Monday, January 30, 2012

The cavalry, tears and the "new normal"

Michael's week-long sojourn in the Neurology ICU is remembered in moments. By me, rarely him--he remembers mercifully little. One time only, the nurses gave him oxycontin. I arrived for the afternoon visit to find him restless and speaking in soft, urgent tones: "These cows won't listen to me," he said. "Nurse--(much louder)--can you pull the curtains?" (During this entire time, he was very photophobic and the florescent lights from the nursing station were a constant source of irritation). "No," his nurse replied grimly. "You ripped out all of your leads today, and now we have to watch you." Our friend Mark, popped in to check on us just as Mike went into a rant about how it was completely logical to rip out his leads, how he was pinned to his bed and couldn't move a was a manic tirade that would have been amusing had it not been so frightening. I couldn't have written dialogue like that. Mark and I looked at each other, wondering if we dared a smile..or laugh...or cry....? Other moments in the ICU were poignant. Once, after receiving a catheter, a weak and exhausted Mike whispered to me, "Some holes were not meant to have anything put in them." He paused. "Mashed potatoes in your mouth is fine..."

One of the hardest moments had been calling our respective parents to tell them that Mike was gravely ill. Mike's mom, dad and his brother began making flight arrangements immediately--always an expensive prospect at the last minute. I knew his Mom would be afraid that she wouldn't get here in time. His brother, Steve, arrived a few days after his parents arrived. One of his best friends from Indiana, Rich, called and asked if he and "the guys" could come for the weekend. "If we get to see Mike for 5 minutes and do your grocery shopping, that will be enough," he said. "We'll stay at a hotel." I told them to come.
Kevin brought his ukele and played it everywhere, including the elevators in the hospital. Troy made us all laugh. Just the joy of seeing "the boys" together was priceless...for me, for Mike's family, for Mike.

"Why is everyone coming?" Mike asked suspiciously when I told him. "They just want to be with you," I assured him, "and see for themselves that you're okay." Bit by bit he came out of the haze and the incredible pain. He insisted on visiting the washroom himself - "I have to show them I can do this.

His journey to recovery would take months; the ultimate multi-tasker, he would have to learn to be more singular in his focus and plan accordingly. He would have to learn not to skip lunch, to not skimp on sleep and to shut it down when he became tired. He apparently had so much dilantin in his system that, a week or so after he was discharged from the hospital and couldn't walk, his GP called our home at 9pm in the evening and said "The Royal Alex Hospital is expecting you" because she believed that he would need to be admitted, on the basis of his alarming blood test results.

After that, his improvement the point where he decided to proceed with his long-planned theatre tour to Belgium and Kiev. And, while he had difficulty remembering where he parked the bicycle, all of the lines from his play "Bashir Lazhar" were fully there, awaiting recall.

His brain continues to find new paths, new ways of doing things.

I want to be like Mike's brain.

Thursday, March 31, 2011

The guy with the bleeding brain

Mike had a headache. This in itself was not unusual or alarming; both he and his brother Steve have had frequent headaches, Steve so much so that he sought medical attention. After Steve had numerous tests, they found nothing. They gave him a prescription--the same thing I've been taking for IBS. It's working.

Mike's headache--the queen of all headaches--started in the first week of March, 2011. Every night he would say, if only I could get a good night's sleep, I'm sure this would go away. First, we banished the cats from the bedroom. Then I banished myself. Every morning he would greet me with the same squinty-eyed, pained look. He woke up me on Friday, March 4 at 6am and said that we needed to go to emergency.

We did.

They hooked him up to an IV, he slept, and--at 1:30pm--he awoke and asked, "Can we go home now?" I asked our brusque, rockstar doctor if he should have a CT scan. "It wouldn't tell us anything we don't already know," he said.

The next day, Mike was worse. Our friend Mark (who works at the U of A Hospital) swung by to check on him. He tried a few things...and when Mike didn't respond, we decided that we needed to return to emerg, per the doctor's instructions. Mark and Mary Ann loaded us into their van. It was another cold day; Mike had his toque on and wore large sunglasses, as he had become increasingly photophobic. He could barely speak and walking was difficult. We rolled him into the crowded waiting room in a wheelchair, where we were shuffled to the front of the line, after explaining that this was a repeat visit. Mark had coached me on what to say, but I didn't have to fake the panic I was feeling. "He doesn't get sick," I explained in tears. "He can't keep anything down, the head pain is worse and his neck is stiff. And I want a CT scan NOW."

Worst case scenario, I thought, viral meningitis (well, worse-case scenario that I was allowing myself to accept). Mary Ann had experienced that so Mark knew the drill. We were quickly shuttled into emergency ward, and--mercifully--were given a room right at the end, with walls and a light switch. The glass door and windows could be curtained off, meaning it was quiet and dark. A godsend.

Some hours later, after a CT scan had been performed, the attending doctor came in with a few other people to talk to me. Michael was under again, with pain meds coursing through him. She talked for awhile. I heard words like "brain bleed" and "serious" and "will be admitted to the neurology ICU." "So what you're saying," I said, "is that he could be okay or he could die." She leveled a look at me and said yes, that was right.

I think I swore, then.

"Not what you were expecting to hear, was it?" "Not even remotely," I responded.
The above photo was designed by Mike and taken by his family after he was moved from his post-ICU bed to a stretcher...he borrowed surgical scissors, tape & a flashlight from his nurses.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Seamus, the stray cat who changed our lies

It's taken something drastic for me to revisit my abandoned blog; in this case, the death of one of my closest friends who shared our lives for the past 14 years. Seamus wasn't a human. He was a cat. He came to live with us on Young Street in Kitchener only 10 days after the sudden death of my beloved Guinness, a strikingly handsome short-haired grey tabby with eyes the color of the Mediterranean (seriously). Guinness had developed a tumour that killed him in two days. I was still in shock-and observing the kitten we'd got as company for Guinness, Flannery, wander from room to room in a futile search for his buddy-when I received a call from my friend Janet. Another mutual friend of ours had taken in a stray that they needed to place before winter, as they already had two cats. "I know you just lost Guinness," she said, "but they really need to find a home for him." "Okay," I said, having sworn the previous week that it was too difficult to lose pets and that I'd just about had it.

My parents were visiting, and that very morning, my dad had said "I hope you're not thinking about getting another cat."

I drove to Cambridge to Donna's place, and was greeted outside by a rather unusual-looking but friendly little number. She followed me to the door of Donna's in-home hair studio, where I was told that this was not, in fact, the cat that needed a home....he was already looking at me, perched on a counter. He was long-haired, orange, with green eyes. I was immediately in love.

I took him home, where he and Flan became fast pals. He slept a lot, and seemed docile and pleasant. We took him to the vet's where he was proclaimed to be 6 or 7 years old, maybe more, and he had the biggest parasite the vet had ever seen in a cat. He returned to us, neutered and parasite-free, and--without the energy drain that hosting can be--he started tearing around the house, chasing and being chased by an ecstatic Flan, and purring on our bed every chance he got. He was seldom allowed to go outside, due to the manic drivers that frequently roared down on our street, but his quest for the freedom of the outdoors never ended. He loved water, and would often jump into the shower. We would place him on the edge of the tub, where he would wait patiently for us to draw back the curtain so he could drink the water trickling from our fingers. He liked this best when the shower was on full blast.

Seamus had the distinction of being the only cat to appear onstage in our theatre's production of "Lettice & Lovage." He played opposite the director's wife, a resident actor who was very adept at expressing her needs. Seamus had his own dressing room and his own driver (we weren't involved in the play, so those were our conditions; we didn't want to be ferrying him to the theatre on a daily basis, we didn't want him to have to be there for 6 hours a day, and we didn't want him to bolt and never be seen again). Towards the end of the run, he would hide whenever his driver showed up. The aforementioned actor began to express her opinion that he should be declawed, as he was snagging her clothing. I think that ended any real possibility of friendship between us.

When we moved to Edmonton on September 1, 2006, he occupied a pet carrier with his pal Flan and was very, very still. That night, having safely made it to my parents' farm, we let loose our 3 cats in the fifth wheel we were sleeping in. Seamus was the first one up on the bed the next morning, purring loudly--"the water purr," Mike called it. Seamus loved Edmonton more than we did. Our 1899 house has a balcony off the bedroom, where he spent many hours. As we started to notice him slowing down, we began to let him go outside--he would still bolt out the door when visitors arrived, and he always seemed to know which guests were most likely to leave the door open a bit too long. He began most nights by laying on my pillow, or right between Mike & I, where he would purr incessantly and gently remind us with an extended claw that we needed to put our books down and give me some attention.

Ultimately, our vet believed that Seamus had an over-active thyroid that contributed to his weight loss and caused much stress on his heart, so it's probable that--in spite of our efforts to medicate him and force him to eat, which were short-lived--he died of heart failure around 4am. Yesterday, as I was in the shower, he was laying on his side on the bathmat, purring loudly. He continued to purr for a half hour after the water was turned off.

Everyone who liked cats, and knew Seamus, loved him. When we announced in '06 that we were moving to Edmonton, we would be met with "Oh no!" and then, "Are you taking Seamus?" (No one ever asked if we were taking our other two cats, the somewhat cranky Flan and the somewhat violent Abe, a beautiful Burman stray).

Now, we have to learn to live in this house without him. As difficult as saying goodbye has been, and as much as he will be missed, I wouldn't trade the past 14 years for the absence of this present pain. Seamus gave much more joy, humour and comfort than what should be possible for an animal to provide. We feel lucky--blessed--that someone lost a diamond that landed on our doorstep.

Sunday, March 04, 2007

March 2007

Miracles happen. We got tickets to The Police - in the section closest to the stage on the side, Row 2. We are BESIDE ourselves - particularly since we had the chance to see Van Morrison but Mike was deep in tech. rehearsal and it just couldn't happen.

Times flies, as does the snow. Right now, Mike is at the University where he's taking in "The Shunning," the show he's been directing, which just opened last night. The first theatre we (as a group) established in K-W staged this play back in 1992; it featured Scott Holt & Helen Butlin (Battler). Watching it last night took me way back, although this is a very different production. Several friends came and all said that it was an incredibly powerful experience.

Meanwhile, decisions continue to be made; I was accepted into the MACT program at the U of a (Masters in Communication & Technology), and - given the fact that one grad student in the house at this point is enough - decided to defer my acceptance for one year. If I pursue this, it will begin in May of 2008, and aside from 3 weeks classroom time for 2 consecutive years, the program is completed online - and it's a lot of work. Our house, we discovered, was built in 1899 and is likely eligible to be registered as a Heritage Property at the municipal level, and possibly at the provincial level as well. We're still trying to figure out what this means....

We've spent some time "in the country" - checking on my cousin's menagerie (that's Jesse & Natalie with one of the felines, above) and having a winter picnic at the farm with mom & dad. Hope to be there more often after this weekend, as Mike's directing madness will grind to a halt. We plan on being in Ontario for Lost&Found's premiere of "Falling: A Wake" by Gary Kirkham. We found a great place to get produce that's cheaper than anything else we've seen called The Good Earth. And we just had to have an Oscar party, which turned out to be a scream with lots of great food and wine and hysteria. The apparel our friends wore ran the gamut.

My work at the U of A, in Development, is accelerating, albeit slowly - we did manage to get around 30 development people onto a chartered bus and attend an alumni event in Calgary, at the Hyatt, that the president hosted. Quite the place - worth a trip to see the art alone - and quite the event!

We'll keep you posted on our goings-on - hopefully in a more timely fashion!

Sunday, January 14, 2007

We've had another bout of -40º weather; tomorrow is supposed to be -6º. I am euphoric with the concept of not wearing 4 layers to work! Mike is trying hard to write his paper for his German professor and cast his next show. The two have not been compatible. We'll keep you posted on the show...Terry in Slovenia wanted to know what our house looked like from the outside: here you go, Ter. And thanks for getting us thoroughly addicted to Battlestar Galactica (I seriously am grateful)!
We continue to enjoy our Christmas tree (we keep it up until the end of January), cringe at the heating bills and cook weird things. Both the weather and Mike's studies have helped to create a rather introverted household. It's for a season, and we can live with that.

Mary Pat (also known as "The Last Great Hope" for Theatre & Company, when she bravely attempted to be general manager back in 2001-03) was in town briefly and we managed to see her, in spite of the fact that she'd had 1.5 hours of sleep. Here we are at the Bistro Praha. I'm adjusting to work at the University of Alberta - some of the fun parts have begun, including listening to Danielle Peers speak at an event that we hosted. Danielle is a member of Canada's Olympic Basketball team (wheelchair olympics) and she is truly inspiring (
The cats are all fine - although Abe needs a thorough de-matting. Stay warm, be safe, have faith.

Monday, December 11, 2006

Merry Christmas!

Grace comes unexpectedly, and I don't recognize it until it's right in front of me. A sunny day, a guy who offers to push my car that is completely embedded in the unplowed back-alley snow (and it's at least -30 degrees), the resident dog at the office (a seeing-eye German Shepherd) bounding down the hall towards me (the master was on vacation)...this may have something to do with all the dog treats I slip his way.

December 25, 2006
Christmas comes whether we're ready or not. This year, Mike & I decided to take nine days, from Dec. 14-23, to visit Ontario where we caught up with family and some friends - apologies to those we didn't get to - and caught Lost&Found Theatre's Christmas show. Which was fabulous (well done, guys!). OUr good friend Kai from Edmonton was in Ontario for work, and he managed to attend opening night with us. Great fun, and surreal - worlds collliding and all that. We did manage to pop into the old home front (orange kitchen at right) to see Lauren, Finn & Tomas, Barb & Patrick. Artists DO make great tenants!! Dec. 22 found us at Ed & Ginny's, having roast beef and drinking Featherstone wine (that's us, at right). The following night, we flew home to 3 happy cats and a tree that needed decorating. On our way to the airport, we stopped by the Schaefers in New Dundee - to our delight, they are now "cat people!"

Last night was Christmas Eve. We put up some decorations; this is a far cry from my Dec. 1 rule, but what with Mike's intense studies and my new job at the U of A and trying to get the living room painted, we had to amend our schedule. We ate seafood casserole, attended a church service at the end of the block and watched a bit of Battlestar Galactica (always a treat). And, while the decline of our environment is much on my mind these days, grace still happens. I don't know if I've ever felt more blessed in my "Canadian-ness" - there are friends and family we love on both sides of the country and, like so many others in this vast nation, we have more than one home.

Have a blessed & merry Christmas!

Kate & Mike

P.S. Take a few moments to peruse these websites over the holidays: