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I never told anyone, not even Mike, how close I came to ending my life that day. After I’d calmed down, I returned to the carport and finished the headlight repair. It worked, and life as we knew it went on—doctor appointments, prosthetic adjustments, home chores, book business and insulin reactions—suspended weekly by our visit to Burger King for a Pepsi® and fries.

Additional relief was found in the company of compatible motorhome enthusiasts at area campouts. At one event, I sought out a fellow RVer whose wife had recently died from complications of diabetes. I offered my condolences, and our conversation turned to his wife’s experience with the disease. I took the opportunity to ask about the time-line of her complications.

"First she lost one leg," the widower began. "Two years later she lost the other leg," he continued. "Two years after that, she died."

Our conversation faded when other campers joined in. I reiterated my condolences and slipped away to compare his wife’s time-line to ours. Would that be my future—widowed in three more years?

That September my yearly mammogram showed calcifications in what the report called a precancerous pattern. A surgical biopsy was scheduled for October. I’d have to be under general anesthetic because of overly dense scar-tissue, and the entire procedure would take a couple of hours, including a mid-surgery wait for a report from pathology to determine whether or not all the calcifications had been excised. Also, I would not be allowed to drive that day. I’d need a driver.

My brain jumped into buzzard zone at the thought of it—how would I get there and home again? I certainly didn’t need Mike to drive and have the Jeep at his disposal while I was unconscious. Nor could I leave him alone at home. Even if I found a ride for us, how could I make sure he wouldn’t slip into an insulin reaction in the waiting room? I imagined him sputtering profanity, folks staring in awe as he stormed out of the room, out of the hospital, marching down the sidewalk, or getting hit by a car, his lanky frame tossed into the air. I could think of no local person we’d met that would understand how to keep an eye on him without riling his temper.

I asked my sister. She declined. I begged, and she acquiesced, staying over the night before and driving us to the hospital early the next morning.

The surgeon chose to use nitrous oxide. I recall pushing the nose mask away, only to have it forced back upon me. I was unconscious in minutes, but remember resisting something extremely cold, big and floppy being laid on my stomach during the biopsy. I must have questioned it, because a female voice rose in my memory, saying, "This is to cool your liver, Helen."

A chunk of flesh was removed through a four-inch incision and sent to pathology to be checked before the surgeon closed the wound.

I woke up in the recovery room a bit lightheaded, but knowing I needed a bathroom. Stat! A post-surgery nurse helped me off the bed and across the room to the lavatory, then turned to visit with another patient and his wife. I closed the door and locked it before shooting black tarry stool into the bowl. I knew what that meant—internal bleeding. I pulled myself up by the grab bar and hit the flush lever. Immediately the door knob rattled and the nurse burst in, revealing my semi-exposed self to the folks she had been talking to. They looked and laughed. Was there no privacy policy in the recovery room?

"You’re not suppose to lock the door!" she exclaimed, shoving a key on a string into her uniform pocket.

Not only was I woozy and weak, now I was flush-faced with embarrassment. Should I tell the nurse about the black stool? I decided against it, composed myself, and walked back to my bed without her assistance. Once dressed, I headed home in the back seat of my sister’s car, my stomach heavy with nausea. At my request, we stopped for a milkshake on the way home. It did not quell my upset stomach.

With great reluctance, my sister stayed an extra night per my pleading. I remained nauseous for three days. Pathology results were benign. I later learned that my former surgeon in Seattle had been watching the calcifications for five years. There had been no changes in the spots, including the current pre-biopsy scans. Was this surgery unnecessary? Too late to worry about that now. I was thankful it was over.

Our health issues were not over, however. Mike woke up one November morning with some kind of flu that caused nausea, a lack of equilibrium and explosive diarrhea. All day long he complained of an upset stomach, and body aches and pains. Each time he rose from his recliner to rush to the bathroom I’d run to catch him, to keep him from falling over, and helped him onto the toilet. Once we didn’t make it in time, and the diarrhea ran like thick, smooth, brown gravy, down his legs. It smelled putrid.

I gagged, again and again as I helped him drop his drawers and get onto the toilet, insisting that he hang onto the grab bar, so he wouldn’t fall off and compound the problem. I removed his artificial leg, then the shoe on his other foot, then his now-saturated pants and underwear. Diarrhea had run into the socket of his prosthesis and on down to his shoe, dousing the special socks on his stump. I pulled them off, tossed them into the sink and turned on the cold water. The socks—one nylon sheath and two finely-knit woolen ones—could soak for now. I would hand wash them later. I wrung out a washrag and wiped the muck from his legs, then handed him a towel to dry off.

After I’d cleaned his prosthesis—inside and out, I brought his bag of prosthetic supplies along with clean pants and underwear. Soon he was back into his "birthday recliner" in the living room, snacking on crackers and cheese and a cup of coffee while I dutifully hand-washed the smelly socks waiting in the bathroom sink.

When he finally dozed off, around 11 o’clock that evening, I hurried to the local grocery store for a bottle of Kaopectate®.

Mike felt no better the following day, shivering in his recliner under a pile of blankets. I tested his blood sugar level and drew his insulin, which he injected himself. I brought him scrambled eggs, toast and coffee, but it did not perk him up. He remained lethargic and shivering.

In late afternoon that day the furnace quit. It would not ignite when I turned the thermostat up. The house quickly grew cold.

I grabbed the phone book, opening the yellow pages to Furnace Repair and Heating. I called the first one listed and a Hawaiian-shirted black-haired fellow came forthwith in a company van. I soon saw through his fancy explanations and pyrotechnic tricks, trying to scare me. He said we needed a new furnace—only $3000. I knew we could not afford that, so I told him we’d have to talk to our credit union, my bluff to buy enough time for a second opinion. We couldn’t afford a foolish purchase.

He made the repair, collected $300, and left. The next day the company's secretary called to set up our installation of a new furnace. I told her we had not ordered one, and what I had said. Then I called another local HVAC company for an estimate on a new furnace, and the owner himself gave us one of $1500, installed. He also told us the "emergency" repair was way overcharged—a $14 part plus excessive labor. "So they're up to it again ..." he mumbled. "Your old furnace looks like it should work just fine for a while now, however inefficiently."

And with occasional repairs it did, for the next few years.


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