I’m sitting in the blue room in my house. Most of the other walls in this home are painted white. But there was always the blue room and the orange room, actually more of a salmon color. When the kids were little, it was easier to ask them to go get something from the blue room or the orange room rather than the music room/library or the computer room.
The blue room is on the first floor of the house. When we moved in forty years ago, the house was broken into three apartments. We lived on the first floor and rented out the upstairs until we started our family. I picked out the paint for this room, our bedroom. I remember the amazing quilt I found for our bed, a glorious paisley with the same blue as the walls, accented by subtle autumn colors.This room has seen a lot. Michael and I had lived together for 6 years when we moved in. The rhythm of our relationship was established and growing stronger every day. There’s something special about the first bedroom you have in your own house. We loved each other, our bed, our room, our house and we felt lucky. We read in bed, listened to music and let the dogs sleep at our feet. One time we borrowed a Polaroid camera from a friend and took sexy photos in here. This was the room where our daughter was conceived. When that happened, we took over one of the apartments and moved our bedroom upstairs next to the one for our baby.
And then the blue room became the computer room and the music room. Michael built CD racks of golden oak that went from floor to ceiling. With his usual anal-retentive style, the CDs were alphabetized, with the classical ones having their own shelves and their own order. What was once our closet became the home for the racks he built for his beloved vinyl collection. Our computer was here along with a bookshelf or two. A place for work and music. The kids learned to dance in the this room. I think virtually all my family members bopped around in here at one time or another.
Adjacent to the blue room was the orange room which became our library, also shelved from top to bottom, lined with books. Neither one of us had much discipline about book buying. When I was a kid, we had one bookshelf. It was made by my grandfather and I still have it. I started with the first book on the first shelf and read them all in order. Then I started over again. Of course, there was the school library and the city library to compensate and fill my insatiable desire to read. But I had always dreamed of a room filled with an eclectic assortment of books that I couldn’t possibly get through no matter how hard I tried. That dream was realized in this house. Such happy times. In time, the orange room was painted white, except for one sneaky sliver of orange I left in an upper corner. The orange room became my mother’s bedroom for a few years and after her time, a parlor and playroom for the grandchildren.
But back to the blue room. Michael died in this room. I don’t think about that very often. We spent so much more time living in it, that the short period of time preceding his death is insignificant compared to all of our history. But today I’m thinking about it. This room is in a state of flux. The fall before Michael died, he sold his music collection. Both of us understood he’d lived so much longer than anyone predicted, but that we might run out of time, at any time. The thought of me having to deal with unloading thousands of LP’s and CD’s was overwhelming. I couldn’t imagine having to do that while trying to survive Michael’s loss. So he did it. People came from music stores throughout the Midwest and eventually he found the right buyer. One day, everything was packed into boxes and carted away. We saved a few special favorites and depended on Michael’s massive iTunes library and our house CDS that he’d made over the years to keep our toes tapping. After the sale, we started tackling the blue room. The shelves were taken down and sold. We kept one to store the CD’s we’d kept. And the items too precious to let go. The shelves pulled away bits of wall so we started started spackling the ancient plaster while discussing what we wanted to do with the space. We talked about the possibility of moving our bedroom back down here as my knees deteriorated and steps got harder to navigate. Maybe it would just be a reading room.
But then everything stopped as Michael’s cancer returned in a new frightening iteration and no one was thinking of remodeling any more. After a month-long stay in the hospital, Michael was released in a debilitated state. Because the blue room was mostly empty, I ordered a hospital bed placed in it to make things easier for both of us. The bathroom, which we’d had redone when my mother came to live with us, was handicap-accessible and just a few steps from the bed. It was the safest place for Michael to spend his last months. I hauled my recliner in and slept right next to him, just in case. In case of anything. He actually managed to get back to our bedroom for a few weeks. I was terrified because of all the stairs and the circuitous route to the upstairs bathroom. A short but sweet respite. Eventually we wound up back downstairs in the blue room.
During the summer of 2017, after he died, I worked in this room for hours, organizing the rest of his music memorabilia to be given away or disbursed to our kids. I did the writing, made the slide show and created the displays for his celebration of life right here, listening to the music of our lives as I plugged away at all the chores that come with the end of a life. I’ve cried here many times, but mostly I’ve just felt the consistently vibrant presence of our connection which is yet unfaded. When I breathe in the blue room I feel like I’m inhaling the essence of Michael which is peculiarly strong and buoyant. I lean on it internally. I never expected any of these sensations. They just come, they just are and I accept them and draw strength from them.
I am supposed to have knee replacement surgery this week. A glitch might delay that. Taken off guard, I’ve been casting around for some balance. And I wound up here, in the blue room. My knee replacement surgery is so long overdue that my countdown, which now numbers only a few days, seems fairly ridiculous. I still remember the first time I realized that my knees were becoming problematic. I was on a wooden ladder on my side porch, painting. Always an acrophobe, I’d spend a fair amount of time making sure the ladder was stable, no wobbles, no chances for me to tumble off. If it didn’t feel right, I’d climb down and make my tiny adjustments. I remember thinking how old our ladder was, and how terribly creaky it sounded when I was stopped cold by the realization that the creaky sound was coming from my left knee. I was fifty four years old. A medical procedure and doctor avoider my whole life, I spent the next years soldiering through the increasing pain. I’d inherited my mother’s arthritis, the gift that keeps on giving. I saw how it diminished her life, making her crabby and irritable because she was hurting. And she was taking lots of drugs. I decided I would do neither of those things. No abusing other people because of my pain and nothing but over the counter medications and topicals to get through the days. And of course, immersing myself in my beloved pools.
Michael would urge me to do something about myself, go to the orthopedist, consider injections, maybe even surgery. But he knew I was stubborn and eventually would look at me, concerned but bemused as I fought to prove mind over matter was a thing. When I’d mull over changing my mind about treatment, he’d say, “Right, I’ll believe it when I see it.” I can still hear him saying that now. When he got his cancer with its dreadful prognosis, all thought of dealing with my knees was pushed aside. I knew I would never take the risk of being in recovery if there was a chance he’d need me. Over time, all my cartilage disappeared and the bone on bone grinding became part of my daily life. It’s been a challenge. Whoever doubts that chronic pain erodes you on multiple levels clearly has never experienced it. When Michael died, I decided that the time had come to deal with myself as my quality of life was tanking. I’ve pushed through a lot, but aside from trying to figure out a way to live an amphibious life, surgery is the only answer.
The Role of Emotional Health in Functional Outcomes After Orthopaedic Surgery: Extending the Biopsychosocial Model to Orthopaedics
I made an appointment with the orthopedist last June. Imagine my surprise when he said that his protocols precluded surgery on people in acute grief. He says that studies showed that their successful recovery rate was significantly less than the non-grieving population. So he sent me away for another year. When I went back this June, I asked him if he’d need new imaging of my knees. He laughed in my face and said absolutely not. I am so in the bottom of the knee barrel that I am now the perfect candidate for surgery. No more looking required. So here I am, about to have my first grownup medical intervention. That makes me very lucky and very nervous. How do I respond to anesthesia? Who knows? What in the world will it be like for me to the patient after having spent so much of my life as the advocate, sitting at the bedside of both my parents, my sister, my friends and even my children? Powerless? I hope not. My least favorite thing.
But now there may be a sudden swerve away from this long-delayed intervention. I’ve always said we are all one phone call away from a change in your life. I got my phone call late Friday afternoon. I don’t yet know whether I’ll be proceeding with my surgery or if a new plan will be required. That still remains to be seen.
So I am in the blue room. Looking around and remembering all kinds of things as I listen to the music that never ends. Sheltering in place.