Thursday night, 4/29
Following a big surgery, every day is different. Milestones are achieved constantly during recovery, each one significant for what it represents.
After major abdominal surgery, bowel function shuts down. The gold standard proof that the system is rebooting is the creation of gases in the gut that are, well, seeking a way out. Nature really does abhor a vacuum and, today, after 5 days without food—think about THAT for a moment—Elaine’s gastrointestinal tract started up and began to process again. So, she was finally allowed food today: chicken broth, orange jello, tea. The fact that the culinary arts are not Baptist’s strong suit was hardly a deterrent; she dug in, ecstatic. Her strength is returning.
But at a more pragmatic level, Elaine’s vapors signaled much more welcome news: We’re close to taking her home. It means that, as I described yesterday, the fabulous care she’s received and her own terrific DNA have brought her to the threshold of being stable enough to recover away from the monitors and the IVs, in our home where she can paint, play a little Rachmaninoff, Chopin, and Andrew Lloyd Weber on the piano, and, once again, “correctively supervise” me.
So it’s likely that tomorrow or Saturday, we’ll go home to continue the business of healing. Elaine insists we’ll start by washing her hair (which she claims would be a good place to dig for oil at this point). Then we’ll turn our attention to the treatment regimen for the cancer. If we understand correctly, there’s real reason for optimism on this, but the challenge will be a marathon, not a sprint. There is no question that we’re both frightened. But we’ve come through this first test as well as possible. We hope to do as well in the next round.
We are deeply grateful that you have been there for us.
Early this morning, Elaine downed half a piece of french toast that would have made a Roman legionnaire shudder, convincing the medical staff that solid food, such as it was, was in her repertoire once again. It was enough for Dr. Swartz, who promptly discharged her. We gathered up our things, rolled her out to the pickup circle, and were out by 9:30 AM. Home 45 minutes later, after a shower and a shampoo, she set up headquarters in the bed, then promptly fell asleep from exhaustion. The word “ecstasy” was murmured in there somewhere.
It was a harrowing week. Elaine will recover at home now for the next several weeks before we start the chemotherapy regimen, which will last for 6 months. I’ll be close by. Elaine has loved hearing from you, and your attentions have bolstered her in a difficult time. We’ll continue to send out bulletins, but hopefully, the news won’t be as fast or as interesting, so you can probably stop worrying about whether you need to hit the spam button when they come in. Thanks for staying tuned, letting us hear from you, and being there.
(Elaine and) Brian
We’re just in from a 40-minute walk down onto the beach and back. Even at a less brisk than our usual pace, Elaine covered something more than 2 miles, remarkable when you consider that we’re at 13 days post-op and 9 days post discharge. Last night, we spent an hour and a half at a 50th birthday party for our great friends Claudia and Giorgio Azzalin who, incredibly, were born on the same day in Torino, Italy and, even more amazingly, were both infused with a lighthearted sense of adventure, warmth, and charm. Giorgio, in typical fashion, announced that having Elaine there was the best present of all.
And Friday, Elaine finally had her Foley catheter removed. (A free-at-last moment!). Her urologist was appropriately admiring, noting that she was “way, way out of the norm for recovery.” And when she alluded to her mile-a-day walks, he quipped, “Who DOES that after something like this!”
As pleased as we are that she’s come this far, we’re now focused on the larger, longer effort associated with the chemotherapy that will begin shortly. We have agreed that, as careful as we’ve tried to be in our diet and exercise in the almost eight years since my open heart surgery, we need now to become even more rigorous, ramping up our physical activities, and cutting out the fudging in the food department, all to optimize her chances of assimilating the treatments’ toxicity and coming out as strong as possible on the other side. We’ve learned the hard way in the past that these small sacrifices pay big rewards, especially when the stakes are high. And, frankly, a little more discipline wouldn’t kill me, either.
The outpouring of friendship and support has been overwhelming. Once she began to be more mobile, a steady stream of visitors began. Two days ago, she embarked on a walk around the block but kept getting stalled as neighbors rushed out to see her. And as the emails have poured in, Elaine’s become increasingly wed to and facile with her Blackberry and netbook. It’s amazing how the lines of communication become everything when being connected means so much. There’s some irony here, but I’m doing my best to keep that to myself.
It would be an error to suspect that things are getting back to normal. The threat that cancer represents is always there in the background and, as a friend who knows observed a couple days ago, it “suddenly takes over your entire life.” Nothing will become the same again until we’re safely beyond this, and that may never happen.
Still, we’re re-approaching a modicum of normalcy. It’s Mother’s Day, and the kids, who are always terrific, will connect with a heightened affection. There are chores to do around the house, and maybe we’ll catch a movie. Life goes on. Thanks for being there.
(Elaine and) Brian