Friday, 22 October 2010

Who knew there was a right way to hang the toilet paper roll?

image credit: dooby brain
I fixed the toilet paper roll this morning.  It was on upside down.   I always do.  Maybe I always will, but this particular time of year and this year in particular makes the effort much more poignant. 

I was eight months pregnant.  I worked for a hilariously loony professor of psychiatry.  For my last day my co-workers had treated me to a morning at the spa.  Facial.  Massage.  Pedicure.  Then a fun lunch to send me off.  Spoiled rotten.  I was hugely pregnant so it was much appreciated! 

Scott had called earlier in the day.  He didn’t feel well.  He never really complained even if he felt horrible.  So it was weird that he was calling me to let me know.  He had a ringing in his ears that was really bugging him.  I suggested he contact Ask a Nurse when he got in to work.  During lunch I got a call.  The ringing had gotten really bad.  He was really dizzy now.  So dizzy that it was making him throw up and one of his friends at work was driving him to a walk-in clinic and could I please start the hour-long commute home and meet him there.  That alarmed me a little.  I got right in the car and headed home.

I remember calling to him several times from the front door.  We had converted our one bedroom into a more studio-style apartment to accommodate a crib, rocker, changing table, etc.  He was lying on our bed in the living room.  When he didn’t answer I panicked.  Went running in and practically jumped on top of him.  He was lying on what I now call his ‘good ear’ so he didn’t hear me.  Plus the anti-vertigo and anti-nausea meds they had given him made him extremely groggy. 

I was incensed!  Pump him full of drugs and send him home without checking what was wrong?  Deep down I knew something was wrong, and I went into full-on mother bear mode.  Got us an appointment first thing the next morning with an Ear, Nose, and Throat specialist.  I remember his reaction well.  Something, he knew was wrong, but he couldn’t put his finger on it.  Or maybe looking at the MRI he’d ordered he did know, but wasn’t allowed to say because it wasn’t his specialty.  Maybe I should have been more alarmed that he sent us that very same afternoon to “the best neurosurgeon in Denver.”  For whatever reason it never occurred to me that the next 3 hours would turn my world upside down. 

I remember the day so well.  I was wearing a v-neck white knit maternity top that at 8 months barely covered my huge belly.  We sat in a tiny over-lit exam room and waited forever.  When the surgeon finally did come in he was so brazen and hurried.  How he could deliver the information the way he did is still beyond me. 

“Come here guys.  Look at these MRIs with me.  So here you go.  That’s your brain.  See that right there?  The good news is.  You have a small, benign tumor.  The bad news is, I’m the wrong surgeon.  The one you need to see is in surgery right now, but if you’ll hang tight, he should be back in an hour or so to talk to you.”  And then he left us alone in the over-lit room reeling with no more information than that my husband had a brain tumor and I was about to have a baby. 

I sort of remember trying to down-play it.  I’m sure it was shock.  No big deal.  Let’s not get too upset.  Let’s wait until we can talk to the doctor.  I’m sure that part was much worse for Scott.  “Look—hanging up on the light board.  There’s my name.  There’s my brain, and right there.  That spec?  That’s a tumor. I have a tumor in my head.”

The rest of that evening is fuzzy in my memory.  The right surgeon eventually showed up. He was still in scrubs and had the little paper things over his shoes. I recall his annoyance that we had been told ‘benign.’  Apparently a brain tumor is never benign.  It has to come out—it can’t be left—so it’s not benign.  We wouldn’t know about cancer until it was out and assessed.  Oh…and it would have to come out.  The whole thing.  Oh…and it was a really risky surgery because it was just above the brain stem.  Oh…and it should come out as soon as possible, but couldn’t be scheduled until the week of my due date.    

We called my parents who came immediately home from their double date in Colorado Springs.  I remember Mom bursting into tears as she repeated my words to the people in the car.  “Scott has a brain tumor.”  What?  What did she just say?  Holy cow.  Hearing it repeated was so bizarre.   We called Travis who was living with my parents at the time.  We called others I’m sure.  Stace and Jami?  My sisters?  I remember converging on the Wevodau house for prayers and tears and absorbing the shock cause I mean, whoa.  This was heavy shit.

It was a hell of a 3-4 week wait for surgery.  I didn’t get any of the rest I had planned before my due date, but I was so thankful to be available to drive Scott to the many appointments and MRIs and consultations. 

I could fill pages and pages with the life-altering events of those few weeks.  Maybe someday I will.  Some of the memories are so precious—blessings that will keep my ‘blessings tank’ full for perhaps the rest of my life.  Not the least of which is particularly poignant this ‘year of close widow friends’—he’s still here.   Some of the memories are deep wounds.  Many wounds that over the last year have finally begun to heal.  Yes, it’s taken me that long. 

It was about this time of year eight years ago that we sat in that over-lit exam room, and I’m still fixing the toilet paper roll:  about a week before diagnosis Scott nearly came out of his chair watching me change the paper towel roll in our kitchen.  “Do you REALLY think it goes that way?!!?!” he said as he raced over and changed it to roll over the top.  I remember us collapsing into hilarious giggles as we discussed the audacity of his frustration—he had been changing the paper towels and toilet paper rolls behind my back for nearly four years of marriage.  I had no idea there was a ‘right’ way to do it. 

The morning of his surgery I watched them roll him away down the hall.  It had been hurried at the last minute.  I hadn’t gotten to be alone with him like we had planned.  I watched them wheel him away and I remember thinking, “I didn’t get to say goodbye.  What if this is goodbye.”  I went to the bathroom.  I couldn’t face the 30+ people in the waiting room all gathered there for Scott.  I sat there, stunned.  Shaken.  Confused.  I had no idea what to think or feel.  Plus I was 9 months pregnant and it had been like, 5 minutes since I’d gone so obviously I needed to pee.  I reached over for some T.P., and noticed it was ‘on wrong.’  So I changed it.  I turned it over.  And then I broke down.  I had been so strong.  So brave.  And that was the breaking point.  I sobbed and sobbed and sobbed.  There alone in a funny corridor bathroom of Swedish Medical Center.  I finally lost it. 

I’m still changing the toilet paper roll.  Every time.  Even in public bathrooms and at other people’s houses.  And almost every time—especially this time of year—I  say a little prayer of thanks.  Of relief.  Of gratitude. That Scott is still around to appreciate it.

1 comment:

Walking to China said...

This is a powerfully lovely story. Very poignant.