Saturday, March 14, 2015

Mariam

I met an old woman this week and I can't get her out of my head. Perhaps I just need to get her on paper (or electronic digital format, as the case may be.)

We were in the emergency room at Mercy Hospital for 4 or 5 hours that day. Connie was having some tests, presenting symptoms of a cranky gall bladder or something. Turned out to be damaged muscles and floating rib, painful but best case scenario with no surgical intervention required. This winter has been a lesson for us. Despite our active lifestyles, healthy living and regular exercise we don't bounce anymore. At our ages, when we overdo it, we pay for it. We break. 

We watched the EMTs wheel her into the room across the hall and transfer  her to the hospital bed . She was experiencing pain in her right hip and could not get comfortable. The nurses worked with her for awhile before leaving her alone. She struggled to find a comfortable spot and we could hear her cries and whimpers as she wormed herself onto her left side and into the crack between the mattress and the bedrail bars. For a while she was quiet.

"Cold... I'm so cold," she cried.

I looked up and down the hall for a nurse. Finding none, I began walking around the ward collecting blankets which I layered on her. She looked up at me and I could see the angry red welt on her forehead from pressing her face into the bars so I padded the bars with a towel.

"Is that better?" I asked. She couldn't hear me so I leaned closer to her and asked again. "Yes, it's better. But my hip..."

She had sparse white hair and no upper teeth. She was thin and afraid.

I stayed for awhile and listened to her talking to no one about her husband, long dead, about how much he loved her. I listened to her cry because she was not able to give him the children they both so wanted. She slipped in and out of reality. Perhaps the nurses had given her pain medication. Perhaps she was dancing with dementia.

I pushed the red call button and retreated back to Connie's room to wait for a nurse to come. No one came. I didn't get it. She began to cry again.

I remember so many, many occasions being with our mother in hospitals and nursing homes when mom would suddenly begin tending some random older person or child. She never turned away from human suffering or animals either, for that matter. She never explained or asked permission. She was our role model and I see her unspoken lessons reflected so often in my sisters as they tend to whoever lives down the street or crosses their path.

I walked into her room and leaned down to speak with her, perhaps take her mind off her pain. 

"How old are you, darlin," I smiled.

She met my gaze and said, "I don't know... but I do know it's been 46 years since I've had sex."

I couldn't contain my laughter. "That's a long time, darlin," I grinned.

"It is a long time... and that's why I'm talking about it," she smiled a toothless grin.

"What is your name?" I asked.  

"Marian ( or Miriam). I was born in 26. My eye doctor doesn't believe me."

"Well, you will be 90 next year. That's a long time, too." I said. I pulled up some pictures on my cell phone of our grandson and our dog Sam and showed them to her. She had trouble seeing them.

"I don't have children. I have no one," she whimpered.

I stroked her hair and smiled at her. "I'm so sorry for your pain, Mariam. I'm so sorry."

The look in her eyes from receiving a touch and human compassion froze me. I had seen that look in my dogs eyes earlier that week when we put him down. A softness, a resignation, mixed with fear and incredible love. We both cried.

I tried to pull her off the bars, but was unable, with my broken arm. She needed attention. I walked out of the ward into the main ER. There was trauma and drama everywhere. No wonder the nurses didn't respond. They were hanging bags of blood, attending to broken, suffering people. No one paid any attention to me. But Miriam had been patient for long enough. I raised my voice over the din.

"The woman in 17 is in distress!"

Three nurses turned and gazed at me. One of them headed down the corridor. Mission accomplished.

She returned with a big orderly and wrestled Miriam out of the crack and into the center of the bed. Perhaps they gave her more pain meds. After they left, I walked over and stroked her hair until she fell asleep. Connie was discharged shortly thereafter. Her attending nurse wept as she watched us across the hall. She told Connie "I wish we could take the time to tend to our patients like they deserve, but the job is so frantic sometimes. You have to grow a shell to the suffering or you couldn't do this work." God bless the medical professions.

Mom, you taught us well. Step up. Speak up. Do what you can do. We are all just trying to follow in your footsteps.

Growing old ain't for sissies. Sending light and love, Miriam. Can't get you out of my heart.






Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Sampson

"We who choose to surround ourselves with 
lives even more temporary than our own,
live within a fragile circle that is often breached.
And yet we still would love no other way."
-Irving Townsend

What a noble animal. We will miss Sampson and Lulu forever, but we have solace in the knowing that they are together again, running the beaches of heaven... cause all dogs go to heaven.

Pope Francis said so... and therefore, it is so... infallibly so. Sometimes, they get it right...

They came to us when we needed them the most. They brought smiles into our sorrow and, over the 15 years we were privileged to have them, they traveled coast to coast six times, visited 42 states and charmed a million hearts. They were, in fact, little angels in dog form.




 

Well done, my good and faithful beasts. See you at the Rainbow Bridge.

video

Saturday, January 10, 2015

Brunswick, Maine

We lived in Brunswick for four months this summer and were delighted with the little college town. Such a contrasting culture to the Portland Streets and the Island of Saint Simons off the coast of Brunswick, Georgia. But this blog is about Brunswick, Maine. What is it about this place?

  • Proximity to the coast. So many delightful trips in the red truck with the dogs around the inlets and mud flats of Harpswell and Bailey/Orr's Islands. Good roads. Sharp turns. Incredible scenery. The memories are pumped up by my fondness for both my father's truck and for one of my dogs who we have since lost. 
  • Ocean Kayaking (though I prefer fresh water, rough weather kayaking most... Bob Muller's camp was the best. Snow Pond is next...)
  • Neighborhood... eclectic, honest, heartfelt, interesting people. 
  • Being needed... or useful... or "adding value" to family, to old friends, to new friends.
  • Walking the cemetery and the street at night with Sampson.  We really enjoy it. He impresses me. He's 15 and not at the top of his game. He's deaf. He has seizures. He's stiff and an old dog. But he marks every post, every plant, every bush where he smells another scent. An exercise in patience for me, but what else does he have. Even without balls, he is still in the game. Instinct? Courage?  Yeah, probably both... but impressive.
  • Weather; being so close to the coast, there were some pretty good blows. One brought the big Silver Maple out by the road down on the front yard. Miraculous placement. Minimal damage.. a broken windshield.
  • Sounds: the church bells at the college, the train whistle at 6:45, wind in the "tees" .
  • Walking Bowdoin Common. Watching the young people laying in the grass, playing frisbee, the dogs running free, visiting the chapel, attending a musical at the theather.
  • Visiting Joshua Chamberlain's home, his statue and his grave. An extraordinary man.
  • The Farmer's Market in the park. Fresh, local produce.
  • The local restaurants; Vietnamese pho, Italian pasta, Wild Oats for veggie burritos.
  • The local theater, the smell of mildew, the overstuffed couches.
  • Richie and Tess. Eleanor and Bill. Jamie and Bobby... well, maybe not Bobby and his 3:00 am noisy returns from the bars.
  • The awesome, expansive kitchen with plenty of counter and cabinet space, the dishwasher, the food processor. 
  • Days at Stover Cove at the tip of the Harpswell Peninsula with K&E and R&K. A great little beach.
  • Weekends with everyone there, playing hearts and cribbage, eating vegan... ;-)
Many thanks, Rita, for renting us your home. Although we try to never do anything twice, who knows? We may try to come back next year. 

Grand Mal

Grand can mean many things. The dictionary suggests definitions of wonderful or very good, lofty, sublime or lavish. A grand mal seizure is none of these. It is devastating, debilitating, heartbreaking. It steals a person's dignity, his memory, his peace of mind and leaves him embarrassed, ashamed and vulnerable.

Three days ago I attempted to contact my friend Mark (not his real name). I first met him as a student when I was teaching high school in the 70's. He was a bright, promising student and he went on to study accounting and business management. Our paths crossed through the years. We congratulated each other in the good times and consoled each other in the bad times.

In the late 90's Mark was attacked in the Old Port on Portland's waterfront with a crow bar while withdrawing money from an ATM. The resulting brain injury disabled him and left him prone to seizures. He struggled valiantly to obtain proper medical treatment and medication to control his disorder. A lesser man would have not survived. And we were hopeful that the seizures had been minimized. He still experienced "petite mal" seizures, but he dealt with these infrequent occurrences quietly and stoically.

I tried unsuccessfully to contact him several times on Wednesday. On Thursday afternoon he answered his phone. I knew immediately that something was wrong. When he let me into his one room public assistance building his face was swollen and he dragged his right leg. His eyes were dark and fearful and he clenched his right side. He was unshowered, unshaven.

"What happened, Mark," I asked as we entered his room. There was a pool of dried blood on the floor.

"I don't know. I can't remember. I must have seized. I don't know when. What day is this?" he mumbled.

"It's Thursday, January 8th", I answered.

In the course of the next two hours he asked me "what day is this?" a dozen times.

I stayed for a couple hours and promised to come back later. At 6:00PM the phone rang. He sobbed as he asked "Glen, what town am I in?" I jumped in the truck and headed over the bridge.

Mark's confusion continued to escalate. I spoke with his sister on the phone and we agreed that we needed to get him to the hospital. I drove him to the Maine Med Emergency Room and stayed with him as they processed and evaluated him, until his sister arrived at 10:30.

He called me today. They had released him from the hospital at midnight and he was back in his room. He sounded scared and confused. When I entered his room he pointed out the pool of blood on the floor. He had no recollection that I had been there the previous day or that I had taken him to the hospital. We talked for several hours and it was painfully clear how hard he was working to put the pieces of the puzzle that was his scattered brain back together.  He irrationally tortured himself with guilt.

I tried to help him remember our shared good times. But he kept asking about my son Eric who had died 15 years ago and of his brother who had died of brain cancer in April. When I explained to him that his brother had died, he looked at me in abject horror and I realized that he was processing all the horrible events of his life again for the first time. He was terrified for what he might be forced to remember next. He was awakening to the nightmare that was his life.

Life is not fair. We expect it to be. We demand that it be. But it is not. It is Life. It calls upon us to survive... until we cannot.

Grand? I think not.




Friday, September 19, 2014

Living the Minimalist Life

Leo’s Principles of Living the Minimalist Life

1.  Omit needless things. Notice this doesn’t say to omit everything.  Just needless things.
2.  Identify the essential. What’s most important to you?  What makes you happy?  What will have the highest impact on your life, your career?
3. Make everything count. Whatever you do or keep in your life, make it worthy of keeping.  Make it really count.
4.  Fill your life with joy. Don’t just empty your life.  Put something wonderful in it.
5.  Edit, edit.  Minimalism isn’t an end point.  It’s a constant process of editing, revisiting, editing some more.
6.  Hold on loosely. Even to your prized possessions.  At the end of the day its relationships, not possessions, that make life worth living.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Delilah "Lulu" Foss; Jan 11, 2000-Sept 9, 2014







Such a wonderful companion. She was there for us when we needed her most and we so enjoyed her company over these almost 15 years. For such a little dog, she had the biggest heart and, in the end, it was her heart that failed. Probably from too much lovin... Just wanted to honor her to those who knew/loved her with this little tribute ... 

Some will protest that in a world with so much human suffering, its something in between eccentric and obscene to morn a dog. I think not. After all, it is perfectly normal- indeed, deeply human- to be moved when nature presents us with a vision of great beauty. Should we not be moved when it produces a vision- a creature- of the purest sweetness?”


Charles Krauthammer


Time, June 16, 2003


Saturday, August 23, 2014

The North Pond Hermit

Good writing...

"Solitude did increase my perception. But here's the tricky thing—when I applied my increased perception to myself, I lost my identity. With no audience, no one to perform for, I was just there. There was no need to define myself; I became irrelevant. The moon was the minute hand, the seasons the hour hand. I didn't even have a name. I never felt lonely. To put it romantically: I was completely free."

http://www.gq.com/news-politics/newsmakers/201409/the-last-true-hermit?currentPage=1