Monday, October 12, 2009

An Untold Story Chapter 2 - The Diagnosis

I just realized. It was two years ago today when I got the news. I was preparing to downsize my life for the second time.

The first downsizing came after my second wife and I got divorced. We had this ridiculously huge house out in Richmond, MO.

There was a smaller, 2 bedroom guest house behind it and a large storage shed behind that.

What's that you say? "That's too much house for one man living alone!" Gee...ya fuckin' think so?

I stayed in the house as long as I could because it was the only home my daughter knew. She was only 7 years old. That's a tough fucking age to see your parents getting divorced. Old enough to know what is going on, but not old enough to understand why. The least I could do was keep the house and her bedroom intact.

But in late 2004 my employer of the previous 20 years went through yet another round of layoffs. Oh, I'm sorry. I meant to say they triggered their Force Management Plan. My bad. After two decades of dodging and weaving, I finally took a bullet.

That was followed by a bankruptcy in early 2005. Our divorce agreement saddled me with every penny of debt from the marriage. I was servicing (heh heh) a 1st Mortgage, a 2nd Mortgage, horrendous utility bills (take another look at that picture. Houses weren't all that energy efficient 125 years ago), and a massive collection of credit card balances that was quite a bit closer to 6 figures than it was to 5.

Actually, I guess it's more accurate to say the debt was "servicing" me. No dinner, no kiss, no lube.

I was able to limp along for a while on my severance package, unemployment, and ill-advised withdrawals from my 401k, but I just couldn't keep it up. It was too much money, too much work to maintain and the commute to my new job in downtown KC was just too far.

You know that TV show, "24" where every minute of the show is a real minute in the storyline? If that show was about me, the first 45 minutes of every episode would be me chain smoking and sipping coffee on my way to work.

I moved into a much smaller rental in Liberty, MO while the house was on the market.

For six months, I was paying $1750 a month on the two mortgages and $950 in rent. It kinda sucked to be me.

We finally unloaded the house in Richmond without making a dime on it. Just enough to pay off the mortgages and not a penny more.

The Liberty house was much smaller than the one I'd lived in for the previous 8 years. It felt positively cozy compared to that rambling old castle in Richmond.

But after a couple years, I realized that even this was too much house. I had a full basement I never used. I had a lawn I hated mowing. I had a two car garage. I only own 1 fucking car. So it was time to downsize once again.

I was headed for this townhouse in a cul-de-sac of four-plexes. This was my Goldilocks place. It was just right.

It was Friday, October 12, 2007. I had taken the week off work to get the Liberty house packed up. The movers would be showing up the next morning to take me to Independence.

There was a knock on the door. It was Becky. I knew immediately something was wrong. It was Friday afternoon and she should have been at work. I could also tell just by looking at her that she was distressed.

"What's wrong baby?" I asked?

"I need to talk to you" she said.

We went into the kitchen and sat down. I took her hand. "What's wrong honey? Tell me what's going on? Are you OK?".

She started to sob.

I knew she had been to see the doctor recently and they did some tests. Mostly routine stuff. Nothing to be concerned about.

She got the results of the tests that morning. She was diagnosed with Hepatitis C with a very high viral count. It was attacking her liver. Without treatment, she would eventually need a liver transplant. Without a new liver, she would die. Doctor wanted her to begin treatment immediately.

If I felt like I'd just been hit by a truck, she had just been hit by a train. She described what she was facing.

The treatment for Hep C is absolutely fucking barbaric and there are no guarantees.

The main component is a weekly injection of Interferon designed to kill the virus. It is a lot like chemo for cancer. The approach is "let's pump your body full of poison and hope that it kills the virus and not you." This weekly regimen goes on for 48 fucking weeks. That's if your lucky and the first round works. Sometimes, patients need a second round.

The side effects are debilitating. Loss of hair, loss of weight, constant nausea, extreme fatigue, irregular menstrual cycles for women, a weakened immune system and possible damage to the thyroid and liver...the very thing you are trying to prevent by taking the medicine.

With a weakened immune system, you are more susceptible to other diseases. But if you DO get sick you can't take any drugs for it because they all pass through the liver.

There are also a couple of other medicines to help counter-act the side effects of the Interferon, and they put you on Prozac so that you don't become so depressed that you stop taking the injections. It's fucking horrible.

My first reaction was, "OK, we'll get through this together, honey! I love you and I'm here for you. I'll help you. It will be OK."

Wrong fucking choice of words, apparently.

She said "Together? How the fuck does that work, exactly? Are you going to take my shots for me? Are you going to get sick for me? Are you going to go into work for me when I don't have the strength to get out of bed? What is this 'we' shit?"

I offered to go to the doctor with her and learn how to properly administer the shots. I said, "I can come over every Friday, give you your shot, do your laundry, clean your house, walk your dog, cook your meals and get you ready to face the next week."

Apparently her sisters had offered a similar level of support because this also annoyed her.

She had already suffered a loss of control over her life just from the diagnosis and having to undergo this treatment. She felt like everyone was trying to take over her life and it was pissing her the fuck off.

Becky could be very, very stubborn. Once she got her back up, there wasn't any point in pushing her. In fact it just made things worse. There is an old saying; "Never try to teach a pig to sing. It's a waste of your time and it annoys the pig". Truer words were never spoken.

Becky was also very independent. As I mentioned in the first chapter, her ex-husband was a railroader which meant he wasn't around much during their 20 year marriage. She was forced to raise her boys and take care of the house alone. If the house needed a new roof, you'd find her up there putting on a new roof.

When her useless piece-of-shit of a husband was home, he didn't want to lift a finger to help out. After all, he was off work. This was his down time. Fucker.

Consequently, she didn't have much experience with people offering to help and didn't know how to accept it graciously. When something needed done, she would much prefer it if everybody would just get the fuck out of her way so she can get it done, thank you very much!

So I backed away and decided to let her tell me how and when she needed help. Give her back some of the control that her diagnosis had ripped away.

Many people are unable to work at all during treatment. They are just too sick and fatigued. They have to go on disability with reduced pay. She couldn't do that. Her ex wasn't paying his child support or helping with the boys. Even with her insurance, her medicine was about $300 a month out of pocket.

Not only did Becky keep working, but she was also putting in a lot of overtime, everyday and even on the weekends. She's one of the toughest, most determined women I've ever known.

We still communicated, we still spent time together when we could, but nothing like we used to. She was always working to keep her job performance up so she could keep her medical insurance to pay for the expensive drugs or she was sleeping off the exhaustion.

While all of this was going on, her 3 grown sons were all having their own problems.

The oldest, Jerry, the most stable of the 3, got a divorce, moved back to Kansas City from Virginia where he had been a contractor for the Pentagon (and a former Army Ranger), leaving behind a vindictive ex-wife and a 4 year old son. Although he was facing a royal reaming by his wife's lawyer, he immediately started spending a lot of money that he didn't have. He bought a house. He bought a brand new truck. He bought brand new motorcycle, which he wrecked and broke his ankle. He wasn't making good decisions.

Her middle son, Desmond, had a penchant for losing jobs, getting in fights and getting DUIs.

Her youngest son, Sam, broke up with his girlfriend and wrecked his car.

So in addition to the Hep C, the side-effects from the treatments and putting in the overtime at work, she was also trying to straighten out her sons various problems and get them all on their feet again.

That left very little time and energy for us.

And I was OK with that. I figured that maybe the best way I could demonstrate my love and support was to be the one thing in her life that was stable. The one thing that she didn't have to worry about or expend any energy on. I would just be here, offering my love and support whenever and where ever she needed it.

Everything seemed to be as good as one could expect, under the circumstances.

Until around April or May of 2008. That's when things started to, well, change.

Next: Chapter 3 - The Bizarreness


m.v. said...

The only thing I hate about these is that you have to stop. I expect part 3 tomorrow by 7AM. Weird that I somewhat remember the change even though you hardly talked about it.

Nick said...

I hope this ends better than my personal experiences: i lost 3 people extremely close to me in the space of 4 years to hep c, including one who had a liver transplant as well as a suicide (totally understandable - you do no justice to the absolute batshit misery interferon causes in the patient)

I Travel for JOOLS said...

First of all, this is a very personal story, but I have to tell you, it is written as well as a best selling novel. Wow.

That aside, I'm feeling very sad for you right now. I'm seeing the best of XO in the worst of his times.

I too, don't want to wait another week for Chapter 3 but realize it must take a tremendous amount of mental energy to even write about this experience.

KC Sponge said...

Heh. I've had people make up worse shit to get out of a relationship with me.


Hyperblogal said...

I'm with Meesha.... 7am tomorrow or I'll be pissed.

Capt. Geoffrey Spaulding said...

You pour your guts out about this stuff more classy than I ever could XO.

Last time I tried- 4 people were hospitalized with inflamatory laughter...


Krissy said...

I'm so glad I already know what came next! Directly next. Er, I mean, I don't know how it ends in the END... but I don't have to demand the next chapter by tomorrow morning. ;) neener! Hey, I've got a new blog, XO.

Krissy said...

ps. God I love that big old house.

Clyde said...

Where the fuck is part three?

I Travel for JOOLS said...

Tapping foot....Get ON with Chapter 3 !!!