Monday, August 8, 2011

Eeeny Meeny Miney Mo

Jeff headed back to TN from France via SC. Summer was coming and with it difficult decisions to make. His hiring package included perks to help us move. All that motivation would expire on his first anniversary with the company if left unused. We were falling father and farther behind financially from the strain of maintaining his apartment and our home. He was living as sparsely as possible with only an air mattress on his floor, a few dishes, a card table chair, and a few other essentials like lamps. Once I was on my feet again, I spent his weekends home cooking massive amounts of food and freezing it for him to take back. It seemed like all I could do to help stretch our budget as far as we could.

The year anniversary loomed closer with no real solution in sight. No matter what we did, we were going to come out on the short end of the stick financially. Unlike 2001, our stick was a whole lot shorter and getting shorter by the day. There was just no wiggle room. As usual, his medical bills were choking us alive. There was no end to that in sight either. I didn't know how to explain to anyone that he could HAVE a job in the worst economy in our country yet we were still going down for the 3rd time. I can't even get my mind around it myself, so how do I explain it to you?

We tossed and turned at night in our separate homes trying to figure out which direction to move. We had the house evaluated one more time – the 3rd in a year – only to find there as still no hope of selling it. I'll be honest with you, I was ready to chuck it all and just go. I'd had all I could take. I lobbied for moving, leaving the key in the house, and calling the mortgage company to say, “She's all yours whenever you want her!” Reason ruled. The same people who filed Chapter 13 when their attorney advised them to file Chapter 7 aren't really going to walk away no matter how tempting it is.

I snagged a job that would buy our groceries each month. After 9 years of looking, I finally had a job. It was amazing to feel like I could do more than coupon, cook, and do without. I didn't know how I could add one more 'to do' in my list of life, but I had no choice, it seemed. I did what mothers do. I just kept stretching. My Dad turned 80 the 2nd week of May. I had begun to cook for them 3-5 nights a week and send left overs along as well. Everywhere I looked, a spinning plate was about to topple to the floor.

Mom was so frail. We knew the end was coming. I think I had always known it would come by way of a fall in the bathroom. She slipped in the shower the 3rd week of May. I can't remember now. I guess I had worked long enough to draw 2 or 3 paychecks. She became my priority. I told the paycheck goodbye and began living in the twilight zone of beeping monitors, lab work, and long term acute care routines. At some point, I went on autopilot to survive. If God was out there, he was as silent as he had been with Job. Or I was completely numb and tone deaf. It was as if I had stumbled into Get Smart's cone of silence and couldn't find my way out no matter what I did.

Jeff continued to have the odd issue with itching. It came and went at first but then became chronic. He couldn't sleep. He had difficulty concentrating. At some point we decided I should go to TN for the weekend if mom seemed stable enough. We'd look for a rental house. Despite his hospital room declaration, it seemed we had no other option.

Courtesy Mad Penguin Creative
Stable a patient on a respirator ever 'stable enough'? No. Never. What was I to do? Our deadline was looming. Mom signaled she understood and said, “Go,” with her lips and heart. Her voice had been silenced by the respirator. I drove to TN in a daze. Fatigue. Disbelief. Fear. Stretching and stretching and stretching can only last so long. I don't remember the houses. I just remember the rash. Jeff was slowly being enveloped by a rash. The scratching was so incessant that his skin was beginning to break down and ooze. I put my foot down. Before I'd leave for SC, we had to see and MD.

He'd already been diagnosed with everything from scabies to bedbugs to lice. None of the potions or poultices or pills had put the rash on the run. I could see resigned despair settling over him. His eyes were taking on a dead,sunken in appearance. How much more, God, would one man take? Are you out there? Do you see us?

I began to wonder if the rash was rooted in anxiety. The boys and I had come to the end of ourselves. Maybe he had too. Was his already fragile body revolting? This doctor looked him over and came up with yet another diagnosis: shingles. Yea. Sure. One more opinion to toss on the heap. I took him back to the apartment where he began yet another round of rash meds. I cried most of the way back to SC. I was so exhausted I became lost in my own hometown due to a rain storm. All I could see before me was Jeff's rash. I left him looking like Job in the midst of his sojourn on the trash heap. All he lacked was broken pottery with which to scratch.

I returned the hospital as soon as I was cleared as free of shingles. The relentless days began again. One day good – the next day bad. Roller coaster doesn't describe how we teetered and tottered from hope to despair. On good days, she worked cross word puzzles, played checkers with my boys, and joked with the staff. On bad days she struggled with temperature control and panted for breath even tho she was confined to bed and assisted by a vent. 
One of Jeff's visits home, I really don't remember which one now, we were at another doctor. This one looked him over and said, he didn't have shingles. His guess was that Jeff had struggled with allergic eczema secondary to sepsis. Now that we know, any doctor we tell nods sagely as if they would have known it all along. Why then, did it take 2 months and multiple doctors for someone to find the path to relief for him? Medicine: where art meets science, and you hope they do so in a timely fashion!

I decided to follow the advice of a friend whose 3 children had spent 3 weeks undergoing evaluations at the Jewish Children's Hospital in Denver. One thing that plagued them was eczema. She told me to have Jeff soak in a warm tub while I soaked Long Johns in hot water. When he emerged, he was to put on the wet PJ's followed by a pair of dry ones over top. Sounded like voodoo medicine to me. Sounded like more work than I could absorb. I did what mothers and wives do. I kept on stretching. Wonder of wonders, the rash showed the first sign of improvement after only 30 minutes in a 'wet wrap'. It was startling. It almost seemed to good to be true. By the end of that weekend, or I think that was the one, he told me he'd made a decision.

He would remain in TN another year. We'd give the economy one more year to recover. Our house had recouped some value. Perhaps one more would make the difference. We'd lose all those moving perks. The move would be all ours to bear. Surely, a year would make the difference. That conversation was 14 months ago. Ignorance is bliss till you find out what you didn't see coming. Who could have known what the economy held in store just this week. Almost makes you want to laugh. If you didn't want to cry.

When we least expected it, his old boss called. His old company had work. Might only be 6-8 months. If there was more then, Jeff would have more work. If not, they couldn't give what they didn't have. Might he be available to return to work for them? In less than a month, my mom would tell the doctors it was time to let her go home to the God she never lost sight of in her 80 years of life.

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