Friday, March 22, 2013

The Cat Box 5K

What do you do when you just can’t sleep?  It’s Sunday morning.  PJ, Dorothy, and Annie will come later to watch the Super Bowl.  There’s no cooking because Michael has planned it all.  Everything tasty, but nothing excessively caloric.  Nothing creative for me to do.  I am unneeded, except to vacuum and dust.   Who is this me who hardly sleeps, can’t concentrate, and isn’t needed?   I’ve been awake since 4:30, random thoughts trickling in like gentle waves before a tsunami, lapping at my mind and eroding the chance of sleep.  The WELPA test at school.  Does the dog have an ear infection?   Taxes.   Then the worst: The, I can’t think about that and I shove it away.   I try to drift off but an hour later, I’m not drifting anywhere but toward the rocky shore of full waking.  If I lie in bed, then I might get pulled back to the hospital and I can’t face that again. Not now.

The only solution is to get up at once.   After flipping on the coffee maker and feeding the pets, I fetch the paper.  Reading the Sunday paper was once a pleasure.  Without Mark next to me, commenting on what Leonard Pitts had to say, asking if I wanted toast, and gently chiding me for mangling the front section before he had his turn at it, the big fat newspaper has lost its appeal.  Still, I’m a creature of habit.  (“I don’t know anybody more predictable than you”, he often said.) What news?  Boeing is a mess and I think of Mark saying that outsourcing would bite them.  Maybe it has.  I look over at his chair as if to say, “You were right.”   That poor kid in Alabama is still held hostage by the crazy guy.   Here’s something good: the skeleton of Richard III was discovered under a parking lot in England!  Finally, my kind of news.  The article is too short.  Note to self: Google Richard III.

6:15 a.m. and I decide that I need to run a 5K.  Like immediately.  I can’t be still; I’m a lioness looking for her lost mate.  This pacing must be tamed because it reminds me of another time.  Maybe if I exhaust myself, I will sleep tonight and I won’t think certain thoughts.

I throw together some low fat blueberry pancakes, slice a banana over them, spoon a dollop of yogurt atop, and I’m good to get ready for the big event.  Event, you are wondering?  Yes, I need something more than this feline restlessness to motivate and amuse me.  So I create my own personal event.

Go, Mom, Go!
My 5K will be run on the treadmill out in the garage, and it needs a name.  Garage 5K?  No, I’ve done that one before and nailed the victory.  Indoor 5K.  Blah.  Honda Accord Fun Run and Car Wash?   No plans to wash the car, so that’s out.   The two cats glare stonily at me, which gives me an idea.  It will be the Cat Box 5K Fun Run!   Thank you, kitties!   The cats will be the event sponsors and the dog will be my cheerleader.   As event sponsors they demand a name change to “You Fill the Food Dish Instantly Zero-K Cat Nap”, but I nix that.  “Listen beasts,” I say, “The CB5KFR it is!  No arguing and hissing.  Got it, monsters?”

The Land Orca's opinion
of the CB5KFR.
 I wag a recently manicured finger at them and leave to gear up in an optimistic mood. The entire field of competitors is comprised of me.  There is a good chance of winning something.

I get into my Halloweenish jogging gear: black compression capris, running lingerie, and the orange jersey from last year’s Get Your Rear in Gear.  I see the headline in an upcoming issue of Runner’s World:  A widow’s quest for fitness, fashion and a good night’s sleep! But what is she running from?  A good question, but I push it away, even though I know the answer. I hope that the blister on my left foot won’t fully bloom.  Yesterday’s dog walk on lumpy sidewalks must have planted the seed.   

 After posing for a pre-race photo in the Pink Bathroom, I grab my water, cell phone,and fully charged Ipod.  I need running music like a galley slave needs rowing rhythm, drummed out by a huge, sweaty, bald guy with sharpened teeth.  One downside: who
The entire field fits in
the Pink Bathroom.
knew that workout music can be sad?  Or that it even has lyrics?  “Sometimes I wake up by the door, that heart you caught must be waiting for you.  Even now when (you’re) over, I can’t help myself, I’m looking for you.”  Thanks a lot, Adele.  I’d better click over to Kung Fu Fighting, or Dancing Queen.

Full of carbs, geared up, and mentally ready to win and claim whatever prize there is, I step out onto the course.  It’s cold and I need my blue jogging jacket, but at least there isn’t a headwind yet.   The dog whines as I close the door on her.  The cats burst through the kitchen/garage door cat flap and swirl around.  “No, I’m not feeding you!  Begone, foul beasts!” I say to them.  Ooops, talking to cats again.  Nobody cheers, but I am not dismayed.  Isn’t there something about runners being solitary, lonely creatures?

Strong headwind!

After a brief warm up, I crank up the pace to 3.7 mph and then up to 4.  My plan is to average about 4 mph, with periods of 4.5, and some short bursts of 5 mph. I’ve been in training; it’s possible.  And I’m off!  After half a mile, the jacket comes off and the headwind kicks in.  It feels good to be moving.  Maybe I can come to the place where I am not thinking much at all.  Maybe I will not have to push back against the hospital images that try to seep into my mind.

The runner’s high: Is it real?  If so, that’s what I’m looking for.  No thought of mileage, pace, sweat, or effort, just moving along “in the zone”.  Whatever that may be.  Maybe there is a grief-free zone with no danger of emotional melt down.  It is possible to sob on the treadmill.  Once during a cool down, it sunk in that I had been looking at “Mark W Baxter”.  One of his old Boeing nameplates hangs on the garage wall where I can see it.  How often did I think, as I looked at it in those days of grace while he yet lived, that each step I took would add minutes to his dwindling life?   A grief counselor might call it the “bargaining” phase.  Not long ago, I was sweating and breathing hard.  I gasped aloud to him, “I’m doing it for me now.  Like you wanted me to do.”   Then I wept until the tears mingled with the sweat that trickled down the sides of my face.  I almost heard him say, “You dainty thing, you never sweat!  Ladies just get dewy, right?” and my reply, “Who says I’m a lady?”

Fun times turned upside down
White Maneki Neko
for happiness.  We
had it.
Time to slow down and take in the course view.  Our bikes hang neatly from the ceiling.  The white “maneki neko” bike horn that Mark found and installed on my handlebars: how I enjoyed honking it just to make him laugh.   I remember the miles we put in on local trails.  We enjoyed being together outside for fun instead of yard work at our house or my mother’s.   We worked hard to earn the nerve to wear spandex bike shorts and cyclists’ sleek sunglasses!  Mark could move when he clipped in with his bike shoes.  He had great stamina but he hung back for me.  The more miles we rode, the faster I got, until we could ride side by side.  The last time we rode, a young boy swerved into me.  I sideswiped a cement walI, resulting in bruises and scrapes and tender, loving care from Mark.  Then, warm early autumn slipped into sloppy late fall and winter.  The following spring, he was sick and there would be no more cycling.  As late as fall 2010, he said he’d be able to ride again that coming spring.  I knew better.  How abruptly a pleasant memory of biking on a tender fall day veers into a crash landing on Planet Cancer and an imminent visit to room W426 in Overlake Hospital’s Lang Oncology Unit.  Quickly, I look away from the bikes and glance out the window.  The neighbors probably should consider a new roof soon.

I get my focus back on the run.  One mile to go!  I feel good: warm, regular breathing, heart rate elevated, but comfortable.  I can go for a long time.  Brain is calm and almost on cruise control. The iPod tempo is fast and I’m sure to finish in the top one.   The sponsors have given up and are probably asleep.  I’ve been lulled by the galley slave music to think only of moving the legs but now I hear Adele’s beautifully powerful voice, 

“Where you go I go, what you see I see.  
I know I’d never be me, 
without the security 
of your loving arms, 
keeping me from harm.  
Put your hand in my hand, 
and together we’ll stand. 
 Let the sky fall, when it crumbles, 
we will stand tall and face it all together.”   

The sky had been falling for years and we did stand hand in hand.  It crumbled on October 9th, 2011.   Adele has broken my sense of peace and calm. I hear voices behind me, voices that I have struggled to outpace for 16 months.  

My name is Whitney.  I’ll be taking care of you until 5 tonight.  Let’s see if we can make a dent in that nausea.  What’s your pain level on a scale of 10?   8?  Mrs. Baxter, when was the last time you ate?  You need to eat.

It’s the hospital memories, audio version, catching up to me.  I must outrun them; I can’t let them come alongside and swallow me up.  Not now.   I bump up the speed to over 5 mph so I have to focus on breathing and moving, but I can’t keep that up for long.  I have to drop back into the 4‘s.  The others are multiplying, gaining on me.  Gigi the oncology nurse practitioner is there now. So is the young tech who does vitals and is obviously keeping an eye on the soon to be widow who may be a possible cause for concern to the staff.  Will she fall apart, go crazy?  Later, Dr. Smith joins the crowd.  Even the guy running the floor cleaner that Mark called a hospital Zamboni, he’s there making that intrusive racket. 

Hear that?  He might have aspirated.  Oh, I don’t like this.  Let’s do an EKG, we don’t need to call Dr. Smith for that.   I can order it.  Is she sleeping?  Gina, we think he may have had a heart attack.  Do you have the Advance Directive with you?  Good, thanks.  OK, let’s get a naso-gastric tube in.  That should give him some comfort.  Ma’am, you should eat.  Here, an English muffin, eat it for me.  Just half?   Please try.  I won’t kid you; he’s critically ill; you should call the family.  Do you want me to tell him?  I can be blunt.  No, I’ll tell him  (that other me, the wife on the cusp of widowhood, is catching up now and Mark is there too).  I want to go are going home, but I can’t come with you yet.  You can go home, it’s okay, I promise to be okay, I’ll find a way to be happy until we can be together again.  I didn’t get to care for him long, but he seems like a very private man.  I think he needs you to leave.  You’ve said all you can say.  He can’t go until you leave.  It’s okay for you to go now.  She is talking to me like I am talking to Mark: it’s okay to go.  My life is ending too.  We’ll come and get you, after.


Sweat and tears mingle again.  You’d think that the despair and anguish of my time on Planet Cancer would have wrung all the moisture out of my body.  It should be a desert now, but apparently bodies have unlimited supplies of tears.  Grief is green; it can and does renew itself.  It’s all I can do to finish the 5K, but I do, plus another half mile.  The voices fade away, waiting for another time.  Why can’t I get them behind me for good?   Will I never outrun them?  Do I have to endure the tsunami time and time again?

Winner and sponsor of the
first ever Catbox 5K and Fun Run

One more voice.  It’s Patty, our oncology nurse.  She’s walking alongside me.   You can’t outrun grief.  You have to let it happen because sooner or later, it will happen no matter what you do.  Let it happen; let it out.  Again and again.   Let it heal you.  It’s alright.   You’re alright.   I  know, at first you were afraid, you were petrified.  You thought you couldn’t live without him by your side.  You’re not going to crumble, you’re not going to lay down and die......What’s this?  Patty is gone and Gloria Gaynor’s voice is in my earbuds, “I’ve got all my life to live, I’ve got all my love to give, I will survive!” 

Wiping the tears and sweat from my face, I step down from the treadmill, switch off the fan, and return to my reality of surviving the despair of the last seven years.  I win the CB5KFR, sweeping all age categories, and shattering records.  Maybe one day I will win the contest against grief and sorrow and become me again.

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