Blake in the Bardo

Blake as Child #2

Lincoln in the Bardo, a novel by George Saunders has popularized the bardo concept. Lincoln, having been shot to death, spends a single night -spirit-wise – in the graveyard where his son is buried, to the consternation of its ghostly residents.

Eastern religions believe that the soul sojourns in the bardo for 49 days before moving on.

Blake left his body in the middle of March. Initially, and even before his actual last breath, he traveled about a bit, principally to my sister’s home, his ex-sister-in-law’s, where he had attended family parties, including one for his 80th birthday. He always had an eye for my pretty younger sister. See https://115journals.com/2019/03/24/grieving-for-blake-a-ghostly-affair/ and https://115journals.com/2019/03/20/blake-no-more/

He has settled down since then. He doesn’t flit about alarming the living or causing them to throw pillows. He has even given up peering solemnly over my shoulder while I try to sort out his affairs. Possibly, this is because I curse him roundly for not filing a tax return since 2016 or paying Canada Revenue what he owed.

Or maybe he has slunk away because I now owe our mutual bank nearly $9000, borrowed to cover all the expenses that I am not permitted to pay for from the estate until it is settled. I am permitted to use estate money to pay for insurance, the interest on Blake’s line of credit -to the same, rule-making bank, and Ford Credit. I plan to outfox the latter by buying out the contract. More dollars I do not have, but – hey, I’m a great credit risk.

So while I trudge from office to office -bank, real estate, lawyer, post office – clasping his death certificate, his notarized will and my ID, Blake seems to be settling down to bardo instruction. His mentors appear to be small children, mostly boys. Blake was evacuated from England to Canada at the age of 5 to get him out of the way of Hitler’s bombers. His ship was in a convoy, protected by Corvettes, a cargo of British gold at his ship’s secret centre. An earlier shipload of such children had been torpedoed with great loss of young lives. My sister Georgia believes that it is these children who are teaching Blake. I opt, as well, for children who traveled with Blake and survived as he did, but have now passed on. I include my colleague Michael who hung himself one July morning when he was supposed to be doing a group presentation with me at the Ontario College of Education.

These children were orphans of the war, despite the tender care of their Canadian foster parents.

So, Blake sits with the children. In his heart, he was always five years old, always longing to be back on the water, in the water, under the water, always unable to trust his family.

He’s still got a good few days to spend in the bardo, at least until my birthday in early May.

I can’t speak of him in the past tense yet.

But alas, we do speak of him in anger.

First, there was the problem of Alice. I defied the heirs by not pitching her out of the house at once, saying it was too cruel to show up with two cops and a locksmith and tell her to go. (TO HER OWN APARTMENT WHICH BLAKE HAD PAID TO STAND EMPTY FOR 6 YEARS) Of course, I did end up on the front porch with two cops and a locksmith after a decent interval, coaxing her to at least give us access to his papers. Surely, she wanted our co-operation and, for example, his ashes. “I don’t want his ashes,” she snarled. Heads whipped back. Sympathies changed. Documents were handed through a tiny opening between the steel door and the frame. She promised to leave by Sunday midnight. On Monday, with the same patient locksmith, we entered to an impossibly dirty, foul smelling house, but one that no longer looked like a hoarder’s paradise.

Eventually, I collected Blake’s ashes – very heavy, that boy, in spite of how skeletal he had become. Eventually, I passed his earthly remains – in a roundabout way – to Alice. He loved Alice. I tried to honour that.

I thought I was too old at 83 to lift and sort and get soaked to the skin ferrying stuff to Value Village, to battle Toronto rush hour traffic to his downtown house. So, you could say that Blake has taught me that I’m stronger and smarter that I thought I was.

We work in the house without heat – to save money. I wear a winter jacket that used to be off-while. “Is that all from Blake’s house?” asks our son Daniel. “No, I reply, sarcastically. I like wearing filthy clothes.” And I stick my head back in the beautiful fridge, bought on the hottest day last summer, and absolutely never wiped out since. There are swaths of red, sugary spills and orange spills and crusty clear ones. It looks as if they opened the fridge door, stood back several paces and flung uncovered liquid concoctions in for storage.

“Why are you doing this?” Georgia yells, as she wrestles the shelves and crispers out.

“Because….” I yell back. I am kneeling on ceramic tile. My knees are crying. My back is crying. Because, I think, I cannot let the world know what my Blake had sunk to.

He was ill. He was depressed. He was afraid. He had found a perfect woman, one who couldn’t bear to be touched, one who was young and ill-informed and opinionated, -“Are the Beatles dead?” she once inquired. – one who argued and railed and shouted and shut us out of his life for years, who abused us as we tried to clean his room before his grandsons came to say farewell.

But he loved her.

Oh, Bardo Boys….

 

 

 

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Grieving for Blake: a ghostly affair

Persistent readers know that I have been documenting the demise of my ex-husband Blake here at 115journals. I’ve told of his remarkable 8-year survival with stage 4 prostate cancer, and lately his decline as he began to lose his grip on his perch. He passed away last Monday.

We have been divorced for forty years. We were married for only nineteen. We had two children, who are themselves middle-aged now. To protect their interests, I agreed to act as his executor. I knew it was a bad idea, but I wasn’t aware that I would be chief mourner and ghost-whisperer as well.

When it comes to Kubler-Ross’s  seven stages of grief, I’m a rapid cycler.

Saturday, I set up a little altar in the loving spirit of letting him go, or to be precise, getting him to go. He had turned up in Georgia’s bedroom at 5:20 a.m. in his hospital gown, trailing his blue hospital blanket, confused but vividly Blake. A few days later, Georgia’s daughter jumped off the floor and screamed as something brushed past her in a doorway. Admonitions to go to the light, to go find Leyla, his second wife, fell on deaf protoplasm, as did a final plea to go find his pet Sheba Inu.

In my place, his presence was more diffuse and business-like. He has left me to file several years of income tax, as well as deal with Alice, his resident gold-digger. On Saturday, that seemed charmingly chivalrous, so I set up an auxiliary shrine on the dining room table. As a Taoist, I keep a family shrine with pictures of my people, past and present, Kwan Yin, the Mother, Buddha and candles. I put a picture of 23-year-old Blake in his graduation gown, his obit, a book of Rumi poetry, a dozen tea-coloured roses, incense, Kwan Yin, Buddha and lit bees wax candles. It was the Saturday after his passing, the day we would have had his funeral if he hadn’t opted out of such ritual. I read him Tennyson:

Sunset and evening star
and one clear call for me
May there be no moaning of the bar
When I put out to sea.

Then I got on with my own taxes.

In the evening, I sat down to finish watching The Girl on the Train on Netflix. I had read the book some time ago, and, although I had forgotten it mostly, I knew I hated all three neurotic women and especially the drunken protagonist, who just wouldn’t let up on her ex’s new wife and may have killed her neighbour. About an hour later, my mood had swung from loving a farewell to dear Blake, to get back here: I’ll kill you myself. For my lovely Blake was every bit as good at gas-lighting as Tom, the husband in the story. We – ex-wife, daughter and step-daughter – had compared notes at dinner one February night when the family had travelled from near and far to say goodbye to papa. And he wasn’t beyond blackening each of our names to the others. Then, of course, there was the question of Alice, his latest triumph, 45-years younger, who wouldn’t let us in to see him without a hissy fit, and who had been helping him work his way through the home equity line of credit at a good fast clip.

I repurposed the altar in the name of love and told Blake to get lost.

So here I am, middle of the night, suddenly awake and sobbing with grief. I knew him longer than anyone still extant. I may have loved him best. I certainly hated him best.

He’s gone. I can’t call him up to lament about one ‘child’ or the other. I can’t depend on his caring as much as me. And no, I can’t tell Blake – whatever – anymore.

He believed death was the absolute end. There was nothing after.

In that case, settle down, Boy.

 

Blake No More

Blake 2 days before he fell off his perch

Sunset and evening star
And one clear call for me
Let there be no moaning off the bar
When I set out to sea.

Tennyson

Blake’s last day was devoted to breathing. Three, sometimes four, of us sat beside his bed listening to his breath. We told Blake stories. We laughed quietly. How amazingly, infuriatingly complicated this man had been. How persistent he was even now in spite of agonizing pain that fentanyl and morphine could not entirely subdue, in spite of his failing mind and his inability to communicate.

The nurses came often to keep him comfortable. The doctor came to talk to us. The Salvation Army Chaplain stood quietly with us. We took turns going out to eat. We told more stories.

Blake’s breathing changed. There were long pauses when we thought the worst – or the best depending on your point of view. As the light began to fade over Bloor and Church, there was one last breath. We waited. We nodded to each other. We put comforting hands on his body. We wept silently. After a while one of us went for the nurse.

6:45, Monday, March 19, 2019

There was a glorious red sunset as I rode westward home.

Other posts about Blake and his relentless efforts not to fall off his perch are available at 115journals.com

 

Blake on his Sad Height #2

And you, my father, there on your sad height
Curse, bless me now with your fierce tears, I pray
Do not go gentle into that good night.
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Dylan Thomas

Here I continue the story of my ex-husband Blake’s fall off his perch. See 115journals.com for previous episodes.

Alice just called. Should Blake have blood thinner shots?

I am known as the Alice whisperer now. Like Blake, I am old enough to be her grand parent, so what the hey. The younger members of the family are more familiar with being the target of Alice’s angry shouts to get out of her house and leave Blake alone. That would actually be Blake’s house of course. But that chapter’s over and done with.

After Alice broke Blake out of Toronto Western Hospital, things went downhill on the home nursing front. Mercifully, I was left out of the loop at 1 a.m. when, once again medics trundled Blake down the narrow stairs from his third floor bedroom, and took him to Mount Sinai Hospital.

Alice just called again now. The doctor says Blake’s hemoglobin is so low, blood thinner may cause a bleed. So no.

Yet another day of sitting beside his bed and talking to the palliative care resident, the palliative care doctor, the nurse, the pharmacist, the social worker, the resident internist, not to mention the diaper changing crew and the meal shleppers. Hard enough to answer questions without Alice asking complicated meds questions of the social worker or hospice questions of the pharmacist. Always Blake was consulted on decisions. Did he want to continue treatment with Zolodex. No, he didn’t. Two interviews later, by a different expert, well, yes, why not. He’d been taking it all along after all.

Daniel and I are silently shrieking, “Stop. Stop. It’s over.” Alice is buying even the smallest unit of survival time.

The Zytiga costs $4,600 a month, but all Blake has to pay is $600 for one last bottle before the drug insurance runs out. I have no luck contradicting that decision. Alice has POA. (Yes, I had to look it up – power of attorney.) She gets to make decisions.

Alice takes it hard when the resident explains that a hospice makes the patient comfortable, but does not treat the underlying disease. By the end of the day, news arrives that Blake will be moved to the hospice unit of Sally Ann’s Toronto Grace in the morning. He is there now and that is where Alice has been calling from.

It took me the usual 2 hours to get back out of the city. I was so shattered, I took a short cut which turned into a long, long cut. At home, I showered, brushed teeth, gargled and made plans to burn my clothes. Then I fell into the unconsciousness of sleep at 6 p.m. Spending a day trying to keep Alice from messing things up and countering her rude cracks at the staff has that effect.

But Blake!

He is completely changed. He doesn’t care who helps him sort out Mr. Peepee and the handheld urinal. I say, “Good boy” and he’s satisfied. He snoozes and wakes up to ask questions. “David’s Savings Time?” “Air bubble?” Some I can’t decipher. “I need to borrow a lot of money,” he announces. “Why?” “To solve this problem.” We skip the obvious. The problem will be solved soon enough. “You just got your pension cheques,” I say. “I’ve paid your property tax,” says Alice, “and you still have $80,000 free in your line of credit.” But he has actually read the family’s mind. We thought we would need to pay for private hospice care. “I can hear phones ringing and somebody saying, ‘I’ll transfer your call’.” The nursing station is far enough away that I certainly can’t. I feel sorry for the young man in the next bed who is recovering from orthopedic surgery. How hard this must be to overhear.

Blake is listening when the best news of the day comes. His prognosis is down from 6 months to 3, and that is why he got a hospice bed.

I rub his feet. I touch his forehead. I do not allow myself to grieve. I can do that once I get out onto the Queen E. where the freeway traffic thins and all the way up Erin Mills.

Once I got rested, I felt how sacred it was. He looks like one of those elongated saints beside a Gothic Cathedral door. He has lost all his angry edge that made the last six weeks so hard. There is nothing left of the womanizing misogynist that wrecked lives. The essential Blake is there, just shining through.

 

Blake: there on his ‘sad height’

Blake, on his perch

So the family has come and gone, daughter and grandsons from California and Texas. It went well. Blake basked in their affection.

Now he is in bed #3 on the Elder Care floor of a Toronto hospital, bombed out of his mind on hydro-morphone and offering acute observations: the doctors are being much too cautious; this is a total waste of time; they are not managing his pain – he can still feel it, not a 9 anymore, but even so a 3. In short, he has better things to do.

He sleeps and startles suddenly. “I’m awake,” he says. “What happened?” I ask. “I don’t want to lose control,” he says.

On Monday, the Palliative Care Team will come to assess his needs between 10 a.m. and noon. We will be there – Alice, his friend, Daniel, his son, and me, his ex-wife.

The traffic on this Feb. 23rd, 2019 was brutal. Two hours each way from my western suburb. I listened to David Bowie as I crawled along the Lake Shore. And cried.

 

Place Your Phone in Your Shoe and Move Forward

Blake still perching

So Blake had a medical procedure.

Blake, as followers know, is my ex-husband, who has clung to his perch in spite of stage 4 cancer for the past 8 years.

The procedure involved unconsciousness, an expert with a needle and the spine. Enough to make most people break a sweat. Not curative but an aid to strength and pain relief.

At the same time, his far flung family had decided to come visit while he was well enough. Our daughter had arrived the night before the procedure, and his two grandsons are expected next week.

I elected myself driver in spite of the dreadful weather and my own advanced age, on the grounds that Julia had just landed back in Toronto and needed to reacquaint herself with it before she took the wheel. We picked up Blake and his live-in friend/caretaker. The two women bundled him into the front seat beside me, and we headed across Dundas, that narrow, rail-slick street, across Yonge, University and Spadina, through Chinatown to Toronto Western Hospital. I dropped them at the front door and went in search of parking. It proved to be half a mile away down an icy side street. But this was my beloved Blake, so I limped on.

Needless to say, it took all day. Julia and I were used to surgical waits, so we had come equipped, but his friend Alice had not. While the two of us were content to slip into our books, Alice craved conversation. Not even CP 24, divided screen and all, could engross her.

So we made our way through the day. We had fled the pokey day surgery waiting room after Julia discovered the neurological waiting room with its space and comfort and natural light. Eventually, we were allowed back to sit beside our patient. Time passed. Shifts ended. The doctor was paged many times. We did our best to keep Blake’s spirits up. He confessed to feeling depressed. I suffered ever decreasing blood pressure from sitting and dehydration. At the point where I felt as if I needed a gurney myself, he was suddenly released. Julia went off to the lobby to deposit a loonie and get Blake a wheelchair.

Wait! What!

Yes, dear reader. We were not in Valencia nor even Bakersfield anymore. We were in good old Canader where you don’t get a hospital bill but you do have to pitch in.

I reversed my slippery walk, paid $25 for parking, wended my way down snow-filled one way streets and arrived back at the covered entrance. And waited. And waited. And waited. And had horns blown at me. And waited.

Then Alice called. Blake’s phone was missing. I hadn’t seen his phone. Alice hadn’t seen his phone nor had Julia. But Blake swore he had put it in his shoe, which he and Julia had locked up with the rest of his clothes. When they came back to post-op, I sat beside these shoes, 10 1/2 white trainers with velcro fasteners. I had not seen a phone in either one. So – God forgive us – we told him it must be at home. Well, they told him, because he adamantly refused to be wheeled out of the lobby and I was still deep- breathing while blocking traffic.

Both Julia and Alice called his phone repeatedly while Julia raced back up to Day Surgery and searched. Everywhere. No ringing cell phone to be found.

When Julia wrestled him back into the car, Blake was spitting mad at the three women who were calling him demented and he unafraid to express it.

But it’s an old phone that needs to be replaced and surely he – a computer expert – had backed it up. No, he hadn’t. His life was lost.

I wound my snowy way down the back streets and out into the rush hour traffic and construction of an ever darker, wetter Dundas St. Voices were raised.

At last, I found my way down to Schuter so that I could turn back north onto Blake’s one-way street. I heaved the car up over a snow berm and sat there, while Julia levered Blake out of the car. I was breathing deeply when the dashboard indicated an incoming call. From Blake’s phone. Ah, we were right! It had been at home all along.

But no, dear reader.

Upon entering the house, Alice began calling Blake’s phone. Blake was sitting on the stairs. Alice was up on the landing. Julia was just inside the door. They listened to the ringing. It seemed very close. It was Julia who worked it out.

“Your foot is ringing,” she said.

They began to pry off his right shoe. As it came loose, it glowed bluely deep within.

The One Thing You Must Never Forget to Do: contradicting despair

The Talmud tells us, You are not obligated/ to complete the work/but neither are you free/to abandon it.

The poet Rumi tells us, There is one thing in the world you must never forget to do.

Aunt Mae told me, Joycey don’t take it so to heart. She said there were millions of people of goodwill and they were all working hard. Then she cackled her uproarious laughter, she who could see the future and pronounce, “It ain’t much.” no matter the disaster. But then she said the same about death itself.

So now I near the end of my time here in the California mountains with Patient # 1 and Patient #2. https://115journals.com/2018/12/04/what-the-candle-said-caring-and-melting/ Both declare they are well and self-sufficient. One is certainly on her way there, but the other is probably on a down-bound train. No matter, I have my marching orders.

As I prepare to take up my own life again, I am doing what Mae said not to. Taking it all to heart. Taking myself too seriously. Midnight, i.e. 3 a.m., January 1, 2019, found me sleepless and full of grief and self-loathing. What did I have to show for my effort and expense? The feedback had not been encouraging. And I was as tired as an 82-year-old awake on top of a dark mountain in the bleak mid winter.

I know that the wise drag their wisdom up out of the darkness. I have watched my dear Patient #1 do this literally, coming back from unconsciousness many times, one a particularly long and perilous journey. I have done so myself. And, my elderly friend, Patient #2, is facing it daily, as age limits her senses and her scope of activity.

I have written about my grandmother in her old age wondering why she was still here. https://115journals.com/2018/12/27/when-i-get-older-the-hundred-year-old-man-who-climbed-out/ For two months, I have not had cause to question that. I was here to help. I always knew I had to stay alive in case of contingency. I’m not sure how many more contingencies I have left in me, but then I could have sworn I didn’t have the wherewithal for this one either.

My life on the 14th floor in a Toronto suburb feels distant and unreal, the desk in front the floor to ceiling window, a writer’s desk, the walls vivid with my sister’s paintings, the bedroom, curtained and warm where books wait to be read, the little kitchen where alchemy occurs. The silence.

All those shortened lines of energy, the physical bonds that are so present here will have to stretch across a continent. Technology makes it easier.

At first, I will have to catch up on all those appointments I cancelled in October and go gathering and hunting to fill the fridge. I’ll have to relearn how to sleep in a light-filled city. For a while, I will have to be Patient #3. She needs my help.

                     

What the Candle Said: caring and melting

A candle as it diminishes
explains, Gathering more and more is not the way.
Burn, become light and heat and help. Melt.

Rumi (trans. Coleman Barks ‘Light over this Plain”

The candle gives good advice. Surely, such advice needs to be treated seriously, not ironically. Easy enough to post. Might even help somebody on her way. And there’s even a free candle picture to pretty things up.

But then – gaaaaaa – you find yourself screaming, “I’m melting! I’m melting!” like the Wicked Witch of the West doused with a bucket of water.

Age was melting me before I undertook this project. For the last four years, I have paid a younger woman to clean my apartment every two weeks, first Teresa and then Louisa. I could have been Teresa’s mother and Louisa’s grandmother, but these women brought not only their Portuguese cleaning skills – lots of vinegar and elbow grease – but also their warmth. They looked out for me.

Then I got the call. Invalid 1 was immobilized by pain and might or might not be mortally ill. What’s more Invalid 1 had assumed the care of Invalid 2 during the summer. Although she is in good health, Invalid 2 is even older than me and about to become a nonagenarian.

We’re short on available help as most families are these days. In my day, as we oldsters say, there were spare spinsters about the place, who would come and sleep in the single bed or on the couch and take on the nursing and housework. Not an unattached auntie to be found in our case, not even a biddable if somewhat challenged cousin. Moreover, we are scattered across the continent and those of us in healthcare are gainfully employed.

So I sallied forth. I flew out the next day (115journals.com/2018/10/24/mother-on-broomstick-celebrates-legal-weed/). Like many other mothers, I had already had practice answering such calls. I picture these mothers driving alone in cars, on planes, on charabancs, on buses and trains, sharing space with life stock when necessary, beating a path toward the need.

Invalid 1, my daughter, had been making the shorter trip to Invalid 2, her mother-in-law, daily, for several months and she had developed a real knack for it. She sort of sank into the whole experience. Patience wasn’t even required anymore. It took as long as it took, getting the house in order, checking the fridge for spoilage, making lunch, sitting and listening to the older woman, watching Dr, Phil at 3 o’clock.

Too bad this zen-like helper was now bedridden and had become the lump on the couch, as I affectionately called her.

For the first while, I saw my main task as taking care of her. Her mother-in-law, meanwhile drew on her own strength to manage better than we thought possible.

As time passed, my daughter’s diagnosis became clearer. (115journals.com/2018/11/08/all-is-well-differential-diagnosis/) and surgery got her on her feet. In little more than a week, she was back looking after Other Mom, while I watched in awe. And yes, she got what the candle was saying.

Me? I am melting. My share of the duties doesn’t seem onerous. I don’t even have to cook. Hubby does that. I do the wash and try to keep the place moderately clean. I go to appointments with her – she has to have a second surgery. I used to do all these jobs, work a full day and even give the occasional nod to my children. It’s humbling to take measure of my diminished ability.

The thing is, as soon as I arrived, even though she thought she had a dire diagnosis, she began to laugh. She was better just because I came.

And that is what love is after all. You give what you can. If there’s nothing left, you’re all the better for it.

 

 

 

 

Thanks Giving in Buffalo Wallow

Of course, I’m not really in Buffalo Wallow, which must be somewhere in flatland. I’m up here on a pine mountain in the ancient land of the Chumash, who regarded it as the center of the world. Apparently, a Chumash trickster spirit, Coyote, or whatever he calls himself has been toying with us, so my gratitude this day is a little skewed.

I am grateful that Ikea’s designated delivery company finally delivered the bed. I bought it on Oct 23 by phone while I was still in Canada. I was told the first delivery date possible on this remote mountain in California was Nov. 8. This remote mountain is 40 minutes up the I-5 from the Ikea distribution center in El Tejon. While I slept on a mattress on the floor, my bed sped past me down the I-5 and came to rest in a warehouse south of Los Angeles, where it sat in a tight roll and disassembled pieces. Meanwhile my 82-year-pld body lay in a tight roll trying not to disassemble in agony. I missed the delivery date – they had been phoning my Canadian landline, but I am grateful that they delivered it on Veterans Day. I am also grateful that my daughter’s good-man-good assembled it with only minimum  damage to his body. So he says. I try to believe him.

It is 10 days later, my body is beginning to unwind.

Meanwhile, Mr Coyote’s trick involved a whole raft of medical specialists – general surgeons, radiologists, ear, nose and throat fellows, urologists, neurosurgeons, pain specialists, and a raft of CT scans, x-rays, MRIs, blood tests, cell cultures and biopsies. The diagnosis was kidney cancer, then metastatic kidney cancer, then benign tumor and early stage kidney cancer, then two benign tumors, one kidney, with a dissenting vote from the radiologist, who’s still got his money on the big C.

Update: a neurosurgeon has removed one tumor and it seems as though years of sciatic pain and months of insomnia have been cured. So thank you, Dr. Liker and all those friendly nurses at Henry Mayo.

Next stop, the urologist.

 

 

 

All is Well: differential diagnosis

115journals.com/2018/10/06/all-is-well-another-contradiction-to-despair/

In the middle of October, I posted “All is Well”, another contradiction to despair. Events overtook me and I posted “Interval”, promising to post “All is Well: part 2”.

I will begin by explaining the difference between renal cell carcinoma and fat poor angiomyolipomas, so far as I understand it. The latter, also referred to as AMLs – not to be confused with Acute Myeloid Leukemia (that’s someone else’s nightmare) – are made up of blood, muscle and fat. Ours was spotted incidentally during an unrelated CT scan. It was a 4.1 cm. mass in the right kidney.

Did you know renal carcinomas can be diagnosed visually? So three weeks ago we got the bad news – kidney cancer. But wait a minute, the real target had been a 3.8 mass in the hip on the same side. Could be metastatic kidney cancer.

Honestly did not know I was capable of howling loud enough to alarm my neighbors.

But, stat, there was an MRI guided biopsy of the hip lump. Hip tumor not cancer. Rather a schwannoma, a tumor of the nerve sheath, in this case on the sciatic nerve and, in this case, benign.

Can there be kidney schwannomas ,we asked the Google gods. Possibly.

Let’s do another scan, stat of course, to see what is going on in adjacent organs – I imagine this one as High Def – and get a good look at the kidney interloper. Two days later, a voice mail message. Not cancer, but a fat-poor AML.

We had got used to the worst – every day terror, bleak future, all that good stuff. Hearing the no-cancer news, I had to put my head between my knees. One of us fell to cursing. The patient cried.

For three weeks, we had followed doctor’s instructions: prepare for the worst, maybe 17% survival in 5 years, gone in her early 60s. Then, when it was just kidney cancer, not metastatic we had a 96% chance. Now, we were back to 100%, or as close as you can be, given traffic on California freeways. We should have been happy, but we went around muttering, “It’s Tuesday, it must be cancer.” “It’s Thursday, it certainly isn’t.” “It’s Friday…”

We didn’t trust any doctor and certainly not a radiologist. The current one still wanted to call it cancer, despite a visible few fat cells. What we read, and we read everything, told us carcinomas had no fat. A radiologist in 2012 had reported that a tumor of 3.8 cm appeared on the left kidney. We ordered the CD record of it. Definitely, on the right. The radiologist had reverse-read the kidneys. If he had not, we would never have fallen for this funny little trick Nature sprang on us.

Lucky us. Lots of patients have discovered only after they’ve lost a kidney that they didn’t have cancer.

This morning, the urologist assured us that the offending growth will be biopsied when it is removed. When will that be? Well, first the main player, pain-wise, has to go. Simple to cut a schwannoma off a sciatic nerve, just don’t cut too close or -bingo- a different crisis here in Kern County. Recovery will take 2 days. When the patient feels better, she can call and get the kidney surgery date.

The issue of getting something to kill the pain is another whole drama. Governments make doctors’ lives hell when they prescribe opiate-type drugs. As far as I can see their draconian rules have not made a dint in the opioid crisis as yet. The neurosurgeon breezily suggested a pain clinic. Wait times for pain clinic appointments are at least 30 days. We live near an opioid addicted town, we might get lucky on a street corner. But, no, the urologist came through for the next 5 days. Not the same effective painkillers, not nearly as effective and rife with side effects. Weeping over the phone to the pain clinic got us an appointment in 5 days. And this is a temporary need, until surgery, for someone who can’t get up off the couch most days.

I am Canadian. We have the same struggles with diagnosis and waiting for surgery. I once waited for 7 weeks to have an intestinal carcinoid removed. I could eat only fluids or runny pureed veg. Great slimming diet. I was prescribed liquid morphine. But I absolutely never had to think about cost. Not true in California, even with Medicare.

This is a wonderful country, don’t get me wrong. Driving up the I-5 from the neurosurgeon’s, I remembered that, if California were a country, it would be the 5th largest economy in the world. But *#@! it, why doesn’t it take care of its people. My great nephew in Belgium had a 15 hour surgery on his brain, lived to tell the tale and got no bill.

Next up: insomnia of 10 months duration.

“All will be well and all will be well and all manner of things will be well”