A Day in the Life

I started writing this a couple of days ago. This morning, thanks to the wonders of technology, I lost everything I had written. It’s very frustrating. It’s like unto spending hours talking your date into going to bed with you, and the moment she starts taking off her clothes, her kid walks in and says he needs a glass of water.

Okay. That’s probably a lots worse than losing my blog installment.

I almost decided to quit writing forever, and then I decided to quit acting like a Borderline and quit crying, and get back to work. It’ll be interesting to see how much my fractured mind can remember of the stuff I had already written.

* * * *

The rainy season is in full force here in the Lakeside Area. Las montañas de chino resemble heads of broccoli once again. Everything is green, lush and growing. It’s probably the most beautiful time of the year to be here.

After nine years of living in the Arizona desert, I love watching the storms rumble in. I’m still enchanted by rain. Yep, I’m very easily entertained.

But the rainy season is not without its drawbacks. The roads here essentially become rivers in a heavy downpour, especially on the mountainsides. The cobblestone roads are never in great shape, and rainfall doesn’t do anything to improve their condition. Potholes doesn’t begin to describe some of the craters that have emerged.

The rains also have effected a change on the conditions on the golf course. In the dry season you get a much more friendly roll, if you know what I mean. Even on a bad shot you can get an extra fifty yards. In the rainy season the Velcro grass grows thick and grabs your ball, more or less holding it hostage. Without a ransom demand. I’ve added one or two strokes per hole because the golf course suddenly has something like unto a goalie helping to impede your shots.

Neither my new and improved golf clubs nor my magic golf shoes have been effective tools against the prolific flora spawned by the seasonal Mexican rains. I’ve been a bit dismayed by this. Prior to becoming the epitome of suckdom, I had fired off the three best consecutive rounds of my life. A 45, and back-to-back 48’s. And I almost shot a hole in one. I thought I had figured out this golf thing once and for all.

You know what? I started thinking I was good. Well, at the very least, not as bad as I used to be. I should know better by now. Pride always goeth before a fall.

On Sunday, I worked up a sweat on the driving range. I haven’t been on la platforma de practica in months, but I went out to practice because I’ve pretty much sucked from start to finish the last couple of times I’ve golfed.

The weird thing was most of my shots on the driving range didn’t suck! I was killing it out there. My drives were long, and straight for the most part. My chip shots had arc and trajectory, and landed on or near the green. I actually looked like, you know, I knew what I was fucking doing with a golf club in my hand.

Go figure.

This is apparently a very common problem for most of the retired gringos at the Country Club de Chapala, which probably helps to explain the high volume of alcohol sales in the clubhouse after a round of golf. Everyone I talked to Sunday said that they sucked at golf, too. I think they were trying to tell me to get over it. And possibly to have a beer.

Golf, perhaps more than any other athletic endeavor, requires a tricksy set of skills. Strength, concentration, precision, finesse, and something nebulous called touch. And sometimes you need all of those things, plus luck, just to make one shot.

No wonder golfers drink.

Hell, if I were to ask Tiger Woods, he’d probably say, “Dude, sometimes I suck at golf. And I’m Tiger Woods!”

I’ve started imagining God talking to Jesus, telling Jesus that his earthly ministry was to invent golf and teach everyone in Judea how to play. And this is how Jesus responded: “Oy vey, what do you think I am? Meshugana? Just crucify me and get it over with!”

I went golfing with my golf wife today. If it’s true that misery loves company, we have the market cornered. Phyllis has also been suffering from a golfing slump. Her best shots of late have been coming out of the trees that line some of the fairways. Granted, it takes a pretty lousy shot to get into the trees, but her recovery shots have been nothing short of brilliant.

Where’s there’s a problem, there’s always a solution. Phyllis and I have decided to go to one of the golf shops in Guadalajara. Maybe we’ll buy a couple of more better gooder clubs. It can’t hurt. Right?

I wonder if there’s a Twelve Step program for golf…

* * * *

As an aside, Phyllis and Lea were talking about me the other day, and Phyllis said, “Don’t get me wrong. I love Mark dearly, but sometimes he’s just so oblivious.”

I didn’t dispute Phyllis’ assessment when Lea told me. But I was curious about what she meant by it. “Oh, you’re kind of in your own world, and you’re just so chill.” That’s how Lea interpreted it. And yes, my lovely, super conservative, supermodel wife called me chill. I couldn’t believe it. Lea has gone gangsta. 

The only thing I can think of that’s funnier is listening to Queen Elizabeth rap.

* * * *

The rains have also impacted the population of the hummingbirds that my lovely supermodel wife has taken under her wing, so to speak. Hummingbirds are migratory. Apparently, they aren’t big fans of the rainy season here, so they go somewhere else in July.

We had about four birds at our feeder at the beginning of the year. Then the population jumped to four thousand when Lea’s boyfriend came to visit in April; we hung another feeder. And then it exploded to four hundred million after Todd returned to Idaho in May, and we added a third feeder.

We’re down to maybe forty birds now, and two feeders. Hummingbirds are territorial little bastards. One of them has claimed overlordship of one of the feeders, but he’s not badass enough to control them both. Hence, two feeders. It’s kind of a relief. Even Lea feels that way. It’s kind of a full-time job keeping the feeders filled when the ravaging horde is in town.

* * * *

Speaking of my lovely supermodel wife, Lea mysteriously injured her left wrist a couple of months ago. With a normal injury, you know how you hurt yourself. It hurts like hell for a few days then gradually gets better.

It’s been the reverse for Lea. She woke up with a vague ache in her wrist, and a month later she was in agony. She went to see our doctor, Carlos García Díaz del Castillo. That’s his real name. He’s probably the descendant of a Spanish conquistador. He’s an affable guy. I’m not sure how skilled he is as a doctor, but the people here either love him or hate him, so there’s that.

When Lea went in to see him for the first time about her wrist Dr Garcia ordered a boatload of labs, and he had her wrist x-rayed. As you might know, coming up with a diagnosis is basically a process of ruling shit out until you can rule something in. Injury is the usual suspect in a situation like this, however, there was no identifiable injury. Just in cases, she started wearing a brace on her left wrist to minimize any further aggravation.

Lea’s situation has given me the opportunity to think like a real nurse again, so that’s been kind of fun. Most doctors aren’t interested in hearing what you think is wrong with you, like they’re so goddamn smart or something.

The radiologist who interpreted Lea’s x-rays saw signs of inflammation consistent with a sprain. Dr Garcia hasn’t offered an opinion, other than he doesn’t have any idea what’s going on yet. He seems confident that he’ll figure it out.

He started her on a combination medication of a corticosteroid, an NSAID, and a muscle relaxer. The medication made Lea’s wrist feel a lots better, but the side effects were hell.

Lea couldn’t sleep. She was hyperactive, hyperreflexic, and irritable. She stopped taking it after one week, thank God, and went back to Dr Garcia. El medico Garcia wasn’t pleased with this, but he understood. He switched Lea to a COX-2 inhibitor.

COX-2 inhibitors are used to treat rheumatoid arthritis. Lea’s lab results showed an elevated SED rate, which indicates an inflammatory process, and a slightly elevated rheumatoid factor. Maybe it was arthritis…

Lea is sixtysomething. She’s going to read this someday, and I’m not in a big hurry to die. Arthritis is commonly associated with aging. In addition, Lea has fractured her left wrist before. Twice, to be exact. Arthritis has a real affinity for joints that have been previously injured.

Little Known Fact About Rheumatoid Arthritis: it’s an autoimmune disease. If you don’t know what that means, look it up on the Interweb. Little Known Fact About My Lovely Supermodel Wife: Lea has Crohn’s Disease. It’s also an autoimmune disease. One autoimmune disease can trigger another. So this possible diagnosis and treatment actually made sense.

There were only two problems. It was only her left wrist. Rheumatoid Arthritis is more of a systematic inflammation. It’s more likely that all of her joints would have hurt. Additionally, Lea’s Crohn’s Disease has remained quiescent. That’s not very probable. And the second thing was the COX-2 inhibitor didn’t work. So, it couldn’t be arthritis.

Lea went back to see Dr Garcia a third time. He put her on a stronger NSAID and an anti-inflammatory drug used to treat malaria. And he gave her a cortisone injection, not in her wrist, in her hip.

I’ve seen crazier things. In cases of extreme psychosis we sometimes administered a drug usually prescribed to treat leprosy. And it worked! I am confused by the injection. I’ve never heard of it being administered like that before.

And then I came up with this brilliant diagnosis. Lea has a bone spur, or bone spurs, in her wrist. It was a localized reaction, and it has gotten progressively worse over time. There’s only one problem with my diagnosis. There were no bone spurs visible on her x-rays.

A CT scan would provide better imaging. An MRI would be even better. And if we need to get one, there are facilities in Guadalajara we could go to. And she made an appointment to see an orthopedic specialist at Dr Garcia’s clinic. Maybe he’ll have a better idea of what’s going on…

* * * *

In a few months I will have been retired for two years. I’ve had ample time to reflect on my career, the good and the bad of it. The few successes I’ve had don’t bring me much joy or satisfaction. The failures I’ve had still make me uncomfortable. A couple of them will haunt me until the day I got dead. Possibly longer.

Can a ghost be haunted? There’s a philosophical question for you.

And I contemplate on my life. If I were intuitive, I could probably have skipped this altogether. But, I’m not, so…

I said earlier that my mind was fractured. That is one of the most truthful things I’ve ever said about myself. It’s probably the biggest reason why I’m so oblivious most of the time. I’m not sure that I live in my own little world. I think I spend a great deal of time making sure I don’t fall into the cracks in my mind.

It’s a fairly chaotic mess in there most of the time.

It’s possible that I’m becoming crazier, and by crazier I mean saner. My thoughts are probably becoming more linear and possibly more logical. I don’t have to try to get into the head of a crazy person to try to figure out the best way to help them anymore. I just have to try to stay out of my head.

My patients used to tell me they thought they were going crazy. And I had an answer for them: Only a sane person questions their sanity. I believe that statement to be true. Really crazy people don’t think there’s anything wrong with them. It’s everyone else that has a problem.

I wouldn’t go so far to say that I had to make life or death decisions on a daily basis, but I was frequently faced with decisions where the safety of others was at stake. Those decisions had to be made quickly and decisively.

The only urgency I feel now is if I’m playing too slowly on the golf course and I let the group behind me play through. My life has become so simple that it astonishes me. I don’t miss my work life, but it’s possible that I’m starting to want more out of my retirement life.

Or maybe I just need new golf clubs.

Till We Get the Healing Done

If you’ve never listened to the above album, I highly recommend it. Good stuff. The title of this post is one of the songs on the album.

* * * *

I’ve said something like unto this in many of my posts, I fell in love with her the moment I saw her. And while that is true on a superficial level, I’ve been a victim of the total agony of love only three times in my life.

Apparently that adage about the third time being the charm is true. Lea was the third of my deep loves. Maureen was the first. There was a second gal I might write about someday, we’ll see…

My lovely supermodel wife and I have been together for almost three decades, but there was a time when we almost didn’t make it.

It happened in 1995. We had survived our vacation from Hell in April. Lea had survived abdominal surgery #4 the year before, but she ended up having an ileostomy with an external pouch. That small, but enormous, detail changed everything in my wife’s world.

She fucking hated it and everything about it. She never felt comfortable with the external pouch, and it showed. She almost always looked tense and tightly wrapped, and she had been like that before she had anything to worry about. My lovely supermodel wife took it to a new level, and her self image was altered on a level even I couldn’t comprehend.

By chance, she saw a very small advertisement in the Sunday newspaper about the Barnett Continent Intestinal Reservoir, and decided to go to the seminar. After that, she was a woman on a mission.

The BCIR is a surgically created internal pouch. Google it if you need more information. I’m pretty sure that’s what I had to do, but the bottom line is if she had this surgery, her external pouch would be replaced by an internal pouch made out of a portion of her small bowel. There are only a few hospitals in the United States that perform the procedure. Lea’s gastroenterologist was more than happy to write a referral for her. Then she took on our healthcare insurance company.

Our insurance company thought it was an elective surgery, but Lea was able to convince them it wasn’t just a cosmetic surgery in her case, and she had recommendations from her her doctor and her employer backing her up. For all I know, Lea is the only person that has ever achieved this. Blue Cross/Blue Shield finally agreed to foot the bill and they covered the entire procedure.

All. Of. It. And it wasn’t cheap.

Lea’s boss was far more supportive of her than my horrible boss would ever be. He went to bat for her to help get the insurance company on board, and he approved the month she’d need off for her surgery, and an additional two months for recovery and rehab without so much as a blink.

The BCIR people expected anyone having their very specialized surgery to bring one support person along for the ride, so to speak. In lieu of me, our darling daughter, Abigail, flew to Florida with her mother to be at her side during the surgery and recovery program. They would be in St Petersburg, FL for three weeks in August.

* * * *

It wasn’t the three weeks apart that was the last straw. It wasn’t even another surgery. Lea appeared to be stabilizing from her lengthy major flare up of Crohn’s disease, and it was slowly becoming quiescent. But…  She had appeared to improve in the past, only to take two or three steps back each time.

My buddy, Dan, was working a job in the Twin Cities area at that time, and he crashed at our house during the week, and drove home for the weekends. We spent most evenings while my wife and daughter were out of town drinking beer and talking about guy stuff. And even our discussions weren’t what pushed me over the edge.

Dan is my friend, and a good guy, but he didn’t understand the disease or its pathology. Nor was he in love with my wife anywhere near as much as I was. But he could probably see how worn out I was better than I could. He mostly wanted to see me happy again.  So, we drank and joked and laughed, and I have to admit, it felt really good just to be able to do that.

I would turn forty in 1995. In a previous post I stated that my drinking problem started becoming more of a problem when I turned forty, and five years later it would be totally out of control. I cannot discount my alcohol abuse as a factor in my mindset, as much as I would like to. But neither can I blame everything on it, although that would make the rest of this story so much easier.

For three years Lea’s illness tore up our lives, much like it tore up her body. She almost died at least three times, if not more. We had somehow gotten through the worst Crohn’s could throw at us, and we were both still standing, if barely.

Lea was getting better, maybe, hopefully, possibly, probably–I was afraid to think anything would ever get better on the offhand chance that thinking it would jinx everything, and we’d have to start all over again. For all I know, Lea was equally spooked and gun-shy. I can’t imagine she felt any different than I did in this regard.

The simple truth was this: I was completely exhausted from three years of essentially neverending high stress levels, living in two hospitals and visiting our house, and wondering if this was the time that her illness would win out and claim another victim.

I hadn’t run out of love for my wife. I’d run out of everything else.

* * * *

I was actually relieved that I didn’t have to go to Florida with Lea. We talked every day, and she gave me daily status updates. The surgery went as smoothly as it could. She had never had such effective post-op pain control in her life. The nurses were as good as the nurses at Fairview Medical Center, or better. She was in good hands, she was doing as more better gooder as anyone could expect, and I felt like I could relax for the first time in three years.

The only thing that wasn’t perfect was the hurricane that was going to hit Florida while Lea and Abi were there. I had never been in an hurricane, and I was disappointed I wouldn’t be able to see that.

Hurricanes don’t make it to Minnesota. Remnants of hurricanes did make it to the Phoenix area while we were there, but the remnant of a hurricane is a rainstorm, and I’ve seen plenty of those in my lifetime. I doubt I’ll encounter an hurricane down here in the Lakeside area.

Lea said it was a pretty uneventful event to her. The hospital was constructed to withstand the winds of an hurricane; neither she nor Abi were in any real danger, but just in cases the staff were ready to evacuate everyone at a moment’s notice. Lea said she’d never seen rain like that before in her life. Abi mostly slept through Hurricane Erin.

The rest of Lea’s hospitalization went smoothly, and my girls came back home.

* * * *

I’m sure my memories of this aren’t completely clear, mostly because I don’t want to remember it. I’ve asked my wife to help fill in the blanks in my memory. It seems to me that within a couple of days of returning to Minnesota, Lea was back in the hospital.

That, was the last straw for me.

I made an appointment with a divorce attorney. His initial consultation was free, and he said it was always easier to try to work things out with your spouse than to get a divorce. Lea had owned our house before we got married, and she would keep the house if we didn’t stay married. He told me to seriously think it through, and to contact him again if I needed him.

Then I drove to the hospital to tell my wife I wanted a divorce.

* * * *

I really had no idea what I was going say. In the first two times I’d been deeply in love, it wasn’t my idea to end the relationship. And I was beyond conflicted regarding my intentions with Lea. We weren’t just in a relationship, we’d been married for almost seven years.

Not only that, I was her mother’s angel, and by default, I had become her father’s angel, too. That’s not the kind of thing you just blithely walk away from.

We had survived three years of pretty much living hell, life and death, endless illness and hospitalizations. It’s possible Lea checked herself into the hospital when she returned home because it was probably the safest place in the world for her. I have no doubt–even though she was improving and she’d just had a surgery that would greatly improve her life–she was scared out of her mind.

To this day, I am amazed and humbled by the dignity and grace she demonstrated when she was so incredibly ill. I know I could never have done that. Lea’s nurses loved her. If our positions had been switched, my nurses probably would’ve thrown me down the stairwell.

Nonetheless, I informed my lovely supermodel wife I had met with a divorce attorney. It wasn’t that I didn’t love her, I just couldn’t live on the edge anymore.

Lea was probably surprised, but I think there was also a part of her that had been expecting something like unto it. Women are spooky that way. She cried a little, but mostly we talked. She regrouped quickly and gave me an option I hadn’t considered.

“Give me six months. I’ll either conquer this, or it’ll kill me. But give me that much time, and then decide what you want to do. Give me six months. If you still want a divorce then, I won’t even fight you.”

Writing this, it seems like a pretty good option to me, and I probably jumped at it as an acceptable alternative to divorce and being homeless. I didn’t really want to get a divorce, I just wanted something like my life, and my wife, back. However, at the time I didn’t think I’d have either.

Lea says I rejected her option. And left. She called her dad and told him what happened and cried on the phone for hours. As emotionally distant as Dave was, I can only imagine his response. Lea says he didn’t have any idea what to say or do.

I have no problem believing that part of her story. Dave was the Mount Everest of emotional isolation. Not even Tenzing Norgay would’ve been willing to scale that emotional wilderness.

It was probably one of the worst nights either of us had to endure. Lea probably cried herself to sleep. I’m not sure I slept. But when I went to the hospital the next day I gave her an option that must have come to me in the middle of the night.

“I can’t watch you die anymore, but I’ll give you three months.”

I had no hope I could last that long. I had no hope she would either.

* * * *

In retrospect, this is one example of God answering prayers in His perfect time. When hope fades, and all else is crumbling around you, God remains. Lea was released from the hospital. It would be the last time she was admitted for a Crohn’s related inflammatory process.

I’m not sure that was a miracle, or if the beast in her belly had finally worn itself out. But either way, our prayers were heard, and answered.

The worst three years of our lives had ended without fanfare. Even if there had been fanfare, I doubt I would’ve believed it. It would probably take me at least a year, or more, to relax and stop waiting for any more shoes to drop. I think when this chapter of our lives finally closed forever, it felt like I’d been hit by Imelda Marcos’ entire shoe closet.

Lea’s been hospitalized for other reasons, mostly blood transfusions secondary to incredibly low hemoglobin levels. Lea’s gut is kind of like unto the Kīlauea volcano, she’s more or less constantly oozing blood, and it’s something that needs to be monitored even today. But the beast in her belly had finally run its course, and while it has reared its head from time to time, it has never tried to devour her from the inside out since 1995.

Flash forward twenty-two years. We’re still together. We can’t imagine our lives any other way. And that BCIR thing Lea fought so hard for, it was worth it. It would’ve been worth it if we had had to pay twice the amount our insurance company did ourselves. It’s made an huge difference in Lea’s life. I’m not sure how she would’ve recovered to the extent she has without it.

Thank you, honey, for giving me an option that was brilliant on the level of something that only a genius could’ve come up with. Thank you for staying with me when I totally lost it and tried drinking myself into a coma. Thank you for supporting me when I finally decided to get a grip and face my demons.

It’s been mostly sweet, and you were the sweetest of all. I wish we’d have another thirty years together.

Andy

Before I get started, a couple of things.

I need to fill in the back story about my lovely supermodel wife’s family dynamics before she shoves a garden hose down my dick and makes me cry a lots.

As you may know, my wife is the baby of her family. Her sister, Leslie, is eight years older than her. There was a brother in between them, David.

He killed himself when he was twelve.

Leslie and Lea were never best friends when they were young, simply because of their age difference. Leslie was more of a surrogate mother to her little sister than she was a friend, or even a sister.

I’ve made some references to the fact that my father-in-law wasn’t any easy man to like. He had a short fuse on his temper, and was prone to fits of rage, which I attribute to his untreated PTSD.

Dave had mellowed somewhat with age by the time I met him, but my wife told me stories about what he used to be like, back when she was a girl. Dave was downright mean and scary. He yelled and shouted, a lots. He broke stuff, on purpose. And he punched people, mostly his wife. And his son.

My parents spanked my ass a lots when I was young, but that was the extent of their discipline when I acted out.

Young David probably wouldn’t have dared to act out. A simple mistake would result in a beating. The penalty for intentionally misbehaving might well be death. And that’s probably what led to his decision to take his life at the tender age of twelve.

Lea and her family were living in Cannon Falls, MN when it happened. Dave and Wanda had gone to work. Leslie was fourteen at the time. David was twelve, and Lea was six. I can’t remember the circumstances, but they were all at home on that winter’s day.

The kids were horsing around as kids will do, and as is often the case, a piece of furniture sustained some damage in the process. The coffee table in the living room. It took me at least fifteen years of almost begging before Lea agreed to let me buy the table we now have in our living room.

David knew what was going to happen when his father got home, and decided he couldn’t take one more beating. He got his .22 rifle out of the closet, loaded it, and pointed the barrel at his head.

Lea sat next to her brother on the couch and pleaded with him to stop. Leslie stood on the far side of the room and said nothing, watching.

I didn’t think he’d actually do it, she would say during the one and only time I remember the sisters discussing what had happened in my presence.

And I knew he would, was Lea’s response.

I can see her, almost as if I had been there myself, a terrified little girl running through the snow in stocking feet, running down the street to flag down the first passing motorist she saw, tears running down her face.

And there was blood.

I may have fallen in love with Lea the first time I saw her, but it was the stories she told that sealed the deal for me. That she could pass through a fire so immense, a storm of such intensity, and survive…

* * * *

When viewed from this perspective, the weird dynamics of Lea’s family don’t look quite as weird. The fact they had any dynamics is probably some kind of miracle.

I would be remiss if I failed to mention while my wife was fighting her lengthy battle with Crohn’s disease, Leslie was also fighting for her life against a different opponent. Breast cancer.

Those Covington girls. You don’t want to mess with them. They are survivors, and so much more.

Lea and Leslie have grown much closer since the death of their mother, and father. They’ll never be best friends, and they both know that, and they are both at peace with that. But they are sisters now, and they call each other from time to time.

We used to go Bill and Leslie’s farm on a semi-frequent basis before they sold it, and before we moved to Arizona, then to Mexico.

Bill and Leslie came to visit us once in Arizona. I hope Bill and Leslie decide to visit us down here in the beautiful Lakeside area someday.

I can show Bill where the goats live.

* * * *

Okay. Where was I?

This happens to me more than I would like to admit. Last night, I walked into the bedroom to help Lea turn down the bed, and I forgot why I went into the bedroom before I got there. I went into my closet and started changing into my pajamas.

“Hey! Aren’t you going to help me?” Lea asked. So I went back to the bedroom to help with the bed, then forgot I had been changing into my pajamas.

So. Where was I?

Oh yes. I had helped my lovely supermodel wife escape from the local hospital where my father-in-law lived, down in the bottom of Texas. She had survived her bout of the Philadelphia flu, and she had survived the doctor who couldn’t believe she had Crohn’s disease, despite the fact she’d had four major abdominal surgeries, an ileostomy, and least two doctors in Minnesota that didn’t have any questions about her diagnosis. And she had also survived the fat slob of a nurse who had been too busy to take care of her.

There would be no adverse reactions for Lea from sneaking barefooted out the front door of the hospital in broad daylight, wearing little more than an hospital gown. Once the stomach flu passed, all she needed was her regularly scheduled meds at the times she was supposed to regularly receive them, and Lea could do that without any assistance from anyone.

Lea told her family what had happened to her during her brief but endless stay at the hospital while I more or less told the hospital administrator to go fuck himself, and then it was Leslie’s turn.

She also had a story to tell.

At the time my wife started feeling the first assault of the Philadelphia flu, my sister-in-law had been on the phone with her husband, Bill, the man who would unintentionally infect us all with the GI bug he had picked up on his last business trip to the City of Brotherly Love.

I’m not sure just where in the world Bill was when he called, but he wasn’t on the farm in Wisconsin anymore. And that was why he had called. Something had gone terribly wrong, back on the farm.

And that something was Leslie’s once cute miniature horse, Andy, whom was no longer cute, nor even remotely miniature anymore.

Andy had inexplicably morphed out of being a darlingpreshadorbs little horse about the size of one them Buttweiler dogs, into a bad tempered teenaged mutant medium-sized thug of a horse. Andy grown to roughly the size of an adult deer, and probably weighed close to three hundred pounds. And to prove how much of a badass he’d become, Andy had killed a goat just before we jumped in the car to start our trek to the bottom of Texas.

Bill figured Andy’s sudden behavioral changes could be attributed to the fact that he was transitioning from a colt into an young stallion. What Andy needed was the calming presence of an older father figure horse that could kick his ass when he got too boisterous. Or, he needed his balls cut off.

Unfortunately, there was no such horse living at Pfaff’s Happy Acres, just a bunch of dwarf goats, and they were clearly no match for Andy when he decided he wanted to be a bully. Nor was there any time to have Andy gelded. Bill was a business consultant, and he had consulting to do.

Bill had made arrangements with one his neighbors down the road. They had a teenage farmer’s daughter, I’ll call her Muffy, who was on spring break from college or something, and for a few dollars a day she would swing by the farm and take care of the tiny goats and the mutant miniature horse, and the cats that lived in the barn, and the mangy looking dog Bill had adopted.

It was only for a week. Bill would be back on the farm on Friday or Saturday night.

I don’t think I ever met Muffy, but just because I can do this, let’s say Muffy looked like Christina Aguilera, back when she was a genie in a bottle. And because Muffy was so cute and adorable, Bill warned her in all seriousness to be careful around Andy, given his predilection for unpredictable behavior.

That last part really did happen. And then Bill flew off to go take care of business.

Earlier on the day that Bill called, as Team Covington was returning from Mexico, Andy had somehow gotten out of his pen in Wisconsin, and had trotted down the driveway into the road. And he decided he would claim that part of the road as his own.

There wasn’t a whole lots of traffic on the road that ran past the farm, but there was some, and on that day, a school bus full of students needed to drive past Pfaff’s Happy Acres to drop off some kids a bit further down the road.

But in the middle of the road, stood a horse. It’s not an uncommon occurrence in the country. Livestock get out of their pens all the time, and the locals know how to deal with it. The bus driver honked the horn, that usually worked, but Andy shook his head and stood his ground.

As in all small towns, the bus driver knew Bill and Leslie, and everyone else up and down their road for that matter. She told her passengers to stay on the bus, then went out to put Andy back in his pen. She was a middle aged country gal, and she knew how to handle large farm animals.

Andy allowed her to walk up to him and grab his halter, and he even cooperated with her when she started leading him back to his pen.

And then, he changed his mind. Andy had evidently grown tired of the whole domesticated horse thing, and decided to become a lion, a tiger and a bear, all at once. And he became fierce!

I’m a little uncertain about the details, but Andy knocked the lady bus driver off her feet, then tossed her around a little as she struggled to regain her footing and keep her grip on the halter. As she regained her balance, Andy pushed her up against a large fence post with his not so miniature body. Forcefully. By the time Andy was done showing the bus driver where she could get off, he had broken her hip and one of her legs in two or three places.

The kids on the bus had all been raised on farms, and they raced out of the bus to save their driver, but Andy chased them all back to the bus, and he wouldn’t let them leave.

More vehicles arrived to find themselves stuck behind a school bus being held hostage by a terrorist horse. The sheriff and the fire department were called to save the kids trapped on the bus, and to rescue the bus driver whose leg had been broken into several pieces.

It’s hard to negotiate with a terrorist, but it’s impossible to negotiate with a terrorist thug horse, straight outta Oshkosh.

The sheriff couldn’t get anywhere near the bus, or the horse. Andy had no intention of peacefully returning to his pen, and charged the sheriff when he approached. He chased anyone away that tried to approach the bus, or the injured bus driver laying on the ground nearby with one leg bent in at least two impossible angles. Andy had taken prisoners, and he wasn’t willing to let any them go.

The sheriff had a dilemma. Neither Bill nor Leslie were home, and he had no idea how to contact them. Their horse had become a menace to society. It had taken a bus full of children hostage, and had seriously injured the bus driver. He had to act, and he had to act quickly.

He got his shotgun, and walked toward the renegade horse. When Andy charged the sheriff, the sheriff pulled the trigger, and a shot echoed loudly across the fields and woods surrounding the farm. The children ran out of the bus. The fire department flew into action and rescued the bus driver. And some scientist guys from Madison showed up because the sheriff called them after he killed the psychotic terrorist horse. By Wisconsin State law, any crazy horse had to be tested for rabies.

And then the scientist guys had a dilemma. The rabies virus lives in brain cells, and nowhere else. The scientist guys could have taken all of Andy’s remains, but they didn’t need all of Andy to run their required tests, just his head. And Andy, well, he wasn’t a small horse anymore.

Seeing how Andy was dead and wouldn’t be needing his head anymore, and that was the only part of his body they needed…  It’s much, much easier to transport the head of a dead horse than it is to transport the entire dead horse, so that’s what the scientist guys decided to do. They left most of dead Andy laying in the driveway, and then drove back to Madison where their tests would eventually reveal Andy did not have rabies, nor did he have the Philadelphia flu.

He was just a misunderstood youth, an over-amped adolescent, a rebel without a cause. He was the Headless Horse of Trempealeau County.

And that would be the end of this story, except for a few small details.

You may remember that Bill had hired Muffy, the perhaps cute and adorable college coed farmer’s daughter that lived down the road to keep an eye on the farm while he was out of town.

I’m not sure where Muffy was on that day, or what she was doing, but she was nowhere near the farm when Andy decided to go rogue and terrorize the community. As she was driving home, cute and adorable Muffy decided to drop by the farm to check on the animals entrusted to her care, and found the headless body of a dead horse laying in the driveway. She pretty much shit her pants.

I don’t think she went back to Bill and Leslie’s farm. Ever. Her dad ended up taking care of the goats and cats and dog, and he probably made the arrangements to have the rest of Andy’s body disposed of.

I’m not sure if Muffy called Bill first, or if the sheriff did, but one of those two called Bill and told him about the demise of Andy the militant mutant miniature horse, and then Bill called Dave’s house to let his wife know her wicked horse was dead.

As for the bus driver whose leg had been broken into several pieces, she ended up having several surgeries to put her back together again. And that was good. However, she had no health insurance, and that was bad. She ended up with a whole lots of medical expenses she had no way to pay, and ended up sueing Bill and Leslie for an enormous amount of money.

It would take a few years for all the legal wranglings to sort themselves out, and as both parties were walking into the courtroom, a settlement was reached.

Bill had wisely added an umbrella policy to his home owner’s insurance when he had purchased the farm, and the however many hundreds of thousands of dollars they settled on was paid by his insurance company.

Lea and I would also incur some medical expenses while we were deep in the heart of Texas. Our health insurance covered the majority of it, but we were billed for the balance. And Lea was given the opportunity to tell the hospital administrator to go fuck himself, too.

* * * *

“Sonuvafuckinbitch!” I probably said something like unto that when Leslie finished telling us about Andy. And the bus driver. And the kids. And the sheriff. And the fire department. And the scientist guys. And Muffy. And her pants. It was probably the most exciting thing that had happened in that part of Wisconsin in the last fifty years. “Man, I told Lea I had a bad feeling when Andy killed the goat, but I had no idea it’d turn out this bad!”

See? Not a prophet.

To say our plans would require some renovations would be an understatement. Leslie had to fly back to Wisconsin as soon as possible. She would not be able to drive our car while I drove the truck we were going to rent to get all of Wanda’s stuff back to the top of the country from way down at the bottom of the country.

“I’m really sorry.” she said.

“Don’t worry about it. We’ll figure something out.” Lea replied.

There was one bright spot. Leslie and Lea had gone through Dave’s house like a pair of stormtroopers, and everything had been sorted, separated and mostly packed. Lea and I would finish that, and load everything in the truck we would rent. We would take care of the stuff to be sold or donated. Leslie suddenly had more than enough stuff of her own to deal with.

* * * *

Leslie flew back to Wisconsin the very next day to take care of the shitstorm of events related to her mutant miniature thug horse from Hell, and all the havoc he had unleashed.

We rode along as Dave drove her to the airport. Leslie and Lea went through a checklist to make sure they hadn’t missed anything. The last thing either of them wanted to do was make another trip to Texas.

We drove back to the house afterwards. I was going to miss Leslie. She had a way of handling Dave that neither Lea nor I possessed, not that Dave was a terrible management problem anymore.

But he did have his moments still, and Lea didn’t have the same technique her sister did. I was a pysch nurse. I wasn’t yet the elite nurse I would eventually become, but I was confident I could handle Dave if I needed to. And the tall Texas blonde ER nurse had just shown me a new intervention…

“Man, I still can’t believe what happened with that crazy horse!” Dave said, as he drove. He spoke for all of us. That was pretty fucking wild, no doubt.

“It’s been quite a trip so far, Dave. I think I’m going to need another vacation to recover from this vacation.” I said. And we all laughed.

Yeah, it was funny then. But in less than a week it wouldn’t be. Remember that thing I said about life? There might be times when things can’t get any better, but things can always get worse.

Yes. They could.

And, yes, they would.

Saving Captain Covington

One of the perks of working for the Federal Government is the amount of time you get off. For starters, you get all of the holidays. When was the last time you got Columbus Day off?

And, you get five weeks of paid vacation a year.

In April of 1995, I did something I had never done since I had started working at the MVAMC. I took two consecutive weeks off, but I did it for a good reason. My father-in-law had called, and said he needed help cleaning out his house after his wife had died.

Wanda had died the previous October after traveling all the way from the bottom of Texas to Minnesota to see her baby girl before her fourth abdominal surgery in three years. Wanda had had an heart attack after arriving in Minnesota, and needed another coronary bypass surgery before she could safely travel back to the bottom of Texas. She would die on the table in the OR, leaving a tidal wave of shock and grief in her wake.

My lovely supermodel wife called her sister, and plans were made. The three of us would drive down to the bottom of Texas and clean out Dave’s house. We would rent a truck, load that sucker up, then drive back home. I would drive the truck. Leslie would drive our car. Lea would ride with me or Leslie. Done deal.

Early Saturday morning on April 8th, Lea and I drove from our house in Minneapolis to just outside of Ettrick, WI where Bill and Leslie lived on their hobby farm, Pfaff’s Happy Acres.

I loved their farm. Bill had planted a bunch of apple trees, and collected himself an herd of miniature goats. He named all his goats after Biblical prophets. Amos. Isaiah. I think he even named one Elijah. And he had a girl goat named Ruth, of course.

Leslie had a kind of a miniature horse named Andy. Miniature horses are supposed to be, you know, small. But in the Spring of 1995, Andy went through a growth spurt, and had turned into a mutant, semi-large horse.

I was much taller than Andy the first time I met him. Andy was a few inches taller than me the second time we met. And he had developed a bad attitude.

As I was packing Leslie’s luggage in the trunk of our car, Andy grabbed one of the goats by the scruff of the neck and started shaking it around like a ragdoll. I raced into the house to tell Bill.

Bill was working as a consultant back then, and he traveled a lots. Bill had just returned from a trip to Philadelphia, where he had contracted a particularly virulent, though short-lived stomach virus, and he still looked a little green around the gills.

Despite his weakened state, Bill and I ran out to the barn to do try to save one of the prophetic goats from the psychotic horse. We were able to get the goat away from Andy, but we were too late to save it. Then Bill moved Andy into a different pen before he decided to kill any more goats, but Andy wasn’t exactly cooperative with the move, and Bill was shaking with anger and exhaustion by the time he was finished.

“I have a really bad feeling about this…” I whispered to Lea, as the goat we tried to save took one last gasping breath, and died. We said our good-byes to Bill, and climbed into the car, and headed off to San Benito, TX.

* * * *

It’s a little over 1500 miles from Ettrick to San Benito, and none of us felt like spending twenty-two consecutive hours in the car. Dusk was approaching when we reached Oklahoma City. We found an hotel in Purcell, OK, and checked in. We would resume our journey in the morning.

Lea and I were ready to roll early Sunday morning, but Leslie was not. She was pale and clammy looking. She just needed a few more minutes to compose herself. Before we hit the road, we stopped at a nearby Burger King for breakfast. Leslie took one bite of her breakfast sandwich, and turned a stunning color of green. She ran to the Ladies Room, and she stayed there.

“Maybe you should go check on your sister, and make sure she’s still alive.” I suggested to my wife.

“She’s laying on the floor.” Lea announced when she returned, and sat down to finish her coffee.

“What does that mean? Should we call 911?”

“No. She’s just being dramatic. She’ll be okay.”

This was my first exposure to the odd dynamics of my wife’s family. There would be more.

There was an Urgent Care office next door to the Burger King. I thought about dragging Leslie across the parking lot to be evaluated. She’s a much larger woman than her sister, but when Leslie finally emerged from the Ladies Room, she declined all offers of medical treatment, and crawled into the backseat of the car.

“Drive!” she ordered. I drove.

The next 700 miles were perhaps the longest miles of all our lives. Leslie was utterly miserable. She moaned and groaned and prayed for death.

“If she doesn’t shut up, I’ll fucking kill her myself!” Lea told me during one of our stops for gas.

As night started to fall, we pulled into Dave’s driveway. The first stage of our rescue mission was over. We had arrived safely, and more or less alive.

* * * *

Leslie looked a whole lots better on Monday morning. The Philadelphia flu had wreaked its’ havoc upon her, and then it was gone.

Lea and I slept in the guest room. Dave moved into his motorhome, so Leslie could sleep in the master suite. We usually went out to eat while we down in the bottom of Texas, except when Leslie or Lea felt like cooking. But I think those occasions were rare. The reason for our visit took an emotional toll on everyone.

Dave’s daughters surveyed the house like generals planning an invasion. They started sorting stuff into three piles: Leslie’s Stuff. Lea’s Stuff. Stuff No One Wants. The stuff no one wanted, like all of Wanda’s clothes, would be sold at a local consignment shop, or given away.

Leslie and Lea shed a lots of tears in the process. They understood the necessity of what they were doing, but it was tough duty.

Dave and I tried to stay out of their way as much as possible. He showed me his medals from the Army, two Purple Hearts and a Bronze Star, and casually told me how he got them. Dave had received a battlefield commission to captain during the Battle of the Chosin Reservoir in Korea after all the officers in his unit had been killed to death. He had only been almost killed, and as the highest ranking surviving NCO, he instantly became the commanding officer of what remained of his unit.

Dave had to have been the luckiest unlucky bastard I ever met. He was at Anzio in WW II, which was one of the worst places you could be at that time. And he was at the Chosin Reservoir, which was one of the worst places to be, ever. For all time. He was lucky because he wasn’t killed or captured, but he was wounded twice. And he was an emotional basketcase for the rest of his life.

He showed me his pistol, a .45 automatic, and offered to let me handle it because I had been in the Army, and I could appreciate it. But I had seen one too many handguns up close and personal, the last one during my vacation in Dallas with my buddy, Shorty.

I declined.

Leslie and Lea would occasionally question Dave about what to do with a particular item. He almost always opted to get rid of it. The sorting continued daily, the three piles of stuff grew progressively larger. No one else started exhibiting the symptoms of the Philadelphia flu, and I thought the rest of us were going to dodge a bullet.

Leslie felt like cooking on Wednesday. She made beef stroganoff, and she made a lots of it. We had a meal that couldn’t be beat, then retired to the living room to relax. After watching TV for awhile, we all headed for bed. And I started feeling not so good.

I can’t remember how many times I vomited, but by the time I finished, I knew one thing for sure. I would never eat beef stroganoff again.

Being sick is one thing, but being puking sick is the worst. Ever. I’ve rarely been puking sick in my life, even when I drank to excess, and I did that a lots. If I had been prone to vomiting, I might have been inspired to quit drinking sooner because I fucking hate puking.

I eventually crawled into bed, and started praying for death, much like Leslie had a few days earlier. I tried not to moan or whine too much because I knew what my wife had endured when she had been trying to survive her battles with Crohn’s disease.

But I was miserable. I eventually said this to my wife, “Honey, I hope you don’t think I’m a sissy or anything, but I’m sicker than a dog, and… I… want… my…mom!”

* * * *

By the next morning, I was pretty sure I was going to live, though I was feeling very shaky. And then Dave came into the house from his motorhome. We took one look at each other, and knew we had both fought the same battle.

Dave thought we all needed a break, so we got into his car and drove the short distance to the Mexican border to do some shopping and stuff.

Leslie and Lea walked around some of the streets of Reynosa while Dave and I parked ourselves in a little cantina and tried to drink a beer. It was perhaps the least amount of fun I’ve ever had with a beer in my hand.

We ate dinner at a Mexican restaurant in Reynosa, and I actually started feeling better. I was ready to back to the cantina, but everyone else wanted to go home. Lea said she wasn’t feeling too good. By the time we got back to Dave’s house, the Philadelphia flu was beginning its first assault on my wife’s already compromised body.

Lea’s health, or the lack thereof, had been the intense focus of our lives for the three previous years. She’d had four major abdominal surgeries, and had almost died at least three times. She had had about one third of her intestines removed, and had ended up with an ileostomy and an external pouch.

I wasn’t a medical nurse, but I knew enough about my wife and her medical issues to know she wouldn’t be able to survive the ravages of the Philadelphia flu without professional help. At the very least, she’d need IV fluids and electrolyte replacement therapy, or the consequences could be dire.

Lea ran into the house and down the hallway to the bathroom as soon as we got back to Dave’s house, and as the rest of us walked into the house, the phone rang. Bill was calling, from wherever he was in the world on business, and he needed to talk to Leslie. It was an emergency!

I had an emergency of my own to take care of. I tossed the phone to Leslie, got directions to the nearest hospital from Dave–fortunately, there was a little forty bed facility just a few miles from Dave’s–and helped Lea into the car, hoping she could get the medical attention she needed before she started having seizures. She said her muscles were starting to spasm, and I didn’t think a full blown grand mal seizure was far behind.

The local hospital had an emergency room. I got Lea checked in, and started explaining her complicated medical history to the admissions clerk while the staff started taking care of Lea. The ER staff all knew Dave and Wanda, and they assured me they wouldn’t let anything happen to Wanda’s baby girl.

But I knew this was going to be kind of an ordeal, no matter what anyone said. When I told the clerk at the desk my wife had an ileostomy, this was her response.

Illy-what? Can y’all spell that for me?

Like most ER’s, this one was busy. I gave the clerk a list of all the medications Lea was taking and the dosages of all of them. It was a very long list. I made her make a bunch of copies, and I would hand a copy to anyone that had anything to do with Lea’s care while we were in the ER. I stopped every staff person I saw, and told them I was a nurse, and what my wife needed. STAT!

The nurses in the ER were actually very helpful, and Lea had an IV running with a potassium piggyback running in no time. She didn’t have the same issue with vomiting that I had had, but her external pouch needed to be emptied constantly.

Lea’s nurse was a tall Texas blonde. Besides my wife, she was busy taking care of at least three other people, one of whom was a big hairy guy that had been brought in by a couple of Texas Department of Corrections Officers.

I don’t know what this guy had done, but I’m guessing jail isn’t anywhere near as much fun as they make it look on TV. This guy presented with chest pain, but didn’t appear to be in any apparent distress as he strolled into the ER. He had a big smile on his face, and he waved at everyone, making sure they saw the handcuffs on his wrists.

Per hospital policy, the big hairy guy was restrained to a litter because he came in under police escort. He totally cooperated with that, but he had stopped smiling. Once he was restrained, the tall Texas blonde nurse explained what was going to happen in no uncertain terms.

A nasal cannula was placed in his nose holes, and he was started on O2. An IV was started, and labs were drawn, using the biggest needle the nurse could find. And she made sure she missed his vein with her first attempt. Then she informed the big hairy guy she needed an urine sample.

“I can pee in a cup. I do it all the time for my PO.”

“Nope, y’all can just lay back and relax. I’m going to cath you.” And she did, using a catheter about the diameter of a small garden hose.

The big hairy convict guy probably wasn’t in any pain in any part of his body when he walked into the ER, but after roughly thirty minutes of tender loving care from the ER staff, he was hurting in at least two places.

“Hey! Take me back to jail! I’m good! Get me the fuck outta here!!” And once his lab results came back normal, back to jail he went.

* * * *

Just between you and me, that was the most beautiful intervention I’d ever seen on a malingering patient, ever.

A malingering patient endorses a plethora of symptoms to lengthen their stay in the hospital. We saw this all the time in Psychiatry. Some of our patients wanted to stay in the hospital as long as they could, for a multitude of reasons.

Some of them were homeless, and if you’ve never tried living on the streets, it totally sucks. Some of them were trying to avoid going to jail, and I’m going to guess that probably sucks, too.

It might have been legal to restrain a guy and stab him in the arm with a really big needle a couple of times, then shove a garden hose down his dick in Texas, but it wasn’t in Minnesota. If we had been allowed to use those interventions, we could have easily cut our recidivism rate in half, if not more. We couldn’t even carry tasers, which I thought every psych nurse should be issued, no matter which state they worked in.

Seeing how Lea’s nurse was busy taking care of a guy that didn’t need any care, I decided to take care of my wife because she did, and I was a nurse, too. I grabbed a box of gloves and a basin, and I informed her nurse each time I emptied Lea’s pouch, or she vomited, and the volume of fluids she expelled each time. Her nurse was grateful for the help, and offered me a job.

One of the other ER nurses heard I worked in Psych. She came over to quiz me about her ten year old son, who had recently been diagnosed as Bipolar. I can’t remember her name, but she was probably a couple of years younger than I was. She was kind of attractive, and clearly overwhelmed by the situation with her son, and practically started crying on my shoulder.

That seemed like a weird diagnosis for a ten year old to me, and to her, for that matter. I suggested she get a second opinion from a real doctor next time, and spent close to half an hour listening to her. I wished her luck, then we both went back to work.

Bipolar Disorder is a terrible disease.

Lea’s condition had stabilized somewhat. Her nausea had passed. She was no longer vomiting. In fact, I thought she looked good enough to go home, and even Lea thought she was going to be okay.

But given the fact she’d had multiple surgeries and she had an ileostomy, and then there was her family history of heart disease…  The ER doctor didn’t feel comfortable discharging my lovely supermodel wife, no matter what we said. He wanted to keep her overnight for observation, just in cases.

And that’s where the ordeal started. Given Lea’s cardiac history, the ER doctor wanted her to be admitted to a monitored bed. The only problem was there weren’t any open monitored beds in the hospital.

Now, you might be thinking, it’s an hospital! Aren’t all of the beds monitored? A monitored bed is hooked up via EKG leads and highly sophisticated circuitry to an alarm system behind the nursing station. If something goes awry in a monitored bed, alarms go off and every nurse on the floor goes running to that room with crash carts and oxygen and a shitload of medications to save a life.

I used to work in Cardiac Care, and I understood the rationale behind the ER doctor’s decision. So we waited for a bed. And we waited. And we waited.

The first symptoms of the Philadelphia flu hit Lea about 6:00 PM. I had called Dave’s house a couple of times with updates. My last call was probably around 10:00 PM. Lea was doing better, but the doctor wanted to keep her overnight. Dave said he and Leslie were going to bed, but they’d leave the door unlocked so I could get in the house when I got home. They’d see me in the morning.

When midnight arrived, Lea was still waiting for a bed. She was getting a little upset with the wait. I was way past that.

I’m an incredibly patient man. You can ask around if you like. But this situation was beyond ridiculous. I asked to see the Administrator on Duty, every hospital has one, and I wanted some answers. I was informed she was busy, of course, but she’d be down to see me in a few minutes

When 1:00 AM rolled around, I demanded to see the AOD. Now.

She actually came running into the ER. She was a very sweet woman who apologized profusely in her darling Texas accent. She offered her condolences to us. Wanda had been a friend of hers, then explained the difficulties she was facing.

There were a limited number of monitored beds in her hospital, and they were all currently occupied. She had called in the maintenance team, and they were moving heaven and earth to hook up a monitoring system in one of the rooms to the nursing station so Lea could be admitted.

In the meantime, was there anything she could do for us?

Well, yeah, there was. It was incredibly noisy in the ER. It was filled with a lots of unhappy people. Was there any place to put my lovely supermodel wife that wasn’t as loud and busy while we waited for the monitored bed was being set up?

Yes! Lea could be moved into a room in the ER, and a real bed could be put inside the room. Lea would be more comfortable, and the room would be much quieter…

Lea said that would be fine. And the very sweet woman left to see that this was taken care of immediately. And it was. As to how long it would take for Lea’s monitored bed to be ready, well, that was a mystery.

When 2:00 AM rolled around, I was falling asleep standing up. I told Lea I was going to go back to Dave’s house. I hoped her bed would be ready soon, but she was at least in a quieter place, and maybe she could even get some sleep, but I had run out of gas. I had to go.

I think I finally got back to Dave’s around 3:00 AM. I would find out later that Lea would wait in that room for at least another three hours before she was admitted to her hastily assembled monitored bed.

* * * *

I woke up the next morning around 9:30 AM because Dave knocked on the door and told me Lea was on the phone. My head was foggy, and full of cobwebs.

“Come and get me!” Lea’s voice said. She sounded terrible.

“Are you being discharged?” I asked. I was a nurse. I kind of understood how hospitals worked.

“No! The fucking doctor here doesn’t think I have Crohn’s disease! He wants to run a bunch of stupid tests on me! I told him to go to hell!”

“How did he take that?” I decided to ask.

“He’s not very happy with me right now.”

“How’s everything else going? Are you getting your meds?”

I knew getting her meds right would be complicated. That’s why I handed out a list of them to everyone, hoping the floor nurses would get a copy and get them ordered.

“No! I haven’t gotten anything! Not even morphine!”

“I’ll be there in ten minutes.”

I was so pissed I was shaking. I almost asked Dave for his gun.

* * * *

Lea wasn’t in the best of shape when I had taken her to the ER, but she looked even worse when I arrived at the hospital the next day. She was drenched with sweat, and writhing on her bed. I was a nurse, and I was a very good nurse. I knew what what was happening to her the moment I laid eyes on her. My wife, was going through serious opiate withdrawal.

I went to the nursing station, then tracked down her nurse in the hallway, and I tried to be polite, at first.

“Excuse me. I know you’re incredibly busy, but my wife is in that room down there at the end of the hallway, and you need to come see her now, please.”

Lea’s nurse was a young-ish slob wearing light blue scrub bottoms and a multicolored top about the size of a pup tent. She kind of shuffled when she walked, and her hair looked like it hadn’t been combed since March.

“Yeah, I’ll be down there just as soon as I can. I’m doing something right now.”

“I’m sure you are, but have you seen my wife lately? She hasn’t gotten any of her meds yet, not even her pain meds, and she’s going through withdrawal.”

“I haven’t had time to go over her meds yet. Like I said, I’m doing something right now.” she replied, not even bothering to look at me when she talked. And that was the last straw for me.

“You listen to me, and you better hear every word I say.” I said softly, but loud enough for her to hear me clearly. “I’m a nurse, too. So when I tell you you need to come to my wife’s room now, I mean right fucking now. And if you don’t do as I ask, I’ll have your ass in front of the Board of Nursing before your shift ends. Now, move!”

I appeared to have gotten her attention. She stopped doing whatever it was she’d been doing and turned to look at me for the first time. I nodded in the direction of Lea’s room, barely controlling the urge to push her down the hallway.

“Oh my word!” she said when she entered Lea’s room and saw my wife.”She didn’t look like this the last time I was here! Let me go check her meds. I’ll be right back, I promise!”

“That’s bullshit.” Lea said, as her slob of a nurse shuffled out of her room. “I’ve been like this for at least an hour!”

“Well, let’s give her a minute to fix this. Then I’ll kill her.” I said. I was only partially joking. It’s probably a good thing I didn’t ask Dave for his gun. Unlike Hillary, I probably would’ve used it.

In a very short amount of time, Lea’s nurse returned with a syringe filled with Demerol. She injected the drug into a port in Lea’s IV tubing, and by the time she shuffled out the door, Lea looked a whole lots better. My wife exhaled a huge sigh of relief, and smiled.

“That’s better!” she said.

“Can you walk?” I asked. I was making an assessment. Lea was wearing a hospital gown and a pair of panties. The only clothes she had with her were a pair of denim cutoffs, which I pulled out of the closet and handed to her. She didn’t even have a pair of shoes. I had taken her purse and the rest of her clothes home with me when I left the ER.

“Yes. I’m fine now. Why? What are you thinking?”

“I’m thinking if I don’t get you out of here, you’re going to die.”

“Then get me out of here!” she said, and pulled on her shorts.

I disconnected Lea’s IV, and covered her IV site with gauze and tape. Then I started disconnecting the leads of the monitor. This was the tricky part. Lea was in a monitored bed, and the moment I started messing with her leads, all kinds of alarms would go off. A veritable army of nurses would descend upon us, and even her slob of a nurse would eventually shuffle back to her room to check on her.

But a funny thing happened when I disconnected the first lead.

Nothing.

No alarms went off. No one came running. And I got even more pissed off, if that were possible. When Lea was disconnected from all her equipment, we walked out of her room, down the hallway past her slob of a nurse, who was so busy doing something she didn’t notice us walk by her, and got on the elevator.

We walked out the front door of the hospital, my barefoot, hospital gown wearing lovely supermodel wife and I, across the parking lot, and I drove us back to Dave’s house. I think we laughed the entire way.

* * * *

Dave was waiting for us at the front door when we pulled into the driveway. He had a puzzled look on his face.

“Mark! The hospital is on the phone!” he said. His expression was also one of concern. “They said you took Lea out of the hospital without permission! They want you to bring her back, right away!” Lea was his daughter. And he had just lost his wife a few months earlier. I don’t know if he ever understood how many times his daughter had almost died in the last few years, but he clearly thought I had done something to endanger her life now.

“This is Mark.” I said into the receiver. Lea was explaining what had happened while she was in the hospital to her her father and her sister, and that way her family would know I wasn’t trying to kill her to death.

“Mr Rowen, this is the hospital administrator.” a male voice said into my ear. “I understand you and your wife have had a bit of a bumpy ride while you were here, but we would certainly like the opportunity to fix that. You’re a nurse, right? You have to know your wife is very sick!”

“Yes, I know.” I replied. “And I’d like to keep her that way if you don’t mind.”

“I…I don’t understand, Mr Rowen.”

“Yes. My wife was very sick, but your hospital did a great job and she’s doing much better now.”

“But your wife is still very sick.”

“And, she’s still alive, and I’d really like to keep her that way. However, if she had much more care at your facility, I don’t think she would be.”

“Now, Mr Rowen, that’s–”

“I agree. That’s more than quite enough.” I interrupted, and hung up the phone.

We had driven from the top of the country to the bottom of the country to help Dave do something he didn’t have the heart to do himself. And it was a task that nearly broke the hearts of my wife and her sister. They were clearing their father’s home of most of the items that reminded him of his dead wife, and collecting the items that reminded them the most of their mother.

We had all come down with the Philadelphia flu, and we had all survived. Even Lea. There had been one casualty, an innocent goat had been murdered by a homicidal horse, but that had been way back in Wisconsin, before we had actually set off for the bottom of Texas.

Thank you, God, I thought. And I also thought at least nothing else could go wrong on this trip, and that the worst was over.

But life is a funny thing sometimes. And while there might be times when things can’t get any better, things can always get worse.

Sometimes, they can get a lots worse.

Horrible Bosses, Part II

I’m struggling to figure out how to start this installment of my blog. Maybe if I acknowledge that, I can get started.

My lovely supermodel wife was in the hospital recovering from her fourth, and most devastating surgery of the five surgeries she would have in that time period.

My mother-in-law had died on the table in the Operating Room. Lea’s dad and her sister, Leslie, were using my house as their headquarters to contact their family to inform everyone about Wanda’s passing, and plan her funeral.

I can’t remember exactly how I ended up being chosen to write her eulogy…  It might have been because of all the things I said about her when we went to see her body the night she died. Dave was touched, and may have asked me to say something at her memorial service. I would spend a few days camped in front of my computer monitor, writing and editing and rewriting what I wanted to say.

My boss and her boss, Marj and Mary, had done the unthinkable. They had questioned whether I really needed to take a week off after the sudden death of my mother-in-law.

And that’s how this story gets started.

* * * *

I wasn’t particularly close to anyone in Lea’s family at that time. Her parents lived almost two thousand miles away. I hadn’t actually seen them in person more than a handful of times. I liked Wanda, she was a sweet gal. Dave was a difficult guy to like. Even the people that knew him best agreed on that.

This was my first time meeting Lea’s sister and her husband. She didn’t come to our wedding, she didn’t approve of Lea marrying a man she had known less than six months. Leslie and Lea were as different as two sisters could be. I didn’t quite know what to think of her the first time we met. But I really liked her husband. Bill was a really sweet guy, and he had a great sense of humor. We became friends almost immediately.

The relatives started arriving. They dropped by the house to see Dave and Leslie and Bill.

Shirley, Dave’s sister. Pat, Wanda’s sister. Gene, Dave’s brother. And Joan, Gene’s wife. I met them all and listened to their stories about Wanda. And that’s how I learned about her life and what kind of woman she was. And those stories would become the eulogy I wrote.

I focused on that, but in the back of my mind I started writing another paper. One that would take my horrible boss and her even more horrible boss out at the knees.

I split time that week between my house and Fairview Medical Center. Lea’s fourth surgery had resulted in the removal of all of her colon, and about ten feet of her small bowel as well. And there was one more thing. She had an ileostomy with an external pouch.

My lovely supermodel wife was devastated.

It was a difficult time for us. Lea was reluctant to tell me the result of her surgery. She was distant and distracted. I attributed her response to the death of her mother. I knew I would’ve been distraught if my mother had died. Her surgeon had informed me about the results of Surgery #4, so I wasn’t completely in the dark about what had got happened.

I spent hours at the hospital, saying nothing, watching my wife sleep. She slept more after that surgery than any of the others. I had many whispered conversations with her nurses and the visitors that dropped in to see her.

It was maybe toward the middle of the week that she told me she had an ileostomy. Tears rolled down her face like rain. I think I asked her what took her so long to tell me.

“I was afraid you wouldn’t think of me as a whole person anymore.”

“Honey, if wanted someone who was all there, I never would’ve married you.”

Sometimes, a guy just has to reassure his wife.

* * * *

Lea’s doctor had to write an order for a pass so Lea could go to her mother’s funeral service on Friday. I brought an outfit she requested to the hospital. It was probably the first time she’d worn something besides an hospital gown in a month.

Wanda’s service was held at a funeral home. Dave wasn’t a big believer in God. He never went to church, and he wasn’t about to start now.

Bill had also been selected to say a few words at Wanda’s service. The gist of his words was knowing when you’ve had enough and when to say when. And that was one of Wanda’s graces. She knew when she’d had enough.

And then I took the podium.

I first met David and Wanda the day before Lea and I got married in 1988. I got the impression on our wedding day that Wanda was quite a character, but it wasn’t until the first Saturday after we were married that I truly realized how much of a character Wanda was. And that was when the telephone rang at 6:00 AM.

Lea says she has been trying unsuccessfully for 22 years to get her mother to call her at a later hour. Lea’s sister, Leslie, had been lobbying for 30 years. It’s a certainty that what the two of them couldn’t achieve in a combined 52 years, I wasn’t going to change in the 6 years that I knew Wanda. Dave and I were talking the other day and he said, “The girls are really going to miss their mother calling them on Saturday morning.” I think I can speak for Leslie and Lea when I say, “Dave, if you want to call us at 6:00 AM on Saturday morning, please pick up the phone and give us a call.”

Speaking only for myself, I’d like to point out that 8:00 AM is a very fine hour. 9:00 AM is a good hour, also. Seriously Dave; anytime, any day, you want to call, call us. Any time.

I remember the trip Lea and I took to Harlingen, TX a couple years ago to see her parents. You can practically spit into Mexico from their mailbox, so of course we took a trip to one of the border towns nearby. Dave and I found we aren’t very good at haggling with the street vendors in Mexico. I’d see something I like and ask how much it cost and the vendor would say, “$50.00.” And I’d say, “Okay.” Wanda came to my rescue. And she was a tough negotiator, so Dave and I did the only sensible thing we could do under the circumstances. We left the shopping to Wanda and Lea, and we went to go have a few beers.

Another story I have of Wanda is one that Dave told me recently. When Dave and Wanda lived up here in Minnesota, they had season tickets to the Vikings games. Back then, the Vikings played football outdoors at Metropolitan Stadium. It was out in the elements, and football was football. The players got their uniforms dirty and everything. Also back then, the fans would have tailgate parties out at the Met, set up their barbecues an partied in the parking lot at Met Stadium–did all that stuff that no one can do now that the Metrodome is here. After one of the games Dave and Wanda and their group had their tailgate party going, and there was another group or two not far away. Back then, some of the Viking players would stop in and have a beer and a burger with the fans, and a former Vikings wide receiver named Gene Washington was doing that with a group not far from where Dave and Wanda were at.

A crowd of young boys had gathered around Mr. Washington, hoping to get his autograph, but Mr. Washington wasn’t in an autograph signing mood. He told the kids to leave him alone. When Wanda saw that she went over to Mr. Washington and told him, “Those boys idolize you, you’re their hero. All they want from you is an autograph–You should be ashamed of yourself!” And I can just see Wanda doing that.

I won’t repeat Mr. Washington’s reply to Wanda, but needless to say he wasn’t very polite, nor did he sign any autographs for those boys.

I was probably the same age as some of those boys were when that incident happened. When I was a young boy I worshipped the Vikings, I watched all their games, I idolized the players. They were my heroes. And Gene Washington was one of my heroes. But I have a different hero now.

There’s a saying that goes, “When you’re Irish, you know that sooner or later the world’s going to break your heart.” And it is true. It is so true.

If there’s any consolation for those of us gathered here to remember Wanda, it is this: Heroes, true heroes, never die. Their actions, their deeds and their legacies live forever. 

It would be the first of the four eulogies I’ve done in my life. It was the most difficult public speech I had ever attempted. Only my dad’s eulogy would surpass it terms of personal heartache for me.

Lea returned to the hospital almost immediately after the service. I didn’t take her back–I think Gwen drove her–but I remember walking into her room when I got to the hospital after the meal. There’s always food after a funeral in Minnesota. Lea’s clothes were strewn on the floor. Lea never did that. I knew her suffering vastly surpassed mine. I was afraid this blow might be too much for her to take. She was asleep in bed, again. I folded her clothes and hung them in her closet, then sat down and watched her sleep.

But in my mind, I was writing the paper I would send to my Director of Nursing at the MVAMC. A paper that would more than even the score against the heartless bitches that were making my life miserable at work, and get them off my back.

It would be the greatest thing I ever wrote.

* * * *

There’s only problem I have with my greatest work of prose now. I can’t remember exactly what I wrote anymore, and I didn’t save a copy of it.

I know I outlined the situation regarding my wife’s lengthy illness, and the life and death situation it had become. And I was especially clear about what Marj and Mary had said after my mother-in-law died, and how she had travelled up to Minnesota from the bottom of Texas to see her daughter one last time.

I know I talked about the qualities of caring and compassion that nurses are endowed with, except when regarding our colleagues. That’s really all I wanted. I wanted to be treated with a little compassion, and I wanted my goddamn bosses to stop hitting me with a guilt trip every time I needed to take time off because my wife was in the hospital fighting for her life.

I think my write up was about five pages long. I returned to work to another stretch of nights. I put my paper into an intraoffice mailing envelope, and addressed it to the DON. I would hear from my co-workers about its effect.

The DON at the MVAMC was a gal named Betty Theis. She was a no-nonsense, tough as nails administrator. Steel wished it was made of Betty, and when she got angry, grown men had been known to start crying under her unrelenting gaze.

I really wish I could have been present when Betty summoned Marj and Mary to her office. My co-workers told me Marj looked like she had seen two ghosts when she returned to the unit, and closed the door to her office. Her eyes were red from crying when she left.

Marj called me into her office when I returned to working days.

“I know you’ve gone through a lot lately, and I haven’t been as supportive as I could.” That would be the closest thing to an apology I would receive from Marj. Mary would only speak to me one more time while she worked at the MVAMC, and it would not be an apology.

But it was what Marj said next that truly surprised me.

“I think you’re depressed and suicidal, and I’m sending you see an EAP counselor.” I think I may have started laughing at her, and at the very least, I had to have flashed her a smile of amusement. Of all the things I anticipated she might say, this was one thing I most certainly hadn’t expected.

Nurses might have a lots of duties and responsibilities, but no part of a my job description, or Marj’s for that matter, had anything to do with diagnosing anyone. I probably could have gotten her dumb ass fired for that remark, but that had never been part of my agenda.

So I went to the EAP Office to meet with my counselor. He met me at the door. He was a nice guy that had trouble believing I was the suicidal guy he was supposed to save.

“You drove here yourself? No one accompanied you? I heard you were an imminent suicide risk!”

“Yeah, that’s what I heard, too.”

I told my counselor my story. By the time I finished, I think he wanted to kill Marj.

“I don’t think you’re depressed, or suicidal. I think you’ve been through a lot of stress, for an extended period of time, and I think both you and your wife need some time to just take everything in so you can put your lives back together.”

I was hoping his recommendation would be for me to take a month off.

“Look. You won the battle. Don’t lose the war. Go back to work. Keep your head down, and I’d look for a new position if I were you. Your boss,” he said. “Is nuts!”

That guy gave me some good advice when I needed it most. The more I thought about Marj’s response, the more I started thinking maybe I should make getting her dumb ass fired part of my agenda.

But the last thing I needed at that time was to fight a war on a second front. I took his advice. I went back to work and kept my head down. I tried not to turn my back on my horrible boss, just in cases she had a knife in her hand.

And I took the first opportunity I had to apply for another pysch position at the MVAMC,. A staff nurse position opened up on the other psych unit, and I interviewed with Kevin. It would end up being the smartest career move I made at the VA, and once free of Marj, I would start to become a great psych nurse.

And more importantly, my wife would finally start getting better, and our lives together would finally begin to achieve some measure of balance.

But that would be in the future, and there would be plenty of challenges waiting for us to face. And one in particular that almost destroyed our marriage.

The Worst Week

October, 1994.

Lea was once again hospitalized at Fairview Medical Center. She had taken another turn for the worse. Abdominal Surgery Number Three had been in the summer of 1993. Ninety-five percent of her colon had been removed. Abdominal Surgery Number Four was on deck, and I was beginning to wonder what the endgame was going to be with this.

I mean, how much more of Lea’s gut were they thinking about removing? How much more could they remove?

It was early Monday morning, around mid-October. The phone rang at our house. It was my father-in-law, David Covington. He and his wife, Wanda, were living in San Benito, TX. They had retired down there years ago. Lea and I had visited them a year or two earlier during one of Lea’s periods of relative stability, all the way down at the bottom of Texas.

My father-in-law wasn’t an easy man to be around. He was a combat veteran of World War II and Korea. He had been wounded in each conflict, earning two Purple Hearts and a Bronze Star for bravery in battle. He had a short fuse on his temper, and tended to yell a lots of the time. Dave had one bitch of a case of PTSD that he had never sought treatment for.

My mother-in-law was on the fast track to sainthood, in my opinion, for staying with her husband as long as she did.

“Hi Mark. It’s Dave. Say, I just wanted to let you know Wanda’s in the hospital. She’s actually in the same hospital that your wife is in.”

It took me a moment to process that. I was working a stretch of Nights at the MVAMC, and the ringing phone had awakened me.

“Why is she in the hospital. In Minneapolis.” I said. I don’t think it sounded like a question.

“Oh, well, she wanted to see her baby girl, and that’s Lea, you know. So, we drove up here over the weekend. And when we got here, Wanda had a small heart attack. So she’s in Fairview Hospital, on the fourth floor.” Dave may have even chuckled.

Dave was fairly nonchalant about it, but he was like that. When he told me the story about how he earned his Bronze Star, he made it sound as though he had been walking through the park. Except he and his men were being chased by an army of Nazis. Through a minefield. And the Nazis were desperately trying to kill them.

It was no big deal then, and this was likewise no big deal. The doctors wanted to run a couple tests, but Wanda was okay. She was resting comfortably. He thought she’d be well enough to travel back to Texas by the end of the week.

“Let me jump in the shower. I’ll be there as soon as I can.”

I met Dave in Fairview’s main lobby. He had visited both his wife and his daughter; Lea knew her mother was in the hospital, two floors below her. Lea’s room was on the sixth floor. Dave hadn’t had any sleep. He wanted to go to his hotel, take a nap and get cleaned up.

“Go ahead. I got this.” I said.

Lea was excited and very chatty when I got to her room. She had already talked to her mom on the phone, and wanted to go see her mom, of course. She had gotten all dolled up; hair, make up, everything. The sixth floor nurses had dropped everything else to help her. Those nurses had  become part of our family  through the multiple admissions and surgeries Lea had had over the previous couple of years.

Lea looked great. I wheeled her and all of her IV pumps and bags of IV fluids down to the fourth floor and Wanda’s room. Wanda also looked great. The fourth floor nurses, who didn’t know Wanda at all, had also given Lea’s mom every possible assistance to help her get all dolled up. The sixth floor nurses had called the fourth floor nurses and had explained the unique situation to them.

Those sixth floor nurses, they were total rockstars.

Lea and Wanda hugged and kissed and talked and talked. It had been Wanda’s idea to drive to Minneapolis. She felt an intense need to see her baby girl before this upcoming surgery. Her gut told her she needed to be here.

This would be my life for the next few days: Work nights at my hospital. Catch twenty to thirty winks of sleep. Shower. Eat something. Go visit my wife and her parents at the other hospital. Repeat.

I informed my boss of this latest wrinkle in the seemingly neverending saga that was my wife’s healthcare nightmare. Marj was actually supportive, verbally, though not enthusiastically so. I was too tired to give much thought to my boss’ reaction. I was pretty sure my life couldn’t get much worse.

On Day Three of my new routine, Wanda’s heart specialist doctor wanted to talk to Dave about his wife’s prognosis. Dave wanted me to be there when he met with the doctor. It turned out Wanda’s condition was much worse than Dave described.

Wanda’s family suffered from heart disease. In short, my wife comes from a long line of people that died young from heart attacks. Wanda was in her sixties. She had serious coronary artery disease, and already had one coronary bypass surgery about a decade earlier. She saw a team of heart specialists on a regular basis in Houston. Dave wanted to stabilize his wife enough to take her back to Houston for treatment.

“Yeah, you could do that,” Wanda’s Minnesota doctor said. “But she probably won’t survive the trip.” The results of Wanda’s angiogram showed an eighty to ninety percent blockage in three of her major coronary arteries. “She needs another bypass, immediately.”

Fairview Medical Center might not be the Texas Heart Institute, but it wasn’t the worst place to go to be treated for heart disease either. The hospital had an eighty percent success rate with their coronary bypass surgeries. Dave asked me what I thought.

“This is a decision for you and Wanda to make. You could call her team in Houston, and see what they think, if you have any major objections. And this isn’t my specialty area…  I haven’t worked in Cardiac Care for… six years. But if this were me, and this was my best option to save my wife, I’d have the surgery here. This is a good hospital. They’ve kept your daughter alive three times already when she could’ve died.”

And they’d be getting a chance at Number Four very soon.

“I’ve got to talk to Wanda…” Dave said.

It was a no-brainer for Wanda. She consented to the surgery. It was scheduled for Friday.

When Friday came, I slept almost all day, which was unusual for me, even when I worked Nights. I called Lea around 5:00 PM. Wanda had been the last case of the day. She went to the OR around 3:00 PM. There hadn’t been any recent updates, but everything had been going smoothly. The fourth and sixth floor nurses had talked to the OR staff, and they would keep everyone in the loop.

Sleep deprived and feeling foggy, I ate some leftovers and went back to bed. I woke up around 11:00 PM and went to work.

At around midnight, I got a phone call.

“Hi Mark. This is Dave. Say, the surgery went well, but then something happened.”

I felt my heart stop beating.

“The doctors haven’t been able to get Wanda’s heart to start beating on its own again. They’ve had her on life support since the end of the surgery…”

“How long has that been?”

“Oh, I think since about six o’clock.”

“Okay,” I tried to get my brain working. “Now what? Do they have any idea what they’re going to do?”

“Well, yeah.” he stammered. “They want to take her off life support. They’ve done everything they can, but Wanda’s heart just isn’t strong enough…  I think I’ve lost my co-pilot.”

I hung up the phone. I couldn’t believe what I’d just heard. I told my co-workers. And I called my horrible boss, Marj, to let her know I was leaving work and that she needed to come in and take my place.

“I’ll be there as soon as I can.” she said. Marj walked on the unit about an hour later. She didn’t look pleased. I could care less what she thought or felt, but I briefly thanked her for coming in to relieve me, then drove like a bat out of hell to Fairview Medical Center.

I met Dave in the main lobby one more time. Wanda had been taken off of life support right after we had talked on the phone.

“Wanda’s gone…” he said. He was holding back his tears.

“I’m so sorry for your loss.”

We hugged each other for a long time. Dave was saying something, I can’t remember what he said anymore. I wasn’t really listening anyway. I was thinking about my wife.

“Does Lea know?”

“No. No. I was waiting for you. I can’t tell her her mother is dead.”

I have no clear recollection of most of what followed. I think Dave went to call Lea’s ex-husband, so he could tell their daughters about their grandmother. I went to the sixth floor. The nurses came running up to me when I got off the elevator. All of them were crying. I hugged them all, they tearfully expressed their condolences.

“What does Lea know? Did you tell her?” I asked the sobbing nurses.

“No. You have to tell her.” one of the nurses said, drying her tears with a Kleenex. Her name was Mary, and of all the incredible rockstar nurses that took care of us, Pretty Mary was our favorite. We called her Pretty Mary because there was more than one Nurse Mary on the sixth floor, and she was the prettiest.

God, give me strength, I thought. I was sure I’d rather die than be the messenger bearing this news. I talked to Lea’s nurses for a moment, telling them how I heard the news and what my horrible boss had done. They knew all about my toxic relationship with Marj.

“Okay…” I said more to myself than anyone else, and headed down the hallway to Lea’s room.

“Oh my God! What time is it? Why are you here? What happened?” Lea said in a rush, the moment she saw me in her room in the dead of night.

“I don’t know any other way to tell you this. Your mom’s heart wasn’t strong enough…” I didn’t have to say anything else.

“Oh, no!” Lea cried. And I held her for the longest time as she started grieving the loss of her mother. “I want to go see her!”

The nurses were ready. They flowed into the room, and hugged Lea. Through their tears they checked all of Lea’s IV bags, helped her change into a fresh gown and robe, transferred her into a wheelchair and brushed her hair.

Dave and I were waiting in the hallway when the nurses rolled Lea out of her room. She cried with her dad for a time. He told her how much Wanda had wanted to see her, and how much Wanda loved her. And then he told Lea how much he loved her. Lea later said that was the most surprising thing that happened that night.

Lea’s daughters arrived at the hospital swiftly. Dave led the way to where Wanda’s body lay in state. The OR staff had cleaned her up, and left her body in the OR suite. No one was able to speak, so I said something appropriate for the situation– what a wonderful gal Wanda was, how much we loved her and how much we were all going to miss her…

The staff told us to take as much time as we wanted. We stayed with Wanda for at least half an hour, maybe an hour. There’s only so much crying you can do at one time. I don’t think the girls wanted to leave their grandmother alone in that room. But the transport crew was waiting to take Wanda’s body to the funeral home, and the cleaning crew still waiting to scrub the OR suite down.

I don’t know how long I stayed at the hospital. I took Lea back to her room after her dad took her daughters home. We talked about her mom.

“I didn’t go see her before her surgery.” Lea said. We were laying in her hospital bed, her head was on my chest. “You usually come in, and I thought I’d wait until you came in. But you didn’t, and I didn’t want to inconvenience the nurses. They’re always so busy…  So I didn’t go see my mom, and now I’ll never be able to see her again.”

Sometimes it’s the things you don’t do that you end up regretting the most.

I know I eventually went home and slept. I may have actually had the weekend off because I don’t have any memory of going back to work until after Wanda’s funeral.

I called Marj on Monday morning, and view of the tragic circumstances, I requested the week off. Marj told me I’d have to talk to her boss, Mary Erdman. I called Mary and explained my situation to her. She already knew what was going on with my wife, but she didn’t know about my mother-in-law. In view of the circumstances, I thought requesting a week off was very reasonable.

“Do really you think you need the entire week off?” Marj’s boss asked me.

“No, I don’t think I need a week off. I need a month off, but I’ll settle for a week!” I replied, and slammed the telephone receiver down on the base without waiting to hear Mary’s response.

This, I thought, means war.

But first, I had to bury my mother-in-law.

In and Out of the Chakras We Go

Lea had survived her first near death experience at Fairview Medical Center. Her post-op recovery went well and she was discharged. I brought her home for the first time in months. I can’t remember how long she stayed home. All I can remember with certainty is she was repeatedly admitted into and discharged from Fairview Medical Center for the remainder of 1991, all of 1992 and 1993, and at least half of 1994 if not more.

Our life together back then would revolve entirely around Lea’s physical health, or the lack thereof. She would have a period of relative stability, then she would have a relapse, and back into FMC she would go. There was no pattern to this, nothing we could identify as a precursor. It wasn’t related to her diet. Stress? Maybe, but doubtful. The most stressful part of her life was being hospitalized, not being at home or work.

I came to think of this period of time as the Era of Living in Two Hospitals and Occasionally Visiting Our House. We lived in a charming arts and crafts bungalow about five miles from downtown Minneapolis. We redecorated that place several times, entirely changing its interior appearance until it eventually looked like showplace for the Pottery Barn.

I doubt that I did many, if any, of those renovations while Lea was struggling to survive her malignant flare up of Crohn’s disease. What I remember most from this time is feeling exhausted all the time. I was essentially a sleepwalker. I owe so much to my co-workers at the MVAMC–they had my back and picked up all the pieces of my job that I missed.

My mind was occupied by two things: my lovely wife, and how long she would fill that role. And how in the hell was I going to pay for this? My health insurance covered most of Lea’s medical expenses, but not all of them, and the part that wasn’t covered had quickly grown into the tens of thousands of dollars. Here’s another time when a great social worker saved the day.

I don’t remember her name, and this is so unfortunate because that woman saved our financial asses. She submitted an application for Medical Assistance on our behalf–something I didn’t think we’d even be eligible for based on our income, but lo and behold, we were, based on the extent of our medical bills. Thanks to that incredible social worker, I only had one thing to worry about.

Lea’s hospitalizations were mostly uneventful, except for the endless reconstruction that the hospital was going through. Fairview was a non-profit organization, and starting in 1992, FMC would begin reinvesting their profits by completely renovating every floor of the building. It was a noisy process, hammering, sledgehammering, jackhammering; even small doses of therapeutic dynamite.

I know, right! Freakin’ dynamite! In a hospital!! Filled with sick people!!! The nurses that took care of Lea were so great. They would move her as far from the construction noise coming from the floor above as they could so she could obtain a semblance of rest, then move her again as the process neared her room again.

The inflammatory process at work inside Lea’s body was every bit as inexorable as the construction process going on inside the hospital. It ebbed and flowed, but mostly flowed. And while Lea’s condition could be described as mostly stable, there were times of profound decompensation. I was sure I knew the answer to the one question that remained in my mind. And the answer was, not much longer.

Dr John was consulted by Dr Kromhout once more. Dr John remained conservative in his approach, but he wasn’t quite as cautious the second time around, and Lea’s condition deteriorated only to the point where she looked like she could possibly die instead of it being a foregone conclusion.

The second surgery was possibly the most unremarkable of all the surgeries Lea would have during this time period. Dr John removed another section of Lea’s large intestine, taking roughly sixty percent of that portion of her GI tract.

There were a couple of significant post op events after this surgery. The first, Lea sent me home. I could not help myself when she got out of the Recovery Room and was being transferred to her room on the Med/Surg floor. I had to touch her. I was gentle. I’m a nurse. I have a great sense of touch, and great hands. But even my careful caresses were too much for Lea.

“Don’t touch me.” she said.

“I’m sorry, honey, but I can’t not touch you!”

“Then go home.”

I’m pretty sure the nurses that were caring for Lea and were part of the transfer team actually heard the sound of my heart breaking. I stopped in my tracks in the hallway as Lea was rolled into her room, sat down with my back against the wall, and cried.

I went home and called my best friend, Gary Miklos, who was living near Dallas, TX at the time. Gary did something only a best friend will do at a time like that. He bought an airplane ticket on the next flight to Minneapolis.

I can’t remember if I tried to stumble my way through work the next day or if I called off, forcing my boss to cover one of my shifts with another nurse. I picked up Gary at the airport. I went back to the hospital to see Lea. She sent me home for a second time.

Gary took me to a billiards hall. We played pool, drank pitchers of beer and smoked packs of cigarettes. I’m pretty sure I lost every game of pool we played that day.

Gary had to work for a living, too. He flew to Minneapolis to be with me for one day, and then he had to fly back to Texas. And this wasn’t the only time Gary would travel halfway across the country to be there for me.

I went home and passed out. I know I had the following day off because I was still asleep when the phone rang.

“Hello?”

“Hi, honey!” It was Lea. “I think I’m gonna live!” Even over the phone I could see and hear the smile in her voice.

There had been a second post op event. One of the night nurses that took over Lea’s care was reviewing all the multitudinous IV bags and fluids and medications flowing into my wife’s veins, and she hung another bag of morphine solution. Not a big deal, but Lea already had a bag with morphine flowing, so she was now getting a double dose of very potent pain meds. This was a bad thing. A double dose of IV morphine will generally result in death.

“If that had been you or me, we’d be dead right now,” Dr Kromhout told me the next time we met. “But because Lea has been on high doses of morphine for awhile, and she has a strong tolerance level, all she did was get a good night’s sleep for once.”

The night nurse that accidentally overdosed my wife caught her mistake before it became a fatal med error. She called a code. Lea later said she had a vague memory of fifty people being in her room. I don’t know how many doses of Narcan she received, but it was more than one, and less than ten.

There was an investigation, of course. Lea and I met with a whole group of suits and skirts from various management and administrative departments. They wanted to know if we wanted to press charges or file a lawsuit. We declined. No harm, no foul was our take on the matter.

As a result of actually sleeping, even if it was a drug-induced coma, Lea actually felt better. She had a nursing student assigned to her when she woke up. Lea would refer to her as ‘my savior.’ That young girl helped Lea shower, got her dressed, helped with her hair and makeup, and had Lea sitting up in her room, looking like an angel when I arrived.

Despite the inflammatory process that was mindlessly trying to kill my wife, despite the construction process that prevented her from getting much rest, despite being cut open and losing another section of her GI tract, and despite almost being accidentally overdosed to death–Lea had survived by the grace of God.

God is great. God is good. God brought us together; we both believe that. It’s taken a lots of work and intentional living on both of our parts to stay together, but it’ll be twenty-eight years of staying together in one week.

I know. I can’t believe it. I’m not sure Lea can believe it either.

Sometimes you take things for granted in a relationship. I’m sure I’ve been guilty of this. But I also know my relationship with Lea has been the most life changing experience in my life. Nursing might have made me a better person, but being married to Lea has made me into a better man.

Horrible Bosses

When I was a manager for BannerHealth, I went to classes on how to be a good manager. Did you know seventy-five per cent of employees that leave a job do so because of poor management?

I’ve left at least three nursing positions because of my manager, including BannerHealth. As it turns out, Banner wasn’t as interested in being a good employer as they claimed to be.

My first horrible boss was Marj. She was my manager during the years Lea was so very ill, and I was working at the Minneapolis VAMC. Lea and I learned an interesting thing during that time period. During a time of crisis, you find out who your friends are. During a time of extended crisis, you find out who your real friends are.

Marj was understanding with our situation at first, and she was even very supportive. Then she became less understanding, then she became a bitch.

There were two In-patient psych units at the MVAMC. 1K &1L. Marj managed 1L. Kevin, the guy that would eventually make a baby with Sue Severson, was the manager of 1K. Marj called me into her office around the time of Lea’s fourth, and worst, major surgery to talk to me about my attendance.

“You’ve been missing a lot of work lately.”

“My wife is in the hospital fighting for her life. I think I’d almost be expected to be missing a lot of work under those circumstances.”

“Well, this has been going on for quite a while…”

“And you think I somehow missed that?” I asked.

“No, that’s not what I’m saying. I’ve had to cover for you, a lot. I’ve had to use float nurses and PRN staff when you’re not here.”

“Yeah, well, you know, that’s your job.” I replied. “Right now, my job is to be with my wife, but if it’s any consolation to you, she may not survive this time, and you won’t have to cover for me anymore.”

That’s when Marj started crying. If there’s anyone in this office that should be crying, it’s me, I thought. But I gave Marj a hug and told her to hang in there, she was doing a good job.

She had her boss, Mary Erdman, talk to me after that. I would end up writing them both up and pissing them off forever in the process. I would eventually transfer to 1K and live long and prosper under Kevin’s management. Mary Erdman was also Kevin’s boss, but he never asked her for help in managing me, so she became a non-factor in my life after that.

There’s a lot more to this story. We’ll be back.

Lea and I moved to Arizona in October of 2007. My first job in Phoenix was working for Maricopa Integrated Healthcare Services, or as it’s commonly called, the County. My boss at the County was Karen Swine, I mean Stein. She was an unpleasant woman that wore clothes about two sizes too small for her, which may have had a lot to do with her unpleasantness.

Karen and I never got along. She thought I was the Know-It-All new guy, so… Hey, we did agree on something after all! Who knew?

Karen didn’t like my methods, not that she would’ve known anything about them if it weren’t for the day shift nurses. The day shift nurses spent what seemed to me to be an inordinate amount of time tattling to Karen about me instead of actually doing their jobs.

I worked the evening shift at the County, and my crew would spend the first two hours of every shift getting the unit settled down and establishing a semblance of peace. The patients on our unit used to give the evening shift crew a standing ovation when we walked in. The day shift nurses hated us.

Karen and I had brief chats in passing, until the day she called me into her office. I had been at the County roughly six months. She asked me to explain why I did whatever it was I had done–something related to de-escalating a patient, I think. I started to explain —

“That’s not what I heard.” she interrupted.

“Yeah, well, that’s why I’m telling you what really happened.”

“That’s not what I heard.” she said once more. You know, she did kind of look like a pig that had learned to stand on its hind legs and wear makeup.

“You’re not interested in what I have to say, are you?”

“Not really,” she kind of oinked. I got up and opened the door of her pen, I mean office. “I’m not done–”

“I am.” I handed in my two week notice, and moved on. Next stop, Banner Del E Webb Medical Center.

I loved my boss at Del Webb. Jane Stevenson, you’re the sweetest boss I ever had. BannerHealth had just acquired the Boswell and Del Webb hospitals in Sun City and Sun City West. FYI: BannerHealth is the second largest employer in Arizona. Walmart is Number One.

I started out as a staff nurse at Del Webb, but Banner wanted a lot of middle management people. Jane asked me if was would be interested in one of the clinical manager positions. I pulled a quarter out of my pocket, flipped it in the air, and said, “Yep.”

All was well at Del Webb until the second year of Banner’s ownership, and then Banner showed its ugly side. In something like unto a Nazi blitzkrieg, Banner started firing all the managers that had been in place before they bought the Boswell and Del Webb hospitals.

My darling boss had lost her husband about a month before this happened. He had a heart attack and died quite suddenly and totally unexpectedly. Jane was probably still in the Denial Stage of the Grief/Loss process, when the Banner Nazis attacked.

What they did to her is a sin in every organized religion, including Atheism. All they had to do was terminate her–bullet to the head, get it over with. They didn’t need to eviscerate her and eat her liver in front of her before she bled out.

I knew I was next after Jane’s departure. My new manager was very cordial, and assured me I was welcome to stay as long as I wanted. Would I like some Kool-Aid?

I goddamn near jumped out of her window, and her office was on the fourth floor.

The rest of my Arizona bosses have been okay, though I probably would’ve left Aurora if I hadn’t retired. That place was getting kind of kooky…

Management. It can make or break a place. And even if their expressed purpose isn’t to make your work life miserable, that’s probably what they’ll end up doing anyway. It’s the people you work with on a day in, day out basis that truly make the most difference in the workplace environment. They will likely be the greatest factor in whether you stay or leave at any job you have.

Life and Death

You get to learn a lots about these subjects when you’re a nurse, but one of the fair things about life is you don’t have to be a nurse to become familiar with either of them. You simply have more exposure as a nurse.

There are two things I’ve learned about life and death in my nursing career. One, when it’s your time to go, nothing will save you. I’ve had patients come up to the nursing station to get their scheduled meds, collapse as they’re going back to their room, and were dead by the time they hit the floor. They had no complaints, no apparent concerns–and then they were DRT. Dead right there.

Conversely, when it’s not your time to go, you will live through everything. I’ve had patients that had shot themselves in the head with a .357. A .22. A .45. I’ve had patients that sliced open their bellies like a samurai committing seppuku. Patients that had deliberately collided a motor vehicle into a bridge abutment, a tree, another vehicle. Patients that had jumped into traffic, off of a building, off of a bridge. I’ve lost count of how many of them tried to overdose or hang themselves. But they had at least one thing in common: they were all walking around talking about it.

Go figure.

My wife has Crohn’s disease. It’s an autoimmune disease where the body essentially attacks itself, resulting in sometimes massive inflammation and ulcerations throughout your entire GI tract. It can result in nausea, vomiting and diarrhea, and pain something like unto that scene in ‘Alien’ where the spooky monsterbeast pops up out of that guy’s chest.

That was what Lea was experiencing when she started the first of her serial admissions to Fairview Medical Center in 1991. Over the next three years she would spend roughly half that time in the hospital connected to so many IV’s she usually needed two IV poles to hold them all, and two or three–sometimes four–IV pumps.

TPN, total parenteral nutrition. That’s two separate components right there. One is a huge bag with yellow fluid that Lea and I called her margarita bag. The other is a small glass bottle filled with creamy white lipids–her Piña Colada. The nurses that took care of Lea liked that and started calling them those names, too. A bag of normal saline with a morphine drip became her martini bag. Shaken, not stirred. No olives. Lea couldn’t eat ANYTHING during these times.

All of her nutritional needs were met by IV’s. She had to have a PICC line for that, plus one or two ancillary lines in her arms. She was on IV antibiotics; we didn’t even try to get cute with that. There were more, many more. If Lea had put a flower in her hair, she could’ve been a float in the Rose Bowl Parade.

And for the record, the real nurses that cared for my wife during that time–you all were rockstars–we loved those nurses, they were all so amazing. They. Were. Un-fucking-real.

Her GI doc, James Kromhout, had no idea what to do anymore because nothing he had tried was working, and Lea only got worse. He sent a consult to a surgeon, Dr John Something… And we waited. And waited. And waited some more.

I ended up writing him a ten page letter, explaining our situation and our frustration. Dr John actually read it. He offered this explanation: Once you open someone up and start taking things out, you can’t put them back in again.

I understood that, but I also knew if he didn’t operate on my wife, and soon, a monsterbeast was going to tear her guts apart. We waited another week. Or two. I started writing Lea’s eulogy. I would get a lots of practice with that literary piece over the next few years…

Her doctors had decided to try high doses of prednisone as a last ditch effort to stem the massive inflammation in her guts. Lea’s condition continued to deteriorate. Dr John finally decided there was no other option and scheduled her surgery.

Prednisone is a ‘dirty’ drug. It’s a very effective anti-inflammatory drug, but it has a lots of nasty side effects. Moon face, weight gain, mood swings, insomnia, mania–even psychosis–plus about a hundred other things.

Lea had all of them, and a bag of chips, on the night before her surgery. I spent that night at the hospital with her. I tucked her into bed, told her a bedtime story, sang her a lullaby–and she closed her eyes. I turned to sit in a recliner in her room, and by the time I got to the chair she was in the bathroom trying to figure out who the person in the mirror was, and how did that person get into her room? I have no idea how she managed to get her IV poles into the bathroom without knocking them over or disconnecting her tubing.

I might have gotten five minutes of sleep that night. My wife had maybe five minutes of sleep that week.

Lea was the first case on Dr John’s schedule that morning. Most abdominal surgeries run about an hour, maybe two at the most. Lea was in the Operating Room for four hours. When Dr John’s scalpel cut through her abdominal muscles and the peritoneum, Lea’s intestines flew out of her body like someone had opened a prank can of worms.

Dr John told me this after her grueling surgery. He removed about half of her large intestine. It was so swollen it looked like the Metrodome. He spent at least two hours stuffing my wife’s guts back into her body, and closing her up before anything could jump out again.

“I think you were right. About the surgery. I should’ve done it sooner.” he said. I think the only thing I could do in response was shake my head.

Whether late or early or whatever, Lea had finally had the surgery I felt she needed to have to save her life. The only question that remained was the Big One about time.

Was it her Time?