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What has happened to us humans that we have become terrified of feeling? I was talking to a patient today who was very emotional after having open heart surgery, she cried through most of our conversation. What she was looking for was not to talk things out, but for me to tell her nurse she needed prozac. I was a bit surprised because I was telling her that most people have bouts of intense emotion after such a life-changing event, and that her sadness about certain life events was understandable. She wanted the pain and sadness to go away.
I am thinking that my last entry sounded very judgemental and I didn't mean it too. I am not that keen on sadness either. But it just seems that people want to blot out the very things that define us as humans, and it seems some of the medical establishment, yes, I mean drug companies, have convinced us all that we need to take drugs to deal with certain things that are part of the human condition. That somehow these things are bad, and isn't it wonderful that we don't really have to experience them if we don't want to.
Experiencing sadness over certain life events is normal. It is not depression. As I said last entry, drug comapnies seem to want people to believe that sadness is not a perfectly normal part of being human. If we feel sad about something, then we are depressed, and we need to take something to make that feeling stop. We have to deaden our natural feelings. Being sad, even greif-stricken or bereft, is not the same as being clinically depressed. Anybody who has been knows that. All our "normal" feelings are cyclical, and we need to grieve in order to grow.
I am sitting in the bathroom writing, trying not to wake my husband up with the light from the computer. Why the bathroom I couldn't tell you. He is very ill again and has been sleeping for hours. I am feeling guilty because I am glad that he is sleeping because I want to get some writing done, and while he is awake, I want to spend time with him because he is so down. I think he thinks he is dying. I have noticed that you get to a certain age, and any sensations/illnesses are surely the end.
It would be my mother's 87th birthday today if she were still alive. I can't imagine my parents at 87 and 92. I don't think that either of them would have wanted to live longer than they did. My mom had Parkinsons's and was descending into dementia when she died. I believe my father willed himself to die when he did. A diagnosis of lung cnacer helped, but I think he just had a clear picture of what his life would be like from that point on and thought, no thanks. He was a man who died with no regrets.
The light was so strange to her that when she looked at the way it shone on her arm, it was as if it didn't belong to her. Instead of the sun coming from directly above, illuminating her usually pale skin between the freckles, it seemed to be shining horizontally across the earth. It created impossibly long shadows that made the tiny hairs on her arm look like a mass of skinny trees growing out of a scorched and barren ground. She slowly brought the lit end of her cigarette towards this minitaure forest, causing a wildfire of complete devastation.
I am always amazed at people who develop a sudden interest in something because of a powerful experience with it, and then stick to it, even make drastic changes in their lives because of it. Such unwavering belief or faith in something is foreign to me. I would never make a good fundamentalist. I used to think this meant I was easily swayed or distracted by shiny objects. Or I lacked moral conviction. Now I embrace this quality, see it as an ability to sympathesize with and comprehend many sides of the same story. A good quality for a writer.
I am trying to have some time to myself, which is a little difficult with a sick husband. The first few days he was sleeping solidly for hours. Now his sleep is more fitful, his difficulty breathing and coughing causing him to wake up and sit up about every half hour. We don't really know what is wrong, and he is refusing to go to the hospital. Of course, this is his decision, but I find myself, in between reading and trying to write, looking up medical information and scaring my self.I catch myself worrying that it is serious.
This vacation has been moving so slowly. I have not really done anything that I don't want to do, refusing to do any of the housework or horrible chores that I have been trying to get out of the way for weeks or even months. I felt guilty at first, but I remember my mother-in-law telling me that her boyfriend kept telling her to stop fussing and cleaning and to sit down and just be with him. She started to do that,to be present, which she was so glad for because he didn't live too much longer.
I often think of my mother who spent a sizeable chunk of her life cleaning. It's not that she was obsessive about it, but she did have a strong sense of "duty" , and of course for her generation that meant "keeping the house". The funny thing is, a few years before she died, she just stopped doing any of it. She was starting to show signs of dementia, but I think that was just an excuse, or a way out. My father had decided that he would take car of her, no matter what, so he picked up the slack.
One of the last lucid things my mother said to me was, when I asked her what she would do differently in her life, "I would have spent less time cleaning". I can't really argue with that. She had an incredible regimen! I have told that story to many of my female friends, and it is amazing the affect it has had on them. There are so many times we find ourselves thinking, "Oh, I should do this, I should clean that, what a mess this place is", and then they think "to hell with it!". Life is too short.
I am writing this in retrospect. It is actually June 16th. I just found out that my favourite uncle (out of ten!!) passed away today. It was not a shock, he had had a massive stroke a few weeks ago, but it was still devestating news. It's strange to say that, because there was a part of me that was hoping for death. I know, those people that believe in life above all else will be appalled at me, but I don't believe in that.I think we are so afraid of death, we will do anything to avoid it.
I think we are extending life far beyond what we are able to deal with, and are not ready for the consequences. I work with people everyday that have strokes, heart attacks, all sorts of life altering things at very advanced ages, and the majority of them that I have encountered have been ready to die, but are carrying on for their families, or because their doctor's say that they should. I don't believe we should extend life just because we can. There has to be a limit. For exmple, my uncle was 87, he had really just had enough.
What words can you say about somebody who was such a big part of your life when you were a child? The priest has "allowed" a few minutes to say a "few specific words" at the funeral of my uncle, a priest himself. Actually, it will be a few specific written words, as I am unable to travel to England to be there. Oh, and no eulogizing! I have so many things I would like to say about how much his visits to Canada meant to me, and how I was inconsolable when the time came for him to leave.
I do not know what to do. I feel so much like writing, and yet I avoid it. I see these beautiful filmic stories in my head, but I am afraid to go near them because I know I will ruin them once I try to use mere words to convey their beauty and meaning. It's not the fault of the words, it's my fault. I don't have the skill, the finesse. I am like an apprentice sculptor trying to find the figure in a piece of stone when the only tools they have are an axe and a sledgehammer.
In my avoidance of writing I have been reading interviews with famous writers. I was reading them randomly until I came across an interview with Kurt Vonnegut in the Paris Review, so entertaining and so much to learn from him. Now I have been reading lots of the PR interviews because they are really long and in-depth. I just read one with Joan Didion, and it was so heartening to hear her say that she had to change the structure of her second novel because she did not yet have the skill to write it the way she wanted!
I remember the first time I read an interview where a writer I admired talked about their difficulties finding their stories and that sometimes something they were working on just did not work. Or that they really did not have a lot of faith in their work even after they had published several stories and novels. It was such a revelation to me. I gave up on writing many years ago because I figured if I tried a story or two and they didn't work, then I obviously did not have natural talent and may as well give it up.
I am aware of the insanity of picking up 2 shrivelled up old hot dogs from 7-11 (2 for $3!) at 3:00 a.m, on my way home from Emergency where my husband is recovering from a heart attack. But beggars can't be choosers, and there wasn't much else on offer. I had not eaten for about 10 hours and I drove around the city amazed at the lack of food choices at that time of the morning. But judging by the wayward and inebriated people I met at this fine establishment, nobody was looking for health food.
I'm watching myself go through the diffrent stages of stress. It started with almost a sense of body-induced elation. My husband is taken to emergency for a suspected heart attack and various other unknown complications, and I'm walking around feeling high. I was even having the kind of food cravings you have when you're high (the two hot dogs from last entry). I could probably have gone home and made a perfectly healthy sandwich, but I wanted those damned shrivelled-up hot dogs. It was almost like an oral-gasm, the explosion of grease and salt in my mouth.
I came home last and collapsed. My husband is in the cardiac care unit because he had a heart attack, now the cardiologist is saying...maybe the heart attack is not the main event. I was happy for about 2 seconds, until I looked down and saw what looked like litres of bright red blood moving through the catheter tube. Then, of course, I couldn't stop myself from considering the other possibilities. And they can't do any tests on him to find out what is going on unil his kidneys start functioning again. So much for my body-induced elation.
One of the stress responses I have noticed is becoming hyper-rational and organized. The high one was fun, but this stage scares me the most for several reasons. I am not a rational and organized person, so when I start behaving like one, I fear that something terrible is going to happen. It's like my body knows, before any nurses or doctors or special tests, what is going to be the outcome of this illness. It happened with my parents, my uncle, and many patients I have treated. Not a sense of doom, but a clarity that is unsettling.
I have six days left to write a whole bunch of words...I kind of got lost along the way. My husband is in the hospital, which actually gives me more time to do this, or did, until he started to get really sick and the stupid doctors left it a really long time before they did the treatment that is now making him better, so they may have destroyed his kidneys in the mean time. Oh well, who needs their kidneys anyways? They just filter all the shit and toxins out of your body and without them you die.
My husband being sick has really made me have to some out of my usually introverted little hiding place and confront some people that in the past would have intimidated the crap out of me. He was just getting sicker by the day and nobody was dealing with it because they couldn't figure out what was wrong with him, and there is nothing that Doctor's hate more than not knowing stuff. At one point (when they finally acknowledged how sick he was, and they realized that they screwed up)he saw 17 doctors in the space of about 5 hours.
I am not making this up...my husband saw 17 doctors in the space of 5 hours. At one point there were seven perplexed Cardiologists in his room at the same time. The poor guy was delirious from all the toxins building up in his body because his kidneys weren't working, and I'm sure he was wondering what the hell was going on. If he didn't know how sick he was before that, he sure did then. And they were doing the usual Cardiologist behaviour, mumbling amongst themselves, trying to outdo each other, never saying a word to the patient.
"The darkness defines where the light is"...that song just made me so unbelievably sad this evening. I am having such strange moments of euphoria closely followed by waves of nostalgia and bereavement. I have not felt these things so intensely for awhile. It is because everything is in limbo and the outcome of my life, my love, are uncertain (like they're ever certain). These are the times that the darkness threatens to overtake all that is beautiful, and it will if you allow it. But that's where those words can save me. The darkness defines where the light is.
This sadness, this sense of loss and being left behind are such familiar feelings. I should recognize them when they come. They are born in envy and a wish to have what somebody else has, that makes what I have seem paltry and pathetic. It is a very dangerous feeling and it is one that has led me astray too many times. It is the feeling that has made me give up my life, my reality, for somebody else's, and it is what has nearly destroyed me. The antidote is to be in my life, to write, to be thankful.
It is so hard to break bad habits of mind, even bad ones that make you bleed. Sometimes we keep those because bleeding is exactly what we want to do because it makes us feel alive, gives us the sense of something familiar. Hurt can be an addiction and it is a difficult one to give up. We try to keep the status quo so that we don't get thrown into territory that we feel unable to navigate. But sometimes life has a way of throwing you into the middle of a storm when it feels that you are ready.
This month has been so disconnected. Not that any of the other months haven't. And what makes it disconnected? It is kind of the nature of 100 words a day; thoughts, happenings, epiphanies are not necessarily going to connect day to day. Our lives certainly don't happen that way, as a continuing chronological narrative, maybe in time, but not in experience or emotion. It is always a mix of looking backwards and forwards, never living in the moment, rarely speaking directly from the heart of our experience. With my husband in hospital, my mind wants to go anywhere but here.
Sitting at my husband's bedside in the Intensive Care Unit watching him struggle for breath, I find my mind creeping back to a boy I met at a Drive-In in Osoyoos when I was 14 years old. Such a beautiful brandy-skinned boy. There were 5 of us lying side-by-side in the grass, the movie that was playing I have long forgotten. My body was so inexperienced, but I remember the sweet heat of his body, barely touching. And then the suck and the clank of the ventilator brings me back, and I try and stay awhile.
There are so many places for me to go in my mind, places I have not visited for a very long time. And all I have as I sit in vigil at the bedside. This is not what he wanted, to have grief-stricken faces staring at him. But when he does wake, I can see the immediate panic in his eyes as nothing looks familiar. Each time he wakes he has forgotten where he is, and why he has a tube in his throat that feels like it is choking him, even when it is actually sustaining his life.
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