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Archive for Sunday, September 17, 2006

Monsoon season of struggles challenges philosophy of life

September 17, 2006

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I know that into each life a little rain must fall. It's just that the last two years have been Monsoon Season for my family. I once wrote that nothing is so bad you can't laugh at it - if not during, then after. Now some higher power apparently wants to challenge me on that philosophy ... yet I have so many family and friends who manage to find humor in sorrowful circumstances.

In a groundbreaking experiment, my friend Martha, a nurse with a penchant for obtaining information, donated T-cells to her brother who suffered from renal cancer. As her healthy cells began flowing into him, John exclaimed, "Oh, no! My hemoglobin is becoming shemoglobin!"

When the nurses finally quit laughing, he quipped, "Suddenly I feel the urge to ask lots of questions."

My brother-in-law Steve, battling a rare malignancy, and sister Vicki, who has MS, must feel like the guy in the old Lil' Abner comic strip who constantly had a rain cloud over his head. If they feel that way, however, you'd never know it. They recently surprised their sons by going grocery shopping without them. Each was riding a self-propelled cart when Vicki suggested a game of "chicken" down one of the aisles. Steve refused, explaining that they looked so pathetic, he thought other shoppers were wondering, "Where the heck is Tiny Tim?"

Vicki tells of Steve standing in a Chicago emergency room, rubbing his swollen abdomen, the source of his pain. Vicki remarked, "You look just like a pregnant woman. That's what they'd do."

Then she continued, "I wish you were pregnant instead!" to which Steve, age 55, replied, "Well that would bring up a different set of problems. For one thing, I'm too old."

When Vicki accompanied Steve to MD Anderson Clinic several months ago, she was given a T-shirt proclaiming NOT THE PATIENT because Steve was pushing her in a wheelchair and everyone assumed that she was. Last March, as I sat in the emergency room in the wee hours of the morning with Ray's mother, waiting for her to be admitted, I was startled to see Steve and Vicki walk in. "We've had an allergic reaction to medication," Vicki said when I asked what was wrong.

"Which one of you?" I questioned.

Turned out to be Vicki, and she said, "I guess when we visit the ER, the one of us who isn't the patient is going to have to wear that T-shirt."

We lost Ray's 94-year-old mother July 4 after a four-month round of stays in the hospital and nursing facility. Although small of frame, Christina was always tough as nails, doing farm work along with her husband and Ray. When one man sought to help her by baling smaller "widow's bales" for her, she was insulted. She took pride in lifting the full-size bales her men did. She admitted to being afraid of bulls, yet took on El Bucardo III with a pitchfork when he slammed her against a fence.

During her first hospitalization, Ray was anxious for her to begin walking, but Christina was uncharacteristically reluctant to try. So each day, Ray encouraged her to walk with a walker as he steadied her. She complied, but she grumbled the whole time. One day, she and Ray walked down the hall while I sneakily followed behind with a wheelchair in case she became tired. When she looked around and saw me, good Christian woman that she was, she exclaimed, "Why am I walking when she's got that damn wheelchair?"

About that time she noticed my red Crocs. She liked them so much, we told her we'd buy some for her. She selected the color, and I will never forget the sight of those short little feet stepping along in those black Crocs.

I laughed when my friend Darlene told me her mother called 911 when the nurses in her nursing home didn't respond to her calls for assistance. And I roared when I learned a feisty retired principal organized a hunger strike at the nursing home where she was a patient. There's nothing funny about being in a nursing home, but those two ladies, frail and ill though they were, exerted some control over their situations.

My mother loved to laugh. She found humor in everything and, after she recovered from a serious illness, she chortled when a sweet little old lady said to her, "Why, June, you don't look any worse than you ever did!"

The two-year anniversary of my mother's death is approaching, and I'm still having trouble finding anything to laugh about regarding that sad period. However, before I change my philosophy, I guess I'll give it a little more time.

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