A Few Hours Left
UCSF Medical Center
Lists, lists and more lists
Lists. That's what's been running through my head since the moment I woke up this morning. Being that it is now 1:15 a.m., I should say, Monday morning. Lists by the bed, lists on the board hanging on the fridge, lists in my head. Pack this, wash that, download audio books (Dean Koontz: just what I need when I'm high on morphine), spend time with the kids, oh, and take the kids to the dentist for their 6-month checkup.
Imagine that. I set up their appointment 6 months ago and it happens to fall on the day prior to the days they cut off my tits.
My parents met me at the pediatric dentist's office so they could take Jesse to swimming while I waited for Sophie to finish up. Jesse has always been easy at the dentist. Sophie, on the other hand, has been a drama queen complete with screaming, squirming, coughing, vomiting from being so upset, and more screaming. And all that was before they even got anything in her mouth; even dental floss.
She's paying for it now...eight cavities that were small last time and bad this time. She needs to return in the next few weeks at an out-of-pocket cost of nearly one grand.
"What? You've got to be kidding," my mother bitched. "Just wait until you are feeling better before you take on anything else."
"That's why I need to know if you can take her."
"Does she have to do it now?" my mom asked the woman behind the desk. "My daughter is going in for major surgery tomorrow. And anyway, what's the use of fixing teeth that are going to fall out anyway?"
Another woman in the office walked away and returned with the dentist.
"It can wait a few weeks," she explained to my mom before adding, the cavities would only get worse. And no, she wouldn't do the 2-hour procedure that involves laughing gas and more if it was on teeth that would be falling out soon, but she would still have some of these teeth when she was 13 years old.
"Well, you shouldn't be doing this now," my mother insisted.
I added this task to the growing lists in my head, but I couldn't fight back the wave of emotion that came over me when I said, "But I need to have this settled before I go in tomorrow. I don't want," I couldn't finish my sentence through tears. "I don't want her to be in pain. I just need to know this is in place. I'm the one who takes care of these things."
The office lady at the front desk brought a box of kleenex.
"I'm sorry. I've managed to hold it together until now, and I'm sorry." I felt stupid crying in my kids' dentist's office.
"No, don't be. It's okay if you call us later."
I didn't want to wait. I set up the appointment for three weeks away. I couldn't stop thinking about how I need to be around for my kids. No, think of the lists. The lists will keep your mind occupied so your stomach doesn't feel sick and your head won't hurt. Lists, damn it. What do you need to do today?
I pulled it together and made the appointment. My mother acted like I was crazy. No, mom; you're not going to fuck up my relationship with a doctor my kids have been seeing for years. A doctor who puts up with all of Sophie's crap.
We finally left and returned to the house for a while before going to dinner. On my list was cutting some roses to put in the house, to put in the guest room for my aunt. My mom offered to help. Okay, let her do it.
Unfortunately, because most of my roses were too tightly closed in buds or spent after blooming last week, the pickings were slim. Therefore, my mom cut off the flowering branch of a bush in our back yard. She brought it in and placed it on my counter. The small yellow flowers had a foul odor and as soon as she set it down, I noticed numerous tiny insects spreading out and racing away from the branch.
"Mom, bugs are going everywhere and they are so tiny they are hard to squish!"
"Oh, don't worry. I'll wash them off." That didn't work. She continued her efforts to rinse away the bugs while I frantically chased after the scattering insects. She grabbed the basket with more of these bug branches laying on top of my few roses (sans insects) and placed the big wicker basket on the floor.
"Mom! Now they're going all over the place on the floor!"
"Oh, shit. You're just neurotic."
"No I'm not! You're always complaining about the cleanliness of my house and then you bring a shitload of insects into my house and let them scatter all over the place where I prepare meals!" I complained as I chased down more tiny bugs.
"Well, then why did you ask for my help?"
"I didn't. You said you would make a nice arrangement, but I don't want all these fucking bugs in my house!" I called for Jesse and asked him to kill more bugs. Eventually, my mom carried the branches dripping water from the kitchen and through the dining room over to the door in the living room leading out to the back yard. She shoved the branch in a bucket and returned to the kitchen to finish her task.
Soon enough, she entered the dining room carrying a crappy little bouquet of flowers and placed it on the table before joining my dad in the living room. They were talking while I was finishing up some ironing and I heard her say she was staying at our house until her sister arrived.
"But they aren't going to be here until after 11 p.m.," I complained. I certainly wasn't looking forward to any more of my mother's "help" today. I couldn't deal with any more stress and I just wanted to spend some time with my kids.
We went to dinner and they would go home afterwards. Phew!
"Maybe mommy will bring home a baby," my mom told my kids at dinner. Yes, we went out again. I had the warm chicken fajita salad at El Torito and splurged with a dessert of flan. "When mommies go to the hospital, it's usually because they will bring a baby home. Do you want another baby sister Jesse?"
"No! Yuck!" he replied. Regardless, it was a moot point considering the doctors took my ovaries back in October.
"Yeah, I'm hoping to come home with identical twins, Tit and Tat," I named my new breasts to be.
Even while sitting at dinner, I had more lists running through my head. Mop the kitchen, clean out the sink, make the bed, kill any remaining flower bush bugs, try not to snap at the kids, finish the lists of kids' activities for my aunt who is arriving tonight, spend time with the kids.
We managed to leave the restaurant and return to our car unscathed after convincing my parents they didn't have to arrive at the hospital before I go into my 7:30 a.m. surgery. I suggested they arrive around 11:30 a.m. to take Mark out to lunch since they would still have a few more hours of waiting after that.
"I love you, honey," said my mom hugging me. "Everything will work out fine."
I wanted to get out of there before I would start crying. We went home and I continued carrying out my lists. Get packed, socks, undies, bathrobe, shoes. The kids finished their homework and went upstairs to take showers. Sophie was singing and chatting away. Jesse was quiet.
Bedtime arrived and Sophie was tucked under her blankets and waiting for a kiss. I turned out the lights in her room and sat beside her. Jesse came in as well and sat next to me.
"I love you guys so much and that's why I'm doing this tomorrow," I told them, fighting off tears when I said, "I'm going to miss you both and I'll be thinking about you all the time." I was glad the room was dark and they couldn't see my face. "Everything will be okay. The doctors working on me are the best in their departments and they've done this surgery many, many times. They want me to get better so I can come home to you two. Now give me a huggy, Soph."
Sophie pushed herself up and threw her arms around me, squeezing my hard. Her hair was still damp and smelled like Hawaii. I drew in a deep breath to remember the scent of her hair before saying, "Okay, it's time for beddy-bye."
She returned to her reclining position and offered a big smile lit up by a stream of light from the hall. "I love you, mommy," she said sweetly.
"I love you, too, sweetie." I leaned over and kisses her soft forehead and cheeks over and over.
"What about me," Jesse asked. "I want a hug, too."
"Let's go to your room." He led the way to his room before offering a tight hug. He didn't want to let go. Don't cry. Don't cry!
We talked for a while before he got in bed. I told him daddy would call as soon as he had any news.
I just hope the call is good news.
Letters to My Children
So now as I sit here at 2:30 in the morning, I want my children to be safe in the knowledge I will return home.
But what if something goes wrong? It happens. I wouldn't be me if I didn't think it could end badly. After all, it is a long surgery and any lengthy surgery is dangerous.
To Jesse, I'd want my boy to grow up keeping his curiosity and good-natured character. Don't become cynical and cold. Do well in your studies and talk daddy into taking vacations and continue camping. Don't rush love, but don't be afraid of it either. Be a good kisser and a kind, giving lover; the more generous you are as a lover, the more you will receive in turn. Learn how to dance...girls like that. Keep up with your music so when you are an adult, you don't look back and wish you hadn't quit. Grab hold of life and all it has to offer. Keep an open mind to new ideas and thoughts. Decorate your room however you want. Just as daddy has always been a gentleman with me, be a gentleman with the girls; open doors for them and buy your prom date a corsage -- they like the kind they fit on their wrist like a bracelet. Reach for the stars when it comes to your dreams and your future. Watch over your sister.
To Sophie, I know my little girl will be strong and independent. Keep your spirit brightly shining. Never let someone drown out your voice or tell you you won't succeed. Only have friends who treat you with respect and who are caring. Someday, when you want to know how to tell if someone is "the one" -- the one you want to share your life with and possibly marry -- remember that you will just know. You will be intimate with that person and neither one of you will be able to hold each other tightly enough. Your worries will melt away and you will just know. Trust your instincts and remain close to your brother. You'll always have each other to lean on.
To both my children, I hope you will attend all your proms, always celebrate Halloween "mommy style," continue to be outgoing and participate in all your interests. I see Jesse swimming at the Olympics some day, and Sophie, surely you will be up on a stage singing your heart out or up on the silver screen. Your daddy and I both love you and whether I am here, or wherever, we'll watch over you with the help of bubby and papa.
I love you, my babies. Always be happy and never depend on "things" as much as you would on people to bring you joy. You are my treasures and the light in my dark world.
(Thanks to all my friends and relatives who have been offering so many kind words of support!)