Vital signs II

For the Ragtag Daily Prompt: vital. For me, vital brings up vital signs. I wrote this poem in 2006. Pain was made the fifth vital sign in 1996. I have written about it here. In June of 2016, the American Medical Association recommended dropping pain as a vital sign. The idea that we should be “free” of pain has not died yet and the latest CDC report says that the overdose death rate for women has risen a horrifying 240% from 1999 to 2017. That report is here: Drug Overdose Deaths Among Women Aged 30–64 Years — United States, 1999–2017. My poem is still relevant and we still have to change our ideas about pain.

Vital signs II

Pain
Is now a vital sign
On a scale of 1:10
What is your pain?
The nurses document
Every shift

Why isn’t joy
a vital sign?

In the hospital
we do see joy

and pain

I want feeling cared for
to be a vital sign

My initial thought
is that it isn’t
because we can’t treat it

But that isn’t true

I have been brainwashed

We can’t treat it
with drugs

We measure pain
and are told to treat it
helpful pamphlets
sponsored by the pharmaceutical companies
have articles
from experts

Pain is under treated
by primary care
in the hospital
and there are all
these helpful medicines

I find
in my practice
that much of the pain
I see
cannot be treated
with narcotics
and responds better
to my ear

To have someone
really listen
and be curious
and be present
when the person
speaks

If feeling cared for
were a vital sign
imagine

Some people
I think
have almost never felt cared for
in their lives

They might say
I feel cared for 2 on a scale of 10

And what could the nurses do?

No pills to fix the problem

But perhaps
if that question
were followed by another

Is there anything we can do
to make you feel more cared for?

I wonder
if asking the question
is all we need

I took the photograph yesterday with my cell phone. It was so gloriously sunny that the water really was turquoise and I did no photoshop changes.

reminder

For the Ragtag Daily Prompt: timely.

My mother died in 2000 and my father in 2013 and my house is full of art. My mother was a prolific artist and I am working on placing, gifting, cataloging her art. There is rather more than I’d seen. Watercolors and etchings were her most loved, I think, though she did woodcuts, silk screen, oils, pottery and all sorts of crafts.

She did tiny etchings, often 2 by 2 or 2 by 3 inches of fantasy creatures.


Etching of Winged Hare, by Helen Ottaway
Winged Hare by H. Ottaway
etching: Dolphin, by Helen Ottaway
Dolphin, by H. Ottaway

water babies

For the Ragtag Daily Prompt: river.

Both of my kids are water babies, who love the water. The pictures are from 2005, my daughter and her cousin, loving the slip and slide. A home river and water. My daughter went on to seven years of synchronized swimming, four years of swim team and now is racing sailboats in college.

Slip and slide water joy
puddle joy

letters

For the Ragtag Daily Prompt: letter.

I write a very careful letter to an old friend after my sister dies.

Not right after. 6 years after. Another friend tells me after my sister dies that OF says she will never ever talk to me about my sister. OF doesn’t. I don’t see her much.

I do not ask about it directly for six years.

Suddenly I am sick of it. For one thing, a family member of OF’s dies. OF asks me on the phone to come visit “And we’ll cuddle and talk about my family member.” I thought, how can you ask me to fly and visit and talk about your family member when you have not talked to me about my sister for six years? It brought all the pain back to the surface.

I write a very careful letter thanking OF for all the positive things she has done for me. She has known me since birth. She is a mentor for me as a professional woman. In other areas, no. I also write as a query, is it true that she will never talk to me about my sister?

She does not answer the query. And then tells me that she carries the letter around because it makes her so happy.

I think of the letter as a thank you and goodbye. If you will not speak of my sister to me, it hurts and it has hurt for six years. And I am done. I have been patient to the point of being completely ridiculous.

And I finally approach it directly on the phone, because I hate that branch of the friends and family gossip and triangulation. “Is it true that you will never speak to me about my sister? You haven’t for six years.”

Silence. Then: “I am willing to talk to you about your sister, mother and father, but only the good memories.”

And I say, “No.” I say, “Why don’t you ask me what sort of relationship I want?”

It is hard to leave family systems, even when they are dysfunctional and cruel. There is still love there even if it displayed by triangulation, gossip and mean rumors. It’s a love that is emotionally underdeveloped. We spend a long time trying to change, facing that the love is not loving, deciding that it is worth changing ourselves and leaving. I still love OF but I do not want to be in a relationship where she controls me and silences me. It hurts too much. I am still glad that I sent a letter with all the thanks, which I meant from my heart. And I am glad to say goodbye.

in the air

For the Ragtag Daily Prompt: ebullient.

I took this at the Great Port Townsend Bay Kinetic Sculpture Race. This is not part of the race, but our local school Robotics team, showing how many balls their robot can shoot into the air. I think the yellow balls look ebullient and the small observer is entranced. She is probably writing programs by now.

And she’s walking as if her feet hurt

For the Ragtag Daily Prompt: crepitus.

I wrote this poem thinking about my sister in 2009. I was writing on everything2.com and they had a “masked poetry ball”. We put up a second identity and part of the contest was guessing who was who. My brother in law and my sister had been on the site for far longer than me. While I was masked, my brother in law sent me a message that the poem reminded him of his wife. Yes, I thought, that poem worked, because I wrote it about her.

And she’s walking as if her feet hurt

And she’s walking as if her feet hurt
Each first metatarsal hits the dirt
Each joint feels like it’s full of grit
Bone on bone and all that shit

And she’s walking as if her feet hurt
Each first metatarsal hits the dirt
It’s no surprise, in fact it grates
To know she carries all those weights

Please rest your feet sometimes my dears
Those silly joints must last for years
One of the many dark deep fears
To walk in pain for years and years

And she’s walking as if her feet hurt
Each first metatarsal hits the dirt
I wish that she could go on home
And put her feet up all alone

I took the picture, of my sister and my son, in 1993 in Portland, Oregon. My sister injured her knee fighting fires when she was 22. Her knee worked after the surgery, but with crepitus within ten years. And her feet started to hurt.