Thirsty Girl

Thirsty Girl

I light my candle, from my neighbor whom I can no longer see.  I pour myself a portion of my allotted water allowance for the day.   It tastes so good that I realize I am now drinking as an act of prayer.  Water. Life. Taste. Joy.

But the water is never enough to slake my thirst.  And it won’t be. This is now my life and I must come to bear thirst.  I am not so self absorbed that I do not recognize that I am blessed to have a supply of clean water.  The water is here. It is my body that cannot tolerate the water. What a strange, strange time.  

I cannot be with water as I used to.  And I love water. I love to drink it.  I love to be in it. I lived on an island for many years, surrounded by the sea; In those days, I pushed the season of swimming (both lake and ocean), trying to get into the water from the end of May to the first of October.  Six hours north of Boston, this was quite a feat. My first novel was entitled, “Water All Around Me.” I always had a tall glass of water or green tea beside me. Coffee each morning. Water, water, water.  

But, no more.

Also No More is life as we knew it.  We are inside, save for walking the dog.  (Thank heavens for the dog; he and his kind are perhaps the sole beneficiaries of people staying home.)

I have been startled by how difficult this time is for me.  I’ve been isolating longer than others, yes. So that could be part of it.  Yet, I am trying to figure out the rest of it.

A couple of weeks ago or so, I gave up my morning coffee; to benefit my kidneys, I switched to water only.  I missed it. It had been my morning ritual for so long, albeit decaf since heart trouble began. No problem.  But when I had to stop seeing my coffee-drinking-writing-compassionate-intelligent neighbor, that hurt. I told her:  turns out I can give up coffee, but not you. We now take short walks, six feet apart. It’s better than nothing, but it is also akin to my water allotment:  it is never enough; it does not slake my thirst for connection. I miss the rest of her family, too.

And then there is the behemoth of my loss:  I miss my grandson and my granddaughter. My Grandson is an infant.  At least I can content myself that he doesn’t know I’m not there (though surely he does know when I am).  But I miss his smiles. Oh I do. My granddaughter is old enough to miss me and to ask for me. She is not, however, old enough to understand why I’m not there.  She asks for me. She longs for me. As I do, her.

The only reason I don’t go see those children is that I want to be there for the long haul.  Otherwise, I would risk all for them in a heartbeat.

So there’s that.  Reason enough to be handling this isolation with difficulty.  But, there are many grandparents who don’t live near their grandkids, and they find a way.  I know this. What’s really going on here?

I think what might be happening is that I was already employing all of my coping mechanisms to contend with my illness.  As my physical illness has worsened, I’ve been really skilled at adapting and finding joy. I guess I mistakenly assumed that I had an unlimited reservoir of coping.  A reservoir. There’s that water imagery again. It now appears that my coping reservoir, like my water allotment has shrunk. I was dipping into it time and again; now there is not enough left to slake my thirst.  

I must learn to be thirsty, emotionally and physically.

Back to the basics I go.  Counting my joys and there still are many.  My steadfast husband, my great love. My dog.  My water allotment. Walking six feet apart from my neighbor.

I will weather this, I think.  But I am not at all sure.

Heart Failure Half Life

Today I went out for coffee with one of my favorite people, R.  It has been one of those weeks for us both; she has a dog with a stomach virus, which forced her to operate on disrupted sleep for the week, a tall order for someone who expends extra energy on EVERYTHING due to her Cerebral Palsy.  Moreover, she was battling bureaucracy this week, attempting to undo an oversight at her medicaid agency that rendered her daughter’s behavioral health prescription invalid. R. is one of those people who problem solves as easily as some people breathe, but even she couldn’t penetrate the bureaucracy this week.  Still no prescription and it is now Friday. Sigh.

As for me, I made it through a week on my new heart failure prescription, which is, actually, one half of the pediatric dose; I have about five more jumps before I get to the  target dose. I realize, as is typical for me and R, our lives mirror one another in intriguing ways: We are both tired this week and we are both ruled by meds, one way or another. 

I’m just sitting down to write, finding, as is often the case, that time with R. helps me to process what I’m experiencing.  Either my half-dose or my heart failure, or perhaps both, is tiring me in ways I notice only gradually.  For example, I’m out for coffee today, which makes me acknowledge that I’m tired by the time I walk down the hall, let alone get to the coffee shop.   I need to balance my indoor life with my need to enter into the greater world. Yet, even as I write this, I am realizing that the pleasure of getting out was, I think, too heavily undercut by my physiological response; I’m better off right now just having coffee at home with R.  But what of the other losses this week? The heavy drop in my blood pressure necessitated changes in small pleasures I might have otherwise had (such as a bath at night to relax), but even more than that, I now know, after time with brillant R, I’m exhausted from problem solving.  

I can’t suck in enough oxygen, I just can’t.  From there, I’m slowed down by meds and I’m slowed down in consuming these life saving meds by my paltry blood pressure; all of it is fatiguing in synergistic ways.

So what have we here?  This is the same question I asked the last time I wrote.  I have a half life. I think it is important to name it as such.     I have residues from my fuller life, much as a medication might remain in our bodies as a lingering echo. 

I know first hand that my condition can, and probably will, take a higher toll before I can get better – if I get better.  I know what it’s like to be so depleted that I cannot read ( a favorite half-life pastime of mine); that I cannot write; that I cannot cook.  I try to remain grateful for what I can do; however, in listening to my problem-solving friend recount her challenges this week, I am moved by how much energy she puts into working around obstacles.   There is a cost to this. There’s always a cost to being brilliant at work arounds. What happens when I am working so very hard to cope? It’s tiring, yes. It’s also an obscuring activity, deflecting from loss, from full acknowledgment of how hard something is.  

I have to be brave enough to name this.

What do I miss this week?  First and foremost, I miss being with my granddaughter fully.  I miss having the energy to go out with my husband. I miss the spontaneity of running out to do an errand.  I miss having a glass of wine. I miss walking downtown. I miss traveling. I miss sleeping without oxygen and a ventilator.  I miss baths.

Heart failure is gradual and it is acute.  I’ve let go of many things. In this respect, the acute phase is easier for me this time.  Things that I regained were always clearly just on loan to me. I never ask doctors that question:  How long do I have? I know I’m on borrowed time. I just want to eke out all that I can. I’d love to beat the odds and get another five or ten years or more. 

Even half life years.  

What Have We Here?

Yellow dog breathing beside me.  A special friend who knows me well enough to clear the way forward for me.  The sound of my dear husband’s squeaky chair as he writes. My Nora Jones Pandora station playing Clapton’s “If I Could Change the World.” My Candle flickering beside me.  Floor to ceiling windows allowing me to be outdoors on my inside day. My red hummingbird feeder, signaling my hopes that one or two little wonders will choose to stay with me over the winter.

Mindfulness comes a little more easily to those of us with heart failure.  We slow down. Our world contracts. We are more at home and more with ourselves.  

Over the past two years, my new specialized pacemaker has allowed my world to widen.  I’ve done things I never thought I could do again: walking downtown, eating out, paddling around a bit in the pool.  I stopped counting salt and water. I ate what I wanted.  

The shining glory and gold of this time was that I was able to be a grandmother to my  first grandbaby and to grow closer to my daughter and son-in-law. I can honestly say I took not one moment of my time with my granddaughter for granted. Not one moment. 

I did, however, begin to think that I was past heart failure; that perhaps my myriad other heart and health issues were all that was on my plate; that I could be the grandmother I wanted to be to Sam, that I could see my daughter and son-in-law through this next family transition, that I could, I could, I could…..

Instead, I’ve come home again.  My heart failure is back. And my Grandson is due to be born in November.

The timing is not at all what I wanted.  

And it all does break my heart, just a little.   

Back I go to noticing things in my small world.  I hear my dog sigh as he settles near me. I see the blues and pinks in my dining room.  I overhear my husband talking to a student who says: I always feel like a bother when I need help.  Indeed. Indeed.

I need help.

I let those words stand alone because, if I say them at all, I hurry past them.  I always feel like a bother when I need help, this young man admits. Hmmm. Turns out I do too.  But lucky me, I have people in my life who figure that out about me and who are so gracious, so kind and so much fun, that accepting help feels like the Blessing that it is.  These are some of the wonders that will stay with me over this winter of mine. How did I get so lucky?  

Maybe I’m finally going to learn to receive.  Imagine how much more I will have to give then.  Imagine what another period of mindfulness will teach me.  Imagine a world in which we all help one another, as we are able, and that what we can give without depleting ourselves is, most wonderfully, enough.

Imagine growing wise.