When the Hospital Calls – Revisited

Going through Joe’s stuff, my daughter found a copy of Inscape, a literary magazine published at Pasadena City College to showcase creative writing pieces by students. I worked on the editorial staff in 2012-2013 and had a piece published in it myself.

Until today I forgot it was a piece I wrote about Joe. Sort of: it’s about what I went through, and what I wish I had known, when he developed a brain aneurism back in early 2001. We’d been dating a little over 2 years at that point, and only saw each other about once a week, when he’d come over on Sundays and hang out with my family.

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Oh, the good ol’ days.

It’s a strange thing to read today, having known him for 22 years and lived with him 18.

And when the hospital called this last time things went very differently.

But in the aftermath of his aneurism, we found lots to laugh about. Because that was Joe: find the humor in everything, especially the bad times.

So I thought this deserved a repost. Edited a little because I simply must.

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..the wording. First I must change the wording.

When the Hospital Calls

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1.) Wake up. Try to take in what the doctor is saying. Don’t ask questions yet: you might not need to. When the doctor is done, ask questions. Make him repeat the story a couple times in the process. Ask things he cannot answer.

2.) Start to call your boyfriend, Joe, but don’t complete the dial. Remember, the doctor just said they’re prepping him for emergency brain surgery. Hang up and call your mother instead. Sob directly into the phone and talk much louder than you intend.

3.) Go about your day, because there’s nothing else you can do. Your everyday routine will bring you a sense of normalcy, and you desperately need that right now.

4.) When his 80-year-old mother calls to tell you what happened, try to act surprised. She needs to feel in control. She will not be happy if she knows Joe had the hospital call you.

a.) When you do tell her that the hospital called, take the focus off of yourself by asking her how she is doing, and if there’s anything you can do for her. Treat her like a grieving widow.

b.) When you fail to do this, prepare for her wrath. Starting today, throughout Joe’s fragile recovery, and until her last days on earth, you are enemy #1.

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5.) When the hospital calls again, go visit Joe. It might be 3am, after your shift at work, but that’s okay: neurological ICU is open for visitors 24/7. The scent of rubbing alcohol and floor cleaner will curl its way into your nostrils as you exit the elevator. Despite the scurry of nurses and the soft beeping of invisible machines, the entire floor will be eerily quiet. Joe will still be under heavy sedation. He will look very, very bad. Half of his head will be shaved, and a huge incision from the top of his head to the top of his ear will be stapled shut. His eyes will be swollen. His skin will be sallow. There will be monitors the size of pencil erasers screwed into his neck on either side, like Frankenstein’s monster. Tubes and cords will form a spider web over him. It’s okay to be afraid, and cry. The nurse knows how to comfort traumatized visitors.

6.) Call the hospital yourself on the days you can’t visit. When Joe’s mother calls to update you, do not…I repeat DO NOT…tell her you already know. I know you want her to know that you’re doing your best, but trust me on this one. Don’t tell her you visit. Don’t tell her you call. Just like before, let her tell you. Ask her again if she needs anything.

a.) When you do tell her that you visit and call, she will cut you off. She will tell the hospital that no one is allowed access to Joe without her. No visitors. No phone calls. You will call for your regular update and be denied. You will be devastated.

b.) Call Joe’s best friend, Erick, and tell him what that mean old woman did. Erick will go to the hospital himself. When the hospital won’t let him see Joe either, he’ll stand in front of the elevator for an hour. When Joe’s mother emerges with her church friends, Erick will cuss her out in front of them. You’ll have access to Joe immediately. Call the hospital: the staff will be happy to hear from you again.

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7.) Joe’s mind will not be right. The surgery affected his memory. It will be disturbing, but stay strong. Bring him balloons and cards and pictures. Point them out when he wakes up. Tell him about Erick’s first visit, because you know he doesn’t remember: tell him about how he took two shaky breaths and then tried to hand the oxygen mask to Erick  as if it were a joint. Puff-puff-give! Tell him how Erick was too traumatized to get the joke.

a.) Joe will fall asleep. Wait for him to wake up. When he does, he will have forgotten your whole conversation. He will have forgotten you were even there. It’s okay to repeat the conversation you just had: it was perfectly good, why waste it? For the rest of his life, his favorite story will be about how you two had the same conversation six times that day.

8.) From now on, when he introduces you to old friends, he will say, “Tell them about the time my head exploded!” He will laugh harder and harder with every retelling.

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Jojo, 12-03-12

Lost

Two days ago my ride-or-die died on me.

I met Joe online, of all places, in early 1998. Back in the days of AOL, streaming chat rooms, and dial-up servers. Before social media, dating websites, and Amazon. We met in a chat room that I used to frequent. I talked to people from all over the U.S. and Canada, even a smattering of other countries. But Joe lived 20 minutes away from me in Los Angeles.

We graduated away from the chat room and onto an instant messaging program called ICQ. (Do you remember ICQ?! Dinosaur days!) I had no intention of dating – good grief I was pregnant! – but I was also isolated and alone, and chatting on ICQ became a nightly ritual. Usually, it wasn’t more than a check-in: “Hey, how are you?” “Good, you?” “Good.” Sometimes he’d tell me about a softball game he attended when his job had a league, or about a car show he went to, or about a beach-side bike ride he took after work. Bike ride stories usually involved seeing someone wearing spandex who had no business wearing spandex.

Toward the end of my pregnancy, my nesting phase manifested as a need to go out and have fun: dinner with a friend, a movie, something! But I only had one face-to-face friend and her husband wasn’t letting her out. My next option was this guy online. So I invited him to take me to the movies. Here I was huge with pregnancy, cankles galore, and at least an inch taller than this guy with a distinctly south L.A. dialect and a love of cars. He was very gentlemanly, sweet, easy to laugh. It was a fun, safe night. (Except we saw There’s Something About Mary. Kind of an awkward movie to see with a virtual stranger.)

Two days later I was in the hospital in labor. And I thought Oh no, Joe’s going to think I didn’t like him! But of course, I explained things when I was home again, and we resumed out nightly check-ins.

Fast forward three months. He mentioned that he, a girl from work, his brother, and his brother’s wife were planning a trip to Knott’s Scary Farm (a Southern California theme park, Knott’s Berry Farm, dressed up for Halloween). He was looking for discount tickets, and I had a hook-up for them.

Seeing an opportunity for another fun night, I said, “Since you’ll be out here anyway, how about we go to dinner? And since we’re already going to dinner, how about we shoot some pool afterward?” So we did! (And you know, I had forgotten all about that until just now.)

At dinner, I gave him the tickets and he gave me the money. The tickets ended up costing me more than I’d quoted him, but I didn’t have the nerve to tell him. As soon as the exchange was made he asked, “Soooo, would you like to come?” The girl he was going to take suddenly stopped talking to him. So sure! Another free night of fun!

After that night I decided I didn’t really want to be without him, so we started dating.

We were an official couple for 9 years. I called it quits in the middle of the recession, so neither one of us could afford to live on our own. We got comfortable with it and continued to live together another 13 years. Until 2 days ago. We met face-to-face for the first time 3 days before my son was born, and he passed away on my son’s 22nd birthday.

Joe had an infectiously warm spirit. He was chronically good-natured and likable, generous, caring, always laughing. Except for that one woman from work, I don’t think anyone ever fell out with him or stopped being his friend. He helped me raise my kids, taking on the role of father, and eventually grandfather. He was our confidant, our sounding board, and our safety net. He was there when I got my first grown-up job and helped me get my first apartment. And he was a survivor. He had health problems as long as I’d known him, but the older he got the more momentum they gained. On Tuesday his heart just gave out. The doctor told me it was too weak to even beat anymore: it was just quivering.

I had to make some hard decisions on his behalf. I knew what he’d want, but did he truly understand? Was he really ready to go? Did it matter, if his body wasn’t going to cooperate? Despite Covid, they let the kids and I go to him to say good-bye, and let me stay with him as he passed.

Joe taught me to find the humor in difficult situations, however morbid, to make it through. So I apologized for letting him die with a bad haircut. I told him I had to stand on his right side because his head was turned to the left and his face looked crazy, like it belonged on the Haunted Mansion ride at Disneyland. And that was all the morbid humor I could muster. I kept a hand on his head, on his shoulder, skin-to-skin. I told him I’d be there with him until he was gone. I promised we would do something beautiful for him.

I’m still waiting for all the happy memories to come flooding back, and for that peaceful knowledge that he’s in a better place. All the comforting things that came when I lost friends and loved ones in the past. And I’m trying to be patient, knowing that he’s new to his afterlife and that I’m blind and deaf in my fresh grief. But boy, does losing your person suck. It, like, really really sucks.

Rest in peace, Jojo. ❤

 

 

 

 

 

Being an FTO

…is exhausting.

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Me, typing up my Daily Observation Report.

Going through my last few posts I discovered that I posted this, about failing my second chance at my old job, almost a year ago. Time for an update.

About four months ago I was promoted to Training Officer. Last week I completed FTO (Field Training Officer) school and today I started with my first trainee.

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Because I’m too tired to find something better.

It’s a lot more work than I expected. Good work that I’m so happy to do, but let me tell you: my brain feels heavy. Like a good hard physical workout where your muscles aren’t sore, just used. My brain feels used. Especially the front, right in the middle of my forehead. I wonder if that means something? Who knows. But I loved every minute of it.

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I feel exactly like this Smurf looks

My trainee is great. We got through a lot of material today. I feel accomplished.

I don’t have much more to say except that I’m thoroughly happy; that this “lesser” job is immensely satisfying; and that the “better” job I made the best of for eleven years…

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…can suck it.

I Will Not Ask For More

This title, which I stole from of Linda at Life on a Colorado Farm, gave me pause.

I’m typing this from my son’s hospital room. Andrew, 19, who gets wiped out by the common cold…

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Psh! Men!

…but is otherwise healthy as a horse, active, joyful, and independent, contracted the Epstein-Barr virus and developed a disease known as mononucleosis, a.k.a. mono.

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Don’t call it the kissing disease! He hasn’t been kissing anyone!

At best victims get a sore throat, fatigue, fever, and body aches that lay them out for a couple weeks and linger for about a month. Emphasis on at best. Swollen lymph nodes and tonsils are also typical. Common complications include an inflamed liver with associated blood problems, a swollen spleen, and nervous system issues. It usually takes two or three months to run its course.

Why am I being textbooky and boring? Because MY son can’t be. Oh no! He has only half of the normal symptoms, but the worst ones; the inflamed liver thing; and pneumonia, which is a WTH?! complication. So lots of things conspiring to keep him in the hospital.  And my child’s hospital room is my hotel room. Today there is lots more to ask for.

sad_orphan

Cue the sad orphan.

I wonder how this scenario would have played out a hundred years ago, or more? Can you imagine? So often we romanticize the past, when people dressed nicer, had finer manners, or lived “simpler.”

chivalry

When chivalry was alive and everyday life looked like fine art.

Honestly, though, how many of us would have survived to the age we are now? Would we still be able to see or hear? How many teeth would we have? Or limbs? How much pain would we live with every day? If I had been born a century earlier I probably wouldn’t have survived childhood. My daughter wouldn’t have survived infancy. My 19-year-old son would be dying right now.

To be sure, modern medicine isn’t perfect, but today we are here. We have lived to adulthood serviceably intact. Andrew is ill and uncomfortable but far, far from death.  Today, I will not ask for more than that.

Not Super Human

I couldn’t do it, guys. I had to withdraw from training.

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Because this is how I felt.

Since I last posted, the graveyard shift hours became easier to handle even if the heat did not. I spent two weeks back on a daytime shift in that haphazard classroom training before being assigned to a training officer who worked 2am-10:30am.

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Seriously. Brutal.

Still, I threw everything I had at it. Maybe it was the hours. Maybe it was the all-over-the-place training. Maybe the job itself has grown too much or maybe I have.  Ultimately it didn’t matter: I knew I wasn’t going to meet their expectations, so I called it.

“Disappointment” is the phrase of the week. I feel like a disappointment to the people who stuck their necks out for me, to the people who believed in me, and to the people who need a reliable coworker. I knew what I was getting myself into and I thought I could overcome, but I couldn’t. The infamous Professor K recently called me one of her favorite and most talented students, but I don’t write much so I feel like a disappointment to her, too.  Disappointment runs rampant in my little world these days.

sadviolin

Cue the sad violin.

I’m not actually full of self-pity. I didn’t fail without help. What bothers me the most is that I’m not the Super Woman I thought I was.

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Just disappointingly normal.

There is a rainbow at the end of this storm, though: I’m still employed! Yay! I applied for and acquired another position within the department. It’s not as prestigious or well-compensated as the one I just left, but I’m already tons happier. I’m in a “familiarization” phase waiting for another group of new hires to start with me, but I’ve already been able to contribute a little. And that, after failing every day for 5 months straight, is priceless.

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So the story continues.

Sleep Desperation

It’s only spring, but summer weather is already here. Sun and heat drain the color and vigor from living things while fevered breezes pulse through the air like dragon breath. My view is full of flowers and butterflies, but everything has a dusty cast that turns it into a faded nature film from the 1970s.

I @#$%ing hate summer.

I should be asleep right now. When my kids were younger, graveyard shift was tricky because I wanted to be awake when they were home, or at least awake enough to take them to and from school, or wherever else they needed to go. Friends and neighbors would help but it never lasted, either through fault or circumstance.  I thought this time would be easier since my kids are adults now.

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Wrong!

I try to keep a similar schedule to my normal daylight time, just 12 hours later, but it’s so hot, you guys! *cry* It’s just so, so hot!

And I forgot about how, when you work overnight, you develop this desperation to get enough sleep. If you fail, no amount of coffee, pills, or energy drinks can help you.

Sometimes you get lucky and work with a crew who understands, who lets each other nap while keeping watch or picking up the slack. The trick to maintaining that dynamic is to not take advantage; make every effort to stay up and pull your weight.  That was my favorite thing about graveyards, that camaraderie we had, watching out for each other, keeping each other afloat. It was temporary, but it was good while it lasted.

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Like little sailboats of friendship.

Now, however, I’m a trainee, and no such dynamic is accessible even if it does exist. So it’s especially important to be prepared for that nightly journey into darkness and through to the sunrise at the end.  This heat, though! It’s impossible! Every morning I scarf down breakfast and go to bed as soon as possible to catch the cool air.  I wake up 3-4 hours later drenched, stay up through the heat of the day, and take another 2-3 hour nap in the late afternoon. Then it’s a mad scramble to eat, get ready for work, swing by Starbucks, and catch my train. So far I’ve managed it into a doable routine, but that sleep desperation hangs over me like a little black rain cloud, always.

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Too bad it can’t give me some nice cool rain.

 

Thoughts, Three Weeks In

So. My first three weeks.

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This.

My first three weeks were a double-timed, whirlwind orientation combined with whatever early-phase training the powers that be had a whim to throw me into. Four days in I felt the need to put my foot down and demand some structure, which I received along with the wrath of our manager.  Alas, it lasted a whole two days…the structure, that is. The wrath will be harder to shake.

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Let’s take deep breath and enjoy some art.

Most days went something like this:

  1. Show up when I’m told.
  2. Report to whom I’m told.
  3. Am asked one of two questions:
    1. “Why are you here so early?” by the person who set up my schedule
    2. “What do they have you doing today?” by the person who’s supposed to tell me what to do today
  4. At some point, treated like a misbehaving child for not being where I’m supposed to be, despite:
    • being given misinformation
    • being given no information
    • engaging in a self-assigned task because I’ve already been waiting over an hour for some direction
    • actually being where I’m supposed to be.
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And again…breath in, breath out, enjoy this interpretation of a happy face sun.

I felt like tennis ball: volleyed out of every court I landed in.  It was the most disorganized, disjointed, unprofessional “training” I can recall dealing with, and somehow I was wrong for expecting better.

*Sigh*

Let’s distract ourselves with a video this time: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_r4byVUcyiw

But it’s okay, friends. Now I’m on the graveyard shift with one specific trainer who believes in the power of structure, so I’m thriving. I’m still being treated like a child, but at least now I’m a well-behaved one. I think I deserve a cookie.

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And a nap!

And on my last day of that awful first phase I wore my new uniform for the first time.  It’s an icky polyester that requires an extra layer, and my body shape is completely at odds with its tucked-in shirt and belted pants.  So much bad. Still, when I saw myself in the locker room mirror I got unexpectedly emotional:  I felt like I was part of the team again.

Back to the Belly of the Beast

Two months ago I got a phone call from my former supervisor: “Would you be interested in coming back?”

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Right here. Just for a moment.

Yup. It happened.

So I could look at this two ways, right? 1) All those hard years trying to avoid this very industry, all that work, thrown away? Ha! No thank you! Or 2) You can’t throw away education and experience, and dammit I need a job. Bring it!

And what happens if I do go back? Do I have demands? Do I have strategies? What kind of attitude should I project? How do I stand? What do I do with my arms?

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Get it together!

But I didn’t have time for any of it. Robin hardly had a chance to get the words out before my brain sent the order to my mouth and my mouth blurted, “YES!”

So I am once again gainfully employed. I feel like I’ve been treading water in the middle of the ocean for the past 5 years, and the tiny islands I managed to wash up on never had enough coconuts to sustain me long. And now I’ve hit a continent. The very continent I was sent adrift from, yes, but a continent nonetheless.

How many times have I seen something on the news or heard a story from a former coworker, and thanked my lucky stars that I wasn’t part of it? How many times have I said, “Whew! Dodged a bullet there!” or “Glad I’m not a part of that mess!”

But the truth is that I’m grateful. I don’t know how to survive without a job, or without someone else picking up my slack. I’m not the gypsy or “portfolio career” type. My family has sacrificed so much. I’m beyond ready to get my life back on course. So when this opportunity presented itself I jumped on it, pride be damned.

I just completed my first week back. I need to start journaling because I’m definitely going to get some good writing material out of this.

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I need to journal with a fountain pen like this.

In related news, I decided to change the name of my blog to reflect my return to the heart of Los Angeles. J9inLA is my Twitter handle, which I don’t use much but which I created with my employed self in mind. So here we go!

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Fight on.

 

 

How to Impress an Angelino

My friend Tresa recently hosted cousins on a weekend visit from Indiana. Her daughter planned a schedule jam-packed with as much Los Angeles spectacle as possible: Hollywood, the Griffith Observatory, Santa Monica, In N’ Out…the typical touristy stuff.

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See the burger in the middle? Animal style: it’s the only way to go.

The cousins were dazzled, but they also ooo’ed and ahhh’ed over simpler sights, such as scrolling wrought iron fences, gracefully aged apartment buildings, or whole neighborhoods perched on hillsides.

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What, this old thing?

It made me think of a visitor we had from Kentucky. The very airport he flew into took his breath away. Like Tresa, we took our guest to places that were uniquely L.A.  What really impressed him, though, weren’t the sights themselves but the immensity of it all. The enormity of singular spaces; the diversity of people and food and things; the way the air buzzes with giddy energy even through quiet nights.

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It’s just an overabundance of electromagnetic fields, really.

Tresa and her daughter are planning a trip to Indiana this summer. The cousins say they can’t imagine how they’re supposed to impress people who live in such an exciting place. “Let us relax!” Tresa said.

That. Right there.

I’ve always lived in some or other suburb of Los Angeles. It’s an incredible place, I know! But it’s also expensive and downright exhausting.  We Angelinos are probably more impressed with small, simple things than our small-town counterparts.  You know what excites us? Trees. Horses. Open spaces. A full night’s sleep. The color green. Rivers that aren’t encased in concrete. Storms. Silence. Affordable housing.

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But mostly the nature things.

I imagine it’s the same for any workaday person living in a big urban or suburban area. What people from smaller places think of as mundane, we find fascinating. Forget the fancy wrought iron fences…how do you live with NO fences? Aren’t you worried about people coming into your yard? How do you know where your property ends?

And how lucky are you that there’s a creek in your backyard! No, that’s not next to your yard, that’s in your yard; there’s no fence!

What do you mean there’s nothing exciting to do around here? I thought we were gonna play cards and drink beer?

OMG you have a porch swing! Does it work? MOM! C’MERE! They have a porch swing that works!

You are so lucky that you get to drive a half hour to the grocery store.  All that scenery, no traffic, no noise…

What the hell is a potato cannon? You let your kids play with that?  Waddaya mean your kids built that? Your kids are crazy smart. You are the best parents ever.

You paid how much for this house?!

Quiet. Space. Simplicity. That’s how to impress and Angelino.

Big Thoughts on a Quiet Morning

Can we just stand still and be, I wonder?  How many of us get to a point where we can stop moving forward and live entirely in the moments that surround us? Just be? Is it only when we’re forced to by age or infirmness?

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Bee sweet.

Did you know that “infirmness” is really a word?

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Look it up.

*sigh* I don’t know. Linda’s blog post got me thinking.

I’m reminded of a conversation I had with my friend Maria a few years ago. We were collaborating on a project, discussing media and self-image. She wondered why Americans are so obsessed with self-improvement.  Beauty, health, wealth, charity, leadership, humility, spirituality, consciousness, acceptance, independence, community, happiness, peace, faster, slower, look beyond, look within…we’re constantly being tugged in different directions for the sake of being better.  When, she asked, are we enough?

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Bam! In your face!

There’s no right answer. We constantly reach and stretch forward because we have to. Humans are social, curious animals whether we like it or not. Standing still for too long crumples our souls.