Sunday, April 27, 2014

Lost and found

Prickly pear lining up spring blooms
The days are marked by small improvements. Though the numbness in my left hand continues, I have recovered the ability to (a) tie my shoes, (b) use a knife and fork together, (c) walk past things on my left without bumping into them, (d) pull on a shirt without much confusion, (e) floss my teeth, and (f) hold a book while reading. However, typing remains difficult, driving a car is a hazard not even to be considered, and the TV remote has never turned up.

The excerpts from the journal I’ve been keeping have been running a few weeks behind here, I know. Today I’ll try to skip ahead some.

3/16/14. With watching and concentrating, I discover the complexity of the way a hand multi-tasks—holding something in the grip of three fingers while doing something else with thumb and forefinger. Like holding onto one sock while putting on another. Tying shoelaces calls on a similar dexterity. My left hand still drops things that slip away as my concentration drifts, but so far I haven’t broken anything. A lid unscrewed from a bottle or jar will stay in my hand if I do not purposely put it down. Using the dull ones, I’m getting OK with kitchen knives again.

Morning moths by the garage door
Magazine and newspaper reading continues a challenge, and trying to keep loose sheets of paper in order (like the pages of this journal) gets much the same result as turning on a fan in the room. They want to fly in all directions.

3/18/14. Yesterday marked the end of three weeks of radiation. After a weekend that brought waves of fatigue and knocked me out for most of a Sunday afternoon, I’m feeling rested and upbeat. The radiation oncologist was encouraging when we saw her. Attitude, she says, is a factor in improvement. So is being older rather than younger. She guesses the tumor started in my brain 5-6 months ago, and there’s no telling what caused it.

We learn that I was supposed to be elevating my head whenever lying down, e.g., two pillows at night instead of one. This is to reduce the swelling, which is now at its worst after the radiation. I came away from the Cancer Center with my face mask (recyclable I was told) and two knit caps made by volunteers. A next step is to get a buzz cut for my hair, which has begun to fall out around the incision.

Today called for a visit to the Urgent Care Center in Palm Springs, where my wife (and driver) saw a doctor for a bad cut from broken glass. During the 3 hours it took on a busy Monday morning for her to get treated, I decided to move the car to relocate it in the shade. Taking a turn around the small lot, I found I wasn’t paying proper attention to what was happening on the left side of the car. I would have my eye on a parking spot ahead on the right and discover I was headed straight for a car parked in front of me on the left.

Blooming jasmine in side yard, with frog
3/19/14. So it’s day 46 home from the hospital. I’m settling into an attitude that seems at times like resignation, which doesn’t cheer me. It’s less easy to take pleasure in the daily things of life, and I can lose contact with a sense of wonder that filled me in those first weeks. Maybe you can’t sustain something like that. My habitual irritability and impatience are still there as my left-side disability frustrates me and material objects put up a fight instead of complying agreeably with my wishes.

3/20/14. Today there was one of those golden moments while over in Palm Springs for a blood draw at the Cancer Center. Fatigue and concern lifted as I stepped into the morning sunshine and sat in the shade of a café umbrella with a cup of deli coffee and an almond pastry to share with my wife. Inside, a hummingbird was flitting along the ceiling, as a member of the staff tried vainly with a broom to help it find a way out through an open door.

At home, I slept more, wrote a blog post, and worked more on my OT exercises, lifting 2-pound weights and fishing objects out of my bean bin, with some small success, often dropping them as I turn them in my left hand, while trying to recognize them just from touching and holding. Tossing a tennis ball between both hands is more difficult, but I was never good catching a ball anyway.

I begin to learn that I can turn any activity into a lesson in patience. Last night I cut up a salad for dinner, something I used to do with a flourish. I allowed it to take the time it needed, concentrating on what I was doing with few expectations. As I slowed, time seemed to slow, I found myself almost enjoying the unhurried pace, especially with my wife working in the kitchen with me. 

I saw that in the past I’d made such a task a chore to be got through as quickly as possible, ramping up the pressure and switching off any opportunity to experience it another way. There is always the option of finding cause for wonder in everyday things. That is the spark of life that begins to elude me now that the “novelty” of being a cancer patient has passed and the real work of reinvention and reeducation begins.

A neighbor's backyard palo verde
3/21/14. I keep having to remind myself that I cannot neglect rest. My OT notes that my coordination has declined since our last session, and she tells me to take some time off. So I put myself in bed when I get home—though with a novel—and stay off the computer. Not just patience, I realize, but a degree of TLC is also called for that I am unwilling to grant myself, as if I were a truculent child, and I get a hint of what it must have been like for my children having me as a parent.

My OT notices that my uncertainty about the physical location of my left arm has me “lost in space.” I experience this development as some bedrock of identity that has gone missing. I sense that my ego has been washed and hung out to dry—maybe to shrink a little, which to be honest would not be a bad thing. And this links back to my impatience. Even my impatience with my impatience.

I have joked in this journal about assuming the persona as I write of an “annoying” cancer survivor. We met such a person yesterday who could not stop talking about her history of cancer treatment. The desperation in her attempt to hold our attention spoke volumes about how cancer feeds one’s isolation from others. Later, I feel once again a debt of gratitude for my wife’s caring and care giving. Going to bed that night, I was saddened with the realization that many have no companion to see them through illness, and how the end of day must be so much lonelier when it’s faced alone.

Previously: Ruminations


  1. Feeling very privileged that you are willing to share this with us Ron. I remember that feeling of resignation all too well. It took 3 months for me to be able to enjoy my favorite things again after cancer surgery. Keep us posted! Michael

  2. Ron, I'm glad to hear of your overall progress and the "small improvements" that matter so much in daily life. "There is always the option of finding cause for wonder in everyday things." There's a lesson in it. Your strength of character reflects in your beautiful writing.

  3. I'm really glad you're getting back some use of that hand. I haven't considered before the separate aspects of a hand and fingers, except fo the time I shook hands with a man, who had no pressure in his handshake. Not being observant, it wasn't until about 15 minutes later that I saw he lacked his thumb. He was from Texas and a few years before he'd reached up above the doorway to pull himself out of a chicken house and a rattlesnake lying up there in the sun bit him between his thumb and forefinger. So, I have often thought about the importance of the thumb. That was scary about your parking lot experience. Like learning to drive as a kid again.

  4. Amazing how a string of small improvements sure make for an overall big improvement in your life. Fingers still crossed, Ron.

  5. I too am so blessed to have a wonderful husband, Dan, to be my caregiver.
    He is there for me day and night and rarely complains! I am so thankful for him.