The old saying goes: Laughter is the best medicine. In addition, sometimes the strangest things can help one make, or accept, important, even life-altering, decisions. So we found out a few weeks ago. As a result, a new expression has become significant in our lives.
First a bit of back-story. I (Gayle) grew up in an American-English speaking environment. To me the term “get stuffed” meant that one was preparing to overeat. Only after moving to Canada in my forties did I learn that “get stuffed” is a British colloquialism meaning, in the politer sense, “go away” or “get lost” or, in the cruder sense, “piss off” or worse. I became aware of the term while enjoying the satirical rants of Scotsman Jock McBile of CBC TV’s Royal Air Farce fame. Jock McBile, one of the most beloved alter egos of the late comedian John Morgan, was a mutton-chopped, kilt-and-sporran-clad curmudgeon, leaning on a cromach and using a thick burr to sarcastically and comically comment on current political and cultural happenings. His frequent climax to any dismissal of the antics of those whose actions met his disapproval was to tell them to “get stuffed!” as he marched off stage, menacingly brandishing his cromach. After marrying my own feisty Scotsman some 14 years ago, there were times when I wondered if Jock McBile’s cousin had come to live with me!
Now, what in the world does that have to do with me making or accepting life-altering decisions? If you have followed my blog, you will know that I started it to publicize the writings of my Scottish-born husband Ian and the books that he and I have produced over the past years. Recently, progress on future publications has slowed as Ian’s health has deteriorated. I’m struggling to continue with editing future books since care giving is taking up most of my time. As things settle down a bit with the provincial palliative care that has recently begun, I’m looking forward to finding more time to get back to editing our next book, Came to Canada, Eh? Continuing a Scottish Immigrant’s Story and, hopefully, progressing to other of our unpublished writings. But first, let me relate our most recent adventure.
Ian had a check-up with his GP to assess if his breathing distress (that had increased after his inoperable rectal cancer diagnosis in September) was being helped by a month’s dosage of morphine and whether it was time to curtail some of the other medications he has taken for other serious long-term medical problems like heart disease, a history of small strokes, peripheral neuropathy, GERD, hypertension and dementia. As the cancer would eventually be terminal, did he need to keep on all the other medications to prevent serious complications from other diseases? In other words, has all the medication become overkill? Ian is content to leave these decisions to me. (A daunting task indeed.) However, I already have lost my late husband to early onset Alzheimer disease and multiple small strokes, so have a bit of perspective to aid me. At the moment I’d prefer Ian not have a stroke that could cause paralysis so I could no longer care for him at home with palliative care until or near the end (which we would both prefer). So we opted for him to stay on Warfarin to aid in preventing a stroke, even though it adds to the bleeding from the incurable rectal cancer.
Next it was time for the clinic’s nurse to administer an annual cognitive test to decide whether Ian should keep on the dementia-slowing drug that he has been on for the last three years. His memory continues to worsen but the regression has slowed on the medication – a luxury that my late husband didn’t have as the drug wasn’t yet on the market when he needed it. Our nurse started the familiar test and I could see that Ian’s awareness of time had deteriorated since last year – “What year is it?” (“Well, it’s later than 1932.” – Smart Aleck – that is his birth year!) “Do you know what month we are in?” – (“Spring?” – hardly!) He could follow sequential verbal directions to take a piece of paper, fold it and place it on the ground, but only remembered one of the three words he had been given and then later asked to recall. “Truck,” readily came to mind but he had no recollection of “velvet” and “church” which he had repeated multiple times just minutes before. He correctly answered a few questions involving numbers and did not do too poorly in copying two geometric figures on a second paper. Then came the last assignment: “Write down a sentence, please.” I smiled thinking of what Ian had written last year. “I love my wife.” This time he readily jotted down a two-word sentence, handing it to the nurse with a smirk. She let out a hoot when she read: “Get stuffed!” There was a twinkle in his eye, though, so we saw it as a touch of sarcastic humour and not a nasty protest at the process.
Ian’s score was only a point below last year’s so I thought he should keep on the drug rather than taking a chance of his memory and abilities getting worse at a faster rate, even though this could also add to his bleeding. The medical staff thought differently, though, and recommended a trial period of 10 days off the drug to see if its absence made a difference. Those 10 days did not go well, however, as Ian had a growing number of disturbing hallucinations and worsening memory. As I still had about a month’s worth of the medication on hand, I started him back on it and will be monitoring him before we see the doctor again to assess whether to continue it. After only a few days, I’m encouraged that the hallucinations have lessened, though I’m not sure about the memory.
As irascible as he gets at times, I’d like to keep my old sassy Scotsman around awhile longer if possible. I’ve also started to tell him to “get stuffed” a few times when he gets carried away. That usually brings a chuckle, followed by a cuddle, which helps to alleviate the grumbling. Here Ian is a few years ago, all decked out to sing at the Okanagan Military Tattoo when he was still able to walk with the help of a cane (instead of a cromach).
Ian summed up his “get stuffed” afternoon with: “If you have a choice, it’s better to laugh than to cry.” The day following his medical exams he was so exhausted after our outing that he hardly got out of bed. At least it gave me some time to do some creative writing and fuel another blog post.
As difficult as care giving is, I’m determined to help Ian in these last years (or months) to make life as positive as possible and try to keep myself healthy and productive at the same time. Thank God for palliative care that offers growing support, as it becomes needed, and for the love and concern of family and friends.
What encouragement old friends can bring, even those who live far away. A recent letter came from Friedemann, a dear friend from my days living in Germany in the 1960s and ‘70s. He had recently lost his wife, Maria (another beloved friend) to cancer and was writing to comfort me after hearing of Ian’s cancer diagnosis. His profound words bear repeating:
“I am really grateful to you for keeping in touch with me and now with the follow-up news on Ian’s health crisis which will no doubt continue to occupy you both. I was sorry to hear that surgery is no safe option for Ian and do hope and pray that he remains without pain and comfortable and that you can both continue to live your interesting lives together.
“I seem to detect a note of optimism in your account–but then you always had what is basically a positive attitude to life, and although I have never met Ian, from your letters I have the impression that he is a person who prefers to see the bright side of life, too–a very healthy attitude (that I sometimes wish I had more of). Perhaps that’s one of the reasons why Maria and you always got along so well, way back in the Heidelberg days. You both might have had good reasons for complaint in your lives, but you always managed to see the silver lining: a result of being embedded in your faith?
“Anyway, I do hope you can both find something to look forward to and enjoy each day. I often think of the petition in the Lord’s Prayer, ‘Give us this day our daily bread’, i.e. give us today what we need just for today (and tomorrow we will ask again).
“A month or so before Maria died she wrote an article for a magazine in which she quoted a poem by a German cabaret artist, writer, author of children’s stories and actor who died in 2005, Hans Dieter Hüsch. The poem apparently appealed to her way of thinking–I imagine also to yours and Ian’s—(In German–which you presumably still read? ):
Ich bin vergnügt, erlöst, befreit.
Gott nahm in seine Hände meine Zeit,
mein Fühlen, Denken, Hören, Sagen,
mein Triumphieren und Verzagen,
das Elend und die Zärtlichkeit.
Was macht, dass ich so fröhlich bin
im meinem kleinen Reich?
Ich sing und tanze her und hin
vom Kindbett bis zur Leich.
Was macht dass ich so furchtlos bin
an vielen dunklen Tagen?
Es kommt ein Geist in meinen Sinn,
will mich durchs Leben tragen.
Was macht, dass ich so unbeschwert
und mich kein Trübsinn hält?
Weil mich mein Gott das Lachen lehrt
wohl über alle Welt.
Hanns Dieter Hüsch
“In English (roughly!):
I’m cheerful, redeemed, set free.
God took my time in his hands,
my feeling, thinking, hearing, speaking,
my triumphs and despondencies,
the anguish and the tenderness.
How come that I’m so cheerful
in my own small domain?
I sing and dance to and fro
from the cradle to the grave.
How come that I’m so fearless
on many gloomy days?
A spirit comes into my mind
that seeks to carry me through life.
How come I’m so light-hearted
and no gloom has hold on me?
Because God teaches me to laugh
at the whole world no doubt.
“So I hope God continues to give you both your daily bread and brighten your life for as long as God sees fit.
“Cheers and the very best of wishes.
(nicer in Latin: Pax et gaudium–et fortitudo = peace and joy–and strength!)”