Looking Back Part 2

 Looking Back Part 2 

Clips from a summer journal

 July 2, 2010

Chemo side-effects:





Hiccups throughout day

Wednesday evening (11 p.m.)

Michael is still constipated.  We drive to CVS to pick-up Milk of Magnesia, Miralex, a cup of black coffee from McDonald’s, and some prune juice, not from concentrate. These are the ingredients from an old-fashioned hospital cocktail. (Guaranteed results within 30 minutes)

 11:35 p.m.

Michael yells a “thank you” from the upstairs bathroom. “I’m relieved.”

July 8, 2010

I use my journal as a distraction—letting it take me away from my problems by cultivating a quality of absorption. Holding my pen as I did when I learned to write, wrapping my second and third finger tightly around it as if the mere force of my hand could alleviate all that was happening in my life. And then, focusing on anyone in my direct line of vision who could take away my dismal thoughts and allow me to drift off in a long-winded narrative about strangers I’ll probably never see again.


I’m sitting with my husband in the waiting room. The appointment with his oncologist is for 2:15 p.m. It’s now 2:30. I left my office to sit in on the consultation, hoping the doctor will answer some of my questions concerning last week’s onset of particularly heavy side effects.

 A man sitting across from me who looks nine months pregnant or with an oversized belly resting on his upper thighs, or with a fisherman’s hat tucked over his brown hair and wearing a shirt with bulging buttons hiding an oversized abdominal girth, or with a kind rounded face, eyes the color of rich Maplewood, and a hearty laugh that makes his belly jostle, or with a diamond stud earring in his left pierced ear, a keychain hanging from his shirt pocket spelling out the word “DAD. “


 Aug. 9, 2010

Our life now revolves around doctor’s appointments, tests and “the next step.” Our appointment with the oncologist is for 1:15 p.m. The office is empty, except for us. A receptionist giggles behind glass windows. Laughing seems out of place to me, no matter where it occurs.  

It’s strange to see no other cancer patients, but I’m sure it’s just temporary.  At this point, the waiting room is unidentifiable as to its specialty.

Three Hispanic ladies enter; an elderly woman with long, gray hair nicely pulled back with a silver buckled barrette. She is thin in stature with bruises and open sores on both legs. An ACE wrap is around her right calf and her feet are crossed as she wraps her right forefinger around her left middle finger as if she’s holding tight to a part of herself—hanging on to something that may not change, might not alter in what is expected of it, something that might stay routine and intact. She yawns as she picks up a Reader’s Digest to thumb through while she waits. She’s trying to clear her mind with words. She closes the magazine in less than a minute, unable to concentrate on other opinions, on strangers writing words who have no idea what she is going through.

My husband holds two pieces of paper; one is a list of his current drugs and a paper with neatly typed questions for the doctor.

Two drug venders enter the waiting room through an inner office door. They are dressed in dark suits and talk in soft voices as they peddle their drug samples hidden in small black and tan briefcases.  

 Aug. 27, 2010

My husband lies on a hospital bed in our guest room with his mouth open, a perfect circle, as he moves air in and out of his lungs. I stare at him while he sleeps, noting how pale and thin his face looks. A white sheet covers him from his feet up to his neck. I notice the telltale subtle signs of death—small revelations that come to mind whenever I study him.



Grief has no distance. It comes in waves, sudden apprehensions that weaken the knees and blind the eyes, and obliterate the dailiness of life. The waves last from twenty minutes to an hour at a time, a feeling of tightness in the throat, a need for sighing, an empty feeling in the abdomen, and an intense feeling of distress.    

Sept. 15, 2010

I’ve been negligent in my journal writing. So much has occurred over the last few weeks—enlarged tumor in the spine, a fracture to the right femur, surgery and oops, I almost forgot, a pneumonia and bronchitis preceded all the above. Oh, and we are now officially involved with hospice nursing care.

Michael now walks with the help of a walker.

Swollen feet, right over left.

Three-plus pitting edema. An increase amount of pain to right shoulder, bilateral legs, lower back, knees and lateral leg area. 

An increase in pain meds have been suggested and so far the results are excellent.

Michael says, “I feel the pain underneath. It’s like it’s there, but muffled.”

Hospice is now involved. My life is in crisis mode. It feels as if my shoulders are laden with an enormous weight which keeps on growing. Last night Michael picked up one of the hospice booklets entitled, “On Your Own Terms.”

He read an excerpt from WHAT WILL KEEP ME GOING, which asked the reader to list their three greatest strengths. With a blue ball point pen, Michael writes:

1. Medical Knowledge

2. Caring

3. Resilience

Just the fact that Michael wrote them down gives me the strength I need to go on

About TRatner

Terry Ratner is a freelance writer, registered nurse, and writing instructor in Phoenix, Arizona. In June of 2004, she graduated with a Master of Fine Arts degree in creative nonfiction from Antioch University, Los Angeles. Writing has always served a purpose in her life, but it wasn't until her son died in a motorcycle accident in March, 1999, that she began to publish her works. What's unique about Terry is the way she balances the life of a nurse with the life of a writer. "Nursing allows me to give back to the community and then write about those experiences." Ratner teaches creative writing in a variety of settings from community colleges to a school for homeless children (Thomas J. Pappas) to wellness communities throughout the Valley of the Sun. In 2004, Terry launched an Arts and Healing program for children undergoing dialysis at Banner Good Samaritan Medical Center. She has published numerous personal essays, cover stories, interviews, and book reviews for a variety of national and regional publications. Her manuscript, a work in progress, features a series of twelve essays, ten of which are introduced with black and white photos, dealing with issues of family and identity.
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2 Responses to Looking Back Part 2

  1. Linda Gomez says:

    Today is two years today I lost my husband Ron of 31 years . Trying to move forward is harder than you think. It will take a life time to forget him. I say I am ready to dream again, but we will see.

  2. Connie Forbister says:

    It’s almost two years since your love left you. I just got through my second year. It doesn’t seem to get easier but I find myself improving in handling the pain. I think this anniversary was worse than last year. I think about you often. I like your honesty. It’s hard to say the things you say but I know it is healing to get it out. I hope you are well. Connie

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