Hawai’i.

Four months ago, Paul and I were in Hawai’i. (How strange it feels to write that; it seems like so much longer since we were there.) Recently, as I was looking for something on Paul’s laptop, I came across a text file titled simply ‘Hawaii’. It contained a few paragraphs that Paul wrote the evening of our first day in Hawai’i. Since it was clearly intended as part of a blog post, I thought I’d share it here. As I read it, I realized that I hadn’t ever downloaded the photos of the trip that I took with my new DSLR, so I did that, and combined some of those images and shots from my phone together with Paul’s words.

Kimberly and I are not typically the ‘spontaneous getaway vacation” types.

But both of us felt that the coincidental trip to NYC in May, coming as it did just before we launched into the radiation treatments, was special. It was an extraordinary weekend, and having a big charge of enjoyment and wonderful experience right before a Big Bad Thing was really good.

So, with very little discussion ahead of time, as soon as my surgery date was settled, we booked tickets for Hawai’i. Where we are as I write this. Having been here less than 24 hours, I can say it was a very good idea.


Surprisingly, for people who have lived on the West Coast for so long, neither of us has been here before. It’s more surprising for me, because previously I’d been in 48 of the 50 states, having driven, taken the train and even bicycled across the country before. After reading and consultations with our many friends who have been here before, it seemed like Kauai was the island we would most enjoy, but when we checked the weather forecast, we ruled it out. We were interested in seeing the sun, and there was nothing but rain forecast.

So here we are on “the Big Island”, which, I finally learned, is the one actually named Hawai’i. We have had some light rain and overcast, just enough to ease our transition from Seattle, but today we also got the sunshine and warmth we were seeking. We fly back on Monday, and have just enough planned to know we will have a good time, and also have room for flexibility.

The “flexibility” was key just to getting here. Faced with strong head winds, Alaska Airlines flew us first from Seattle to Portland, where we refueled, giving us a little extra margin, I guess. The headwinds not only slowed us down, but made much of the trip bumpy as well. By the time our flight arrived it was two hours behind schedule, making a night-time arrival an early-morning one. But the Kona airport is apparently used to such things, and they called ahead so the rental car places would have people stay late. I was very grateful we’d decided to book a B&B an easy 10-minute drive from the airport, instead of some of the more distant options. Our gregarious and generous B&B host was even up and showed us to our comfortable room, and emphasized that it was perfectly OK if we slept in, and he’d have breakfast set aside for us whenever we got to it. Hurray!

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We awoke in a tropical bioregion full of plants and animals we’ve never seen before. Our breakfast, once we got to it, included fresh fruits I’ve only read about, and samples of others like pineapple and banana that were fresher and tastier than I’ve ever had. Later, we drove along the ridge through the Kona coffee belt, passing dozens of little coffee farms, and stopping at a couple for tours and samples.

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Our first farm reminded me a bit of something from rural Sonoma or Napa – a tiny operation tucked away off the road, employing a few people producing a specialty crop, involving growing, harvesting and processing on a small scale. But here, there were beautiful roosters and hens prowling the property, and the crop was real live organic coffee, growing right in front of my eyes! It was really exciting.

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Later we also stopped at a much larger, longer-established operation, which was also fun, but different, giving us a peek into another niche in the economic system, because they also process raw beans from other growers, and do a lot in the bulk export market. (They can also pay for manicured lawns, tour guides and a gift shop, as opposed to handing you a laminated ‘self-tour’ and going back to their real work of running the roaster and packing bags for sale.)

As we left, we picked up a snack of Portugese-style sweet bread, baked next door at the Kona Historical Society, supposedly using the traditional forno at their restored settlement site. It was tasty, and reminded Kimberly and me of the similar bread common to Providence, RI, where we met.

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We descended from the hills and had a very late lunch/early dinner at a highly-ranked cafe/restaurant right on the ocean. Our friend Janeen had posted to Facebook an item from Fodors.com, with a list of America’s best 15 indie coffee shops, and this is one. (I’ve been to a few of the others on the list, too.) It was a little hard to find, tucked in the back of a building in the darkest heart of the touristy section of town, but it was lovely and the food and view were delicious. It was great to be sitting outside in November, enjoying a light breeze that made the heat and humidity quite comfortable.

That’s where Paul’s draft ended, one day into a five-day trip that we packed full of beauty and wonder and delight. When we got home from Hawai’i, and he was preparing for surgery, he tried to condense those magical days into one brief paragraph:

We went to coffee plantations, and we saw sea turtles, and we walked through steam venting into a jungle from a volcano. We saw plants and animals and fruits I’d never seen before. We watched the sun set on one side and the moon rise on the other and between them the glow of lava lighting up the steam in an active volcano crater.

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Four months ago today, we spotted those sea turtles off Mokuola Island, and walked past those jungle steam vents, and watched that glorious sunset-moonrise-lavaglow. We also wandered the Hilo Farmers Market, and ate lunch at the lovely Hilo Bay Cafe, and brought Thai take-out back to our octagonal wooden cottage deep in a forest of giant ferns. It was an extraordinary day.

Since Paul’s death, I’ve been so thankful that we had that time in Hawai’i. We went aiming to store up as much joy as we could, to help us through the pain that we knew was coming. We couldn’t know then how much pain, and what a horrible loss, lay ahead.

Our second day in Hawai’i, we went back to the oceanfront coffee shop we’d found the previous day. Ever the coffee nerds, we decided to compare coffee from an Oahu plantation processed using two different methods, washed and raisin. When the mugs arrived at our table, Paul leaned over them to inhale the coffee aromas. And as he looked up, I captured him. Curious. Playful. Happy just to be there.
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For a dancer.

Paul and I met on Valentine’s Day in 1981. Paul had just transferred to Brown; I had transferred there one year before. That evening, my friend Melinda and I went to a Valentine’s party hosted by another transfer student. I don’t remember who was throwing the party, or where their house was, or whether it was cold or snowy that night. All that detail is long gone. What I do remember is walking into a living room, where this cute guy was dancing with my friend Oona. Melinda introduced us (it was Paul), we chatted briefly, then Paul and Oona kept dancing. He seemed quite taken with her. I don’t remember anything about the rest of the party, either.

It’s not much of a story, really, and I probably wouldn’t remember that brief moment at the party had Paul not shown up at Melinda’s birthday party two days later. By then, he had learned from Oona that she was involved with another woman, and was not a romantic option. That night, after everyone else had gone home, Paul and I sat up talking for hours, with Jackson Browne keeping us company on my stereo. That night, thirty three years ago tonight, was when we first started to fall in love.

Since Paul’s death, one Jackson Browne song we listened to that first night together keeps coming back to me. It is beautiful and sad and, ultimately, hopeful. So on this, the first of many anniversaries without him here, I thought I’d share it with you.


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My dearest love.

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Yesterday, I lost my dearest love, Paul, a man with one of the brightest, strongest spirits and finest, funniest minds that I have ever known.

I don’t have the words to say how much I will miss him.

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An unplanned detour.

Kimberly and I have been slow to get updates out, but, after being home for a week, I have spent most of the last week back in a bed at the UWMC. We’ve been working to understand and treat some problems I’ve had in recovering from my surgery on the 25th.

(According to Dr. Futran, the surgery went very smoothly, and everything from the neck up has been healing right on schedule. More on that later.)

We had a follow-up appointment with nurse practicioner Carol Stimson at the otolaryngology clinic last Tuesday afternoon. The original plan for that appointment was to check how the reconstruction in my mouth was healing, remove the stitches from my face and neck, and pull the staples from the incision on my leg. But, as we were getting ready to leave for the hospital, it was clear to both of us that I was in no condition to just get a few stitches clipped and turn right around for home. We know enough to know that we needed the resources of medical professionals and probably a hospital stay to get me straightened out.

When I went home from the hospital a week after surgery, my weight was up ~25 pounds from the fluids I’d been given during surgery and after. Despite multiple doses of Lasix at home, I wasn’t losing the water weight. In fact, I seemed to be worse, and in alarming ways. (When fluid starts weeping through the skin on your swollen feet, something has gone badly wrong.) And, oddly, while my left arm and hand had returned to normal, my right arm was still swollen.

As it turned out, Carol agreed that going back into the hospital was the right thing to do. After clipping stitches and pulling staples (ouch!), she made arrangements to admit me, and rolled me in a wheelchair from the oto clinic up to a room just down the hall from where I was after surgery.

One advantage of being admitted to the hospital is ready access to the tests that we needed to help understand what was going on. Within hours, I had a wide array of blood chemistry tests, and an echocardiogram and a chest x-ray and a scan of my right arm. Another advantage is ready access to whatever specialists I might need to address what we found. In my case, the appropriate “specialists” turned out to be the “medical team” – internists who, in a hospital setting, deal with non-surgical, non-emergent issues like mine.

I had the echo because of my history of cardiomyopathy. Fluid retention is a common side effect (though not usually for me), so they wanted to check my heart function. There is some suggestion that my heart is not pumping as well as before – an ejection fraction of 25-30% as opposed to my longstanding 35-40%. (Normal is 50%.) What we don’t know is whether that is a cause or effect of all the fluid – maybe a little of both. Personally, I am inclined to think that when I’m not trying to pump 25 pounds of extra fluid around my body, my heart function will improve.

To get rid of all the fluid, my internist, Dr. Narayanan, has given me increasingly large doses of IV Lasix; it took 80ml 3 times a day to get me to the desired net fluid loss of 1.5 liters per day. (Yesterday I hit 1.9 liters! That’s 4 pounds… and a lot of peeing!) Pushing that much urine out of one’s body can mess up kidneys and blood chemistry, so they’ve been carefully monitoring both. So far I’ve only needed a little potassium each day.

The ultrasound of my arm showed a small blood clot at the site where I had a PICC line following surgery. This is highly unlikely to have life-threatening implications, since small arm clots don’t tend to break off and go to hearts or lungs. Treatment involves twice-daily subcutaneous injections of Lovenox for 1-3 months. I’m not amused, but it is what it is.

This morning, I weighed 71.8 kg (158 pounds), down from about 80 kg (177 pounds) when I was admitted. Today they switched me to oral Lasix, to be sure it would keep things moving. It seems to be doing the trick, which means I’ll probably be discharged tomorrow, and can finish getting back to my pre-surgery “dry weight” of 152 pounds at home.

The waiting room all over again.

Because we wrote extensively about Paul’s cancer and surgery in 2004, I can go back and read what I was thinking and feeling then. But I don’t have to read the old blog to remember the hours I spent waiting (and worrying and hoping) while Paul was in the operating room. It was – literally and figuratively – one of the longest days of my life. However, the caring and support I felt from family and friends enabled me to get through the day more easily and calmly than I had imagined possible.

In less than twelve hours, I get to do it again. And I would love your company while I wait.

Like the last time, I’ll be at the UW Medical Center tomorrow from 5:15 am (when Paul checks in) until some time in the evening (about 9:30 pm in 2004) that he’s moved from recovery to the ICU and I can see him and hold his hand for a while before going home. For most of those 16+/- hours, I’ll be in the surgical waiting room.

Please drop by, if you have time. Bring a hug, and a good story. (In 2004, I asked for chocolate, and had enough at the end of the day to last for Paul’s entire hospital stay. This time, I’m bringing the Hershey’s kisses that Paul’s sister Vanessa sent us, and the dark chocolate-covered macadamia nuts we brought back from our quick getaway to Hawai’i, so we may have enough.) Meet my mother, if you haven’t before. (Last time around, I wrote, “Meet my parents.” I’m so glad Mom is here… and I am missing my Dad something fierce.) Let me beat you at a game of Qwirkle. If the weather is like today’s (which it’s forecast to be), join me for a brisk walk in the sunshine. Stay as long as you like.

(Because I’ve done this before, I copied the directions to the surgical waiting room from the last time. However, I couldn’t keep myself from editing them. Anyway, the surgical waiting room is on the 2nd floor, off a long passageway that connects the main building and the surgical pavilion. If you come in the main hospital entrance, turn left and go to the Cascade elevators. As sometimes happens in buildings built into hillsides, the main entrance is on the 3rd floor, so take the elevator down to 2. When you get off the elevator, turn left, then turn right at the corridor. You’ll see the waiting room on your right. If you park in the surgical pavilion garage, take the elevator to the 2nd floor. When you get off the elevator; you’ll see the skybridge to the main building. Walk that way; the door will be on your left.)

If you’re far away, or have a full day planned, or just can’t bear hospitals, I understand. (There are days when I can’t bear hospitals, either.) I’ll have my phone, my laptop and a wifi connection, so you can call or text or email me if you want to check in any time during the day.

Whether delivered in person, telephonically, electronically, or through the vibe-o-sphere, I’m counting on your love, good thoughts and well wishes to help me get through the day.