On what turned out to be a couple of days before Jill died, the hospice folks reprimanded us. Gently.
Terminal agitation is a condition common to people dying of cancer. It is a fairly reliable sign that the patient is very close. The way it manifests is a restlessness unlike anything you've ever seen. Jill had a 21/2 day period where she never stopped moving. She had wasted away and was terribly weak and was inflicting further pain on herself through constant movement. It was like she was trying to claw her way out of her own body. I could put my hands on her shoulders and kiss her forehead and she'd stop...for maybe 10 seconds and then it would start up again. It was terrible to watch.
The hospice folks pulled us out of Jill's room and told us we needed to stop having one or all of us up there with her 24/7. "You're what she doesn't want to leave. Don't abandon her all day but take an hour here and there. She's working through some things."
That was very difficult. We'd make ourselves stay downstairs, embarrassed that we were a little relieved to be out of the room. While simultaneously terrified. Frightened that we'd go upstairs and she'd be gone. We wanted her to stop hurting. We wanted her to stop being afraid and sad. We wanted all those things and we wanted it to continue. As long as it continued, she was still there. With us. Where she belongs. Where we belong. There we were, praying, praying, praying that God would take her, torn between hoping he would and hoping he was busy elsewhere and we'd get a few hours or minutes more.
So...sitting around downstairs was pretty thoroughly screwing with our heads. We could think of only one remedy: ice cream and lots of it.
There's a perfectly adequate grocery store less than a half mile away. I hopped in the car (end of February in Minnesota, cold, lots of ice) and popped over to the market. I grabbed a hand basket, went straight to the ice cream section, loaded up on more ice cream than we had freezer capacity to hold. One of the advantages of a Minnesota winter...no, that's not right, it's not so much an advantage as it is an entire society decided to turn a bug into a feature...is that everything outside your back door is a viable freezer. If you buy too much ice cream, put the overflow on the back deck and you're good.
I was, admittedly, a little distracted. I wasn't really paying attention to my surroundings. I was worried about Jill. I was worried about our family. I was worried about our little dog who was working so hard to take care of us, to soothe our anxiety and lick our tears away that she was absorbing all that anxiety and stress and sadness. I was not walking down the frozen foods aisles looking for danger. 'Cause it's the frozen foods aisle. It isn't dangerous.
Or so I was once naive enough to believe.
I took a step forward with my left foot. I set said foot on ground. Foot started sliding forward. Slowly. Relentlessly. Forward. I fought it. I thought there must have been a little water or something on the floor. I did not know I was in the clutches of a great dark evil, a scourge, the nemesis of cartoon characters since the dawn of time.
For some reason on the floor in the middle of the frozen foods aisle there was a banana peel. I don't know why. The store does not know why. We're all baffled by the presence of the banana peel in the frozen foods aisle. Or...more accurately, everyone else still is. It makes no sense until you reach the only logical conclusion there is...banana peels are not just dangerous, they are sentient, they are malevolent, they are determined, and they don't like us.
I did not know that there was a banana peel clinging to the bottom of my shoe. I just knew things weren't going well as my leg slid ever further in front of me. If at any point I'd just lifted up my foot, I would have been fine. But the floor isn't supposed to slide out from under you. You keep trying to dig in and gain purchase. But you can't. Because f*#^&*g banana peel.
Eventually, leg goes completely straight, gravity does its thing. All my weight comes down on straightened leg.
The hamstring isn't actually a thing. It's six things. It's a collection of 3 tendons and 3 muscles that run up the back of the leg from the knee to the gluteus. You don't ever pull or tear a hamstring. You do damage to one or more of those six things. There's a lot going on with the hamstring.
As soon as I hit the ground and experienced the feeling of intense pain with something that I can only equate to a steady, mid-level electrical charge running up the back of my leg I knew it was bad. Didn't know if I tore it or pulled it (didn't know at that point that there wasn't an "it" but a "them") but that it hurt and it was going to continue to do. Bearing in mind that I was running a little raw emotionally at this juncture and was now in pain, my awareness of my surroundings wasn't all that great. As such, I was rolling on the floor clutching my leg firing off a quite creative and definitely heartfelt melange of vulgarities. There were children present. Their parents hurried them away.
A crowd gathered. Various people were trying to be of assistance. I said I didn't know what happened. I started slipping and didn't know on what. People stifled giggles. Giggles! They pointed. I saw the banana peel.
Banana peel. I slipped on a banana peel and injured myself badly enough that I was gonna trigger the insurance industry. Any other fruit, it's a terrible story and we're all appalled. An apple peel. Nothing. No giggles. The store is clearly sub-standard. Orange peel. Shocking. Horrifying. A kiwi fruit - weird but still tragic. A banana peel and I'm Wil E. Coyote. As my friend Juan helpfully pointed out, all that was missing was an anvil dropping on my head.
The store was having a management meeting at this time. Joining the growing crowd watching the writhing cussing guy were 12 or so managers ranging from GM of the store to Junior-Assistant-Deputy-Undersecretary-Night-Manager-In-Training (JADUNMIT). The JADUNMIT would turn out to be my nemesis. He was a perfectly nice young man but the combination of earnest, eager, and showing off to his bosses that he's on top of things and my desire to get up, get out, and get home was not compatible. Every time I'd start to sit up, he'd push me back down telling me we had to wait for paramedics and make sure nothing was broken.
"Nothing is broken. It's my hamstring. I pulled it, I tore it, I don't know which, but nothing is broken."
I'd start to get up, he'd push me back down. This happened five or six times. I was getting rather angry and frustrated. But I took a metaphorical step back. I thought, "this guy is just trying to do his job. He doesn't now the context of my life." So, I told him...told all of the management team. Told them my wife was two blocks away in hospice care and I had to get home. I didn't have any minutes to burn waiting for paramedics. I needed to get going.
And I tried to get up.
And he pushed me back down.
And I was done with diplomacy and negotiation.
He had his hand on my chest and was in a sort of half-squat leaning over me. I grabbed his forearm with both hands. Pulled hard, nearly causing him to fall on top of me and informed him that "if I can't get up there to kick your ass I will drag your ass down here with me and do it rolling around on the floor". It was not my finest moment but I'm good with that.
At that point the GM finally decided to intervene. They helped me up. Gathered up all the ice cream rolling around. Watched me hobble to the POS. Gave me the groceries for free after asking me if I had gotten everything I'd wanted. Erin has since pointed out that the correct answer at that point was no, I still had to pick up a number of things, because they appeared frightened enough of a lawsuit that I coulda made a pretty good haul. She is correct in that assessment but I wasn't in full Machiavellien form just then.
I knew I was hurt as I hobbled out to the car. I understood I'd done some damage. When I sorta dropped into the drivers seat and then couldn't lift my left leg up from the pavement to swing it into the car I began to think I'd done more than pulled something. Yes, it hurt but it wasn't the pain that stopped me from picking my leg up. I just couldn't. I had to grab it with both hands and lift it up and swing it over. Couldn't lift it. Couldn't make the muscle(s) in the back of my leg tense up.
Days later, after we had stabilized things at the house with Jill's passing and the logistics of death, I finally went to the doctor. Out of those six things that constitute the hamstring I partially tore two tendons and fully tore one of the muscles. By the time I got to the doc they had started to heal and there was no point in doing anything surgical.
I didn't know that as I drove home and hobbled back into the house. What I knew was that if I was really honest about it, I had to admit that if I heard about this happening to someone else I'd think it was funny. As I struggled to bend enough to put the ice cream away I determined that I would find this funny...later.