Friday, December 21, 2007

The Innocents Aboard

Thursday, December 13. 2007

I arrive in Cobble Hill only to find poor Sheryl in deep distress: She has the stomach virus that is making most of NYC miserable. She is so sick that she does not even want Jeff to go down and get her creamed brussels sprouts, which she wanted last time she was sick. Sheryl languishes all night and does not seem to get better. I experience my first opportunity to worry all night about a daughter instead of son. (Really, the two are pretty similar.)

Friday, December 14, 2007

We are all up early. Sheryl still looks piqued and does not want any food. Jeff parks my car in a covered lot; we call a limo and prepare to leave the tundra that NYC has become and head south. (I am still worried about what will happen if I collapse on the plane. Will they have to land the plane in some strange city that does not take my health insurance and maybe does not even have a hospital? Sheryl and Jeff laugh at me, and we head for Newark Airport.)

We arrive in Florida early, where Harriet and Aunt Rozzie have somehow made their way through the gates and are waiting for us at the foot of the airplane exit. Jeff, thinking he is in the tropics, immediately removes his jacket and sweatshirt. Sheryl seems to be feeling better. I am saying little prayers of thankfulness that I did not experience vertigo or total lack of balance on the plane. All is well!!

Harriet has made a lovely chicken meal. Michael is very pleased with the meal and also with Harriet, whom he seems to love very much. He loves Sheryl and Jeff a lot too and is already calling him "son-in-law." Harriet appears to share his sentiments.

Sunday, December 15, 2007

Sheryl goes for her final bridal gown fitting. Jeff's eyes are sure to haze over when he sees his bride walk down the aisle in her most beautiful gown. Then Harriet goes for a fitting in her most lovely plum-colored evening gown. Much as I am tempted, I do not give up my intention to wear my frum outfit to the wedding, frumpy or not. It will be what it will be (or already is).

I left out lunch, but now I will go on to supper. We go to a restaurant whose owner is something or other on TV. Harriet asks for the waiter to send him over, and eventually he does. It turns out it is his birthday! I think we are supposed to get free dessert, but the cost appears on the bill. (Who is that guy anyway?)

Later

We meet Rabbi Gold, who seems very nice. (It seems strange for a rabbi to offer his hand, but I take it anyway.) He really just wants to speak to the kids, so the grown-ups take a tour of the Gordons' old neighborhood, which is very impressive. We also see the high school in which Michael teaches Math.

Back at the shul, we see two iguanas. One of them is stuck in a chain link fence and seems rather unattractive, even for an iguana. The other one is very "hot" and must be maddeningly attractive to others of his kind. He hears us rustle the grass and immediately demonstrates the "fight or flight" response; since there is nowhere to run, however, he remains a captive of our curious eyes. I say that if I had a pair of gloves I would throw both animals back into the little pond from whence they came, but I don't think anyone (except maybe Jeff) believes me.

Soon we have a nice deli meal with Aunt Rozzie and two of her sons. Then I very rudely fall asleep, quite exhausted from so much activity.

Then we are driven to the airport and say good-bye to the Gordons. The flight is okay until we approach New York City; we fly over Sea Gate and find ourselves not even near LaGuardia 1/2 hour later. (The iguanas could have gotten there sooner.) Turns out there is a great deal of wind, and the plane has been circling in an attempt to land, which it finally does with a huge THUMP. Jeff says he feels sick; Sheryl is now fine; I, thank G-d, have neither fainted nor died.

Home and queued up waiting for a cab. Boy, is it ever COLD!!!!

Monday, December 3, 2007

So Long 2007...

...Year of Miracles:

1.I survived a divorce.
2.I survived a cerebellum clot and bleed.
3.I survived an emergency craniotomy.
4.I survived removal of my left cancerous kidney.
5.I survived 30 sessions of focused radiation to my head.
6.I survived anaphylactic shock caused by eight days of a toxic immunogenic drug.
7.I survived going bald. (My hair is actually growing back, more or less.)


I SURVIVED!


And I would like to thank G-d, family, friends, acquaintances and all blog-readers for bringing me back from the other side. I COULD NOT have done it withouy everyone's help and prayers.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Post-Cancer

This period in time that is euphemistically referred to as "'remission," or "period of forgiveness,'' is very strange. What does it mean? Had I first sinned and then been mollified via the cancer? Will I mess up (-miss-up?) again and therefore have continuing relapses (-re )? (Hint: The Torah teaches that G-d sent many boats to warn the people of the coming moab (flood). The boats were ignored, prompting G-d to cry out:"How many signs are you going to ignore?" Then came the flood.)

During remission, one marvels at one's ability to walk with only a slight - the very slightest - list to the right side. One marvels that one can speak with only the smallest degree of aphasia.One marvels that every day the pain in the esophagus decreases a little more, and it becomes slightly easier to eat. One is amazed at one's stupendous personal privacy: no gowns that "close" in the back or tylenol in one's rectum because one has a breathing tube inside of one's throat. One can only wonder at the indignity of having one's very own -very own - cerebellum probed and resected. Not to mention the exposure of self during kidney removal - one scar is perfectly parallel to one's "bikini cut" caeserean scar. (Some ob/gyn apparently envisioned a somewhat more hip lifestlyle.)

But let us imagine for a moment, if we can, the little circle of snakes that suround the word "remission." Sure snakes have some vague function on the symbol that means doctor - who knows what - but the snakes around the word "remission" are toothy and vicious and ready to strike at any moment. What will I lose next? The good doctors tell me kidneys, brain, liver, bones and lungs evolved from the same zygote: no wonder then that kidney cancer found a home in the brain! Will I emerge from "remission" only to lose a leg or perhaps an arm? Or will I lose more brain, renderiing me the idiot some people already think I have become? It is all open to conjecture and G-d's will, and one does better to take an extra sleepnig pill or two than toss around all nignt wondering if, a year from now, one will be able to toss around at all.

This piece would not be complete without mentioning exhaustion, perhaps the most prominent part of " remission." The body has suffered such unthinkable torture that denial, good old denial, becomes the only way to cope. Occasionally, though, after you have tried too hard to be the nicest person, the most helpful person, the most brave and cheerful person, the denial stops working, and exhaustion sets in. It is an exhaustion of body, mind and soul that rivals no other exhaustion. The skin, which has so recently and literally peeled and renewed itself; the hair that has shed and somehow started to grow back render the person so vulnerable to hurt, insult and exertion. I have heard other cancer "survivors" say the same. "It is par for the course," my long-dead mother would have said.

The worst part of being in "remission" is being in "remission" alone. It involves clutching your breasts in the middle of the night hoping you will not some day soon lose them to cancer; it means performing effleurage on the scars on your own belly, while wishing someone else could assuage the pain. It also means rubbing the palms of your own hands against each other, again and again, knowing that nobody else will ever again touch your hand because you have cancer.

Not even - or especially not even - while you are in "remission."

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

To Lose a Son

There are many ways to lose a son.

You can lose a very, very young son to IFC, a rare genetic disorder. Your son would be bloated and wall-eyed; he would not recognize you at all, even as you held and hugged him. He would have no cognition and would probably be the closest thing to a human vegetable. His only bodily movements would be epileptic seizures. You would prepare for his death by building a tiny coffin, even as part of you wanted to believe he would not die. You would go on loving and loving him; at the same time you would wonder how your body, or G-d, or whatever could have produced such a miniature monster.

Then one day the child would stop breathing and die. You would dress him in a white shirt and a striped tie and let the undertaker carry him away in the small- very small - coffin you kept in your attic. It would be a cold day in February, and the funeral director would allow you and your husband to carry the little box and place it in the earth because this has all along been the plan. It would begin to snow as you left the cemetery. A part of you would be frozen with grief; another part would know that your baby has been called to a place where he will fare better than he ever could on this earth.

You could lose a son to Down's Syndrome. After you labor and labor, you would expel a child with the wrong number of chromosomes.You would soon be asked if you wanted to give him away. You would be told that there are wonderful group homes that care for such children. Social workers would come and explain and explain and explain again the difficulties of keeping such a child and the benefits of placement in a special setting where all the little girls and boys are the same. Before you would know it, you would be signing adoption papers, and your child would be taken from you to a facility somewhere out in the country and fresh air. You would leave the hospital with empty bellly, arms and heart.

There is another way to lose a son. You and he could pierce the soft corridors of each other's hearts and forget how to be sorry. For the first time you would feel only your own pain and not his; for the first time you would struggle to keep yourself from walking through fire instead of protecting him.The undertaking would take place in your aching brain. As you would dig, you would find strata and sub-strata - endless sub-strata - of memory. You would wonder how this compromised brain of yours could hold so many memories: the pain of his skull pressing against your spinal column during labor; the feel of his lips on your breast for the very first time; the little voice that said to you in the middle of one night that his throat hurt when he swallowed his saliva. Even though the funeral would be solely in your own head, the eulogies would be endless. You would try to take some of your archaelogical love and use it to patch your own pierced heart; you would struggle to find a way to give some of it to him. And you would fail, again and again.

There are many more ways to lose a son: many more ways to turn to stone.

Friday, September 28, 2007

Confusion of the Heart

The Yom Kippur machzar (prayer book) kept asking for repentance for sins that were pretty easy to recognize: e.g. "sessions of vice" and "disrespect for parents and teachers." Other sins were less transparent; in particular, I found myself wondering, again and again, what constitutes the sin of "confusion of the heart."

Possibilities:

1.Some divine script instructs the heart to beat adagio, and then the perverse, or perhaps just merely disobedient, heart contracts a bit too slowly - or a bit too fast.
2.An extrasystole manifests itself now and then, causing fear and confusion.
3.Two people get a divorce and then realize that, at best, their hearts were confused.
4.A person of color fights with a white boy in a small Southern town and finds himself locked up for who knows how long.(Whose heart was confused?)
5.A Southern District Attorney stands up in front of a lot of people and says that the people of color behaved well during their protest because of the presence of Jesus Christ. (Who was most confused at that point, the DA, the listeners or Jesus Christ?)
6.My sister is suddenly talking back to people. (Is this confusion of the heart or clarity of the heart?)
7.I was going to leave Nefesh last year at this time because I had too much hair. (How confused was that?)
8.At the blink of the eye, we have gone from Jeff sitting on my lap to the eve of his marriage. (My heart should be glad and not confused at this passage of time.)
9.My friend says that her brother has married her mother; I say that all men marry their mothers and that mothers come in many disguises.
10.An acquaintance misinterprets events and ends up hurting a lot of people.

Any suggestions?

Friday, September 7, 2007

Hair

November 2006
I find myself hating my hair in a particularly virulent way. Certainly I have hated my hair many times before, but now I hate my hair because I believe that it signals my religious hypocrisy: I am in fact the only woman at Nefesh, with one exception, who did not give up her hair at the moment of marriage, does not wear a shaytel (wig) and until very recently perceived hats only as clever matching accessories to her yeshiva moror (teacher) outfits.

Let's begin at the beginning: Why do Jewish women cut their hair very short when they are kallahs (brides) and hide what remains under a (beautifully styled) wig? (My Catholic friends might want to take this opportunity to wonder if the covering of a nun's head harkens back to Judaism? If I remember correctly, every depiction even (especially?) of Mary, a Jewess after all, shows her with head modestly covered.)

Explanation #1: G-d said so.
Explanation #2:There should be no knots or snarls in one's hair when one submerges one's total self in the mikveh (ritual bath). One must blend completely with the holy water.
Explanation #3:Once a woman marries and pleases her husband, she understands her sexual powers, symbolized by (or maybe even literally represented by) her hair. (Even if she wears the most beautiful wig in the world, it is still not her real hair.)
Explanation #4, a logical corollary to #3: A man studying Torah or davening (praying) should never be distracted by a woman's actual hair.
(The Skeptic's) Explanation #5: Since it was very sunny and sandy in the desert, it was a common habit (nun pun unintended) to cover one's head.

Anyway, I am so distraught because of my curly, abundant hair that I tell my supervisors that I cannot continue with the hats and therefore must leave Nefesh. Unbenknowest to anyone, I have a big nasty clot growing underneath all that hair; also lurking deep inside is the secret that I long for a kosher marriage to a kosher man, with whom I can practice all the rites and rituals of my religion. One way or the other, I am obsessed with the belief that I am either cheating or being cheated.

February 2007
I open my eyes and find myself in an ICU bed at Lutheran Hospital. I imagine that I have a huge goiterous growth on the side of my neck, (reminiscent of an old Seinfeld episode), but this perception turns out to be untrue. Instead, I soon learn that I have somehow surived an emergency craniotomy. The bandage is removed; I reach back and discover that a large portion of the right side of my head has been shaved. I find a clump of hair - no doubt mine - on the pillow next to my head, which feels as if it might roll off (just like the head of Saddam Hussein has recently detached from his body) if I am not careful. Having bigger fish to fry, I am no longer too worried about my hair.

April 2007
I must make a terrible decision: Either I have whole-head radiation, which would somewhat reduce the odds (maybe) of the recurrence of kidneycancerbecomebraintumor (go figure) and lose all my hair or "just" have focused radiation and lose only some of my hair. The doctors (some kindly, some not so kindly) inform me that there is a 70% chance that some hair, in some form, MIGHT eventually grow back. To confuse me further, I am told that "there is no right or wrong decision - only a decision."

I decide that I should start cutting my losses and choose focused radiation. So far I have lost: part of my brain, my left kidney, my marriage and a peculiar portion of hair near my right ear. I am still much too unworried about what will ultimately become of my hair; I am, unrealistically, as it soon turns out, glad that I am not going to be completely bald and that I actually have so much hair on certain parts of my head, which now seems grotesquely large, like a globe of an unexplored world.

July 2007
Thirty sessions of radiation have gone well. I am still, however, far too flippant about the areas of missing hair that surround the irradiatied parts of my head. With the best intentions, I start taking an immunogenic drug called Nexovar, which will take care of any micrometastases that some doctors (not all) fear are still floating around my body. Upon the first dosage of 400 mgs., I become acutely aware of my Çaesarean scar, which has never, in 27 years, pained me. (I am shortly to learn that chemo drugs arouse pain in any and every wound the victim has ever acquired.)

Soon my body turns brick red from head to toe, and I have no normal-colored flesh left. After some days, the red rash turns black, and I figure, in my delirium, that the drug is doing an excellent job of choking off the blood supply to the cancer, as it should. (I wonder, however, with whatever rationalitiy remains, Do I really have cancer in every inch of my body, inside and out? If so, I am in big trouble.) I am in fact in such big trouble that I think my mother is coming nightly to take me to heaven and find out only later that Mrs. Appelbaum, in her concern, is entering my bedroom well before break of dawn to see if I am still alive. Eventually, my entire body, from forehead to heel, begins to peel, leaving new, ultra-sensitive skin that I am too petrified even to touch.

Then, without even actually realizing what is happening, the most devilish of all devilish nightmares becomes reality - the rest of my hair starts falling out, even though the drug insert says that alpoecia occurs in only 1-2% of all cases. (After eight days of dutifully ingesting the drug and watching my skin and scalp revert to prehuman states, I am told that the drug is inapporpriate and should never have been prescribed in the first place; just as dutifully, I stop taking the pills). BUT - (and here I am purposely violating my own injunction against ever beginning a sentence with the word BUT no matter what the NY Times is doing these days), BUT - my hair continues to fall out in huge enormous clumps, which show up in vastly useless and terrifying places: in my hands, in my mouth, in the bathtub drain, on the floor. My beautiful, thick, curly, bushy, totally unreligious hair is falling out and does not stop until some time in September.

I wail and scream and cry like the wild animal I believe I have become: I am losing my personality; in fact, my entire individuality. My less-than-human outbursts scare everyone around me half to death, and, when I finally calm down a little, I ask each one if he (or she) can ever possibly love a baldy beaner or, in a much more dire and horrific vein, an Anne Frank look-alike (such are my terrible swings of mood and vacillations of thought.) Some people answer affirmatively; some are too scared to answer at all.

AND IT GETS EVEN WORSE. (Yes, I have just broken another of my rules for writing): I CAN NO LONGER WASH MY HAIR FOR FEAR THAT THE REMAINING STRANDS AND TOTAL SCALP WILL SIMPLY FALL OFF MY HEAD AND START FLOATING IN THE WASH WATER. (TRUE: THAT DISGUSTING SMELL IS THE ODOR OF UNWASHED HAIR/SCALP THAT IS COMING FROM MY OWN FILTHY, ALMOST BALD HEAD.)

A few straggly ugly gray hairs remain. I want to attempt comb-overs but am afraid these hairs will fall out if I dare to take a comb to them.

Then one day it comes to me, perhaps the way the truth came, with soft rays of sunlight, to Joan of Arc: G-d has given me the experience I had rued not having. He has taken my hair. (No explanation point is needed, because the truth comes to me as a gentle, quiet, undramatic revelation.) I now know what it means to lose one' s hair and wear a hat to cover one's unfamiliar head. (Part of the quiet revelation is that the hair will grow back if and when G-d decides it should; it is totally out of my control.)

(My question for the Rabbis: Yes, I am a B'al Tshuva (Returner to my religion; Repenter). Do bad things happen to people like me because of the need to do tshuva? After all, even King David needed to do tshuva in order to understand what it felt like. Or am I wrong? At any rate, as a teacher at school later tells me, I am now "purified and cleansed." I will never be sure what she means, but the need for tshuva was real and remains real: I therefore offer every missing part of my body as tshuva, if this is appropriate; perhaps I will never know if it is. In addition. I offer every strand of the hair that previously defined me.)


Friday, September 7, 2007, 6:31PM
I just reread what I have written. The frequent tone of sarcasm is upsetting, but I know it covers an intensity of emotion that I am not as yet strong enough to feel.

The sabbath is rapidly approaching, the last one of this odd old year. So I will wish everyone a "guten shabbos" and observe as best as I can.

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

New Year, 5768

Some random thoughts, as we approach the New Year:

1.In this year I will oficially welcome Sheryl into my heart and life as my daughter.
2.I have already lived 7 months longer than anyone had thought I would!
3.I will not have a relapse.
4.I will navigate through the American Cancer Industry with a little (lot?) more savvy.
5.I will try to understand the importance of Jewish brochas (prayers) for activities I used to take for granted: eatiing, drinking, going to the bathroom, waking up in the morning, etc.
6.I will be happy about every strand of hair (no matter the color or texture) that G-d, through His grace and mercy, is returning to my head.
7.I will be the best teacher I can be without thinking too much about salary issues.
8.I will try not to judge anyone...
9.because we all make big mistakes in the course of our lifetimes...
10.and none of us is G-d; only G-d can judge.


May we all be inscribed for a healthy, peaceful, prosperous, forgiving, loving, compassionate New Year! And MUCH thanks to all my very dear friends and relatives who helped me survive 5767; I would not have been able to do it alone.

Saturday, September 1, 2007

TV, August 31, 2007

Bill Moyers' Journal:

1.Robert Bly: I have heard of this modern American (somewhat minor) poet, but seeing the 80 year-old in action took me aback - a lot. He is quite a formidable man, and the poems he read struck me as quite good. One line in particular, in a poem he had written long ago for his 10 year-old son Noah: "It was a day of undivided tenderness." It made me remember, with acute sadness, the days I used to spend with my own son. What does one do at my age and in my condition to broker "a day of undivided tenderness"?

Bly has studied Indian and Muslim poetry quite extensively. He read from Rami, who has supposedly driven much of modern American poetry; he spoke of the Islam concept of "nafs," which mean one's greedy soul. He read some old Vietnam poems and one Iraq one; they were very touching and true.

2. Grace Lee Boggs

She s a 92 year-old Chinese ├ůmerican activist. She is a graduate of Barnard and Bryn Mawr. Her father had a Chinese restaurant in NYC. She is an amazing woman, apart from one Jewish slur.

Her face is so worn and wise that it appears to be beautiiful. She was married to an African-American activist for 40 years until his death. She was a Marxist and a devout follower of Martin Luther King. She has a lot of hope for the future because of all the local "green projects" that are emerging. She does not despair: simply called Iraq the "quagmire" that it surely is and moved on. Her hope for America triumphed.

3.The Anvil of Fallujah, CNN

An awful, terrible recollection of the Battle of Fallujah. Marines recalled the deaths of their buddies. Film footage showed Marines kicking doors open and shooting and being shot.

There are many green garden projects in Coney Island. Does this really signal hope? Or is Fallujah the reality of America, circa August 2007?

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Jaunt

Last Friday morning all of us (Greg, Jeff, Sheryl and I) loaded into the old Honda and headed upstate to the "country" - i.e. the Catskill Mountains. Sheryl had never been there, and it was particularly fun for her ( I hope) because her parents had first met at the Tamarack Hotel, which may or may not still be in existence.

The mountains themseslves were predictably beautiful, the many shades of green only increased by the frequent rains we have had this summer. Although there is a striking absence of insects there too, there surely were enough tics around to cause me considerable angst and upset because Sheryl and Jeff wore flip-flops and only sneered when I recommended lace- up shoes and socks.

We stopped first at the Kerchners' house in Liberty. Jeff could not even sit on the front porch; he looked like he was about to faint from mold smell the whole time we were there. Sheryl played the piano; then we all went to a lovely crafts store. Back at home Andrea, Diana and I made earrings while Adam, Josh, Jeff and Sheryl went to play miniature golf, or "minister golf," as Jeffy used to say. Then it was lanyard time.

Saturday Night

We ate in a nice restaurant - thankfully I could eat! Then we paid a visit to Wal-Mart, the main sight to see, and then the four of use went to Kutsher's, the 100 year-old hotel where we spent the night. I was amazed that the hotel, though effete, is clean and very much a large snapshot of the 1950's. I was quite dismayed that the "oldtmers" are about my age: they had been young children at much the same time I had been a little girl! The jewelry in the boutique store looked as it did some 50 (!) years ago; so did the clothing.

The next day we stopped at Woodbury Commons. It was very hot, but everyone managed to shop.

Then home. I think we all had a very nice time, though we are not headiing back in that direction any time soon.

Friday, August 17, 2007

Gardening:Mid-August

Having been in toxic shock all of July, it is a bit startling to go out back and see the enormous growth of vegetation. Many of the petunias have already gone to seed and need to be pinched back; the balsam stems are filled with seed pods; some have aready popped; some will pop very soon. The impatiens, usually a bother, are just right this summer; the hibiscus plant, sent by Lodie and Judi, is amazing, and will have to be transferred from the pot it arrived in straight into the autumn ground.

One truly shocking fact of life this year is the general lack of insects. The only bees around are the tiny ones with small yellow stripes, possibly not even bees at all. What has happened to the lusty bumble bees that used to hunker over my flowers, and how will we get them back? Occasionally a moth will still fly out of a flower bed when I water; this is fun to see. But not one centipede (thank goodness) this year; hardly any flies, and only one ladybug (maybe it will bring good luck). Where have all the bugs gone? (Surely the baking powder that I conscientiously pour down my kitchen sink drain isn't enough to keep all the centipedes away.)

I am sorry I missed July, but will now make the most of what is left of August. And I look forward to the uniquely autumnal pansies and cabbages, which are certainly coming soon....

Monday, June 25, 2007

CHEMO

Chemotherapists all shout, "Hooray"!
Healing cancer with four pills a day!!
Ellen, however, has a bad belly ache:
Must hurt more than when she delivered Jake.
"Oy vay," she'll say an awful lot. And pray.

Saturday, June 23, 2007

BLUEBIRD, by Aileen Fisher

In the woods a piece of sky
fell down, a piece of blue.
"It must have come from very high,"
I said. "It looks so new."

It landed on a leafy tree
and there it seemed to cling,
and when I squinted up to see,
I saw it had a wing
and then a head, and suddenly
I heard a bluebird sing!

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

from MY NAME IS ASHER LEV

If you want to know how to do a thing, you must first have a complete desire to do that thing. Then go to kindred spirits - others who have wanted to do that thing - and study their ways and means, learn from their successes and failures and add your quota. Thus you may acquire from the experience of the race. And with this technical knowledge you may go forward, expressing through the play of forms the music that is in you and which is very personal to you.

- Chaim Potok

Summer Villanelle, for Greg, 1990

If only, my love, I would forgive you,
We'd grow heady then heavy in evening mist
Then wake and see it's fallen as morning dew.

We'd see the burning flowers that are new
With spikey bursts of deepest amethyst
If only, my love, I would forgive you.

But being true to what I know is true
I fill these nights with swollen tears instead
Then wake and see them fall as morning dew.

How much better to see the richest blue
Of hydrangeas spreading as full as the moon
If only, my love, I would forgive you.

And better, my dear, to lie beside you
And smell the ancent smells of ocean's mist
Then wake and see it's fallen as morning dew.

If only we were garden plants that grew
And grew together on a summer trellis -
If only, my love, I would forgive you -
We'd wake and see the morning dew.

em

Monday, June 11, 2007

A CT Scan's More Wonderful the Second Tme Around

Here's why:

1.no barium to drink; just some iodine stuff in water
2.i already knew the doctor who administered the dye
3.it wasn't snowing outside today
4.the little "breathe in" and "breathe out" faces did not seem at all funny anymore; they were, in fact, rather useful
5.i noticed there was a digital countdown from 20 to 0 for holding your breath; almost seemed like a contest between me and the silly little breathe in face
6.the big cat scan machine seems now like a friend, not an enemy
7.my diseased kidney is gone (where is it, by the way?)
8.i had so many other worrisome things to think about, the tests seemed the least of my problems (hope i still think so when i get the results)
9.a technician had an infant that she was showing off, so i guess the waiting area isn't radioactive
10. the manic actor from Life Is Beautiful walked (or rather raced) me in and out of the imaging place.

Thursday, June 7, 2007

I Heard a Petey, Petey, Petey Bird Today

I never paid much attention to the voices of birds, but now I do. One of my literary idols, E.B. White, was very good at it:

Early summer days are a jubilee time for birds. In the fields, around the house, in the barn, in the woods, in the
swamp - everywhere love and songs and nests and eggs. From the edge of the woods, the white-throated sparrow
(which must come all the way from Boston) calls, "Oh, Peabody, Peabody, Peabody!" On an apple bough, the phoebe
teeters and wags its tail and says, "Phoebe, phoe-bee!" The song sparrow, who knows how brief and lovely life is, says,
"Sweet. sweet, sweet interlude; sweet, sweet interlude." If you enter the barn, the swallows swoop down from their
nests and scold. "Cheeky, cheeky!" they say.

- from "Charlotte's Web"



Who can say it better than that?

Monday, June 4, 2007

Rain, 22 April 1972

Rain; but are the cliches all the same? I hold on
to the present with rainy-wet fingers
slipping, slipping - will I fall? Oh tears, tears
go away - come again another day
when I've grown brave enough to cry; when my eyes
have had a time in which to dry - ceaseless,
the rain has fallen since early morniing; and now
into night - I feel no promise or hope
of spring, nor see a new year's growth or life
renewed. Each flower that grows comes out of sod
and mocks this life, this flesh but less than a flower,
I will some day lie as nothing beneeath
this very ground - Rain. While I still live but once - just once -
wash the muddy horror of death away -

Thursday, May 31, 2007

Going Home

1.Pat Ochman's son Tommy came home from his army post on the border of Afghanistan and Pakistan, probably the worst place on this planet to be.

2.I was invited home for a Shabbos meal.

3.Sheryl is going home to Florida (with Jeff) at the end of June.

4.CC'02 is returning to Columbia on Saturday night for its first five year reunion.

5.Greg is going home to Louisina for a visit next week.

6.Rich came home to NYC.

7.Michael's parents came home to Brooklyn Heights.

8.Mandy MIGHT have gone home.

9.Some day Michael and Harriet will come home to Brooklyn for good.

10.Greg went home to live in Queens.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Songs. May 21, 1971

I
Woo me, woo me - the breeze in the springtime meadow
has turned off and is gone; they've grown still
the tightly closed sheaths of resplendent bud
that sleep, that sleep - oh woo me, woo me -
open the knot, the dream, the silent
sleeping,
the throbbing dream

II
Woo me, woo me - the stars remain frozen
in their wintry place;
like my heart
the freedom of movement this year
will not come.
Shift the pattern to a-maying
sky, so my snowbound grief will be undone.
Oh woo me - woo me

III
Tulips

Woo me, woo me - the bright sun expands
closed-up tight petals wide;
spread in the heat
like a red primal gash -

Oh woo me, woo me,
as I tight-lipped watching
stand.

IV
Woo me, woo me -
the wandering waves
are sucked back to the sea,
drawn by inescapable
gravity

Oh woo me, woo me

em

From "The Records of a Travel-Worn Satchel," by Basho, 17c

"In this mortal frame of mine which is made of a thousand bones and nine orifices there is something, and this somethinig is called a wind-swept spirit for lack of a better name, for it is much like a thin drapery that is torn and swept away at the slightest stir of the wind. This something in me took to writing poetry years ago, merely to amuse itself at first, but finally making it its lifelong occupation. It must be admitted, however, that there were times when it sank into such dejection that it was almost ready to drop its pursuit or again times when it was so puffed up with pride that it exulted in vain victories over the others. Indeed, ever since it began to write poetry, it has never found peace with itself, always wavering between doubts of one kind and another. At one time it wanted to gain security by entering the service of a court, and at another it wished to measure the depths of its ignorance by trying to be a scholar, but it was prevented from either because of its unquenchable love of poetry. The fact is, it knows no other art than the art of writing poetry, and, therefore, it hangs on to it more or less blindly."

from THE RECORDS of a TRAVEL-WORN SATCHEL, by Basho, 17c

Friday, May 18, 2007

Memorial Day, 1971

It's not what it should be on this day,
the 31st of May seems
to have come too soon this year,
arriving before the sun.
In the rain - the constant rain -
the buds are swollen; they wait
their signal to explode,
containing meanwhile hidden
the colors, the flowers,
of eager spring.
Why can't we perceive
the intensity of the moment,
the quality of the not-quite-yet
but the intent to be?
The purple tissue of iris just visible
beneath green elastic skin.
The waiting
is always difficult; we make
of such times in our minds
a leaping forward towards
what will be or a memorial
to what already was.
Le me take
this prenatal leaf of llfe in my hand
and see nothing of summers past
or the one to come,
but only what is given right now:
this fragile strength affirming
this present, this reality.

em

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Spring Planting

This time of year I call Phase I of Spring Planting. It involves going out back and purveying the pots and perennials I so hopefully planted last summer. One of them, a kind of asparagus leaf, was an icky mess of limp pale greens and outright dead vegetation when I looked last week. It took quite a while to remove the dead leaves; afterwards, I was not sure if the effort had been at all worthwile. Two other pots contained simply nothing but a few twigs, so the soil was dumped into garbage bags and put out front on the appropriate day. Another container, made of natural wood, had fallen apart during the winter; it will also be dumped, soil and all. Yet another window box seemed to contain some blooming weeds; I was too disheartened at this point to look closely. A round vessel, where I had planted a flower Sheryl had liked last summer, seemed to have survived, contents and all. I think I will try to deal with that today.

The nice part about Phase I is checking out everyone else's gardens. I have seen some stunning pansies: there is a new strain of pansies with enormous beautiful faces. I have also seen some lovely parrot tulips and lush wisteria. The impatiens is the same old, same old, but there seems to be some very nice multi-colored petunias around.

The last part of Phase I will be the beginning of my trips to Tamilio's and Home Depot and my commitment to tending a backyard garden this summer. After I deal with the couple of pots that remain on the patio, I'll start shlepping containers,bags of new soil and flats of tender seedlings. With this effort comes the surmise (and prayer) that I will most likely live through yet another summer - in fact, my sixtieth.

Tuesday, May 8, 2007

Lag Ba'Omer

Sunday was Lag Ba'Omer, a Jewish holiday shrouded in mystery. Some people think (see "Jewish Literacy," by Rabbi Joseph Telushkin) it was a day on which Rabbi Akiba's students won a victory over the Romans, who eventually killed everyone anyway. At any rate it is a day of merrymaking and festivities.

Jeff and I went to the celebration at Lindy Park, hosted by the Brikmans. Let me first say that Lindy Park, the peninsula tip of Brooklyn, is one of the overlooked gems of the world. (I used to take Jeff on the swings there when he was little, but the '02 nor'easter later swept away the playground.) The Orthodox have built a very nice erev around the grounds, and somebody just installed five park benches. The view of Manhattan of course is amazing, if one can forget the stench of the steady stream of smoke that blew over for weeks following 911. (Once one has the smell of war in one's nostrils, however, it is hard to forget it; see Salinger, "For Esme, with Love and Squalor.")

Jeff and I ate some hot dogs and said hello to all the local well-wishers who had been so kind during my illness. Isser claims he ate 30 cotton candies; there was a moon walk and a pony ride. (Jeff and I knew that since so much shit has recently come down, there had to be a pony somewhere - and we were right!) Rubi, the newspaperman, kept a bonfire going in a metal trash can. (The traditional outdoor, natural setting of the the party and the building of a fire suggest battlefields; hence Rabbi Telushkin's explanation of Lag Ba'Omer.)

After Jeff had gone back to Cobble Hill, I went with the Brikmans to the Ohel. (Lag Ba'Omer, I am told, is a VERY good day to visit the Rebbe, and the very crowded cemetery was proof enough.) I thanked the Rebbe for all the miracles he has already performed and chanted the 60th psalm from the book of Tehillin my students had just given me. Then I prayed for some more very important miracles. I had to push a little bit to get right up to the Rebbe's grave, but I succeeded.

Then I walked, still barefoot, to the left of the Ohel to search for the graves of Sheryl's father's parents. Unfortunately almost all the tombstones are entirely in Hebrew, so I could not know for sure that I had found the exact site. I had a feeling, though, that I was standing on just the right spot, so I thanked Michael Gordon's parents for the miracle, which they had performed hands-in-hand with the Rebbe, of Sheryl's arrival into our lives.

It was already quite cold and dark, and it felt to me as if the dead had already been resurrected - if only just in spirit: a truly mystical moment.

On the way out, there were a few graves with English inscriptions. The simple REST IN PEACE struck me suddently not as cliched but as almost entirely adequte. On my gravestone only one more word needs to be added: REST IN PEACE (FINALLY).

Back in the enclosed area, I put my shoes back on, ate some cookies, washed my hands, and left some tzedakah. Isser needed help purchasing a small carton of chicken soup from the vending machine, so I helped him. I ate some more cookies.

After a short stop in Crown Height, we went back home and to bed. It had been a very good day.

Friday, May 4, 2007

The Man I Used to Know

I met Greg on a blind date 32 1/2 years ago. An old fraternity brother of his with whom I was teaching in Harlem had fixed us up. (Actually, the frat brother had the hots for me but was married. Very married, sort of - you know, the type who brags about his homemade chocolate brownies in the teachers' lunchroom every day, possibly to compensate for a priapism that he seemed unable otherwise to control.)

I fell in love with Greg immediately, though he said that his first impression of me was, "This is not an attractive girl." Greg, however, was a very attractive man, though he wore his totally broken soul on his Bloomie's jacket sleeve. In fact, the utter brokenness of his heart was a very endearing quality: his first wife had betrayed him; his profession had not worked out; his stepmother was out to get him; his father was following his current wife and Greg's real mother and sister had long ago run away to parts unknown. I, of course, would save him. I would save him, and he would stay with me forever: that was our unspoken deal.

After a few weeks, I followed him to London and Paris, where we got engaged. Everyone thought we were crazy to get engaged so soon: we, in fact, KNEW that we were nuts, and that only added to the charm. Buckingham Palace, The Who, Samuel Johnson's house, the Louvre, the Eiffel Tower, the patisseries - one endless whirl of wonderful places and times to retrieve and remember and savor in the dark days that would come.

In my naivete, I thought that such wonderful fun would heal his broken heart. Of course it did not. Soon after our very short engagement and sudden marriage, which had been essentially boycotted by the family members he cared about the most, the dampness inside Greg's soul only became worse. Unable to help him, the darkness spread to me, and the horrors of repressed pasts and our mutually horrendous present overcame us both.

So we left the complexities of Queens, New York and moved to the lush greens of Greg's childhood Louisiana, where we learned that G-d, family, love and good home cooking could cure the soul. Two years later we were fit as fiddles and moved to Texas.

And we flourished: we worked; we bought a house; we shopped; we explored a pristine city; we found intellectual stimulation in the deserts of Dallas. We became pregnant! We raised a son via simple, unspoken rules: We would give Jeff all of our hearts, all of our devotion and all of our love. Greg, shy Greg, found his own way at bridge games at lunchtime at Chilton Corporation, where he climbed the ranks. And I spent my days totally in love with my baby boy.

Greg - MY Greg - always there for my son and me. ALWAYS THERE. No matter the time of the day or night, he would do our biddings. At 6PM every night he would open the screen door and hear Jeff call out the Sesame Street number and letter of the day. In those years he fit Gloria Steinem's definition of a perfect husband: He would NEVER say anything bad about me in my absence; he could always be trusted to care properly for our son when I was not around.

And then everything changed: the bottom fell out of Dallas, and Chilton needed to banish Greg because the company was going to be sold.. The beginnings of hormonal diseases were brewing in him; at the same time, I lost my mother, became hooked on Xanax and needed badly to go back home. The betrayals and the breaches of trust, too painful even now to dissect and describe, became more numerous and difficult to ignore; MY Greg had disappeared.

Back home in NYC, we three struggled. Sometimes we struggled alone; sometimes we struggled together. As Jeff grew older, he came and went more and more. As Greg and I became older, he went more than he came. Soon I found myself frequently eating alone in restaurants; I also found myself turning away from my family and towards people who had known me in NY long before the Dallas days.

Then Jeff left for Columbia. Although we remained the parents who climbed the Heights on weekends and took everyone out on special occasions, our lives had already radically changed. I never knew where my husband went after work almost every night; he pretended he did not know how I spent my evenings while he was away.

But that was only the beginning of the end. MY Greg still rushed to my school after 911 to make sure I was all right. MY Greg helped me with my Computer homework during the year of my precious sabbatical; MY Greg became my best friend again for the brief while that Jeff was away in London.

Then came the true end. The day after Mother's Day, two years ago, Greg moved out. Even the arguments, which had grown progressively louder and more bitter, ended without either of us being aware of the silence: We had simply stopped talking. At some unknown point, we had stopped seeing each other as people and only acknowledged our own unspoken grievances and complaints.

We had become divorced on March 15, 2007, five days before Greg saw me through the removal of my cancerous kidney. I have never seen his apartment in Forest Hills, and never will; the pain would simply be too great. He still has some clothing and books here at home to use when he returns on weekends for certain family events...

I do not know how much longer I will live, but I know I want him in my life. I do not know how soon I will die, but I know I'll want to die in his arms when the time comes.

The tears are streaming down my strange, post-cancer face as I write because I can still see that handsome, grief- stricken man - MY Greg - who came to my door 32 1/2 years ago. I believed he would stay forever.

Monday, April 30, 2007

A Scene Straight out of "Sex and the City"

Remember when Carrie discovers that all of her important computer files have been deleted and that there wasn't a damned thing she could do about it? The same thing has happened to me!!!!!!!!

Possible Ways My Files Were Deleted:

1.Someone with a grudge against me came here while I was in the hospital and erased them.
2.I am a paranoid schizphrenic and only thnk somebody would want to erase my files.
3.A friendly ghost, such as Caspar, whom I met on the Other Side, followed me home and played a trick on me.
4.An unfriendly ghost did it.
5.Nobody did it and I am delusional.
6.Greg did it to retaliate for the divorce.
7.The nor'easter did it.
8.I did it while I was in shock.
9.A disgruntled student did it.
10. Mandy!

Friday, April 27, 2007

Wherein Our Heroine Labors and Labors and Is Eventually Delivered of a Large Baby Boy

I went into labor towards the beginning of Saturday Night Live, on April 26,1980. It seemed like it would be a cinch: my water had broken, and I hardly had any labor pains. There was a full moon that night, so I felt in touch with Erica Jong and all her female witches and forces. Greg, sitting beside me and driving the car, did not appear to be as sanguine.

It turned out that Greg's attitude was more appropriate. As soon as we reached the hospital, whatever could possibly go wrong went wrong. Meconium staining brought a whole convention of nurses into my room; I was hooked up to all the monitors I so hated. My doctor came at once, even though he has just gotten engaged. Soon I was begging for Demerol and swearing that the monitor was missing beats.

Twelve hours later, on Sunday April 27, I was delivered of my son via emergency C-section. Then the real trouble started: The doctors and nurses thought he had terrible diseases that I, the phobic, had never even heard of. One specialist after another was called in to testiify; the nurses were so blunt that my doctor soon forbade them to discuss anything with me. At the door, the doctors murmured: "How come she isn't in shock already?"

On Monday night, he was declared healthy.

When Greg and I were finally allowed to look at and hold him, we found that he was uncommonly bright: he imitated us curling our tongues, breatsfed immediately and held his neck and head high and perused the (tacky) prints hanging on the hospital walls. To this day, he claims to remember a typically terrible Texas thunderstorm that took place on the second day of his life.

It is now 27 years later, and I am once again trying to fight my way out of physical and emotional shock. This shock has dulled my senses, so I am glad that Sheryl is so in love with and so appreceiative of my grown son: she will surely provide him with the joyous birthday celebration tonight that I cannot give him.

Sheryl, please please please continue to give Jeff all the love that right now I cannot freely show him because I am so afraid of being taken off this earth too soon: my impression of the other side is that we take with us memories that were frozen in time; we are deprived of seeing the future.

So Jeff, happy birthday, with as big a heart as I am able to muster this year. If I am here in 2008, perhaps my soul will be freer. We'll see.

Momschk

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Divorce Decree Haiku

Finally he left
Yesterday for the last time.
Never to return.

Friday, April 20, 2007

Poem by the Eleventh Grade

It's been so long since we've seen your face,
Seems like you've left without a trace.
We missed you, oh so much!
So we spoke about you during lunch.
Roseanne said, ""Yeah, it's been a while."
Tami said she loves you.
Ester Z. said days without you are blue.
Elena said you inspired her,
Inna T. asked why all this had to occur?
Suri said your life experiences were great,
Shoshana said that in us, you always have faith.
Malka said she wants to visit you,
Leah said you're the only teacher who stayed true.
Odelia said you're the best,
Kathy said you always put us to the test!
Ron said she hopes you get better.
Diana hopes you'll stay forever.
Ester I. said she wants you at our graduation,
Inna A. said you teach us concentration.
Irina said, "No matter what
No teacher will ever fill your spot."


11th Grade Loves You!

Heigh Ho, Heigh Ho,,,

...it's off to work I go!

Thursday, April 19, 2007

In the Radiologst's Waiting Room...

...my cell phone rang. It was our lawyer. Our divorce had been decreed on March 15,2007. I cried and cried and cried and cried. In fact I am crying still.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Radiation: G-d's Own Video Game

To begin with, nobody actually invented radium. G-d put it on this earth for the Curies to discover, which of course they did. They had not know how toxic it was; only G-d knew that.

Later, Einstein believed he was gazing into "the eye of G-d" when he happened upon e=mc2; maybe he was only gazing into the spectacles of G-d with his own self-congratulatory reflection bouncing back because no doubt G-d already knew the death and destruction that that little formula could bring about. (Poor mortal man was to find out soon enough.)

Anyway therapeutic radiation set-ups are much more preternatural than human in nature. (I.e., like radium and emc2, it seems that radiological equipment was put on this earth by G-d for the smarter of us mortals to discover and the unluckier of us to be zapped with.)The grids, the curves, the faux-planetarium look to the whole thing speak more of G-d than of the medical profession. The rumblings of the gigantic moving devices sound like gently rolling thunder for which one is tempted to say a special prayer; the precisely elegant movements of the grossly inelegant pieces of equipment amaze rather than terrify the poor supine patient.

"What about stray radiation?" the patient asks, clutching her thyroid.

"Isn't any," is the reply of the technician, as she runs out of the treatment room.

"Eyes opened or closed?" one asks beneath the lattice-work mask.

"Doesn't matter," comes the reply from the next room.

So I am on my own in the middle of some Cosmic Fantasy game, where the biggest fantasy of all seems to be that I am actually being treated for cancer.

Monday, April 16, 2007

How to Start Becoming a Person Again

1.Take a full bath and scrub off the remains of the bandages from kidney surgery.
2.Wash your hair and resign yourself to a scalp that is lined with titanium mesh. (Nobody will know if you don't tell them.)
3.Worry about mundane things like floods.
4.Look forward to your first radiation session. Just a big bunch of sunshine all ready to heal you. (You won't even need any messy sunscreen!)
5.Be overjoyed about driving your own self to the session in your own car.
6.Enjoy the fact that you can focus on television again. (Be glad that the return of focus occured at a very good time: just when that sleaze bag Imus is being dumped - finally.)
7.Reacquaint yourself with the Sunday Times. (Unfortunately Iraq is still around to continue to drag you down.)
8.Pay bills.
9.Go food shopping.
10.Continue to believe in G-d and His powers to heal.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Rapunzel, Rapunzel...

... let down your hair! Let the Dr. Anants and the Dr. Gliedmans of the world decide how much head should be irradiated and thus how much hair should be lost and from where!

Before my emergency head surgery, they made a frenzied attempt at shaving the back of my head. The result was a quasi-crew cut. I just made an equally disjointed attempt at "hairstyling" the rest of my head with thinning scissors and snipping scissors: I look like hell. (Won't even mention how many colors, fake and real, still reside in my scalp.)

So on Monday I will begin six weeks of focused radiation (to the spot from which the clot and cancer cells were removed). Ironically, my full-service hair salon is right down the street from the radiation facility. HAHAHA!

In short I am already beyond recognition.

So - another re-make of Life Is Beautiful is in order, no? (What's that crazy manic Italian guy's name? I need him here on Monday to tango me to my first radiological session.)

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Mandy Matters

1Does Mandy create pandamonium in the playground?

2.Would Mandy be a pandacea for a kid who has no siblings? or a kid who has no pets?

3.Mischievious
Apple of her grandma's eye
Naughty but nice
Darling
Yentala, at times. (Aren't we all?)

4.Love is a mandy splendid thing.

5.Mandy : bamboo :: Jeffy : sushi

6.Baby gift: a 2x4 picture frame to accommodate a picture of a stick of butter

7.Mandy ripped a pair of spandax jogging pants. Gotta get her a new pair.

8.Mandy Haiku: Mandy our sweet pet
Mandy my granddaugther too
O Mandy, Mandy, what are you?

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Affirmations

1.Cancer does not mean death.

2.Wigs can be very stylish.

3.I will be more spiritual and wiser because of this experience with cancer.

4,My body can fight the cancer if I am calm.

5.Cancer has a meaning. (See S.Sontag, "Illness as Metaphor.")

6.It is possible to live well with only one kidney.

7.I must embrace radiation as a healing agent.

8. I did not give cancer to Jeffrey in utero or during breatfeeding.

9.I will live to see lovely pandchildren.

10.Tranquilizers facilitate positive thinking.

Friday, April 6, 2007

Cancer:Stages

1.Shock - I am under water. Despite the ocean in my ears, I can still vaguely hear people trying to talk to me about cancer. The following lines:"The stiff heart questions,/"Was it He that forebore/And yesterday or centuries before?" (See Emily Dickinson) keep intoning inside of what appears still to be my mind.

2.Denial - They are trying to relate the cancer to me; but they are obviosuly wrong.

3.Bargaining - I will be the best person in the world if they will only stop connecting the cancer with my name!

4.Depression - If I shut down, I will not feel the terrible pain. I will not even have to care how old and ugly and wrinkled I am
becoming from weeping and frowning all the time, Nobody will care; not even me. (Ah,depression!).

5.Anger - Why me?

6.Acceptance - I am in for the fight of my life.

7.Bitterness - Why me? (Revisited in a slightly less hysterical manner.)

Thursday, April 5, 2007

ALIVE!

Results of biopsies from March 20th kidney removal wwent okay!!!

Monday, April 2, 2007

Today...

...a weird mask to be used during radiation therapy was molded to my face and neck. The decision was made just to do radiation to the known site of the cancer cells; this decision may have to be expanded to include more of the head later on, but right now partial radiation is all my weak body, soul and mind can tolerate.

I begin radiation treatments on April 16.

Meanwhile we are all grateful to have been delivered to yet another season of the Passover miracle.

Sunday, April 1, 2007

Questions Du Jour

1.Why is this night different from every other night? (Sorry - one day early!)
2.Should I submit to radiation of my entire head or just to treatment of the known site of cancer cells?
3.How crazy will I become from the cortisone that will be administered to prevent swelling of the brain from radiation?
4.Are trigger fingers signs of bone cancer?
5.Will the diuretic I now take for blood pressure cause cancer in the remaining kidney?
6.Does Sloan-Kettering really have valuable information that they are keeping from the rest of the medical community?
7.How will I make it through the rest of the day without becoming desperately depressed and making everyone around me even more miserable than they already are?
8.What should I do about my neck? (WHO CARES?)
9.Will I live to participate in the wedding?
10.Why is all this happening?

Friday, March 30, 2007

Season of Redemption

May the Lord G-d take from us: hatred, contention, anger, argumentativeness, lack of gratitude, false pride, arrogance, gossip and all the rest we beg to be forgiven for on Yom Kippur. May any cancer of the body and/or soul be alleviated if not cured.

We have made it to another Season of Redemption! Boruch Hashem!!

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

New Day - New Friends

I have checked Google Analytics and have noticed that I have readers around the world! Would those people who hail from outside the Continent of North America please let us know how you found my blog and what about it that interests you? Thanks a lot.

To my local readers within this continent: Thanks for your abiding devotion and love.

Monday, March 26, 2007

Pre-Op or Car Wash?

Jeff and I could not help finding the following similarities and differences between the pre-op waiting area at Maimonides Hospital and your local car wash:

Blatant Similarities:
1.Occupants of four-wheeled vehicles (gurneys, autos) queue up and must wait their turns.
2.You cannot skip the line.
3.Lots of soap around.
4.Age and mental health status do not seem to be important criteria for being there.
5.Anesthesiologists appear somewhat sleepy/people who work in car washes probably drive around in clean cars.
6.There is a great deal of ethnic diversity.
7.Pine smelling things are all around.

Observable Differences:
1.Evelyn Diluccio's name probably does not inspire fear in a car wash.
2.No reading material in the pre-op.
3.No coffee in pre-op except that which is carried around by exhausted personnel.
4.Endoscopy screen in pre-op/TV screen in car wash.



(Jeff - did I forget anything? I was a little out of it at the time.)

Sunday, March 25, 2007

Alive...

...still! Minus one kidney plus a traumatic short hospitalization. Thanks to everyone for your prayers and good wishes....

Saturday, March 17, 2007

I Should Have Felt Bad about My Neck...

...but never gave it a second thought until Nora Ephron started her shtick.

Here are bodily parts that actually do deserve current attention:

1.t-cells
2.cerebellum
3.lymph vessels
4.beta cells
5.kidneys (much too obvious to list as #1)

Now re: my neck:

It is actually worse than Nora's .
It looks like it houses a diseased thyroid.
It looks like it belongs to a chicken that houses a diseased thyroid.
It speaks volumes (about the perils of aging).
It will be a lucky day if I am still complaining about my neck one year from now.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Re: G-d and Blessings

I have not seen the face of G-d because I do not think G-d has a face. I have, however, experienced the strength and, if you will, essence of G-d, arrogant as this may sound. And G-d is good, and G-d has some plan and knows what has to be done to bring about a particular outcome: This is what I have come to believe.

I have received the miracle of the ability to walk and talk, which I hope will not be taken from me.

I have also received a very special blessing and privilege: I am living to experience the love and praises of many wonderful people; usually the words that I hear now frequently are reserved for eulogies.

Example: Frida looked around at the plants in the living room today and said to my sister: "She loves flowers."

Loves!!! Present tense!!!!

G-d and Blessings.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Kidneys

First and foremost they are odd-shaped beans that are very good for you, except that some people have to combat their effects with prophylactic Bean-O.

The new expensive tables in all NYC classrooms are shaped like kidneys, by order of Mayor Bloomberg. The kidney shape not only encourages but also forces students to talk to each other, which is vitally important to the workshop model, currently in vogue. (Any serious pedagogue knows, however, that the best way to teach kids is to first seat them at old-fashioned desks that are nailed to the floor, thus forcing students to remain facing forward instead of one another.)

What the heck is kidney stew? Do people in the UK actually eat it? From what animal(s) do the kidneys come?

I have been told that kidney functions are very "redundant." How come? It is actually possible to live with 1/2 a kidney!

A normal kidney looks very cute and nice on a CT scan. A cancerous one looks like a water balloon.

What do they do with old, diseased kidneys? (Will part of it become a slide that I must track down and keep in my dresser drawer in case another doctor wants to see it?)

I keep telling myself that kidney surgery will not be that much worse than a C-Section, but of course there are obvious differences.

How many kidney beans must be present for a soup legally to be labeled "minestrone"?

Enough.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Cancer for Dummies (extremely preliminary)

1.Keep all scans. It is just too much trouble trying to get them from doctors.
2.Same goes for all summaries of scans.
3.Might also turn out to hold true for biopsy slides. (But for how long do those things keep?)
4.Find out who are the dingbats and who are the organized workers at each facility you must deal with.
5.Keep lists of things to do. Check off things as they are done; this will render amazing feelings of accomplishment, even if one of the items only was: "Be sure to move car to the correct side of the street before 11 A.M."
6.Appreciate all bodily functions in yourself and everyone else. Encourage people around you to do the same.
7.Do not fall for any scams. Scamsters do not respect disease. On the contrary diseases provide them with vulnerable, opportune moments.
8.No longer believe that all pain, especially lower back pain, is due to age and must be treated by your chiropractor, no matter how helpful he has seemed to be in the past.
9.On the other hand try to remember that not every tinge of pain or touch of dizziness means imminent death.
10.Try to wear your newest clothes. There may not be a lot of time left.

Monday, March 12, 2007

Remember When...

1.kidney referred to a bean that, at worst, might give you gas?
2.divorce and losing part of a pension were the most grievous things in the world that could possibly happen?
3.the most serious surgery imaginable was botox injections to eliminate frown lines?
4.the prayer to be said after peeing seemed a bit odd?
5.the word "cancer" had a certain ring to it, especially in the hands, say, of Susan Sontag?
6.we believed there might actually be a "war on cancer" somewhere in the world?
7.shaytels were optional for people like me?
8.we resisted going for mammograms because we were afraid they delivered too much radiation and therefore were part of some plot against women?
9.we thought that drinking Poland Spring water would prevent cancer?
10.haircuts were an annoyance?

Sunday, March 11, 2007

Within This Strange Altered Context...

..there is good news!

The cancer is in only one kidney, which will be removed asap. Radiation will be administered to my head to zap any micrometastases; new genetic drug might be used later on (to protect the second kidney?).

The oncologist thought that this was very good news! (No kidding!!)

Too Much Gloomy Crap...

...on this blog!

The good news is that the clocks have been turned forward, and so there will be one more hour of daylight each day now til november. (An ungrateful way of saying this is that there is one less hour today to have to fill.)

Greg has been here, helping. Jeff and Sheryl are coming today. I think Ryan and Sarah too!

Message late Friday from the oncologist:"I have good news in that what is there is removable and curable - potentially."

More - much more this week.

Thursday, March 8, 2007

Who Contemplated a Skull?

Who were the great figures in literary and art history who contemplated skulls? (Who cares?)

Now it is my turn to contemplate my skull (Who cares?):

1.Is my post-operative brain swelling even as I type, thus rendering it too big for my skull? If so will I soon start behaving like a pit bull?
2.Will the titanium mesh inside my head eventually rub against the skull bone and cause canker sores, which are the worst curses of all?
3.Will radiation to the brain do something odd not only to the brain but also to the skull? (Books never address this issue.)
4.Is there such a thing as skull cancer?
5.If so what are the symptoms?
6.How many times can they incise the same area of skull?
7.Another way of stating #6: Once incised, does the bone of the skull ever heal?
8.In short does my skull now bear some sort of cast? If not should it?
9.Why should an image of a skull and bones universally represent poison? Shouldn't a picture of a person gagging and/or vomiting be used instead?
10.Enough.

Wednesday, March 7, 2007

Post-tests: New Rules

In educational parlance, the word post-test implies some degree of progress and success. New rules, however, apply to post-medical tests:

1.Try to stop laughing and attempt to connect with the seriousness of all this. Even though the little "breathe in" and "breathe out" faces were ridiculous, remember that they were there to remind very ill people (like me) what to do and when to do it during CT scans.
2.Think about the worst concentration camp story you have ever heard to get yourself to STOP LAUGHING. None of this is one bit funny.
3.Try to remember that blue urine is more a sign of the excretion of poisonous dye than a symptom of imminent renal failure.
4.Pretty much the same thinking (obviously with different anatomical terms) should apply to diarrhea so severe that it can no longer be called diarrhea. (Our medical friends can tell me if "chyme" is the correct word.)
5.Stop thinking that this is the worst of it, because things are only going to get worse - no matter what the results of today's torture turn out to be.
6.Keep wishing that years ago you had the chance to become a member of the medical profession rather than a teacher. This will take your mind off the fact that you will not live long enough to enjoy very much of your teacher's pension.
7.Stop gagging every time you see a can of anything liquid. Chances are very, very good that they only have banana-flavored barium drinks at imaging places. (Forgot to ask if it was kosher, but why wouldn't Lerman's Imaging look into this on their own?)
8.Try to forget that the grief on the technicians' faces actually had much more to do with you than with anything at all going on in their lives, especially when they shot poisonous dye through your veins (arteries?).
9.Do not tell anyone that you could not stop laughing even (or especially) when you imagined that the dye infusion was a very American, constitutional lethal injection for a convicted criminal.
10.Focus on how ridiculous it is for snow to be falling one week before we turn the clocks ahead.

Pre-Test: New Problems

Remember when a pre-test used to mean some vaguely scary activity on Monday morning that forced you to think about some silly spelling words that you would homework the hell out of in the coming week and then know backwards and forwards (literally, as a result of Wednesday's homework) on Friday??

No more!

Pre-tests (now defined as the times before medical procedures) have assumed much greater proportions:
1.Will my insurance company actually approve the test?
2. How will I get to the imaging place?
3,Will the titanium mesh holding my brain together be compatible with the newest test?
4.Will there be some preparation so awful that they are afraid to inform me about it until I walk through the door?
5.Will the degree of angst on the technician's face be a clue as to the seriousness of my condition or to the amount of marital problems he/she is having today?
6.Who will break first - me, or the poor person who must sit in the waiting room wondering what is going on inside?
7.Will I keep still enough, or will images have to be retaken? My stillness, interestingly enough, seems to depend lately on trying not to laugh, of all things!!! How ridiculous this all is!
8.Good research questions always arise: Are the makers of these imaging devices hopeless sadists or invaluable humanitarians? What colleges did all these sadistic/smart people attend? Did Jeff know any of them at Columbia? Did I?
9.What should I be hoping that these tests will show?
10.Will I have the privilege of returning next year for an annual check-up?

Tuesday, March 6, 2007

Words That Have Lately Acquired New Meanings

The following words used to have innocuous meanings. The contexts, unfortunately, have changed, thus rendering new definitions:

favor, focus, protocol, clear, mililiter, features, supine, prone, clamp, mesh, fingerbreadth, brain, skull, clip, metal, friable, etc., etc.

Please feel free to add any words that I have omitted.

Scary Words and Acronyms

Here is a list, in no particular order, of scary words and acronyms that just start sounding silly when you use them enough times. Caps are used to designate (now commonly used household) words that we never dreamed would ever enter our vocabularies:

clot, stroke, cancer, malignant, tumor, ADENOCARCINOMA, mri, ct scan, with and without contrast, KIDNEY, brain, BRAIN CANCER, beta blocker, titanium mesh, divorce, pension, equitable distribution (of the latter), ONCOLOGIST, RADIATION, surgery, isolated tumor, METASTASIS, hematologist, lungs, MORE SURGERY, clear cells (sounds good but is not; actually refers to CYTOPLASMIC abnormalities), neurosurgeon, second opinion, transfusions, infusions, renal, artery.

The list will continue to grow; that is for sure.

Life Is Beautiful

Just returned from the pharmacy and thus the shopping center.

It is very cold in NYC today: winter's last hurrah.

And I was able to feel the cold!

The wind blew, and I was able to walk steadily and hold on to my hat! At the same time!

The wind blew again, and I was able to steer my car straight ahead!

A trash can had rolled into the middle of the street, and I was able to maneuver my car around it!

The pharmacy was empty because it is too cold for all the old sick people - except for me!

A lot of mail and bags ended up in my left hand, and nothing slipped out!

And G-d's little smirky joke is that it is already March and that spring is on the way!

Another smirky joke is that suddenly I feel pain (or maybe just pressure) where I imagine the left kidney to be. My brain still responds to the power of suggestion!!

Life is beautiful.

Monday, March 5, 2007

Good News or Bad News? You Decide

Two doctors today! More than I went to in the last decade!!

If I am lucky, the only metastasis will have been to my brain!!!! Also if I am lucky, the new bio drugs,(different from chemo, which does not exist for kidney cancer), might be effective.

I will need radiation to my brain to zap micro cancers that may have already metastasized from the kidney. Hair will fall out and MIGHT grow back!!!

Kidney cancer is very slow, so no big guns need to be fired immediately. Have to go for lots and lots of CT scans before the plan of action is determined.

Is any of this good news? If so, which part?

Sunday, March 4, 2007

Home Alone I

Jeff is driving Sheryl and Greg to the train station! Hopefully he will return safely and escort me to doctors tomorrow.

Being Home Alone is fraught with the deepest fears: Will driving-resistant Jeff actually return? Why is Greg no longer living here? Will Sheryl survive our family's tragedies?

One wants to hold on to each one of the above persons and beg him/her to stay. (One also wants to hold on to G-d and beg Him/Her to allow one to remain in this world with these people who are so intensely dear.)

Greg the dependable, who always dealt with doctors and somehow delivered bad news in ways that were not so bad.

Jeff the immensely vulnerable, who hides behind silly stoicism.

Sheryl the saviour, without whom Jeff and therefore I would not have survived to this point in time.

My beautiful people!!!

And the utterly incredible people who visit each day, email each day and call on the phone each day! Such wonder; such fear now of being Home Alone.

What Should We Make of All This?

I am not sure if I am now a character from "Our Town," looking down from heaven at my beloved dear ones. If I am, then heaven is no different than real life! If I am still actually alive, then the glimpse I had of heaven was not conclusive: It consisted primarily of Elysian fields of (perhaps mind-altering) flowers, jolly pigs and happy little boys begging their daddies to read "Charlotte's Web" to them just one more time.

It turns out that my mother was right: The things you worry about do not happen; the things that never ever occur to you are the ones that will get you. My stroke was not even caused by stress or hypertension! It was allegedly caused by cells from a renal cancer that broke away (nobody yet is bold enough to use the word "metastasized") from the kidney and made it to the brain, where blood clotted around the cells (in an attempt to prevent implantation?). It is this clot that bled four weeks ago and burst through an artery.

So the game is not over. Tomorrow I see an oncologist: If I continue to be lucky, only one kidney will be declared cancerous, and it will be removed. Then my job will be to change my entire negative world view ("weldshmetz") and personality and become a positive thinker!! If both kidneys have already gone awry, then I continue with my old negative self and go quietly into that good night.

This initial blog post is really a (not very) veiled invitation for members of the American Death Industry (see Evelyn Waugh, "The Loved One") to contact me re: their services. Mausoleums are inherently very selfish, and my love of the good earth and gardening probably makes me a good candidate for burial in Israel, where no coffin is used. Lots to think about!!! It's not over til it's over!!!!!

Let me hear from you - whomever you may be. You will make an old lady happy, or at least as happy as I am capable of being.