The leaves were finally liberating themselves from their fettered summer life and their blazoning autumnal death throes. A strong wind was all that was needed to complete the job. Superstorm Sandy promised to take care of that even though I doubted the dire meteorological warnings for our area. Weren't these the same people who predicted mere showers the weekend we had the rain storm of the century in June 2011?
An odd, blustery frenzy had held me captive for many weeks. It was akin to that mysterious hyperactive nesting instinct that overcame me just days prior to the birth of each of our children. We had moved into our first house together just nine days before our eldest child was born (two weeks early), and instead of the quiet, settled accouchement that I had imagined, I was attacked by a feverish energy to scrub every surface of the nursery, indeed the entire house. Or just before the birth of our youngest, when I was homeschooling his three older sisters, I was up till all hours of the night preparing lessons for our children to pursue independently or at least with less of my involvement until I was back up to normal speed.
I interpreted this year's energy as my usual change-of-season restlessness when many household tasks must be completed before the temperature plummets and the snow piles up: Gardens needed to be put to bed; perennials had to be split; the large, heavy rubber mats to prevent slipping on the ramp had to be laid; windows washed; outdoor furniture sheltered or stored; hoses rolled up and put away; furnace serviced; shed cleaned out.
But this year there was a heightened restlessness: I furiously rearranged bedroom furniture to better accommodate our growing family; I bought beautiful Persian rugs online to decorate my house; I released many of my beloved books from their isolation on dusty shelves to other homes where they could be enjoyed; I planned a possible basement renovation project, heaving and sorting the accumulated junk. Then there was that wild two weeks where I was even planning a possible future without Michael and a complete change in my living environment, followed by a hastily arranged visit to a cemetery to purchase our final piece of real estate.
For many months, with two weddings and various other major events in our children's lives, I had nervously watched Michael's condition, hoping that no crisis would befall us to sabotage any of these important occasions. The energy I expended to keep things under control sometimes felt Herculean. But rather than exhausting me, it seemed to fuel the fire of manic activity. We just had to make it to Saturday, October 27, the date our son and his new bride would be returning from their honeymoon. chased ashore on their cruise out of New York City by the spectre of Superstorm Sandy. After that I knew our children's lives would probably settle down to a comfortable hum.
Our children have developed a wonderful resilience throughout the years of their dear dad's illness. Poised to jump without fanfare or drama at the call of any crisis, they have learned to conduct their lives with a calm and strength that I love and admire. For that very reason I have not called upon them more than absolutely necessary, knowing they would abandon everything to lend a hand of support. They have all apprised their various employers of the sometimes dire situation at home; they've all been supported whole-heartedly and granted permission to leave whenever they need to. But my children live a minimum of 200 kilometres away, one in the very middle of our vast country. I cannot impose on their busy lives more than I have to; I cannot take advantage of them. They have careers and families to manage as well. They have achieved the glorious independence for which Michael and I trained them.
Saturday, October 27th was to be the second day of a sale at the Nearly New Shop across the road. I had my four volunteers in place to care for Michael over the weekend, each doing a two-hour shift. Friday had been a busy and lucrative night for our little charity shop. Saturday was likely to be quieter but we were short-staffed. Some of our trusty volunteers had funerals and family responsibilities to attend to. There would only be two of us to hold down the fort, no difficult task on a quiet Saturday.
My first Michael-volunteer arrived early. I chatted and filled him in on Michael's minimal needs for the morning. That was when I felt the first twinge in my gallbladder, an organ that has been an occasional but painful nuisance for the past five months. I grabbed the cash box for the sale and dashed out the door. I was barely down the driveway when the pain hit, not violently but assertively. A few seconds later I was at the church where another volunteer was pulling in, one I hadn't expected. I greeted her and expressed my relief at her presence because I knew I had to go home. The pain was already nearly unbearable.
My previous gallbladder attacks have been predictable and short-lived. If I ate a few too many potato chips or turkey and stuffing I would brace myself for the inevitable middle-of-the-night wake-up with biliary colic. Or I would take a prophylactic pain medication which usually worked to suppress the pain before it reached fever pitch. It was a system that worked well. I could live with the pain, sometimes worth enduring for the joy of a rare, delectable treat.
But this was different. I had had my usual breakfast of granola, normally a safe food. By ten o'clock I was in agony with what I knew was gallbladder-induced pain but far worse. On the scale of one to ten that I was later asked to rate my pain at the hospital, my morning suffering was a definite ten, right up there with childbirth pain.
I arrived home minutes after my departure and prepared to cope with the agony, believing it would abate in a few hours like all the other attacks. My friend who was here to look after Michael kept me well distracted with his lively and friendly conversation. We covered a whole range of topics with me all the while down on the floor on all fours and my rear end up in the air, my go-to position for any abdominal pain. I took my usual two Ibuprophen and prepared to wait.
Two and a half hours later the pain had subsided somewhat but wasn't gone. When my second volunteer arrived I decided to head back to the Nearly New Sale to help out and distract myself, still believing the pain would eventually disappear. I worked slowly and cautiously, preserving my strength.
Upon my return home two hours later, the pain was still rumbling ominously but I decided to try a bite to eat, two arrowroot cookies and a pear. Immediately the pain returned, this time more like an eight on the scale. I knew I was going to have to act so a bulk text message went out to my four kids warning them that I might have to go to the hospital. I called my caregiver to see if she could stay the night if necessary. She could and put herself on standby.
I spent the next two hours gauging the pain which wasn't mounting but also not subsiding. I had a hot bath and put on my pyjamas, slightly relieved from the heat. I packed a small hospital bag and prepared Michael's drugs for the week. It was while I was doing this small task that I nearly passed out from the pain. Grabbing the kitchen counter and spilling a few pills, I took a few deep breaths and finished the task. I called the closest offspring, who jumped into planning an immediate trip home, and then my caregiver. I called my friend and neighbour to come right away.
By now I was sick with pain, barely able to stand up. My friend offered her husband as chauffeur but I declined; I wanted an ambulance, knowing from past experience with Michael that I would get attention more promptly and I could travel on a stretcher, my pain by now supreme.
I don't think it was more than ten minutes before the ambulance came but my memories are muddled. My wonderful caregiver arrived sometime before that, my relief at the sight of her overwhelming. I do remember climbing onto the stretcher with the paramedics' calm voices and competent hands assisting me. I sank into the thin mattress, utterly relieved to be leaving, completely detached from the outcome for me or for Michael. As I was being wheeled out I was aware that my son had just called in to say he had arrived home safely. I sighed, relieved.
It was time to go. I felt swept away, no longer having to hold on.
*Antonio Parreiras, The Gale, 1888