Monday, March 21, 2011

Hi guys

It has been a long and at times difficult six months. I'll give you the nutshell version of events and going forward I'll try to make more frequent updates.

I'm still living a frugal life, but in October I had to take out a home equity line of credit to have central heating and air conditioning installed. I had no heat as a result of Bernie's biting of the water line last year about this time, which flooded my house, including the floor furnace.

The heating system was a real blessing during this winter -- you know the winter, the one with -25 degrees one day, with 21 inches of snow. And a week later, it was 75 degrees.

Well, Mother Nature apparently takes her calendar seriously. Spring sprung this weekend and with it came HEAT. So I decided Saturday to turn on the A/C, and it in turn decided to do ... nothing. No cooling. So on my "to do" list this week is calling the company to have them come do what they need to do to make their system work. Thank ye Jesus for warranties.

I'm still nursing my 16-year-old Honda along. I had new tires put on today, but while they were doing that they discovered the bushings on the lower control arms of the rear need to be replaced. I told them to keep the car -- they will get the parts tomorrow to replace those bushings and then go ahead and fix those. I also asked them to make me a running list of the repairs that are yet to come so I can start planning for them. I don't mind keeping my old car as long as I have some confidence in its safety and performance.

Now, as to other things going on:

During the week of Thanksgiving 2010, my good friend Rita needed to make a trip to Stillwater to have an MRI done to try to determine why she was having pain in her right shoulder and lower back. I went with her to keep her company, and to get an escape from town for the afternoon.

Rita had been hurting for a few weeks, and things really deteriorated on this Monday that we made the trip. I had seen in her face how much pain she was trying to cover up during our recent visits, which is why I invited myself along this time. And it is a good thing I did.

Things changed dramatically while I was in the waiting room. When she came out, she had to rest before we could go out to the car. I wound up driving us home. She wasn't the same person after she came out of the inner office of the imaging center.

On Thanksgiving Day, we went to her mother's house to have dinner with her big family. After we ate, she went off to a bedroom to rest and slept through the rest of the day while the rest of us played cards, visited and watched football. After most of the family left, she broke down and asked her mother and brother if she could have them bring her one of the beds from her mother's house because she was having too much trouble getting into and out of her waterbed. Of course they brought it to her the next day, but this was a defining moment.

By Sunday she had had a mammogram and another MRI, and her brother called me Sunday night to tell me they had taken her to the hospital.

She was diagnosed with breast and bone cancer. Another friend and I served as witnesses as she signed her power of attorney and medical directive.

Before Christmas there was a trip to the Cancer Treatment Center of America in Tulsa for eight days -- various tests; a round of chemo and a trip home just before Christmas.

The chemo was brutal. Rita lost her mobility and it was clear she couldn't stay in her house -- the doorways were too narrow and her walker wouldn't fit through the doors. She couldn't safely get up and care for herself.

Just after Christmas she returned to the local hospital. It was a horrible, emotional, devastating time for everyone, but the end result was a painful decision not to continue treatment. This was made harder when Rita was unable to remember how that decision was made.

Ultimately, she entered hospice care on Jan. 4 and moved from the hospital to a hospice suite in one of the local nursing homes. She has two rooms joined by a tiny, tiny bathroom -- one is a living room with a sofa and a couple of chairs; the other room is her bedroom, what I call her dorm room.

Rita and I have been friends since the first day of first grade -- 50 years. I'm about to turn 56 and she's six months younger than I am. Her body is filled with cancer -- the PET scans showed lesions on a large number of her bones and her liver, as well as the tumor in her breast.

Generally speaking, patients in Hospice care have a prognosis of six months or less. Of course we have no idea whether Rita will live that long or if she will live considerably longer. At this point, with her pain managed, it is often hard to remember that she is "terminally ill."

And besides that, we are having the time of our lives. Stay tuned -- I will bring you more of Rita's story as I can bear to write it. She amazes me. And I can't let her go as long as she has things to teach me.