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Sunday, November 16, 2014

Stepping Back in Order to Step Forward

     About a year ago, a few months after I moved home to Saint Simons Island, still staggering under the weight of the loss to my dear husband, Clint, I scheduled an appointment with my psychiatrist in Macon, where we lived for most of our marriage. I never loved Macon; I never even liked it very much. I had wonderful friends there and still do, but since we had a home here on The Island for all but four years of our married life, I claimed dual citizenship and never felt as though Macon were truly my home. It happened that I loved Clint more than I disliked Macon, so life was good there as long as I had him. In the years after his death, I began to feel like an exile, homeless in my own house. Riddled with an unrelenting and complicated grief, it would be four years before I came to the realization that I needed to move back home, back to the place where I attended elementary school and graduated from high school. My roots are here, and as you know if you read my last post, and I am again grounded and content.
     As the day of my appointment approached last November, I got so anxious that I cancelled the trip. I simply could not make myself go, so I began having phone visits with my doctor, and I relied on phone calls and social media to keep up with my friends and family.
     Several weeks ago, after what turned out to be a difficult summer and early fall with my son’s brain disorder and alcohol addiction, I scheduled a phone appointment with my doctor for November 13. 
     I was in the final stages of settling into my house, and one of the chores I had been putting off was going through the boxes of things that were in Clint’s desk when he died. As I sifted through the boxes and began replacing things in the desk, I had what I can only describe an epiphany, a moment of clarity and realization that most of the items should not be here with me. I painstakingly sifted through old photos and slides of Clint’s children, photos of him as a boy, his medical school class pictures, and newspaper clippings touting his youthful football prowess and his surgical role in the first kidney transplant in Southeast Asia. There were letters from his daughters when they were young, greeting cards he saved over the years, and all manner of memorabilia that predated our marriage. I came to the knowledge that these things to which I had been clinging so tightly are not mine - and they are not Clint. They predate the incredible time during which we fell in love and began a life together.
     Keeping only those things that are a part of my life with Clint, I began to repack the boxes with all those items that I wanted to give to his children, grandchildren and yes, his great-grandchildren. I broke down and wept, big chocking sobs that shook me to my very center, each tear representing the dissolution of an unrealistic and unhealthy tie to a past that isn’t even my own. There was freedom and healing in those tears. Will I ever be completely healed? I think not, but I am confident in the knowledge that my wounds no longer continually ooze emptiness and sorrow and loss. They are real but they are no longer white hot reminders of everything I lost on June 8, 2009. I am learning to accept them as part of me without Clint in my life, reminders of the devotion we shared, the love that bound us together.
     After tearfully rereading the dozens of cards and notes we shared over the years and the poems I wrote and dedicated to him, I tucked them into the desk drawer along with his love letters to me. I polished his brass statue of a laughing Buddha and placed it on an end table in the living room. His hole-in-one trophy is on a shelf in the den. Photos, some organized in albums, some not, of us traveling together to see Europe and watch whales in the Sea of Cortez and explore Alaska’s Southeast Passage as well albums of other trips - with and without family - are safely stashed away in the desk drawers. 
     Several days later, it occurred to me that I should actually go to Macon, to see my psychiatrist and deliver the family treasures to their rightful owners. But it was with some sense of dread that I changed my appointment to a face-to-face. In the days leading up to the trip, I became anxious, but I didn’t cancel. I had to revisit my past in order to move completely into the present.
     So, on Wednesday afternoon, I drove to Macon. I was there for two nights, and while I was in town, I saw my dearest and oldest friends, Nancy and Frances, and my stepdaughters, Gretchen and Kristy. I had time with Marnie and with Sophie, the Angel who has been looking after me for over 40 years. I saw my doctor. After literally being unable to make the trip a year ago, the time was right and my anxiety faded. I gave Kristy the boxes of memories with a sense of purpose and completion and even joy, and I arrived home having delivered myself of an emotional load I didn’t even know I was carrying.
     The parts of me that have been so locked down for five and a half years are emerging. I’m willing to venture outside  the safety of my widowhood, and I’m eager to continue my quest for a life well lived as a individual, not as half of a couple. I harbor no belief that my wounds will ever completely close, but then again, they probably shouldn’t. They are a big part of who I am today and who I will be in the future. They are part of my story.
     For today, Parrish is sober and stable, and we are looking forward to our first Thanksgiving in this house. Marnie will be joining us for our family tradition - a seafood feast of oysters and jambalaya with sweet potatoes and green bean casserole. We don’t really like turkey.

Copyright 2014
cj Schlottman


Monday, November 3, 2014

Home At Last

          It has been along time since my post back in June, but that doesn’t mean I haven't been writing. I’m in the organizational stage of my memoir and will soon be ready to begin to bring it together into what I hope will be a good book, a valuable book about the challenges and rewards of having an adult child with a brain disorder, it’s impact on all of those who love him so much. It was a long, hot and arduous summer, but it is behind us, and I pray for continued peace. But, that’s a story for another time. 
     Fall has brought with it the departure of the Hummingbirds who graced my deck from the time I first hung the feeder. We moved into our new house on August 8, and three months later, we are finally settled, art on the walls, furniture placed - after several false starts. I am happy here. Our street is quiet, nestled under a canopy of live oaks and flanked by the marsh and a lovely tidal pond where Great Blue Herons and Great Egrets regularly fish for their dinner. Our bird feeder is a flurry of activity. Carolina Chickadees and Tufted Titmouse (there doesn’t seem to be a plural), Pine Warblers and all manner of Sparrows frequent the feeder. At this time of year, even Red-bellied Woodpeckers feed off the seed, and the ubiquitous Cardinal is a regular visitor. As I write, the Chickadees are buzzing down, one after another and in pairs, sometimes landing on the top of the feeder hook to position themselves for a run to fish out the sunflower seeds. The squirrels are happy with the corn we provide for them at the other end of the yard. Honey takes a sunbath nearly every day in our fenced back yard, which is just the right size.
     On this chilly morning (50-something degrees), the sun is bright and the sky is a cloudless blue, shimmering like stained glass. After a windy weekend, the air is moving gently, just enough to ruffle the leaves on our evergreens. The neighborhood is rich in ligustrum, wax myrtle, oleander and old tall pine trees. It’s the perfect day for a bike ride, and we have one planned for later this morning. The Island is covered with bike paths, and we can pedal for miles on them.
     The summer tourists have departed and the Georgia-Florida football onslaught of students and alumni and other rabid fans is behind us. The Island is quiet and peaceful and the pace of living has returned to its languid norm. 
     With “The Holidays” looming, I’m in cooking mode and ready to take down the Christmas China and start baking cheese straws and wedding cookies. This house feels like home, and I, after a little over a year back on The Island, finally feel grounded and settled and dug in. It’s a wonderful feeling, and I am grateful for it. 

Monday, September 22, 2014

I Bend my Own Rules 02/08/13

After Monday’s call from Parrish, I didn’t hear from him until some time Tuesday.  He called to say he has a place to live and that he paid in advance for one month and that he paid his probation fees in full.  It sounds like he is living in some sort of boarding house.  I don’t know.  I think I heard a large bird screeching in the background.  

He said he was going to Social Security to change his address and try to get benefits in Georgia.  He said he would go to River Edge, the community mental facility, and get started there.  When he called (three times) last night, he asked for money and food.  When I told him no, he launched into a diatribe about how he didn’t understand why I wouldn’t help him, telling me he could not believe I would let him go hungry and broke, without enough money to take the bus to Social Security.  He ignored my every word as I repeated that he would have to make something happen, that every time I give him money, it leads to disaster.

The next call was worse.  He attacked me for not being willing to go to the store and get him some food and take it to him.  In the next breath he said he doesn’t need anything from me, accused me of being a Macon social butterfly who just wants him put away so I can go on my way and forget about him.  He told me he has issues ranging back for years, that there are many reasons he should hate me.  He denied being impaired and continued to ramble on, saying he is done with me, that there is no excuse for him to being in jail for 55 days, saying no one in his right mind would do that to him, that I needed to look into my dark self and see what I am.  He said he never wants to see me again.  There’s more, but these are the highlights.

My reaction to all of this blather was eerily calm. I am numb and disinterested in anything Parrish has to say.  I care about my son, but I have no inclination to help him go down the drain yet again.  Helping him is a planned disaster.  
This morning he called and wanted to come over to get the bag with his things.  I said I would sit it by the garage door, and he could pick it up there.  It was no surprise that he came around the garage to the kitchen  door and banged on the window.  
I debated going to my room and hiding until he went away.  I didn’t want to see him, but I was weak and opened the door and went outside to talk to him.  He was contrite, depressed and looked like hell. He said he walked from Riverside Drive, a few miles away.  He again asked for money and food and I immediately regretted the decision to answer the door.  He did not seem to remember his words of last night.  I offered to let him listen to them but he declined.  

He asked if he could have a cigarette and smoke it on the deck.  I let him.  The passive aggressive assault continued.  I remembered I have a money order made out to him that I sent him when he was in jail.  It was returned to me because he was already out when it was delivered.  I gave it to him.  He constantly complained of how tired he was, hinting that I should drive him home.  I refused.  I suggested he take the bus but he was not interested.  He brooded for a while and I told him to go home. 

PS - Those of you who are tempted to scold me, you have every reason to do just that.  I can take it.

© 2013 cj schlottman

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Lucky in Real Estate

Last Sunday, after driving up to Speed’s Kitchen for lunch in celebration of Poppy’s life, P and I rode down to The Village Pier so he could see his daddy off. Lawrence was waiting there for the pilot boat to ferry him out to a large car carrier so he could climb aboard and pilot it into the harbor. We talked for a minute while we waited for the pilot boat to reach the pier, and then he was off. Honey was in day care at Puppy Paradise, and we drove toward mid-island to fetch her. I decided to go the old way and drive down Old Demere Road and through to Frederica Road by way of our old street, Broadway.

When I turned the car onto Broadway, I noticed a real estate company's “Open House” sign. Something moved me to follow the sign. Hell, it was late Sunday afternoon, and we didn’t have anything better to do. For a month I’d been trying to find a new place to rent because, for several reasons, not the least of which are the exorbitant rent and the aggravating view of a doctor’s office across the street, where, every afternoon at six-thirty, a white van pulls up and the driver allows a young child to honk the horn incessantly until the door opens and a woman walks out, I had decided to move. My lease expires on August 15, and with only two months to find something, I had been scouring the internet and the local paper for prospects.

The signs led us to Meadows Drive. I’m familiar with the street. It’s practically around the corner from where our old house on Broadway once stood, and it curves around a lake with a house built on an the island in the middle of it. When I was a kid, I always wanted to live in that house, and one of my best friends in high school lived on Meadows Drive. The houses, most of them red brick, some ranch style and some bungalows, date from the early 1960’s. As we continued down the short street that dead-ends at the marsh, I got the feeling that I was at home.

About half way down the street that only has six houses on each side, I saw the for-sale sign. The red brick bungalow sits back a decent distance from the curb, sporting a small white picket front porch and white shutters.  There are old azaleas planted around the largest of two huge oak trees in the front yard. I pulled up in front of it, and not knowing what I would find inside, went to the door and rang the bell. 

The agent, Robert Jennings, who was two years ahead of me at Glynn Academy, greeted me and showed me into the precious little house. I was in love before I completely negotiated the threshold. There are beautifully finished hardwood floors throughout - not a scrap of carpet in sight! Oh, how I detest wall-to-wall carpet. The rooms are small but charming, and the master bedroom suite has a sitting area between it and the master bath. There are two other bedrooms and two other full bathrooms, and a den (with a fireplace) as well as a living room. The owners added a sunroom, paved with the brick they took from the exterior wall, and it features sky lights and ceiling fans. 

And - drum roll please - it has an outdoor shower off the deck! When I saw that shower, I knew I was home, that the house was meant for me. If you’ve never had an outdoor shower, you don’t know what you’re missing. We had one on the deck off our bathroom on The Point, and we used it exclusively. It was never too hot or too cold to shower outside. Hell, even our guests all showered out there. It’s what I miss most about that house.

The back yard of the bungalow is fenced, which is a must for Honey. The house measures 2400 square feet which means there is plenty of room for our things. There are two attics and a storage room in the carport. The more I saw and learned, the more excited I got.

Without hesitation, I decided to make an offer. Unfortunately, Robert told me that a couple had just that day made an offer and the owners had accepted it. There was hope, though, he said, because the prospective buyers had attached three contingencies to their contract, one of which was that their closing would hinge on the sale if there current home. I'd never wish ill luck on anyone, but at that moment, I had every intention of doing my best to kick that couple right out of the sale.

It was Tuesday before The Inspector General (that would be Lawrence) could meet us at the house and give it his once-over. He inspected it thoroughly, checking all the important things like heat pumps, plumbing, the crawl space, and the roof. He loves that kind of shit. I was surprised he didn't arrive with a tool box. He was almost atwitter about the copper wiring. Pleased at the prospect of us finding a place of our own that’s in good shape at an excellent price, he advised me to make a clean (no caveats) offer of a little more than the existing one. So, on Wednesday afternoon, I went to the bank, got pre-approved for a loan and drove myself to Robert's office and started signing papers.

Then the waiting began. Once notified of the new offer, the couple who made the first one had 48 hours to decide whether to drop their contingencies or withdraw their offer. 

I’ve always been lucky in real estate dealings and had a good feeling about this little beauty from the moment I walked through the door. Not intending to buy a house at all when I arrived, I left with every intention of making it my own.

On Friday, the 13th, almost 48 hours to the minute after I submitted my offer, Robert called me with the happy news that the other potential buyers had withdrawn theirs.

We close on July 15, and all I have to do before we move is have the deck framed up and screened in. Ah, the prospect of a sleeping porch is almost more than I can bear. 

© 2014 cj Schlottman

Saturday, June 14, 2014

A PVC Ain't Always a Pipe

Ever feel like there might be two small cats scrapping it out inside your chest, thumping and bumping and rolling around, making you feel as though someone has a little syringe of adrenaline and is popping you with it every few seconds so that you get that anxious feeling of being suddenly startled into a feeling of impeding doom? 
There’s a name for what causes that disconcerting sensation: premature ventricular contractions, or PVCs. Even the name is unsettling. They started tormenting me about two weeks ago, and I immediately knew what they were. You see, I’ve had them before and taken medicine to stop them. Cardiologists call them runs of PVCs. I call them a waking nightmare. Try to imagine feeling really frightened for fifteen or twenty minutes at a time. It’s distracting and eventually leads to undue fatigue. Who gets tired just sitting at a keyboard and tapping the keys? It happened to me, and, believe me, for a while there, it was difficult to transfer my thoughts to the page.  

Okay. Let’s back up. I've had atrial fibrillation (A-fib) for about five years. It's a condition which causes irregular heartbeats that are generated in one of the upper chambers of the heart, the right atrium, as opposed to those that come from the ventricles, the lower chambers of the heart. Sometimes the medicine used to control A-fib can control ventricular premature beats. God! You didn't sign up for nursing school, did you? So, enough already. You get it. I have a history of rhythm problems in my heart. 

When this bout with premature beats started, they lasted only a minute or two, and having experienced them before, I knew to take an extra dose of the medicine that can hold them at bay. At first it worked. They went away. Then they came back - and lasted ten or fifteen minutes. So, I called my cardiologist in Macon to ask for a referral to a heart specialist in Brunswick, which is only five miles from my apartment via causeway. The nurse was no help. Rather than make me an appointment with someone near me, she chose instead to bitch me out because I missed my EKG appointment at their office last year. Some of you may remember that just about this time last year, Parrish attempted suicide for the first time. I was a little tied up. Then we moved. A one-eyed monkey could understand why I missed the appointment. Not only was I not symptomatic, I had other things on my mind.

Never mind that. I took it upon myself to call a reputable heart specialist in Brunswick. Scheduling the appointment turned out to be an orgy of miscommunication and phone tag. A less refined person than I would call it a cluster-fuck. I phoned the office and left a message with the appointment person. She called me back two days later, but I wasn’t home. Since it was after five o’clock on Friday afternoon when I received the message, I couldn’t return the call until the following Monday. When I did get through to her, the appointment person claimed she didn’t understand that I was having a problem. Believe me, the message I left with was not vague, but that is neither here nor there. 

When I explained to her what was going on, she scheduled me to be seem the next morning at seven-thirty. Still not seeming to understand that I was symptomatic and wanted help right away, she also offered me an afternoon appointment later in the week - in case I’m not a morning person. Seriously. I grabbed the seven-thirty. Where do these people come from?

I took extra medicine the night before the appointment and again that morning because I was having runs of PVCs that were lasting not minutes but hours. I was “in rhythm” when the nurse did my EKG, and I remained so throughout the echocardiogram they performed that morning. An echocardiogram is a sonogram of the heart which is diagnostic for decreased blood flow or a heart valve problem. Shit, I'm doing it again - lecturing. My echo' was normal, and I came away unscathed except for a hematoma the size of a silver dollar on my arm where the nurse tried to inject me with contrast medium. Medical people are cursed when it comes to health care. If it can go wrong, it will go wrong for nurses, doctors and their families. I’m used to it.

I left the office with a sheet of instructions and an appointment for a stress test in two days.

Not wanting to miss even a moment of art class, I dropped off P at the apartment and drove directly to the studio, where I finished my first painting since grade school. (It’s a still life of oranges and lemons in a bowl. What else?) Then I went home to get P, and we took Honey to day care at Puppy Paradise and went to lunch. Two bites into my cheeseburger, there it was: bu-thump, bu-thump, bu-thump. Great. My new doctor, like my other one, advised me to take an extra Betapace when symptoms appeared, so, ever the compliant patient, I had taken along an extra pill for just such an occasion. I popped it into my mouth, expecting everything to be better in a little while.

We ate. We went to Winn-Dixie and milled around in there for a while, and the beats just kept on coming. (Sorry. That just slipped out.) I dropped P at our apartment with the groceries and drove to fetch Honey. It was a few minutes after five when we got home, and my chest was still thuh-bumping. 

I was exhausted, took another pill. Remember that four hours had passed since lunch, and I was still out of rhythm.

When I got no relief from the extra Betapace, and my symptoms became worse, I, at Parrish's insistence, I drove to urgent care, where again my EKG was normal. But, the nurse there kept me on the monitor, and within two minutes, the dreaded PVCs showed their ugly faces - every other beat, every third beat, painting a graph of steep hills and crashing valleys across the screen. While we waited for the doctor to finish his coffee, Ella, the nurse, regaled me with her husband's A-fib story.

He’s a Merchant Marine and went into A-fib while at sea working long hours in an engine room. He was flown back to the mainland, where doctors tried to no avail to convert his rhythm back to normal. A couple of days into his treatment, he wanted to have sex with his wife. She demurred, but he insisted that if it killed him, he would at least die happy. When they were done, he was in regular rhythm and has remained so since, which bears out my late husband’s belief that sex is the treatment of choice for anything that ails you. Too bad I don’t have a lover.

Back to my story…

The arrhythmia continued in spectacular fashion…and the doctor came into the room and clucked over me. I was surprised when he didn't wring his hands. He, of course, insisted I go to the hospital, and he denied my request to drive myself. Hell, I had been driving myself around for days. I had seen a cardiologist that morning, and he didn't tell me not to drive. 

Parrish did well during this time of uncertainty. His fears can be unreasonable, which is normal for him, but he remained as calm as he could under the circumstances. The urgent care folks put me in an ambulance, and Lawrence drove over here to gather up P and Honey and meet me at the ER.

For an hour after I arrived, my heart was wildly out of rhythm. Then it converted to normal. The doctor, an adolescent who didn't look old enough to drive, kept me for two more hours and let me come home. On the way, the damned extra beats returned, and I had to take extra medicine - again. The next day was a long, marked by hours-long stretches of arrhythmia and its attendant chest fullness and fatigue.

The next afternoon, I returned to the doctor’s office for a stress test. It went well. My blood pressure responded normally to the stress and the test revealed no blockages. Yea! There were, however, plenty of PVCs, the first documented at the doctor’s office. Afterward, plagued with a headache, I was so out of rhythm that the technician had to reset the imaging machine to accommodate the irregularity. I left the office wearing a heart monitor and I was symptomatic the for rest of the day, through art class and up until bedtime - in spite of extra medicine.

I returned the monitor this Monday morning and have not yet heard from the MD’s office. My follow-up appointment is in three weeks, and not being willing to wait that long for some relief, I doubled my medication. The heart doc advised me to take extra if I needed it, so rather than wait for the PVCs to start, I'm taking a proactive approach to my own health care and comfort. Don't worry. I'm not all that stupid. I researched the maximum dosage of Betapace, and I'm taking a reasonable amount.

It took a couple of days, but I am back in rhythm, going to Music Night and walking. In this era of healthcare, when one has to be dying to get much attention, it's essential to thoughtfully make decisions for ourselves. 
No, I'm not advocating the abandonment of a doctor's care. If not for my cardiologists, I wouldn't have the medicine I need. My doctor would be treating me aggressively if he thought I were in danger. It's just that my symptoms, though not lethal, are mine, not his. I wish, for just thirty minutes, those cats would romp around inside his chest. I wish he had to work through that kind of distraction. I believe he would be more eager to treat unsettling symptoms in his patients, whether or not they are life-threatening. 

Any thoughts?

copyright 2014
cj Schlottman