Slow Down Now

Literally, I get to slow down now.  It’s Friday Night, the beginning of Shabbat.  I should be sitting at the dinner table singing with friends and family till midnight, not sitting out here in the middle of nowhere by myself, writing.  Well, this is my Shabbat celebration: to get to slow down enough to pick up my computer and do what I haven’t had time to do for the past eleven days: write.  I love to write.

Where to start?  I guess I could try to start where I left off: leaving Dad at the nursing home.  That was weird.  It’s even weirder because it’s actually happening.  It’s not, like, he went in there to get all fixed up and then came beaming out the front door, looking years younger, with a spring in his step.  No.

I go in there, trying to give everyone I meet on the way to his room a cheerful smile.  Smile, and the world smiles with you.  I see his room number: 110.  I know that’s where he and his sweet-tempered roommate will be.  I make the left turn into the room.  Lyle, the roommate, smiles and waves.  He beams when he sees that I have brought Noga the Lhasa Apso, who has appointed herself official therapy dog at the nursing home.

Dad is in bed, on his side, with his head and one arm hanging over the side.  His belly, black and blue spotted with the jabs of insulin needles, puffs out feebly from the gap between his shirt and his pants.  I pull his shirt down.  He opens one eye, not at all surprised, and says, “Oh, hi, Laurie.”  As if I had been expected to be in that spot on the stage, at that very moment.  Perhaps I was.

“Hi, Dad.  Are you comfortable that way?”

“No, I’m not.  Would you please call those box top girls to help me”

“‘Boxtop girls’?”

“Yes, you know the ones.  They’re in the hall and they say they have a button, but I don’t see, at least, haven’t found, whatever it is.”

“He means the aides.  I called them, but they haven’t come,” says Lyle.

“I’ll take care of that,” and I do.  Instantly two aides are at the bedside, pulling him into a more lifelike position.

“Would you like to sit up in your chair for a while, Norman?”

“Yes, I would.”

They help him stand and walk the six steps beside him, help him turn and sit.  This is not my father.  This is my father.

Wheel him over to face the chair I’ve parked in, to keep out of the way.  We look at each other.  Start a conversation about….something…..his eyes droop, head drops to his chest….asleep, in mid-sentence.  It happened all the time when he was at home, too.  It’s just that….in this stark-real place, it seems so….pathological….when before it had been just normal, for him, at this time.

Where are our special Mondays and Wednesdays, when we get to have six whole hours just for us, for me to make you sardine sandwiches, ugh, on bread lightly toasted, onion sliced thinly layered, tomato, and you used to like one small piece of lettuce on top, but not anymore.  And after your sandwich, a piece of fruit.  An apple, a tangerine, whatever was good.

Then maybe you’d need a nap, and maybe not–but your eyes kept an eye on your watch–is it four yet?  Four o’clock—le’chaims!  Scotch, sipped neat out of little cups he made for the purpose years ago.

This Wednesday I took a flask of Scotch and our special cups, and arrived at the nursing home at four o’clock.  We would have le’chaims!

Room 110 only had Lyle in it.  Lyle told me they had taken him to the Therapy Dining Room for dinner.  Dinner?  I thought that was at four-thirty.  Honest, they give them dinner at four-thirty.

I had not been to the Therapeutic Dining Room before, although I knew they were working with him on eating issues (I never noticed any issues with eating the sardine sandwiches I made him, other than they fell apart usually, but every sardine sandwich will do that at some point).  I found my way there, though, and it was nothing more than a couple of card tables pushed together in the middle of the physical therapy room.  OK.

Dad was seated with his back toward me.  He was trying to have a conversation with the gentleman across the table from him.  Neither of them speak normally, but when put together it just sounded like two people having a normal conversation in a slightly foreign language.

I walked up next to Dad and said “Hi, Dad!”  He halfway turned to me and said, “I’m busy now.  I’m eating dinner.”  And turned away.

I was not sure what kind of emotion to have.  One part of me was hurt-little-girl, the other part was, OK, he’s creating boundaries, and that’s empowering for him in this disempowering place; and he’s used me for a testing point for his boundary-setting, because he knows me.  So I decided to take it that way.

“What time is dinner over?”  I asked the Dining Therapist.

“Five-thirty.”

“Hour and a half.  Too long.  Seeya, Dad.  Here, let me kiss you on the head.”  Smooch.

I also have boundaries.  They are reasonable.

The next day is Thursday.  I have therapy on Thursdays, an hour and a half away to the nearest city.  I use the day to go have coffee, shop at Whole Foods, buy stuff for Shabbat, eat at the good Thai place.

Thursday, my mom calls me, says Dad wants to talk to me.  Why didn’t I come today?  Because it’s Thursday, and I always go to town on Thursdays, right?  Right.  But you weren’t, yesterday, right?  Were you, did I?  Was I mad because you chucked me out of the dining hall?  Of course not.  Did you hurt my feelings?  Excuse me, but I have known you for a long time.  You’re my grumpy old man, remember?  Laughs.

But are you going to come?  Tonight?

I’m sorry, Dad, but I will be getting home too late.  It will already be dark.

Oh.  Tomorrow?

We’ll have to see, tomorrow.  I have to take Mom to the oral surgeon to get her tooth pulled, remember?  And it all depends on how that goes, whether I can get back in time to come or not.  And then Saturday is Shabbat, so it might be Sunday until I can visit.

Oh. OK.

I feel horrible.  Whose fucking idea was this?

I don’t even know what to say….

I just got back from the nursing home, where they took my dad after the hospital.

Actually I stopped by Walmart to get a heating pad, two bottles of castor oil, a package of 5 cloth baby diapers, and a back brace I know won’t fit because of my curvy hips.  All this to treat the disc that’s bulging in my lower back.  I coughed it out a couple of days ago when I was still asthmatically getting over the mini-flu, the kind you get when you’ve had your flu shot and get the flu anyway.  But at least it was the mini-flu and not the whole thing.

So to treat the inflammation I am going to soak the baby diapers in warm castor oil, maybe mixed with eucalyptus or some other anti-inflammatory oil, maybe German chamomile, put a sheet of plastic wrap over that so it doesn’t stain the heating pad, slap the whole mess on my back, and listen to some soothing music while it works.

I got through yesterday by dosing myself up with the cannabis tincture I have been steeping for the past two weeks.  It got rid of the cough and relaxed the spasm in my back enough so I could get through the day without screaming in pain.  The stuff is miraculous.  Too bad it’s illegal in my state.  Actually it’s a Schedule IV substance in my state, which puts it in the same class as benzodiazepines; in other words, needs a prescription but considered low-risk for abuse.  But for some reason, the criminal code and the medical code don’t agree.  Figures.  I consider it medicine and use it as such.

My dad.  I can’t even wrap my head around it.  The brilliant thinker, the blazing torch of a teacher, the maker of achingly beautiful art: now unable to figure out how to use a pencil, unable to understand how to read a phone number, let alone use a phone–how could this happen?  Whose idea of a cruel joke is this?  It makes me want to run off and kill myself before I have a chance to get so badly off that I can’t even figure out how to do it.

I comfort myself by knowing that he’s much better off in the nursing home, where compassionate people take care of him.  They don’t belittle him for dropping crumbs on his clothes–they just put a bib on him and treat him like a normal human being.

They don’t scream at him for wetting the bed–they take it for granted that he will, and they check him every two hours at night and change the bed if it’s wet, and change his diaper if it’s wet, and treat him like a normal human being.

He doesn’t ask me who those two sisters are anymore–the nice one who helps him and takes care of him, and the one who gets upset all the time–those two sisters are my mother, the Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde of her personalities.  The sweet one that everyone outside the home adores, and the control freak abuser that nobody sees but us–my father and I.

She is spending hours and hours at the nursing home, and making sure that my father and I are never alone together.  The look of hatred in her eyes, toward me, is more open than I’ve ever seen it before.  I’m sure that it’s because the love between my father and I is so apparent–he knows that each parting might be our last, and we tell each other we love each other and I give him a kiss on top of his bald head.

The last time I kissed my mother was several months ago.  She demanded it, saying she was jealous, so I kissed her on the cheek.  It’s not my fault that I treat her like a poisonous snake–with a long forked stick–because she is liable to strike without warning.  Has done, and does, and will do.

At least she finally admitted to letting her own mother die of lactose intolerance.  Did you know that people can die of lactose intolerance?  Yes, they can.  My grandmother had terrible diarrhea from it, and was losing weight.  The nursing home she was in did not have a doctor.  They had a Physician’s Assistant.  Pardon me, to any of you who may be P.A.s, but P.A.s do not have the level of education that an M.D. has.  Some are excellent clinicians and know when to consult their supervising physician, and some are full of themselves and think they know it all.  The one in that nursing home was the latter kind.

So they fed my Nana Ensure, a liquid food substitute that is milk-based.  It is full of lactose.  So she kept on having more and more diarrhea, and losing more and more weight, and they kept on feeding her more and more lactose-containing substance.

I begged my mother to put Nana in the car and take her to see a gastoententerologist.  “She’s old,” my mother said.  “What would they do anyway?”

“They would make a diagnosis and stop the diarrhea,” I said.  My mother made a face and told me I didn’t know what I was talking about.  I had only been in medical practice for ten years at the time.

So Nana died of diarrhea, like people die when they have cholera, only more slowly and in terrible pain.

And two weeks ago, before Dad fell again and broke his back and got yet another concussion, she suddenly started saying how guilty she feels that she didn’t do more for her mother.

And why this sudden bout of guilt?

My mother has become lactose intolerant herself, and got a little taste of what it feels like to have horrible cramps and have to run to the bathroom every ten minutes, and have your butt burn up because of the acid stools you pass.

But Nana couldn’t run to the bathroom anymore.  She had her liquid stools in her diaper, and her whole bum burned up from soaking in the acid stools.

So now Dad is in the nursing home, and Mom is acting like a jealous bird protecting her nest.  She has always considered me an inconvenience, but now my presence is indispensable, as it has been ever since I flew here from my home in Israel three years ago.  She tolerates me only because she needs my help with Dad.

Tomorrow we take Dad to the cardiologist, an hour and a half away by car.  We will have to get him into the car, and out of the car.  It’s generally me who does the heavy lifting, but now I’ve got a bulging disc, so we will have to have help from others both at the nursing home and at the cardiologist.

I know the nursing home will help get him into the car: it’s their job.  I also know the cardiology office won’t help get him out of the car, for liability reasons.  If one of their staff accidentally injured him, the practice would be liable to be sued.  So this will be an interesting exercise, since Dad can no longer walk without help.

Things have gotten so out of hand, so out of control, that I don’t even know what to say anymore.  I just try to “keep it between the ditches,” as Dad used to say, when he knew how to talk.

 

Status Update

First of all I thank all of you who have been so supportive during this time of crisis.  I really appreciate all y’all.

Just a quick update, because I am finally home and exhausted.  Feet are up, trying to think of something for dinner more nutritious than frozen french fries.

Dad was transferred to the rehab wing of the nursing home this morning.  It was a very difficult thing to see, and a very difficult thing to be, for him.  There is such a marked difference in the level of care between the hospital, where they took amazing care of him, to the nursing home, where it took 20 minutes for the nurse to get him a snack after a low blood sugar event.  Luckily my mom had left a couple of energy bars on the bedside table, and luckily I was there to give him one.

On the upside, I had a long talk with the Occupational Therapist, who had excellent questions and listened intently.  Together we identified several key areas to work on in rehab, making realistic goals such as, that he should be able to feed himself unaided, to use an adaptive wheelchair, and hopefully to transfer himself to a chair or commode from the wheelchair.  I was happy with that.

As far as discharge expectations, it became increasingly clear from that conversation that home is not going to be an option.  That’s a very sad thought, and I don’t like to think it.

I had lunch with my mom and we discussed all these things, and thought about what the future might look like.  This will certainly be an evolving process.

In other news, I went to bed around midnight last night and got up, after very little sleep because I didn’t take my knock-out pills, at 5:30 in order to catch the doctor when she made rounds at the hospital.  I think I must have fallen asleep for the last hour, because I woke up to find my left knee stuck in a bent position, extremely painful if I tried to straighten it, which I couldn’t have anyway because I instantly knew what it was: a tear of my meniscus, which is the rim of cartilage that sits on top of your shinbone in your knee joint and keeps things from slipping around.  I knew this not because I am a doctor, but because it happened to me in the past, when I was like 24 years old and playing soccer–in other words, a sports injury.  So WTF???  I was, like, this can’t be happening to me.  I have to be at the hospital at 7 sharp.

Once again, my little dog Noga saved the day.  She has these rituals.  One of them is that she refuses to get out of bed (my bed, that is!) in the morning without a set quota of kisses and hugs.  So in order to get on with the morning somehow, I knelt on the bed and gave Noga her kisses and hugs.  Miraculously, the act of sitting on my heels opened up my knee joint enough to let the errant piece of cartilage pop back into its place.  Orthopedic appointment tomorrow.  Arthroscopic surgery in the future, just like the other knee, which has been swelling up again lately….sigh…..

Sundowning and Other Strange Brain Behaviors

Last night as I sat by Dad’s bedside, feeding him chocolate ice cream (his favorite), which mostly ended up in droplets on his hospital gown, he asked me: “Do you hear that?”

“Well, there are a lot of things to hear.  There are people talking in the hall outside your room.  Is that what you mean?”

“No, I mean there’s a saw running.  Are we in the basement of the shop?  Did I, or we, leave a saw running?”

“I don’t think so.  We’re not in the basement of the shop.  We’re in the hospital.”

“No we’re not, we’re in the shop.  In the basement.  Please go turn off that saw.”

I listened for a bit to see what he could be interpreting as a saw, because he was getting a bit agitated.  In fact, he started trying to get out of bed.

There was in fact a sound that could be saw-like, if you didn’t know and your brain was addled.  It was an air compressor that feeds air into the high-tech leg-massaging pneumatic stockings he’s got on.  So I pointed that out, that there was a compressor running and that’s what was making the saw-sound.  He looked at me like I was trying to sell him a bill of goods.  But he calmed down about that, resigned, apparently, that no one was going to shut down the saw.

A bit later he heard a group of nurses chatting in the nurses’ station.

“I think they’re making a movie out there.  One of those spy movies, I think.”

“What, like James Bond?”  Sometimes it’s better just to go with the flow and not try to “reason” with a delirious person.  Arguing with them about their relative view of reality can agitate them.

“Yeah, sort of…(unintelligible speech sounds).  “Are you part of that movie?”

“No, I’m not in the movie.”

He nods his head and closes his eyes.

He’s sundowning.  It’s very common in dementia.  Somehow, when night comes on, even if the room is well lighted, they lose touch with reality.  Everything gets surreal and they can become frightened, and even try to run from unknown foes.  Many falls occur from this.  Unfortunately, in institutional environments it often leads to restraints: people being tied to their beds so they won’t climb out and fall.

It’s one of my greatest fears about my dad going to a nursing home, that they would put him in restraints when I wasn’t there.  I curse my mental illness for making it impossible for me to stay with him 24/7.  I can’t because I have to take this heavy cocktail of meds at night, and I wouldn’t be any good for helping him even if I was there.  Besides, if I don’t sleep I get very sick, and I can’t risk that.  I wouldn’t be any help if I had to be hospitalized myself, and I wouldn’t be able to spend quality time with him either.  So I am going to lobby for giving him a dose of Haldol at bedtime, to ward off the heeby-jeebies and let him sleep.

This afternoon I thought he was going to leave the planet.  He was Cheyne-Stokes breathing for a while.  Cheyne-Stokes is a pre-death breathing patten where the person takes 4-5 increasingly deep breaths followed by a period of no breathing for 10-15 seconds.  It’s the respiratory center in the brain shutting down.  I sat by his bed and cried my eyes out.  My mom, who had gone out to get us hot fudge sundaes, came in and saw me sitting there bawling.  At that moment Dad was breathing, so she said “What’s wrong?”

I said, “He’s Cheyne-Stokesing.”  She knows what that is, being a geriatric social worker, and having started up a hospice in this county.

“No he’s not,” she said.

“Watch,” I said, and he took four, five increasingly deep breaths and then stopped breathing for a good ten seconds.

She went over to him and shook him, and he opened his eyes and mumbled something unintelligible.

“He was just asleep.” she said.  We both know that people can go in and out of Cheyne-Stokes for days or weeks before they die, but it means the brain is getting ready.

I tried to get him to eat some ice cream, but he wouldn’t.  I have never seen him refuse ice cream before.  I asked him if he wanted water and he mouthed “yes,” so I got his pitcher and put the straw to his lips, but he couldn’t manage to open his mouth.  I told him to open his mouth but then he couldn’t close it.  So I took the straw and got some water in it and dribbled it into his mouth, and he swallowed it.

When my mom was out of the room, he opened his eyes and looked way up above his head.  His eyes widened, then he looked at the foot of his bed and mouthed, “Who are they?”  I know who he was seeing: the angels who surround a dying person.  I whispered the Sh’ma, the central Jewish prayer that is said twice a day and at the time of death, and I softly sang some other psalms.  He mouthed the Sh’ma with me, then calmed down and closed his eyes.

I was sure he was going to die today.  The nurses all got concerned too, and came in and checked his vital signs, but everything was ticking right along.

His doctor came in to see him later in the afternoon.  She said hello, and he perked up and smiled at her and returned her ‘hello.”

“How are you feeling?”

“Just fine, thank you.”

“Does anything hurt?”

“No, nothing hurts.  I feel fine.”

I was thrilled, and amazed, and felt like kind of a jerk for thinking he was moribund.  The doctor gave me a lecture on the phenomenon of Sundowning, even though it was bright and sunny at the moment.  I nodded my head.

Now I’m at home, having a break and writing this.  In a little while I’ll go back to the hospital and sit with Dad till ten or so, and try to keep his mind busy so he doesn’t try to climb out of bed to turn off the saw, or rip out his Foley catheter (which keeps his bladder empty), which he has been trying to do all day.  And I guess I’d better eat something.  All I’ve had today is a Cliff bar and a McDonald’s hot fudge sundae, not the best nutrition in the world.

Sad Days Ahead

Friday, January 18, 2014, 2 pm.  Walmart.  Maneuvering the shopping cart (or “buggy,” as they call it here in Western North Carolina) around the place packed with people gathering supplies for what was supposed to be a blizzard, luckily turned out to be flurries.  I was picking up a few things to top off my Shabbat preparations: mineral water, blue corn chips, orange-and-red striped tulips, and cheesecake.  My phone rang: my mom.  Her cell phone, which was odd at that time of day.  Alarms go off in my head.

Dad has fallen again–the second time this week.  The many-th of this year.  Falls are increasing in frequency, varying in severity, but always accompanied by a decrease in function afterward.  He has a dementia that is not Alzheimer’s.  He’s had many small strokes.  And he’s got a narrowing of his spinal canal that causes him to have to wear diapers because it’s pressing on the nerves that control his body functions.  And to make things even better, his vertebrae–all of them–have been slowly but progressively disintegrating so that he’s bent over in a “C” shape when he walks–if he is able to walk, which is sometimes, with difficulty, with a cane or pushing his wheelchair, which is where he is parked most of the time.

So far he’s managed by sheer force of will to do his shower by himself.  But this time he fell right over on his back, hitting his head for the millionth time on the hard tiled floor, and my mom was not able to get him up; so she did the right thing and called the ambulance.  As of the time she called me they had still not shown up and Dad was still lying prostrate on the floor naked as a jaybird and twice as wet.

It took them a good twenty minutes to arrive.  Good thing there was nothing life-threatening.  And when they finally got there, they came in such hordes that there was nowhere to park both the First Responders van and the Ambulance, which couldn’t even get into the tiny parking spot at the end of the long dirt road where they built their home 40 years ago.  They couldn’t figure out how they were going to backboard him out, given that my parents built their house into the side of a cliff and there is very limited access.  My mother said it was like the Keystone Cops.

After I got her call I put the cheesecake back in the freezer and just left my cart where it was, and drove the ten minutes to the hospital, thinking surely they must have arrived at the ER by then.  But no.  I waited a good half hour.  My mom arrived in her car, and it took the ambulance another fifteen minutes to get around to unloading poor Dad, who was immobilized on a backboard.

CT scan of head and neck were fine, but he had a new compression fracture of L1, the first vertebra below the thoracic (chest part) spine.  And as I gazed at the cardiac monitor, I noticed a very strange rhythm, or dysrhythmia really.  It looked to me (and it has been a very long time since I read EKGs) that he has a partial or intermittent block in the electrical system that runs the heart.  It happened in “runs:”  the pattern would get normal for a minute or so, and then pop back into the abnormal rhythm.  I observed that his level of consciousness varied with the rhythm.  When it was weird, he would get confused and less conscious; when the rhythm was normal, he was more aware and oriented.  That explains a lot, because he’s been “going in and out” a lot lately.  Surely when his rhythm is weird, his heart is not pumping normally and his brain, already battered, is not getting enough blood.

As if that is not enough, he has a urinary tract infection–probably the same one he had about a month ago that was inadequately treated with the wrong antibiotic and no follow-up culture to see if it had cleared.  I was furious then and I’m furious now.

Thankfully, he was admitted to the inpatient service.  The last many times he has fallen and hit his head, they have sent him home, even when he injured himself badly enough to need stitches.  But this time, with the combination of the fall and the dysrhythmia and the kidney infection and the broken back, for heaven’s sake, they kept him.

Today, Saturday, January 18, my mother, the doctor, and I, unanimously made the decision that he will go to a nursing home for “rehabilitation” after his hospital stay.  This is a very sad state of affairs.  In all my years of doctoring, and in all my mother’s years of being a geriatric social worker, neither of us has ever seen an 89 year old person who is sent to a nursing home for “rehab,” be discharged from there to come home, because by that point the person is really not “rehabilitatable.”   If my dad makes it out of that nursing home I will be very surprised and very elated.  But I don’t think he will.

He’s been through at least four six-week courses of twice weekly physical therapy to try to improve his balance and ambulation.  All that’s accomplished is to cause him great pain and distress, but he’s soldiered on with it because he’s not a quitter.  In fact, the main reason for most of his falls is that he’s trying like hell to be independent.

I’m terrified to think of him in a nursing home with a broken back, because I know what they will do: they will leave him lying in the bed, with the excuse that it’s not safe to get him up in a chair, much less walking with assistance, and neglecting to turn him every two hours like they’re supposed to.  I’m terrified that he will develop bed sores.  Maybe I’m just, just, just overthinking….but this is what I’ve seen.  And if he develops a bed sore, he’s gone, because he’s diabetic and his immune system can’t take it.

So I know where I will be spending most of my time, making sure that he’s properly cared for.  It’s a sad time, a time we’ve all seen coming, and now it’s upon us.

Two Hebrew Kings Blog For Mental Health

I lived in Seattle for a time, and was crazy as a bed bug (ugh! bed bugs!) due to indiscretions in several arenas of my life and untreated bipolar disorder.  Fortunately, I found a wonderful psychiatrist named Ray Vath.  Dr. Vath, if you are reading this, please know you saved my life.

On more than one occasion, I got so manic and paranoid that I locked myself in a hotel room for several days at a time, hallucinating, emerging only to walk my service dog and get more bottled water.  I ate nothing.  No amount of Ativan slowed my mind.  I had to wait it out.  I would not call the doctor for fear he would put me in the hospital–something I feared worse than death, having been in twice already.

On one post-mania visit, Dr. Vath, after writing a script for Lithium, suggested that King David was manic-depressive.  Just look at Psalms, he said.  In one poem he would be elated, dancing and singing before G-d, and in another, crying out in pain and suffering, begging forgiveness and professing to be nothing but a lowly sinner.

I did look at the Psalms, but at the time had no Hebrew, so I had to make do with translations.  These did put across Dr. Vath’s point.  But it wasn’t until I learned Hebrew that I really got the impact of the language David used.  It is so poignant–and so bipolar.

As I got more confident in my Hebrew (and my ability to use a dictionary) I set myself the task of reading the first book of Samuel in Hebrew.  It’s easier than a lot of the ancient texts, because the language is more like modern Hebrew; and it’s easier than the later prophets, because they raved on so.  (It says in Samuel I that the prophets would fall down in something like an epileptic fit and prophesy.  Hmmm, sounds like a Pentacostal Church service.  Maybe they read the Prophets too?)

Imagine my surprise when I discovered that David’s uncle Saul, the first King of Israel, suffered terribly from depression!  He would send for David, “The Sweet Singer of Israel,” to play his harp and sing for him.  That was the only thing that would pop Saul out of his black melancholy.  But what happened then!  David, playing his lyre and seemingly oblivious, would jump slightly to the right or left, in order to avoid the spear that Saul, waking from his depressive trance, heaved at his head!  And David would just keep playing, while Saul hurled spears at him right and left.  Crazy, or not crazy?  I vote crazy.  Sounds like one of my family get-togethers, fortunately rare.

Saul did some other manic-type things, like going to a necromancer to call up the prophet Samuel, who had recently died.  Saul needed some information quick, so that was the best course of action, he reasoned.  He got severely punished for that through Divine Retribution.

Saul had this thing about trying to kill David.  David would run to various difficult to get to places in the Land of Israel, like the caves at Ein Gedi, which overlook a beautiful waterfall and pool. I have taken a dip in it.  It was cold.  The caves are very high up, but that did not deter Saul and his army from hunting David down.

One time, David was hiding in a very dark cave.  Saul needed to “relieve himself,” so he went into the very cave in which David had crammed himself way in the back.  While Saul was indisposed, David sneaked up and silently sliced off a piece of Saul’s garment.  Must have been a very sharp knife!  After Saul finished and left the cave, David ran after him and handed him the piece of cloth, entreating him to show some reason and call off his dogs.  This only intensified Saul’s paranoia, and he continued to hunt David from North to South and East to West.

It gives me comfort to know that I am not the only crazy person in the world.  Yes, I know the numbers and statistics, but sometimes the isolation of my own particular variety of bent mind makes me feel as if no one else could possibly have experiences even mildly reminiscent of mine.

This is where Mental Health Blogging comes in.  Here in this wonderfully crazy part of the blogosphere, we let our hair down, and let our brains hang out.  We listen and console and comfort each other.  We do not throw spears at each others’ heads.  Instead, we provide a warm, loving community, something we all need desperately.

Some of us are more functional than others, holding down jobs, having families and social lives.  Others, like myself, confine our social interactions to the safety of the Internet and especially our safe Mental Health Blogging community.

A cornerstone of our community is that paragon of group blogging,  A Canvas of the Minds.  Masterminded by Ruby Tuesday and Lulu Stark, it is truly a place where mental health issues are out of the closet.  If you haven’t been there yet, I urge you to do so immediately!  But not before you finish reading my post 🙂

Although Lulu has retired from Canvas, she left a very special legacy.  Each year, Mental Health Bloggers from all corners of the Blogosphere take the following pledge:

“I pledge my commitment to the Blog for Mental Health 2014 Project. I will blog about mental health topics not only for myself, but for others. By displaying this badge, I show my pride, dedication, and acceptance for mental health. I use this to promote mental health education in the struggle to erase stigma.”  

blogging mental health

 

Well, that was easy, wasn’t it?  Because that’s what I do anyway, and I intend to continue to do it until my fingers dry up and fall off (Heaven forfend), and after that I’ll have to learn Dragon Dictate that I already bought but haven’t even looked at yet.

So.  You’ve heard about my crazy Hebrew relatives, and I hope you enjoyed their stories.  Reading this post over, I realized that my own 21st Century family gatherings are no more shockingly unhealthy than the Hebrew families of 2500 years ago.  Not that it makes me feel any better about family gatherings.  On the contrary, it reinforces my commitment to being a recluse.  Lonely at times, but many fewer slings and arrows!

The Mystery of Seven

We’re always hearing about things that come in sevens: Sinbad sailed the Seven Seas, the Pleiades is a constellation of seven stars, also known as the Seven Sisters; when we are ecstatic we are in Seventh Heaven; Jacob worked for his evil father-in law for seven years to pay for Rachel, but got Leah instead, then had to work another seven for Rachel again.  And don’t forget the Seven Dwarves!   And for some reason or other, there are Seven days in a week.  Who thought that up???  Why not eight, nine, or ten???  I mean, there’s no law that says there have to be seven days in a week, is there?  Seems strange.

In Inner Torah Judaism, there are Seven layers of Heaven.  There are also Seven levels of Hell!  And you have to go through each one of them, getting your soul cleaned out like a giant washing machine.  No thanks.

So what’s the big deal with the number Seven?

Imagine this:

A cube.  It has four sides all around, one on the top, and one on the bottom.  That makes six sides.  Hold that thought.

If you have a cube, then it must contain something, right?  What does it contain?  Wood?  Plastic?  Air?  Who cares?  It contains the seventh element.  The seventh element is The Inner Space.  Or if you prefer, the seventh element of a cube could be a point in the center of the cube.   The Six is on the Outside, and the Seven is on the Inside.

Now let’s return to Six.  What has six?  A week has six.  “Sheshit yamim ta’avod ve’ta’aseh kol melachechah….”  Six days you will work and do all the things you have to do….”  A Hebrew week has six days.  The work week starts on Saturday night (yup!) and goes until just before sundown on Friday evening.  At that point, in an Orthodox Jewish home, every kind of work stops: no cooking, cleaning, yard work, painting, no kindling of fires of any sort including the use of electricity (lights go on timers), no TV, video games, music, iPhone, iPad, iAnything.  No driving, horseback riding, cattle rustling or rounding up bison on ATVs.

It is the Seventh Day.

Va’yachulu ha’shamayim ve’ha’aretz ve’kol tzeva’am

And the Heavens and the Earth were finished, and all of their hosts

Va’ya’chal Elo-him ba’yom ha’shevi’i melachto asher asah

And G-d finished making the labors that He made

Va’yishbot Elo-him ba’yom ha’shevi’i mi kol melachto asher asah

And G-d rested on the Seventh Day from all the labors that He made

Va’yevorech Elo-him et yom hashevi’i va’yekadesh otoh

And G-d blessed the Seventh Day and separated it

Ki voh shavat mi’kol melachto asher bara Elo-him la’asot

For He rested upon It from all the works that He created to do.

What is the secret of Seven?  It is the Sabbath.  As we are created in the image of G-d, so do we follow His example.  If G-d rested on the Seventh Day, it makes a lot of sense that we should too.  It’s a time of pulling back, introspection, recharging of batteries.  It’s a time of celebration, eating and drinking, singing songs and telling stories, hanging out with family and friends, traveling (before Shabbat) to other families to share in their Shabbat.  It’s a complete separation from the workweek and all of the things that one does during the week.

In Hebrew, the days start on the evening before.  They are called First Day, Second Day, etc., until we get to the Seventh Day, which is called Shabbat.  Why do we call it Shabbat?  Because it’s derived from a Hebrew word “to rest.”  It’s in the text above: “Ki voh shavat mi kol…” “For on It He rested from all…”  In fact, if you look closely and listen with soft eyes to the word “shavat” you will hear the Hebrew word “shevah,” Seven.  Shevah.  Seven.  Hmmmm.

Speaking of the text above: what is it and why did I write it here?

It’s a part of the prayer that’s sung at the Shabbat dinner table in the evening, sung standing, holding a full cup of wine.  It’s a prayer that celebrates entering sacred space, where we will remain for 25 hours before being spit back out into the world.  It’s the heralding of a haven: an island in time.  The Seventh Day.

In Kabbalistic space-time, it also heralds the Messianic Era, which is known as The Great Shabbat.  In it, we will no longer know war, strife, hunger, or suffer any of the evils of our present world.  We will be able to turn our attention to eating, drinking, singing, dancing, studying delicious Sacred texts, and who knows what because we haven’t been there yet: but–we get a taste of it on Shabbat.

Six days of the week, like the sides of our cube, are openly visible, without any secrets.  The Seventh Day, the Shabbat, is laden with secrets.

The Seventh Day, the Shabbat, is the Inner aspect of the week.  In it hide the secrets of the Great Shabbat, and true liberation!

Sick day

Oh dear.  I was all set to write this fantastic post about sevens, and I suddenly got whacked with the headache from hell.  Plus I’ve been coughing all day.  Plus it’s zero degrees and dropping, and my windows are drafty, and….I’m going to take something narcotic and go to bed.  Hopefully, whatever this is will be over tomorrow and I can write my fantastic post on sevens.  Take care and be well, bloggie friends!

Expectations

I don’t know why, but tonight I’ve been thinking about the idea of “expectations.”  I have never been good at “expecting” things.  Maybe that’s because I’ve never had much permanency in my life.  We moved a lot when I was a child, so I never got to develop solid friendships. Every time we moved and I started a new school, I’d get to be the “new kid” and get “picked on” constantly, which today’s parlance would call “bullied.”

Just about the time I was starting to get at least a lukewarm reception from the other weird kids, we’d pick up and move again.  As I got old enough to understand such things, I was informed why we needed to move (again), but before I reached the age of reason, it was just: out come the boxes, in go the belongings, and off to some other dwelling, echoing, empty and in need of paint and curtains–sometimes in need of a whole lot more.

It almost became a hobby, moving into a new house and fixing it up nice.  I wasn’t aware that most families did not move every two years, plus or minus.

There were other differences that were more important to me.   Sometimes I would go to some kid’s house and it would be lunch or dinner time, and they would invite me, and the mother would call my mother on the black dial phone so heavy you could kill somebody with it, and I would get to stay.

When it came down to the actual food, it got a little tricky, because I had never seen Chef Boy-Ar-dee** canned spaghetti, or Spaghetti-Os that they served to the children while the parents ate steak, and nobody seemed to mind.  Or Ore-Ida instant mashed potatoes with brown gravy made from an envelope. Or Rice-a-Roni, “the San Francisco treat.”  It just did not look, smell, or taste like food to me.  I couldn’t eat the stuff, and the mothers would get frantic or angry, depending.  But I had never eaten anything out of a can or a box, so it seemed alien to me.

We couldn’t afford such luxury food even if we had wanted to.  We grew a big garden instead.  In the late summer, my mom and I would start canning Kentucky Wonder pole beans, squash, and tomatoes.  We finished up canning season in the fall with home-made apple sauce. Every time I invited another kid to stay to dinner with us, they refused to eat my mother’s home-made spaghetti sauce with fresh veggies out of the garden.  They didn’t think our food was food, and I didn’t think our food was food.

These children, whose parents fed them Chef Boy-Ar-Dee, had real beds with headboards and bed skirts.  My bed was a door–without the handle–on a metal frame with casters, topped with a four inch thick piece of foam rubber.  If you sat on it in the wrong place it would tip over and buck you right off.

They had dining room sets encased in plastic, living room sets encased in plastic, and gigantic color televisions.  We had a trestle table with a bench on each side, like a picnic table only my dad made ours out of some nice kind of wood, and it came apart and folded up, to move.  Our couch was another door-and-foam combo, with a blue slip-cover made by my grandpa, who had been an upholsterer in his prime..  We had a “bat chair” saved from the Beatnik days, that folded up, and a few other old and trusted pieces of furniture from various eras in the moving days.  When we finally got a TV after Kennedy died it was one of those little portable ones that you could actually put on the kitchen table to watch while you ate.  Bad habit, I know.

I never knew we were poor.  Since I never really liked other kids that much, I only rarely went to somebody else’s home; and since all I knew was utter simplicity and impermanence, the houses of what I came to think of as “rich kids” (although they were probably regular middle class kids) seemed opulent and even overdone.  I liked their big TVs and swing sets in the back yard, but I was relieved when I got back to my simple homespun surroundings, where I felt comfortable.  It was as if every time we moved, the physical dwelling changed, but the interior with the beatnik furniture and all the art and paintings on the walls, remained the same as though they had been picked up as a unit and dropped into the new house, all intact.

This normalization of impermanence may be why when someone asks me “Is this what you expected it to be?” referring to an experience, not an object–I have to honestly answer, “I can’t tell you, because I don’t expect anything.”

My Buddhist friends applaud my expectation deficiency.  According to them, it is something one must strive to accomplish.  I can’t take any credit for mine, since I didn’t do anything on purpose to achieve this state.  I think it is sad, to grow up in a way that is devoid of reasons to expect anything.  But since I was never aware that I was missing anything, and the only constant in my life was change, I simply never grew the “expectation organ.”

N.B. For those of you who grew up with Chef Boy-Ar-Dee, Spaghetti-Os, Ore-Idas, furniture covered with plastic, large color TVs, and/or swing sets, I beg you not to take offense.  It is simply that since I didn’t, they seemed strange–just as our house and food would have seemed strange to you!

Abracadabra, Please and Thank You!

I have always loved magic.  Not so much the kind where the guy with the skinny mustache saws the blonde in half; more the kind where the frumpy looking worm builds a house around herself and in total dark and privacy, somehow manages to turn into something as unlike what she was before as, say, a wrench is to an elephant.  That’s magic.

Everything’s magic, really.  I mean, look around you.  How did all this stuff get here?  OK, I know there’s a basic division between those who believe that everything was created by a Deity, and those who believe that everything somehow managed to get here randomly, and natural selection, and mixtures of all of the above.  OK.  It doesn’t matter.  The question remains: there is all this STUFF.  How did it get here?

The Sabbath is almost here, so I don’t have time right this minute to tell you about how Kabbalah explains the Big Bang.  Don’t worry–I will, after we’ve learned together a little more and gathered a few handy vocabulary items.  For now, let’s just make the assumption that energy is matter and vice versa, and we shall see.

But getting back to Magic: isn’t that supposed to be forbidden?  “Thou shalt not suffer a sorceress to live,” and all that?

It depends.  In fact, it all goes back to Creation.

I’m talking about ABRA-CA-DABRA, please and thank you!

In Hebrew, one of the important words for “to make” or “to create” has the root-form B-R-A  (Hebrew words are formed out of three-letter roots).

As in, “Bereisheet BARA Elo-him et ha’shamayim ve’et ha’aretz.”   “In the beginning, G-d created (BARA) the heavens and the earth.”

Do you see that three letter root in aBRA ca daBRA?  Oh my goodness.  The “a” prefix means “I will.”  The “ca” means “as.”  And what about the last word–dabra?  It has the BRA in it, and it also has “da,” but in this case it’s not a prefix–it’s a whole new word.  Actually, it’s a word-within-a-word.

The word for “speak” in Hebrew is DABER.  Pronounced “dah-BEAR.”

Now we have to get back to creation.  If you look at any of the ten utterances of creation (actually you will see only nine, since one is hidden), they begin, “And the LORD said.…,” and so it was.  And the way it came into being was because G-d said it.  The world was spoken into being.  This teaches us that speech is very powerful, clearly.  If worlds can be created through speech, then we had better take it very seriously.

ABRA-CA-DABRA.  I shall create as I speak.

By now you should be thinking, wait a minute–this is nothing for some joker in a top hat and skinny mustache to be messing around with.  And you’re right!  But no worries–that guy probably doesn’t possess the immense spiritual development that would make him potentially dangerous in the Abracadabra department.

But Avraham did.  That first Avraham, the one we talked about in Jewish Geneology.  That Avraham was so close to G-d that it is said by our sages that he was actually capable of being a partner with G-d in creating new people.  Yes, I know this is freaky.  Stay with me.

There is a hint about that in the Scripture itself, in Genesis 12:5: “Avram took his wife Sarai and Lot, his brother’s son….and all the souls they had made in Haran.”  The Kabbalists hint that “…all the souls that they had made in Haran” were actually real people, created anew in the flesh!  Others say no, this is a figurative term for all the people that Avram and Sarai had turned on to the fact that idol worship is foolish, and so they were “as if” newly created beings.

However…there is a book called “Sefer Yetzirah,” or the “Book of Creation,” which I happen to have staring at me from my bookshelf right now.  It was translated and annotated by a great scholar, Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan, who passed away a number of years ago at the age of 39.  The book contains virtually all the secrets of life, from the way the universe is constructed, to the secrets of time, months, and seasons, and especially, the secrets of speech and its power to create.

The Sefer Yetzirah is said to have been authored by Avraham himself, and passed down through the ages as a memorized code.  Sometime during the last few centuries B.C., a wise person wrote down the code in super-coded form, not even a page in length, because s/he knew that rough times were coming and a lot of people were going to be killed, and even worse, the traditions of our learning were likely to be broken.

Sure enough, that is just what happened.  And luckily for us, the heirs of the tiny coded Sefer Yetzirah started writing more and more of it down, because they could see the writing on the wall, as far as the incipient scattering of our people.  But the book, even though more of it was on parchment, was still shrouded with layer upon layer of encodement.

It is said that the Maharal of Prague used the Sefer Yetzirah to create his famous Golem, a man-like creature made from clay and brought to life via the secrets of the Sefer and the Four Letter Ineffable Name of G-d (Y-H-V-H).

So what can we learn from Abracadabra?  To me, it means: be careful what comes out of my mouth, because speech is an agent of creation.  We can build our child or our partner or ourselves up, make them feel good about themselves, inspire them to do good and think good, by means of our speech.   On the other hand, we can tear them down with cruel words.

Some say that when we speak we are creating angels: good angels when we talk good, and bad angels when we talk bad.  That is to say, when we are speaking kindly we are releasing good energy into the universe, and conversely, the opposite.

It really does matter what we say–and how we say it!  Abracadabra, please and thank you!  Shabbat Shalom!