And on and on and on.
Gail’s Mom began one of the biggest guilt trips of her life when Gail announced she had a no-resuscitation order on file for her upcoming surgery.
Gail was scheduled for a partial hysterectomy in late June and she was self donating blood for the procedure. We put together Living Wills, neither of us wanted to be supported by machines or to be `saved’ by some heroic effort that would leave us disabled or impaired in some way.
Quality of life matters more than quantity, and I would not want to live without my memories or be partially paralyzed. Gail and I just don’t feel like either of us could make the transition from able-bodied to handicapped.
And this choice we would make for ourselves, as everyone else would have to make for themselves. I would never say that what was right for me was right for someone else. Okay, fine, I did choose for Sherry to not go to the body viewing, but she really didn’t want to go and just needed an excuse. I provided the excuse, we lingered over breakfast. I’m like that, I try to give people what they want.
Gail is a lousy patient. She hates being sick and she gets grumpy. Her veins seem to take their cue from her, and it is difficult to draw blood. Impossible from her left arm at all, yet every nurse seemed compelled to try.
After stabbing her two or three times, they’s listen to her and use her right arm. Generally the blood came with the first poke. The blood test needles were bad enough, the needle to draw blood for storage looked like a turkey baster.
The nurse in the blood unit hadn’t wanted to use the same arm as the nurse in the lab did because the vein could collapse, and Gail’s had a tendency to do just that.
“We’ll fix your little red wagon,” the nurse gritted her teeth as she eased the needle into the left arm vein.
Blood eased its way down the tube to the holding bag on the rocking machine.
I held Gail’s hand and tried not to look at the blood and convince myself I couldn’t smell any, either. I think I was paler than she was.
She squeezed my hand.
“Do you want to go home and I’ll call you to pick me up?”
“Would you leave me here bleeding?” I asked.
“Well, then, don’t expect me to leave,” I let my breath catch in my throat, “Even if I am dizzy and about to faint!” I put the back of my free hand across my forehead.
“Bitch.” Gail grinned at me.
We made jokes and small talk until it was time to take the needle out. The nurse double clamped the tube near the top of the bag and again near Gail’s arm. She snipped the tube near the needle and coiled the little umbilical tube and attached it to the bag.
“Is that like a baker’s pint?” I asked.
“No,” the nurse said. “We’ll blood type it and test it for AIDS.” She handed Gail some juice and a cookie.
“I’ve already tested for AIDS, I’m negative.” Gail continued, “Besides, it’s going back into me, I’m self donating for surgery.”
“Well, we still test it, because if it is infected, we can’t put it back into you, even if it’s your blood.”
“That’s weird.” I said.
“No, they can’t legally knowingly give anyone tainted blood,” Gail said.
“We’d have to destroy it, it would be dangerous for the staff to keep on hand.”
“But,” I said in my best devil’s advocate voice,”If AIDS is caused by two viruses, as some researchers are beginning to suspect, and you have one, receive blood product might give you the other one, and then you have full blown AIDS.”
“Well, that’s not going to happen now with all the safeguards we have in place.” The nurse, who had been quite friendly, was understandably getting irritated with me.
But I was not so trusting of the blood industry who ignored AIDS until some five years into the epidemic when there was enough circumstantial evidence to indicate blood was means of transmission.
Or one who would try to prevent a Federal investigation into the tainted blood scandal from naming those responsible and prosecuting them.
Gail was really dizzy, even after two juices. We went for lunch, but ended up having to get her Dad to come and get us. I didn’t want to leave her and walk the four blocks home.
Gail’s Mom, as I have said before, was a strong willed woman. She was also used to getting her way and not being questioned about it. Now, as I also have said, I have a tendency to give people what they want, but Gail’s Mom seemed to think that if I went away, Gail wouldn’t be a lesbian anymore and she’d once again be the dutiful daughter she had been for the years prior to my arrival.
Gail’s Mom had had a heart attack in 1985, and her health deteriorated further after the death of her second oldest son in 1986. Gail’s Dad retired from the road to look after his wife, and Gail spent most of her off-work hours taking care of the house and most of the cooking.
Gail’s Mom was so used to being obeyed, that she skipped the step of endearing herself to me so I would want to do what she wanted and expected of me. She must have assumed that Gail had instilled in me the proper and expected duties of being a daughter-in-law of hers.
But Gail and I don’t have the kind of relationship where we try to change each other. What was the point of molding someone into what you want? It’s less effort just to find a person with the qualities you’re looking for.
It was easy to see that her main purpose in life became removing me from Gail’s life. But, I didn’t particularly want to go away from Gail, so her Mom and I were in continuous subtle conflict.
It did not help that Gail’s older brother, Edward, was homophobic and that her younger brother, Albert, resented my presence in Gail’s life; replacing him in his perceived role as best pal and confident.
Of the two, Edward’s honest and open homophobia was easier to take and ignore. Albert’s homophobia was more insidious as it was cloaked with his supposed tolerance by his attending the annual AIDS march. Like AIDS is the only gay issue as well as only a gay issue.
Albert, like Lynnie, has a need to be the most _______ in the group. Plug in anything – spiritual, radical, tolerant, knowledgeable, reasonable, whatever.
Edward just behaves as if he is the most knowledgeable and toughest person ever, so once again, he’s the easier of the two to disregard. You never forget that Edward is a blowhard.
The worst part is that Albert is occasionally right and so he slips under your defenses and waits, lulling you into a false sense of security, thinking he’s a reliable person, until he’s ready to strike.
I really think he stayed up nights, tormented that Gail never told him she was a lesbian. He also has to know everything about you, mostly to look for weaknesses to exploit.
I don’t think Albert was ever convinced that I was Gail’s latest and not her first girlfriend. His self image would not allow it; so, he also had to get rid of me.
Albert played on the family’s worst fears, and, as I said, it was several months of living with Gail before I was invited to meet her parents.
My first official meeting of Gail’s parents was supposed to be Thanksgiving dinner. Gail and I had had my parents over, and we had been to their house once.
Gail was worried about her brothers baiting me at the table and my not being able to resist the bait. It was crucial that I made a good impression, and I have to admit, her fears about the bait were not unfounded.
Gail was unsuccessful in getting her Mom to agree to a quiet dinner with just the four of us, so it looked like Thanksgiving was going to be it. We were going to have to work some signal system for Gail to head me off if I strayed into dangerous conversation topics.
Gail called her Mom to ask which day over the Thanksgiving Weekend she was planning dinner.
“Monday night,” her Mom said.
Gail told her Mom that we would then be going to my parents on Thanksgiving Sunday, and asked if she was sure Monday was the night she preferred.
Yes, she assured Gail, it was. They hung up and I reached for the phone to call my Mom. Gail said not to call my Mom yet, as we’d be getting a dinner invitation in one two three
“Your Father took out too big a roast for just us two, so why don’t you two come over tonight?” Gail’s Mom asked.
“Okay, an hour?” Gail asked. “See you then.”
“How did you know that?” I asked.
“Simple, Mom knew that I had already been to your parents place and that we’ve had them over. There’s no way that she was going to allow me to go back to your Mom’s for dinner, just in case your Mom asked if you’d had dinner with my parents. She doesn’t like to look bad even to strangers.” Gail laughed, “You just know she’s sending Dad out to buy the roast right now.”
Her Dad and I got along quite well. He has a very sharp sense of humour and he’s the kid that John Wayne and Jimmy Stewart never had. The cowboy glamour came from his years on the road as a long haul truck driver who hauled everything from fine art to nitro glycerine. He also has Stewart’s calm presence that makes you feel like nothing can go too bad when he’s around, and if it did, he’d be in there, waist deep fixing it.
He has said to me that if Gail and I broke up, he’d expect to see me for dinner periodically. Gail teases me that sometimes I seem more like his daughter than she does, I just keep telling them both that I have a set of parents already. I think of him as a really cool father-in-law. But, that’s getting ahead of myself.
I didn’t cow-tow, so her Mom and I had a different relationship. I know that if I had met her Mom as Gail’s roommate, things would have been different. Not honest, but different.
I realize that Gail’s Mom was quite ill, and you don’t like your life to change when you’re ill. Especially not so dramatically, as to go from worrying that your daughter will never marry to trying to figure out the etiquette for meeting your daughter’s female lover. Oh, the scandal!
Her Mom was not happy about the non-resuscitation order and even less happy that Gail would return home after recovery from surgery rather than go to her Mom’s so she could look after her.
There was no reason for Gail to go to her parents, Gail needed a lot of rest, and it’s better to be in your own bed for that than someone else’s couch. Especially when Gail’s Mom was usually on the couch; it was better than lying in bed, at least this way people could visit with her comfortably.
Besides, her Mom really needed all her strength and energy to maintain herself. She was a proud woman, and rightfully so, she’d raised four kids almost single handedly as their Dad’s work took him away from home for months at a time. It was hard to admit you couldn’t take care of someone else anymore and accept the help you needed.
And Gail had me to take care of her; and I was not going to be pushed aside.
We didn’t tell Gail’s Mom that we were throwing a `In Case Gail Doesn’t Survive Surgery’ Party. She was already unhappy enough, the theme was too gruesome for her to attend and she wasn’t in a mindset to meet a bunch of strangers.
We invited all of our friends, threw together a pile of finger food snacks, and had a blast.
We had got the party idea from the mother of a friend of Gail’s. Mrs. Walker was a like second mother to Gail. She threw a dinner party in early May for her family, and we were invited, the night before she went for a throat biopsy.
I think I witnessed the most romantic moment ever that night. Gail and I lingered after the Walker’s kids had all headed for their night’s adventures. We were in their living room and quietly talking about the surgery, the subject that her kids avoided all through dinner.
They were scared it was cancer, and what that would mean for them. Mr. Walker, trying to be brave for his wife, asked Mrs. Walker how he took his coffee. He also asked her to write it down for him for tomorrow so he could have some while she was away.
She looked softly at him and I suddenly had a sense that the length of time they had been married had really made them as one. I glanced at Gail and she must have been feeling the same, because we also realized that we were imposing on what may be their last normal night together.
Mrs. Walker’s lump was benign and she had come through surgery perfectly fine.
The party we threw was fun, but not too loud. You can’t have a really loud party in an apartment building, unless you invite the neighbours and we didn’t particularly like ours.
Most people dropped by, stayed a couple of hours and left. It worked well, because we wanted the open house feel.
I was really glad my pal Carl made the party. We’d cleaned extra hard because he was allergic to furry animals. I played Dungeons and Dragons with Carl, and I love to go to his house and genuflect at his wall of 6000 vinyl record and some 4000 CD’s. I don’t think that there’s a type of recorded music Carl doesn’t own.
Everyone had a good time, which was doubly surprising since our friends don’t really mesh. Gail friend were people she mostly knew in high school, and she’d lost several of them as friends when she told them she was a lesbian. I’m not sure if they couldn’t accept the information or that she’d waited fifteen years to tell them.
My friends were drawn from my areas of interest, I had some film friends, some sci fi geek friends (Carl was in that group) and political pals (these were all gay).
It was an interesting mix.
Surgery day dawned and we had a final consultation with the surgeon. Tests had confirmed that the surgery had been left too long, and there was a possibility that the endometriosis may have spread.
Gail told the doctor to remove her remaining ovary (the first one was removed in an emergency procedure two years before) if it had spread that far. We just hoped that the cancer hadn’t spread to her bowel, neither of us wanted to entertain the idea of a colostomy bag or inoperable cancer.
I stayed with Gail for as long as they would allow me to remain in pre-op. I headed for the lounge and read sections of my old Introduction to Anthropology college textbook. I needed something really intellectual to not let myself think bad thoughts. Some small part of me believes the theory that thinking things make them happen.
The surgery lasted four and a half hours, ninety minutes longer than scheduled. When the surgeon appeared in front of me, I realized that I hadn’t turned the page the entire wait.
The surgeon wore dark burgundy scrubs, it seemed weird to not see her in real clothes.
The surgery had taken longer because of scar tissue from the previous surgery and the endometriosis having spread to the back of Gail’s stomach, the remaining ovary and the entire outside of her uterus; but it had not spread to her bowel.
My first reaction was pure joy, Gail was alive, she’d be okay. We had talked about what if she’d died during surgery.
As an overweight woman, anaesthetic can be dangerous. And if the surgeon nicked Gail’s bowel and there wasn’t sufficient blood to transfuse or any number of things that could go wrong during such an invasive procedure.
Gail was concerned that I would be taken care of. She’d named me as beneficiary on her life insurance and we both filed Wills, naming each other as the main benificiary.
We knew her brothers and Mom wouldn’t be happy. It’s not that they wanted her die, far from it, but there were items in Gail’s possessions that they felt should come to them without question.
I was not prepared to hand over any item that Gail did not specifically bequest to them in her Will, and I tried very hard to not influence her in her bequests.
Then the ovary news hit me. We had talked about getting her eggs getting fertilized and my carrying the child so it would truly be both of ours.
She was going to be devastated. It meant early menopause. Very early. She hated taking pills, even vitamins, every day.
I would not be allowed to see her for a few hours while she was in post-op. I called her parents from the hospital and told them. Then I headed home for a shower and a rest.
I was already at the hospital when Alma and Gail’s Dad brought her Mom, who was in a wheelchair, into the small room Gail shared with another woman.
Gail was floating in and out of consciousness. She was still groggy and pale. I was glad to see that the nurses had listened to her advise regarding the placement of her IV. Gail types a lot in her job, and she needs the IV needle inserted far away from her hands.
She had one IV feeding drip and a patient controlled morphine drip adjoining the first line.
Gail seemed to go to sleep.
Alma asked me how the surgery had gone. I told her about the length of time and that they’d taken the ovary.
Gail cried out. I grabbed her hand.
“No! No!” she cried. I held her hand and tears threaten to wet my cheeks.
“I’m sorry, sweetheart,” I apologized.
Gail’s Mom was furious with me.
“You shouldn’t have told her,’ she hissed at me, “You should have let the doctor tell her!”
Gail’s Dad just looked at me helpless. Alma stood back away from the blast zone.
“Better from me than the doctor.” My voice was quiet and level.
“It’s too early,” her Mom answered. She had me there, but I wasn’t going to admit it. “She’s still groggy from the anaesthetic.
I focussed on Gail and didn’t respond to her Mom. I felt bad enough telling her. I had thought maybe with family around the news would have been easier, but I had also thought Gail was asleep. I had been telling Alma.
The rest of the visit was a shambles. The other three were ushered out at 10 pm, but since I was Gail’s partner, I was allowed to remain until 11 pm. That also did not sit well with her Mom.
Beast was not happy when I would returned with Gail. He was frantic and beside himself when I put him on the bed and crawled under the covers and went to sleep.
I was angry at Gail’s Mom, and I wasn’t doing a good job of hiding it, either. She had wanted Beast to stay with her for the week Gail would be in the hospital, but that was plain silly. I would be at the hospital most of the day, but I needed to take breaks and having to do the short walk home to take him outside was the perfect excuse. Besides, it would be lonely at night.
I went back the next morning. Gail wasn’t groggy anymore, and she did not have a clear recollection of the night’s visit, except the part about her ovary.
I held her as gently as I could, avoiding touching her stomach. I explained again about what the doctor had said, and that she planning to see Gail this morning.
Gail said she would have rather heard it from me, but that I should have waited until this morning, when we were alone.
Her Mom had already begun haranguing Gail that she wanted to bring Beast to see her. Gail knew Beast would jump on her, and that she really couldn’t take the 40 pound dog on her stomach.
I agreed to take Beast over to her parents when I went to do laundry, but I wasn’t leaving him there when I was at the hospital. Gail didn’t need this stress, and i really resented her Mom for putting Gail in this position of having to choose when she was in the hospital. She needed her strength for recovery, not dealing with stupid shit.
I guess her Mom thought that she was in a win-win situation. Either Gail would make me capitulate and she’d win, or Gail and I would fight and I’d leave then she’d win or I’d absolutely refuse to give in and Gail would send me away and return to the fold then she’d win or I wouldn’t give in and she could banish me from her house in which case she could pretend I didn’t exist and she could keep chipping away at Gail until I was gone then she’d win.
Gail asked me to capitulate.
And I couldn’t.
I went to her parents to pick a fight with her Mom. I could not take the pressure of knowing she did not want me there anymore. Life, I had learned, was too short to waste with people who were never going to like you or give you a chance. Her Mom had made up her mind to not like me before I ever went there.
No matter how respectful or nice or funny I was, I was never going to be part of Gail’s family. Winning this battle didn’t matter to me, I was forfeiting. I was going to win the war, there was just no way Gail and I were going to break up as long as her Mom was alive.
It would reduce my stress level if I didn’t have to go there, and I was banking on Gail siding with me. It wasn’t fair to do that to her, and I had never intended to ask her to choose.
Her Mom had forced the issue when Gail was not in a position to fight back or mediate.
I was overwrought with unresolved grief over all the deaths and stressed out over Gail’s surgery. If the year had been less turbulent, things would probably have been different, but in the face of so much death, the small pettiness of where the dog was for a few hours and the insensitive demand to bring Beast to visit Gail made me snap.
I packed the laundry into the truck and went to tell her Mom I would be leaving Beast at home.
“Where’s my baby Beast?” she asked.
“Gail’s dog is at home.” I said pointedly. I had been pushed too far with her constant expansion of her boundaries, and as far as I was concerned, overstepping them.
“I want to take him to see my daughter,” she raised her voice.
I matched her pitch and volume, “Gail isn’t up to Beast crawling all over her this soon after abdominal surgery. He can see her when she’s back at home.”
“I don’t care what you want,” she bellowed, I’d pushed too far. “You bring Beast over here today.”
“I’m going to do laundry and then I’m going to the hospital.” I headed for the door.
“You bring him!” she yelled as I closed the door.
The heat of the laundromat matched my mood. After, I had a quick shower, then headed for the hospital.
Gail had been crying. Her Mom had phoned.
The phone mounted to the sidebar on the bed was off the hook, the headset stretched down and resting on the floor.
“She’s banished you.” Gail looked at me.
I squirmed with guilt.
“Why didn’t you just do what I asked you, Beast is my dog, and I say where he goes.” Gail was tired and worn out. She really didn’t need this open warfare.
“You wanted him at home, not here and not at her place.” I tried to sound gentle, but it was stupid and naive of me to think that her Mom was going to leave it between us. “Look, I’m sorry, but I just can’t take it anymore.”
Gail squeezed my hand.
“She’s been telling me how awful you are, demanding I send you away. You can’t go over there anymore. She’s banished all her daughters-in-law at one point, and it’s pretty hard to get the ban lifted.”
“Let’s not worry about it right now.”
“Look, I don’t need this,” Gail was rightfully upset, “I’m in the hospital and I can’t fix this from here. They can’t even get this goddammed bed fixed.”
Gail’s hospital bed had become a source of frustration and humour. It would not incline properly, and this caused her some difficulty because of the location of her staples.
Although it was charted that the bed was broken and a large sign was placed at the foot of the bed, every nurse was certain that she, and she alone, could make it work properly.
To their amazement repeatedly pressing the up button failed to repair the malfunctioning mechanism. Ultimately, a chair was placed under the head of the bed to maintain the proper incline for Gail’s maximum comfort.
This matter was made more difficult by the discovery that Gail was alergic to Morphine. Slow settling of the bed to a parallel position to the floor only added to her nausea. She was quite pleased to be switched to demerol after three days of the morphine.
“Let’s just not fix it right now. Let’s just focus on you regaining your strength and we’ll deal with this later. How did your brothers wives get around their banishments?”
“I don’t … Albert stopped visiting until Mom had to lift the ban on Joanne and Alma went back and apologized and everything smoothed over,” Gail explained. “The other three never crossed Mom’s threshold again.”
“Okay, so this could just be temporary, then,” I said stroking Gail’s non-IV’ed arm. “You’ll come home and she wouldn’t come over, in a couple of weeks, she’ll miss you so much, it’ll all blow over.”
Secretly I was really relieved I didn’t have to go back. I never really relaxed there, and most of the time, Edward or Albert were there and they had a tendency to not let anyone else speak. They also tended to go on and on about people I didn’t know ad nauseam.
And when issues came up that I did know and care about, I didn’t dare contribute in case I caused a fight and got banished. On one hand, it really reduced my stress level. No more pressure about taking Beast over, no more constant scrutiny and no more command visits when I didn’t feel like it. It was also really hard to watch Gail get picked on by her brothers and not be able to do anything to stop or deflect it.
But for Gail, it increased her stress at a time when she was most helpless and vulnerable.
Her Mom’s victory was hardly a clean one for her either. Since I was almost always at the hospital, she could not come to visit Gail in case she ran into me and had to acknowledge my presence. She would never tell me to my face I wasn’t welcome, but I was not ever tempted just to go over and test that theory.
I brought Gail home from the hospital on Saturday. Beast was ecstatic to finally see Mommy. He’d been wild with worry every time I can home, he’d lick her smell off of my hands and stand on my chest as if to ask me where the hell was I hiding her and why?
I held him back, only just barely, while Gail arranged herself on the couch with a barricade of pillows. I let Beast go and he almost licked her face off.
Gail called her Mom to tell her she was home, but she wasn’t able to walk across the lobby to visit with her. For the week Gail was in the hospital and the first week Gail was home, her Mom was not able to see her because I was there. She also stopped phoning in case I answered.
Gail’s Dad frequently came over to see how she was or if we needed anything from the store since I shouldn’t leave her alone. We didn’t talk about her Mom.
Friends dropped by, glad Gail made it through surgery and was out of the hospital.
By the end of the first week, Gail was still sore and cabin feverish to get back to work. Her work actually called her and asked her to come back from her vacation.
She had had to use her vacation time in combination with sick leave because her office did not offer extended benefits.
She explained politely that she’d had major abdominal surgery, and that she wasn’t up to puttering around the house, never mind sitting at a computer and hauling files around.
It was really frustrating when you considered that they wouldn’t cover her leave, and she’d put the surgery off until it was a convenient time at her office for her to take the time off for the procedure.
I guess it wasn’t as bad as her roommate in the hospital, who was also not covered, but got several phone called throughout the day from her firm asking her where to find things or how to do them.
I came home from a quick run from the store to find Gail upset on the couch, the North Shore News rag of a paper in her lap. She was upset.
“What’s the matter, honey?” I asked, thinking her Mom had called.
“One of the first clients from my first office died.” Gail held up the paper and indicated a quarter page size ad which announced the death of a prominent local businessman.
“I’m sorry,” I sat beside her and held her hand for a moment.
“Yeah,” Gail carefully leaned her head against my shoulder.
Beast growled at me, protecting his wounded Mommy.
I kicked my shoe off and patted him with my foot.
“Well,” Gail sighed, “Life goes on….”