Hello, Beautiful People,
well. I’m out of the hospital now. I have a little white gauze patch on my head, perched near the back, slightly to the left covering some staples–it looks like a wee, rakish yarmulke. My head doesn’t ache as much or often anymore, and it doesn’t feel so much like I have a spike in my head. When i cough, it still feels like my head is cracking open a bit, but not as much as yesterday. Or even as much as this morning.
Last week, on Wednesday, one of the men in my morning class gave me a card when he walked in. I started to cry, and thought, “oh no, here we go…” I didn’t think I would get a word out all day for sobbing. but I did. I thanked him and turned away, took a few deep breaths and turned again. Another man came to school wearing a little red bow tie on his t-shirt. ” That’s cute, Mike, did you dress up in honour of the occasion?” I asked him. he said, “Kind of”. He’s one of the quiet ones, sits at a table in the back, watches everything. “nice” I said.
Then I noticed that everyone was wearing bow ties, in all colours. Mike offered me one, and i pinned it on my shirt. I don’t remember now, but I think I wept openly then, how could one not? He made one for everyone in the class. all different colours. I started our class the way i usually do, with a moment of breath. I think we all needed it a bit more that day than usual. I said I was very moved. I cried a little, and said I would just keep talking through my tears and eventually I would even out. I did. We went through a powerpoint presentation that a friend had presented to my Monday evening class a few weeks before. She works in the day, so couldn’t do it for my daytime classes. we had a really interesting discussion about First Nations Learning Principles, and the contradictions and parallels they noticed in their practicum placements over the last two weeks. At the end of class, we kind of lingered because we didn’t want to go, but eventually we had to because another class was coming in to the room. some students came with gifts and cards, many lined up to hug me, “you got this” and “thank you” they said, and I said to them, “thank you. thank you. thank you.” I have never felt so grateful, I think, or so proud, or so frightened but brave all at the same time.
When I went to another building to teach my afternoon class, they all had Mike’s bow ties on too! It looked like the whole building was awash with colourful bow ties. I couldn’t stop smiling, and I couldn’t stop crying. Again, the end of class came and the next class came in–many of my morning students were in Christine’s afternoon class, and again, they lined up to hug me and give me cards and gifts and cry and thank me, and some looked so stricken. I hugged them tight, and said to them, too, “thank you. thank you. thank you.” and “i’m going to be just fine. I’m going to be okay”.
My friend Nora came to get me. I’m not allowed to drive for a while. Cause of the seizure. three other faculty members are taking my classes. I know they won’t love them as much as I do — they’ll only have them for four weeks, that’s barely enough time to learn anyone’s names! I sent all of my colleagues the letters that I sent to my classes, their stories woven together. I might get in some trouble, I’m obviously critical of the trans trend — exactly opposite of the direction my department is taking. But there ya go. It’s going to come sooner or later. And I don’t require my students to agree with me (though I hope they will, I know it’s a very big departure from the current propaganda). I want them to hear and consider a feminist view — enough have told me they don’t hear this from any of their other instructors, and they find my views interesting/relieving/sensible — that it gives me courage.
November 27th, 2016– the last week has been a total blur. It feels like things have settled to a steady pace, I’ve decided the thing in my brain isn’t a hitchhiker after all, who would stop to pick up a glowering, short-armed creature by the side of the road? No, it’s a stowaway. I haven’t named it, and I won’t fight it, I don’t want to get intimate with it and I don’t want to give it any more energy than I have to. But I’ll take it as far as it’s going, and drop it off at its destination when it’s time. I’ll tell you what i remember about the surgery and the hospital stay, and give details about the biopsy results–not necessarily in that order.
First, the biopsy results: It’s a Grade 2 Oligodendroglioma. My friend Stephanie said, “Trust you to have a thing that’s seventeen letters long!” Apparently this kinda thing is pretty rare, and mainly alights somewhere in the frontal lobes. Where the language and memory and personality machinery grinds and clanks away. Mine’s in the left parietal lobe. That’s where the right side of my body is run from — the motor skills–walking, lifting, dancing. But that won’t stop me from blaming any of my inappropriate behaviour, lapses in judgement or gaps in memory on my brain tumour. I’m gonna get as much mileage out of this as I can. “Oligo” means short, or small, “dendro” means tree, or branches, and “glioma” is brain. And according to Dr. Google (I saved you the trouble), only 4% of all primary brain tumours are these little critters. Usually in the frontal lobe, and most of them stow away in men’s brains. Maybe I do have a male brain in a female body! Anyway, it’s not cancerous, though it’s a grade two, which means very slow growing, and could become cancerous. So I’ll get a referral to a neuro-oncologist, who will figure out what kind of chemo to use to shrink it. I’ll have to ask him if he thinks he can make it get outta there.
Trish came with me to the pre-op preparation. I wasn’t allowed to eat or drink anything after midnight the night before, except 8 oz. of clear juice an hour before check in time. my surgery was scheduled for noon and was expected to take 2 hours. then a couple of hours in recovery, then up to the neuro icu ward. I had to shower on Sunday night with this bleach-ish stuff, then in the morning again, and when i got to the pre-op room, wipe down with warm, thick baby-wipes. I met a whole bunch of nurses, two anesthesiologists, a man with a Scottish accent and an Irish name, and a woman who looked like she might be a lesbian. Mind you, everyone could look like a lesbian in those blue smocks and poofy paper hats. Dr Zwimfer came, and so did another neurosurgeon named Dr. Ajmal Zemmar. I got “The Z team”. I asked Dr. Zwimfer if he played squash. He laughed a bit and said “25 years ago, but not for a long time” — “good enough” I said. Then I got an iv, and finally they came to take me. Su came from work, and both she and Trish were there when the porters and nurses came to take me away. They gave me blankets “it’s cold in the OR” they told me.
“Am I supposed to be dizzy?” I asked. someone answered yes, that’s exactly what’s supposed to happen. in the OR, which was very very bright and very very cold, they helped me slide on to a warmed pad of gel (which felt a lot less disgusting than you would expect). I was crying, and they kept saying, “You’re in good hands”. I replied, I know, yes, I know…and then someone put a mask over my face and I said, “thank you”. that’s the last I remember.
I had very vivid dreams that I can’t for the life of me recall — only that i was in a broad plain that was as bright as the OR and there were pockets of people around. I don’t remember what, or if, I talked to them or interacted. Ajay’s face was the first person’s I saw as I woke. I cried as I woke up, he said, “you’re waking up, it’s okay to be emotional, that’s normal”. Again I said thank you. I had a short seizure as I woke up, it felt like the first one, but it wasn’t nearly as long, or as horrifying. I didn’t lose consciousness, or bite my tongue. That was good. No one around seemed as concerned about it as I was. I couldn’t reach the call bell, or say “help”, all I could do was say, “ahhhhhh”, like the first time. But then it was over.
I asked them to call Trish to give her a message. I think the nurse’s name was Robyn. or maybe Rachael. she called Trish and gave the phone to me. She was happy to hear me and I asked her to call my ex-lover* and Rape Relief to give a message that I was okay.
The lowest paid workers in the hospital can hold up every part of treatment. when my room was ready, I still couldn’t go because there weren’t enough porters. I told them that I have a friend who was a porter there, I’m sure she’d come out of retirement for me–they didn’t think that was very funny. I finally got up to the room, and Trish was parking her car again, Su was waiting for me, her daughter came in and so did my friend Kim. Su kept staring into my eyes and saying, “look at that! she’s not even pinned!” meaning my pupils were regular size not shrinking into disappearance because of the opiates. They all talked about me in the third person a little bit. “she’s so alert and perky” and then, “you’re so alert and perky!”
I was STARVING — well, clearly not, but i’d been 20 hours with no food, 30 or so hours with no coffee (too late for that at 8 pm). I was some grumpy, I tell you. And Trish had taken my phone, too. I’d given it to her, I was shocked by how hamstrung i felt. Never mind that i was tied to an IV running antibiotics and painkiller into me, and these weird compression sleeves on my legs. kinda like a massage actually, and felt nice, but it was a long time until I could move with any confidence. Well, “long time” is relative. Also, it felt like there was an iron spike in my head, and every time I coughed, I could feel my head coming apart. I got Dilaudid the first day, which was quite pleasant, and that interfered with the pain very effectively.
Tuesday was my birthday. All day long, I got as much mileage as I could out of that. Everyone who came to see me, the doctors, the physiotherapists, the nurses, had to run through a neurological exam with me, “hold your hands out, palms up, close your eyes, push my hand, do you know where you are? what’s your birthdate?”
“Today!” I would gleefully holler.
“oh!” they would be surprised, having not put together the date on my chart with the date on the calendar. “Too bad you have to spend it in the hospital”, they would say.
“I like hospitals” I answered. Every time. Then they would wonder if the seizure or the tumour had dislodged something they’d missed before. “I know people think that’s weird”, I said once, to the CT Scan guy.
“It IS weird” he said.
In the morning, my nurse, Rita, and another nurse (Pam? Maybe it was Pam) sang “Happy Birthday” to me. Every meal came with the list of what was under the lid, and at the bottom, Happy Birthday!! with a little high-lighter happy face. Su came with a beautiful cheese cake and a birthday gift from her (adult) son, Will. A Russian powerlifting device meant to develop grip strength. Her daughter, Iris, gave me a book of Sudoku puzzles. so I spent the day improving my finger and jaw strength (the Sudoku made me grind my teeth). Shauna, who has guided me in one way or another from applying for grad school to finishing my PhD and beyond, and is taking over my Monday evening class — came to visit with a package of cards from everyone in that class. They were beautiful! they’d spent some time the evening before making these cards. I waited until she was gone to look at them and laughed and cried and showed Rita and anyone else who happened into my room.
oh yea, the ct scan. So, every day there’s quiet time between 6 and 8 am, and between 6 and 8 pm. No visitors. But then from 8-10, people can come visit. So on Tuesday, my birthday (did I mention that?), I had some visitors during the day, and was looking very forward to evening, when my friends who worked during the day might come. I had some cheesecake leftover from the morning. I swiped some of those babywipes under my arms so i’d at least smell fresh, and tried to tamp down my hair a bit. I wasn’t allowed to shower or shampoo yet. Didn’t want the staples to rust.
Right at 8 on the dot, porters came to take me for a CT scan. Dammit! They told me it would only take about twenty minutes. The doctor, earlier, had said I’d go for a CT scan sometime in the afternoon, then I’d be moved to a regular ward. But when I’d not heard anything, I figured all that had been moved to the next day. when we got to the ct and radiology place, there was a log jam of beds and gurneys, and I was at the end of the line. The porters expressed surprise. “Wow, it was so quiet in here just a minute ago!”
Tick tick tick. Everyone else was whisked in, out, then away. In, out, away. In, out, away… Finally it was my turn. In, neuro exam, “spell your name”–E-R-I-N– “What’s your birthdate” — Today!– “oh, that’s a drag. to be in hospital on our birthday” — It’s okay, I like hospitals — “that’s weird”. CT scan, out.
“hello, can I go now? I could walk…”
I was getting a bit pissy. I’d been gone an hour already–more than an hour. My visitors would be gone. dammit.
“We’re trying to find someone to take you”
“I have a friend who was a porter here,” I tried that one again, not expecting they’d go for it this time, either, “i’m sure she’d come out of retirement for me”. She would, too. But the work messed up her back, so it wouldn’t be good for her. Never mind, I would be happy to trade pyjamas with her, and push her up to the ward. The people around didn’t take too well to that suggestion, they talked about insurance and liability. “I was kind of joking”, I said. I was getting a bit cranky and irascible. I reminded myself, this is Canada, I would have to sell my home to pay for this if I lived in the US, they’re doing the best they can, it’s not their fault, it’s the fucking government spending taxes to suck up to big business and pipelines and privatizing education and whatever else. I am grateful, I am grateful, I am grateful…
But it’s my birthday and i’m all alone on this hospital bed and I feel fine, fer cryin’ out loud, except for a little headache, and I haven’t worked out for four days and I’m a bit squishy now, and my people are upstairs, maybe they’ve gone home already…breathe, Erin, breathe. No need to get all self-pitying and whiny. You’re in Canada, what would this kind of health care cost if you were in the US? A fortune, that’s what. those few cells they drilled into your head to get would cost more than a small painting by some famous guy. Not as much, maybe as a small painting by a woman, but still. I’d rather have the art on my wall than a little glowering stowaway in my brain…but I wouldn’t sell my house for it. and I don’t have to sell my house for this, either.
I roamed around like this in my head for a bit, interrupting my own musings every few minutes to ask someone else who passed by if they could get me up to my room. Everyone was sympathetic. It was 9:30 before i got back. the porter who took me was a lovely woman named Alison, or maybe Allison. Or Alyson. Anyway, she was short, Black, and really nice. “How ya doin?” she asked. “I’m fine,” I said, “But a bit grumpy”. She warned me every time there was a bump. I would’ve liked to take them at some speed, maybe catch some air — but then again, my head was still a bit achey, still felt like it was coming apart at the seams when I coughed or laughed too hard. She told me I wasn’t nearly as grumpy as some people. Some people (mostly men-people, by her stories) would swear at her, at the porters, and insult them, and tell them they were worthless. She said she didn’t ever warn those guys about bumps. That kind of treatment can sure wear you down. Still, she was so cheerful with me, and kind. She called me “hon”and positioned my bed just so when we arrived at my room.
Bronwyn had been, but couldn’t wait for the hour and a half I was gone. She brought a card and a 2017 Canadian Farmer’s Almanac. I haven’t read one of those for AGES. I forgot how fun they are. Su and Will had waited for me that whole time. I have so many gifts, I tell you. Su brought daffodil bulbs and we’ll plant them on my balcony. All day long, I got nothing but goodness from everyone around me.
I told everyone to “keep an open mind, but have a good fastener available or stuff will fall out”. Yesterday I looked at my staples. Louise was visiting, and we took pictures. the incision is pretty long, and very nicely aligned, at that. That’s good to not have a crooked skull. That would be weird. They didn’t shave any hair either.
Okay, lookit, I could say more, tell more little stories about my generous friends — OH! one more — the day of my biopsy, Stephanie, Erika and Joey made a go at my apartment. I think i’ve said on this blog before that I got my dad’s housekeeping gene. which is to say, it’s recessive at best. Holy untidy, Batman! I sweartogod sometimes, if I could, I’d evict me. sigh…
Anyway, I don’t know where they put everything, but they tidied and cleaned and put away and tossed stuff that was stale-dated and cleaned my refrigerator and I think they even cleaned my windows! it looks amazing in here. I have such good friends.
I’ll just end with this–you know, for a long time, even since i stopped drinking, I would say, “I squandered my potential”. Even though I would say to other people, “your contribution matters, you are essential”, and kind of believed it of myself, but not quite. but then, when my little stowaway kicked me in the head, I tell you what, people have risen up and stood beside me so close, there is no way I will fall. My beautiful brother, my family in Saskatchewan, Alberta, Ontario, Cornwall and Wales, are calling and offering and weaving the love together with my family here in Vancouver. My students told me I am inspiring, that they haven’t ever had a prof like me — and they told me what i’ve done that sparked them up, too, so I know what to keep doing. My feminist comrades gathered round and sent flowers and called. I know their love for and expectations of me remain great. The fellowship, my sober comrades, too — “you can fake caring, but you can’t fake showing up” said one of my friends–and there’s been no fakery from any quarter.
I know that all of this is exactly because I am reaching my potential. I have responsibilities, and I know i’m meeting them because my fellow travellers, my family, my colleagues are showing up for me, now. I decided at the beginning of this term that I would be up front about my feminism, my lesbianism, the harms of the trans trend here, the comfort and relative ease of sobriety–without preaching to or insulting others–and it seems i’ve found, or am finding — a way to do that. I am taking myself more seriously since the summer, and now this new adventure has shown me grace and gratitude. And you have too.
I can’t tell you how, well, awed I am. You already know how odd I am.
Keep the faith and feel the love, Beautiful People.
*There is nothing like a potentially life-threatening condition to melt resentment away. I am very grateful for that, too.