Friday, February 13, 2015

What You Should Have Done

"I’m not religious, but at the end of my life I wouldn’t mind hearing a deep, resounding voice telling me what it was I should have done. I wonder what he’d say."
 - Nobody here  (A lovely, visit-worthy site)

If I could ask each of my dead parents and my dead husband one question is would be:
Mom, did you believe in God?
Dad, were you satisfied?
Husband, were you ever happy?

No questions about regrets. No why or what-ifs. Just yes/no questions. 

But, what an amazing question is: what should I have done? Assuming that by the time I die I won’t be so far gone into dementia that I don’t notice I’ve woken up dead, what will that voice tell me?

Would the voice behind the wagging finger say I should have tried harder? Been better, done more, made a bigger difference. What if the answer is mundane?

You should have kept trying to perfects that violet cookie recipe until your cookies tasted like the Fortnum & Mason violet cookies. You should have got a tattoo referencing some lame TV show character’s memorable one-liner. You should have learned Latin, told more jokes, read better books.

What if the answer was tragically consequential?

You should have followed up that idea about creating a time machine using dremel tools and cookie tins. You could have saved the world from the genocidal megalomaniac Genghis Hitler and his evil minions in 3025. You should have picked up that hitchhiker, you should have taken up ice sculpture. You should have looked in the rear-view mirror just a minute ago.

My best guess is that the deep resounding voice will be saying I told you so.

Monday, February 09, 2015

Why I Didn’t Go to the Gym

For life is quite absurd
And death's the final word
You must always face the curtain with a bow
Forget about your sin - give the audience a grin
Enjoy it - it's your last chance anyhow.
 - Monty Python, Always Look on the Bright Side of Life

I spent Wednesday and Thursday trying to keep my heart rhythm steady and intermittently failing. I awoke on Friday to atrial fibrillation that had increased in intensity, duration and frequency. I packed a go-bag, put on comfortable socks and shoes and the only button-front shirt I have and went back to bed. At 9:00 I had an episode so extreme that my pulse was in the 160s and I heard the most charming ringing in my ears: like waves lapping the shore gently. After the second such episode, accompanied by the usual dizziness and flop sweat, I made sure some lights were on and the cat food bowl and water bowls were filled. At 9:30 I called for an ambulance and waited on the bench by the front door.

In the ER at one point, while the doc was talking to me to get the history of this latest episode, his eyes kept straying to the monitor that showed my heart rate bouncing around the low to mid-100s, and he finally said, as much as I’d like to keep discussing this, I think we better get some medicine into you right now. The rest of my day was spent attached to a drip in the ER waiting for my heart rate to “convert” to normal sinus rhythm.

I did have the best room in the house. Some fun facts: I was next door to the corner cubicle – the one that can be locked from the outside – where they put dangerous people. I could see the monitor at the nurses’ station that showed the poor girl inside the room, scrunched up and hugging herself and looking frightened and alone, and watching the guard through the window in the door. He was watching her back with as much empathy as a lion watching an old gazelle who has not kept up with the herd.

Because this is flu season and the joint was jumping, most of the staff were wearing face masks. I learned that I rely much more than I thought on reading lips; and yet I could clearly hear the man in an adjacent cubicle telling his beleaguered wife nobody was paying attention to him, while she murmured with saintly patience that they seemed kinda busy.

I saw a guy from Central Casting wheeled in with what even I could diagnose as a drug overdose, head lolling and minimally responsive but clearly feeling no pain.

The drill at Kaiser is that when you present with heart symptoms, they want a chest x-ray, which I routinely decline. Then they want to send you to nuclear medicine for a 4-hour test where they inject something radioactive and then give you a package of ten-year-old Lorna Doons while you wait with a bunch of old people in hospital gowns for the radioactive stuff and cookies to settle in, and then they give you a 5 minute scan showing how radioactive your heart is – which I also know to decline.

Then, after not feeding you anything all day, they decide to admit you for overnight observation. This time I was in my room by 6:00 and in a wing of the old hospital I’d never seen before. Believe me, I’ve seen enough of this place. I finally scored some dinner and was settling down to sleep when another patient was brought into the room loudly complaining that she wanted a private room because the other person always kept her up. She then proceeded to keep me up.

It may be counterintuitive, but when you spend an entire day with your heart rate averaging 120, you are exhausted and all you want to do is sleep. But you can’t. They wake you every 3 hours to make sure you don’t rest too well, aka, to take your vitals. At the 3:00 am check I asked the nurse if she could get the lab people in for the early blood test since I was already awake (that’s how well I know this drill). She explained that their practice was to wait about 30 minutes until you got back to sleep before the lab people came in.  Then, 30 minutes after that, roommate has to use the toilet which takes her past my bed. Believe it or not, she was complaining about hating to share a room with a noisy roommate as she passed my bed. I gave serious consideration to clocking her with my tiny complimentary toothpaste tube when she left the toilet to return to her bed.

By the time breakfast was served at 7:30 (why?) I had the distinct pleasure of waking up my roommate by asking when I’d see the doctor and then apologizing for speaking so loudly because I’d forgotten to put my hearing aid in. Oops. I was discharged just before lunch with instructions to double my dose of Lopressor. My copay for the day was $65, up from $50 the last time this happened, but still cheaper than La Quinta and dinner and breakfast at Denny’s.

The taxi driver told me on the ride home that if he had a couple of million dollars he’d remarry and have two wives. I asked, wouldn’t that cause fights in the house. His sanguine reply was that if his wife ever fought, he’d simply not feed her until she behaved. Like he cooks, you know? He gave me his card in case I ever wanted another $50 ride with free offensive commentary.

I was home by noon on Saturday, trying to decide how much salt not to put on my cheese sandwich for lunch. I had potato chips on the side.

Tuesday, February 03, 2015

Get Up

“Get up get up get up
No time to rest or run for cover.
Get up get up get up
Before the road pulls you under.
Knock the breath out of your madness.
Burn your photographs at the edges.
Send your heart back from where you left it.

Took a long way to come here
Got a long way to go
Climbing up switchbacks
Walking through tall grass the color of matches.”
 - Caitlin Canty, Get Up

At the moment, the only difference between a madman and me is that I have no penis. If I were bipolar, I’d be on my spin cycle. I feel like those washing machines that walk across the basement floor when they’re on spin because they’re so unbalanced. But I’m standing up.

A few days before Xmas, I wrote that I was surprised at how much it hurt, or to be more precise, the way it hurt. Not like a sharp pain, but like the way I describe the occasional “discomfort” of pressure in my bumpy heart to my cardiologist. It is all perfectly bearable; it’s possible to work your entire life around it to accommodate until it becomes part of your day. It’s a sadness so gentle that I can manage to not realize it for hours. Like my pinky fingers, swollen and distorted with arthritis, but painful only when I forgot to not use them for anything more challenging than touch-typing.

I think what predominately occupies my mind now – when I can’t manage to distract myself by not cleaning the litter boxes – is how we can go about our finite lives knowing they all end. How do we ignore this impossibly big and inevitable fact until we sit with a loved one and hold their warm hand, and keep holding it as it grows cold and still with death? How does this not overshadow everything all day long? All I could say was “wow”, not even in capital letters, or exclamation marks. Just a very small, amazed, soft, wow. This happened.

Now, past the first month of the first new year of my life, I’m ready to forget some of the negative stuff. But I’ll never forget him. Apparently however, when you go through a major life change, you have to mark the occasion by doing more than buying a new couch and living room rug, or even joining a gym. My new mission statement has something to do with my determination to be less negative, which is something he would recommend.

But for the moment, I feel as equipped to do that, as an octuple-amputee octopus is to open the combination lock to a safe. Even if I knew the combination, I’m not sure I could stop wobbling long enough to do it. I know how to do snark, but being nice isn’t something I have much practice at. Perhaps I should practice mixing a martini with the power of my mind alone. That might be easier than trying to be kind.

Being positive doesn’t mean being relentlessly happy. I have to keep reminding myself that I got this. Happiness is overrated - happiness without sadness would be boring, I’m going for contentment. It’s what I’ve waited for much of my life: retiring from having to take care of somebody else. The good part is that I don’t have to keep looking back and slowing down, and I don’t have to carry a dead weight. The bad part is that now that I’m up, I’ve just realized I don’t have a map.