Wednesday, June 8, 2011

A Fortunate Son

We are all here to help each other through this thing, whatever it is.  – Mark Vonnegut

The Bulls and I all have one thing in common:  we all needed brothers way back when.  Redman is an only child, The Doctor, Sug and Fugwuh have sisters and Rinji’s brothers were much older and out of the nest by the time we met in 8th grade.  I have a brother, a good one, but I needed more.  We’ve been helping each other through this thing for over twenty years now.  We are family. But we are a far-flung family these days.

I woke up last Saturday in excruciating pain.  If a doctor had asked me to rate my pain on a scale of 1 to 10 (in case you don’t know [lucky you!] that’s how they monitor pain in the hospital) I would have said “11” with a perfectly straight face.  I was certain I had pancreatitis.  As luck would have it, though, Saturday was also my daughter’s 5th birthday party. You will remember that I’m a guy who doesn’t like his own birthday being all about him, so I’ll be damned if I’m going to make my daughter’s birthday about me. Anyway, I got through the day. But when the party was over that evening, I told my wife it was time to go to the ER.   She quickly fed the kids supper, put them in PJ’s and readied them for some time at grandmas.  The kids and I were in the car; Stacy was in the house grabbing the car keys.  “Finally,” I thought.  Then Stacy opened the door and I heard the smoke detectors going off.  I went inside and immediately smelled smoke. So did she. I called 911, told them the detectors were going off, that I smelled smoke, but didn’t see any other signs of fire. The dispatcher told me he would send someone, not necessarily the cavalry, and that if our situation got worse we should call 911 again. Perfect, thanks.  I called my neighbor, who had been at our party, and with whom I had recently been politely discussing politics (he is as conservative as I am liberal.  No matter.  We are not assholes. We had a sane discussion.)  He ran over, grabbed our kids, one under each arm (with our permission!) and ran them back to his house where his wife and daughters could look after them.  Then he ran back and, smelling smoke too, searched the house for the problem.  He told me he would wait for the fire department so I could go to the ER.  Because he was there, I knew everything would be okay.  Isn’t that a nice feeling?  I don’t know that I can pay a person a finer compliment. Anyway I would have taken him up on his offer, but just then guess who we heard coming?  The cavalry--with sirens blaring and every noisemaker they could find back at the shop hooting and howling. 

All the commotion perked up our other neighbors, one of whom I had seen earlier.  It seems I had not hidden the fact that I was burning up inside from her, because after seeing me she told her partner, “Tom doesn’t look good.”  Now with our cul de sac full of emergency responders, they came running out. Not because of the spectacle but because they were worried about me. My wife was out, luckily, and was able to tell them what was going on.

Inside I was getting my tax money’s worth. The house was a-swarm with firemen. The smell of smoke was gone by then, of course, and they didn’t find anything amiss. I was tempted to hop in the ambulance anyway. “Hospital, please. And step on it!”  But I am not an ambulance kind of guy.  I prefer to walk, hunched over and quietly, into the ER.  Not to mention the cost of an ambulance ride is not how I choose to spend my money.  When our house was at last empty of government workers, my neighbor ordered me to go.  He’d stay at our house and figure out what had been smoking earlier (He is as handy as I am not.  There are no finer hands to leave your home in.) Meanwhile, our other neighbors had told Stacy to call if we needed anything, anything at all.

The good doctor at the ER gave me so much dilaudid that by the time he came and told me my labs and CT scan showed no signs of pancreatitis, and that he didn’t know what was wrong, I didn’t really care.  He offered to keep me there to treat my pain or send me home with pain meds.  My entry for the writing contest I am in was due Sunday and, as is my custom, I hadn’t started it yet. That, and the obvious desirability of home vs. hospital made my decision pretty easy.  The doctor prepared me for the trip home by giving me another shot of dilaudid for good measure (he gets it).  Even though it was 1 a.m. we called our neighbors. Our daughter was sleeping with their daughter and our son was sleeping on an air mattress on the floor of the same room. We went and picked up the baby, but let our daughter sleep, grateful once again for our friends generosity.  Then we went home and I passed out.

I woke up early Sunday and wrote my piece (I’ll post it later. It started out great. And then it ended. Poof.) And the neighbors who had been worried by all the commotion the day before invited us over to the family grad party they were throwing for their oldest daughter that afternoon. Stacy and my daughter went ahead while us men stayed behind and napped.  When we got there, Stacy was chatting like she’d been there forever and my daughter was off running with our neighbor’s youngest daughter, who is a year older and practically her sister.  I met everyone, sat down, and witnessed the miracle of family.  My neighbors are friends of mine, of course, but this was the first time I had met some of their extended family.  It was fun to watch. There were stories and laughing; plans were made between two of them to start running together, to push each other.  When everyone prepared to leave, they all hugged the kids and patted them on the heads. I heard an uncle telling one of the boys to “give me a firm handshake and look me in the eyes. Attaboy.”  This, my friends, is what family is. Uncles, aunts, brothers, sisters, taking care of each other, teaching the kids how to be good, respectful humans, helping each other through this thing, whatever it is; the ideal home and family for raising healthy kids, and I got to witness it.  Wouldn’t you love to be those kids? 

I went to Mayo Clinic on Monday and was diagnosed with “Internal abdominal pain of unknown origin, possibly due to pancreatitis, possibly due to nerve damage as a result of the same, possibly due to the Celiac Plexus being damaged during surgery, possibly due to organ gnomes chewing on nerve endings like so many hungry mice.”  The plan is to do a Celiac Plexus block, which involves a doctor with a very steady hand sticking two needles into the middle of the Celiac Plexus, a big clump of nerves right below the heart, and shooting in some steroids, hereafter referred to as the “Lance Armstrong Special”, or LAS.

Because I will be sedated for the LAS I need to bring a driver with me.  The soonest my wife was available to take me was June 21st so that’s when I scheduled it. When I got home and told the neighbors whose family party we had crashed the day before the schedule, they insisted that I make my appointment as soon as possible.  They’d figure out a way to get me there. 

Yesterday morning I was on the computer wasting time on Facebook, trying to muster the grace to allow my friends to help me.  Another friend, with kids the same age as mine, saw me on Facebook and sent a message asking how I was. I brought her up to speed and she told me she could watch my kids, or give me a ride, or whatever, “Come on, man. Change that appointment!”  That is when my eyes filled with tears and I felt embarrassed at my fortune.  I changed my appointment. My neighbors are driving me, my other friend is taking my kids (she further insists that she take them all day and that if I’m home early, I should rest, “The important thing is getting you better, I can handle one long day.” How great is she? Seriously.)

I don’t know whether the LAS will fix my pain. But I do know that with friends like mine I’m going to be okay regardless. Do I deserve to be treated like this?  Yes (so do you).  Have I earned it?  Probably.  One thing is certain:  All of this being helped through this thing, whatever it is, this miracle of “family”, is good for the soul.

P.S.  My entry was not good enough to win immunity and I was voted out in a close tiebreaker. No worries, I made it to the second-to-last week, finishing 4th.  My strategy of flying under the radar early, looking like a fat gazelle so the hungry lions would want to take me to the finals almost worked, though it quite possible cost me the tiebreaker, alas.

P.P.S.  My neighbor discovered the source of the smoke and called me with the news before we even got to the hospital (told you he was good).  Care to guess whence the smoke that the smoke detector detected came? The smoke detector naturally. When he pulled down the smoke detector nearest the spot we had all smelled smoke, he found that something had gone haywire and the plastic around the battery connections had melted. 


  1. Fantastic post from your heart!

  2. Tom, I'm sorry...Thinking of you...and that's pretty cool about the community you are building right there where you are. Take care.

  3. See, your strategy of flying under the radar in the Survivor game may have worked except that you've got stuff like this over here that belies your true writing ability.

    good stuff.

  4. As horrible of the circumstances surrounding you during this time, you are lucky and "blessed" by the people who surround you literally, on an everday basis. You are one the fortunate ones...and I know you will never forget it. :)