LOVE IN THE I.C.U. – BY ELLIN CURLEY

On February 11, 1972, my 88-year-old grandfather was hit by a truck crossing a street in New York City. His left side was smashed and a broken rib punctured his lung. Within 24 hours he was in a coma. My mother, grandmother and I camped out in the waiting room of the I.C.U at Roosevelt Hospital in Manhattan.

My grandfather

Another family was also spending most of its time in the same waiting room – the Palmers, father mother and younger son, who had Tourette’s Syndrome. Their older son, Jeffrey, 18, had been hit by a car. He was a Julliard student training to become a concert pianist. His pelvis was broken and his leg was fractured in several places. He was also in a coma.

Our two families got very friendly over the next few weeks. My grandfather was declared brain-dead. Jeffrey regained consciousness but was in traction and had a cast up to his thigh. I started visiting him and hanging out in his room.

It’s hard to describe what life is like when you’re living it in a hospital. Your day revolves around doctor’s visits and reports. Every little change in the patient becomes major news. And now we were monitoring two patients, Grandpa and Jeffrey. It is all-encompassing and totally consuming.

Me, my mom and my grandmother

Me, my mother and my grandmother

The good news was that Jeffrey and I hit it off. He was smart and funny and we had a great time talking. He was a bright spot for me at a horribly depressing time. My grandfather was gone but still alive. Our family was in a horrifying limbo. We tried to talk the hospital into letting us disconnect my grandfather from life support.

Jeffrey left the hospital after about four weeks. I stayed in touch with him and his family, who lived on Long Island.

The hospital finally disconnected my grandfather from all life support – and he survived on his own. Everything had healed and he was breathing on his own! The stress caused my mom to go into heart failure. She was hospitalized for a few days in a different hospital.

After six weeks (and withholding of food and water), my grandfather finally died on March 26, 1972. My mother recovered. Shortly after, Jeffrey moved into the city and went back to school, still in a huge cast and on crutches. We began dating.

I was 22 and taking time off before going to law school. When I wasn’t with Jeffrey, I spent most of my time helping my mother sort out my grandfather’s finances. He had left his estate in total chaos. It took at least a year to track down all his assets and get my grandmother settled financially.

                                                                                       Jeffrey and me

Jeffrey and I were together and very much in love for a year and a half. His family loved me and I loved them. I went on a vacation with his whole family to Bermuda. Jeffrey spent time with me and my family at our summer-house in Connecticut. It was a good and happy relationship.

I don’t remember exactly why we broke up. Jeffrey had decided to quit Julliard and was starting college at N.Y.U as a pre-med student. I was leaving soon to go to law school in Washington D.C. The age difference was an issue. But I think the breakup had more to do with Jeffrey’s new found infatuation with Scientology.

We met under strange and dark circumstances. But I have only fond memories of Jeffrey. He got me through a very tough time in my life and he was my first real love. Everyone should have such a wonderful experience with their first love. I was very lucky! And how we met makes such a great story!

AN APPALLING MEDICAL HISTORY – BY ELLIN CURLEY

My mother was plagued by serious medical problems, literally from birth, into her 50’s. She almost died several times. It made her a real fighter. She never let her physical limitations limit her life and always had a positive attitude.

Infants are rarely born with infections. My mom was born with one — not sure which. Maybe an ear infection. When she was three, she contracted polio. She recovered, but her legs were severely damaged. She had to be put into leg braces, which she wore till the age of 13. She also had to relearn how to walk.

Mom at about two years old

At around age five or six, Mom developed a severe ear infection that required painful and traumatic draining procedures every few days. She eventually needed surgery. She had half her head shaved and had to wear a big white bandage around her head for six months. Not so great for her ego at school.

At age 18, at college, she took a drug commonly used in the 1930’s to stay awake and focused when she needed to pull all-nighters. This was often since she had terrible study habits and an active social life. She developed a side effect of the drug and her white blood cells started to die off. The doctors at her college in Wisconsin told my grandmother to pick Mom up and take her home to die.

Mom at college

My grandmother was not going to give up on her daughter. Instead, she found a doctor who gave my Mom typhoid fever — a highly unorthodox attempt to stimulate her white blood cells to start reproducing again. The bold, risky treatment plan worked, but Mom was an invalid for a year, unable to leave her house.

At 20 and married to the doctor who had saved her life, Mom got pregnant. She delivered a five month stillborn boy after 18 hours of labor. After trying to get pregnant again for the next eight years, she was told she could never have children again. As a side note – my Dad, her second husband after being widowed, was also told that he was sterile. So I was quite an unexpected surprise. In fact, when Mom got pregnant with me, her gynecologist gave her shots to bring on her missed periods. It didn’t even occur to him that she could be pregnant.

After about eight relatively healthy years — except for migraines — Mom got rheumatic fever. She was sick and it affected her heart. She was an invalid for two years this time. She didn’t leave her bedroom for a year or the house for a second year. Her first husband, a physician, jokingly said that she was made of ‘biological junk.’

Mom at around 28 or 29

Before she got sick, Mom had been studying acting along with fellow students like Stella Adler, Karl Malden, Susan Strasberg and Buddy Epson. I believe that Lee Strasberg was one of her teachers. She had caught the eye of a Hollywood producer. He wanted Mom and her fellow student and friend, Judy Tuvim, to go to LA for a screen test. But first they were both told to lose ten pounds for the camera. Mom had just started her diet when she got sick.

Her friend, Judy, went on to become Judy Holliday. She ‘made it big’ and starred in Broadway version of “Born Yesterday” and the musical ‘The Bells Are Ringing,” then again in the Hollywood versions. Unfortunately Judy’s career was cut short. She died at 44 of breast cancer.

Professional Head Shot

Mom was left with scar tissue on her heart, which in those days, meant permanent heart damage. She was told she could no longer act, dance, play tennis or do anything strenuous. She had to lead a more sedentary life from then on. She couldn’t continue in acting so she decided to go back to school, finish college and study psychology — due to the influence of her former therapist and family friend, Abram Kardiner, who was soon to become my father.

Shortly after she started school again, her first husband died of a massive heart attack at the age of 43. She was 29. Three years later, she married my father and had me. When I was five or six and she was 38 or 39 at which time she was diagnosed with  lupus erythematosus, a chronic inflammatory disease and it affected her heart. Again. She was warned had to stay out of the sun and would be extremely sensitive to any kind of systemic infection. Exposure to the sun or to an infection like strep throat could trigger a lupus episode with potentially lethal results.

She had to be careful. She was warned to never take public transportation — especially airplanes — because they were breeding grounds for infections. Difficult since she was living in New York City.

Mom at around 40

When I was nine and she was 42, she developed strep. It activated her Lupus and she went into heart failure. More accurately, her doctor panicked when she got strep and gave her a dose of penicillin, even knowing she was allergic to it. The full body rash she developed was what actually sent her into heart failure. She was rushed to the hospital, where her doctor sat with her all night. He told her he was staying because he didn’t know if she would make it through the night. It was touch and go for a few days, but she pulled through, spirits intact.

In 1972, at the age of 56, she had her final bout with heart failure. Once she recovered, she enjoyed 24-years of relative health. Ironically, in her late 70’s, her heart was thoroughly checked out and all the scarring had disappeared, completely healed. So much for permanent damage. There was also no trace of Lupus. That was extremely unusual because Lupus is a chronic condition that doesn’t just go away by itself. There can be a temporary remission, but this was apparently long-term (permanent?) remission — which was (is) unheard of.

Mom in her 50’s

Mom continued to enjoy her Karmic reward of good health until the age of 81, when she got lung cancer. She fought it fiercely for four years, with great positive energy. Always fashionable, after losing her hair to chemo, she developed a unique style with wigs and hats. She died of a metastasized cancer at the age of 85 with her fighting spirit intact.

The medical community has come a considerable way in treatment, especially for heart related problems. Treatment would be much better today and what was or was not wrong with her heart could be diagnosed more accurately and treated with proper exercise rather than withdrawal. Yet even today, that’s a heavy weight of medical problems to deal with for any life.

PARTYING WITH THE INNER DEMONS … WHAT A HANGOVER!

My inner demons had a blowout party last night. I wasn’t invited, but I was allowed to have the hangover. It was one hell of a party because I wound up with a helluva hangover.

Backtracking slightly, I take a lot of medications. More than half of them are to control my blood pressure. I had a lot of heart surgery a couple of years ago. New mitral valve. Redesigned left ventricle and aortic valve. Bypass. Pacemaker implanted. The whole nine yards of heart surgery. My job is to keep active to the best of my ability … and not get myself so wound up that my drugs can’t keep up with my angst. To say this week has been hyper-over-the-top-angst-o-rama would be no exaggeration.

Photo: mightygodofthunder

Illustration: mightygodofthunder

Yesterday, I needed all the help I could get. Tranquility was hard to find. The political pundits — the same people whose predictions and polls were so horribly wrong — are now making new predictions. This time, about the dire consequences of the election they got wrong. I really favor the press. I believe a free press is the wall that stands between us and tyranny.

I also think they need to stop predicting the apocalypse. This is not helping. Guys? Gals? Take a breath and start over. Let’s work from what’s really happening this time rather than on what you fear, hope, or think will make a great headline, okay? Please? Let’s treat the news as fact-based, just for a while. Let’s not sling mud and spread rumors. It doesn’t make things better and raises everyone’s blood pressure.

Anyway, why should these people be more on target now than they were before the election? The answer is “no reason.” They know no more than you or me. Not yet. Nothing has happened. They are extrapolating and speculating to come up with what sounds like a reasonable scenario. Consider this before you leap from that tall building or when you’re getting ready to drink the Kool-Aid. Let’s not sing the death song quite yet. Are you with me? How about a couple of verses of “Kumbaya”? Or “We Shall Overcome”?

All this being said, by the time I hit the bed last night, I was worn to a frazzle. I have done my best to remain calm and stay in the car, as it were. To not leave my car bearing a paring knife to join the big gunfight.

Illustration: omegaman20

Illustration: omegaman20

As far a drugs go, I didn’t take any more than what is prescribed or anything I don’t usually take. Except when I lay me down to sleep, it all hit at the same time. The drugs, the day, the anxiety, the fear. Wham, bang. I was afraid to raise my head. I was sure I’d pass out.

Thus the party commenced. All my inner demons, physical and psychological, held a grand gala. They drank and danced. They laughed and spun as I lay wondering if I could get to the bathroom a dozen steps away to brush my teeth. Answer: no. I was in no fit shape to be upright. I gave in and went to sleep.

The demons had the party. I got the hangover.

I feel physically better this morning, so something got sorted out during those hours of darkness. If it seems like I’m working hard at staying centered and balanced, you’re correct. I cannot let those demons take over. The overnight shindig was enough. More than enough.

Meanwhile, back at the other laptop, Garry is suffering from Post-Election Trump-Induced Depression. Also known as PETID (PET-ID for the dog and cat enthusiasts). As opposed to the even worse buyer’s remorse that Trump’s voters are going to feel when they realize he isn’t going to do a damned thing to improve their lives.

That’s what you get when you follow a demagogue. That’s no garden path down which he is leading. There’s no better place at the other end of your journey. I guess a lot of people are about to learn this painful lesson. Too bad they didn’t learn it the easy way … from history books.

WHEN ALL ELSE FAILS

Bishop, our oldest dog … a gorgeous, shaggy Australian Shepherd … had a nasty infection in his foot. It had been there off and on for a long time. Mostly on, rarely off. I’d taken him to the vet several times and he’d had multiple rounds of high-powered oral antibiotics.

75-Bishop-in-Snow_18

But the infection was back. Again. With a vengeance. The antibiotics knocked it down temporarily, but never knocked it out. As soon as the prescription finished, a few days would pass and the paw would be red, raw, swollen, and obviously painful.

72-Bishop-110715_6

I didn’t see the point in another trip to the vet or more antibiotics. The vet had no idea what was causing the infection or what would cure it.

72-Bishop-Home-1024_013

I was feeling that particular kind of helplessness one feels when a pet is sick — and not getting better. When you’ve done everything you can think to do … and it isn’t working. Being me, I had to do something, however ineffectual or lame, so I slathered his paw with over-the-counter triple action antibiotic cream. The stuff I keep in the house for my own and Garry’s cuts and bruises.

Bishop Almost Christmas

The next day, the paw looked nearly perfect. Most of purple mottling and swelling was gone. I slathered the paw again that morning and a second time in the evening. The next day, there was no sign of infection. Unable to believe I had somehow cured an antibiotic-resistant infection with an over-the-counter remedy, I kept applying the cream to his paw for another few days. Then, when there was no sign of returning infection, I stopped. And waited.

When the frame is completely full, your picture is by definition in the middle!

Three weeks later, his paw looks normal. No limping. He will let me hold the paw and examine it without any sign of discomfort. He had that infection for more than a year. I despaired of curing him, yet in less than a week, it’s gone. My son wonders if maybe, that was all Bishop needed in the first place. Antibiotic cream applied directly to the infection site rather than oral antibiotics. Hard to argue, considering the outcome.

72-Bishop_08 q7

Talk about a Hail Mary pass, this was a classic. I did it because there was nothing else I could think of to do.  It worked. If it weren’t me, I wouldn’t believe it either.

Cee’s Fun Foto Challenge: Pets

cee's fun foto chall

LIFE HAS SIDE EFFECTS

We say the same thing in a variety of ways:

  • There’s no such thing as a free lunch.
  • Everything has consequences.
  • For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction — Newton’s third law with a philosophically relevant twist.

It’s certainly true of medication. Whatever is bothering you, if you take something for it, it will do something bad while doing what you want. You may not be aware of the side effects, but that little yellow pill could be taking out your liver, kidneys or heart while getting rid of your headache.

Cracker jacks single boxMy migraine medicine makes me groggy and stoned. Time changes ones perspective. Dopiness was — in my wild and crazy youth — the prize in the Cracker Jack box. Remember Cracker Jacks? Stonedness has morphed into just another annoying side effect. I’m muzzy-headed enough without chemical assistance.

I’ve got a lot of physical issues. If I took something for each thing that bothers me, the side effects would be worse than the conditions for which I take the meds.

At a more innocent stage in my battle to continue living, I took whatever any doctor prescribed, to a point where no one could separate the cure from the side effects.

Ultimately, I became a medication minimalist, striving to take the least amount of whatever to achieve the desired result.

pills

Pain relief, controlling blood pressure and sleep are the things I take medication for — the big three in my world. I’ve got plenty of other problems, but I don’t take stuff for them — either because the side effects are worse than the problem or I can’t afford the prescription.

Allergies. Weird gastric stuff. Asthma. High cholesterol. Arthritis, rheumatoid and osteo. Tendonitis. Bursitis. Non-focusing eyes. And the potential for the return of breast cancer but in some new and terrifying permutation. There’s more, but honestly I can’t remember it all.

I was sitting here pondering what, if anything, is bothering me enough to take something for it. The headache? The dry, burning eyes? The itching dermatitis? The pain in my hips? Chest? The light and sound sensitivity that warns me my headache is heading into migraine territory?

Maybe I should just have a cup of tea. It seems to work for the British.

Don’t you just hate when that happens?

Diagram of the human heart 1. Superior Vena Ca...

I have to decide whether or not to have open heart surgery. It’s a clear-cut decision. I can choose to not have surgery. Eventually — but probably sooner rather than later — my heart will be unable to deliver oxygen to my lungs and I’ll die. It’s not doing too good a job right now and it isn’t going to get better.

Or, I can have The Surgery. Get my mitral value replaced or repaired. Get the blockage of my aortic valve removed. The whole left ventricle is a sorry mess.  It’s not a simple valve repair or replacement, so the minimally invasive option is unavailable.

The odds are good the surgery won’t kill me, but how well I’ll recover from it is anyone’s guess.

I’m falling apart. Worse, all my similarly aged friends are falling apart too. We are suffering progressive decrepitude. I got a note from a friend telling me he goes to the same “heart guy.” Swell.

This whole getting old thing is getting old.

Digression: Conversation with friend.

Her: So if I get to the Bridge first, I’ll say hi to all our dogs.

Me: Oh puleeze. I have to see the heart surgeon tomorrow. 

Her: Fine. I’ll just sit here and wait for the results of my biopsies.

End digression.

I’m unhappy with my choices. I can choose A or B, but I want  C. Do or die. Which is to say do it. Or die of not doing it. This sucks. I don’t want the surgery. Nor do I want to give up on life. I’m so screwed.

Don’t you just hate when that happens?

 

Watch Out for the Pod People!

Everything and everybody changes. Most of my family and friends have changed relatively gradually over the years. Recently a couple of people I’ve known for a long time have changed suddenly and dramatically. Overnight, they became dry and humorless.

It appears they had a humorectomy. While they slept, their sense of humor was removed. I don’t know exactly how it happened, but it’s deeply disturbing. I think it’s possible they have been replaced by pods, like the  “Invasion of the Body Snatchers.”

I could not survive if I did not see how ridiculous my life is. If the absurdity of it didn’t make me laugh, I would do nothing buy cry and bewail my state. Laughter heals me. It’s better than sex. Better than yoga, meditation, medication, or street drugs. It’s free, unrestricted by laws, available to anyone who is not yet dead and is acceptable behavior under almost all religious systems.

Many friends are going through rough times. Their problems vary, but the results are the same. Stress, anguish, fear, worry, insomnia. You worry, try to keep it together until you’re ready to explode.

What can you do? If the light at the end of the tunnel is indeed the headlight of an oncoming train, I say: “Buckle up and let your hair blow in the wind. It’s going to be a Hell of a ride.”

Laughing at the craziness, insanity, ludicrousness, the utter absurdity of my life — and the demented world in which I live it — is my first line of defense against despair. Take away laughter, strip away my sense of humor and I’m a goner.

At our wedding — 22 years ago — my cousin and I danced the hora. What makes the dance so memorable  — other than discovering that she was in great shape and I wasn’t — was feeling like I was going to spin out of control.  That feeling of being grabbed by something stronger than me and being twirled and spun with no ability to control what happens has become an allegory for life.

I laugh any time I can, at anything that strikes me as even a little bit funny. It helps me remember why I bother to keep living.

My friends make me laugh. I make then laugh. When our lives are in tatters and everything around us is collapsing, we laugh. Then, we take a deep breath, and laugh some more. The more awful the situation, the more dreadful and intractable the problems, the funnier it is. We are not laughing at tragedy … we are laughing at life.

The difference between tragedy and comedy is how you look at it. Laugher is the universal cure for griefs of life.