Split 

Room in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in NYC

Shadows watched from the corners of the room… ever present, ever vigilant. 

She waited.

Footsteps in the hallway. Raucous laughter. 

The door flung open and he stumbled in, drunk, clinging to the arm of a woman.

Who was it this time? 

It was hard to see clearly in the dim light. 

Her.

Their eyes met for a long moment. Silent words passing between them. Then she turned her attention back to him, allowing him to undress her. He fumbled. The process took much longer than it should have. 

Naked.

She glanced at the mirror again, seeing the other woman once more, the one who looked like her but was more charming, the one whose laughter came more easily. She was the one who was not ashamed of being naked, the one who demanded love and attention from everyone.

The drugs made her beautiful and charismatic. She knew the flame could not burn this high for very long. It would go out soon, extinguishing her in the process.

But it was worth it. 

Every day was worth the price to avoid the loneliness again.

This Far and No Further

Statue of Polish king in Central Park

Raccoons are not cute

Neither are possums or armadillos or squirrels. Don’t even try to argue the point with me because it’ll get you absolutely nowhere. I used to be like you, in love with all of God’s creatures. 

Not any more. 

I am not against wildlife, mind you. I am content to share my yard. If an animal wants dig up and trash my potted plants over and over again looking for God knows what, I am cool with that. But so help me, if one decides to crawl into the attic or walls of my house and DIE, we will have words and many of those words will consist of only four letters.

Here’s the thing….

I love my house. It is not a big house but built in the 1940’s it has tons of character. It is big enough without being pretentious or too expensive to cool in the hell heat of summer. It is located in the center of a little city/town. Best of all, it’s completely paid for. No mortgage.

Now, the thing about old houses in this area is that they are built on pier and beam, meaning there is a crawl space under the house that could fit a grown man on his hands and knees. As you can imagine, animals like that area quite a lot, too. Warm or cool depending on the season. Hidden. Food nearby. What’s not to love?

Shortly after buying this house, the first hint of odor wafted through the walls upstairs. Within 24 hours it was very clear an animal had died somewhere. I searched everywhere to try to find that carcass. Never could find it. Do you know how long it takes the stench of a liquefying animal to burn off? 

About five days, as it turns out.

Now, I am certain I am not the only one this happens to. Dead animals in your walls is of those dirty little secrets no one ever wants to admit to for fear of being judged… like enjoying oral sex. But it happened to me and my house several times a year for a number of years. 

Dead animals were not the only problem, though. Hoards of bot flies would descend upon the house from time to time like a plague straight out of Egypt. You know how flies are. 2-3 buzzing about feels like a lot. This was over fifty. Inside my house. All at once. Bot flies like dead animals. They LOVED my house. I am a pretty good shot with a fly swatter now, after all of that practice. 

Almost as bad as the flies and the stench was waking up to an MMA fight in progress in my ceiling in the dead of night. And did you know that chewing sounds are magnified by sheet rock? Sounded like some sort of jack hammer. The sleep deprivation was real, people. I would hear loud noises in the yard and run outside only to find entire families of animals, specifically raccoons, scrabbling up the side of my house. 

How were they getting in?!??????!!!

Finally, I was at my wits end. My family and I had endured QUITE enough and I was ready to torch the place, paid off or not. How could I in good conscience pass off this to someone else?

I couldn’t.

So I scoured the internet for advice, all of which was most unhelpful. Those animals practically scoffed at the nauseating stench of the red fox pee that was sprayed all over the house and property. The only thing it deterred was me. You name it, I tried it.

The man of the house took to using one of those *humane* traps, thinking if we could catch them before they ended up in the walls and attic that might help. We placed *inhumane* traps throughout the attic crawl spaces that could be reached. We caught dozens of raccoons, possums, and armadillos. Animal control knew my voice well.

“Yeah, yeah. We know who you are and where you live…” the man on the other end of the line would growl.

Something tells me that they were not taking those animals *away* to release them. 

One day, whilst bemoaning the vermin issue with a neighbor who was experiencing similar issues, I was informed that an old lady down the street was feeding the raccoons by putting food out for them at night. Rarely have I felt a desire to do violence against another fellow human being but this was one of those times. She did die eventually but not by my hand…

You know what seemed to work? Chicken wire. Chicken wire all over the eaves and attic vents. Chicken wire along the base of the house. Chicken wire anywhere an animal might try to weasel its way inside.

And…. that lady down the street? She stopped feeding the wildlife…. 

Retrograde Amnesia

Interior of Ellis Island hospital

Here I am still trapped within

The walls of your memory.

Neither one of us is free.

This, our original sin,

Sinned again and still again.

Damned hearts bleeding from afar,

Ever tracing their faded scar…

True love never broken

————

I refuse to wake beside you;

For I no longer want to.

No longer will I wait, open

In the morning sun’s shadow,

Simply because you remembered me so…

Your final hold now broken.

*****************************************

Photo taken at the Ellis Island hospital ruins a few weeks ago.

With a Prayer

St. Patrick's Cathedral in New York City

I have prayed out loud with a few patients over the years at their request. I will admit, however, that I am personally very uncomfortable with public displays of my faith. I am not sure my prayers carry the weight and power that some people believe that they should. I feel somewhat hypocritical for that reason, as if I am selling a faulty product. 

That being said, I do pray privately for patients on a regular basis:

Please, God, protect my patients from my mistakes. Help your love for them to show through me…

When I pray for others, do I believe I am swaying God in any way? Not really. Prayer is not so much about others as it is about me, a sort of mindfulness. I need a reminder that I am a fallible human being and that I must demonstrate compassion to those who are vulnerable. I struggle with that from time to time, just like the next person. 

I could write a book on the various things people do to bargain with their God when they are desperate and in that respect I am just like them. I have my own rituals and my superstitions, my own pleading bargains that I have made. Some may mock me for that. 

Faith, though, keeps me sane. 

And that is good.

Ruined

Ruins of hospital on Ellis Island

He came with her to all of her doctor’s appointments, more than an observer he was involved, concerned, present. He came off as her protector. I thought we were on the same team.

The alcohol was getting worse, though. So was her liver failure.

“Who buys all of the beer she drinks?”

“I do,” she spoke up. “And he does.” 

I glanced over at him.

“Sometimes she makes me.”

“Makes you how exactly?”

“She can get really ugly.” He looked away sheepishly, unable to meet my eye.

“You mean to tell me that all of this time that she has been going to her liver specialist appointments, all of this time that we have been talking about how she needs a complete and immediate cessation of alcohol, all of this time that you have sat in that chair and nodded your head in agreement, you have actually been providing her with the substance that is killing her?”

I wanted to scream at him. What the hell are you doing? Sabotaging her? Murdering her? WTH?

But I don’t know what their life together has been like. Is he the equivalent to a battered woman in an abusive relationship? 

I just don’t know.

So I suggest counseling, giving them contact information for treatment centers, and usher them out the door wondering all the while if I have somehow failed them both.

The Tipping Point

Buildings in Philadelphia

“Do you have an appointment?” she asked.

“Nah. I’m just going to sit here until the weather passes,” the man said gruffly. He sat down in the corner out of her line of sight.

She shrugged and slid closed the clear glass window to the waiting room. He didn’t look threatening. Rain was pouring down outside. What did it matter if he sat for a few minutes?

He began talking into his phone loudly, clearly agitated about something. Patients looked at each other quizzically, shifting uncomfortably in their seats. They stole furtive glances at him, watching him mutter into the phone pressed against his face. It was impossible to hear exactly what he was saying between the growls.

When is the nurse going to call me back? Please let it be soon.

As he was talking the phone rang loudly. Clearly, he hadn’t been talking to anyone at all….

Then he stood, yelling into the ringing phone, threatening to kill anyone and everyone. As shaky fingers dialed 911, he bolted out of the door and ran across the parking lot never to be found again.

Perhaps I’m a silly dingbat but people behaving like that never would have bothered me in the past, at least not where I would have taken them seriously. 

Now though? We were all shaken up. I find myself wondering what is lying in wait around the corner of every person’s mind. I get nervous at airports and look over my shoulder at large events. Where is the next explosion going to come from? Who will fire the next bullet? Could I have stopped them?

Fear is sexy. Fear sells. Fear drives a wedge, keeping us from reaching out to help others. Fear protects us. Fear hurts us. Fear is necessary and yet it multiplies and it divides us. 

Part of me wants to just stay home, to never go anywhere anymore and then I remind myself that acts of courage are the only way to really combat fear. Anger only feeds fear. So does isolation. 

And so I get onto airplanes and take my kids to places that probably live as targets in someone else’s mind so that at least for me, fear will not win. 

Treat Yo’ Self!

Drawing of a human body by a preschooler
Death was approaching over my left shoulder. I could sense it. And yet I was surprisingly calm. It felt surreal. The bit of chicken lodged itself in my esophagus and now I could not breathe. I was going to die in this very hotel room. Tonight. I knew it with a certainty that rivaled the certainty of taxes. It was my time.

Choked to death on Thai chicken curry.

People would judge, wouldn’t they?

Except that I really could breathe. It just felt like I couldn’t. I was not going to die after all unless it was from embarrassment. I imagined the humiliation of that ER trip.

I could not swallow that damn piece of meat down no matter how hard I tried. I could not cough, hork, or vomit it up. I made the most awful gagging, retching noises. I wondered what people passing in the hallway were thinking. 

Fortunately, I was not alone. I rasped the word, “Heimlich!” and motioned at my throat. He complied and in short order the offending bit of Thai chicken curry sailed across the room, bouncing off of a panel of neutral colored drapery, leaving a mark for the next guests to wonder about. 

Sorry about that, housekeeping staff….

From then on, I chewed and chewed and chewed everything, figuring that this happened only because I was a glutton, stuffing my face too fast. I was ashamed. I told no one. 

There were several close calls after.

Fast forward a few months.

Standing at the counter typing clinic notes I felt the wave of nausea hit me again. It had been building for weeks, getting worse every day. Always in the mid morning. But why? Why was this nausea happening? It was not pregnancy, not unless God felt the immaculate conception needed a do-over and since I was no Virgin Mary I figured that was highly doubtful. I draped myself over the counter, holding my head in my hands and closed my eyes until the wave passed. Wow, did my epigastric feel…. odd. What was that sensation? Pain?

Whoah. 

And just like that, it all dawned on me. 

Acid reflux. A terrible case of GERD. Esophageal structure. Dysphagia. Time to crack out that acid blocker and go see a GI specialist. 

So whenever people say, “You’re so lucky. You can just call stuff in for yourself. You don’t need a doctor!” I roll my eyes. I have no business treating myself or anyone else that I love because you know what? I’m crap at it. When it comes to myself and my family I am just too close to the subject matter to see straight. My family doesn’t even appreciate how dangerous that can be. Instead they get all offended when I refuse to weigh in or offer to take over their medical care.

The physician who treats himself has a fool for a patient.” William Osler

Truth.

Remember that next time you hear about a doctor treating themself or their spouse or their kids except in the direst of circumstances….

A Virtual Reality Devotional

Stained glass window

The body lies prostrate

On the confessional floor

A weakened avatar

Your closed door

Heartbeat slowed

From afar

Fading finally

Into empty code

Mere tokens

Conquests

Meaningless and broken

Nothing of value

Can be taken

Only the memories of love

Gained and lost

And gained again

Virtual virtue

Virtually gone

And truth now clear

Life

Turned into fear

Death 

A final frontier

Hold your breath

It is not so painless 

As they wanted us

To believe

A touch of tenderness

This is a wonderful post about the importance of touch in life and death. Please pop over and read it if you have not done so already.

Sue Vincent's Daily Echo

The Cathedral by Rodin.

My son gleefully squeezed harder at the knotted muscle in my shoulder, with a ‘Now I’ve got you’ as I groaned in agony. We have established and agreed that he has a slightly sadistic tendency where I am concerned. It may have something to do with my knack of getting just the right spot on the painful muscles as we got his body working again. Day after painful day, for months on end. So now it is payback… and he appears to enjoy it. He still manages to lay the blame squarely on my aching shoulders, muttering something that sounds vaguely like ‘hereditary’.

He is a little more squeamish than I. His face screws up in horror as my wrist bones crunch back into place when he applies traction. It is, however, nice to regain freedom of movement occasionally. So I make him do it…

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