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A brisket for Nephrology . . .

This is a letter to my wife, one of the purest and sweetest beings that God has ever created. Her immortal soul returned to its Creator on Thursday, the eighteenth of November, 2010 at 9:15 in the evening. Immediately after joining Him she left His presence, and anointed with the divine influence of His grace she returned to our mortal world for a few brief moments. Her return is documented and discussed here.

Hi, sweetheart,

I know you’re watching and I’m sure you were part of the annual get-together in the Nephrology Clinic at Brooke Army Medical Center, but I’ll recap the luncheon for you just in case you overlooked some of the folks that attended. It was held on Thursday, December 16, the day that would have been your day for dialysis. You’ll remember that Thursday is the least busy day for the unit. There was only one patient that morning, and I believe that was an in-hospital patient.

All the nurses were there: Gracie, Linda, Irene, Gloria, Jackie, Tammie, Jim, Carver, Henderson and Patti, the Head Nurse, along with Kathy, the dietitian, and Dr. Reynolds, the officer-in-charge of the Clinic. Many of the dialysis patients were there, including the Big Colonel and the Little Colonel. The Big Colonel expressed his sadness at learning of your death, and offered his condolences to me and to our daughters, saying that we and you would always remain in his thoughts and prayers.

Dr. Reynolds welcomed us to the event and asked that we never forget those that are longer with us, specifically naming you and Mrs. Kirk, that beautiful little lady with the short gray hair and the ever-present smile, always commandeering a wheelchair and chauffeured by her husband. She followed you from this realm just a few days after you left us.

Dr. Reynolds introduced the chaplain, and following the chaplain’s brief prayer with blessings on those present and those not present, we lined up at the trough for lunch, and what a spectacular trough it was. The tables stretched at least thirty or forty feet along one wall and each table was loaded—the staff should be enjoying leftovers for several days, probably through the weekend and into next week.

You should be very proud of me because with you beside me, coaching me at every step, I prepared a seven-pound brisket, from HEB of course, and brought it still hot on my arrival at the clinic, along with sauce, chips, bread and four gallons of sweet tea from Bush’s Chicken in Converse—incidentally, there has apparently been a complete change of personnel at that location—I recognized none of the staff there.

Rita met me at the entrance of the hospital with a handcart to help carry everything. I also brought another large framed piece of art to add to our gallery in the clinic. That makes a total of fourteen pieces lining each side of the hallway from the entrance all the way to the dialysis section. I’m told that your “art gallery” is an attraction for other hospital staff and patients and visitors. I know that you and I did not make the donations as a memorial, but it doesn’t hurt that it serves as a memorial to you.

Cindy helped me create gold foil stickers for the pieces, and I placed one on the lower right corner of the glass of each, and I also placed a label on the flat-screen television you donated to the Nephrology Clinic to replace that little dinky tube television that was there. Each of the gold stickers reads, Donated to Nephrology by Janie and Mike Dyer. And just in case you are wondering, Rita still watches The View every morning with religious fervor.

I wish the hallway were a bit longer so I could expand the gallery in your name. I also wish that I could create another Taj Mahal to honor your name and your life, but I’ll have to be satisfied with the Taj Mahal that resides in my heart and in my memories of you and of my life with you. Just as is the original Taj Mahal in India, the Taj Mahal in my heart and memories is a symbol of our eternal love.

I helped the nurses set up the banquet tables (Irene made me don plastic gloves before I could help sanitize the tables). When the signal was given to Come and get it! I joined the long line, loading far more on my plate than necessary, but I admit shamefully that very little was left when I finished. I shared a table with Ernie, his wife and his daughter. You’ll remember Ernie as the camera-bug transplanted to San Antonio from El Paso so his severely handicapped wheel-chair-bound daughter could receive treatment here. He is still following Cindy’s blog and working on his photographic skills.

Unless you were preoccupied in another area, you probably noticed that I visited you in the cemetery that Thursday afternoon. There were few visitors that day, but the machines and their operators were present as always, hard at work maintaining and enhancing the grounds, watering and grooming and planting and preparing new communities for military wives and husbands and for the orphaned children of military families. The perpetual care provided by our government for those families ensures the beauty and the future of one of the largest such cemeteries in the nation.

My visit with you that Thursday afternoon was bitter sweet, as all future visits will be. I accept the sadness that cloaks and permeates each visit, but I exult in the knowledge that the sadness is temporary, because I know that at some time in the future I will join you and our immortal souls will be reunited.

And I know that, in the glorious morning of the Resurrection our bodies will be raised, and become as incorruptible as our souls.

Sleep well in heaven, my darling. I love you more today than yesterday, but less than tomorrow.

Mike

 
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Posted by on December 18, 2010 in death, Family, flowers, health, marriage, television, Writing

 

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From grimace to grin, from pain to peace and from earth to Eden . . .


Janie,
my wife and the mother of our three daughters, for eleven years was a long-time ovarian cancer survivor dating from 1999. In recent months the cancer had metastasized to her lungs and other organs, a spread so severe that surgery and chemotherapy were no longer options. She was also a long-time dialysis patient with a schedule of two days each week, Monday and Thursday, for two hours each day. She had dialysis on Monday, 8 November but because Thursday was November 11, Veteran’s Day, her dialysis appointment was shifted to Friday. We did not take her to dialysis on the following Monday, and she died just three days later on Thursday, November 18 at 9:15 in the evening.

Early in the morning on the Saturday after her last dialysis I was at her bedside and we were talking about going to dialysis on the following Monday. She was very quiet and I was doing most of the talking, and at one point when I paused she said, softly but very clearly, It’s time. When I asked time for what, she again said softly but clearly, It’s time to go. I broke into tears, just as I am now doing while writing this. Choking back my sobs I said that it was not up to her, that God would decide when it was time, not her, and that she should keep fighting until He made that decision. She smiled slightly and sweetly and made no response.

I stumbled on blindly, sobbing and speaking in broken tones and told her that I didn’t want her to leave me, that she couldn’t leave, that I wouldn’t let her leave, that I needed her and our girls needed her, that we would complete almost six decades of marriage on December 13, and that her birthday would be the day after Christmas. I told her that we had 58 years together, all beautiful except for one, and for that year I desperately needed her forgiveness, and I begged her to forgive me—I begged her for forgiveness that I had not earned and did not deserve.

She looked into my eyes for a long moment, then speaking slowly and softly she said, I forgive you, and then she said, You’re a good man. I told her that if she left me I would follow her and be with her, not knowing when but that I would definitely follow her, and I promised her that from that moment on I would make every effort to live my life towards that goal. Her eyes were closed when I told her that and I wasn’t sure whether she had heard me, but then she said, I’ll wait for you, and a few seconds later she said, I’ll tell Jesus you’re coming. I don’t remember any conversation after that. She lapsed into sleep and except for a few precious times that she acknowledged me and others when we spoke to her, she was silent up to the moment she left us.

I had asked her earlier if she wanted a chaplain to come in and she shook her head, but early in the evening on Thursday, November 18, I asked for a chaplain to visit us. Hector Villarreal, a Protestant chaplain, arrived at six o’clock and prayed with her and for her, and for me and our three daughters. He told her that God loved her and wanted her to be with Him, and that He was waiting for her.

The chaplain said that she would draw her last breath on earth, but that she would draw her next breath in heaven. We were at her side when she took her last breath on earth, and we truly believe, then and now, that she took her next breath in the presence of God, and that her spirit, her marvelous soul, never judgmental and so perfect in every other respect, is now complete and happy and whole again, untarnished by toil, trial and tribulations encountered during almost 79 years of life, years that she lived and loved to the fullest—born in 1931, she died just 38 days short of her 79th birthday, December 26. We would have celebrated our 58th wedding anniversary on the 13th of December.

The hospice nurse noted the time of her last breath as 9: 15 PM on Thursday, November 18, 2010. She had lapsed into a coma the day before, and her breathing had become labored, with her mouth sagging open and each breath an audible gasp for air. She was on oxygen, with the maximum allowable flow of oxygen to her nostrils from a bedside tank.

From time to time, depending on whether she seemed to show pain either by sound or movement, the hospice nurse administered liquid pain medication, placing it under the tongue with a syringe. The nurse assured us that the hearing is the final sense to go, and that Janie could hear every word we spoke, so we talked to her right up to that final breath with our hands on her, on her face and smoothing her hair and softly stroking her arms and hands and feet and adjusting the bed covers, each of us in turn professing our love, recalling our favorite times of our lives with her, with all our words interspersed and muffled by sniffs and sobs.

When our daughters left the room, I asked the nurse if she could do anything about the way Janie’s mouth drooped open, twisted and misshapen, drawn down and to the left from the way her head was turned to the side for so many hours. The nurse said that nothing could be done, that it had to be done at the funeral home.

I insisted that we try, and I began trying to place her head differently in an effort to restore her features to a more natural position. The nurse assisted by folding a hand towel and placing it under Janie’s chin, and that helped slightly. Her mouth, however, still sagged to the left and her lips were open and peeled back with her teeth showing. The nurse said that was all we could do, that the rest was up to the funeral home staff.

Everyone except the nurse left the room, but I stayed seated beside the bed with her while the nurse was completing her report, and several minutes later I spoke aloud, saying that my eyes must be playing tricks on me. I thought I had seen a fold in the blanket high on her left chest rise slowly but perceptibly, as if she had slowly inhaled. I watched it intently and after a brief period it appeared to lower.

The nurse either did not hear me or perhaps simply ignored me, and continued with her work. I felt that the blanket fold had moved, but I knew that I could have imagined it, that I was perhaps trying to will my wife to take another breath. The air in the room was very still. The overhead ceiling fan was not on because she never wanted it on.

A few seconds later I again spoke aloud and said that my eyes were still playing tricks on me. I saw the same fold that had moved a few seconds earlier move again, rising ever so slowly but perceptibly and after a brief period I saw it lower. Again there was no response from the nurse. She may have felt that I was so stricken with grief that my imagination was running wild, and that perhaps I was trying to will my wife to breathe, to return to me, to return to life from the other side.

Our daughters had been out of the room since their mother took her last breath, but Kelley, the youngest of the three, asked them if they wanted to come in to see her again. They declined and Kelley came in alone, and as she entered I glanced at her mother’s face and my heart began to pound wildly.

I told Kelley to look at her mouth—it was no longer contorted and sagging. Her lips were closed and her mouth showed a hint of a smile, an uplift at the corners—just a hint of a smile but enough for any observer to see that she looked calm and peaceful and perhaps a bit amused. Kelly told the others that they needed to come in, that there was something they needed to see, and we all marveled at the transformation of Janie’s face—from a grimace to a grin, from a sagging mouth to a smile, and from pain to peace.

When I felt that my eyes were playing tricks on me I was wrong. They were not playing tricks. I believe—no, I know—that I saw the blanket fold move up and then drop back down after a few seconds, and I saw it repeat the movement a bit later.

She did indeed draw her last breath on earth, and it is my honest belief that she then drew her next breath in heaven. I believe that our Creator allowed her to return and draw another last breath on earth, a breath that enabled her to live again, albeit just long enough to correct the awkward position of her lips and her mouth and begin that beautiful smile that she shared with me and with our daughters and with others throughout her 78 years of life on earth. I truly believe that she heard me ask the nurse if anything could be done with her mouth, and I believe—no, I know—that after she took her next breath in heaven, she asked God for a favor and He granted it.

I believe that through the power and grace of God my wife was allowed to return to this life just long enough to slough off all the pain and misery of years of surgeries and chemotherapy and dialysis and several days gasping for breath while under medication for the pain caused by ovarian tumors that almost filled both lungs. I believe the Master sent her back to earth to occupy her body for the brief time she needed to complete the metamorphasis from a chrysalis to a beautiful butterfly, to return that smile to her lips for us before returning to Him. He knew that I needed that, that we needed that, and He gave her the power to do it for me and for our daughters.

Her return to the world of the living, though only for a very brief period, is a miracle because of the miracle it wrought in her appearance. It is for me the epiphany I have longed for and sought for many years. I have always wished for a sign, an unworldly experience I could view as an indication that life does exist after death, that there is a divine presence, that God exists and is responsible for all the good in mankind. That smile on Janie’s face on her last night on earth has given me that sign, and for that I thank God and I thank her.

Sleep well in heaven, my darling.


Postscript: Janie is buried in Fort Sam Houston’s National Cemetery. She lies among military veterans of our wars, many of whom are cited by our nation for bravery and duty performance. Janie is just one of many there, but she is one that deserves every commendation and medal that may exist to commemorate her exemplary life as a wife and mother. Her obituary appeared in the San Antonio, Texas Express-News on Monday, November 22, 2010—click here for the full publication.

The request below appears at the end of the obituary. Perhaps some of the readers of this posting will find it in their hearts to support these or similar organizations with donations, and join in the search for prevention and cures for ovarian cancer and kidney disease, two of the deadliest and most debilitating afflictions known to mankind.

From Janie’s obituary: In lieu of flowers, please consider a contribution in her memory to the National Ovarian Cancer Coalition, P.O. Box 7086, Dallas Texas 75209, http://www.ovarian.org or the American Kidney Fund, 6110 Executive Blvd., Ste. 1010, Rockville MD 20852, http://www.kidneyfund.org

 
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Posted by on December 4, 2010 in death, Family, friends, funeral, health, marriage, Military

 

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Don’t knit an Afghan . . .

In a previous posting I discussed the fact that I am unable to tune out conversations between others when I am within hearing distance, and I cited several examples of benefits gained because of my affliction—making new friends, learning things I didn’t know and passing time more pleasantly while in hospital waiting rooms. I’m using this posting to explain how I acquired a hand-knitted skull cap, a cap knitted exclusively for ladies that have lost their hair because of chemotherapy—oh, and at this juncture I must make it clear that I, the appointed and anointed King of Texas, am male through and through, neither female nor unisex—I’m not a woman, lady or otherwise, even if I am prone to don a bright red knitted cap occasionally.

Wilford Hall Medical Center at Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio, Texas provides chemotherapy treatments for active duty and retired military people and family members. On a recent memorable morning I left the patient waiting area, took an elevator down six floors to the basement, negotiated seemingly endless winding corridors and finally arrived at the hospital cafeteria for breakfast. The cuisine there is only so-so in quality and presentation but the prices are—well, priceless, and they almost—not quite but almost—compensate for the lack of taste in the food. If you’re ever there for a meal, please don’t mention that I panned their kitchen or I may be banned from the facility.

In the hallway leading to the patient waiting area in the chemotherapy unit, there is a nice exhibition of knitted skull caps hanging on the wall. Dozens of beautiful caps of every design and color surround a mirror that interested ladies can use to see how the selected cap will look. The caps are made by a local ladies’ knitting club and are offered free to chemotherapy patients. I must hasten to say at the outset of this posting that I have the utmost respect for the group—I love ’em all!

When I returned from breakfast several women—knitters, if you will—were gathered at the wall display, rearranging the caps and adding new ones to the exhibition. As I neared the group I heard them discussing a planned flight to Las Vegas. I stopped and lounged against the opposite wall to watch them working on the display, and thus was privy to their conversation. I did not linger there with the intent to listen to their conversation, but because of my inability to tune out the speech of others I couldn’t help hearing them talking—it’s in my nature! For a detailed explanation of my affliction, click here to read, “It’s in my nature,” the forerunner to this posting.

One of the ladies said that she detested going through the inspection line in airport terminals. She felt that the workers were rude and made unreasonable demands such as ordering passengers to remove their shoes for inspection. She said that she was wearing sandals, flats I believe was the term she used, and she had to remove them and hand them over for inspection.

And in regard to that requirement, I can’t help but speculate that a goodly number of those employed at airport check-in lines are afflicted with foot or shoe fetishes, perhaps a combination of both. It could well be that the handling of women’s footwear and the sniff test the workers perform is not an attempt to detect the odor of explosives—it may be nothing more than the harmless actions of freaks seeking relief from the ho-hum mundane pressure of the job through personal satisfaction—so to speak.

When the speaker paused for breath I stepped forward and asked her if she planned to take her knitting on the flight, and she replied in the affirmative. I told her that it would not be allowed, that they would confiscate the items and hold them to be picked up on her return. She said, “Oh, I didn’t think about the needles—I suppose they could be used as weapons, maybe by threatening to stick a needle in a person’s eye.” I told her that was not the reason and she said, “Well, then why would they confiscate them?”

I told her—are y’all ready for this?

I told her they would not allow her to board the plane with her knitting paraphernalia because they feared that she might knit an Afghan. The group erupted in laughter and offered me one of the caps. I resisted but they insisted, and I am now the proud owner of a bright red cap with a tassel on the top—it fits well and I look great wearing it, and observers probably think that I am en route to the slopes at Aspen, or Vail perhaps.

I know, I know—it’s a dumb hokey joke with racial overtones, politically incorrect and certainly not original with me, but it served its purpose. The lady bemoaning the requirement to remove her shoes forgot all about the inconvenience and with a beautiful smile thanked me for making her day. As they made their rounds through the treatment rooms offering caps to the patients, they told the joke several times for the benefit of the patients, and each time laughter resounded in the rooms and into the hallway. My inadvertent eves-dropping on their conversation thus spread and helped brighten the day for more people, and as Martha Stewart would undoubtedly say, “That’s a good thing!”

That’s my story and I’m sticking to it!

 
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Posted by on July 1, 2010 in Uncategorized

 

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