The Carrot and the Stick

My life hangs by a frayed thread.

I am a donkey who lives by the carrot and the stick.

The carrot hangs in front of me, just out of reach.  This gives me a reason to keep reaching.  It is valuable, because it means that someone else’s life depends on mine.

I had two carrots; now I only have one.  That one is my dog, Atina.  She cannot live without me, for she is sick and depends on my care to stay alive.

Actually some other benefactor could care for her, but I love her, and she gives me the only joy I have now.  So she is my carrot.

Then there is the stick that follows me, threatening to whack me if I don’t keep trudging along under my load.

The stick is the fear that there might actually be an afterlife, reincarnation, some consequence for taking my death into my own hands.

My life has always hung by this thread, and I have clung to the thread as a mountain climber clings to the fixed ropes, the lifelines that prevent the fall into the unknown, or rather, the certainty of death.

Before the doctor rescued me by cutting me out of my mother’s hostile womb, my tiny organism was flooded by the amphetamines she took to keep from gaining weight while pregnant.

My organism did not tolerate her labor.  My heart began to fail from lack of oxygen.  No doubt my attachment to her womb, my lifeline, was marginal because of the drug that caused constriction of the blood vessels.

I was “small for dates,” four pounds, and struggling to breath, so they took me away and stuck me in an incubator with plenty of oxygen.

My lungs were bad, I suffered withdrawal from the amphetamines, I was unstable, and in those days no one was allowed to touch a fragile newborn except for feeding and changing, so I sucked my thumb and watched the white forms padding on silent feet through the dim space that surrounded my plastic bubble.  This I remember clearly.

Childhood was searing pain, alien to everything, clothes tearing at my skin, terror of my mother, clinging to my father who always had somewhere to go or something to do, only my animals for companionship and love.

Teenage hopelessness, violent rape, runaway, street life, rape, rape, rape, pregnancy, abortion, alone, alone, alone.

Finally mentors, self esteem, push push push degree degree degree, marriage, baby, fell off the balance beam, paralyzing depression, no support, head of my class, medical honor society, residency, depression, mania, no support, ruptured discs, surgery, body jacket, divorce.

Son’s father refused to see him “because it was too emotionally hard” on father.  Really?  Your son cries for you every night and day.  How can you sleep at night?  How can you look at yourself in the mirror and say, “My emotional pain is more important than my five year old son’s”?

We went on, my son and I.  Life was rough, life was rocky.  He was angry, I was numb, except for the pain always there.  Work, the drug.  Work hard, work long, work better.  A nanny in place of a father.  Angry boy, angry boy.  Can you blame him?

Angrier angrier angrier.  Treatment treatment treatment.  Drugs, legal and not.  Go and live with father finally, maybe that will help.  Bribe father to take the boy.  Father likes money, I have plenty.  Used to.

Disaster.  Thrown away, street life, homeless shelter.

Mother now disabled by mental illness, bankrupt.

Son needs help, NOW!

Therapeutic boarding school, but how to pay?  Father and his family refuse to help.  I borrow money from my parents.  They get it by mortgaging their home, to save their grandson.

I leave my career behind, to help my son, no turning back after too much time away.  I am disabled, that’s who I am, new identity.  But I helped my son to save himself, so that’s who I am now, what, a sacrifice?  No, just a disabled person.  It would have happened anyway, in my downward spiral.

Now he is a big shot, finishing his Ph.D., and his father and his father’s family have taken him back, so proud.

His first scientific paper published in the world’s premiere scientific journal.  I am so proud.

But.

We “do” Thanksgiving together, he and I, and every year has been a blast.

This year, something different.

He invites me to his apartment.  Just the two of us.  Why?

Don’t you want to invite some friends who don’t have somewhere to go?  You remember, when you were a kid, we always had students over who couldn’t go home, or were Chinese, or for some reason would be alone.

No, he said.  Everyone already has a place.

I wondered.

The night before Thanksgiving I was invited, with great pomp and circumstance, to go out with he and his friends to a bar.  I was thrilled to be included.

But when I arrived, a five hour drive from where I stay, I had a migraine and felt sick, and just wanted to smoke some flower and curl up in my van with Atina, my dog.  I would feel better tomorrow.

So I said, you guys go ahead, I’m going to sleep off this migraine.

OK, he says, eager and relieved.  And ran out the door.  I’ll leave it unlocked he says, in case you need anything.

Morning late, I feel better, he’s hung over.  Coffee, cartoons on the big screen, I’m content.  He starts cooking.  Always happy when he’s cooking!

Dinner: a roast duck, fried rice, greens, cranberry sauce.

Not much to say, and it’s getting weird.  I feel a void, ghosts at the table, who are they and why don’t they come out and play?

So the pipe goes back and forth, and he is drinking more beer and more beer.  I go to bed early, he goes out with friends.  I wonder ?

Friday morning, coffee, and I am served a spoonful of leftover rice.  He gives himself a plate, not a lot, but a plate. ?

He goes to lab to feed his cells, I shower and try to get this migraine to go away.  I’m hungry.  I take a bit more duck, rice, a bit of everything.  Thanksgiving leftovers are the best.  I wish son was here to share, but I’m hungry and my head is pounding, so I eat.

He returns from lab.  I tell him I’m sorry I couldn’t wait for him, I had to eat.  He looks angry.  I feel the old ominous storm clouds.  Why?

I guess I’d better go now.

But I feel like crap, I don’t want to drive.

He’s already holding the door open for me to go out.

Um, listen, I don’t feel so well, do you think I could hang out for a while longer?

Um, sorry Mom, I need my space, he says, with irony face.

Oh, OK, I understand.

Beggar at the door, no place for you here.

What did I do?  Did I eat too much?  Am I too burned out?

I’m not successful like his father, the famous scientist, or his father’s father, the famous whatever.

I’m just a mentally ill disabled person, a failure at life, an embarrassment.

I’m skinny, I look ill, my hair is grey and frizzy, my clothes hang loose, my dog is nervous…

Can I at least use your internet to find a place to camp?

Oh sure, Mom.  Come in.  But please leave Atina in the van.

I thought he liked dogs.  Maybe now that he’s got new clothes and new furniture, he’s afraid she will…

I find a place, guess this is it, he’s holding the door….

Love you, honey….

Love you too, Mom…mechanical doll voice.  Grim.

I drive off, numb.  Can’t feel yet, I have to get there, too much traffic.

Get there, hook up, walk dog, collapse, convulsed with grief.

There goes my carrot.

Now I know that my leaving won’t make much of a dent in his life.

I stay here for him, thinking my exit would destroy him, but not so.

He has his father now, and his father’s father, and he is their prestigious prodigal son.

In some way, relief, that cord is cut, that fixed line down.

The plan has been in place for some time, yet I have held my hand because of Carrot #1.  Now Carrot #1 has shown me the door, out of his life and into ?

Carrot #2 snuggles against me as I write.  Precious baby.  But she is sick.

She may last months, or a year or a few.

When she goes, I go too.

Will I be punished?  Will I have to come back and do it over till I get suffering “right”?  Or, to quote Lewis Carroll, do we just go “poof” like a candle, when we go?

Already I am losing the use of my body.  My shoulders are too full of arthritis to throw a ball.  My left hand no longer works well enough to play my music, which has carried me through so much suffering all my life.

Something has happened to my blood vessels.  They break and bleed under my skin so that I go around with blue lumps simply from the trauma of living.

My skin comes off in sheets if I brush up against anything harder than a pillow.  The wounds take months to heal and leave hideous scars.

The cancer that I had in the 90’s once again inhabits my innards.  I hope it grows faster this time.  No, I’m not going to treat it.  That would hasten my death, and I don’t want to leave my dog.

But some days I can’t move, my bloated belly pushes down like a rock.  Other days, not so bad.  Some days only liquids, others, soup and rice.

I had this one carrot that kept the juice of life running through my broken veins.  Now that carrot is gone, eaten up by some other entity, and the sick carrot and the stick remain.

The stick doesn’t frighten me.  I can’t do anything about the stick.

My sweet Atina will drag me along until her own candle gutters and goes out, and I will follow after, poof, and at least this life will be done with.

I can only hope that the cancer takes me before I have to take myself.

That way I don’t have to worry about the stick.

 

 

Another “Almost Was”

Used to be a phrase among my particular hippie circle: “That almost was an almost was.”

That is to say, it was a close call.

This line of storms that has caused all sorts of mayhem, from strings of tornados to floods to blizzards, has been washing over western North Carolina, where I am stuck at a campground waiting for a service appointment on Wednesday.

Yesterday I was studying the sky, watching a wall cloud slowly rotating and thinking, why, that could develop into a tornado if there was more wind shear.  I was glad it was going away from where I was, in case things progressed in a bad way.

So imagine my surprise when my mother called, just as I was leaving the vet’s office in Asheville.

As usual, no matter where I am when she calls, she screamed,
“WHERE ARE YOU???”

“I’m in Asheville, why?”

“Can’t you hear the radio???”  She always has the radio on.  Always.

I couldn’t hear the radio, but I could hear the unmistakable National Weather Service robot voice gravely announcing something or other.

“What’s happening, Mom?  Why is there a weather alert?”

“WHERE ARE YOU??”

“I’m in Asheville, why?”

“You stay there.  You just stay there.  Do you have a strong building you can take shelter in?”

Then I knew what the alert was: tornado.

“Is it a watch or a warning?”

“CAN’T YOU HEAR THE RADIO??”

“No, I can’t.  Tell me what it says.”

Finally she calmed down enough to repeat verbatim what the alert message said.  The tornadic radar signal showed significant rotation, moving north at 30 mph (!!!), with the campground where I’ve been staying directly in its path.  I thought of all those people in their campers, motor coaches, and especially a young family in a flimsy pop-up, all out in an open field.

“Is it on the ground?”

No, not yet.

“Well, I’ll just stay here in Asheville tonight.  One or another of the stores will let me stay in their parking lot.”

Mom was relieved.

I had to replenish my supply of canned nutrients, so I went to the nearest grocery store and stocked up.  The manager kindly gave me permission to park my camper overnight.

I got on my NOAA weather app, and sonofabitch, there it was, the characteristic  bright red “hook” signature of a developing tornado.  My weather warnings app gave the usual urgent instructions for taking shelter, getting as low as possible with as many walls between you and the outdoors as possible.

I thought ruefully of the photos of the aftermath of the F4 tornado that hit East Texas the day before yesterday.  No walls left to protect anyone.  Amazing that only…I think 12 or 14…people were killed, although there are still some missing.

This is the same storm front that spawned that string of 11 tornados, in December, for crying out loud.

I don’t care what people say the cause is…when it’s 70 degrees in December, and the weather has gone crazy, it’s global warming.

I’ve been studying tornados ever since I lived in the Mysterious Midwest and had run-ins with several.  One was huge and threw a good deal of Toledo, Ohio into Lake Erie.  One went over our heads after I convinced my then-husband to please stop watching it and jump in this handy ditch with our infant son. 

And one buzzed through my yard at night and snatched the kids’ trampoline.  It ended up in a soybean field several miles away.  I found that out when the farmer showed up with our crumpled trampoline in the back of his truck.

“This yours?”

“Yep.”

“Thought so.”

The kids dragged it out of his truck, took it apart and put it back together again.  It was fine.  They launched each other off of it until one of them broke his arm, then I took it apart and hauled it to the dump.

My son grew phobic about tornados.  In the spring, the sky was full of rotating cells.

His step-brother used to torment him:  Look!  A tornado!  There’s another one!

My son leaned over and threw up in the manure spreader.  For years after that, every time the sky looked threatening, he got sick.

When I heard there was a potential tornado heading for Marion, of course I wanted to jump in my van and go chase it…But it was getting dark, and there’s nothing more dangerous than a tornado in the dark.  Maybe a tsunami. 

So here I sit in the grocery store parking lot.  Atina’s head rests on my knee.  She snores, oblivious to the fierce wind and rain. 

The radar shows a nasty squall line, but nothing to get excited about.

But when it comes to weather, you never really know.

When Is Enough Enough?

I lived with my father as he slowly died in increasingly excruciating pain over years and years.  When my mother was home, she forbid him to say, “I hurt,” and she withheld his pain medication “because it made him sleep all the time.”

He slept all the time anyway, because that was the only way he could reduce his pain level.  He groaned in his sleep, though.

Unfortunately, I have inherited the disease that caused his pain: degenerative joint disease, with the added agony of degenerative disc disease.

For the past few weeks the combination of mental and physical pain has me close to the breaking point.  I can’t take opiates because they make me itch, and my skin condition makes it impossible to scratch without tearing off pieces of myself, leaving a wound that takes a month to heal.  In addition, the docs in this part of the country are so afraid of opiates that they refuse to prescribe.  So I’m stuck with using mj, which is somewhat illegal here.  But I have things to do, so I can’t use enough to really relieve the pain, because that would put me in bed.  So I’m screwed.

The psychic pain–there are no words to describe. 

Part of it is endogenous.  Part is environmental–the part of the country I’m stuck in at the moment is grey and damp, two things I can’t stand.  The sun came out for five minutes today and it was balm to my soul.  I’m out of here just as soon as my task is done.

My task is to clean my stuff out of my father’s old studio, where I lived for the last four years of his life.  It took me four days just to clear the spiders out.  Now I’m sorting  through things, making three piles: throw out, because of damage from humidity; give away, because I’m not going to use anymore; keep.

Just to to the situational depression off, Atina is not doing well.  This week her labs were worse.  Her kidneys are getting leakier.  They’re no longer holding her blood proteins in her blood.  They were leaking protein before, but her serum proteins were holding their own; now her kidneys are leaking more than her body can produce to keep up with the loss.

Today we took a short walk in the woods.  It’s been raining for weeks, and since it had stopped this morning (but is back now) I thought it would do us both good to take a walk.  But she wasn’t interested in playing in the creek, and although she carried her ball, she didn’t want to play with it.  And she simply collapsed halfway through where I wanted to go, which is only half a mile on flat ground.  I had to sit down and wait for her to recover.

Now she has fallen off the driver’s seat, which is where she normally sleeps, and is passed out on the floor where she landed.  It looks like she’s nearing the end of her sweet life.

When will my misery end?

I want to stay alive until my son finishes his Ph.D in May.  I want to see him off on the next part of his journey.

He and I have talked about what we lived through with his grandpa, and that I have the same illness, with the added fun of bipolar.  We have had the talk about what will happen when I can’t stand the pain any longer.

It’s one thing to talk about it, and another thing to live it.  I know he’ll survive.  But losing one’s mother is a terrible thing.  And living in agony is a terrible thing.

There will come a tipping point.  I keep on living for others: for my son, for my dog…should I get another dog?  Can I live that long?

In three years my income will be drastically reduced, to the point where I literally can’t live.  I guess that will be the end of the line, if it doesn’t come sooner.

Phantom Limb Pain

There’s a crazy phenomenon that sometimes happens when a person loses a limb. The nervous system thinks the limb is still there, so that the person continues to have the sensation of having it.  I mean, to the point of the former owner freaking out because they want to put on a sock because the foot is cold, but the foot persists in not being present.  This is called a Phantom Limb.

But since the limb has really been amputated, the limb also feels the pain of that, and of the injury or disease that lead to the amputation.  This can become a terrible situation if the limb doesn’t get used to being amputated and settle down.  How can you relieve the pain of something that doesn’t exist?

I just realized that I am suffering from Phantom Limb Pain.

Some of my readers know that I am caring for my beautiful Belgian Malinois, Atina, who is dying of kidney disease.  She is now 19 months old, and starting to slow way down.  I’m enjoying her delightful self for now, and I will take care of her until it is time for her to go.

I just received the final pathology report.  It is terrible.

For those who don’t toss around medical terminology on a daily basis, let me give you your word of the day:  nephron.

A nephron is the basic operating unit of the kidney.  It has three parts, which all have different essential tasks in maintaining the balance of fluids and electrolytes (like sodium and potassium) in our bodies.  In addition, special cells called podocytes keep our serum proteins from leaking out.  These are the parts of the kidney that maintain fluid and electrolyte homeostasis, in a delicate and incredibly intelligent system of checks and balances.  Any disturbance of kidney function can lead to a disruption in the system, depending upon which area of the kidney is damaged.  And that can lead to illness and death.

Atina’s biopsy shows that 90% of her nephrons are fetal, which means that kidney development was arrested before three weeks of life.  The pathologist writes that this could be due to disease or toxins being transmitted to the pup through the mom’s milk.  The remaining 10% of normal nephrons are becoming ballooned out of shape from having to process all that pee by themselves, and their podocytes are starting to detach, which is why her urine is full of protein.  Soon those few functioning nephrons will die, and then Atina will die.

I stopped by the vet’s yesterday for another reason, and just for kicks had Atina stand on the scale.  She’s gained three more pounds…of fluid.

When I first got her, she weighed 55 pounds of skin and bones.  She looked like a sick cow.  With treatment and lots of love, she put on ten pounds and was looking and acting like a normal, healthy, happy, bratty adolescent Malinois.  I started her in Service Dog training and she was doing great.  I had this spark of hope…

Then she started looking weird and puffy.  Despite treatment, her blood pressure was sky high (another kidney function thing), and she went back to drinking gallon after gallon of water, and peeing like a waterfall many times a day, and even needing to go out at night sometimes.  And her weight keeps creeping up, and her appetite keeps slowing down…

I’m glad she’s with me, and that I’ve had the honor to be her very own human and caregiver, friend and mutual aid society.  We are passionately in love.  She’s asleep now, but if she knew that I am crying she would rush to my bed and throw herself on top of me, causing various injuries.  Since I know that they are love bites, scratches, and bruises, I take them in the spirit in which they were inflicted.  And once her initial exuberance settles down, she cuddles and kisses and lets me cry in her fur.

Aside from the love injuries, I have been injured in many ways since becoming Atina’s personal angel.

I needed a service dog to guide me through the next ten or so years of my life.  Instead I got a very sweet invalid dog, with whom I fell in love, from whom I will be parted very soon.

This beautiful sick girl of mine cost me $12,000 up front, and more than $10,000 in medical expenses so far.  I have used up most of my financial and emotional resources, and at the end of the day, I won’t have a dog, and I won’t have the money, and since even now I keep myself alive by force of will, Atina’s death may sever the thread I’m hanging on.

Everyone says, “Sue the bitch (who sold you the dog)!”  Easier said than done.

Yesterday I had a telephone consultation with an attorney from the State Bar Association’s referral service.  He listened to the “short version,” told me he had no experience with cases like this but would be happy to litigate it, outlined the essential steps, reminded me that his hourly fee is $210 (a bargain, actually), that the case would cost a minimum of $20,000 to litigate, that we would surely win, that the first thing he needs to do is to examine the purchase contact and look at some other things, and that in order to do so he needs a $5,000 retainer.

Phantom Limb Pain.

Before I became a disabled person, back in the days when I went to work every evening, relished in healing the sick, lame, and halt, and also in bringing home the bacon and frying it in the pan: if someone needed a legal spanking I had only to pick up the phone, and if my own attorney couldn’t do it, he knew someone who could.  Retainer fees?  Not a problem.  Not a question.  Not required!  Don’t even offer!  They knew I was good for it, and besides, they might need my expert witness services one day…or their kid might need to be sewed up on a Sunday… But now all I have to offer is

Phantom Limb Pain

as I am cut off from myself, and I can’t get back what is gone

I can feel it, even see it, but it’s gone

And now I have to beg some abogado, please, please

If you think my case is so straight-forward, please take it on contingency, or reduced fees, or even pro bono

I have Phantom Limb Pain, don’t you see

I’m not what I once was
I find myself in reduced

circumstances

I am among the lame and halt now
As one day you yourself might be

As odd as that might seem

No one ever dreams it will be them
Believe me, Mr. Esquire, Sir, The Hon.,

no one ever

believes that it can get worse

But it can get worse

And then it can turn into

Phantom Limb Pain

Happy Birthday, Dad

You would have been 91 years old today.

As it turned out, you left last year, three weeks short of your ninetieth birthday.  You couldn’t hang around for the chocolate cake; you had places to go.  You stuck it out as long as you could.  But anyone with a brain in their head could see that you were finished.

You were my hero.  I adored you, and I still adore you, and I always will adore you.  My tiny house on wheels is adorned with photos of you and your art.  It’s a rolling monument; you have no other, since you chose to be incinerated rather than buried…I always thought you’d make an ash of yourself….

I chuckle when I think of the horrible puns you managed to dig up on every possible occasion.  You and I would roar with laughter while Mom twisted up her face in disgust.  I wanted to punch her, but you either ignored her or said, “Aw, come on, don’t be such a fuddy-duddy.”

The week before you died, you complained of boredom, so I brought a book of short stories that I had given you many years ago.  I began to read my favorite, then realized with horror that it was a very black story about death!

I said, “Uh, Dad, do you mind some black humor?”

Through blue lips you croaked, “The blacker the better!”  And we had our last good chuckle.

You never laid a hand on me in anger, except for the one time you gave me a real over-the-knee spanking, at my mother’s insistence, for the crime of running away from her (again).  But your anger was not at me, but at her, and after the deed was done, you left me crying on my bed and closed the door.  I heard you tell her to do her own dirty-work.  Then my door opened and you came in to make sure I was all right.  You never touched me again, except for your bear-hugs and rides on your shoulders.  I loved it when we came to a doorway and you would shout “Low bridge!” so that I would know to fold myself around your bald head, and you would crouch down so I wouldn’t get bashed.

Your body betrayed you, but you squeezed the last drop of your strength to make your beautiful art.  It was only when your mind finally failed that you made your last body of beautiful work, walked out your studio door, and never returned.

You mourned your work, as I mourn mine.  Our conversations about that laid to rest your bitterness about my leaving practice, and my bitterness that you thought it was out of laziness rather than disability.  Once you had tasted the bile of being unable to do the work you loved, you apologized to me, and the sweetness of that apology erased my pain, although I grieved the fact that you had to live my experience in order to learn it.

After I left home, and my mother disowned me, you would sneak and visit me, wherever I happened to be, on pretense of work.  We reveled in our stolen fruit. 

Once when you came to dinner, I slipped on the kitchen floor and spilled the whole pot of home-made spaghetti sauce, full of sausages and mushrooms and wine, which you must have known had cost me a month’s worth of wages to buy.  You made your “tsk” sound and grabbed pot and spoon, and scraped that sauce right off my kitchen floor.

“You mean we’re going to eat that?”

“Damn right,” you grinned.  And we sure did, and chalked up another of our secret treasures.

And that time in Chicago, when you had dropped a machine on your hand and crushed it, and had it in a cast; and I had had a soccer injury, and was on crutches; and Chicago had had one of her epic snowstorms–we tottered around town, holding each other up, a couple of cripples, hilarious at every near-miss slip.

Oh, you taught me how to scare minnows from under their rocks and catch them in my hands, how to tuck a frying pan and some bacon and cornmeal in my creel in case one of us actually hooked a fish, and how to make a smokeless fire on which to cook it, if it came to that.

You taught me to chew tobacco (yuck), how to smoke a pipe of tobacco (blech), and how to get roaring drunk and laugh and talk philosophy till the wee hours (yum).

I could go on and on writing about the gifts you gave me, and someday I just might.  However, since I know you want me to save some for later, I’ll just sneak these in:

Honesty, integrity, genuineness, ingenuity, and never, ever to do anything just to “go with the crowd.”

And to live and love fiercely.

Your loving daughter,

Laura

PS I miss you

I’d Do Anything If Only

Atina!  Stop shredding your bed!  Atina!  You can’t have chocolate!  You’re a dog!  Chocolate is NOT good for doggies!  Atina!  Get that goddam wet ball out of my face!  Atina!  SHUT THE FUCK UP!!!

Sigh.

Last night was a total wreck.  For some reason Atina spent her night growling, woofing, and outright barking, at something that I could not see. 

We are in a well-lit campground, so if there was, like, a bear strolling around, or a bull moose, or a hedgehog, I’m certain I would see it. 

Maybe it was some perv hiding behind a tree, whacking off.  All night.  Sheesh.

On this premise, I chalked Half #1 of the night up to Virtuous Vigilance on the part of the Pup.  But when Night Half #2 rolled wearily around, I got cranky.  I shushed.  I gave orders.  I YELLED.  I cursed. 

As grey dawn faded into a grey rainy morning, I felt worse and worse.  If there’s one thing that kicks me right out of orbit, mentally and physically, it’s sleep deprivation.

And of course my baby still needed her walkies, and breakfast, and more walkies, and playtime…And I needed large quantities of thick coffee, and something to force into my queasy stomach so I could take my pills, and I needed to use the bathroom, and brush my teeth, and put on clothes…And Atina, none the worse for her own sleepless night (who knows, maybe 🐶 s only take 😸 naps anyway…), was red hot and rarin’ to go, while I was dragging serious ass.

I got to feeling cross and cheated and just plain ill-tempered, and then I thought about something that happened, and my mind changed.

Here is what happened.

1989. I was pulling a two-week stint in the Pediatric Intensive Care Unit–the PICU. 

My residency program was working us like slaves because we were down four warm bodies.  One, my sweet ward partner, died in a car crash.  One got meningitis from a kid she was treating.  One got hepatitis from her dear boyfriend when he got back from India.  And one was on a sort of permanent leave, because he had miscalculated a chemotherapy dose and the child died.

So the house staff were stretched much thinner than usual.  Instead of every third or fourth night call, we were on every-other or every-every night.

In the PICU we usually did every-other-night, actually 24 hours on, 24 off.  But since we were so badly strapped for staff, the PICU director came up with a brilliant plan:  he would live in the PICU for two weeks, and I would live in the PICU for the next two weeks, and then we’d switch off again for another month.  That way we’d both get to see our families, for the two weeks we’d be off.  And of course if things were slow, our families could come and visit us in the call room, which was an 8 x10 ft luxurious affair made of beige-painted cinderblock, with a tiny bedside table to hold up the phone, and a worn metal chair.  

When you switched off the overhead fluorescent lights, you were instantly plunged into darkness.  Fortunately, every doctor carries a penlight, so at least you could find the bed, if you ever got a chance to actually lie down.

Hypervigilance is a common symptom of PTSD.  Therefore, since half of my consciousness was always scanning the PICU for problems, I never really got to sleep. 

One night when we had a truly puzzling and terribly critical case on the unit, I lay staring into the velvety black of the call room.  Everything had been taken care of, rounds, orders, and the nurses were wonderful and right on top of things; so there was no reason not to catch a few winks.

But I was in the grip of free-floating anxiety, so I felt my way along the wall until I found the light switch, and lacing up my Rockports, I sidled out into the unit.

We’d received a case that day that came in via the ER.  It was a little three year old boy, who presented with a high fever and blueberry muffin looking rash.  I mean really, he looked like a blueberry muffin.  But unlike muffins, which are good, he was not good.  He was in very bad shape.  Septic shock of some kind.  Our usual tests could not detect the pathogen, or anything that could have caused his condition.  This was 1989, remember.  We’ve learned a lot since then.

We ran through every possible infectious disease that we knew about, and every form of toxic ingestion or exposure, and every possible cause of bleeding and organ failure, but nothing came out positive.

So we did the only thing we could do: we put the little guy on life support, gave him fluids and antibiotics and steroids, and prayed that with supportive care, his body would come through whatever it was, and heal itself.

This was not to be.

Even with maximal supportive care, his body deteriorated.  He had been unconscious when he came in, and never opened his eyes or gave any indication of awareness.  His kidneys stopped working, and fluid was backing up into his organs and tissues.  We tried our hardest to keep up with that too, but soon it was clear that this little boy was not going to make it.

I can’t remember who we were waiting for.  His mother had died, I remember that.  It was just his father alone who took care of him.  We must have been waiting for someone else…to be there…when we took him off the vent.

As I turned the corner from my call room to the unit, I saw the boy’s father sitting on a hard chair, his knees up against the bed, stroking his little boy’s swollen hand and weeping, his shoulders heaving.

I laid my hand gently on his shoulder and said nothing, waiting.

“Yesterday,” the father sobbed, “He was running around making so much noise, I told him to shut up…Oh, if he would only make that much noise again!”

Yom Kippur

As the sun sets today, Jewish people all over the world will don their robes of pure white.  Even now they make their way to the Mikveh, the solemn bath of Living Waters that purify body and soul, in preparation for the Day of Awe, where we stand fasting before the King of Heaven and Earth to confess our sins and beg for forgiveness.  On this day our sins are forgiven, we are released from all vows, the slate is wiped clean for another year.

We wear white, because we are buried in white robes.  In fact, the men wear a kittle, a lightweight embroidered garment, in which they are married, and in which they will be buried.

We fast, and we wear white, because on this day we are like the Angels, who neither eat nor drink.  We wear our burial garments because on this day we are judged, as we will be on our deathbeds.

We fast for 26 hours, both from food and from water.  It’s a hard fast, especially in the Land of Israel where the air is hot and dry.  To add to this hardship, we stand for much of the day-long service.  Some people take on a personal service to stand during the entire service.

It is a day of examining the heart, a day of much weeping, a day of release from the burden of sin.

This Yom Kippur marks the first anniversary of Dad’s departure from this world.  His death.

I don’t know where Dad went when he died.  He didn’t know where he was going.  All he knew was that he was on his way out, and he was terrified.

He was sure he was going to be punished.  For what, he didn’t say.  He couldn’t say.  All he could do was shudder.  He was that terrified.

I have some ideas.

I know that he felt overwhelming guilt for things he had done in the war.  World War II.  He was sure he would have to pay for those things, one way or another, and the not-knowing gave rise to all kinds of imaginings.  He was a man who lived by imagination, by visions, by images, in the shadow-world.  It was the magic of his art, and the plague that visited his dreams.

I knew he would choose this day.  It was the deepest, darkest, most awe filled day.

Why not?  Dad never brooked folly.  If he was to die, it would be on the heaviest day of our year.

As evening approached, he gripped my hand for hours.  My hand screamed with arthritic pain, mine and his.

image

Darkness fell.  His lips were dry and cracked.  I took some of the Hospice lemon flavored gel out of the cooler and brought the spoon to his lips.

He clamped his mouth shut, with the slightest shake of his head, “no.”

“Your food is spiritual now,” I suggested, knowing that this, his last Yom Kippur, would be his first and last fast.

He nodded.  It was nearly the last movement of the symphony that was his life.

He slipped into a peaceful dream, and I lay down on the vacant bed in the room reserved for dying people.

I must have drifted off, for near midnight an agonized cry jerked me awake.  I rushed to his side.  His face was twisted, his body arched.  I wanted to throw myself upon him, but I knew there was no way to save him from his pain, so I sent him wordless messages…I’m here….I’m with you…I won’t leave you…

Then I knew.  One more thing….

“Dad, it’s Yom Kippur.  Your sins are white as snow.  You are forgiven.  You can go.”

His breathing changed from the near-death Cheyne-Stokes pattern: a period of no breathing followed by several deep breaths, to the imminent-death pattern of rapid air-hunger breathing.  I called the Hospice nurse.  She gave morphine.  I called my mother, and in my doctor calm voice asked her if she wanted to be there.  At first she said no, then thought better of it and said yes.

Soon after she arrived, Dad had grabbed my hand again and I stood there, watching him struggle with the Angel of Death.  At last he knit his brow, and with a determined effort, made the leap.

Oh, how many times have I seen that look, when steeling himself for some odious task!  Dispatching a dying animal, gripping his usual weapon, the shovel…

And now, gripping his own soul, as he let go and tumbled out of his body, into….what?

His grip on my hand disappeared.  I looked at his hand, so tight just a moment ago, now flaccid and white.  His fingers, now blue sausages.

“Lower the bed.  All the way to the floor.”  The Hospice nurse and my mother obeyed.  I got my Siddur, the Hebrew prayer book, while I cried out,

“Shemah, YIsrael, Adonai Eloheinu, Adonai Ehad…” 

Hear, O Israel, Adonai is Our God, Adonai is One….

Kaddish….

Yitgadal ve’yitkadash Sh’mei Rabbah…

May The Great Name be glorified and sanctified…

As the Deathbed Prayers stretched on, and my mother’s weeping grew louder, the Hospice nurse grew impatient and she called the mortician, who arrived with his impatient gurney.

“The mortician is waiting,” announced the nurse, just as I finished the Deathbed Prayers and was beginning to wash the body that used to belong to my dad.

I should have said FUCK OFF, this is my dad’s body, this is our religious tradition, this is Yom Kippur!

But I didn’t.

I watched them load him up, like a piece of meat.  They were casually chatting.  His dead face hung out; I pulled the sheet up to cover it.  My mother screamed.

His precious blue arm, the one that used to give me jovial hugs, had got caught between the gurney and the strap that held him on.  I pointed this out to the mortician and he fixed it, visibly irked.  My mother had declined a casket, since Dad was to be cremated.  Why waste money on a casket, only to burn it up?  No money in this deal for the mortician.

Now we have finished the twelve months of saying Kaddish, to help his soul make the journey into the Next World.  I am pretty sure I don’t believe in any Next World, but since I won’t know until I make that final leap, I leave the subject open.

Yitgadal ve’yitkadash Shmei Rabbah.

Amen.

Losing My Buddy

Atina lies dying.  This morning she had a blast chasing her Kong.  Then she collapsed, exhausted from the effort of what was likely her last play session.

She spent the rest of the morning alternating between frenetic activity and exhausted collapse, with her head in my lap as I stroked her cool ears and told her it’s O.K., it’s O.K. to go.

Now she’s motionless on her bed.  Her breathing is irregular.  If she makes it till tomorrow I will be surprised.

Last night she got into bed with me–an unusual phenomenon–and we kissed and cuddled for hours, until I was exhausted and sent her to her own bed.  I woke at five.  She was sleeping in the driver’s seat of the van, same as always, same as Aress did when he was alive.

She jumped up when she saw that I was awake, same as always, and got in my way as I was trying to dress, just like she does every morning.  This morning I did not scold her, but snuggled her black head into my half-off pajamas.  I have known for a few days that it wouldn’t be long.

Yesterday I couldn’t believe, watching her fly after her frisbee, that her lab tests could possibly measure her life in days, maybe weeks, by miracles months.  Yes, her sides were heaving after just a few catches, but hey, she still had the want-to.

Today she’s been shitting her innards out.  The van smells vile.  I gave her a dose of Imodium, which has slowed things down enough so she can rest.  I’m cooking the rice with chicken broth, hopeful that she’ll rally; but to tell you the truth, I want her to die at home, not on the operating table surrounded by strangers.

Her surgery is scheduled for tomorrow.  If she’s still alive in the morning, I’ll cancel it.  They can look at her kidneys just as well at autopsy.

Yes, we will proceed with the autopsy.  I must stop the carnage in the place where I bought her.  I must save other dogs from being used as currency.  In that way, my beautiful girl will not have died in vain.

There’s something I need to tell you.

I’ve been procrastinating, but I must gather courage and do it.

I haven’t wanted to blog about it because it makes me feel defeated, bad, and like a lousy person. I am afraid that my readers will hate me.

I thought about making up some kind of fairytale story to cover it up, and I almost got to believing it myself. I have a lot of grief about it, and I have a lot of grief about a lot of other things, and there’s only so much grief a person can have before you start wanting to make some things disappear from the grief radar.

But it’s no good. I have to face the fact: Noga is dead.

She died just before Memorial Day.

She didn’t get sick, or get run over by a car.

I had her euthanized, and here is why:

I adopted Noga at age 8 months. She was the “ugly duckling” from a show litter, and had been cast aside and ignored, kept crated most of the time. She was not potty trained or socialized at all. She was a happy little girl, but also had a deep anger and resentment toward anything she didn’t like, and she expressed it in a particularly unpleasant way.

If, for instance, I left her in the car on a perfectly cool day in order to run into the grocery or the drug store, when I came back there would be a pile of poop and a puddle of pee on my seat.

I thought this was fear, so even though I gave her a stern lecture about it, I forgave it and went about desensitizing her by going places in the car that ended up in walks in the park, or other pleasant things. Little did I know that I was conditioning her to expect something special for her every time we got in the car!

Eventually she got so that she didn’t make a bathroom out of my car every time I left her, but as soon as I got back to the car I had to kiss and cuddle her and make a big deal of how good she was, which I was happy to do, but if for some reason I was in a hurry and had to make it a quick one, she would sulk in the back seat and ignore me for the rest of the day.

I posted about this on the Lhasa Apso group board, and the answer I got from one of the world-class show breeders was:

“Apsos are a self-serving lot.”

I nodded, shrugged, and went on.

Over five years she became my little buddy, and accompanied me through my dad’s dying, and during his last weeks she was the only one who could make him laugh. When he died, I had to physically remove her from his body. When she loved, she loved fiercely, and that was the root of the problem.

The tears are pouring down my face now, and it’s hard to type.

As most of you know, after my father’s death I bought a small RV, just a conversion van, really, and Noga and I hit the road.

She didn’t like it. She really, really didn’t like it.

Before The Road, when we were living in my father’s studio, she had me all to herself. In fact, she was my only diversion from the constant blackness of my father’s terminal illness and my mother’s terminal abuse of my poor helpless Dad, which I was powerless to stop because not one single person in Adult Services would believe that my “angel” mother, who was a Geriatric Social Worker and had actually trained most of them, could be capable of such a thing, and they all knew about my mental illness, so poor Dad suffered until he went into the nursing home and was finally protected.

And Noga came everywhere with me, and was a big hit with everyone in the nursing home. She especially loved the people with Alzheimer’s, and became the unofficial Therapy Dog of the dementia unit.

But on the other hand, she bit people.

Specifically, she bit anyone who tried to approach me, or my dad—the Hospice nurses, for instance. We thought she was being protective, and since she was only 12 pounds everyone thought it was cute. I made sure to grab her up when anyone came, and most of the time was successful. Occasionally she did get somebody, but we were in Appalachia and people there are used to dogs that bite. Dogs bite, right?

For some reason, she liked to attack children. I had a heck of a time walking her in places where children might run by, or run up and try to pet her; so I made a point of taking her places where it was only she and I. That was how she liked it. But if a child happened to come by, she would lunge at them and I had to be vigilant with the leash, to jerk her back before those sharp little teeth made contact.

Back to The Road.

At first it was OK because she got to sit next to me while I drove, and of course she was my Service Dog so we went everywhere together.

But then something terrible happened. I used my newly found mobility to go and visit dear friends whom I had not seen in many years.

Of course, Noga came too—why wouldn’t she?

But I’ve left out one piece. Rewind five years.

After I brought her home for the first time, she jumped up on my bed and peed and pooped right on it.

Of course I was horrified, especially since it was a furnished house that I was renting from one of my parents’ friends. The quilt was a fine antique. I was in a total state of panic. I assumed that the reason she had done it was simply that she was not potty trained, and disoriented to boot; so I quickly cleaned up the mess, had the quilt professionally cleaned, and put my own linens on the bed.

Then I thought, well, I’ve trained a few dogs, so what should I do? Naturally, the way we potty train puppies is with a crate. We put them in the crate, take them outside every few hours, and praise them to the skies when they do their business where we want them to. Then it’s playtime, and tired puppies go back in the crate for a nap.

But since Noga was used to using her crate for a bathroom, she obliged me by going pee in the yard, but she saved her poop for her crate.

So every day I had not only old towels to clean up and wash, but also a filthy dog.

Then I had a brainstorm: put “potty pads” in the crate and leave the door open. Sure enough, she used her crate for a bathroom. Then I moved the potty pads to a spot near the front door, and took the crate away. Yup, she continued to use the potty pads. Life was good.

Then my son came to visit. I made up his bed, he threw his duffle in the corner, and we sat up talking till late at night as usual. Of course he made much of Noga, and she adored him immediately. He is a dog magnet.

Finally we dragged ourselves off to our respective beds, but—

“Um, Mom?”

I opened my door to find him standing in the doorway of his room. On his pillow was a neat little present: A pile of dog shit. And to make it extra nice, she’d peed on his quilt, too!

I was furious. I grabbed her by the scruff and held her over what she’d done, screaming “No! No! No!” My son fled the room, convulsed with laughter. It was too bizarre.

OK, in this case, jealousy. But using excrement as a tool for expressing displeasure? No, impossible. She’s a dog, for heaven’s sake. A cat might do that, but a dog? It did not make any sense.

If I described every similar instance, every defilement of the bed of a friend who came to visit, or in whose home I was a guest, it would fill so many feet of blog space that you’d get bored and click away, if you haven’t already.

I spent $400 on a phone consultation with an animal behaviorist at University of Tennessee. She chalked it up to a behavioral issue due to a traumatic puppyhood, and gave me some suggestions that didn’t work. The only thing that did work was my undivided attention, which she got most of the time anyway because of my reclusive nature and the state of total isolation that I lived in.

I knew it wasn’t doggy IBS or anything like that, because she flew to Israel and back with me three times, 14 hours each way, sitting on my lap, and never had an accident. And of course there were the innumerable vet visits, racking up thousands on lab tests that showed nothing.

And so it was, that one morning, after I had made the drive to Rochester, NY, to visit a couple who have literally been parents to me when my mother sent me out of her life, I woke up in my van and smelled something. My covers were wet. There was a pile of shit at the foot of my bed, and my dear little dog had rolled in it.

She watched as I opened my eyes. She wagged her tail. I screamed “Nooooooo!!!!!” and she wagged it some more.

I jumped out of bed, dressed, wadded up my bedding and stuffed it into a garbage bag, with the dog shut up in the tiny bathroom so she couldn’t smear her shit-covered fur all over the place.

Before I washed her off under the hose, I took a sample to take to the vet. Maybe she had eaten something bad, maybe her monthly worm medicine didn’t work, maybe I had forgotten to give it to her.

Nope, perfectly normal poop. The vet looked grim and silent.

“What do you think it is?” I didn’t tell him about her long history of pooping on people’s beds.

“Dunno, maybe she’s stressed or something. Come back if it happens again.”

It happened again, that very night. I am sorry to say I lost my temper and hit her, then felt horrible. She didn’t seem to mind. She looked at me and wagged her tail. I guess any attention is good attention to some people.

That night I tied her up in the aisle of the van. In the morning I had to bag up the carpet runner and throw it in the trash, because she had shat all up and down it and rolled in it too. All I could do was cry and wash the dog again.

The next night I put her in the bathroom, which has a molded plastic floor, and lined it with potty pads (did I mention I had lined the entire van with potty pads, but she scratched them aside so she could get to the floor?) thinking perhaps that would at least make cleanup easier, but this time, instead of shitting, she went to work attempting to chew her way out, so that now I have something to remember her by—a totally trashed, formerly brand-new bathroom door. Got me again.

In the meantime, my friend’s husband caught her twice sneaking up the stairs, trying to get to their bed. Oh. My. God. My friend has a poop phobia, and vomits if she even smells it! And Noga snarled at him when he intercepted her. Who would have imagined???

Then I got a call that my aunt, who is 93, had been moved to New Jersey from Florida to live by her daughter (my cousin, I guess you could say), and her daughter needed to go to Florida to close up her mother’s house. That meant Auntie would be alone. I volunteered to Auntie-sit, so off I went to New Jersey, with one or two stops at Laundromats along the way.

Hell had descended upon me. My beloved little angel had turned on me, and it seemed there was nothing I could do about it.

My cousin made arrangements for me to stay at a campground very near the nursing home, so I could visit my aunt two or three times a day. It was a normal campground, full of kids running around and riding bikes. Noga bit two of them, not badly, but she bit them. Fortunately nothing came of it, except that I had to walk her in the nasty woods behind the campground.  I got two ticks.

I continued making daily trips to the campground Laundromat. This was getting very expensive, as well as being just, I can’t say it any other way, hell on earth.

I took another poop sample to a local vet. No parasites, pathogens, nothing. He was very sympathetic, and sent me to another vet who specialized in behavioral problems. He listened to me carefully and here is what he said:

“You know, there are two main classifications of behavioral problems in dogs. There are neuroses, like separation anxiety, that we can treat with medications and behavior modification. Then there are personality disorders, which in the case of dogs, are inborn disorders of the brain. We can try medications (listed them off) if you want…”

I mentioned that I had been giving her Ativan, in case of anxiety, but even though it did make her groggy it did not stop the shitting behavior.

“I thought not. What she is doing is expressing her displeasure. She is punishing you.” I nodded. I knew that. I just had not allowed myself to believe it, because she was my little angel and that just could not be true!

“You have choices. You can try medicating her. Or you can live with it.”

At this point I’m shaking, tears and snot are streaming down my face. Noga is strangely quiet. It’s as if she can understand what we’re talking about.

“I can’t live like this anymore!” I blubbered. “What about finding her a new home?”

He shook his head. No, she would just do the same thing, and then maybe she would end up in some shelter, and she’s adorable so someone would immediately adopt her, and eventually she would end up being abused, maybe sooner than later…I was shaking by this time. I knew where he was going.

“So the only good choice for her is to put her to sleep?”

“Well, it depends how long you can tolerate this. As I said, we can try medication, but frankly I do not believe that it will work.”

I searched inside my heart. I could not live this way. I had already been literally swimming in dog excrement for a month, with no end in sight. I handed her over to the vet tech and stumbled to the front desk, paid the bill, and blinded with tears climbed into my van and fell onto the bare bed, stripped for the thirtieth time, and laid there crying until it was time to go visit my aunt.

“Where’s Noga?! I thought you were going to bring her today!”

My aunt and I have always been close. She’s been much more of a mother to me than my own mother ever was. I blubbered out the whole story.

“Oh Baby, I’m so sorry. I had no idea. Well, you did the right thing. She would have had a miserable life, and she certainly made your life miserable. You’ll both be better off this way.”

I got the same feedback from other friends who knew what was going on. My son was really devastated, though he tried to hide it, but he knew how long I’d been trying to help Noga get over whatever this was, because I loved her so dearly.

And now she’s gone, and I have another dog, because I must have a dog to let me know what’s real and what’s not.

But there will never be another little sweet thing like Noga, even though things got so bad that it had to end.

When Does Life Become Unlivable? Thinking of Frida

Dearest Readers, rest your minds, I am not there yet.

Today is rainy and soggy.  The ground is thawing out in our Spring Thaw, which is a prelude to actual Mud Season.  I grew up mostly in New England where there is a time of year called Mud Season, generally starting the end of February and going on and off through March.  It’s a beastly time because everything from horses to tractors–not to mention cars and pickup trucks–gets bogged down in the mud.  You can’t get any “purchase” (traction) because under the foot-and-a-half of mud is the frost line from the winter, which will stay frozen even into May, as any New England gravedigger will tell you.

What this weather means for me is misery.  My hands hurt.  My hips hurt.  My neck is even now packed in pillows so I don’t forget and move it.  Et cetera, ad nauseam.  Oh and my asthma is suffocating me.  Go away, damn it, and let me just LIVE!!!

I saw my orthopedist this morning for another cortisone shot into my right shoulder.  Unlike last time, when the needle slid in so easily I didn’t even feel it, he had to do quite a bit of wudging around till he was able to get the needle into the joint.  It hurt.

I remarked on this, in a casual tone, like this:  “Fuck a duck, Doc, what the hell are trying to do to me???”

Actually I did not frame it in those terms, more because I know that all 6’5″ 300 lb of him are made of good nature and kindness–he and his saintly wife have, on top of their own eight children, adopted eight more, all of them older children who needed a good home.  Even if he wasn’t on the short list for sainthood I would still try to maintain a modicum of dignity and say something more like, “Sonofabitch, Doc, that hurts!”

He grinned and mentioned casually that I am certainly going to need that shoulder operated on at some point, as the joint is proliferating with calcium deposits that will need to be “scraped off” (oh, I don’t like the sound of that!) so they don’t tear up the muscles.

Here my vision goes blank and all I can see is my father lumbering along with his elbows stuck out to the sides like a chimpanzee, because both of his shoulders had frozen up….eventually becoming bone-on-bone.  He was literally stuck, couldn’t do anything with his hands–and he was a ceramic artist.  Hell on Earth.  And it didn’t stop there.  The arthritis ate his spine, just like it’s been slowly but surely eating mine since the 1980’s.

I had emergency surgery on my neck in 1987 for a ruptured disc that was pressing on my spinal cord.  Over the next 3 years I ruptured 4 more.  The spine surgeons proposed installing steel rods on either side of mine spine–no thanks!  I’m a dancer, a horse-and-dog trainer, a hiker, an aspiring Yogini.  A rigid spine does not suit my lifestyle.  So I spent 12 months in a Minerva Jacket, which is a hard plastic shell that the brace shop guy molded directly to my Stockinet encased torso, from just below the armpits to just above the groin, so that I could kind of sit.  It had Velcro fasteners in front.  I was to be encased in this walking tomb for 23 3/4 hours a day–with 15 minutes off to bathe.  I admit that I had to take the damn thing off at night.  Nobody could sleep with that thing cutting into your skin no matter how many layers of cast padding, etc., they fixed up for me to try to make it more comfortable.  I even coaxed the brace shop guy (“You have a perfect hourglass figure…!  He crooned, while I was immobilized in plaster yet again…stupid sod, I thought, only worse) into punching hundreds of 1 cm holes in the thing when it got to be summer and I was overheating in it.

Yah.  I spent that entire year standing up 120 hours a week–my work week–because the tension on my spine from sitting down sent the nerve pain all the way into my feet, and all the way into my hands.  But I soldiered on.  I refused to let the pain stop me.  I was young, and had the iron will that sustains my people.

Look, I follow a lot of people who have it much worse than I do.  Much, much worse.  And they keep right on living, kvetching now and then as is their right.

But I am staring into the face of a dilemma, which is:  I can’t work if I can’t look down.

Say what?

I can’t work if I can’t look down.  Not at my regular streams of income, at any rate.

I had to give up practicing regular medicine, not exclusively because of my brain, which wasn’t doing so well either but got right-side-up very quickly once I got the proper diagnosis and the proper meds, but mostly because my hands gave out due to whatever it is that is eating away at my connective tissue.

So I relied upon my acupuncture training.  Palpating meridians and slipping needles into the right places takes no strength at all.  But damn it, the last few treatments I’ve done, I swear I’ve squawked as much as my client!  I can’t look down without incurring an acute, unremitting ache that spreads into my shoulders and down my arms.  Nerve pain.

Writing.  I don’t sell much yet, but then I haven’t made much of an effort.  I get going with writing and at some point my hands seize up and won’t work at all.  I am experimenting with Dragon Dictate.  It is a pain in the arse, but many people swear by it (I swear at it, cliches be damned!).  I’m starting a proofreading and copyediting business.  That should be a good income stream, if I can market it successfully.  There must be a way to mark-up copy using Dragon or something, right?  At least I can get my computer at eye level.  God, I can’t stop thinking about Frida Kalho.

Money.  At the moment I’m fine.  I made one single good investment in my life, which sustains me now.  That stream of income goes away the moment I turn 65, if I make it that far.  I’m socking away as much as I can, but one little bit of extra expense can throw me seriously in the hole.  It’s unsustainable.  I have to find another way of supporting myself.

This is where the equations meet.  I cannot live as an impoverished cripple.  Please do not play the “Oh, no, you’re going to be just fine” game.  I get that enough from people I live around.

The truth is, I am not and will not be fine.  I have two progressive diseases, and if one doesn’t kill me, the other will make my life a living hell, just as it did to my father.

Dad didn’t want to live like that either, but he got taken by surprise.  It was as if he woke up one morning mostly paralyzed.  He was too bunged up to even take his own life!  So he lived another 5 years in unrelenting pain, totally dependent on the kindness (or unkindness, as the case often was) of others.

When we were alone he would ask me, “How much would it take?”  He was referring to his insulin: how much would it take, to take him out of his misery?  I could not, would not tell him.  He would smile sadly, saying “I know you can’t tell me.”  And we would change the subject.

Gentle readers, there will come a time when those two lines intersect: the downward spiral of my health and productivity, and the linear decline of my ability to sustain myself with food, shelter, medicines, and everything else one needs.

No.  I do not want to enter a nursing facility.  Neither do I want to be dependent on others, which is convenient because there ARE no others to be dependent upon.

I do not want to be locked into a crippled body the way my father was, until he died an excruciating death, screaming out his last hours on earth through blood-filled lungs.

I pray that I will know the right moment.  I pray even more that if there is a Deity, that he/she/it will take me out of this life before I have to make that tough decision.

Pray with me now, dear readers.

Pray that I get to dance at my son’s wedding.

Pray that I get to hold my first grandchild.

Pray that I get to have a sweet, gentle kiss of Death, and go Home before I have to make that tough decision.

Frida’s last diary entry, the night before her not-entirely-accidental death, went something like this:  “I hope my end is joyful, and I hope to God never to return.”