Monday, March 31, 2014

The Rain Falls Gently on My Brain

Caffeine is a wonderful thing. Until you've had so much that your brain is twitching its tail like a crouching lion, eyes fixed on its next meal. I've pounced on chore after chore this evening as I wait for my mom to settle into her night. Laundry, dishes, scrubbing the kitchen floor, making my to-do list for tomorrow, laying out the papers to fax to my mom's new primary care doctor. What else, what else? the hungry brain asks.

I'm on the couch with the ancient cat (who has never stalked much of anything,) and  I'm hoping this glass of wine and her purring will undo the injection of artificial energy. Last night I slept for only a couple of hours--maybe three if you count the time I spent on a pile of blankets at the top of the stairs, waiting for my mom to go back to bed after she woke around midnight. She accidentally pushed her Lifeline button when she woke, and M and I scrambled down the stairs to assure the Lifeline monitor that she was okay. M won the race by a mile. My brain was still trying to decode the strange voice in the kitchen calling my mother's name by the time M had already taken care of things. I tried to go back to sleep, but my mother was up and moving around--now without the button on, I realized--and I didn't want to put the button back on her and risk it being pushed again and waking up M before her crack of dawn 100-mile drive back to school, or the man who loves me who was in my bed in his own fitful sleep.

So I waited. Then I intervened. What was she doing? She had to clean off her desk, she told me. She wanted another empty chocolate tin like the others I had given her for the dimes she'd taken out of her wallet. She needed to put safety pins away, file papers, rearrange this and that. "Go to bed," she told me. So I pretended to.

When I really did get back to bed, the man who loves me said, "We have to activate your mother's pills." Activate, I thought. Activate? Activate what pills? He was half in a dream, half trying to help with the real-life chaos. "Is she going to be okay?" he asked. I told him she was fine. That everything was fine.

This morning, I swear to god, my mother was singing a song that seemed to be about baseball to the tune of the Star-Spangled Banner. I looked in her room and she was sound asleep...singing. "Hah-ha-ha," she laughed. "I don't know many songs," she said as she twitched and tossed, eyes closed.

The man who loves me used to frequently laugh out loud in his sleep. I haven't heard him do that in a long time. And I'd never heard anyone do that before him. If my mother wants to sing, I suppose that's okay too. I'd prefer to dream an interesting dream rather than sing. I'd prefer to sleep, rather than sit here typing. It's started to rain. Maybe all this crazy energy will be washed away. Sleeping to the sound of rain is a rare pleasure in Southern California.

Saturday, March 29, 2014

While waiting for the freezer repairman...

I'm spending Saturday morning in sort of a suspended animation, not feeling like starting a project I'll just be taken away from. My mother woke with nausea and a headache, so while waiting for the doorbell, I'm also tuned into her. She's up now, the effects of the pain pill and the anti-nausea meds allowing her to be up and puttering in her room. She's talking to herself under her breath. Desk drawers are opening and closing, the stash of pencils rolling around, plastic bags crinkling while I sit here at the end of the kitchen island satisfied with the New York Times and brief bits of contact with distant colleagues on Facebook.

Somewhere in the back of my head, in that space I imagine something like a drawer, I'm re-thinking the last lines of a story. And there's that in-progress cover letter to an agent and the corresponding   pop-up reminder in the top right hand corner of my screen snoozing and waking to remind me again that I must work on that while two voices in my head argue about whether or not just to open the file while I'm waiting for the repairman. The voice that says, no not now is winning.

My body is speaking, too. Get up. Get up and do some t'ai chi chih. Have another latte'. Carry those filthy rugs out to the garage.

In another brain drawer, I'm walking through a trip to the Emergency Room. Put some snacks and a water bottle and the last two New Yorkers in the go bag. 

The iceman cometh, I say when the doorbell rings. Pressed shirt. A beautiful silver earring. Eastern European accent. Or maybe Russian. He touches the top and the bottom of the freezer door like a doctor. Shines a flashlight into the icemaker's throat. Pats his tool belt. Puts on his glasses and consults his smart phone.

I sit and think about the New York times test I took just before he arrived. A test to assess how well I read other people's emotions. I sneak a peak at his face. How is he feeling about my freezer? Is that exasperation? I scored high on the test--31 out of 36. The average score is between 22 and 30. Two of my mistakes were misinterpreting desire for something else--annoyance and boredom. What the hell?If you're in a bad marriage, get out. The repairman scratches notes on that metal box/clipboard that seems to be the de rigueur accessory for repairmen, and then he tells me the price. I don't flinch. Let him guess how I'm feeling.

After I close the door behind him, I think more about my desire-blindness. I think about the man who loves me, sixty miles away. I imagine his irradiated body glowing, the cancer that might still be inside him shriveling out of boredom. I try to imagine his eyes, what they would look like filled with desire, wonder if he'll be annoyed that I emailed his family last night to say he's not doing well. The broken ice maker chucks another deposit of ice into the bottom of the freezer while my mother mutters and moans.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Report from Pillville

This week's wrap-up:

The vascular surgeon: My mother quit smoking 17 months ago. This means that, given her post lung cancer ration of 10 cigarettes a day, she has consumed approximately 5,100 fewer cigarettes than she would have if she still smoked. Unfortunately, the circulation in her legs and feet is worse than ever. The good news is that she's in less discomfort than she used to be. For whatever reason, she's not regularly waking a couple of time per night with pain in her feet. On the advice of her doctor, we are watching and waiting.

The cardiologist and the chemical stress test: First the I.V.. Then the injection of the "special medicine without side effects that won't make you feel any different, but will allow detailed pictures of your heart." Okay. Then 3 glasses of water---this was more difficult for my mother than the I.V. Then the imaging which has to be done while the patient remains silent and lies perfectly still with arms above the head. Then another test. Then a break for lunch and a nap in the car. Then another set of images in the same uncomfortable position. Total time: 5 hours.

For me that equalled a lot of time reading email and scrolling through Facebook. And then there were the magazines:

Somebody in that office has a life when the lab coat comes off!

And now for the final story in Pillville tonight. The doctor's office again failed to successfully complete the paperwork required by Medicare for the hospital bed.

The medical equipment place called me yesterday afternoon to tell me they received a FAX from the doctor, but the information was not written in a clinical note And it failed to state that the patient required frequent changes in position. AND.....the doctor didn't sign it. As a final twist, the person who was handling my mother's case at the medical equipment company has quit. The person who is now handling the case will call the doctor's office tomorrow. I'm considering a crowd funding scheme as a publicity stunt.

Meanwhile, the vascular surgeon suggested a new primary care doctor. And one of the office staff at the cardiologist's raised her gorgeously penciled on eyebrows to the moon when I told her about the bed predicament. "Completely unacceptable," she said three times in a row. She told me that hospital beds are usually ordered by the primary care physician, but that I should give the cardiologist's  medical assistant a call.

Time. All of this takes sooo much time and mental energy. This afternoon M and I went to get groceries, and after we'd unloaded the cart, I realized I'd forgotten my wallet. I think my brain might be a tad bit radioactive. I might need a subscription to that Smithsonian Travel Catalogue.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Monday, March 24, 2014

Please Universe, Send Me a Sign

Could be a music festival, I suppose.

At least I had the good sense to call my mom's doctor and the hospital bed place while I walked on the beach this morning.  While there is not yet a bed on the way, my blood pressure is probably just fine. 

Quote from the conversation with the medical equipment place: "You could just pay out-of -pocket to rent a bed from us."

Quote from the doctor's office staff, (delivered in a whine): "They keep asking us for more paperwork. It's not our fault they keep changing what they want."

I'm grateful that my mom has had more good days than bad days in the past week. 

But I have decided that a formal complaint to Medicare is in order. Probably that will involve my computer, and won't be able to be done from my "office" on the sand.

Today's treasures: A shark egg case (also known as a mermaid's purse) and some beach glass.

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Hospital Beds and Other Furniture

Let's begin with my desk:

Which is kind of amazing, considering it was barely visible and could not be approached without fear of bodily harm a week ago. My tax prep stuff is not quite yet off to the accountant, but I'm close. Very close. I predict that the file for a certain story I'm revising will be opened this evening.

Things are not going so well with the hospital bed for my mom. Every week for the last month, I've called the company that will be providing the bed after Medicare approves it. Every week, I've also called the doctor's office. The Company assures me that they are trying assiduously to get the paperwork that Medicare requires of the Doctor. The Doctor assures me that they've sent it to the Company. I call the Company back; they say yes, the Doctor has sent This but not That. I call the Doctor; they say, oh, we will send That. I call the Company who says, well, yes, they sent That, but they did it wrong. Repeat. Repeat. And on and on.

On Friday, while the blessed Rosa was with my mom, I drove to the Company. Hi, I said, just thought I'd stop by and see if we could phone the Doctor together, so that I'm not in the middle of this weird ping-pong game, blindfolded. Well, I didn't say that exactly, but something much more prosaic. Sure, the guy said. For fifteen minutes, the Doctor's line was busy. Okay, I said, how about you show me exactly what you need. I will go get it and bring it back to you today.

They actually have a hand-out that explains what Medicare needs. The piece the Doctor failed to provide is explained in the photo above, annotated and highlighted, propped up against my dashboard. I took it to the Doctor. Explained. Wrote my mother's name and birthdate on it. I'll wait for it, I said. Oh dear, that's not how it works, the woman behind the desk said. Oh yes it is, I almost said, mentally unfurling a sleeping bag and pillow while I yawned and stretched and said, I'm waiting for that fucking piece of paper, and I plan on sleeping here. Instead, I said okay. She said, I'm sorry. The doctor will get to it soon. I said, Thank you.

That was Friday. At approximately 11:30. The Woman said they would fax it to the Company. Uh-huh.

And you know what, I don't really blame the Doctor or the Woman at the front desk. Or the Company. I blame Medicare. The pile of paper the Doctor has already sent the Company is enough to paper the wall of a large room. The doctor wrote out a prescription for a hospital bed, just like he writes out a prescription for my mother's 10mg opiate pain killers. I could sell those. I could take those little pills myself and get doped up enough to never give a damn about her hospital bed. No big deal. Here's one little piece of paper. Now sign here. Take it to the pharmacy. Bingo. Opiates. A hospital bed? Nope. Let's not give an old woman who's almost 90 and in constant pain a hospital bed. God knows what might happen.

Monday I will call the Company. Visit the Doctor again, if necessary. When I get that bed, I'm going to work on changing the regulations. Any tips, readers?

Oh, and of course, when we get the bed, I'm gonna have a crazy party. We'll raise our heads, and then our feet, oh my god, we'll put up the sides so we don't fall out and then we'll put the sides back down and take pain pills until we fall on the floor.

Friday, March 21, 2014

My Feet

Yesterday, my feet stood on my kitchen floor in front of the coffee pot while I made coffee for my friend, Ellen, and me.

Then my feet (and her feet) went here, where she talked to me about reverse faults, and mountain ranges, and tectonic plates. I taught her the difference between snowy plovers and sanderlings, and how to tell a whimbrel from a curlew.

beautiful gull
Then our feet stretched out on yoga mats, supported our weight, more or less, until after an hour, we lay on our back, all of that stretching and strengthening and conscious breathing finished.

Then with one of my feet pressed to the gas pedal, I took us here--A Buddhist temple.

We went inside and took off our shoes, and our feet stood in front of this.

And this.

And then we stood in front of several pieces of art by THIS ARTIST.

I'm planning a trip to India in 2015. I feel it all the way down to my toes.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Poetry Saves Me

Stay with me...wait for it...there's a donkey in the second poem below.

There's a neon sign in one of my favorite thrift stores--run by a Christian mission, I think, that proclaims "Jesus Saves." It's the thing in that store that I most want. But I'm pretty sure it's not for sale. Not to be sacrilegious  or anything--especially toward anyone who fervently believes, but despite the fact that I want that sign, it's poetry that so often saves me. 

Towards the end of my marriage, my husband would sometimes lie in bed reading the Bible or praying the rosary while I read Yeats. I wonder now if he was praying for the courage to tell me he had a new love, or for me to die, or for our love to rekindle, or maybe for God not to send him to hell for wanting a divorce. I don't know, but I was reading Yeats to read Yeats, and I guess, in a way, to save my soul. I frequently paged through the book to this:
863. When You are Old
WHEN you are old and gray and full of sleep
  And nodding by the fire, take down this book,
  And slowly read, and dream of the soft look
Your eyes had once, and of their shadows deep;
How many loved your moments of glad grace,         5
  And loved your beauty with love false or true;
  But one man loved the pilgrim soul in you,
And loved the sorrows of your changing face.
And bending down beside the glowing bars,
  Murmur, a little sadly, how love fled  10
  And paced upon the mountains overhead,
And hid his face amid a crowd of stars.

Here's the poem that saves me today.
A poem by Jane Hirshfield from a recent New Yorker:


My life was the size of my life.
Its rooms were room-sized,
its soul was the size of a soul.
In its background, mitochondria hummed,
above it sun, clouds, snow,
the transit of stars and planets.
It rode elevators, bullet trains,
various airplanes, a donkey.
It wore socks, shirts, its own ears and nose.
It ate, it slept, it opened
and closed its hands, its windows.
Others, I know, had lives larger.
Others, I know, had lives shorter.
The depths of lives, too, is different.
There were times my life and I made jokes together.
There were times we made bread.
Once, I grew moody and distant.
I told my life I would like some time,
I would like to try seeing others.
In a week, my empty suitcase and I returned.
I was hungry, then, and my life,
my life, too, was hungry, we could not keep
our hands off our clothes on our tongues from

That ending, right? I wondered if the New Yorker might have suffered a typo. But now after several reads, I think that that last line captures the typing through tears and typos joy of being alive, of deciding to live here in the moment with woes and dissatisfactions, knowing that my life is the size of my life, and passionately loving it. 

Which is not to say I'm not struggling.

Monday, March 17, 2014

Earthquake, Santa Anas, and the Full Moon

I awoke with a jolt at 6:25 this morning. Oh, no, here it comes, I thought. It felt as if my house had jumped up in the air and landed hard. Sometimes earthquakes begin with a rumble and shake, but this one was a single sharp blow, and I thought for sure there would be horrible rattling to follow. There wasn't.

I feel earthquakes in my stomach and in my heart, and it takes hours for them to settle. If I lived a life of complete abandon, breakfast might have been steak and eggs and a sturdy red wine, or maybe a 6-pack of beer on the beach. Or something creamy in the blender. Or a couple of Irish coffees in a dark bar. Can you tell I've put a lot of thought into this?

In reality, I drove the man who loves me to the train station and remained completely sober so I could later drive my mother to a doctor's appointment. None of that went particularly well. Santa Ana winds, a full moon, and then an earthquake over the last few days is plenty enough to cause a loss of equilibrium.

My mom woke with a headache, and nausea followed as it usually does these days. After the train station, I left her with her companion and went to yoga for 35 minutes until the plumber called to say he was on his way to fix the leak under my kitchen sink. 35 minutes of yoga is better than none, and I felt remarkably well despite cutting it short. After the plumber, I went to the beach and performed my usual ritual of picking up trash--which this morning included a very soggy five-dollar-bill. An omen, perhaps?

Maybe there's more good luck or money on the way--or maybe my mom's hospital bed! Or maybe The Someone will finally find time for mediation so we can agree on how much he owes me, and I won't go completely nuts and re-hire my attorney again. Or maybe the man who loves me will start feeling better.

But so far what's really happened is this: My mother had another not-so-lovely trip to the doctor with a dishpan on her lap--to find out when we got there that she's lost 10 lbs. in the past month. And she may be developing cellulitis again. The winds are kicking up, and while my mom naps,  I might just pull the covers over my head.

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Pillville--Where the days are getting longer.

More daylight at dinner time enhances the conversation between my mother and me. "I think I see a light on in the 3rd floor condo across the way," becomes 'Look at that dog!" or "Don't you think that girl should be wearing a jacket?" Soon there will be hummingbirds and more boats going out, more joggers, more babies in strollers. It's probably just enough to keep both of us from going insane.

Simple observations in the moment are much easier than discussing what's gone on in a day. My mom asks a lot of questions about current goings on that she doesn't remember getting answers to. And I  either don't correct her at all, or I simply answer the question as if she's asking it for the first time--M is taking the plane, not the train to New York. Our houseguests left yesterday, not today--I do get to feeling a bit looney myself. Wait? Did they leave today? Or sad. As the tide lapped into the marina last night, my tears began rising too.

I walked after dinner for the first time in a a couple of months. It seems a workable compromise if I walk around and around the block. When I get to the marina side where the sidewalk passes by the patios of all the houses, I can look in and see my mother tidying the kitchen or standing at the end of the kitchen island reading the newspaper on the iPad. If she disappears, I stop walking and go inside. Last evening, the fresh air and the water was enough to settle me and bring me back to realizing things are really working out pretty well here in Pillville.

Still, Friday evenings are the hardest. I think we all have these rhythms. Tide in. Tide out.  If I am going to wake worrying, it's always between 3:00 and 3:30. I am almost never grumpy or pessimistic in the morning. At 4:p.m. I would like all the cake in the world. To myself. Go away. Or bring me coffee--then go away. I am incredibly thankful, however, that Friday nights are not as hard as they used to be.  I'm pretty sure I would not have survived without my dogs.

But, as always, Friday nights turn into Saturday mornings. And they pretty much always look like this here in Margaritaville.

My mother has had four or five good days in a row--outside of some tiredness, she hasn't had any severe pain or nausea. For the last couple of nights, she's stayed awake and engaged all through dinner without the narcoleptic moments that can come on so quickly it's as if someone has exchanged the salt for slumber dust.

And it's almost springtime. I have the urge to clean things. I took up the very dirty carpet squares in front of the couch. I bought some new pillows and a pouf at the Cost Plus sale. Orange! Orange! More daylight! Orange! I am drunk with light and color. Drunk on the beauty of Margaritaville, sans the Margarita. Which is kind of a miracle.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Pillville: Population 2 (and an elderly cat)

Today went by in a whirl--the last few hours with my son and his family. It was too windy here to be outside so we went into an arcade and shoved $5 bills into token machines, held out our hands and let the children pluck them at will.

Arcades might be among my least favorite entertainments in the world usually, but I tossed that attitude to the wind.

I feel a little like these places are training kids for Vegas, but what the I might have even bought them candy if they'd asked...

...just kidding. But the time was sweet. And Zoltar says our futures look sweet, too.

But really, we have no idea. Though I do hold somewhat to the idea that we can choose sweetness.

At lunch, my 10-year-old granddaughter wanted to know where she was during the time my son and I were on a trip to Europe in the 90s. You weren't anywhere, I told her. She asked the question again. I told her she wasn't on the planet Earth yet. That she hadn't yet been born. She furrowed her brow and laughed. I love how kids always have trouble imagining their parents before the beginnings of their own lives. Our pasts are to them as mysterious as the future.

And sometimes my own past is mysterious to me, too.

But here I am right here, right now in Pillville with my mom talking to herself as she crochets in her room. Piper the ancient cat has not ventured out yet from her respite under the laundry room sink. I just had a long talk on the phone with my friend Paula about the mysteries of dating. I have to decide if I'm serving leftover spaghetti for dinner again. What does the future hold? And why did the past roll out the way it did? How much control do we have over any of it?

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Hot Tea, Cold Ocean, Giant Whales, Tiny Sandwiches

Yesterday as we left the harbor, it looked like this:

Our boat rocked through blue water.

And we saw gray whales.

Today we saw a model of a gray whale.

And jelly fish and other wild creatures.

We came home and behaved in a very civilized fashion and had tea....

which was delicious. But then we had enough of that. And went back to this:

Saturday, March 8, 2014

Report from Pillville: Dementia...and...Puppies!

When I have a moment or two here in the Kingdom of Pillville, I sometimes take a little Google tour of the questions that have been patiently waiting in the back rooms of my mind. Here's a souvenir from today's tour: types of dementia. Sometimes my mother's memory loss is startling. Certain old stories seems stuck like glue, while other pieces of her past have simply dissolved. Or like she's cleaned out the closet in her brain. Keep this. Get rid of that.

Sometimes a conversation takes a weird turn like tonight when we began talking about the grandchildren she's lost track of due to an acrimonious divorce. "Those boys might be farmers," she said, insisting they could farm the acreage they grew up on though said acreage has never been actively farmed by them or their mother. I feel like I might be coming down with some kind of sudden-onset dementia during conversations like this. I go micro instead of macro, trying to figure out if she means who I think she means or if I wasn't listening carefully. Or if the land was actually farmed--maybe a hobby farm all these years, and I just didn't know. Or if she means they might farm their other grandmother's farm which really was a farm. I ask too many questions trying to straighten out the snarl of information I can feel tightening somewhere around my cerebellum when I should probably just say, "Yep, those boys might be farmers! Yep, they sure could be farmers!" And then change the subject.

my mother and her twin sister and their brother and one of the family milk cows--now these kids could have been farmers!
Tonight's conversation ending up with her exclaiming that anyone could farm if they just got a horse and a plow--or a tractor. I wanted to say that nothing is farther from the truth. And get into how, nowadays, most people in the U.S. would starve if they had to grow their own food. But I didn't get into that.

We talked about raising puppies instead, and I whipped the iPad over to the table and showed her pictures of the St. Bernard puppies that my brother's wife's brother (Are you following me? It's a little test....) and his family raise in Iowa. Puppies. There's a subject that can rescue a lot of dinner conversations. Go ahead, try it. Before you start feeling like this:

my mother's mother--as posed by her son (the young man in the photo above) who, I'm told, had quite a sense of humor

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Orange is the New Kayak

Daughter C has been visiting so I talked through my kayak dilemma with her. (You didn't know I had a kayak dilemma, did you?) "Should I get a 1-person or a 2-person kayak as our second kayak?" I asked. We discussed the pros and cons, one issue being how we would get a 2-person kayak home. At 12 feet, it most certainly would not fit in the Prius. I knew from my earlier purchase of a 1-person kayak from REI that they didn't deliver.

C and I decided to go the West Marine just a few miles from my house. If we could carry the kayak a block or so, we could put in in the water and paddle it home. After a brief jaunt around the store to prove to myself that I could carry my half--30.5 pounds--we walked out the the door with it. It's rather awkward walking down the street with a kayak.  And I did require a pause or two along the way, but we made it to the water.

It was so much fun that the next day we paddled it to lunch and had to share a boat dock with a sea lion. It was a long dock, so a turf war was avoided.

That was so much fun, that today we paddled to the supermarket to pick up a few groceries.

I'm thrilled to have been out under the blue sky so much the last couple of days. C. goes back to Minnesota tomorrow, and the man who loves me has finished his recuperation here and went back to his place today so he can get ready for chemo and radiation.

Now with the kayak dilemma solved, I will turn my attention to the usual Pillville matters--the first of which will be to follow up again on the hospital bed I'm trying to get for my mom.

Saturday, March 1, 2014

Saturday Morning Storm Report

Fronds are flapping.
Camera are clicking.
This is what the photographers saw.
The long-billed curlews seem less impressed.