Wok on the Road

I love our electric wok. It sat forgotten and alone in a kitchen cabinet for years, unused and unappreciated. One day in early June I heard a whisper. “Open the cabinet. Yes, this one, way over in the corner.” When I did and saw the black electric wok with its clear glass lid, a bright idea flashbulb popped.

The wok has gone on the road. It has become an essential tool for making our suppers when we have to stay at the Inn at Mayo in Jacksonville for Tom’s chemo. I’ve sauteed chicken thighs with shallots and mushrooms, cooked yellow squash, salmon, even spinach, and shrimp fried brown rice. All kinds of comfort food.

Tonight I used the smooth nonstick surface to do double duty: first it cooked a diced Idaho potato, onion, chopped garlic and oregano in a smidge of olive oil; then after I turned the potatoes out onto our plates, it scrambled eggs. We enjoyed that feast with toast, strawberry jam, and Earl Grey tea.

We’re in the bedroom now, reading books (well, I’m typing for a few minutes, then I’ll read). Tom has blood labs first thing, then a meeting with his hematologist/oncologist, then a fun-filled afternoon of Rituxian (Rituximab) and Treanda (Bendamustine).

He drove us the whole six and a half hours from Pensacola. He’s whipped, and I’m concerned because he has a little congestion and seems to be trying to get a sinus infection. Plus, the muscle area on the right side of his neck near the catheter for the Bard Power Port in his chest got sore several days ago and is growing more uncomfortable. Needless to say, I’m glad we’re here and that he’ll be seeing his doc in the morning. I’m sure he’ll be fine. I just hate for him to go into a chemo session not feeling well. He felt great Sunday; this came up suddenly.

A good night’s sleep can be powerful medicine, and our wok supper paved the way.

Hope all yall’s evening is peaceful and comfortable.


Thanksgiving in August

I’ve heard gratitude is an attitude. Being a glass half-full kind of person, I believe that’s generally true. But sometimes it feels more like the flood waters from a burst levee and you find yourself suddenly engulfed.

That happened to Tom and me yesterday. The  flood waters of gratitude are more like the Sea of Galilee than the tragic debacle of a New Orleans drowned in 2005 by the breaches of Hurricane Katrina. The waters of gratitude are buoyant. They lift you up.

Tom came into the kitchen earlier than usual yesterday morning.  I was doodling around, emptying the dishwasher, drinking Komodo Dragon coffee, and listening to Will Patton read James Lee Burke’s latest, the fantastic Wayfaring Stranger.  When Tom spun me around for a hug and a morning kiss, my instant inventory of flashing eyes, bright smile, and waves of energy told me he had his groove back.

This Wednesday we’ll drive back to Jacksonville for his third R-Benda cycle, so he’ll get knocked down again for a few days, but a day like yesterday will carry a person through from point of light to point of light, false dawn to true sunrise.

We live in a pine forest. Our home is in a clearing surrounded by the woods. Pretty darned incredible paradise. Yesterday’s weather looked iffy and I wanted to mow the clearing in case it rained later in the day. If we left it to grow until we returned from Mayo next Saturday, with the August heat and humidity, the grass would be halfway to my knees. So after breakfast, newly wise from my recent poison ivy experience, I put on a long-sleeve shirt, long pants, socks and jogging shoes, gloves and a Rebecca of Sunnybrook farm hat, and headed out to crank up the little John Deere.

Little John Deere

The morning wasn’t too hot. There was even a little breeze. Vigilant mocking birds kept an eye on me and a resident hawk waggled his wings overhead. About an hour later I was in the back when a movement caught my eye. It was Tom, on the ancient 60 hp Case tractor, tipping his Tilley hat and blowing me a kiss! He was bush-hogging the area between yard grass and woods where we sow wheat, oats and rye every fall for the deer, wild turkeys and migratory birds.

The (Very) Old Case Tractor

Two hours later we were done: dirty, sweaty and happy. After lunch and a shower, Tom rested in the bedroom with the latest book he’s reading, waiting for the usual afternoon “slump.” I spent some time writing and then went to the kitchen to start dinner.

He bounded into the kitchen, smiling. “All day, no slump! I expected it, but it didn’t come. The work outside felt good. There’s a lesson in that,” he said.

Our supper, coincidentally, was roast turkey breast, baked sweet potatoes, green peas and cranberry sauce. Thanksgiving in August.


“The Guy”

It’s the med techs, nurses, schedulers and physician’s assistants that make this deal a whole lot easier to swallow than it might otherwise be. They’ve got situations and issues of their own without a doubt, but you would never know it.

Take Ray. He’s the med tech at our local cancer center that takes Tom’s blood labs every two weeks and flash faxes them over to Mayo. The luck of the draw got us to Ray the first time we went in. Let’s see, that would have been June 26, just about one month ago.

Ray’s not young, not old, with blue highways of experience in his calm, dark eyes. He retired from a career in the Navy, did a high wire act in real estate before everybody crashed with or without a net, then went back to school for his med tech certificate. Ray is kind and he is careful. Checks everything twice. Gives you the feeling he knows his bit of the interlocking puzzle is a corner piece.  And he’s right. These periodic blood labs let Tom’s Mayo docs assess whether he is ready for the next treatment cycle.

Ray uses a winged infusion set , sometimes called a butterfly needle. Tom thinks of it as a dragonfly, because its proboscis dips delicately into his blood, sure and unquivering, even while it fills several vials. The technology, along with Ray’s steady hand, results in no bruising or discomfort.

After the first blood-letting, we asked Ray if he would be available to do this every time. “Sure,” he said with a smile that put lights in his eyes. “Just ask for the guy.” We must have looked confused. He waved a hand at the other blood-letting stations in two rows around the small room. Sure enough, all the other med techs were female. He’s “the guy,” and we’re grateful to have him on the team.


Freight Train

Tired and nervous as a cat, I am sitting in Room 138 of the Courtyard Marriott adjacent to the Mayo Clinic in Jacksonville. Tom is in the shower, preparing for a routine EKG at 11:50, then an appointment with head and neck surgeon and otolaryngologist, Dr. John D.  Casler at 1:15, then a 3 p.m. with a nurse practitioner to go over labs and clear him for general anesthesia tomorrow morning for Dr. Casler to remove the enlarged lymph nodes from the left side of Tom’s neck.

11:45 now, and we’re in the Davis Building. Tom has gone in for the EKG, which we are well-accustomed to, since we both get one every year as part of our physicals.

It’s been so many months since I kept a regular journal  the very act of putting ink onto paper feels strange, revolutionary.

I’m so anxious about Tom’s health I can barely focus my eyes. He would say I am hollering before we’ve been hit and of course he is right about that. Nonetheless, I feel half-paralyzed, jerky, spastic. Much too distracted to read a book.

I see that I am in no-way prepared for our “real” aging, possible illnesses and eventual death. Not his. Not my own. And it’s coming one-eyed and fast, like a freight train out of a tunnel.