So anyway, Tom’s surgery was on a Friday, he was released on Saturday, re-admitted to the hospital with fever of 102.7 on Saturday, Hurricane Irma became a serious topic on Monday, evacuations started but we couldn’t evacuate because of Tom’s recent surgery, and we narrowed down a plan for sheltering locally.
On Tuesday evening, Tom was finally released from the hospital (cue tremendous feelings of relief and happiness)- the doctors gave him strong antibiotics and sent him on his way. He was still out of it and in pain, plus he had a medical device still connected to the inside of his body that he had to lug around with him, so he couldn’t move around a lot.
On Wednesday morning, Tom had to go see his surgeon and have a minor procedure done (they removed the implanted medical thing). Then he was supposed to come home and spend 2-3 weeks recovering from surgery. The discharge papers said “no strenuous activity or heavy lifting”. What a joke. Tom had to come home and go right out to work, boarding up the house and moving stuff off the lanai. He busted one of his incisions and his whole right side was completely bruised and purple from bleeding under the skin. He was woozy and sick from the meds he was on, but he had no choice. I was terrified that he was literally killing himself- breaking his stitches open and sweating on them, overdoing it internally, bruising from the inside… I really felt like it was important for him to rest a bit but that wasn’t an option. The storm was just getting more intense.
We had lots of help from my dad and the wonderful guy who does our lawn and his crew, but it was still a big job. It seemed outrageously unfair for Tom, and I kept hoping that I would check the official weather forecast and the hurricane track would have changed, so we could call off everything and Tom could go and just collapse on the couch for a few days and everyone in Florida could take an enormous deep breath and get back to their lives.
It didn’t happen.
As the week progressed, the storm’s track changed a lot. At one point the models started to shift the storm track way East, into the Atlantic Ocean, which meant it the worst part of the storm would avoid our side of the state. At that point, it seemed like a miracle. (You know things are stressful when someone tells you “oh, a storm is coming your way and it’s the equivalent of a Category Three hurricane” and you are grateful for it.)
But then the track changed again and the meteorologists predicted that the storm would smash straight into the southern part of Florida, and both coasts would get slammed.
As the week went on, everything seemed more and more inevitable. It was just an intense and overwhelming period of time. I know I keep saying over and over and over how stressful this week was, but it was more dread and pressure than I have ever felt. It felt like a crush of stuff. Usually my anxiety pops up in bursts of unease, but this was more like a heavy weight pushing down. I think it’s important for me to remember how I felt because it gives me a lot of perspective about regular, everyday, garden-variety anxiety, which I experience often.
Even *thinking* about it now, writing this from the other side of the diagnosis, the surgery, the mysterious complication, the storm… makes me feel very contracted. Writing all this has been difficult and has brought up a lot of stuff for me, but I kind of think it’s worthwhile just so I can excise it and not have to hold on to it.
One thing that surprised me, though, was the periods of time where I just felt oddly zen about everything. Not okay, just not freaking out. I think my training in mindfulness helped a lot. I felt myself start to wind up in anxiety or frustration, and then this weird calm would take over. Yeah, the whole storm-prep process was a big pain in the ass, but we were all still okay, the storm was still a few days away, and while we had to be responsible about preparing for it, we didn’t have to make it more complicated than it needed to be. It was complicated enough.
Knowing how stressed I was, I can’t imagine what Tom must have been going through- I mean, he was stuck in the hospital, recovering from his surgery and dealing with the pain, wondering if the surgery had been successful, and on top of that having to deal with the idea of this giant storm coming. Then he had to come home and just get right to work. PLUS, he also handled most of the storm-prep-planning and interactions with my parents.
Little backstory in case you don’t know- my parents live about two blocks away from us. They are here in Florida for about seven months out of the year and go up to North Carolina for the super hot months. They are older (my dad is 82, my mom 75) and I’m an only child, so we are very close. They have always been very very involved in Grace’s life, since she’s their only grandchild. There’s always a lot of interaction going back and forth, even when there are no hurricanes or cancer.
My parents are *exactly* the people you want on your side in a crisis situation, but *before* a crisis, or in a situation that they believe *should* be a crisis (but isn’t quite one- like the state of Grace’s closet), they can be … intense. Frenetic. Anxious. High energy. Assertive. And since I was trying very very hard not to be… intense… that meant I wasn’t responding to them the way they wanted me to in the days before the storm. I was getting ready, and I addressed their concerns more than once, but when I didn’t respond in a way they wanted me to, they called Tom.
Tom and I have been through enough storms that we knew exactly what we had to do before the hurricane hit – we’ve done storm prep many times in the past when my parents were in North Carolina. I could understand going over it a few times, but I just didn’t see any sense in rehashing it and discussing it 4,000 times per day. It was too draining to be on the phone, talking about it endlessly when there was stuff to be done, and also when there was only so much we could do.
I think my parents misinterpret my quiet and somewhat distant nature as an expression of ambivalence or disinterest towards them and/or what matters to them. I sometimes think they believe that me being quiet is my expression of some negative feeling towards them, which breaks my heart because that couldn’t be further from the truth. True, there are some things that they freak out about about that just don’t make sense to me (like us having a garden on the lanai, Grace having clothes in her closet from last year, etc.) and I won’t agree with them on those things. But in general, I hear what they say and take it into consideration.
The issue is that they still expect me to be the chatty and expressive and argumentative six year old I was, the one who yelled and stomped her foot and made a fuss along with the rest of the family. The one who gave in when they raised their voices and scolded me because I was The Child and they were The Grown-Ups. There was lots of raised voices and arguments in our family. You couldn’t get through a thought without being interrupted. It’s just how our family communicated. There was no ill intent or cruelty- it was just loud and pushy.
But now those things drive me crazy, and I don’t want my own home to be full of yelling and arguing and interrupting. I want it to be somewhat of a comfortable sanctuary for all of us- not a pressure cooker. It’s not all peaches and cream all the time, but Tom, Grace, and I don’t really walking around yelling. We’re not passive aggressive, either, (which is even worse than yelling, in my opinion), but we just don’t argue a lot.
And, in all fairness, the truth is that I also have somewhat unfair expectations of my parents. I want them to be reassuring and comforting and serene and open-minded. I want to be able to discuss things like science and nature with them, show them cool stuff in the garden, have a cup of tea with them while we discuss what’s new. But that’s not who they are- they are problem solvers, rescuers, doers. They don’t sit and talk, unless they have something to tell you and then they get up right after they are done talking and go do something. My parents are not people you just hang out and relax with- they don’t do that. They are not the grandparents who will spend a Sunday making a batch of cookies with you and playing a board game while watching favorite movies together.
Instead, they prefer to do things like accompany and advocate for you at the doctor’s office or build a shelving system for you and install it for you and then go back to their home. When a storm is coming, they won’t reassure you it’s going to be okay and give you a big hug, but they are the ones who will prepare for the worst case scenario and then build a fortress to protect their family from that.
My parents find value in being in motion, moving towards a firm goal that makes sense to them, whereas I am trying very hard to find the value in life in the spaces in between. The idea of “well-being” is a lot of nonsense to my parents. So it’s hard for us to see eye to eye on things, especially when it comes to Grace, because I am all about her having more than just good grades and a string of successes- it’s so important to me that she’s happy, too.
Anyway, in hindsight, maybe I should have shouldered all interaction with my parents in the days leading up to the hurricane, and I still feel bad about Tom having to take that on. But at the time, I really felt like if I started allowing all that anxious energy to impact me, I wouldn’t be able to make it until the end of the week. And I needed to make it until the end of the week, and then for whatever was coming after the storm.
Plus, Grace was here with me and she was really being observant of how I was reacting to things. If I freaked out, so would she. If I closed down, so would she. She knew I was worried about Tom and the hurricane, but I was still going about our daily routines, still making her do her chores, still making jokes and having long chats with her about random stuff and sharing funny YouTube videos with her and texting her stupid memes. I just didn’t feel like obsessing about the storm in earshot of her.
(to be continued in my next entry)