Monday, I drove north to help my cousin, Duane. We moved him out of his apartment last weekend and into a smaller place close to family. As a result, everything is in chaos. He’s living out of boxes. At this late stage, his cancer affects every aspect of his life, and that includes his ability to sustain prolonged physical activity — such as setting up a new home.
I spent Monday afternoon unpacking his kitchen, buying groceries, installing his internet and television, and so on. In the evening, Bob and Audrey came over (Duane’s brother and his sister-in-law). The four of us sat in the kitchen and sorted the boxes of food into three piles: Duane’s pantry, going home with Bob/Audrey, going home with J.D.
When we were done, Duane insisted that we enjoy some birthday cake. He turned 58 on Sunday, and some friends had brought him a fancy carrot cake from a 100-year-old Portland bakery. Duane couldn’t eat any cake himself (he can’t eat or drink much of anything anymore), but he wanted us to taste it.
After his brother left, Duane and I began preparing for bed. “Tomorrow,” I said, “we’ll replace the water in your fish tanks and get the last of the stuff from your apartment. Plus, anything else you want to do.”
Duane was sitting on the edge of his bed, half undressed. I could see that he was still in pain.
Duane had been in pain all day. He’s in pain constantly now, but this was a new pain. He woke on Monday with a dull ache in his chest, one that intensified throughout the day. His meds were no help. He’d upped the dosage on his oxycodone to no avail. He’d even tried some morphine, but that didn’t help either.
“Are you okay?” I asked. We ask that of him a lot lately, although it seems a little silly. Of course he’s not okay. He’s dying. What we actually mean, of course, is: “Is there anything you need right now?”
“No, I’m not okay.” Duane whispered. “I need you to drive me to the emergency room.” So I did.
We reached the hospital at 10:30. I thought we’d have to wait to be seen, but a nurse fetched us before I’d even wheeled Duane to the waiting area. Hospitals don’t mess around with chest pain.
“I’m not having a heart attack,” Duane told the nurse. “It’s my cancer. I don’t need an EKG.” But, of course, they ran an EKG anyhow. It’s protocol. Then, over the next several hours, they also took x-rays. They gave Duane a CT scan. They pumped him full of fluids. They drew blood. They did a urine analysis. And, most importantly, they hooked him up to a morphine drip.
The morphine drip slowly caused the pain to subside.
We had a bit of a scare at two in the morning, not long after the staff had started the morphine. Duane’s pulse leapt from 85 to 145 and his blood pressure dropped from 95/65 (which seems low to begin with) to 75/60. This state lasted about twenty minutes. We were both a bit panicky. The nurse calmed us down, though, and soon things returned to normal. (Or “normal”, I guess I should say.)
Despite the intermittent nurses and doctors and tests, mostly Duane and I spent the night alone in the room, chatting.
He lay in his bed. I sat on a folding metal chair. We talked about hospitals. We talked about computer games. We talked about travel. We talked about fish. We talked about death.
“I’m sorry you have to be here,” Duane said at one point. “I had hoped that you and I could have Quality Time together. I wanted us to play Diablo II. I’d hoped we could visit the Atlanta aquarium. I didn’t mean for us to be doing this.”
“Don’t worry about it,” I said. “This is Quality Time. It might not be what you wanted, but it’s Quality Time.”
Duane thought about that for a moment. “I guess you’re right,” he said. “It’s Quality Time.”
“Here,” I said, pulling out my iPad. “Let me show you what I made for your birthday.” For the next hour, we watched videos of our trips to Turkey and to France. We reminisced about our travels and laughed at some of our misadventures. We enjoyed Quality Time.
At five o’clock, as Duane and I were both beginning to nod off to sleep, the doctor decided to discharge him. There’d been some debate about whether or not Duane should be admitted to the hospital again. He was just there last week with another bout of pneumonia. (Or, more precisely, the same bout of pneumonia he’d had in January but which apparently had not gone away.) Ultimately, the doctor felt there was no benefit to be had, so he sent Duane home.
“I guess we won’t be accomplishing all the things we’d planned for today,” Duane said. The first light of dawn was creeping into the sky. “That sucks. I’ve got to get my stuff out of that apartment.”
“We’ll get it done,” I said. “We have until the weekend. You and I both need to sleep now, but I’ll be back up here on Thursday. I’ll make it my priority to get the apartment finished for you. And if we have time, we can tackle other tasks on your list too.”
After dropping Duane at his new place, I drove 90 minutes home to Corvallis (which I ought not to have done given how tired I was) and then slept most of yesterday. I’ll use today to triage the stuff I need to get done here at home. Tomorrow, I’ll drive north again to spend more Quality Time with my cousin.
Here’s the thing. I’ve made a lot of mistakes in my life. My Book of Regrets is packed with pages and I spend far too much time re-reading it, re-living the things I’ve done wrong. But I do not regret the choices I’ve made this year.
I began 2022 intending to get fit and to work hard on Get Rich Slowly. I’ve done neither of those things. I’m still fat. I’ve barely touched this site. But I’m not squandering my time on computer games and anime either. Instead, my energies have been directed to my mother and my cousin. I have zero regrets about this decision. In fact, few things have ever felt so right.
I’ve spent a great deal of time thinking about this, actually, and I have a lot to say on the subject. I feel like this experience has imparted some clarity. (Clarity that expands upon my insights from November.) Eventually, I’ll probably write about some of what I’ve learned. But not now.
Now — and for the foreseeable future — I have one priority: While it’s still possible, I want to spend Quality Time with Duane.