Lauren from Texas

Weekend Update

It’s been a while since I’ve written and all of a sudden I decided now was a good time. I sat at my desk staring at my screen knowing I have several tasks to do. Not really too many for an average worker, but tasks with a deadline and priority are always a bit stressful for me, and July hasn’t been a great month. I decided to answer the 1800 phone number that has mysteriously been calling me 4 times a day just to see who it was. Bad choice. My morning mood has been lessened a bit by the credit department of Bell Canada.  I get my TV and Internet from them, and although I recently chopped that bill down from over $200 a month to only $125 a month, it still adds up to over $500 when you don’t pay it for a while.

Along with that thought, I have not paid rent yet this month and it’s Friday the 13th already. I have been spending more because of the hospital stay and the daily outing for my medicine IV bag swap. More in gas and more in food.

Today is the first day of the annual convention I always have mixed feelings about. In advance, it agitates me and gets me all wound up with needless anxiety but during the 3 day convention, where I man the Info Desk with friends, I always have a good time. I wish my brain could remember that and forgo the pre-show butterflies. This year, the show is in the middle of this health/finance/life depression but I imagine I’ll still be a happy face to on-comers and regulars. If I could choose an easy job I enjoy, it’d probably be info desk. The faces of others and the smiles fuel me and re-energize me, or at least they usually do. 

This year, with my IV bag sticking out of my arm and my restless sleep habits it may be an extra chore to keep my smile on, but I have faith the environment will keep me up in spirits. I certainly hope so, because my team of 3 is a team of 2 this year so I’m mathematically more important.

We shall see. I’m doing my best to believe my optimism and ignore the impending doom of a poverty lifestyle.

It has to start somewhere.

There is an old saying; if you have to start somewhere, it might as well be here. It wasn’t referring to blogging.

In my case, more sickness and poor health may be on the way, or so goes the path of my imagination at the slightest sign. On day 10 of my hospital observation/recovery, I am starting to fall back down a little, and wondering if perhaps, the other health-related issues may show up.

I guess we’ll see. I sure hope my liver and kidneys and whatever don’t fail while I’m here. While I am not entirely unhappy in this place, I don’t really want to stay longer than I need to. I don’t want to give medical staff the opportunity to see me worsen.

It’s also day 10 without drugs. Day 10 without eating Hershey’s kisses and Tootsie roll fruit chews as my main source of food.

I expected all my withdrawals at once to have a more substantial effect, as I have experienced Cold Turkey before.

I hope that doesn’t just come on Day 12, and the doctor knew it all along. That would suck indeed. I flip-flopped between living through suffering, or selecting Monty’s door #2 and choose the ultimate in Instant Gratification… Hospitals seem fairly well designed to keep any suicide tools out of my reach, but that may be because I didn’t really look too hard.

I no longer have any interest in suicide. It’s virtually off the table. The only reason I can’t tag it a 100% no, is because I am in a place where I see ultimate suffering on multiple levels and that scares the shit out of me.

I am not afraid to die. I am afraid to ALMOST die… I am afraid I will want to keep living, even if in a veritable hell. 

In Canada, as far as I know, suicide is still illegal and even in a hospital, everyone will always work to save you, even if you’re screaming LET ME DIE at the top of your still recovering lungs. I watched my father ask to die many times. It was horrible but not nearly as horrible as seeing how close I could be to that. 

I came into this hospital not really “with it” enough to know what was going on. I recovered to mental clarity on day one and have spent the next 9 days trying to breathe a little deeper, but for the most part, feeling like a healthy being told day after day after day that I had to be here another day. Recovery.

So I did what I do. I embraced my now and started being a spectator. I watched the nursing staff and the patients. The joys and sorrows and the panic and agony. I watched grown men in the middle of a happy conversation with family, suddenly gasp a second breath and transform into a screaming panic without awareness of where they were. Literally, mid-sentence from a hospital bed with a nurse to a man who thinks he’s in a war being bombed, or in another case, a very loud man asking why everyone was in his house.

I tried to imagine what that would be like if it were me. I tried to ponder whether my years of mental training in understanding my own mind would let me tackle that kind of panic better, but of course, all that training did, was help me better understand how easy it is to lose your sense of self.

Perhaps that is the “Later Jeff” I have referred to, that lives on the other side of my wall of tomorrow. The version of me I have been burdening with all the life-long troubles that I ignored and abandoned and handed off tag-team style to tomorrow. 

I understand the idea of a mental breakdown. It’s when that version of yourself is asked to step up and be accountable, finally. The amount of shit that will rain down on me when that day comes will be heavier than I can even imagine.

I talk of my current mind being skilled at joy crushing but when the time comes to be responsible for all my procrastination shit, it might just be mind crushing. Soul Crushing.

——

Our family lived through an extended period of decline when my Grandfathers mind started to fade. He hit all the landmark symptoms that are all too common today but were new to us at the time. He’d do things I never really could understand, like hide the daily newspaper in some of the weirdest places. We found copies year old as many as 10 years later as I remember.

When my father started to fluctuate his moods, even more, than previously and at the starting edge of what we learned would be a similar decline, it was doubly terrifying. My Grandfather didn’t know what was happening. He didn’t have perspective.

My father had a roadmap of misery to anticipate both filled with the fear that starts in your 50s when you begin to struggle to remember specifics, but also with the full and total awareness of how it affected his family. 

My father was a proud man and one of those subtle intellectuals that truly understood how many things worked. He was a secret inventor of solutions and he was a fixer of things. He built much of our first house and and and…

And then one day, it was clear he no longer was.  It might have been as simple as no longer being able to fix the coffee maker. Whatever it was, he detected it before we did, but it wasn’t his secret for long, mostly because he could not hold back his anger, now doubled by his newfound incompetence. That is probably not a fair word for me to use when describing dementia, but it was the word he used.

From his perspective, my father had become useless.

I wasn’t present for much of this. It was too painful on so many levels. I developed my own anger but mixed with sadness and fear. I took on a bit of a “not my problem” approach and visited two or three times a month, which was supposed to be every week at the minimum but I’d make up reasons to appear busy for as many as I could without suspicion.

From the beginning, I could see this pain crushing my mother, and I tried my best to keep down my emotions of how bad it must be. Having lived my own life without really ever having to face the bad stuff, I would just use sentences like; I know I couldn’t handle that.

Sadly, I believe I am much stronger than my mother was. we were both witnesses to how father affected each of us. We were the team that could make each other laugh after a session of tears caused by his anger and mean words.

The task of being caretaker to a man who she probably still loved, but must have not-loved as much inside her head was not one you’d look forward to under normal circumstances, but when you are given the responsibility of caretaker and that person is loud and scary and mean in new ways even harsher, you either can — or can’t.

Something snaps inside and you transform from John and Mary Goebel to Patient 1 and patient 2. It’s not unlike throwing your entire life of memories and cares and wishes and desires over that wall of tomorrow with the understanding somebody will take care of you. It might even have been a percentage voluntary.

I’m not insinuating that my mother was faking it, or that she really wanted to decline in that scary way. I’m more likely to believe something we have yet to discover is the cause, but I can’t deny that “going crazy” has been something I’ve considered as a solution to that day yet to come when I am asked to choose. Will I live on during the decline suffering mentally each day to remember? First to remember details about the story I am telling, followed by an even more frustrating struggle to remember the people I am sitting next to telling the stories too.

It’s selfish, but I will claim my fear is even greater than my father’s because my entire existence as far back as I can recall has been to not be a bother. The mantra of “don’t interrupt, don’t agitate, don’t annoy” is why I am so weak to progress in life. Asking anything of anyone is so hard for me, I don’t do it.

Asking somebody to help me finish my sentence will be hard, but asking somebody to help me do EVERYTHING is an inconceivable burden.

Is it fortuitous then, to add to this horror, the fact that I don’t actually have anyone to ask. I have no wife to put through that.

This is the point however when I think of my Mom, On her second loop of watching her life loves change and become a chore.  I’d choose crazy. I know I would. I might even break down far before it comes to that.

For the next several years, the two of them declines together but I wasn’t present. Throwing that responsibility over my procrastination wall as is my way, it was intercepted and accepted by my sister, the family elder. Julie had lived a life almost in preparation to be the family saviour. Her youth was divided between a social life, a school life, and a hospital life.

From her birth deformity to a slew of recurring visits, it wasn;’t surprising she pointed her goals to nursing and care. I believe Julie is also the strongest willed and stable minded of us 3. 

To be honest, I never really knew either of my sisters. They were 7 and 9 years older and gone by my age 10.

There was some guilt on my part, having thrown my parents over that wall, but the more you live a life without inconvenience and tragedy, the more you need to. I was conditioned to instant gratification from the start.

For me, my parents died about 10 years before my parents died. I do my best to not regret or feel too bad for that decision. When your mother doesn’t know who you are, I didn’t feel the need to continue that sadness. 

Loop 3.

I have had memory issues of my own since — I do not know. 

I’ve been obsessing over it for decades, and it has helped me in my work on understanding the brain a little better and how it stores memories vs stories. I have a full memory of the stories that have been told from my youth but am unable to remember people or emotions or things that happened. I don’t remember any order to my past. All my memories of saved as separate, recallable self-contained stories and in most cases could have happened last week, last year or when I was 30.

I’ve worked my skills as a storyteller around those limitations and have almost been successful in not talking about my bad memory because I have enough stories ready to go as to appear functional.

In truth, I suspect I saw my first red flag triggers a few years back that I may be on that same path forward, except without a spouse. 

When my mom started to decline almost simultaneously, most of the people we encountered were surprised. Dementia wasn’t usually a contagious illness and the likelihood of two people living together contracting symptoms at the same time was so rare, the extended care homes all claimed it was a first for them to receive a request for a couple.

To me, it seemed more obvious. For 30 years, at least once a week or more, we’d all eat a sausage casserole out of that same aluminium pot. I can visually describe that pot even today with enough detail you could sketch a picture. I especially remember it’s deep grooves caused by years of wear from continued stirring and washing.

It is conceivable the pot was over 60 years old, as I do remember a great many of our dishes were owned by my great grandmother. The plastic bowl and spoon I have used to eat cereal is possibly as old as plastic. I often wondered how much lead or pewter dinnerwear contributed to the madness of our ancestors. As I remember it, history is filled with people going looney later in life.

I blame that pot, but even still, I’d give anything to have another serving of that sausage casserole or the locally famous singular meal my father ever cooked; Noodles and Breadcrumbs, also from the same pot.

Believing the aluminium pot was part of the decline comforts me only in knowing they probably ate from it more than 40 years more than I did so maybe I am not destined to follow them.

My memory issues are just as equally caused from that time I slept a night in a teeny camper trailer in Florida and woke up smelling gas.  The oven had been filling the camper presumably for 9 hours or more. Brain damage is to be expected, but I never pursued it. I also thought it made a better story without confirmation but since that time I have used that as my fixed point by which I have no personal memories previous. That would have been about age 40… ish.

I’d be content with this level of insanity and memory loss if it didn’t get worse, but I’m 54 and it will. It already has.

——

It’s 10pm on a Sunday. My second Sunday in the hospital. I’ll start my new routine to sleep shortly, and they’ll come drip another litre or so of antibiotics into my arm. Then I’ll struggle and toss and turn all night, inserting some NetFlix binging in between restless cycles.

Today was a hard day at times. Fathers Day. I’m on a reasonably quiet wing on the eighth floor, but when the shouting starts, it is so coincidentally similar to my Dad’s loudness it was hard to listen to without reflooding some of that sadness back in.

I’ll be glad to rest, even in 15 segments and wake up. Tomorrow is a new day. A new week. A new mood.

Happy Monday’s Eve.

End of Part 1, June 17. 9:58pm.

I think I’ll spell check and do some slight editing. I might share this one a little more publically.

 

I wish I’d known that yesterday.

Today hit the completion of the seven days in a hospital, and although there is no pain minimum discomfort, I am leaving with some amazing wisdom that will help me in the future.

Every single day here, I had at least one open mouth wow moment of joy that caused me exclaim the following statement:

Wow. I wish id known that before.

This is a statement which can be made either with a negative or a positive connotation. There is a small level of frustration that you had to live without such new knowledge till now, but it should always be overshadowed that now you no longer do.

This mornings example that inspired me to write was the discovery that a patient pantry exists a few steps from my room that contains several comforts available to me I had previously been frustrated yo live without, most notably, ice and a fridge.

Wow. I wish id known that before today!

Many would instantly focus on the frustration of the past and perhaps even find anger that nobody had informed them. Instead of thanks, they might complain about the lost days and look for blame.

Instead, I am overjoyed that my life will be better from this moment forward. 

Yesterday I learned they have teenagers that volunteer daily, and they can assist with amazing things. Just now, between composing this paragraph and the previous, they showed up eager to go bring me my first Tim Hortons breakfast sandwich since I’ve been here.

Wow. I wish id known that before now.

I’m not angry with the nurses that didn’t tell me about either of these. I am happy my life will be better from the moment I learned this.

Each day I’ve discovered similar wonders and of course, I start to understand there are probably so many other things I have not yet learned. It excites me to see what might make me say WOW today, although I’m dropping the  “wish I’d known that yesterday” portion. Wishing about yesterday is a silly concept when you think about it in the context of my universe.

Wishing about anything that has already happened in general is less helpful than being grateful for my present or planning towards a better future.

As I type that, my present gets significantly better as my volunteer arrives with my breakfast, and I enjoy it — with ice water for the first time.

Today is significantly better than yesterday. I imagine there are patients here in this hospital on both sides of this. Those who have yet to learn these things, and those who know things I have yet to learn. Perhaps that for labelled SP46675434 leads to a Jacuzzi hot tub I can sign up to enjoy. 

That is a wish for tomorrows WOW, although a second thought mentally points out it’s probably a pretty bad idea so I’m pretty confident that wish won’t come true.

I realize that I am 54 and often go days without the I’m glad I now know that joy of learning at least one new thing a day… But others may have been having that expansive joy each and every day, at least once, or constantly.

There are people everywhere that have had wow moments I have not yet learned and I have the knowledge they have not had the pleasure of learning yet. Age is irrelevant. There are 12-year-olds that learn so much every day they know more than I ever will.

At some point, we are able to have wow moments without asking or being answered. We learn to make logical connections all around our universe just because we comprehend if this means that, then that must mean that. 

Self wow. I can have cold apple juice at 3 am tonight. 

Even more important than learning something new as often as possible are the connections of understanding they offer.

Intelligence is not about knowing more. It’s about understanding more. Each day I learn more and witness how that knowledge fits into my universe, I make connections and become a better me.

I stop wishing about the past and plan towards a better future.

 

 

 

Spring Love at the Multi Use Park

I just witnessed one of the coolest things ever. It seems the park bench I chose to sit on, in the shaded section of an urban strip park comes with a show.

The park is approximately the width of a street, and I suspect at one time it probably was, or a service lane that often exists behind a more commercial main road. You can find the continuation here. Nicely architected with green grass and lots of trees and benches that line the main walkway spaced just far enough away from each other to allow people to sit and enjoy, even if the next bench over is occupied by a drunken slob hung over from last night, which is often the case it seems in an area like this.

I see there is a tombstone for Barney near one of the park entrances.  It inspired me to sit and blog from one of the benches. I found an empty one, which at certain times can be difficult. It’s a nice spring day and I quickly discover my seat is a perfect one, across from a spring singles party for the park pigeons. I notice a potential couple appear directly in front of me, in a prime spot slightly elevated and lit by the spring sunlight almost like a spotlight might light a stage.  They walk up to the spot from an area off to the side where everyone is waiting to be next.  She is already there as he swaggers into the sun-spotlight and begins his audition for the lady.  He puffs right up, like he had throat to spare. His puffy chest catches the light and displays some very high-quality colours. A rainbow brighter than the suns reflection in an oil spill.

He was putting on a real show, unlike anything I’d personally seen before. He had moves. Still, after all this pomp and circumstance, she remained unimpressed. I suppose it just wasn’t what she was looking for. At first, they seemed to be bargaining, as if she said no, but he wanted to show off a few extra tricks. They walked away and back and away and back a few times as he chirped a last-ditch attempt. One final bow of rejection and the first contestant wanders off and flies away. I notice he doesn’t re-join the waiting list to try another mate later. I suppose the idea of being rejected by one puts a shadow on your chances. Even pigeons don’t want sloppy seconds.

As she holds her place in the sun, the next qualifier bounces over the sidewalk from the bullpen for his chance in the sun. This female pigeon and I have obviously different tastes because #2 was far less impressive to me. He hardly puffed up at all, and his dance moves were far less cheerful. Instead of rainbow colours,e he was just black. In less than half the time, she had made up her mind that #2 was the pigeon for her. Perhaps she’d had black before and couldn’t go back.

They bounce off together out of site and a new princess bride bounces across the concrete onto the mound and the rituals continue. I felt so privileged to see the first pairing because none of the bachelor’s next in line were as good. Some of them hardly tried at all, making me believe the first pairing might be something special.

Perhaps they were the community elders, and the rest are the common pigeons that all know each other from the neighbourhood. I have no idea but I have a suspicion that pigeons are locally minded. They find a statue they like and poop on it forever.

I often think about the birds and wish I could know more about bird languages. I ponder whether birds teach each other one language among birds or species of birds. One of the main reasons animals don’t progress much farther in evolution is they don’t always hang out with enough of them to form a common language. I’ve watched them.  Like many humans, they seem to sit around and chat a lot.  I’m certain they have a conversational language.  They’re probably the most chatty animals in the kingdom.

Birds hang out.  I assume they’re telling each other stories. Shared experiences about great watering places or the lady on Fifth Avenue that spreads seed out later in the day. Perhaps they tell stories about us. I imagine we can be quite comical to a bird. Our mating rituals are even stranger to witness than theirs.

Sadly, this grand showroom is also a prime spot for humans and a spontaneous game of catch starts up making noise and potential danger. One of the birds calls out, presumably saying the pigeon equivalent to shouting “CAR” when your ball hockey game is disrupted by those pesky vehicles that choose to drive on the roads you’ve designated as playing fields. If I listen closely I hear a single chirp I interpret as; “Ok Ladies and Gents; Take 5.” Bird language is far more efficient than English because the chirps are digital. 

This is a great example of multi-use urban Park, even if they never intended it to be multi-species too. I remember the dog memorial I passed as I entered, and realize it is for in fact for all.  A park like this is practically made just to allow the neighbourhood to walk their dogs… or lizards, or whatever will stay on the leash.

I never really understood the fun in playing catch. I have no memories of catch. It always seemed a pointless way to have a conversation, loudly across a park. I see even less enjoyment in a silent game of catch. I don’t get it. Even from the standpoint of exercise, you’re standing in one place using one arm. It’s some movement but not even as much exercise as walking to the park. I suppose my view may be biased by the fact I was probably horrible at it. I know I never liked playing Frisbee because it was just another sport I failed at. For me, Frisbee was more a game of throw and walk to pick it up

When the humans have had enough, they leave, but by now the sun has shifted and it no longer beams impressively on the ritual mound as it did before. Some pigeons return but just like humans, it seems it isn’t always easy to get back into an interrupted party vibe.  The mood just isn’t the same, but I suppose some pigeons have plans to get it on, so they start again but as the first new female awaits her show, a dog wanders in.

The spotter pigeon calls out; DOG although I just hear a chirp that seems pretty much identical to the one he called out for HUMAN!  They fly away.  Since this is where people walk their dogs, I suspect the spotting of the first one means dating game is over for the day. Soon this will be the dog’s time to sniff buts and choose mates.

There is nothing worse than being interrupted by a horny dog when you’re trying to impress your pigeon… I imagine.

End note: This timeless blog post was originally written May 17th, 2015. I searched for it among archived unpublished work and brought it up front today by request because it is a nice story I like to tell whenever I get the chance.