Sunday, November 24, 2013

Footnotes


      I find myself at the end of a bad two months-easily of the worst in recent memory.  I am just beginning to put it into context-which is a difficult thing-as I am recovering from several strokes which have quite dramatically fissured my brain.  As I write, the characters form words I can identify, but when I read them back, they appear to be a series of random letters  that seem to just escape reason and recognition.  My writer's mind blinks and the words are there, and I blink again, and they crack, spilling incoherency across the page.
 
     Still, this is better than yesterday, and acutely more favorable than a week ago.  Weeks past that, it was a small triumph to just form sentences in my head I could speak aloud to any understanding.  I am still uncentered-outside of myself one moment, beside myself the next, and still not grouped back into a single consciousness.  It is a hard thing to describe, and even harder to pull off the fa├žade of seeming to be a rational and normal human being once outside of my house and into the world.
 
     I can do math again, construct linear approaches to subjects again, drop the images of memory into those linear patterns and adjust them to the streams of words and thoughts that can now attach contrast to the memories...so contexts are falling into place once more with my self almost inside them, just out of reach, but walking slowly back into daylight.  My doctor asks me questions and when answered, queries if I am a child of the Sixties due to how I frame and describe my responses.  No, I reached for my writer's voice, I say-that strange and calming plateau of mind where words, senses, symbols, and angles of awareness I developed many years ago lives and heals and listens.
 
     That voice arose following my youth and calmed the insanity of reality into a structure of being I could live with and communicate more fully from.  That same voice I searched for these last weeks for balance and mental resurrection, much like grasping at a ledge after falling into an abyss or maelstrom of the mind and finding nothing but darkness and confusion, yet knowing there was a candle there...that ledge...that possible way back to a beginning of wholeness or salvation of a sort.  A way to connect the broken pieces of dots and dashes back into lines and grids, then back into circles with centers.
 
     I've spent this week on context, last week on memory reconstruction, the week before on beingness, the days before that on the search for the voice, and before that, I was just trying to survive while trying to survive.  Some memories are stark, others found only by following cues and associations from places or events or dates I can remember...others are simply gone 

     By my calendar notes, on the 25th of September, I had started getting sick.  By the 27th, I was in a surreal place of ill health.   I had been taking care of my father for the last couple of years, and he suddenly began to lose perspective of time, his place in it, and began what I could only describe as living in 12 hour cycles, then 8, and all this occurring and then increasing in that week.  This was more upsetting and unsettling to me than him and because I was being hands-on with his care and reporting any changes to his doctors, this became a rapidly growing concern.
 
     At first, I thought I wasn't ill-just overstressed by this-exhausted both physically and emotionally from running my household, his household, taking care of him and my cat who was in renal failure, running my business, going back and forth between them all and putting out assorted fires while juggling schedules, doctor's appointments...the list went on.  Maybe I was just burning out, fizzling into small pops that were catching fire into a flu or something from the worry on my Dad.  I was unsure.
 
     At the same time, my dog, Astro, had been exhibiting signs he may have a hip issue and slight infection, so I took him to the vet-also on the evening of the 27th.  I reeled when I found he was in renal failure-acutely and in final stage.  He had barely even seemed ill, so how could that be?  The vet remarked he was not acting like he was dying, if she didn't have the test results, she would have assumed he was just showing a moderate infection.  But he surely was dying, she repeated, and repeated again, to such effect that all hope was also dying in that little room.  I began to almost disassociate, and assumed her demeanor and the diagnosis was the reason why I couldn't hold my thoughts together 

     She recommended little other than fluids and waiting, and I immediately made plans for additional consultations with other vets.  By that night, I was beginning to hallucinate and run a fever.  I was almost positive it was a physiological thing created from my emotional state, but I was having difficulty thinking it out, getting a handle on it.  I remember my heightened state of worry, confusion, and the intense need to form a series of game plans for everything that was surfacing.  I wrote on all of this in my planner, focusing, attempting to lay it all out.

     The next days are a series of blanks riddled with recollections of pushing through with actions-trying to line up family help for my Dad, rescheduling business and appointments, making a distressed plea to friends for monetary assistance for Astro's care so it could begin immediately, and fighting through a vicious nausea that was all-encompassing.  Everyone was vying for me to go to the hospital, but I knew if I went, I would most likely be there indefinitely, and I felt my presence was better served elsewhere with others that needed me in the moment.  I was right and I was wrong and I made serious and well-intentioned decisions while in a precarious state of health.

     While in the middle of a three day emergency IV fluid push for Astro, I disintegrated into periods of debilitating neuralgia, seizures, loss of nerve control, further nausea, and neural levels of pain I had never experienced, in spite of the intense pain I live with every day from my broken spine.  I couldn't eat or drink and recall several times just passing out wherever I was, whether it was home, or the vet's, or the store-again, I was noting some of this in my planner to maintain some sense of organizational behavior, some external center to the internal chaos.

     My biggest memory is of focusing on my Dad and Astro and forcing myself to be as clear as possible in any matter relating to them and then further willing myself  to get up and do it.  There is a last clear thought of flashbulbs and seizure going off in my head before days of blankness with short jolts of maddening hallucination mixed with that intense focus.  My last notes from those days are illegible, and when legible, disconcerting or unremembered.

     Once my sister was at my Dad's and I had Astro stabilized, I finally went to my doctor, who tried to force me into the hospital.  He thought I had a severe version of a stomach virus going around and that I  had been pushing myself too hard while ill and had suffered several strokes for reasons as yet unknown.  I promised him I would rest and go to the hospital, and armed with the most powerful antibiotics and anti-nausea meds around, I resumed my activities, thinking there is really not much difference between situational heroics, simple responsibility, and dismal stupidity.

     At a snail's pace, I started to physically improve, though my neuralgia, perceptions, speech, and thought processes wanted to remain out in left field and I was in a sort of tunnel-vision with my focus on just getting my responsibilities handled.  My Dad was diagnosed with very early vascular dementia and treated with a combination of new drugs that not only make the brain work better, but slow down or halt the progression of the disease.  He began responding and soon fell back into a normal perception of time, though still required rather consistent caretaking due to his other health issues and I had to be present and prepared.

     Astro was returned to us almost whole for a short window before the cancer and renal disease worked its slow and methodical evil through his body.  He had hip issues that were separate from the kidney failure, and he began to lose his ability to rise, then to walk after being helped to standing.  Throughout this, I had managed to keep him stable, and thankfully, he had only had a few bad days, which are forever ingrained in my mind.  Our around the clock moments began to lose time, and I knew when the quiet came one morning that the storm of suffering was soon to follow.  I could write volumes on him, express pages of the bond between us, and tell hundreds of stories, but it could never put into words the depths of our life together.

     Late in the night on the day we lost him, I wrote a small tribute for him.  I had just begun to speak and act normally, but I had a real fear that words would never again form inside my head to mean across the page-that my brain had been too damaged to join once more in the act of writing anything of real substance.  I felt Astro move through me and he gave me his last gift, and I stumbled through it.  After it was written, I had no idea what it said-I couldn't read. 

     While I was writing, the words made sense, and when I was done-as I have noted-it was all a kaleidoscope of gibberish on my screen.  I trusted in the heart and ghosts and posted it, later finding I was still partially able to go to a place and talk to shadows and angels about things I can barely whisper in the light and report back-a place where God is there and God is not there and I was perhaps still blessed in that tiny space of light and darkness that calms and haunts me.

     Three weeks later to the night, I have been trying to place meaning and context on everything that has transpired these last two months.  As I have said, I have holes and blanks and disarrays amidst the days of broken transmissions and receptions, with aspirations to illuminations.  I have been reduced by forty pounds, regained a father and lost a dog who was, strangely, much like a son.  I have discovered that the illness that plagued me so and created such additional travail was probably bacterial meningitis.

    While trying to balance these contexts, I find placement and grounding while finally being able to sort and file all of the bits and pieces of memory whose fragments of intense focus I burned into my head through the mists of mental disorientation.  I still replay, re-enact, and second-guess every decision associated with the facts torched harshly into my head as those scorched bits of focus still cycle and burn-some petering out, others blazing away-awaiting their final contexts while my brain regains health and is at last processing all of these things in the backlog.  But it is mostly too late and after the fact-and all for nothing, as nothing can ever change-these very words a study in the circle jerk of retreading tires that are finally rolling after the journey has ended.

     I'm currently working through my physical well-being, catching up at business and finances and the continuance of caretaking, but lost in a maze of Astro and brain fugue.  I find I have too many crystal memories of what was going wrong all around and too few of what was right.  The memories of simple, short rests with my boy and gentle portions of days spent together with him and my Dad are dimmed with holes by the dark toll taken to fight through the black to achieve those times of light, and I feel trampled, cheated, cursed with too many words and mental workings now that few are needed.  And my brain burns on, as if by retrospective magical thinking I can enact a different set of outcomes.   

     Flame it will...until the events of these two months are finally all in context and filed, and hindsight is accepted for what it is, and the errant synapses will eventually crackle low, coal, and become ash for better things to sprout from.  And maybe some memories will return, some spring in the winter of the bare trees of strokes with their splinters and dry leaves that burn in my chest like a lost, cherished religion of love.

       .  .

Five Weeks

Three weeks ago, I posted the original to this on Facebook.  I was extremely ill and in recovery from a stroke, and unsure if I was writing words or a type of mental gibberish.  Exhausted, I fell asleep, and woke to find kind and beautiful messages from my family, friends, and a few strangers.  Thankful my brain is improving, and very mindful of the importance of this to myself and my wife, three weeks later, I have cleaned and corrected it to better pay lasting tribute to a brilliant and wonderful life.
 
    
EVERYONE'S BOY

     Astro entered our lives as a pup one spring day in 2001.  Part Bernese Mountain dog and part mutt, he was tossed out on the road by a nearby college where my wife picked him up, noticing the lone boy was trying to make friends with anyone.  He had me the moment I first saw him-all head, shiny eyes, round tummy-a fur ball that just wanted to please.

     I had lost my mother just months before, and he injected a full life back into mine-he was Astro, Mr. Bang, Slurpee, and a dozen other names, and he answered to them all.  Over the years we had our own vocabulary, our own playlists of songs-both real and imagined ones we made up together-the Bacon Dance, the Son Song, Goin' Outside.  We had a bond of shared empathy that most humans never seem to achieve with one another.

     He was a majestic boy, a stubborn, mischievous child, a dog of labor and the water, and a seeker of adventure.  He taught and reminded me of the immediacy of the now and of being present, that it is always better to give, and together we discovered the magical truth of existence-that the ball is the essence of life.

     When I was physically shattered by a drunk driver, he was beside me giving me his all.  The hundreds of mornings that I woke to pain and disability and that every-day decision to simply suck it up and get up and get on was made possible by that companion guarding over my waking bedside, his head softly reaching up and over the bed edge to nudge me into life. 

     When I would falter in step, he would plant himself against me to steady me.  When I sat, he would carefully climb halfway onto the couch and put his head in my lap and stroke my leg with his paw.  He told and reminded me of possibilities and dreams and wishes and that water wasn't simply water and that a day wasn't just a day-it was a wellspring of taste and life and joy-and he did it all by just being that good, fine boy he was on that first day and every day since.

     Our years passed like fast moving clouds in the sky and cool rain in the sun.  We both aged, and we both got lame, but we both kept the sparkle in our eyes, our shared dance, and our songs.  Barely five weeks ago, I got very sick and then discovered he also was ill-a fast moving, last stage renal failure from probable kidney cancer.  He had been in pain and discomfort for weeks, and in a testament to his strength, he never displayed it, and to my detriment, I did not fully sense it.  Days, the first vet said.  So, I rallied and fought through bacterial meningitis, a series of strokes, and debilitating every-second nausea, fighting for him, and he for me.  Good soldiers in a shared, precious life where pity parties aren't allowed.

     And we got five weeks and a day.  Five glorious, tragic, wonderful weeks.  And a day.

     Early this morning, the quiet of waking told me secrets of my boy, that he would fight to the end with me at his side-no quarter, no submission, but that the tide of battle was swiftly moving him to an ambushed endgame-one where there would in moments be only suffering until eventually, he would be claimed.  I woke my wife-my partner in Team Astro-and we began the long, slow planning and with stops, starts, and endless re-thinking, I set up a home vet specialist for the night.  I walked outside and the warm sunny day turned a bit chilled and a soft rain fell like everything around us was crying for the moment, for the coming loss, and the victory of things that shine, but that to my eyes seemed dulled.

     This is not a maudlin post of bullshit sentimentality of a boy and his dog.  This is a post of respect, and honor, and love.  For Astro was not my dog-he was my wife's, and in a way-he was everyone's dog, because he saw only one thing in people-a friend he could love.  In these five weeks, help, assistance, and that love came back from the most expected and unexpected places-loans, vet support, gifts.  All enabled me to push days into five weeks.

     We loved him all day, as we had every morning, night, and eve since the first.  We lay down beside him and petted and scratched and just were present in the moment.  And my wife, the love of both my and his life, was the ease and grace that was the ground he had today.  He was weak, as each day he had eaten less and less 'till naught, and the storms inside him that were gathering that would surely begin raging in deadly earnest tonight, tomorrow, or the precious early morning abated, the rain outside ceased, and peace reigned through our little house.

     Soft music played, a triad loved, and late in the evening, though forever early, we allowed our guy to be taken easily-all the while filling him with praise and touches and heart sounds.  And then it was over, and there was nothing maudlin about it-to me, it was the most blessed, incredible gift and the feeling of the most damning, betraying destruction coupled together.  The three became two again, and moments passed, and I have spent the last of them searching for and following his spirit all around and about me and into vapor.

     All alone and late, I type a post of one of the most beautiful things I have and will ever know.  Sleepless and wordless, I am unsorted.  I am damaged.  I am bewildered and shaken and tired.  The only thing I trust at this second is that all seconds, all moments, count.  The savoring of people and animals and fellowship, and most importantly-their bond in heart and love.  Twelve years that were seconds into moments into days, then into five weeks.  And one day. 
 
     This day.  All moments of a good, fine boy.  My boy.
 
     Everyone's boy.