When I started writing about Judy's journey with metastatic breast cancer I knew there would be ups and downs to describe.
This chronicle of the week that just was, was one heck of an event.
Medical wins are great wins, of course, and whilst winning on that front it makes life's great moments become amplified all the way up to brilliant.
By the same token, when the losses come with cancer they can be terrifying. Plus when you're not even sure what the root cause is, it's not certain what should be done, or even could be done to try and fix it. That's most confronting, and confusing too.
First, the win.
What a bloody tremendous time we had relaxing in southern Europe the last couple of weeks or so.
Here's the post-game wrap up. A great game that was marred in the end after the final siren by an horrific clash.
The Princesses have restated their position as league premiership favourites, downing the Sceptics by eleven points in a scintillating top-team showdown in a display match in Europe.
In a clash billed as a potential grand final rematch, the Princesses came out firing early and withstood constant Sceptic pressure to finish out 12.8 (80) to 11.3 (69) winners in front of a near-capacity crowd.
The win puts the reigning premiers a game clear at the top of the ladder with just two of their coming opponents real opposition - the Hazards and the Nukes - with both games to be played out later in the season at the Princesses' home fortress.
The Princesses led at every break in a close fought dual but looked vulnerable during the final quarter before two straight goals, booted late in the day to George (Stagger) Ann and Rolly Jude that put the closely fought match beyond doubt, arriving at an 11-point victory.
Jude was best on field with five goals, thirty disposals, and even though stretched at times carried the Princesses' midfield on a mixed night for the rest. Stevens assisted, managing to still find the ball in a sometimes scrappy affair.
It was another ominous reminder of the Princesses' ability to take a game by the scruff of the neck and triumph.
There was no hint of what was to come. Wind the clock forward a mere 48 hours after landing home and Judy landed back in hospital.
The precursor to being there was an early wake up at 6AM with her in agony because her knee hurt like Hell for some reason. About all that could be done was to rustle up an Endone, Targin, Panadol and Ibuprofen cocktail, sprinkled with some pseudoephedrine because they were the only Nurofens I could find. Oh well, good for her chunky chest cough, too. An hour or so later and princess blissfully slept again.
I couldn't get back to sleep, despite having only slept a couple of hours of sleep that night.
So after what would be considered a good size sleep in at midday, I tried to rouse her from beautiful slumber for food and medicines. No dice. Then hour after hour, sometimes half hourly, I tried again, and again, until finally at 8 PM after eighteen hours of sleep (broken only by the knee episode) I decided that enough was well enough and that drugs and eating now needed to happen, otherwise she'd be in pain, and also would never get back to the right time zone.
So armed with Chobani Apple Crisp Twist yoghurt, a plate of carrot cake and a fist full of pills, I entered the bedroom.
I tried. And I tried. And I tried in vain. Every attempt resulted in disinterest. Or severe pain. Or a groggy fuck off go'way. Or she'd make a move to get up, decide she couldn't, then push me away. And there was lots of "no, no, no, no, no". Eventually I tried pleading, then tears (mine), then finally ended up threatening that if she didn't sit up and drink/eat/pill that she'd end up in the hospital Emergency Department.
No joy whatsoever.
So I called our Palliative Care pals on their after hours hotline for advice. The initial answer by (ironically) nurse Hope was somewhat disinterested, like every call is from someone blathering and describing the exact same bloody thing. Then again, that might indeed just be all part of a usual night. "I'll get Sarah to call you back." Uh, OK, I hoped. Not much of a hotline.
And who's Sarah?
Sarah calls, somewhat more interested (so I'm more interested in who Sarah is) and she does a rapid phone triage, grabs Judy's file, and thinks it's worthwhile getting a Pal-Care nurse engaged. Hooray, given I sought that outcome a call ago.
Sarah is dead to me.
Then nurse Shane of Pal-Care a-roving calls, somewhat overly friendly (so I'm even more friendly-like), and after a chit-chat he rings off to consult the Pal-Care doctor. The friendly chit-chat consisted of me describing the two week holiday we've been on (he asks about where, then squeals with delight), then describing the situation, etc. ("um, huh?") and describing that she's been doing well ("great!") and then the aches and the pains, and then the princess who's turned hey-luv-you're-definitely-not-fucking-normal on me.
In twenty minutes nurse Shane tinkles back with an update, and post-haste the paramedic cavalry arrive outside our front door in their shining blue and red flashing steed.
They sweep inside, they swoop, they take over, and I instantly feel relief. I hover. I update. I help with triage. I point out the abnormal from normal. I point out the arm to be avoided for prodding. I grab current medications. I show the path to the best stretcher exit. I move cars. I return to the bedroom and cut short a lengthy discussion about the best way to move princess from bed to stretcher by just picking her up bride-across-threshold style (with much agonising heart-rending grunt-screaming from princess) straight on to the stretcher. Job's done. Finally, I flop into a sitting slump on the bed with relief, rewarded with a paramedic's earnest assurance that "you're doing so well!"
With that assurance, and a pause, a lone tear slowly descends my cheek, and I well up, unable to speak.
Super hero illusion shattered.
Turns out I most certainly was not doing so fucking well.
I needed a hug, but there was soul-mate looking after to do, so dried my eyes on my imaginary shredded cape and got the fuck back on with it.
Judy spent the night in the hospital Emergency Department.
Early in the piece I helped out with answering a lot of questions because she couldn't, then helped out holding arms that wanted to defend while drip was inserted and blood was taken, I held the defence while wee-wee load was assessed and a wee-wee catheter was inserted, then helped out again holding those irrationally defending "no, no, no, no, no" flailing arms while a radiographer with a mobile X ray machine took some snaps of her chest. Amazingly I somehow managed to stay out of the shot, avoiding any bony photo-bombing.
Finally some quality M&M's were given after the assessment to make things much better. Midazolam and morphine did their thing in about thirty seconds flat and she was gone with the pixies in a relieving puff, with an occasional faint smile replacing the pained expression of just a minute before, indicating dreams most pleasant.
I soaked her in with my eyes for a long time, then with nothing else to do except to wonder at what she dreamed, at 1 AM I felt comfortable to go home and top up the two hours I'd slept in the last thirty.
It took quite a while to get to sleep. Surely it wasn't the holiday that did this. She was fine. She was brilliant. She was so relaxed.
The next day saw a great deal of the same. Constant Judy slumber, pain when prodded, and a bunch of testing. A CT scan didn't show anything untoward. Thermometer showed a bit of a temperature. Blood testing showed a moderately elevated inflammation score, but nothing else major, so possibly an infection somewhere. Cerebrospinal fluid sucked gently from her beautiful brain was as expected. Chest X ray reasonably clear (with no stray fingers where they shouldn't have been), so no pneumonia, probably a touch of bronchitis.
Dr Rob commented that nothing added up just yet. He's almost certain it's not a stroke. Meningitis? He mused not, as the biggest risk for that was his chemotherapy injections into her beautiful brain, which had last been done a month before. Jet lag? Nothing like it. Then he thought out loud that maybe she could be recovering from some form of unnoticed seizure. Or infection somewhere was messing things up. Or it was the cancer itself.
He asked the nurses to hook her up with intravenous antibiotics, and an automatic syringe infusion pump to get some pain medication and more happening, and some more midazolam, too, and that made her a lot more comfy. It also would have brought back some quality dreams.
For a goodnight, I did get a sleepy smile, a groggy "I wuv you" and a gently blown kiss through the fog from my princess.
Day three. She's awake!
I was so excited to see Judy awake, but then my excitement quickly faded to a realisation that something was most definitely not right.
She was not making much sense, speaking random thoughts and laughing a lot at anything, and also at nothing at all in a delirious state. The first moments after I arrived witnessed her reading a hospital poster on the wall in overly loud laboured spoken words with giggles, while an injection was given in her tummy. She wouldn't stop reading out loud facts about MET calls, code blue, etc. Over and over. An extra loud and authoritative police-ish "arrest!" was delivered reading the words "cardiac arrest".
After a short while, quality drugs quickly calmed the shrill moments to less so, and turned agitated towards placid.
Then hungry! Fair enough given it had been sixty hours since her last snack.
There was a whispered suggestion that we head "right now" to McDonald's down the road (which would have been a bit hard to pull off with a drip in her arm, the syringe infusion pump dangling from its needle at the end of a tube, and catheter bag in tow), so a doctor cleared her for a breakfast of scrambled eggs plus accoutrements ("Do they have hash browns?"). The eggs were gone in 60 seconds. Yoghurt: gone in equal time. Fruit: decimated. Plus coffee: gone. In about thirty minutes she was ordering up lunch.
Oh, kaaay. Nothing wrong with the fangs...
Communication was hard. I could tell she had stories to tell, but they were disjointed and random, and the individual pieces didn't make sense. She had no idea how to use a smart phone, but wanted to. And at one stage she clutched the bed control like it was made by Samsung. Then she tried to unlock it with her fingerprint.
In the early afternoon, she confided in hushed tones, "The angry old lesbians had a dance off over you ... they saw me out of the corner of their eye ... the very corner [taps eye confidingly] ... and stopped me! ... they stopped me from going to the toilet [exaggerated incredulous look] ... me ... I got the giggles."
At the time it didn't make much sense, especially with the lesbian dance off red herring, but on reflection a short time after, this could have been telling a simple story if one swaps the words "angry old lesbians" for "lovely nurses" and "dance off over you" for "asked about you". Made more sense, as I didn't think they wanted to fight over me, somehow. The bit about the toilet and giggles was probably a statement of fact, with princess likely making an escape attempt, despite catheter and drug delivery pump, and being headed off at the pass en route to piss, or freedom.
And later, "It's like it's a cult. It's weird.", blurts Judy. "What's weird?", I inquire. After a long silence she hisses "All of it!", with a hint of paranoia.
Again, almost statement of fact? Dressed in a smock, trapped and not able to leave? Does sound a bit Waco, Texas to me.
I was starting to get good at translating when something marvellous happened.
Princess was one minute trying to scroll her Facebook feed, then she held the phone up to her head. I thought she was being rather hopeful, but a perfectly lucid ten minute phone call occurred with her buddy Andrea.
I did a double take, as a little earlier Judy was having trouble with what to do with a comment on a Facebook post, pressing it like it should do something, and getting angry with me when I offered that pressing the comment text did nothing. This lucid call was a brilliant moment.
Ending the day, an excited nurse came in to the room about 10 PM and gushed "Steve? You must be Steve. Judy said so many great things about you last night." Judy turns to me with a look of "who the fuck is this woman?", as she had no recollection of the nurse and certainly didn't recall gushing to her about me or about anything. (The nurse didn't look at all like a lesbian, by the way.) This memory lapse was not a lone thing, as it turned out the last three days were a complete blank to princess.
No advances. Princess tried to use her paper dinner delivery slip like a smart phone.
But she's happy.
Equally no good advances. But add in hallucinations, and a bit more agitation.
Princess held a white napkin folded in half like a newspaper for a long while and silently read it, her eyes darting back and forth. And chatted with some invisible school kids, asking them which house they were in. And she picked up and held a lot of interesting things that weren't there for me. And put on her makeup with product only she could see without going anywhere near her face.
After inquiring what she was doing, and receiving the makeup reply, I gave her the right tools for the job. When she tried to colour her chin I helped out with the lipstick for princess, mastering the lip pencil and Lancôme Rouge 183N lip colour for her in a painful to watch slow drawn-out amazing non-fuck up. (I am now officially in awe of chicks everywhere. It's not easy! My effort looked a bit clinical, and over-thought out, but don't tell her that! [Ah, fuck it, just did. One day soon. Stupid Internet.]) We skipped foundation, blush and mascara so I could quit while I was ahead...
Then she had a lengthy conversation with Deidre from school days. Deidre would have enjoyed the conversation had she been there, and been somewhat tipsy after being offered so many different types of wine on arrival, including the Saunders own house red. I cheekily also offered up Jack Daniels bourbon to the list, which was embraced and also offered to her friend.
Distracting from hallucinations seemed to work, and oppositely, directly shutting them down seemed not to... Mostly. Joining in for a stiff invisible drink is probably not the right approach, but heck, I was learning, and needed a stiff one.
Later, princess slept the night away on her low-rider fall-proof bed in the ward hallway next to the nurses' station, aided by midazolam. A bloody good sleep by hospital standards, even if drug assisted and in a hallway at ground level.
Dr Rob is still not exactly sure what's up with her beautiful brain.
I had been treating this as if it were a fever that needed to break, reminded of the last time Princess Droop Loop descended briefly for a day a couple of months ago, and had pulled out of the dive herself unassisted.
Today marked a corner wonderfully turned by all indications, with only the occasional moments of disorientation, and only one or two imaginary friends dropping by that I noticed. Yes, unlocking a phone was still a bit of a business, but honestly, when the damn thing won't read your fingerprint, unlocking problems are not caused by delirium. They result in it.
Holy crap. What a week.
Judy did her own makeup for real today, and I just helped out with some foundation blending. You know she's not that sick when she's sitting up in a hospital bed with war paint and bright red lipstick, and that was wonderful to see.
After being great most of the day, I did have one disturbing panicked phone call at dinner time, when I had headed home for a brief shepherds pie. She asked if I could rescue her from the intersection of Burke and Wattletree Roads because she was stuck in the intersection and inexplicably couldn't find the steering wheel or pedals to get safe. Fuck I love my rev head whisky girl. In her head she'd done up and R-U-N-O-F-T from hospital in any wheels available... So I imagined us returning the hospital bed together, driving it back at speed, then skidding sideways into a hospital parking spot with much tiny tire smoke and a Devil-may-care, we're-so-in-trouble giggle.
When I rushed back, she'd never left her room, or the bed. She was safe, just like I'd left her.
That hallucinations were not completely gone was concerning, but it did make a great imagined memory for me, though.
Dr Rob, Team Neuro and super cool radiation oncologist, Dr Karen have a plan forming to go pester the cancer in princess's noggin so hopefully it stops pestering her.
When a tough game comes along that's looking like a loser, it is superb when the tide turns, and the score heads your way. Fever broken, here's to another Princesses victory in the making.