nonBlog: January 2007
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The Force Working Overtime, Not to Mention East of the
Prime Meridian-Monday, January 29, 2007
As areligious as I am, I still indulge in a near-daily search for evidence of The Force. In my conception, the Force goes around trying to demonstrate its existence to a population that is maddeningly distracted. But not me. The Force can be subtle and I will take note of its exertions. I give the Force all kinds of opportunities, like the chance to grant the wishes I put in my ceramic monster (see post from August 12, 2006). And I look for signs that will tell me if I should keep going in a certain direction or, like, turn left.
So last night when Tom and I ate our first dinner in Florence, I thought it was a funny coincidence that we were seated next to a thirty-something woman with a slight New York accent who happened to speak Italian as fluently as English. Pay attention , I thought, somebody is trying to tell you something. Tom and I are in Florence not just for vacation but to research the year or two abroad we hope to spend here in the not-too-distant future. In no time the woman had asked if we loved the paté bruschetta as much as she did. Then it turned out she was a writer. Then it turned out she was Jenni Kosarin, author of the new astrology dating book, He's Just Not in the Stars. Kosarin had lived in Florence for six years and loved it, and in no time she was recommending restaurants and introducing us to her local pal and giving us tips for moving here and agreeing to blurb Helaine's and my upcoming book. And when we parted I thought that the Force had gone to a lot of very obvious trouble to let me know that it approves of our crazy plan. Which makes it, by definition, not crazy.
The Seven-Year Tickle-Wednesday, January 24, 2007
Today is my birthday. I turned an age that is divisible by seven, which psychologists say is a very big deal. Developmentally, our lives are supposed to progress in seven-year increments. At the beginning of the cycle we're in a period of stability. As we move toward the middle of the cycle we enter a phase that's highly disorganized and chaotic. All questions, no answers. Then in the second half of the cycle we move toward resolution and at the end we stabilize again.
Maybe this seven-year theory is like your horoscope and seems to apply to everyone who hears it, but this sounds right on to me. Odd as it may sound considering I've spent the last few weeks writing about the agony of watching my father die, I feel as happy, satisfied, and-yes-stable as I ever have in my life. Seven years ago I was pregnant with Greta, and it was a period of answers because I had taken the leap of having another baby even though I wasn't too convinced I was doing such a crack job with the first. After Greta was born I took the only real time off I've permitted myself since I began my career. When I started working again, I wondered if I was really going to push myself to write what I wanted. I experimented for a while with the nonprofit world and donated my time, and then resolved 3½ years ago to become a personal essayist or basically go mad trying. I found my mentor, Margo Perin, and studied with her until I felt like I could begin submitting my work. Now I have a book coming out and I publish almost every essay I complete.
To be sure, The New York Times isn't exactly beating down my door and I'm not on the short list for a MacArthur genius grant, but I'd say that a life that includes fulfilling work, three thriving daughters, a loving husband, two sisters and their families, and an incredible group of friends is about as resolved as it gets. Even my father's imminent death is a resolution of sorts, since he's wanted to be released from the prison of his body for at least a decade. I'd spend the rest of the day walking around all puffy with self-satisfaction except I know that about 42 months from now I'm going to be a wreck.
Shout, Shout, Let It All Out-Wednesday, January 17, 2007
I spoke to my father after the ambulance took him from the hospice wing of the hospital to his home. I was afraid that since there's no bone in his leg from the middle of his thigh to the top of his shin, the ride would have been excruciatingly painful. But he had some odd wording for how he handled it; something along the lines of, "I try to let the leg be." It reminded me of the way his elegant, beautiful mother-my grandma Virginia-used to talk. Then he called me Da like he used to and told me how much he loved me and hung up, and I pulled the car over so I could breathe in and out for a minute before continuing home.
When my father was first dying and he called me one of my childhood nicknames, Da Bear or Dumps, that was a good day. He still knew me; I wanted him to know me. Now when he calls me Da it's a bad day. That means he's still aware of what's happening to him, this waking nightmare.
I'm going to tape a piece about my father's condition for KQED Public Radio on Monday. I feel so helpless I can't think of a thing to do but write, and having written, to read-to anyone, anyone at all who will listen to me.
The Void-Tuesday, January 16, 2007
Yesterday a piece of my dad's leg slid right out of the open wound in his knee. So of course the hospice center has concluded that he's in good shape to be sent back home tomorrow.
My father had a prosthetic knee that the doctors had to keep taking out and "cleaning," since staph cannot be removed from a prosthetic with drugs alone. You have to physically eradicate it. They have a three-strikes-and-you're-out policy, so after the third failure they simply removed his knee and replaced it with something called a spacer. It's a knob with two sticks on either side, and they cement one stick to your femur and the other to your shin bone. It doesn't flex and it's used on patients who are bedridden. My father's staph has now created an enormous hole over his knee, so the spacer became detached and just popped out of the hole. The nurses removed the spacer and packed his leg. He doesn't have a real knee, a prosthetic knee, or a piece of plastic shaped like a knee in there anymore. Just flesh. I'm sure there's no imagining the pain he is in.
I wish I could take a Right to Life advocate and put him in my father's body for just one day, and then ask him to tell me why his group is fighting against legal euthanasia in the U.S.
A New Entry for the DSM -Wednesday, January 10, 2007
The curtain lady down the street told me that she had missed her appointment to measure my stained glass door last month because her mother had died. I told her I was very sorry and asked how old her mother was. She said 87. Then I asked if her mother had been ill. "No, she died suddenly. On Friday she was fine and on Monday she was gone." I told her how glad I was that her mother had not suffered, and she looked at me as if I was underbred. She said that on the contrary, it was painful her mother had died so quickly, giving them no chance to prepare. Then I had to explain where my twisted little reaction had come from.
I think I have post-traumatic hospice syndrome. Or maybe intra-traumatic hospice syndrome, since it's still happening. I divide the world into People Who Get It and People Who Don't. In the category of People Who Don't is a relative who sent a Christmas card that said, "Hope your dad feels better."
So I explained to the curtain lady that to me, anyone who lives past 80 and then dies suddenly is lucky, and their family is even luckier. She understood. She said that in her universe People Who Don't Get It include the customer whose appointment she had to cancel the day her mother passed away. "Oh," the customer said. "How about tomorrow?"
First Prolong No Suffering-Monday, January 8, 2007
Of late my sisters and I have been railing at our country’s refusal to adopt a legal option for euthanasia, but as of today we understand that one does exist. We have been watching our father die literally inch by inch of MRSA staph, and more or less throughout he has been all too able to watch the terrible process himself. The days when he was incoherent were disturbing because we couldn’t talk to him, even though he’s still here, but recently he has been alert and disturbed just about every day. We began to wish that the hospice nurses who were dispensing his Dilaudid would simply increase the dose enough to make him sleep the days away in comfort until the drugs finally depressed his heart-lung function enough to end his life, as I’m told nurses did for my father’s father four years ago when he woke up the day before his death at 89 to say, “Why am I still here?”
But no such luck for my father, or so it seemed until this weekend when he was back in the hospice wing of the hospital and his caregivers recognized that his pain-both emotional and physical-was too great for him to bear and they nearly doubled his meds. He is now unable to speak and perhaps unable to perceive, and he often sleeps with his eyes open. We are told there is now fluid in his lungs, which would mean that he might not have to suffer much longer. It’s too bad we can’t call a spade a spade and refer to what his gracious caregivers are doing by its rightful name: Mercy.
Sisyphus, Backwards-Friday, January 5, 2007
I am in a state of such perfect physical peace that I feel as if I’m wearing an Olympian’s hyper-fit body, just for today. My dying father has been re-admitted to the hospice wing of the hospital, and my writing partner and I met our book deadline. It’s like sleeping 14 hours after staying up for 40, or reaching the finish line of the New York Marathon.
This must be what the right dose of anti-anxiety medication can do. I’m not worried about anything. My father is getting the pain relief he needs, which his hospice nurses were somehow unable to achieve when he was back at his apartment under their care. And my agent now has a 230-page, 60,000-word manuscript on the day she expected to receive it. My brain doesn¹t know where to go or what to do in the absence of the two emergencies that have occupied it every minute for the last few months.
I have the sensation of floating in a hot bath and then being surprised by what a challenge it is to lift myself out afterwards, only in reverse. I guess I’ve been carrying around this weight for so long that it began to feel normal, if painful, and now that I have put it down for a day my body is surprisingly springy.
Feeling Dirty-Wednesday, January 3, 2007
When you have a family member in hospice, the terms "good news" and "bad news" get pretty twisted. For example, on Monday we received "bad news" from a hospice nurse: it will take up to two years for my father’s infection to take his life. She said his infected leg will very slowly die and no amount of morphine will kill the pain. Tuesday was a better day. My father’s doctor gave us the "good news" that in his estimation the process will take months, not years.
The thing about reacting to the hospice version of "good news" and "bad news" is that it is impossible to consider yourself a good person afterward. When I was told the "bad news" that it would take a much longer time for my father to die, I was crushed. Sure, the reason I was crushed is that my father is trying to choose a good death, and dying by inches of MRSA staph is not what he wants. When my sister Sharon told me that the doctor gave her the "good news" that we’re not facing anything like that kind of timeline, I was relieved. Sure, the reason I was relieved is that my father won’t have to endure this kind of pain for such a long time. I was also grateful that we might not have to take the step that we were forced to consider in the wake of the nurse’s assessment: contacting the euthanasia group Final Exit to see if we can help my father to take his own life, as he has requested. But after observing myself feeling better or worse in the wake of this flow of contradictory information I have the strongest possible desire to get in the shower and wash myself clean of it.