directions of scars
Friday, November 12 2010
This afternoon Gretchen (who was on her way to her first mammogram) and I drove separately to Ray and Nancy's house down in Old Hurley to visit with Ray, who is recuperating from open heart surgery. I don't know the number of bypasses he received on Thursday, but it was greater than two. (And he's only 43.) When we saw him today, he was stretched out relaxing on his bed, his Droid by his side. He seemed to move in slow motion and his voice was weak, but otherwise he seemed to be content. The first order of business was unbuttoning his shirt to show us his neatly-sewn incision. It ran about twelve inches, starting near his collarbone. I'd wondered how one would keep air out of such an incision (which would tend, as with all sucking chest wounds, to pull air through the wound with every inhalation), and Ray said it was combination of tight stitches and perhaps some sort of grease. There were no bandages or tape.
Soon were were joined by our friend Deborah, who had brought soup for Ray. She'd also brought her enormous white dog Juneau, meaning there were four dogs in the house (including Eleanor, a natural empath who kept curling up next to Ray).
The mood wasn't especially grim despite the fact the gravity of what Ray had just been through. He talked a little about how it had been in the hospital. Some guy in an adjacent room had died of a heart attack while Ray had been there. He'd heard the guy screaming his final words in a language that sounded like Arabic. One of the staff there translated the final words to be a plea for forgiveness from his wife. Apparently his lethal heart attack had been brought on by straining too hard on the toilet; Ray says a lot of people die that way. We remarked how unusual it was to be present when someone dies, but Ray said this wasn't the first time this had happened to him. He'd been in the hospital for colonitis several years ago and someone had died during that stay as well. "I was in the hospital for 17 days and nobody died during that time," I said, adding, "You're the Grim Reaper."
Things had become progressively lighter as the banter bounced around. While I was on the subject of my hospital stay back in 1983, I showed the assembled the resulting physical legacy, a horizontal scar start an inch beneath my naval and running rightward six inches. "Wait, why is my scar horizontal and yours vertical?" I asked, a setup for a joke that Ray and I delivered simultaneously: "Because I'm/he's Asian!"
Gretchen talked some about her imminent mammogram, saying her doctor had suggested the mammogram after determining that Gretchen's breasts are too big to a perform a definitive manual breast exam. Though she didn't intend it this way, this was the sort of thing that could have been interpreted as a boast (given that big breasts are objects of desire, if not respect, in our society). So I said that the doctor had said the same thing about my penis (presumably that it was too big to determine if it contained lumps by manual exam alone).
Gretchen headed off to her mammogram and Deborah cleaned up the shit and piss that Juneau (in an uncharacteristically passive-aggressive tear) and distributed throughout Ray and Nancy's first floor. (Luckily his shit was as dry as freshly-harvested potatoes.) Before she'd left, Gretchen had twisted my arm into agreeing to walk the dogs with Deborah on the nearby Rail Trail, something I hadn't wanted to do. So that was what happened next: Nancy, Deborah, and I drove over to the part of the Rail Trail that diverges from US 209 and walked our four dogs, chatting pleasantly as we walked.
I kept a close eye on Sally for the whole walk. Ever since Sally became deaf (a consequence of her advanced age), she's tended to get separated from us on walks. This isn't a problem in our woods, because she knows her way home. But at walks in other places it can be a problem (though generally she knows enough to wait for us back at the parking lot if she gets separated.) On today's walk, it was clear why it is that she gets separated from us so often. Sally tends to charge ahead at a much brisker pace than the one humans use for walking. On a long straight trail like the Rail Trail, she quickly becomes a mathematical point very near perspective's vanishing point. She's learned to "check in" more often by either coming back physically or turning around to look for us. But she has thick cataracts and cannot see especially well. I find myself making grand gestures with my arms so I can send the signal of where I am. Today she never completely vanished from sight, though she did make it back to the parking area well ahead of us. At that point she seemed content to wait, which is really all that is necessary under this new regime.
While we were out on that particular walk, we encountered an older woman who completely freaked out upon seeing four off-leash dogs. She picked up a tiny stick and began waving it in self defense as Eleanor approached. "Eleanor," I called out, "leave the crazy woman alone!" Such people are rare but they do exist. One wonders, though, why they torture themselves by going to places like the Rail Trail (unless they go there to confront their fears, an seemingly-successful therapeutic technique if shows like Obsessed are to be believed.)
Back home, I saw a wet spot on the roof shingles beneath the hydronic solar panels that seemed to indicate a leak. In the past this has meant anything from an overpressure event to a rotten hose. But when I climbed the roof and investigated, I saw that a tiny leak that I'd known about for three years had apparently opened up enough to release real quantities of hydronic fluid (judging from the wet spot, it probably wasn't more than a cup). Just because repairing it had proved so elusive, I'd been willing to live with the leak up until this point. But I can't tolerate a leak that ejects more than trace amounts of hydronic fluid, which costs $6-$13/gallon, depending on the dilution. So I knew what I'd be doing tomorrow: removing the glass from the leaking part of the panel, cutting out the problematic pipe from the panel, and replacing it. This would be a logistically-complicated job given the difficulty of cutting copper pipe that is flushly mounted to a surface.
I've been reading about the new George W. Bush memoir, whose post-election release was timed so as not to provide a boost to Democratic candidates (given the toxicity of Bush to the Republican brand). (I will read reviews but there is no way I will ever read the source material.) According to the reviews, while the memoir attempts to present Bush in the most favorable historical light, it can't help but highlight his most infuriating traits: his impatience, his irrational cocksureness, and his gleeful Christiano-Machiavellian willingness to commit war crimes. On the book tour circuit, Bush has proved an elusive interviewee, telling people to "read the book" whenever they ask a question he is unwilling to answer (and no, those answers are never in the book). It used to be that Bush bamboozled people when there was no way for them to immediately find out that they were being bamboozled. But now he does it in real time. There needs to be a new kind of interview technique, one handled like the judging answers-phrased-as-questions on Jeopardy. A team of judges sits in a pit with books and the internet at the ready, researching every response so that, in real time, the interviewer can express the objectively-determined unsatisfactoriness of answers.
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