Breast Cancer Behind Bars by Sue Allen

Laura P. Schulman, MD, MA:

This post opened my eyes and my heart to a horror that I didn’t know existed, and that no one should ever have to endure. Please reblog!

Originally posted on Ruth Jacobs:

Guest post by Sue Allen

Photo credit: USAG Vicenza, Flickr

Photo credit: USAG Vicenza, Flickr

It’s October, Breast Cancer Awareness Month. The world is pink. We race for the cure. We stand up to cancer. We support our loved ones battling or surviving the disease, but there is one population we never mention: women with breast cancer behind bars.

Imagine the feel of shackles on your ankles. Hard, cold steel does just what it’s supposed to do. It cuts into your ankles and restricts your movements to baby steps. Even when you are very careful, you wind up with blisters or ankles rubbed raw. The weight alone drags you down.

Now imagine handcuffs. They too are designed to restrict and they can chaff and cut, especially if the guard who cuffs you is having a bad day. His bad day becomes yours.

It’s two o’clock in the morning and the halls of the jail are…

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One thing you don’t know about me (yet)

Dearest Readers, every once in a while I get gifted with an Award.  These usually require one to do a series of tasks which, to be perfectly honest, I am not capable of doing.  Generally I thank the bestower of the Award and tell her I can’t do it, but sometimes I get ashamed and don’t say anything, which of course makes me feel even more ashamed.  Sigh.

There is a bright side: most of these awards require that you disclose 10 or so things about yourself that nobody in the Blogosphere could know.  Really?  I thought everybody knew everybody else quite intimately, after a few years of blogging together.  What a wonderful community we have!  But OK, I will concede that there are things that not everybody knows about ME.

For instance, I bet nobody knows I’ve had four (4) rabies shots.  Yep, I have, and I got them because I was attacked by a crazy dog while taking a stroll through a tiny village, while I was sojourning in India.  The nasty thing took a 3 cm x 6 cm chunk out of my right thigh.  It turned out to be a good thing it was my right thigh, as will be explained later.

Upon returning from my rambles I cleaned the wound thoroughly and picked up the phone.  I had had the good fortune to pick a retreat very near to the Louis Pasteur Institute, where they do research on rabies and how to prevent people from reliably dying of it.  Did you know that over 30,000, that’s thirty thousand, people  in India die of rabies every year?

So I called the Louis Pasteur Institute and told receptionist that I had been bitten by a crazy dog, and what should I do?  First the woman asked me if it was a street dog or a village dog.  Village dog.  Definitely has an owner?  Yes, definitely: she came out of her house and laughed at the dog biting me.  Definitely a village dog with an owner.  I can tell the quarantine officer exactly which dog it was.

We don’t do that, says the receptionist (probably a Nobel Prize winner, the place is terribly understaffed).  First of all, impossible to do, so many dogs.  Secondly, no money for that.  (She asks a few more questions about the bite, to determine the proper treatment.)

Well, she says, definitely you need the vaccine, but you do not need the immune globulin.

That was what I wanted to hear.  The immune globulin keeps the poison from spreading, but has to be injected at close intervals around the border of the wound.  They would have had to etherize me to get that done.

So all I needed was the four shots of vaccine.  I had a choice: I could either come down to the Institute and stand in a line for four or more hours to get the vaccine for free; or, if I had the means, I could go into any pharmacy and buy the vaccine.

I was shocked.  Pharmacies carrying rabies vaccine for home injection?  I kept on having to focus on the landscape around me and repeat the mantra “You’re in India!  You’re in India!”  Same in Israel:  “You’re in Israel!  You’re in Israel!”

Since I happened to be a patient in an Ayurvedic hospital, the cook was sent (don’t ask me why they sent the cook; this is India!) to the pharmacy carrying a good chunk of my rupees, and returned with four lovely sealed vials of the vaccine, chilled and not out of date.

As I went to give myself the first injection,  I yelled “OUCH” and realized what a good thing it was that the dog wound was on the right.

You see, I had broken my wrist the day before.  That’s right.  I broke my wrist on Saturday, and was bitten by a possibly rabid dog on Sunday, all while getting my health back at a lovely retreat in the Nilgiri hills in Tamil Nadu, South India.  That is another story, for another day.

It was much easier to soak and clean the bite wound with my left hand, than it would have been with my right, because of the location of the bite on my thigh.

But back to the rabies vaccine.

Since I couldn’t self-administer an injection with my right arm, which was broken, and my left hand is useless for anything that requires strength, because it is partially fused due to an argument with an Appaloosa horse (another time), I had to recruit someone else to do it for me.

The most logical “someone” was my Ayurvedic doctor.  I called upon him and he widened his eyes and said he’d never given an injection in his life.  What, says I, aren’t you a physician?  An Ayurvedic physician, he returns.  Ayurveda does not have anything to do with injections.

Well, says I, you are going to learn.

In my cottage I had all the necessary items: alcohol, vials, syringes (you can buy those in any pharmacy in India), cotton, plasters, orange.

Orange?  Yes, this is how we learn to give injections.  An orange has a somewhat similar feel to it, when you stick a needle in it, as human flesh.  How many of you (nurses and doctors excluded) knew that little tidbit?

After he mastered jabbing the orange, it came time to jab me.  His face went pale and he broke out in a sweat.

“Libi, I think I am going to faint.”  He always called me Libi because I use my Hebrew name, Liebe or Lieba, when I am not in the States.

“No you’re not,” I said firmly.  “Get ahold of yourself.  Drink some water.  And get this over with, please, Doctor-Ji.”

He took a couple of deep breaths and grabbed hold of the syringe, stuck it in my arm way too far (I hoped he would not hit bone), and squeezed the vaccine in.  Hmm, wonder if the vaccine will work that way.  Oh well, if I die of rabies then I won’t have to suffer in this life any more.  I thanked him and he apologized several million times before he left.  Such a sweet sweet soul.  I hope I see him again before too long.

So I had two more shots in India, and another upon return to Israel.  Blood tests showed that I am now immune to rabies.  So come on, all you rabid bats, raccoons, possums, coyotes, jackals, wolverines and wildebeests, let’s rumble!!!!!

No, I didn’t mean that, not really.

So now you know the story of the rabies shots, and why I had them.  Perhaps I will tell you about how I broke my arm, the day before the dog bit me.  After the fact, I find it quite amusing, even though it has left me with some measure of disability.  But that’s for next time.

Tell Congress to Decriminalize Mental Illness

Laura P. Schulman, MD, MA:

Please read, sign, and SHARE!!!! This is the direction we need to be traveling in: tell our government to STOP TREATING MENTALLY ILL PEOPLE IN CRISIS LIKE CRIMINALS! Every day we read in the news about somebody who is disoriented or in distress from a mental illness, being shot, beaten, Tazered, jailed….in fact, one of my recurring nightmares has to do with being arrested and thrown in jail without my service dog or my meds. What would I do? I would curl up in a little ball in the farthest corner I could find….and when I was found by the guards I would be screamed at, ridiculed, dragged out of my hiding place, roughed up, possibly beaten (because in jail, I have no rights or protections) and possibly die from the abuses, and if I didn’t die while in there I would most likely die soon after release. That’s what jailing a mentally ill person can do, and does do, on an unfortunately regular basis. So thank you to Rob for posting this, and please, friends, sign and pass it forward. Let me know if the link doesn’t work and I’ll fix it. –Laura

Originally posted on Art by Rob Goldstein:

 This petition arrived in my email today.

Please sign it even if you think mental illness will never affect your life.  It will probably affect the lives of many of the people you love.

Mental illness is not a crime

If someone you love forgot where they were and became terrified, who would you call?

For cash-strapped communities across the country, the first and only option for people with a loved one suffering a mental health crisis is to call 911. Police are often then the first to respond, a situation that too often leads to handcuffs and a jail cell.

The state of mental health services in this country is unacceptable. Instead of social workers, we have armed law enforcement officers. Instead of treatment facilities, we have prisons and jails. More than 450,000 people behind bars have shown recent symptoms of mental health problems. The Cook County Jail in Chicago…

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So That I Not Forget

A dear friend of mine who holds down a spot for me in Jerusalem gave me this advice today: write down your memories of your last years, months, days and hours with your dad, because these memories fade quickly, and you don’t want to lose them.

I moved from Jerusalem to my parents’ property in 2011, in order to ride herd on the situation with my dad.  He had had several bad falls already by then, and flying back and forth from Israel every time he got a concussion was eating up my savings and causing me way too much stress.  So I packed up and moved here.

Dad was still pretty lucid then, but showing signs of dementia, and his physical body was falling apart piece by piece because of the same degenerative joint disease and degenerative disc disease that he passed on to me (thanks, Dad).  It was getting so that he couldn’t do much for himself anymore, between the cognitive decline and the physical disability.

We have always had what I can only call a platonic love relationship; certainly a father-and-daughter love relationship, but something more–a collegiality, a mutual admiration, and a non-sexual transcendent enduring love free of any vestige of pettiness or jealousy.

In the years since I have been here, our relationship was forged even stronger thanks to my mother’s need to have time on her own, a healthy thing that provided my dad and I with ten or so uninterrupted hours every week to review the events of our lives and our life together, to share our meaningful and downright fun times, and our regrets at not having spent more time together.

We also had the blessed chance to talk about how we felt about each other, the feelings and the hurts and the wishes.

As he moved toward his death, we moved deeper into the dark side of his relationship with my mother, who has always had a short temper, no patience, and no particular respect for much of anything.  He had always kept her under control by means of fear–whenever she (or, rarely, I) got out of control he would seem to triple in size, and bear-like, roar his displeasure.  My mother was terrified of these “Hulk” episodes, and the fear of provoking one kept her screaming fits in check, most of the time.

But as he became incapable of terrorizing her, she pulled out all the stops and reveled in her newfound power over him.  I won’t go into detail, since this is an essay about him and not her, but I mention it only to say that he often poured out his anger and feelings of helplessness during our ten hours a week.

During his various stints in the nursing home in his last months, I sat with him many hours a day.  Often, we just held hands, since his brain was further damaged by head injuries sustained in various falls.  And until he lost the faculty of speech, in the last weeks, we processed things that we cherished, things we wished we had done while we had the chance, and things we had done or experienced that we wished hadn’t happened.

We held hands and kissed our dry pecks said “I love you” a million times.  I am so glad we did that.  It’s bitter-sweet now, and perhaps will always be, but at least I have the comfort of knowing that we did not hold back out of artificial formality.

Two nights before he died I was restless, could not sleep until four in the morning, when I fell into a dark slumber from which I awoke with a feeling of urgency.  I dressed quickly and drove to the nursing home.  He was lying in the “quiet room” where they put people who are about to die.

The previous day, he hadn’t known me.  Even though I knew this would likely happen at some point, it hit me like a cannon ball in the gut.  I lost it.  Hot tears choked me, I fell off my feet into a wardrobe which came close to falling on me, and I didn’t care.  I slid to the floor sobbing.  My mother wanted me to get control of myself.  I ignored her.  After some time I sobbed myself out, and asked her to go get me a latte, which gave me some time to just look at my father, who was now asleep, and remind myself that it wouldn’t be long.

It wasn’t.

The following evening I packed up my “24 hour kit” with my jammies, toothbrush, meds, and what-all, drove to the nursing home, and took over the other bed in his room.  He had his eyes open, and they seemed to be clear and not hazed over like they had been the last few days.

“Hi Dad,” I said tenuously.  I didn’t know what I would do if he didn’t recognize me this time.

“Hi Laur,” he said weakly.  I breathed out.

“I love you, Dad,” I wept.

“I love you, too, Laur.  I really, really, really love you.”  He had hold of both my hands, and I stood there, physically hurting from the odd position but with heart full of love.  I stood there till his hands relaxed and his eyelids drooped, exhausted.  I extricated my hands and, taking only minimal meds so that I could wake at any sound, lay down on the spare hospital bed to rest.

His breathing became more difficult, and he began to cough.  The coughing was followed by the gurgle of fluid.  I called the hospice nurse, and she ordered a cocktail of morphine, atropine (to dry up secretions), and Ativan.  This helped a lot.  It was ordered for every two hours as needed, and we needed it.

I must have fallen asleep, because at 4 am I was awakened by a high-pitched, primal, animal scream.  I rushed to his bed and found him unconscious, breathing deeply for four or five breaths, followed by 25 seconds of no breathing at all.  Cheyne-Stokes respiration: the breathing pattern that precedes death.  I called the hospice nurse again.

She arrived fifteen minutes later.  Yes, she said: death was imminent.  It could be minutes, hours, even days–but it would be here soon.  I cried, but she did not offer a hug.

Half an hour later, his breathing pattern changed to a regular rhythm, but very rapid.  The nurse took his pulse oximetry: 78.  Normal is in the high 90’s.  We knew it wouldn’t be long.  I called my mother, and she appeared in record time.  She must have flown over the mountain roads.

The moment before he left, his face contorted as if making a huge effort.  It seemed to me as if he had to consciously make that leap into the unknown.  And two shuddering breaths later, he breathed his last.

“His spirit is already gone,” mused my mother, doubtless trying to placate me–knowing how strongly I feel about keeping the Jewish burial practices, and not desecrating the body by burning it–“no more suffering, my love, no more suffering,” addressed to the lifeless shell on the nursing home bed.

Yes, he did suffer, mightily.  And as always, he was my teacher, my guru, in teaching me how to suffer.  He taught me how to live, how to suffer, how to die.

Tzeitcha be’shalom, Dad.  Have a safe journey.

Blessed Is The Righteous Judge

Baruch Dayan ha’Emet.

His already cold white hand slithered through my soapy gloves like a live fish as I tried to wash the fingers: blue sausages strange to me, unlike the skillful fingers that twirled and carved and painted in an epoch now seeming so long ago.

“Those hands, those hands,” my mother murmured over my shoulder.  She had volunteered to wash his body, a last act of kindness, but gave up when she saw that he was really dead.

“His fingers are turning blue,” she observed, almost casually.  I wanted to back-hand her, but instead interlaced my fingers with the cold dead ones in order to wash his arm and chest.  Just a couple of days ago we had interlaced our warm fingers just so, when he first lost the ability to talk.

“Look, his chest has hardly any hair left on it,” chirped the grisly bird at my shoulder.

How long had it been since she looked at his once bear-like chest, black with thick curly hair?  Probably when he ceased to be a “man” to her, which she had had no compunctions about trumpeting in that booming voice of hers, at her famous dinner parties, with him sitting right there shrinking into himself, mortified, unable to defend himself.

I concentrated on rinsing off the soap with clean wet washcloths, and tried to close his mouth, which had fallen open some weeks ago, making speech even more difficult for him; and now it seemed that it had stuck that way, and I couldn’t get it to stay shut.  I could not stand to let his gullet stand open to the public like that, so I called for some gauze and placed a carefully folded square behind his teeth.  It looked odd, but seemed better than the gaping maw.

The undertaker showed up before I had a chance to wash his face, and suddenly the hospice nurse became all business: a stark contrast to the all-compassion face she had on before he died.  Now it was just the routine, slide the limp item over from the hospital bed to the undertaker’s stretcher and strap it on.

His elbow was caught up in the strap, and pinched horribly; it hurt me to see that already he was treated like a piece of meat, only not so carefully, having no intrinsic value.  At the very least it was disrespectful.  I bounded forward and started to pull his arm out, and was intercepted by the undertaker, who did it for me but was visibly miffed.  Fuck him.

As they took him away the man in black explained to my mother that they would not be taking him “over the mountain” to Johnson City, the nearest crematorium, until they had assembled “a few” (to make it worth the trip, I suppose), so it would not be the next day or perhaps the next.  Jews are normally buried within 24 hours of death, but since he was to be cremated, what’s the difference?  All of our customs were going up in smoke anyway, so why not that one too?

My mother won that round.  It was what he wanted, it’s in his will, they are not Orthodox, he did not want to be eaten by worms/beetles/what-have-you, and We Believe In Cremation.

Jews don’t cremate.  We believe that the soul needs the body as a kind of GPS cache, so it knows where it came from, at least in the month after death after which it ascends to its Heavenly Home.

And we believe that a part of the soul remains with the body, and will return to Jerusalem when the Messiah comes.

Burning the body deprives the soul of its orientation.  It has no place to rest in those vital thirty days, and it can get lost in the vast spiritual realms.

Not only that, but our enemies shoved us into ovens by the millions.  Do we really want to commemorate that by burning our dead?

I explained to her all these things.  She waxed romantic telling me how they had dreamed of the places where they would spread their ashes.

Where?  I asked.

Oh, um, you know, all those places……

The animal graveyard down at the bottom of the garden where all the pets are buried?  I volunteered.

Oh yes!  She brightened.  And maybe plant a tree, and sprinkle his ashes on it….

Bullshit.

Culture is defined by rites-of-passage and by lifeways: food, weddings, and the rituals surrounding death.  Over and over in the Torah, we are commanded not to take on the customs of the surrounding nations.  We do not share their food, lest our children intermarry and take on the customs of foreigners.

Jews keep Kosher, have special wedding rituals, and have very specific funeral procedures.  None of these involve desecrating the body, living or dead.

For those of you whose culture prescribes or allows cremation, I do not write this to denigrate or offend you, for those are your customs and for you they are good.

For us, deviation from these customs means assimilation, and assimilation means the death of our living culture.

And in order to live properly, we must die and be properly buried.

Baruch Dayan ha’Emet.  Blessed Be The Righteous Judge.

Do Not Go Gentle

My father lies in the “quiet room” of the nursing home, where they bring residents who are expected to die shortly.  He is anything but quiet, crying out in voices I have never heard before, making macabre gruntings that recall hiccups but are not, waving his crippled arms–well, his right one anyway, since his left got paralyzed in the recent fall that accelerated his previously glacier-like move toward death–I am reminded constantly, mantra-like, of Dylan Thomas’ painful ode to his father’s dying.

Do not go gentle into that good night,

Old age should burn and rave at close of day:

Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Though wise men at their end know dark is right,

Because their words had forked no lightning they

Do not go gentle into that good night.

Good men, the last wave by, crying how bright

Their frail deeds might have danced in a green bay,

Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Wild men who caught and sang the sun in flight,

And learn, too late, they grieved it on its way,

Do not go gentle into that good night.

Grave men, near death, who see with blinding sight

Blind eyes could blaze like meteors and be gay,

Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

And you, my father, there on the sad height,

Curse, bless me now with your fierce tears I pray,

Do not go gentle into that good night.

Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

–Dylan Thomas

The Shunamite Woman and The Rejection of Suffering

I often get replies and emails from people telling me how fortunate I am to have a life rife with unfortunate events.  I usually trash these well-meaning yet invasive, even brazen, suggestions that my suffering is in fact a blessing.

First I would say that compared to most of the suffering people I know and interact with, mine is petty, and I know it.  But it’s MY suffering, and I will not abrogate my right to express how I feel about it.

I would like to draw your attention to an illustration in the Bible that shows us that even the strong can suffer greatly, although they might not show it to everyone.  There are many such illustrations in Scripture, but this one has always caught my attention: the story of the prophet Elisha (student of Elijah) and the Shunamite woman (Shunam is a place-name): Kings II 4:11-37

True to a common theme in the Bible, the Shunamite woman was childless, and the Man of God (Elisha) caused her to conceive and bear a son.  The son grew and went to the fields with his father, and suddenly cried out “My head, my head!”  And fell down senseless, and his father’s attendant carried him to his mother.  His mother held him on her lap until he died, and then she carried his body to the attic room where Elisha was accustomed to stay, and she laid him on Elisha’s bed.

Then she took a donkey and rode up to the cave of Elijah in Carmel (I have been there and it is on the side of a cliff, no small feat to arrive there).  She called out Elisha and said, “Why did you give me a child if it was just going to be taken from me?”  And she threw her arms around his knees and vowed that she would not let go until Elisha came with her.

Which he did, and found the dead boy lying on his bed.  First Elisha told his servant Gehazi to lay Elisha’s staff across the child’s face, but nothing happened, so Elisha stretched himself out on top of the boy and blew into his mouth.  Nothing happened, so he walked around the house, first one way, then the other, and then repeated the mouth-to-mouth until the boy sneezed seven times and sat up.  Elisha said, “Pick up your son!”  So she fell at his feet in gratitude, after which she “picked up her son and left.” 4:37

This story illustrates that suffering does not always show on the outside.  Elisha knew that the Shunamite woman suffered because she had no child; and when her child died and she went to Elisha, she said, “Did I ever ask for a child?  Did you give me a child just to mock me?”

“What, is this some cruel joke you have played on me?”  says the Shunamite woman.   Elisha had nothing to say to that, so he had to come with her.

This is all very mysterious, and full of implied questions and gaps in logic.  The answers to the many questions raised here are addressed in the Gemara, the huge library of Jewish commentary and law.  One set of the books of the Gemara take up entire walls.

The Gemara is full of stories like the one about the woman whose child dies on Friday afternoon (the Sabbath begins at sundown on Friday nights).  Not wanting to destroy her husband’s joy in the Sabbath, she waited to tell him about their son’s death until after the Sabbath, all the while acting as if there was nothing wrong.

I heard of a great scholar in my neighborhood whose wife died on Friday afternoon, and when the Sabbath came in he rejoiced, ate and drank and sang like usual, until the end of the Sabbath, at which time he sat down on a low stool and mourned bitterly.  This he did for the Shivah week, the week after her death, and the following Friday (for Shabbat is not counted in the seven days of Shivah) he got up from his stool, bathed and changed his clothes (part of the intense mourning of the Shivah week is that we don’t do these things), and rejoiced in the Shabbat when it came in.

There is a book put out by the Breslov brand of Hassidim called the “Garden of Emunah.” emunah meaning “faith.”  Since the Breslov sect’s founder, Rebbi Nachman of Breslov, taught (in the 17th century C.E.) that we must never despair, his followers often interpret that to mean “always be happy, never be sad, and depression is a depraved state of mind.”  This book, “The Garden of Emunah,” is filled with anecdotes about horrible things happening to children, and awful illnesses happening to mothers of 12, and the theme is that they all took it as a blessing from God that they got to suffer in these ways.

I am not that holy.

If that’s what it takes to get to….wherever…..it’s like, OK God, these humans are telling me that You don’t give me anything I can’t bear.

Um, let me let you in on a secret.

You made me, right?  And You made the shoulders that are supposed to bear my burden.

Yeah, yeah, I’ve heard the part about how You have wide shoulders, and all I have to do is give my burdens over to You, let go and let God, etc., but let me tell You, Boss, how long to I have to throw myself on the ground and cry out to You before something gives?  Am I a cruel joke, that you’ve created me and now you play with me like a cat plays with a toy?

Elisha, Elisha, where are you?  They say that Elijah the Prophet can appear anytime, disguised as anyone, especially a beggar.  I am certainly a beggar, but I am no Elijah.

I climbed up the cliff path to his cave in Carmel, and I inserted myself into a niche in the deepest part of the cave, and I prayed, and I went into another world.  I lost track of time, and almost missed my ride.  Four years later, I received a healing from something physical, Hallelu-Yah.

I have given up praying for my mental illness to be taken away.  I think of King David and King Saul, both of whom were mentally ill until their deaths.  Saul lost his kingship because of a manic act of disobedience to God.  David’s cycles of elation and crashing depression are clearly written in the Psalms.  Samuel I also illustrates the craziness of both Saul and David, as elaborated in the link above.

So to all you bearers of Sweetness-And-Light, please enjoy your easy lives and don’t envy those whose burdens appear to be heavier than yours.  As a physically disabled friend of mine says, “You are all Temporarily Able-bodied.”

I would add, “You are all Temporarily Sane.”

Dying On The Low Road

bs”d

When I walked into Dad’s room at the nursing home, he was writhing in agony and moaning.  He had succeeded in getting his hospital gown off, and was working on the rest of his attire–his diaper–and had the bedclothes tightly twisted around his legs so they stuck out at an unnatural angle.

I threw off my backpack and ran to him.

“Hi Dad, what’s wrong?”  I unravelled the sheets and put his top back on him.  He grabbed my hand and smiled, kissed my hand over and over, then a pain struck him and he rolled from side to side, moaning.

“Where does it hurt, Dad?”

He managed to get his good hand up to his head.

“You have a headache?”

Nods.  He has a hell of a concussion after his horrid fall a month or so ago.  I can relate, having had several bad concussions.  They give you a headache for a long time.

“OK, let me get the nurse to give you some Tylenol (Acetaminophen, Acamol, Paracetamol, etc.).  That will help your headache.

He looked at me skeptically, but assented with his eyes.

Since his last fall, Dad, who had been having difficulty speaking after a number of small strokes in the speech area of the brain, is now “locked in.”  He can understand a lot of what is said around him, but he is unable to produce meaningful speech.  It’s a horrible state to be in.

The nurse was very busy passing pre-dinner meds, but she knows my dad, and if he says he is in pain, he is.  She crushed up the tablets in applesauce and I fed it to him.  It tasted vile, and he gagged on it.  At least I was able to get some water into him, in the form of big mouthfuls to wash the taste of the nasty medicine out of his mouth.

The Tylenol did take his headache away, but it didn’t fix whatever was causing him to writhe and groan.

I called his nurse, and we made the joint decision to give him his morphine, which he has on order every 4 hours if needed, and it was clearly needed.

Thankfully, the morphine was just a few drops from a tiny syringe.  It seemed to help for half an hour or so, then the writhing and groaning began again.

I searched my mind and looked at the picture with soft vision.  I saw it.  He had to go to the bathroom!

I asked him.  “Maybe,” he says.

I called the Nurse Assistants, and the put him on the commode.  I stepped out for modesty’s sake.  Jewish children are forbidden to look upon their parents’ nudity, as we learn very early in the Torah where Noah gets drunk and takes off all his clothes.  One of his sons looks into his father’s tent, sees him lying there drunk and naked, and laughing, tells his two brothers.  The brothers get a blanket and, throwing it over their shoulders, back into their father’s tent and, not looking at him, drop the blanket on top of him, to cover his nakedness.  So I do not stay in the room whenever the nurses are doing anything that normally we consider private.

Now that we have opened the Jewish Thing, I want to talk about a concept that has been Jewish and Vedic and I don’t know what else, for 5,000 years more or less, that has recently been backed up by medical specialists in the art of assisting dying people.  Yes, there are such physicians.  They minister to hospice patients, for the most part.

The Jewish tradition, backed up by medical observation, is that there are two roads to death: the High Road, or easy death, like people who simply up and die in their sleep, just go to bed like normal and don’t wake up.  We call that “mavet be’neshikah,” or death by a kiss.  Whose kiss?  The kiss of the Master of the Universe, who says, “it’s time to come home now,” and that’s that.  Aharon ha’Kohen and Moshe Rabbeinu both went that way.  I pray that all of us go that way.

People who die like that have finished their soul’s purpose on Earth and will not reincarnate, usually, unless it is into a body that just needs a bit of  touch-up.  These are the babies who die very young, or in the womb after 4 months gestation.

Death on the low road is another thing entirely.  It is a slow and painful death, one that makes the sufferer long for the relief of suffering that death brings.  It seems as if the soul is having a struggle with the Malach ha’mavet–the Angel of Death.  They beat themselves up dying, like a moth beats itself to death on a lightbulb.  It’s not that they don’t want to die, although some of them struggled against Death out of fear of what awaits them on the Other Side.

My father is one of these.  He is a World War II Veteran, and saw and did some horrific things.  He is terrified that he will be held accountable for these actions, which he deeply regrets and spends each night living them over (he has classic PTSD), such that sometimes my mother would have to go sleep in the guest room in order to avoid being a partner in hand-to-hand combat.

The unfortunates who get Death on the Low Road suffer and suffer, and experience all of the unpleasantness and pain of slow death, even to the end, where they have the agonies of air hunger, hallucinations, thick secretions, and even seizures.

What does this mean?

In the Jewish mystical tradition, Death by the Low Road means that the apparently unfortunate sufferer is actually engaged in a process that completes and cleanses the soul from the difficult life it’s been through, and the suffering atones for misdeeds done in life, even if they had a good outcome.

For instance, my father once walked up a small hillock that happened to be on the battlefield of Alsace-Lorraine, and on reaching the top, found himself looking straight into the eyes of a German SS soldier.  For a brief moment, the two teenagers looked into each other’s eyes and saw…themselves.  They saw normal young men who liked to drink beer and chase skirts.  In other circumstances, they might have been buddies.  Then the German pulled his duty pistol, and my father ran him through with his bayonet before the other teenager could fire a shot.

To this day my father regrets that action.  He really, really regrets it.  And by taking the Low Road out, that necessary transgression will be cleansed and forgiven, so that his next incarnation will not be dealt with as that soldier was dealt.  We are held accountable for our deeds, for better or worse, and the blemishes in our pure original souls that these deeds cause must be repaired in one way or another.  This kind of Death is one way of doing it, and in the end it is a much more pleasant way of repairing one’s Godly soul.

But we can’t know.  Take me, for instance.  I did some pretty unsavory things as a young person, and even as an older person.  None of these were intentional or premeditated, and most of it was due to my undiagnosed, untreated Bipolar Disorder.  Yet according to our tradition, these blemishes must be cleansed in some way.

With the Days of Awe, from Rosh ha’Shanah  (the Jewish New Year, the Day of Judgement) through Yom Kippur (the Day of Atonement, almost upon us, I am trying to make a Heshbon Nefesh, a close examination of my character and deeds, so that I may, through the Days of Awe repent of my misdeeds, whether intentional, whether accidental, whether hidden or revealed, please my G-d look into my heart and find it clean.

And please, please, Master of the Universe, grant me a judgement for a Death on the High Road, b’neshikah.

As it turned out, Dad’s pain was indeed caused by stomach cramps.  After relieving his intestines of their burden, he fell into an exhausted sleep.

I took my leave then, fiercely warning all of his nursing staff NOT to wake him for vital signs or anything else until the next time they had to turn him in the bed, another two hours.  Whether they did that is anyone’s guess, because Dad can’t tell me.  God help us all.

Dissociative Identity Disorder

Laura P. Schulman, MD, MA:

I LOVE THIS POST!!!! You Must Read It.  I found it on Kat’s blog.

Originally posted on Heathers Helpers:

Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID) is portrayed in the media as some sort of wacky, wild, really cool to watch phenomenon. If that isn’t their angle? They are usually discussing the controversy of the diagnoses. I understand all that but I feel that perhaps if I share what it means to me, it will take the confusion out of it for some people. I can try right?

Everyone has multiple personalities/identities. Yes, even you.
If you stop to think about it, you are not the same when out with your friends as you would be if you were out with your children. You are different with your spouse than you would be with your parents. You can become professional at work then transform to a carefree spirit when you go out for an evening with your best buddy. Even your pets get a different side of you. Yeah… I know all…

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‘No Human Involved’: Filmmaker PJ Starr Discusses Her Documentary Telling Marcia Powell’s Story

Laura P. Schulman, MD, MA:

A sorely needed project, featured by Ruth Jacobs on her brilliant blog. I hope whoever is able will click the indiegogo button and help this amazing project get off the ground.

Originally posted on Soul Destruction:

PJ Starr Photograph by Mike Shipley taken during filming

PJ Starr – picture taken during filming
Photo credit: Mike Shipley

Can you tell me about your current project No Human Involved?

In 2009 my friend and colleague Cris Sardina (who is now the co-coordinator of the Desiree Alliance) sent me an email about the death of Marcia Powell in Perryville Prison outside of Phoenix, Arizona. Marcia had been serving a 27 month sentence for solicitation of prostitution and corrections officers had left her out in the sun in a metal cage in searing heat until she collapsed. Soon after, in hospital her life was ended when the Director of Arizona Department of Corrections removed her from life support.

Cris Sardina of Desiree Alliance holding pictures of Marcia Powell Photo credit: PJ Starr

Cris Sardina of Desiree Alliance holding pictures of Marcia Powell
Photo credit: PJ Starr

After reading about what happened, Marcia’s story was always with me.

Later in 2010 at the Filmmakers’ Collaborative at the Maysles Institute in Harlem, NYC, I…

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