Today I brought my husband, Richard, home after his surgery to remove that "beautiful" carcinoma that the surgeon spotted in his bladder back in April. Yesterday was a long and very rugged day, beginning at five minutes before five when the wake-up call jolted us upright so we could be at the Veterans Administration Medical Center at 5:45 a.m. for his seven o'clock surgery.
There's the first thing I'm thankful for: The surgeon thinks he got the entire tumor removed. He had to cut deeply into Richard's bladder wall to do it, so Richard has to have a catheter for a week. That is most definitely not a thing to be thankful for, but if the tumor's gone, it outweighs the rest.
The second thing I'm thankful for is the VA staff: Every single person we've dealt with there, from intake clerks and aides to pharmacists, residents, and surgeons, has been kind, caring and professional. They go out of their way to make sure things go well. They spend time listening and explaining. They are thoughtful. In short, this VA facility has created a culture of caring that pervades the whole place. What a blessing!
The rest of yesterday was not something to be thankful for. After Richard was discharged and I drove him back to our hotel and got him settled in, his pain got worse and he began having muscle spasms. His need for more medication sent me driving back across the city to the VA Pharmacy at rush hour, exhausted, and feeling just a wee bit sorry for myself. A woman vet about my age who was waiting in line in front of me asked what I was there for, and when I told her I was picking up medicine for my husband, who had just had surgery for bladder cancer, she said, "He's lucky to have you." Tears filled my eyes. "And I'm lucky to have him," I responded.
So there's the third thing I'm thankful for: Wisdom from a stranger that helped me remember what was most important when I was on the way to forgetting it. We're lucky to have each other--all of us are lucky to have each other.
The fourth thing I'm thankful for: Richard slept well last night and felt good enough today that I could drive him home over the mountains to our own quiet valley, something to be grateful for in itself, which makes the fifth thing.
The drive up and over three mountain passes restored my equilibrium, so that's the sixth thing I'm grateful for. Most of the way across South Park, Richard spotted two white pelicans, gliding wingtip to wingtip and looking very huge and prehistoric with their enormous wings, short necks and those long beaks with the fleshy pouches hanging beneath for scooping up their fishy catch. They were flying so close together that they were clearly a pair, and the sight filled me with love for the other half of my own pair, the man I fell in love with more than 25 years ago, and who was sitting in the passenger seat right next to me as we sped along. Those pelicans reminded me again to be thankful for the miracle of this love--there's the seventh thing!--and the partnership Richard and I nurture so carefully.
Once we unloaded the car and Richard settled in, I went outside and watered the kitchen garden, and felt myself relax in the company of the plants that feed us. As I breathed in the oxygen they breathe out, and I exhaled the carbon dioxide that's necessary for them to inhale, I realized that the company of plants is the eighth thing I feel grateful for. I picked a bowl of fresh sugar-snap peas, and a bowl of strawberries.
For dinner, Richard grilled himself a wild salmon steak, and I made him a salad of fresh-picked lettuce mix, dressed with olive oil infused with oranges and balsamic vinegar, and topped with whole steamed sugar-snap peas, feta cheese, and a few of those fresh strawberries. To accompany it, I sliced some of the bread he bakes with wild yeast and organic whole wheat flour.
That's the ninth thing I'm grateful for: The gift of good food, much of it local, from our very own soil. True, that succulent salmon flesh comes from the distant Pacific Ocean. But the garden we nurture which in turn nurtures us--and the bees and butterflies and swallows--sprouts from our own terroir, the landscape we love, drawing on the same sunlight that warms our flesh. The organic wheat that Richard coaxes into sculptural and delicious loaves is part of the community of our region, grown just over the mountains in the high and windswept expanses of the neighboring San Luis Valley.
As this long day ends, what I am most grateful for is the gift of Richard's life. May that particular blessing--the tenth in this particular list--continue for a long, long time.