Sunday, December 28, 2014

In Between

I was walking home on Christmas night when I saw a young woman carrying her little daughter into a house near 71st Street.

I’d never seen her before in my life, but as soon as the mother and I made eye contact, I smiled and wished her a merry Christmas.

“Merry Christmas,” she replied.

And, as I was walking by them, this adorable little girl called out after me.

“Merry Christmas!”

It was a perfect ending to a fabulous day. A little snow and we would have had a Hallmark movie moment.

And then the sun came up.

I was one of the few people in New York apparently who had to work on Friday and I managed to have a spectacularly awful day at the office.

Every single thing I put my hand on went straight to hell, I made all sorts of bonehead mistakes, and after a while I was afraid to come out of my cubicle. It was a miracle the soda machine didn’t blow up when I dropped in my change.

What’s really frustrating is that I hadn’t planned on being in the office on Friday.

I was going to take the day off, but I used up my remaining time off for last month’s hospital stay so I had no choice.

I have to make some massive changes in my life very soon. I feel like I’m in a ditch, physically, emotionally, and professionally. I just don’t know what the hell to do next.

Would anyone mind if I just ran off to the South Seas?

Disc Jockey

Perhaps that’s not realistic. Only a children and immature adults think that good times should go on forever.

Every moment is new and no one knows what’s coming next.

Things got a little better on the weekend. My sister and I made our annual pilgrimage to Dyker Heights on Saturday night to see the incredible Christmas decorations. For those of you who have never experience this annual orgy of blinking lights, it's quite a trip.

People blanket their homes in all kinds of holiday-themed paraphernalia. Traffic is backed up for blocks as cars and crowds crawl around the streets and I'll bet the neighborhood is visible from outer space. I wonder what the aliens think of all this.

It was such a nice night that my sister parked her car a few blocks away and we walked around the neighborhood—along with hundreds of other people.

I hadn’t planned on going to the display this year—especially after the Friday fiasco--but I’m glad I did. It just wouldn’t be Christmas without the Lights of Dyker Heights.

Today I got one brutally intense massage at Heavenly Body Works as a young lady literally walked up and down my back like I was a human surfboard.

Apparently I had requested this abuse, but I suspect this was actually a result of a language gap.

“Strong?” the masseuse asked just before she started.

“Yeah, sure,” I said, not knowing what she meant. I quickly found out as her feet dug into my back. Now I know what those two metal pipes positioned over the massage table are for.

But the payoff for the torture was that I feel better now. So there might be a message in the massage. Change can be painful, but when it’s over you’re likely to be a better person.

I look back on my life and see large stretches of time when I chose comfort over change, even when the “comfort” was making me miserable.

That attitude has to go out with the old year. I need to clean up my messes, sharpen my vision, and face my fears.

And if that doesn’t work, I’ll send you a post card from Fiji.

Thursday, December 25, 2014

Look Down from the Sky

This was no way to spend Christmas Eve.

Usually on the night before Christmas I like to go out on the town. Check out the holiday displays in Manhattan, take in the crowds of tourist that flood the city, and then hit a few bars to spread the good cheer…better known as getting plastered.

This year, however, I sat in a crowed waiting room at Lutheran Medical Center hoping to get an audience with the surgeon who has been monitoring my condition since my trip to the hospital last month.

I hated hanging around here on the day before the big holiday, but it was such a struggle to get this appointment that I couldn’t give it up.

So I grabbed an empty chair and hoped someone would call my name sometime before midnight. The place was cramped and stuffy, and since this was a hospital, I fretted about all the horrible germs that were just itching to pounce on me.

There were a number of people with kids and one couple wheeled around a frail elderly woman in a wheelchair who just had a few wisps of hair on her head.

One man, who was clearly emotionally disturbed, suddenly slammed his puzzle book to the floor and shouted “tu madre!” at a woman sitting across from him. She had been swinging her legs back and forth for several minutes, which had apparently infuriated this guy.

His companion quickly rose from his chair, spoke soothingly in Spanish to the angry fellow and encouraged him to change his seat.

Oh, God, I didn’t want to be here with…these people. Yes, I’m ashamed to say that I actually used that phrase…these people. I thought I was a better person than that, but clearly I have a long way to go.

All Ye Faithful

And who were they exactly, these people? They were the poor, non-white, non-English speakers who had no place else to go for healthcare. The kind of people whom Jesus—the birthday boy--loves so dearly.

After all, Christmas tells the story of a poor, homeless family of non-English speakers who are forced to spend a freezing night with animals in a manger. All of a sudden that hospital waiting room didn’t look so bad.

Yeah, I didn’t want to be here, but then none of the people around me wanted to be here either. In many ways, this place was as holy and blessed as any church. Maybe even more so.

I keep saying that I’m not feeling the Christmas spirit this year due to my medical worries, but this is where you’ll find the real meaning of the holiday.

Not in a mall or some rowdy saloon filled with drunken twits wearing Santa hats—but here, among people who are broke, ailing, and frightened.

It turned out my surgeon had worked an emergency shift the night before and wasn’t around.

I spoke briefly with his replacement, who, being the second stringer, didn’t know much about my case. I went home, feeling somewhat annoyed that I had waited for a guy who wasn’t even in the building.

I didn’t realize until much later that I had received a fabulous gift by spending time in that waiting room.

The city is still reeling from the senseless murder of two police officers. A tornado ripped through Mississippi on Tuesday killing four people.

Tragedy doesn’t look at the calendar before it strikes and it never takes a day off, so I feel truly blessed to have spent the day with my dear auntie and sister.

The real magic of Christmas is being grateful no matter how bad things are, being able to open your heart to others, and always remembering that those people are really our people.

And to all a good night…

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Nurse Jennifer

The Lord, before whom I have walked faithfully, will send his angel with you and make your journey a success.”-- Genesis 24:40

What is it about this woman that makes me cry every time every time I speak with her?

Nurse Jennifer called me again this week. She’s the nurse from my insurance company who has been checking up on me ever since I got out of the hospital last month.

She made the first call the day after I had been discharged from Lutheran Medical Center.

I was in such a fragile emotional state at the time that I started blubbering uncontrollably as she gave me all this great advice about making my apartment safe should I decide to have surgery.

Later I thought Jennifer was calling solely as a company employee, making sure that I wasn’t needlessly racking up medical bills.

However, I have since come to believe that this lovely woman has genuine goodness in her heart that has nothing to do with profit or loss.

Each of our chats starts off the same way. Jennifer recites some legal boilerplate spiel about the call possibly being recorded for instructional purposes and how the company values my privacy.

But then the tone of Jennifer’s voice immediately shifts from robotic to empathetic and she’s ready to hear my story and offer me advice and comfort.

I decided to call her the other week when I returned to work after getting a colonoscopy. It seemed that nothing whatsoever was working for me. I felt trapped, angry, and isolated, and I needed to talk to someone immediately—or sooner.

I could’ve reached out to a number of people but something made me call this total stranger who is just a voice on the telephone. But it’s a very special voice to me. So I dialed her number and promptly freaked out all over the phone.

Voice of Reason

“I want to quit my job!” I wailed. “I can’t take it anymore!”

Jennifer listened to me while I ranted and whined and then gently advised that this was probably not a good time to make such weighty decisions since I was so agitated and confused.

“I’ve been there,” she said with incredible sincerity. “I know what it’s like.”

Hearing her talk so gently and so sensibly helped calm me down. We agreed that if things really got so bad at work that if I couldn’t take it, then, yes, I should probably think about bailing.

I voice my concerns about losing health benefits and she reminded me that I could always sign up for COBRA if I had to. That’s not an attractive choice, by any means, but it is an option, and one that I had been unable to see thanks to my nutzy view of the world.

She promised to call me in a week and, yes, I got all teary-eyed. Lord, I’m such a mutant…

Jennifer was as good as her word and she called me a few days ago. I was feeling much better by then, both emotionally and physically, and I had a clearer idea of what I wanted to do.

I told her I was getting second and third opinions on my condition and she said that was a good idea. And then we agreed that it was time to close the file on my case.

My company is switching to a new insurance carrier on the first of the year, much to my regret, so it is unlikely that Jennifer and I will speak again. I thanked her profusely for all her help and wished her and her family the best for the holidays.

“If you need to call me,” she said before she rang off, “please feel free.”

“I will,” I said, my voice cracking, “take care.”

And once again I started to cry.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Right this Very Minute

I may not be feeling the holiday spirit at the moment, but I still managed to see my two favorite Christmas trees in the last two days.

The trees at Rockefeller Center and the Metropolitan Museum of Art are the two big ones for me and I thought I wouldn’t see either one this year due to my ongoing medical misery.

My viewing of the Rockefeller Center tree was a fluke, as I just happened to be riding the express bus down Fifth Avenue on Friday night when I looked to the right and there it was, climbing straight up into the sky.

Traffic was moving so slowly that I got a pretty decent view of the tree and of Fifth Avenue, which was ablaze with lights and decorations.

The air was so cold and the sidewalks were so clogged with humanity, that I was very glad to be sitting inside a warm bus.

The only reason I was this far uptown on Friday was because I was seeing a specialist for a second opinion about my internal plumbing problems, which have cracked my personal Kris Kringle into a million pieces.

The surgeon and I discussed my options, which come down to either going in for an operation or doing nothing at all and hoping I don’t have another colon flip like the one that sent me to the hospital last month.

Obviously the thought of skipping surgery entirely appeals to me no end, as I would very much like to keep my innards inside where they belong. But there’s the risk that my colon could misbehave again at some inopportune time—like in the middle of vacation, for example.

The doctor asked to see the CDs of my latest CAT scans, which means I have to go back to the hospital and buy a set—the perfect Christmas gift!

On Saturday my sister, auntie, and I went to see the Met’s beautiful Christmas tree, which is not only lovely, but also located indoors, so we were spared the discomfort of freezing our tails off.

This is my favorite Christmas tree in town. It is decorated with the fabulous angels and surrounded by a beautiful an 18th Century Neapolitan Nativity scene, and, since the tree is located in a controlled environment, the Met conducts a number of tree lightings throughout the holiday season.

Oh, Christmas Tree...

I’ve seen this little ceremony more times that I could possibly count, but I still love it. Everyone crowds around the try while the lights dim and the room falls silent, or at least we hope it does.

Then a small beam appears of the manager, while “Silent Night” begins to play. The tree gradually becomes brighter until it is fully lit. It doesn’t last more than five minutes, but the experience stays with you for a long time.

After that it was dinner at a Belgian restaurant and a crawling cab ride down Third Avenue to my aunt’s apartment in Murray Hill. I found that I was getting crabbier with each passing moment.

I was tired and feeling sharp pains in my hip, which could mean that back trouble is cranking up again.

I try to remind myself that now, when I’m feeling so low, is the perfect time to rein in the anger and be grateful.

It's easy to be serene when everything is going your way, but the real test comes when you can shine even though you're neck deep in all manner of grief.

I'm sorry to say that I haven't been shining much lately.

I had hoped to get the surgery done before Christmas and start the New Year off with a clean slate, but that’s not going to happen. I won’t rush into an operation and it’ll be better to have the holiday madness behind us before submitting to the scalpel.

It’s so strange, but the season is rolling right off me. I’m not doing any “bah, humbugs” or screaming at orphans. I just don’t feel like I’m a part of the holidays this year. It’s like I’m still enclosed in that bus, looking out the window while everybody else is making merry.

I haven’t sent out one Christmas card, even at this late date, and the only “shopping” I did consisted of pressing a few buttons this afternoon and shipping a gift out west.

We could all use a little Christmas right this very minute, but you have to make that happen on your own.

The real miracle is overcoming our doubts and fears and living as happily as possible. That kind of awareness doesn’t come down the chimney; it comes out of your heart.

Now all I have to do is believe.

Sunday, December 07, 2014

Big Breath In

I heard a voice coming from somewhere behind me as the fog around my brain started to fade.

“This guy’s got a long colon.”

I suppose I should’ve thanked him, whoever he was, but I wasn’t sure if I was dreaming or not.

I could feel all sorts of weird activity in and around my caboose, so I was either being probed by aliens or getting a colonoscopy.

As things become clearer, I realized I was in Lutheran Medical Center and not having a much-too-close encounter. And the speaker over my shoulder was my gastroenterologist.

This has been a week for doctors. In addition to seeing my internal medicine man, I also had to go to a pulmonologist for a breathing test to make sure I could handle being sedated for the colonoscopy.

For the breathing test I had to wrap my mouth around a large tube—wow, this story is getting pretty twisted, ain’t it?—while a very nice young woman gave me commands like “big breath in!” and “breathe out quickly!”

Once I passed that little ordeal I began the prep for the colonoscopy. People say that this is the worst part of the whole (hole?) experience and gosh, they are so flipping right.

You have to consume gallons of a vile liquid that is essentially Montezuma’s Revenge in a bottle and your diet for an entire day is restricted to water, chicken broth, Gatorade, and, oh, God help me, gelatin.

Say Cheese

It amazes me that I've eaten more of this crap in the last three weeks than I have in the last 40 years.

As awful as a colonoscopy is, my biggest fear is being sedated. I’m terrified that I will close my eyes and just not wake up. I know I hit the Xanax pretty hard when I fly, but at least I’m in control of that situation. In the hospital I feel like an aging schnauzer being put down.

Luckily I survived and I was soon in the recovery room sipping apple juice. My doctor told me that my colon is somewhat tangled, which probably explains the ongoing agony in my southern hemisphere.

The hospital gave me a full write-up of the test and, bizarrely, actual photographs of the doctor’s keester parade. Gee, thanks, folk, I can’t wait to post these babies on Facebook. Can I get an 8 x 10 and a wallet-sized photo of my alimentary adventure?

My sister, God love her, picked me up after the procedure and we went to lunch, where I ate real food for the first time in 24 hours.

When I got home, I flushed the leftover gelatin down the toilet and said a prayer for any fish that might ingest that jiggling atrocity.

From here I have to consult with the surgeon and set a date for my operation. I have officially run out of sick days so any time off will cost me money.

I guess I should have saved some of my vacation days, but I took two great trips this year and I wouldn’t trade them for anything.

I must say all this medical activity is wearing me down. I’m getting work-up over the slightest things and my aunt encouraged me to be open about my feelings.

“You’re tired, upset, and nervous,” she told me. “There’s nothing wrong with saying that.”

No, there isn’t. And doing so might make life just a little bit easier. I’m trying to learn from this experience and to be my best when I’m at my worst. It’s been a real challenge, which means it’s worth pursuing.

So I declare from the bottom of my twisted colon that I’m scared, angry, and confused. But I’m also grateful and determined to find something good out of this situation. I'll do it, or, so help me, I’ll eat my weight in gelatin.