Thursday, September 20, 2007
[Written from the hospital, 9/18/07]
I have a new friend. It goes with me wherever I go. Before I can go to the bathroom, we have to unplug it so it can roll along with me.
My IV pole didn't bother me half so much when I was in bed all day. But now that I'm pretty mobile, it's driving me crazy. It's a kind of amazing device and I marvel at its function: holding all the apparatus of medicines and pain killers and nutrients in one tidy stack, on wheels, capable of following me, the patient, everywhere I go.
The intravenous drip is an amazing concept. I look at the thick plastic bags of fluids and their little receptacles that catch the very regulated drips, and think... some kid, somewhere, got obsessed with the nature of dripping at a science fair one summer. And he made it his life's work and his friends made crazy signals at him behind his back and he had horrible dandruff and no one got it, but one day he said look -- if we can regulate dripping and figure out a way to get it infused directly into the blood stream, we can enable ourselves to do a whole lot of things for a medical patient than we used to be able to do. We can regulate exactly how much food and liquid goes into the body and then, by measuring exactly what comes out, determine if all the plumbing in between is functioning without leaks or building repositories. We can do without direct injections and stick that dreaded needle into a tube rather than into a screaming child's arm. We can let the patient determine when to give themselves more pain relief, and still not worry about lawsuits when he decides that Sister Morphine is someone he loves very very much.
While I can marvel at the technological intricacies of my IV pole for long moments on end, I am spending more time these days getting annoyed. A technogical marvel: yes. A great dance partner: not so much.
I have about four feet of tether on my leash. This is just enough for me to barely go around my bed without bringing the pole along. Why would I want to go around the bed? Well, me being me, and me feeling better -- there's a lot of organizing to do in my little room. Sometimes I want my computer over here by the window. And sometimes I want my little table with all my books and magazines and tabloids (I have such great friends) to be on the other side of the bed. Flowers need to be moved, based on long analysis of aesthetics and space considerations from my tilted up bed, from the counter by the sink to the table the nurses set up for me. And sometimes a truly urgent need arises -- like for a set of headphones so I can watch Grey's Anatomy on my laptop... but the headphones are about 8 feet away and... even if I stretch out the cables a bit... and lean out really really far... just outside of reach.
Then, there's the twisting. My dance partner especially likes to do the twist when we're going to the restroom together. Somehow my tubes get all tied up around the pole so every exit from the loo looks like a weird pas de deux, with my twirling it around backwards, trying to get enough leash back for myself so I can get into bed.
Since I started writing this, I'm happy to say, my IV has actually been disconnected, I've been cleared for solid foods, and I'm slated to go home later today. I have walked around the floor of my wing, amazed at the sense of freedom of being solid and substantial on my own two feet (and nothing more). I actually look forward to other dance partners in my future, ones that may entangle just as much, but in far more heartfelt ways.
# posted by Katherine Doughtie Nolan @ 10:32 PM 0 comments
Tuesday, September 18, 2007
The Present[written 9/17/07, from Huntington Hospital, California -- forgive the typos and the inability to find a working wifi connection.... and yes, I'm home and better. k]
A week ago last night, I found myself on the bathroom floor, writhing with severe abdominal pain, unable to find any kind of relief. My friend Cindy came to bring me important life-saving devices such as suppositories, saltines and 7-up. Nothing worked except the one life-saving device she didn't intend to be so important: herself. At 1 a.m., half passed-out with fatigue and pain and really just wanting to go to sleep and not worry about it any more, she helped me muster up some strength to go the ER. Although I didn't know it yet, a small band of scar tissues had wrapped itself around a chunk of my small intestines, cinching it off and starting to kill the tissue. In the process it was starting to poison me as well. If she had not been there to help me get up and together, it's possible that this story would've had a whole different ending.
Since them my life has changed to something nearly unrecognizable. Instead of marking time by light and dark, I watch the nurse shifts change. After the surgery Wednesday night I have had to reconstruct my life piece by minutely small piece. I am tapped into a new organism: the hospital. When I found a window that looked south the other day, I stood by it and realized I was looking at the hill behind my house. It could've been on another planet.
Hospitals thrum. They are busy constant systems, with fast-paced arteries buzzing with the transport of information and procedure, the living, the sick and the dead. Their business is serious, and working so close to the pure sweet essentials of life seems to make the nurses consistently radiate with love and care and joy. Being in the medical profession requires a gene so special it really should be deified. The women and men who have cared for me over the last week have, almost to a one, had such a light in their eye that I've felt blessed just to be administered to by their hands. Doctors administer their gifts with their skill and their eyes and their incredible brains. Nurses administer with their hearts and their hands. Both are essential. Both should be deified.
I marvel at the ability of caregivers to actually... care. The depth of empathy and compassion one human is capable of providing to another human is worth taking a moment to ponder. We all know how much and how easily we can brutalize, demean and destroy each other. But the sine waves' amplitude extends equally the other way. The willingness and insistance of my nurses to make a moment of my life just that much better through their effort has touched me to my core. I call one night nurse, Miki, my bed goddess. She had a way of making my bed and tucking me into such a heavenly confection of sheets and blankets and pillows that I would sink into it with a sigh of absolute surrender, lulled into a state of an infant's sweet sensual bliss. She doesn't know me. She didn't have to do that. But she gave that to me out of her heart.
Life can dissolve in a matter of hours. Putting it back together again is piecemeal, a careful step by step.
At first, I could exist in nothing but light and dark. The light burst in on me in the recovery room, flashes of chaos. It was like black film leader was interspersed in five foot intervals with six frames of image. Dim figures hovered over other beds, yelling out interrogatories: "Do you know your name?" "Do you know where you are?" I'd hear that and think, OK, I think I could answer that, but then I'd blank out again. I was sure I was in Seattle, because that's where Grey's Anatomy takes place, and obviously I was in a TV show. But I knew enough to know there was a difference between TV and reality.... but couldn't then figure where I was if I wasn't in a TV show. Blank black leader. Open eyes: a figure at the foot of my bed saying "You're taking a long time getting out of this." Saying "sorry," and blacking out again. Black leader. Open eyes: another figure next to me. I finally find a way to formulate what I want to know most of all. "Is it going to be OK?" I ask. "Can you please just tell me it's going to be OK." I black out before the figure can speak.
They finally wheel me out to where my friend... my amazing steadfast sister/friend Jill... has been waiting for me through the entire surgery and recovery. I think we thought it would all be over around 6:30. It is now past 9:30. She has left her kids and husband (who happen to be my kids and ex-husband) at home so she can stay with me. She thinks it's important for me to have someone be there when I wake up. She is right. It was.
After I got used to being alive, everything was still wildly out of place. My body looked like something out of a bio-morph movie, connected to external technology in more ways than I can count: a tube through my nose sucked out digestive gasses and poisons, as a tube in my arm dripped nutrients and medicine back in. A finger clamp kept track of my oxygen. I had a bag coming out of my stomach which collected the seepage from my wound -- oddly beautiful irridescent pink fluid that reminded me of strange otherworldly jellyfish. A catheter took care of other wastes. And something across my forehead did something else; I never figured out what was left to monitor but whatever that forehead thing did, I'm sure it monitored it. I was alive, but hardly autonomous.
The process has been to gradually move the blocks from one side of the line to the other. To start getting the systems once again internalized, so this bag of body that I move around in so easily can once again be self-contained. Processes have to be taken away and then reintegrated gradually. I ate nothing for two days and then was allowed ice chips for the next four. I was able to sip on juice yesterday, and today I am looking at my first "solid" food (jello... sitting so incredibly red and jiggly and chewable next to me) since I scarfed down snacks so blithely at work a week ago. I look at commercials for buffalo wings and spend long moments wondering about the species that can actually ingest THOSE.
By night, my druggy brain spins out reels of wild weird intensely intricate dreams, magical and mysterious but oddly mundane. I am travelling all over the world and revisiting all aspects of life, in an attempt to reboot the system and remind the memory cells of what this life this is all about. Last night I dreamt for hours about window washing in Paris. The night before I was on an outrageous opera tour in which my boss deemed my $200 plane ticket too dear so he had me hang on to the back of the 747 while we flew to New York. Once in New York, we did two small shows in Jersey in the middle of a full show in Manhattan, and in between times my boss rode around on a bicycle wearing a clown wig. In another dream, I have found my soul mate -- a weird Brewery-type person who has discovered that he also has the ability to fly (without hanging on to the back of a plane) -- and together we took off over a field and rejoiced in our finding of the other.
By day, I walk the floor of the hospital wing, looking out windows and telling myself what goes on outside these walls. This is West: there's the Rose Bowl where I used to walk, and will walk again. This is South: I live down there. This is East: that Burger King where the kids and I go when we don't have time to do anything else.
At root we are our biology. We are a metropolis of transport systems, messaging exchanges and I/O devices. We are the bags containing these intricate and extensive systems. And we are energy and thought. This is who and what we are, and what counts is our care and our attention to it.
Surrounding us is the next most important thing: people. Our bags of metropolises profoundly need to connect with other bags of metropolises. I can't start listing what the people in my life have done for me the last week. From sitting and reading newspaper stories to me, to handing me an endless streams of vomit bags, to taking my dog without thought or question. My friends and kids have been around me constantly, finding a nurse when I needed one. Being my advocate. Combing my hair. Putting on my socks. People in our lives are indispensible to getting us back together, piece by piece, block by tiny block.
The day I was admitted and before I went into surgery, I shared a room with an older woman, waiting for a surgery she ultimately never received due to a huge insurance foulup. Despite our compromised circumstances, we quickly became partners in crime, reminding each other of our room number, sharing war stories. Turns out she was an opera singer in her time -- and we had at least several acquaintances in common.
On Wednesday, her son -- an accomplished musician -- brought in his cello to serenade his mom... and of course me and Jill and Cindy in the process. After a wretched night of minimal pain relief and the new knowledge that I was about to have major surgery, the sweet sad strains of Bach and Mozart filling the small room was almost too much to bear. To go from pulling vomit out of my hair in a 3 a.m. waiting room to hearing this celestial music played live 8 feet away from me -- it strained all bounds of extremes. If there's a heaven: it was that moment. If there's a divine thought presence in the universe that is capable of sending down the sweetest birthday present possible: this was that present. My abdomen unclenched for the first time in 40 hours, tears rolled from my eyes. Exquisite beauty; divinely timed.
So that's the third thing this is all about: art. Art is the magic that binds it all together. Art transports us from our pain and can carry us to places of unspeakable peace. Art is the pixie dust. Art is really the only thing that counts besides our relationship with other people and tending to our precious personal biologies.
Am I happy this happened? That's a complicated answer but I suspect it tends closer to yes, on many levels. I am surrounded by flowers and books and magazines -- more art (both natural and manmade) to soothe my soul. I have been visited and called and well-wished and sent concerns by just about everyone I know for a full week -- by far exceeding my last mere 30 hour birthday party celebration. And a celebration is, oddly, how it feels. At least to me. I can't imagine not being alive so the "life-threatening" aspect of this whole deal is kind of a non-registrant in my mind. Like, duh, of course I'll be fine. The only question, as I lay on the bathroom floor, was when. It was never an "if." So to me it's been painful and weird and awkward and disconcerting (and probably expensive... haven't gotten there yet) ... but also it's been a celebration. I love the dance of these connections and histories and shared stories and our abilities to make each other laugh until tears roll and stitches strain. I worship the ability of art to do the same -- get in our souls, soften the tight spots, ease our pain, deliver birthday presents from the gods.
It's hard to imagine why, but sometimes a system may have to fail completely in order to see the underlying structures supporting it. All the hustle and jive of keeping the surface life afloat -- the life of jobs and cars and houses -- takes most of our effort but is, in reality, subservient to our primary task of caring for our biological metropolises and taking care of the people in our lives. The jobs enable us to feed ourselves and our children. The cars carry us to other people. Sometimes maybe one system must disappear for a time so we can fully understand why we spend so much of our lives servicing the other.
For me, finding myself completely dependent has shown me something I should've known a long time ago. Losing complete autonomy brings into sharp relief the thing that's been upholding me all this time. I have been given the irrefutable, in-the-gut, deeply moving and viscerally certain knowledge that I am in no way alone on this planet.
That's one birthday present I hope I never misplace.
# posted by Katherine Doughtie Nolan @ 9:58 PM 2 comments
Sunday, September 09, 2007
It's a start.
OK. So you're right. I haven't been writing any blogs and, truth be told, I haven't been working on the book that much either since returning from the road trip. And I promised I would, and I didn't.
In my defense, I only claim the distraction created by starting a new job and launching two kids off to their respective new school years. The new job is kicking my ass (in a great way) and I spent most of the weekend completely comatose watching Grey's Anatomy episodes.
That's the full confession.
I did, however, want to share what happens when two repressed creatives get together with four margaritas, a selection of finger foods and a road trip to discuss. I'll never underestimate the versatility of jicama again.
# posted by Katherine Doughtie Nolan @ 10:24 PM 0 comments