The Waiting Is The Hardest Part

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Tom Petty is wrong: waiting isn’t the HARDEST part. It’s much tougher to sit in a room with a doctor and hear dire news about a loved one. Most of us have been there and that is downright devastating.

Yet, when stuck in the limbo of waiting, you feel, at least during the midst of it, like you have no control over your life. Throw in anticipation, be it good or bad, and it is enough to drive you to drink (or in my case, to eat copious amounts of chocolate. And maybe then a glass or ten of wine.)

We should be jumping for joy. My mother finished her chemo a few weeks ago, and last week’s CT scans are clear: no sign of cancer. Instead we’re back at Mercy (what a name for a hospital!): in the waiting room, in the pre-op prep room, in the operating room, in the recovery room.

A complication from her cancer surgery last October worsened with each chemotherapy treatment. By the time my mother received her clean CT scan, the complication had become a major problem, which was negatively impacting her life on a daily basis. When she finally told the doctor about how bad it had become, he examined her and within minutes announced that he was scheduling surgery for the next week.

So here we are. 8:30 arrival for registration and pre-surgery prep. Next, she’s brought back to a pre-op room where we are asked questions and informed of the details of the procedure by the floor nurse, the surgical nurse, the anesthesiologist, and the surgeon. On schedule. We see the last of them at 9:45. We should expect somebody to bring Mom to the operating theater in a few minutes, in preparation for the 10:30 surgery.

And we wait. Fifteen minutes. Thirty. An hour. An hour and a half.

It’s now forty-five minutes past the planned start time of Mom’s surgery.

When we conferred with the surgeon earlier, he gave us some worse case scenarios regarding Mom’s surgery, which we didn’t want to mull over, but how could we not with all that time on our hands? The look on Mom’s face is desperate. She’s shifting positions and complaining that the IV line, inserted on the top side of her hand, hurts. She wants to know why they couldn’t use the port that was in her chest. Or at least insert the tube in her arm. I know she had a tough night and barely slept. For a few seconds, as we wait, she shuts her eyes. When she opens them, the litany of discomforts begin again. She tells me that she fears the worst case scenario that the doctor had described.

I go to the nurse’s station, ask why we are waiting so long, when Mom will get wheeled up to surgery. She checks her computer, makes a phone call, and gives me the bad news: the doctor’s current surgery is more complicated than they’d expected; he is still operating on the patient and they’d called for some new equipment, in order to do an additional procedure. When pushed, the nurse says it will be at least another hour.

Another hour passes. Two more pass before they finally take Mom upstairs at 1:30, leaving me to wait for an indefinite amount of time in the waiting room. We’d been told that the surgery would take about an hour and a half, but I had no idea when it would actually begin. I’m thinking that they only took her up because she’d been nasty to the surgical nurse after she announced a delay beyond the delay beyond the delay, which we’d been suffering through with increasing impatience.

A reclining chair is available so I settle in with my heavy bag of electronics and miscellany: my laptop and charger, my phone, Mom’s phone, chargers for both our phones, my journal, my Kindle, a five section spiral notebook, a filled folder from the hospital, three apples, two Larabars, two wallets, two pairs of glasses (one of them wrapped inside purple latex gloves, which we stole from the pre-op room), pens, hair bands, loose change, tissues, and more. Thankfully, I’d put Mom’s clothes, shoes, and purse in the prescribed locker, so I didn’t have that added weight to carry and manage once I was seated.

I had a plan: Get some writing done after I check in with my siblings and my mother’s siblings since I was supposed to call them around noon with post-surgery news. As soon as I got to the writing, I realized that I was seated under a television, blaring a soap opera, which was difficult to ignore. I couldn’t concentrate but I kept at it until I realized that I’d been typing the same letter over and over again on the page. I wondered if the surgery had begun. I checked my email. My Facebook account. My Twitter account. My Words with Friends games. My Hanging With Friends games. My email again. Facebook, Twitter, and so on . . .

Time went slowly. My mind wandered into that ugly place where every possible bad thing can happen and does. I ate an apple. I carried all my stuff downstairs and bought some chocolate, which I ate on my way back to the waiting room. My chair was still available. The woman next to me had her phone on speaker and an automated voice told her that she was 145th in line and that her wait would be an hour and forty minutes. If she’d like to wait, press one. If she’d like to get a call back, press two. She didn’t press anything, so the voice came on again. This went on for quite awhile. But I finally got rid of her. The man next in the row of loungers was in deep sleep, and snoring like a cartoon character. I give my husband a hard time about snoring but he’s soft as a bird’s chirp compared to this guy. Woman next to me harumphs, angrily gathers her things (including the phone with the constant automated voice), and stomps off to sit on the other side of the room (where probably some other guy was snoring.)

My brother calls me three times. My aunt calls me. My mother’s cousin calls my mother’s cell. I get emails from family and friends looking for news.

At four-thirty, I approach the desk. They make calls and tell me it should be another forty-five minutes, and that she went into surgery at two o’clock. That means three hours and fifteen minutes in the operating room, not the hour and a half the surgeon estimated. My heart drops. My mind goes to that awful place again. Nobody has any information. I try to read my book, get through a few pages before losing all focus. I stare out the window but see nothing.

I look up and Mom’s surgeon pops out of a door and motions for me to come back to a room to discuss the surgery. He gives me the rundown of what they did. He tells me about the issues that might arise. He says I can see her when she wakes up. He leaves and I call a few people from the list that my mother and I made up the night before. When I tire of talking (which happens relatively quickly), I start emailing and texting and FB messaging the rest on the list. I hope they get my messages but am not concerned enough to call them on the phone. Too friggin’ exhausted from all of that sitting around and doing nothing except stressing out.

Now I have to wait for the aide who comes down at the start of each hour to take families up to recovery to see their loved ones for ten minutes. It’s 5:15 so I have 45 minutes to wait. When the aide comes in, I stand up but I’m not on her list. My mother is still out from the anesthesia so I’ll have to wait until the 7 pm visit. Kill me now.

By the time I finally see Mom, I am so mentally and emotionally wasted that I can barely think. She is in a lot of pain but won’t press the button for pain meds. She doesn’t like to take medicine. Her eyelids are swollen, which I point out to the nurse, who says she hadn’t noticed, but explains she didn’t have a baseline from which to make a judgment. This makes me anxious. I have to go back to my Mom’s place and sleep. And eat something other than apples and chocolate. But I feel funny about leaving her with someone who doesn’t see how swollen her face is.

Then the aide comes to take me away. I tell Mom I’ll see her in the morning. I get her stuff from the locker and lug everything out to the car and drive home. Except in my dazed state, I miss my exit and have to drive an additional twenty minutes to get home. And I stop on my way to get a few things at the drugstore, where a homeless person asks me for money. I don’t give him any and then feel guilty for the rest of the night. Or that’s what I tell myself so I don’t have to think about what could happen in the hours that I am away from the hospital.

I can’t fall asleep. I can’t eat anything except the ice cream I bought at the drugstore. I pull out my computer and after doing all my social media checks and game checks and email, text, and messaging checks, I decide to write the blog post that I began while listening to the soap opera blaring on the television.

The writing calms me down but I’m not sure sleep will come. Once again, I am waiting. This time I am waiting until I can go back to the hospital and see my Mom; the waiting is hard, especially since until I get there, I won’t know if the swelling went down and if my mother finally took it upon herself to press the button for her pain medicine.

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Facebook Made Me Do It

M & R's Granola Bars

M & R’s Granola Bars

I couldn’t think of anything to write about today. Actually, that isn’t true. I had approximately seven million thoughts, but for whatever reason, I couldn’t slow my brain down enough to retrieve only one and turn it into something more than a fragment of an idea.

One Twitter friend suggested I take a walk, which I did. And it helped. I came back and wrote down about four paragraphs worth of material. But I was itchy and couldn’t sit still and remembered that I promised my daughter I’d buy her granola bars to take to her lacrosse game tomorrow. She’s allergic to nuts and peanuts so there is only one type of bar that she both likes and can eat and earlier, when I went to the store that stocks them, they were out.

When I realized that I couldn’t finish the blog post I’d started, I decided to make the granola bars that my daughters and I have been making for years. Baking and cooking ground me, except when making weeknight dinners after a busy day. Then cooking stresses me out.

I found the recipe back when there wasn’t a single brand of bar that my allergic daughter could eat. The girls and I have played with the recipe a little bit over the years and while I wouldn’t call the result a healthy treat, I would say that it is far healthier than the ones we get at the store. And it tastes better.

I posted a photo of the finished granola bars on Facebook and enough people seemed interested in the recipe that I realized I had a blog post after all. So, for all those who’d like to make their own granola bars, here’s my family’s easy easy easy recipe. (Ours are nut-free but if you want nuts, just add them in at the end.)

M & R’s Granola Bars

Ingredients:

4 cups oatmeal

2 cups flour

1 cup coconut

¼ cup sugar

2 teaspoons baking soda

½ teaspoon salt

¾ cup vegetable oil

¾ cup honey (OR 1/2 cup honey, 1/4 cup molasses , OR 1/2 cup honey, 1/4 cup corn syrup depending on your taste)

raisins or chocolate chips (or whatever you prefer to add)

Directions:

1. Mix dry ingredients together well.

2. Add oil and honey.

3. Mix well. Get your fingers in there and mix it until all is blended and sticky feeling. If you don’t, they will turn out crumbly.

4. Add raisins and whatever else you enjoy.

5. Firmly press into jelly roll pan (12 x 15 inch).

6. Bake 15 to 20 minutes at 375°F They will look puffy and soft when you take them out.

7. Don’t wait until they are brown or they will be very hard.

8. Cut into squares while still warm.

Let me know if you make them and if you like them!

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Two Trees: A Love Story

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It was enough for me to see the palm tree wearing a shorter flowering tree as a decorative skirt, but then I got closer and the hairs on my body stood at attention. Landscaper designed or not, one tree with its branches wrapped around a totally different kind of tree’s trunk made me ridiculously happy.

I’m reminded of this photo exhibit I saw in the 80s of the faces of children of “mixed” parentage. One parent is Asian, the other American. One is African, the other French. One is Moroccan, the other Spanish. I believe the exhibit was the senior project of an art major at the college I attended. If only I could recall the artist’s name because I want him/her to know that I still can see, in my mind’s eye, those faces. And each one is more beautiful than the next.

I don’t remember if the faces of the parents were also part of the exhibit, but I’m guessing they weren’t because I think those faces would have stuck in my mind too.

Early in our marriage, my (WASP) husband used to say to me (his Jewish wife) that our kids were going to be mutts. But not to worry, he’d add, mutts are always smarter than pure breeds. While the families were stressing about how two people from largely different backgrounds would raise our kids, we didn’t doubt that we’d figure it out. We both saw it as a plus that we’d be mixing up the gene pool.

The kids have turned out pretty well, as far as I can tell. They’re both smart and beautiful, inside and out. Not that I have a biased opinion or anything.

I wonder about my new friends, the hugging trees. Will they grow so close that they will graft together and become the progenitors of a new breed?

My tree knowledge is minimal, but how great would it be to see the product of those two trees that the landscaper decided to intertwine?

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Pancakes and Bacon and Syrup, Oh No

Nora Ephron’s ricotta-egg pancakes with blueberry preserves

I’m not a difficult person to feed.

I eat red meat. I eat dairy. I eat wheat. I’m not a huge fan of collard greens but I eat kale and spinach and arugula with pleasure. It is true that I developed a pretty severe shellfish allergy a few years back, so I guess I’m a little bit of trouble if you want to serve me lobster, crabs, or shrimp.

Once, when my kids were young, and my mother was visiting, we went to a restaurant, where I tried to give my kids a lesson about picky eaters. My mother had left the table to freshen up, so I told them the best way to make my point would be to have them watch the behavior in action (my version of Animal Kingdom).

“Pay attention when Grammy places her order,” I said, but they were too impatient. “What’s she gonna do?” they wanted to know.

So I looked toward the restroom, assured that Mom was still in the distance, and pointed to my menu while looking at the girls. “I’ll have the chef’s salad, please. And I’d like a scoop of tuna. I know it’s not on the menu as an option but I see you do serve tuna sandwiches so . . . I’ll have the low fat Italian dressing, on the side please, and I like the tuna that comes in water not oil, whole not chunk, and very light on the mayonnaise, like practically no mayonnaise at all, just enough to get a taste of it. If you put celery in the salad or the tuna salad, don’t put it in mine. Oh and I’ll have an Arnold Palmer to drink. The ice tea isn’t sweetened, is it? Because I don’t want it if it is, and only a tiny bit of lemonade, about an eighth of the glass. And no ice. I don’t want ice. You refrigerate the tea, I hope.”

Then my mother returned to the table. Waitress came, Mom ordered exactly as I anticipated, kids couldn’t stop laughing, and I had to explain. Thankfully Mom knows she is a “high maintenance” restaurant customer and if she was offended, she didn’t show sign of it.

The first time I heard the term “high maintenance” was in reference to the Meg Ryan character in the film, “When Harry Met Sally.” She ordered her food as if she took lessons from my mother.

Which leads me to my point, which is that Nora Ephron gets me. She sees things in ways that make sense to me.

Huh?

Nora Ephron wrote “When Harry Met Sally” as well as many other screenplays and witty essays that I laugh at over and over again. Recently, I reread an essay she wrote about teflon, which, naturally, made me laugh. But it also contained a recipe for a pancake-type breakfast food that sounded tasty to me.

I’m getting to the point. I promise.

Only a few days ago, we were up North with friends who made pancakes and bacon for breakfast. I’m either a protein shake or egg and english muffin or yogurt and granola kind of breakfast eater, but I’m game for something else if that is what is prepared. Except pancakes and bacon. I love bacon when it is cooked with other foods (in a pasta dish, with brussel sprouts, wrapped around scallops) but don’t like it much by itself, and I find that pancakes, unless made with whipped egg whites (try it sometime; you won’t be sorry), are a waste of calories to me. They only taste good with syrup and the one time of the day that I don’t love sugar is the morning. Black coffee for me please.

When I saw the recipe in Nora Ephron’s essay, I memorized it (very simple) and decided I’d give it a try. This morning, I did.

All that’s left to say is there are now two kinds of pancakes worth every single calorie: the egg-white ones and Nora Ephron’s ricotta-egg ones.

Recipe links below.

Link to Nora Ephron’s essay, which contains the ricotta-egg recipe.

Link to recipe for egg white pancakes.

Let me know if you try the recipes and if you like them as much as I do.

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To See or Not To See

That is the question.

Whether ‘tis nobler in the mind to suffer

The knives and needles of outrageous vanity

Or choose practicality over a sea of expense and constant upkeep

And by opposing, face what is true. To age, to accept—

No more—and by accepting to say we give in

To disappearing, and the thousand natural shocks

That gray hairs beget. ‘Tis a submission

Frankly to be coveted. To age, to accept—

Oh crap. I can’t keep this up.

Shakespeare I am not.

Yet, the question remains.

Do I admit to myself that after years of being the one whom people depended upon to read the fine print on medicine bottles and the highway signs off in the distance that my age has caught up with me? Do I take the doctor’s word for it and get my first ever pair of eyeglasses when my arms remain long enough and the iPhone flashlight app is bright enough for me to continue to make out the words on menus in dimly lit restaurants? And the truth is that when traveling on unfamiliar roads, signs are no longer a necessity. Google Maps directs me perfectly. Usually.

Despite the temptation to keep the reality of my stage in life under the radar, I decided to do what had to be done. Surprisingly, shopping for glasses was sort of fun. Once I called on my friend to cheerlead for me. (She didn’t bring pom-poms but provided loads of pumped up praise.)

The order is in, the glasses arrive next week, and my ridiculous vanity is still in tact. The glasses don’t make me look older; they make me look more sophisticated. And extremely sexy.

I dare you to say otherwise.

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