Owed

Refurbished part of the Ellis Island hospital

The VA medical system in the US is a shameful mess, not worthy of our veterans.

If we expect someone to lay their life on the line to protect our freedom and the freedom of others all over the world, we have a responsibility to provide for their medical care and that of their families even after their service in a way that is on par with the quality of care received elsewhere in the country. 

Instead there is corruption, waste, deception. Veterans die waiting for help. I have seen the effects of poor care.

Let’s stop ignoring it and do something about it. You want to do something meaningful for Veterans Day? Write to your elected officials and demand change.

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Going Places

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“Ok, I’m going to call it. Any objections?” 

Silence from the room. 

All motion stopped. No more CPR. No more rummaging for the next medication in the crash cart. The nurse on the phone calling for another two units of pack red blood cells simply stopped mid sentence and hung up.

I dropped the empty syringe that had spent the past hour and a half clutched in my right hand into the pocket of my white coat. The fingers were stiff and achy as I stretched them out. “Time of death….” I cranned my neck around the greying head of the house supervisor so that I could see the wall clock by the door. “…. 0325.”

“Good job, everyone. Let’s clean up so we can let the family back.”

Syringes were counted and recorded by the clerk to make sure the amount of each med given was accurately reflected in the log. Debris was swept up. Hands gently covered the emaciated body with a gown and pulled up the sheet, the eyelids were closed. A nurse took out the IV and another pulled the tubes from his nose and mouth, wiping the blood and mucous from the now lifeless lips. 

He looked so peaceful.

Cancer of the stomach. He had certainly suffered. He was not willing to die peacefully, refusing hospice and refusing to sign a “do not resuscitate” order. He fought even at the end. 

My wrist still hurt. 

I liked being around death. It was hard to explain to people. They would stare at me with a puzzled and slightly horrified look on their faces, lost for words so I stopped talking about it altogether. I always wanted to ask the dying to put in a good word for me when they got to where they were going, but I never did.

One by one everyone left the room.

In a minute I would go out to his wife and children and explain that we had done everything we possibly could but I needed a minute before facing the onslaught of grief.

I put a hand on his chest and said a silent prayer for his soul, then one for mine. I looked back up at his face. Strangely, his eyes were open. They were a bright blue. The bluest blue I think I had ever seen.

Then they blinked.

A hand grabbed my shoulder and pulled me closer. 

His hand. 

My heart skipped a beat as fear rushed through my body and into my fingers and toes. 

Then the hand let go and fell back to the bed with a flop, as if there was no more energy left. It must have been some sort of cadaveric spasm…

“She knows.” 

The rasping sound came from his lips but how could that be? He was still attached to the heart monitor, someone had forgotten that detail, and there was no heartbeat. I checked for a carotid pulse. Nothing. No breathing.

“What do you mean? Who is she?”

The eyes bore into me. 

His lips moved. “She knows…” I touched the lips. They were cold.

“Who is she?!?!??” I asked again.

No response.

My voice rose as I asked again and again but the blue eyes just stared back at me never wavering. I grabbed the shoulders and shook him but he still provided no answers.

Anger and terror rose up into my throat, swelling into a tight lump that lodged there. My brain raced from irrational thought to irrational thought. I could not breathe. 

Someone knew what I was doing? But how? I’d been so careful!

My hand touched the pocket with the empty syringe.

Rage. 

I grabbed his shoulders and shook him. Hard. I punched the chest. I yelled at the blue eyes, tore at his lips…

Someone pulled me away.

“Doc! What the hell is wrong with you?”

“She knows. She knows. She knows. She knows. She knows. She knows. She knows. She knows. She knows. She knows….”

Flight

Birds in flight inside the American Museum of Natural History in NYC

“I asked her, ‘Aren’t you afraid?’ She touched my face and smiled. ‘No. Not at all.’

‘How can you not have fear?’

‘Because I have you. You are the strongest man I know.’”

He stopped for a moment, emotion stealing his words.

“The tumor doubled in size in 7 days. I don’t know what to do, how to help her… how to let her go.”

I have had so many conversations like this, two just this week. I always marvel at how the afflicted can be so strong, so full of peace and resolve even as those around them are falling to pieces. 

What sets them apart? 

There have been times in my life where I have been so depressed I have prayed to die. 

Please, God, take me in any way that you see fit…

But I was never peaceful about it.

I have fear. So much fear.

Fear of suffering. Fear of the unknown. Fear of the loss of control. Fear of being known for who I really am.

Who am I?

What sets them apart?

How do you come to terms with dying? 

“She says she will see me later, that it isn’t really goodbye.”

Faith.

Is it possible that it is simply faith in love… love which takes many forms… that gives us peace?

Thursday Thoughts From The Throne #4


Today’s’ thought is brought to you by my upstairs bathroom….

I am a huge fan of grandparents. I really love celebrating Grandparents Day. I do NOT, however, appreciate schools celebrating Grandparents Day by inviting everyone’s grandparents to come for some function or another. 

Here’s why:

  1. They are invariably disorganized.
  2. There are always a fair number of kids whose grandparents are dead or live too far away to come.

My kids are blessed that they have a grandmother who comes to these things but I have each year encountered the kids who don’t, who are stashed in a back room looking forlorn and left out. It tugs at my heart. 

This year my kids were supposed to write letters and make artwork for their grandparents. Earlier this year their PawPaw died. My son’s letter read like this:

Dear grandfather, I wish I could still speak with you. Even if I will not see you, I will always keep you in my heart.

He gave it to his Granny instead. 

It was good on some level, helping the kids work through their grief but I sure do wish the exchange could have been done privately instead of in front of the whole assembly, putting their grief and their grandmother’s grief on display. 

And that is all my butt has time for today!

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.