Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Powerful Stuff

The summer has been very kind to me. I am almost fully recovered from my July surgery. I was uncomfortable for only about 6 days. I have been singing the praises of the high tech da Vinci Surgical System which made this all possible for me. Well, that system and 2 very skilled surgeons along with an excellent anesthesiologist who tolerated my cursing and threatening to leave the hospital when he tried to put in an arterial line prior to my surgery. This is NOT an IV line, but one that goes directly into an artery (deeper than veins) so blood pressure and heartbeat can be monitored in real time. Due to the length of my surgery he felt this was the best way to keep me safe. He finally waited until he put me under to finish since his 3 tries were unsuccessful.

I had 4 very small incisions and minimal blood loss (5 tablespoons, someone said). My discomfort was short lived. Within 5-6 days I was taking walks in the neighborhood with my husband, sitting in the gardens and, in general, resuming my routine life with a few restrictions. I learned from the pathology report in July that I had NO cancer anywhere. Yippeeeeee! After living with the threat of cancer for 2.5 years and having 4 surgeries during this time while opting for a conservative treatment protocol with medication instead of major surgery, I learned I had made a wise choice in delaying this surgery, afterall. If I'd had major surgery when I was first diagnosed I would not have had the option of this high tech da Vinci procedure. My da Vinci surgeon has only been doing the robotic surgery a little over a year. A couple of others in the area may have been doing it a little longer, but no one was ready when I was initially diagnosed. Da Vinci has 3-D vision with 10 X magnification. The surgeon and I both benefited. She had a better field of vision and a clean surgical area (without blood contamination). I had a much easier recovery with less risk of complications and very little blood loss.

Now that I can travel we will soon return to our favorite ocean refuge where we will once again climb into bed and listen to the music of the sea. We will awake to that seascape of water rushing toward us and leaving foamy bubbles and a zigzag pattern across the sand in its retreat. We'll roam a familiar coastline and find new places to explore. We will heal in the salty air. These long months of stress, months during which we buried my mother, navigated 2 surgeries for me, handled a failing economy and the continued threat of layoffs, learned my father had suffered 3 fractures during a car crash, and faced a myriad of other "cost of living" emotional expenses have been hard on us. We survived them, and now it is time to rest and play! After we say goodbye to the ocean we will drive northeast to the Canadian Rockies to adventures in Banff National Park. We will see Lake Louise's deep aqua water amidst that famous backdrop of mountain peaks rising behind her. We'll stand on the Columbia glacier in the Icefields, take a boat cruise along Lake Minnewanka, and keep our eyes perched for bears, elk, moose, eagles, deer, and any wildlife which deigns to grace us with its presence. We feel it in our bones - this is our year to see bears!

We finally saw Orca whales this past weekend! We have waited 6 years to see the Orcas while seeing every other whale that lives or swims through our waters: Minkes, Humpbacks, and Grays. In the warm Sunday sun we cruised around the San Juan Islands and headed northeast toward the Strait of Georgia. We saw so many Orcas we could not keep up with the count! It was amazing to see these whales rising from the water, flashing their dorsal fins. The naturalist told us which pod each belonged to and the name of each whale. They can be identified by their dorsal fin, by its size, shape, and color patches. Whale research agencies monitor this and know the exact Orca count at any given time in this area. Right now we have 84 resident Orcas which live here in pods J, K, and L. These resident Orcas eat salmon/fish whereas the transient Orcas which can sometimes be found in this area eat mammals like dolphins and sea lions, too. The Orcas found in Alaska are the transients, as are many off the Canadian coastline.

I became a bit frustrated Sunday not knowing in which direction to focus my attention. Just as I looked to the right I would catch a peripheral glimpse of a whale on my left! We rocked on the waters for a long time since the captain killed the engine to give the whales quiet space in their personal waters. There are regulations regarding distance boats must maintain. Twice Orcas swam directly toward our boat, and we all squealed at our thrill. There were times when we all shifted from one side of the boat to the other since the whales were swimming on both sides. Making a wise choice, my husband headed to the back of the boat saying he was sure a whale on our right was swimming directly there. He was right! We did not return to shore until 9:40 PM and were fully exhausted from a day on the water and the excitement that had stirred us. Many will never know the thrill of seeing whales swimming in the wild, and we are very grateful for our luck.

In early August we made a trip to Mt. Rainier to see her glowing face up close. The last time we visited her she was so covered in snow we could not get too near. On this perfect summer's day we were able to travel as close to her face as the winding road would allow and had a picnic lunch overlooking a valley where a green carpet was overgrown with wildflowers. Even in the heat of summer, her top is snow-covered, but there are glimpses of rocky terrain along her face. She glistens in the sun in beauty which is overwhelming.

The day before our Rainier visit we took a friend for a late lunch on Puget Sound and then headed north to Anacortes to see the sunset from Mt Erie, a mountain which climbs along the shoreline. We missed all photo ops of this setting sun because we were on the wrong side of the mountain for vista pull-offs as it descended, but we saw the red burst through the sky like a burning wildfire and caught sight of it through the tree tops. It was a similar sun that we saw on Sunday as we ended our whale watching, a sun rising out of clouds she had painted pink before spilling streaks of fiery red and then splashing them with a force that colored everything in sight! I don't think we have ever seen a sunset quite as red or piercing as this. The light was so bright it refused to be captured as perfectly as we could see it, a circle crisply shaped along its huge circumference, a very pale yellow set against the reds it threw across the sky and water.

As our boat rocked along the water, sometimes rough enough to cause me to reach for rails to steady myself as I stumbled and swayed, I thought about my summer. These rough waters had brought us the thrill of the whales and a sunset more exquisite than words or photographs can capture. My own rocky waters had found me unsteady and scared but had eventually led me to a healing of body and mind. I hope that I'll remember when I once again face a situation which contains such fear or risk that the journey ahead of me can also bring exciting and rewarding results.

Here are a few photos from our summer. Some of it we spent in our gardens, some of it on day trips. Some time was spent on the Sound having delicious seafood and watching sunsets, some of it was spent in medical appointments and the hospital. Some of our summer was spent being thankful for good friends and loved ones, both here in our real lives and in virtual space. We are glad for the good wishes and prayers, for the positive energy sent our way from all over this country, for the stuff that brings healing and comfort and love. It is powerful stuff, all of it - friends, love, family, wishes, thoughts, prayers, sunsets, gardens, whales, surgeons, technology, mountains, oceans, and the waiting arms of my beloved. Blessings, indeed.

All photography shown here is from our private collection and may not be used in any manner without our written permission.

To enlarge each photograph, just click on the image