Friday, August 22, 2014

The Ties That Bind

We have traversed an unfortunate detour before being able to continue discussing the concept of grace, but we are back on track.  Rejoice or gnash teeth as you deem necessary.  There has been much discussion these last few months about what point I lost sight of grace, but for the sake of brevity and relevance, it is best to talk about my last living arrangement.  It was essentially a long period of isolation devoid of much positive emotion.  By that, I mean giving or receiving.  When one lives under such harsh circumstances, it is easy to view God as a harsh, emotionally distant being as well. 
 My sister, Denise, and I had a parting of the ways by default in 1997.  She and my mother fell out sometime in the fall while I was at my junior year of college in Columbia.  They could both be moody, violatile people, so I never much inquired about the cause of their split.  The matter is irrelevant here.  Just know that denise cut my mother and me off as a package deal.  I expected the situation to turn on a dime as though nothing had have occurred between the two.  History indicated that would happen.  History did not repeat itself this time for six years.  Not until our mother died.
I got the call telling me my mother was dead Friday, March 20, 2003.  I was a second year law student in Virginia at the time.  The call came from Cindy, a former sister-in-law of Denise’s.  The south makes for strange connections.  Just go with it.  Cindy was going through her divorce around the time Denise disappeared from mother’s and my life.  We all hooked up, filling the missing voids we were all carrying around.  The ties were still so strong six years hence that she was an approp0riate choice to give me the news.  She also said Denise and I needed to bury our mother together.
 I confess I was not planning to initiate contact with Denise.  Call it pettiness if you wish, but I had suffered through the worst of our mother’s suicide run without any help from Denise on top of having no contact with her period for the previous six years.  I did not know if she would even care, anyway.  But Denise contacted me through email with her cell phone number.  I opted not to refuse the outreach.  
I called her after I had booked a flight back home.  It was also after I had arranged for Cindy to pick me up at the airport.  I was also going to stay with Cindy during the entire time I would be back in South Carolina.    I wanted to make sure I had everything in line in order to keep Denise at a safe distance if I was not comfortable with how she acted over the phone.  Our conversation was subdued.  I asked about my nieces.  She told me she knew all about my time at law school, including that I had made it on an academic journal.  I decided we would make funeral arrangements together. 
When Cindy called me back later that night, I told her Denise and I were going to woek together.  She said that was good, because Denise had initially refused to contact me.  She had said something along the lines of “He is getting everything.  Let him handle it,” so Cindy thought it was great she had a change of heart.  It should have served as more of a warning to me.   Instead, I assumed Denise much be thinking I would screw it all up without her being in charge.  What would it hurt to let her go through the aggravation of the coming red tape to make sure things were all done right?  We would part ways again with no fuss or frills.  If either one of us felt the need to ditch the other during the process, we could manage it alone.
When I arrived in Hartsville the next morning, denise wanted to see me immediately.  I had been up most of the night with a layover in Atlanta.  I was not at my best for that sort of thing, but I did it.  Denise was not home when I got to her house.  I sat with my oldest niece for a spell while I wanted for her. The last time I saw erica, she was knee deep in Barbies.  Now she pining for a driver’s license.  Cindy went for takeout.  I had not eaten since Atlanta, either.  Denise arrived while she was still hitting a take out window. 
 Denise and I went outside to talk.  Her house had a carport she used as a covered patio instead.  I find it bemusing now that we sat in the deck chairs the furthest respectable distance we could get from each other.  She told me she knew about the troubles mother had suffered in the last few yearsw.  She knew what I had suffered because of them.  She said she had once thought about reaching out to help me, but decided it would just make things worse for everyone.  I listened politely, but took everything with a pinch of salt.  Experience has made me distrustful of people, particularly those who admit knowledge of my travails after the fact, but did nothing to help.  Such has been the case many, many times in the past. 
 My trepidations were still there, but I decided to go through with working with Denise.   She knew me well enough to know I did not trust her.  I am sure she knew I never trusted anyone other than myself.  We would make funeral arrangements together.  We would handle all the wrapping up of our mother’s life.  I would stay with Cindy for the duration.  We would then see how things progressed/regressed from there.            

Friday, August 8, 2014

Sein und Zeit

The previous entry covered the sequence of events over the last week, but mostly glossed over many of the thoughts that wandered through my mind during those days.  I have had the experience of not eating or drinking for significant periods of time before.  They have al occurred in the aftermath of a surgical procedure.  Last week’s endurance test was not severe enough to require constant IV fluids as the others have, but the experience of racing thoughts when there little else to do but think was every bit as powerful.
I have never fasted before prayer.  I have no doctrinal objections to the practice.  I respect those who have the self-discipline to prepare themselves for prayer in such a manner.  I have just never done it before myself.  But in experiencing the times post-surgery and now between medical procedures, I have gained an understanding of exactly how the physical deprivation prepares the mind of careful self-discovery.  There comes a point, arriving sooner than you might believe, in which your thoughts turn from food to the deepest subjects. 
The first time this happened was in May 2004 after my colon had ruptured.  I had never had an operation on my digestive system before.  The whole experience of not eating or drinking for days on end was brand new.  I did not know things were going to turn out so badly.  As far as I was concerned, my eye would heal before my colostomy could be taken down, but I could take the bar exam with a poop bag.  It would make for a great story later in my distinguished legal career.  I felt cheated after I had worked so hard to reach law school graduation to have it snatched out from under me.  Fate could be terribly mean.  Speaking of being terribly mean, my sister told me I was wallowing in self-pity with these thoughts.  Always a comforting lass, Denise is.
 The second time I had one of these fasting periods was more significant.  It happened in August 2006.  I had hernia surgery a few days before being hospitalized yet again with the first of several serious bowel onstructions which would occur over the next six years.  Obstructions are a common complication after ambominal surgeries.  Why I was unfortunate enough to suffer others sans surgery is anyone’s guess.  At least I got the most severe one out of the way first. 
I was weak from hernia surgery.  I had yet to eat much anyway and was dry as a bone.  That is what you call starting the race a lap behind.  Because I was so weak, no one wanted to do anything too intrusive, much less perform surgery.  I thought it was incredibly strange to lay there getting weaker waiting for someone to do something when my weakness was the main obstacle to solving the problem, but I am not a doctor, so what do I know?
 I had toyed with suicide by this point.  It was well after I had embraced Victor Frankl’s theory connecting loss of the will to live with the onset of ill health.  Frankl seemed to be right.  Here I was wasting away after surgically repairing a hernia caused solely by soft tissue ripping and a bowel obstruction no one could figure out how to fix.  So there was my mindset as I drifted off into that fasting delirium.  I had already been beaten down by chronic ill health for two years.  This stretch of time was laying a searing hot iron to a raw nerve.
 My thoughts centered on two subjects.  One was my law school days.  It was during this time period I largely stopped feeling angry about my health preventing me from practicing law.  I had made many sacrifices, some of which had a detrimental effect on my health, which were now pointless.  Not only had I ruined my potential career by making them, but I had ruined my life.  I did not want to hear any platitudes about much of life being a matter of chance, success is never guaranteed, , or strong people stand up after every fall, so I kept these thoughts to myself.  It was easy to do.  No one cared, anyway.  Not wallowing pity with that.  It is just the older you get, the more everyone around you just expects you to deal with the storms of life.  Even if said storm is actually a group of Category 5 hurricanes in a conga line. 
Compounding the problem was the second flood of thoughts.  I thought longingly for my life a decade prior.  I was in college.  The future looked bright.  The relationship with my mother had rough edges, but at least she was alive.  I lived in a place I actually felt like calling home.  I was in an emotional quandary.  I had no future, so there was no point in thinking about tomorrow.  But the past was completely dead.  There was no point in torturing myself by longing for it, either.  Besides, I was essentially longing for my youth.  Everyone has to quit that at some point. 
 So what do you do when your past, present, and future are unbearable?  I never came up with any solution other than my health really needed to hurry up and finish me off.
 Move ahead nearly eight years to last week.  I wound up in the same mental state mostly on Tuesday night.  It was in the middle of the night.  I had not eaten anything but clear liquids for two days and had not ingested anything at all for about 28.  Add to that being doped up on nausea medication combined with lingering anesthetic.  I did not chase a white rabbit, but probably only because one did not show up.  What I did chase was thoughts of a pointless life?  What was I suffering through all this for?  It had to be for some reason.  Why was I doing it all alone?  Are things going to change in the future?  Do I have it in me to change them?  Do I even care?  If not, then what?  To make matters worse, I had to continue on clear liquids through Friday, so I had another spell of these miserable thoughts all day Thursday.
 As with the past, I came up with no solutions.  The more physical strength I gain as I recover, the less the emotions sting.  But they cannot be ignored.  When I am broken down into my most  basic self, they are front, center, and riotous.  I suppose this is why I keep on writing.  Maybe I will enjoy an epiphany eventually. 

Friday, August 1, 2014

Just a Flesh Wound

Keeping up Cogito Ergo Doleo has been difficult over the last month.  It is a shame because the narrative flow has been disrupted by much drama on all fronts.  For the sake of remaining as classy as I can, I will only discuss the running issue which has exasperated every other random stick poking occurring since June.  Namely, my health.
I have experienced bouts of anemia periodically since my most recent colon surgery in October 2012.  The anemia has required transfusions on three separate occasions.  The latest of those was in May 2013.  At no point, after careful examination each time by often unpleasantly intrusive means, was any source of internal bleeding found.  After the final transfusion, I was prescribed iron pills.  No further problems occurred until a few weeks ago when my hemoglobin began to plummet.  This means a shortage of red blood cells.  I was bleeding internally.   I will leave it to you to figure out how we figured out the blood was from my digestive system.  It should not be too difficult to determine. 
 I braced myself for two highly intrusive tests--a colonoscopy and an endoscopy.  The latter is frequently dubbed an EDG.  For the sake of simplicity, I am going to refer to it as such.  It is probably safe to assume you know what happens during a colonoscopy.  An EDG involves going in the mouth and down the throat.  So both the entrance an exits are covered.  We are getting shaky on this staying classy thing, I know.  Bear with me as long as long as your dainty sensibilities will permit.  I have endured both procedures before.  One is usually not knocked out for a colonoscopy, but always for an EDG.  One tends to panic and/or barf  otherwise.  Since one was going to be performed right after the other, I was to be mercifully asleep for both.  One of the few fortunate happenstances to befall me in quite a while.   It was about the only good fortune I enjoyed this week.
Monday morning was the start of a clear liquid diet that was supposed to last until after the procedures, which would mean a late lunch for me Tuesday afternoon.  Not only did I have to suffer through three meals and Jell-O, but the evening featured hours of preparation cleaning myself out for the next morning.  There is a huge jug of industrial strength laxative to drink which leaves one’s colon spic and span.  I did not have to drink it because of my feeding tube, but that counted for only half the battle.  Industrial strength laxatives and colostomies are a volatile combination.  Picture the flooding scene in Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom as a visual aid.  Monday night was a long, busy night indeed. 
 My clear liquid diet turned into a nuthin’, no way, no how diet at midnight.   I was a little on the lightheaded side Tuesday morning, but I could handle deprivation a few more hours.  I was chauffeured in the oak haven van to the hospital.  I had expected to go to the main McLeod in Florence, but wound up, much to my surprise, at McLeod-Darlington.  If you recall, that was my old stomping ground for five or so weeks last summer.  I had not been there in over a year.  It would have been great to run into people I knew.  As it turned out, Chappel was in charge of my paperwork.  You may recall Chappel used to take my walking so I did not have to use a wheelchair like McLeod-Darlington required.  She earned high marks in my book for this and many other sweet gestures. 
I became enormously depressed when one of the questions she needed to ask was if I had thoughts of harming myself in the last six months.  I sheepishly admitted I was on suicide watch for over a month at the beginning of the year.  She asked if I had actually tried to kill myself.  I told her someone stopped me., but living in a nursing home did not agree with me.  She was much quieter throughout the rest of the forms.  It did not dawn on me right away her asking if I actually tried to kill myself was her own question, not the form’s.  Sometimes my distrustful, solitary attitude blinds me  to reciprocated personal bonds.  It is definitely not the best thoughts to have just before going under for a medical procedure.
Neither of them took too long.  I was awake in about an hour.  My head was slamming, though.  The doctor had used my forehead for leverage when dropping the scope down my throat.  Or an elephant sat on it.  I remain unclear which, and can only speculate based on the amount of pain.  I was given something for the pain.  Whether it was the anesthetic or the painkiller that prompted me to barf up whatever I could still miraculously have in me, barf it up I did.  The anesthesiologist just did get out the way.  There were no hard feelings between, though.  She was a sweet lady who stayed by the gurney with a wet cloth for my forehead while I waited for a room to be cleaned.  Colonoscopies/EDG are only outpatient procedures if you do not barf afterwards.
In the meantime, the doctor, after determining my lucidity, revealed there was a spot on my stomach in which the interior lining is flaking off.  I had an ulcer.  This spot was almost certainly the source for the bleeding, but he could not get as good a look inside my colon as he wanted.  He planned to take another look later in the week.  I still was not quite lucid enough for that to sink in, nor was I particularly cooperative for a quick CT scan after he departed.  Three radiologists sort of tossed me around and positioned me like a rag doll.  I hope they had fun.  
Those plans for that light lunch offered after one awakens from the procedures were quickly dashed, but I passed out the moment I was settled in my room, anyway.  It was the next morning before I stirred again For whatever reason, they were not going to send a breakfast tray, so the first shift CNA microwaved a cup of instant grits.  Normally, I would refuse grits out of general principle, but I had not had any real food since Sunday night, so I went for it.  Picked at it, anyway.  At a certain point, you can get so hungry, eating does not even matter anymore.  A self-defense mechanism, maybe? 
I was transported back to Oakhaven while using a wheelchair.  I did not put up the slightest fuss over the issue.  If you know me well, you will understand how weary I must have felt in order to cooperate with such a “chariot."  At some point before leaving McLeod-Darlington, I vaguely heard and acknowledged a CT scan newly scheduled for Friday.   Yeah, yeah.  Okay…zzzzzz.
I managed to get down a peanut butter and jelly sandwich Wednesday eveningt before being informed the test for Friday was not a mere CT scan, but a virtual colonoscopy.  Well, that did not sound good.  Neither did the clear liquid diet and industrial strength laxatives planned for Thursday.  Have mercy upon my scrawny self as I wither away.
 The last line of the previous paragraph was no joke.  The plan to drive me to the hospital for the virtual colonoscopy via Oakhaven’s van was quickly changed to a call for an ambulance transport.  I could not put one foot in front of the other Friday morning.  The trip to the hospital for the procedure and back took a shade under four hours.  My feet touched the floor once during that time, and I nearly toppled a radiologist went that happened.  I might wind up with two ulcers after all this. 
True to my luck, a virtual colonoscopy is much like an actual colonoscopy.  The only difference I could discern is the drugs were not as good.   Insult to injury, I got bruised up rolling around on the unpadded, metal table.  The bruises added a nice finishing touch to the week’s festivities. 
 Does this story have a happy ending?   Yes, as much as an ending can be in the real world.  My colon got the all clear.  The fissure is still there, but not bleeding.  No diverticula is ready to burst, either, so the cycle is not about to repeat itself.  I finally got to eat a solid meal late Friday afternoon for the first time since Sunday evening.   A bleeding ulcer is about the best diagnosis to receive under the circumstances.  I have to make some dietary changes, take a strong antacid, and stop fantasizing about going all Bruce lee on everyone who annoys me, but I will recover.  Assuming that Bruce Lee thing is not as hard a habit to break as I believe it will be.