December 31, 2010

Not a Hangover, Hanging On

Some folks do not remember parts of their New Year's Eve celebrations because they've celebrated a bit too much. I've not had this issue, no hangovers on New Year's Day for me, but in December 30, 2006, I had a "hanging on," one I've never forgotten. And, this morning when I woke up, it was all I wanted to write about; for the first time. It seems that as I've practiced more and more the craft of writing, memories and experiences in my life want to be described, accurately and in detail. This must be why so many older people write memoirs, I think. There is finally time, space, and the need, to tell the story of one's Big Events...

I don't remember it being of distinguishable weather in any way when I woke up in my bed the morning of Dec. 30, 2006 in Lancaster, Ohio. There was no sense of excitement in looking to the left, out the narrow, old wood-framed window, to see if snow was falling, though I think it was in the thirties and there might have been some old snow clinging to the base of the huge tree that dominated my tiny backyard and spread its bare branches across the sky in the view from my secondfloor window. My first spring in this century-old house seven years earlier, I would open up this window at night, kneel in front of it, look out at the moon, visible through the budding leaves on this big tree, rest my arms on the old wooden sill, and feel a sense of expectancy and happiness that filled a common word with so much gratitude: "home."

I was thankful to be back in Ohio (having moved from Florida), to have a house (pictured above), to have this tiny city lot with a big tree in the backyard.

On this nearly-the-last-morning of 2006, I was alone in the house. My eldest son, Bryce, was settled and stable in place that fit his needs, a nursing home an hour away. My younger son, Jesse, after working hard for three years, had added college to his schedule and goals. He'd been home for the Christmas holiday, as had Bryce, and it had been a wonderful time together, the three of us, with my sister, Joan, living just down the street. Joan had retired from corporate/city life and also had bought a house in Lancaster, a small town of about 30,000, located forty-five minutes from Columbus, Ohio, a big city with all the wonderful amenities of a metropolitan area. (Bryce and Jesse are in the photo at left, encouraging me to "just take the picture, already." Christmas 2006.)

When my nest had become empty in 2001, I gave the house about a year, then did some painting and reorganizing. I loved my "new" bedroom. The colors were based on my beautiful Maximillian Pionus parrot, Gracie. Her body is green, but she has lavendar breast feathers, gray edging on her tiny green head feathers, a bright red underside to her lowerbody/vent area, and vibrant green tail feathers edged in royal blue. My bedroom was large because it had been two small bedrooms, unused, and I'd knocked down a wall (literally, with a hammer and some loud music) and then decided to paint two walls pale green, two walls pale lavendar, the trim grey and then I found drapes and bedding that incorporated lavendar and green and used red accents in honor of Gracie's tail feathers. I also had grey carpeting installed. (Here is a photo of Gracie taken in 2009, which shows her beautiful colors.)

I loved my comfortable bed. It was perfect for me. My mother had visited in the summer of 2006 and we'd gone to an auction out in the countryside. I'd bought an old wooden headboard, or perhaps she'd bought it for me . . . in any case, it fit beautifully in the room. (See the photo below of Joan, me, and Mom at the Lancaster Music Festival, July 2006.) My father had given me a marbletop antique table decades earlier and it was a good match next to the bed. I had a small TV, loads of books and a big poster of the movie "Amalie" across from my bed. Jesse had introduced me to the movie on a visit to see him after he'd first moved East.

There was a small kerosene heater in the wall of my bedroom, and though I was careful never to use it at night when I slept, to always leave both of the doors to the bedroom open and to have a carbon monoxide detector in the room, I loved to turn it on at night to warm the room while I read, since I kept the heat at night at a cool fifty-five degrees. I loved the blue flames and the sound of it.

And so this was the relaxing room that I fell asleep in on December 29, 2006. I was likely tired from the holidays and perhaps planning what my business would face in the coming year. But, on second thought, I think I simply felt "rest" and a feeling of exhaling the year and getting ready to inhale 2007.

I love the holidays, but they felt stressful to me then. A lot of driving, a lot of money issues as December and January were lean business months, a lot of cleaning and cooking and the good stress of people around and snow and all the emotional "stuff" around Christmas. Nothing I'd want to change, but still . . .

November of 2006 brought the passing of my mother's dear companion and friend, Joe Kahn, from cancer (here are Joe and Mom at left). My sister, Joyce, and I were with Mom when he died, at his son's home in Palm Springs. It was a very emotional time.

In no way comparable, but still a loss of some kind, my beloved Goffin's cockatoo, Bailey, had died in a traumatic way several weeks earlier. She was six and should have lived thirty or forty years. A real comedian who called me "Mama!", I missed her very much especially as I had just signed a publishing contract for my first not-self-published book, "Open Your Heart with Pets: Mastering Life through Love of Animals" (by Dreamtime Publishing). Ironically, I was also working at this time on illustrations for "Still Her Spirit Sings" -- about the death of a beloved pet. (Here is a photo of Bailey in my then-office. She loved to watch the green flashing light on the printer, and would "hand" me the papers as they came out!)

I woke up about seven in the morning on December 30th, 2006. Tyler, my Pekingese, was sleeping at the foot of the bed. Jackie, my Chihuahua, claimed the center of the bed and was keeping the covers, and me, warm. I barely needed the electric blanket my mother had sent to me, but I was thankful for it.

When I opened my eyes, I immediately felt a tingling in my left arm and in my chest a bit too. It wasn't the first time. I'd had unexplainable intense, sharp, seconds-only pains in my chest years earlier after my divorce, and a clutching, achey pain around my heart in 2000 during a time of deep worry related to my elder son, who is disabled. Also, in Sept. 2001, he and my sister and I were in NYC; we were supposed to be at the WTC on 9/11, but luck or angels or God or happenstance intervened and we were in our hotel room when tragedy struck; still, it was a profound experience for me, psychologically, and I added it to the things that might affect me physically as well.

Many tests between 2000 and 2006 showed nothing really wrong, nothing conclusive. I'd been to a good cardiologist at Ohio State; I had a competent internist who had cared for me for seven years. I was pretty sure this was a carpel tunnel, nerve thing, which I am prone to get in both of my hands and arms, or an asthma thing, what fun! (Below, Jackie and Tyler in Feb. 2006)

I slid out of bed, lowered Jackie to the floor and we padded our way down the steps, my right hand trailing along the wooden handrail as I descended the steps. There was nothing fancy about the stairs in my house, but at the bottom, in the tiny foyer, was a huge square window and I loved this window. It was what I saw each morning as I came downstairs and I'd crocheted a pretty white curtain for it. The wooden trim was also white and the walls were pale blue. On one side of the window was a big round white plate with the face of the sun on it. On the other side of the window two gold frames held photos taken by a friend of mine, a budding photographer. One was of a man with a butterfly on his chest and I loved this photo. Everything in this part of my house was light, bright, even in the winter, and I was generally happy each morning to come downstairs and start the day.

As I went about my morning routine and washed up the breakfast dishes, my arm still felt weird and my chest did too. Something just felt off. I had talked to the physician's assistant just a few months earlier about the once-in-a-great-while mysterious "heart" things, and since all the tests were normal, she told me that, still, if I had any problems or concerns I should just go to the ER (two miles down the road) and have it checked out.

What to do... ? I didn't need the added expense of an ER visit, but I had met my deductible for the year and it was almost the end of the year. If I waited a few days and then had to go in anyway, I'd have to pay for everything out-of-pocket. But, it was New Year's Eve weekend... I debated this for about half an hour, then put some newspapers on the floor for the dogs and closed the kitchen half-door, making sure they had their food and water, as well as checked on Gracie and three other parrots in my care (rescued parrots) and fed my tropical fish. "I'll be back by lunch!" I said, cheerfully, throwing on a coat and closing the back door.

When I got to the ER of our small, yet quite competent, hospital, I felt a mixture of concern and embarrassment. I was sure it was nothing. My heart seemed to be more than a muscle; it took its role in my emotional life literally, and seemed to hold all the heartache I'd ever felt. I need to restart yoga lessons, I thought.

After I was checked in, the wait was not long...I remember the lovely water-wall sculpture in the waiting room. And I wondered who would come through these ER doors in the next 72 hours of a New Year's Eve weekend.

(Here is a photo of me at the Book Illustrators Show at High Road Gallery in Worthington, Ohio, in 2006. Shown are watercolors from Turner's Flight by Chris Davey.)

I was given an exam and an EKG. It was normal, but the doctor wanted to do a CT scan of my lungs to rule out an embolism, so off I went down the hall to the scanning department, where the rooms are cold, the machines are white, and there is a weird quiet sound, not quite a hum, that is punctuated by the sound of clangs and clacks and soft mechanical sounds and murmurs of medical professionals. I've been in these rooms often enough in my life to be able to immediately close my eyes and remember the sound, sight and smell of them; a sort of nothingness with something there, is the only way I can think to describe it. As well as the thought, "Well, let's just get through this and I'll be home soon."

The technician injected the IV with dye. I was covered with a white sheet and I think I was in a hospital gown, but I know that I did have on my Mickey Mouse watch with a brown leather wristband on my left hand. I wore no other jewelry. No one in my family knew where I was. As the flat "board" I was lying on slowly began to move through the big white donut shape of the CT scanner, I held my breath a bit. I remember looking up at the top of the inside of the machine, there was a tiny red dot and a sign that said "Don't look directly at the laser dot" or some such thing. Too late, I already had.

The test took only two or three minutes, and I was soon pulled out of the scanner. Immediately, I felt something was wrong. My watch was feeling tighter on my left arm. My tear ducts were burning. Things I'd never felt before. It was confusing, but real. I looked to the right, to the floor. "I feel sick! I feel really sick." I told the technician. "Oh, I feel so sick..." I lay back and I don't know if I closed my eyes but I know I couldn't see anything anymore and all there was was the sense of the guerney being pushed, fast, down the hallway and back to the emergency room.

Suddenly, there were people all around me, lots of hurried talking, machines and beeping. I could hear loud beeping, but I couldn't keep my eyes open. An IV was inserted in my left arm. A cool cloth was put over my forehead. "Is the doctor here? Is the doctor here?" I repeated. My head felt like my brain was going to explode and I struggled, mightily, (probably the only time in my life I would use "struggled mightily" to describe my efforts) to stay conscious. I believed that if I went "under" I would never wake up.

Everything felt fast, like a scarey movie where the scenes are sped up, where the guy is standing still but the hallway he is in is moving fast, like the main character is in limbo, but everything else is in havoc. And my life didn't flash before me, I could barely think. I couldn't verbalize my thoughts. But my sons, not their names, not their faces, but the essense of them and who they are to me, filled what was there of my mind and I knew I could not give in to whatever was happening to my body, I could not leave them, they needed me.

Well, to be honest, I didn't want to leave my youngest because I needed him, my love for him, my delight in seeing him grow up --- he had already been independent for five years, since age 18, he would be fine, but I love being his mother and I wanted to know all the wonderful things he would do in life. Also, he didn't have a relationship with his father, I was essentially his only parent. Kids in their twenties still need parents, right? Even the independent, smart, talented ones...

I didn't want to leave my eldest, Bryce, because I was his only advocate, who would speak for him if I was not there! I had to get through this! Why, oh why, had I not told anyone in my family I was going to the hospital? Is this what it felt like to die? Was I going to die? So this is it? (Above, is a photo of me with Bryce and Jackie in 2006.)

I can't say that I prayed or bargained with God. There was no conscious thought, only feeling. And, I wasn't the bargaining type anyway. Six years earlier I had asked God for the biggest miracle of my life, on behalf of Bryce. He'd granted it and I felt that I'd used my one big request and the rest of life I'd have to just do the best I could on my own.

I do not know how much time actually passed between the time I had a reaction to the CT dye and the time the heart monitor returned to a normal beeping pattern and I was able to open my eyes and knew I was not going to die, but I bet it was about half an hour. I looked up to the right and there was a nurse there. No one else. The IV had been disconnected. The cloth removed from my forehead. The other staff were back at their desks, their stations, their places by other bedsides. "You'll be okay," I think she said. She must have said something. I must have asked something, but I don't remember really. I do remember thinking, Something Really Big just happened to me and now you're all off to something else? Yes, big things happen all the time in hospitals, I later realized.

I asked to use the restroom and holding the cotton gown tightly in back with my right hand I made my way down the hall, opened the door, and looked in the mirror. To my shock the whites of my eyes were entirely red. Not bloodshot, blood red. Yikes! My lips were swollen.

I returned to the guerney and asked if I could have my purse and my cell phone. I called my sister, Joan, who was only three miles away. She came right over, of course, and we talked for a bit, I don't remember anything much that was said except that she was there and I was so glad to see her. No one would make a mistake in my care with her there! Twelve years older, quick and assertive, she was a good one for speaking up, something difficult for me. A few years earlier, I had brought Joan to the hospital after she'd had a bad fall, literally fallen on her face on the concrete while walking my dog, Buster, who was staying with her. Her beautiful face! I'd been nervous and worried for her and gave the registration desk the wrong house number for Joan who, face bleeding underneath a plastic bag of ice, was still thinking clearly and corrected my mistake. (My wonderful sister, Joan, below, with her parrot, Simon. In the kitchen of my house around 2006.)

As it turned out, the doctor wanted me to stay overnight "just to be on the safe side." So, Joan offered to go to my house, check on the dogs and birds, and I was so thankful for that. I still was not thinking well, I don't remember the entire rest of the day! I don't remember going upstairs to the hospital room, or anything about the rest of the day, or any worries.

I do remember thinking, briefly the next morning before leaving the hospital, of the man I had been dating for almost two years. It was a long-distance thing because he worked at a job that posted him at different power companies throughout the country and he was now working in Colorado. He was a good man, but I'd been out to visit him before the holidays and felt that things were not quite right. I couldn't put my finger on it, but it was in the general direction of him saying he wanted to build a life with me, but my feeling that he didn't really love me, personally, particularly, and likely never would. It would be a deep friendship with some romantic feelings, but was that enough? He had never said "I love you," and that bothered me.

I was not unhappy being single; I'd been on my own for several years. My divorce in 1991 was horrible; I would not get married again unless I was convinced it would last the rest of my life. I wanted to love and be loved, but something was lacking and I knew it.

I asked Joan to call him and tell him what had happened to me. I talked to him later that weekend. Something in his weak response, or what I perceived as a weak response, convinced me further that if I had died he would not have missed me as much as I'd hoped. For me, that was not good enough and our relationship ended a few weeks later.

When I left the hospital the next morning, New Year's Eve, my heart deemed healthy and a strong mental note "allergic to CT dye" (along with a whole lot of other things I already knew I couldn't take)... I was relieved in the hum-drum feeling of driving down the dirty-wet road and pulling up beside my tall, old house. I parked on the side street and went in the back door and there were Jackie and Tyler, so happy to see me, as was Gracie who chortled away from her cage and big Jake, a 30-year-old Amazon saying "Hellooooo. Whatcha doooin'?" (Here is a photo of Jake, below. When Mark and I married, Jake went to live with a cardiologist and his wife in beautiful North Carolina, and when they adopted Jake, they also adopted his "girlfriend" Tina, age 20-something.)

The clean dishes were in the strainer, just where I'd left them. The dogs had been good and Joan had been by. I picked up the newspapers from the floor and threw them away. I started a new pot of coffee. I turned on the television. I retrieved the newspaper from the front porch. I took a shower and put on comfortable, clean clothes. I settled in for a relaxing holiday with a little dog by my side and a good watchdog on the ottoman by my wool-socked feet. I breathed a deep sigh of relief. That night I stayed awake in my sweet, cozy bedroom long enough to see 2006 turn to 2007. Ah...Home...

My heart turned out to be okay, and I recently (Dec. 2010) had a stress test and the results came back yesterday, "normal"! Yeah! Except for a strained back muscle from lifting something I shouldn't, I am in good health. (Even considering the fact that the insurance company has denied covering the cost of the stress test, though I will pay as of January $935 a month for private health insurance with a $2500 deductible. Oh well...)

After the CT dye scare 12/30/06, I had another trauma soon after, in February 2007 when I received a deep puncture wound to my right hand from a dog I had tried to rescue (and was not able to keep). The wound was severe and I fought to keep my little finger, finally going on IV antibiotics and every-other-day visits to the doctor. Insurance deductible for 2007? Check!

But, with March and spring came hope. I met the love of my life, Mark Williams. It was love at first sight for me in the Barnes and Noble that day, when we talked and I looked into his open-hearted, friendly, intelligent face . . . and days later when I read his poetry, years of it printed out and stacked neatly, and saw a Chagall print above his fireplace, and met his dog, and saw his interest in an exhibit at the Cincinnati Museum of Art (Andrew Wyeth) and ate the meal he carefully prepared for me, learned his family history, laughed with him. In everything he did, every care he took, I knew this was someone I could love and who would love me in the way that I needed. We were married in August of that same year.

Bryce continued to do well in his life from 2007 on, he is happy and stable now, though does have health problems and his deafness increases. He began working at a sheltered workshop and he began selling his artwork and crafts at a beautiful gallery for people with disabilities. He and his girlfriend, Sarah, have been friends for six years now, and their relationship has given them both much happiness. Jesse graduated from Temple University in Philadelphia in 2009; the firm where he worked while in school put him on salary after graduation and he is doing well and in a relationship with a wonderful young woman whom we love as well. My mother celebrated her 90th birthday this past month. My sister, Joan, now lives in Florida near Mom and our sister, Joyce. My graphic design business has enjoyed stability for several years and Lucky Press is growing in exciting ways.

Mark and I bought a house in Athens, Ohio, in the summer of 2008, and now I have new windows to look out of, new trees to gaze at, a new bedroom that I also love, especially because of the man in bed next to me. If I am ever again in an emergency room, it is likely my husband will be by my side, and like Joan, he is also good at speaking up.

So, while this has been a long post, and more for me, perhaps, than for you (there is probably a rule against that...) It was good to wake up this morning, write this all down, and then move forward into the New Year. 2011! Two thousand ELEVEN! Here so soon.

I am so looking forward to this wonderful year and wish you and your loved ones and businesses and happy endeavors all the best as well!

Much love from Athens, Ohio,
Janice Phelps Williams


February Grace said...

WOW! Warning- to follow may be The Longest. Blog. Comment. Ever...

Janice, I have tears in my eyes (and considering I'm a 'cryer' who has been too emotionally numbed out to cry for awhile, that is saying something!)

We have SO much in common it's absolutely eerie (in a good way though!)

Thank you for this post. It wasn't just for you- I assure you. If you ever think that for a moment when you reread it later- know that at least one other person believes that you wrote it for at least one other reason.

I believe that you were meant to write this- for my benefit (and that of many others too.)

Thank you, for a beautiful, at times heart-stopping and entirely engrossing look into your past this morning. It's no wonder that you are so wise, and radiate such warmth. You've earned the right to teach- you're a Jedi (and as you get to know me better you'll know that calling someone a Jedi is a title I reserve for a precious few and take very seriously! *laugh!* I know. I'm a wingnut.)

Much love back to you, from Michigan.

Happy New Year!


Janice Phelps Williams said...

Thank you, Bru. Your comments are like:
* a wonderful balm
* a cup of hot chocolate with marshmellows
* the best chicken soup ever
* cool water on a hot day
* a comfy sweater that doesn't itch at all
* and all other sorts of good things...
It means so much to me that you took the time to read, and to comment. Have a wonderful day!

Jessica Bell said...

Janice, I read this post with wide eyes and my thumb nail hooked behind my front teeth the entire time. You certainly know how to tell a tale! :o)

I'm so glad everything turned out for the best. and you certainly deserve it. You have to be THE MOST KIND-HEARTED and GENUINE person I have ever met.

The past couple of months that I have gotten to know you have been amazing. You are my mother, sister, friend all wrapped into one. And I don't think these horrible experiences that you've had have are the reason for it either. I think you were always like this.

I'm so happy to know you, to have you in my life. I wish nothing but the best for you in 2011. Send my love and best wishes to all your family (and pets) too!

Happy New year! XOXO

Mark V. Williams said...

I always knew that if I waited long enough, I’d find you.

Anonymous said...

Nothing is more precious than learning, feeling and understanding all the magnificent qualities I read in your writings, Janice!

I preach often to many people: "Only through true adversity, may a person rise above, and become the Hero"! You are truly a Hero to many.

Such a pleasure,

Marcus DeCamillo

Janice Phelps Williams said...

Thank you, Jessica: I will treasure your note forever! Your friendship means the world to me and now Mark and I look at the globe I gave him for Christmas and think, "There, on the other side of the world, is Jessica Bell! It must be a wonderful place because she is there."

Thank you, too, Marcus, for following my blog and for commenting and encouraging my writing. I hope to have the opportunity to encourage you as well.

Mark, I knew if I was patient you would find me, and you did! Here's to the rest of our life together, beginning with another wonderful New Year!

Melissa Kline said...

Janice, this is such a gripping and heartfelt post. I thoroughly enjoyed reading about your experiences - I felt like I was right there with you! You are such a wonderful storyteller.

I can completely relate to your experiences for many different reasons. I admire your courage, strength and willingness to express yourself so openly. This is something that I am still working on. You are such an inspiration to me.

I am so glad that everything turned out well for you and your family. I have enjoyed getting to know you and am so very thankful to have you in my life.

Thank you for being you! You're amazing. I look forward to working with you in the New Year!

Janice Phelps Williams said...

Thank you, Melissa. I'm so glad we met too! I love the way you combine many art forms to create things: photography, scrapbooking, writing, etc. We are going to have a great year working together on "My Beginning."

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