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Standing in the Middle of the Road

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Today I do everything but what needs doing.

As I scurry around from one room to another, my mother's voice echoes in my head… jack of all trades, master of none… as nothing is completed, nothing is accomplished. Yet the movement never stops; there is no sitting down. This body and brain are both caught in the cycle of perpetual motion, never lighting in one spot long enough to let a clear thought enter my universe.

Empty the dishwasher, look for the right glue so I can complete a project started eight weeks ago, and when it does not appear in the drawer, I clean out the drawer and then begin thumbing through a stack of 1940s postcards. This leads to dusting the armoire which naturally lends itself to the broom leaning next to it and I sweep dog hair into a corner, then go off in search of a dust pan. Which I do not find. Every so often I return to the dining room, where I bend down and whisper through the one-inch holes in the small cardboard carrier, "It's okay. We'll take care of you. You'll be fine here. Your family is coming back. Kitties are safe here."

But there is no purr, no meow, just a silent stare.

This story began months ago, perhaps even years, when consonants began to slip and yesterday's events could not be recalled. It begins anew, today, as my dear ones speed down fresh macadam toward Durham.

Yesterday. I have a message in my Facebook Inbox. I click on it, expecting this weekend's picnic details to be discussed and finalized. A beach day with surf fishing and laughing grandbabies. We live an hour's drive apart and communicate in person or online numerous times each day.

bottom line: the tumor is most likely malignant. Between it and the subsequent swelling, it has pretty much taken over his left frontal lobe. the doc got on the phone immediately and arranged for … to go up to Durham on Friday 3:00 pm to consult with (ok, get ready for this one, kid) the Head of Neurosurgery at Duke, Dr. Allen Friedman — THE DOCTOR WHO REMOVED TEDDY KENNEDY'S BRAIN TUMOR.

(that deserved caps, i think)

Dr. Friedman has no available appointments in the near future, but on Friday he's in surgery all day and will make time to see us between O.R. engagements. the doc in NB faxed him the MRI pictures and apparently they are disturbing enough to warrant immediate attention. the NB doc said Friedman will probably admit him immediately and perform the surgery ASAP.

recuperation time from the surgery will be at least 4 weeks, a good part of which will be spent in the hospital.

so, we are temporarily moving up to the Raleigh area.

And all I can do is keep their cat. As they drove away a little while ago, I wanted to chase after their car like a country dog who follows pickup trucks down dusty back roads. Take me! Take me! Don't leave me here… alone… without you…

She hasn't made a sound, this sweet little new member of our family. The Jack Russells circle and sniff the box. Our cat, Thisbe, meows, rubs against the box in true feline fashion, and then walks upstairs to her ironing board perch in the back hall window where she keeps a constant vigil over the neighborhood. Later today I'll open the cardboard box and let the new friend out into our huge upstairs bathroom and then slowly introduce her to the house.

It seems necessary and right to chronicle this journey. In the midst of our debate about who pays for what, who deserves health care and who must die from lack of it, let us discuss the mechanics of care for a while. It seems to be a year for that.

My sister, age 63, died in March. My mother, age 92, died in April. One by one, the cars drive away from my house. My husband and I stand together leaning gently against each other. We may be "survivors," as he tells me, but what is the toll upon our bodies, our psyches, as we absorb this stress, this sorrow?

And yet, it is not about me. This is the revelation — the epiphany that flashed before me just a little while ago as I frantically pruned the rose bushes and wiped my streaming tears with gardener's gloves, smearing dirt and thorns across my cheek. The health care debate? It's about everyone.

Not you.

Not me.


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About Val MacEwan

  • meta marie griffin

    Excellent article.

  • Thank you both for your kind words. Yes, the debate does seem petty. And small-minded. It can make us seem so very alone. Meanwhile, the new Upstairs Kitty is sleeping on a large pile of books. I think she’ll adapt.

  • What a great article, Val. Not only was it very moving, but you really brought home the ludicrous pettiness of so much of the polarization of this debate.

  • This is a powerful and timely article. I know who this about. I will continue to pray. And to campaign for affordable, accessible health care for us all. Not you. Not me. Us.