Thursday, May 5, 2011

Chapter Eight: Messages From the Past, and Promises to Keep...

Chapter 8 : Messages From the Past.

Moving into town , one would think that maybe I would feel reassured, and at best less worried. The town was sweet, and quiet. The homes were older, battered, yet loved. There were even some quirks I noticed that winter, the homes and the trees looked battle weary, battered. Almost all homes were in need of paint. I rationalized maybe it was a town like Maine or Cape Cod, I would not for an instance question the towns shabby qualities.

Over those months in town I would reflect on little oddities about the town and think, Hmm, I wonder Why this is. Like the Limited Birds, and how they tended to fly crooked and how there were so few. But I also noticed they were so quiet, not like other birds I had seen over the years. In town and by the lake they were quiet. I had never been anywhere in the Country where Sea Gulls were quiet and did not squawk and fight over food and territory. I also noticed that the Deer had been quiet lumbering slow moving , they reminded me of cows they were so slow and mellow. ( I realized that maybe I was expecting bounding deer like extras out of Bambi).

But Homeschooling was thriving, there was much to do every day. There was a culture clob to study cultures of the world, and there was a Shakespearean Youth Theater, and much time spent at the Coffee shop that we loved, and new playgrounds and parks to explore. And piano lessons and a wonderful new library. And there was still our obsession with the X Files and much Harry Potter to read. So most of the time were doing normal things like walking the dog or playing Frisbee Golf or looking for fish and toads at the Creek. Bogie my cancer ridden dog had been placed on Morphine in December so I was still caring for him, and we had added a cat to our Herd,and after the move we suffered two losses, Stubby our 3 legged turtle had died quickly, and also Tucker the Rat. The rest of the Herd seemed to be okay and adapting to our new location.

We were meeting alot of other families, many had special needs. There was a significant amount of Learning differences and disabilities and ADD and ADHD, and autism. There were also a fair number of children that we were meeting that suffered a range of health issues, and that is why they were being homeschooled, cancer, asthma, defects, muscle problems, as well as a fair number of boys with irritability and agitation issues. I thought maybe this was the norm, it was just amplified now that I was in a smaller town and smaller county.

But life went on , there were books to read, and Wednesday Night Spaghetti, and Friday Night Pizza and Wednesday coffee shop afternoons and Chess, and Soup on Tuesdays. And my husband was training for a new job and mostly down in Seattle, but his new job as a Flight nurse meant that he would be stationed at Bellingham. And Sunday Afternoons also became a coffee Shop day. Rob had heard that Albert Einstein had spent much of his schooling youth at Coffee shops, it was a message that he took to heart. 2000 was starting out to be a year of interesting adventures and new friends and Learning Spots...all that a Nine year old needs.

At night I was still dreaming occasionally about the Lake and The Red Trucks and yes, sometimes the Mama Cougar. And strangely I started having dreams about New England, Vermont from many years ago as a young newlywed nurse. I rationalized it that was because the town had New England qualities in a quaint familiar kind of way.

In New England I had worked as a PEDS nurse, I had taken care of children from all over Vermont and New England and North New York. There were children there in the early 80's that were from Niagara area,outside of a Place Called Love Canal.In the late 1970's the horrors of Love Canal had just been uncovered. ( I will post a link to the Story in the Back of the book so that people can learn more). But suffice it to say that Love Canal was a Major Environmental Disaster that gained national attention after it started leaking fluids and harming those that lived near it. It's main source was a Ditch that was filled with many years of toxic waste. That the Town bought for a dollar and years later would build a school over it and playground and a neighborhood. The Town and the Neighborhood was the first in the Country that had to be bought out due to the toxins and the damage and the Contamination. But in the early 1980's the mysteries and toxic load were still be revealed.

So I worked as a Nurse on the PEDS floor, and we had been getting some very strange cancer cases from North New York. it was viewed as a mystery and worrisome. There were residents that started asking questions about the Geography of the situation, and had started mapping the areas that the children came from and even tracking their drinking water. Many of the children were rural children, and it was perplexing.

One of my favorite patients during those years was a boy named Sam, he was smart, funny and had a great dry sense of humor. He was ten and battling leukemia, and he was challenging and not always cooperative and for 2 years I would get to know him very well. I used to joke that in many ways with his snide cracks and his sharp questions it was like he was 35. But something about him tugged at my heart and I spent alot of time finding books that he would like and silly jokes. And I also as a primary nurse realized that he needed to be kept busy and boredom was a morale killer for him. His mom still was living in North New York and so his grandmother would come stay with him when she was over in New York working. So I as one of his primary nurses got to know his family. But mostly I knew Sam.

Late at night he could not always sleep, especially after chemo, and he did not always have someone to stay with him. So I would arrange my assignments to be near his end of the hall. And we would talk and he would watch Magnum PI and give me updates or Miami Vice. I played alot of Stratego with him and chess and read comic books. And he would ask probing questions. I learned about Love Canal from him in a Backwards way. Sam late one night said" you know we moved away from a bad zone, a disaster. " Really I said. He said, well, I am not positive, but I saw it on TV and I looked at a map. It was not that far away. I tried to reassure him, because that is what nurses do. And then he said " But I do worry where did I get my cancer, I mean was it from where I lived when I was little , near Niagara ? or was it from playing in the creek behind the house I live in now ? " I said I did not know. I asked him "Why the Creek?" He said " I don't know, it's the quiet of it, and that there are not many birds and I have never seen anything drink back there...but I like playing there, well, because it is quiet, and maybe there is something wrong...ya know ?" I told him it's just quieter in some of the backwoods areas....but on another level I understood his worries. ( And I knew that the residents had already put a pin on their maps where they were trying to track the cancers).

Sam had good months and bad months and he even had some remissions. But in 1987 it all fell apart after battling for almost 3 years. He came to the hospital that fall,and late one night we watched Magnum PI and he looked at me and said, "I got a bad feeling this time, I really do ." Again I tried to reassure him. But I took him seriously, and the next day I called his mom from my home and told her that his spirits were down and we worked on a schedule of WHO could come be with him. And then I did something I have never done as a nurse, I asked her if she could bring Maisie over, his black lab. WHY she asked ? I said because he is really homesick. She wisely pointed out that dogs were not allowed. I said I knew that , but let me work on that issue, not to worry. ( meaning that I knew I might get in trouble or be fired, but it was important).

So that day I met with his residents and I told them that I was having Maisie brought over, his best friend, as an only Child she really was his family. They agreed, and so we came up with an elaborate schedule where were sneak Maisie in and out especially at nights , thinking it might help Sam sleep, but always have her off the floor before the Head Nurse arrived at 7am. We also moved Sam's room right next to the Fire Escape , for the purpose of moving Maisie. It was an elaborate perfect plan.

So the next night his mom arrived and she met Lisa down at the back of the Fire Escape ( also the same spot that residents used to sneak out for cigarettes). Sam and I had been making Ghosts out of napkins and he was in a good mood because he knew his mom was coming. We made the napkin ghosts and hung them up and down the hall, and he hummed the Ghostbusters Song and kept laughing calling himself the Ghostbuster King. In many ways, he seemed like a normal 12 year old laughing and making jokes and other than his pale skin and bald head he seemed like he was feeling better. Even though I had seen his counts that day and knew that things were not good. A Little after midnight, I snuck his Maisie in after his mom had arrived and all of us stood at the bottom of his bed, his mom, Lisa and I and Maisie came in and very gently crawled onto his bed....and laid her head in his lap. She was so gentle and sweet, and knowing. We all cried. And Sam held her and cried too.

But something about how gentle Maisie was, so careful I felt like she knew Something that rest of us didn't know or want to know. And I knew that she belonged there...with Sam. And somehow I knew that she had arrived at the right time.

The next two weeks were very rocky, with good days and bad days. Sam was not getting better and was losing ground by the day. But still we brought Maisie in every night. One night I sat watching Magum PI with Sam, and his mom was asleep on the cot in the room next door. It was the episode where Magnum enters LIMBO after a bad injury, he is not dead or alive, but he can check on his friends, be close even though they don't know it. It was a sensitive moving episode, and Sam wanted to talk. "So what do you think ? Is there Limbo ? I think there is ...that when you die that maybe you get time to stay and check on things and people. Like I could stay and check on my mom.....and Maisie" he as so clear about it, so honest. I sat there amazed and told him that I thought he was right, and that if that was what he wanted to believe, I was sure he was right.

Three days later we saw a mass on his Chest Xray, and two days later he was having trouble breathing and I spent every night with him that week, reading to him singing Christmas Carols, and watching the Napkin Ghosts floating over his bed as I gave him meds and turned up the oxygen. One night near Dawn he looked at his mom as she slept, and whispered to me "Limbo", and I promised that I would tell her about "Limbo". And I promised I would check on her and Maisie and as the sun came up I sat and read him Winnie The Pooh,just like he wanted. And he left all the pain behind with his mom holding him and Maisie by his side.

For many years I had not thought about Sam, but In Bellingham I dreamt about him more than once. And then the one dream I remembered the coversation from the Ghost Napkin Night, " So Allie, if you lived Somewhere where the Water was not Right, you would Do Something Right ? " And I said " Like What , Hire Magnum" I said this jokingly ? And then I saw he was serious and said " No Seriously, like what ? And Sam looked back at me with those I Must be 35 eyes, " I don't know what, But Something, atleast Just promise you won't pretend it 's Alright- that there is Nothing the Matter". And I looked at him and said "...Yes, I promise."

And yes, in restless sleepless nights in Bellingham I remembered That Promise.....especially as I watched my son sleeping with his Herd and dogs and stuffed buddies. It was a Promise I had to keep.

Love Canal Aerial photo the title to learn more or watch the video below,sadly I did not research Love Canal until I lived in Bellingham...