February 2nd is a pretty loaded date for me. It first struck a major notch in my memory as the day my grandfather (Dordie, my mother’s father) passed away. I was about ten then, I think, and the date might have been gotten lost forever if it weren’t also the weirdest noted calendar day of every year, Groundhog’s Day. (I’m noting this for the non-American readers, whom I expect will just shake their heads slowly.) But the date was even more securely notched when I met and married Vernon. It’s his birthday!
He usually remembers the date. But he thinks he’s turning 39 today. It’s hard to convince him otherwise. He sort of rolls his eyes in the end, as if to say, “I surrender…but only because you don’t understand.” He’s one to learn from.
This morning, I called the ambulance dispatcher, not just to remind them to pick up the blue bag, but to let them know it is Vernon’s birthday. I asked them to “make kind of a big deal about it”—whatever that means. My sweet friend Barbara, who has been volunteering her time to sit with Vernon at dialysis whenever she is able (she also works full time, it should be said) called me mid-morning so I could connect with my husband. He sounded clear and happy, reminding me to meet up with him later. I promised I would. Then Barbara texted me to let me know that not only was Vernon in a great mood and mental state, but that one of the technicians had brought him a balloon and had gathered the troops to sing him Happy Birthday. Win for the morning!
I made it up to Hoag Hospital just in time for Vernon’s radiology appointment. The same EMTs that transported him this morning had brought him to the hospital. It’s always a fun thrill to see Vernon, I admit. It wouldn’t matter if I arrived as dolled-up as I could manage or if I’d rolled out of bed after not having a haircut for months, his response would most likely be the same. He would be beyond delighted to see me, straight for the eyes. And in those moments, I feel the same way. Completely.
I noticed how on our entrance to the room, the computer read: Vernon Paul Adams 02-02-2016
I thought of it like a really expensive birthday cake! Imagine those candles, if you will.
Vernon also made a point of letting everyone know that I was “the wife…the main family member, the most important person here, the one to talk to.” I can’t say I didn’t feel slightly gratified.
On to the main event. Here is a picture of the speech therapist (assistant/in training) explaining what Vernon should expect. This is his third time doing the test, but I knew he wouldn’t remember the others. I was only allowed in the room beyond this one, but I was able to watch the x-rays as they came through the screen.
It won’t make much sense here anyway so I will try to be brief. I’d seen this procedure twice before so I tried to give the information I thought most helpful to the speech therapist on site. But what I said and what Vernon remembered to do (if that was even possible) made little difference to the outcome of the test. This was completely out of our hands. All that hoping and praying and preparing and practicing seemed to matter little. Or maybe it did. This all depends on how I chose to look at it. Which adventure shall we choose?
Vernon didn’t choke or even splutter through the procedure. I was so impressed that there was no coughing unless the attending speech therapist asked. Vernon was GREAT at following direction, so bright eyed and eager it brought me to tears to watch. I was so proud of him. I thought about this day, one year ago, when his friend and colleague Dave had come to visit from the UK, but Vernon had been sent to the hospital for infections that would keep him from improving for many months, that would indeed send him backwards in his recovery. I couldn’t have been more proud, watching him today. He has come back so far since last February.
But love wasn’t enough this time around. The speech therapist told me that he can’t tolerate much more than an applesauce texture. The problem is that his swallowing defaults toward the wind pipe, and he doesn’t have the sensations to recognize if he is aspirating or not, which makes it very dangerous for him to eat or drink. She did say that she would recommend speech therapy and because it was his birthday, I suppose, she added that he was too young to give up on yet. How nice of her.
Unfortunately our current system has given up on him except for this little window in the far corner. If he get’s proper speech therapy, it is possible that he can work his swallowing muscles back to a state in which he can endure a more normal consistency. It could take ten months, I was told, if all goes well. But we know the whole ‘going well’ song. It doesn’t mean much for us. Back Forth Back Forth Same Worse Back Forth Better is more like it.
This is not the outcome I had hoped for. But I was still moved by his earnest desire to do things well and to follow directions though he didn’t know what was going on. That showed a huge leap forward. My heart breaks for him too as I know he isn’t as close to eating and drinking as I had hoped he might be by now. But at least we can start getting help…though I admit I am not very confident of it at the moment.
Next year, Vernon will be 50. We’ll try to get him there in one piece. What are the chances he’ll be able to have his cake and eat it too?