ebogjonson.com's biologic archive
March 17, 2007
thanks for asking!
I just wanted to thank everyone who wrote in ask how my nana was doing. ("Called in" for those of you I trust with my cell number.) The shorthand answer that I've been relying on is "as best can be expected," and, despite its aspects as autopilot, I guess that's as true as anything I could say. Diabetes, three heart attacks (well, one heart attack and two "cardiac episodes"), a non-functioning artery in her gut, a month in the hospital, 89 years working at thankless, largely manual labor on the bottom social rungs on ye olde Planet of the Earths: I should be grateful Saint Anne is just plain alive, in no pain and (relatively) mobile, that she is able to rouse to varied levels of excitement whenever the one-minute-to-the-hour teaser for her favorite re-run comes on. (Monk and any Law & Order show, basically.)
As best as can be expected, like I said.
Me, I'm doing as best as can be expected as well (thanks for asking!) which is to say I'm not exactly sure how I'm doing. First there has been the problem of recovering from the specific, unsettling horror of having spent all of Black History Month 2007 in Kendall, Miami. I mean, I can't really begin to describe how much energy it took for me just to get up to the humid Kendall morning, this given the choking, ground-hugging miasma of family BS and social pollution that hangs the place like a malevolent, soul-stealing fog. H.P Lovecraft's tombstone sez "I AM PROVIDENCE;" and effective description of the terror that is being stuck in Kendall could only be approached by a writer with contemporary Lovecraftian instincts and illnesses, someone who could legibly claim "I AM KENDALL" as his or hers. Calling Kendall a locus of ancient, corporate, mall-ish, suburban, unthinking, bourgie, non-black Hispanic, post-Cuban horror just scratches the surface.
(There is also a whole post to be written in the aftermath of my time in Kendall about the maddening judgment/mis-identification hijinks that occured whenever I encountered certain types of older, conservative Cuban folks, racist Cuban folks in a word, who thought I was some kind of bedredlocked rebel from their lifelong campaign to escape various forms of darkness. This post ain't it, however.)
Part of my problem is that thinking about all this provokes random, largely inexplicable fits of anger in me. The classic feelings of helplessness, as described in the relevant literature. For example, I literally wanted to write above: "AS BEST AS CAN BE EXPECTED, I said. Are you fucking deaf?" I wrote the line in and then deleted it, completely baffled by myself. Grief, no grief; sadness, no sadness; stress, no stress, helpless or helpful: I'm not so much confused by the fact that my head is fucked up (as worst as can be expected?) but by the specific contours the fucked-uppedness takes, as in the above almost-outburst about people not listening. Who could I possibly be yelling at in that highly specific way? Who isn't listening? Who strikes me as akin to deaf? Everyone has been pretty much grand, and those who haven't, well, they acted just as I expected them to, so really: no skin off my nose. So why the rage? I can't get mad at inaction from a god I don't believe in.
Like most everybody I have a hard enough time processing abrupt familial deaths, but the process of taking a slow stroll up to one involves its own series of wild, conflicting confrontations. Last time I posted I was grateful to have made it to Miami in time. Now my unique damage (maybe; incorrectly claiming uniqueness is a bad look for spring) is that I am, well, outraged that she's dying, this because it strikes me as an injustice even with the 89 years and counting. I'm not dwelling on all this in full-on rage, not letting existential anger distort my day-to-day living, but my adolescent science-fictional (luciferian?) impulses remain strong enough that my default thinking about the whole, er, death thing is that it's fundamentally unnecessary.
There are a lot of people I like who view my kind of wants - long life, going to Mars - as irresponsibity akin driving a Hummer, another set who thinks you can't be a card carrying member of the African diaspora without a firm belief in highly specific forms of hoodoo. And that's fine, really: you all can stay behind if you want to. Our conceptual tribe shares a lot of opinions, but self-consciously "responsible," non-science-fictional progressives often tend towards a zero-sum worldview that I reject, a guilt-driven mythology where the good are poor, denied and martyred, while only vampires, racists and thief capitalists live well and long, this at the cost of innocent human lives. Whatever. The way I see it it's always possible to live well and honestly and decently all at the time. Our choice isn't between, say, war for oil and a reduced, but "sustainable" standard of living; it's between making oil companies rich and doing the hard, largely scientific and technical, work of figuring out how to get exactly what you want without killing people or wrecking the environment. So why not try to live forever? Those stem cells aren't people like some claim they are; forever only requires drinking blood in the movies; I promise to remember you if you insist on dying like you were told to.
And despite all that random techno-optimism l am still angry. I guess the thing is that in addition to thinking it'd be great to live forever, I also genuinely don't see any reason not to assume future generations won't get what I want, on average having impressively longer life-spans than we do and making the accident of me riding on the historical-living shortbus akin to being cheated by history. Being one of those people who has always identified with Paradise Lost's Lucifer, I tend chafe whenever I feel forced to make peace with anything that strikes me as random, structural or circumstantial. I want to spit at anyone (especially anyone looking forward to a good 40 more years) who tries to tell me a "mature" reaction to Saint Anne's involuntary, pre-ordained decrepitude involves bending the knee to something as dumb as a number. (89 in this case.) I want to shout at people who think there is something greedy about wanting to live. I'm not really interested in the number unless it adds up for me, which is why I tend to want fourth, fifth and sixth opinions, why I think NYC beats LA because the last call is later/bigger. I'm perfectly willing to keep rolling the dice, keep seeing the doctors, keep refactoring the parameters until something gets fixed or something runs out - money, time, life. I wouldn' t want to bankrupt my kids or my neighbors to pay for my medical care, but if I already have a wad why not peel some off and toss it at the doctors? (Which is another way of saying: we haven't come within a mile of being financially burdened by Saint Anne's care. All we've risked so far is our comfort, and yet everyone is making peace with the idea that her fate is sealed. She's 89, you know. She's doing as well as can be expected.)
And don't get me wrong: I'm also completely down for accepting/defying the death sentence by throwing a party. There is a blog meme out that has involved asking the classic "what would you do if you had six months to live" question, and me, I would go sit on a beach (Lamu?) and read, get high, surf the web, play videogames, eat shellfish, do some writing and (Sweet Lord Jesus willing!) get laid pretty and plenty. You can join me or you can collect my corpse when it's time if you feel so inclined, or you can let it float out to sea, not my problem, I'm dying so I'm kind of focused on myself these days, sorry.
(Although, if you were able to collect my head, I would greatly appreciate it, as I'd like to have my brain frozen on the off chance that it can be reanimated at a later date. Thanks!)
I asked Saint Anne what she most desperately wanted to do when she got home and when she said "change into my own clothes," I have to shamefacedly admit I was disappointed in her, angry even. When it became obvious during Black History Month that she was going to survive, part of me fantasized that she'd jump up from her hospital bed and take up roller-skating or something, that having hit a kind of rock bottom she would now bounce, that some long unresolved, lifelong desire would come into focus and that she'd get her GED, see the pyramids (I'll push the wheelchair), do yoga, learn how to make the perfect soufflé - who can say for sure but her? Just something. Instead, she walked through and out of the shadow of the valley of death in order to watch re-runs and sleep in Kendall (aforementioned hell-on-earth Kendall!), every day receding just a bit more from us, her body and mind failing in tiny stages.
I know it's not her fault. She's just too tired to take up roller-skating, too beaten down by the facts and the numbers. (Let's not even get into a month on your back in a hospital in Kendall.) When Saint Anne was 88 she walked, talked and carried herself like a 65 year-old, but one year later time has finally caught up with her. Now she seems like what I imagine 89 should seem like: her movements are tentative, she uses a walker. She sleeps half the day and even though her lassitude alarms me, the second and third medical opinions (my mother is of a mind that fourth and fifth opinions are selfish and extravagant) view her decline as natural. It's not as a form of theft, I'm told, it's the inevitable end to a sort of bonus ++ period of sprightly-ness, Saint Anne's strength up to now an overtime that the universe had gifted her with and that had now expired. Turn that frown upside-down, little one, is what they are saying. To every season, turn turn, etc.
My sense that she has suddenly, abruptly declined hinges on the fact that I only knew and believed what I could see about her health. Saint Anne only seemed like a 65 year old when she was 88, she only looked that way to a me stuck there observing with mere human eyes, an amateur's mind assessing the situation without the aid of a medical degree or advanced diagnostic equipment. All these years that I've been smiling at her with such smug paternalism, marveling at how black really didn't crack, at how fresh and young she persisted in being while I (me!) was getting disturbingly older, there beneath the surface something was slowly unraveling, failing, running out, waiting for 89 to blow up in our faces.
Maybe if I'd had eyes capable of seeing beneath surfaces, see down to the unraveling in real time, she'd still be looking like a 65 year old. When I was in Miami I was in her hospital room late one night when a technician came in with a fancy sonogram machine to check for blood clots in her legs. (This was early on when no one knew what the fuck was happening.) I stared over his shoulder as the machine peered into her and for the first time in my life I desperately wished I'd become a doctor the way my parents had wanted me to, because if I had I'd be able to read the sonogram and maybe help save her life.
(That said, I don't think a hypothetical "Dr. Me" would have been able to save my father's life, Dad being the Thomasian sort who only trusted the results of his own experiments. He got himself killed when he ignored his doctor's orders and started tinkering with his heart medication dosage, this because of some advice he'd picked up on Google. Not likely he would have taken my medical advice or aid, but there are timeline paradoxes aplenty there: he wouldn't have taken my advice, but Dr. Me's? Dr. Son He Alway Wanted? Hmm...)
When I asked the sonogram tech what the results where he told me that a doctor would have to read it, which really made me want to weep with frustration. Like my father I have a hard time trusting in anyone's competence, starting with god and my parents and going right down the list. It's complete hubris, I know, a real pain if you have to work with me, but my core belief has always been that if I want something done right I really need to do it myself, forget prayer or parents or co-workers or Saint Anne's doctors or any of it. Forget even myself as currently constructed, by which I mean screw getting that medical degree I mentioned earlier. What I really need is the as-yet-unmade ebog of the future. The post-singularity, more-better one with X-rays eyes and six robot arms, each limb a surgical tool, or a drug factory, or a medical tricorder, maybe a mechanism for the delivery of healing nanomachines. That guy even has a seventh arm with a spike at the end that (this is going to pinch a little!) goes in at the base of the spine and allows for full sensorium, networked VR, the better for him and Saint Anne to spend all day at the beach in Lamu, for him to help her with her GED homework, to make that perfect soufflé. He would hold her gently in those robot arms and she'd live forever, which would make him feel useful and proud. He'd think: it really is just the least I can for the woman who raised me, who wiped my bottom. They would not live in Kendall.
But I don't have the time or the resources to be that guy, so instead I guess I'll have bend the knee afterall, say thanks and goodbye, Saint Anne, make soothing, cooing sounds at her like a good little mammal, like the word-less, animal sound was some kind of appropriate exit music. It really makes me want to scream.
December 1, 2006
today is world aids day
It's a Friday, a fine day to check out some resources at the Black AIDS Institute.
Posted by ebogjonson at 2:43 PM | Permalink