Sunday, January 17, 2010


She was the kind of broad I aspire to be.

I met her at the end of her life, when time had blunted some of her sharp edges, but her incredible intelligence still shone through. We talked, but it wasn't like the conversations I've had with other hospice patients . . . there wasn't much chit-chat with her, oh no. During our first conversation we talked about how deja vue is actually a disturbance in the temporal lobe of the brain.

That was the shape of things to come.

She was incredibly intelligent, but she grew up in a time when it wasn't socially acceptable for women to hold jobs outside of the home. They were expected to be housewives, and if they DID have jobs they were supposed to be clerical in nature. Teaching was the most skilled profession women were allowed to have.

So, she taught. However, she did it in her own way. She majored in Chemistry and Physics - both traditionally male subjects - and she taught first to High School students, then when she'd gone to graduate school and attained a PhD, she taught college students.

She said that she never saw her gender as a hinderance, that she saw it was a weapon to be deployed when she needed to use it. Her family showed me photographs of her when she was in her prime, and man alive was she ever hot. Smoking hot, to be exact. I can imagine her using her body and appearance to break down the walls that her gender created. I admire her for doing that, for not taking no for an answer and for working with what she had to get to where she wanted to be.

She married and had babies, but she still taught, right up until she was in her 70's. When she retired, she enrolled in some graduate classes and was very proud of the fact that she was 40 years older than some of the other students.

Usually there is a great deal of talk about the spiritual and supernatural at the end of a person's life, but she, in her typical style, would not entertain or tolerate what she described as 'nonsensical mumbo-jumbo'. She said that she was perfectly comfortable with the knowledge that life was all there is and that she didn't want any tears or talk of having gone to a better place. "I've done what I wanted to to and I've made my mark" she said "that's enough for me".

Time wore her down; it aged her body but her mind was still there. When she couldn't read texts because she couldn't see the words, she had someone dictate them to audio tapes and she listened to them instead. It seemed as if her headphones were permanently attached to her head; she was wearing them every time I saw her.

She died very quietly and peacefully after having lived for a century. She donated her body to a medical facility, which I find fitting: she loved science and in the end she literally gave herself to her cause.

Against her wishes, I cried.

Saturday, January 16, 2010


I have to say something about Haiti.

I'm in a unique position; The Hubs is directly involved in the humanitarian relief efforts and has been working all kinds of hours to get the job done. I get information that, whilst it's not classified, isn't common knowledge, either.

My initial reaction was that I wanted to go, that I wanted to go work as an EMT and help the injured. I speak French, I could at least translate...I wanted to go. When I mentioned that to The Hubs, he gave me a look that I simply cannot describe and he said "No. Absolutely not. Scene safety, K."

He's right. As medics, we are told time and again that if the scene isn't safe, we don't enter it. Haiti wasn't exactly stable to begin with; now it has no organized infrastructure whatsoever. It's literally anarchy on the streets there and it's not safe.

Imagine the largest mass casualty incident scenario your medic instructor gave you to triage when you were in class. Now, multiply that by 100,000. Now, try to triage that...triage that whilst looking over your shoulder for assailants, and try and treat the injured with minimal supplies. Try and do your job with literally nothing, in the midst of decomposing corpses and people who haven't had water or food for three days.

It's a horrible situation. It is a logistical nightmare, a clusterfuck of epic proportions. I've heard horror stories of combat medics coming across people with crush injuries to their limbs, who are developing compartment syndrome and who are in desperate need of surgical intervention....intervention that simply isn't available. I've heard it described as trying to treat patients with one hand tied beind your back.

It's so frustrating to see a need, know that you have the capability to help solve that need, but not be logistically able to render assistance.

The likes of Pat Robertson and Rush Limbaugh don't do anything to relieve that frustration, either. Why are they still on the air? How can any human being with even an ounce of common sense actually believe what they say? Why do we as a society tolerate such blantantly hateful statements? Pat Robertson is a doddery old fucker who is clearly demented, and Rush Limbaugh is a bloated, narcissistic, pill-popping tool who actually believes his own hype. It pisses me off that they breathe the same air as far as I'm concerned, they're both wastes of human flesh.

It's supposed to be a three-day weekend here. The Hubs worked all day yesterday, came home to eat, went back until midnight, is working until midnight tonight, tomorrow night, monday night...there isn't any downtime slated for the near future for his section. They are all busting their arses to get the missions manned and get the aid where it needs to be, when it needs to be there.

Apparently we learned NOTHING from Hurricane Katrina.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

She's Found.

Annie had Alzheimers.

She was pleasantly demented; she wasn't ever combative or mean. . .she was agreeable and easy to care for an just a joy to be around. She was one of my favorite patients when I first started working, a sweet, funny, gentle soul housed in a confused little old lady body.

She wandered. Perpetually. Eventually, I had her tag along with me when I made my rounds. She was content to go from room to room with me and it was a win win situation: she was occupied and calm, and I knew where she was. Even if she wasn't assigned to me, she'd still tag along. The routine helped her.

Occasionally, she would get away from me. I'd hear a commotion from a room down the hall and I'd hurry down there to see what was going on. The complaint was always, always the same:

"She's in my bed!!!"

Annie was unable to differentiate between rooms, so when she felt weary or thought it was bed time, she'd enter a room, pull down the covers, take off her shoes and pants and get into the bed. She thought every room was HER room.

I tried all kinds of things to help her. First, I made a sign with her name on it and put it on her door.

"What does that say?" I'd ask.

"Why, that says 'Annie'! That's me, isn't it?" she'd respond.

"Yep!" I'd say "that's how you tell this is your room! Your room has your name on it!"

"Oh! I see! My room has my name on it!"

It worked for a couple of days and I'd think we'd found a solution to her wandering. Then, I'd hear a ruckus from a room and the familiar cry of "she's in my bed again" and I'd go retrieve Annie and show her the sign on the door and put her to bed in her own room....and 5 minutes later I'd feel a tug on my scrubs and turn and see her standing there, smiling at me.

When it became clear the the name wasn't working, I took a picture of her, enlarged it, framed it, and hung it on her door above the name tag.

"Who's that?" I'd ask.

"Why, that's me! Don't I look pretty?! Goodness, what a nice thing you did for me!" She'd say.

"This is how you tell this is YOUR room, Annie" I'd say "All you have to do is look at the door. Annie's room has Annie's picture on the door"

"Oh! What a good idea!" She'd say.

The photo idea actually worked for a few months. There were incidents where she forgot to look at the door and clambered into someone else's bed (once she got into a man's bed when he was still in it. It's a good thing he still had his wits about him and called for help - if he'd been demented who knows what would have happened) but for the majority of the time the photo was enough to remind her that she was in the right spot.

I went back to college and found working full time and academia were not a good mix for me, so I quit that job. I went to visit Annie occasionally - I don't think she remembered me, but she was always smiling and seemed pleased to see me.

The last time I saw her, she was in a wheelchair with a cushion tray in front of her and an alarm clipped to her blouse. It wasn't restraints per se, but it did prevent her from getting up alone. Apparently her wandering had become problematic and the staff felt the need to confine her.

She was wilted. She sat with her head in her hands, face slack and expressionless. I knelt beside her chair and took her hand in mine.

"Hey, Annie. . . how are you, my sweet?"

She made no attempt to resond to me. She stared at the cushion in front of her, a light glaze of drool covering her lower lip. I took a kleenex from my pocket and wiped it away. I craned my neck further downwards, trying to meet her gaze, hoping that another human face in her field of vision would stir some response in her.

My eyes met hers. . . and there was nothing in them. No recognition, no sign of life. Nothing.

She was in there, but she was unreachable.

I saw her name in the obituaries this morning and for a brief moment I felt an icy stab of grief in my chest. . . but it was quickly replaced by relief and a sense of joy. She's free now, you see. I don't know what happens to us after we die; I don't know if we go on to another place or if this, this world and existence, is all there is. All I know is that Annie is not here anymore, that the torment that was her daily existence has ended.

She's not lost anymore. However you look at it, whatever you believe, one thing is true: she's not lost anymore.

She's found.