Friday, October 18, 2013

The whipsaw

Sunday was good.

Charles Stanford is one of those composers you miss if you're the snobbish type who only indulges in The Great Composers.  He wrote some absolutely gorgeous symphonies and orchestral works (a symphony and a handful of rhapsodies bearing the "Irish" nickname are personal favorites), and some of his church music is just mind-altering, or perhaps soul-altering.  We sang one of those Sunday morning, and it went reasonably well for the church choir with which I am singing right now.  That was good.  The niggling internal difficulties weren't apparent until Sunday evening and didn't seem a big deal.  The guest cat, one which (we believe) lives at a house across the street and up a little, did show up a good bit Sunday.  She's a tiny thing, at least compared to our two monsters.  She'll eat whatever she's given, but by Sunday it was becoming apparent that she was at least as much wanting attention as food.

Monday was pretty decent too.

Classes actually went pretty well.  For once I actually felt somewhat prepared for the first class, and not as if I were dog-paddling furiously merely to avoid drowning.  In the second our first test of the term was returned and I actually did better than expected -- all my questionable answers, or those that seemed questionable at the time, I had in fact gotten correct.  Class itself went fine as well, and the guest cat didn't seem quite so desperate, though in truth I wasn't home so much to see.

Tuesday was a bit rough.

Most of the day was spent at the Virginia General Assembly, where the organization for which I am working for my non-parish internship was coordinating speakers at a public hearing.  First of all, about two and a half hours standing in line; signing in my appointed speaker; then keeping a place in the hearing room for another two hours.  Up to that time, the groups working on opposite sides of the issue (distinguishable by different-colored t-shirts) in question largely kept to themselves.  Once in the meeting room, however, the containment began to break down, and a few exchanges turned ugly.  I had one man lie directly to my face (he gave off a classic tell, one any poker player would recognize), and overheard another exchange in which one (white) man called a (black) woman with whom he disagreed an absolutely awful word (no, not the "n" word) as the capper of an incredibly vulgar and virulently hateful rant.  The testimony itself was a little less awful, if only because nobody called anybody by such a word.  Still, to hear canards that were debunked at least three years ago repeated as gospel truth (by that I mean repeated by a preacher) and to have a doctor say something that was so easily debunked by my own experience with the health care system of the USA for the past year gave me a twitch.  After being free to go, a nine-block walk through Richmond, while actually pleasant at the time, agitated some muscles that only today are starting to calm down.  I did have a good lunch at a place in Shockoe Bottom I'd never known before, and a good potluck dinner on campus that night helped somewhat, and I got off a blog post that took my mind off the crud of the day and helped lift my mood a bit.

Wednesday was amazing and horrible.

This blog, your humble Notes on a Fool's Errand, got linked Wednesday!  Twice!  Tuesday (I think) I had gotten a message from a blogger with whom some of you may be familiar, one with much credibility and popularity as a young voice in the world of mainline/emergent/something or other Christianity, following up on messages we'd exchanged a previous week, indicating he planned to blog on the subject at hand and seeking permission to identify and link to me, which I was happy to give.  (I am not identifying him because I've not decided how much of his hipster cred would be damaged if I pointed out that I used to be his handbell choir director.)  I've said from the beginning I don't write this blog in expectation of heavy traffic, but on the other hand I'm not opposed to it.  Then Wednesday morning another figure of significance, whom I had referenced in the Tuesday night post and tweeted apologies for the tongue-in-cheek treatment of the subject, tweeted back that she planned to link that post in her next blog entry (via The Christian Century, no less!!!).  And she did!!  And not to rip it apart!  To quote from it, with my name on it!!!  This will be the only time my name will ever get into The Christian Century in any form, I can assure you of that!  I don't want to be a prideful person, but up to that point Wednesday was a happy morning.
Then I went for my medical appointment.
I believe I've mentioned in past entries some things that, post-surgery and post-chemo, don't quite look right.  A slightly puffed-up kidney, a ureter that looks partly obstructed by...what?  scar tissue?, a few odd pockets of air where they shouldn't be.  Well, attempts to go at the unexplained via antibiotics changed nothing, according to a CT scan of two weeks ago.  That means the only way to get at what that thing is, is by opening me up again, to see if it's scar tissue, or possibly a tumor.
To hear that last word was the breaking point of my week.
I was in fact given an option; to have exploratory surgery now (or as soon as it could be set up) or to wait three months, get scanned again, and proceed from there.
To avoid stress, which is a known killer in several parts of the galaxy, I'm opting for the latter.  Despite the presence of the unknown...thing, there is nothing else in any of my blood readings or any other tests that points to the presence of any kind of cancer at the moment.  The oncologist doesn't seem to think it's cancer.  Even the surgeon doesn't really seem to think it's a tumor, but doctors aren't cut out for not knowing.
I cannot cope with being cut open again.  Not now.  I have too many things to do, things that matter intensely to me, between now and the end of January.  In February you can cut me open.  In February you can cut me up and stuff me and mount me on your wall if it's that important to you but NOT NOW. My body is not ready just ten months after the fact.  Or my mind isn't ready.  Either way, it counts.
Whether now or later, surgery this year threatens my ability to graduate in May.  It's already shot down any chance I had of going to the Middle East (Turkey, Israel, Palestine) in May with Union's travel seminar.  I wanted to see all those New Testament sites, and I also wanted to see Gallipoli.  Wanted it so badly.  So much for that.
Anyway, back to Wednesday: I tried to go on to campus for chapel after the surgeon dropped that on me.  Mistake.  I was not at all ready to talk about it, but I couldn't really think about anything else.  Should have just gone home, but I wasn't even ready to face my wife.
Oh, and that intestinal distress from Sunday night?  At its peak by now.  And the guest cat was apparently hanging around our house most all day.  About the only positive thing I could do that afternoon was be a safe space for a stray cat.  I was beginning to wonder if I was ever going to be healthy enough to be anything else.  I got through choir rehearsal that night, mostly because it was fairly sparsely attended and nobody really questioned me about much of anything.

Thursday was somewhat better, but still...

Having spent about half my internship hours for the week Tuesday, and knowing I'll spend about that many Saturday, I only went for a meeting over coffee with the organization's program director, a mentoring meeting.  As my direct supervisor was out of town, she was the only one to whom I could break my health news for now.  Otherwise the talk was something of a debrief from Tuesday's event and an overview of some of the things for the big event for the area presbytery at the General Assembly in January, my main internship responsibility (and one of the reasons I'm inclined to put off surgery).  It was actually a good and interesting discussion that helped me understand the work I'm in so much better, and the particular kind of endurance it takes to do it.  I think I even managed not to sound like a total idiot.  Still, I think it's fair to say that the previous day's news was hanging over me throughout the day.  I was distracted enough that I got lost trying to get out of Shockoe Bottom, ending up across the river in a place I didn't know and only getting my bearings when I stumbled onto I-95, which isn't particularly close to where I live but does give me a way to get there.  Attempts to study or prepare for a presentation in class this week were as pointless as bailing buckets on the Titanic.  Again, about the only other constructive thing that happened Thursday was more time with the guest cat.

Today was...meh.

Physical therapy this morning (oh, did I mention I'm also being treated for carpal-tunnel syndrome right now?  And me typing this oversized entry with my braces nowhere in sight.  Idiot), then lunch with my wife as a chance to talk things through a little more.  I think she understands, a little, why I'm still inclined to postpone surgery.  I don't expect her to understand fully.  There's still some hope, with a stent inserted (every male reading this should take a moment now to uncross your legs and recover from your wincing), the kidney issue may relieve itself and perhaps allow for some non-surgical options to be explored.  I am playing that low-percentage chance, against the risk that if it's a tumor it decides to spread widely between now and then (also a low-percentage chance; the highest percentage chance is...nothing changes and I get cut open in February).  Then class this afternoon, the in-class component to the internship, where I displayed the snarky, cynical side I usually try not to unleash around campus. On the other hand, a nice dinner out (thanks for the gift cards, in-laws) did help break the funk, if only a little.  And now, this blog entry.

So, there is my week.  Judge it as you wish.  Tomorrow is a busy day, representing my internship organization at the local presbytery meeting.  Church Sunday morning, another good anthem, though not quite as good as the Stanford.  Unless something changes my mind, I call the surgeon Monday morning and report that I'm choosing the wait-three-months option.  Classes on Monday, including the presentation I still need to get together.  Internship on Tuesday.  What should be an interesting chapel on Wednesday, and then finally get on a plane Wednesday night for a much-needed fall break vacation at my wife's favorite place in the world.  She will be happy and that will make me happy, at least for a few days.

Then back to it.  Whether I'll ever graduate from here.  Whether I'll ever be healthy enough to graduate, or to be called to a church or any other kind of vocation for which I might have been preparing here, or whether I'll ever be able to do any damn thing besides add to that Death Star of medical debt that is already beyond what I'll ever be able to pay off even if everything breaks right (and yes, this is after insurance, such as it is).  Whether, in other words, this fool's errand was in the end even more foolish and pointless than I could have ever imagined.

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