For the first time in 30 years, I forgot the Man I Married’s birthday. Instead of my bringing him breakfast in bed and wishing him a Happy Birthday, he brought a cup of tea to me in my downstairs recovery room—an office now filled with medical equipment. Whereupon I greeted him with a graphic recap of the results of the prescription laxative suppository I’d finally given a chance–through desperation–at 8:00 the night before, thinking I’d be feeling lighter by bedtime. Instead, I read an entire novel overnight on the cold throne, feeling like I’d eaten nothing but peanut shells for the past two weeks rather than having ingested and injected massive cocktails of opioids with a side of morphine.
Opioids, I had learned by chance before my straightforward, outpatient hip surgery to repair a soft-tissue tear, caused constipation. So I got myself off the pain pills within three days of my surgery. The side effect had not yet quite resolved by the time I was back in the hospital a few days later, watching the clock to push a small plunger to give myself a hit of Dilaudid every eight minutes and slinging back every additional opioid pill the nurses cared to hand me. Screw fretting over the side effect, which my mom knew all about. “Sure, OIC,” Mom said knowingly. “Opioid Induced Constipation. I see the laxative commercials all the time.”
Who said television isn’t educational?
Fortunately, social media saved MIM’s birthday. After MIM departed for work and I opened “the pink thing” (my technical term for whatever the portable electronic tablet in a pink case is, since I couldn’t sit at my desk and wouldn’t turn my computer on again for weeks), Facebook reminded me that MIM had eaten a Shrimp Po-Boy from the Louisiana Market for his birthday five years earlier in N’Awlins. I’d come a long way since engineering in 1987 a day-long romantic celebration of MIM’s birth. I was wrung out and hadn’t remembered, much less planned, a thing.
I phoned MM at his work desk and wailed about forgetting his birthday. He understood, since I’d only been out of the hospital for three days after losing one-third of my blood volume to a severe internal bleed, the result of my swift and massive overreaction to blood thinners prescribed for a post-surgery blood clot in my leg. He knew I could not yet make it over the quarter-inch-high transition strip between my office/temporary bedroom and the bathroom (so he removed them), much less get upstairs to the kitchen or plan a party.
From Command Center, I sent my dad out for an ice cream cake, birthday candles, and an 8-pack of Ultra Soft Charmin. I made plans to pick up a Shrimp Po-Boy for MIM’s dinner on the way home from my doctor’s appointment, but my doctor sent me for an emergency ultrasound of my blood clot at a hospital that nudges a cemetery. “‘Cemeteries are where doctors bury their mistakes,’” Dad ominously quoted Ambrose Bierce as he parked the car. Also this wise gem: “Studies show that doctors make the worst small-airplane pilots. Too cocky.” Running errands and shepherding me—who had been healthy and strong before my outpatient surgery—around town to hospitals, clinics, pharmacies, and medical equipment supply stores, he had plenty of time to recall and mull over some of his favorite medical trivia.
My blood clot was stable, but the ultrasound tech—whose fake eyelashes were too short for her eyes—gave me a tiny towel to clean up with, so I was smeared from ankle to groin in K-Y and had no time or energy for the Po-Boy errand on the way back home.
We did, however, stop at a convenience store, since Dad had so far been unable to procure matches for the candles. There—since I was on crutches—I paid a teenager $5 to carry my pricey, birthday-boy, 12-ounce beer bottles from the refrigerator case to the counter, where I requested matches from the tight-lipped cashier and bought a jumbo bag of Smart Pop—for the fiber. Hiring a minor to carry my booze might have been illegal, but at that point things couldn’t get worse for me than being out and about in public in sweatpants.
Mom made a batch of Frankfurters Paprika, an upscale version of the hotdog version she’d made every week when we were growing up and which all three kids have fond hankerings for, even when we are intermittently vegetarian. Mom and Dad weren’t even supposed to be in town. A week earlier, they had swung through Seattle “for a day or two” on their way home to Honolulu from Denver (my Dad had a suspicious story about not being able to get a good flight to Honolulu, but he must have intuited that he and Mom would be needed here—he had not made flight reservations home from Seattle). They had just left the airport to head to our house when MIM phoned them to meet us at the Emergency Room, instead. Mom moved in to care for me when the hospital discharged me (I left claw marks on the floor when they dragged me away from the opioid plunger), and so they were unexpectedly here for MIM’s birthday. Mom had hit the ground running with her recipes, and she hadn’t stopped dicing, mixing, and sauteing since she’d arrived. I regularly fell asleep listening to her furiously chopping away at the cutting board upstairs.
My brother drove down to join us for dinner and cake, and here’s where I got extra lucky. Having completely forgotten MIM’s birthday, I had already invited a friend over to teach me how to knit to give me something brainless to do while I recovered. So Kathryn and her husband, Sean, our longtime friends, were both here to sing Happy Birthday and drink beer with the birthday boy and our family. The cake was served on the medical overbed table my folks rented for me. With family and friends spilling out from my room to the outdoor patio MIM had just finished for me, I like to think it couldn’t have been a nicer birthday celebration if I’d planned it that way.