Wednesday, May 25, 2011

A Scene from the Chemo Room

Whoever laid out the chemotherapy room at Howard Community Oncology Center knew what he was doing. It is shaped like a giant C. The nurses are in the open part of the letter, while the patients are facing them in an arc. Every cubical has a leather, cream-colored recliner, always stocked with a fresh white pillow. Each chair has a TV, although I have never noticed anyone watching. All chairs are surrounded by A privacy curtain surrounds all the chairs, and warm blankets appear upon request.

As you might guess, it is a pretty serious place. You do not end up there because you are healthy. You are there because you are sick…really sick…dying-kind-of-sick. Most of the patients are not talkative, except to their nurses, who are always upbeat and quick with a warm smile or pat on the shoulder. These nurses (angels, in my view) do an amazing job of trying to help you bear the unbearable.

I have learned to arrive at 8:00 am. No one is there but me, usually. Cancer patients are late sleepers, I guess. I like to get in there and get out. I hate to admit it, but the place depresses me and looking at people who are even sicker than I am depresses me more, because I know that is where I am headed. It is best for my psychological health to get in and out quickly.

A few weeks ago I was plugged in getting my weekly poison, when a very frail- looking older gentleman walked by me. He stopped and asked if I was Mike Bolinger and didn't I used to swim everyday at noon at the YMCA. I replied affirmatively and asked his name.

"My name is Albert Buchanon and I used to work out at the Y," he said, "until I got sick."

On that particular day, I had brought my guitar with me to pass the time of the therapy. Albert eyed it and asked, "Do you play the guitar?"

"A little bit," I replied.

"I can sing," said Albert. "Do you ever accompany singers?"

"I play in the band occasionally at Oakbrook Church," I said. "I do a lot of that."

Albert's nurse called to him for his chemo to begin and so we ended the conversation that day.

Two weeks later, Albert walked by again as I was plugged in. "Do you mind if I ask you a question?" he asked.

"Not at all. What's on your mind?"

"You are a Christian, right?" he asked.

"I prefer the term Believer, but yes, I am," I responded.

"Well, I can sing. I have a lovely voice, you know?" He then paused. "Do you think they will let me sing in the choir in Heaven? There are going to be some pretty good singers there, you know."

What a question.

How would you have answered Albert's question? Think of the theological implications? Does Heaven exist, or is it a myth? Who will be there? Who will not? Will there be music? Or not? It would have been easy to say I did not have the faintest idea. Or refer him to a pastor, who might know. Or ask him if I looked like God; ask Him. There were a lot of possibilities and then the answer came to me.

"Albert, I do not know much about Heaven, but I know this. There is lots of music there. This is because God created music and He loves it. Particularly if it is praising Him. What could praise Him better than a choir? So I know there will be a choir. I do not think that you might sing in the choir. I know for a fact you will. I am certain of it. Why else would God have given you your voice?"

"You really think so, Mike?" he asked.

"No, Albert. I don't think so, I know so. And you know what else? You will get a solo part, too."

"I do not know if I could do that. A solo in the choir in Heaven? Wow!"

"Well, look at it this way, Albert. You will have eternity to practice. I'll bet you get pretty good in that time."

Albert beamed and went to get plugged in.


Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Chemo Eight

After a week off, out of sequence, Mike went back to the oncology department on Monday and the angels plugged him full of poison.

He came bearing gifts: his newest projects are wooden boxes.

(That sentence doesn't do them justice. Photos soon.)

Anyway, the doctors and nurses and technicians continue monitoring his cells: white, red, and 'other.' They are still not pleased with the numbers. Next week, Mike will meet with his doctor to discuss 'getting back on schedule.'

One discovery: Mike has returned to the Y and his swimming. You know, for some people, (like me) stroking the length of a pool -- back and forth, back and forth, back and forth -- would be nothing more than exercise that gets your hair all messed up. For Mike, it is most healing. He finds that as he stretches out, the discomfort in his middle eases. As he is a fit guy, working his muscles feels good.

His doctor might advise him against the public pool -- all those germs coming at the low-white-count guy. Or his doctor might say, as she does so often, "You need to enjoy your life."

We've chosen the later.

On the high school front, we are on final approach. Next week, we have three days of classes and then two days of exams. Exam days find me shuffling paper: the pressure shifts to them. I sense that my students are ready for the school year to end. Their English teacher is worn out, too. Summer vacation is just ahead.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

St. Wignet, Healer of Cats

I recently posted a blog entry about my remarkable sister, Lisa, known also as The Wignet. I spent several weeks thinking about the stories about her that I wanted to include in the piece. Immediately after posting, I got several phone calls from friends who informed me that I had left out the best story of all. I hate to admit it, but they were right.

So, here is the best story of all on the Wignet. Before you go on, let me say that those of delicate religious sensibilities, particularly Catholics, had best read no further. I figure the Lord knows when I am joking and He likes a funny story, too. Here's what happened.

It was the beginning of winter on Winona Lake. The Hobstetter's, who summer in the house next to my sister's house, had closed it up for the winter. My sister noticed that an unnamed, stray cat had taken up residence in one of the concrete window boxes around a basement window in the Hobstetter's house. Lisa immediately began to feed the cat daily. She also put old rags and dried leaves in the window box to keep the cat warm.

Try as she might, Wignet could not befriend the cat, who refused to have anything to do with humans.

One day after school, Wignet's youngest son, Isaac, ran in the back door and shouted that the stray cat had been hit by a car and was lying dead in the street a block away. Lisa quickly asked him to take her to the cat to get the body out of the street. As we all know, there is a certain demented part of the population that takes delight in running over cats, be they dead or not.

Isaac and Wignet arrived at the scene and, sure enough, the cat was lying in the middle of the street. Wignet told Isaac to run and get his brother, Caleb, who was to bring a snow shovel. Isaac was told to get an old piece of carpet out of Hobstetter's trash barrel and bring it back, while Wignet would stand watch over the cat-corpse.

Isaac and Caleb arrived shortly and Wignet told them that she would lift the cat up, so Caleb could scoop it up with the snow shovel into the carpet held by Isaac. They would then bury the animal.

Wignet approached the cat, stooped down and started to pick it up by the tail. At which time the cat opened its eyes, let out a blood curdling howl, lept to its feet and ran off between the houses, apparently thoroughly irritated that humans had messed with it. Wignet, Caleb and Isaac stood there shocked and speechless at what had just happened.

After a few seconds, Isaac said, "Unbelievable! Mom healed the dead cat!"

Wignet immediately said, "I did not. The cat was simply knocked unconscious and it regained consciousness. I did not heal the cat!"

Caleb stood silently for a moment and then said, "You didn't heal the cat. You brought it back to life just by touching it with your hand. That is really cool, Mom!"

Wignet said, "I did no such thing. The cat wasn't dead, at all."

Caleb said, "All I have to say is that cat was deader than a doornail, you reached down and touched it with your hand and it came back to life. I was here and I saw it. That is my story and I'm sticking to it. You resurrected the cat."

You can imagine how fast this story shot through the neighborhood and the family. When I heard the story a few days later, I called Wignet to tell her I had heard about it. She moaned that she was never going to live this down and the story seemed to have a life of its own. I asked her to tell me what happened. I then told her that was not at all the story I heard.

Wignet groaned and asked, "What did you hear?"

"Well, "I said, "I heard the cat was not quite dead, but was badly injured and dying. I heard that in the cat's last effort to live, it reached up with its paw and touched the hem of your jeans and that is when it was healed instantly."

"You are disgusting, Michael; God will get you for that!" said Wignet.

"Maybe so, but as I see it, you either resurrected the cat or you healed it, either way you are a Saint. By the way, that is what we are going to call you now: St. Wignet, Healer of Cats."

Lisa groaned.

"By the way, you ought to name the cat Lazarus," I said.

Wignet groaned again.

Mike out.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Chemo Eight

Well, not this week.

That nasty therapy is playing havoc with Mike's white blood cells. These, you remember from high school science, protect you when you contract a disease. Chemo kills bad cells but also kills some good cells.

Mike's doctor wants him to wait until at least next week, so he gets a week off THIS week.

He had hurt his back while riding back from the lake....motorcycle and bumpy road. And so he was blue. Then, a friend dropped by.

Friends dropping by: great gift!

Saturday, May 7, 2011


If you haven't tried it, I highly recommend GRANDPARENTING. It begins with a small bundle, wrapped and warm. You can just sit and stare at it (him or her) for hours. The bundle doesn't move; it doesn't talk; it doesn't really DO anything. Yet it is infinitely fascinating.

Then the bundle grows, smiles, turns over, crawls, stands, walks, runs, talks, hugs, and on and on. The BESTEST part is that you get to be a part of this child growing up yet you do not need to concern yourself with any of the important but oh so RESPONSIBLE parts, like nurtrition, schedules, church attendance, financial education, clean clothes, all that stuff.

The tough parts are when the children who are giving you grandchildren announce that in some part of their upbringing, THEY will be doing it better. And when you see that they ARE improving on your best parenting efforts.

We have two amazing grandchildren who live with their amazing Mother, our amazing daughter.

Here's Drew. He's almost 7 and today he's best dressed for the Texas heat. Already, they have days into the mid-90s. Soon, they'll consider such a day a reprieve from the heat.

Drew is almost finished with 1st grade. I'm sure that no one, no other first grader in the world, or universe even, has conquered his school work like Drew. He reads and writes; his arithmetic skills are superior; he opines on many a subject.

It's hard to pin him down on the phone but when do, he signs off with, "Bye, Gramma, I love you."

Here's Noah. He is NOT, here, bothering his big brother.

What a Texan. EEEEE-ha~

Oh, by the way, Noah just turned


(Note the sushi: requested birthday meal)

You may be grandparents. Or someday, you may get your chance. I know you'll enjoy it but let's face it, you'll not top THESE grandsons!

Thursday, May 5, 2011


This week, Mike’s date with the white leather chair was on Tuesday; Monday morning, he drove out to the hospital at 5:30 to “drink the lemonade.” This is part of the prep. for a high-contrast CT. He drove back for the tests at 9.

Dr. wanted to see if there was anything to see. Sooner or later, we expect that there will be something to see.

But not this week.

When Mike was tethered on Tuesday, his doctor pulled back the curtains, again with the big smile. Her report was that there is nothing to see.

What that means is that, right now, this cancer remains microscopic. The chemo regime is keeping the tumor at bay.

What that means is that the discomfort Mike has in his middle is NOT tumor. It may be the stent. It may be something else. But, you know? The pain has diminished considerably.

What that means is that Mike will get to play his guitar in church again.

What that means is that we can make that move north when the school year is done.

What that means is that Mike and his buddy might just take another trip to Deals Gap.

What that means is another anniversary. What that means is, possibly, another birthday bash.

What that means is that God is giving us more, more, more time.

What that means is that, once again, we are reminded that God is mighty; His timeline is not our timeline.

We are so blessed. Thank you for your continuing prayers.

Sunday, May 1, 2011


I see that I have goofed. Tour Part II will appear in the May Table of Contents. Part I, titled "Movin' on Up," is found at the end of April. Only one day for me but a change of month for you, gentle readers (we are wading through the Romantics right now at school.)

I hope you aren't confused. Anyway, to continue, here's a bit more to see at the Bolingers' Cottage. (Oh, by the way, how many people have asked me, English teacher, about the lack of punctuation in our blog's title? Many many many. Let me defer to an editor ('gentle editor') who set up the blog. I believe that apostrophes in a title might confused the cybermuse.)

As we continue our stroll, here is Mike's latest creation. He made this from a photograph; You can see details, I believe, somewhere in April.

And, as you may remember, Mike replaced all the cabinet fronts and remade the drawers in our cottage's kitchen. Our friend Frannie helped with colors and son Zach painted.

Me? My area of expertise involves cleaning out the refrigerator. Perhaps a tad less skillful but, let me tell you, we had neglected this for a long, long, long time.

I began by dumping out almost everything and then scrubbing, scrapping, and spraying all sorts of brightly colored chemical cleaners. (Daughter says, "You LOVE your chemicals, Mom.)

By the time I finished, I must say, it was pristine. I replaced only a few items so it looks like a proper bachelor frig: 3 cans of coke (in Indiana, this is generic) and two bottles of ketchup.

We DO go the the grocery store when visitors come.

So, now we'll turn, walk past all sorts of freshly-made Arts-n-Crafts creations, and hop up the stairs.

The stairway wall is papered with remnants of epic family vacations and a few odds and ends

Ivy stands guard. She's going to let us pass.

She thinks you may have some bacon.


Hmmmmmm...maybe later.

Besides our room, here's where the grandboys stay when they are at the lake. It's a nice dark blue room with really good shades so if you need a nap and the couch is taken, this is a great place to crash.

Last summer, we borrowed another bed for Allyson. It's in what we call "The Library," so guests will have a nice selection of reading material.

This room, by the way, is dark chocolate brown.

That's C H O C O L A T E.

We hope to spend a lot of the summer in and around our little place. And, you see, there's plenty of room.

Mike LOVES any excuse to go grocery shopping.

Wait! I hear the Cocktail Class Racer buzzing by.