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Sunday morning I was in Mike’s hospital room by ten o’clock. He had already dressed and was sitting on the edge of the bed next to a large plastic bag stuffed with his belongings. It was good to see color in his face again.

"Been waiting for you." He smiled.

"I see you’re packed and ready to go."

"Yep. Just need the nurse to come sign me out." He glanced at the wall clock. "It's almost ten-thirty. She'd better hurry up, by God."

As if by divine order, in walked a nurse holding a clipboard with papers in one hand and a container of pills in the other. She handed the clipboard to Mike. "Here is the paper you need to sign. It’s the discharge instructions that we talked about this morning, and a supply of Tagamet®." She set the pill vial on the over-bed table.

Mike gave the board directly to me and put the pills into his plastic bag.

Since our marriage, it had been my job to do the reading, questioning and summarizing before we signed anything. Line by line I scrutinized the papers as Mike visited with the nurse.

"Okay," I interrupted. "Basically it says to take it easy for the next two weeks and to stay on a bland diet, I guess forevermore." I flashed the list of foods at him. "Things like well-cooked cereals, mashed potatoes, plain bread, crackers, soup, rice, macaroni and cheese, and the list goes on. You’re to take the pills four times a day—one with each meal and one at bedtime—for the next four weeks. They’ve scheduled an appointment for you with our doctor for next month."

"Does it say anything about going back to work?"

"I didn’t see it mentioned one way or the other."

"Good. Let me sign so we can get out of here." Mike took the clipboard and papers from me, wrote his name, then gave them back to the nurse. He rose from the bed, grabbed his bag of belongings and started for the door.

"Just a minute!" The nurse stopped him. "I need to make a copy of this to send with you." She was back shortly and we were on our way home.

Mike rested in front of the TV, making phone calls to a few friends and coworkers to reiterate his ulcer and transfusions tale, while I spent the afternoon in the kitchen.

Knowing his need for a bland diet and his distaste for sandwiches of any kind, I chose to make a batch of his favorite take-along food, English pasties—a mix of chopped steak and potatoes and a bit of celery with a pinch of salt, wrapped in homemade pie crust and baked until golden brown. This time I left out the generous amount of black pepper for which they’re renowned. With pasties in the house, I was confident he would feed himself while I was at work because that man could eat pasties every day and never tire of them.

Occasionally I would sneak one into the bag with my apple so I could eat lunch at my desk. That way I would save the cost of eating out, and lessen the amount of bookwork I carried home to do.

After more than a few discussions, I finally convinced Mr. Blanton that the volume of his dealership’s business was far beyond reasonable for the hand-written bookkeeping system currently used, and it would be in his best interest to take advantage of the distributor’s data processing option. Fortunately, this store answered to the same distributorship as Volkswagen, which meant I had considerable experience using their electronic bookkeeping.

I started preparing for the transfer to online input immediately—assigning customer numbers, ordering the necessary input machine and supplies. I even hired another female office employee, and scheduled training for both her and Flo at the distributorship in Portland.

By June my workload had eased due to the new bookkeeping system, and home projects became feasible. Mike and I hired a contractor, someone who’d done work on one of his road jobs, to install a four-foot rockery in the back yard, terracing it into two levels. Also we gave the go-ahead to a landscaper to create a yard based on my rough sketches, including four fruit trees, rhododendrons, azaleas, planting beds for my annuals, and a large lawn with extended pathways, which would be sodded rather than seed-sewn.

Mike had passed his ulcer check-up by our doctor with flying colors. He’d gained a good fifteen pounds on his bland diet, looking more healthy and strong than I had ever seen him. Our birthdays slipped by without celebration, Mike’s on the fourth, mine on the fifteenth. Two days later I accompanied my sister to her eldest son’s high school graduation. I was proud of Michael, an academic achiever as well as my nephew and only godson. Life was good.

Sunday was Father’s Day, which we spent with my folks in Edmonds. The weather was beautiful, and we visited outside until late afternoon, mostly wondering why my sister hadn’t shown up. That evening, at home, we learned that her younger son, Jimmy, had been killed during a dirt bike ride that day. We cried all night.

Mike served as a pallbearer at the funeral. Everyone wept—family, relatives, and scores of my nephew’s young friends. Loss of their seventeen-year-old grandson was especially tragic for my folks, and my own tears were partly for their intense pain. Thereafter, I drove my sister to the cemetery twice a week. A few days later I took a day off work to drive her to the induction center to watch Michael, her remaining son, take his place as a new recruit in the U.S. Navy.

Our lives moved on, however exceptionally quiet without the boys. The online bookkeeping system at work allowed me to stop bringing tubs of paperwork home to complete, a time-slot quickly filled by other unexpected duties.

The renter in our little house skipped out that summer without paying the last month’s rent. We made no attempt to locate her, simply kept her damage deposit. Inasmuch as the housing market had now improved, we listed it for sale. It sold within a month’s time. We used some of the profit to pay the hospital what the insurance did not, risked some into what would become ill-advised investments and set some aside for capital gains taxes.

We also bought a new refrigerator for my folks. Along with the help of my siblings, we installed it for them too—including a stash of food and a big ribbon and bow across the door—while they were in California visiting my older brother and his family.

Mike stayed on his bland diet, and continued gaining weight. By fall, he tipped the scales at one hundred and eighty pounds—right where he should be for his six-foot-one frame.

While he looked and felt good, I noticed he complained more and more that his legs hurt—muscle cramps and tingling. He constantly jiggled his legs when sitting, trying to relieve the discomfort. On my goading, he mentioned it at his next doctor visit.

Our doctor referred him to a specialist who examined his legs, ankles and feet, including additional appointments for various scans, X-rays and Doppler testing. The results confirmed the suspected diagnosis of peripheral diabetic neuropathy, severe enough to warrant femoropopliteal bypass or "fem-pop" surgery on both legs, one at a time.

Soon the tests were all completed and arrangements made. I drove him to Providence Hospital in Seattle one rainy fall morning and waited through his surgery.

"Successful," the surgeon told me. "We made four incisions on the leg, two on the inside of the thigh and two on the inside of the calf. Fortunately, we were able to use one of his own veins as a replacement, one that usually turns varicose in a lot of people. We removed it, cleaned it out and attached it in the reverse direction so the valves faced correctly for the blood flow."

I stayed until Mike returned to his room from recovery. We talked a little, but he was groggy with pain medication, so I decided to head to my job in Bellevue. On my way out I stopped at the nurses’ station and asked to speak to the one assigned to him.

She came to the counter. "Yes?"

"Hi. I’m Mike’s wife. He’s just back from fem-pop surgery, as you must know, and I’m headed back to work. I wanted to ask if you could keep a watchful eye on his blood sugar level. It tends to be erratic, and when it starts to drop, it plummets."

"I’ll make a note on his chart." She pulled a pen out of her uniform pocket.

"Thank you." I walked to the elevator, no more assured of the competency here than at Mike’s last hospital stay. Please watch over him, God.

And God must have. For the next four days there were no emergencies. His incisions were healing nicely and the circulation in his legs had increased. I would drive from Bellevue over the traffic-jammed floating bridge to Seattle after work, and secure my demo in the hospital parking lot across the street. Mike would save his dinner roll for me and we’d talk until visiting hours were over. More than once I gazed out the window in his room to witness a young person break into a car parked on the side street far below. I’d utter a running commentary for him on the car prowls, but I never mentioned the news stories about nurses being assaulted outside that hospital. My hope was that he’d sleep through any television newscasts about it and not worry about me.

When I left his room, I’d take the elevator down to the cafeteria. If a sordid person stood inside when it’s doors opened, I’d wait until the doors closed again before scurrying down the back stairwell, secluded and frightening in itself.

Once in the cafeteria, I’d peer out the windows toward the parking lot across the street. If I didn’t see any boogie-men lurking around, I’d dash out into the rain and run to my car, hurriedly unlock the door, cram myself inside and relock the door, then quickly start the engine and buckle myself in for the drive home. My heart jumped with anxiety each time I drove away.

Mike stayed home on sick leave for another few weeks while he continued to heal. He rested on the living room sofa, reading, watching television and napping. I made sure that his lunch was easily accessible before I left for work each day and, because he was not as physically active as on the job and tended to nibble throughout the day, his glucose levels didn’t drop too low.

Soon our doctor approved Mike’s returning to work. A couple of weeks later the surgery on his other leg took place, a virtual repeat of the first one, and he healed well. Once back to work, the weight he had gained after the ulcer episode melted steadily away until he was again that tall, thin man I married.

Our daily lives became routine once more, except for a batch of pasties now and then, which suited me better than Mike’s bringing sandwiches home to ditch in the waste basket under the kitchen sink—something I generally noticed but didn’t mention.

I made pasties more frequently thereafter—worth the effort if he would eat them and not skip lunch. Both our workloads slowed as the year-end approached, and we looked forward to a relaxed holiday season.


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