Friday, May 14, 2021

How Did We Get to Heaven’s Gate?

Wednesday the 11th

Yesterday evening after leaving the hospital I bought some socks and shorts for PQ and some summer tops for myself at an outrageously huge Walmart up the road from the hospital. Some part of me anticipated that we wouldn’t be going home tomorrow, and I had one outfit and no pajamas. Nevertheless, I hoped preparing for a longer stay would mean I was preparing for something that wouldn’t happen. In no way was I prepared when I drove south to Rio Rancho. That entire drive is now erased from memory. The Espanola hospital was going to send my husband to Santa Fe. I waited for the ambulance to arrive in a few minutes, as predicted. They even had his new room number. Time went by, and the ambulance never came. Finally, I drove home to feed the cat and get ready for a trip to Santa Fe the next morning.

Then I got word that the ambulance had been called to an emergency, the hospital room was now taken, and they were sending PQ to Presbyterian Rust hospital in Rio Rancho. My heart dropped. I couldn’t drive daily to Rio Rancho. Then I called our Friend Carol who lives in Albuquerque and asked if I could stay with her.  Everything happened so fast, there was only reaction, not much thinking beyond finding the hospital in an unfamiliar city and then finding my friend Carol’s new home which I’d only visited once before.

I notice time is suspended. I’m not in the same world of two weeks ago, or is it only a week? When PQ was transported to Rio Rancho he was knocked out on morphine. The doctor in Espanola sent him to Presbyterian Rust because they had a specialist nephrologist.  His kidneys were not filtering out the morphine and he had been psychedelically tripping for two days. Finally,  he woke up in Rio Rancho, looked out the window and thought he might be on another planet. Everything was foreign. When I arrived at the hospital the next morning, both he and the staff were glad to see me. He was terrified and thought something very creepy was going on.

Thursday the 12th

This morning when I arrived, his face seemed a bit larger. Then I noticed the left side of his chest was abnormally swollen where the drainage tube had been. What’s happening? The nurse sent for the pulmonologist. She came in later and told us that PQ was experiencing Subcutaneous Emphysema. She wasn’t alarmed and said that when the delicate lung lining, and his is very vulnerable, is penetrated due to a heavy cough or some other pressure it creates a small hole where oxygen can escape into the body. The oxygen moves unrestricted into the tissue below the skin and causes the skin to swell like a balloon. She said that it’s better to monitor it and that when the hole in the lung tissue heals, the body will absorb the excess oxygen. Later in the day, the swelling increased until his eyes were closed.

He was scheduled to go home that day and was hugely disappointed. I was grateful it didn’t happen after we got him home. It would have terrified him, (me too) since we’d never heard of such a thing. I’ve since learned that it is not uncommon.

Friday the 14th

Third day in Rio Rancho: The swelling is beginning go down. If he tries hard, he can open his eyes. I don’t know how long I’ve been here. Time has slowed down, perhaps because we are in a new lifetime. Yet there is a routine in this new life. I spend each day from 10:30 AM to 6-6:30 PM in his room. Because of COVID, the hospital only allows two visitors per day. The people at the hospital entrance know me and ask how Standing Deer is doing. They did some research on the internet and discovered he was in a couple of films and has his art on Facebook, now they think he is a star and treat me like an old friend when I come in the morning.

I still can’t find my way to and from my friend Carol’s house where I’m staying or the hospital without Seri’s help. Yesterday on my way to Carol’s house, I told Seri Montano instead of Montano Plaza Drive and had a scenic drive through sagebrush and cedar.  Eventually, pulled off and tried again. Every road here has many snakelike winding curves—probably good Fung Shuai.

When I arrived at the hospital this morning, the nurse on duty informed me that they had talked to PQ about a Final Directive and he told them he wanted the full measures to maintain life. Although I don’t think he understands how brutal that can be, I didn’t bring the topic up today because I believe it indicates how much he wants to live. He has unfinished business, and not just the unfinished painting on our dining room table. That table has become his favorite workplace and his colored pens, pencils and measuring tools are waiting for him. He also needs to finish his life story. What will he carry to the other side? This should be the most important final directive. The shadowy veil between daily life and the truly mysterious world we live in has been torn for me as well.

It’s so easy to be hypnotized into semi consciousness by our everyday routines and earthly plans. We all know that life habits and routines we have become comfortable with are temporary and subject to sudden changes as much as the weather is, yet its always a shock when there is messenger from the other side at the door. Decisions must be made. Why am I here, what do I want to leave, what will I take with me. Can I finish the job I started.

Friday, May 7, 2021


Standing Deer went for a checkup with his pulmonologist on Monday. He was breathing irregularly and by the time we reached the doctor’s office, he was near to fainting. Doctor Narayanon sent him immediately to the ER, where they discovered his left lung was deflated. They inserted a tube to remove fluid and air that had escaped the lung. It had filled the surrounding tissue and deflated the lung. 

This has been building up for some time. It explains our uncomfortable trip to Denver last month and his increasing shortness of breath. I’m disappointed with the huge, efficient University of Colorado Pulmonary center for not suspecting there was more going on than normal IPF symptoms. He lived for a month with a collapsing lung.  After the Denver visit, he was so discouraged that he wanted me to cancel this last visit to his pulmonologist because, “what’s the use, they can’t do anything for me.” He believed he just had to live with rapidly decreasing oxygen intake until he couldn’t anymore.

Like riding a hair-raising roller coaster, it seems like we’ve been here much longer than we have.  Twice they’ve had to reinsert the tube that drains excess fluid out of the lung cavity. He is in surgery again as I write, this time they will insert a larger tube. I come to Presbyterian Hospital in Espanola every morning as if its an old habit, even though it’s been less than a week.

I used to be a really good driver, but since we’ve been together, Standing Deer does most of the driving and I found my self confidence on the road waning. I never minded letting him drive because it’s a physical thing he can still do well, and he loves to drive. Now, after five trips through the canyon my body and coordinated mind have reconnected with space, time and the rhythm of curves and hills. The drive has become a meditative experience. Besides, the weather has been fantastic.

Two days ago, I walked out of the hospital in a state of sadness knowing this could be the beginning of the end of our time together. The gravity of his disease was no longer looming in the background to be dealt with someday. What a contrast with the beauty of the full on spring afternoon. The air and light reminded me of the best time of our life together in Cottonwood and Sedona Arizona. Memories came in with such force that I almost suffocated in them. We will never be able to hike those beautiful red-dust trails again. How grateful I am that the memories are as clear as if they are right now superimposed on the equal beauty of this Northern New Mexican spring.

Monday, before we ended up here, our week's calendar was full of meetings and appointments, then suddenly the calendar crashed. Its like being suddenly dropped in a foreign country. I wonder if that’s what death is like or could be like. Yesterday they moved him to ICU. That worried me. In his new room, he started hearing and seeing shadow people moving around the room, some were trying to talk. He said there was a man behind him who kept saying a word he didn’t understand. Out of curiosity and some concern, PQ had me call the nurse on duty. He asked her if anyone had died in this room. She said “yes, many have.” 

They just brought him back from the third attempt to insert a tube below his lung to drain the fluid. Now all the tubes and wires have been changed out and he is going back and forth between sleep and semi-consciousness. He is seeing people walking and flying through the room again. This time he is tripping, moving his arm and fingers like he was playing an instrument.

I know he is taking the fight to a new level and I wonder if he will make peace with the reality of  his situation. We aren't young anyway but in many ways we are happier than we were when young. That is the paradox. Each round is a revelation if we are willing to let go of the way things were before.  

I’ve left the painting he started on the dining room table, along with all his watercolor pens, compass, eraser and ruler. I’m counting on him coming back to finish it. I know he will and I hope it will happen in this this body in this lifetime.