Time and Patience

Kids are so frank. We were at the church where little Peter goes for day care. It’s a very welcoming sort of place in spite of the posters showing Adam and Eve as white people with straight blow-dried hairdos.

Now Peter is little; not two feet high, so it was faintly surprising to me see a eight-year-old named Connor hailed him.

“Yo, PETE! High five!” he called and Peter offered his own version of that universal male salute before losing his balance and sitting down hard on the church hall rug.

“Hey HEY!” shouted  Connor approvingly. Then his glance fell on Peter’s mom Susan, who bears the marks of the surgery that three weeks ago severed  her 8th cranial nerve, ending her ability to hear ever again with her left ear.

“You look kind of …weird,” the boy said.

Thanks!” said Susan. “It’s the eye patch.”

“She looks a little like  a pirate, right?” said I, going for a jaunty take on things.

“No but there’s more. Your mouth looks funny.”

In fact that whole side of her face is still without feeling, the muscles still unable to draw the curtains of tissue up into a smile or down into a frown or anywhere at all really. Her right side is completely mobile so the contrast is marked.

“It’ll go back to normal soon. It’s just resting now after an operation she had.”

That was me again. I say this ten times a day, sometimes to kind strangers so greet me here in the home of Mormonism and sometimes – many times – to myself. It’s a fact, the doctors say, and not a fond hope. It will go back to normal eventually: when Annie was here last week the doctors said all feeling and movement would return to that side of the face though it could take months. “Months!” Annie agonized in the email she wrote to to fill me in on things.

I think we all feel as Annie felt when she typed that word: Anxious. Scared. Maybe even faintly outraged?

If we do feel that way it’s because we are only laymen and have no real sense of the miracle is to be able to remove a tumor so rare that only ten people in a million are diagnosed with it each year. We have scant sense of the miracle it is to be able actually to sever the slender filament that is the 8th Cranial Nerve without doing damage to the surrounding circuitry – and THEN to see the beneficiary of the surgery sitting up and talking and even taking a step or two just hours after it.

Laymen want miracles and instant results but Fate is schooling us all in patience.

And so we can wait until her body heals and she can resume life as the same dark-eyed beauty she was on the day of her marriage to kind tender funny Kevin who wraps her in his arms many times a day here in the city of the Great Salt Lake and all through the night as well.

I guess patience is what we all need to pack in our daily knapsacks. Patience and a strong dose of gratitude for blessings received.

I know I felt blessed yesterday when the woman behind me at the checkout in Wallgreens asked what brought me to Salt Lake City and heard the story and then asked for Susan’s name.

“I will pray for her tonight” she said. She hugged me  and I stumbled back to my car in the blinding high-desert sun, a wash of fresh tears brimming in my eyes.


The Work of Healing

My biggest job here in Salt Lake City has been to help with little Peter here, whose cheeks extend so far to the right and left of his head he practically needs a set of directionals to signal before he turns.

I’ve noticed a few things in this fair city, limited as my movements have been:

One thing I couldn’t fail to pick up one is that my rental car’s radio kept scooting right past the two NPR stations favor of stations of a more muscular God-based nature. I also noted that it’s considered pious to save on water: I listened in awe as one announcer with an especially  pulpit-y voice told listeners that though God was indeed happy to see you looking CLEAN, he would also like to see you re-use the bath towels, even share their use among family members. “Remember,” he intoned, “you use a towel after you wash yourself, not before.”

Most of the rest of my experiences were right here in the home of our recovering patient where young Peter wakes cheerfully every morning, babbling for a while in his crib before having milk and a book in bed with his parents. Then he pads about taking  his daily inventory of the whole household, especially the three pets, the  serenely laconic feline team of Lucy and Elsie who regard all things with that lofty cat calm, and then this genial  goodwill ambassador Bosco. ( Photo credit to 21-month-month-old Peter, who after snapping both  pictures, let Bosco lick his face before then licking the whole front of my camera himself, lens and all.)

I have been responsible for the Pork and Black Beans night. the Steak with Peppers and Onions night, the Broiled Salmon night and the Scallops with Feta and Zucchini Pasta night. I haven’t done this much cooking since my first month of marriage.

After supper I clear the table and do the dishes, then set to work assisting with the snacks, drinks and double lunch that Peter will take to daycare in the morning, I have brought him there come 8am, sometimes on my own and sometimes with his Mum or Dad while he yodels away in his little car seat, naming objects and creatures like Adam in the Garden.

Meanwhile, the patient Susan, forgiven work until further notice, tends to her recovery.

She and I put drops in her left eye, which still won’t close all the way, that whole side of her face being paralyzed and without feeling still. When her cornea on that side began to dry out they sewed it shut,  poor lamb. By now the stitches are out but she wears a protective plastic patch.

We also  tend to the opening in her tummy where on Monday they inserted a kind of drinking straw that allows the slow exiting of blood mixed with the protein-rich white blood cells that being about her healing. When she does a mini-crunch a the doctors told her to do, this substance comes out quickly. this is pretty scary though so most of the time we just tape on the big gauze bandage and the liquid seeps slowly out. “Wicki-leaks” we call it.

Meanwhile, up in her head where the tumor was, all is well. The 2.5 cc. acoustic neuroma is gone and so what of the hearing on her left side went with it along with her balance?  Her right side will take over both functions if she keeps going out into the noisy world and letting it learn.

We went to the movies yesterday to help that happen, the $1.50 matinee showing of Seeking a Friend for the End of the World,  maybe not the best choice. When we walked in, the theater was totally empty which seemed pretty cool.

Then we came home again, I got back to work in the kitchen and she, Kevin and I once again gave ourselves over to the moist enveloping love of three pets and a baby.

Chapter 9,864, in which I (FINALLY) stop being such a baby

It’s hard for me to know sometimes what I’m supposed to be doing here: tell what I’ve been up to or just entertain the troops, so to speak. It’s the dilemma of all columnists-and-bloggers who write to delight a weary public.

Anyway, I said the other day that I did some flying, which is how our learned about that we can no longer pack our snow globes in our carry-on bags, but I didn’t say where I was going or why.

I also didn’t say that I was nervous about the trip and not really getting it about how you have to be AT the airport two hours before the flight. Old Dave was away and I kind of lost focus. Two hours before the flight was to go Wheels Up I was still watching my documentary about Annie Leibowitz and sewing the hem into a pair of drapes. I also forgot to call the cab company to GET to the airport until 10 minutes before I needed it to come fetch me.

And then, trying to fix my hair, I burned my face in two places. Really burned it.

I was nervous because I was unsure of my ability to fulfill my mission here in Salt Lake City and care for this girl who has been part of our extended family since the spring of 1990.

Here are Annie and Susan back in high school, Annie in the Barnard T-shirt next to dark-eyed Sooz.)

About six months ago, Susan lost feeling in her face and began stumbling a bit at night, on her way to the bathroom, mostly, when the house was dark. It turns out she had an acoustic neuroma, a rare growth in her auditory canal that was pressing on some key cranial nerves . It didn’t look like It was going do any shrinking and it was leaning uncomfortably close to the brain stem.

She had surgery to remove it on July 25th. Her husband Kevin and her brother Gary were there in the hospital all that day and sent us all updates. (“Update: the ENT surgeon has finished making the opening in Sooz’s skull and the neurosurgeon is now removing the tumor. SO far it’s going well.”) TWO surgeons! Six hours!)

Once she was released five days post-op, a local friend came, then a college friend. Then Annie came for a week and I flew in the day Annie flew out. And another fleet of people will carry on when I leave, Susie’s dearest aunt, another college friend, Kevin’s parents… )

Our work – and my work this week – has been to buy/cook the meals, play with the baby, do the laundry and help dress the surgical site. ‘Sites’ I should say: there are two since the surgeons needed to patch the opening they made in her head with a bit of fat from her belly. (They made in her head with some fat from her belly. (Free lipo!” she had joked on the phone, but she frankly has no fat at all in her belly or anywhere else either which is why her tummy is so sore: they had to really dig to find enough.

I was nervous about how I would do all I needed to do with my problematic back and my thumbs that will no longer press down hard on the release of a carseat belt.

I was nervous about being able to lift little Peter and cajole him into doing what we needed to do moment to moment. So nervous! – right up until I got here and saw what she was facing every day with swelling at the tummy and an eyelid that won’t close and a half a face that’s still not moving these three weeks later – at which point all nervousness ceased and I got down to work.

It was a good lesson for me… and like all such lessons put me in my place, and reminded me that I myself am actually at the center of very few stories indeed.