Eating had become one of my husband’s greatest obsessions. He had morphed from a skinny yet muscular cyclist to someone almost unrecognisable in two months. I was warned that some of the common side effects of taking dexamethasone may include fluid retention and increased appetite. As an anti-inflammatory medication the dexa was used specifically to decrease swelling associated with the brain tumour so unfortunately was essential in the arsenal to fight his cancer.
My husband had always loved food but was also incredibly controlled as to what he ate and when. Everything was planned and his diet cycling specific. He’d also decided to eat a vegetarian diet similar to me shortly after we met and felt the benefits immediately never returning to meat. The added benefit of being vegetarian with a brain tumour was that he wasn’t feeding the growth of the tumour with the protein from the meat. I’d mentioned that to my mother who agreed it was a good thing, she’d never liked me being vegetarian and often joked I’d converted Russ.
When he now began to reach for third helpings at dinner I was in two minds of restricting him. Shouldn’t I now just let him eat whatever he wanted? He only had a few months to live so who was I to deny him particular foods? Questions around food constantly occupied my thoughts as I attempted to continue to feed him a nutritious variety, although it seemed no matter how much I cooked it was never enough.
On the 14th of November our precious little angel Jack Rusty was born at The Bays Hospital in Mornington. The birth was pain free being a scheduled cesarean and in less than an hour Jack was in my arms gazing into my eyes. We were quickly whisked from theatre back to our room as Russ made his way back with the assistance of a nurse. He was still walking well at this stage and to most outsiders he was ok. Other than bumping into a few walls / people / furniture along the way (due to losing some vision during the craniotomy) he seemed fine.
The food in the hospital was fantastic, we ordered from an extensive menu and all of visitors were also well looked after. Managing Russ’s needs in addition to Jack’s in the first 24 hours was challenging. Nurses were constantly coming and going checking how my son was feeding, was I able to change him and asking how I felt. I’d rejected their offer to for painkillers wanting a clear head to deal with both Russ and Jack’s needs. I also had quite a large stash of endone if required in Russ’s bag. I could see the concern on the nurses faces as they came and went as I’m sure they’d been briefed by my obstetrician as to details of ‘my case’.
Russ lay semi conscious dozing beside me on the double bed and Jack on the other side of me nestled under my arm. I looked at both of them and thought how grateful I was, however imperfect the situation was. Russ was in the middle of chemo and radiotherapy, and I was learning to be new Mum.
The nurses brought a DVD player in with a series of discs of ‘essential skills a new Mum needed to learn’ and they urged me to watch them. I had missed the prenatal classes and hadn’t read any books much to their surprise. Wasn’t motherhood a natural process? I’d always questioned the industry with all the extras they’d offered with their lamaze classes, active birthing, calm birthing, aqua classes, preparation for breastfeeding etc. It all seemed like a money making exercise instilling fear into new Mums preying on their lack of confidence and need to be schooled by industry experts. Early on in the process Andy my obstetrician told me to ignore all of that and just focus on my health, knowing that I had zero time as I was focussed on my husband. I trusted his advice implicity and he was on call for me 24 hours a day with any questions I had. I hadn’t even thought about the cesarean until the day I was admitted when he visited before I was admitted to theatre when I asked for a quick overview of the procedure. He laughed and reassured me everything would be fine. I later learnt he had a reputation as the best on the Peninsula, instinctively I feel I’d known this all along and the universe had delivered him to me at the right time.
Jack slept peacefully beside me as Russ stirred and needed help getting out of bed to the bathroom. I jumped up forgetting I’d just had surgery and felt a sharp pain… maybe I should have taken those painkillers. I led him to the bathroom and undressed him as he insisted on having a shower when the nurse poked her head in. She seemed shocked seeing him in there, she must have assumed it was me and I closed the door and said we were fine thank you.
With Russ tucked back in bed and Jack happily nursing Andy reappeared to check on me. He smiled and asked how things were going. Looking over at the bed he did a double take as I had all of the chemo drugs portioned out ready to pack away in the small plastic bags to be sent off with Russ’s friends who were running him to and from the Alfred Hospital for radiotherapy. I apologised and said I’d put them away soon thinking it probably wasn’t ideal but I wanted to wait until Russ was asleep. The sight of those drugs filled him with angst, he referred to them as his poison.
“The nurses sent me in to have a chat with you. They mentioned you were giving Russ a shower and wouldn’t take any painkillers”, he began. “They’re worried about you… you probably should be resting, you’ve just had major surgery.” “I’m fine,” I replied. “He needed a shower, and the pain is not really that bad. I’ve got endone here if I need it.” He laughed and kissed me on the head and left the room. I was so lucky to have such a caring, thoughtful and amazing person looking after me. I flicked through the photos on my phone the nurse had taken in the theatre during the birth and held my little Jack close. I wouldn’t let anyone else touch him and had barely put him down since he was born.
The night was difficult. The ward was loud and Russ complained constantly he couldn’t sleep. Jack of course was feeding through the night and I was wide awake monitoring both of them on an incredible high. It was the night of the supermoon and I’d asked the nurses to keep the blinds open hoping I could see it from my bed. It was just after midnight and I’d just dozed off when I heard Jack stir and waking I noticed the moon in the centre of our window shining so incredibly brightly, as if looking over us all in the room that night. The light shone directly on my sleeping Jack and I thought what an incredible phenomenon I was experiencing, not only was the moon full but on this day it will be the closest point to our planet as it orbits Earth. I wanted to wake Russ but then again thought best not to.
Jack had been conceived as we visited the Indonesia island of Sulawesi just east of Borneo. We had been visiting with friends and spending a week there participating in a music festival with the highlight being the solar eclipse. There were a number of ‘eclipse babies’ in our group of eclipse chasing friends, so it was only fitting that Jack was also born on the day of the Supermoon! The Sulawesi trip had been extra special as it was Russ’s first eclipse and such a powerful one at that.
The noise in the maternity ward continued through the night and the nurses constantly appeared offering to take Jack so I could sleep which I found quite odd. Why would I want my son taken from me? Sleep was quite irrelevant, I was accustomed to operating in an exhausted state. I thought I must have looked dreadful that morning and made my way to the bathroom popping a few painkillers in my mouth along the way – no point in struggling anymore if I didn’t have to. Plus Russ was being collected in a few hours for his treatment so I’d have some time out. I was muddling my way through changing Jack’s nappy when Andy appeared and took over, I was grateful to hand over this task. There would be plenty of time to perfect that soon no doubt. He laughed and said he was here for an intervention! He’d met with the nurses overnight and although he knew I was managing well he wanted to have me assessed by a psychiatrist. I laughed and said sure why not. Another medical professional interfering in my life surely wasn’t going to make much difference.
Russ left for his treatment and a lovely woman arrived, middle aged and well dressed perching herself on my bed as I sat in the chair and nursed Jack. We had an instant rapport and talked about the wonder of giving birth and motherhood. She asked about the program Russ was on and how I was coping. I took my laptop from my bag and explained how I’d scheduled everything and the people that were assisting, also that I planned to discharge myself early as it would be easier to manage everything from home. She suggested I stay at least 3 days in the hospital so they could ensure I was recovering as planned then asked who was looking after me. I hadn’t thought about that before. Well Andy was… and I was looking after me! I jokingly asked if she thought I was going to have a nervous breakdown. She mentioned a few people had thought that as my situation would have certainly leant itself to one, but then she added she thought I was mentally well, just carrying a heavy burden. I agreed and she left, folder tucked under her arm. Ticked that box, what was next I thought.
For the sake of all of us I’d decided Russ should go home so he could have a decent sleep. My mother offered to stay with him, and although weary I agreed. One night should be fine. She collected him in the late afternoon and with instructions of which medication to take when I left him in her hands. That evening we text back and forth and all seemed to be well. Finally I could focus on Jack and I.
The next morning I was woken with a text from Russ, “Guess what I ate last night?” Inquisitive I asked and he replied he couldn’t tell me. So I text my mother asking what she fed Russ last night. She told me to ask him. Between the two of them I was getting nowhere and beginning to get annoyed. So I sent her a final message and with no response I called Russ; he finally caved in. “Goulash!” he said. And continued that he’d eaten two large bowls of it. I was absolutely furious feeling the heat racing to my head. Firstly that she had the audacity to bring meat into the house and cook it in my kitchen, and secondly to feed it to my husband especially after our recent conversation of the tumour feeding on proteins. I took a deep breath and tried to calm myself as I called my mother. “He enjoyed it,” she said laughing. Once again she had failed me when I needed her most.