Monday, January 14, 2008

A Christmas from Heck

My beloved mother has visions of Norman Rockwell every Christmas.

She experienced a perfect Christmas when she was about five years old, and has spent my entire lifetime trying to recreate it. And when it never happens, she is invariably disappointed. And lets us all know about her disappointment.

She has crapped on my Christmas every single year of my life.

So, knowing this, I got on the plane to go home for Christmas. We were delayed at the airport about four hours for departure, so I got to sit and recharge my oxygen concentrator batteries that I would need en-route. I have learned that when you have a large amount of medical stuff you're hand-carrying on the plane, it is easier to get through security in a wheelchair, whether you need one or not, because they then expect the unexpected from you. Therefore, I had a wheelchair at the gate, but no place nearby for my husband to sit. He grabbed a seat elsewhere, and would telephone me from time to time to see how I was doing. Pretty funny, actually.

I keep audio books on my phone to listen to in doctor's waiting rooms. While waiting at the airport, I listened to the first half of Nathaniel Philbrick's "Mayflower," the story of the settlement of New England through King Philip's War. It was very enjoyable, especially since the reader was Edward Hermann.

When we finally boarded the plane, it was a nonstop flight to our destination. I was boarded in the beginning so I could get situated with my oxygen concentrator without holding up anyone else. A young woman came in and sat down next to me. She took my oxygen hose between her forefinger and thumb and said "What's this for?" I told her, and she said, "I understand. I have something called Tetralogy of Fallot, and my pulmonary valve is a pig valve." She did indeed understand; Tetralogy of Fallot is one of the heart problems that causes Pulmonary Hypertension. We chatted about pulmonary rehabilitation, and the gratitude that one gains from having a life-threatening illness. I told her about a young woman of my acquaintance who was very immature and unrealistic about her condition and her prognosis, and what she needed to do to survive. The young woman gave me her business card and said if I felt like it, I could ask her to e-mail with this young woman to give her encouragement. When I looked at her business card, I realized that I had known the young woman's parents in another lifetime.

This is a very small world.

When we arrived, we were twenty minutes behind a small ice storm. The Captain rushed off the airplane to make sure that we still had a rental car, since the rental desk closed 20 minutes after our late arrival. I gathered up all of my stuff, of which there was a ton, and left the plane, debating on whether I needed a wheelchair. Fortunately, the airport terminal is small, and I didn't have far to walk . I got down to the baggage claim/car rental area and discovered that due to the lateness of our arrival, there were no more cars in the class I had reserved. So, instead of an Chevy Impala, we had a Benz CLS 550. To drive on the ice. Forty miles.

We did okay.

We went straight to the hotel. Hotel, you ask? I have discovered in the last ten years that going to my mother's house (notice this is my MOTHER'S house, not my parents' house) is much more tolerable if I have a place where I can go chill out for a while every night. And my own bathroom.

My brother and his family had arrived earlier in the day, and were staying at the house. My sister and her family were to arrive a few days later. My youngest brother still lives at home, at the tender age of 43. They were all staying in a three bedroom house. And actually, that meant that eight people were sleeping in the spare room, the living room and the dining room.

I have a hotel room, I have a hotel room.

When my sister arrived, the baby had a cold. By the time we left, we all had a cold. I stayed in bed for a week. My father, who has advanced COPD, ended up spending a week in ICU, and is still in the rehabilitation portion of the hospital.

I wanted to cook Christmas dinner, because (a) I'm a pretty good cook, (b) my mother keeps complaining about cooking, saying that she doesn't like to cook, and yet she won't turn loose of the reins, and (c) I could go buy top quality things that my frugal mom would never do.

I went into the nearby city to the best grocer in town, and bought a leg of lamb, boned, and fresh herbs with which to stuff it, fresh bread, the makings for bread pudding (including the forbidden ingredient for the whiskey sauce), a dozen or so big Honeycrisp apples, fresh turnips, parships, rutabagas, celeriac, carrots and leeks for a root vegetable roast.

The thing I hadn't counted on is that Mother's oven will not hold an even temperature. I speculate that this may have something to do with her dislike of cooking. So, on Christmas morning, she got up and put nine pounds of butt roast in the oven, and it came out slightly burned and like shoe leather. I put the small leg of lamb in for three hours and it was still raw when I removed it. Same temperature. Oh, and the vegetables came out the same raw way. I nuked them for a few minutes to some result, but still not what I had hoped for.

We have offered to get the range fixed. We've offered to replace it. "Oh no," she says. "I hardly ever use it." DOES IT OCCUR TO YOU THAT THE REASON FOR THAT IS THAT IT HAS NEVER WORKED CORRECTLY???

I have a hotel room, I have a hotel room.

We opened all our presents. Santa brought me a shiatsu massager chair cushion thingy. My husband got fleur de lis cufflinks and studs from Mignon Faget. I bought Mother and youngest brother blood glucose meters so that they had no excuse for not being on top of their diabetes. We bought Dad a radio with a hand-crank generator, so that they could have contact with the outside world next time they lost electricity for three days (which had happened in December).

Aunts and uncles and cousins and friends came to visit. More people in a small house.

I have a hotel room, I have a hotel room.

Once when the baby was screaming, the girls were bickering and the five year old was doing cartwheels in the living room, I looked across the table at my brother and softly sang, "I have a hotel room, I have a hotel room." He made an obscene gesture toward me. By day three, he also had a hotel room.

Two days after Christmas, we departed for home early in the morning, and arrived home in time to go pick up the beagles from their Christmas camp.

I stayed in bed almost all of the next week, through New Year's Eve and beyond. I'm feeling almost normal now.

We've changed insurance carriers and I've spent the last week or so on the phone changing everything over. So far, one of my drugs is four days late arriving, and I had none to spare, so we shall see what the result is soon. I have an appointment with the PH doc next week. Wednesday of this week is my two-year anniversary since diagnosis. I will have my annual right heart catheterization in the next couple of weeks, and a new set of pulmonary function tests. I'm certainly better than I was before treatment. We'll see how much better my numbers are then.