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An Odyssey Through Illness to the Shores of Health (i.e. Ithaka)

By Vera Frances

My journey began on an eve so fine
In the spring of 1989,
When to the halls of Asclepius I did go
To learn why my head was aching so.
“Tell me dear”, the doctor said,
“Has no one ever checked the pain in your  head?”
“No indeed doctor, you see,
Headaches are a family malady.”
After finishing his exam, he said,
“Now go down to the lab where they can see inside your head,
And come back on Monday morn again
When more assessments will be done”.
The fateful call came two days later
As we were sitting down to dinner.
“There seems to be something wrong in your brain
When you come in tomorrow,
We’ll x-ray it again”.

On Monday I was feeling quite ill, you see
Which the doctor noted immediately.
So after another CAT scan of my head,
He sent me straight to a hospital bed
And gave me an elixir so very grand,
That I was sure I had my cure in my hand.
But, indeed, that was not to be,
For Wednesday they had scheduled surgery.

In the meantime, my two grown sons did arrive
And I thought to myself: if I did not survive,
At least they were already launched on life’s path—
One in medicine, the other still an undergrad.
But the loneliest part of my stormy journey
Was when they wheeled me out on a guerney
And the steel doors of the elevator did close,
Locking my family outside as it rose
To an amphitheater all white and bright
Where they gave me shots to shut out the light.

The next thing I knew
I was being poked and yelled at too
“Vera, open your eyes, please do
So we can see if all’s fine with you”.
I finally consented so they could assess
If the surgeon’s knife had been wielded with finesse.
Satisfied that I could still hear, see, feel and speak,
They let me drift off once again to sleep
And I slept for what seemed like weeks and eeks.
When at last my eyes opened wide,
An angel in white was at my side.
In the form of a nurse to provide TLC,
She made me as comfortable as I could be.

A word should be said about the room I was in.
Long and narrow, a storage room or closet it had been.
With absolutely no décor at all
Except for two empty shelves on one wall.
My bed in a corner had been placed
With one small window nudged in near my face.
But happy indeed was I to see
My husband in a bed not far from me
There to keep me company.
Now my head was encased in a helmet so tight
Made of gauze so very white
And every morn at the crack of dawn,
A group of white-clad warriors came to say,
“How are you feeling today?”

And then one day something wonderful occurred
Which I could not believe, my word.
Flowers started arriving you see
All colors and scents, as beautiful as could be!
And my room, once so bleak and mean,
Now like a flower shop did seem.
“Who sent me these?” I did say
But the accompanying cards took the mystery away.
So many people I did know
Were at a meeting to which we were to go.
And when we did not appear,
To my brother-in-law they went to hear
The story of my illness he told
And thus the flowers so glorious to behold.
Never would I imagined you see
That so many people cared about me.

But unfortunately, for whatever reason,
Another storm lurked on the horizon.
Thus, one day I awoke so very sick
That the surgeon ordered a CAT scan real quick.
Afraid that there might be some bleeding,
The x-ray said that was not the reason.
Rather my brain had become swollen
Which in post-op cases, is not uncommon.
So once more the magic elixir I received
And once again my discomfort it eased.
But when the medicine wore off you see,
I said to myself, “Well, this is how you’ll be.
You’re sick, after all, and this strife
Will probably last for the rest of your life”.

However, one night, I felt so much better
That I said to myself, “I wonder whether
I can get up and walk around on my legs
Without having to go right back to bed”.
So the next day I walked down the hall
With my husband at my side so that I would not fall.
The surgeon, who was coming the other way,
Asked how I was feeling that day.
And when I said, “Oh, much better indeed”,
He replied, “You’ve turned the corner it seems”.
“Perhaps you’ll go home tomorrow”, he did say,
“And be there on Sunday for Mothers’ Day”.
Oh, it was so very fine
To feel the wind on my face once again.
And when at home I did arrive,
My sons had prepared a grand surprise—
An album of photos of our lives together
With notations under one picture and another.
“This is a Welcome Home gift for you
And a present for a Happy Mothers’ Day too!”

This was not quite the end of my journey you see,
Storms of radiation and chemo awaited me.
But these, as well, I was lucky to survive
And I feel oh so happy to be alive!

Now battling these tumultuous oceans
Flooded my family with a surge of emotions.
It certainly brought us closer together
Having survived such stormy weather.
And it made us all appreciate and say,
“Savor and value each and every day
Of life’s journey along the way.”

Vera Frances, Barnard Class of 1963 died in 2007 after a courageous 18 year struggle with cancer.



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