Wednesday, June 20, 2007

A Terrible Method for Putting Things in Perspective, Part II

Most evenings after feeding the family, bathing the children and getting M to bed, I leave J and E to read stories, and I take a walk. Most of the time, I walk to a nearby river to watch the dolphins feeding and to take in the setting sun. On Monday, I departed from this ritual and opted instead to walk an urban trail that runs between my neighborhood and one of the main thoroughfares in my city.

I set out around 6:45 and walked for about half an hour before turning around. The trail was fairly busy with kids on mountain bikes, runners, and couples getting in their evening exercise. When I was about half a mile out, I noticed a sickening chemical smell and wondered if someone had burned some household trash. It was unpleasant, and it burned my eyes, but the smell only lasted a few hundred feet and then was gone. I put it out of my mind.

When I turned around after a half hour to head home, I immediately noticed a thick plume of black, black smoke rising in the air in the distance. The meaning of the chemical smell became apparent; it was obviously a structural fire. With sirens—fire, ambulance, police-- wailing in the distance, I walked back toward the source of the smoke. The closer I got, the clearer it became that this was a massive fire.

I exited the trail and started walking toward the sirens and bright lights. I was not alone. As if led by the Pied Piper, a line of us walked toward the commotion and the heat. Motorists rolled down their windows to ask what was happening. Kids on bikes excitedly raced past.

I was awestruck by the fire. A warehouse was aflame and it was the most intense thing I have ever seen. Flames were shooting into the air. It sounded like that cereal that snaps, crackles and pops. It smelled hot. Waves of heat enveloped the crowd that had gathered. Firefighters on ladder trucks aimed water over the top of the structure. I felt self-conscious taking pictures with my cell phone camera until I noticed that others were doing the same. The impromptu gathering took on a carnival atmosphere; I think those of us in the crowd shared the assumption that all firefighting efforts were taking place from a safe distance outside the building.

Imagine then, my horror upon learning later that evening that maybe two to three fire fighters were missing. Imagine then, the horror upon learning the next morning that nine firefighters had lost their lives in the inferno.

To get out of my neighborhood, I have to pass the store and warehouse that burned. It has become a shrine of sorts. In front of the police tape and ATF trailers, someone has placed nine white crosses. There are flowers. Teddy bears. Notes. People stop and cry. Their grief is captured by the national press which is out in force. It is surreal. It is sad. I didn't know any of the men killed Monday, but I still feel a deep sense of loss.

Saturday, June 16, 2007


Thanks for the kind comments on my previous post. We all survived the week.

My mother's cancer had not spread and she will require no treatment beyond the surgery. The growth the surgeon removed form her liver was just a cyst and the enlarged ovary was the result of a benign condition. She'll have an annual colonoscopy to monitor for recurrence, but she is considered cured at this point. She is still hospitalized, but she should be out by Monday or Tuesday.

Here are some highlights from the week:

Thursday morning, the first morning after the surgery, I was the child on duty to visit my mother first. I left M with my sister-in-law and borrowed a car from my sister-in-laws' father which I almost wrecked on the way to the hospital by stalling during a left-hand turn. In my defense, I have never driven a car with a clutch that tight despite a great deal of experience with manual transitions including my current car. After I arrived at the hospital, I could not figure out how to get the key out of the ignition. Then I couldn't find the owner of the car or anyone who knew how to remove it. They had to page my brother out of a meeting so he could tell me the trick (a latch that you slide as you turn the key). All I can say is damn you, Ford. No wonder you are losing market share.

I have seen the future and it isn't pretty. My mother's whining and complaining do not bode well for how she will handle aging. She already complains bitterly about everything, but the surgery just exaggerated these tendencies. I guess it would be different if she complained in a nice way, but that didn't happen. I witnessed her harassing two nurses when they couldn't find her veins: "I'm going to write the hospital a letter telling them that there ARE better ways to do this."*

Speaking of which, I'm not cut out for nursing parents. I fed my mom ice chips, brushed her teeth, brushed her hair and tried to help her out of bed, but I felt anxious the whole time especially when I realized she was going commando-- I thought I might need intensive talk therapy, if not drugs after that. How do people care for their parents for extended periods of time? Does it get easier? Do my parents have the finances in place for long term care?

Baby M and I stayed with my brother. He and his wife are on the fence as to whether to have another child** so they keep a crib in the spare bedroom, but not a bed. I learned that I am too old to sleep on air mattresses. By morning, enough air had leaked that parts of me had sunk to the ground and other parts were buoyed by air pockets. I will bring a sleeping bag next time and just sleep on the floor. It will be better. Despite a somewhat uncomfortable night, it was nice to stay with my brother's family.

E came home (she and J stayed with my in-laws) and promptly developed another mystery fever that has lasted two days thus far. This makes three in the past 8 weeks. I'm starting to get concerned. Except for the high fever, she has no other symptoms. Strange.

M is about to cut a new tooth and has been cranky. I can see the tooth, her third, under the gum so I think that the misery will end soon. Of course, there are many more to come. Sigh.

I've decided to move back to my campus office (I've been on maternity leave and sabbatical since August and have been mostly home-based.). I'm looking forward to more of a separation between home and work. More on that later next week as I move my base of operations.

*I have the same skinny, temperamental veins, so while I understand that being stuck four times for one blood draw or IV is not optimal, I have never harassed a nurse about it. Especially not one who is responsible for providing my pain meds and emptying my bladder.

**I'm guessing they will have another and that I'll experience a certain amount of baby envy before giving over to total delight to being an aunt again.

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Just shoot me

Quick! Someone find me a therapist (and not that bitch from the Sopranos). I have mother issues.

My mother has been diagnosed with cancer and is about to have surgery and I am feeling. . .


Resentment. When I reach deep and try to identify the dominant emotion that is gripping me these days, it isn’t fear or sadness or anxiety that rises to the top of the stew. No, it is resentment. My hospital-phobic brother called me this afternoon to complain about my mother's complaining and stream of orders. It seems that he is feeling resentful too.

Nearly a week after her diagnosis, my fears have come true. My mother is in full-blown crisis mode. She is panicked, mournful, bossy, controlling, and eager for attention. Her energy to complain and whine and complain some more seems limitless. She is a force of nature.

So far she has:
  • called everyone she can think of to share her “very sad news.” I guess she doesn’t trust her social network to get the word out. I asked if I could tell a mutual acquaintance here (we live in a city a few hours from her). She informed that she had already called and had a "very nice chat" with the acquaintance.
  • asked a church acquaintance who is battling Stage 4 colon cancer to accompany her to her appointments. As if she needs to spend what's left of her time in more hospitals and doctors' offices. The woman had the good sense to demur.
  • asked a friend to spend the night in the hospital with her despite my brother and my offers of hiring a night nurse.
  • called to tell me that the CT technician hurt her hand with the IV used in her scan. So she cried (literally) and demanded a supervisor take over.
  • arranged for her prayer group to be at the hospital during her surgery.
  • demanded that my brothers and I are at the hospital during her procedure. I was planning to do this, but my especially hospital-phobic brother is none-too-pleased.
  • told me she expects me to hold hands and sing Kumbaya or whatever with her preacher and prayer group. She knows I am an avowed agnostic and perhaps an atheist, but she doesn’t care. When I told her that I would be respectful of the group, but would not be holding hands and praying aloud, she started crying. Oh yeah. Maybe guilt will help me find God.
  • demanded that I bring the children and stay with her when she is released from the hospital. I'm not doing this for reasons I'll have to write about later.
  • told me over and over that she is feeling sorry for herself, but that it is natural to feel sorry for herself because this is just so tragic.

As you are reading this, perhaps you are thinking that we are jerks. Ungrateful children. Selfish. And maybe we are.

However, our response to our mother’s emotional outbursts, machinations, and directives is conditioned upon a lifetime of trying to manage her emotional outbursts, machinations, and directives. I guess a cancer diagnosis isn’t enough to overcome this.

Saturday, June 02, 2007


Tropical Depression Barry, I love you.