So Long, Pluto

By one of those curious twists of the state of time, space, and matter, it seemed good in my eyes on Thursday night to seek the reliable shelter of a State Park, in which to interrupt my trajectory while hurtling across the awe-inspiring hugeness of the State of Texas.
_________________________

A Texan went to visit Ireland.

He saw an Irish farmer out working in his potato field, got out of his rented Cadillac and approached the fellow, and hollered:

(Texas accent): Say, pal, is this your land?

The Irishman cuts the engine on his ancient tractor, removes his battered hat, scratches his balding red head, mops his pate with his tatty handkerchief, jams his hat back on.

(Irish accent, with pride):  Sure and it is, Mester.  Been in my family for a hunnerd years. (Beams, gap-toothed, at the Texan, who is now standing in the dirt road in his cowboy boots, dove-grey Western suit, string tie, rocking with his thumbs hooked over his tooled leather belt with its garish silver buckle.  Door of Cadillac stands open.)

Texan:  Why, that’s mighty fine, mighty fine.  How much land have you got, if you don’t mind my askin’ ? (Chews a toothpick)

Irishman, with pride:  No, I don’t mind a wee bit, sence you’re askin’.  You see that tree stump off there in the distance?  Why, our land goes all the way from that stump, back aways past the house and farmyard, barns, horse pasture, to that stoon fence, ye can just barely see it from here.  (Scratches head again.)

Texan:  I declare.  That’s a right purty leetle piece.  You know, Farmer, back in Texas where’n Ah come from, Ah kin git in mah truck an drahve from sunrise to sunset, and Ah will still be drahvin’ on mah own land.  (Air of superior self-satisfaction)

Irishman: (Shaking head sadly)  Ach!  I had a truck like that meself, once.
__________________________________

The twist of fate is made curious by a happenstance: the first Texas State Park I spied on my map happened to be full, but the sweet and adorable Mescalero Apache ranger at the park office told me that there was plenty of room at the next park down the road, which happened to be right down the road again from the famed McDonald Observatory, home of the second biggest and most scientifically unique telescope in the world.  Yowie zowie, I love space stuff!  And my knowledge base is terrible, so I got all hot and sweaty at the thought of increasing it in such a majestic way.

I scuttled down the ranchy road, reaching the park just about closing time.  Picked myself out a choice spot and settled in, nervous about the javelinas (pecaries, a nasty species of wild pig that stinks and had it in for dogs) and wild boars, that can tusk up a dog or small human faster than you can say “Old Yeller.”  We have seen a lot of their poop, fresh, in our campsite, and if they only come sniffing around of a night, that’s fine, as long as they respect the rules.

The next day I mounted Old Jenny and climbed up the twisty road to the Observatory.  They were having a program on Sun Spots, but since I regularly check the Solar Weather I wasn’t so interested in that.  I wanted Deep Space.  Wormholes, Dark Energy, you know, cool space stuff.  I wanted to see the giant telescopes, but the next available date is a couple of weeks from now and I don’t plan to be here then.  Plus it costs $115, which would be money well spent, but that’s a week’s worth of camping money, so.

But they have “Star Parties,” interpretive viewings of the heavens both aided by normal size telescopes, and with the naked eye, so that one comes away with greatly augmented knowledge of celestial bodies and visible galaxies and nebulae (one, beside the Milky Way: the Orion Nebula.  I was hoping to get a glimpse of the Horsehead Nebula, but you need a higher power telescope for that).

The McDonald Observatory is located on top of a mountain situated above the Sonoran Desert, and is one of the darkest places in the world (at night, and not a cave).  Thus, I was tremendously exited at the prospect of guided stargazing in that spectacular location.  I bought a ticket for $15 and returned to my campsite to do a bit of dog hair mitigation and await the appointed hour.

We got there early (“we,” unless otherwise noted, means my dog and I) and cooled our heels till show time.

Big tour buses pulled up.  I noted them, then blocked them out of my consciousness.

With the approach of show time, I took Atina out for a potty break and put her in the van, ignoring her rueful expression.  It’s tough being a dog.

When I entered the lobby my heart went splat on the floor, then went into a run of sinus tachycardia.  Panic attack. 

Hundreds of lovely young people wearing Texas Tech and University of Texas and Texas A&M sweatshirts milled and shouted in the lobby.

I bailed into the gift shop, which was geared toward children, with book after book after book on the constellations…fer krissake, how many books on the constellations do they need?

I perused the wall charts, the glow in the dark universes that I stuck on my erstwhile son’s ceiling, to give him something to do while he wasn’t sleeping….and noticed something odd.

There were only eight planets.

That is wrong.  There are nine.  Everyone knows there are nine planets!

Then I remembered: Pluto has been decommissioned as a planet, because it is made of frozen water and no rocks.  You have to be made of rocks to be a planet.

It’s not fair.  Other planets are made of weird shit, so why, after all this time, could they not make Pluto at least an HONORARY planet?

I bought a placemat of the Periodic Table, which has picked up a number of new elements since the last time I studied it, and bolted for my van.

The rest of the evening was devoted to doctoring my crushing panic attack.

It wasn’t merely the prospect of standing in loud lines with droves of college students.

It was the sudden realization that I, too, have been decommissioned, like Pluto, and for the same reason: lack of a solid core. 

In our last bitter conversation, my son made it clear that I am not the mother he wanted…or, in his opinion, needed.  He needed stability.  He needed a rock core, not just some object made of frozen gasses.

Pluto and I are no longer welcome in his universe.

Well.

Since I have cried all the way across the enormous state of Texas, I have very clean eyes.  It seems that tears do not simply run out.  The body just keeps making more.

And since my decommission I have had plenty of time to reflect on the universe of mistakes I have made in my life.  Mistake after mistake after mistake.

And all boiling down to what?

Well, at least I have money, for a couple more years, to pay my expenses.  That’s a plus.

See, me and Pluto just keep going around and around and around, but the end is interincluded in the beginning, so there is no getting off this particular merry-go-round.

So me and Pluto and Atina will go ’round until it all winds down and it’s time to bail out.  That’s what happens to stars before we blow up and become Something Else.

So Long, Pluto

By one of those curious twists of the state of time, space, and matter, it seemed good in my eyes on Thursday night to seek the reliable shelter of a State Park, in which to interrupt my trajectory while hurtling across the awe-inspiring hugeness of the State of Texas.
__________________________________

A Texan went to visit Ireland.

He saw an Irish farmer out working in his potato field, got out of his rented Cadillac and approached the fellow, and hollered:

(Texas accent): Say, pal, is this your land?

The Irishman cuts the engine on his ancient tractor, removes his battered hat, scratches his balding red head, mops his pate with his tatty handkerchief, jams his hat back on.

(Irish accent, with pride):  Sure and it is, Mester.  Been in my family for a hunnerd years. (Beams, gap-toothed, at the Texan, who is now standing in the dirt road in his cowboy boots, dove-grey Western suit, string tie, rocking with his thumbs hooked over his tooled leather belt with its garish silver buckle.  Door of Cadillac stands open.)

Texan:  Why, that’s mighty fine, mighty fine.  How much land have you got, if you don’t mind my askin’ ? (Chews a toothpick)

Irishman, with pride:  No, I don’t mind a wee bit, sence you’re askin’.  You see that tree stump off there in the distance?  Why, our land goes all the way from that stump, back aways past the house and farmyard, barns, horse pasture, to that stoon fence, ye can just barely see it from here.  (Scratches head again.)

Texan:  I declare.  That’s a right purty leetle piece.  You know, Farmer, back in Texas where’n Ah come from, Ah kin git in mah truck an drahve from sunrise to sunset, and Ah will still be drahvin’ on mah own land.  (Air of superior self-satisfaction)

Irishman: (Shaking head sadly)  Ach!  I had a truck like that meself, once.
__________________________________

The twist of fate is made curious by a happenstance: the first Texas State Park I spied on my map happened to be full, but the sweet and adorable Mescalero Apache ranger at the park office told me that there was plenty of room at the next park down the road, which happened to be right down the road again from the famed McDonald Observatory, home of the second biggest and most scientifically unique telescope in the world.  Yowie zowie, I love space stuff!  And my knowledge base is terrible, so I got all hot and sweaty at the thought of increasing it in such a majestic way.

I scuttled down the ranchy road, reaching the park just about closing time.  Picked myself out a choice spot and settled in, nervous about the javelinas (pecaries, a nasty species of wild pig that stinks and had it in for dogs) and wild boars, that can tusk up a dog or small human faster than you can say “Old Yeller.”  We have seen a lot of their poop, fresh, in our campsite, and if they only come sniffing around of a night, that’s fine, as long as they respect the rules.

The next day I mounted Old Jenny and climbed up the twisty road to the Observatory.  They were having a program on Sun Spots, but since I regularly check the Solar Weather I wasn’t so interested in that.  I wanted Deep Space.  Wormholes, Dark Energy, you know, cool space stuff.  I wanted to see the giant telescopes, but the next available date is a couple of weeks from now and I don’t plan to be here then.  Plus it costs $115, which would be money well spent, but that’s a week’s worth of camping money, so.

But they have “Star Parties,” interpretive viewings of the heavens both aided by normal size telescopes, and with the naked eye, so that one comes away with greatly augmented knowledge of celestial bodies and visible galaxies and nebulae (one, beside the Milky Way: the Orion Nebula.  I was hoping to get a glimpse of the Horsehead Nebula, but you need a higher power telescope for that).

The McDonald Observatory is located on top of a mountain situated above the Sonoran Desert, and is one of the darkest places in the world (at night, and not a cave).  Thus, I was tremendously exited at the prospect of guided stargazing in that spectacular location.  I bought a ticket for $15 and returned to my campsite to do a bit of dog hair mitigation and await the appointed hour.

We got there early (“we,” unless otherwise noted, means my dog and I) and cooled our heels till show time.

Big tour buses pulled up.  I noted them, then blocked them out of my consciousness.

With the approach of show time, I took Atina out for a potty break and put her in the van, ignoring her rueful expression.  It’s tough being a dog.

When I entered the lobby my heart went splat on the floor, then went into a run of sinus tachycardia.  Panic attack. 

Hundreds of lovely young people wearing Texas Tech and University of Texas and Texas A&M sweatshirts milled and shouted in the lobby.

I bailed into the gift shop, which was geared toward children, with book after book after book on the constellations…fer krissake, how many books on the constellations do they need?

I perused the wall charts, the glow in the dark universes that I stuck on my erstwhile son’s ceiling, to give him something to do while he wasn’t sleeping….and noticed something odd.

There were only eight planets.

That is wrong.  There are nine.  Everyone knows there are nine planets!

Then I remembered: Pluto has been decommissioned as a planet, because it is made of frozen water and no rocks.  You have to be made of rocks to be a planet.

It’s not fair.  Other planets are made of weird shit, so why, after all this time, could they not make Pluto at least an HONORARY planet?

I bought a placemat of the Periodic Table, which has picked up a number of new elements since the last time I studied it, and bolted for my van.

The rest of the evening was devoted to doctoring my crushing panic attack.

It wasn’t merely the prospect of standing in loud lines with droves of college students.

It was the sudden realization that I, too, have been decommissioned, like Pluto, and for the same reason: lack of a solid core. 

In our last bitter conversation, my son made it clear that I am not the mother he wanted…or, in his opinion, needed.  He needed stability.  He needed a rock core, not just some object made of frozen gasses.

Pluto and I are no longer welcome in his universe.

Well.

Since I have cried all the way across the enormous state of Texas, I have very clean eyes.  It seems that tears do not simply run out.  The body just keeps making more.

And since my decommission I have had plenty of time to reflect on the universe of mistakes I have made in my life.  Mistake after mistake after mistake.

And all boiling down to what?

Well, at least I have money, for a couple more years, to pay my expenses.  That’s a plus.

See, me and Pluto just keep going around and around and around, but the end is interincluded in the beginning, so there is no getting off this particular merry-go-round.

So me and Pluto and Atina will go ’round until it all winds down and it’s time to bail out.  That’s what happens to stars before we blow up and become Something Else.

Lost

After my 30 year old son threw me out the day after Thanksgiving, I sat with the pain until after Christmas.  I thought the pain would fade, but it only intensified.  It was eating me up from the inside out.  I thought we had a good relationship, and then this.

So I wrote him a letter, asking what I had done to cause him to do this thing.

A couple of weeks went by.  He was kind enough to send me a note saying that he wanted to take time to sit down and write me a well-thought out letter.  I waited eagerly, hoping for a positive answer.

What I received tore my heart into even smaller shreds.

He detailed grudges that he held from childhood, that I thought had been addressed during the two years of intensive family therapy at the therapeutic boarding school I sent him to as an alternative to jail after he got arrested when he was 16.  I guess that wore off.

More grudges for things I had done unintentionally, that I did not know had bothered him, or even knew anything about.

Worst of all, he disapproves of my current lifestyle, my past lifestyle, and I got the impression (or maybe her wrote it) that he believes I am irresponsible, and worries that I will run out of money (possible, since I have given so much of it to him, in one way or another).

I waited another few weeks, went through the letter with my therapist, discussed the triggers…

Being thrown out by my own son would be bad enough.  For krissake, I wasn’t drunk or abusive or anything that would merit being shown the door.  But since my mother used to do that all the time when I came to visit her, hoping once again that I would find her transformed into the Mommy that I never had, the trigger was like a hammer brought down on my head.

And his letter, so full of judgement and criticism, triggered my childhood of constant criticism by both parents.  How can I relax if I never know whether what I’m doing will be accepted or considered wrong?  How can I trust him ever again, since he holds grudges even for things I didn’t know were wrong, in his eyes?

And who the hell does he think he is, to judge his mother?  I have never abused him: the opposite.  I have struggled ever since he was born to find ways of helping him to be happy.

As one of my first boyfriend’s Irish mother said to him when he criticized her, “Don’t you judge me!  I wiped your shitty ass!”

I wrote my son another letter, explaining that we are different people with different values, and just because someone is different doesn’t mean they’re a bad person (you’d think someone would know this by the time they’re 30, but I guess not).

I also reiterated how much his behavior had hurt me, and how my current financial situation is largely due to the more than $200,000 that ate up my retirement fund, plus having to borrow another $75,000 from my parents, who amazingly mortgaged their paid-for home to save his life.  He has never thanked any of us, nor offered to pay us back even a fraction.  I have never mentioned the money thing to him before, not wanting to lay a guilt trip on him.  But since he brought it up, and since he is behaving like an entitled brat, I let him in on the secret.

I have not heard back from him yet, and I wonder how he will take these harsh realities.

I also told him something of my health issues, both physical and mental, and that since I have no one to care for me and I refuse to go into a nursing home, at some point this life will end, either naturally or, if the pain is too severe, by assistance.

I feel that I have lost him.  This too is triggering, as I had the same feeling when he was a lying, stealing, addicted teenager, running with others of the same ilk, in and out of every kind of rehab, even a stint of involuntary hospitalization that turned out to be a nightmare.

He managed to either fake his way through the programs or get himself thrown out by fighting or otherwise flagrantly breaking the rules. 

Finally his stepmother threw him out, and he ended up in a homeless shelter, where he broke the rules and I don’t remember what happened after that because I was having my own catatonic breakdown and two hospitalizations.

During those times I felt like I had lost my son, but he was still alive, which was worse than having lost him by death in some ways.

If he had died, at least I could have grieved him and kept the good memories.  But losing him alive was unremitting torture, as it is today.

Why, all of a sudden, have I become a villain?

I think I know.

Now that he’s become known in the scientific world, he’s emulating his famous scientist dad.  He’s dressing like his dad, even talking like him.

I’m sure people ask him what his mother does, and he doesn’t know what to say.

He’s not proud of me; in fact, he’s embarrassed, because I am disabled by mental illness, I don’t work, and I don’t even have a home.

He writes that he wants me to settle down and have a real bed for him to sleep in when he visits.

Funny about that: when I did have a real home with a real guest bed, he never visited.  Of course, my real home was in Israel, and although I offered to pay his fare countless times, he always had an excuse why he couldn’t come.  But he was happy to go to Hawaii with his dad.

I told my mother, who is not the greatest role model; nevertheless I told her, and she said, “Let him go.  He’s never been a part of our family anyway.” 

That hurt me even more, and made me wish I hadn’t said anything.

Thirty years ago today, I was great with this child.  I have a photo of myself in profile, naked and glistening with oil like a wrestler.  I am very short.  I looked like I had swallowed a giant watermelon.  I was so happy.

Now, I wonder whether having him was the right thing.  He has never been happy.  He screamed constantly for years.  He started seeing a child psychologist when he was three.  My ex-husband started sleeping with him when I started my internship, because otherwise he just screamed all night.  This child drove a wedge between my former husband and I.  I’ve observed, during my 20 years practicing pediatrics, that a sick child will either cement or destroy a marriage, depending on the health of that marriage to begin with.  I consider the child to be a symptom of family dysfunction.

Usually divorce will help the stricken child; in our case, that was not to be.

Anger, and more anger, has been this child’s life.  I thought he had developed coping skills and self awareness.  I was so proud.

Now I am lost in a sea of pain.

If I had known then what I know now, I believe I would not have conceived him.

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.

 

 

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

Back From The Dead, For Now Anyway

Atina lay on her bed painfully struggling to breathe for hours that felt like years.  I wrote the previous post during one of those years, and I thank every one of you who have sent me such sweet heartfelt thoughts.

Later in the afternoon she dragged herself up–still couldn’t get her hind end to cooperate–and between the two of us, we dragged her into my bed, and snuggled together.  Every once in a while she’d stretch her long neck around so she could clean up my face, and finally when she got some energy worked up, she tried to hold me down to wash me, as if I were her own puppy sniffling and snotting in the bed.

A couple more hours and she wanted to go out and pee, so we went out.  A naughty squirrel decided to tease her by getting way out on a tiny branch, and fell THUMP into the road!  It made such a cannon shot hitting the ground, I thought it must surely have killed itself, but it jumped right up and scampered up the next tree over.

I think this must be how you check for life signs in a Malinois.

image

“C’mon, Mom, just let me climb that tree, O.K.?  Just this once, huh?”

image

A Malinois isn’t dead until you can heave a squirrel at her and she doesn’t move.

But now she’s all worn out from her squirrel hunt, back in bed exhausted. 

If she’s still alive in the morning (no, I’m not joking here), I’ve decided to go ahead with the surgery.  The biopsy will give us the information we need to first of all know for sure what the problem is, and whether treatment can give her more quality of life (to spend cuddling with me, catching frisbees, and chasing naughty squirrels).

There’s a fair chance she won’t survive the surgery.  But her rapid decline over the last few weeks tells me that her quality of life is getting worse.  I love to snuggle with her, but she should be running me into the ground throwing frisbee, not the other way around. 

Wish us luck.

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.

The Agony Of Pregnancy Loss

This is going to be another heavy hitter, Dear Readers.  Please consider whether this is good for you to read before proceeding.  It contains graphic descriptions of a miscarriage, surgery, and references to abortion.

I’ve given myself away, but then this is not fiction.

My medical school had an agreement with a VA (Veterans Administration) hospital, where third- and fourth-year medical students could rotate through and get some up-close-and-personal experience being on the front lines.  Rather than standing on a stool (if you were short like me) holding retractors in the operating room, we were taught to actually operate.

And in the medical wing, we learned by doing, and by working closely with the attending physician.  This was much better than standing at the back of a crowd of students, interns, and residents on ward rounds in the private hospital.

I had lots of harrowing adventures at the VA.  I loved it.  Everything was edgy and often dicey.  The patients were high morbidity.  The doctors were all foreign medical graduates, some of whom were the best docs I’ve ever worked with, and some of whom…well, I sure wouldn’t want them working on me.  You just never knew, from day to day, what you would end up in the middle of.

I loved surgery.  Part of that was Dr. Duy, a brilliant Vietnamese surgeon who taught me how to tie one-handed knots down in a hole (in those days, gall bladder surgery was done through an open incision, and you were literally working in a hole up to your wrist).  He taught me how to amputate a gangrenous leg–we had to do that a lot because of the diabetic veterans who were “drinking men” and didn’t take care of themselves.  (That was one of the intake questions:  “Are you a drinking man?”  It was crucial to know, because if he was, if deprived of his alcohol he might go into DT’s and die on us.  For “drinking men,” part of the admission orders were two beers or two shots of rye whiskey per day, more if indicated.)

I dreaded operating with Dr. Chung, a Korean doc who didn’t speak much English and was a clumsy brute compared to Dr. Duy. He did a lot of abdominal surgeries looking for metastatic cancer.  In those days the way you did that was by opening somebody up from top to bottom, and taking biopsies from all the major organs, to send to Pathology.  Then you would stand around in the freezing OR, hugging yourself and jumping up and down until the frozen section came back.  After that you either did or did not take out more stuff, and finally you closed the abdomen and took an x-ray to make sure you hadn’t left anything in there.

My job was to close the abdomen.  There weren’t surgical staples back then, or any of a million conveniences we have now–just a bunch of different sizes of suture material, either dissolving or non-dissolving.

Dr. Chung would walk away, stripping off his gloves, and I knew that I was going to close.  It was no easy task for a small person, especially if the patient was large, pulling the wound together and tying the knots, with nobody to put their finger on it to keep it from slipping.  Yes, it was that simple.

Dr. Chung used to tell me to hurry up and just to make sure I did, he would tell the anesthesiologist to wake the patient up while I was still working!

The reason I’ve gone into all this is: One day I walked into the operating suite and smelled the distinctive odor of halothane gas.  That is what we used in those days as the anesthetic.  I’m sure some or even most of you have smelled that smell.  There is nothing like it.  It triggers my PTSD just thinking about it.

I walked into the OR and asked the scrub nurse, who was scurrying around setting up for the next case, what the deal was with the gas.

“Oh, the anesthesia machine is leaking,” she said in mid-scurry.  “We have a requisition in.”

Uh-oh.  That meant it might get fixed today, or next week, or next month…

So we operated with the doors open.  I tell you, we were all half-anesthetized.  I hope those patients did all right, because I don’t remember a thing.  I spent two weeks half-gassed to death, and then my rotation ended and I could breathe again.

But not the baby I was carrying.  I was married, and this was my first planned pregnancy.  I was 16 weeks along, and I loved the little flutter in my tummy with all my heart.

Then one day, at the end of my surgery rotation, the fluttering stopped.  The bleeding began.

I called my OB doc.  He put me on strict bed rest.  I was torn between being panicked at the prospect of losing my baby, and being panicked because my own OB rotation was supposed to start in a few days.  But the bleeding got heavier, and finally waves of pain had me curled into the fetal position, panting.  Then something warm and wet came out in a gush of blood.

I sat up and looked.  It was a little alien, wrapped in its delicate capsule.  All of it was there.  I could see the tiny limbs, and the beginnings of a face….I wrapped it up in plastic wrap and took it to my OB.  I don’t know what they did with it.

I can’t begin to describe the grief.  I think losing this pregnancy unleashed all the grieving I hadn’t been able to do for the abortion I had suffered 13 years before.  I was overcome, and could do nothing but sob for two weeks.  Then I picked myself up, put on my whites and went to my OB-GYN rotation.

I knocked gingerly on the attending’s office door.  She was the daughter of an OB with whom I had done a rotation as a 3rd year student, and we mutually hated each other.  The daughter was worse than her father.

“Yes, come in,” she said to my knock.  I entered.  She did not offer me a chair.  In fact, she did not even look up from her charting.

“I heard what happened.  It won’t affect your grade,” was all she said.  Then, awkwardly waiting for some other utterance, I perceived that there wasn’t going to be any, so I left her office.

I was met by a nurse in scrubs, who said “Come with me.”  I followed her into a room where a woman was lying on a table, her feet up in stirrups, a stainless steel bucket on the floor between her legs, and what looked like a large suction hose…..

“Go ahead, sit down,” commanded a senior student.  “You’re going to do this one.”  I looked from the apparatus at the bottom of the table to the ashen face of the Hispanic woman at the top…

“Is this what I think it is?” I whispered.  The senior student nodded.  I threw up in the bucket and ran out.  I ran all the way home and collapsed on the bed, hysterical.  My husband came home and found me that way.  It was the only time I ever saw him in a fury.  I know that he went to the dean, because on another occasion when I was stuck holding retractors for the OB father and daughter combo (I had to repeat OB after that episode), they skewered me about my husband going to the dean.

All these years later, I just can’t, in my wildest nightmares, imagine expecting a woman who had just lost a wanted pregnancy, to go on abortion detail.  I know there are many things more cruel than that in this world, but for me, at that moment, I would rather have suffered a horrible death than to perform an abortion.

All the while I was thinking of that woman.  I found out her history, why she was there to get an abortion: she was a Mexican migrant worker, she already had six children, and her husband had threatened to punch her in the stomach if she didn’t abort, because six children was enough for him.  Birth control pills were beyond her reach financially, and her husband refused to use condoms.  So it was she who bore the consequences.

I firmly believe in a woman’s right to control over her own body.  If that includes abortion, who am I to judge?  When Rebecca, who was childless at the time, said “Give me children or I will die!”  Isaac replied, “Am I instead of G-d, that I can give life?  Go and pray!”  I too feel that way:  Am I instead of G-d, who gives life and brings death?  I am just a mortal human, trying to feel my way as best I can.

As it says in Ethics of the Fathers (a Jewish text), “Judge not, lest you also be judged.”