Friday, June 28, 2019

A look back: June 28–July 6, 2018

Thursday, June 28:  When I had left work the previous day, I had intended to return for two more days of work before leaving town.  Consequently, there were a number of "loose ends" that needed to be dealt with before I could head to Ohio without inconveniencing others.

I also had a decision to make:  Take my minivan to Ohio, or be a bit more adventurous and drive my 21-year-old truck?

I put my suitcase (and some miscellaneous food and snacks) in the cab of the truck and headed first to work.  A variety of tasks took me about an hour to complete, and by 9:00 I was on my way to the ATM and points north.  It was not a particularly smooth journey.  Between construction and accidents, the trip would take well over 11 hours.  In southern KY, I was delayed more than an hour by both construction and rubbernecking around this horrific accident, which would delay southbound traffic for hours:

I had even planned on stopping at a particular exit (and a particular restaurant) for lunch; I didn't get there until nearly 3:30.  I was glad for the snacks.

I would spend the next nine days in Ohio with my family.

Friday, June 29–Sunday, July 1:  Family and friends were generous with food, cards, and the like.  The neighbor ladies on both sides of my father-in-law's place brought a lot of really yummy things and were genuine and kind in everything.  On both Friday and Saturday, my father-in-law gave us the key that got us into the HOA pool area.  The rule was that guests were to be accompanied by the resident with whom they were staying.  But on the one day, he allowed my wife and I to go on our own recognizance, figuring that we were well-behaved adults.

But...there was this one sneaky, upper-middle-aged woman who, under the guise of making our acquaintance, ascertained that we were not, in fact, with our "resident."  And she reported this to somebody with a modicum of authority, who emailed my father-in-law a terse message about this.  (Which is precisely what he didn't need.)  He mentioned it to one of those neighbor ladies on Sunday, and soon thereafter a more apologetic follow-up email followed.

My wife and her youngest brother wrote a really nice obituary for their mother using little more than a template found on the internet.  The funeral home was mildly, but pleasantly, surprised to learn that this task was already completed.

Monday, July 2:  This was the day of the viewing at the funeral home in Grand Rapids, OH.  We ended up spending nearly three straight hours on our feet, greeting a large number of friends and family who had nothing but kind words for us.  My parents sent flowers; our employer sent flowers; even my eldest daughter's soon-to-be-in-laws sent flowers.  Speaking of the eldest daughter, I picked her up from the Toledo Airport around noon in the convertible, after her flight from Boston.

My in-laws' church provided some food that evening—an amount far in excess of what we actually needed at that time.  We would continue to eat it gratefully for days.

Tuesday, July 3:  The funeral was held in the late morning at Bethany Baptist Church.  We were exactly three weeks away from our own 25th wedding anniversary—and our wedding was at this very same church—and it was interesting to consider how many people attended both our wedding and this funeral.  The two people who sang at the funeral had also both sung at our wedding (and did commendably both times).

Many years earlier, at the time of my mother-in-law's father's sudden death, my mother-in-law's mother bought a row of ten consecutive burial plots at the county cemetery adjacent to the church.  None but the first had yet been used.  The pallbearers and funeral home staff wheeled the casket to the edge of the parking lot, and the pallbearers simply carried it the short distance to the burial site.  A dove would be released.  (We learned later that someone almost accidentally let the dove out of its basket inside the church.)  We returned to the church for a generous and well-attended luncheon; by the time it was done, the dirt was returned to its place and all the equipment was gone.  (Side note: My own parents superintend a cemetery in Pennsylvania, so I have learned a thing or two from them.  The efficiency of the work was something I noticed despite the personal nature of it.)

The next three days were spent in relative laziness.  We helped my father-in-law with several things; my wife and sister-in-law assisted with writing a lot of thank-you cards.  Daughter #1 returned to MA on Friday, where she would serve until her return to SC on August 4.  On Saturday, July 7, we returned to South Carolina.  I'll save that trip for the next post.

Tuesday, June 25, 2019

A look back: June 25-27, 2018

Monday, June 25:  Jennifer had taken the week off work and set about trying to accomplish various things before leaving town the next day.  Daughter #2 got her official driver's license.  Preparing for the trip was, for her, the main feature of the day.  She also spent time being concerned about me.

I went to work at the usual time (there was a very large quantity of things to do, given that I had worked only parts of two days the previous week), but in the early afternoon I drove over to the oral surgeon's office to get the tube removed.  No anesthetic this time, and no more Mr. Nice Guy Surgeon, either.  He managed to shove a rubber cube into my mouth to hold my jaw open and then quickly removed the tube.  [Side note:  Nearly every dentist I have used in my adult life seems to think I can open my mouth further than I physically can.  Is this a universal phenomenon, or is it just me?]  Then it was back to work.

Tuesday, June 26:  I spent a long day at work followed by an uneventful evening at home.  Jennifer and the three kids headed to Ohio and arrived at her parents' home in the late afternoon.  Daughter #1 is still in MA working at Camp Northfield.  At this point, my plans were simple:  Since I had already planned on taking next week off for vacation, I would leave no later than Saturday to go to Ohio and rejoin the family there.

Jennifer's mom was conscious but very weak.  She was established in what the family has nicknamed the "Board Room" where she could see the TV, receive visitors, and have some privacy as needed.

I think it was on this day that I finally got back with Nathan and informed him that, yes, we had an answer for him.

Wednesday, June 27:  In a completely unrelated matter, two sisters who had attended our church for quite some time were preparing to move to NC and, as a sort of send-off, a bunch of us were going out to Culver's after our church's prayer meeting that evening.  So my plans were again simple:  Work, home for a quick supper, church, Culver's for custard.  The first two happened pretty normally.

But during the church service my phone vibrated and when I saw the call was from my wife, I immediately stepped out and took the call.  My mother-in-law had begun a sharp decline several hours earlier and now they did not anticipate she would last through the next day.  The local family was gathering at the house; our own kids, having been taken to my in-laws' church, were being summoned back.  I was asked to come to Ohio as soon as possible, and I decided to leave the next morning.

I still went to Culver's, and it seemed a little surreal to be with a happy group of friends eating yummy custard while my wife and kids were in a far different situation.

My mother-in-law passed away shortly before 11:00 p.m., surrounded by family who were singing to her when she took her final earthly breath.  We are confident that her soul went to heaven to be with her Savior.  We will meet her again.

Sunday, June 23, 2019

A look back: June 22-24, 2018

Friday, June 22:  Another sick day from work, and back to the doctor's office I went.  Once more, it was "Nurse K.", but this time, she sent me to the hospital complex to get an MRI of my head (I still don't think she had a good understanding of what was going on).  I mounted a weak argument that I shouldn't have to make a second co-pay since the first visit was essentially worthless, but lost that argument (and the $30).  A couple hours later—and still driving myself around Greenville—I arrived for the MRI.  I was also to get a blood draw.  As the young lady with the needle approached, I saw the words "Student Phlebotomist" on her nametag.  However, she did a masterful job drawing some CCs out of my arm.

The MRI revealed that the last remaining tooth on my lower left was absessed—badly—and needed to be surgically removed and cleaned out.  (The wisdom tooth in that corner of my mouth partially broke off, and the rest of it removed, about 25 years ago.  The one upshot of this was that it made removal of this absessed tooth easier.)  I got a call from the doctor's office instructing me to go to the hospital emergency room across town, where they "were waiting for me," and I would be checked in with surgery to occur the next day.

Travel bag in hand, I drove next to see my wife at work and inform her of these developments.  Some of my co-workers were mildly surprised to see me; some thought I was doing better.  I then continued my drive to the hospital emergency room, where I parked the truck and went inside.  The time was approximately three o'clock in the afternoon.

The emergency room was a zoo.  (Aside:  It appears that many people travel to the ER in packs, as there seemed to be 4-6 co-travelers with each person who seemed to be needing medical attention.  Maybe this was a cultural thing, but here I was, by myself.)  Although I brought my Kindle and something else to read, the combination of pain and impatience was rough.  It was around 6:00 when I was finally attended to by somebody with medical responsibilities, and I was shunted into some sort of triage room.  A blood sample was taken again—this time by a nurse, who mangled the job.  Somewhere after 9:00 I was moved to another "preliminary" room where I was inclined to think I would be just temporarily, before getting my anticipated hospital room.  Consequently, I sat in a chair, not bothering lying down on the bed, thinking I would trouble somebody to have to change it later.  [During this part of the experience, I noticed police were with another patient down the hall who seemed to object to his presence there.]  Bad call on my part:  I wasn't moved to a hospital room until nearly midnight, when I collapsed, tired and still in pain, shortly thereafter.  It turned out to be a miserable night's sleep, as (by my estimate) a majority of the nurses on the floor needed to visit me, at regular intervals, to ascertain some element of my health.

Interlude:  Two things would normally have been much closer to my attention this week had I not been distracted badly by my jaw.  First, while I mentioned to Jennifer that Nathan had asked about marrying our daughter, we never really "discussed" it.  And I never got back in touch with Nathan.  Second, Jennifer had been in regular communication with Ohio and was realizing that her mother's health was declining.  She had asked for time off the following entire week but had procrastinated setting a specific time to depart. 

Saturday, June 23:  Somewhere along the line I had informed Jennifer that I was having surgery this morning, and while I did not see her prior to the surgery (indeed, I hadn't seen her since I left her desk the day before), she made plans to get to the hospital.  Since our truck was in the parking lot, a couple ladies from our church brought her to the hospital so she could leave at her leisure.  Things moved at a little better pace today.  I was wheeled, bed and all, to the room where I was prepped for the surgery, and in my first adult experience with general anesthesia...

Hours later, I roused and discovered Jennifer in a chair by the bed, reading.  I also discovered a tube coming out of my neck whose purpose was apparently to drain whatever needed draining from the surgery location.  I felt better, but awkward.  A meal arrived, consisting of things not normally classified as "solids."  I ate it slowly, but heartily.  Jennifer eventually left.  Another similar meal arrived at suppertime, which was similarly eaten.  Later that evening, I realized if I swished water around in my mouth to try to remove the odd "taste" that was there, some of it would come out the tube on my neck.  So I didn't do that again.

Skill learned:  Walking around the room with an IV pole that had a device on it that was plugged into the wall.

I would learn later that Daughter #2 passed her driver's test.  By SC law, a driver's ed. teacher could administer the test and complete the paperwork, but to get the actual license, this had to be taken to the DMV.

Sunday, June 24:  After another night's sleep punctuated by regular nurse's visits, I awoke feeling better and awaiting dismissal from the hospital.  Being Sunday, my wife and kids were at church, and while she would have come and gotten me whenever I asked, the slow pace of this dismissal procedure left me wondering which would happen first:  church gets out, or I get out.  After receiving paperwork and some prescription pain meds, I was dismissed shortly before noon; the next 45 minutes or so were spent on a bench outside the main doors reading the newspaper.

I came home and plans were discussed.  Jennifer would leave for Ohio on Tuesday rather than Monday, and would take the children.  Monday would be spent taking our daughter to DMV and attending to a variety of other "things you have to do before leaving town on short notice."  I would be going back to the oral surgeon—this time at his office—to have the tube removed on Monday afternoon.  I was told this would take about 15-20 minutes.  I would also plan to go to work on Monday, since I was already feeling a lot better.

I actually went to the Sunday evening service, even with this gauze-covered tube-thing on my neck, which elicited a nice amount of sympathy.  I didn't bother dressing up to my usual Sunday standard and sat in the back.  I also didn't play my cornet, either; the thought alone stimulated pain at that point in the recovery.

Thursday, June 20, 2019

A look back: June 19–21, 2018

Tuesday, June 19:  Due to my very late bedtime and a poor night's sleep due to the jaw pain, I slept in and reported to work sometime after 9:00 (or maybe it was 9:30).  The pain continued to worsen and I left work early.  I decided if it didn't improve soon, I would be heading to the doctor's office.

At this point at work, we were dealing with a lot of looming deadlines and my upcoming vacation, so I really didn't want to miss time.'s hard to work when you're in pain.

Jennifer and I began discussing potential travel plans to Ohio.

Wednesday, June 20:  No improvement, so I went to the doctor's office.  I did not see a doctor, however; I got a nurse practitioner.  (I will not name her here, aside from the pseudonym "Nurse K.")  After a cursory examination, Nurse K. declined to prescribe any medication and suggested—quite seriously—that I buy some sour candy and suck on it, as that could probably help.  So I tried dealing with my pain by sucking on lemon drops.  Predictably, it didn't work.  Although I made it to work closer to the starting time that day, I again left work early and wallowed in my misery at home.

Thursday, June 21:  The pain was even worse, so I took a sick day.

The original vacation plans we had that year were to allow our son to spend the week from 6/23 to 6/30 with my parents in Pennsylvania.  We would travel to PA on 6/30, spend a few days there, take our son and head to OH, spend a few more days there, and then come home.  We would drop off our second daughter at Camp Peniel, where she would be working for two weeks, on that trip home.  By this time, we realized getting our son to Pennsylvania was unlikely and we canceled that aspect of the trip.

At this point we were leaning toward Jennifer taking time off from work and taking at least some of the kids with her to her parents' home, leaving most likely on Monday, 6/25.  But for reasons already in place, Daughter #2 needed to take her driver's license test before she left town.

And I was leaning toward calling the doctor's office first thing in the morning if improvement didn't occur.

Tuesday, June 18, 2019

A look back: June 16-18, 2018

Last year, the second half of the month of June was a very eventful one in our family—and not all those events were happy ones.  I am writing this recollection now for future reference.

Saturday, June 16:  Today my daughter Katherine, her boyfriend Nathan, and I began a trip to Northfield, MA, to deliver Katherine to Camp Northfield, where she was to serve for the next several weeks.  Due to the nearly 2,000-mile round trip and the three-day time frame, Nathan was invited to join me to help with the driving.  I let Katherine drive the opening leg of the journey.  Nathan looked very nervous in construction zones.

This first day took us all the way to my parents' home in Highspire, PA.  The trip was relatively smooth, and after a very yummy dinner and pleasant evening, Katherine stayed the night there while Nathan and I drove out to my uncle's house to spend the night there.  We stayed up and talked for awhile, then retired.

Funny story:  I explained to Nathan while we were on the road how my mother likes corn but not peas, while my father likes peas but not corn.  Consequently, formal meals commonly include both peas and corn.  Which is precisely what happened that evening.

Sunday, June 17:  We picked up Katherine and her stuff and attended the early service and Sunday school at Emmanuel Baptist Church in Mechanicsburg.  I had been there two weeks earlier (part of a work trip to a convention in Lancaster), so I was almost becoming a regular visitor.  We then left directly from there and drove to the camp in Massachusetts, arriving around suppertime.  Aside from the camp director and his family, there was nobody around, so we crossed the very-close-by state line and drove to a Friendly's restaurant in Keene, NH, about 20 minutes away.  We also fueled the car and picked up the next morning's breakfast.

Upon arriving back at the camp, we settled in and then played with some of the games in their main hall.  Then my wife called.  I stepped outside (cell service in the area was weak) and was informed that the doctors informed my mother-in-law that her cancer was beyond control and that her time on earth was approaching a close.  I did not tell Katherine the entire grim news but let her know that things were getting worse.  I privately informed the camp director that there would be a possibility that Katherine might need to spend some time with family later in the summer, so that he would not be surprised.

Nathan and I slept in a room from whose windows we could see three states: MA, VT, and NH (through the trees).  The northern boundary of the camp is literally on the state line with NH.  Those hills in the distance are Vermont.

Monday, June 18:  To the best of my knowledge, I have never traversed so many miles in a car in any single day of my life, as Nathan and I drove all the way back to Taylors, SC, from the camp.

We left before 7:00.  Within minutes we were on the interstate and before we were to the next exit, Nathan opened his mouth and asked if he could marry Katherine.  (I suspected this possibility all along but didn't expect it quite so early in the morning.)  I told him that, as a courtesy to my wife, I should discuss it with her before giving a formal answer, but that we anticipated the question.  We had a lengthy discussion of important topics and—without Katherine's knowledge—set her wedding date for the following May 11.  The first four hours of the trip passed quite quickly.

We traveled around 950 miles that day with only four stops, changing drivers each time.  We got gas again near Scranton, stopped in Carlisle to eat lunch with my brother Peter at a Firehouse Subs, gassed up again somewhere in VA, and then ate an evening meal (if I remember correctly) at the Arby's at Exit 98 on I-81.  The conversation waned through the day, but we made good time and had few traffic issues.  By the time we got to SC, we were listening to CD's of stories Nathan had recorded.

Part of the reason the conversation waned was that I was feeling an increasingly intense pain in the lower-left part of my jaw as the day continued.  I had brought some ibuprofen (or was it acetaminophen?) and started taking them.  I had something similar in my jaw a few months earlier, but after several days and some pills it went away.  I was hopeful this would go away just as easily.  It wouldn't.