From The Gashlycrumb Tinies by Edward Gorey
I miss Cheers and Jeers something awful. Come back soon, Bill in Portland Maine!
Also, Bionic Woman sucks. But Pushing Daisies is extraordinary -- as good as Dead Like Me.
SCREAM OF CONSCIOUSNESS
By Fnordy as channeled by little gator
In Flanders Field the poppies grow,
But why they grow there I don't know.
I sprayed them all with Roundup so
I wouldn't have a field to mow.
My little horse must think I'm queer
When I attack him from the rear.
The horsie might be right, I fear,
But that's another verse. Oh deer!
I am mysterious and deep.
I'd like to go molest a sheep.
My thoughts are tangled in a heap,
But back to Flanders Field they leap.
And now I'm back where poppies bloom
In Flanders Field, that place of doom,
Where bursting shells went "boom, boom, BOOM!
This peom's finished, I presume.
with due credit and/or apologies to John MacRae, Robert Frost, Vachel Lindsay, and Henry Stanley
Kat got a chance this weekend to tour the new Industrial Light and Magic headquarters in San Francisco. She apparently had an interlude with R2D2. Here's hoping she doesn't give birth to an espresso machine in nine months.
Saturday, October 6, 2007
From The Gashlycrumb Tinies by Edward Gorey
I was scheduled to have my left knee replaced on July 25, 2000. The week before, my surgeon called to say he was planned to go on vacation right afterward -- like, that afternoon -- but he'd arrange another physician to look after me post-surgery. I said okay. (Cast of Actual Lives disabled adults performance troupe as we prepare to perform in DC, June 2004 -- I'm in the middle, in tie-dye) MAGGIE: Louise – MAGGIE: and Paula. MAGGIE: They were both from Jamaica. MAGGIE: They turned on the lights, waking up my elderly right-wing Republican lady roommate, who slept just a couple of feet away from me separated by a thin curtain. MAGGIE: I told Paula what kind of help I needed. LOUISE: Why are you not wearing pads? MAGGIE: Louise asked. I explained. She and Paula left again, abruptly – MAGGIE: And returned slapping on latex gloves. MAGGIE: Louise stood, grinning, beside my bed and said – LOUISE: We, neither of us, have ever used a tampon, but I’m sure we can figure it out. MAGGIE: Silence is NOT recommended on a rehab floor. I said, “Hand me a tampon and let’s have a little demonstration, okay?” MAGGIE: Paula tried first. MAGGIE: Louise demanded a turn. MAGGIE: Paula pushed Louise aside MAGGIE: They took on Number Five as a joint effort, with much discussion that I could not entirely follow. MAGGIE: I thanked them earnestly LOUISE: (waving her hand at Maggie) No problem, miss. MAGGIE: The next morning my roommate called to me from behind the curtain – MIZ PINKNEY: How are YOU today? MAGGIE: I hollered back, “Just fine, thank you.” MAGGIE: Sometimes all you have left is your dignity.
I felt ready. I had a stack of books to read while I recuperated. I had three weeks off work. My friend Ginger, a gifted botanist and herbalist, consulted with me and had an array of tinctures for me to take before and after. My friend Kathy, an incredible nurse and masseuse, said she'd be there as I came out of surgery to lay on hands and ease the transition, as she'd done with me for other surgeries. And the weekend before, my best friend offered to take me to the coast, to the town where I'd been born, so I could see the ocean and recharge.
This friend, whom I'll call Loner Butch, was, to understate it, not adept at processing her emotions. She could talk about them with me all day (and did) but nothing ever shifted. In addition, I was pretty much the only person she talked over certain personal things, despite my frequent suggestions that she get and keep a therapist. I suspected that leaning on her around the surgery might be problematic. Still, there were times she had really come through for me -- like the day I had to get a cane.
What I didn't understand then was that she was good in a crisis only if she could be the hero who thinks of what to do. If she was stuck, or when given a direct request, she stalled out and got resentful. Part of the butch thing that I just didn't know how to manipulate. Or care to learn.
She also exercise extremely poor judgment with regard to sexual encounters. Mostly, she was only drawn to women who wanted to come out, women who were unstable, or women who had no expectations of her. Or all three combined.
I did not know that a few months earlier, she had gone to a national women's martial arts training conference in Massachusetts, picked up a woman there and slept with her right away. It wasn't until the next morning that they swapped information enough to find out this pick-up had in fact grown up in Austin, and was someone from my past. Not just anyone, but someone who had attacked me and whom I (at that time) perceived as an enemy. We'll call her Perceived Enemy. (I no longer think in terms of having enemies, by the way.)
When Perceived Enemy found out that Lone Butch was my best friend, she freaked out. Some sort of confrontation ensued. Lone Butch decided not to tell me about it until we were at the coast, eating dinner at a Vietnamese restaurant, two days before my surgery. She couldn't tell me what her relationship was going to be with PE, she said. She didn't know what to do, and she was only telling me because what if I died during surgery, she'd feel guilty forever.
Yep. I didn't get much recharge out of that trip.
If it was now, campers, I'd drive home, tell her she wasn't able to maintain my standards of friendship, and postpone the surgery until I'd arranged other support. But some things you learn by doing them wrong.
Still, once I got into the operating suite, I was amazingly calm. I was ready for change. There was some delay, I can't remember why, so instead of them putting me right out, I lay on the operating table as a room full of people got ready for a major surgery that would last several hours. I watched them doing things all around me, interesting things. On a cloth-covered table as big as the one I lay on, right beside me, someone with gloves and a mask was lying out sterile intruments. The tools used for orthopedic surgery are usually gleaming stainless steel and run to the horror end of things: Saws, hammers, chisels, and such. I look at this Marathon-Man collection and said to the tech nearest me, with humor in my voice, "You know, a sane person wouldn't consent to this kind of surgery if they knew about stuff like that."
All motion in the room ceased. The anesthesiologist at my head said in a stiff tone "Are you withdrawing consent?" But Patrick was in the room, and he laughed, saying "I think she's joking. Are you joking?"
I said "Oh, of course. Let's get this show on the road." That's my last memory for quite a while.
Later that afternoon, I start having scraps of memory. People talking to me, trying to get me to say something. My entire body in an agonizing frenzy of itching. My left leg not responding at all to my attempts to move it. Not knowing where I was or who some of the people in the room, my friends, were.
My memory is just scraps for the next two days. Here's what I learned later, some of it years later:
The surgery took longer than usual because of the abnormality they found when they opened me up. Apparently when the surgeon went to meet my friends afterward, he said "I don't understand how she stood up on that knee."
The itching was a reaction to the morphine drip they put me for pain. Turns out I'm intolerant. But since I wasn't completely allergic, they kept me on it for almost four days.
Because of prolonged immobility, they gave me twice daily injections in my stomach of a blood-clot preventive named Lovenox. I'm part of the 5% of the population that has an unusual reaction to Lovenox: It hammers taste buds, so everything I put in my mouth tasted exactly (I'm not exaggerating) like acid-laced feces. I vomited violently when I tried to even sip water.
My kidneys failed. I was on a catheter and intravenous line, plus other drugs to deal with the failure, but by the third day I was headed for dialysis. Then my kidney started working, sluggishly for a long time. Still, they were frantic to get me to eat and drink, and I could not without vomiting. They didn't figure out the taste bud thing for two days.
There was no single doctor scheduled to replace my surgery for after-care. Instead, a different on-call physician came in every time, twice a day. I wouldn't have recognized them in any event, but the continuity of care was extremely interrupted by this.
I could think okay, but I couldn't say what I wanted to say. There was a disconnect between my brain and my ability to communicate. So, I couldn't tell them about the painful spot in my low back until it turned into the beginning of a decubitus ulcer. I kept saying "It hurts", but I couldn't say where and they would just say "You've had all the morphine you can have for now", assuming it was my knee.
I couldn't hear bells, so I never heard the bedside phone, friends calling to check in on me. When a nurse was in the room, she'd answer for me and hand me the phone. I have no idea what I said to people. One friend said I told her I was fine, was already walking and was going home in two days. Another friend said I wept and begged her to come rescue me, that I was in agony and nobody would listen.
I couldn't read and retain more than a couple of words. I thought the characters on TV were speaking in a foreign language. I didn't know what city I was in. The only number I could recognize was 7. I could not sign my name.
And way down deep inside, I was in mortal terror. I still cannot describe how scared I was.
For several hours each day, I was put into a CPM (continuous passive motion) machine, a device attached to my left leg that slowly, gently flexed my knee, then released it, over and over. This was actually a relief and I looked forward to it. I was also, intermittently during the day and most of the night, in sequential compressive devices, stockings with a pneumatic action that compressed my feet rhythmically to keep blood flowing and prevent the formation of clots. These I hated, passionately. They came with an alarm that would beep if they weren't fitted on my feet properly, of if I managed to pull them off. The alarm was at the head of my bed, near my ear. When it went off, a nurse would come in and adjust the stockings.
I was shown, repeatedly, the call button on my bed but I could never find it on my own. I had a private room, which I'd requested. Because of the kidney failure, I'd been put into the intensive care section.
The second night, the nurse who put me into the CPM machine and the compression stockings was in a hurry. His name was Victor, he was young and impatient and had too many patients to look after. He failed to adjust the sheepskin padding on the CPM machine at the back of my thigh, so that every time the metal gear went round, it rubbed against the skin there. I tried to tell him I could feel something not right, but I couldn't find the words for it.
The stocking alarm kept going off. He would rush back in, increasingly frustrated, find an adjustment that stopped the alarm, then a few minutes later it would start beeping in my ear again. He did this four times. The fifth time, he gave a huge sigh, walked out of the room with the beeping still going, turned off the light, shut the door -- the door to my room was never shut in that section, it was against the rules.
He never came back. I lay there for four hours with the beeping in my ear as the metal gear gradually, inexorably tore a hole in the back of my thigh six inches long.
I went a little crazy. I couldn't find the call button, though I tried for over an hour. Finally -- I feel humiliated about this still -- I began pushing my finger into the air, hoping that it would magically connect with the button somehow.
At dawn, the shift changed. A new nurse came in, Francine. She exclaimed when she found the door shut and the light off. She rushed to turn off the alarm -- she didn't know it had been going for four hours, and I couldn't tell her. She removed the CPM machine and tried to get me to drink orange juice, which was the worst taste of all.
That morning, the physical therapist showed up to give me my first treatment. I refused to cooperate. I wouldn't get out of bed. I couldn't explain why, but I wasn't going to trust anybody again until something was done. Finally the doctor was called, and he came to see me at lunch, asking me why I was suddenly recalcitrant. I still couldn't say. He looked at me intently and said "I think you must have a reason." I nodded, I could do that much. He said "Is something wrong?" I nodded again.
The nurse in the room, Velda, helped me sit up and opened my gown to check me out. She's the one who found the decubitus. When she helped me scoot to the edge of the bed so she could change the sheets, she's also the one who found the wound on my thigh. The doctor had gone by that time, but she called in Francine and they dressed my wound in a cold fury. "Who was on last night?" said Velda. "Victor" said Francine between tight lips. "He's not to come near her again" said Velda.
That afternoon, yet another doctor figured out about the Lovenox and explained it to me, patiently. She said I had to eat and drink, no matter how it tasted, and keep it down or else my body would slide downhill. I nodded, and after that I forced things down, only vomiting ocasionally. That side effect lasted for six weeks.
The next afternoon, they took me off morphine. By dinnertime, I could say "Something's wrong with my brain." I couldn't explain it, but I had my friends' attention. At least, the ones who could believe it. For some of them, it was too hard to accept. One of the nurses, a white-haired Chinese-American man named William, became my guardian and explainer. He said he'd seen this kind of reaction before to morphine. I felt safer if he was on shift.
I had to stay in that part of the hospital two more days, until they were reassured about my kidney function and I was clear of the morphine. When the physical therapist returned, I willingly did the exercises she requested. But the inability to read, or hear bells, or express myself fully did not pass.
Six days after surgery, right before dinnertime, a tech came in and began packing my things. He said I was being transferred to rehab. I didn't know what that meant. The rehab unit was adjacent to the hospital and there was an underground passageway between the two, so I was taken from one building to another without going outside, which only added to my disorientation. None of my friends were there, and William wasn't around to explain what was happening. Suddenly I was in a new place, a tiny room with two beds in it, and the nurse who settled me in said they were overextended, I needed to go get my own dinner. Then he left.
I had no idea where to go, and I couldn't really get around with my walker yet, just ten feet or so. I lay on the bed, watching the light fade. After an hour, the same nurse came back and seemed frustrated at my inaction. I said "I don't know what's happening. I don't understand." He looked at my face, then, and said "All right, just for tonight, I'll go get your tray." He was around my age, Latino, and I eventually found out his name was Enrique.
When he brought me dinner, I said "I don't mean to make trouble, but could you explain where I am and what I'm supposed to do?" He did explain, very nicely. He said I could only have pain pills every four hours, no more. I told him I didn't want any pain pills, I didn't want any more pain medication. He looked startled and said everybody there lived for their pain pill, I'd change my mind. I also explained I couldn't sit up without help or go to the bathroom alone, which was not in my chart. In addition, I'd started my period and would need help with that. He blanched and said he'd help with everything but the period, he'd find someone else for that.
The next morning, an occupational therapist got me up and helped me get dressed in real clothes. She was impressed with my initiative and determination. I did it almost all by myself, though I was soaked with sweat by the end. She helped me navigate my walker to the main room, which was very close, where everybody else was eating breakfast. I was by far the youngest person in the room. But I wound up at a table with a brilliant, funny old lady who had just had her hips replaced, and we bonded.
After breakfast, a pool therapist showed up to begin fitting me for a water-proof bandage and brace to use in the pool, instead of my regular knee brace. When he left, I began regular physical therapy.
Here's the deal: In order to get at the knee, they make this huge incision but then, much worse, they cut the cruciate ligaments on the front and back of your knee. These ligaments are what gives your knee its stability and much of its ability to flex and extend. In addition, the collateral ligaments on either side are severely stretched out of place, like the worst sports injury possible. So the only muscle I had to lift or move my knee was my quadriceps.
I did whatever they asked me. I worked my ass off. That week was the Republican Convention that nominated Dubya, and my new roommate was an ardent fan of his who watched the Convention on her TV (a few feet away from my bed) all hours of the day and night. But I had earplugs, and I just stayed focused.
I had a phone by my bed, but I couldn't hear it ring or dial out, so the only break in isolation I had was when friends braved the rehab terror and came to visit. Some friends were great. Heather Burmeister, a young poet, came several days in a row and went to PT with me, ate with me and the old folks, and was completely relaxed about the horrors of that place. I'll love her forever for that.
All of the staff grew fond of me, because I did whatever they asked of me and I treated them with respect. Also, I developed a small legen because I never took a single pain pill while I was there. By the time I got back from PT, I'd been shaking hard and soaked in sweat, and all I needed was to get prone to fall asleep.
I had to have tampons inserted because I was doing pool therapy at least once a day. This led to an almost unbelievable incident in the middle of the night, with two nurses who had never even seen a tampon, much less inserted one. I wrote this story later for a performance piece in Actual Lives, exactly at it occurred, and it was grim. Our director Terry Galloway insisted I rewrite it as a piece of comedy, and it became the most popular thing I ever did. I performed it at the VSA National Arts Disability Conference in Washington, DC in 2004. That script is at the end of this post.
I was still in rehab for my birthday, of course. My little brother Bill was working six days a week, with only Sundays off. Plus, he had an absolute phobia of hospitals, wounds, doctors, anything to do with infirmity. Still, he and his wife drove five hours down from Grand Prairie on his day off to have birthday cake with me. His gift was the So You Want To Be A Millionaire game, a perfect choice for us, the board-game competitors. It was immediately apparent, however, that I couldn't pay it at the moment, though I was willing to try. He stayed for two hours, in a sheen of apprehension despite the chill of the rehab floor, then they drove back five hours so he could get up early and return to work the next day.
The Deagans came, too, bringing me Chinese food and my godson Zap, who was two then. He was charmed by my bedside toilet and wheelchair, which he compared to his potty and stroller. Their visit was a high point of the week.
(Zap and Maggie in her rehab room, August 2000)
But missing were Loner Butch and the woman I was involved with, Bea. Bea's family has a gated enclave in the Adirondacks, an inherited estate shared now by many descendants of the original robber baron founder, and the annual fees to even get past the gate are fabulously expensive. Her parents were making a visit to this land and invited her. It was her chance to wheedle more money from them to keep living in the lifestyle she was accustomed to, instead of the working class she pretended to be in the dyke community. So she left two days before my birthday, despite me weeping and begging her not to go.
And Loner Butch? Nobody knew where she was for three days, and I couldn't call her. Months later, I found out she decided to make a surprise visit to PE in Massachusetts, for another sexual encounter, while I was in rehab. Just one of the many reasons we're no longer friends.
After a week, I got released from rehab and it wasn't until I was safely at home, in my own bed, that the terror I'd been living with came to the surface. And it wasn't until Yom Kippur in 2004 that I got the last piece of the puzzle, what had happened to me during surgery.
DIGNITY AS A BRAND OF FEMININE HYGIENE PRODUCT (PERFORMANCE PIECE
(Maggie sits center stage in a chair with walker behind her. To her left a few feet is a chair with Miz Pinkney sitting in it. Behind her a few feet, flanking her on either side, backs to the audience, are Louise and Paula. In their pockets are tampons and latex gloves.)
MAGGIE: Sometimes all you have left is your dignity. Sometimes you have to redefine what that means.
After they replaced my knee, I was the youngest person in that rehab unit and for sure I was the only woman having a period. The first day I was told I’d been assigned to pool therapy but I couldn’t get in the pool unless I used a tampon. The problem was, I could not sit up without help, lots of help; I was on a catheter, could not wipe myself yet, and changing a tampon was, well, out of the question.
The attendants in a rehab unit are paid shit. The more intimate the services they provide patients, the lower their pay. Just another example of how well capitalism functions. All same, I encountered only respect from the people who worked there. Some of the male attendants simply could not face the tampon challenge. I tried to save my needs for when friendly female staff were available.
But one night I woke up bleeding onto the Chux. I buzzed for the night attendant. Two of them came –
(Louise and Paula walk up to stand on either side of Maggie; they have blank, alert expressions)
(Louise tilts her head to the right)
(Paula tilts her head to the left)
(they both smile and wave at the audience)
(Maggie gestures to her right. Miz Pinkney mimes waking up abruptly, blinking at sudden light.)
(Louise and Paula wheel and take two steps away from Maggie to the rear)
(Maggie looks in horror from Louise to Paula, who is nodding animatedly. Maggie leans forward on walker to address the audience emphatically)
(Louise hands Maggie a tampon; Maggie holds it up as she continues)
I showed them how the plastic applicator worked, at which point to remove it and why the string was there.
(hands tampon to Paula, who promptly pulls it apart and reacts in mild shock)
They were intrigued
(Paula hands tampon to Louise)
and each of them took a turn at pushing the cotton wad back and forth. Finally they threw away Tampon #1
(Louise flings the tampon away from her in an overhead arc so that it flies onto Miz Pinkney, who reacts with silent horror)
and set about rigging makeshift stirrups for me.
(Louise and Paula help lift Maggie’s legs up onto the lower rung of the walker so she is spread-eagled facing the audience)
(Louise hands Paula a new tampon in the manner of a surgical nurse handing an instrument to a doctor; Paula moves to stand in front of Maggie, bends over so Maggie’s head is visible above Paula’s rump bent over the walker, swings her arm back like she is about to swing a bowling ball and then jams the tampon toward Maggie’s crotch; Maggie reacts with a backward motion)
She got it in okay but pulled the entire tampon back out with the paper tube. (Paula holds the tampon back up and looks at it in amazement)
We tossed Tampon #2
(again throw it in a high arc so it lands in the audience)
(Louise takes out a new tampon and stands in front of the walker as Louise just did; as she bends down over the walker toward Maggie’s crotch, she wiggles her ass vigorously and Maggie matches this motion in her chair)
She was focused on the applicator function but not so much on me, and within seconds I yelled, “Oh my god no, that’s not the right hole!”
(Maggie jerks backward as Louise holds up the tampon again. Louise tosses it carelessly into the audience.)
MAGGIE: There was complete silence from the bed behind the curtain next to me (Maggie motions toward Miz Pinkney, who mimes silent desperation)
but Paula and Louise were in stitches.
(Paula and Louise begin chuckling wildly)
Their language was becoming less and less comprehensible to me, and the only sane course of action was to laugh along with them.
(Maggie laughs out loud, at which point Paula and Louise instantly stare at her in consternation with serious expressions.)
(Paula steps back in front of the walker and pushes Louise away by the shoulder; Louise hands Paula another tampon)
and tried again.
(Paula bends over the walker as before, but for a couple of seconds extends her hands behind her back and mimes clicking her fingernails together like a lobster claw so the audience can see; she then swings the tampon toward Maggie’s crotch as before)
She had long fingernails, and in gripping the paper tube to remove it she decided to use her nails like tweezers. My screech caused her to jerk her hand back and, once again, the tampon came out entirely.
(Paula holds up the tampon in amazement, then flings it toward audience.
Louise takes out another tampon and holds it toward Paula; they grip it together and move around to both stand in front of the walker, and swing it in unison)
(Paula and Louise mime earnestly talking to each other)
After it was successfully inserted and the tube removed, they continued talking over something while bent down over my crotch and giggling.
(Paula and Louise remain bent over my spread legs, laughing)
Finally I said “Okay? and they straightened up
(Paula and Louise stand up abruptly)
and began gently moving my legs back onto the bed.
(Paula and Louise place Maggie’s legs back down on the floor)
(shakes first Paula’s hand vigorously while gazing up into Paula’s face, then does the same with Louise; after shaking Louise’s hand, Maggie wipes off her own hand on her shirt with revulsion; Louise and Paula begin walking backwards.)
(pause a beat, then speak to the audience)
Sometimes you have to redefine what that means.
© 2004 Maggie Jochild
(to be continued)
(Cast of Actual Lives disabled adults performance troupe as we prepare to perform in DC, June 2004 -- I'm in the middle, in tie-dye)
MAGGIE: Louise –
MAGGIE: and Paula.
MAGGIE: They were both from Jamaica.
MAGGIE: They turned on the lights, waking up my elderly right-wing Republican lady roommate, who slept just a couple of feet away from me separated by a thin curtain.
MAGGIE: I told Paula what kind of help I needed.
LOUISE: Why are you not wearing pads?
MAGGIE: Louise asked. I explained. She and Paula left again, abruptly –
MAGGIE: And returned slapping on latex gloves.
MAGGIE: Louise stood, grinning, beside my bed and said –
LOUISE: We, neither of us, have ever used a tampon, but I’m sure we can figure it out.
MAGGIE: Silence is NOT recommended on a rehab floor. I said, “Hand me a tampon and let’s have a little demonstration, okay?”
MAGGIE: Paula tried first.
MAGGIE: Louise demanded a turn.
MAGGIE: Paula pushed Louise aside
MAGGIE: They took on Number Five as a joint effort, with much discussion that I could not entirely follow.
MAGGIE: I thanked them earnestly
LOUISE: (waving her hand at Maggie) No problem, miss.
MAGGIE: The next morning my roommate called to me from behind the curtain –
MIZ PINKNEY: How are YOU today?
MAGGIE: I hollered back, “Just fine, thank you.”
MAGGIE: Sometimes all you have left is your dignity.
Friday, October 5, 2007
(Bill and Maggie Barnett, trailer park, Pecos, Texas, summer 1961; Bill is 2, I'm almost 6. Crooked-legged children)
When I was 43, I developed a click in my right knee when I walked. It was loud enough that other people heard it, so I went through my HMO and finally to a sports medicine orthopedist who took x-rays.
I sat in the exam room, perched sideways on the table reading the big full-color posters about joints, until he came back in with the x-rays and slapped them up on a lightbox. He stared at them for a minute, then sat down on his rolling stool and slid over to me. Looking up at me, he said "I don't think you've told me the whole story. Nobody's ever talked to you about your legs before?"
"No" I said, feeling like the Eye of Sauron had just noticed me. "I mean -- I was asthmatic, I didn't run around much. My legs always hurt, and at night when I cried, Mama said it was growing pains."
"But you played basketball in high school?" he asked.
"Yeah. Captain of my team. But we were a crappy team, and I wasn't very good. And it hurt like -- blazes."
He said "Would it be all right with you if I called in a couple of my colleagues?"
Doctors can be so incredibly stupid. I said "Sure", wishing I had anybody at all I knew in the room with me. He slid to the door, opened it and called out a couple of names. Two more men came in, one of them his trainee, Patrick. Patrick was who had taken my original history, and I felt a slight degree of comfort with him.
They clustered in front of the lightbox, talking among themselves for a minute. Then Patrick turned and came over to stand beside me. Finally the surgeon slid back to my side of the room and said "You have congenital abnormalities of both tibia. I've never seen anything like it."
"Congenital -- like, from birth, you mean?"
"Yes." He used a few more words I didn't understand and said "Maybe if it had been caught when you were a child, maybe bracing would have made a difference -- or surgery, but they wouldn't have known how to do the right kind of surgery that far back."
The second doctor left, but Patrick stayed.
"So -- what's the verdict for my knee?"
"Both knees" said Patrick gently.
The surgeon said "You have no cartilage at all left, in either knee. It's bone on bone, and the two interfaces don't meet squarely, so -- " He scooted back to the lightbox and began pointing things out. "To compensate for how your lower legs splay outward, your body has been laying down bony outriggers from the femur downward, here and here, both sides. But now, on the left side, the bone spur is abutting your tibia, and on the right side, we think a bit has broken off and entered your knee capsule. We think that's the click you hear. The right knee is in much worse shape than the left, on the x-ray. How much pain are you in?"
"None at all. I mean, no more than usual. It always is uncomfortable to walk, but I've just toughed it out."
"Stop doing that" he said. "You need to listen when your body has a limit."
I stared at him. That wasn't what Mama had taught me. Mama said "Use it up, wear it out, make it do or do without." The working class code, and it applied to bodies as well as everything else.
"What do I do now?" I whispered.
"There's a new drug, Synvisc, that looks like it helps lay down joint lubrication, like a replacement for cartilage. We'll put you on that, but it has high GI side effects, so we need to test your liver and kidney functions regularly, maybe put you on gastric protection as well. And -- well, long-term, your knees won't last. You already have the knees of somebody who's 70 or 75. I could maybe do a surgery where I break the tibia and reattach them, it's never been done but I could think about it." His face was lit up with the prospect of experimental surgery. "Or, baseline, you'll need knee replacements. Both sides. But they only last 10-15 years, and we can re-do 'em once, but after 5-10 years on the second replacement, you're done. So we need to hold off as long as possible on that, to last out your natural life span. In the meantime, I'll do an arthroscopy on the right, clear out any bone fragments, take a look-see, and inject it with steroids before I pull out. Should buy you a while."
He began writing in the chart. Patrick put his hand on my shoulder and said "Did you drive yourself here?"
"Yeah" I said. "I'm okay. I'll -- I just need time to let it sink in."
Birth defects. And nobody ever noticed. The invisibility of the poor, and of girls.
I went home and looked in my photo albums, at pictures of me as a little girl. And suddenly I could see the deformity, clear as day. In fact, my little brother had the same shape to his legs. He'd worn braces briefly as a baby, I remembered.
I called my father to ask him what the diagnosis was for Bill's braces, but he didn't even remember that Bill had worn them. I called Bill, then, and we talked for a long time. He said he was starting to have severe trouble finishing a round of golf. He kept saying "God fucking dammit, I can't stand the idea of surgery, you know that, sis." He asked me if I thought fact that Mama drank 17 cups of coffee and smoked 2.5 packs of cigarettes a day while she was pregnant with us, could that be why we came out with funky legs. I said "Might as well, can't dance." We laughed, hard, and he said "God fucking dammit" again.
I began the Synvisc, and a month later had day surgery arthroscopy. It went well, and the click disappeared. But within a year, I began having pain in my left knee. The pain grew, and the surgeon's explanation -- that the spur impacting my tibia was created a bone bruise -- had no time limit in it. Eventually I went in for an arthroscopy on the left. This time, I had spinal anesthesia, and during the surgery I woke up. I wasn't in any pain, but I knew exactly what was going on for a little while, until I freaked out the anesthesiologist by turning to talk with him and he put me back under.
The surgery helped some. I noticed that my port scars from the arthroscopy all keloided, but nobody explained what that might mean on a bigger scale. Eventually they stopped seeping.
That bought me another year, but the pain came back, worse than ever It wasn't just bone or joint pain, it was as if my nerves were involved. My best description was as if someone had cut open my knee, poured in a handfull of ground glass, and sewed it back up. It hurt every minute of the day, whether I moved or not, no matter what position I was in.
I stopped going anywhere. I got a cane but still could barely walk. I skipped meals because the walk to the kitchen was too much to handle. The flight of friends began; they didn't want to see what was happening to me, even if I didn't talk about (and I didn't talk about it unless directly requested to do so.)
Finally I said "Give me a new knee, I can't wait any more." I saved up money and sick time, planned it all out, watched a movie of the surgery, laid in resources. I scheduled it for July 25, 2000. The surgeon said I should be out of the hospital and inpatient rehab within 8-9 days, which meant I could be home for my 45th birthday. I considered the surgery my 45th birthday present to myself.
What I didn't know is that the estimates for outcome given at a sports medicine center are for athletes -- young, conditioned people without other disabilities. Best case scenarios.
(to be continued)
LIGHT TO DARK
I woke up once
Coming into blinding light from dark
I could feel him leaned
against my side, warm and thick
There was a clank of metl on
something else and percussion
traveled through me. No pain
I was left with
only the upper half of my body
He muttered I can't get a purchase
There was another clank and shock
I turned to the man at my head
focused on dials and tubes
With a small laugh, I said
This is unpleasant, yes?
He startled and did not laugh
with me. Instead, the dark
© Maggie Jochild, 26 May 2006, 11:12 p.m.
Carol who at 25 has had both hips and knees
Replaced, who used to be a dancer and still
Is, except with Lofstrand crutches and an audience
That looks away -- Carol told me since I could not
Qualify for in-home help and still I had to eat
About the drive-up grocery stores, three of them
All in the poorest side of town, where groceries
Cost much much more because they can get away
With it, and I should check the expiration dates
On everything, but I am good at taking what comes
And now I can have milk and eggs
Just driving up in my old van
My favorite is the Mucho Buy
Because the guy who works there nights
Is gay. His eyelashes must make boys squirm
And when he hands me out my bag
Of purchases, his arms are smooth
And beautifully deft. He is always
Patient. I can tell he is some kind
Of Arab immigrant but not which country
And I am ashamed to ask. Last night
I needed cat food, laundry soap
And dishwashing liquid. When he
Brought back my three items
Every package was a shade of pink
I thanked him for his selections
I hope they pay him what he's worth
© Maggie Jochild, 19 March 2004, 3:30 p.m.
Thursday, October 4, 2007
(Image created by MoonSoleil for Free Burma global action)
Meta Watershed is blog # 5719 participating in International Bloggers' Day for Burma on the 4th of October. For more information about this action, and to find out ways you can plug in, go to Free Burma! And sign the petition below. Thanks. -- Maggie
Monday, October 1, 2007
The more eloquent soldiers being interviewed for The War are able to convey how they changed from being an ordinary man into someone who could kill easily. Several of them have spoken of the point at which they realized they were "expendable". Of course, the ones we're hearing from are the ones who survived, not just physically but also mentally. America's entry into the war was marked by failures and close calls because our troops were not "ready", which in some instances is code for "the ones who couldn't become killers had not yet been weeded out".
As Joan Baez once said, "If it's natural to kill, how come men have to go into training to learn how?"
There are a lot of figures being floated around about the cost of our current war, as another supplemental comes up for vote. Progressives include the cost of caring for our wounded, not just over there but back home with rehabilitation, mental health services, and disability pensions. But even those figures are inadequate because, again, they deal with those who are concretely, measurably injured.
The fact is, though, the aftermath of World War II saw a number of social changes that were all a direct result of sending 12% of the population into inhuman conditions, then bringing them home to resume normal life without any sort of organized, effective emotional processing. "When the boys came home", they demanded (and were given) the best-paying jobs (if they were white), college loans, housing loans, and a violent shove backwards for women and non-whites. The post-war repression led directly to the near-revolution of the 1960s. My generation are the children of those returned soldiers, and while they deserve respect for their sacrifice -- the whole nation deserves respect for its effort -- that doesn't mean I'm going to pretend they weren't seriously fucked up by how they spent their adolescence and young adult years.
Especially the men. The cult of masculinity that feminism addressed and is now waxing again arose as a result of male conditioning during and after World War II. Masculinity is an incomplete version of humanity, a carefully carved-out portion -- in precisely the same way that "white identity" is divorced from the actual reality of being alive on this multihued planet, and carrying the same degree of illusion and disease.
I personally believe that masculinity has offered everything it possibly could to humanity, and it's time to retire this bastard notion, thank you very much. (Along with femininity, but you don't find the same worship of it these days.) We can do better, and if we don't, the planet is going to die from "masculine" approaches to our problems.
Which has nothing at all to do with being male, or female. If you don't understand the difference, this essay is not for you.
"Happy Days" existed only for white boys with enough to eat. For the rest of the population, the majority, the post-war period sent people into depression, into ghettoes, into subservience, into shame -- and into the arts trying to find a means of expressing themselves. At least a third, and perhaps as much as 50%, of the children raised in those post-war families were the victims of sexual abuse. We'd be stupid to deny a connection behind the dehumanizing training of battle and the failure to see children as anything more than objects. Child abuse and sexualization has been with us for millenia, but we don't have the statistics to prove it didn't take a big spike after 1945.
The numbers returning from Iraq (when and if that occurs) will be far less, only about 1% of the population, but in some respects far more damaged. These folks will have spent years on end in urban settings, viewing civilians (not just other soldiers) as their chief threat, including children. They will be aware they were lied into this war, and it's only human nature to feel ashamed of having been duped, even if you were clearly part of the majority. Further, most of them are working class, people who turned to military service as a means of economic survival or advancement. There's a working class ethic against therapy, and having been royally screwed by the authority who sent them to Iraq, it's easy to guess many of them won't trust "professionals" who seek to help them. If help is even offered.
Masculinity stripped of civilized veneer, taught how to kill in urban settings, isolated and devalued economically once they're back home. What will "support for the troops" look like then? It will get dumped back onto their communities of origin, is my guess.
I want to see us, as progressives, getting ready to address this problem. It will mean recognizing the sources and making sure to neither blame nor idealize the victim. Naming and draining the cesspool of male conditioning is what will make everybody safe, including women and children.
Outside of academic enclaves, where creating deconstructed theories are what earn income and advancement rather than having to adjust to a brutally conforming corporate structure, and small self-selecting queer communities with rigid strictures on what is said and believed, the conditions for women as fully-recognized human beings are deteriorating. Indirectly, the heavy-handed emphasis on masculinity and "boi"-ness even within allegedly feminist communities proves this trend. For example, drag kings select only certain kinds of masculinity to perform -- that of the sexually dimorphic working class stereotype. Much of the overwhelming classism of these shows arises from the wedding of male-conditioned incoherence, numbness and narcissism to power-based sexuality, thus conditioning yet another generation of young women to project their own humanity onto the inexplicably romanticized icon of selfish meathead.
But those of us who exist in real communities with working class men know they are being eviscerated by these standards of masculinity, driven to substance abuse, distanced from their own families, chewed up and dying young. It's most definitely not "hot". And -- they're not the ones in charge of the decisions being made about who goes to war, who gets the big salaries, who has control of their own bodies. It's the "other" masculinity, the "non-sexy" version, who are really fucking us all.
You know, it's not just Barbie who doesn't resemble any living woman. GI Joe doesn't look like a single soldier in any of that World War II footage, either.
This time, instead of "buying bonds", let's stop buying the lies. Judy Grahn said "What you will do matters. All you need to do is to do it." Here they come: Are you ready?
Sunday, September 30, 2007
(Thanks to little gator for the latest LOLCats link, where Dinah found these photos.)
Beginning October 1, 2008, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) will begin implementation of a redesigned naturalization test. All applicants who file for naturalization on or after October 1, 2008 will be required to take the redesigned test. Here's a selection of ten questions
from the new test. See how you do. (Wouldn't you love to give this to Trent Lott and Rudy Guliani, and have them deported when they fail?) The answers to these ten are here. For the complete test, go here. And to compare it to the previous citizenship test, check here.
What, it's too early for hard quizzes? Okay, here's one that's strictly entertainment: Who has cuter kittens, Canada or America? Watch Cute With Chris and decide for yourself. (I'm voting Canada because of that Lesbian life partner kitten.)
And, for the first soldier-created humor about being in Iraq, here's How to Prepare for a Deployment to Iraq
1. Sleep on a cot in the garage.
2. Replace the garage door with a curtain.
3. Six hours after you go to sleep, have your wife or girlfriend whip open the curtain, shine a flashlight in your eyes and mumble, "Sorry, wrong cot."
4. Renovate your bathroom. Hang a green plastic sheet down from the middle of your bathtub and move the showerhead down to chest level. Keep four inches of soapy cold water on the floor. Stop cleaning the toilet and pee everywhere but in the toilet itself. Leave two to three sheets of toilet paper. Or for best effect, remove it altogether. For a more realistic deployed bathroom experience, stop using your bathroom and use a neighbor's. Choose a neighbor who lives at least a quarter mile away.
5. When you take showers, wear flip-flops and keep the lights off.
6. Every time there is a thunderstorm, go sit in a wobbly rocking chair and dump dirt on your head.
7. Put lube oil in your humidifier instead of water and set it on "HIGH" for that tactical generator smell.
8. Don't watch TV except for movies in the middle of the night. Have your family vote on which movie to watch and then show a different one.
9. Leave a lawnmower running in your living room 24 hours a day for proper noise level.
10. Have the paperboy give you a haircut.
11. Once a week, blow compressed air up through your chimney making sure the wind carries the soot across and on to your neighbor's house. Laugh at him when he curses you.
12. Buy a trash compactor and only use it once a week. Store up garbage in the other side of your bathtub.
13. Wake up every night at midnight and have a peanut butter and jelly sandwich on a saltine cracker.
14. Make up your family menu a week ahead of time without looking in your food cabinets or refrigerator. Then serve some kind of meat in an unidentifiable sauce poured over noodles. Do this for every meal.
15. Set your alarm clock to go off at random times during the night. When it goes off, jump out of bed and get to the shower as fast as you can. Simulate there is no hot water by running out into your yard and breaking out the garden hose.
16. Once a month, take every major appliance completely apart and put it back together again.
17. Use 18 scoops of coffee per pot and allow it to sit for five or six hours before drinking.
18. Invite at least 185 people you don't really like because of their strange hygiene habits to come and visit for a couple of months. Exchange clothes with them.
19. Have a fluorescent lamp installed on the bottom of your coffee table and lie under it to read books.
20. Raise the thresholds and lower the top sills of your front and back doors so that you either trip over the threshold or hit your head on the sill every time you pass through one of them.
21. Keep a roll of toilet paper on your night stand and bring it to the bathroom with you. And bring your gun and a flashlight.
22. Go to the bathroom when you just have to pass gas, "just in case." Every time.
23. Announce to your family that they have mail, have them report to you as you stand outside your open garage door after supper and then say, "Sorry, it's for the other Smith."
24. Wash only 15 items of laundry per week. Roll up the semi-wet clean clothes in a ball. Place them in a cloth sack in the corner of the garage where the cat pees. After a week, unroll them and without ironing or removing the mildew, proudly wear them to professional meetings and family gatherings. Pretend you don't know what you look or smell like. Enthusiastically repeat the process for another week.
25. Go to the worst crime-infested place you can find, go heavily armed, wearing a flak jacket and a Kevlar helmet. Set up shop in a tent in a vacant lot. Announce to the residents that you are there to help them.
26. Eat a single M&M every Sunday and convince yourself it's for Malaria.
27. Demand each family member be limited to 10 minutes per week for a morale phone call. Enforce this with your teenage daughter.
28. Shoot a few bullet holes in the walls of your home for proper ambiance.
29. Sandbag the floor of your car to protect from mine blasts and fragmentation.
30. While traveling down roads in your car, stop at each overpass and culvert and inspect them for remotely detonated explosives before proceeding.
31. Fire off 50 cherry bombs simultaneously in your driveway at 3:00 a.m. When startled neighbors appear, tell them all is well, you are just registering mortars. Tell them plastic will make an acceptable substitute for their shattered windows.
32. Drink your milk and sodas warm.
33. Spread gravel throughout your house and yard.
34. Make your children clear their Super Soakers in a clearing barrel you placed outside the front door before they come in.
35. Make your family dig a survivability position with overhead cover in the backyard. Complain that the 4x4s are not 8 inches on center and make them rebuild it.
36. Continuously ask your spouse to allow you to go buy an M-Gator.
37. When your 5-year-old asks for a stick of gum, have him find the exact stick and flavor he wants on the Internet and print out the web page. Type up a Form 9 and staple the web page to the back. Submit the paperwork to your spouse for processing. After two weeks, give your son the gum.
38. Announce to your family that the dog is a vector for disease and shoot it. Throw the dog in a burn pit you dug in your neighbor's back yard.
39. Wait for the coldest/ hottest day of the year and announce to your family that there will be no heat/air conditioning that day so you can perform much needed maintenance on the heater/ air conditioner. Tell them you are doing this so they won't get cold/ hot.
40. Just when you think you're ready to resume a normal life, order yourself to repeat this process for another six months to simulate the next deployment you've been ordered to support.