…life on the synaptic firing range

Location: Los Angeles, United States

Bent but unbroken Southern California native seeks understanding, companionship, and resonance along and off the beaten path. Teresa plays well with others and makes every effort to perform to her potential. Usually. *processed in a facility that processes nuts and nut products

Monday, October 16, 2006

on not thriving

I’ve been sleeping in a chair most nights for the past couple of weeks. It’s a really nice chair, one of those Relax the Back zero-gravity numbers—in green suede—but, you know, it’s still a chair. The first time I resorted to its embrace was during a sleepless night, several weeks ago, in which I was unable to find a single position where I wasn’t tempted to amputate my right leg at the hip joint, such was the pain that radiated through it for reasons unknown. (For those of you keeping score, my right side, which hosts my right leg, would be my heretofore non-gimpy side.) It seemed like such an extreme measure back then, sleeping in a chair, but it’s become routine, just another option: Hmm, bed or chair tonight?

A friend said it sounded like a sciatic nerve flare-up and suggested that my partner try to beat it into submission. My girl didn’t seem eager to pummel my ass at first, but after a few hesitant warm-up taps she got all Fists of Fury on me. (I haven’t dared ask whether she had a particular incident or quarrel in mind during our uncharacteristically antagonistic encounter.) At any rate, the therapy did not a lick of good.

My primary care doctor didn’t so much take my pain complaint seriously: After he manipulated my leg this way and that and saw nothing obviously wrong, Dr. Devil-May-Care told me to feel free to exceed Advil’s label-recommended dosage, breezily adding that I could take “as many as four at a time”—just in case I was thinking more along the lines of, say, 18.

Does my HMO hate me?

It’s not such a ridiculous question. I’ve lately been collecting ailments as if they’re exotic butterflies, and my current primary care doc would be only the most recent in a long line of doctors to get all Billy Mumy on my ass and wish me into the cornfield. And if any perceived abuse of my HMO’s resources isn’t enough to get me shit-listed, there’s also this matter of a letter I wrote them years ago—before they became my HMO—to rant at them on behalf of my grandfather.

My father, who has called me exactly twice in my adult life, rang me up one day in 1999. “Your grandpa’s in the hospital,” he said. “He tried to kill himself.”

Let me just say here that my grandfather as I remembered him was a bit of a bastard. I say “as I remembered him” because we had been estranged for 15 years. Nevertheless, the dutiful daughter called in sick to work and headed south on the 101, toward Orange County and family.

I went with my parents to visit my grandfather at the “care unit,” which seemed more like an assisted living facility than a mental hospital and where my grandfather was eating chocolate ice cream and flirting with a nurse one third his age.

“It was those [HMO] bastards,” he said, after some adjustment time during which we established that yes, it had been 15 years since we saw each other, and yes, I was an adult now. He went on to say that he had told his doctors over and over that his medications weren’t working and that he couldn’t stand to live in constant pain anymore. In addition to the standard assortment of elderly gentlemen’s aches, he had had problems with his feet and legs for decades. And, yeah, of course, all of this was very likely exacerbated by the big D. Melancholia runs in my paternal line; we’re one big unhappy family.

After one too many copays, one too many aloof doctors, one too many changes into a gown to wait around in a freezing exam room only to be sent away with instructions to get plenty of rest and to moderate activities and to pay attention to those dietary needs, Grandpa went out and bought himself a handgun. He endured California’s “goddamn” 10-day waiting period, he groused, then he drove to an isolated area and stood in the middle of a field with his new firearm at his temple—cocked—until he realized he couldn’t summon the will to pull the trigger.

My dad, who had not been estranged from his father during that period, nevertheless didn’t know about the gun until a policeman told him he had found it—loaded—under the driver’s seat of my grandfather’s unlocked Camry, in the parking lot of a local Motel 6 where he had booked what he presumably thought would be his scene fin. I can’t imagine very many more depressing spaces in which to bid my last than a suburban budget motel room, but I guess it’s appropriate to the hopelessness of the act—hell, it may even be reassuring to think that polyester-blend bedspreads and factory-direct art belong only to the living. As my grandfather told it, he didn’t want anyone to have to “find him.” In this case, “anyone” should be understood to exclude the Motel 6 housekeeping staff.

The gun, “not having been discharged in the commission of a crime,” had to be taken into custody by a family member, the policeman told my dad. It wasn’t acceptable to leave it in the car, loaded or not. “I don’t want the damn thing,” my dad told me as we drove to my grandfather’s townhouse to get him some pajamas and a change of underclothes. Once at his place, eerily unchanged since his wife had died fully 20 years prior, I laughed for the first time all day upon seeing, on his nightstand, a library copy of Final Exit atop Terry McMillan’s How Stella Got Her Groove Back. My librarian friend Slangred once told me, shortly after assuming her post at a large central city library, that both of her branch’s circulation copies of Final Exit were past due—quite.

It was from Final Exit, he said, that he gleaned the tip to pull a bag over his head after he overdosed—that way, once he passed out he could asphyxiate in peace, and he wouldn’t have to worry about whether he had taken enough pills, whether he might succeed in killing his brain only to be survived by his more rote biological systems.

Was it a sincere attempt? That’s the first question people ask after establishing the basics: Is he OK, how did he do it, and why? Cynicism, and perhaps denial, makes us doubt the commitment of those who don’t cut deep enough, take too few pills, jump just five stories instead of the recommended 10. Was my grandfather’s attempt sincere? He said he left the motel room because his mouth felt like it was lined with cotton—a side effect he hadn’t anticipated—and he couldn’t stand it anymore; he knew there was a Jack in the Box across the street, so he thought he’d get himself a soda. (Why didn’t he just drink some tap water? Delirium? Or second thoughts?) A fellow Motel 6’er knew something wasn’t right with him as she watched him try to cross the street; she called 911 before he hit the asphalt, and his plan was thwarted by a round of stomach pumping and a couple of weeks under the watchful care of “son-of-a-bitch doctors” and flirt-worthy nurses.

The concept of sincerity came up in my letter to [HMO], particularly in terms of its efficacy in their then–advertising slogan: “Peace of mind.” I threw the slogan back at them repeatedly, castigating their neglect of my grandfather’s most basic stated need: relief, however fleeting, from constant pain. The letter, I’m sure, wasn’t my best work. Still, I received a response from the vice president of blameless apologies, sympathizing with my concerns in that very passive corporate way: We’re sorry that this experience has been so very frustrating for you, and it’s unfortunate that your grandfather has been unable to find relief from his pain, and if you have any further needs please feel free to contact the director of lunatic relations at…

Sincerity’s tough to come by these days.

My grandfather lasted another seven years—a period I like to think of as “How Grandpa Got His Groove Back”—over the course of which I saw him many more times. After he was discharged from the mental hospital he was assigned a new primary care doctor who made it his mission to solve the pain issues—no doubt an imperative issued from above—and inside of six months he was feeling markedly better physically and, perhaps as a result, mentally. The onetime bastard underwent some kind of personalityectomy to become an oddly lovable old man, one who, so far as anyone knows, never attempted suicide again. And none of us questioned his decision to refuse treatment when he was diagnosed with lung cancer in 2005. He had resolved to live the remainder of his days, finite at last, as he wished.

Slangred will be pleased to know that the aforementioned copy of Final Exit was returned to the library. And my grandfather’s handgun sleeps with the fishes, ceremoniously dropped to the bottom of the Pacific by my uncle while on a fishing trip, making me wonder how many firearms not discharged during the commission of a crime lie corroding on the ocean floor.

I, meanwhile, am now a card-carrying member of [HMO], and I’d like to know what it takes, short of a “suicidal gesture,” to get just one doctor to say, sincerely, that he or she understands my frustrations and won’t give up on me. Will someone at [HMO] please help me to, as their current ad slogan promises with such elegant brevity, “thrive.”

One does not thrive while sleeping in a chair.


Anonymous hopskipjump said...

Thanks for another lovely blog. a blove, maybe that's better. I'm just charmed how you can have like this coherent theme (pain) and weave it in and out of your experiences and the lives of others. Oh how I am green with envy of that literary mind that knows how to make a beutiful package out of a story.

So, ("so" doesn't really make sense, I know, but it's what I'd probably say if talking) it's an unbelievable coincidence that my left hip has been killing me. It started one day when I sat on a hay bale, a most comfortable seat. It was until I tried to get up. My hips seemed to have gotten disjointed or rusted or something. Get the WD40. Since then I can't even sit cross-legged on the floor. My pride of being agile gone with the dust like a lot of other physical talents. And the last few nights I cannot get comfortable in bed no matter what I do and I have tried everything and for me also, I can only get relief in the good old reclining loveseat in front of the TV. I have been taking 3 Bayer aspirins. This takes the edge off slightly. My theory is I have arthritis. From experience I know this comes and goes, so I'm waiting for it to go. Since I'm too depressed to have any ambition, it's no problem waiting.

Well, I just hold out my hand to you, or from my hips to yours, hoping for pain free sanity. Damned good blog, scout!

Thought of you - some state or city just adopted one of those public service slogans (e.g., Baltimore's used to be: "The city that reads.") Ready for this? It's "READ Y'ALL" The pros and cons are just bouncing off my cranium.

OK, I got a little long here. I apologize if it's annoying.

12:09 PM  
Blogger scout said...

Annoying? Hell no! Thanks for resonating. I join you, in spirit, on your loveseat. Be well, my friend.

12:28 PM  
Blogger sporksforall said...

All of this could make my head explode.

The worst part of it is not having my honey next to me at night.

As a member of that self-same HMO and one who is also not thriving here at the moment (for very different reasons), I have to say that your perserverance is admirable.

No Final Exits next to the chair, though. Ok?

3:21 PM  
Anonymous funchilde said...

first of all, i hope you feel better and soon. i thought this sentence was particularly beautiful:"The onetime bastard underwent some kind of personalityectomy to become an oddly lovable old man, one who, so far as anyone knows, never attempted suicide again."

6:42 PM  
Blogger Slangred said...

Every goddamn word you write is beautiful.

Shall I try my hand at writing a letter to [HMO] on your behalf? Maybe the trick is for the A-holes That Be to receive an angry note from a non-suicidal, non-"lunatic" person, as when you wrote in for your grandfather. I can't fucking believe they're waving you off again, after all you've been through already. It's a good thing that grandpa's handgun is laying at the bottome of the sea, because I'm feeling pretty "disgruntled" at [HMO] right now, and that piece might have finally been discharged during the commission of a crime, even if just at a point oh, 2 inches above the head of a [HMO] muckety-muck.

I hope your pain disappears soon.

8:32 PM  
Blogger KMae said...

Wonderfully written!

So Sorry
About your pain.

And those fucking hmo's.

9:32 PM  
Blogger Elizabeth said...

Doctors, dentists and hair stylists. If you get a bad one, your life sucks and you have really bad hair.

Personally, I have a very low opinion of doctors. Most of them are overbearing fuckwads who think just because they can say big medial words they're in line to rule the universe when the Grand Poobah decides to retire.

Have you ever seriously thought of trying acupuncture? I don't know if it's covered by insurance but might be worth a try if it is. I have the sciatic nerve thing too, it doesn't affect my let to where I have to sleep on a chair but I find regular exercise usually keeps it at bay.

8:42 PM  
Blogger Little Blue Petal said...

Miasmic homoeopathy mate, A.S.A.P.!

5:19 PM  

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