Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Beauty Questions the Diver

I started out this week with the Mama & Papa’s song in my head, “Monday Monday, so good to me, Monday Monday, it was all I hoped it would be …” But by afternoon this had turned into, “Monday Monday, can't trust that day, Monday Monday, sometimes it just turns out that way. Oh Monday morning, you gave me no warning of what was to be!”

Both Ali and I had come down with some wicked stomach bug which started with dizziness, and nausea and ended us both in bed[s], aching and feverish, chilled and ditzy but unable to sleep. It was a lot like that old Nyquil jingle, we really wanted a “sniffling, sneezing, coughing, aching, stuffy/goofy head, fever, sleep better to feel better medicine,” except, we had no desire to take anything by mouth. Even an aromatherapy candle was beyond our olfactory consumption. ....Reading.... was impossible because our heads were aflame, and listening and/or watching TV was over-stimulating KILL US ..NOW..! But do you think we could sleep?!?!? No!

It felt like morning sickness times a train wreck, after which we were then dragged through a field of ice cube and stick pins, across a bed of hot coals, and then someone put the screws to all our joints, but the screws had dull ends and were being slammed in by an ogre using a brick, and the ogre was also screaming bloody murder inside our heads. And there was this little dog dancing around who wanted us to throw his toys for him. (Wait, that part was real!)

Yeah, so 24-36 hours later, we are fine.

Last night, however, I watched the movie, “The Diving Bell and the Butterfly,” based on the true story of Jean Dominique-Bauby (1952-1997), past editor of Elle magazine. In 1995, Bauby suffered a massive stroke leaving him with “locked-in syndrome,” a condition where his mental faculties were completely intact, but his body was literally frozen. He communicated by blinking his eye, and in doing so “blinked out” his story. And this was with one eye, mind you, because his other eye was weakened by the stroke, and they sewed it shut!

You heard me, SEWED IT SHUT! And yet, he persevered and BLINKED OUT HIS STORY! With the help of a speech therapist, he learned to blink the usual once for “yes,” twice for “no,” but she took it a step further by creating a placard with the alphabet arranged in order of most common French usage. She would then read through the alphabet in quick order and he would blink when she landed on the letter he wanted. This is how he communicated one word, at a time, built one letter at a time, one blink at a time!

Later, he had a transcriptionist of sorts who helped him write/edit his book, which he had to gather in his head every morning prior to seeing her, then dictate to her, etc. etc. He edited in the same way, rapidly blinking where changes need be made, etc. Obviously, some words came rapidly as she was able to recognize them partially built, as in a game of Hangman, the Sunday Crosswords, or for you TV folk, “Wheel of Fortune.” Even so, this was a tedious undertaking for both.

I unfortunately fell asleep before the movie was over, but you can bet I’ll be watching it again. It certainly got me thinking about things, that’s for absolute sure.

While I’m kind of blotto and tired today, I only had a 24-36 hour bug. And even while I’ve experienced the freakishly hellish occurrence of a stroke, my residuals (which I sometimes complain about as “Can’t I just have my old brain (self) back?”) seem minor at this point, mere blips on an EEG, the teeniest of speed bumps.

The “locked in” feeling of my stroke lasted less than a day, due to a quick emergency room team, FlightForLife transport, etc. I was very lucky, to say the very least. I was out of intensive care and home within a week.

I was never “locked in” my head FOREVER!. My “lock in” was a slap on the wrists compared to what this man went through.

Being all Bednobby and Broomsticks-y, practically living on our pillow top mattress the last 24-36 hours, oh my aching … oh, my aching what?!?!?!? What’s to complain about? When I felt better, I got up and had full functioning and could microwave a cup of ramen noodles! All by myself!

Seeing a movie such as the one I mentioned was a humbling experience (and/or if you really want to dive into this scene, try the movie “The Sea Inside” about Javiar Bardem, another remarkable man trapped in his paralyzed body, and yes he also wrote a book!). Believe you/me, I’ve ordered both men’s books on Amazon, toot sweet!

Yeah, it only takes two seconds, and I can do it with all ten fingers on the keyboard instead of blinking my way through it, and/or using a stick held in my mouth!

When the book gets here, I can read it all by myself, propped up, lying down, on a treadmill with green eggs and ham, if I like, without the aid a nurse or personal care attendant! How lucky am I (how lucky are we) in this life?

After I'm done with the book (as if I'm ever truly "done" with any book!), I can alphabetize it, blinking or not, and place it among my other brain heroes on the shelf, May Sarton and Jimmy Breslin to name a few.

Or, will I place them haphazardly on the shelf among any one of the authors who may or may not have a dented brain or psyche.

Think about it. Whatever we are going through on any given day (given, as hello?!?!?!? it’s a gift!!!!), it starts in our head and leaks into our hearts, and also works on the reverse.

That’s my lesson on the circulatory system … brain-to-heart or heart-to-brain, full circle!

So, what I’m saying is, I hope everyone is well. I know all kinds of “bugs” are flying around this season, yeah the financial picture is bad and people are scared (but please don’t shoot yourself and/or your family), and some of us are too fat, and others of us supposedly are too thin, or … or maybe, on the inside, we’re all okay.

As Jean Dominique-Bauby tells us, pity parties have their place, but then you must “decide[d] to stop pitying myself. Other than my eye, two things aren't paralyzed, my imagination and my memory.”

Yeah, so I had a tummy ache. Big Whoop!

I now get to go back to work, with all ten fingers, sitting upright and feeling extremely grateful for my lot!

And I leave you with this poem. I wrote it years and years ago, before what happened to me, and prior to coming to know these stories, and a many others. It has whole new meaning to me now, which is another great part of living and being and persevering … if you kick around long enough, things begin to make sense again (that circle I was talking about ... heart-to-head, head-to-heart and back again!):

Beauty Questions the Diver

Is it true that beauty
is only skin deep?
I ask you, diving man,
how can this be so?

Poised and ready
staring down the wave
and swell of the ocean,
what lies beneath?

What's it like
to cut surface water
your body preforming
the switch of blade?

Does it seem to you
an assault at first,
your bubbling breath,
a festering wound?

In response, tell me
does all the ocean
heal up around you?
Does the beauty lie deep?

(Written 99 or 2000, or earlier?!?!?, later published in the Adagio Verse Quarterly in 2003 )

Keep on “kicking” everyone! A kick in the ass, can get the heart started again, and there you are back to that amazing brain-to-heart or heart-to-brain, the circle of an extraordinary life, depending on how you look at it.

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