Peace Be With You

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A Warrior Woman has left this world.

She slew her Dragon.

Let us celebrate her life.
Let us celebrate her release from its tortures.
Let us celebrate her beauty.
Let us celebrate her release from prison.

“I hope my death is peaceful,
And I hope never to return.”
–Frida Kalho

Ogallala Afternoon

You might be wondering where, or what, Ogallala is. 

Ogallala is a smallish city in Nebraska, USA.  It’s named for the Ogallala band of Lakota (Sioux) Indians, who once roamed freely in the Plains, but like all Native Americans were rounded up and planted on reservations during the Westward expansion of white Americans.  Ogallala, Nebraska, is now a corn town.

I’ve been on the road or off the grid now for weeks.  Lots of thoughts, some jotted down, some evaporated, and some that maddeningly recirculate, playing themselves over and over until they are drowned out by the urge to drag my malfunctioning brain out of its bone box and fry it on the sizzling pavement of I-80.

In particular: the thoughts that forced me to bivouac early in bucolic Ogallala, as I was pelting down the blazing Interstate, trying to get to Michigan to meet a deadline.

I am haunted by the spectre of losing my son.  I believe I have lost him.  I believe I never had him.

This adult child of mine has never been happy with much, for long, particularly if it had anything to do with me.

He was miserable as a baby, except when eating or preparing food.  He learned to cook by watching over my shoulder from his vantage point in the backpack.  Since he screamed for whatever chunk of time he was put down, hours at a time, and I mean hours and hours, of necessity for my health and his life, I put him in the backpack and wore him.  If he screamed in the backpack, I put him to bed (clean, dry, and fed, of course) and turned on the vacuum cleaner and put in ear plugs and turned up the stereo and went outside and walked around in the yard and wished I still smoked, until his father came home. 

“Clap hands, clap hands
Till Daddy comes home
Daddy has money and Mommy has none…”

But his father objected to being handed a screaming baby even before he was properly through the door.  In retrospect I don’t blame him. 

As a pediatrician, having a “difficult child” proved helpful.  It increased my Compassion Quotient.

I’m sure you’ve heard of awful cases where someone shook the baby, or threw it, or did some other act of violence because the baby wouldn’t stop crying.  Most of us recoil in horror from these news items, and frequently judge the mother harshly.  How could she?  How could she?

Thankfully, I never did violence to my perpetually screaming baby.  I took him to the doctor every week, sometimes more.  My pediatrician patiently explained that he had “colic” (rubbish! colic is what they say when they don’t know why the baby cries) and that it would go away when he grew up (it hasn’t).

I remember even at the time, walking around the back yard in the middle of the night, thinking how grateful I was that I had the emotional resources not to simply throw him into somebody else’s trash bin.  Later on, when I turned into the Director of several Pediatric Emergency Departments, I would draw upon that experience when the babies of other, less resourceful parents came in with grievous injuries or worse.  As much as I hurt for those babies, I hurt for the parent who loved their child, yet in an instant of just-too-much-over-the-top screaming, snapped, and hurt their own flesh and blood.

Apart from myself, I think no one pities a parent who has hurt, or even killed, their child, in a moment of unpremeditated rage.  In fact, I don’t even think it’s rage.  I think it’s more simply end of the rope, no more self control, just shut up!  Type of thing.

Maybe they didn’t have a back yard, vacuum cleaner, stereo, teeth to grind, nerves of steel.  Maybe they didn’t have those resources.

I was grateful for mine.

Looking back, I’m also grateful that it wasn’t just me.  Who couldn’t pacify this child, I mean.  I feel vindicated.

When I went back to work and school after five months at home, I left the backpack with the babysitter, who muttered something about knowing how to take care of spoiled babies.

When I picked him up at the end of the day, she had that backpack on!  She muttered something about weaning him off it by the end of the week.

She wore it, and him, for about two more years.  Then we moved.

As far as I can tell, that’s when our troubles first began.

This person to whom I gave birth and did not kill, resents me with a passion.  I resent my own mother, for far different reasons, yet I have compassion for her because I am a hated mother.  I will not tell her I love her, because I don’t.  I don’t confide in her, because whatever I say can and will be used against me.

I have tried to be a good listener to my son.  I know I have been, because he has always come to me with his troubles, and I have felt a bit of guilty pleasure in listening: guilty for being pleased that he came to me in his time of trouble, wishing he didn’t have the troubles that brought him to me, yet pleased that he felt comfortable in coming to me for help.

I did my best to help him to become self-sufficient, since that, in my experience, is the best gift one can give a child, second only to unconditional love.

When he got into trouble, I let him flounder a good long while before I bailed him out.  And I didn’t just let him off the hook.  I got him out of mortal danger, and after that, he had a lot of meaningful work to do. 

I feel now as though I’m explaining, justifying, trying to talk myself into believing that I wasn’t a horrible harpy mother like mine was.  I’m picking through my brain, finding reasons to believe I did OK.

But more often, I’m picking through my brain, finding every little particle of doubt, possibility of abusive behavior, coldness, emotional distance, unavailability, what?

What happened?  Or, more probably, what didn’t happen?

Through the decade of his twenties, it seemed we got along fine.  Then came last Thanksgiving.  I got gobsmacked, blindsided. 

He invited me for dinner.  No one else, just me.  I thought that was strange, suggested we invite somebody else, or go to someone else’s dinner.  No, he didn’t want to.

And he didn’t want help cooking, because he gets impatient with someone else in the kitchen.  So I sat on the couch and smoked his weed. 

He presented the meal.  It looked lovely.  He asked me to take a picture of him with his beautiful dishes all arranged on the table.  I did.

After dinner I went out and slept in my camper in his parking lot.  The next morning I came in and showered while he went to work for a while.  When he returned, he made it clear he expected me to leave: immediately.

There was the old threatening feeling I knew so well, the feeling of dark clouds, anger, intimidation, that he had used to get his way as a young adolescent.  I hadn’t seen that in twenty years. 

I didn’t want to leave just then.  I was nursing a migraine, was exhausted from the many hour drive to his place, and I didn’t want to be bullied.  I wanted to curl up on the couch and drink coffee and smoke weed and watch cartoons in my pajamas.  But it was, after all, his place.  Not mine.

He showed me the door. 

“I really need my space back, Mom,” was how he put it, and opened the door for me, so I could go through it.

We’ve spoken four times since then.  They haven’t been pleasant times.  When I ask what happened, what changed, I get a tirade about how I dragged him around when he was a kid, how I wasn’t available emotionally or physically, and I apologize.  And he is angry, and doesn’t want to hear how I feel. 

And I get all confused.  Here is my son, angry at me.  I didn’t kill him when he was an angry, inconsolable baby.  Why isn’t he grateful?  Isn’t he happy that he’s now a successful adult, with a promising career, lots of nice friends, no lack of women friends, enough money for his needs?

My own mother used to tell me I was “shit,” burn me with match heads, just to see me cry.  Then she’d laugh and tell me I should grow a thicker skin.  And she wonders why I avoid her.

I tried my best to be another kind of mother, the mother I would have chosen if I could have had my choice.

I guess it doesn’t work that way.

Too Sick For Surgery

Sigh.  More and more and more, for this huge brave soul that enlivens the body of my sweet Atina.

As if everything else wasn’t enough, she’s begun having signs of pancreatic failure: ravenous appetite, horrendous huge nauseating stinking greasy poops that look like, if you measured them, about the same volume as what she took in.

I know these signs well, having dealt with something similar myself over the course of several years.  Rapid weight loss and malnourishment are the predictable results.

So I took her to the hospital, with the plan of explaining all this to her surgeon, and my extreme hesitation to perform surgery based on my concerns of her inability to absorb nutrients merely for her maintenance needs, let alone the 200% of basic needs that the body requires for healing after major surgery.

But as fortune would have it, her internal medicine resident showed up to check in with us prior to surgery; and after a good deal of putting our heads together about it, decided to call off the surgery (whew!) and do an impromptu clinic visit instead.

A good thing on many levels.

Atina’s blood pressure was higher than it was two weeks ago, which is bad news about her kidney function.  A bunch of blood was drawn again, basic kidney function tests plus a battery of pancreatic function tests that get sent out to somewhere.

I have been kicking and screaming about just going ahead and starting pancreatic enzymes after drawing the test.  I don’t see why she should be left to lose even more of her body by pooping it out, for the sake of academic “correctness.”  I’m thinking about this.

She did get a prescription for a medicine that will control bacterial overgrowth in the intestine, and I know from my own experience that that alone will help reduce stool volume.  But it doesn’t do a damn thing to assist nutrient absorption.

Believe me, I will not let this thing rest for long.  A couple days, maybe.  We have a recheck appointment on Friday, and might make it that long, but if I see things deteriorating even a hair’s breadth between now and then I am going to make a LOT of noise.

All of this is adding up to autoimmune disease, in my own medical mind.  A lousy prognosis.  One lousy prognosis on top of another.

I’m looking for silver linings here.

One is that my sweet Atina has become very cuddly and snuggly–leaving my arms and legs covered with gaudy blotches, since I bleed at the slightest contact with tooth or claw; and my sweet Atina is all teeth and claws, like any healthy adolescent.

Unfortunately, the very fact that she is being so clingy is a sign that she is not feeling well.  Most healthy adolescents are busy testing limits, and snuggling with Mom is the last thing on their minds.

But I treasure these moments of puppy love, and only say “OUCH!” when badly bitten, or if flailing paws with claws come way too close to my eye.

And then there is Colorado.

There is no endpoint in sight yet, so Colorado it is, and will be, until then next thing happens.  Fact is, I like Colorado a lot.  You can find pretty much any kind of terrain you can imagine here.  There are a lot of natural and man-made geologic features that are unique and breathtaking.  The flowers, the wildlife, canyons, mountains, rivers, glaciers, everything.

I guess I’ll go ahead and put in to become a resident, since I seem to live here.  I did want to winter in Arizona, mostly because mixing winter with an RV can get complicated.  But I’ve learned a lot of other stuff, so I can learn that too, if the rest of me holds up.

I like the idea that if I need some botanical medicine to treat my nerve pain, I can just waltz into the dispensary of my choice and buy some.  I don’t use that much, but in the surrounding states if you don’t have a medical card from that state, possessing ANY amount of the Herb will get you busted.  I don’t think I could deal with getting busted, so I’ll stay legal.

And wait. 

I’ve been entrusted with the love and care of this beautiful soul, so I will let her be my guide, and my guardian.  Ours is a bond of perfect faith.  How many of us ever find that in life?

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An afternoon snooze...

Only One Wish Besides That One

I haven’t been writing much lately.  I haven’t been doing anything at all much, lately.

In fact, I’m not sure I’ve even been much aware of the passage of time.

There are markers of time that I follow, like scratches on prison walls.

Yesterday I went to Asheville, to the women writers’ workshop.  I heard some good writing from other members, and I read a couple of chapters from my new-old novel.  It scares me.

Saturday was Shabbat, so I know what happened then: I read the Torah portion in Hebrew, and slept.

I know today is Monday, because I was eagerly anticipating putting my new gym membership into action.

However, the channa dal tikka masala biryani whatever, that I ate from the hot bar at Whole Foods, sent me packing to the outhouse most of the day.  That was terrifying as well as uncomfortable, because it was windy.  Some of you may recall what happened to my outhouse last time it got really windy, but for those of you who don’t remember, it looked like this:

potty over the cliff

This is what my poor outhouse looked like when the wind blew it over the edge of the cliff that it sits on.  The only way the honey-dipper (that’s what the people who clean out outhouses are called, no lie) could get to it was to haul it with ropes down to the bottom of the cliff and get it onto his truck from there.

So when it’s really windy I just don’t like to go in there.

That was the highlight of today.

There was a tedious form for the insurance company regarding the theft of my car back in August, that had to be filled out again even though I already filled it out, because the first time I filled it out I was in Israel, and the American insurance company insisted that it be notarized, but there is no such thing as a “Notary Public” in Israel.  That is difficult for American insurance people to understand, that things could be different in another country, that something that we take for granted in America, like cheeseburgers for instance, do not even exist in some other countries, like Israel.

So they are making me fill out this minutely descriptive form about where and when and how much and what time and with whom my car was stolen and wrecked by this criminal with a blood alcohol level of 0.5 that’s oh-point-five, ladies and gentlemen.  That is technically incompatible with life.  This man was clearly a career drinker.

Thank god he did not kill or seriously injure anyone.  He was too drunk.  He allegedly passed out in the passing lane on the highway, and when a passing ambulance driver saw him slumped over the steering wheel and tapped on the window to see if there was anybody home, the guy stomped on the gas and caromed off of four other vehicles, the last being a rear-ender, which stopped him.  He was taken to hospital, and from there to jail, where he remains.

But I was not there for any of this.  I was in Israel, supposedly for the High Holy Days, but in fact I was struggling just to stay alive.

(Oh, my car, if anyone was wondering, was parked in my cousin’s apartment complex parking lot, where I have left it several times before while I’ve been in Israel.  This is the first time it has ever been stolen from there.)

Just after my car was stolen and all of that madness of faxes and PDFs and arguments about whether there was or was not a notary public to be found in all of Israel, and during which time I had the horrible discovery that I had bed bugs in my new-old apartment, I happened to trip on my way into a hardware store, and knocked myself out cold.  I got what has proven to be a rather bad concussion out of that.

The High Holidays came and went, and I am sure that I came and went with them, but I do not remember any of it.  All I remember was an abiding sense of loss that I just could not get spiritually “plugged in” to the incredible high that has always filled me with awe during the High Holy Days.  My body was there, but my soul felt locked out.

Much of the time my head felt too scrambled to manage going to services.  This grieved me even worse, because my congregation in Israel is as ecstatic as any tent revival.  And I was on the outside looking in, scratching off the days on the outside walls.

I think this concussion is still not quite gone.  At least, I am sure that I am not quite right.  I notice things about my memory that really do make it look like Swiss cheese.  Holes.

And then there is my psychiatrist.

At our last visit he took an hour to examine the mechanisms that turn the cogs of my brain, something with springs and gears and levers, all run by a mouse with a spiral tail that provides the energy for the whole thing to work.  Or not.   More not than yes.

He (psychiatrist, not mouse) is certain that I have ADD.  This makes the third time he has send me away with yet another dosage form of Dexadrine.  I do not like speed.  I have tried it.  I have had it put into my LSD without my knowledge or consent.  I do not like it, Sam I Am.

But he prescribed it so I did try it.  It made me irritable.

So much so, that when my dear sweet Noga peed on the rug even though she knows very well where she is meant to, and must, pee when indoors (on her special “potty pad” from Walmart, is where)–I was so irritable that instead of merely blotting up the pee spot with paper toweling while grumbling my displeasure, instead I blotted up the pee by jumping up and down on the paper towels and screaming.

Although this was extreme, I do think that Noga got the point, and I hope it will be some time or perhaps not at all, that she thinks of peeing in the wrong place.  She is a very intelligent Apso, and she knows the difference.

I think that part of my general state of disorientation has to do with my utter lack of vocation, and therefore complete lack of any sense of purpose.  I am in a state of suspended animation.

If I could have one wish, aside from the wish that my child should live a healthy, long, productive, happy life, if I could have one wish beside that one, it would be: to have a healthy brain, and to be happily back at work again, up to my elbows in pediatric secretions, contentedly fixing Nursemaid’s Elbows, consulting my crystal ball and waving my magic wand.

If only. One.  Wish.

 

Tears and Fears and Feeling Proud (thanks, Joni)

“Tears and fears and feeling proud

To say I love you, right out loud…”

Clouds, Joni Mitchell

As much as this song has been the soundtrack to my life, so much more now.  My father is failing, day by day.  His mind is eaten full of holes by dementia.  I see the desperation in my mother’s face and for once, I feel pity for her.  And I am frightened by her own lapses, forgetfulness that goes beyond the simple effects of stress and depression that accompany her own slow motion loss.  I wonder for myself, how will I navigate this mine field alone?  There is no choice.  Certainly when the time comes when both of them are completely disabled, I will be able to enlist others from the community.  There is hospice here.  My mother started it, over twenty years ago, because there wasn’t any.  Now it will be ironic to be making use of that service.

 

No one ever thinks that they will be disabled, let alone old and disabled.  So few people make plans for that “in case.”  And yet, as one of my medical school professors put it, those of us who are still walking around with all our limbs intact are only “temporarily able bodied.”  TABs, he called us, from his wheelchair.

 

One day, coming in the door from his day as a medical student, he tripped over the door sill and fell down.  The next day he fell down again.  He kept on falling until he went to see a neurologist and was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis.  He was a second year medical student.   He was 28 years old.

 

He did not quit med school, but kept on going, at first with crutches, then in a wheelchair.  He did his residency in Rehabilitation Medicine.  So when the newly paralyzed, the new amputee, the new stroke patient became frustrated and wanted to say, “But you don’t know what it’s like….!”, they had to shut their mouths and get on with their therapy, for there was Dr. Mitchell in his wheelchair, looking at them and saying nothing, for nothing needed to be said.

 

My father was an exercise freak, in his day; in fact, he still is.  Until he was 83 years old (he just turned 88), he rose every morning at six and did a half hour of cardio exercise and half an hour of weight lifting.  And then he would start his day of throwing around 100 pound sacks of clay and glaze materials, always busy doing something radically physical when not seated at his potter’s wheel turning out exquisite works of ceramic art.

 

Everything he used, he made himself, from small hand tools right down to the potter’s wheels themselves, up to the huge walk-in kilns.  If he needed something made of metal, he welded it.  If he needed something electrical, he wired it.  I grew up that way, too.  He taught me to take lack as a challenge to create.  If I wanted to make a lamp out of a piece of driftwood, I went down to the hardware store, got the pieces that would make a lamp, figured out how to splice wires (they are color coded, it’s not hard), and made a lamp.  I never knew that you “couldn’t” do anything.  It was a matter of not knowing how yet.

 

So to see my father now, standing precariously balanced on his feet, with his arms completely tangled in a sweater that he couldn’t figure out how to put on: well, I can’t even express my feelings of grief and loss and sadness for him as well as for me, because he has lost the man that he built from scratch, and he is cruelly aware of it.

 

He tries hard to be philosophical.  He has always been a philosopher.  He acknowledges that there is no point in fighting it–and then he resolves to do battle with it, and he does, for a moment…then he falls asleep, or becomes disoriented, or gets distracted; and it seems that he has lost yet another rung in the ladder that only ever seems to go down, anymore.

 

But I am proud of him, nonetheless, for trying.  He does get on his exercise bicycle every few days, and there he pedals for a few minutes, and sleeps for a few minutes, and goes back to pedaling.  I made him a seat belt out of a luggage strap, because one time he fell asleep on his bike and fell off and hit his head again, and was tangled up in the pedals and arm rests besides, and my mother had a time getting him out (I wasn’t there).  So now he is very careful to put on his seat belt, because if my mother catches him without it she will give him hell, and he will do almost anything to avoid that.

 

I admit that I am afraid that I too could end up like that.  And even though my mother does give him a hard time, she is there for him.  For me, it will be different.  I have little hope of having a partner, anymore.  So I would be in some kind of “home,” as they say euphemistically.  I don’t relish that idea.  It makes me think about premature endings.  Even worse, it makes me think of being helpless and at the mercy of strangers.  I try to envision Dr. Mitchell looking at my self pity with quiet amusement; then I think about the wife that he comes home to every night and the effect vaporizes.

 

I wish I had a better ending for this post.  I love to end my pieces with something snappy, but tonight, nothing comes up.  I will have to take yet another lesson from my father and when in doubt, just keep putting one foot in front of the other.