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Thursday, May 2, 2013

Bedside Manner

I was pretty sure I had a hernia. I had a lump and some pain. All the males in my family have had hernias. I was just waiting for my turn. I figured I would go to the doctor in a week or two. Then one evening the pain started getting intense. My wife was reading about hernias on the Internet, never a good idea. She was telling me that when a hernia becomes incarcerated and is not treated within six hours, the intestine can die and the patient will have to have a colostomy bag. Things get ugly.

The colostomy bag thing convinced me to go to the ER. Becky took me. I was triaged quickly and before too long I was on my way to a room. I was shocked at the speed of the whole thing. Less than a month earlier my wife had sat in the ER for six hours with a perforated appendix. The doctor came back to see me. It was Dr. K___. On our family's many ER trips the past several years I had met him before. I like him. He is friendly and has a trait few doctors, at least in my experience, have. He listens. He lets you finish saying whatever it is you have to say, he looks you in the eye, asks follow up questions. He also keeps you informed. He examined me and ordered some scans.

While I waited for the scans I was put on IV painkillers. Dilaudid. I was also given some meds for the nausea. The nausea medicine burned all the way up my arm. I mentioned this to the nurse, but she wasn't listening. She was too busy talking about how much she loves to give IV's. The pain medicine started to hit. I could still feel the burning, but it was distant now, and I didn't care so much about it. I remember talking a lot, but I can't remember what I was saying. Apparently it was funny stuff. Becky said I was very random.

After the scans Dr. K___ returned to tell me I had a bilateral inguinal hernia. That's right, not one, but two hernias. Thanks to the dilaudid all I could think of was the Count from Sesame Street saying, “One, Two hernias, hah, ah, ah”. I think I had a drug induced smirk on my face during the entire conversation. Then Dr. K___ had me stand up and began to examine my groin again. He pressed with his hand on the bulge on my right side. I felt the second worst pain of my entire life. All I could see was a bright white light. I was literally in blinding pain. I thought nothing. Not a single thought, just a bright white light. Then I thought, “this is it”. This is the end. The Minnesota born son of Nigerian diplomats killed me by pressing on my groin. The light faded, the pain dulled. Color began to be restored to the room quickly followed by people and objects. I was allowed to lay down.

Becky says I was completely white. I wanted to die. I laid on the gurney in as close to the fetal position as I could get. I think I understood how someone must feel after being water boarded. Not relief at being alive, but disappointment that you have to live with the horrible pain and the recent memory of thinking you were going to die. It could just have been the dilaudid.

I was sent home with a referral to a surgeon and some pain pills. The surgeon was the same surgeon who had done Becky's emergency appendectomy. She also had a consult two days after my ER visit with him about her umbilical hernia. Yes, we were living with three hernias. His office did not have any openings for a month, so I tagged along with Becky. The surgeon was great. He gave us both consults. Was thorough in explaining the risks and benefits of the procedures. He showed us our scans. The two holes in my abdominal wall were clearly visible. Becky had her surgery scheduled. Because of the mysteries of insurance, I would have to go to my regular doctor to get a referral.

The next day I went back to the ER because I had a strange infection spreading rapidly up my arm where the nurse had stuck my IV in. Turns out she didn't dilute the Benadryl properly and damaged my vein and gave me an infection. Super. The nurses and doctors were all extremely nice and attentive. After some tests I was released with a heavy duty antibiotic prescription.

After securing the needed referral from my primary care provider, she is actually a Nurse Practitioner; I waited to have my surgery scheduled. Then I got a call from the surgeon's office that my insurance was denying my claim. The same afternoon I received a helpful letter stating that surgery would only be covered if one or both of the hernias became incarcerated. In other words, I had to wait for a dire emergency. The good news was my ER visits would be covered.

Several weeks later, I was vomiting and in pretty bad pain. I went back to the ER. The triage nurse asked me the dreaded pain scale question. “How would you rate your pain on a scale of 1 to 10?” I hate that question. I hurt, it hurts bad enough that my wife drove me down here at 10:00 at night. It is not a "1" or a "2". I suppose it is not a "10" because I have had worse pain, and I imagine that I could hurt even worse than the most painful experiences of my life. I said "8", hoping that was enough pain to get treated, but not too much that I seemed like a drug seeker. I was given more dilaudid and nausea meds. There was no burning this time. The dilaudid did feel warm as it entered my blood stream, but that is normal. As the warmth of the painkiller spread through the room, the color of everything started to fade. It was like going from Oz back to Kansas. I fell asleep. I had dreams. Trippy dreams. Everything was in the color palette and style of the Beatle's Sgt. Pepper cartoon, except everything was happening on Mars. My body felt extremely heavy.

I heard the curtain part, the doctor was coming in. It was Dr. K___. He began to examine me. While staring at my groin he tells me, "I remember you." I think I saw the nurse crack a smile. I wasn’t sure if I should be proud or alarmed that the doctor remembered my junk. I went with proud. More scans were ordered and everyone left. After I had the scans and was back in the room my nurse came back in to tell me Dr. K___ was probably going to come back and "reduce" the hernia. She got a page and left. I turned to Becky and said, does "reduce,” mean what I think it does? She told me it did, Dr. K___ was going to lay his hands on me again and try to kill me. The nurse returned. I was looking a little pale. She asked if I was okay, and I told her I was not looking forward to having my hernia "reduced". Her reply was exactly as follows, "I totally understand. Dr. K___ is really strong. He once squeezed my shoulders and I had a bruise for weeks. I can only imagine how that would feel in a sensitive area." 

I laid there with my mouth open. There were a few things I wanted to say. Instead I just said, "Could I have more dilaudid?" She gave me another dose. Dr. K___ came in and "reduced" my hernia. At least I got to lay down this time. It wasn't as bad as last time, except when he said, "I can't push it all back, hold on." I did. I grabbed the sides of my gurney. The bright white light returned. I noticed this time that not only could I not see anything but the white light, I couldn't hear anything either. Once the color and sound returned to the room, I was alone with Becky. She said Dr. K___ wants me to follow up with the surgeon and that he couldn't completely "reduce" everything.

I am still fighting with my insurance and waiting to get my surgery. The insurance also has declined to cover my ER visit for the infection. Apparently, it was not a medical necessity. I disagree. I am fighting that as well. I only hope that I will not need any more "reductions". That and I hope the surgeon remembers me when he checks out my junk.

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Thursday, April 25, 2013

Spring Ritual, Rhythm, and Magic

For many the crack of a bat is the defining sound of spring. I used to feel that same way. I loved Opening Day. The sound of the ball dancing off of the bat as it rocketed over the manicured infield into the deep lush outfield made me feel like a combination of Independence Day and Christmas Eve. I still love Opening Day. I still enjoy the orgy of Newtonian physics as a ball is hurled faster than a car at a man with a stick who then somehow manages to fling the ball 330 feet out of the field of play. But for me, the defining sound of spring, the sound that is more exciting than a firecracker and filled with more anticipation then sleigh bells, is the snap of a ball hitting a leather mitt. 

Starting four years ago I began a new spring ritual. Once the winter deluge begins to abate, and the trees begin to bud, my daughter and I head outside to play catch. We play real catch now. The ball zips and snaps into our mitts. There is a rhythm now. 

My second daughter joined us last year. She and I still play fetch more than catch. But sometimes we will throw and catch three or four in a row. Zip, snap, zip, snap. We never mention the streak while it is ongoing, kind of like not speaking about an in progress no-hitter. Once the ball goes by one of us we both break into wide smiles and laugh. She is starting her second year of t-ball.

My oldest is in her second year of softball, after having played t-ball for two years. This year will the first year they keep score. She likes to play first and third base. But, she really wants to pitch. She has been working on her pitching this winter. My grandmother once told me the two most graceful things she has ever seen a man do are shoot a free throw and pitch a baseball. I never really thought about it until I spent more time watching softball pitchers. The beauty of the softball windup and pitch is not in its grace but in its raw power. A softball pitcher is like a piston pounding, forcing the engine to operate. My oldest is beginning to exhibit some of that raw power.

My son has joined us in our ritual this year. He is three and almost four. He throws equally well with both his right and left hands. He bats left. He is a boy of action. He has little patience for explication and can barely endure taking turns. However, he will play catch, again it's more fetch than catch, with an otherwise unknown patience and focus. Even as we scramble after the ball the exercise has a kind of rhythm. 

All of the children are still such neophytes that they think I am skilled. Soon they will have mastered the fundamentals. I will then no longer be able to teach them the hard skills. Some future coach will teach them what they need at the next level, should they choose to keep playing. I am amazed that the older three love baseball. I have not watched much of it since they have been born. I have been too busy. I only played organized baseball for four years as a kid. I wasn't very good.

But, baseball is inside of me. When I was eleven we moved to the Bay Area. We got there in 1987 just as the Oakland A's and the San Francisco Giants were reaching perennial contender status. I became an Oakland A's fan. I remember my first game. I went with my friend's family to the Oakland Coliseum. We took BART, Bay Area Rapid Transit. We watched the A's play the Angels. McGwire hit a towering home run. I still remember the crack of the bat and the trajectory of the ball. I saw a double play. I saw Dennis Eckersley save the game. I remember the smell of stale beer and hot dogs from the stadium. It was the best thing I had ever seen. I would go to many A's games and many Giants games in the following years.

The kids know that I am an A's fan. They are A's fans too, sort of. My oldest really likes the Phillies, in part because they went to the World Series both of her t-ball years and she was on the Phillies. I can live with that. My second daughter doesn't really care about Major League ball yet. I worry because the girls have been on Yankee teams and now my second daughter is a Red Sox. I don't think I could abide a Yankee or Red Sox fan among my offspring.

I love taking my girls to practice and to games. I am nervous when the ball comes their way. They are both good fielders. They make good decisions. I am not worried they will make a mistake; I am worried they will become embarrassed. I fret when they are up to bat. I want them to succeed. I want them to get hits because I want them to continue to like baseball and softball.

I have been driving my wife nuts by re-watching Ken Burns's masterful Baseball documentary on Netflix. The original nine parts debuted in 1994. The film still holds up. She thinks it is boring. I love the story and the history of baseball.  Baseball brings those elements to life for me. The great thing about the game of baseball is that it connects generations. The game is essentially the same today as it was ten years ago, fifty years ago, one hundred and fifty years ago. Fathers, mothers, sons, and daughters grow old together watching the game.

I have also been reading Michael Chabon’s Summerland. Baseball is at the center of this book. Baseball is magic and somehow unites the entire universe, with the baseball diamond being almost a kind of Garden of Eden. Baseball is part of the fabric of time itself, uniting distant and disparate species and creatures. Baseball is everywhere in my life lately.

My oldest hurt her wrist at practice last week. We thought it might be broken. It wasn’t. She had to wear a wrap and a sling for a few days. I was proud of her injury. She had gotten hurt trying to field a grounder on a difficult hop. Her glove was too low and the ball hit her wrist and bounced off her body. She picked it off the ground and completed the throw to first. I was relieved it wasn’t broken. She asked me if she could still go to her game Saturday and just watch. I told her yesterday I thought her wrist would be healed enough for her to play Saturday. Her eyes grew large and her smile grew wide. “Really?” she asked. Really I said. Then she hugged me. She is eight years old and hugs me a little less often and a little more reluctantly lately. This hug was a bear hug. This was a thank you for the wonderful surprise birthday present hug.

Second has her first game of the season Saturday as well. She is excited to wear her uniform. She told me she is going to hit the ball hard, she is going to imagine she is really mad at her brother and hit the ball hard. I am proud. I just want her to run a little faster around the bases. She hugged me too. We hug more often. She is still six.

I want my children to like baseball because I want to insulate us from the coming generation gap. There will be a time when I won't have much in common with my children. Their icons will be a mystery to me. Their lives will begin moving towards their piers and away from me. We will speak different languages, if we speak at all. But, I want us to always have baseball. I want us in ten years to go out back and play catch. Zip, snap, zip, snap. Maybe we won't say anything. Maybe will talk about the amazing double play at the softball game all those years ago. Maybe we will have a little magic. At least we will have the rhythm. Zip, snap, zip, snap.

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Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Lincoln: It Reminded me of E.T.

***SpoilerAlert*** This post reveals key elements of a movie most everybody has seen and the outcome of historical events many never learned.

I had the rare treat of watching a movie tonight. I saw Mr. Spielberg’s most recent masterwork, Lincoln. I realize the Golden Globes, Screen Actors Guild, and the Academy Awards have already registered their judgment. I understand stars have already been awarded and opposable thumbs extended. However, I am compelled to comment in this film, even at the expense of that which is most precious to me, sleep.

I was nervous about this movie. One, I've seen Lincoln shot too many times. It is cliché, but seemingly essential to his story. Second, this movie is based, in part, on Doris Kearns Goodwin's nuanced Team of Rivals biography. I enjoyed her book because it was less a staid tribute to Honest Abe, and more an examination of power and influence. The question of "ends versus means" haunts every chapter. Nuance is not what Hollywood, or Washington D.C., does these days.

The filmmakers managed to capture the essence of Goodwin's nuance by narrowing their scope. The narrative of the movie isn't Lincoln's life, or even his presidency, or the Civil War. The narrative is the attempt to pass the Thirteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. The proposed amendment would ban slavery in the entire nation, forever.

The film manages to generate drama and suspense, even though the outcome of events is known. This is achieved through simplicity. The drama centers around what nefarious means the various characters are willing to use to bring to pass their noble ends. The subplots and minor characters all serve the main narrative, driving it forward.

This film does what great films always do, make one a witness. A witness, not a spectator, not a patron, but a witness, as though by suspending reality one becomes part of the film's reality. Lincoln leaves one feeling as though they are a witness to history. This film is not a documentary. The film takes certain historical liberties, and has at least one major inaccuracy[1].  There are several scenes with Abraham and Mary Lincoln fighting and struggling with angst and grief at the loss of their son and the way each other handles their mourning. These scenes are not strictly historical, but indelibly real. I hear every father in Lincoln’s voice when he defends his stoicism in the face of his son’s death, by his disquieting-angry reply to his wife’s reproach that he was trying to protect young Tad, and she was too lost in grief to see Tad was also on the edge of death.

While all the elements of this movie are done with impeccable craftsmanship, this film rises from good to great because of the acting. Daniel Day-Lewis has enough awards he does not need to hear from me, but his Lincoln was so human. He was not the audio-animatronic Lincoln, but a human Lincoln, haggard, sincere, constantly hunched over feeling the weight of the world, and incredibly vulnerable, constantly bundled in a blanket as if trying to keep the war from stealing his soul. This is done without diminishing the majesty of the Great Emancipator. Sally Field and Tommy Lee Jones manage to share the screen with Day-Lewis without getting overshadowed by Lincoln, but also without upstaging him. Even the bit players are perfect in their roles.

After the narrow victory of the Thirteenth Amendment, and the triumph of Lincoln, the film plays out with an epilogue. The Civil War ends, the Southern soldiers are given their dignity. I braced for the scene at Ford’s Theater, but it never came. Instead, we see the Greek tragic hero prepare for the play, and see him walk down the long hall towards the White House exit. Then we see young Tad, at a different theater as the whole theater gets the news that the President has been shot. That scene, unexpected, is more emotional than yet another view over the shoulder of the assassin. We see the dead and fallen Lincoln, relatively free from gore. But, quickly the scene changes, as in a flashback, to Lincoln’s great second inaugural address. The filmmakers bravely leave us with the living Lincoln.

Film is an escape. The moving pictures have strange and powerful effects on us humans, they always have, as Socrates can attest. Great film, like other great art, moves human passions. Lincoln reminds us of the original sin of our great country, while still showing this to be a great country. The film shows the ugly, and perhaps unscrupulous, lengths the most scrupulous of men committed to in order to bring an end to slavery. Lincoln suggests the Civil War was atonement for slavery, while suggesting that the iniquity has not been entirely expiated. This is all done without being preachy.

Lincoln is why I love movies. The first movie I remember seeing in a theater, as opposed to a drive-in, was E.T. I was five years old when I saw it with my parents. It scared the crap out of me, it made me cry, it made me want to have a flying bicycle, but mostly it made me feel. I remember leaving the theater feeling something I had no words for. It was like excitement, but not as unruly. It was like happiness, but not anchored to anything specific. It was like getting a present that was just what I wanted, even though before I tore off the wrapping paper I had never seen anything like it. That is how I felt after seeing Lincoln. I don’t feel that way often, but the hope of feeling that way is why I yearn to go to movies. I still don't have a word for that feeling, instead the best I can do is say, and “it reminds me of E.T.”.

[1] The movie portrays the majority of Connecticut’s representatives as voting down theThirteenth amendment. This is grossly inaccurate. See link here.

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Thursday, March 14, 2013

All Eyes Focus on the Glowing Prismatic God

I am a horrible father. I know this because I have failed the most basic parental litmus test of my generation. I don't hate my children watching television. I love television. Where I truly demonstrate the fullness of my apostasy from the church of modern parenting, show my true heresy, is that sometimes I encourage my children to watch television. At times I not only want them to watch the babysitter box, but I want them to be silently enthralled by it. I want them to sit, not move, and bask in its soft electric glow.

The other morning my lovely, precocious, youngest child awoke at 4:00 a.m. She would not go back to sleep. I refused to let her get up until at least 6:00. I held in her the recliner in her room. I laid with her in an empty bed. (Her three-year-old brother's bed was empty because he was in mom and dad's bed with mom). By 6:00 I was a broken man. My almost two year old has fallen in love with the mid-nineties Nickelodeon classic, Gullah Gullah Island. I indulged her passion that morning. I turned on an episode of her show and collapsed on the couch and slept. Every twenty-two minutes she woke me up and I put on another episode. “Daddy it over", her sweet voice would call out. Bless you Steve Jobs and your wonderful Apple TV. Praise be to iTunes! I simply clicked the sleek silver remote three times while peering at the menu through alligator eyes, and quickly returned to rest.

Gullah Gullah Island is a lovely show. It teaches appreciation of other cultures and traditions without being preachy or heavy handed. The show is heavy on music. My favorite part of the show is that the characters do not invite my child to reply to the television or shout answers. They rarely break the fourth wall, and when they do, it is only to greet the viewer or ask a rhetorical question. The show is really the last of its kind. Since the debut of Dora the Explorer, almost all children's shows are, for some reason, required to encourage children to yell answers back at the television and to jump and dance all over the place. Call me old fashioned, but I prefer my children's television to be stupefying.

I realize that I may be burned at the stake for uttering such statements. But, seriously, since the debut of Dora in 2000, have children become smarter or more physically fit? No. In general they seem to be stupider and fatter. So why torture parents with interactive drivel? I grew up watching a lot of television. I also read a lot of books. I also rode my bike, and once got chased through a blackberry patch by a rabid dog. I watched 3 2 1 Contact, Mr. Wizard, Spiderman and His Amazing Friends, Battle Star Galactica, The Muppet Show, and a fair amount of Bonanza, Little House on the Prairie, I Dream of Gennie, and Bewitched. I also watched a lot of strange Japanese cartoons with poor English voiceovers on the relatively new Nickelodeon channel. (Incidentally, I also loved watching Nickelodeon's You Can't Do That on Television, which featured a young Canadian girl named Alanis Morrisette). Once we got the Disney Channel my sister and I would spend some entire weekends glued to the screen. I am not saying that this was a good idea, or even healthy. I am saying that it didn't kill us or make us stupid or fat. 

I believe that children need to be outside. Once a child is outside, relatively unconfined, physical exertion and imaginative play follow. A toddler does not need a hot yoga class to stay in shape. A toddler by definition should be in shape. A toddler needs to be allowed to play at the park, run around on the grass, and most importantly, be allowed to fall down and scrape a knee occasionally. Children profit even more from exposure to the wilderness, or at least a state park. Getting away from urban and suburban settings and seeing real rivers, lakes, forests, and animals not in cages is good for the soul. Scampering down a tree-lined trail will feed some primordial need to connect with nature and helps promote life long activity and curiosity.

However, as much as I love the outdoors, and as much as I love taking my kids hiking and camping, sometimes I also need my children to sit and stare at something that is not me. The television can be more than a babysitter; it can be a sort of part time nanny. The television should be used to further advance our family values. This is why my children watch 1990's basic cable kid's shows and not Children of the Corn, that and I don't want them to get any ideas. I don't have a problem rewarding my children's fidelity to family order with some doses of cartoon mayhem. Sometimes my wife or I will watch along, many times we use the distraction to get selfish things done like cleaning the kitchen or organizing a closet.

My children have a menu of entertainment and educational options only hinted at by my childhood. The amount of video games, movies, and television available for free, or very cheap, is awe-inspiring. The back catalog of television shows available means that my children and I can build common reference points. The fact that most of my children love Chip and Dale's Rescue Rangers and Phineas and Ferb, means that I sometimes get to read a little bit of an eBook. That little respite makes me a better dad, even if I am still a horrible father.
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Friday, March 1, 2013

Thinking Thoreau #2- That's What Friends Are For?

The first section of Excursions is a biographic sketch of Thoreau written be his good friend Ralph Waldo Emmerson. The sketch lists not only the standard menu of dates, but also a description of early influences and occupations. The most interesting piece of the section is the stories that are meant to illustrate Thoreau's brilliant, honest, and prickly character.

One such passages is:
In 1847, not approving some uses to which the public expenditure was applied, he refused to pay his town tax, and was put in jail. A friend paid the tax for him, and he was released. The like annoyance was threatened the next year. but, as his friends paid the tax, notwithstanding his protest, I believe he ceased to resist.

The "uses to which the public expenditure" was being applied was the U.S. Mexican War. Thoreau was a vanguard in the first American anti war effort motivated by a love of peace and justice as opposed to crude economics. The selection strikes me as describing if not a timid Thoreau, a Thoreau less than fully committed to the cause than legend would have it. He in fact spent only a single night in jail and seems to acquiesce, albeit reluctantly, to his friends' generosity.

I would like to return to this incident more fully during the reading of Civil Disobedience. What do you make of Thoreau not paying the tax because it was funding a horrible and dishonorable war in his view? It should be noted Congressman Abraham Lincoln of Illinois also was morally opposed to the Mexican-American War. Pin It

Monday, February 25, 2013

Thinking Thoreau -Quiet Desperation

"Most men lead lives of quiet desperation and go to the grave with the song still in them". This is one of the best known quotes of Henry David Thoreau. It comes from his masterwork Civil Disobedience and Other Essays. Like many, if not most, of the men of my generation, I have led a life of quiet desperation. Recently my desperation has been noisy. I have lived my entire life with fears. Prominent among them is the fear of failure. I have been striving to do more with the myriad of ideas that cross my cluttered mind. I treat all my ideas the same, I hold them, I enjoy them, and then I cast them aside. Some have taken root here and there. Some should not have been allowed to take root. Many have simply died for want of attention.

A recent editing project has inspired me to be more purposeful with my ideas. Instead of simply casting my ideas to grow or perish as chance permits, I will  take more solid action on my ideas in the belief that doing so will help me get out the "song" still inside me, before I go to the grave. With that in mind I am beginning a new project. Thinking Thoreau will be a series of daily micro-posts about passages or quotes from the works of Thoreau as I come across them. I will be reading the following works by Thoreau in the following order:

Civil Disobedience
Wild Apples
A Plea for Captain John Brown Read to the Citizens of Concord, Massachusetts

All of these works are available as free E-books from Amazon as they are now in the public domain. I do not know how long it will take me to complete the project. I welcome comments and disagreements about my ideas and interpretations of Thoreau. I am not a scholar of Thoreau, or poetry, or the English language. This idea just appealed to me. I have read Civil Disobedience a few times, and enjoyed reading the play, The Night Thoreau Spent in Jail, in high school. Otherwise, I am a novice on the subject.
I will continue in my efforts to post 1,500 to 2,000 word posts on a close to weekly basis separate and apart from my Thoreau project. I hope to use this project to learn and grow. I hope to put effort into this project such that even if no one ever reads my posts, I will be glad to have made the effort. All my posts in this project will start with Thinking Thoreau in the title, so no unsuspecting reader will be tricked into reading something they would rather not be exposed to.
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Saturday, February 16, 2013

Beauty is in the Eye of the Hoarder

Hoarders, on A & E, is a show I cannot bring myself to watch. My mother is a hoarder. I have been involved cleaning out my parents garage and house too many times as an adult. I just cannot handle seeing how other people with this mental malfunction live. My mother’s case was not as severe as the people I saw on the commercials, but unchecked her trajectory would have far outpaced the two featured in the promo I saw. Recently, it occurred to me that there might be another reason I cannot watch; maybe I am a hoarder too.

The idea that I might suffer from one or more of the same maladies, (physical, mental, and moral), that my parents do is not a new paranoia. (Is it paranoia if it’s true?). The fear is also not unique to myself. What sentient being approaching middle age doesn’t occasionally glance in the mirror and recoil in horror at the presence of their same sexed parent staring back at them? Clearly I am not a hoarder on the scale that would draw the attention of a reality show production crew, but I may be either on the threshold of a serious episode, or well into my apex as a mini-hoarder. Only time will tell.

The first piece of evidence of my hoarding I have to present is my writing jacket. I used to call it my smoking jacket, but no longer do so. This article of clothing is actually not a jacket at all, but thick 50% cotton and 50% acrylic button-up shirt my father brought back for me from Mexico. Many years ago he went to a resort in Mexico with some previously unknown friends. I was already married and out of the house at this time. He brought back several souvenirs for the family. He brought me back this shirt. It is warm. That is its only redeeming quality. It has tri-colored stripes of non-uniform sizes. The colors are a vulgar imitation of the colors of the Mexican flag. The white is accurate enough but the red is not the rich, dark red of the flag of that proud country, but instead a red that is almost pink, like a shade of cheap lipstick. The green is the worst of all. It is not really green at all. The only way I can describe the green is that it is the perfect match to the color “cyan” in the old Commodore 64 color palette. The stripes themselves are vertical on the body and horizontal on the sleeves. It appears to be made of wool and the outside feels coarse. However, as mentioned previously, and is confirmed by the tag, it is not wool. It is soft on the inside. I never liked the look of the thing. I don’t remember what everyone else got, except what one of my brothers received. He, always being father’s favorite, received a soft, handsome, blue and white blanket poncho. I coveted the poncho, but ended up with the shirt, or jacket.

I have always had a difficult, and often tense, relationship with my father. Even though I hated the shirt, I kept it and called it my smoking jacket. I don’t smoke. I never have, and likely never will. I actually wore it upon a few disparate occasions and found it to be warm and cozy. This did not endear me to my father or the garment, it just made me despise it all the more. Despite several residence changes and spring cleanings, the jacket survived the purges. Once I had children I had to stop referring to it as my smoking jacket as I realized they asked enough difficult questions without being prompted. Having a smoking jacket when no one they know actually smokes would be too much.

I recently pulled the jacket out of my closet to keep warm while I was writing because I did not want to turn on the heat. Thus, it became my writing jacket. I have approximately one million hooded sweatshirts or hoodies, thousands of sweatshirts and sweaters, and more than a few actual jackets, all of which are more comfortable, more aesthetically pleasing, and less fraught with emotional baggage than my writing jacket. Why do I still have it? I could have some Puritan in me and feel the need to punish myself for my unworthiness. More likely, it is the hoarder in me coming out. Any sentimentality, even what may be termed anti-sentimentality is reason enough to keep a piece of clothing I loath, but still sort of like.

The second exhibit in my hoarding case are my books. I own a lot of books, I do not know how many. Lots of people have more books, but I do acknowledge owning a lot of books. We do not have room for my books. Several years ago I fashioned a reading nook in our upstairs bonus room. Upon the birth of another child the bonus room was turned into a children’s bedroom. I understood and accepted this as logical. The room, including the contents of the large double bookcase, was boxed up. It is too much to say that the books were boxed without my knowledge or consent, but the purveyors of the home redecorating project wisely managed their work when I was not around to interfere.

A few books were saved from archiving. I have since that time acquired many other books, some I have read, and some are simply in the queue. I have been recently thinking of my boxed books, of two in particular. One was relatively new at the time of the great book box massacre. I had not had a chance to read it. It is an anthology of American writings about the ocean, called directly enough, American Sea Writing: A Literary AnthologyI am very interested in reading several great writers explore a common theme. A theme I love but have difficulty artfully articulating.

The other book is a paperback book I have had since my senior year in high school. I received this book in the mail when I joined a paperback book of the month club that promised three books for a penny if you agreed to buy several more, perhaps five books, over the course of a two-year period. One of the books I selected for my penny was, Six American PoetsI had suffered a secret admiration of poetry since seventh grade. The movie Dead Poet’s Society only fanned a flame that was already burning inside me. I had not ever truly studied poetry. The required coursework of my high school required hardly any poetry at all. Only the spinsterly, and brilliant Miss Tagart exposed me to poetry in any meaningful way. My exposure at her hands to the Transcendentalists changed me forever. But, I did not have a lot of access to the stuff, and was not about to ask for it.

The yellow paperback captivated me. I read the book often. I am sure I read every poem in the book at least three times. Some poems I read close to a hundred times. I never read it cover to cover like some novel or history book. At first I would simply flip the pages and read what caught my eye. In this way I was introduced to Robert Frost’s “Stopping By Woods on a Snowy Evening” and Emily Dickinson’s “ Because I Could Not Stop For Death “. Later I would read the section of an entire poet. I found I really got a sense of Langston Hughes only by reading scores of his rhythms at a time. Walt Whitman’s work was inaccessible to me as a high school senior, but deeply meaningful as a young man just four years later.

The box of books, along with everything else that used to be in the room sits in storage. I have been pinning for these two books, and had decided to go and fetch them at my next chance. I found a reason to go to the storage to try and find some document for my wife. I knew this was my chance. I was foiled in my errand on behalf of my wife. The document was nowhere to be found. I next commenced opening boxed labeled books. The books had clearly been boxed by shelf where possible, but every box exterior remained nondescript. I opened every single box. Halfway through the boxes I had not found, part of a theology series by Hugh Nibley some members of which had escaped the earlier boxing, and my copies of Foucault’s Archaeology of Knowledge and Kuhn’s The Structure of Scientific Revolutions.

 The last two books I freed because I had never read the entire Foucault classic[1], and I wanted to reread Kuhn because I felt I would have a different reaction to him after having lived a little life. I eventually found (Sea). However, (Six) remained elusive. Maybe I had saved the book from the boxes and just lost it somewhere. Maybe there is a box of books that lay undetected. I already own and have access to the complete poems of Robert Frost and Walt Whitman (e-books are a hoarders delight!), but I just wanted to see that book again. I wanted to flip through its pages like I did when I was a callow youth looking for answers to questions I couldn’t even begin to formulate yet.

I was disappointed, but hardly devastated. During my search I did have reason to reconsider my passion for books. I remember as a kid, maybe only 9 or 10, looking through a bunch of boxes my parents were moving out of the “storage room” that was soon to be my own room. I discovered three boxes of books belonging to my mother as a child. The books were mostly a series of books with selections of great literature and what was deemed age appropriate stories in the 1950’s and 1960’s. I loved her books. My sister and I read them voraciously. I felt somehow I had connected with my mother because I had some of her books. That was the moment when I really became a lover of books and reading.

As I grew older I pulled my parent’s books from the bookcases downstairs. These were exclusively non-fiction books, mostly religious, history, or self-help. My parents never censored what I read. Every time I read a book that had belonged to one of my parents, even if I found it boring or wrong, gave me an insight and connection to that parent. I want a lot of books around because I want my children to make accidental and surprising intellectual discoveries. I want them to gain some insight into my mind, my soul, that I do not know how to give them. I think that is the real reason I wanted my old copy of (Six). My kids are growing older and growing more curious. I just wanted that book to be around to be stumbled upon.

My twisted emotional reasons for keeping the jacket and the books must mark me as a hoarder. What I really want to hold onto are not the things, or even the memories the things trigger. I want to hoard all the emotion and thought these things evoke. I want to hoard these pieces of my soul so others can find them and perhaps unlock a part of me for themselves.

[1] I aced the exam on the book in my Philosophy of Political Science course. This was less a testament to my powers of intellect than my uncanny ability to understand what my professor thought was important and what he thought things meant. I less wise owl and more clever myna bird.
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Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Tough Love

February was the month my wife and I went our first date. It was on the most romantic holiday, President’s Day. Becky and I had known each other for a few weeks. This was actually remarkable, as our entire lives we seemed fated to almost meet. We had gone to church in the same building since we were eleven, but part of different congregations that met at different times.[1] We both ended up going to the same small college in southeast Idaho[2], but never connected the entire first semester. We were both present at the same event a few times, but never met.

Over Christmas Break we finally met at a party back in California. She found me obnoxious and arrogant, and I thought she was stuck-up. Once back in Idaho, she and her roommates invited my roommates and I to hang out a few times. She was supposed to be paired up with my roommate and her roommate was supposed to be paired up with me. We attended a Club Dance at the school, where the various clubs try and recruit new members. Becky and I danced and talked all night. We talked about our hopes and dreams, our future lives, and everything else. It was the best conversation I had ever had, and one I like to think we have never stopped having.

Over President’s Day weekend my roommates were all gone. I felt a profound loneliness. It was not so much that my roommates were gone, as I felt incomplete. I was a freshman at college with a clear direction in life, concrete plans, and still had not “found” myself yet. I suddenly realized whom I wanted to be with at that exact moment, Becky. I called her and asked her out to Hogi Yogi. At least I thought I was asking her out. Becky and one of her roommates both showed up. In what would not be the last time in our relationship, I had thought I was communicating clearly, but events proved otherwise. I did not have enough money for three treats, and so I bought Becky and Jenny frozen yogurts and the three of us hung out. Jenny, to her everlasting credit figured things out quickly and made an excuse to leave. I didn’t have any other plans for the date other than the frozen yogurt. We walked around scenic Rexburg and talked. It was amazing.

Many events transpired between that first date and today. I had the same realization that the only person I wanted to be with at any given moment was Becky a few more times. We of course eventually got married. We had four amazing children. We experienced triumphs and endured tragedies. We currently are going through the worst year and half of our lives, and there is no end in site. I am still not sure if I have “found myself” or know what “my calling” in life is. I do know that Becky and our children are my life and what I live for.

Last week I spent the night in the Emergency Room with Becky. She had horrible abdominal pain. We went to the ER at 3:30 in the afternoon. It was packed.  There was some problem with the triage process, because even though she presented with classic appendicitis, we waited. I eventually had to go home to attend to our children while she waited by herself. When I came back around 9:00, she had just gotten back to a room. Tests were run, scans were made, radiation was absorbed, and a surgeon came in to announce she indeed had appendicitis and would be having surgery. I said goodbye to her from the surgery staging area at 3:30 am.

The surgery was to take an hour to an hour and a half. I had the entire waiting room to myself. Nurse Carol had warned me that the coffee shop closed at 4. I wandered down and ordered a venti hot chocolate and a cordon blue sandwich. I received a venti luke-warm chocolate and a horrible southwest style chicken sandwich with wilty lettuce. I had to laugh on the way out of the shop as I glanced at the hours. It was open from 6:00 am to 4:00 am. I guess the two hours of closure saved the coffee shop owners hundreds of dollars a year.

I went up and waited. I had a book to read, but was too tired. I thought about sleeping, but was irrationally afraid that the surgeon would not see me if I was asleep, or would not wake me. This was comical since I was the only person in the waiting room. I laid down on a bench and listened to infomercials. I got up and shut the televisions off. I thought. I pride myself on keeping a level head in a crisis. One of my secret coping mechanisms is to coldly evaluate all of the possibilities and decide on a plan of action for every contingency and mentally explore how I would react. Evaluating all of the options of what might happen to my wife during surgery at 4:00 in the morning after having been up since 6:00 in the morning the previous day was surprisingly calming.

I did not worry about the routine surgery until the two-hour mark. At 5:30 I wondered what could be taking the extra time. I began to rethink the contingencies. The one anchor to my exhausted brain was how much I love Becky. I thought about the many times I had thought I loved her previously: Our first date, our first kiss, our wedding day, and the births of each of our children. During each of those moments my love for her had grown so much from the precious moment. At this particular moment I wondered how I could have thought the puny feeling I had at the time of our first kiss or even later at our wedding was love. I felt a feeling so much more powerful and complete now. It was not that I had previously taken her for granted, but our connection, or my dependency on her, was reaffirmed. I began thinking about her having this mysterious organ removed. It occurred to me that she was an organ, a vital organ that kept me sane and alive. I realized I could plan for many of the consequences of her sudden removal from my life, but could not imagine how I could actually live without her.

Right before 6:00 the surgeon came out. He said the surgery went well, but that the appendix had been perforated prior to surgery and her body had been growing new tissue around the appendix to encapsulate it. He told me something that I already knew. “She must have a pain tolerance that is off the charts. She is tough”, the surgeon said. Later members of the nursing staff and surgical team would remark that the appendix was in bad shape, and been perforated for around a month. The phrase “perforated to bursting” was used more than once.

I have been writing this blog for a few months now. Becky has not made many appearances. The reason is I have the most difficulty in scribing my feelings about her. I lack the skills to describe my feelings for her in a form worthy of her and our love. I do not want something merely sentimental or sappy. I want to write something transcendent. However, I also want to leave some record, some digital trail, of how much she means to me. Even though I cannot yet write the poetic transcendent tribute to Becky that she deserves, I realize she loves me and appreciates my efforts no matter how short they fall. Everyone else should know how tough she is, and how much I love her.

[1] For LDS readers we were not only in different wards, but different stakes and regions. My ward met in her stake’s building.
[2] Rick’s College, now Brigham Young University Idaho
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