You needn’t worry that I will importune you. Words explode and swirl upon the page. It’s more likely that I’ll say blankly “Who?” Since I enlarge upon a fascinating stage. Approaching two years since I was taken sick, on oxygen I wrote a poem of farewell. Career ending injury: nature can be such a dick. Breathing is important. Absent it is hell. I am still healing. I hope that I can ski. I am lucky that my fatigue is relatively mild. My oxygen can go 9000 feet up where I’ll see muscle dysfunction truly makes me wild. Friends and family gather close and gather far I feel blessed beneath a lucky star.
I get a letter for my mother on Saturday, asking for money.
I am answering the request. I write: Helen Ottaway died May 15, 2000. Take her off your mailing list.
I did not sign my name and I do not fill out a return address. Here is a picture of it, before the stamp. Habitat for Humanity, the next county south. They have not endeared themselves to me.
I get mail for the dead. My mother, my father, my sister. It is the colleges and universities that hang on. Princeton and Cornell have not found me, but my father’s preparatory school Williston, knows where I live. They send me reports. My father hated Williston. My sister went to the University of Washington and graduate school at the University of Oregon. I went to the University of Wisconsin and the Medical College of Virginia and residency at OHSU in Portland, Oregon, so I get mail from all of those. I like the science reports from the University of Wisconsin best. My son went to Washington State University, but has escaped their alumni association, who send me mail. My daughter went to Western Washington and has also escaped their clutches.
I get medical mail too. The American Academy of Family Practice Journal. I do not pay for JAMA but it comes anyhow. Various Family Practice journals and then drug company propaganda. Every so often I get a box of samples. Last time it was glucerna. I guess they have noticed I am older. One odd piece of medical mail is Guns and Ammo. The back story is that we ordered Woman’s Day when the clinic opened in 2010. Then we watched who they sold our information to. The scam is that a magazine will arrive for a year and then they will bill for the next year. We got Smithsonian for a while and that creepy right wing paper all about how we’ll all die soon. Smithsonian gave up on us and then it was RV World and Guns and Ammo. We quit putting magazines in the waiting room when Covid-19 hit. People had to bring their own and anyhow, we only had one person out there at a time.
I subscribe to my local weekly paper. I subscribe to one magazine. With all of the college and university stuff, I have a large pile to donate to the library monthly. Right now the AARP is sending two magazines to my house: one for me and one for my closed office.
And I still get weird junk mail from insurance companies saying “We have changed our rules again just like we did last month! Go on line and read the 47 new pages of rules for us and the other 499 health insurance money stealers!” Makes me gloomy about the wisdom of the US populace. When will we be smart enough to vote for medicare for all? How far will the medical system have to break down? People are dying and will die, including lots of medical personnel.
Vote for medicare for all, single payer, single set of rules. It’s not socialized medicine, the only socialized medicine in the US is the Veterans Benefits, and you aren’t going to vote to take them away, are you? Vote, vote, vote.
My cousin said to me once: “We want to believe what we want to believe.”
This was right before Mr. Trump was elected President.
After my cousin said that, I was unsurprised that Mr. Trump was elected. He was elected out of fear and anger and shame and grief. He was elected by people who are afraid that people rising out of discrimination will take things from them. Lower their standard of living. They are afraid that they will have to give things up.
A friend was working on my boat. He said that if I paid in cash, it would be less. Because, unspoken, he would not report the income. I thought about it. I said, “My medical practice is mostly medicare and state insurance. That is paid for out of our taxes: yours and mine. Therefore I am giving you a check and I don’t care if it costs more.”
There is a big culture here of not paying taxes. Cheat the government. Pay cash to each other, nod, nod, wink. It is tempting, takes a percentage off what I pay. But…. the people who I know are doing this are mostly conservative. They say drain the swamp. They say the government is cheating us. But THEY are cheating all of us.
I asked my cousin why he and my maternal family believed a story masterminded by my sister. That my father and my neice’s father and I were villains. One of the villainies was the our grandmother’s money had paid for MY graduate school but not my sister’s graduate school.
But that is not true. My grandmother paid four years of medical school tuition. 21K. I paid my own loans.
After my grandmother died, and then my mother died, my father used “my grandmother’s money” to pay off my sister’s graduate school loans. 36K. My parents also cosigned on a house, that my sister walked away from. They wrote 30K off thier taxes that year selling it. My father bailed her out of 7K on a work credit card. My father called me crying when she bullied him out of another 30K for another house. And that is when I said to her ENOUGH. I refused to visit for a year: until she went into hospice for her cancer. I visited three times while she was in hospice. We made peace. But she did not tell anyone else the truth.
I said to my cousin that I could send the bank statements showing that my father paid for my sister’s graduate school. That is when he said, “No. We want to believe what we want to believe.”
I thought really? So you want to believe my sister because she is dead. We will not speak ill of the dead, so you are ok with me and my father and my niece’s father being villainized and you will not even look at the lies.
VOTE and VOTE against FEAR, SHAME, DISCRIMINATION, ANGER AND GRIEF. We have to stand up. I loved my sister even when she was dishonest and bounced 1000$ worth of checks in my small town with people I knew. My father got threatening phone calls and he paid. That was the last straw for me.
So guess which politician stirs up fear and hate and discrimination and anger and grief? Well, honestly, both sides are guilty of that, but I stand against discrimination. We all shall rise up.
Love and Blessings and Peace you.
The photograph is on one of the last three visits to my sister. She died in March 2012.
I struggled after my mother died of ovarian cancer in 2000. She was 61 and our love was complicated. Two years after she died I hit an emotional wall and had to go find help. My marriage was showing cracks too. I have written about Adverse Childhood Experiences, but there can be love too, even in a difficult household. I wrote this poem during that time.
My mom loved me
It’s herself she didn’t love
She didn’t love her anger
She didn’t love her fear
She didn’t love her sorrow
She didn’t love her shadows
She packed all her troubles in her saddlebags
and rode forth singing
When I was angry
she felt her anger
When I was scared
she felt her fear
When I was sad
she felt her sorrow
When I felt my shadows
she felt hers
I hid my shadows
I hid my shadows for many years
and then my saddlebags were full
They called me
I dove in the sea
I rescued my anger
I rescued my fear
I rescued my sorrows
I rescued my shadows
At first I couldn’t love them
My mom didn’t; how could I?
But I loved my mom
I loved all of her
Her singing and courage
I thought if I could love her shadows
I could love my own
It was hard
It took months
I looked in the mirror at my own face
And slowly I was able to have
Compassion for myself
I am sad that my mom is not
where I can touch her warmth
and tell her I love all of her
I tell her anyway
I’m finding many things as I surface from my dive
Sometimes I feel the presence of angels
I was looking for something else
I found a valentine
that she made me
Many hearts cut out and glued
to red paper
I am so surprised
My mom loves me shadows and all now and forever.
My mother used to quote “Pack all your troubles in your saddlebags and ride forth singing.” Does anyone know where this if from? I have not found the source. It could be her mother or her mother’s parents.
The photograph is my father, the year my sister died of cancer, 2012.He died in 2013.
This is Malcolm K. Ottaway, my father, singing the Humpty Dumpty Blues in 2009.
He made them up when I was two. Here are the two stories that my mother would tell and that I finally linked.
In the early 1960s my parents married at age 21 and were both going to the University of Tennessee. They married in June and I was born the next March. In a tuberculosis sanatorium, because my mother started coughing blood at 8 months pregnant. She thought she was going to die. She didn’t die, but after I was born she did not hold me again until I was nine months old. I was suspicious of adults by then, because they kept giving me away.
My parents had music parties, where my father played guitar. My mother had a prodigious memory and would remember every verse, so she was the last one singing. My mother said, “At one party you wanted your father to play Humpty Dumpty. He wouldn’t. You were the only child there. You kept asking. Finally he made up the Humpty Dumpty Blues. You were so angry at him that you stomped your feet at him and everyone laughed.”
And the second story: “One morning after a party, your father picked up his guitar. It RATTLED. It had 17 beer bottle caps in it. We checked and not one person had seen you pick up a beer bottle cap or put it through the strings. It took your father hours to slide the bottle caps out from under the strings with a butter knife.”
Well, that will teach him to not sing a song for the two year old. At any rate, he sang the Humpty Dumpty Blues my whole life. I don’t remember the original party or sliding bottle caps through the strings. I must have done it after the party was over, right? Did I go during the party and pick up every cap I could find, or did I already have a hidden stash? Two year olds can be sneaky, apparently.
At any rate, I am very happy to have the recording now, even though the original made me stomp my feet.
The photograph is of me, in about 1963 or 64. I don’t know who took it, but it was taken at Lake Matinenda, in Ontario, Canada.
The Ragtag Daily Prompt today is memorize, and oh, what I have memorized! I saw a t-shirt at the Nowhereelse Festival in Ohio that said, “My memory is 80% lyrics.” Yes, me too, a mix of songs, poetry and books that I have read. My sister Chris and I were busily memorizing songs as soon as we could. Here are three very educational songs for young girls. The last one we learned from our cousin, who was a girl scout and a girl scout leader. She was in the calendar one year, making cookies. I was very very impressed and a little jealous.
I bought a four hour recording session at a silent auction and the recordings are me and my sister and my father. We did them in two sessions. We made a list of songs and lost it immediately so we all took turns suggesting songs. My mother had already died of cancer. My sister died in 2012 and my father in 2013. I am so glad to have these recordings. We called it Mocoko for Malcolm Ottaway, Chris Ottaway and Katherine Ottaway. We sang most of them just once and so they are not polished, but I still am happy to have them.
I sang Bridget O’Flynn to my daughter when she called me about dancing. “Mom! I love to twirl!” Um, well, yes, your parents met at a contra dance at Glenn Echo Park in Maryland. We love to twirl too.
A cautionary song, an old barbershop quartet song, that we sang.
I wonder if the girl scouts still sing this.
The photograph is my son scaring me. Ok, that boulder is sitting there balanced BUT! GET OUT OF THERE! Taken in Palm Springs in 2011 up on the mesa. Beautiful.
This is my beloved cat who died in February 2020. She was named Boa Black or Feather Boa, depending on the situation. We got her as a tiny kitten at the pound. She had the softest fur and purred the instant I picked her up. She was 17 when she died.
I am attending parts of the online Collective Trauma Healing Summit, led by Thomas Hubl. This morning I listened to two speakers, each about an hour long. The first was by Rev. angel Kyodo Williams, an African-American buddhist teacher and the second is by Tristan Harris, who is the co-founder of the Center for Humane Technology.
Mr. Harris gives me hope about humans learning to live with social media without continuing to be polarized and angry. He speaks about the way that many platforms work. We tend to click on things that worry us and that we are traumatized about, and the platform immediately starts feeding us more of that. In a way, Facebook and other platforms gas light us: the algorithm figures out what makes us upset and agitated and promptly feeds us more of it.
He advocates moving to more humane platforms, that aren’t built on feeding us trauma, and especially for schools and parents to do this collectively with children. He co-hosts the podcast “Your Undivided Attention” each week, so I will be looking in to that.
However, I have a second reason to be hopeful about social media. I am in more than one group now that has rules and that has administrators that enforce them. Kindness. An insect group that forbids people saying “squash it”, because it’s a group of people that are interested in insects. A physician mom group. A pacific northwest rock group and a women’s pacific northwest rock group. I am now one of the administrators for a local group and am fine with it.
Even though Facebook is still feeding us more trauma and horror if that is what we click on, people are starting to see through this and refuse. They are forming groups where insects and people aren’t squashed. Rural farm groups. Music groups. In these groups I feel that people are coming together and are working to be supportive and help each other, identifying rocks, discussing child behavior, singing together.
Each time that technology makes the world smaller and more connected, we have to relearn how to get along. With our family, then our small tribe, then a larger tribe, then cities, countries and now we can see each other the world over. If all we see is what we fear and what horrifies us in our feeds, then we need to turn it off, breathe, and look for something to calm us down. Knit. Silly cat pictures. Flowers. What gives you a feeling of peace and hope? Whatever it is, do more of it and share it.
Blessings and peace you.
I don’t know who the person in the tintype is. I think that it came from a box from my Great Aunt Esther Parr, when I was in my early teens. My sister and I divided the tintypes and used them as portraits in our china doll houses.
In Practicing conflict, I wrote about practicing conflict by arguing different sides of a topic inside my head. I wrote that I don’t fear conflict and have learned to enjoy arguing with myself. I am a physician and physicians argue all the time.
What? No they don’t. Well, the doctor persona does not argue with the patient much. Some doctors give orders to patients, others try to negotiate, some try to convince. But behind the scenes, doctors are more like the Whacky Racer Car with the Cave Guys, running with their feet and hitting each other with clubs.
In residency in Family Practice at OHSU in Portland, Oregon, I start on General Surgery during internship. This is in the early 1990s and there was not much in the way of “disruptive physician” rules. I have to cover Trauma and Plastic Surgery and General Surgery at night on call. The resident is present but I get paged first for patients on the floor. I learn that I should go to all Trauma pages in the emergency room. If I know what is happening with the new Trauma patient, it’s a lot easier to handle the phone calls for more drugs and so forth. Also, the resident is less mean to me.
We attend the Trauma “Grand Rounds”. These are unreassuring to a new intern. A resident presents a trauma patient, giving the history in the accepted formal order. The Faculty Trauma Surgeons interrupt, disagree with management of the patient and yell. They yell at the resident and at each other. The upper level residents yell too, being well trained. The Trauma Surgeons do not agree with each other. They are inflammatory and rude. I am shocked initially: medicine is not a cookbook, is not simple and it appears that it is a controversial mess. It turns out that medicine IS a controversial mess.
There is not as much yelling on the next rotation. At that time Trauma Surgeons yelled more than any other set of doctors that I ran across. They yelled in the ER, at each other, at the staff, at the nurses, at the residents. The culture has changed, I suspect, but that’s how it was then.
I take Advanced Trauma Life Support as a third year resident. The Trauma Surgeons at OHSU helped write the course. They don’t agree with it. On some questions the teaching Surgeon says, “The answer to this question is (c), “ followed by muttering loudly, “though I totally don’t agree with that and I would do (b).” Another Trauma resident or surgeon then might start arguing with him, but they moved on pretty quickly, to teach the current agreed best practices in the book. Which change every few years. Great.
Years later (2009) I join the Mad as Hell Doctors, to go across the US talking about single payer. They are a group from Oregon. Physicians for a National Healthcare Program are a bit cautious with us the first year: we might be whackos. We have an RV with our logo and we have a small fleet of cars and what do you think we do in the cars? We argue. Or discuss. Or whatever you want to call it. We spend the driving dissecting issues and how to present things best and tearing apart the last presentation and rebuilding our ideas. The group does 36 presentations in 24 days. Each presentation takes an hour to set up, two hours to do and another hour to break down and debrief. We get more and more exhausted and cranky and um, well, argumentative, as the trip proceeds. Even though I think of the Whacky Racer Cave Guys running with their feet and bonking each other with clubs, this is the most wonderful group of doctors I have ever been with. A common goal that we all want to get to, discussing and disagreeing on strategy all the way! I feel closer to those physicians in a week then I feel to any of the physicians that I’ve worked with for the last 9 years in my small town. Conflict with a common goal.
Doctors are TRAINED to argue, even with themselves, to document every decision in the chart with reasons why they have reached that decision. And that they have thought about all of the reasons for say, a low potassium, thought of every possible cause and worked their way through testing. The testing always has two strands. One strand is rule out the things that could kill the person NOW, even if rare. The other strand is what is common? You have to think about both at the same time, always. And argue with yourself about which tests should be done, in what order, what is most important, how do you treat the person while awaiting results, and have I missed anything? And if we aren’t sure, we call another doctor, run it by them, wait for them to shoot holes in our logic or to say, no, I can’t think of anything else.
We can deal with conflict. We must deal with conflict. The world is too small not to deal with conflict, with disagreements, with different viewpoints and positions and ideas. If doctors can do it every single day at work, then everyone else can too. Trying to see all the positions and possible diagnoses saves lives in medicine. We need to extrapolate that to everything else. Try to see other positions, try to understand them, to respect them. We can and we must.
Thank you, Queen Elizabeth II, for choosing this time to pass, to die.
The world can use public mourning now, a formal ceremony. I tear up every time I look at the lines of people watching, standing, waiting, filing past your coffin.
Perhaps we should set up a coffin for all the dead, a field of coffins, doll coffins, hundreds, thousands, a million for the United States alone, and millions for the world, for all the dead from Covid-19.
And then we need more coffins, for those who died because care was delayed during the pandemic, screening for cancer, treatment for cancer or heart disease or lung disease. Let us set them up as well.
And then we need doll chairs, hundreds and thousands and millions of doll chairs, for the people with long haul Covid, to acknowledge that we don’t know if they will get well, will rise from their beds and chairs.
And white coats, hundreds and thousands and millions of white coats, some neatly on hangers, other bloody, others thrown on the floor, for the first responders, some dead, some quitting, some ill, some deciding that they can’t do medicine or fire fighting or policing any more, some stubbornly continuing in their jobs.
And job advertisements, on tiny doll computers, doll newspapers, doll signs in windows, saying help wanted, help, help, people are quitting, people are too sick to work, people have died, people are wondering why they should work in public, people are afraid and angry and hurt, help wanted.
I tear up when I watch the public mourning. I remember my mother, my father, my sister, all dead before the pandemic. I remember other dead, family and friends. I think of all the dead that I know, starting to outnumber the living that I know.
Thank you Queen Elizabeth II, for this formal and public mourning in this time of confusion and grief. Your last public service, for which I and many others, tear up and thank you.
Refugees welcome - Flüchtlinge willkommen I am teaching German to refugees. Ich unterrichte geflüchtete Menschen in der deutschen Sprache. I am writing this blog in English and German because my friends speak English and German. Ich schreibe auf Deutsch und Englisch, weil meine Freunde Deutsch und Englisch sprechen.