Friday, August 3, 2012

Christmas, 2011

I spent Christmas Eve night with my sister's family as I have since Marshall was small, except for last year.  It was sad to be without John but fun to be back experiencing the excitement of that special morning.  The rest of the holiday was much as usual; time at my parents' opening gifts, and eating.  My thoughts frequently went back to last Christmas and John sitting in the recliner with the headband holding his bandage in place, snow, and an awful headache the next day.  Has it really been a year??

November 25, 2011 first Thanksgiving

The firsts without a loved one are tough.  And there are so many.  Thanksgiving would be an especially obvious John-void because he could put away some food.  And my mother can sure cook it.  This year, my sister's in-law family invited our family for lunch.  Again, it helped to celebrate a tradition in a new way rather than with one less chair around our usual table.  We had a fest and watched football and lay around for the afternoon.

October 24, 2011 Wally

A couple of days ago, Marshall went with me to the Humane Society to find a cat.  The house had become too still again and I should be done with trips for a while.  The lady told me about a cat adopted out by them as a kitten years ago and recently came back starved almost to death.  He was well enough to find a home again and would I be interested.  Marshall decided Wally had great potential.  I signed the papers and went back to pick him up today.  He's still gaining weight but is a handsome orange tabby who loves to cuddle.  Ah, the pitter patter of paws in the house once more.  And wonderful company to come home to.

September 14, 2011 COM memorial service

The second week in September, my friend, Curt, who teaches at the FSU College of Medicine, invited me to the cadaver memorial service at the school auditorium.  "Does this mean John is up to bat this semester?" I asked.  There was a peaceful pause on the other end.  Curt told me they worked on John over the summer.  They needed one more body at FSU and he was next up specifically for that school.  John made it to college barely under the wire.  How like him.  "I would be honored to attend," I said.

If there were any lingering doubts as to whether body donation was the way to go or not, they melted away after my time with the students from the classes of 2014 and 2015.  I've never been more sure of anything in my life.

Curt said there would be a parking spot reserved for me.  I parked in the circle and went in the building, after taking pictures of it, and told them who I was.  They immediately recognized my name, whispered to each other that I was there for the service, and if I'd follow the gentleman, he'd direct me where to park.  I felt like a celebrity.  

I waited in the lobby until Curt met me.  It's a beautiful facility.  Students set up a reception table with cupcakes and punch, and scurried around taking care of last minute details.  Curt introduced me to the man over the department, who used to work at the Anatomical Board.  I was thanked profusely for our donation and especially for being at the memorial.  

As the attendees entered the auditorium, they were handed a black rubber bracelet that read, "In loving memory of our first patients."  The magnitude of the whole evening was dawning on me.  I wore my bracelet proudly.  The program cover said, "In honor of those who graciously donated their bodies to our medical education," and a soft, pale pink rose centered on it.  Inside the program was a list of cadaver numbers assigned by the state, along with the cause of death and the name of the student who would talk about their experience with their study group.  It was easy to tell which number was John's because of the listing of glioblastoma.  After each student spoke, they placed a white rose in a vase.  By the time all 22 roses were combined, it made a lovely arrangement.  The girl representing John, as well as all the students, talked about the bonding that went on as their group worked on the bodies.   Curt told me of his first study group and how he still keeps up with at least one of them.  "You never forget it."

In the director's talk, he referenced a family member of one of their cadavers being in the service, and again, his thanks were overflowing.  It was pretty obvious who the family member was, as most in attendance were student and teachers.

When the service ended, Curt took me on a tour of the building.  It was amazing, especially to me, a medical-phobic.  By the time we made it back to the reception, most of the group had cleared out.  He introduced me to a couple of the students and we chatted about the specialties they want to pursue.  When they found out I was the family member representing one of the bodies, the thanks poured again.  Each spoke of the importance of this first semester of anatomy and the need for that "first patient" to work on.  I was impressed and came away confident in the future of medicine.

There was a group of four girls hanging back, watching, hesitant to approach.  Curt called  them over and amidst the introductions, said my husband was one of the bodies they worked on.  

"He had the THING on the side of his head," I told them.  They all nodded.  I told them a quick version of John's illness and why the tumor grew out like it did.  I urged them with questions, and their answers told me what I wondered.  One of the girls never found her voice in our conversation.  She was overcome with emotion to meet someone who made such a precious donation to their education, and teared up along with me.

When John's body arrived and they saw the tumor on his head, they had all the students look at it.  This is exactly what I wanted to happen.  I asked if any of them were interested in neuro, and they told me a couple of the second-year students were.  They worked on the back of the bodies, then extremities and abdomen.  One of the girls in the group I was talking to did John's abdomen.  The study groups rotated around to different bodies as they learn different parts of the anatomy.  

"But what about his head?" I kept asking.  They looked at each other and whispered, and looked to Curt.  He must have given the okay because one said they kept the brains and would be learning about them this semester.  I was thrilled and thanked them for telling me.  I'm sure my enthusiasm shocked them, but this is why we wanted to donate John's body; research, research, research that may keep someone else from dying from GBM one day.

The girls and I took pictures in front of the vase of roses and I adopted them in my heart.  I did quick mental calculations.  If they received John's body in June and it was returned in August, surely it wouldn't be but a few months at most before his ashes were returned to me.  Or do they wait for the remains of his brain from this semester?  

Seeing the gratitude of the students and teachers and the need for body donation in their education, I tell anyone considering this avenue to do it.  It is a lasting, far reaching gift.  I know it's rare for a family member to attend a "first patient" memorial service.  I count it an honor, and will remember it as one of the most amazing events in my life.

August, 2011 hair today, gone tomorrow

Three and a half years ago, I cut my hair and donated it to Locks of Love in memory of my bestest friend, Vickie, who died of lung cancer.  When we realized how sick John was and he shaved his head for surgeries, I decided to grow and donate my hair again.  I waited until after my trip west because I knew we'd be hiking and I wanted to be able to put it up.  My sister was all too happy to chop-chop the length and ship it off to be made into a wig for someone going through chemo or in need of the hair I could give.

It was another emotional, meaningful connection to John.  Everyone in the shop knew why I was there and were encouraging and supportive of my new look.  My plan is to grow and donate it again in a couple of years.  There are stipulations for donating hair.  If you are interested, check with your hair care professional.