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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The Resurrectionist

Rotting car partially buried in the mud

You clawed your way out
Of a moonlit grave
Through the clods of dirt 
Moistened with your own 
Bloody piss and tears
When he showed up once more,
Hand extended, offering immortality.
He insisted that you believe he
Was the one who loved you and
Raised you up from the dead
Promising, as he had before,
That he would never be 
The one to actually harm you.
And?
Despite everything,
In spite of all of the cuts already made…
You believed.

*Resurrectionists exhumed bodies from fresh graves, then sold those corpses to local anatomists for dissection during the 18th and 19th centuries. They were also known as body snatchers. 

What Is Left

Submarine hatch
“What are you doing to me?” he asked sharply. 

I shoved a pair of new pajamas into the drawer and closed it, turning around to face him.

He sat on the edge of the bed. A once tall and proud man, he was now withered and shrunken. His eyes accused me. Of what, he was no longer certain, but he was absolutely sure I was guilty.

He was right.

“This isn’t a cruise ship is it?” I shook my head. “I lost my wallet and haven’t got any money.” The anger in his voice was replaced by fear.

I patted his hand reassuringly. “It’s rehab, hon. You’ll be back home before you know it.” The lie burned my throat as I said it but it mollified him for the moment.

The roommate sat across the room watching our exchange silently from his wheelchair, wrapped in a plaid robe with white socks pulled up to his knees. His grizzly, stubbled face showed no sign of recognition or understanding but his eyes followed me suspiciously about the room. 

“I’ll see you tomorrow.” I bent low, kissing the wrinkled forehead, and squeezing his hand. He smiled weakly. 

I’d loved him. Once. 

Now someone else was living in this body of his. There was distance between us that stretched much father than the few inches apparent to the casual observer. I felt nothing for this interloper, but still there were social expectations that had to be met, guilt that must be assuaged.

How often must I visit him to keep from being ostracized by friends and family?

Somehow I deserved this, I had no doubt, but he did not.

I understood now, I realized, as I walked down the corridor for the hundredth time. This must have been how Prometheus felt.