It All Began with Wheat Gluten: Part II

(Click here for It All Began With Wheat Gluten: Part I)

HDU_WheatGuten

The original bag of wheat gluten from Hook!

Hook loves to brag, “I almost didn’t get a second date!”

If it hadn’t been for the wheat gluten, he may not have. Neither Hook nor I were the common 20 to 30-year-olds when we met. I was 42 and Hook was 53.  His balding head was losing hair follicles by the dozen and my body was sprouting new follicles in places I do not care to describe. That we are opposites is no surprise to those who know us, but we are also alike in the most organic of ways, and that organic part began with wheat gluten.

The First Date

Allan spotted me on campus, our common place of work at the time, a few months after I’d started working at the university. He’d asked around and found out that one of his colleagues knew someone who knew someone who knew me. Around the same time, I’d been told by a friend of a friend that someone was making inquiries. Once I learned it was Dr. Hook doing the asking, I figured it was just a matter of time before he made his interest known. I waited but no Dr. Hook.

I’m sure a more liberal woman would have just picked up the phone and asked him out.  But I’m a closet conservative so I was going to need to invent a reason to contact him. The thing was, Allan taught traditional, undergraduate biology students while I career counseled working professional students mostly in graduate business programs. I counseled the occasional undergraduate student but rarely were they biology majors.  Then one day a colleague asked if I knew which employers were actively hiring biology students. That seemed a legitimate reason to pick up the phone and call Dr. Hook. I left a detailed voice mail explaining who I was, why I was calling, and when he had a moment would he please call me back.

Now, when I tell this story in person, I like to exaggerate and say that I had barely put the phone back in its cradle when Allan showed up on the threshold of my office door. Since I don’t want to embellish, let’s just say at least ten minutes passed between the time I left my voice mail message and what appeared to be a slightly winded Dr. Hook standing in the doorway of my campus office. He walked in, sat down, and propped his feet up on my desk and repeated back to me the question I’d asked on the voice mail. When I saw the side of his shoe on my desk, I couldn’t help but widen my eyes and smile with the thought, Who does this guy think he is?  He immediately started talking about biology-related employers which I paid no attention to until I remembered my made-up reason for calling him. I thought I’d better at least pretend to write down some of the things he was telling me. When we’d exhausted that part of the discussion, we started talking about (I no longer remember) and next thing I knew, I was asking him to give me three adjectives he would use to describe himself.

Allan did not like that question at all. I saw what could only be described as a smirk show up on his face as he looked me in the eyes and answered.

“Old, ornery, and obscene.”

I laughed out loud.  This guy is a hoot!  What I didn’t learn until months later is that Allan was annoyed at what he perceived to be “a marketing question.” It was a common question I asked of my graduate students as a way to pull from them what they believed to be their greatest strengths, in essence, how to market themselves to employers. Except, this guy in my office, this old, ornery, and obscene man with his feet propped up on my desk was not going to put up with ordinary questions from a commoner. But even my marketing question wasn’t enough to annoy him into forgetting what he came over to do and that was to ask me out on a date.

“So, do you want to get drinks sometime after work?” he asked.

Well, that seemed out of nowhere, but Allan was done with the conversation and wanted to move on to more important matters back in his office.

“Sure,” I said.

“When?” he asked.

Apparently, small talk was over. We agreed on a Friday in the future. We met, we had a drink, actually, I had two drinks – two pints of beer in fact — to kill the pain of our conversation which wasn’t an actual conversation but more my asking questions and Allan mumbling into his salad with his head bent over. This must be the old of old, ornery, and obscene. Halfway through the date, I decided I would not be going out with him again.  We didn’t have enough in common and whoever had shown up in my office a week and a half ago was not the same man who showed up for this date.

How to Get a Second Date

The day after, I received a looong email from Allan, the length of which he has never written to me again in the last five years. He thanked me for the date, said what a nice time he’d had and that he had stopped by the store to pick up a bag of wheat gluten and would I like him to drop it off at my office. What is he talking about?  Wheat gluten?  Then finally, Oh my God he remembered …

Somewhere between pint one and pint two, I’d asked Allan how to get rid of the dallisgrass weed in my yard. I’d read something about using an organic alternative like wheat gluten, and since he was a biologist, I figured he must know something about that sort of thing. I’d completely forgotten we’d even discussed weeds and gluten, so for him to remember then to actually follow-up and buy some wheat gluten was for me, quite impressive. I sat there thinking, Wow he was paying attention.

In the email, Allan said he’d drop the wheat gluten off at my office or if I wanted, I could stop by his house. He’s insane.  I am not going to his house. And then after I’d researched his address which he’d offered in the email, I realized, he’s only a mile from campus!  Since I was driving 45 miles round trip every day to work, and since I must have whined about this during our date, the good professor cleverly offered up his logistical attractiveness to our place of work.

To keep him from dropping into my office again, I mentioned something in my response email about meeting up at an art function the following weekend. He could bring the coveted wheat gluten then. Now why I didn’t just say I’d pick up the wheat gluten from his office, I’ll never know. Except, as I started to recall bits and pieces of that first evening, I remembered a part of our conversation that stumbled into the area of ‘what do men want?’

Allan said with clarity, “That’s simple.”

“It is?” I asked as I sat up to attention.

“Yes,” he said. “Men just want women to be happy.”

I remembered feeling disappointed with that answer; it seemed too simple. But as I typed out my response on the keyboard to his email, I couldn’t help thinking two things:  He listened — and — He’s trying to please me.  There was something genuine about the offer of wheat gluten, especially since he didn’t actually believe it would make the dallisgrass disappear. He’d bought me a bag anyway because it meant something to me.

When we met at the art function a week later, Allan seemed different, more relaxed somehow.  He told me later, “I was just so happy you agreed to a second date.”

“But it wasn’t a second date,” I said. “I just wanted the wheat gluten.”

“Yeah,” he said, “but I didn’t know that; to me, it was a second date.”

Well, it did end up being our second date because we stayed at the function for several hours looking at all the different artwork. He engaged in the conversation and we laughed a lot. I learned he was a wine drinker more so than beer which surprised me given his affinity to plaid shirts.  Allan saw bugs in all the abstract watercolors while I looked for people in the paintings. Even though I didn’t initially see insects in every piece of artwork, once Allan pointed out how to look at something differently, sometimes I could see them.

Afterwards, as he walked me to my car, I thought:  There’s depth to this man. Then as I turned to face him, he snuck in a lightening fast peck on my lips.

“Oh” was all I could think to say.

“Do you want to go on a nature walk tomorrow?” he asked.

“A nature walk …” I repeated, because I was a bit flustered. Did he just kiss me?

“There’s a place where I do some work,” Allan said. “I could take you on a nature walk there.”

The Nature Walk

No one had ever taken me on a nature walk before. I wasn’t even sure if I knew what a nature walk was, but I’d enjoyed myself at the art event so I agreed to meet him the next day at UT’s Brackenridge Field Lab. When I arrived that Sunday, Allan walked me inside the facility, showing me parts of the enormous insect collection full of pinned wasps and moths, butterflies and beetles. There was also a disturbingly large ant mound that gave me the heebie jeebies but which I found myself asking questions about. Then he led me over to the tropical butterfly tent which was a huge blue tarp draped over a greenhouse area with butterflies flying over our heads.

“Wow” was all I could think to say as I stared upwards with my mouth open watching all these colorful insects fluttering around and around. The tropical part of the butterfly tent was owed to the Costa Rican butterflies that were visiting. Allan said there were Texas butterflies, too, like the Zebra Longwing, the Tiger something and a bunch of other iridescent beauties. From the butterfly tent, we exited outside to a dirt trail where Allan pointed out grapevine and cypress and pecan trees and elms. Surely I’d walked by grapevine a thousand times in Austin but until that day, I’d never really seen it. My ignorance and obliviousness to nature astounded even me. Further along, he showed me a man-made pond full of squishy things that was being used for an ongoing study of more squishy things.

Halfway through our walk, we found a log and sat down side-by-side to share a large Honeycrisp apple. I took a bite then Allan took a bite then I took another bite and so on until the entire apple was gone. I felt shy all of a sudden and worried if I looked okay so close up. But Allan was so comfortable with himself that I started to feel perfectly fine, and I forgot to care whether my hair was too big (it usually was), or whether my forehead was too greasy (you could fry an egg on that thing), or if any apple bits had wedged in between my front teeth.

Our nature walk was on a late January afternoon which would normally be jacket weather. But that particular day, the winter air had warmed so Allan was dressed in blue jeans and tennis shoes and a white t-shirt with pictures of bugs on it. I was bundled up in worn khakis with a navy blue hooded sweatshirt assuming, I guess, that I was going to be mauled by biting insects or something. Allan had on his head a weathered white baseball cap with a blue flap which sat pushed back on top of his head. He carried a long stick in his left hand so that each time he described something to me, he could point to it with the stick.

We didn’t always walk together, sometimes I was trailing him. At one point, when he stopped to show me some cypress trees, he was positioned underneath a canopy of leaves from the live oaks on either side of the path. Their branches reached across the trail to touch one another. Allan stood facing me, smiling, waiting for me to catch up, and I couldn’t help thinking, He’s just a big kid and this is his playground.

Later as we continued to walk, he ran up to what looked like a circular bundle of dark green nothing hanging high from a branch. He poked it with his stick and said, “It’s mistletoe.”

“That’s not mistletoe,” I said as I laughed. I thought he was egging for another kiss except it really was mistletoe. For some ridiculous reason, I thought mistletoe started growing the day before Christmas Eve then died right after New Year’s Day.

“It is!” he said then he began to explain how mistletoe grows.

The more he talked, the more animated his face became, and I finally understood.  So this is who he is.  He was in his element, at his best, enthralled to be sharing this world of nature he obviously loved with someone who obviously understood so little of it.  He was thorough with his descriptions, generous in his sharing, and I began to fall in love with my future husband as he explained mistletoe to me.

Allan eventually gave me the bag of wheat gluten many dates later, but I’ve never been able to bring myself to use it.  I’ve been holding onto it, treasuring it I guess. When we were planning our wedding, I thought about dividing it up and placing it inside glass centerpieces for the tables, then realized that was too weird even for me.

But this is our story, how two incredibly opposite people came to be. My husband is not old but he is ornery and he is obscene and I love him.

Thank God for wheat gluten.

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It All Began with Wheat Gluten: Part I

 

 

Wedding_I do

Hook and me, June 7, 2009 @ Chapel Dulcinea. Matron of Honor, Mary Joy Guzman, and our Officiant, Dr. Bill Quinn.

Wheat gluten.  Not the most romantic offer a man can give a woman but if the man is Hook and the woman is me, it becomes a gift that leads to falling in love which leads to marriage which leads to caring for someone until they do not need your care anymore.

When Hook and I announced our engagement to my parents back in 2008, my mother said, “Only marry a man you’re willing to care for in sickness.”  That might sound ominous to some except my mother, like me, married a man who was older than her.  My father was 14 years my mother’s senior while Hook is 11 years my senior. Married men, on average, die before their wives.  Erma Bombeck said it was the only break women got.  The world laughed, I laughed, too, except I’m not laughing today.

My mother’s sage advice comes from living her wisdom because those words were spoken three years before my father, Lou, passed away in 2011.  So women, write my mother’s words down, share it with every female you know – young or old:

Only marry a man you’re willing to care for in sickness. – Anselma Guzman

I’ve put off writing this blog and you know I’ve been putting it off.  No matter how many times I blocked the words WRITE on my calendar, my fingers wouldn’t move over the keyboard.  To write, I would have to think, and to think meant I would have to feel. Feeling too much meant spending too much time curled up in a ball sobbing, and I could only afford to do that when Hook was resting in another room so he wouldn’t hear me.  I call it repressed crying; my mind calls it selective madness.

Hospice Austin & Hook’s Research

Under the oncologist’s advisement, Hook decided to stop chemotherapy treatment permanently in June because it was too debilitating to his system.  For the past three months, I have envisioned Hook standing in the middle of a road with chemotherapy headed toward him from one direction and cancer from the other.   Both were accelerating faster and faster with the same outcome expected regardless of which reached him first.

Stopping chemo meant moving into palliative care which some of you may know as hospice.  We’d been avoiding hospice out of fear.  If you’re like us, hospice meant preparing to die with no alternative but death.  Then, one of Hook’s friends lent us a wonderful book, The Best Care Possible, written by a palliative care doctor.  The book gave us a positive perspective on what to expect and how to embrace this type of care.  So far we’ve learned:

  • Some people “graduate” out of hospice.  People can and have lived far longer than the estimated six months under hospice care.  At the risk of sounding pessimistic, I know we will not graduate out of hospice.  It’s important for me to write this because it’s part of my acceptance and part of helping you to accept it, too.  I mention the ‘graduating out of’ because hospice is as much about hope as it is about dying.  There are other things we can graduate toward.
  • Palliative care usually reduces stress.  Hospice covers pain control and symptom management in the home.  This in-the-home care alleviates (most) trips to the hospital, doctors’ offices, pharmacies, medical supply stores, etcetera.  Less stress = a more productive Hook and more time for him to focus on completing his final pieces of scientific research which he attends to daily.  We’ve been trying to get to his university and to UT’s Brackenridge Field Lab, where Hook stores his bug samples, on a more regular basis.  He has been able to line up other scientific experts in the U.S. and abroad who are willing to take the research baton and carry on his work when he’s no longer able to do so.
  • Hospice means hope.  Hook and I are hopeful but realistic but hopeful.  The hope I hold in my heart today is different than the hope I harbored three months ago.  We’re living with hope that adapts to daily, sometimes hourly changes.  No matter what is staring us straight in the face, though, we still hope for the best outcome.  If you’re thinking where is hope in the face of death?  It’s in honoring the person who is dying by allowing them to live their life to the fullest regardless of how it affects you.  Honor and dignity are words that come up a lot with respect to dying.  I consider it an honor that I get to be the person who is with Hook at this stage in his life.  My flaws as a human are highlighted daily now, but in the light of my husband’s love, I find myself both a stronger and weaker person than I ever imagined.  When I am strong, it is for him.  When I am weak, I’m back in that curled up ball position, but I’m fully aware in a way I know I’ll never be again.  Hopeful but realistic but hopeful.
  • Intimacy is heightened.  Intimacy here is meant to describe the trust and faith two people hold between them, sometimes with words, sometimes in tears only.  We wrap ourselves in each other’s arms to ward off any assaulting anguish that descends upon us on any particular day.  Still, Hook and I share our desire for the remainder of the life we have left together.   How could we not?  In this, we build on top of plans still in place with an appreciation and fear of time, sidestepping emotional landmines or sometimes stepping right on them.  We know not everyone gets the chance we have been given – the chance to finish things, to say I love you, I’m sorry, I love you, I’m sorry I’m not a better cook.  (Hook says, “You mean a cook.”)  But even if we do not have more years together, we do have this — this flimsy gift of time not afforded to those who lose loved ones traumatically. Hook mumbles above my head that this experience is traumatic and I mumble into his chest, only because he’s so ornery.

Speaking of ornery and the real purpose of today’s blog was to share the story of how Hook and I began.  It’s a story that starts with a small bag of wheat gluten, but it’s too long to finish in one sitting.   I promise I didn’t intend a To Be Continued to torture you rather I suspect my ramblings in these blogs are torture enough.  Consider this break to Part II your chance to save your eyesight or to get away altogether . . .

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Timing is Everything

HDU_TimingIsEverything“I haven’t posted a blog in weeks,” I said as he sat down at the kitchen table.

“I know.”

“I don’t know what to say.” My words lingered in the air waiting for his reply.  With a hint of resignation in his voice and as he pushed himself up from the table to stand, he agreed with another, “I know.”

“If I say what’s really going on, people will worry.”

“I know.”

“What should I share?” I asked because not everything gets told in this blog.   We only ever share the basics.  Reality would be too much, too bare, too human.

“I don’t know,” he admitted with a sigh.

“Me either,” I replied, giving in to this business of not knowing what to say and when.  That’s why I haven’t blogged for a month because I didn’t want to lie but I didn’t want to tell the truth either.

Status Update

Will the Hooks make it to Australia isn’t really the question anymore.  Will Hook make it another year is probably more accurate.

That second question circles us constantly now.  Certainly, it questions us tonight or I should say this morning/afternoon because that conversation above didn’t happen today but last week.   That conversation happened because of the continuing weight loss followed by a continuing decline of hemoglobin in Hook’s system.  That conversation happened after Hook’s unexpected blood transfusion two weeks ago followed by the really unexpected second transfusion yesterday or two days ago depending on how accurate you want to be because I started writing this at 10:30 at night in St. David’s emergency room.  Then it was 4:30 in the morning when they wheeled Hook up to his hospital room but now it’s almost 1pm central standard time the next day or today, Saturday, April 13th 2013.

Before the second transfusion, we’d had a disagreement over whether Hook should continue with chemo treatments anymore.

“You won’t have to worry about dying from cancer because you’ll drop dead long before then from malnutrition.  Something is WRONG and we need to find out what it is and we need to STOP these chemo treatments until we know what’s wrong.” My shrill voice rose to meet the hysteria that had been hiding behind all those lingering questions in my mind.  Is he going to make it? Why is he declining?  What are we not doing right?

But back to the emergency room which turned into an overnight hospital stay and my contact lenses that dried out over four hours ago are stuck to dry eyeballs and my brain’s not functioning so great so it’s hard for me to know if I’m making any sense.

  • A blood clot has formed in Hook’s left leg and he’s been admitted so the clot can be thinned and dissolved with a non-invasive, minor procedure.  We’d noticed some swelling last night and it was our good fortune that Hook’s oncologist was the on-call doctor.   His oncologist, who only two days ago impressed upon Hook the necessity of calling him for even the slightest changes in his body, recommended the emergency room right away.
  • Things look okay so far.  Timing is everything.   If we had waited until this morning to call, who knows what would have happened.  Or, if it hadn’t been his oncologist’s on-call weekend and instead we’d gotten another doctor who didn’t know Hook’s history, we probably wouldn’t have been recommended to go to the emergency room.  Timing is everything.

I could have begun this blog with the announcement that Hook was back in the hospital but I needed to ease you into it, because I don’t want you to worry and because timing is everything.

I’ll post again tomorrow with what I know.

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The Great Hook Escape

HDU_HookHospitalpics

Hook’s Get Well cards. There were so many, I had to tape some to the window.

As I sit in the hospital cafeteria and dream of life outside the walls of St. David’s, my POW-stricken husband lies in his 5th floor room being poked, prodded, picked, and occasionally pampered.

With a hollowed, gaunt look of someone who has been starved and beaten, Hook’s recovery continues but his appetite struggles to rise above broth status.  His initial plunge into shrimp marinara proved too aggressive and his stomach beat back any hopes of resuming regular consumption of even the most basic of solid foods.   Like coming across a DETOUR sign on a side street and driving down roads never before taken, Hook’s internal system is learning how to maneuver new passages while trying to heal in the process.  Progress has been made but it is slow and arduous.

“Maybe you could just place the Cherrio on your tongue and let it sit there,” I suggest in a desperate attempt to get him to eat even a little bit more.

When I’ve exhausted that parental tactic, I switch to bribery, “If you eat one more spoonful, you can take a nice long nap.”   Knowing Hook has been deprived of a full night’s rest due to middle-of-the-night vital checks and oral pain medication, the promise of sleep is motivation enough for one more spoonful.

Release Date

Our hoped for Tuesday release came and went and now Friday the 21st will be the earliest we are released.   I say We because the closer a Go Home date approaches, the more nurses and technicians and nutritionists and dieticians and physical therapists and home health care personnel and doctors …have I left anyone out?…visit Hook’s room to prepare us for what to expect once we are on our own.   And slowly but surely his plastic appendages are being removed but one outie tube and one innie IV will remain attached when we finally exit these beige walls and the antiseptic smell of healing in progress.   Once home, we’ll entertain daily visits from a nurse and other home care professionals at least through the first week of January.

Since pampering is actually my job and not the nurses, it’s time for me to return to the room and resume my full duties.   But Hook and I have decided, if the surgeon doesn’t set his discharge for Friday, we’re breaking out and pleading insanity.

Regarding visitation, I’ve reverted back to surgery day status and have put on hold any in person visitation for the remainder of 2012.  Feel free to email and call Hook directly and this way he can respond as he feels able.

Friday or bust.

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