Saturday, July 24, 2010

DMB 2010

Saw Dave Matthews last night at National's Stadium in DC. In the heat. As Dave said, "It feels like I'm standing on a dog's tongue." I concur.

I wasn't nearly young enough nor drunk enough to press up close to the stage with the crowd, but after we found a place to hang back where there was a bit of breathing room, we really had a good time. What I love about Dave is that the emotion in his music is real, and resonates with me. A lot of his older music is about falling in love, the rush of emotions and impossible dreams you have in those younger years. Now, his love songs mirror where my life and my relationship is, after several years of marriage and kids. Or maybe that's just what I hear.

It seems that every year I have a moment. Last night's was during "Two Step", an oldie but goody. I'm not sure I've ever heard it live before.

Celebrate we will
Because life is short but
Sweet for certain
We're climbing two by two
To be sure these days continue
The things we cannot change

Two days ago was Henry's 6th birthday. Yesterday I posted my father's obituary to my facebook page. But last night it was ok to celebrate, it was ok to feel good, feel happy, enjoy my family, laugh, dance, scream...

Some days I can't do it, but last night I could. So I did.

Things we cannot change....

Sunday, July 11, 2010


I love the names of the LOL's in my practice. (LOL was Little Old Lady in the medical field, long before we were all rolling on the floor text-messaging.) Ernestine, Thelma, Genevieve, Lula, Ruby, Nellie....each is more awful and somehow more lovely than the next. You don't get to be a nonagenarian if you are a sourpuss. I don't know why, but almost as a rule they are gentle, relaxed people. Chicken or egg? Does being 90 make you relax, or do the %#&holes kick it early? Sounds like some NIH research funding is needed....

Anyway, I saw one of my LOL's this week. She's 93. The cardiologist's notes said that he thinks she's depressed. I asked her about it. "I'm just disgusted with myself." And she cried. Her siblings are all dead. Her kids are aging, she's watching them start their own death march. Though she lives independently still, she requires help with shopping, home care, etc, and resents that. She doesn't feel that she contributes anymore. "I'm just a burden..."

What can you say? There's plenty of platitudes, of course, but really, when life sucks eggs, what can you say? Which of us wouldn't feel the same way that she feels? In residency we learned the BATHE technique, which in retrospect is really a way to teach physicians with poor listening skills how to make a patient feel listened to. It's the anti-therapy, carefully avoiding any deep thoughts, advice, psychological assignments. We never learned therapy.

I had a co-worker suggest therapy to me this week. I was crying. Let me sum up my last 3 weeks: Henry's 6th birthday approaches. My boss dropped dead of a heart attack. My disabled parent is currently doped up on haldol in a hospital 2500 miles away without insurance coverage. I had a personal loss of my own. It has SUCKED. And so I was crying, not uncontrollably so, but crying. She suggested therapy. Therapy. WTF is a therapist going to say about my crying over the last 3 weeks?

So looking at this sweet 93 year old, who indeed is a burden, who indeed is the last of her generation, whose options are to either die or get worse, I could not try to talk her out of her sadness. I'm not even sure that I remember what I said to her. It was somewhere along the lines of "it really sucks and I'm sorry", translated for someone born in 1917.

Maybe in 80 years, when all the Brittany's and Madison's are old someone will find their names awful and lovely too. But life will still be sad sometimes, and that's not pathological. That's life...

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Book Review: Earth Abides

I was tipped off to this book by a reader's home page. I had never heard of it before.

I bought it, and it sat on the side table, till Mr. Smak picked it up. Mr. Smak and I have very different reading preferences. I'm trying to remember a book that we both enjoyed....probably the last one was the Harry Potter series. He enjoys nonfiction, histories and science, which for me is the equivalent of eating a pound of saltines on the thirstiest day of my life. And he certainly doesn't enjoy my genre, which I guess I'd describe as fiction focused on character development.

He didn't put it down. I therefore, expected not to care for it much. Which was not the case.

Earth Abides, by George R. Stewart, is one of those books that if you asked 10 people what it was about, you'd get 10 different answers. It's a post-apocalyptic novel about a man in America after almost everyone is wiped out by disease. But that's not what it's about.

For Mr. Smak it was a survival novel, and prompted him to purchase a few fun and geeky items so that he's more prepared when the world ends.

For me, it was about humanity's need to understand it's world. The protagonist, Ish, was a man of rationality, education, science. I identified with him, with his world view. But his eventual society did not, and they needed a construct with which to deal with the world.

This message is very much where my thought process around religion is landing of late. We all need to believe in something, to have some structure or order to base our brains on. For me it is the scientific method, rationality. For others it's the teachings of christianity. For others, it's believing in tarot cards. And though I think that mine is "correct" (whatever that means), it's becoming more and more clear to me that it just doesn't matter. It's the having the belief system that is important. (Incidentally, I think this is why it seems so easy for people to alter their unalterable belief system when something happens that they don't understand. It's much easier than undoing the belief system.)

At any rate, it was a great book. Thanks, Tom.


There are so many surreal things about having a child with cancer. One of them is that suddenly, after not knowing anyone who had a child with a life-threatening disease, those families are everywhere. The entire oncology inpatient floor, in your same stinking boat. The outpatient housing. The clinic population. It's very easy to look around and think, "Well, I know my kid has an aggressive cancer with only a 25% chance of survival, but at least we're not THAT family."

Horror, fear, sadness, central lines, infections, bald heads become the norm. Most families discuss schools, teachers, sports, while your family chats about chemo, fevers, and MRIs at the clinic. You're not the only one.

As "real life" has enveloped us again, a welcome thing to be enveloped by, we are the only ones. While I am careful to avoid the "Why me?" line of questioning, knowing that it has no acceptable answer, I am having more and more trouble not feeling really singled out. This time of year is healthy well child check after healthy well child check. Kids at the pool. The neighborhood kids out in the yard. I look at all those kids, at all those parents, and I can't help but let a little bit of "why not them?" creep in.

I have particular trouble with a family we know whose youngest had cancer. He was being treated roughly at the same time as Henry, with a much more curable leukemia. He's a year older than Henry would have been, and doing great. He was at soccer tryouts this year, running, giggling, pestering his mother for candy. It's really hard for me to act normally around him. I certainly don't wish anything but the best for him, for his family, and I'm glad he's doing so well. But envy seeps into me as I look at him...why isn't Henry also running around, giggling, rolling in the grass?

This isn't the envy for your best friend's cute new shoes. It sours my emotions. It eats at me.

Yesterday I went walking, and listened to a podcast of Terri Gross' Fresh Air. I happened upon the story without knowing what it was about. She was interviewing Dan Gottlieb, a paraplegic psychologist, about his life, and his books (though she pretty much ignored the books and focused on him). I really enjoyed the interview. Mr. Gottlieb has looked death in the eye, looked grief and loss in the eye, and come out OK on the other side. Better than OK, he's good with it. He spoke for a while on the subject of envy, and says he envies no one. He suffers greatly and often, but envies no one.

I'm apparently not there yet.