P is for Passover, and also Panic

There are a lot of aspects of Passover that people panic about.  It’s worse than Christmas.  Much worse.

First there are the elaborate preparations.

But I’m getting ahead of myself.

There might be people who are not familiar with the Jewish holiday that draws relatives, and any Jewish (or non-Jewish, for that matter) friends, visitors in town, complete strangers….to one’s home and table, to participate in an elaborate ritual celebration of FREEDOM.

The ritual is prescribed by the Hebrew Bible, which commands us to gather at the full moon of the Month of Spring (Aviv), which is the Hebrew month of Nissan, which itself is a variant of the word “nissim,” which means “miracles.”

At this gathering, we are commanded to tell the story of the Exodus from Egypt, when, after ten dreadful plagues, Pharaoh begged Moses to get the Hebrews (whom Pharaoh had enslaved) the hell out of Egypt so they could have some respite from all the different kinds of badness that God was visiting upon the Egyptians.

The Hebrews jumped on this opportunity.  They had just mixed up a batch of bread for themselves, and since they were in such a hurry to leave Egypt before Pharaoh changed his mind, they just stuffed the unleavened dough into sacks, threw it across their backs, made sure it didn’t get wet crossing the Sea of Reeds (even though it split for them, you know how water tends to get into things), and we hear no more about that until we are commanded to sit and eat this stuff for eight days every year.

Since the words “mitzvah (commandment)” and “matzah” are spelled very similarly in Hebrew, Kabbalah teaches that eating matzah is the Number One mitzvah.

Actually, it’s the Number Two mitzvah, number one being “love your neighbor as yourself.”  Jesus learned that in Hebrew School.

Anyway.

What does matzah teach us, to gain such high status in Mitzvah World?

Simple.

That’s it.  Be simple.

What could be more simple than flour and water?

Of course, Jews have a way of making even flour and water complicated, but that’s for another post.

Let me just say that in Orthodox Jewish circles, the object is to cram as much of the Sacred Crunchy Cracker down one’s gullet as possible.

Now, I love matzah.  I mean, I really LOVE matzah.  I could eat nothing but matzah for the rest of my life.

Matzah with butter thinly spread on it, which is a feat in itself because it breaks very easily.

Matzah with horseradish and a sweet kind of relish made of grated apples, walnuts, and wine.  Heaven.

Matzah with pickled herring.  Don’t knock it if you haven’t tried it.

Yep, I can eat a whole box of matzah without even trying.  Munch, crunch!

In Israel, matzah is even yummier because it’s made by hand, very thin, and it’s round, and you can get it made from spelt, which is delicious.

No, there is no blood in matzah.  None.  That would spoil the whole thing.  Matzah that has any additive beside flour and water is disqualified.  So let’s get THAT blood libel off the table.  Literally.

Now, sometime between my becoming Jewishly observant and my second or third year in Israel, I became gluten intolerant.  I didn’t know what it was, at first.  All I knew was that on the Sabbath, we are commanded to eat at least three meals containing bread made from any of the five grains that grow naturally in the Land of Israel: wheat, spelt, rye, oats, and barley.  In my circle, spelt was the most common, and all women were to be found on Thursday night or Friday morning lovingly kneading their Sabbath bread.

Me too.  I often hosted 20 or more people on Friday nights, so lots of bread came out of my toaster oven.  No one has money for a “real” oven in Israel.  It’s amazing what a toaster oven and a hot plate can put out in a pinch….or every week!

Anyway.  I’m procrastinating.  P is for procrastination.

So I began to notice that every Sunday, which comes after our Sabbath, I was spending in the bathroom.  Since our Sunday, at least in Israel where there really isn’t such a thing as a weekend if you’re a religious woman..anyway, since Sunday is a weekday, and you go to work, I started having to cancel patients because I couldn’t get off the toilet.  Usually by Tuesday I’d be fine, but that really screwed everything up for both me and my patients.

But since eating bread on the Sabbath is the main thing, I ate it.  And if you eat a piece of bread the size of an olive (or an egg, depending on things too complicated to go into here), you become obligated to say a blessing that takes a minimum of fifteen minutes, possibly up to an hour if you make a meditation out of it (then you get extra Heaven points, for being extra holy).  It’s an obligation, and a privilege, to be done with concentration and love.

When Passover came around that year, I ordered my huge box of extra-holy matzah, and munched away for the first few days of the eight day holiday….then my munching came to an abrupt halt.  I was forced to realize the disastrous connection between the bread, leavened or unleavened, and the bathroom.

How could this be???  God commanded us to eat this stuff.  And commanded us to bless him for all the good things he does for us, and bread is the proof!

“Ve’ahalta ve’savata u’veirachta et Ha’Shem Elokeicha…”

“And you shall eat, and you shall be satisfied, and you shall bless the Name of Your God…”  The Blessing After Meals says this…so why couldn’t I say it?

And this is the core, the heart, of Jewish ritual observance…because Judaism isn’t something you THINK, it’s something you DO.  Our observance is centered around what the Children of Israel said at Mount Sinai when we received the Torah: “We will DO, and we will HEAR.”  This means that even if we do not understand on an intellectual level what the commandments are about, we do them anyway.

So for me, the paradox of being commanded to eat bread, but the bread making me sick, was incomprehensible.  Why would God command me to do something that made me sick?  Nonsense.  So I kept eating the bread, and got progressively sicker, lost thirty pounds, became anemic, ended up in the hospital bleeding from my ravaged guts and crying out unto the Lord who led us out from Egypt “with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm….”  And when I got out of the hospital I realized that my God had either failed me or cursed me or both.

But there was one grain that didn’t contain gluten: oats!

Listen, bread made out of pure oats with nothing added is disgusting.  I did manage to develop a recipe for oat pita for the Sabbath that was edible when washed down with copious amounts of dry red wine.  Fortunately, Israel has a rich and ancient tradition of wine making, and therefore some rich and ancient vineyards that produce gorgeous vintages.  (A friend and I used to make pilgrimages to ancient wine presses, 3000 years ancient!  We always brought a bottle from that region to enjoy…and he brought bread, so he could make the after-blessing…)

Then I learned to make oat matzah, which is super easy, and my Passover blues were gone.

A lot has happened in the meantime, and we’re going to skip over it and fast forward to this year, and this night, which is the third night of Passover, in the year 5776 from Creation.

I wanted to celebrate Passover, so I looked around for a community Seder (the word “Seder” literally means “order,” and connotes the order of the fifteen steps of the Passover ritual celebration, and not just the meal that most people associate with the word).  There was one, so I signed up for it, and got my plans together for making my oat matzah on the grill.  No problem!

But then God got in the way again, by causing someone to steal my camp furniture, and me to ask the management what might have become of it, and them to put me out on the street, quite literally, on the night before the day I had planned to make my matzah, which was the day of the night of the Seder.  I guess I could have made it in the parking lot of the truck stop where I slept that night, but to be honest I was so rattled I didn’t think of it….

That is, until I walked into the huge hall filled with Jews from all over the world who had gathered in tiny Flagstaff, drawn from places like Sedona and Las Vegas, to eat matzah, drink wine, and do the annual spiritual pilgrimage to Egypt and back to Freedom of the Mind and Soul.

I was decked out in a muted version of my Passover finery, minus the outrageous headgear, shoes, scarves, jewelry…since I have lead my family’s Seder for the past ten years, my rule is “I’m running this show, so I get to wear what I want.”

It probably wouldn’t have helped.

The “ikar,” the MAIN THING, the WHOLE POINT, of the Seder, is to eat the matzah and drink four cups of wine.  If you do nothing else, eat the matzah and drink the wine.  And I had no matzah.

And suddenly, with that realization, I became aware of the noise…the smell…the presence….of all these people, all these Jewish people who were all going on a spiritual journey through the medium of BREAD AND WINE, and I was there, but I was not going…the train was leaving without me.

“DAH LEHEM OHNI…this is the Bread of Affliction that my Foremothers brought out from Egypt…” the leader intones while holding up a piece of matzah.

Ohni…an Aramaic word meaning “of affliction…”  but in Hebrew, it translates, “MY affliction.”

MY affliction.  The bread of MY affliction.

Suddenly I knew that if I didn’t get out of there, and NOW, I was going to throw up in my fancy fake silver plastic plate.  I took advantage of it being a point in the ritual where everyone is lined up to wash their hands from special lavers, and I snaked my way through the crowd and out the door to my van, which the rabbi had graciously given me permission to park in the Jewish Community Center parking lot for the weekend.

I am sorry to say that I wasn’t able to make myself go to the rabbi’s home for dinner the following night, either.  I felt terrible, because being invited to the rabbi’s home is a huge honor.  But the thought of dealing with people–ANY people–terrified me.  And especially–ESPECIALLY–the black-and-white Orthodox mode of dress, the segregation of the sexes, the hordes of properly dressed children charging around in a frenzied pack (Orthodox children are rarely disciplined, yet somehow morph into polite and kind young people at the age of 12 for girls, 13 for boys.  This is a mystery).

And, of course, I would have to answer thousands of questions.  No, no, and no.  I just couldn’t face it.

So I stayed one more night in the JCC parking lot, grateful for the stand of young trees in the landscaping, since the incoming cold front brought with it a roaring wind.

Now I’m back on the Coconino Plateau, feeling uncomfortably unwashed, since I didn’t have a chance to fill my fresh water tank before being ejected from the KOA.  I’ll be here another night, since there’s a high wind advisory for tomorrow too.  When that’s over, I hope to go Somewhere Else…hopefully to Canyon de Chelly, where I can talk to the Ancient Ones who built the cliff dwellings there….maybe they can tell me why my journey to my roots has brought me so much Bread of Affliction.

Troublemaker

I’ve been thrown out of two places in my life: a leather dyke bar in Provincetown, Massachusetts, because I wasn’t butch enough; and just tonight, the campground I’ve been staying in on and off since February.  My crime: complaining to the manager because my camp furniture had been removed from my campsite; and when they claimed they hadn’t removed them, then I reported my possessions as stolen.

Tonight as I came in to pay for my reservation, they informed me that I was no longer welcome because I had “made a scene.”

Hmmm.

I don’t think asking to speak to the manager because one’s personal effects have disappeared really counts as “making a scene.”  Especially since this was the second time things of mine have “disappeared” at this campground.  The first time I also reported it, and got blank stares for an answer.  This time the blank stare treatment really got to me, because you’d think they would care if their paying customers were losing their camp furniture.  So I said I wanted to speak to the manager, who shrugged and said she didn’t know what had happened to my things.

I tried to think of other reasons they might want to get rid of me.  Maybe it’s because I always pick up after my dog.  Maybe it’s because I’m very quiet, am rarely seen aside from taking long walks with same dog, never play music except with headphones, and don’t make trouble except for when my zero gravity lounge chair and a whole load of laundry disappear.

It would have been nice if they hadn’t waited till I came in, after dark, to tell me I’ve been banned.  I had to scramble to find a place to park my van for the night.  It’s too late to go up to the forest, so I have to make do with the truck stop.  It’s usually OK to park overnight at Wal-Mart, but not here.  Fortunately there’s a truck stop an easy drive away.  Very, very noisy, but any port in a storm.  Time to break out the earplugs…

This is very inconvenient, at this particular moment in time, because I have to make my special oat matzahs for the Passover Seder tomorrow night.  I was planning to make them on my portable grill tomorrow morning.  Cooking in the truck stop parking lot is considered poor truck stop etiquette (!), so I will have to figure out something else.  Maybe one of the marijuana dispensaries will let me get my matzahs baked in their parking lot!  Just kidding.  Sort of.

I LOVE Purple!

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Purple is SO my favorite color.  ‘Specially when my shirt, my sweats, and the bruise from where I got blood drawn yesterday are all the same shade.

That’s not an actual bruise.  It’s more of a bleed between two layers of skin.  That’s what happens when my skin is the least bit disturbed.  I didn’t even feel the stick, so it’s not really trauma.  The really fucked up thing about these purple things is they turn into scars.  WTF?  Scars.

Now I have purple blotches coming up here and there from the deeps, very tender, with swollen blood vessels under them.  I showed all of this to the doctor I went to yesterday, who is supposed to specialize in things like that, but I guess not, because he kind of shrugged and said I ought to see a vascular surgeon, but, he added, they are hard to find in these parts.  Then he ordered a lot of blood tests, and told me to come back in two weeks to discuss the results.

If I’m still alive, that is.  These swollen veins can’t be a good thing.  If I’m not significantly better tomorrow, I will take Atina to board at the vet, and take myself to the hospital.  Surely someone ought to have an idea or two about what’s going on.  I hope.

Tired Puppy

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We had a big day today and both of us are beat.  However, if you look at the above photo you will see two squiggly lines.  The red one on the right points to Atina’s “squirrel.”  She has to have it in order to sleep.

The blue line on the left points to my foot.  She is using it for a pillow.  This means that I cannot move, or else I will wake up Sleeping Beauty and then what would happen?

What I want to know is why I get all excited about some new Bipolar management strategy that’s working, and immediately get rid of one of my drugs.  I do that frequently, and frequently pay the price.

For instance, I just started Clonidine for my blood pressure, and it has the side effect of relaxation.  I was getting over-sedated from the benzos I take plus the Clonidine, so I decided to start weaning on the benzos because I hate them anyway.

So after a couple of nights of half doses, last night I skipped the lorazepam entirely.

All well and good, I fell asleep just fine.  But it turns out the Clonidine has a very short duration of action, so I found myself irritability awake and looking for someone to kill at 4:30 in the morning.  Well, the only person I found at that time of the a.m. was me, so I lay in bed till it got light, and then I remembered that someone did me the favor of stealing all my camp furniture yesterday.  Kill!  Kill!!  But I had to wait till the office opened, so I guzzled coffee and planned my angle of attack.

It didn’t work any better than the last time I got robbed in that particular campground, which unfortunately has many advantages, which is why I stay there a lot. 

Last time, someone stole my one good pair of chinos and six pairs of blue Smartwool socks, only a couple of years old.  Fuck, fuck, fuck.  That was the find of a lifetime, Smartwool socks in the most lovely shade of blue.  I guess somebody else thought that too.

I told the incredibly rude cunt bitch fuckhead office person about it, and she just sneered at me, so I asked to see the manager, who was very nice and promised to look into it for me but I doubt she will.

I don’t know why, but the office staff all treat me like I have leprosy even though I’ve been paying to stay there intermittently since February.  I stay there when it’s really cold so I can plug in my little electric heater instead of using the propane furnace, which makes these unholy clicking noises all night.  I don’t think I do anything weirder than any of the other weird campers.  I don’t even allow myself to go around having a running conversation with myself like I normally do.  I think they’re all afraid of my dog, who wouldn’t even bite them unless they threatened me, which is one of the reasons I have her.  The other reason is that she’s sweet, sweet, sweet.  Maybe I’m creepy without knowing it.  Oh well, I’m paying them, and all they have to do is take my money, so I get to be myself.  But I miss my camp furniture and socks.

Tonight I’m in a way over my head expensive and chic campground that is far too near Sedona, which is why.  That’s OK though, because tomorrow I’m off to the Mogollon Rim.  I’ll explain more about that later.  I can’t look down to write anymore tonight.  My neck is killing me. 

How Stigma Compromises My Medical Care

I don’t know what to do.

I can bet that most of you will say, “Just be yourself, Laura.  Fuck ’em if they can’t relate to you as the awesome human being you are.”

Well, yeah.  I appreciate that.

However.

I have this service dog, see, and she’s neither little nor cute.  Well, she’s cute to me, but a 75 pound Belgian Malinois is automatically not cute to most people, especially the uptight assholes that tend to go into “the medical field” these days.  Even my therapist does not think she’s cute.  Even when Atina climbed into her lap and gave her kisses, because she could see that the dear lady was clearly in distress, it did not help.  My poor therapist could do nothing except beg me to get the monster off of her, which I did, and Atina reluctantly obeyed but was still of the opinion that the lady needed her attention.

On the flip side, if Atina perceives that someone is potentially a threat to me, she stations herself sideways in front of me, giving the unsafe party the hard-eye, which is dog language for “come over here and make my day.”

This is why I have a Service Dog:

I have a perfect storm of Asperger Syndrome, PTSD, and Bipolar illness.  My judgement about people is shot to hell.  I lost it on April 22, 1970, the very first Earth Day, when I was drugged, dragged into a dark basement, and brutally robbed of my virginity.  That, and the prolonged months and years of running from one frying pan into another fire, robbed me of my ability to read people’s intentions.  I think it’s because I simply dissociate every time I have to interact with other people.  So now that I’m on the far side of sixty and no longer give a shit, I’ve stopped making myself do painful things, and aside from the inconveniences of not having friends, family, or a partner when I have a medical emergency, I feel much better.

Have you noticed that sometimes your fridge, washing machine, microwave, computer, and automobile all crash at the same time?  So now you have to get a ride to the Big Box store, to the bank to get quarters for the laundromat, and a ride back and forth to the laundromat, to the convenience store for ice until the new fridge comes, and while you’re on the phone with Tech Support your phone is giving your ear a second degree burn and probably giving you brain cancer as well….

This is what I call a Wear Cycle.  When everything wears out at once.  It generally falls out when you’re between jobs, or just before those gift-giving occasions, or your wedding.

So as some of you are aware, I am in the throes of a Wear Cycle of the most annoying sort.  My body is falling apart.  I thought it just needed a tune-up and maybe a brake job, but it turns out to be the transmission, the universal joints, the head gasket; and every time they fix one thing, another one turns up bad.

The result is a seemingly endless procession of doctors, PAs, Nurse Practitioners, lab techs, snotty Front Office People, sadistic MRI techs who put me in Positions Of Stress for upwards of twenty minutes while further damaging my hearing with the various hammerings and clangings of that infernal magnetic tube, being told that I need surgery for this, surgery for that, and they all worry about my blood pressure.  Surely not!

You must understand that my relationship with The Medical Field is a mine field.  The minute I leave my van in the parking lot of the doctors’ building, the hospital, the lab, I dissociate.  I am terrified.

But you’re a doctor, you say.  How could you not be comfortable in this oh-so-familiar milieu?

That’s just it.  I’m all too familiar with it.  I know exactly what goes on behind the scenes, and it disgusted me while I was in it, and it terrifies me now.

Because I am…one of those patients.

You know, the aging female with so many complaints it throws your schedule off, and she’s slight dotty, and might be amusing if you weren’t running so far behind, and of course–of course, she has to be a doctor, at least she says she is, and she does know the lingo…and she has Medicare and doesn’t seem to have a job, so she must be disabled, but for what?  She’s not saying, and if you ask, she’ll say something vague.

I know this, because I’ve been on their side of the white coat.

So imagine what the reaction would be if they walked into the exam room and there I was with my Service Wolf Dog.

The entire visit would revolve around whether the person who Works In The Medical Field was comfortable with the Doggess, and whether she thought they were Safe.

And of course she would pick up on my instant dissociation because I dissociate whenever I run into One Of Those People, because of the abuse I suffered when I was working In The Medical Field, and the abuse I have suffered as a patient dependent upon these people’s power.

And the shame of being disabled, which is, according to the ancient tenets of The Medical Field, weak; and even worse, crazy.

I just rediscovered a former mentor who was hugely influential to me when I was a medical student.  She was my supervisor in the Public Health Clinic.  We became good friends, and she helped me crystallize my medical practice world view, which is based on compassion and empowerment of the patient to take charge of her own health and well-being.

It turns out that this amazing woman had a terrible crisis, which lead to a suicide attempt.

Rather than supporting her and helping her to rebuild her life, the medical establishment brought criminal charges against her for lowering the esteem of the medical profession in the eyes of the public.

They drove her out of the profession.  It didn’t matter to them that this heinous act might push her over that very precipice she had dragged herself back from.

It didn’t matter that they were persecuting one of the finest physicians on the face of the earth, for the crime of being human.

All that mattered was that she had “failed” to complete her suicide.  If she had died, she would have been another tragic physician suicide; but since she managed to survive, she was pronounced a disgrace to the profession.

Fortunately she is a strong and resourceful woman.  She cleaned houses in order to feed her children.  She struggled her way back onto her feet, and reinvented herself.  Blessed be.

So I know very well what the result would be, even if the Doggess didn’t bite the Assistant (you hardly ever get to see The Doctor anymore):  “Did you get a load of that lady with the dog?  What a crock!”

Yes, fuck ’em.  They’ve no right, legally or otherwise, to prevent me from having my dog with me.  She’s Durable Medical Equipment, just like a wheelchair.

The only thing is…being mentally ill automatically discredits anything I say.  I’ve tried it both ways.  And unfortunately, whenever I’m honest and disclose that I have DSM diagnoses, I get my case dismissed.  No contest.  No service.  Goodbye, and put some ice on that.  It will feel better in seven to ten days.  No need for follow-up.

In awful contrast, when I have withheld my diagnoses, it’s all sympathy and MRIs.

Hell, I even got a few tramadol tablets for my torn shoulder, when I begged the doctor because my left wrist is in a brace awaiting surgery and my right shoulder is so painful that I can’t even get out of bed without fainting if I forget and try to push myself up with my right arm.  (How do I get out of bed?  By wriggling on my tummy until my feet touch the floor.)

You think she would have given me that prescription for thirty, no refills, if she knew that I’m bipolar?

Nope.  Bipolar people are categorically drug seekers.  Even though I asked for tramadol and not Percocet.  Drug seeker, no way.

I’m stuck.

I’m terrified of those places, and I need my dog.  But the presence of my dog would set off such alarms in the mind of The Medical Field Person that my actual medical issues would be eclipsed by Prejudice.  Stigma.

If I showed up in an electric wheelchair, they would be all ears.

But a crazy person with a dog?

Shifting Sands

There are many definitions to “function.”

Most days I find myself checking inside, feeling how I feel right now, and reminding myself that this is how I do “function,” at this moment in time.

Maybe in five minutes I’ll function some other way, but that is something I can neither predict nor control.

My goals are slimmer, tighter. I will take a walk. I will play with my dog. I will give a go at reading this book, and if it won’t read, I’ll put it down and try another time, or not. I will be happy if I remember to give both my dog and I our pills. I will consider it a triumph if I don’t get angry. These are things I now call “functioning.”

I used to go to work every night and save lives.

“Bye folks, I’m off to save lives,” I would say to my family. And I did. Save lives. Just not theirs. And not mine.

After the crash, it has been as much as I can manage to live from day to day. I don’t know why I do it, since there’s not much I can contribute any more.

Maybe I’m finished with the “contributing” part. Who knows.

At this point I just have to be sure I stay far away from the tongue cluckers. I’m too fucking old and busted up to let myself feel bad just because I did the best I could, continue to do the best I can, but now the definitions have all changed.

It’s taken me a long time to get this, to see it clearly. There’s a grieving process, mourning who you were and what you loved doing and how it defined you, both in your eyes and in the eyes of those who knew you then. It’s like giving birth to a stranger. Who the hell is this person in the mirror?

I guess that’s our job now…getting used to who we are, the shifting sands.

The broken shards.

I give the filthy homeless people money.

Critics disdain: why do you give those filthy people money? They’re just going to go buy booze with it.

That’s not my business, what they do with it. If booze is what they need to get from one day to the next, am I God to say that I know better than they do?

Tomorrow, that may be me standing there with a sign out. Or you.

Who knows, that filthy smelly person might be Elijah the Prophet. He’s said to take the form of a down-and-out person, the kind you wouldn’t let in if he came to your door begging.

How do you know this person’s personal tragedy?.

There but for the grace of God go I.
Truthfully.

The longer I live in this tiny camper, the closer I get to myself. It’s not comfortable. Not the camper, and not myself. I can’t avoid the truth: in many people’s eyes I am a failure. They can’t boast about their “daughter/mother/cousin/niece the doctor.”

No, don’t. Don’t say I’m still a doctor, because I’m not.

I’m just me.

That’s all.

Just me, and if that ain’t good enough for ’em, fuck ’em.

Life is Tenuous At Best

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Atina the Amazing Malinois was trying to climb this tall tree that you see here.  I looked where her gaze was riveted, and thus is what I saw: the back end of a raptor of some sort, white underside, soft, with enormous grasping talons.  I knew the rest of it must be on the other side of the branch the corpse had been draped over, or rather, dropped over by the triumphant winner of what must have been a hell of an aeronautic battle.  No blood, which points to a slam from above, a tactic used by other raptors to rid themselves of competition in their hunting territories.  Here is the other side:

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The young raptor’s beak curves off to the left.  You can see how she is just draped across the crotch of this piñon pine, as if she was simply dropped there.

Well, she was.  I’ve never seen anything like this before.  She was too high up to have been put there by people, who use this place in the forest on the Coconino Plateau, close to the Grand Canyon, as a hunting camp.  You can tell from the numerous white-picked skeletons of young elk and deer, headless and mostly whole except for the parts easily hauled off to be picked by the eaters of carrion.  And the young raptor, so far, has been left alone by Nature’s cleanup crew, so it must have happened very recently.

I had a heart attack five days ago.

It happened at about 6:15 on Monday morning.  I was awakened by a piercing pain on the right side of my head.  My blood pressure has been out of control lately, and I’ve been trying different meds to bring it down.  The one I’m on helps some.  I tried a tiny dose of a beta blocker, but my pulse went down to 48 and stayed there.  The next one clashed with my lithium so I couldn’t take that.  Another one is now waiting for me at the Walgreens in Flagstaff, but I’m chilling on the Plateau.  I’ll pick it up tomorrow.

Monday morning.  When I had the big pain in my head I thought, well, here it is, now I’ll really lose my whole left side.  At least language will be preserved, though, since the stroke is in my right brain.

But that pain went away, and suddenly my left chest got crushed by a great weight.  The weight also crushed my throat.  I couldn’t believe it.  I could barely breath.  My chest wouldn’t move.  I couldn’t move.  All I could do was wrap my arms around my chest and moan.  Atina plastered her full length against my side, panting.  I also panted.  I couldn’t expand my chest without aggravating the already excruciating heart pain.

It took maybe two hours before I was able to move.  And the rest of that day, all I could manage was to make my way from the bed to the bathroom, and back to bed.  Atina did get to go outside, but not for our usual two to three mile walk.  I gradually recovered my energy over the next few days.  I think I’ve been having some episodes of angina, heart muscle pain that comes and goes.  I’ve been having that for some time.

Listen, I found out the body does not like heart pain.  At all.  When the heart is not getting sufficient oxygen, it screams.

This is the third episode of heart pain I’ve had.  The first was maybe two years ago.  That time the pain woke me from a deep sleep.  It sat on me for hours.  I kept thinking, I should perhaps dial 911, but the phone is on my bedside table and I can’t move.  They always tell you it feels like an elephant is sitting on your chest.  They are right.

I had a third, smaller one in between the bigger ones.  That was when I tried to seek care at a large hospital with a large reputation, and ended up leaving without being seen because they were so rude to me I thought I was going to have a stroke.

I’m not afraid of dying.  I am afraid of the medical establishment, and I am afraid of having my life even more dominated by tests, invasive procedures, and “experts” than it is already.

For example, the only real way to find out what’s going on with my heart is to do a cardiac catheterization.  They thread a fiber optic tube through a blood vessel in your groin, all the way up into your heart, and from there they shoot some dye right into the three major arteries of the heart, and watch where it goes on a screen.  This way they can see whether the vessels are blocked, and if so, where and how much.  If the vessel is only partially blocked, they can open it with a balloon and maybe put a stent in there to keep the vessel open.

That sounds pretty simple, and most of the time it is.  But my blood vessels are very friable, meaning that they rupture easily.  Like, just opening a cabinet door, or walking over the edge of a rug.  Any little bump or stress, and I’ve got a painful hematoma.  So a major vascular procedure would be terribly risky. 

I’m much more afraid of a cardiac cath than I am of a crippling or fatal heart attack.  I just have to figure out how to save Atina from being locked in the van with me if it happens.  I’d call someone, but when this happens I’m unable to move.  So I’ve taken to leaving the doors unlocked at night.  Hopefully someone would show up eventually and let her out.

I wish all this grim stuff was not reality.  I have so many things I want to do, finally, and now this.  I feel as if I’m in the grip of some evil force that is making my life into a big joke.  I’ve been feeling that for decades, but the joke is getting worse and worse.

Amy Tan: Where does creativity hide?

Amy Tan: Where does creativity hide?
http://go.ted.com/NNPduw

Amy Tan, author of The Joy Luck Club and many other wonderful novels and stories, is one of my major writing heroes.

She has the magic.

When her Chinese immigrant characters speak Chinese immigrant Engrish, I hear my Si-fu (Chinese martial arts master and surrogate mother for 29 years and counting) talking to me:

“Lawla!  Did you know, you reary have a velly big bottom!  How come?  We go to eat now!” 

Perhaps because of my long immersion in Chinese culture, I fall into Tan’s novels and happily drown in them.  I melt into them, I swim in them, and when they end, I find myself gasping in the thin air that lingers after the book is closed, or listening to the faint babble of rising and falling Cantonese in another room, longing to know what they are talking about.

Maybe my big bottom.  Reary.

My Si-fu’s father, known to us students as Dai Si-fu (meaning Great Teacher), always promised to teach me Chinese.  It generally went something like this:

Dai Si-fu:  “(something in Chinese), now YOU say same ting.”

Me:  “(what he said)”

Dai Si-fu:  (falling on the floor, despite his eighty-something years, laughing hysterically) “Hahaha!  You just said, ‘Rady’s vagina’! Hahaha!”

Si-fu runs down the five stairs into the taichi studio:  “Fadder!  (Indignant Chinese scolding)!”

To me:  “Lawla!  I am so solly!  He awrays do dat!”

I try to maintain composure but it doesn’t work, and I fall apart laughing.  Si-fu vibrates with semi-genuine indignity and flounces out of the room, flinging behind her:  “Ten more minutes, then we go to eat!”

As soon as she is gone, Dai Si-fu and I meet eyes and crack up until we can’t breathe.

“Ten more minutes, then we go to eat,” he flounces out of the studio.  I’m dying of conflict between betraying my Si-fu and delicious conspiracy.

To watch this video of Amy Tan explaining her muse is like having a private audience with the Chinese Five Elements: Earth, Wind, Metal, Fire, Wood.  These are the sources that make up the world we live in, our bodies and minds being a microcosm of the macrocosm.

When I read Amy Tan, I constantly see and feel these elements dancing in their natural order.  They are inseparable from any person of Chinese ancestry.  Everyone has them, but they are as clear in the Chinese aura as the color red.

To watch and listen to her, I understand.  The color red, the Five Elements.  The fact that I am “klazy.”  The simple paradox.  Paradox made simple, in no easy lessons. 

As for her personal muse…be sure to watch carefully all the way to the end.  It’s in the bag.