January, '98 News

Had to make un-planned trip #s7, 8 and 9 when Mom had a stroke, followed by a heart attack.

Wednesday, January 07, 1998, 8:24 AM:

--Change in plans: my sister called around 6:30 last night to say that Mom had a stroke. Apparently it happened just after her care-giver left for a planned-well-in-advance 2 weeks in the Bahamas, i.e. the worst possible time, as there was nobody around to notice the problem. It couldn't have been more than two hours from the time Mom knew there was something wrong and she was in the emergency room, but apparently she is paralyzed on her left side. I'm driving up to Stockton to drop off the doggies at my sweetie's then I'll drive straight over there

Sunday, January 11, 1998, 5:59 PM:

--Just back from crazy trip North and must dash back Thursday at the latest. Mom has had a stroke and a heart attack. My sister called me last Tuesday evening and told me the bad news and I hit the road the next morning. BUT there was a power failure that morning that began around 8:30 and which was still "going on" when I left an hour later, so I didn't have my list of things to pack and managed to forget quite a few things. I left my checkbook behind on the theory I would come back quickly after Mom had surgery or some such and awakened, but Well Thursday I hit the road and got to the hospital that afternoon. Mom was sort of semi-conscious and when she knew I was there, she tried to say something, but I really couldn't make out the words. She looked as if the whole left side of her face had started to melt: it was a dreadful site. Still, she knew that my sister and I were there and that gave us reason to hope. The ICU at UCSF Mount Zion, where she wound up (since the first place they took her was filled to capacity) appeared to my untrained eye to be one of the finest of its kind that there are, but there is only so much that can be done and I had the distinct impression that Mom was somewhere on the wrong side of the bell curve.

Very chaotic trip and very depressing once there, where we spent 4 days in the Intensive Care Unit and another day in the --less intensive care facility. When I first arrived, my mother recognized me and made words which were hard to understand. But as time went by, I could only stand by, watching Mom sort of fade away: I don't think I'll ever be able to look at squiggly lines on a monitor again: watching what the doctors call chain-stoking, where my mother would pant, then stop breathing all together, then watching the cycle repeat endlessly and seeing the signals from this behavior on a monitor was very disturbing.

My sister and I spent many days by Mom's bedside, mesmerized by the squiggly lines and hoping that the changes we saw were for the better, but Well, after they had Mom stabilized, she was moved to the post-op recovery room, where monitors aren't at every bedside and we, as observers, could only imagine the squiggly lines, while watching our mother fade.

I suspect that it was her heart which caused the problem with something caused atrial fibrillation, i.e. a random firing of the electrical circuitry in the top chambers of the heart, which cause that portion to beat irregularly. This causes a kind of cavitation, what the doctor called turbulence I think, which makes blood flow erratically instead of smoothly, allowing pockets of slow-moving blood to stay within the heart for prolonged periods, increasing the likelihood that small clots would form in these areas. When the heart resumes normal pumping, clots can be shot everywhere, to kidneys, liver, etc. where they would be well, not benign but not life-threatening. It's just a question of luck and bad luck means clots get shot up to the brain and that's what's happened to Mom. Since she's paralyzed on her left side, the clot is in the right side of the brain: the area that controls breathing is affected, but not so much the sections involved with mental skills.

As the days pass, Mom is becoming less and less aware of her surroundings and as of this morning it had been more than 2 days since we could even ask her to squeeze her hand (to let us know she was in there) and get a response. This morning my sister and a trusted cousin went to the safe deposit box and got out Mom's instructions for this eventuality (and several others: Mom was quite thorough it seems). My mother has said quite clearly that she doesn't want any kind of extraordinary effort made to keep her among the living. Still, I want to make damned certain we don't cave it too soon: my sister seems quite well, eager is the wrong word, but willing, I suppose, to let her pass, but this is understandable since she is quite convinced that Mom is going to a Christian Heaven.

Well, I envy Mom for her faith and my sister for hers, but I am at a loss: I have no faith at all: I wish I did, but there you are My decision would be to hang on, but Mom commented to me when I left after Christmas about how most of her friend were dead and several more had just died and I am sure she would be lonely if she survives this crisis. Where is truth and what is best?? If I could die in an instant, with no time for regret or fear, wouldn't I jump at the chance? Now here is Mom, gone from the world of consciousness and who am I to bring her back to this rat's nest of complexity and anguish? I want to let her go and I don't want her to fear but I don't want her to drift off needlessly soon, particularly when Dr. Abraham, whom one relative described this morning as the "good news bear" seems to think that there is still room for hope. Crimmeny, what a mess!!

Sunday morning: an equilibrium seems to have been reached and with this stability in Mom's condition I decided to drive home to pay bills, to collect what I forgot to bring the first time, to take a scheduled blood test and to get this down on paper more than anything else; a selfish act I admit, but I don't think Mom will notice me missing anytime soon and I really have to prepare properly for a prolonged trek back, since she and the rest of the family are 340 miles distant. I'll drive North again in two days.

Meanwhile the doggies are staying with my sweetie and I am feeling very lonely. My roommate is here and that's nice: San Francisco is a profoundly depressing place and I am beginning to re-think my notions of moving, lock, stock and barrel to the North of the Bay because I fear I will be even lonelier after I have done so

Transcribed from audio recorder, driving home on Sunday, 1/11/98:

11:56AM: headed home from Mom's bedside, in order to do laundry, sign some checks, get suit tailored just in case, vote and plan a more organized return to the City on Wednesday, for an indefinite stay.

--Rain is coming down in torrents while I drive on highway 280: traffic is slowed to maybe 35mph to compensate for low visibility

--Will have my secretary investigate getting me a cell phone: necessary if I am to drive under these circumstances ever again

--Need to get a map (like the Texaco maps that resemble London subway maps) that tells me whether or not an exit will let me back on: particularly needed on hwy 280 which has many "blind alleys"

--Pretty close to the most god-awful rainstorm I've ever been in my life: approaching Daly City and I'm thinking of just getting off the freeway and coming down another day

--Decided to stop (couldn't find a pay phone until Gilroy) and telephone my sweetie: DO NOT under any circumstances consider driving down to SB in this weather: winds gusting west to east at 30 to 40mph, driving rain and poor visibility heading her way. Found a pay phone near new shopping center opposite from Terrible Herbst: had to stand in the rain to use it: very unsatisfactory, but I got the call made

--5:25PM: still drizzling, near the Lompoc exit, just getting dark and I will be happy to get home

Other trip thoughts, in no particular order:

--Death is like gravity, i.e. according to current cosmological thinking, gravity is an effect and not a cause. In any case the former is a thing to be avoided by taking other steps.

--Remembered that after looking at Mom's lack of muscle tone that I would vow to make physical fitness a "gilt-edged priority" for the rest of my life: I look forward to becoming a "hard body" by age 80 and to that end I re-commenced my rowing exercises this morning

4:59 PM:--I am feeling desperately lonely, but I know that not all the loving hugs in the world will keep Mr. Death from claiming me as prize, however feeble, when the time comes. Death is the enemy of consciousness; what alternative will future generations create? It was my belief for many years that I had been born into the first generation that would have options, but it doesn't look promising: so what if I manage to live another 30 years: will Drexler's nanotech save my bacon?? Just how much bacon will there be left of me to save by then? Maybe I could start swilling ethylene glycol and build up a resistance to the formation of ice crystals, so I could cryogenically hibernate; I don't think that one's viable either without a lot more work Shit.

--I can see how it might be more "humane", whatever that means, to let Mom go: who would want to live in a world of strangers and stranger ideas? Now that most of her friends have died, she seemed, after Xmas, to be so terribly lonely. Although I am more of a friend-maker and my friends tend to span many generations, I can imagine her being there, in that lonely place, just by being away from everyone I hold dear at the moment. Even if I *do* live to a ripe old age I can imagine loneliness just fine, thanks.

Tuesday, January 13, 1998, Early Morning:

Transcribed all messages from the digital audio recorder onto this and my "To Do" list and am preparing to do the next trip up in some sort of logical manner. Will write more when I return What a depressing series of events

10:42 AM:--More bad news from my sister this morning and she is suggesting, after consultation with doctors, for me to agree that no extraordinary efforts be made to keep Mom alive, i.e. she has decided to not have a "full code", should Mom go into some kind of arrest and I reluctantly agreed. Mom is less responsive than last night and My sister believes that what noises she witnessed last night were reflexive in nature and were not, after all, some attempt to regain consciousness. Furthermore, Mom now seems to be developing the infections that develop after prolonged confinement to bed and she is now totally unresponsive. The family said I should get there right now, but at her bedside when she died is the last place on Earth I wanted to be. I thought to reduce the interval of waiting and so went and got my blood test, a 20 minute respite, before I hit the road again.

Saturday, January 17, 1998, 2:55 PM:

--I drove up to the hospital in a great rush, arriving at around 4:PM. Mom died just before 7:PM and I haven't been able to bring myself to write a word about the experience for a week, despite the fact that I probably have several piles of words to choose from and despite the fact that there is a primal need for me to do so. I want to write instead about a good thing that happened, since there have been so few. One good thing finally happened today so here it is: Bill Jenkins, from Anomaly Acres days appeared magically at my doorstep just an hour or so ago. Although it was a short visit and he, too, had sad news in that his second wife had died recently of a strange form of asthma, it was good to chat and to renew old threads. He and I told each other of what we knew of folks from the gang and he introduced me to his daughter from his first marriage to Joyce, who thrives as well. A nice visit and good to know that some people are still alive with a capital "A", so to speak, leaving vital and interesting lives.

Tuesday, January 20, 1998, 8:27 AM:Thoughts on my morning walk

Like lazy prospectors who stand beside shallow, fast-moving streams and peer to the bottom looking for the telltale glint of nuggets, people skim the contents of countless books, magazines and what have you in quest of that one bit of wisdom or faith revealed. I seem to be awash with friends and acquaintances who read voraciously, but is it to pass the time or is it something else? Who seeks the unrevealed truths that reside deep in the sediment, beneath murkier waters, and is it there to be found?? But when is there time to read with intent anymore? I must seek these truths within my own depths, within the novel that I am writing with every step I take The time has come to hit the road.

Wednesday, January 21, 9:54 AM: Just back from dropping Ranger off for 42,000 mile tune-up (it had 47,000 on the clock due to numerous rush trips and I got hit by a rock again; left a big crack just to left of my field of vision). Started using little pinhole camera on the way back. Nothing of consequence in the viewer, unless I got extremely lucky in framing and light of two gorgeous girls in seat in front of me: we'll see Answering machine message from Doc Hamilton's office: Holy Guacamole, my cholesterol has dropped from 247 to 124!! PSA test: as yet unknown

12:10 PM:Changed and uploaded the 8 files.

--Got the PSA test results: my number was 1.0, where anything below 4 is considered normal.

With Guy's assist, I retrieved my Ranger from Ford and then we did dinner at the Chinese restaurant, celebrating my incredible blood numbers.

11:10 PM:--Where are my tears? As of today it has been a week since Mom died bit where is my grief? Are these in hiding or do I have none to give?

When the actual process of death occurred, it was if she ran down, like an old clock, with a tired spring, whose pendulum slows and then stops. Something between our hind brains and our mid brains kicked in and the room had the most profound silence I have ever witnessed. In the deep stillness of the moment, which passed very swiftly, I felt as if the threads of our lives had been woven into a tapestry that extended back through two billion years to a time when my ancestors were emerging from caves and seeing, rather than looking, at the sky for the first time. There was something so - - natural about what I was seeing that part of me lost all sense of fear (well, most of the sense). Deep within me, however, somewhere below the conscious level, I could sense the other "I" screaming, trying to sunder its bonds to that fleshy life support system called a body that holds me captive. Stranger still were the reactions of others in the room after Mom had died: after the mystical transition from exotherm to endotherm, after the relief that one feels when suffering has stopped had passed, people were quite smiley and what could only be called happy: a feeling I did not share, but for which I had no tears.

For three days thereafter I had trouble drawing a breath, as if Mr. Death, there in the hospital room with us, pressed upon my chest, inviting me to join the party and die: it was a very creepy feeling. The day after my mother died the headline in the Chronicle talked about the discovery of telomerase, the drug that grants human cells immortality: great timing, that... I drove the 90 miles from San Francisco to Stockton in an excruciating ride that took 3 hours. Just past the Bay bridge I had an anxiety attack, but not the worst I've ever had. Once in Stockton, my focus on my own breathing continued and sleep proved elusive for days, but still there was no feeling other than dread attached to it. To this day, although my breathing is normal once more, I have had no - - cleansing through grief.

Most of what has occurred has reinforced my notion that despite our reliance on religion for solace in these times, the purpose of grief, like pain, is to encourage avoidance. This is to say, grief is the product of awareness, which is itself the product of evolution. The Universe is trying to tell us something, but being the kind of entity that it is, the telling is taking some time. Grief teaches that death is a thing to be avoided, as long as possible and not a thing to be embraced at The End of Life. I favor the technological fix: I want to live a thousand years, long enough for the second technological fix: the one that will sunder the bond between personality and flesh. Failing that, I think I would prefer to turn a corner and get whacked by a bus: lights out! Shit.

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