Well, the ‘third part of the journey’ (operation bad esophagus: enter, probe, cut. remove, stretch stomach, stitch…close) completed and successful well over a week ago.
Now for recuperation. Recovery. Putting some meat on these bones.
But not before ‘thank you’s’ to everyone for the healing, the hope, the love sent via prayers, visits, phone calls, cards, gifts. Family and old friends, local ministers (Rev. Michael Brecke and Rev. Phil Sweet, my two favorite men-of-the-cloth), shaman, astrologers, Native American medicine folk, meditation people of every belief. It all worked. Blessings.
Yes, all the bigness of heart, wonder of words worked—plus the golden hands of surgeon, Dr. James Maloney, University of Wisconsin Hospital, who walked into my room one week after the operation and said I was ready to be released. Everything in order. The cancer gone. A new order/pathway intricately cleared to consumption, digestion, better health. A new man.
A writer with a loss for words ? Guilty. How to honor and thank a man, a surgical artist, for handing your life back to you with a smile?
“I heard you were the best,” I said, voice breaking, eyes watery…
“It’s not me,” he said. “It’s the team.” Teams of physicians I encountered from day one, months ago, at the UW Madison facility. I am forever thankful to all of them.
To leave every aspect of ‘hospital stay’ behind, especially the air one breathes in such a state of lingering anticipation of confinement/release, the order of odors from medicinal to stale atmosphere…and to then suddenly walk away (be wheel-chaired away) from it all…find oneself sliding the car windows open on a journey back home…freedom, alive again, inhaling/exhaling deep gulps of rural Wisconsin pastures, fields, woods, wind, the possibility of thunder showers, the freshness of air breezing off lakes and rivers…oh sweet on-my-way-home-Wisconsin…dazed by cows and cattle, red barns, white farmhouses in the shade of old oak trees, corn fields, tractors turning up earth, hay bales, and horses lazily grazing in a bucolic dreamscape drifting into nap-time…my i-Pod plugged into Bach…my partner, my woman, my caretaker, Jude at the wheel, glancing at me every minute…”You okay?”…a pat on my hand. The smile I feel on my face, answer enough.
To finally turn down the road I call mine, the road I can’t wait to be walking (maybe tomorrow?) again…to pull into the driveway, welcome the new lawn compliments of my son, Christo, and daughter, Bridget, after the new well destroyed my yard… Ah, the trees, the woods, the bird bath and feeder, my old rocking chair on the deck, the flowers in bloom…the very house itself, which I truly love, a perfect habitat…every room—kitchen, kitchen nook, dining room, study, upstairs bedrooms, cellar—every Persian rug, every piece of furniture, and pottery, all the art objects that hold my attention…my books, my beloved walls of books, soooo good to be back in my chair, everything I need within reach–pens, notebooks, scissors, stapler, magazines, newspapers, films, current books I am reading…phone, phonograph, i-Pod dock, television…all my clocks tick-tocking and striking (all the wrong time). Who cares? The time is now.
Recuperation is a long word that stretches out for who know how many days, nights, weeks, months…? I welcome it, however long it takes. Just a little improvement each day will be fine.
I sleep the first night in my La-Z-Boy, propped up at a thirty degree angle (as I must now for the rest of my life) and sleep good, well, perhaps even profound.
My eyes open to early morning sun light drifting along the very tops of the beautiful white birch and maple trees across the road. I love to watch this play of light at dawn…how it drifts slowly down the tops of trees, from branches to trunk as the sun climbs higher above the great lake, and the smaller one at the end of my road. The front door open to cool morning air and the sound of birds. No one on the road at this hour. Nothing…nothing but the serenity of silence…natural sounds.
That moment comes when I dress…a chore in this recuperation mode. Every move takes forever, brings a little pain. But I gather myself together the very first morning upon my return from the hospital and take to the road.
The road which is already undergoing subtle change. The cool shadow of fall in the air. Leaves and grasses no longer expressing the bright freshness of May or June green, but grown old, tired, discolored, on their way to russet, amber. Some of the branches of the maples already exhibit transforming shades of green-yellow…green pink and bright red. Autumn, stealthily working its way across the landscape.
My roadside, ditch garden has turned to mostly white Queen Ann’s Lace bobbing in a gentle breeze, some straggling blue corn flowers, purple clover, spikes of golden rod, and here and there black-eyed Susan’s taking a peek at me.
A huge V of honkers fly over me and makes my day. I catch myself about to wave and say to them on high: “I’m back! I’m back! Good to see and hear you guys again!”
So caught up in the moment, I am amazed to find myself completing my usual long walk (which I have not done in months), and on my way home again.
As I approach the gravel driveway, I am aware of Jude in the kitchen getting my ‘liquid diet’ breakfast of juice and cream of wheat ready on the table in the nook. We will sit down together and eat, laugh, gossip, tell stories, make plans.
Of all those in my thoughts throughout this health ordeal, she reigns supreme. I could not have made it this far without her ‘intensive care.’ All the time and energy she has devoted to me day after day, night after night, hospital after hospital. All my moaning an groaning, ups and downs. She has a better perspective on so many more things in life than I will ever have. I envy sometimes her pure joy in daily life.
One small measure of thanks: I recently purchased a print for her by Mary Hamilton called “Simple Pleasures” at a local gallery. Every image in the print speaks of her. I wanted her to know that , “simple pleasures” is one of the things I most love about her…and all that she has brought to my life these past years.
I am reminded too of our many simple picnics (“a loaf of bread, a jug of wine and thou singing in the wilderness”) which we have shared in our favorite Door County parks. I long to be well enough, soon, to get back to that…to stop at Annie’s TOP SHELF gourmet shop in Sister Bay, buy a loaf of crusty fresh French bread, small portions of some exotic cheese, a bottle of wine…and head to a picnic bench in Peninsula or Newport Park.
I am reminded too of my friend Reverend Phil Sweet’s life-long search for meaningful religion in our age (from Christianity to Buddhism and beyond), a faith he has honed into six simple words as he continues his personal search: “To love and to be loved.”
If I were to leave the planet tomorrow, may my last expression be a smile upon my face.
It’s all good.
It’s that simple.
Norbert Blei | Photo: Jude Genereaux