Thursday, May 15, 2008

Up in the air

I've never been very good at juggling more than one thing at a time, and now it's worse than usual. Some people can blog on the run -- I can't. It just makes my thoughts more disjointed than ever and the whole point, for me at least, is to try to make sense, even when I fall short.

Anyway, right now I'm in the midst of the latest health crisis with my mother, who is 84, and who lives alone in the Midwest in the house I grew up in. My brother and his family are in Seattle; I and my family are here in New York. We have been struggling with the difficulty of taking care of her long distance for a long time, worrying much about her and, at the same time, trying to respect her wishes, which have always been founded in a fierce determination to stay in the house, the only place she has lived since leaving her own parents' home when she married, something like 56 years ago. There is no family locally anymore and most of her friends are dead, too feeble to visit much or help at all, or moved away. She has a woman she pays to clean, take her to the doctor's, etc., and last year she managed to pass her driver's license road test to keep her license, and back then managed to drive herself to the bank and drugstore drive up windows from time to time (not a good idea, but no one could stop her). She hasn't even done that for a long time, however, and she will not take Meals on Wheels, so she forgets to eat or take her medications on time, gets mentally fuzzy and weak, and only goes out to see her doctor, who keeps saying there's nothing wrong with her but being old, as she struggles with incontinence and other issues, no longer able to work her computer and barely able to manage the telephone, unwilling to subscribe to cable t.v., so not doing much but read books when she can and talk to us on the phone.

A few weeks ago she passed out or nearly passed out or something and called the paramedics with her Lifeline. They came and found her with very low blood sugar. She revived enough that she refused to go to the hospital (fearing ending up in nursing home care), and then tried to make sure she got someone to bring her meals regularly and take her medications as prescribed. She sounded much better within a couple days, but a week or so ago she started having trouble keeping any food down and became dehydrated and mentally very confused. My brother and I called her several times, talked to some friends and neighbors who had seen her, talked to the doctor who kept insisting nothing was wrong or different, and finally, when one of her friends called me and reported that she still was not keeping any food down, even soup, I made some calls and got her taken to the hospital. They put her on i.v. feeding, drastically cut back on her medications, and she was sounding 5 years younger and sharper and overall much better with 24 hours, but they could not find out why she was not keeping food down. They finally concluded it was "gastritis" (o.k. stomach was irritated, but why?) and were about to discharge her, although she was still physically much weaker than she had been.

To make a very long story short, she is now in rehab at a local nursing home, and once again we've got to decide what happens next, with none of the realistic options being what she wants, some tension and life-long difficulty communicating between me and my brother, the problems of dealing with any of this long distance, and our own normally busy lives with our family, jobs, etc. There have been days like last Friday when I was finishing work articles and trying to keep in touch with my daughter, who was taking her big European History AP exam in the afternoon, going off to track meet far away from here, and my supposedly picking her up and taking her nearly 3 hours in the opposite direction for a weekend college showcase soccer tournament, while my brother had important business meetings and presentations to attend to, and I needed to be the one making the calls to the doctor, hospital, and nursing home. Then, just when I thought things were getting difficult for me, in the midst of a beautiful, sunny spring afternoon on the soccer fields, I heard the story of Mary Frances and her family ("When words fail" below), which made both heartsick for her, her husband, and their surviving daughter, and thankful that my own problems were pretty mundane in comparison.

Well, I never give the "short" version of anything, do I? Anyway, this is my way of saying that blogging is not on the top of the list of my priorities anytime soon. Just got home at 2:30 a.m. this morning after picking up my son from college last night, have much work to do, contemplating various travel plans to the Midwest, and have one more big soccer tournament gig out of state for Memorial Day weekend, not to mention more track meets and yes, there is church in the midst of it all.

So, I guess my long unfinished essay on "What does science have to do with it?" will remain in pieces for now. And I will not be able to figure out a way to talk about the most peculiar thing in Steven Pinker's article, "The Stupidity of Dignity," which I read earlier in The New Republic (now featured at The Lead). It was kind of snarky quote on his part, but it suggests to me some of the underlying pathology among some of the neo-Puritans (although in this case it was a neo-con Roman Catholic). Just in case someone misses it, it was this quote by Pinker from Leon Kass:
Worst of all from this point of view are those more uncivilized forms of eating, like licking an ice cream cone -- a catlike activity that has been made acceptable in informal America but that still offends those who know eating in public is offensive. ... Eating on the street -- even when undertaken, say, because one is between appointments and has no other time to eat -- displays [a] lack of self-control: It beckons enslavement to the belly. ... Lacking utensils for cutting and lifting to mouth, he will often be seen using his teeth for tearing off chewable portions, just like any animal. ... This doglike feeding, if one must engage in it, ought to be kept from public view, where, even if we feel no shame, others are compelled to witness our shameful behavior.
(Pinker, "The Stupidity of Dignity").

Always the worry that people will somehow enjoy themselves too much, never mind that health, life, and love are always on the brink of being lost. I'll never get what all the fuss is about.

Anyway, there will be little or no blog activity for awhile, while I get back to the muddle of my life and try to find some order if not peace in it. Prayers continuing for everyone else, my friends and acquaintances online and in RL, especially those struggling with the horrific losses and mounting challenges due to the tragic events in China and Myanmar.

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