Many, many thanks to doctorsuez for her assistance with scientific and medical research, her proofreading skills, and her general support!
I hate general anaesthesia. Have I ever told you that? I feel like a dried-out, dizzy, nauseous husk for hours on end. No matter how much water I drink or how many crackers I eat. And the waking up part is always horrible-- this time I felt like I was trying to swim out of quicksand, and it kept pulling me under while I flailed against it. Not a metaphor I want to contemplate overmuch right now.
"Gah," was about the only word I could form, my mouth was so dry. Definitely going to invent a new anaesthesia when this is over.
"Hey to you, too," you said, your warm palm running up and down my arm. "Ice chips?"
"Mmm. Yes, please," I rasped. As always, maybe even more so than usual, my throat felt shredded from the ENT tube. I swear, they always wrap mine in sand paper. Gritty, for my displeasure. I cracked an eye, then the other, swiped the sleep from the corners, and watched as you shook some chips into a cup.
"Thanks," I rasped, taking it from you in an only slightly-shaking hand and tipping it back so the first chips could melt on my tongue. You sat back in the chair next to me, fiddling with my rings again.
"Delia said everything went really well, it only took them two hours to do everything, even the biopsies," you said, your expression nonetheless tense. I risked a glance and saw the tell-tale IV line snaking out at waist level from under the covers, then followed it to its bag on the IV pole to see that it was on a constant gravity drip. No night feedings only, I guess. I followed the other lines back to where they snaked down to the porta cath installed over my breast, at least three bags dripping into the lines and their junction at the needle.
"Wasted no time, eh?" I managed around the ice chips in my mouth.
You shook your head no. I squeezed your hand a bit, but didn't try moving too much. Everything feels heavy and leaden, and my joints often ache after GA. This time was no exception.
"Well, now I'm really not going anywhere," I said, unable to help myself as I regarded the tangle of IV lines on one side, and the blood pressure cuff and pulse oximeter on my other.
"Temperance," you said, your voice raspy and eyes welling. You cleared your throat and kept speaking. "I ... I know how much you hate this, we all do-- but if it makes you stronger, helps you get better, and Henry and Delia say that it will, I ... you have to get better, Bones. I need you. We all do. You have to."
I squeezed your hand again, and ignored as best I could how feeble it felt. You once accused me of having a "beer-can-crushing-king-fu grip," but I hardly felt like it then. I kept silent though-- I didn't want to keep saying such bitter things, and I've never been good at biting my tongue, especially when I'm feeling lousy. Lousy. Hah. That's one way to describe it.
The requisite post-waking hour in the PACU passed slowly with strained conversation, nurses poking and prodding, and lots of bit lips, clasped hands and unshed tears on my part. The orderly came around at last with a nurse to get me transferred back to the room, and they sent you off before getting started.
The indignity of having other people moving your body around like you're a ragdoll, and of having to put up with it and be exposed to strangers while your most basic needs are being taken care of-- it's maybe the biggest thing people discuss on the boards, especially among those who are going to go terminal or into hospice. Of course, some of it's modesty. Some of it's embarrassment and shame at how depleted and ugly our bodies are. But most of it is about the loss of control. It's undignified, plain and simple, no matter how gentle, appropriate and competent your physical caretakers are. At least when you're an infant, you lack consciousness of your dependence and debility. When it's only once in a while, then as an adult you have time to recover your sense of self-- to do things for yourself that you normally would-- but when someone else is constantly handling you, doing to you the things you would normally do for yourself? It's not soothing or comforting no matter how good your caretakers are. It's just something to be forborne while you try to think of things to distract you, or things that make you happy. I therefore closed my eyes as we made the trip down the corridor to the elevator and thought about processing crime scenes while I uncovered remains and you bellowed at evidence techs. I hoped I'd fall asleep for a bit, and miss the actual part of being hooked back up to equipment in what would be my four walls until who knows how many pounds pumped back into me through that tube.
I know the medicine. I understand it. Unreasonably, irrationally, angrily, I still find it hard to believe that a tube that has nothing to do with my will to eat and make it stay down-- make it nourish me-- will do more than my own conscious efforts. I know-- a bad gut instinct about my own gut. Ironic, hmm?
I regained what equanimity I could by the time Angela brought around Parker that afternoon. He was curious about the G-tube, so I swallowed the lump in my throat and ignored the ice in my gut and explained how it and the porta cath worked as he traced their outlines gently with his small finger. He was fascinated, not grossed out at all, but the sight of them, and curious, too, about why he and Angela had to wear masks when you didn't.
"It's like covering your mouth when you sneeze. You don't always have a cold when you sneeze, right? But sometimes you do, or you're going to get one, so you try to be in the habit of not sneezing all over the place, which keeps you from spraying the germs all over. You and Angela have been around a lot more people with germs than me or your Dad, since your Dad's been here at the hospital with me. That's why he doesn't have to wear one."
He listened seriously as he sat next to me on the bed, then said "I can still hug you though, right?"
"Absolutely, pal. Hugs are some of the best medicine ever," I said. His frown of concentration smoothed and he stood up to hug me immediately.
When it came time for supper, Ange took Parker off to the cafeteria to eat the suppers Sid sent for them. "Enough salt." Hardly. A proper sense of seasoning doesn't explain his psychic powers about how many people are coming for dinner.
"What's in your soup?" you asked, picking at your Reuben and onion rings and ignoring your pudding for now, though sometimes you eat it first.
"Chicken and rice with scallions and ginger," I answered. Not many calories, I know, but the GA leaves me woozy for most of the day, so something light was about all I was good for.
We ate quickly, knowing Parker would be back soon and needed help with his homework-- a condition you and I had imposed with Rebecca's agreement if we were going to let him come to the hospital every day, as he insisted he wanted to. You tossed our containers and wiped everything down before settling onto my unplugged-in side and pulled me into your arms.
"I'm sorry, sweetheart," you said, tucking me under your chin. "But this will be faster, and you'll get better quicker, and we can go home even sooner." I nodded, wanting for now to just concentrate on the warm strength of your arms. At least when you're here, part of home is here too.
I woke several times in the night to the nurse's entries and exits, feeling restless and tired and plagued by bad dreams. You gathered the latter.
"What's the matter, Bones?" you asked the third or fourth time I woke.
"Just bad dreams," I rasped around the desert in my throat.
"About what?" you asked, concerned. It had been a while since either of us had a bad dream either from a past memory or some unknown future horror-- most poor sleep for both of us resulted in between the start of a case and its close.
"I don't know. It's ... they're ... inchoate. Just dark and hot and murky and like I can't move."
You stroked the side of my face, scratched your fingers over my nape. "You want me to ask the nurse for something?"
I'd avoided taking sedatives. I hate them even more than anaesthesia for how dulled they make me feel. "I don't know," I replied, tired and still upset by the dreams. "I'd rather not."
You thought for a moment, then started to give me a neck rub. "Well, if you don't drop off in the next half hour, okay?"
"That's acceptable," I murmured, then let you press your talented fingers along my cervical vertebrae and over the occipital knob where my tension sometimes gathered, then just held me for a bit, cautious now of the new lines leading out of my body. I think there were about five minutes left on the alarm clock and you were on "Lithium" when I felt my eyes close.
There was a rustle of voices outside the closed door of the room, and when I pushed myself up on my elbows, I could see you conferring with Delia, the head nurse and Maureen. My breakfast and what looked like a shake sat on the bedside, the trash bearing what seemed to be your own takeout container.
As I maneuvered the bed controls back up to sitting, I wondered what the day would bring. I'd spoken to my father every day, but he'd said before I could even voice my concern that between seeing Hallie and Emma and his work on the house and at O'Reilly's that he'd be exposed to too many germs to be a safe visitor, masks and handwashing precautions to the side. Still, we'd left him as the third visitor I was allowed-- you were keeping your family and the folks at the Bureau up to date as Angela did for the lab and our little family, but there were still a lot of phone calls and emails to answer-- not that they aren't welcome, but it was a bit to keep up with, assuring everyone that I was doing alright, all things considered.
It had apparently made it around the gossip magazines that I was in the hospital, with some of them even speculating that I didn't have cancer at all and was just anorexic, since I hadn't lost my hair. While normally I don't condone giving any comment whatsoever to those mudsucking rags, the opportunity for Delia to educate the wider public about the various kinds of traditional and experimental drugs and their various side effects and the idiosyncratic responses by individual patients was too great, so we allowed her to issue a statement in conjunction with my editor Karen. You'd been incensed when the stories first ran, and Angela was practically ready to track down the magazine writers and "Stab them with my stilettos, Bren, so help me," but I suppose I was more sanguine. People who don't have first-hand knowledge about the near-infinite number of variables involved in treating the different types of cancers and the drug therapies involved tend to have a stereotypical view of the cancer patient as incessantly nauseous, balding and ill, when often enough some patients stay essentially healthy over the course of their treatment, and don't outwardly appear to have anything wrong with them. I'm happy to have public speculation over my vanity provide the excuse for a little education, as horrified as I was to have them accuse me of faking cancer of all things.
When I took up my milkshake, you caught a glimpse of the motion through the window and stuck your head in.
"Hey, Bones," you said gently.
"That's me," I said, clearing my throat. Delia and you came in as Maureen and the head nurse melted away.
"Seeley said you're not sleeping?" she asked, coming over after drawing the blinds.
"Not sleeping well," I clarified. "I'm sure it's just anaesthesia after-effects, just tired and achy like I always am," I continued, clearing my throat again and having a sip of my milkshake. Stupid ENT tube.
Delia nodded, then said "Seeley, I could use a coffee, lots of cream from the cafeteria, not the floor pot, that's terrible stuff. I need to check Temperance's sites and have a bit of a girl talk, okay?"
You said nothing but nonetheless left with ill grace, upset to have to be more than a few hundred feet away. After you'd shut the door I watched as she inspected and cleaned around the insertion points, checked all the lines for kinks and leaks and proper drip rates, then checked the catheter. She used the tympanic thermometer, huffed "Up half a degree," then said "could just be the not sleeping thing."
I nodded, agreeing. It happens sometimes.
"You want the Foley out, right?"
I agreed, then braced myself and gritted my teeth as she released the balloon and slid the line out. She checked the night chart, the biopsy sites, cleaned and redressed each incision-- all things a nurse could have done but that she took care of herself. I hesitate to ask why-- I've grown attached to her and think she has to us, but the departure from the usual care provider task protocols was still a little unsettling given what I'd been used to before this. She flipped the blankets back up, gave me a hint of a smile, and said "Be right back," before disappearing out into the hall. You'd come back to the room by that time, setting Delia's coffee aside as you sat back onto the bed and slid your arm behind my shoulders again.
Delia came back in then and ignored the coffee she'd sent you off to as she sat down looking shaky in the chair at the end of the bed. Before I could even wonder at the cause, much less gird myself for whatever her demeanor foretold, she said "The gross examination of the biopsies are clear. We should have the histology reports in an hour or two."
I let out half the deep breath I'd been holding ever since the last biopsies came back positive. I hadn't realized until then that I hadn't been drawing a full breath ever since. "He did a gross on each section?" My voice squeaked in terrified relief.
She nodded, sniffling even as you squeezed me so tightly that it surprised an "oof" from me.
"Oh, gosh ... Bones, sweetheart," you said, withdrawing your arm.
"No, I'm fine," I said, grabbing your hand. "You didn't hurt me," I assured you. You never could, Seeley.
We discussed what would happen when chemo resumed while I ate the rest of my breakfast, fresh fruit and fresh potato rolls with peanut butter, since of course Sid somehow knew I wouldn't be eating it right away. We made sure I knew how to clamp off my ports while I showered and changed, and that done, she took off with a hesitant pat on my shoulder.
"Scoot," I said, pushing at you. "I'm going to take a shower."
You stood aside, waiting as always to make sure I was steady, then folded me into a hug, your eyes as full of almost-there-we'll-know-for-sure-in-two-hours tears as mine, both our hearts hammering wildly. Pulling back, I offered a smile. "Got to clean up so I can plant a big kiss on the pathologist when he comes by with the good news."
You smiled brilliantly. "I won't even shoot him. Though I do hope it's Delia because if you planted one on her, well, as Angela would say, that would be hot."
I burst into laughter. "That's what, two male fantasies rolled into one? Girls, playing doctor?"
You smirked, then kissed me soundly. "You're the only doctor I want to play with."
Two hours and one minute later, Henry and Delia came in smiling enough to fill a cosmetic dentist's billboard advertisement. That other reserved half breath whooshed from me as painfully as if I'd been kicked, but it was a good pain. I was leaking tears, you were leaking tears, they were blowing their noses shamelessly, and Delia choked out that "Every single slide is clear. I checked them myself."
Thank you, was all I could think. Just, thank you. It didn't matter who or what I was thanking. Thank you is just a feeling that deserves to be put out there.
The relief of it all was exhausting, and I must have fallen asleep after Henry and Delia left. When I woke up, you were still holding me as you had when we were just sitting there silently, absorbing possibilities. You were holding some whispered conference with Angela, who was red-eyed and deliriously over the moon.
Replying to the yet-unasked question clear on her face, I cleared my throat and said "Yes, Ange. Lots and lots of glug-glug wahoo as soon as Delia lets me."
She burst out laughing and crying simultaneously. "Honey, we're going to bankrupt Cantilever with all the champagne I'm going to buy you."
I slept some more that afternoon, still nestled in your encircling arms, then woke only partway as I heard Parker and Angela come into the room.
"Daddy, you look really happy," I half-heard him say.
"I am, buddy. Bones is going to get better."
"Of course she is," he said confidently. "I told God she had to."
"I'm glad you did, Parker," you said, your voice serious. "Really glad, pal."
I worked on my chicken and leeks in tarragon cream sauce while you did social studies with Parker, then Angela and I helped him plan out a science class diorama. Parker shared my serving of that white chocolate cherry pistachio pudding I concocted at Christmas, helping me fend you off when you finished off your serving in about two nanoseconds. Toward the end of the visit, I found myself growing repeatedly hoarse, and eventually gave up trying to talk around the toad in my throat. (Frog, Bones, not toad.) (Whatever. It's a disgusting analogy, regardless.)
I gave Parker and Angela their hugs goodnight, sitting back as you walked them off to the elevators, Parker on your shoulders. He's getting big for that. (Tell me about it. But as long as he wants me to, I'd rather let my back remind me later than sooner.)
"Tired, baby?" you said, sitting back down and stroking the side of my cheek.
"Mmm. Relieved," I replied. "Stupid ENT tube, though," I rasped, sipping some water and clearing my throat once again.
"Don't worry about it," you replied. "So... what's it going to be, Bones? Classic movies, Dancing with the Stars, or something poem-ish?"
"Poem-ish," I said.
"Okay," you said, then reached over into the bedside drawer to pull out the collection of American poets we'd been taking turns reading. You shifted the bed back a bit so I could lie up against you, one arm as always holding me to you, the other balancing the book in your hand.
"We left off with Roethke. You still want him?"
I nodded-- I hadn't read much of him, but he was one of your favorites, and I liked hearing the way you read him, not just the way your voice sounds anyway, though there's always that, too. You'd chosen I knew a woman, which you'd said was one of your favorites before we even met, but Seeley, the 'Turn, and Counter-Turn, and stand' that he talks about? It's dancing-- leading and following, but it's still together. She is as defined by his regard for her as he defines himself by his regard of her-- it's a dance, not a question of only him following after.
I knew a woman, lovely in her bones,
When small birds sighed, she would sigh back at them;
Ah, when she moved, she moved more ways than one:
The shapes a bright container can contain!
Of her choice virtues only gods should speak,
Or English poets who grew upon Greek
(I'd have them sing in chorus, cheek to cheek).
How well her wishes went! She stroked my chin,
She taught me Turn, and Counter-turn, and stand;
She taught me Touch, that undulant white skin:
I nibbled meekly from her proffered hand;
She was the sickle; I, poor I, the rake,
Coming behind her for her pretty sake
(But what prodigious mowing did we make.)
Love likes a gander, and adores a goose:
Her full lips pursed, the errant note to seize;
She played it quick, she played it light and loose;
My eyes, they dazzled at her flowing knees;
Her several parts could keep a pure repose,
Or one hip quiver with a mobile nose
(She moved in circles, and those circles moved.)
Let seed be grass, and grass turn into hay:
I'm martyr to a motion not my own;
What's freedom for? To know eternity.
I swear she cast a shadow white as stone.
But who would count eternity in days?
These old bones live to learn her wanton ways:
(I measure time by how a body sways.)
I measure time by the throb of your heart under my ear, the rise and fall of your chest, the sound of your voice and feel of your arms surrounding me. That 'pure repose' is with you.