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Saturday, May 28, 2011

Alone

Chris is away for seven weeks in New Brunswick. For the last eleven years, twelve in June, he is has been my constant companion. Constant through even fistfuls of fear pushing at him, constant through sludging through the past looking for seashells, constant through job loss, money woes, all of those things that make marriage a truly grand place to be. Before he left he asked me why I push him away when I am afraid. I'm working on that answer.

You know, I think frequently about the absolute silence I receive when I write and I wonder if my words are too self-pitying, or angry... or how is it that they make others so very silent. I've always wanted to be popular, hence the whole sit on Oprah's couch goal; but I remain awkward. I am alone in a room full of people. I am alone with people reaching out to shake my hand. I am alone in my writing, I can only hear my own thoughts. I'm quite certain the only fiction I'll ever write is self-delusion.

Why is that ok? For my entire existence I've sought the approval of other human beings. I can't even say that I think we all do, because I don't know that. I only know me. I think I've been afraid -- stark terror afraid -- of being alone because I am alone with me.

The veil of depression is that I never know when the veil is on and when it is off. I can sense frustration, anger, all of the symptoms of the disease of doubt. Is it really depression or is it that my husband is away for six more weeks and I don't know how to be alone?

I have a new friend. She has been extending her hand and I'm afraid to take it. I pass her by in the car and wave. I motion that I'm in a hurry. I can't go to meet tonight, Sarah needs me. I can't meet tonight I have to grocery shop. Gotta run -- I'm late, I'm late for a very important -- you finish the rest. I've justified in my mind that I am on retreat. The dog walks in front of me and runs circles around my legs; all I can hear is the sound of the sand crunching on the track and the prayers I am saying out loud.

"...release me from the bondage of self so that I might better know thy will..."

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

The Truth About Fried Things with Cheese

I realize that the things that I write make people uncomfortable. There have been many days when I questioned myself about the foolishness of letting the general public inside my head. Something about future employers and grandchildren sent up warning flags. Yeah, well, that’s nice.

Last Wednesday I went to lunch with my coworkers, gobbled down raw carrots and ate my Healthy-Choice steamer bowl of sodium with broccoli thrown in for colour and went back to my office to eat more stress. I stood up from my desk and I thought, initially, I had a carrot twisted sideways behind my breastbone, just below it. I pushed on the top of my abdomen like I had an infant foot lodged in my ribs (thank you Sarah for that reference). Nope, tubes are tied. My stomach had been swollen for months but I attributed it to discovering I actually had a bulging stomach after my breast reduction last January. My surgeon retorted, “Yeah, I’ve heard that one before.”

Audible grunting is not usually a good thing at work, so I walked into my bosses’ office and said, very abruptly, “I think I swallowed a carrot wrong, I have to go now. I’ve called Chris and he’s on this way.” God bless my employers – they are patient people. Then I stood outside on the front porch of my workplace and paced like a panther back and forth, back and forth, rubbing my belly.

I was certain I was having a heart attack.

“You have pain behind the breastbone, radiating toward the back?” the triage nurse eyed me and smiled. “Your blood pressure is pretty good. Do you feel like if you just threw up you’d feel better? How about if you took your bra off, do you feel like you are in a bear hug?” All of the answers were yes. “Yeah, it’s classic gallbladder.” Hallelujah! Ok, now make it stop hurting. I looked at the clock and it was 1:30 p.m. They performed an ECG to make sure that it wasn’t my heart but the pain was so intense they had to do another one because the nurse deemed the first one consisted of scribbles of an unreadable nature. The technician was massaging my arm, “Calm down, think of rivers and streams.” Look lady, I feel like I’ve got a sledgehammer hitting me repeatedly in the gut – YOU think of rivers and streams. Mumbling, “Rivers and streams, beachfront property... Glen Rose... calm, be calm, be calm.”

I thought to myself, “Ok, you’re crazy. You are not having a heart attack. You can’t even do an ECG right and they’re going to look inside you and find out that you’re lying.” My own voice makes my father’s worst days as my critic look genteel in nature. My book’s largest discovery was that I was my biggest abuser and the lesson was unfurling, again, before me.

4:30 p.m. and it’s time for Chris to go get Sarah from school. We’ve sat together in the waiting room. The attack or whatever it has subsided, the nurse asked me what the pain level was between one and ten. “It’s a three,” I countered. Ok, well, that’s it. I’m crazy, the pain is going away, I want to go home now. If I go home then I’ll go back to work and they’ll know I’m crazy. As if that isn’t already up for debate, right?

At around 6 p.m. there’s a cattle call and seven of the lucky contestants get to go to the next waiting room. I’m one of them. I stand up very quickly and realize that I am not doubled over but standing up straight. Maybe I’ll just go now. Twinge. I rubbed my gut, absently, thinking about the email at work that would be piling.

My kingdom for something to read. The nurse handed me a “William and Kate: The Love Story” magazine and I want to tell you that did absolutely nothing for the nausea. Chris had kindly bought me a People magazine but I ate it in ten seconds flat and completed the crossword puzzle shaking my head at probably grade seven complexities. I don’t really care if Catherine Zeta-Jones is bipolar. In fact, I’m sick to death of that word. Is everyone either bipolar or has Aspberger’s?

9:00 p.m. and the rumble begins. I’m now in a room waiting for the doctor to see me and I lean over a bit. This isn’t even a wave. This is an onslaught. “Nurse? Can I get something for the pain?” “Just a little while and he’ll be with you,” she retorts, resuming her conversation on the phone. She’s smiling.

10:30-ish and I’m grunting. I can hear myself sobbing and I feel like I’m four years old. My husband is at home because I’m too proud to tell him I’m frightened and it’s game seven of the NHL playoffs. He’s a Habs fan. “3-2b,” the text message reads. Okay... Habs at 3 and who the hell is “b?” Bruins? “OW son-of-a-bitch” and every expletive I know is chorusing out of my mouth. I’m not shouting, I’m whispering them. Above all else, do not show pain. DO NOT show pain. Ok, heaving and nothing is coming out.

What are these people thinking? I’ve been here since 1:30 this afternoon and I’m in pain. I’m not playing. I’m not looking for drugs. I don’t give a fat rat’s ass about diagnostic process, this hurts! These are the people who are supposed to fix it. SO FIX IT. “Chris? I’ve put my clothes on and we’re going to North Bay or Toronto or somewhere that they can help me. Can you come pick me up before I walk out?” My husband is on his way. The charge nurse is in my room at my request explaining to me that this “is emergency medicine in Canada these days and that there’s an 87 year old woman out in the waiting room...” His mouth is moving, but all I can hear is “Too bad, no soup for you.” He wants to know if I’ll put my gown back on. I’m eyeballing the IV pole in the corner and wondering if I heave it out the door if they’ll stick me with Ativan. I hear myself saying, “I couldn’t pick it up if I wanted to.”

Oh thank God, Chris is here. I’m yelling at my husband and cursing like a woman in labour who has clearly lost control of her senses. “THIS IS YOUR HEALTHCARE SYSTEM?” THIS? I might pay for it out the ass but in the States I wouldn’t be standing here ten hours later sobbing. (Of course, the States cost us our home in medical bills but in the middle of that particular night the fact escaped my logic.)

“Please go tell them I can’t do this,” I’m begging my husband; confirming my four-year-old behavioural technique is in progress. Chris goes out and fifteen minutes more of ranting later the doctor appears. He’s asking me about my symptoms. Do you even have a chart? The pain is no longer rational. My mind is no longer rational – it’s just red. I can see the fuzzy edges I used to see long, long ago. Rage. “Well, we’ll send you for some diagnostic testing and...”

After I finished whatever I said to him (and I have to admit to you that I didn’t say it anywhere near what my thoughts were exclaiming); he sent the nurse back with pain meds. Torodol. The nurse rooted around in my right arm looking for a vein and I found that when you are in that much pain IV's no longer hurt. Your body just kind of creates this numbness. It was nice, actually. Switch arms, honey. Then the Torodol pushed me back into the gurney and I became a reasonable, if somewhat dishevelled, human being again.

So what’s the point? I was laying on my back on that gurney and sobbing as she looked for a vein. I realized that the tears weren’t going to stop no matter how hard I tried to hide them. And the tears were humiliation. It wasn’t pain. It was having to beg to be relieved of the pain. Greg’s voice echoed in my memory, “Ben, you never have to tell a fat person they are fat. They carry the weight with them every single day.” I couldn’t tell them I wasn’t a drug addict in search of pain medication. I was a drug addict, twenty-four years ago. What I wanted to scream at them was, “I’m a sober member of a twelve-step program that has spent the last twenty-four years of my waking life facing pain that I caused myself and others. When I come into an ER and I’m grunting – don’t play with me. Don’t shame me. Listen to me because I’ve come about as close to death as I want to and I’m pretty much incapable of harming anyone else but myself. I’m not crazy, I’m a human being.”

It was my gallbladder. Two stones later and four incisions – I’m going back to that ER with this story in hand and stapling it to a wall somewhere. If I still had the organ I would hand it to that nurse.