Friday, December 10, 2010


"Leaves, like the things of man, you
With your fresh thoughts care for, can you?
Ah! as the heart grows older
It will come to such sights colder
By & by, nor spare a sigh
Though worlds of wanwood leafmeal lie..."

- G. M. Hopkins

My shady past is not so shady any more.  The eight large trees on my lot have dropped almost all their leaves, and there are days when sunlight brightens every corner.  But it seems, now that illumination doesn't require much effort, the Sun has gone lazy.  Most days here at the beginning of winter are gray, the sky off-white and darkening toward the corners, and leaves lie about in disorderly piles, much like the dead at Waterloo.

Waterloo was a long time ago.  It does not oppress me now.  But leaves do, for soon I must rake them up, bag them, and argue with the garbagemen about going 20 bags or so over my weekly allowance.

I tell them to blame God.  I had nothing to do with it.  Leaves fall from heaven, like manna.  If they don't pick them up from me now, then they'll pick them up later.  If I let them just blow, they'll be picking them up from my irritated neighbor, or someone further down the street.  It is fate.  I urge them to accept the gravity of the situation.  It's only once a year.

Some years they have taken that argument in good humor.  Some years they leave the pile of bags at the curb, diminishing it only by the miserly allottment of 5 bags a week.

Such are the trials of living in a stick house.  If you are lucky enough to be living on the road, I advise you to stay there.  Let the wind do your raking with a clear conscience.

I've worked up a couple of excuses to leave them lie.  I'm industrious that way.  I've had another cancer cut from my left hand, and the wound is still in stitches.  Don't want to stretch that into a monumental scar, right?  Another surgery, on my right hand, is scheduled for the 22nd.  Soon I will have more stitches than Raggedy Andy.  Perhaps even enough to keep you in stitches.  And then there's this sinus infection I have only narrowly escaped, and still may succumb to.  No point in testing it with all that leaf mold and dust up my nose.

I should really move all this unfortunate ambition into the New Year, where Resolutions belong.  There, I'm convinced.  Where there is life there is procrastination.  Best to leaf it for another week, and work instead on developing a decent pun for the holidays.

In other news, Mike is back in Rehab.  The infection that laid him low last Sunday has succumbed to the miracle of antibiotics.  Deo gratias.  He is still seeing two or three of everything, and is fed through a hole in his stomach, but he seems relieved to be back.

He even asked me to give him a haircut this weekend.  Now there's a guy with a healthy sense of humor.


Tuesday, December 7, 2010

A Daffy Metaphor

As I mentioned in the comments last time, Mike was doing great for a few weeks there.  Then last Sunday afternoon he got a ferocious bladder infection, had his temperature spike to 107 degrees, and went into seizure.  He is now back in ICU at South Austin Hospital.  The infection is under control, but he's still running 99 degrees.

He finally got off the ventilator today, and guess what was the first thing he said to me in that croaking voice?

"Don't let this stress you out."

Me?  He doesn't want ME to be stressed out?  Same to ya, bub.

I was reaching for a metaphor recently to describe the process of Mike's "recovery".  Nothing seemed to fit.  Then I ran into this old cartoon on Youtube:

Yep.  It's just like that.  And thaaat's all, Folks!

(I wish.)


Saturday, December 4, 2010

Saying No to Bro

Early Days

In normal times my brother Mike and I lead almost entirely separate lives.  O, we manage to meet for Menudo most Sunday mornings, in lieu of Church.  He has the run of my tool shed, and I of his.  But my average pleasant day would probably drive him up the wall.  He's not that much of a reader.  And his enthusiasms leave me cold as well, since they often involve active interaction with a large group.  I mean... bowling, for chrissakes?  In a league?  Even his idea of motorcycling was primarily social as well, like forming part of an "honor guard" with fifty or a hundred other bikers at various funerals.  The racket was enough to raise the dead.

He was even involved with a "Biker Church".  Holy Harley, Batman!  Give me a break.

Mike hale and hearty?  He has his life, and I have mine.

But Mike helpless?  Mike lying up unconscious in a narrow room, surrounded by the casual brutality of a teaching hospital, with a tube down his throat?  The sight of that Mike just knocked me right out of myself.  My usual egotism was swept aside, forgotten, drowned.  What was left was a fierce protectiveness.

It seems I am not quite the independent asshole that I thought I was.  Imagine that.

It's only happened a few times, over the years.  It always surprises me.  I remember once in the seventh grade I picked up a kid my age by the throat and pinned him to the wall at the skating rink because he pushed my brother down.  I didn't plan on doing that.  I didn't even think about doing it.  It just happened.  Scared the crap out of me, when I came to my senses. I really could have hurt that kid.

It seems ridiculous to have that sort of reaction now.  Not that I'm throwing anybody around.  I'm an old guy.  But I do have a completely automatic and unreasoning desire to stand guard over Mike.  To keep him from harm.  To make things better for him.

And as part of that I suddenly found it really hard to say no to him.

If he wanted to get out of his wheel chair, I'd scour the halls and round up nurses and such to get it done.  I was polite, I think, but remorseless.  If he wanted to get out of bed to take a leak, I'd do the same.  It infuriated me that they would let him go in a diaper rather than show up instantly to help him to the pot.  I would just commandeer help and refuse to take no for an answer.  But then when he got in there, he often couldn't go, and then he wanted immediately back into bed.  And then, half the time, he'd no sooner get his head back on the pillow than some therapist would show up to put him back in the wheel chair to take him down the hall.

I came to realize I was wearing out my welcome.  There was a reason why they wanted him up in that wheel chair, whether he was comfortable or not.  There was even a reason for the visiting hours I was ignoring.  I was actually interfering with his recovery by indulging his every inconstant whim.

These people are professionals.  They have a plan.  And he has to get with the plan if he is going to get better.  Whether he likes it or not.

There's a sign on the front door of the rehab hospital that says "Sometimes Caring Means Not Visiting".  They are talking about staying away if you are sick, so you don't spread whatever you've got to the patients.  But I think it applies to obsessively protective and indulgent brothers as well.

So now I've finally gotten to where I only go up there every other day.  Mostly.  I stay an hour, find out how he's doing, and what he's been doing, bring him his laundry and such, and then I leave him to it.

And he is getting better.

"Sometimes Caring Means Not Visiting".  Sometimes it means getting out of the way.  Letting go.  It is the hardest part of love.


Thursday, December 2, 2010

Why Am I Here?

Where in the world is Bob?

And why have I not been?

Certainly I have not been at a loss for words.  Perish the thought.  Indeed, there are too many, as usual.  But I am at a loss for discipline.  For narrative direction.  And without that, any extended tale becomes a jumble, a mucky tidal flat of vapid speculation, dotted with abandoned hulks of pointless blather.

A banal vision of rusty ruin, in other words.  A low-rent Ragnarok.  Gee, I'd like to avoid that. Wouldn't you?

And so I have been silent.  It beats becoming a navel-gazing blabbermouth.  But not by much.

When disaster strikes someone close to you, it changes their life.  But it also changes yours.  In fact, no one will escape some effect, from family and friends to the hospital staff to the usual hordes of imperfect strangers.  On and on, in widening ripples of feckless fate.  If you are reading this, that includes you.  

Welcome to my metaphoric ripple.  The boom will now shift as we jibe and bear away. Remember to duck.  Ouch.   Sorry about that.

Mike is recovering more or less on schedule.  He is seeing the orthopedic surgeon today in hopes of gaining permission to remove the cast on his arm.  He is still being fed through a tube until his swallow improves, but there is improvement.  His memory is now pretty much intact, both short and long term.  His mind seems entirely back, but he is bored out of it, and sick unto death with being helpless.  

Getting his arm and leg free will, I hope, start a cascade of improvement.  He will be able to get himself out of bed, and go to the bathroom without humiliating assistance.  He will be able to move his wheel chair by himself.  He will begin to walk.  That exercise will improve his attitude and general fitness, and strength will flow from strength.

That is the plan.  

There is a spot of worry about his eyes not focusing together.  He can see reasonably well out of either of them, but not together.  They track separately, and this results in double vision.

Barney Google, with the goo-goo-googly eyes.  

He has an appointment with a neurologist specializing in opthalmology to see what can be done about that.  Until then he has no depth perception to speak of, and tends to interpolate the edges of things erroneously.  

So.  First, mobility.  Then learn to swallow positively enough that the epiglottis firmly covers the windpipe, and thus regain the ability to feed himself.  I expect the next two weeks to be about that.  Then maybe getting him out of that neck collar.  Then we will deal with his vision.  

He has disability pay until the middle of February.  Things could be worse.

As for me, I can't see any prospect of travel before next summer.  And I may sell the Beast.  

This morning, I discovered that the City has slapped an impound sticker on my motorcycle trailer.  It has been parked illegally in front of my house since Mike's accident.  So right now I'm going to go move it over to his back yard.  I'm surprised it took this long for the bureaucrats to swing into action.  Perhaps they have been distracted by more important matters.

Bob, who had more to say than he thought.  Maybe that will happen again tomorrow.