replacements and back surgery so the lymph nodes in the groin could not be clearly ruled out.
Surgery appeared to be the best course of treatment. A biopsy of the lymph nodes along with the prostate post surgery would find the lymph nodes clean and the prostate 35% involved with the tumor almost at the margins of the prostate but it does seem that the disease was entirely contained within the prostate.
So what does all this mean. For now, I am a prostate cancer survivor but even this is tentative. Some cells may have escaped prior to surgery or even during surgery and are just waiting to settle in to wreak havoc. For the next year I will have my PSA checked every three months and once a year thereafter for the remainder of my life. It is as if I have cancer rather than I am a cancer survivor and that cancer is just waiting around like a monkey on my back.
So there you have it. Some highs, a bit of drama, pain and suffering, and finally hope. What a year this has been!