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Looking Back

Terry Ratner, RN, MFA | Oct 8, 2012, 6 a.m.

During a recent rainy day in Phoenix, I began reading the journal I kept when my husband, Michael, was dealing with esophageal cancer. I remember when he bought me this compact purple cloth book with flowers that danced on the cover. He knew how much I loved to write, but he also wanted me to keep track of everything that was involved during his illness — something I would have done anyway. I stroked the cover feeling the softness before opening to a random excerpt from June 14, 2010, exactly five months before he died.

June 14, A Monday

Michael and I are at his chemo consultation with his oncologist. We arrive late, at 10 a.m. for a 9:45 appointment. We still have to wait. Six people sit in the waiting room. Four of them are patients. I can tell. Call it obvious; call it a nurse’s intuition, there is something about a cancer patient that I spot immediately.

One patient, male or female, sits in a wheelchair with a brown blanket over their head while his or her torso is shaking as if she or he was out in the arctic cold. Another patient sits across from us staring into space. Her right arm is swelled up and wrapped with an ACE bandage. She has on a suede glove fitting tightly over her wrist and fingers. Oh, did I mention my husband standing outside the entrance conducting restaurant business on his cell phone and looking dapper in his linen English cap and brown leather lace up shoes? He is still able to hide his cancer, except for his weight loss and gauntness around his cheekbones. He looks healthy except for dark circles under his eyes and a prominent limp when he exerts pressure on his left leg.

His cancer is hidden deep inside his bones and tissues. It hides inside the liver, his spine, his scapula and pelvis. Michael is here today for metastasized cancer of the esophagus. We’re waiting to hear the doctor’s choice of treatment.

Monday afternoon

When we returned home from the doctor’s appointment, my car battery was dead. Michael was scheduled to receive his new chemo cocktail at 1 p.m. I drove my car to the AutoZone after Michael charged the battery. Just saying or thinking the word “dead” leaves me numb. The sudden dying of a battery during the hot summer was both expected and unexpected. The prognosis for Michael will be both expected, yet not expected. There will be shock and disbelief. There will be grieving.

June 17, A Thursday

I’m driving and thinking about Michael’s steady decline. My thoughts change to my son, Sky, who died in a motorcycle accident in 1999. I suddenly feel the urge to talk to him.

“Sky, you were right. Michael is a keeper. Wait for him and take care of him. You never knew him, but he’s wonderful. Just the kind of man you wanted me to be with.”

I pull over to the side of the road and sob uncontrollably.

June 18, Evening addendum

While cleaning Michael’s shower, I cry out, “I want my old life back. Give me my old life.” My sobs are drowned by the water splashing on the ceramic tile.

I iron later that evening. Michael wants his shorts for a trip to Newport, Calif., this weekend. While ironing, I complained to no one in particular, “Why am I ironing, especially when I have so much to do before we leave?” So I iron the creases with the pointed end of the iron and I think about the future when I might not have Michael with me, when I may never be asked to iron his shorts. Instead, I’ll be wishing he was here asking me to iron. So I press the tip of the iron carefully into the creases, push down the steam button, and watch all the wrinkles disappear like magic.

To be continued ...

Terry J. Ratner, RN, MFA is a health educator at Banner Good Samaritan Medical Center. Visit her website at www.terryratner.com. Send comments to info@terryratner.com.

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