I did my best to prepare for Jeff’s recovery. The biggest concern I had was food. Jeff was going to be on a very restrictive diet for the first two weeks. He was limited to a vegetarian, minimal fat diet (maximum of five grams of fat per day). How in the world was I going to swing this?
Our friend Bernadette, a trained chef, came to the rescue. She put together meals for the both of us during that time. The meals were fat free, varied, and delicious. Thanks to her, I didn’t have to worry about what to cook and Jeff was able to eat real food instead of JELL-O. To say that we were both grateful doesn’t even begin to cover it.
The other big thing on my mind was work. I was over most of my initial fear, but I was still a little worried about how work would factor into things. I laid things out for my boss. I told him that I would need some time off at first and then afterwards I would have to work from home for about six weeks. I didn’t think he’d have a bad response, but I wasn’t sure how things would play out.
There are no words to express how thankful and appreciative I am for how he handled it. There would be no issue. We worked at a technology company with flexible hours. I could do what I needed. The situation wouldn’t be hidden from people, but it would also not be advertised. It was easy enough to accommodate my need to be home without it being considered a special circumstance.
It didn’t have any impact on my career. I am so grateful for this. I know that most people do not have such a luxury.
Having set up all this ahead of time, the next thing I needed to do was make sure the apartment was ready. Overall, this wouldn’t have been a big deal…except for one thing. The air conditioner broke down a couple of days before I expected Jeff home. Dealing with the July heat was not going to be an option for Jeff. I needed to get a new air conditioner ASAP. I moved heaven and earth managed to get the new one installed just in time — the morning before he came home, in fact.
Everything was in place. He came home. The caretaking began.
For the first month, he mostly rested. He got up to do his walks. He watched a lot of Netflix. But mostly, he slept. He was still in pain, his body was healing, and he was so tired.
Evening were tough. That’s when his digestive system would protest and he would be in more pain. There wasn’t much I could do help. Worn out and then extra weary from the digestive pain, he was asleep again by 8 pm and out for the night.
Night was when I did most of my work. I did bits and pieces during the day, fielding emails and some reviews. The bulk of it, however, was done in the evenings. I became a nocturnal professional. I was on a project with our Singapore and Chennai offices and I accommodated their time zones. Plus, I wanted to keep my days as open as possible so I could care for Jeff.
I didn’t need to do too much. It was mostly picking up things that were too heavy for him and getting things he couldn’t reach. I took care of all the housework. I made sure he was comfortable and didn’t need anything. And, I did it all a bit too much.
I was hovering. I treated him as though he was fragile, which he was. He needed me to stop constantly checking on him. He appreciated everything I did, but I was also getting on his nerves.
We talked about it and came up with a code word. When I was hovering, he would say “chicken fingers.” I’d back off. No explanation or conversation needed. This worked well. He didn’t feel bad about telling me back off. I didn’t feel bad about backing off. Chicken fingers. It’s still our code for “honey, please back off.”
During this time, Jeff asked me to tell people that he didn’t want any visitors. He was still recovering and sleeping most of the time. He wanted to rest. I let people know this, and let them know it was Jeff’s request. Still, I had to field off people.
At this point I was no longer trying to be polite. I simply replied “no” to emails from people wanting to visit. I told our doormen that we had a no visitor policy. Only people we approved ahead of time could come up — and that was only for Bernadette bringing us food. They did have to turn away some people who came by unannounced, but at least I didn’t have to deal with it.
I had anticipated needing to continue my role of Gate Keeper. People were concerned and really wanted to see him. I understood this. I was aggravated, and I didn’t like being the bad guy, but I understood.
What I had not anticipated was the deluge of fruit baskets. Yes, fruit baskets. It was like an invasion.
Repeatedly, I let our friends and family know that for various reasons, including the tight space constraints of a one-bedroom apartment and Jeff’s strict dietary restrictions, food and gift baskets should NOT be sent. (We suggested making a donation to The Ronald McDonald House instead.) Still, we got close to a dozen fruit baskets.
I took every single one to the soup kitchen down the street. Fruit baskets are heavy. I never want to see another one in my entire life.
Another thing I didn’t anticipate, but should have, was the reaction from our neighbors. Over the course of the week after the surgery, Jeff lost a lot of weight. He was gaunt. He looked tired (because he was). He looked very ill. People noticed. I should have told more people ahead of time so they wouldn’t have been so scared for him.
Various neighbors, the dry cleaner, the people who worked in the delis, the guys in the corner wine shop, all pulled me aside to ask if Jeff was okay. They were shocked at his appearance and they were very worried. I let them know what was going on.
Once people knew, they were so helpful and supportive. When you live in a city, you live your life rather publicly. When you live in a city like New York, each neighborhood is like a small town where people care about each other.
The people in our neighborhood really came together as a community and supported us. I now had even more people on call for whatever we needed. It felt like a much needed security blanket.
Time passed and Jeff got better bit by bit. We got the lymph node and spermatic cord pathology back and the results were good. Everything came back clean. No signs of cancer. Jeff would not need chemotherapy.
His scar was healing well. He was awake more. He was walking better. He was doing great in terms of recovery.
On week six, I went back into the office for a couple days that week. Jeff did fine on his own at home. The next week, we were both back in the office.
We were ready to start going back into normal life.