|With Ryan (red shirt) and Michael the morning after|
At the dawn of 2020, my husband Bob and I marveled at the fact that, despite being in our mid-seventies, we were healthy, strong and active.
We agreed that we were grateful for this extended healthy, happy time in our lives.
"This won't last, of course," Bob said quietly, thinking of the recent deaths of several friends and the downward spiral in health for another.
"But every day that we're healthy is a blessing," I said. "I'm grateful for every day of our healthy, active lives."
We smiled as we talked about the upcoming visit of Ryan Grady and his husband Michael Collum, flying in from Los Angeles for the extended Martin Luther King weekend.
We call Ryan "the son of our hearts." He came into our lives as Bob's Little Brother in the Big Brothers Program in Los Angeles. He was a quirky, bright, funny 9 year old then, who regaled Bob with a full throated rendition of "The Glory of Love" in the car, only minutes after they first met. Ryan quickly became dear to us, the son we would have been proud to have. (And we marveled at how his parents had produced not one, but two marvelous kids, as Ryan's older sister Kelly captured our hearts as well.)
As a young teenager, Ryan helped me to study for my oral licensing exam as a therapist and said "I want to do this, too!" And he did, becoming a licensed clinical social worker, seeing therapy clients and working as an administrator in an agency serving veterans. He's 36 now and when he married Michael in 2017, Bob was his Best Man. We've come to love Michael, too. Michael is an attorney by day and pianist by night. We could talk with them for hours -- and do.
This time, we were looking forward to showing Ryan and Michael just how vital and fit we were despite our advancing ages.
Pride before the fall.
The first sign of trouble was subtle. A patient came to see me, curling up on the couch in abject misery, coughing and sniffling through her session. I felt bad for her as well as a fleeting fear I quickly dismissed. After all, I hadn't been ill in years. And, as usual, I got a high intensity flu shot. I would be fine, but still....why hadn't she stayed home? I asked her if she really felt well enough to continue the session. She did and left at the end of the hour with my admonitions to go home, stay home, drink lots of liquids and rest.
My throat started feeling scratchy two days later, the day that Ryan and Michael arrived, We went out for dinner. I started feeling worse. Saturday morning, I woke up with a wracking cough, a fever and a painful earache, something I hadn't had since childhood. I went to the local ER where a doctor said the ear infection was bad and gave me a prescription for antibiotics.
I opted out of the festivities that day....and out of lunch and dinner, too. My fever climbed, my infected ear -- my good ear -- was completely blocked. I could barely hear. I crawled into bed early and fell into a feverish sleep.
"Help me! Help me!"
In the dark of 2 a.m., I startled from a deep sleep to the sound of screaming from the bathroom. I jumped out of bed and raced to the master bathroom where Bob lay in the aftermath of a grand mal seizure. Bob's epilepsy is well controlled by medication. Seizures are few and far between, but when they happen, they're serious. Rushing to his side, I felt suddenly faint, passing out beside him. It was pain that brought me back to consciousness. My left foot had twisted and I had fallen on it. The pain was intense, the swelling immediate. Neither of us could move. My cell phone was charging on the bathroom counter. I pulled it down and texted Ryan who, with Michael, was asleep in the casita guest house in front of our home.
Michael and Ryan rushed in to help: Michael took charge of Bob, who simply needed to rest, and Ryan rushed me back to the local ER. The receptionist smiled with recognition as we came in. "Oh," she said. "Today you have company! Your sweet grandson brought you in!"
Ryan and I looked at each other and smiled. "Actually," he said. "Kathy and I are special friends, though I'd say we do have something of a mother-son vibe going on...." And we chuckled.
After studying my x-rays, the ER physician shrugged. "It's suspicious for a fracture, maybe a little bone chip" he said, giving me an orthopedic boot and telling me to follow up with my primary physician.
My primary sent me to a podiatrist who gasped when he saw the foot and took more x-rays and ordered a CAT scan. "This is very serious," he said. "This is a lisfranc fracture involving a number of bones in your foot and all three tendons that hold the bones together have torn. You need surgery as soon as possible! We have a narrow window of opportunity to fix the foot. The recovery time for this injury is at least a year."
He sent me to a surgeon who confirmed the diagnosis and the urgency, telling me that the surgery would involve rebuilding the foot with metal plates, pins and screws, that I would be in a cast for three months, a rigid boot for three more months and a modified boot for some months thereafter -- and in a wheelchair unable to put any weight at all on the foot during all that time.
There was only one impediment to surgery: my respiratory infection and cough.The surgery has been scheduled and canceled several times now. The window of opportunity for an optimal healing result has come and gone. I may always limp. Or need a cane. But anything would be an improvement.
Life with limited mobility is a humbling thing. I'm in a wheelchair. I need help going to the bathroom and bathing and dressing. Always fiercely independent, I've had to learn to depend on Bob, to ask for help, to rely on him for everything.
And now another development: I've lost my voice in the wake of weeks of violent coughing. And I'm watching another surgery date approach, hoping this one won't pass me by.
In the meantime, life keeps happening. During a routine echocardiogram two weeks ago, a mass was discovered on Bob's thyroid. He had a CAT scan and the result was "highly suspicious for malignancy." He is awaiting a biopsy. And someone very close to me, who prefers anonymity, was just diagnosed with kidney cancer. And a college friend of mine passed away last week.
It's all so fragile -- our health, our lives. In only an instant, everything can change.
Bob and I both are struggling to imagine what would happen if both of us end up needing surgery and recovery time in the weeks to come. The most routine tasks might become major challenges.
In the meantime, our home decor has taken a small but definite shift toward geriatric -- with wheelchair, walker, extended shower bench.
The cats were initially puzzled by my sudden disability but Sweet Pea and Hamish already have settled into quiet indifference. Maggie gives me extra affection. And my three-legged cat Ollie, convinced somehow that I'm being held prisoner in this chair, springs to attention every time I move, running circles around the chair, pouncing the wheels and lying down in front of it, blocking the way. Every journey is a perilous one as I learn to take evasive action to avoid running over my beloved feline companion.
Family and friends at a distance worry, wondering how they can help and express their love and concern. And friends here make heartfelt offers to help.
I'm immensely grateful.
I'm grateful to Bob for his patience and resourcefulness as a caregiver.
I'm grateful to my brother Mike and special friends - Tim, Mary, Pat, Georgia, Mary Kate, and Marsha -- for helping to lift my spirits in so many ways.
I'm grateful that when my accident happened, Ryan and Michael were here to lend physical and emotional help. It was not exactly the way we thought the weekend would go, but both Bob and I felt blessed by their presence nonetheless.
I'm grateful for my private practice and the wonderful clients who have hung in there through the uncertainties of the past few weeks. I look forward to getting past surgery and back to being fully present for them.
I'm grateful that my injury is somewhat fixable, that my time in a wheelchair may be long, but far from permanent. I feel hopeful for Bob's health and for my anonymous loved one's prognosis.
And I feel grateful for every day -- whether healthy or not.