Friday, July 31, 2009

Good-Bye July

Last year I ended July with a post about how we get where we want to be. I had decided that I knew how I would get where I wanted to be: with hard work, facing the truth, making tough decisions, and believing that it's possible. It had been a month of job applications, rain, and repeated attempts to finish outside painting. I wasn't where I wanted to be but I thought I had figured out what I needed to do.

Since then I have read more, written more, learned more. I finished outside painting and started working in the yard. I have gotten more involved in my community. I have applied for more jobs and attended career workshops.

Yet I end this July in much the same place I was a year ago ~ not sure where I am or where I am going.

The difference is that I am not feeling anxiety as I begin year #3 in this unsettled life. I say Bring. It. On.

The difference is that two of my greatest fears were realized in July 2009: one of my children moved 3,000 miles away and my husband had a serious illness that disabled him for weeks.

And I survived.

All the worrying did not protect me. Agonizing over possible scenarios did not prevent them from happening.

What will happen will happen.

This was made crystal clear to me earlier this week. I received official notification that I would not be offered the position that I interviewed for three weeks ago, the interview that I left the hospital to attend and at which I arrived twenty minutes late.

That I didn't get the position did not surprise me. What surprised me was the email that followed my response to the original notification. It wasn't anything I said or did that lost me the position. In fact, my level of education and experience was what they were looking for in a candidate. Unfortunately for me, someone with "much more experience" applied and was selected for the position. I was their second choice.

There is no prize for second place. There is no satisfaction in knowing that I almost got the job.

I am satisfied that I did the best I could. I was not penalized for being human and getting lost and arriving late. I was recognized for what I know and what I can do.

So life goes on. I am a year older and a bit wiser than this time last year. I will keep trying. I will keep growing.

The journey continues....

Thursday, July 30, 2009

On The Mend

Today was the first day Ken said he felt good, which the doctor said is as important as any of the test results.

Overall, the news at today's appointment was good. Tuesday's chest x-ray did indeed show that the pneumonia is better. Tuesday's blood work looked good for the most part, but Ken's liver enzymes were elevated again, which is puzzling. The doctor ordered a repeat of blood tests today, to see if anything has changed. She also ordered an ultrasound of Ken's liver and gall bladder to make sure there's nothing abnormal, and that will be done in two weeks.

In the meantime, Ken has been cleared to return to work next Thursday, which is the best possible news. That will give him a few more days to feel good and regain some of his strength and stamina. He still tires more easily than usual but feels stronger every day.

Ken is ready to return to work, and he's needed back on the job. That's never a given in construction. We were relieved when we were told that there's plenty of work and a job would be waiting for him when he was well enough to return.

Neither one of us takes our good fortune for granted.

Ken again looks like himself, thinner but with the old sparkle in his eye. His voice sounds strong and his breathing is normal. He has turned the corner and is indeed on the mend.

I was sure I would know when Ken was on his way back to good health, while I knew there was no guarantee that the day would come. Today was the day, and I am grateful that it arrived.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Not To Worry

When the doctor called this afternoon with the results of Ken's lab work and chest x-ray she said to me, "Sharon, do not worry," and suggested I get some sleep. Then Ken and I took a two-hour nap.

The news was good. There is no sign of an infection. The pneumonia looked a bit better to the doctor, and we will know more details once the radiologist reads the x-ray. The doctor today said our primary physician may want to order more tests on Thursday, but for now we are not to worry. Ken can take Tylenol if the fever persists.

Today was the first time I have felt relieved after one of Ken's doctor visits. I have been on "screech" for weeks, as if my vigilance could somehow protect him.

I didn't expect that we would have to deal with any health issue this serious for many years, say until we were 75 or 80. This dose of reality makes it clear that there are some things we cannot plan for, no matter how well we take care of ourselves. There are some things we cannot predict, no matter how much information we have.

That's a lot to think about. For now I will try not to worry.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Dollars And Degrees

I went to the quarterly library committee meeting tonight because I wanted to hear firsthand how much this year's plant sale raised for the library. Drum roll please ~ $14,598. That's the amount of pure profit. Woohoo!

Good news.

Thirty minutes into the ninety-minute meeting I realized how tired I am. It was the first time in twenty-seven days that I sat down and completely focused on something other than Ken. The tiredness filled me.

As of yesterday, Ken hadn't had a fever for two weeks.

That changed last night, and his temperature was up and down all day today.

Just when he was finally beginning to feel better.

I have been in contact with the doctor's office throughout the day and evening. Looks like we're in for a doctor's visit tomorrow. We shouldn't wait until Thursday's scheduled appointment.

With luck the Tylenol will kick in soon and Ken will get another good night's sleep.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Pneumonia 101

Ken continues to improve. Yesterday at his doctor's appointment his oxygen registered at 94% which is the highest level yet and good news. His only job for the next week is to get stronger and gain back some of the 35 pounds he's lost. It will be the first or second week in August before Ken is cleared to return to work.

It could be another six weeks before the actual pneumonia is gone.

Friends and family have asked us if Ken had a cold or bronchitis or anything that could have turned into pneumonia. Ken didn't have so much as a sniffle or scratchy throat.

In the hospital I asked every doctor who examined Ken how he got so sick so fast. I asked how his flu-like symptoms of chills, fever, headache, and body aches led to pneumonia. There is no way to know.

While in the hospital we were given a fact sheet for pneumonia. Ken's only symptom for days was fever, which came and went. He had no cough or chest pain. It was just in the last 36 hours before he was hospitalized that his breathing became shallow, and even then Ken didn't feel like he was having trouble breathing.

This experience points out to me how important it is to pay attention to changes in how Ken and I are feeling. We are rarely ill. Neither one of us likes to use medication. In our house the dates on the bottles of acetaminophen and ibuprofen expire before we make a dent in the contents. We learned that it's easy to over-do those meds just by following the directions on the label, which wasn't possible with our doctor daughter's watchful eye.

People get sick, sometimes for no reason, just because they pick up a "bug." In middle age it's important that we have a handle on how we feel and consult a doctor if something doesn't feel right or any symptoms continue for more than a few days.

Once Ken's immune system is back on track, he will be given a pneumonia vaccine to help protect him from bronchial infections while he continues to get stronger. Neither of us have had flu shots in the past, but this fall we will take our place in line to get a shot of protection.

So many things change in middle age.

Paying closer attention to our health has been added to the list.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009


In an effort to continue to simplify my already simple life, I am going to un-do my hair color. Right now it's three shades of brunette, and the gray roots add an unglamorous stripe at the part and crown. I cancelled my appointment two weeks ago because Ken was in the hospital, and I haven't rescheduled because I didn't want to spend an hour in the chair making small talk about "what's new."

The only thing Ken has wanted to do since he got out of the hospital is get his hair cut, which was overdue three weeks ago. I made him an appointment today in the same shop I frequent. While we were there I asked my stylist about getting me out of the mess my hair is in. She recommended I wait another couple weeks, until more gray is showing. I am unclear about why...but I don't have to be anywhere that matters so I guess it doesn't....

Well, that's honest.

Three words came to me a month ago: honesty, surrender, simplicity.

I couldn't sleep last night and was up at 2 a.m. writing in my journal. The gist of it was that I surrender. I. Give. Up. It doesn't matter what I do or how hard I try. Things are not coming together. I can't get anything to work.

For months I was reflective, patient, and present. I was cautiously active when it felt like action was called for. I waited and waited and waited...for a sign, for the right "something" to come along.

Then: Ken gets seriously ill and my oldest son moves far away.

Oh, and I got lost on my way to a second job interview. I left from the hospital instead of from home, and I had to make a connection to a main road in a city I rarely visit. The name of the building and the street number faced a street other than the street name I was given, so after circling the block of one-way streets I pulled over and called for directions. I arrived 20 minutes late. The meeting ended with the compliment that I was able to settle myself and proceed with the interview. When I got home there was a phone message from that morning about the interview; everyone was assembled and they wanted me to interview two hours earlier than originally planned.

That was twelve days ago and I haven't heard a word. I didn't get any kind of acknowledgment for the "thank you" I emailed after the interview. I think chances are excellent that I didn't get the job.

I feel undone.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Leo Likes Routine

In mid-June I took this photo of Ken and Leo, coming back from their walk down the driveway ~

Since Ken has been sick, Leo has been out of sorts. He has meowed for extended periods of time at all hours of the day and night. It hasn't helped to talk to him, take him outside, pet him, sit with him on my lap, or put him in the garage where he has his own space. Leo has not been happy; I now think that he has been aware of the chaos in the household with Ken's illness and our son's move to the west coast.

I wouldn't have believed the extent of his awareness except that this morning, for the first time in three weeks, Leo followed his usual routine: had his wet food for breakfast, "talked" with me a bit, gave himself a bath, and settled down for a nap on his favorite corner of the carpet in the living room. This was also the first time in three weeks that Ken said it felt like he could take a deep breath to fill his lungs. Right now Ken and Leo are on the deck taking in some sunshine. It looks like routine is returning to our house.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

In Recovery

Ken is eating, sleeping, and feeling better, although his oxygen level has not improved. We know this because we went to the doctor today, a day early, because his left arm is swollen, sore, and red due to a problem with the original site for his IV. He is on such strong antibiotics already that the only recommendations were to apply heat and keep his arm elevated. He is resting 24/7 so the thought is that his oxygen level will eventually improve. He's due back at the doctor's office in a week.

That means he will miss three weeks of work...and maybe more.

This is the first time in over 25 years that Ken has missed work due to illness. I think he was due.

I also think it is a cruel twist of fate that Ken's pneumonia corresponded with our son's last days on the east coast.

The night that Ken came home so sick was the night that P found out he'd gotten a job in California.

We were all here for the July 4 week-end, but Ken spent the time in bed or dozing in a chair.

This past week-end our sons came home from Boston and our daughter had the days off; we made the best of our family time in Ken's hospital room eating our favorite take-out food and watching Red Sox games.

Then P drove up after work Tuesday evening to see how his dad was doing. P brought Italian cookies for me and pastries for his dad. We were glad Ken was home, able to enjoy a pizza and watch the All-Star game. It was a typical family evening for us, except that it is the last time we will see P for a while. He says he will be home for Christmas.

Ken and I are exhausted and out of things to say. It has been an emotional couple of weeks.

Recovery could take quite some time.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Home Again

Ken is home from the hospital. It was a long afternoon, getting the details worked out and the discharge paperwork completed. It looked like he might be sent home on oxygen, but in the end he was sent home with antibiotics in pill form and instructions to REST for the next three days. He will see the doctor on Friday to check on his progress.

Right now he is doing the best he's done in two weeks. We will elevate his head in bed for the night.

My daughter the doctor has the next couple days off to help us out. She plans to come tomorrow afternoon to see how Ken is doing.

Tonight we have him home, with the hope he continues to improve.

We are both grateful for your prayers, thoughts, and good wishes. I have no doubt that they played a part in his recovery.

More later. Now it's time for bed.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Seven Days And Counting

Later Saturday morning, after my last post, Ken was put back on "critical care status," which meant he was again hooked up to monitors for his heart, pulse, respiration, blood pressure, and oxygen. He had a CT scan of his chest which showed no abscesses or lesions or pockets of fluid. His doctors conferred with an infection specialist who changed one of Ken's antibiotics to one of the strongest IV antibiotics they could give him.

Then we waited to see what would happen.

Saturday night he had a low-grade fever that was gone by Sunday morning.

By this morning he had gone 24 hours without a fever...for the first time in two weeks.

Ken was feeling better and looked healthier. He started lobbying to go home this morning and tried again this afternoon. No go, although his improving condition again earned him an upgrade to "floor status" which stuck this time. Monitors were removed. Late this afternoon we were told he would be moved to a regular room on another floor, so for the third time he made a plea to go home.

The doctor on duty met his request with a challenge: if Ken could walk up and down the hall without oxygen and score better than a 92 oxygen rate on room air, he could go home. And Ken tried. He really tried, but I could tell he was winded. His oxygen rate was 86.

So he has been moved to a room on the 4th floor. He has the room to himself, and there is a bathroom with a door. The nurse brought in a cot so I don't have to sleep in a recliner.

I was planning to go home tonight...until Ken was moved. I decided to stay in case he was discharged first thing in the morning.

This evening he went a couple hours without oxygen, and I could see that he was beginning to fade ~ his eyes drooped and his breathing got shallow. When the nurse checked his oxygen rate, it was 88. He is back on 2 liters of oxygen.

Ken has gone to bed. He is coughing and muttering in a restless sleep. I am glad I will be here when he wakes up, to help if he needs it or just to let him know he's not alone.

Someone said to me today that it may take a while for me to recognize the lesson from this experience. I told her I can't imagine what the lesson might be. We were doing fine, and we knew it. Ken and I would look at each other and say, at the same moment, how lucky we are ~ a good marriage, three great kids, and our health. We knew our lives were good. We didn't need a serious illness to teach us anything or point us in a different direction.

Four days ago I sat down with pen and paper. I told Ken I wanted to make a "wish list." I wanted us to write down everything we wanted....and we both knew his first item was a John Deere tractor. I wrote down that I want a job. Then we got silent. Of things that are within our control, we couldn't think of another thing that either of us wanted.

Yes, we have known for a long time how lucky we are, how blessed our lives are, and how much we have to be grateful for.

Ken is fighting a serious case of pneumonia, and he is slowly getting better. When he is well again, we will celebrate the things we treasure and how glad we are that we've known our good fortune all along.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Day 5 In The Hospital

We are in the hospital where my daughter was born in 1979. The residents of the Maine-Dartmouth Family Medicine Residency, like my daughter, are doctors here. Ken has been seen by many of the doctors who work with our daughter, which has made this experience so much easier. I never doubted that Ken would get the care he needed...

and still needs. Yesterday he was determined that he was going home. His oxygen level on room air was 88, while the goal is to get it to the high 90's. He took a walk in the hallway outside his room, while on oxygen, and I could see how tired he was. Still, he made it clear he was ready to go home.

Then Dr. G. spoke with Ken. She is one of the doctors who examined him the first day and decided to admit him to the hospital. She explained that he still needs to take in large quantities of fluids, which is why he is still on an IV, and that she wanted him to get at least one more dose of IV antibiotics. He said he would think about what she said.

Ken did not have a good night the night before, when I went home to sleep. That morning the nurse found him sitting in the recliner at 4:30 a.m., waiting for me.

So I made a deal with him: I would bring his clothes to the hospital and stay overnight so he would be ready to go when the doctors decided he could go home. He agreed.

Yesterday afternoon Ken spiked another fever, and his fever was up and down all last night.

The good news is that his regular blood work is just about normal.

This morning the not so good news is that he still has a fever and his oxygen level, while he is receiving oxygen, is not as high as they would like to see it.

There is still an infection somewhere. More lab work will be done and another chest x-ray will be taken.

Ken will not be going home today.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Hospital: Day 3

It helps to know people are pulling for us.

Ken is steadily improving. His lab work was better today than yesterday. His chest x-ray was no worse than yesterday, which is what they told us to expect; once they started pushing IV fluids the doctors predicted they would see more congestion in his left lung, but that is now stable.

This afternoon Ken was taken off the monitors for his oxygen, respiration, and heart rates, pulse, and blood pressure. That gives him more mobility. He is still on oxygen and IV fluids, and he will receive IV antibiotics for another day or two. We may take a walk outside the room tomorrow. Now that they will check his vital signs every four hours, instead of every hour, he may be moved to a room on the floor depending on availability.

Ken was dehydrated so the idea was to push fluids, which means he was up and down all night to go to the bathroom. They IV is now running at half the rate, so hopefully he will be able to get some solid hours of sleep tonight.

I came home to sleep because I need to be able to put together two sentences that make sense. My second job interview is tomorrow afternoon, and I'm going because it would be difficult to gather the same group of people together again.

I have some things to share about what I have learned about pneumonia and taking care of ourselves in middle age. There will be time for that. Right now I'm going to bed.

Good night.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

It's Still Raining

Literally and figuratively.

Ken is in the hospital with pneumonia.

He saw the doctor on Thursday and while there his temperature was normal. The other symptoms looked like a case of the flu.

On Monday his fever was all but gone and he was up all day. He was still tired but talked about returning to work on Wednesday.

Tuesday morning at 4 a.m. his fever was 104+. It took an hour with cold compresses, meds, ice water, and a fan in the room to get it down to 102.

I called the doctor's office when it opened and left a message that I wanted to know what to do next. Late morning I talked with a nurse and a doctor, who wanted to see Ken and do blood work. By 1:30 he had been examined by two doctors and the diagnosis was pneumonia. As the results of the blood work started coming in it was obvious that Ken had a serious infection. After the chest x-ray the decision was made to admit him to the hospital. When lab results indicated stress on his kidneys and liver, he was admitted directly to the critical care unit.

As scared as I was, I was also relieved. I didn't know what I would do at home if his fever spiked again over night, and it did in the hospital. In the early morning hours his fever reached 104.8, and this was with nurses, doctors, lab technicians, and all possible technology made available. He was packed in ice, cooled with washcloths, denied covers ~ all with a fan on in the room. It dropped to 103.2. Then blood work showed improvement in kidney and liver function, so he was given a dose of Tylenol which dropped his temp even further. Phew.

We have the best doctors, nurses, and support staff anyone could ask for.

The news today is as good as it could be. Ken is slowly improving. He is able to get up and walk around the room. He sat in a recliner for an hour and ate two fruit cups. He still isn't out of the woods, but he is on the mend and looking at two to three more days in the hospital.

My daughter the doctor has been a godsend through all of this. Her mentors made it clear from the beginning that she was to wear the daughter hat, not the doctor's coat. She has been supportive and knowledgeable in just the right amounts. Thank you, K, for your presence and grace.

Our sons will be home from Boston this week-end. They were planning to come, but now I am especially looking forward to their visit.

I came home this afternoon to feed the cat, get the mail, and cut up watermelon for Ken. I fixed myself a plate of French toast and a cup of coffee, grabbed the phone, and climbed into a hot bath. Multi-tasking at its best.

I appreciate the comments on my last post. My time online is sporadic, but I will post an update tomorrow.

Yeah, it's still pouring.

Monday, July 6, 2009

When It Rains

It Pours.

Wednesday evening Ken got home from working three days out of town. He was sick, as in headache-chills-fever-body aches-no appetite-sick, and he had been feeling this way for three days.

We had plans to meet P, our oldest son, in Massachusetts for the holiday week-end. I needed to let him know we wouldn't be down on Friday, but I would make the trip on Saturday even if Ken didn't. Before I could call him, the phone rang.

It was P. He was coming home for the week-end.

Earlier Wednesday evening he had received a job offer. From a company in California.

He had hoped to get a job by mid-September, when his fiance starts grad school in California, which is the reason for his move.

He needs to start the job in two weeks.

P is at the age when his adult life starts, when things get good.

He will be living three thousand miles across the country, and my heart is broken.

P will move in with his fiance's parents, temporarily, because they live close to where he will be working and where she will go to school.

Some people get what they want.

And some people don't.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

The First Of July

George is the main character in one of my favorite movies, Life As A House. He takes control of his life at a time when it seems impossible that anything good can come of the situation. George makes changes that affect him and people close to him. No one can predict what will happen next, no one can know all that lies ahead.

George tries to explain:

"Change can be so constant that you don't even feel a difference until there is one. It can be so slow that you don't know that your life is better or worse until it is...or it can just blow you away and make you something different in an instant."

A person may have control over the change in their life...

Or a person may have no control...

But either way, life will never be the same.