nonBlog: September 2007

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Sorry Barry—Thursday, September 26, 2007

Last night Tom and I took the kids to see Barry Bonds play his last game as a Giant, and I was expecting fireworks. Real ones. We got Olivia and Greta all worked up for a party, and when we saw that our usual parking garage was charging $50 instead of $15 and that the streets were clogged by legions of fans streaming into the ballpark, our excitement seemed justified.
There was no pre-game ceremony, which we didn’t mind because we were running late. When we arrived we saw that a big black “Bonds 25” had been tattooed onto the grass of left field. That was nice. And between innings they played highlights from Barry’s career on the screen. Lovely.
But that was it. The concessioners were utterly unprepared for our numbers. They were outfitted for a slimly-attended end-of-season spoiler game, with little in the way of supplies and even less in the way of staff. Waiting on endless lines for food, I heard people saying, “this is Barry’s last game; weren’t the crowds predictable?” After the game there was a little video. No fireworks. No bubbles. No balloons. As a season ticketholder, I was downright embarrassed. This is the send-off we give our biggest star?
Sure, Barry’s a pain in the ass, and an expensive one at that. But he is the Giants—or has been for the last 15 years. We have this shiny park in large part because of him. And I for one think the asterisk on his record-breaking ball is stupid—Aaron was the greatest in his era of no steroids and slower pitching, and Barry is the greatest in his era of rampant steroids and lightening pitching. Same difference. The way the ownership handled his departure is shabby, the going-away party they didn’t exactly throw is shabby, and walking away, I felt a little shabby too.


O Say Can You Give Me Another Assignment?—Tues., Sept. 25, 2007

I am on deadline this week for O, The Oprah Magazine, and I am here to tell you that being on deadline for O Magazine is a fine thing to be. I wish I were on deadline for O every week.
I am writing about a topic that intrigues me (how to make a change in your life when trying really hard and going it on your own just isn’t working). I have been given a long enough deadline to get the work done at a humane pace (four weeks). When I’m through I will be paid appropriately (23 times the per-word rate my publisher paid for Office Mate). To be paid well for not-too-frenzied work you happen to enjoy is something I could really get used to.
I know that this is what’s supposed to happen when you’re climbing your way up to a nice juicy goal step by step—you make progress—but I am savoring this deadline as if it’s a freak occurrence. At the same time, I’m doing everything I can to make this deadline the first of many, including having my writing coach, my book-writing partner, my husband, and the author of the book my story is based on read my draft before I take the wild and crazy step of sending it off to the editor. But all my precautions and careful work notwithstanding, I feel like making this delicious experience repeatable is not even slightly up to me.


I Pray For Me Too—Thursday, September 20, 2007

The very nice social worker assigned to my father’s case somehow managed to make sure he didn’t lose his recently-recovered hospice status even though the nurses quickly came to the conclusion that he is not in fact an end-stage patient but a drug seeker. This was not news to my sisters and me. Sharon says that he will be chatting away happily with her but when a nurse enters the room he will start moaning in agony. He will even work himself up to tears. The nurse will look at the time and see that there’s another hour left before he’s due for the dose of morphine that they have informed us is more than three times the amount they have ever given a man his size, and then cave in and deliver the dose an hour early to satisfy him. Then he will drift happily into blissland.
He has been moved back into his old bedroom at the nursing home, but this time he’s a hospice patient so he’s much happier there now. When I called him this morning he sounded very soupy indeed. I asked him what was new and he said that a female Episcopalian minister had visited him. I asked him why and he said he didn’t know. I asked him what she had said and he told me he didn’t remember. But he said he enjoyed her visit.
“But Dad,” I said. “You’re an atheist. You hate religion. Remember?” When I was a child my mother would make my sisters and me get all dressed up every week and drag us off to church without my father, who would stay home and read the Sunday paper. Since I'm no fan of church myself, it was one of the things I liked best about him.
“Oh yeah,” my father said vaguely.
“Well,” I said, “You sound like you need to rest. I love you; I’ll call you later.”
“Okay, talk to you tomorrow honey,” he replied. “I’ll pray for you.”
And he hung up the phone.


One Source of Comfort—Sunday, September 16, 2007

The latest anthology to include an essay of mine is now out. (I love that sentence. It sounds like I’ve had essays in, oh, 20 or 30 books instead of just three.) The anthology is Cup of Comfort for Writers and it is a lovely white thing. My piece is called “We Are Mortified By You,” and it is a second-person essay describing the second-person essay I wrote for the Mountain Gazette in 2004. That story was the first personal essay I had accepted for publication after I swore to the writing gods that I was going to become a lifestyle journalist, and instead of being the harbinger of my triumphant new career it nearly ended it because the essay, which was titled “Looking for a Scene in Shasta City,” turned out to have taken place not in Shasta City but in Mount Shasta City. An appropriate level of approbrium was subsequently rained upon my head by the magazine’s readership.
Since that incident I have not attempted to write another piece for the Mountain Gazette out of sheer embarrassment. But when I decided to out myself and write about what happened in Cup of Comfort I had the thought that if my essay was accepted into the book and the book was actually published, I would send M. John Fayhee a copy and subtly beg for his forgiveness (and for the opportunity to write for him again). A week ago I wrote him a letter reminding him of our history and filling him in on the fact that I did indeed go on from that ignominious beginning to the new writing career I had envisaged. I told him about the upcoming publication of Office Mate and said I was enclosing his copy of Cup of Comfort. I closed by writing, “I hope you get a kick out of it, and most of all that I didn’t get a single detail wrong. But if I did, for God’s sake don’t tell me.”
I checked online and discovered that my package was indeed successfully delivered several days ago, but I have not yet heard from M. John. He has a great sense of humor, but I admit I can’t expect him to write back. In the meantime I find myself more than a little embarrassed by the fact that the Cup of Comfort copy editor chopped some words out of one of my story’s punchlines in such a way as to make the paragraph nonsensical. I was even more upset about it until it occurred to me that it’s karmic payback for the mistake the story describes. I thought of mentioning that in my letter to John Fayhee but I didn’t know how much the poor man could take.


Here We Go Again, and Again, and Again—Thursday, Sept.13, 2007

My father’s bleeding stopped yesterday, just as mysteriously as it began. He feels great. Episode over, and there was no need for all this hullabaloo about moving to hospice or being re-designated a hospice patient or anything having to do with hospice.
But maybe there was a purpose, at least in the Giant Hand sense, to the hullabaloo in question. When his health crisis turned out not to be so much of one and my father was told he’ll “graduate” from hospice again, he burst into tears. He prefers to be a hospice patient for two reasons. For one, he thinks the very word means he’ll get his wish to die within the next six months. For another, while he’s a hospice patient he can have almost unlimited morphine. He wants to die, yes, but he doesn’t want to know about it.
My sister told a social worker my father’s story and the worker said she had never heard another like it in all her years of practice. People don’t “graduate” from hospice, she said. They might take two years to die instead of two months, but their hospice designation is simply extended. They don’t bounce in and out of hospice like a ball. She said she’d do what she could to get him returned to his nursing home as a hospice patient with the goal that he’ll remain one until it finally means what it was supposed to mean all along.


Caught-22—Tuesday, September 11, 2007

I used to think that hospice was a designation for patients who will likely die in the next six months and have stopped accepting curative care. Now I know that it is simply a list of criteria you meet or don’t meet, whether you are likely to die or not. That is how my father was able to “graduate” from hospice last spring and how he could possibly “graduate” from hospice again sometime soon. For he is yet again a hospice patient.
They moved him to a hospice center yesterday, without even determining that he will die from the bleeding in his stomach. Why oh why don’t they just keep him in the hospital for observation for a day or two? Wouldn’t that save everyone a lot of time, trouble, and might I mention money? He lost two units of blood, so they gave him a blood transfusion. Then he refused an endoscopy to pinpoint the source of the bleeding. Bleeding of the stomach lining resolves without intervention quite often, and it could do the same in my father’s case—that is, we’d know that if they would just let him stay in the hospital for a day or two while they watch him. But all he had to do was refuse a diagnostic test and suddenly he’s a hospice patient again.
This must be his ninth move in about three years. He has to maintain his room at the nursing home while he’s at the hospice center to the tune of $7,000 a month. But maybe he is in the right place; the nurses say they are giving him three times more morphine than they have ever given a man his size and it still hasn’t alleviated his pain. In a normal world I would be flying down to Florida right now to say good-bye to him. But it’s not a normal world. I’ve rushed to his side to say good-bye too many times before. This can only come out one way: I won’t fly down for the crisis that will actually take his life. He won’t hear me say good-bye.


Bleeding Out—Sunday, September 9, 2007

It’s happening again—my father has been rushed to the hospital, this time with internal bleeding of unknown origin. He’s lost two pints of blood and even though he’s DNR his doctors want to transfuse him and do an endoscopy and Lord knows what other procedures to save his life. He said yes, do whatever you have to do. I don’t know how I’m going to get through this again.
My Florida sister Sharon called me in a panic because even though my dad continues to say he wishes he had died during his last health crisis—or the time before that or the time before that—he was saying yes to the transfusion, yes to the endoscopy. When he is lying there immobile in his nursing home bed he wants to be freed from the prison that is his life, but when he’s in a hospital bed he forgets all of that and starts signing consent forms. Sharon had to put him on the phone with me so I could remind him that this is his big chance, and if he accepts these interventions he will keep on living. He wasn’t listening to me and I had to raise my voice and tell him that he can’t have it both ways—either he can embrace his will to live or he can hasten his death, but he can’t keep telling us how much he wants to die if he’ll do anything to live when he’s lying there in the emergency room. He told me not to yell at him and Sharon took the phone away. Later she told me how grateful she was for saying all the hard stuff because after Dad and I got off the phone he rejected the endoscopy and started talking about re-entering hospice, but my hands were still shaking and I felt ill.
I am afraid that my father will die this week and our last conversation will turn out to be one in which I yelled at him about saying no to his doctors so he’ll “get” to die. And I’m equally afraid that he won’t die this week and this endless series of deathbed conversations will continue, for ever and ever and ever. And both fears make me worry that I rightfully belong in hell.


New, or Practically New

  • Fame and Fortune: Currently working on, and shocked to find I’m making headway with, the latter. Partly because of a bit of movement on the former. Perhaps endurance is the key to everything after all.