Tuesday, May 29, 2007

601 days, 0 hours, 14 minutes, 43 seconds

A Pajamas NJ middle school closes on the eve of her surgery because dirt contaminated with chlordane has been found adjacent to the school property. A fourteen year-old boy shows up today wearing a gas mask. A twelve year-old stayed home with yet another headache. School officials knew about the problem for months and never told anyone. It's just to kill termites. And hasn't been used in years. They say children would have to eat lots of this contaminated dirt every day for seventy years in order to suffer harm. But she knows better.

601 days, 10 hours, 7 minutes, 35 seconds

And she thinks of how half a grapefruit and an English muffin, toasted dark, used to be her staple at the coffee shop. Then they put her on Zocor. Then they put her on Glucophage. Fed up? the small print at the bottom of the sign asks, directing her to honest advice about weight loss. She's fed up.

601 days, 10 hours, 25 minutes, 7.9 seconds

At Popover for what might be the last lunch of her life. They seat her by a window, a dirty Teddy bear on the ledge behind her head. And she thinks of Mary again, in Berkeley, those Teddy bears over her head. She orders her favorite here – Waldorf salad, actually they call it What's Up Waldorf on the menu. Probably because it has a lot of shredded carrots. What's Up, Doc?

601 days, 22 hours, 19 minutes, 18.4 seconds

On the news tonight (last night), they talk about 1,075 killed in Iraq and Afghanistan since last Memorial Day. So there are all sorts of deaths. And, she supposes, many of those killed would have had all sorts of medical problems had they been kept alive. And that's 1,075 Americans killed. As if the other deaths don't matter. Countries, like people, can get so caught up in themselves... It's ridiculous.

Monday, May 28, 2007

602 days, 5 hours, 29 minutes, 37 seconds

She can't help thinking about her aunt. 1952 or 1953. Forty years old. Dying. No one ever mentioned the C word, just as, in those days, doctors told the families but not the patients. The point was don't let them know they're dying, give them hope, give them strength to live. Nettie knew. Convinced she was dying of lung cancer, that she'd brought this on herself, smoking two packs a day. It wasn't lung cancer, though. She thinks it was breast cancer.

602 days, 5 hours, 46 minutes, 54 seconds

Memorial Day. Which of course makes her wonder if a year from now there will be people visiting her grave. Placing stones or flowers. They've decided they want to be buried in Rhode Island, because his family is larger, because she's closer to his family. His father sends them a photo of himself standing by where his wife is buried, showing the two plots next to it: theirs. They haven't told her father yet.

They haven't told her father about being sick, or about the hospital.

Memorial Day. In 1991, just before her one other major surgery, they decided to go to Washington for the weekend. Originally thought they'd drive down, then decided to take a train, then decided to take an earlier train home. Temperatures in the nineties. The weekend from hell.

Ten years later, after the first breast cancer, they decided on a trip to Nova Scotia. Another hellish journey. But nothing so frightening as this next trip across town. Or his coming back from there, alone.

Saturday, May 26, 2007

604 days, 5 hours, 41 minutes, 18 seconds

Leave it to him to remind her of the time, their first year together, when the pigeon shit on her head.

604 days, 10 hours, 31 minutes, 35.2 seconds

She remembers shaking. Actually, she thought the bed was vibrating. It was in a hotel in Philadelphia, maybe six years ago. She thought someone in the room downstairs might be doing something to make the bed vibrate. Then she gave up thinking and just lay there. Her father, whom she'd seen that afternoon, was home in Margate. She'd thought maybe he'd stay with her, or at least have dinner. That's why she kept the room a second night. But he wanted to get home right after the doctor told him his mind was fine, there was nothing to worry about. Wanted to get home while he still remembered where home was. Maybe it was seven years ago.

604 days, 10 hours, 38 minutes, 14.5 seconds

Middle of the night, last night, she woke in a state of panic. 2:34 a.m. Not asleep more than an hour. Normally, she would still be up and working at that time, but nothing's normal. She twists the wedding ring around her finger, takes a Clonitin, decides to wake her husband. Arms around her, he's quickly back to sleep. She's calming down, but still shaking, sleepless, searching for that giant brass ring again, the hell with the rest of this.

604 days, 10 hours, 51 minutes, 12 seconds

Sixteen years ago ago, when she went in for surgery, they removed all her other jewelry but taped down her wedding ring, crosswise, only a hint of gold visible. The ring was just fifteen months old then, and it still felt new. What will they do this time, the surgery three times longer, her finger somewhat swollen from where the ring's grown tight against it? The surgeon says the numbness in those two fingers might be coming from the larger lesion in the brain. She knew she should have had her head examined when that finger first numbed. Knew in the back of her head, where the tumor is. This could have been caught over a year ago. It was around then that she lost the ring, or thought she lost it. Only to have it turn up two days later in the unmade bed, pulled off sometime in a nightmare she couldn't remember. And this hospital bed? And this nightmare?

604 days, 13 hours, 59 minutes, 4.6 seconds

Four days until another 100-day mark. Four horrendous days. Four days of Clonitin to try and keep her calm. At midnight of the 600 mark she'll be unable to eat. Around six a.m. of the 600 mark she'll be heading for the hospital. Around noon of the 600 mark she'll be in surgery. Around five p.m. of the 600 mark she'll have no idea where she is. The very next day the month will be changing. She's supposed to start another section of this blog then. God only knows if she will.

Friday, May 25, 2007

605 days, 1 hours, 27 minutes, 54 seconds

Her fortune: To love and be loved is to feel the sun from both sides. His fortune: The weekend ahead predicts enjoyment. She hates the sun.

605 days, 10 hours, 55 minutes, 53 seconds

Immunity, the water bottle says. Fruit20, berry-pomegranate. This is a new one. She's become addicted to these flavored, no carb, no calorie waters since she discovered them four years ago. But they keep changing around the flavors. Immunity, she thought it a stroke of good luck at this moment in time. Enhanced with Antioxidants C & E, plus Vitamin A. She drank all of two bottles before the nurse advised her to stay off Vitamins C and E. Immunity. It was probably just a catchy name anyway. Like they name plants and wedding rings.

605 days, 13 hours, 34 minutes, 49 seconds

It started in Vermont, so picturesque you could believe the whole world started there. Originally it was going to be the two couples. Then her husband backed out. So it was the three of them. Three on a match. And while her friends were hiking she drove into Middlebury. Saw the Backwards Bush clock for the first time (she didn't think to buy it). Saw the hand sanitizer lotion in her friend's backpack. Better than soap, she said, and you can't always get to a bathroom when you want to wash up. She started using this last year when two close friends were dying.

605 days, 16 hours, 0 minutes, 40 seconds

Two years ago? Three years ago? The friend of a friend called to warn her that her friend was freaking out, crashing at her country home, not answering the phone, not taking care of the animals as promised. And this friend might well be headed in our narrator's direction. A few days after that the friend called, not knowing how to explain the call, except she's learned that this friend at whose house she was crashing has a brain tumor. Hence the personality changes.

605 days, 16 hours, 12 minutes, 41 seconds

Time stopped two days ago. Papers on her desk piled high enough that they rested against the new fantasy clock's exposed hands. She moved the papers, turned the hands, and nothing seems the worse for it.

When she had this workspace built, two years ago, she asked for closed cabinets instead of open shelves, thinking to hide the clutter. Instead more piles up in what little open space there is. Then again, you should see the piles of papers in her father's study.

An article she read talks about how colors affect the mood of a workplace. But everything's oak veneer here. She fools around for hours, finally selects a soft rose screen for her desktop. It's the most she can do.

606 days, 8 hours, 21 minutes, 57 seconds

At least she has a primary care physician now. When she had the last surgery she'd never even heard the term, and had to rely on hospital interns. And of course the PC's leaving for vacation tomorrow (it's Memorial Day weekend, after all). She makes an appointment with an associate. Gets out of the cab with less than a minute to spare. Coughs. Tries to see through the thick mass shrouding her legs and arms and brain. She finds the right address. A fireman holds the door open for her.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

607 days, 4 hours, 31 minutes, 38.9 seconds

Four tables pushed together in the patient dining room. People sit and write. She remembers when she led this workshop in the library, two round tables together, eight or infinity, or simply people slotted in with their backs to others. For weeks a man was wheeled in on a stretcher and dictated on and on, hard in that small room that's now a nurses' station. Easier here. Four rectangular tables pushed together, windows that can be openned, plenty of light. There could be six tables, eight tables. Some weeks floral centerpieces are removed so there won't be distractions. Even though it's nearly the end of May, tonight there are no flowers.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

607 days, 21 hours, 4 minutes, 33.3 seconds

She has to feel a certain sense of comfort with her doctors. They don't have to be hot shot, cutting edge, top ten of the top 100 bullies, they just have to know what a scalpel is or when an x-ray's upside down. They have to smile. They have to warm their lips before they touch her, just like Grandma's doctor, just like that doctor when she went away to camp.

608 days, 0 hours, 2 minutes, 42 seconds

Yesterday's news: Avandia, a hotshot medication for type 2 diabetes, has been found to increase the risk of heart attack by up to 64%. Six million people have taken the drug over the past eight years. She takes a deep breath. Six million Jews killed in the Holocaust. Six million diabetics. Breathe in. Breathe out. She can feel the cancer in her lungs now.

And how close, she wonders, did she come to taking this? Five years fighting off medications, then relenting. Glucophage, then Glyburide for a few brief days, now back to Glucophage. Avandia was never even mentioned. Insulin, possibly, for a brief time, if she needs steroids. On and then off. With a doctor she has complete trust in (not to mention a cell phone number, and a home phone).

And with some other doctor? The endocrinologist at NYU with whom she first made an appointment? The doctor recommended by her gynecologist's nurse? Slowly but surely she's learning her nose is a dog's nose, cold, dripping a bit, but on the right scents. A dog tied to a tree out behind a little dollhouse, perhaps. Safe in Allstate's hands.

Google turns up 1,231 stories on Avandia. Yesterday's news.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

608 days, 22 hours, 46 minutes, 9.2 seconds

Shortly after Isaac Asimov died, NPR replayed an interview from a decade before in which he was asked what he would do if he was told he had only six months left to live, and he responded "type faster." Looking up that quote on the Internet now, she sees some places state it as six minutes to live.

She repeated that quote when she got breast cancer. The first time. But she never expected it would ever really come down to that. Not for her.

At least 609 is over. Gone. Banished. The worst day of her life. And she'd been waiting so long...

Monday, May 21, 2007

609 days, 6 hours, 47 minutes, 7 seconds

Her parents grew up through the Depression, always looking to save money. So when the ban on cyclamates was introduced, back in 1970, they ran to all the supermarkets in the area, buying up diet sodas for next to nothing. They'd been drinking it for years, so why stop now? But she was away from home by then anyway.

609 days, 7 hours, 2 minutes, 51 seconds

That last Botox, the one that she didn't think was working? Remember, that was on her anniversary.

609 days, 13 hours, 6 minutes, 28 seconds

A headache wakes her in the middle of the night. She has one of her worst coughing fits, despite gulping cough syrup. When she wakes again she has the pervasive sense that he's going to want to attack this as aggressively as possible, hospitalize her for two weeks, give her the chemo and insulin. She pictures all her other organs shutting down. Looking outward, it's a crisp, almost cloudless day. So was September 11.

609 days, 23 hours, 27 minutes, 7.2 seconds

609. She can't tell you how long she's been waiting, looking forward to this day. 609, her address. 609, the area code from a childhood before there were area codes. The number seems to follow her around.

609. Take out the 0.

609. He had this address before she knew him (she married him for his apartment and his medical insurance, she used to joke). Then his insurance went downhill. Then she went downhill. Or downstairs. This building's one of the few built with all duplex apartments, even won some sort of design award. He's carefully mentioned that there might come a time when climbing the stairs every time they needed a bathroom would be too much for them. He doesn't say which one of them.

Now, half a day away from the doctor's office, she goes to take a shower, sees her towel is ripped, and just throws it out. It had been part of a monogrammed set they received as a wedding gift.

Sunday, May 20, 2007

610 days, 2 hours, 3 minutes, 31 seconds

For the second night in a row, coconut sorbet soothes her throat and lungs. To hell with diabetes. Coconut and pumpkin have become her favorite foods. Then she remembers those coconut heads her parents brought home from Nassau on their one vacation. Her mother, she learned later, was cracking up at that point. Spooky to the child. Who turns her thoughts to Jack-O-Lanterns.

610 days, 3 hours, 41 minutes, 52 seconds

Amsterdam's new airport security system reveals all, the headline says. In these terrified days, this is a first. It sees through clothes, outlines body contours. Analyzed by attendants in a separate room, the face blurred beyond recognition to maintain the illusion of privacy. It's sure to find drugs, smuggled money, or weapons. But she wonders if it would have found the tumor. If anyone would have looked, or cared. If, given the choice (and travelers, at least for now, can elect to have normal body scans), she would have thought to choose it. It's been over thirty years since she was in Amsterdam. The man she worked and studied with there is dead already.

610 days, 8 hours, 7 minutes, 17 seconds

Funky pink socks for $1 a pair, a strawberry and raspberry crepe, and a $10 for 10 minue chair massage outside at the Amsterdam Ave. street fair. This is what it's come to.

Saturday, May 19, 2007

611 days, 2 hours, 34 minutes, 19 seconds

611. She thinks of it as a comfort zone, halfway between 911 and 311. She'd planned it for her answering machine code, but somehow ended up with 116. Now she finds it's the code the used for her breathing test.

Friday, May 18, 2007

612 days, 1 hours, 57 minutes, 24 seconds

She scratches her head. Wishes now she'd washed better. She can almost feel the two lesions under the surface.

In camp, fifty years ago, she recalls other kids getting ticks in their hair, and was disappointed when counselors examined and just told her to wash better.

She twirls a dirty strand around a dirty finger. Last summer her greatest fear was of Lyme disease.

612 days, 14 hours, 52 minutes, 30 seconds

She's cold. She was cold yesterday also. Knowing how hot she gets, she'd asked the attendant to turn off the heater in her holding cell yesterday, then wrapped up in a blanket and had to call someone to turn the heat back on. Now, in the waiting cell at the hospital, she's cold again. And she never gets cold.

612 days, 15 hours, 42 minutes, 39 seconds

On the morning of her lung biopsy, she notices Dopey's cymbal has fallen off. The little leather strap crumples in her hand. The car service can't make it and the first cab they find doesn't notice her. They wait ten minutes and finally get another cab. The guard downstairs at the hospital greets them warmly. She'll have to find a small leather strap. Or a shoelace.

613 days, 12 hours, 54 minutes, 55 seconds

One of her students, years ago, talked about a poem she wrote at one of the workshops. After that she got sick and was running from doctor to doctor, held onto her sanity by having that poem along with her, sitting in waiting rooms revising it. She's used that example with class after class, never dreamed she'd be applying it to her own life. And it wasn't sanity E. was hanging onto, more a sense of self. E. was always sane. That's what she has to remember.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

613 days, 13 hours, 12 minutes, 56.7 seconds

Driving over to the east side for lunch yesterday, she passed a "Stand-Up MRI" lab. Sounds like Stand-Up Comedy.

613 days, 23 hours, 42 minutes, 33 seconds

He tells her how, years before she knew him, he gave is friends pet rocks for Christmas.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

614 days, 5 hours, 33 minutes, 39 seconds

And his brother called everyone together in the living room, congratulated his daughter on her graduation, and then went into a story about a dog he'd seen on the road the other day. Hit by a car, he thought. He looked dead, but still he lifted it into the back of his truck and took it to the vet. The vet pt it up on the table and brought a tabby cat in and placed it by the dog's head. The cat walked all around the table and the dog didn't move and the vet wanted to charge him $200 for the cat scan.

It's not a cat scan, it's a CT Scan. She knows that now.

And tomorrow she's going for a pet scan. Radioactive, they tell her. She thinks of the vet two blocks away, with a puppy play group held there Tuesday and Thursday evenings, a bereavement group every Wednesday.

615 days, 7 hours, 27 minutes, 40 seconds

She tries not to think of her father's lungs. This is another Mt. Sinai doctor, the waiting room (small as it is) filled with women in wigs and men in yamalkas. She hears a cheerleader encouraging someone to breathe, breathe, breathe. She hears a Brooklyn accent. Her father doesn't even know she's here.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

615 days, 20 hours, 49 minutes, 53 seconds

Lynda – with a Y. She's only known one Lynda. But an interesting enough name that she chose it for the main character in a novel. Lynda. Slightly affected, a bit pretentious, but it fit. That novel sitting in the drawer, a newer manuscript on top of it. She'd been thinking of her mother when she started and finished it, five years ago. And now she's met another Lynda. The doctor who told her about the brain lesions. Who said these lesions can't cause headaches. Who worked with brain cancer patients. Who prescribed a steroid. Who sat with her earnestly, trying to keep her calm. Who also lives in an apartment on the 17th floor, but with windows too small to climb out of. Who returned the call to her cell phone within the hour. Who, she learns now, is a nurse-practitioner.

Monday, May 14, 2007

616 days, 5 hours, 53 minutes, 45 seconds

Ponging Bush again, she thinks of dodge ball. The pre-kickball school recess days, when everyone had a fair advantage, when it wasn't teamwork, no one had to choose her first or last. Beating her head against a brick wall. Those Trick or Treat Halloweens of her childhood where she used to spin on her head, no arms, and still she never got the candy apples.

616 days, 6 hours, 55 minutes, 40 seconds

She uploads the new pink Hairy photos from her camera, realizes there's one photo from a few days ago. Part of her Leaves series. A filter cigarette butt on the sidewalk, surrounded by some soft petals, and a few hot pink buds.

This is getting ridiculous. She started this series last fall, capturing the butts, trying to set them apart as objects of beauty, remembering tobacco is a leaf as well. A close smoker photographer friend can't bear to look.

She never thought it would go this far.

616 days, 7 hours, 26 minutes, 38 seconds

Meet Hairy's younger brother.
He lights up, as on an ex-ray.

616 days, 9 hours, 54 minutes, 39 seconds

She says lesions. He says legions. She thinks of Legionnaires' disease. The first outbreak was at a historic Philadelphia hotel in Center City right near the Medical Towers Building where, years before, she'd been getting her head shrunk.

616 days, 9 hours, 59 minutes, 25.7 seconds

A blue brain and a grey brain. But nothing to squeeze today. The botox is working. Even these little lesions could be causing the headache. But that's the least of her worries. Walking up to E.A.T. for lunch, they stop in the gift shop, where her husband buys her two large white marbles, one with blue veins, one with red and orange. He'll keep them in his desk, in case she needs them.

616 days, 13 hours, 21 minutes, 47 seconds

A friend writes that three weeks ago she had something called a pelvic reconstruction operation. Lovely, huh??! Sounds like a maneuver in Iraq!

616 days, 13 hours, 35 minutes, 29 seconds

The widow of her husband's best friend recently finished sewing a quilt for her first grandchild, all the wonderful storybook animals, using pieces of her husband's shirts within the pattern. She remembers those shirts. Remembers him walking out for a cigarette. Remembers him trying one patch or another. Remembers her husband's voice on the phone when he got the call that his friend had a heart attack a Yankee Stadium. These memories are what hold her fast and far from seventeenth floor windows.

616 days, 13 hours, 52 minutes, 19 seconds

A strange-sounding voice on the boob tube talks about being born on an island where swimming was a way of life. He used to love to swim. Then he got throat cancer from smoking. He breathes through a hole in his throat. If he swam the water would drown him.

Big deal. She detested swimming.

Little children, in another public service announcement, say "we" smoke two packs a day, a pack a day, we've smoked ten cigarettes since we got up this morning. "We" is me and mommy. Me and daddy.

Children think they're the center of the universe.

For a limited time, New York City is offering smokers a free patch to help them quit. Quilts, blouses, skirts, blouses, carryalls, vests, even a clock now. She used to love patchwork.

616 days, 23 hours, 29 minutes, 43 seconds

So Bush walks up to the bandstand, stands behind the female conductor silently for a moment. No, not to give her a backrub. At last she realizes the president's standing there, waiting for her to pass the torch, or the baton which he thinks of as a torch. Stars and Stripes Forever. Just like Daddy taught him to play on the little multicolored xylophone he used to adore. Bang bang bang, bang bang bang, right, left, right, left. He picks up his pace and the musicians follow smoothly. Speech done. This was supposed to be his exit music. He gestures more wildly. This is Jamestown, 400 years ago today the first real Americans camped out here. Bang bang bang, left, right, left, there's no Cheney head to hold him in check, no Daddy to hold him back and, off steroids tonight, she's too tired.

Sunday, May 13, 2007

617 days, 12 hours, 47 minutes, 35 seconds

Wonder Woman, she called herself. Daughter Dynamo, a friend called her. But that was years ago. She was alone then. She had a sense of her own strengths, felt she could do it all alone. Wonder Woman. Sitting with that friend, discussing another friend, and how his being alone meant he was too reliant on everyone. Driving his friends away when he suspected they didn't love him enough. Is that what I'll be twenty years from now? she asked. And he assured her she wouldn't. And she didn't believe him. That's when she started thinking maybe she could love just one person who could love her back. That's when she met her husband. Superman. Wonder Woman. Daughter Dynamo. She hasn't heard from that friend in over two years now, and his health was failing even then.

617 days, 12 hours, 56 minutes, 7.8 seconds

A mother is not a dust rag, Shalom Alechim wrote. She has a poem about it in her last book. And she gave the assignment to her students this week before Mothers Day. Memories of her mother showing her how to dust the blinds at a point when she had to stand on a chair to reach them. Her friends loving to help out. What friends? A student who she knows has a daughter writes about not letting dust in her childless house, dust motes being like naughty children. Why didn't she think of that? She turns on her computer. She dusts her computer screen. It's going to be a long Mothers Day this year. She woke with a headache and slight palpitations. But at least her blood's down. And at least she's writing.

617 days, 20 hours, 33.7 minutes, 17.2 seconds

She says okay, another twenty years, but she has her fingers crossed behind her back so he won't see. Twenty years was as long as she lived in her parents' house, and she vows never to go through that hell again. Not one more night there. By fifteen: I'm nothing, I'm nobody, I have no right to live. The good shrink: yes, you do, you're a writer. And she had to write from then on. You have no idea how heartbroken I was when you quit school, her father says. It's the best thing that ever happened to me, she tries to tell him. And he lowers his head, shaking off her words. Even fifteen years she can't promise him. Not like this.

Saturday, May 12, 2007

618 days, 0 hours, 38 minutes, 33 seconds

A three-alarm fire in a Bronx post office this afternoon, around three o'clock. The post office closed to the public at two. It's Saturday. Last day to mail before the rates go up. Two workers were in the back room sorting mail. They suffered minor injuries, along with seventeen firemen. No mail was damaged. Years ago she reminded him that if he didn't like stopping at the mailbox, he never should have married a mailbox dwarf. After years of complaining, he's trying to make up for it now.

618 days, 1 hours, 28 minutes, 36 seconds

It's about time. Five different clocks he gave her over the years. The Backwards Bush clock – one on her computer, one on this blog, four key chains. She was thinking of buying a desk clock as well. But time's running out. If she's going to be spending a fortune on doctors, all that time with doctors , the last thing she wants to be reminded of is that Bush might outlive her. Besides, there's the craft fair this weekend down by the museum. And she remembers the Fantasy Clocks there – clocks she's looked at longingly every spring and fall, as possible gifts. Plenty of distractions. A melange of gears. A slide viewer modeled on those old stereo opticon viewers (he throws in three slides), a wind-up music box ("We're Off To See the Wizard"). She replaces a biplane with Wonder Woman. Replaces a Tarot Card with a postcard sent from the Amityville Beach in 1935. Before the horrors. Before her parents met. Before lungs ever thought to fill with water.

618 days, 1 hours, 45 minutes, 18 seconds

She's smoked maybe ten cigarettes. Never inhaled. The first time she smoked dope, out at her cousin's in California, she got incredibly paranoid. They were growing some plants out back, and a deer had been eating them. They talked about what they'd do if they caught that deer, and she took it as a metaphor for what they'd do to her if she told her uncle they'd let her smoke with them. She remembers Engelbert Humperdinck on the stereo, and how slow the music seemed. She remembers sitting at the table, lifting food to her mouth. Her mother smoked the first twelve years of her life. Her husband smoked the first four years they were together, quitting the year before they married. It was when the restaurants started smoking sections. They went someplace new, she said the smoking section, he said non-smoking. He'd run out of cigarettes two weeks ago. She hadn't noticed. Cold turkey. Second hand. Her mother bringing home selected items from when she worked the charity rummage sales.

618 days, 21 hours, 3 minutes, 49,5 seconds

Two days ago her husband insisted she owes him another twenty years. And he's started his own countdown clock.

619 days, 4 hours, 34 minutes, 30 seconds

A tumor on hr right lung. Breast doctor, oncologist, CT scan. Next week: neurologist, endocrinologist, biopsy, pet scan (if her glucose is under control). This is all happening so fast she can't catch her breath.

Friday, May 11, 2007

619 days, 20 hours, 3 minutes, 41 seconds

April 3, 2007: A woman suffering from a debilitating migraine headache who was mistakenly arrested for drunken driving has agreed to accept $1,500 to drop her lawsuit against the Portland police. She was driving home from Thanksgiving dinner with friends in 2004 when she suffered a migraine so severe it forced her to pull over and vomit.

619 days, 20 hours, 28 minutes, 49 seconds

He's getting too old for this, she recalls him saying. Every six months or so she'd get in the car and head for New York on a book-buying trip. She'd been high on Ritalin, some tranquillizers from the night before still in her system. And three times out of four she'd have an accident driving home, and her father would have to drive out late at night to rescue her. Too old for this. And indeed he seemed old. He turned 52 a week after she moved to the city.

619 days, 20 hours, 30 minutes, 25 seconds

Last Sunday, over dinner, her father talked about how awful it was leaving her in that hotel in New York. And then how he had to drive back up the next day to move her to a different hotel because the first was full of prostitutes. She tells him he's got it wrong. He took her to one hotel. And it was three or four months later when the prostitute was murdered in the room next door to hers. She'd been in Atlantic City for the weekend, and they'd driven her back. The little old woman on the other side of the hall, the one she shared a bath with, came out to give her the news. And she stayed in that hotel another month before finding an apartment.

619 days, 20 hours, 45 minutes, 32 seconds

Peru, Indiana: April 23, 2007: An 11-year-old girl stopped a van that went out of control when her diabetic mother became ill, police said. Besides stopping the van, Abigail kept her mother and 8-year-old brother calm and informed paramedics about her mother's condition. Deborah Parker, 36, of Muncie, who had been driving, was unaware of her surroundings. She was treated for low blood sugar. Abigail told police her mother had started driving erratically at about 80 mph. The girl said she climbed from the rear seat of the van onto the woman's lap and managed to stop the vehicle before calling 911.

619 days, 21 hours, 11 minutes, 21.4 seconds

It was 11 nights ago, driving home from Brooklyn. She'd had a bad headache all day. Her husband was beside her in the car. Up 6th St., left on Flatbush, over the Manhattan Bridge, somehow up to Houston St., then Bedford, then what she thought was Hudson, what she thought was 8th, the meat market, some torn up street (her husband ask where she's going ), what she thought was 8th, over on 14th St., east which she thought was west, the cops' lights behind her. One cop approaching each side of the car. Did she do something wrong? No, they pulled her over because she was weaving in and out of lanes. Is she okay? She's fine, she says. It was just that blinding headache, she didn't say, pulling out more slowly, heading up 6th Ave., trying to concentrate. She thought it was nothing more than a simple, if constant, headache. Later she'd admit she was in denial. Or weaving in and out.

619 days, 23 hours, 33 minutes, 54 seconds

Her husband imagines there will be another day-to-day photo sequence, much like the one she shot when the second cancer was diagnosed, when she realized all her writing would be maudlin. Day after day, from the diagnosis until she opted against blowing all the radiation on one minuscule area, she walked the streets every day, taking sometimes as many as 200 pictures. From which she selected only one a day. To get outside herself. Seeing more of her neighborhood than she'd ever imagined. But no, she says. No photo sequence this time. Her head's splitting. Even seeing some photo she needs as she walks along, it's all she can do to squint through that little hole. Whole.

619 days, 23 hours, 55 minutes, 21,7 seconds

Another picture, this from today's news. It's a hair dress that model's' wearing. A Croatian company has made it from 165 feet of blonde human hair. She modeled the dress at a fashion show in Zagreb, stunning crowds when she appeared on the catwalk.

But she's a long way from Croatia.

It reminds her of those medieval Catholic penitents going about in their hair shirts. For God's glory, Praised-be-His-Name. Blessed be He who created me according to His will.

She's thinking of getting in touch with a Buddhist shrink. Someone a balding friend knows.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

621 days, 0 hours, 13 minutes, 36 seconds

Meet Hairy, the hot pink headache ball. Squishy, cooling sometimes, fun to pillow her head and let it roll out from under her. Now meet Hairy's flowers, a gift that same day, losing shape and color now. If she ever enters another contest on migraine art, she thinks to use this picture. The drooping, heavy head. The funny Hairy the Headache ball. Two gifts the same day from her Yoga teacher. It was, of course, when they just assumed the Botox wasn't working. Or the sinus infection. She bends down and picks a small pink rubber strip off her grandmother's soothing rug. Hairy's going to lose all his hair, she says.

620 days, 11 hours, 20 minutes, 10.9 seconds

This is so good you could die, he says, waxing poetic over a Blimpie this time, probably from a rat-infested back room. She tells him that's not a good comparison right now. He says he realized that as he was saying it.

620 days, 11 hours, 56 minutes, 53 seconds

Walking into the neurologist's office yesterday, she detected a faint sweet smell, as of flowers or air freshener (she didn't see any flowers). And she almost said how this often triggered headaches, and how surprised she was to find it there. But by that time she was seated in the low recliner and the doctor had started talking.

620 days, 12 hours, 48 minutes, 20.2 seconds

1995. A formerly close friend, living in Wyoming, developed cancer that quickly spread throughout his body. He left his wife. As he put it, he'd been caring for her (she had MS) for years, not out of love but out of duty. And before that, his marriage at a standstill, he couldn't bear being away from his children. He always thought at some later point there'd be time for himself. But the cancer pushed that point. Another two or three years, they said. He lasted more like eight years. He married his lover, spent their honeymoon at the Casper Hospital. But what sticks out most in her mind is an email he wrote about his mother coming to visit, and how distraught she was at the prospect that her son would die before she did.

620 days, 12 hours, 49 minutes, 43 seconds

At this moment she'd sell her soul for Bush's brain.

620 days, 22 hours, 19 minutes, 21.5 seconds

She takes her wedding ring off before going to bed. She puts her ring back on.

620 days, 23 hours, 11 minutes, 6.7 seconds

First it was: will this computer last until there's a new president? Then it was: will either or both of their fathers die while she's writing this blog? At the moment none of that matters.

620 days, 23 hours, 54 minutes, 32 seconds

Yesterday's news: Misdiagnosed man seeks compensation. John Brandrick, 62, was told two years ago that he had terminal pancreatic cancer. He decided to spend his remaining time in style, quitting his job and spending his savings on hotels, restaurants and holidays. A year later doctors reversed their diagnosis. He was suffering from pancreatitis, a non-fatal ailment. Meanwhile he'd spent everything.

621 days, 0 hours, 3 minutes, 6 seconds

The question is who to tell, who not to tell. And who the hell reads this blog. Because the political IS personal, she said at the start. She just had no idea how personal it might become less than six months later. Her husband insists she owes him another twenty years. Her husband buys her dinner. Her husband asks if she can see any reason why she's gotten cancer three times now, and she gives the answer she gave before: all those chemicals in the back of her father's trucks, then her father's car. Sure, he was exposed to them much more than she was, but she was an infant, they were in her system before she had defenses. And this time he doesn't contradict her. Try not to blame your father, he says instead.

Wednesday, May 9, 2007

621 days, 0 hours, 13 minutes, 36 seconds

Lesions. Metastatic. Cancer. Two lesions, both small, one swollen. It's taken her ten hours to write these words. But writing doesn't make it true. It's early yet. More doctors. More tests. Her neurologist's out of the country until Monday, this was his assistant who got the report, a woman who's worked with brain cancer patients. A very young, warm doctor, but she might have come to this through what she knows already. She starts a steroid to lessen the headaches, and maybe shrink the swelling. She goes back on Glucophage to counteract the steroid. Chances are the Botox wasn't enough this time, lesions this small shouldn't have caused this sort of pain. So, once again, she lucked out. But the headache's still there. And even the newest Tylenol's sugar-coated.

621 days, 23 hours, 15 minutes, 29 seconds

I might have a brain tumor, you know, she says, home from her MRI, as he crawls into bed behind her. No, he says, you'd need to have a brain. How did he know? Tonight she rediscovered the "Give Bush a Brain" game. One time she managed to drop in seven brains, but most games only two or three. Even Dubyah wouldn't have any trouble matching that score, the final screen taunts. Bully! Still, it was fun for awhile.

Tuesday, May 8, 2007

622 days, 13 hours, 6 minutes, 2.4 seconds

She tries out the Day of Death clock for her father. Born September 7, 1916. Neither optimistic or pessimistic: Normal. Body mass index below normal. Never smoked. His time has already expired. He should have died Tuesday, June 19, 1990. Less than three months after they married. When her mother was still alive. When his mind was still sharp. She could go through a hundred Whens. They mean nothing.

622 days, 13 hours, 28 minutes, 32 seconds

A red letter day. Not only one intelligent person at Duane Reade, but three: the clerk who didn't try to argue, just passed it over to the pharmacist; the first pharmacist who saw sixty pills wouldn't fit in that small bottle but turned it over to her supervisor; the supervisor who didn't ask any questions, just gave her another thirty pills. And here she'd brought her husband along to defend her. He's sorry now he yelled at the repairman. Mostly, he says, it was a language problem.

622 days, 14 hours, 19 minutes, 58 seconds

There's nothing wrong. Except the refrigerator repairman comes at 8:45, not at 10:00, and her husband (the one who wanted him) is out getting breakfast while she sleeps. There's nothing wrong. Except that she's had a horrendous night: every time her eyes were almost completely shut she went through a slight panic attack, then the top of her head started hurting, then when she finally slept she had a nightmare. There's nothing wrong. The repairman moves the refrigerator out, turns it off, hears the sound. Nothing's wrong with it. She's back in bed by this time, unable to get back to sleep. When her husband challenges he says it's the water pipe that dropped down and is hitting against the coils. It's not his job to fix the water pipe. And there's nothing wrong. Nothing $100 won't fix. And he has to call the super to adjust the pipe or hose or whatever. Another $20, or $40, or $50. Which he should have done in the first place. There's nothing wrong except her blood's high (to be expected now that she's off the medication). She has to go downstairs and argue with the drugstore. Despite what some stupid clerk said last night, she knows it's been only two weeks, that the insurance won't process the refill yet. That bottle those pills came in won't even hold sixty pills, she knows they only gave her thirty. But try to prove that? There's nothing wrong. Her MRI's this afternoon, she has the workshop tonight, there's nothing to let go.

Monday, May 7, 2007

623 days, 10 hours, 38 minutes, 22 seconds

Well, they came and got me out of Texas, and I can tell you it's a privilege to be back, Roger Clemens said as the 45 year-old pitcher announced he would rejoin the Yankees, even agreeing to start off in the minor leagues. And 52,533 fans at the stadium got to their feet and went wild. Which proves New Yorkers actually welcome men from Texas. So long as they're winners. So long as they understand teamwork.

623 days, 11 hours, 20 minutes, 33 seconds

And yesterday he showed her all the books in the den, thinking maybe there were some she'd want. Books on finance and butterflies. He knew she liked to read. And she said, perhaps too quickly, that she'd take them to a used book store. Strand, probably. She didn't think to ask where his old Readers Digest condensed novels were. She'd read some of those. She thought for a moment of the old Time/Life photography books he had, still on those shelves, then realized they'd be of little use in this digital age. She'd given him most of those. Bought for half price or less, at Strand.

They'd been together in Middlebury, Vermont, about ten years ago, when his camera stopped working. He and his lady friend, she and her husband. For his birthday a month or so later they gave him a new digital camera – a Sony that stored pictures right on disk, so he wouldn't have to learn the quirks of transferring photos. As she showed him how to use it, she thought perhaps this was something else they might share. But they took entirely different sorts of photos. And he could never remember how to turn it on, how to snap a photo. And it pained her to see this intelligent man who suddenly coudn't keep things straight, couldn't manage even the things that, for her, were child's play.

623 days, 22 hours, 2 minutes, 3.4 seconds

Sitting on her father's sofa this afternoon, the computer on so she could take notes as he led her from room to room, seeing all he wanted her to see, she paused and copied the blog entries from a few hours earlier. He was on the phone. He hung up. She put the computer into standby. He got another call. She had just a few words left to type, and finished. She tore the pages out of her notebook, started to throw them in the trash, then shoved them in her pocket on the off chance he'd try to decipher her handwriting. What was is she afraid of? That he'd lecture her once again on how awful Bush is? That there'd be a connection between father and daughter surpassing following the Phillies together 43 years ago? That he'd be worried she'd be jailed for writing this? She could have at least shown him the Backwards Bush countdown clock.

623 days, 22 hours, 9 minutes, 5 seconds

He doesn't see any point in living this way, he says. Her husband would rattle off all the good times he's had in the past year, all the people who care about him. But she admits to feeling the same way. Once her mind goes, once she can no longer think and write, she wants out. She might have spent this past month with the worst headaches in over two years, felt the absolute terror of going back there, but she'd forgotten how good she is at writing through the pain, almost writing with more power because of it.

623 days, 22 hours, 12 minutes, 15.9 seconds

Her father admits he's feeling fairly well of late, physically, though he can't walk and slips a nitroglycerin pill under his tongue while they're talking – the first in months, he says. She doesn't know how he remembers. Over dinner he tells the story of going to Link Trainer school ten times within five minutes, backing up a sentence or two, so that it seems he'll never finish. And he knows it. He says he's near the end.

Sunday, May 6, 2007

624 days, 10 hours, 58 minutes, 40.4 seconds

She stops at the Atlantic City rest area to grab a quick lunch. The only service area on the Parkway between here and New York that doesn't have a Starbucks. In the gift shop there's a white tee-shirt with New Jersey written on the front in blue, already faded.

624 days, 11 hours, 6 minutes, 42 seconds

Their refrigerator's dying, a loud crash every time it shuts off, as if the compressor's falling out. Big deal, you say. So what, you say. But you don't understand. Their old refrigerator died Valentine's Day, 1990. The day he'd planned to propose to her.

624 days, 11 hours, 12 minutes, 15 seconds

Yesterday, walking the craft fair, one eye poised for possible Christmas gifts, they tried to count the number of wedding gifts they'd given to couples who later divorced. Then the number of weddings they attended. Silently, later, at home, she counted the number of funerals.

624 days, 20 hours, 20 minutes, 9.8 seconds

Maybe by tomorrow he'll remember her name.

624 days, 20 hours, 31 minutes, 49 seconds

There's one in every family. Easy enough to say when it's a large family. But she's an only child. Just her and her father left. One in every family? Her father at this point is shaking her head, wondering what he did wrong. She's shaking her head no, no, no, she doesn't want to visit. Doesn't want to spend a day, a night, an hour in that house alone. Or she might as well be alone. Or wishes she was alone. But maybe she can get a hotel room saying she needs high speed Internet. And maybe by tomorrow he'll remember his lawyer's name. But it's not likely.

624 days, 20 hours, 51 minutes, 50.5 seconds

The queen is coming, the queen is coming, the queen is coming! Bring out the white ties. Whitewash the White House. It's only the fourth time Elizabeth's been to visit. He must remember to switch his knife and fork between hands, regardless what the queen does. He must remember not to talk with food in his mouth, and not to drink water straight from the bottle. Black Colin won't be at his side to pour for him. He must not offer a shoulder rub to anyone. ANYONE. He must not even shake Her Majesty's hand unless she offers hers first. And, he reminds himself again and again, don't bring up Prince Charles, don't tell her he, too, has wet dreams about Camilla. The White House staff shakes its collective head. There's one in every family.

Friday, May 4, 2007

626 days, 20 hours, 59 minutes, 20 seconds

She wonders if this is what women feel once they've given birth. That weight suddenly lifted, having to learn how to walk again. Well, these headaches are the closest she'll ever come to that. And no, they're not menstrual headaches, this is not gestational diabetes. Thank God.

626 days, 21 hours, 3 minutes, 53 seconds

She has to cancel class next Tuesday. Because of the possible sinus infection. Because of an MRI. And she recalls, in the weeks just after Botox, how off balance she felt, that head not weighing her down.

626 days, 21 hours, 10 minutes, 16 seconds

When she lost track of center the other day, she was in the middle of Yoga. And it was Tuesday. And the maid had just left. It's not until tonight that she notices pictures on the walls are off center. Yet this happens every other Tuesday, every time the maid's in. She wants to be sure you know she dusted, the yoga teacher says.

626 days, 21 hours, 21 minutes, 36 seconds

There was something else she wanted to write here. Something about headaches and how now they're exploring a possible sinus infection. Then she looked at the time left: 21, 21, 36. She was not quite 21 when she moved to New York, she was 36 when she met him. That's all that matters.

626 days, 21 hours, 57 minutes, 13 seconds

The cabs are taking over her life these days. Tonight, after an 11 o'clock movie, they got one of those minivan cabs that she had trouble climbing up in. Then he sped off. Then the rattle started. Not rattle, more like knocking. As if he had metal rods somewhere right behind her head that batted against the sides of the car each time he went over even the slightest bump. An we're talking about a guy who raced lights and hit every pothole. Remember Sidewalker's? she whispers.

Wednesday, May 2, 2007

628 days, 10 hours, 29 minutes, 30 seconds

You didn't come out on top, you know, her husband says. His father recently totaled a car, his brother doing $4000 worth of damage. And her a measly $1400. Plus a repair shop she trusts, sort of, right around the corner from Toyota. Lucky accident.

628 days, 13 hours, 18 minutes, 19 seconds

But God knows how many minutes and hours were really left. It was the middle of the night. It felt like she had a caffeine withdrawal headache, her entire head throbbing. Maybe woken up. She lay in bed, facing the window. 17 floors down. It would be so easy...

His phone number's one digit away from that of the Hemlock Society. The first time someone dialed the wrong number he thought a friend was playing a joke on him. The second time it happened he actually tried to talk to the caller, starting with what do you want to do that for? It happened again a few weeks ago, and he thought to spend some time talking but got another call.

Seventeen years ago, right before they married, they thought she might have a brain tumor and he was trying to hold her back from the window with: Don't you want to die a wife? And a year after that someone either jumped or was pushed from a window on the other side of the building.

13 hours, 18 minutes, 19 seconds. That could be her age, those years when thoughts of suicide predominated. But really it was the middle of the night.

Tuesday, May 1, 2007

629 days, 5 hours, 13 minutes, 49 seconds

Lying on her back, on Grandma's carpet, she brings her left knee up to her chest, hugs it, bats it back and forth, back and forth, left hand, right hand. This is an exercise. This will loosen the muscles in her leg and back. Back and forth. She loses track of center, starts feeling dizzy, thinks of Bush, then of Cheney. Back and forth. Hitting harder now. By the time the class ends she's a basket case.

629 days, 9 hours, 25 minutes, 39 seconds

She thinks of those FEMA trailers around New Orleans, still lined up there after two years. And how people in New York and New Jersey, hard hit by the N'oreaster two weeks ago, are already getting aid.

629 days, 9 hours, 48 minutes, 28.3 seconds

Actually, people already live in those storage units. There was an article in the Times a few years ago. A man whose wife hates air conditioning spends hot summer days working or reading there. Another man who just wants peace and quiet moved in with his father's recliner. But she heard they cracked down on people spending time there after that article appeared.

629 days, 10 hours, 8 minutes, 25 seconds

Claremont Stables closed over the weekend. They'll no longer hear horses walking home from Central Park along 89th St. She thinks of the individual stalls on the upper floors. Empty now.

629 days, 10 hours, 15 minutes, 50 seconds

Manhattan Mini Storage has the best ads. When her husband's friend moved back to the city twenty years ago, they helped her get her belongings out of a storage place in Harlem. They walked through the corridors, lights coming on as they neared, found her place, and slipped inside. They decided, if they ever married, that's where they'd like to have the wedding.

Too late now. They married at City Hall. Word is all these storage places, in Manhattan at least, are going to be turned into condos over the next few years.

629 days, 10 hours, 20 minutes, 57 seconds

( Bus Stop, 81st & Broadway)

God, closets! When they first moved in together they wanted a workspace built for her. And someone told them about a company that did work in her aunt's apartment: California Colsets. And they thought what a good name for a company that works in small apartments. Only it turned out they only did work in closets. And it turned out they hired them to transform a walk-in closet. After that was done they searched for someone else to build her workspace.

630 days, 0 hours, 18 minutes, 37.6 seconds

Hurry up and wait. Hurry up and wait an hour. Hurry up and wait in line. Seven movies in eleven days, plus one reading, one party, one play, one concert, and teaching four classes. She's out of her mind. Her father says so. Then the iced cappuccino she had with lunch, she realized after she drank it, was from a machine and probably already sugared. Up up up the blood goes. Ten bad headaches in eleven days. She thought, with this an independent festival, it would be different than just going to a movie any time, in any suburb. The whole festival's spread out now, only two of their movies are in Tribeca, the air quality's bad everywhere.