Medicine


To the doctors again, I loaded the car with the wheelchair and its 

inhabitant and the inhabitant’s 62-year marriage distracting mate.

My dementia-ravaged mother’s caretaker naturally came along.

She and I lifted my mother’s stiff resisting 95-pound taut body high

into the van, me pulling from the seat above, she pushing from

the cement driveway below, the two of us nearly thankful she has 

wasted to such an accommodating weight, making the task feasible.

 

On her wedding day, she was 95 pounds, so my father repeats to

anyone who will listen, including the new neurologist who observes,

examines my mother while my father offers his opinions in a blared

recital of facts: “She was an English Major and wrote a thesis on, on…

Saul Bellow. It’s in Long Beach in the school somewhere. She was a

good wife. The best you could ask for. But you never know how much

you have in a person until she’s gone.” And so goes his secular litany.

 

Struggling not to once again remind him that she hears and is alive

and beat down the growing irritation, I explain that she fractured 

her shoulder somehow while in a nursing home and so protects it.

The doctor nods, hmmm’s and continues manipulating my mother’s

rigid limbs, tries to uncurl her fingers long-ago cemented into C’s.

She murmurs her observations in one word confirmed diagnoses: 

“Spasticity…atrophy…tremors…neuropathy…” as she plies tissue.

 

My father answers, “Her left arm doesn’t work at all,” when the 

neurologist inquires about body movement, and I snap, “Not true.”

I shush him a few times as his need grows to run the show, talk to 

someone who will hear what he repeats like a skipping vinyl record, 

evoke sympathy from new flesh (the same old audience tires), 

release nervousness or some other cause of his inaccurate, 

inappropriate and irrelevant comments–and I immediately soften.

 

He needs so much too, but then he has always stolen more from her.

The pink and blue light sabers clash in stinging zaps inside my body.

She is a White Walker sans the unstoppable malice, with bones 

for a face and fallen flesh failing to disguise human skeleton, I muse.

 

In the car trip to the office, she sneezed, and I marveled at her voice,

the familiar sound of her reflex, which flooded me with spinning

memory flinches of every moment I had ever heard it, pouring

gooey thick amniotic washing into the bones of my sense of time

and destination, the immediate and outward, unknown, unseen.

In Arabic death ritual, relatives painstakingly and lovingly wash the
 
corpse to send it onward in its journey while leaving blessings behind.

 

But the miasma of missing Mom living right before my eyes, mouth,

nose, ears and skin, who I touch and purr to and who sometimes

gaping-mouthed, wild eyed, crazy-toothed, lopsided smiles at me with

oh-my-God-of-the-moment recognition, cherished, ecstatic familiarity 

and connection for us both, confuses us, me, who churns with the incongruity 

and daze of seeing him well enough to complain, repeat the same jokes and other 

grating, mindless habits he has long held, and just as long refused to change–

 

and yet see him as short-term too, gone in a cardiac flash or in interminable dribs

and drabs of life-leaking, irrefutable, genuine  horror for him, me, everyone but 

the doctors, nurses, pharmacists, technicians and equipment and drug 

manufacturers who gain from decay, his, theirs and ours, the dying.

 

At home, I hear the wheelchair wheels squeak by as my 20-year old

10-months now concussed daughter, chair-splayed, giggles at the electronic 

buzzes emitted from her palm’s worship, the small God of life she knows, 

my mother never knew, its advent arriving too late, my father acknowledges

then glances away from, its mystery blinding, and I know far too well, prey to 

its opiates, but not enough to forego profit and sneer nor succumb to its disease.

Shall we call this nature and proceed with a sun-spreading daylight’s delivery?

  

    

For No Apparent Reason

Like any other morning, I wake up to muffled door rattles or slams,

And the crystal plea of a squeezed bladder–release, sweet release.

The blinds drawn and the clock radio dead for a few years now, I reach

For my phone to check the time: the usual 6:38 a.m. flashes retinally.

Taking inventory, I listen for a high schooler soon to fly out the door,

Perhaps her older sister stirring in poor sleep or kicking the disruptive

Cat out the door to purr in someone else’s ears, perturbations unleashed

For those battling anxiety and depression: IBS, TBI, PMS and US politics.

 
Challenging gravity’s rest, I aright myself and further assess the day’s 

Bone placement as they all align, sink and press in allotted pegs, dips

And slots, and all measure properly without incident or undue notice.

My body has not joined in some stealth overnight rebellion for unpaid

Dues or sins of my youth just yet, and I take my first steps into morning.

Upright, leaning into space opening up to the bathroom door a mere six

Steps from my launch, I begin to feel it: the heaviness, not in step or 

Weight, but an anchor-dragging shadow that resists verticality from

Scalp to balls of the feet, slowing the advancing doorway  to a shuffle.
 

I know I’m already late, but the excursion’s effort, to pee and back, 

Begs my re-bedding just for a hair’s breadth of a moment, I bargain.

Soon, the phone or entry door will vibrate with his questioning call or 

Needy knuckles, reminding me that it’s time for his intravenous push 

And his diabetes blood check and his arm wrap for his shower and his 

Pill box re-filling as it is Monday: the array of multi-colored, go-gemlets 

Shaped like candy paper dots or pez ovals popped out of a clown mouth.

The anchor widens and grows tentacles, linking chain to arms and chest,

Pulling down shoulders and the corners of eyes and lips no breath can re-

Vive, no gratitude check can lighten and release like an emptied bladder.
 

I glance out the now-opened blinds at the orange clusters in threes and 

Fours, heavy with juice, hanging impossibly high at the thinnest branches

At the top, mightily fighting, irresistibly drawn downward while floating

The resistance between soaring, maintaining and falling: mass, space and

Time–all illusion, as is this overwhelming dread and angst that will dry,

Crumble and dust, blown into an afternoon breeze that kicks up after June

Grey dewy mornings drip, clear and stiffen to bolster tender leaves against

The love, need, hate, and anger over their circling heads tethered to a sun,    

The same star that guides ships, unanchored, daylight drifting or swiftly 

coursing waters tumultuous and calm to destinations charted yet unknown.

Another rudder-less morning steering me blindly, I have survived the first

Passage and make my way to the door, enjoying the last five, quiet seconds

Before the physical proof meets the prescient mood, while nothing is wrong. 

 

  

Jousting the gods


The old man complains once again that he’s dying.

My immediate response kicks in: “You’re not dying.”

The main thing is to speak in monotone reassurance.

“You’re not dying,” I repeat. “I’m not ready for you to go.”

And we have nothing more to say the rest of the way.

Our third or fourth trip to disease harbor, we pray.

The edge we negotiate each day exhausts us both,

He teetering to the right and me pulling him back left.

We battle each under the armor of our own skin, an

Aged man and his aging daughter jousting the gods.

In Patience…

death

…We wait.

For doctor calls,

nurse triage,

pharmacy fills

hospital beds

pressing 1,

then 3,

then 0,

then more numbers

and more

and more

and more

and then a voice

another voice

and then

a dead end.

Start over.

A doctor,

we need

a doctor

but

the wall

of admins

like fortresses

hide them

protect them

in gall.

Fighting

to live

beyond the

chains of care

of health-

no-

one-cares.

 

credit: thehealthcareblog.com

 

 

 

Magic Cure

  
“Healing is a matter of time, but it is sometimes also a matter of opportunity.” Hippocrates

In Greece, Hippocrates freed medicine from magic, 

deigning it dignified as the rational science.

Logically, medicine delivers cure, but

she’s sick again, for too long now.

No longer believing in time,

no hope sustains her.

We need magic. 

Mornings

Morning quiet, 

the children and their father 

 are visiting far family 

–the other coast kin.

Silence woke me at 5,

in nature’s alarm,

floored by fleeting time’s passing.

So I padded through a dark kitchen

out the French doors opening

to trees, wall-ivy and cement.

Fog painted my yard early or 

late last night.

  
My morning treasure hunt,

gathering fruit like ancients before me,

I pluck a near ripe tangerine.

  
Dew muffles the circle’s slow awakening.

Only the witness and I ruffle the thick, cool air, 

she inside, me out–both dark of day denizens.

 

Inside, the brewed elixir–arisen–awaits 

the heat of my lips, warm breath

chicory and oily coffee bean permeates.

  

Drawn along softly in my wake, 

unprepossessing, anticipating

every  step and saunter, click

and rushing air precipitated by

daylight’s motion in muted tones,

she watches–just in case.

I feel her eyes and cast mine downward.

   
  

Patience–she sits center in wait,

eyes beaming a steady pinpoint plea:

Notice me. Give me hand.

And I do, bent over her supplication

until the toaster pops and

the noise straightens my knees 

and takes my face away.

  

 

A bite of breakfast timed to her arrival,

stirrings from rooms behind, 

the caretaker wheels her in,

the ritual rousing now complete.

   
  
My first meal companion–

brain-shut in stifled words

uttered inside an airy maze,

once an ordered, meter-mind    

sounding poetry and song, love

and laughter, the mothering kind.

“Good morning, Mom.

Another unpromised day greets us,

so let’s play the lottery with our luck.”

Her inward stare toward the window

flickers only hair trigger slightly.

And the powerful sun, 

still swallowed in mist 

nods assent.

   

She Walked Alone

  
Slip off my boots to a world teetering at the root, 

floundering in endless shift.

When anger is the coffee wake up, the split second fury,

there is nowhere to go from there–

escalation peaked at the start.

Chafing at my patience, she leaves the cafe wounded,

walks home to escape the noise, arrogance and

irritation incited by a felling crowd chopping pig.

Her stomach and head ache yet again.

She walks out, and I glower at my coffee.

She walks out, and I fail to trace her steps.

She walks out, and I grouse at you like a heat-seeking

missile finding the volcano erupted.

I did not find her.

Anger found me.

She walked alone.

Surrendering to the Holidays

  
“Pass the salt, please.” 

I look up at her from my veggie quesadilla plate, my eyes suggesting an answer to the question in my expression, but her face shows no comprehension. She wears sunglasses inside the restaurant.

I pass the salt.

Two shakes and she sets the shaker aside to pick at fake cheese melted over corn tortilla chips. Biting the triangle tip of a chip, she glances up–I think–at me, my head recently returned to face her after scooping up random bits of salsa to topple over one of the soft triangles targeted to dissect and devour. 

“When do you think you’ll know? I mean going back.” I ask but already know the answer. How can she know?

“I don’t know. You’re asking me something I can’t possibly know. I mean I could recover next week or continue on like this forever or get hit by a bus as soon as we walk out this door.” She waves to some indeterminate place beyond the restaurant walls. 

I know what she means. The asking leaps over logic into faith like a ghost limb needing to be scratched. Nothing there but habit and the act of speaking.

The gap of knowing and being spans eons now. We both know it, and yet we dance this ancient witless dance of caretaker and charge. It’s my job to ask the unanswerable questions and hers to stem the flow of fear with uncertainly, freeing and terrifying, reminding us both to surrender and enjoy lunch.

“Can we have a peaceful family Christmas dinner and forget for a few moments? Will we?” I ask uncertain of her answer, the truth of her answer. I fight the terrible urge to cough.

“Before the bus hits? Sure. Might as well.” She laughs, picking up the salt to shake it once more.  
Merry, Merry, Merry to one and all!

falalalalalalalala

  
A therapist once asked me why I gave myself appendicitis. I was supposed to move out of my marital home of 9 years that weekend but ended up moving my appendix out of my body instead. It was ready to burst and so was I, especially after such a farfetched question. I quit her after that session and never went back.

Since then, however, her question returns even after 20 or more years. Not exactly the question but the idea that I could induce a physiological crisis in my body in avoidance or in reaction to a psychological catastrophe. Could repression or stress so powerfully indel, cut, trigger or distress the body to rebel in disease? I know what the scientific literature says, but could I have caused appendicitis?

As I sit here with a flu, I believe such unconscious self-destruction possible. I have resisted this Christmas shopping for as long as possible and now that there is only today to shop, I am sick. I cannot remember a holiday season I have felt less jubilant about, and now layering the whole holiday experience is a Rudolph red nose and the vicious taunting of my own conscience. 

The kids will be so disappointed with nothing under the tree. And so, I will trudge through the stores, sharing the sick germs of Christmas spirits past and present. T’is the season to give after all. 

Margins

 
 

Not a single paper, not a wrapper, stub, shoebox, tag, container, cookie box or article, never intending to wear, she throws nothing away.
 
No castaways, no delusions, cares, tidbits nor morsels, not a dream, fantasy or truth, nothing gets past the gates of her need.
 
All she has touched, received, and placed on a shelf or dresser top, even dropped to the floor, never leaves her.
 
She retains everything.
 
She lives knee-deep in it, until the inevitable; they come with a shovel, mask and plastic bags to remove the amassment.
 
The long lone bedsheet melds with the mattress, unchanged so long; once the whole mattress got tossed out.
 
Not even shed skin may be shaken from her. No, no loss tolerable, nothing must abandon her, nothing left, taken, discarded, out of her control–a sacred keeping.
 
She shudders and screams in spasmodic yips and soul-shook howls in skin-ripping pain at the disturbance, the violation.
 
Skull-red circles emanate from angry, forsaken roots.
 
“Get out!! Nooooo!!! This is MY room! You can’t just come in here and throw my stuff away. I need things you are throwing away! You have no right!! My door was closed!
 
Oh? Which side of the door shuts out and which closes in?