The Introverted Thinker in New York

The Introverted Thinker is eight. Her mother takes her out of school for a week to go to New York City.

They leave her sister and her father behind.

Her mother complains about the school paperwork. “Never let school get in the way of your children’s education,” she says. “That’s what my father says.”

The IT is not sure what all this means. But she is excited.

They go on an airplane. She gets to sit by the window. She can see the ground and it is squares like a quilt with hills. It is so beautiful! She is amazed, magic!

In New York City they go to the house of an old friend of her mother’s. The old friend is old and wears dresses to the ground and a lot of jewelry. The house is dark and there are many things in it. The IT is told that the things are antiques and she must not touch anything. She walks around carefully in the dark places, looking at all of the strange things while her mother talks to the old friend. They talk about the past and people that she does not know.

Her mother takes her to museums on some days. Some are art museums. The IT is already used to art museums because her mother is an artist. The museum is like an art gallery only much bigger and the ceilings are very high. A lot of the art is very big too.

One museum is different. Natural History, says her mother. There are dinosaur bones. The IT can’t touch them either but they are wonderful. Huge animals from the past that are not here any more! She loves it.

They fly home. First she has to thank the old friend with the house like a museum, only darker. Then they go to the plane. This time there are some clouds so the IT can’t see as much, but she still gets to see the quilt of the land.

She decides that she likes museums and she likes natural history. Especially dinosaurs.

released like stars

I have had strep A sepsis and pneumonia twice. It was terrifying and I ended up having to take care of myself. I would be dead if I was not a physician.

Everything2.com helped to sustain me, because it was a place I could go while I was alone, terrified and very very ill. The bout in 2014 took me out of clinic for six months and then I was barely able to work seeing half my usual number of patients. My local hospital refused to help me, but other people did. I am deeply deeply grateful to the people who did help me, including people on everything2.com that I have never met.

I wrote this in June 2014.

released like stars

________________

My sister used to tell me

“Everything2 is like a brain.

That’s what attracted me.

All the nodes, like neurons

Connected to each other more and more.”

Or something like that.


Isn’t it annoying?

Now that I’ve taken that memory out

Dusted it off

Embellished it

Who knows what she really said


Flashes of light now

And some where I blank out entirely

For just a moment

Only when I’ve eaten

I’m still avoiding carbs


Could be absence seizures

But she said seizures hurt

These do not hurt

And are accompanied by muscle twitches

Or muscles rolling gently across my frame


I am scared at first

Because I think they are neurons

Bursting into brain flame

And burning out

Brief candles


But I don’t think that’s right either

I think it is plaques

Deposits of antibody

Small pushpins in the wrong place

Being released like stars

Straddle this place

Straddle this place, where we look at history again and again, admit horror and mistakes and cruelty, and work together to build a future.

For the Ragtag Daily Prompt: straddle.

Admitting diagnosis: old guy, don’t know

I wrote this in 2010, after I worked for three months at Madigan Army Hospital. I really enjoyed working there. It was the first time since residency that I had worked in a big hospital — 450 beds — and in a not rural setting. I kept asking to work with residents and eventually the Captain and I worked it out to both our satisfactions.

______________________________________

During my three months temp job at a nearby Army Hospital, I am asked to help the Family Medicine Inpatient Team (FMIT) whenever a faculty member is sick or out or deployed, which turns out to be fairly often. I enjoy this because I want to work with residents, Family Practice doctors in training. It is very interesting to be at a training program, watch the other faculty and work at a 400 bed hospital instead of my usual 25 bed one.

Two patients need to be admitted at the same time on our call day, so the second year resident takes one and I take the other. The report on mine is an 82 year old male veteran, coughing for three weeks, emergency room diagnosis is pneumonia.

The resident soon catches up with me because her person is too sick and gets diverted to the ICU. Mr. T, our gentleman, is a vague historian. He says that he has always coughed since he quit smoking 15 years ago and he can’t really describe his problem. He’d gotten up at 4:30 to walk around the assisted living; that is normal for him because he still does some o the maintenance. He had either felt bad then or after going back to sleep in a chair and waking at 10. “I didn’t feel good. I knew I shouldn’t drive.”

He’s had a heart attack in the past and heart bypass surgery. Records are vague. The radiologist reads the chest xrays essentially as, “Looks just like the one 3 months ago but we can’t guarantee that there isn’t a pneumonia or something in there.” He has a slightly elevated white blood cell count, no fever, and by then I do a Mini-mental status exam. He scores 22 out of 30. That could mean right on the edge of moderate dementia, or it could be delirium. I get his permission to call his wife.

“Oh, his memory has been bad since he spent a year in a chair telling them not to amputate his toes. And he was on antibiotics the whole time. He wasn’t the same after that. This morning he just said he didn’t feel right and that he shouldn’t drive.” So his wife called an ambulance.

The third year chief resident comes by and wants to know the admitting diagnosis. “Old guy, don’t know.” is my reply. “Either pneumonia or a urinary tract infection or a heart attack maybe with delirium or dementia or both.

The second year is helping me put in the computer orders, because I am terrible at it still. She could put them in upside down and asleep. “Why are we admitting him, anyhow? We can’t really find anything wrong, why not just send him home?”

“We can’t send him home because he can’t tell us what’s wrong. He might have an infection but he might not, and he has a really bad heart. If we send him home and he has a heart attack tonight, we would feel really bad. And he might die.”

I was getting a cold. I had planned to ask to work a half day but half the team was out sick so I just worked. But by morning I had no voice and felt awful. I call in sick.

At noon the phone rings. It is the second year. “You know Mr. T, who we admitted last night?”

“Yes,” I say.

“He had that heart attack during the night. Got taken to the cath lab. You made me look really good.” We had worked on the assumption that it could be early in a heart attack though the first labs and the ECG were negative. I had insisted on cardiac monitoring and repeating the enzymes. The resident had finished the note after I left and the night team had gotten the second and abnormal set of enzymes.

82 year olds are tricky. With some memory loss he couldn’t tell us much except that “I don’t feel right.” He was right not to drive and we were right to keep him in the hospital. And if it had all been normal in the morning, I still would not have felt bad about it. The residents are looking for a definitive diagnosis, but sometimes it’s “Old guy, don’t know,” until you do know.

Painting angels

You were an artist
You are an artist
You said that you’d have to live to 120 to finish all your projects
And died at 61
I keep wondering
what the art supplies are like
and if you work on sunsets
or mountains
or lakes

Trey, 9
made a clay fish last summer that I admire
He said grumpily “It’s too bad Grandma Helen died before I could do clay with her.”
He tells me he’s ready to make raku pots to fire in your ashes as you wished
I ask what he’d make
He considers and says, “What was Grandma Helen’s favorite food?”
I can’t think and say that she liked lots of foods
At the same time wondering squeamishly if maybe
he should make a vase and then being surprised
that I am squeamish and thinking of blood and wine,
too, I wonder if my dad would know. “Maybe guacamole.”
I need to find a potter to apprentice him to.

Camille, 4.
asks how old Grandma Helen was when she died.
I explain that she died at 61 but her mother died at 92.
Camille asks how old I am.
40.
When are you going to die?
I say I don’t know, none of us do, but I hope it’s more towards 90.

Camille studies me and is satisfied for now.
She goes off.
I think of you.

I perpetuate
the Christmas cards you did with us
upon my children.
They each draw a card.
We photocopy them and hand paint with watercolors.
Camille wants to draw an angel
and says she can’t.
I draw a simple angel
and have her trace it.
She has your fierce concentration
bent over tracing through the thick paper
She wants it right.
The angel is transformed.

My kids resist the painting after a few cards as I did too.
Each time I paint the angel
to send to someone I love
I think of Camille
and you
and genes
and Heaven
I see you everywhere


January 19, 2002

published in Mama Stew: An Anthology: Reflections and Observations on Mothering, edited by Elisabeth Rotchford Haight and Sylvia Platt c. 2002

For the RDP: another day.

nap

I am posting this for today’s Ragtag Daily Prompt: action.

Well, for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction, right? Which could be a nap. This is taken with my phone zoomed from an upstairs window, right in my back yard. Voyeur, yep, that’s me, spying on my Giant Long Earred Yard Rats, also sometimes called Deer.

All of my 911 memories are still swirling around. I think everyone is exhausted and grieving. Please take care of yourselves today and I hope you have a safe place to take a nap, like my Giant Yard Rats.

The Brewer’s Big Horses

This is one of the Songs to Raise Girls, songs that I learned before Kindergarten. A very weird list of songs.

This song comes from my maternal grandfather. My mother said that it was a Congregationalist temperance song….

The photograph is Morris D. Temple and his grandson, F. Temple Burling. F. Temple Burling is my maternal grandfather. I am related to Temple Pumps. According to my mother’s stories, Morris Temple was more interested in Japanese art than in Temple Pumps and the company eventually folded. I don’t know if that is true, or if it was a different Temple then Morris. However, my middle name is Temple.

This song is one that I don’t have memorized, though I know the tune. I have my mother’s handwritten lyrics, with her drawings framing it. There is a tape of my grandfather singing it in the Library of Congress, according to my mother. I would like to go listen to it some time.

I’ve copied it just how my mother wrote it out. There might be an issue about political correctness, but I have a picture of Morris Temple in the 1860s, in his civil war uniform, with a sword. You will have to wait for that post to see which side he fought for….. I presume that my mother wrote it down as she was taught it. I am not sure who talked like this in Iowa in the 1880s, but maybe it was most people.

The Brewers’ Big Horses

O, the brewer’s big horses, comin’ down de road
A totin’ along old Lucifer’s load
Dey step so high and dey step so free
But them big horses can’t run over me

Chorus:
O no! boys O no!
De turnpike’s free where ever I go
I’m a temperance ingine don’t you see
So them big horses can’t run ovah me
Repeat with “toot toot toots”

O de liquo’ men been actin lak de own de place
A livin’ off de sweat o’ de po’ man’s face
Dey’s fat and sassy as dey can be
But deir big horses can’t run ovah me

Chorus

I’ll harness dem horses to de temperance cart
I’ll hit ’em with the gad fo’ to give ’em a start
I’ll teach ’em how fo’ to haw an’ gee
So them big horses can’t run ovah me

Chorus

It took me a while to find this song on the internet. It is listed in temperance songs in wikipedia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Temperance_songs and is mentioned in The Christian Advocate under lyrics: The Brewers Big Horses. It is listed as written in 1913 by JB Herbert and HS Taylor. Isn’t it interesting that Budweiser still uses the Brewer’s Big Horses in advertising?

Again, this is a song I was learning way before I know what a brewer or a turnpike was. My parents stopped singing a bunch of songs when they realized that I was memorizing all of them. They did not want me singing certain songs in Kindergarten.

They did not need to worry. I shut up when I got to school, because no one wanted to sing and no one knew the songs. They all talked about television and we didn’t have one.

I was very disappointed in school. Not enough singing and it was lonely.

Mnemosyne

I am reading The Female Trickster: The mask that reveals, by Ricki Stefamie Tannen.

Regarding Mnemosyne, she writes: “The power of memory was recognized in Ancient Greece by the goddess Mnemosyne who ruled over the Elysian Fields. The nine daughters of Mnemosyne and Zeus are the muses, with Thalia, the muse of comedy imaged with a Trickster’s mask as she playfully composed comedy and ironic poetry. The muses were women unto themselves. According to the myth, upon death a person makes a choice to either drink from the river Lethe or the spring of memory. If you drink from Lethe you forget your pain and all the lessons of your life and are reborn again on earth. Those who choose to drink from the spring of memory go to the Elysian Fields, where there is no strife or pain. The myth tells us that the path to psychological integration comes from a willingness to value and interact with memory. Those that repress memory are doomed to repeat it, over and over again.” (pp72-73)

This seems apropos both to my personal and professional life and also to US culture. Our President speaks like my stage IV substance abuse patients. He says things that are obviously lies, obviously not true, obviously refutable and yet to all appearances he believes his own lies entirely, even when he contradicts himself. He manufactures his own reality and just laughs when someone else disagrees. But my substance abuse patients crash: they eventually find that they are isolated with their own lies when they become so fantastic and bizarre that no one believes them any more. We are watching that play out.

Re my personal life, I think of my maternal aunt’s memorial. I wrote two memories for the memory book. One was about my father saying that she had perfect pitch. I did not know what perfect pitch was when I was little, but I knew from my father’s voice, the respect, that it was special and important. That he was envious. That he admired it. The second was about my aunt and uncle’s divorce, that I had seen them as a unit and liked both of them better when they turned into individuals.

My cousins wanted to use the first memory but not the second. They said that family wouldn’t like it. I thought about their request and finally said no. Use both or neither. They chose neither. And this pretty much illustrates why I have very little contact from a large part of my family. I want to remember the whole person, light and dark, love them all. And that is not what that part of my family wants. An old family friend has not spoken to me about my sister since my sister died 6 years ago. I asked her directly about it a few months ago. She wants to talk to me “only about happy memories of your mother, father and sister.” I respond, “Why don’t you ask me what sort of relationship I want?”

She was and is silent. So I am too.

It’s not a lack of love but it’s a difference in philosophy. I think it is crazy to whitewash the dead: how will our children understand their own dark feelings and impulses and mistakes if they think that their ancestors, grandparents, parents are angels? Why aren’t we honest as a culture? How can we expect our children to be honest with us when we lie to them? The curated lives on Facebook are an abomination, false, lies and look what we have in the White House.

I like the dark as well as the light. If we truly love everything in the universe, how can we not love the dark as well as the light? If each of us owned our dark sides, our dark impulses, the myth says that we will not enact them over and over each generation. Owning the dark, acknowledging our own dark does not mean that we have to act it out in the world and then lie to ourselves and others.

And now I want coal for my stocking: just a small piece, to remind me that I have not always, or will I ever, only be good.