So I’m starting this story in the middle, because that’s where we are. The beginning was last June, when I received a breast cancer diagnosis the day before our first wedding anniversary. Don’t get me started on that, or the hot pink “My Cancer Journey” binder handed to me by a nurse practitioner whose job it was to deliver the news, or my compelling urge to hit her over the head with the binder. There’s plenty to say, but I’m not yet sure what or how. So let’s cut to the middle.
“All you have to do is show up,” Dr. Goodson advised, and I took his words to heart. I spent last summer and fall showing up at medical events of one kind or another: consultations with some of the best doctors in the bay area; space-age experimental chemotherapy treatments in a clinical trial at Stanford; festive fund-raising walks featuring marching bands playing funeral songs; diagnostic adventures involving radioactive beverages and getting shoved through claustrophobia tubes; tearful yet ultimately hopeful hairdresser appointments. Showing up was enabled by an amazing support team of helpful friends and relatives—more about that later, too.
After four months of chemotherapy, I showed up just before Thanksgiving at Davies Medical Center for lumpectomy surgery-with-a-bonus. A few days earlier I’d broken my pinkie finger tripping on a badly-maintained sidewalk in Miami, where my husband Sam and I were promoting our book and performing with the Rock Bottom Remainders. I entered the operating room wearing a splendid paper hospital gown with a blow-dryer-type attachment to keep it toasty warm and my swollen, throbbing, purple hand (hint: turns out it’s not true that “if you can move it, it isn’t broken”). Sam and my step-daughter Laura were there, and the last thing I remember before I got wheeled off to surgery was how much they looked like a couple of people who needed coffee. The next thing I remember was waking up, sort of. I say “sort of” because I had been given enough narcotics to stun a baby rhinoceros.
I am apparently quite entertaining on narcotics.
Here’s the thing: I suddenly had a huge white thing on my hand, and had a moment or two of confusion over whether the doctors had performed surgery on the wrong part of the wrong person. In time I realized they’d thrown in a helpful remedy for my broken finger while doing that other little procedure, but imagine going in for a lumpectomy and coming with a heavy bandage on your hand reaching nearly to the elbow. You might be a little confused, too. Apparently I nodded off several times, and each time when I came back to consciousness I would look at my hand with renewed bewilderment.
“They put a splint on your broken pinkie,” Sam and Laura would explain again and again. Eventually I got used to this and named the cast “Mister Winky” (later at home I asked my daughter-in-law Marissa to adorn it with a cartoon face). I can’t tell you why, but I think narcotics were somehow involved.
Then there was my enthusiasm for 17-year-old Laura’s amazing vocabulary. Whenever she said anything, such as “I have a lot of homework” or “Where’s the bathroom?” I exclaimed over her vivid and sophisticated sentence structure. “She says the best sentences!” I gushed to the nurses, over and over again. “Yes, dear,” they answered, as they pumped more morphine into the IV.
Finally, it was time to go home. But before I could leave I had to prove I could hold food down in order to qualify for the next whopping dose of painkillers I’d likely need in a few hours. Someone gave me saltines. I couldn’t eat them. Finally a deal was struck. Sam promised the nurse he would withhold the drugs until I’d proven I could eat, and they let me go. Goodbye, exotic morphine. Hello, boring vicodin.
“What would you like for dinner?” Sam asked on the way home. “How about some soup? A chicken from the deli? Chinese takeout?” he asked, naming our household regulars. “Or I could make you some toast.”
“Hey,” Laura piped up, “how about if we roll the Vicodin up in a piece of toast? Like when you have to feed medicine to your pet.”
“That girl comes up with the best sentences,” I sighed.
“Sweetheart,” said Sam, “you have to eat something. Really—how does toast sound?”
“I don’t feel like eating, but hey!” I cried. “We could apply the toast directly to my incision! That will do the trick.” Eliminating the middle-man seemed like a brilliant idea. The gales of laughter in response to my brainstorm lasted until we got home.
This blog is called “Kathi’s great ideas” for a reason. Who else brings you recipes for Manichewitz Jello shots AND points out the need for large-print shampoo bottles? If I do say so myself, I have a lot of great ideas. I truly believe that the world would be a better place if more of my ideas were adopted by the general populace, or at least by the people who make Jewish holiday treats and/or shampoo bottles.
But sometimes a great idea doesn’t have to do anything more than amuse your family during a stressful time. And sometimes that’s way more than good enough for me.