13 years out from my dementia diagnosis, 6 days out from my surgery, Peter and I are celebrating 52 years of marriage
Photo: March 27, 1971. Fifty-two years married, Peter and I, 55 years together if you add the 3 years of “living in sin” before our wedding day. How can two human beings be so lucky! Not that it all was Pimm’s and frangipani (as in “wine and roses”), because, like anyone else, we had our difficulties—oncee stretching over a period of several years.
First photo, Pimm’s; second and third, frangipani, as in the blossoms that fix Gerda’s wedding headdress to her hair.
The luck came in that we’d each found another person who’d remember the “until death us do part” at times when the other was incapable of doing so, and an other who was willing to endure the reminder and able to jointly do the work to make that commitment true again between us. (With “able to” I mean that neither of us had an addiction to another substance or person that they held more dear than our wedding vows, particularly once we had a family.) And the biggest luck was that two people who felll in love when 17 (me) and 19 (Peter) had the same family values (which, of course, changed as we learned more about the world) and were both able to grow in similar directions even though our wising up was attained individually through our different life experiences. More luck, we had many fights. Big, rude, loud fights all our lives. We mostly got to a point at the end of each day where, if either of us should die before having a chance to speak again, the last thing we would have said to each other was not too un-self-forgivable.
Peter and Gerda having breakfast in Springbok Park, near where we lived with Peter’s parents in Pretoria, in the year we both graduated from the University of Pretoria with a BsC in Math and Chemistry. The photo was taken about a year before we got married.
Today, Monday, 6 days after my surgery, we celebrated our anniversary with an outing to the mall for coffee.
As for my triple crown pelvic floor surgery last Tuesday, May 21st, this is how it went:
Saying goodbye to each other before leaving for the hospital on Tuesday morning. Mercifully, I had to be there at 9 am for surgery at 11 am.
Sporting the hospital gear. Peter’s bulletin to friends & family: “Here she is in hospital BEFORE the surgery looking quite chipper with only a blood oxygen sensor attached. Besides the nurses, the doctors all came in and introduced themselves, spoke a little about what their roles would be (there were somewhere between 6 and 8 of them), then they left and the nurses started poking holes and adding all the tubes, sensors, and leg-things that squeeze to help to prevent blood clots before wheeling her out and telling me ‘stay’”.
Peter’s bulletin: “The surgery was a lot longer than I thought and after a couple of hours I started thinking they were having issues. It took them 3 hours to do the surgery and finally the surgeon came out and said it all went well. They did not allow me in the recovery room (too many other wakes-uppies together in one space) where I thought it would be interesting to hear Gerda mumble incoherently about ‘stuff in her life’. Pity about that. Anyway, they finally told me which room they were putting her in and I could see her there. She said hi to me, gave me a hug and went back to sleep.”
I was given a “meal” when the mealtime came around again. Between falling back asleep, I gamely ate what I could, knowing I could not leave the hospital the next day unless I had passed the “evacuation test.” During the time I was in the hospital, I was given pain meds on the clock: oxycodone, ibuprofen, tylenol. I had a bit of pain during the night, and they topped me up with whatever was due at the time. Once at home, I used only ibuprofen and tylenol for the afternoon, took an oxycodone before going to bed. I kept on schedule all night with the non-narcotics and through to Thursday, another oxycodone when I went to bed. From then on, only non-narcotics, which stretched further and further apart. I never had any intolerable pain in the hospital, never any pain at home that was not managed with non-narcotics. I realize that I was lucky—no bladder or any other internal organs accidentally nicked, no unforeseen catastrophes. This surgery was the first and only one in 7 procedures over the past ten years—including 3 foot surgeries, an intestinal blockage fix, and 2 rectal prolapse repairs that required abdominal incisions—in which I chose to use the prescribed narcotics. This time, my doctor suggested that my recovery energy could be used better if I did not have to fight pain right in the beginning. I decided to give it a try. I’m glad I did. I never experienced intolerable pain at all, not even for a few minutes, and after being discharged from the hospital my pain was always under control. I really buy the contemporary notion that pain CAN and SHOULD be managed. But it is also important to check with yourself before each dose whether you really need it.
ON Wednesday, March 22nd, I was given the all clear to go home. That night, Peter made me soup. On Thursday, he made the loveliest salad imaginable for dinner! Something other than the food that is helping my recovery is that I’ve tried to exercise as much as I can before and after my surgery. For me, recordable exercise consists only of what my stepcounter says: during the two weeks before my surgery, I averaged about 7 thousand steps per day. Since my surgery, the concept of “average” does not really mean much—too many ups and downs with my energy. My records show that on the day after my surgery, I walked only 700 steps. The first full day at home, Thursday, I made it up to 5,400. Fri 4,400; Saturday 6,000; Sunday I felt off, only 3,500; Monday, today, I felt off too—there won’t be more than about 4,500. But I did insist that i wanted to go out into the world to celebrate our anniversary with a trip to the mall—the sun on the fresh snow outside, the colors and noise of human beings living their lives in the mall, and the lovely chat with Peter uplifted my low-energy mood and reminded me to keep on trying for a bit more movement every day. While keeping in mind that my body has the last say.
So much for my surgery, except that I intone a song of gratitude to my uterus, the molecules of which will now return to the universe from whence it came. I thank it for the honorable work it did, I thank the doctors and medical technology that made, as safe as possible, both the births of my children and the removal of a valiant organ that did exactly that for which it had evolved.
First photo, Marissa’s birth, March 26, 1977. Marissa’s 46th birthday was yesterday, we will celebrate with the family on Sunday, April 2nd; second, Newton’s birth, November 6, 1979. He will be 44 in November.
Given that I have worn my uterus (together with two other pelvic organs) on my sleeve for the past months, it seems only right that I now will show it off as a pin on my chest, a gift from a beloved friend who has always had the eye for the most deliciously uncouth jewelry exactly suited to occasions in my life that absolutely require this sense of humor!
I want to end with my 13-years ago dementia diagnosis and how I feel about my state-of-brain now, with the pelvic floor surgery behind me and my recovery apparently well under way: that is, the anticipated time “when my dementia will again be the biggest problem of my daily life.” So far, I still have large stretches of post-anesthesia brain fog, which makes my dealings with the material world an ongoing challenge and which I know tries Peter’s never-failing patience (although he would never say so or show it in a million years) and makes me require his help with every little daily activity. He helps me by observing when I am too tired to keep doing thing and am too stubborn to stop. He helps me by taking care of most of the household activities that I can still do on my best days. He helps talk me down when I wake up in the morning and want to do a list of things as long as my arm since I “feel so good after 10 hours of sleep” but flake before I have even finished my breakfast. I manage because he is always there and always with a smile or a joke or a solution for all the things I had forgotten how to do, for example, in writing this post; plus the photos he took. Also, he has managed all of the outside communication with friends and family since my surgery, freeing up my brain to think my own thoughts and get them written. In between, he’s done our taxes. While every day serving up salads and other food and hugs and body holds that get me through each day stronger than the day before!
I want to end in some much abbreviated- and adapted-to-my-own-purposes lines from Billy Collins’s poem “As If to Demonstrate an Eclipse,”
a homemade canticle of thanks
circle one another in their impeccable orbits
…I get more and more cockeyed with gratitude.