July 6, 2015

fear

“False hopes are more dangerous than fears.”  
- from Tolkien's Children of Hurin

     The phlebotomist struggled to find a vein willing to give up any blood.  Under normal conditions, they need not even use the tourniquet.  I just pump my fist and arm a few times, the vein pops right up, the needle quickly glides in, and that symbol of life pours out into the tube.  But now, it is different.  A tourniquet.  Both arms.  Multiple veins.  Bruises from all the repeated sticks. She queries, "are you dehydrated???"
     No.  I am not.  As soon as she hits a vein, I can tell that something is wrong with the life flowing through my veins.  It is thick and oozes into the tube as if it were molasses syrup.  And at that moment, I know the abnormal blood result seen three weeks earlier is a true result.  I do not need to see the lab report to know that both the red and white cells are elevated.  Again.  I tell my wife that the result repeated as we got into the car.  She refuses to go down that road.  Wait for the results.  Even then, you don't know what it IS, so don't start saying everything it COULD be.  But after so many battles, I am a weary, war torn soldier and I refuse to acknowledge hope.  Again.  Instead, fear remains.

July 3, 2015

deja vu

     The scene appeared all too familiar.  A sense of building rage, anger at the arbitrary nature of it all.  I flashback to the scene in my mind.  It is not hard to recall.  As sweat streamed from every pore, I stared in the mirror of the small gym gazing at my own eyes trying to see what, or if any, mettle lay behind them. Then, it was to judge if I was strong enough for my brother.  Today, the concern is drawn inward instead.  I am the object of uncertainty now.  I am the one who waits with dreaded anticipation.  For me.  Something is not right with my body.  And I do not know what it is.

June 11, 2015

he who wrestles with God

     Jacob was left alone, and a man wrestled with him there until daybreak.  When the man saw that He did not prevail against Jacob, He touched the socket of his thigh, so the socket of Jacob's thigh was dislocated, as we wrestled with him.  Then He said, "Let me go, for the day breaks."
     But Jacob said, "I will not let You go, unless you bless me."
- Genesis 32: 24-26

The clouds prepare for battle
In the dark and brooding silence
Bruised and sullen storm clouds
Have the light of day obscured
Looming low and ominous
In twilight premature
Thunder heads are rumbling
In a distant overture

All at once, the clouds are parted
Light streams down in bright unbroken beams
Follow men's eyes as they look to the skies
The shifting shafts of shining weave the fabric of their dream
- Jacob's Ladder by N. Peart

     Over the phone, my son wrestles verbally, emotionally, psychologically, spiritually with me time and time again.  In the day.  Late at night.  Countless hours.  A lifetime can occur during one conversation.  That understanding, that acceptance, that peace dances at the edges, forever eluding his (and my) grasp.  His illness, his Demon, his God, he will not let them go until he receives his blessing.



May 29, 2015

two little letters


 
     What a strange appearance after my name those two little letters make.  As if my name weren't long enough.  And oddly enough, separated by a comma.  A mere pause.  What stories there must be in the telling of the addition of those two little letters?  In this instance, a play with a professional actress, Megan Cole.  And what should this play be about?  An English professor dying of cancer.  What other role would I be "volunteered" for, of course, but an arrogant oncologist fellow trying to grasp his own humanity as life beats it either from him, or into him, depending on the point of view.  But it was a deep honor to be bear witness to Megan Cole's performance of death.  And life.  Just as I take the stories of all the patients who have helped me add those two little letters, hers is no less of potent tale.

May 22, 2015

remembrance

Through many countries and over many seas
I have come, Brother, to these melancholy rites,
To show this final honour to the dead,
And speak (to what purpose?) to your silent ashes,
Since now fate takes you, even you, from me.
Oh, Brother, ripped away from me so cruelly,
Now at least take these last offerings, blessed
By the tradition of our parents, gifts to the dead.
Accept, by custom, what a brother’s tears drown,
And, for eternity, Brother, ave atque vale
‘Hail and Farewell.’

May 16, 2015

the devil's hour

     For, he thought, it’s a special hour. Women never wake then, do they? They sleep the sleep of babes and children. But men in middle age? They know that hour well. Oh God, midnight’s not bad, you wake and go back to sleep, one or two’s not bad, you toss but sleep again. Five or six in the morning, there’s hope, for dawn’s just under the horizon. But three, now, Christ, three A.M.! Doctors say the body’s at low tide then. The soul is out. The blood moves slow. You’re the nearest to dead you’ll ever be save dying. Sleep is a patch of death, but three in the morn, full wide-eyed staring, is living death! You dream with your eyes open. God, if you had strength to rouse up, you’d slaughter your half-dreams with buckshot! But no, you lie pinned to a deep well-bottom that’s burned dry. The moon rolls by to look at you down there, with its idiot face. It’s a long way back to sunset, a far way on to dawn, so you summon all the fool things of your life, the stupid lovely things done with people known so very well who are now so very dead – And wasn’t it true, had he read somewhere, more people in hospitals die at 3 A.M. than at any other time . . . ?
      ......So what do we do? We men turn terribly mean, because we can’t hold to the world or ourselves or anything. We are blind to continuity, all breaks down, falls, melts, stops, rots, or runs away. So, since we cannot shape Time, where does that leave men? Sleepless. Staring.
Three A.M. That’s our reward. Three in the morn. The soul’s midnight. The tide goes out, the soul ebbs. And a train arrives at an hour of despair. . . . Why?
- Something Wicked This Way Comes by Rad Bradbury

     I know the passage well and I know I have used it before.  But as I sit here sleepless at 3 am, the passage becomes a talisman that protects me from myself.  I use the gifted writing as a defense to avoid relying on my own words as that would require rising up from the deadness within to draw breath, and give my pain its own language.  I naively assumed that graduating and starting residency would ease the transition of my own soul.  But here I am, still awake at 3 am.  Plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose.  The things change, the more they remain the same.

April 7, 2015

staying home


     I will be staying home at UT Houston for my residency training in Family Medicine.  Although my wife says it's lowercase md until I finish residency.  Then I can be a true uppercase MD.  She says she has to keep me humble.  Never have two letters meant so much.  No, it's not the letters.  It's what I underwent to earn them.  Those and the gray hairs.