It is only 10 days a month.

Today another fine California Highway Patrol officer perished, this time at the hands of a drunk/impaired driver.

We have friends who are family with this outstanding young man. Only one year and four months on the job, gone in the blink of an eye due to the selfishness of another’s actions.

In my city we (the fire department) work hand in hand with our CHP officers. We hold great respect for these men and women and working together we create a safer place when juggling the very dangerous world of our Interstate system. Although our jobs are different yet in some cases strangely the same.

I cannot tell you how many times I have been terrified while working on the freeway. How many times we have almost been hit or had drivers veer our way. I personally have had an individual swerve purposefully at me with the intent to strike me with his vehicle.

Two weeks ago a CDF Fire Engineer was killed while working the Thomas fire. Although no real details have been released, I did read he perished from burns and smoke inhalation. Another fine young firefighter gone to soon.

We (the fire service) give up so much in our jobs and we are proud to be given the chance to perform the tasks for which we work so hard to perfect. But one firefighter killed, just as having one officer killed is one to many.

I wrote this post two weeks ago and it is all I can think about at 1 am this day after Christmas. A Christmas neither one of these fine young men were able to spend with their wives, their children, their parents or their friends.

Rest in Peace Officer Andrew Camilleri, thank you for your service.

Rest in Peace Fire Engineer Cory Iverson, thank you for your service.

It is only 10 days

They say it is only 10 days and what a cushy job we must have; while everyone else is working we must be relaxing, doing what we want while leading a life of luxury with such a grandiose forgiving schedule. Ten whole days, ten easy, lazy days a month?

Man I need a cushy gig like that! Yeah that’s what they say.

It sounds simple enough, the life of a firefighter. I personally have been one since 1995. When you say it out loud 10 days a month really does come across as a dream job of employment, and to some degree it can be. Yet the reality is, 10 days a month can lead to 50 years (30 working + hopefully 20 retired) of heartache, injury and despair.

Our schedule is a nifty one and it has changed a few times over the years. From days Mon-Fri 0800-1700, to a Kelly schedule format which consists of one day on (24 hours) and one day off (24 hours) for three shifts then four days off (96 hours), to the current scheduling of 48 hours on and 96 hours off that most departments (at least on the west coast) use today.

When I became a full time firefighter it felt as though my world had screeched to a complete halt. You see my previous work schedule consisted of 6 days a week and anywhere from 12-14 hours a day. My job was laborious and I was paid by percentage for materials moved so although I could have worked 5 days a week at 8 hours a day I was in fact a hustler. If you even hinted there was more money to be earned I would hustle for it, it was who I was and I enjoyed it every time I opened my paycheck to reap the benefit. Being a hustler is a part of me the fire service completely stifled as I never found a direction within the wide array of specialties we provide that kept the hustler feeling alive.

That was me, and it was a long time ago, yet I fully understand it is the same schedule of many hardworking Americans today. But the reality is most means of employment consist of an 8-10 hour a day schedule or a 40+ hour work week. A person is paid for the hours put in on the job and provided overtime for anything over those 40 hours. Hopefully being paid accordingly for the effort.

So why does it bug me when someone gives me shit for supposedly “only” working 10 days a month?

Why do my hackles stand up the minute I detect that smart-alecky you have it so lucky, you must work several jobs because you have life so easy type attitude?

You know I do work ten days a month, 10/24 hour shifts which never by the way work out to those cakey 10 days a month. You see we firefighters are always working extra, which I don’t mind, in fact one of the requirements for being a firefighter is you possess that type A personality which consists of always being a problem solver while continually taking the lead in any situation.

Example: We don’t just put the fire out, we stay behind no matter how long it takes to ensure the building is safe, you are safe, you have what you need, your neighbors are ok, hell we have even taken the family pets back to the firehouse and cared for them until arrangements are made! It is just is who we are! Helpers!! But let’s make sure we have our facts straight before running our mouths and tripping over our tongues shall we? There is really nothing easy about anything we do, we do it well, we do it right, and it doesn’t matter how long it takes, as long as it done with heart, conviction and compassion. Also let me clarify when I say working extra. Working extra comes in all shapes and sizes, from mandatory hold overs, shift trades, extended incidents, sick leave/vacation coverage, mandatory training, or recalls for large incidents. Plus we are consistently understaffed so you can see how quickly 10 days grows to 12, 14, or 16 days away from home serving the citizens we swore to protect! That’s half a month away from our families. Half a month away from watching our children participate in life, half a month during which time our significant others become single parents.

As I previously stated ten days a month is our base, this equates to a 56 hour work week on average. Sometimes it is much more, other times it is a few hours less. So right out of the gate we are already above the 40 hour work week. Now let me say right here, no complaints on our part at all, it is what we signed up for and trust me when I say there is a LONG line of qualified individuals waiting to step into any vacated position!

But whenever someone whines to me about how cushy my job is with this luxurious 10 day a month work schedule it bears truth to remind them of the pleasantries a 40 hour work week affords them personally. That’s right pal you get up in the morning after sleeping alongside that super special someone every night, grab some coffee, kiss the kids, pet the dog and head off to work. Then after putting in 8-10 hours at the old job, you can go home, or to the bar, or an adult league softball game, or bowling or to your kids school play or, or, or, or this could go on indefinite. Every night upon arriving home if you so choose its dinner with the family, spending time with other loved ones, working on that project in the garage, watching late night television and then going to sleep again next to that super special someone to do it all over. Wash, rinse, repeat. Pretty sweet right?

Here is my work week or 2.5 days that I work.

I get up in the morning, kiss my wife/kids goodbye and pray I see them in two days. I know this sounds overly dramatic but it is without a shadow of a doubt a truth you can only understand after dealing with the public and emergency responses over any period of time. There are so many things/close calls that have happened to me personally over the years I will never tell my wife about because if I did, even though she knows the job and understands, she would never let me walk out the door again. EVER!!!!

Arriving at work, I get a cup of coffee and go over the morning shift exchange between ongoing and off going members. This is followed by a shift meeting covering our agenda or expectations for the next two days. PT time is observed and then it is straight into morning chores which consist of station and equipment maintenance. The afternoon usually has training either in classroom, outside or online along with specialty projects and of course reports generated from emergency responses. Reports document the entire sum of all responses for city, and county wide statistics, insurance and homeowner or patient investigations. This sometimes goes into the early hours of the night depending on call volume or deadlines needing to be met. We have dinner as a group and head off into our own directions. Some take a little personal time as in read or study for the next phase in their career, while others may workout some more or as in my case write. Many take a deep breath and head nose deep back into station related work projects. Heading off to bed, hopefully to sleep (I know right? How awesome I get to freaking sleep on the job!), we wake up the next morning and do it all over again. After the required shift exchange we go home where the first day is usually kept open for clearing our heads while catching up on lost sleep. The second thru fourth day is trying our hardest to spend time with family and then in a blink it is back to work we go.

It all sounds easy right? Pretty darn cushy. Except for one thing. We handle emergency calls through it all. When the bell goes off we respond and we need to do so in under 2 minutes, no matter the time, day or night. That bell, that loud clanging bell knows no time limit or has a lick of sympathy because it is merely sounding an alarm to another’s tragedy. Tragedies also hold no time limit. They happen day or night, rain or shine, wind or calm. When it sounds we know no matter what kind of day we are having and regardless of how tired or worn down we may be it is our duty to respond to someone else’s worst day of their lives! Not only respond but always, and I mean always be on our A game! Plus we get the distinct and amazing pleasure of retaining every single horrible thing we have ever seen or done while performing that job! We carry it around like a suitcase full of horrors and that suitcase is always banging, shaking, live with action, gruesome action, reminding us constantly that we were there! What’s inside that suitcase wants to come out so badly and there are days it does and on those days it seeps into the presence of others it is always at the wrong time, the wrong moment leaving you drained while those around you are wondering what the fuck! Can you feel a bit of pressure there?

So let me break this down, yeah, break it on down now!

What that means is during my supposedly cushy ten days a month, I work, train, eat, run calls, fight the eternal, emotional nightmares, and oh if I’m lucky and it’s a good shift, I may get 5 full hours of sleep.

Yeah good times.

So let’s talk a little more about the mental aspect now that we have covered the basics of ten days a month.

When I started the chief told our graduating class: Cadets, you are going to see some things out there, some really horrible things.

Yep that was it.

We all laughed because we were larger than life, we had graduated, becoming probationary firefighters which meant we were now somehow invincible, indestructible and we’d fully bought into the bullshit associated with wearing a fire department shirt. Please understand I don’t mean that disrespectfully at all. The day I pulled that fire department job shirt over my head for the first time was one of the proudest moments of my life. It was a defining moment, an accumulation of hard work and drive, succeeding when others told me repeatedly I was too old to try or I would definitely fail. It also comes to note that I fully loved the career field I came from, but I always knew deep inside there was more, that I was supposed to do more, not for me, but for others. It gnawed at me day and night from the inside so when firefighting found me I knew it was what I needed to do.

It was difficult too for as I stated I had an established career, I owned a home and had a wife and child. To leave that security behind on the slimmest of chances one day I may get hired was a tough pill for my family to swallow. But they did, they trusted me and stood behind me all the way! All because I knew inside there was more. It’s why I get a little miffed when I see our shirts on non-fire personnel. It was the hardest garment to obtain because it meant you survived, you made it, and you wanted it that bad. You simply had to earn it.

I digress

We laughed, thought there was nothing we couldn’t handle and for a while it was surreal. Looking at your first dead person is overwhelming to say the least. Now throw in a side of body deformation, evulsion, amputation, violent drug overdose, murder, self-inflicted suicide by any means. Heck let’s play the old adage of children are the hardest. To me children are indeed the hardest, but it’s not because they are dead. Nope death is an end, they don’t know it or feel it, and the ones who suffer are those left behind. It sucks for someone so young because they never had a chance at life and that is a sad depressing thought, but for me children suck and stay with you forever when they are the living.

Mom has an overdose for the third or fourth time and said child walks in to witness us performing CPR to no avail. 5 year old in the back seat screaming for mommy who is clearly nothing more than a blood smear across the entire front seat, never coming back, never able to hold her child again. Son comes home from school to find dad slumped over the corner of the bed with half his head gone from self-inflicted shotgun blast, bits of skull and dura matter cover the wall and ceiling like bloody popcorn. We arrive to an insane scene filled with screaming and hysterics, mommy or daddy aren’t coming back and a child’s psyche is destroyed for life. Yeah the living children always get me. It’s the father in me, I want so badly to take them home, hug them, help them anyway I can and it is always without fail a very quiet engine ride back to the station.

But wait there is more…

There is no place in this damn town I can go without seeing ghosts. Every place, even some of my absolute favorites have ghosts standing around, looking at me, and asking me why?

Why couldn’t we do anything or how did this happen? They tower like billboards flashing a message that blinds me, leaves me seeing only white as repeatedly I flash back to a moment, that second in time where we either tried like hell or made base contact and called it as we saw it. D.O.A. Another father, son, mother, daughter, aunt, uncle, grandfather, grandmother etc.. gone way to soon.

A man overcome with fumes in a grain silo that no one could get too. Another steps in front of a train and faces it with a hardened resolve, we picked up pieces for what felt like hours. A car full of teenagers, flipping over in the night, their burned bodies found when the fog lifted in the morning. The smell of burned flesh, young, old, that smell, it doesn’t discriminate and it never goes away. We pulled those kids out for the coroner, one piece at a time, one badly burned smelling piece at a time. A teenager hung in the garage, with obvious signs he changed his mind to no avail, he was a victim of love gone wrong. Another teenager who shot themselves because that person was tired of being bullied, thinking a bullet was better than another day at the hands of his tormentors. A former law enforcement officer kills himself in front of us as we turn the corner because he couldn’t stand the pain any longer. I can never erase the image of red spray exiting the top of his head. Domestic abuse where a patient is terrified to have you help them simply because of your gender or look. Where it is all you can do to remain professional as anger seethes deep below the surface while you bandage up the knuckles of one’s attacker. CPR attempts, oh lord the CPR attempts, so many, more than I can count, and to be honest there have been so many that I can’t even put a win to loss ratio on them anymore and yes we do take it quite personally when we lose!

These are merely a few, a tidbit, the smallest of snippets regarding calls I have been associated with over the years. Many so very graphic and disturbing. We as firefighters get the distinct pleasure of bearing witness to the most horrendous acts one person can inflict upon another or themselves.

I think back to what the chief told us, what I stated above: You are going to see some things out there, some really horrible things.

He was right and in his defense it was a very different time. We firefighters were expected to be tough, to hold it inside, you were laughed at if a call bugged or bothered you in any way. We used and still do use dark humor to quell the inner beast at times, getting us through a shift. Firefighters don’t cry, they are supposed to be strong, and brave. We are the hero’s so we must act like it. Yet we never claim to be heroes and I personally cannot stand anyone within the service who acts as though they are, for we are just people. People who do a job for which we are well trained. We have a need to help and combined with education and overwhelming compassion that is why we do what we do. But hero? No

The ghosts are real. They are fucking real and they never go away. We keep them from our families and our children but they to pay the price.

Some days I just want to be left alone, I don’t want to talk and I’m a prick no matter how hard I try to keep it together. I am lucky, as I stated earlier my wife understands, but that is because she was once a firefighter so she knows the schedule, knows the struggles we go through and understands when I need to be left to my own devices. But that doesn’t make it right.

My children can’t do anything without me seeing the dangers! I am constantly all over them for whatever they do like an insane safety cop trying my hardest to keep them out of harm’s way. When either of my boys pulls out of the driveway I am constantly on guard, worrying the call will come that one of them has been killed in an accident. At the station when I finally get to lay my head down for a bit I pray they are all safe at home, yet images of horrific accidents or fire rolls through my head and instantly transposed upon my family. I close my eyes tightly and fight the mental demons knowing (irrationally) that one day the tones will roll and my address with be on the tip of the dispatchers tongue.

Speaking of addresses, there is no count to how many times the dispatched address is a person or family within my personal circle. Working in the town for which you reside and your children participate brings with it another responsibility, another personal struggle when things go south. When things go well, the pats on the back are extra special, but when things go south the stares are twice as painful. If you perish on my shift either before we arrive or in front of me, it is a tough to pill to swallow when I don’t know you. Your ghost lingers and wonders why. But if you are a member of my extended family, close friends, or even well-known acquaintances then it’s even harder. Looking into the eyes of your surviving family members is so hard, there are no words to say, your ghost is much harder to deal with and every time we (surviving family) cross paths the pain is all to real. You wear it like a badge of failure.

The fire service has determined PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) is a real thing. Thank goodness, because we are losing way too many members to the mental struggles that resides within us all. In this writing I have only touched on a small portion of what rolls around inside my head on a daily basis and I know I am not alone. There is so much more and one day I will talk about it all. One day I hope to purge all the ghosts, at the very least erase the faces. I know deep inside this won’t come until I retire as every shift has a new face attached. They say time heals all wounds, but these wounds never heal. They are covered in scabs, scabs that we keep picking at because we just can’t or in some cases won’t let them heal. We need to see them, feel them and remind ourselves they are there for some fucked up, unknown reason. I’d like to think it is our humanity reminding us its ok to feel. But after a while you just don’t wasn’t to feel anything anymore.

The best we can do is recognize the problem, show it to the world and find help for those who need it desperately. They are out there, and they need compassion and understanding for the weight carried upon their backs. Weight that feels as though it is driving them to their knees.

I have 6 years left to go.

6 years of only 10 days a month.

Pretty cushy gig huh?

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The scary stuff…

The scary stuff hides in plain sight, we try our best to ignore it but in reality the scary stuff is what lets us know we are living.

I am terrified of death. It surrounds me with in your face realism, implication and pure dishonesty. Lying in bed, staring at the ceiling wondering when it will come, how it will come and have I done all I could to let those I care for know just how much they mean to me? Have I spoken a word in haste leaving someone disappointed or was I able for just a moment to make someone’s day?

Do you close your eyes and feel all the world has to offer or do you clench your teeth frustrated by the very movements within your realm? Do you drift away from the sight, sound or smell of another place thankful for having been there or do you grasp tightly to the past angry at what the future holds in store?

I cannot control the panic within, a feeling there is something more and I am running out of time. That I haven’t lived to my full potential, achieved all my dreams, helped all that could use assistance, or been the best human being I could possibly be. My brain runs out of control and there are moments the thought of trying to stop it long enough to grab any form of tangible information to act on is overwhelming.

So the scary stuff creeps in, like a game, toying with my ability to reconcile myself.

I stare at my wife while she sleeps, scared she won’t be there in the morning. Two years of this nightmare have worn away my ability to be realistic about things at times. Watching all she has gone through and yet she still tries to smile, to have a positive attitude, even when she really doesn’t want to anymore. Being at work is an eternity as my subconscious leads me into a room of dirty tricks. How is she? Why won’t she answer the phone? Has she taken her medications? Are the kids helping her? Is she eating enough? Has she walked today? I know she is ok, she has her phone to call me, and my mother is right next door, able to check in at a moments notice. I know the kids are helping and our close friends/family are doing their best, but the scary stuff keeps pushing my insane fears into the light so I may remain bewildered and lost.

Stressed beyond what I ever felt I could handle, my stomach, head and neck hurt all the time. I have ridiculous nightmares always revolving around the loss of someone near me. Last night it was one of the boys in a vehicle accident. The scary stuff lurking in my brain won’t let me gloss over anything in a dream either, its graphic and designed to always leave me terrified upon waking. The scary stuff knows how to leave me down and out through shock value. I am tired… All the time….

What do I do? How do I control it? It feels at times like a giant weight upon my chest. Somedays I can’t breathe and find myself sobbing for no reason at the very stupidest of things. Like an imaginary scary creature hiding under my bed, only I know it’s there, only I can feel its presence, and only I can battle it when it comes out at night to play. It is my burden to bare.

The scary stuff is what tears at your soul, leaving you scarred, hurt, but alive. We all have scary stuff lurking in our brains, without it we would never understand the value in cherishing every moment on this earth. For the good stuff is even sweeter if you’ve had to deal with the scary stuff life is made of.

I wrote this tonight because many have asked me repeatedly how I have been able to handle everything through this Leukemia/Bone marrow transplant infused portion of our life. Truth be told, many days I don’t! I do my very best to juggle everything while keeping a smile on my face, sharing a joke here and there, trying to keep my children smiling all while letting my wife know she is the very center of my universe. I vent a lot on friends and I believe in having faith! God looks over us all and challenges us daily, it is up to us as too whether or not we accept those challenges. There is always hope, and even though the scary stuff is a reality in my life, my way of never letting it win is by writing about the fear so others who read this know its ok to feel everything I just described. If you take time in recognizing your flaws, sharing your pain and understanding there is always a better day ahead, the scary stuff doesn’t stand a chance. It may not be today or even tomorrow, but faith is there waiting to put the scary stuff we all feel and worry about right back under the bed where it belongs.

 

 

 

Another page….

I was asked to write my father’s obituary to which I declined. I have no answer as to why, other than for some strange reason it just didn’t feel right. Mom of course had no problem picking up the pen as it were then hammering out a short synopsis of my father’s life. After all having been married to the man for 55 years I am sure it came fast and easy.

I haven’t been able to open it.

Mom sent me the obituary in an email. Every day while checking my personal and work emails there it sat, unopened, like an unsolvable Rubik’s cube waiting for me to spin it around in hopes of unlocking its color coding on the very first try. There just hasn’t been any desire to try.

I am proud of my mother, she has handled this all with her feet firmly planted on the ground. Never once has she faltered or wavered in my presence over any decisions since her husband’s passing. She gets out almost every day visiting friends and running errands. She has handled the upcoming memorial with very little assistance from myself and is working on a full reorganization of her life. My mother is living up to the old adage; tough Old Italian woman.

We speak on the phone every day and through conversation she has discussed bits and pieces in regards to her final marital note. It is obvious mom has put time and effort into this little piece that will run in the local paper and yet for a week now, even knowing all she has done I just hadn’t been able to open it, to read it, to absorb what it means to her or anyone who knew my father. I just couldn’t do it, I would scroll past it, move it to another folder only to place it back into the main folder still unread, unopened, as if I was a cold and uncaring person. Scared of what it meant to me.

So with exactly 6 days to go until his memorial service and nothing remotely pressing on my gigantic plate of daily activities, my fingers (on their own accord) scrolled over the email and pressed the little W icon releasing information from the cloud into my server for my eyes to fixate upon and probably wonder why it had been hard for me all along.

And so I read it.

Halfway through my eyes glaze over and instantly I’m transported from my desk inside our fire station to a bench at Prestwood elementary where I sit waiting for lunch. I can smell it, feel it, I have chills upon my skin, my friends from years long gone are buzzing around me, laughing, joking, running playing, I am at ease. The fears of being a small child have enveloped my soul, scared of the bigger kids, jokester to my friends, a storyteller just trying to fit in. My little brain wondering if I will ever understand fractions while hearing my teachers telling us with effort we can achieve anything. Of course all this is happening while I daydream the day away. Yep I find myself staring at a white faced clock with black hands, the second hand slowly moving clockwise eliminating minutes from my daily school experience so I can go home and see what car dads driving home today and hopefully talk him into a game of basketball.

Lights passing overhead as the enormity of the freeway made my eyes larger than pie plates. Dad and I are on a trip to a dealership down south, he works for Kastner Pontiac/GMC and we are trading one car for a truck. I have never been to far from Sonoma in my 8 years and traveling through Sacramento onto 99 south was filled with new sights, sounds and my father singing country music on the radio. (Something I do to this day that drives my kids crazy). It was an all-night trip and I felt like a big kid! It is also where my early love for the GMC/Chevy stepside began. We ate out (something we never did) we sang, laughed and had fun. I slept most of the way home, but for that moment in time I was my dad’s friend, there were no girls (sorry mom) we were hanging out and it was an adventure. Just two men and a really cool truck.

Moving through time we are on a field trip, I cannot remember to where, but I am sitting in a bus full of students and parents. My dad is sits beside me smiling. It was one of the best memories for me as dad rarely made any of my school activities. I remember laughing, joking around and can even still feel the air blowing through the bus as a mixture of the suns golden rays and dust flows through the cabin.

Sitting at a bar while a man serves my sister and I 7up with cherries at Napa Valley Horseman’s Association. Dad was president and he would lead the Monday night monthly meetings. I remember thinking maybe that would be me one day. I can still see the lights of Napa off in the distance from this clubhouse on a hill. Soon we would be off to bed in the camper or later dad’s motorhome. It was the closest thing to camping we ever did and it was always fun sneaking out to watch our parents dance the night away after some of the meetings.

Driving dads Ford 8N tractor helping put fence around our property, mixing cement inside the rotating box scraper/drag that I guess I now own as it sits unused alongside my barn. Hearing him tell me exactly how to do it. Just the right amount of water, too much and it will be soup that takes forever to set, too little and it will crack and crumble never becoming a solid footing for these posts. Hearing him telling me just how far to back the tractor up, getting mad at me for almost smashing his hand with the bucket then forgiving me as I set my third post perfectly. I hear his voice, see him sweating and wonder why I can’t go back in time. I am talking to him but he can’t hear me. He only hears the very young boy on the tractor and not the 49 year old man trying his hardest to speak.

We are riding together, headed to test drive my possible first car. A 1957 Chevy Bel-Air. It was blue with chrome everywhere! The 57 was my favorite car next to the Chevy Stepside and as child I had built several models of this exact vehicle. When we arrived dad was the most charming man you had ever seen. He always knew just how to talk to people when it came to business of any type. They chuckled and laughed, went over the car from front to back. We jump started it as it had been sitting for a while and took it for a ride. It was everything I had ever dreamed of from the time I was 9. My dad was in love with the car, or so it seemed from the twinkle in his eye as we talked about it, how nice it was, how well it ran with a snappy little corvette motor wrapped neatly in chrome under the hood. I’m there all over again, I can even smell the interior. Several thank you’s were exchanged and my father left the owners with the old “we need to think about” line. On the way home I asked when we were going back to retrieve this heavenly piece of Detroit iron, to which he turned and with the same twinkle in his eye responded; we aren’t. The sixteen year old and 49 year old are yelling at him all over again. WHY??? That car is too fast for you, it shouldn’t be your first car. I can still hear him saying it. I was angry as hell, but he knew I would get over it. (I never really did) Dad was right though, as I wrecked my first truck sending it to the scrap yard. I had the pleasure of seeing that car while working at Aunt Josie’s restaurant as its owner would eat there once a week. It had an unmistakable license plate; 5SEVEN. That car lives in my dreams to this day.

Over the years there were times of laughter and great disappointment, times where we tested each other and times we just gave in, never acknowledging we had called a truce. As we grew older the equality of our stubbornness created larger walls between us. We talked once a week, grumbled about each other’s choices and would always part with an, I love you. But one thing is for certain, my father’s laughter, happiness and inexplicable ability to talk with people will always resonate deep within my soul. I have learned from him by witnessing both the success and failure in his life.

Reading the obituary today made it all too real for me. Yes I was there with him in his last moments, and was honored due to my position at work to actually be at his side when the ER doctor called time of death. I was able to hold his hand and cry, wishing he would squeeze back just one more time. I fully comprehend he is and always will be gone from this earth.

I just wish I hadn’t been so stubborn for I will never be able to take back all the times we butted heads or couldn’t come to an agreement on an issue, I’ll never be able to hear him tell me he is or was proud of me, never be able to apologize for the grief I gave him as a teenager. And yes I know I need to take it easy, and realize he had probably forgiven me long ago. I know, I have lived through death many, many times and it is what it is. But even after you put all that aside I think the hardest part for me is now that I have read this permanent record of decease, absorbed its significance, traveled back in time over the last several hours while sadly staring at the wall I come to the hardest part of this whole circle of life bullshit.

I no longer have a dad, and the little kid inside this aging man is crying his eyes out, holding a pillow across his face to muffle the tears wanting nothing more than his daddy to come home and play basketball with him one more time.

Just one more shot dad, it’s not dark yet I swear…….

Unknown

 

 

 

Today I said goodbye to my dad.

It started like hundreds of calls before it. Arriving on scene, keying up the mic, I spewing forth the normal rhetoric; Engine 81’s at scene, one vehicle moderate damage, 81 will be out with CHP, also we are blocking the onramp to eastbound Interstate 80.

Simple, easy. It was our 20th call of the set, we had been up most of the night and this late morning commute accident was another example of how wonderful the safety standards are for automobiles these days. As my crew did their job perfectly, the way they always do, I smiled.

Little did I know while standing ankle deep in vehicle debris my life was about to change.

My oldest son Cody was home from work, moving around the house doing laundry he looked out the window to see his grandfather moving trash cans towards the road. We live out in the country and my parents live on our property. We share garbage service and it was not uncommon to see my father dragging garbage cans out to the road, grumbling about why they weren’t drug out the night before. It was just his way.

My father has always been ornery, some would say crusty or salty of disposition. He could charm the socks off you when need be, but for the most part it was his way or the highway, no questions asked. He struggled with the move here, not wanting to really leave all he had built over the years in Sonoma, but he also was a realist and with the market at an all-time high, his and my mother’s health on the decline he realized there was no better option.

He spent his days watching TV, talking with the horses, and occasionally going out to see friends. Although that list was in decline as of late, his friends over the last couple years seemed to be dropping like flies. This of course worried him as it should, it is the mortality within us all that creeps around as we get older. He loved his grandchildren, he loved giving them a “hard time” and especially loved that Cody and Jake would give it back! My dad did the very best he could with what was left of his aging body and that left him more times than not, sitting wondering what could have been.

It also left him grumbling when the trash cans weren’t pulled out the night before.

Cody walked back into the kitchen and while getting a cup of coffee noticed grandpa’s car was still in the driveway. Thinking 30 minutes after the last time he saw him was odd he stepped onto the back porch to see his grandfather’s lifeless body on the ground in front of a garbage can.

He ran outside

My crew has just finished closing the ambulance doors, I was watching their backs with my eye on traffic when I heard the tones through my radio. Waiting for the dispatch we began moving pieces of broken car towards the side of the road. The dispatcher began by announcing a medical aid to which I knew would be routed to our engine company that was available. As we continued moving debris the location or address of the newly dispatched call for service hit me like a ton of bricks.

I knew that address! It couldn’t be, I mean I heard it, but it just couldn’t be! Frozen in my tracks, the numbers resonated as my heart beat doubled.

It was my address…

The dispatcher announced the address along with a reported 80 year old male down in the driveway, unknown if breathing.

My heart sunk further, because I knew.

My engineer was listening and he hadn’t quite put it together, but the look on his face suggested that he knew it sounded familiar. When he made eye contact with me as I screamed over the freeway roar; it was my place! It all came together. My firefighter, a new probie was confused but hustled to get everything together so we could go.

Climbing into the engine, I took a deep breath, secured the call we were currently on and attached ourselves to the medical aid. Normally since the medical aid was in my engines response area, I would have cancelled the second engine, but I didn’t know where they were, and I desperately wanted someone there fast. Our Battalion Chief attached himself to the call and ordered an engine from our neighboring town which was much closer to my house than we were. In a matter of seconds, my father had my second family coming for him in full force.

I sat quietly in the Captains seat on the way to the call. Trying hard to fight back tears as deep inside I knew this wasn’t going to be good. I also thought about my son, and what he must be thinking right now. I could feel my phone buzzing in my pants. Knowing it had to be my son calling for help, I could do nothing, with turnout gear on there was no way to get to it in the confines of my seat.

Desperately checking the computer for updated notes on his condition, there was no new news. For a minute that gave me hope. Experience has told me that when there are no updates, there is no one panicking on the other end. This usually comes from a calmness of either a very stoic individual or the subject or patient in question is breathing or talking.

We pulled up to my house and that hope went out the window.

My father was there, lying in the driveway with a blanket and a pillow, my son on his knees holding his grandfather while a dear family friend who just happened to pull into our driveway minutes after Cody called 911 was holding his head.

I have seen this image a thousand times, done this particular job to the best of my ability more times than I care to remember, but my dad…

Getting to him first with 5 members of my second family hot on my heels, I stripped his shirt, felt for a pulse while sighting his chest for rise or fall. Asking for a BVM and NPA I was politely shoved out of the way by one of my guys. Rolling around to his side to start compressions, I was politely shoved out of the way again and told to talk with my family. I stood dumbfounded looking at my hands thinking what the hell! This my dad, I am going to help him! Someone asked for oxygen and I grabbed it only to be moved again to the back and gently told to be with my family. What the hell this is my Family! The man lying there is my God Damn Family and I am going too; oh….. I get it.

Looking behind me at my sons pie eyed face and the look of stress upon our friend it hit me that my job was not on the ground thrashing for supplies, working with the best fireman I know to hopefully save my dad’s life. Yes, that was my family on the ground, but that family was in very capable hands and those guys knew through clear eyes where I was supposed to be.

Turning around I hugged my son, told him he did everything right and not to worry. I hugged our friend and said thank you for being there at just the right time. Cody told me he yelled at our little ones to get back in the house when they came outside so he thought they hadn’t seen much. Our friend had her son go inside and play video games with them to keep them occupied.

Once dad was loaded into the ambulance, it dawned on me. My mother! Holy shit, my mom is next door and has no idea what is happening! As I began walking that way I was asked if I wanted to ride with dad to the hospital. Just then my mom pulled up, our friend grabbed her and told me to go and I did. It was a quiet ride to the hospital, I needed to ride in the front as to keep my hands off the operation. I felt bad, as I work alongside these guys every day, but there was no conversation. It was all I could do to keep tears from streaming down my face.

We arrived, we hustled into an ER room and for the next twenty minutes or so everyone worked valiantly hoping for any sign of life. But in the end, we had an unknown downtime, we had no discernable rhythm or any resemblance of electrical activity and with honest to goodness remorse, the doc turned to me and said: we have done all we can Mr. Franceschi, it is time.

I have heard “time of death” called on a person’s life more times than I care to remember. Hearing it called for my father brought a conflict of emotions.

The ER crew was so gracious and kind. They cleaned dad up, dressed him neatly with a white sheet and left him looking as though he was sleeping. The silence inside that room was deafening. My heart was breaking as I thought of all the times we butted heads or argued over little things. I never got to tell him Jacy was being released from the hospital. He loved her so, and had worried non-stop over her in his own silent way. He was never going to see any of his grandchildren get married or watch them progress with their lives. He was also no longer in pain, his body had given out on him years ago and he struggled daily. His pace maker had just been replaced which was something he was proud of because he had outlived the previous one. Our entire lives together was rushing through my brain.

I just stood there, not knowing what to do, staring helplessly at his lifeless body.

Then deep inside, a ten year old boy emerged. This boy, felt lost and alone, like he was in the dark with no way to find some light. This ten year old boy began to cry for his daddy. He just wanted his daddy to find him, take his hand and tell him not to be afraid anymore. To wrap his arms around him, hold him in his massive 300 pound 6 foot frame and tell him, one day you will be a man and you will know just what to do. This ten year old boy just wanted to cry on his dads shoulder.

The ten year old boy from within forced the 49 year old man to lay his hand across his dad’s chest, kiss him on the forehead and tell him he was sorry he wasn’t there faster. He was sorry they hadn’t always seen eye to eye, he was sorry but they did the very best they could to keep him around for just a bit longer. The ten year old boy from within cried, the 49 year old man shed those tears.

We both said goodbye.

I miss you dad.

 

 

Gonna pump you up!

hanz and franz

We are going to PUMP YOU UP!!!

Fighting Leukemia is a long hard battle not for the faint of heart. These men and women struggle with more pain, both mental and physical than anyone could imagine. Their continued inner conflict seem to come from the heart because no person wants to go through something like this! Once you read all the information you then have questions, doubts and wonder why exactly someone would put themselves through endless hours of physical and mental highs and lows. But they selflessly do.

Believe me, these patients don’t do it for themselves! I have listened to a few survivors now, both in conversation and as part of this wonderful network slowly being formed through contact both on this page and other media sources. Each of them all believe saying yes to life was the right thing to do, the responsible thing to do; having treatment was a choice and they all believe they’ve made the right choice. But??

Of the four I am currently chatting with online, each one slips into a sentence these words: I am not sure I will do it again. Or the ONLY reason I went through it all was for my family.

Think about that for a moment. I have been faced with serious choices over the last 20 years in regards to others, and I always tried my hardest to make a decision based on training and what I would want someone to do for my loved one. Never in my wildest dreams did I ever think; what if it was me? What if I needed treatment and without that treatment I may perish?

These loving, kind, vibrant individuals faced with an option, treatment with a 50/50 chance or no treatment and let nature take its course eventually leaving behind loving family and friends. It boggles my mind.

I am overwhelming thankful for the choice my wife made. She was rocky for a minute, but it was only a minute and then her normal, lets kick this things ass mentality shifted into overdrive. I am grateful the people I have met who have survived not just Leukemia but all forms of cancer made that choice letting modern medicine have a shot! I am thankful for where we are in the advancement of treatments for all kinds of cancers, because 20 years ago the outcome would have been very different.

These people are my heroes, I am honored to know them, to talk with them and hear the love, kindness and respect they hold for a new found life. Some are completely different than before, nothing bothers them, and they no longer get upset over the little stuff, waiting for each and every day to greet them with the sunrise. Others hold a new respect for their surroundings, knowing if they hadn’t made that choice how much different things would be today. All of them are grateful for their families, loved ones and friends.

Each one of them is open and honest about their struggles, willing to share feelings both positive and negative, hoping I see in the end it will all be ok. Writing about Leukemia as it decimates a loved one is filled with negatives, it just cannot be helped. But there are positives and these people prove that to be so!

To each and every person battling to live, for your family, your friends, your loved ones, I love you all, I will always share your stories of inspiration to hopefully help another father, husband, friend such as myself. You all make me proud to be who I am, what I am and where I am right now with this life.

With that, I believe it is time we update the wife’s condition.

Wednesday, things were very rough! Jacy still couldn’t walk, pain everywhere throughout her lower extremities. The fevers had returned with vengeance, and vomiting appeared to be an every 30 minute abdominal workout. The doctors pulled her Hickman line for fear of infection and placed a Picc line in its place. She was still heavy on fluids, and any effort to urinate (which was a must every 10-15 minutes) was met with burning pain and small abdominal spasms. When I left her on Wednesday night because I was headed home due to a large fire near our jurisdiction, she was knocked out from pain meds.

Friday I snuck over in the afternoon and Jacy had been moved into the cardiac unit. Fevers were running high without rescinding, she was still vomiting a lot, and her lungs weren’t exchanging oxygen well so O2 saturation levels were very low. She was also diagnosed with HHV6-B

HHV-6B primary infection is the cause of the common childhood illness exanthema subitum (also known as roseola infantum or sixth disease). Additionally, HHV-6B reactivation is common in transplant recipients, which can cause several clinical manifestations such as encephalitis, bone marrow suppression and pneumonitis.[5]

Sooooo cloth gowns, masks and gloves for everyone!!! SCARYYYYYYYY!!!!!

I know you are asking yourselves; hey! Didn’t the title say “we are going to pump you up”? This has all been kind of a downer!

Well MY PEEPS! Word on the street is Jacy was slipped a little steroid cocktail and BAM! Instantly feeling better! That’s right within a day her fevers had subsided and by the end of the next day she could walk the quad without pain!!!! Whoop whoop!

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Jacy was moved from the cardiac unit yesterday and once again is blessed to have her very own room. (A luxury I might add). The doctors ran a bunch of tests today which included a colonoscopy and she still has plenty of sores in her throat along with a full body rash. Doctors have stated they are trying their hardest to get everything under control so she may be released to outpatient care hopefully by the weekend!! Way to go Steroids!!!!

Getting her out of there and into the redwood lined, mountainous retreat that is her father’s place will be a spirit builder for certain.

So after a very long storm the first bit of sunlight comes cracking through the clouds and hopefully we will feel the warmth of her smile once again.

Life? Leukemia? You just dont have it all figured out…

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Life has a funny way of throwing things into your face. You may think you know what’s going on when in reality you are just as clueless as the moment you awoke this morning, groggy eyed, wondering if everything flailing inside your brain was a dream or a continued reality you just cannot grasp.

Last week I dreaded going camping, it felt as though I was trespassing on the sacred vows of marriage. The thought of leaving my wife behind at Stanford where she has been for three weeks to camp with friends, drink beer, fish and play a variety of water sports with our children; well It just didn’t seem right.

Unbeknownst to me early on the morning of our departure my wife after having a particularly hard night filled with rigors, 104 temp, vomiting, and excessive fluid buildup leading to a case of difficulty breathing had in fact only one thing on her mind. It had nothing to do with what was happening to her, on the contrary it had everything to do with me. That morning as we loaded up to leave, lump in my throat, with nervousness screaming aloud in an already crowded room known as my subconscious, my wife asked her doctor if she was going to die.

Jacy didn’t want to know if she was going to die for her own welfare, although she was terrified with so much pain and discomfort. No my wife asked by simply stating; I just told my husband to go camping with our children, to go meet friends and have a good time. He doesn’t want to, he feels the need to be here, with me. Doc am I going to die? Should he go? Her answer; I cannot tell you whether or not you are going to die, but what I can tell you is even though this is hard right now, you have all the positive signs of making it through; we can manage your symptoms you just need to stay focused. If I were to tell you anything it would be to let your husband know it’s ok to take your children camping. We are here and you are receiving the very best care. And with that my wife never said a word.

The weekend was perfect, every child did exactly what they wanted to do, be it tubing, wake boarding, or just plain old fishing with dad it was a sunny break after a long bleak storm. Every moment, around every corner of the campground I looked for my wife, I knew she wasn’t there, but it’s what occupied my mind. I answered all the curious questions and felt at home as we were surrounded by some of the most caring wonderful families. It was definitely a delight.

Saturday night I was feeling my emotions associated with this weekend were all figured out. You know as in; this was Jacys way of allowing me the ability to tell myself it was ok to have fun without her, to not worry or feel stressed if even for a short period of time. That my mind and body needed to quit worrying for a minute and just regroup so upon returning my abilities to remain strong for her and the kids would be renewed!

Then I met a Gary (name changed for privacy)

Standing by the band (yes this camping trip had a band, and they were good, really good), beer in hand, feeling pretty confident with my all-knowing sense of entitlement, Gary walked up and introduced himself.

You see Gary has a wife, Gary’s wife is a two time Leukemia survivor which included two Bone Marrow Transplants. Now I had a few, so I am not positive, but my recollection was the first round was actual bone marrow and her second round stem cells exactly like my wife. In great detail Gary discussed each and every day, the highs and the lower than lows. Side effects, sicknesses, water weight, seizures, the BMT wing at Stanford, we talked about it all like warriors likened to each other through battle. He talked with sincerity about a wife who was ten years free and clear when she didn’t feel right and she knew. About whether or not to go through with another BMT. About making the right decisions and struggling together through it all. Gary was a kind gentle man who spoke from the heart.

After we finished talking my head was swimming, how they mirrored many of the same issues my wife currently faced, how he struggled the way I am struggling now and reassured me with patience it would be ok. I left a little early, went and laid down, overwhelmed by it all.

The next day we hung around camp, fished off the dock and hung out with our friends. The boys/girls went tubing while Parker and I fished. In the middle of the day Gary was standing near me when a nice lady walked up to which Gary stated with a smile; there he is, you wanted to meet him? She looked confused for a second, then putting it all together stuck her hand out to shake mine and introduced herself as Sara (Name also changed for privacy), Gary’s wife.

Sara and I had a very nice talk about Bone Marrow Transplants and it was during this moment that a realization struck me right over the head. We weren’t only supposed to be here for the relaxation it afforded our children, the ability to unwind some of our stresses or allow my wife to feel as though she wasn’t impeding our children from enjoying their summer.

No, once again life had shown me how arrogant it was for me to think for a second that I had it all figured out.

You see God always has other plans.

We were there so I could meet this couple, hear their story and understand that it would be alright. It was going to be hard, there was no doubt to that fact. But in the end, it was going to be alright. We would survive this, she will survive this disease, this transplant. There would be plenty of dark days on the road to success, but to fully understand success comes at a price and through hard work, a life able to be lived was just over the horizon. This man’s wife was here, she survived twice to be with her husband and their children and now she was here helping me to survive as well.

When we left on Sunday, we all hugged and said our goodbyes, I didn’t get the chance to say goodbye to Gary and Sara, but they have been constantly in my thoughts ever since.

Don’t ever think you have life figured out for you would be wrong, God knows, and if you listen closely you just might hear what he has to say.

UPDATE: I wrote this Sunday night and something told me to wait. So I listened to that inner voice.

Monday was a hard day for me as I watched my wife suffering through almost thirty pounds of water gain, her face and lips swollen, her inability to speak because of lesions in her throat, almost in tears due to excruciating pain in her legs and knees with an inability to stand for more than a second without collapsing. There is or was nothing I could do, but hold her hand. She slept on and off, would hallucinate in the middle of a conversation with me, and constantly thrashed around uncomfortably with what looked to be an Alaskan pipeline of IV tubes going into her or drains coming out of her. But through it all she would smile, tell me she was happy I was there, and we would hold hands before she fell asleep again.

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Tuesday-Today; another long hard night with a myriad of problems, at one point she sounded destitute, unable to handle her state of being. A few hours later she called and said she was feeling better, we talked for a while about my meeting this couple and she agreed it was all in God’s hands. A few hours later she called again and could speak fairly clearly. She said; the day was just looking a little better and we talked about the kids. Then this evening she called one more time. Her blood results came back and white cells are forming! She is engrafting! It is the first major step towards recovery! The nurses were also referring to her having the ability to become outpatient within a week or two!!! It was all too much for me to comprehend when she told me and I am afraid I may not have come across as excited enough, but all I can say is thank you God, thank you everyone, keep the prayers coming she will need them to get through this next week and we will all pray her new immune system likes its new home and continues work hard for our girl.

All things happen for a reason, I am fairly certain my attitude would have continued in despair if not for a chance meeting during a camping trip that I was certain I wasn’t supposed to be on.

charlie brown

Thank you….

 

Today my heart is a tad heavy as I process two individuals that meant something to separate portions of my life. To help explain I am going to do something I don’t normally do; jump on the media bandwagon for one.  Then I will tell a tale of overwhelming gratefulness towards the other.

#1

Yesterday as we all know by now (if you were unaware I apologize for breaking it to you this way) Mr. Robin Williams ended his constant struggle with depression, taking his own life inside his home near San Francisco California.

Now for some this may mean nothing and judging by the overwhelming reaction through social media it is devastating to say the least for most.

I was first introduced to Robin Williams as a teenager of 13. His character introduced through Happy Days, then his own show Mork and Mindy was brilliant.  I could not wait to watch him, to sit with my family as we all of laughed to his crazy antics. He made Thursday nights one of the most popular nights in our house and the ability to watch his show a driving force in completing homework, chores or what ever else my mother could use as leverage.

Something most people don’t know is Robin Williams made me want to become a stand up comedian. I would practice jokes in the bathroom, jokes to our horses, jokes to a tree if I could.  For those who remember, he was the reason I practiced impressions of people or cartoons or who ever I felt I could impersonate. I laid in bed dreaming of standing on stage, being crazy and giving people the gift of laughter. In groups of friends he is the sole reason I learned to tell a good tale, just to make you laugh. Alas, I am not that funny, it wasnt my calling, fear plagued me from performing and I would only cautiously do impersonations if I knew you and felt comfortable enough to do so.

Fast forward 7 years.

I was lucky enough to meet mister Williams at the Sonoma Mission Inn one evening over a dinner being hosted by some notable people.  He was kind, friendly and as always genuinely funny.  Working there I met plenty of celebrities and most were arrogant, full of themselves and came across as though they were special.  Not Mr. Williams. In one evening over a few hours Mr. Williams showed he was an everyday guy with an incredible gift. To make people laugh.

Today

Yesterday when I heard the news it hit me in the stomach, like losing a war hero, an astronaut, someone we ALL have come to idolize in one way or another. Yes he wasnt a personal friend or family member, but for some reason he feels like one.  Like a long-lost relative you knew about, heard about but never saw.  I have him to thank for bringing me out of my shell as a child, something I am sure he has done for countless individuals.  So many people (myself included) wish we could be that crazy, wish we could make people laugh with such power, such animation, such free-spirited will! I know I do.

The world has lost a wonderful, innovative, amazingly funny human being. There is no one person of his caliber to follow in those shoes. For that I am sad…. For that the country shall mourn.  May the heavens glow under this mans light.

#2

His name: Roger “Deets” Winslow

Many of you have never heard of Roger “Deets” Winslow or Deets as we all knew him.  I found out last night the Napa county sheriffs office was searching for his body at the bottom of Lake Berryessa following some type of boating accident.

Now I could give you all the very same stories that most who knew him are expounding at this very moment, (awesome dad, super great coach, best of friends, etc..) but I wont. The reason I am struggling with the news of what appears to be his passing is quite simple.

I never was able to say thank you..

Once again through life spinning at a hundred miles an hour, turning in multiple directions, and never making it a priority. Quite simply I never was able to say thank you.  High school was struggle for me as I have explained on numerous occasions.  There were three individuals that saved me. Two saved me my sophomore year, and one saved me my junior year. What did they save me from? Myself.

Kurt Hornaday (rest in peace buddy) and Deets Winslow.

These two men saw a kid who wasnt doing well, couldn’t stand up for himself, had a mouth the size of texas, and took him (me) under their wings.  They both introduced me to wrestling, they both took the time to become friends with a underclassmen, and they both helped guide me through my junior year; while letting me continue to write checks with my mouth that couldn’t be cashed, then teaching me (through friendship) how to right those wrongs.

The third person was Deets dad-Mr. Roger Winslow.  I joined the wrestling team my junior year because of Kurt and Deets, Roger was the coach. I know he wanted to boot me from the team, I was weak, not fast, had no real comprehension when it came to drills, but he kept me, pushed me, and made me believe I could be better than I was every single practice.  I only won a single JV match that entire year, but coach Winslow made me feel as though I had won the championship.  He still resonates within me to this day and his coaching abilities/skills are why I became a coach and why the kids I have coached have had such a great time.

Deets and Kurt were friends, they were mentors, they were honest wonderful side by side buddies that would do anything for you at the drop of a hat.  My senior year I struggled without their presence.  Dont get me wrong I was surrounded by awesome people, spectacular friends who put up with me besides myself, but without that straight and honest advice whenever I felt I was straying or doing wrong, that year emotionally and physically (I hurt my knee pretty bad, the first few weeks of wrestling practice and just never came back) I was lost.

I never was able to thank Deets, I don’t think he even knew the impact he and Kurt had on my young messy life.  I was never able to thank Kurt either and found out about his passing through a dear friend.  I once again have procrastinated way to long…

Rest in peace my friend.  May your family find some comfort through the lives you touched..

So there it is, I apologize for it being a bit messy, with a few run on sentences and goofy content. The main point is this; Dont procrastinate, tell those who are important to you, that helped you get to where you are; Thank you.  They don’t do it for the recognition, they do it because they were raised right, held empathy in their hearts and cared about passing those feelings on to others.

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The gift…

Life as of late is holding me down. A weight upon my chest, a hand-held defiantly to my face, paranoia, fear, sadness, exhaustion all playing upon my emotions. Some days are harder than others, most days tolerable, my fortitude is strong, a resolve steadfast, I awake each morning and start all over again.

My wife is worried that my plate is to full, she see’s it written across my face. The new lines forming upon my brow, a redness to my cheeks, a constant itch that travels across my head, face, chest, neck and shoulder when stress becomes intolerable.

Conversations change, today is a “good” day while 12 hours later, no conversation at all, left staring, wondering what I would do if she didn’t come out of the ER alive? Laughter becomes fun, dark humor is everywhere, trying, straining, yearning to pretend this is not happening. A ceiling is my new meditation portal, alone in bed, lying dead straight in the middle, wondering, worrying. Past times would find me reveling in a moment like this, now ashamed to be taking up a portion that is her place.

Why? Why does life go like this for some, yet flows so effortlessly for others? Never was I blessed with any one talent that allowed me the luxury of standing apart from a crowd. My entire life has been marginalized, left in the “average” column.  Average size, average intelligence, average GPA, average looking, average job performance, average minor successes.

Yet for some reason I feel as though God has blessed me with a gift. A gift others would most likely refuse, kick to the curb, drop and run away screaming. I am willing to admit, when bestowed upon me it was not an easy one to accept. But being a man of faith, I knew no matter how hard I fought, in the end it was mine. And so, it has come to pass that with this gift, I have earned a few extra lines upon my face, some unwanted grey hairs, an inability to sleep some nights along with an overall fear of what may lie around the very next corner.

This gift it seems also brought traits I never knew existed within me. Care, compassion, love, patience and understanding. Not just for myself, but for all forms of life. Imagine a gift so powerful it opens your eyes wider than ever before, it ignites your senses to an almost raw irritating state yet you are thankful for the feeling. Imagine being able to stand, while all crumbles around you, seeing an alternative, an answer, a future destination. Imagine knowing when the day is through, no matter what has been thrown emotionally towards you, deep inside you will awaken the next morning to do it all over again! That is what this gift has become and I wish I knew how to share, but I just can’t.

I carry the souls, the faces, the lives of all who have perished before me. Those souls have built me into a stronger man over the years, stronger than I ever was or could have been in my youth. From every response, medical aid, vehicle accident or fire that have gone badly awry; to the losses of those closest around me, ones that I love more than most could imagine. I carry those days, those moments, those instances of life disappearing before us in my head, in my heart, a scar upon my soul. Some moments come with pictures that can never be erased, tales that can never be told, slivers in time trapped for eternity within my dome. Family members never knowing, never seeing, never having to see the imminent demise of those so truly loved. No horrid pictures permanently scarring their psyche, no electrifying screams, no tantric goodbyes. Over 19 years I have done my very best to absorb, deflect, and care about those who have lost someone. Carrying that burden has been my privilege. God allowed me this wonderful gift.

And so now the gift hits home. What better human being to handle this very situation than myself.  I have been trained well, prepared for all contingencies through mentorship and experience.

Yes I am tired, yes my worrisome self is working overtime, standing on high alert, yes my heart stops, skips a beat every time she proclaims not feeling well or becomes clammy and pale.  But my gift churns onward, allowing me an ability to focus on the good things and recognize in the end all will be ok. Teaching me sometimes one needn’t seek all the answers, but instead too know deep down in their heart things will be fine.  My gift tells me there are those in much worse shape than we, and to be thankful for all we have before us. Constantly reminding me how precious life truly is and to awaken every morning with a smile, because you can.

So as my wife worries about me, as my friends ponder over my ability to handle this very situation, as our own parents fret over the unknown, do not worry, like a ball player riding the pine all season long, all I ask is this, put me in coach, give me a chance, this gift could possibly be the one thing I am actually good at! Becoming the Abbott to her Costello, Jerry Lewis to her Dean Martin, the Sigfried to her Roy, and then when my time comes, my moment here on earth is finished,  I will finally be a success and wont have lived an uncaring, callous, self-centered, marginalized, average life…

Now I think its time for some sleep.

Goodnight Jacy I love you and thank God for you everyday… Relax, all will be just fine..

 

 

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The Face of Leukemia (December 2, 2013)

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Another couple of days spent sitting patiently watching her sleep. For some this could become tiresome or even boring, but not for me. Time trudges on, as the thought of her waking to speak with me, even for just a little while weighs heavy with anticipation!  A second of lucidity, a moment, a glance, the chance to press her cheek against mine long enough to feel close again.

Through all of this, I am reminded that as her husband it’s my job to care for this woman.  It is an honor to ensure she has all she needs and it’s my privilege to do so. But none of that would be as easy as it sounds if it weren’t for all the wonderful people who continue to support our family back home. To continually be humbled by the kindness, care, love and empathy shown to us by our friends, co-workers, acquaintances and strangers is overwhelming to say the least. But I am and I thank you all..

Saturday while staring at the east Kaiser wall an epiphany overcame me! So after a little one on one discussion, today with Jacy’s help the two of us acted upon that revelation.

This morning my wife woke up, shuffled her way into a shower, did her hair along with a little make-up. Now this of course took all the energy saved up from a solid nights rest that one participating in chemotherapy could muster, but that did not deter her from participating in this master scheme. A phone call, some texting, our kids taken to school without the slightest knowledge (because loose lips sink ships), and I stealthily rolled into the parking lot of Dixon Montessori Charter School at 0800.

At 0815 I cleared the threshold of Ms. Jacy’s classroom with nothing more than a smile, a cell phone and one iPad mini in hand.  The students were gathered together and a simple question and answer period began. You see Ms. Jacy (as most already know from reading my blog) was hauled off to the hospital right after returning home for her lunch break on the Wednesday before the Thanksgiving holiday. Although her students knew what was happening through reports on Thursday and Friday, they had not seen or spoken with the teacher they have all grown to love since.

That was about to change

Jacy’s students know me either as Mr. Jacy or Firefighter James, Ms. Jacy’s husband. So not a lot of time was wasted with useless questioning about my presence. The kids were excited to see me and to hear the latest news, especially in person. But when I held up the iPad and explained my plan the place went nuts!

Now it took me a few tries as I am not the most advanced person immersed in the world of technology. But for the rest of my life I will never forget the sounds of joy that came from each and every student when I turned the iPad around and there was Jacy’s smiling face looking back upon these students. They cheered and clapped and screamed HELLO! A few “bomb-diggities” were tossed about freely! It was fantastic.  She could see all of them and they could see her. I stood as still as I could holding the iPad up so she could take in the room and they could feel as though she was right there with all of them.  This woman truly loves these kids, all of them and they love her! She has spoken of them everyday since being incarcerated in the Kaiser hospital system.  She told them all about her stay, what was happening with her and how much she missed them! It was grand.

When we were finished,  looking down and saying goodbye into the iPad, she beamed at me with a look of happiness. The look on her face warmed my heart, but being the ever gruff man I am supposed to be I choked back a bit of mist in my eye, told her I would see her in a couple of hours and hit the end button.  Walking out of the classroom I knew Jacy had just received a good old-fashioned jolt of uplifting spirit! Something we all need from time to time, but more so for her right now.  Looking back, pretty sure some skipping was done on the way back to the car. Maybe even a selfie high-five?

This week is going to be a long one. There are more complications like the persistent headache that never goes away, continued fatigue and weakness, there are also some sporadic nosebleeds which have us worried just a bit.  She can’t bleed as there is no way for her blood to effectively clot, so she has been receiving blood and platelet transfusions.  Friday is D-Day and it cant come soon enough. It’s when we find out whether the first round of chemo did the trick! There is a long road ahead for us and every time we meet the doctor I feel as though it is preparation for the road to get longer. But never the less we will travel this road and hopefully meet some really wonderful people along the way. Hopefully we can spread the word about Leukemia and the effects it has on its victims, their families and friends.

The face of leukemia spares no one.  It belongs to your mother, your father, brother, sister, uncle, aunt, friend, acquaintance, and stranger.  The face of Leukemia can attach itself to any and every person in the human race and it does not discriminate. The face of leukemia cares not about your age because, old face, young face, the face of an infant it still survives. The face of leukemia doesn’t care about your  financial status, whether you vacation in the Hampton’s or live in a cardboard box under a bridge.  The face of leukemia is driven by this disease and the victims it inhabits therefore the face of leukemia is and always will be you.

Look in the mirror and ask yourself, what would I do if I had cancer? Who would I turn too. What questions would I ask? How would I react? Would I be ready to take cancer on and kick its ass without wavering?

I never asked myself those questions before now. But I have, and I am going to do everything in my power to make this a success for the woman I love. I am also going to tell everyone I can about leukemia, it effects, its signs and symptoms.  Then with a little luck, the power of positive thinking, prayer and the amazing skills associated with the many medical professionals we have encountered up to this point.

“The face of leukemia” will have a happy ending!

Because I love her face, and leukemia can’t have it anymore……

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The Face of Leukemia (Saturday Nov 30 2013)

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Chemotherapy (often abbreviated to chemo) is the treatment of cancer with one or more cytotoxic anti-neoplastic drugs (“chemotherapeutic agents”) as part of a standardized regimen. Chemotherapy may be given with a curative intent or it may aim to prolong life or to palliate symptoms. It is often used in conjunction with other cancer treatments, such as radiation therapy or surgery. Certain chemotherapeutic agents also have a role in the treatment of other conditions, including ankylosing spondylitis, multiple sclerosis, Crohn’s disease, psoriasis, psoriatic arthritis, systemic lupus erythematosus, rheumatoid arthritis, and scleroderma.

A lot of really fancy words that add up to a great weekend at your local hospital huh? Over the last few days I’ve had numerous people ask me several question about chemotherapy and its effect. More specifically its effects on Jacy.

Heres what I have learned in the past 240 hours.

Chemotherapy is extremely hard on your system as it not only kills the “bad” cell or cells targeted for annihilation, but it also kills all the “good” cells in your system.  Hence the reason for a prolonged hospital stay.

While in the hospital you will experience several really interesting phenomenons.

  1. Night sweats-not just your average sweat either. Picture running the Boston marathon. On a 100 degree day. With 100% humidity. While wearing a garbage bag. Over your wool suit. You getting the picture yet? It is not uncommon to fall asleep and wake up in a virtual pool of sweat.
  2. Hot flashes- these aint no menopause, room is spinning type hot flashes either! These suckers come on like a mid summer Texas heat wave! 1450743_10202598276704690_1911443489_nThere isn’t enough water in Lake Tahoe to cool these bad boys down.
  3. Shivering- Whilst you are sweltering amidst your hot flashes, praying for something, anything to cool yourself down. Dont fret because not long after your hot flashes arrive the arctic bound shivers and shakes take over. Yep cold as ice, goosebumps so big there should be a hunting season and never ever enough blankets to bring you back to room temperature.
  4. Diarrhea- That’s right boys and girls no treatment for any life altering cancer would be complete without this little gem. Not your average diarrhea either. It glows! Hee hee, that’s right, it’s a bright yellow/greenish almost snap-light looking glow. It’s that special poo that makes a spectacle of itself.
  5. Mass urination need to go pee? Do it! Then in 10 minutes get up and do it again! Remember you have 1000’s of cc’s running through your system and thanks to chemotherapy killing you appetite, that stuff just filters right on through you.
  6. Loss of appetite- yep, best weight loss program on the planet. P90X, the biggest loser and Jenny Craig got nothing on this little regiment of fun! Simple really, just inject your body with near death chemicals then lay around for a week fighting the urge to vomit. Now throw some hospital food your way (uh yuck!) and there is no way you are gaining a single pound sister! Oh snap!
  7. Multiple needle sticks and blood draws- ever wonder what a pin cushion feels like? Well no more, because my dear you are now the human version. Got the runs? You get something to harden that up through an injection. Got constipation, you get something for that in an I.V., need blood, antibiotics, pain reliever, or anything else to counter react what ever you were given an hour ago! In it goes, through a needle stick or straight through an I.V.
  8. Uncontrollable sleep patterns- One minute you are having a nice conversation and BAM! You are ass out for the next four hours! Wake up bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, ten minutes later and BAM!  Back asleep for 6 more. Heck you may even fall asleep in the middle of talking with your doctor! Dont worry that information wasnt important! It’s going to be this way for a while so get a really good pillow Rumplestiltskin.
  9. Radioactive urine: Now this depends on the type of treatment you are getting, but once you start chemotherapy no one is allowed to use that 1456562_10202602458089222_1239893847_nbathroom but you! Wouldnt want your coin purse to glow in the dark you know.
  10. Chemo sores in unexpected places. Yep that’s right boys and girls if you pump the system with chemicals and they exit through you urinary tract/bowels guess what? Your skin doesn’t like it very much and reacts with fervor? I’ll just let that picture soak in for a while as you process and visualize your own personal nightmarish looking sores.
  11. Last but definitely not least Hair loss. Complete hair loss. You killed all those “good” cells with chemotherapy which means you killed the cells that deliver nutrients to your hair follicles. So suck it up Telly Savalis. Sinead O Connor has nothing on you. But when you get your triple XXX tattoo please make sure it’s centered correctly upon your neck. I would hate for you to look strange.

Over the last week Jacy has experienced all of these with the exception of sores and  hair loss.  So far we are attributing this to very careful hygiene and a solid barrier of protection delivered through a specified creme.  Diligence has been the utmost of priorities.  As far as the hair loss I am still hedging on stubborn Cuban genes, but the doctor has assured us both the hair will go and when it does, she will just wake up one morning to clumps of hair all over her pillow.

Tonight we sat across from each other and played words with friends. I know it sounds silly or even boring but for me it was awesome! She is in great spirits after her first day off chemotherapy.  The bathroom is still never far from her reach and the nausea is still there, but her beautiful smile is larger than ever and that kick ass attitude carries the same resilience.

Our doctor continues to remind us we have a long road to travel. The shivers come on uncontrollably and usually arrive about the time she is really starting to feel better.  No matter what happens she will need a bone marrow transplant and it will be a long week waiting for the ability to draw her own bone marrow for testing to see where we stand in regards to killing all of the ‘bad” cells.

As many of you know I took the end of the month off because this was the week we were supposed to go away and be together just her and I.  A break from children, the ranch and life in general; the type of break every marriage needs from time to time to reconnect. She had been asking for me to make this happen for quite sometime.  Apparently she unknowingly decided how it was  going to go, and short of not being able to sleep together in the same bed. No bar or drink service allowed, no swimming pool or spa for us to lounge about during the day. It hasn’t been all that bad. We have gotten a ton of alone time, meals (well just hers) delivered to our room, turn down service, cable t.v. and some serious privacy.  We have also spent quite a bit of time gazing into each others eyes, holding hands and softly saying “I love you” while the sun sets over the eastern wall of Kaiser.

I couldn’t have asked for a better partner to go on vacation with, even if it’s in a hospital, with a life altering event hovering over our heads. I love you Jacy, you are my best friend, one hell of a partner, hands down the most beautiful person I know both inside and out! As I said the day we married, I cant wait to spend the rest of my life with you.

So lets keep kicking cancers ass!!

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