Thursday, July 30, 2015

Of Paper Towns, Plastic Tubes and Precious Memories

My mother-in-law is recovering at our home from successful open heart surgery (praise God) to replace her aortic valve. She opted to use the valve of a pig for the procedure, and the surgeon told us afterward that he found her to be unusually thin skinned. 

I'm saving that comedic gold until after she fully recovers.

Meanwhile, our family twins, Emma and Madison, got kind of overlooked in the hubbub of hospital visits, pharmacy consultations and post-op therapy. Their summer schedule would be hectic even without Mom's surgery, and I knew I hadn't spent anywhere close to enough time with those two knuckleheads. I missed them dearly. So this week I suggested a movie night.

I picked them up from Vacation Bible School, took them out for a bite at Steak 'n Shake (their fave) and went to a 10 p.m. screening of the coming-of-age teen film Paper Towns. (Note to self: Never let the girls have total voting power over movie selection.)
 This is what happens when you go to the restroom and leave your cell phone on the table. Emma is on the left.

Oh, we had a time! Teasing, laughing – Madison, the fashionista, couldn't stop commenting about the caterpillar thickness of leading lady Cara Delevingne's eyebrows on the giant screen – talking about teachers and boys, sharing deep darkers.

I must admit, I even learned something: the title of the film refers to a trick sometimes used by cartographers to guard against copyright infringement. Map makers would stick the names of imaginary locations – "paper towns" – at strategic places; if they saw the same names on competitors' maps, they knew they'd been ripped off. See, even in the midst of a mediocre movie knowledge can be enhanced!

I am so proud of the young women Maddie and Em are becoming, yet they never fail to bring out the goofy kid in me. They're 15 now; almost impossible to fathom I've known them since they were seven.

The evening got me to reminiscing about one of my most memorable experiences with them – which, it follows, became one of my favorite and most talked-about blog stories. 

So in honor of a night to remember and Throwback Thursday, I'm reprinting the post here from March 27, 2011, during the depths of my time on Peritoneal Dialysis and, although I had no idea at the time, eight months before the kidney transplant that would save my life. I called the entry: 

Jimmy Springs a Leak

Why they waited until the day of their mutual birthdays to decide they had to buy presents for each other, I'll never understand. But the twins, Madison and Emma, pleaded with me to drive them to the mall on a recent Friday after school. Happily, in January I bought a 2011 black Chevy Camaro (feel free to oooh and aaah below) because I decided to fully enjoy my only midlife crisis, so I'm pretty excited to drive anybody anywhere these days.

The girls love to shriek and cavort from its back seat over the sheer power of the Camaro's mighty V6 engine – which, come to think of it, may have been the reason they waited until they were sure I would be the one to ferry them in my "rocket car," as they call it. They have even bestowed it with a nickname: 'Black Betty." I'm thinking seriously of getting a vanity license plate for it this summer that will simply read, "BAMALAM." Those who get it will get it.
Happy Black Man With Snappy Black Car  

Anyway, we're in Decatur motoring down Martin Luther King Boulevard en route to the mall (why do bad things always seem to happen on MLK?) when I decide to call The Wife on my Droid and let her know where I'm headed.

"Gadzooks!" (or something like that) I think to myself. "My phone is wet! How can that be?"

Then, in fast order, I realize the right side of my jeans, my leather jacket and, yes, my underwear are soaking through, too. I pull back my jacket and unleash a spout of liquid shooting straight up into the air – all over the interior of my brand-new beautiful car. Worse, that liquid was quickly identified as warm body juice; the joint where my catheter connects to its external tubing had cracked, and the dialysis fluid that should have been circulating around my peritoneal cavity was suddenly circulating around my Camaro.

As the girls squealed and pointed, I grabbed the leak with one hand and steered the car into a church lot, no easy feat when you're driving a stick shift. I put the rocket car in park, leaped from the vehicle and attempted to cap my gusher. The twins, trying to be extremely helpful, grabbed everything they could find to stuff the leak: used paper tissues on the floorboard, a dirty rag on the backseat. I think I even remember seeing an old PayDay wrapper in all the confusion.

Praise God we were less than a mile from my DaVita dialysis clinic. Doubled over like a gunshot victim in a TV show and working my car's clutch with whichever foot was closest, we sputtered into the DaVita parking lot. It was nearly 5 o'clock on a Friday, but I prayed someone would still be there who could help.

Prayer answered. There has been considerable flux and turnover among the Peritoneal Dialysis nurses in Decatur, and Karey was virtually a PD rookie, but she happily agreed to give my catheter repair a try. While she called Champaign for advice and inspiration, I waited anxiously. When you have a manmade hole in your body with a tube hanging out of it, you are repeatedly warned that infection is a constant danger.
Peritonitis. Can be fatal if unchecked, you're cautioned. And we've just slapped every filthy thing we could find on top of it to stem the tide. We did everything short of blow on the tube to hold the water back! If the catheter gets infected, or needs to be removed, my days on PD could be over.

Emma and Madison, for their part, were wonderful, supportive and encouraging. It took nearly an hour for the emergency patching to be completed, and the girls busied themselves by watching TV in the clinic lobby, talking up patients coming in for their treatments, and taking a semi-guided tour of the facility. (That is, peeking in the open doors.)
Madison and Emma, Acting a Fool at the DaVita Dialysis Clinic   

"Jim," Madison enthused, "this is the best birthday ever!"

I'm sure Maddie doesn't know the meaning of hyperbole yet, but for some reason I had a hard time believing that.

Finally the leak was sealed, temporarily; I had to journey to Champaign the following Monday for the permanent fix. As she was putting on her best finishing touches, Karey asked, "Why didn't you use your clamp?"

"What clamp?"

"Do you have a little white clamp they gave you to tie off the fluid line in case of emergencies?"

Sheepishly, I reached into my jeans pocket and pulled out the small pillbox I carry to hold my mealtime medication. I opened it. Yep, there it is, all right. A little white clamp. Good thing I have that, in case of emergencies. Hey, I could use some emergency training!

As we walked back to the car, I heard a small, tentative voice behind me.

"Jim," Emma asked, "can we still go to the mall?"

What could I say? They had done so well, been so helpful, reassuring and patient. Off we went to the mall.

"But remember, ladies, my underwear is still soaking wet!" I announced. "So please shop as quickly as you can!"

Ever try to make two 11-year-old girls shop quickly?

Ever go through a mall walking like John Wayne?

Postscript: The Wife watched me the entire weekend like I was planning an escape, looking for any hint of fever or discomfort, but I came through with flying colors. No peritonitis. No infection. God is good. All the time.