I believe Greta understood that Ron wasn’t home. Someday, when they find a way to translate English into Dog, I’ll explain that her play times became shorter and I left her alone longer because I needed to be with him at the hospital.
Ron was too weak to go to Duke, so I cancelled his appointment for the next scheduled treatment. Unchecked, the tumor was growing, although they were at last attacking the pneumonia and meningitis with strong IV drugs. I threw away the cough syrup.
Days became: get up, walk Greta, feed dog and cat, go to hospital, spend day, go home, walk Greta, eat, fall into bed, repeat. Sometimes, late at night, I just buried my head in her fur and wept. Dogs are good at comforting. They don’t say anything to try to make you feel better. They just sit still, with a grave expression, and somehow it helps.
I awoke one late January morning to the sound of rain hitting the skylight. Got dressed, went to the basement for Greta and opened the door to the outside stairs. Several inches of icy water surged in over our feet. I slammed the door. The basement stairwell was about three inches deep in water. Oh, hell. Now what do I do?
I did nothing immediately. I took Greta out another door and set out for her walk and my dialogue with myself.
“Ron would know what to do.”
“Well, Ron’s not here now, honey. You’ll have to figure it out.”
“Okay, I’m not seeing Superwoman here, either. I don’t think bailing will work. How on earth do I get that water out of the stairwell?”
Neighborhood guys to the rescue. Guys can sometimes teach you things without knowing they’re teaching or you’re learning or even who you are. Around our development that morning, guys were up on ladders trying to chip ice out of their rain gutters. Aha. The rain must have started as freezing rain or sleet. If the precipitation froze and clogged the gutters, there would be nowhere for subsequent rain to go except to overflow the gutters and, in my house’s case, fall down the outside stairs into the stairwell.
Back at home, I used the ice chipper to clear the drain at the foot of the stairs, which had frozen over. I had to bend to see what I was doing, which meant icy water down my neck and back. Being a substitute guy is not always fun. When I cleared the drain, water still poured from the gutters overhead, but at least it was no longer forming a lake in the stairwell. I climbed the step ladder and tried to chip the ice out of the gutters. It was slow going. When I finally decided what I chipped out had reduced the overflow to the point where the drain could handle it, I looked and felt like a half-drowned rat. Water from the gutters had soaked my hat, head and shoulders. Water sliding down the ice chipper as I angled it up to the gutter had soaked my gloves and hands. Water from the stairwell had penetrated my boots to soak my feet.
I was late getting to the hospital that day. As I recounted the story, Ron struggled to follow it. I don’t think he fully grasped all that had happened, but he understood the rain had created a problem with the basement stairwell and the gutters, and I had coped. When the nurse’s aide left, I took his hand.
“It’s all right now,” I said. “The house is fine.”
He lay back on the pillows.