Thoughts At Large

Passionate thoughts on random topics

Month: August, 2015

No Autopilot When Spiraling In

spiral

As we continue our corkscrew toward the ground, we took another turn today. My wife can no longer easily swallow, causing her to cough when taking medications. Because she is so short of breath, she cannot cough up that which she has aspirated and she begins wheezing which results in her vomiting. Because she is not eating, the only thing she vomits is green bile from her stomach. It is a vicious circle as we spiral in.

The kids are convinced now that something will happen the day I drive them back to college. Given how we have tightened the spiral, I’m not sure I disagree.

Looking outward from inside this corkscrew is disorienting. As soon as I am convinced that something has settled, the wings tilt inward still further and we spin that much faster toward the ground. But one can find focus in this spin. When I least expect it and am most ill prepared, the gravity and magnitude of the situation (essentially the finality of it all) clubs me with a mighty blow after which I find myself gasping for breath, crying and floating directionless in the air until the reality of current circumstances force me to see the spinning and rapidly approaching ground through the windscreen.

There is no peace when spiraling in. Life’s obligations and daily tasks still require our attention: the dog needs to be fed and given his meds, the laundry never stops, groceries still need to shopped for, bills still need to be paid, work still needs to be done. However, there is a certain feeling of mechanization about it all. We go through the motions of shopping, eating, dressing, sleeping, as we have all summer, but there is no soul in it. Put your seats in the upright and locked position, return your tray table to its stowed position, tighten your seatbelt tight and low around your waist. The captain has exited the aircraft and will not be returning. Cancer is now piloting the aircraft. Thank you for flying the terminally ill skies.

The insanity of the situation is that all but one of us will survive the inevitable crash. We will survive but in what condition? And as hard as this flight has been, I cannot imagine how we will carry on after we bore into the ground. And it is approaching ever faster and filling my field of view. Unfortunately (or fortunately), I cannot see it clearly, because of the blinding rage and constant tears.

Stage Whiplash

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“There is not much sense in suffering, since drugs can be given for pain, itching, and other discomforts. The belief has long died that suffering here on earth will be rewarded in heaven. Suffering has lost its meaning.”                                                                                                                        Elisabeth Kübler-Ross

When Elisabeth Kübler-Ross wrote this in her groundbreaking 1969 book, On Death and Dying, she was, of course speaking of the patient, the person dying. In the book, she famously describes the “stages” the terminally ill patient goes through: Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression, Acceptance. The book was not meant to be considered a research study, a point she repeatedly makes. She also emphasizes that these stages may be skipped, occur concurrently or be returned to on the way to Acceptance. And yet we suffer. We all suffer.

As I watch my wife go through this process, I cannot help but realize how similar the process is for the caregiver, the family members, and the survivors. We, too, are passing back, through, over, and around these stages in our effort to understand what is happening to our loved one. My initial Denial and Anger had given way to Bargaining (“this is our new normal, we’ll take as much time as we can get”), when on any given day, I can slip easily into Depression and back to Anger only to wake up the next day after a dream in Denial. No seatbelt or ABS brake can prevent that whiplash.

I cannot imagine a day when I have reached Acceptance because Kübler-Ross also wrote:

 “The reality is that you will grieve forever. You will not ‘get over’ the loss of a loved one; you will learn to live with it. You will heal and you will rebuild yourself around the loss you have suffered. You will be whole again but you will never be the same. Nor should you be the same nor would you want to.”

Am I grieving already? Yes. Am I confusing the “stages” and grieving? Perhaps. All I know is that each day (and often times several times within a day) brings a new emotion for which I am unprepared, I thought I had made peace with, or I anticipated would bring me peace, only to find myself confused and lost again. And one of the worst emotions I carry is that I know that while I am suffering the whiplash of these stages, I am not the one dying, I am not the one suffering or actually going through Kübler-Ross’s stages of the terminally ill. As she also wrote, “Guilt is perhaps the most painful companion of death.” Suffering has lost its meaning because we all still suffer.

Aurora Verdict

Remembering the Victims

George Orwell, in Politics and the English Language, wrote that “Political language – and with variations this is true of all political parties, from Conservatives to Anarchists – is designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable, and to give an appearance of solidity to pure wind.” And so it is with the concept of the death penalty, for me. I realize this is a personal issue, not unlike abortion (ironic how much  the two have in common) and elicit powerful emotions on both sides of the debate.

Today, the jury in Colorado could not agree on a penalty for the shooter in the July 20, 2012, Aurora theater shooting which claimed the lives of Jonathon Blunk, age 26; AJ Boik, age 18; Jessie Childress, age 29; Gordon Cowden, age 51; Jessica Ghawi, age 24; John Larimer, age 27; Matt McQuinn, age 27; Micayla Medek, age 23; Veronica Moser-Sullivan, age 6; Alex Sullivan, age 27; Alexander Teves, age 24; and Rebecca Wingo, age 32 and injured another 70 resulting in a default penalty of life in custody without the possibility of parole. The toll might have been significantly higher had his 100 round drum magazine not jammed on his assault rifle or his boobie-trapped apartment detonated as planned.

And yet, with all of that, I still do not feel that the death penalty would have been appropriate. For one thing, it triggers an immediate and almost mandatory appeal. Many of the objections rendered by the defense during the trial were simply for the record in order to reference for the appeal process. The thought of making the families go through another trial is sickening. While time may scab over some of our horrible memories, I do not believe in “closure” and I do not believe these scabbed over wounds can ever heal. The likelihood of an appeal for a penalty of life without parole is significantly reduced.

Furthermore, there is ultimately no “relief” in a lethal injection for the families. There would have been no pain during his execution, no agony, no prehistoric carnal retribution, if that’s what you were looking for. No eye for an eye. The people in the theater suffered, those that died suffered, those that were injured suffered. Those that were uninjured were terrified. No one there will ever be the same. Ever.

In fact, we treat the worst criminals better than we treat the terminally I’ll. The shooter would be given a gentle drug to put him to sleep and then another to stop his heart. As I type this, I am sitting at my desk watching my wife suffer the end effects of breast cancer as it seeks to conquer her lungs, liver, pancreas, abdominal wall, and probably brain. She struggles for each breath and there is nothing she can do about it. Where is her dignity? Where is her justice? Where is her gentle drug cocktail?

No, I do not believe in the death penalty. I believe this jury got the penalty correct. His penalty should match that of the survivors and remaining family members who have to carry on each day without their loved ones or with life-changing injuries or with the PTSD associated with that event three years ago. They too got life without parole. Orwell was right. You cannot make murder respectable.

#debate

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Yesterday was the world’s first chance to see all of the major GOP candidates for president on the stage (at two different times due to the sheer number of them) respond to puff ball questions from Fox News anchors. It was as far from a debate as The Bachelor is from dating. In fact, it could probably be argued that The Bachelor is closer to an actual debate.

Donald Trump did what he does best, steamroll interviewers and responds in a way to puff himself up. Every other candidate did what typical politicians do: ignore the question and reply with canned responses that poll well but provide no actual insight or solutions.

It seemed to have been sponsored by Facebook (and looked like speed dating sponsored by Facebook), but given the number of candidates and the one minute response time it should have been sponsored by Twitter. The bumper sticker length responses would have fit perfectly into a tweet and the entire “debate” could have been held online, complete with hashtags: #fatpig, #siamesetwins, #obamaclintondoctrine, #God, #defundObamacare, #myparentswerepoor, #I’mmoreconservativethantheothers, etc., etc..

Perhaps the next “debate” will be sponsored by Joel Osteen or the NRA. Wouldn’t that be fun. Except then too, we would be bereft of insight and solutions.

A Vierordt Summer

7617471_sIn 1868, German physician Karl von Vierordt published a book on his experiments into the psychology of time perception. In it included what became known as Vierordt’s Law “a robust phenomenon in time estimation research that has been observed with different time estimation methods.” Essentially, it states that “short” amounts of time tend to be overestimated and “long” amounts of time tend to be underestimated. This has been the basis of our summer. The clock has barely moved while the calendar has flown.

The kids are heading back to college in 20 days. These interminable hours belie the fact that they have been home since mid-May and have known the awful fact that Lisa will no longer be fighting this awful disease. They are terrified to leave her knowing it may be the last time they ever see her. I tell them they must go, they cannot forestall their own futures, they must continue on their own paths. It is the truth. I also know that the routine of school, with friends around them, and classes to occupy their time will distract them from the cruelty the universe is throwing at them 150 miles away.

Sitting here day after day at my desk watching my wife slowly wither away in bed; watching my son and daughter sit with their mother doing the same as me is heartbreaking. No amount of preparation can prepare you for the monotony and sheer terror of watching someone, anyone, much less someone you love, slowly suffocate to death. Cancer is a suicidal disease bent on killing its host at the cost of its own existence. Watching it happen with no more arrows in the quiver is akin to watching Captain Smith walk into the wheelhouse of the Titanic, lock the doors and wait for the ship to sink. With no more options, one seeks the course of action with the most dignity. Don’t get me started on whether there should be better options for better dignity.

Sleep used to be easy. I could roll over, shut off the world and be out in a minute, and wake up in the morning (if not refreshed) ready to go. Now sleep is like a cruel joke. I am exhausted from running all of the errands of the day, worrying about Lisa and the kids and watching a clock that does not move but terrified of a calendar that will not stop because I know that each day that passes brings me closer to a day I know is coming and one I dare not consider. Lisa does not sleep well now. She wakes me because she cannot breathe well. I give her meds and turn up the oxygen concentrator. I rub her back, hoping she will calm down, that her heart rate will return to “normal” and her body will be lulled into a false belief that it is generating enough oxygen to fuel the system. If I’m successful I’m awake. My mind goes to dark places so I read. It usually takes a good hour to flush the dark thoughts in order for me to attempt sleep again. Sometimes this happens two or three times a night. The clock stands still. The calendar whirls.

Vierordt had no idea how easy his experimentation could have been had he simply gone to any intensive care unit at any hospital and found the waiting room and talked to the family members and friends of the terminally I’ll patients. They would have told him how long minutes last and how quickly weeks fly.