*Trigger Warning*An Open Letter to Physicians & Surgeons

I am writing this letter to hopefully educate you on the appropriate ways to perform invasive medical procedures on those with a past history of rape, child molestation or intimate trauma of any kind.

Some of us have histories of that nature and some of us choose to share that very private information with you during our surgical consult sessions. Some don’t, as they have attempted to put those very emotional issues in the past and choose to move forward with their heads held high and with grace and courage you could not even begin to comprehend.

I was the former and chose to share my history with you prior to my very first colonoscopy, in the hopes that you would be understanding of my fear and numerous questions regarding the procedure itself, the time involved, the medications utilized and their potency. I made a point of apologising repeatedly in your office with every question I posed to you, as I could tell you were impatient with my questions regarding my procedure.

I get it.

As you pointed out, you do twenty of these a day. It’s no big deal. You are the best at these. I work in the medical profession as well, so I know how physicians view their time as far more important than anyone else’s.

And rightly so.  You and your colleagues make a lot of money for your time, don’t you?

After our consultation, I showed up for my procedure, you went to work doing what you do “the best”, but at the end of our scheduled time, you informed me that you didn’t schedule enough time, so I would need to return in a few weeks so you could finish the job. I am aware neither of us knew that I would have polyps that required you to spend a bit more time to remove. I know this wasn’t your fault at all, in fact. Just my luck to be the last appointment of the day, and you not having a baseline on me, as this was my first time down this particular medical road.

I went home that day so incredibly proud of myself for even undergoing the procedure, you know.

I had numerous thoughts of skipping it entirely, as I had been on a good run of stable mental health and was in a good place emotionally about my past. I had put a lot of tremendously hard work into that. Years of work, in fact.

I shared some of that with you in the consult. How I had a history of not complying with requests for medical procedures which might trigger me or bring back the worst of my post-traumatic stress. How my way was to just hope for the best as far as my medical health went, as I was struggling enough to keep my mental health stable.

I trusted you and I am afraid, you let me down when I came back for my second procedure.

During the second procedure, which was lengthy and again involved removal of polyps and clips and some sort of laser suturing, my medication began wearing off. You were taking biopsy samples, which required you to remove the device used numerous times and then reinsert to continue on your way.

I could sense you were getting frustrated. You were moving faster, and two times in a row, you missed your target on the way back inside of me and hurt me. You hurt me a lot, in fact.

I began to move my legs a bit, I know. I will take my share of the blame here. I am used to being the one to apologise. I have done it my entire life every time I have cried due to pain or shame or emotional distress during an invasive medical procedure. I moved my legs because I couldn’t help it, I suppose.

You told me to stop in a rather stern voice, but rather than asking me why I was moving, crying or maybe…just MAYBE…taking the time to stop what you were doing long enough to question me about my distress, you chose to repeat your command to stop moving in a louder, harsher voice.

So, I did what I learned was best, all those many years ago.

I stopped moving.

I froze entirely, in fact.

I cried without making a sound, with my chin tucked as far into my chest as I could get it.

The nurse assisting you DID notice my tears, even though she was not in a position to see my face, but I believe she noticed because that is what nurses do. They look at the patients. They see the patients. The have empathy for the patients, those vulnerable patients who trust you to hopefully heal them, and even if you can’t, please don’t hurt them more than they have been in the past.

She rubbed my back softly and told you she was going to give me more medication.

She didn’t ask you.

She told you.

And in that moment, she made me trust her.

As the medication began to work, you were able to complete what you were there to do, with no more problems from me. I could stop apologizing for being an inconvenience for you.

Just in case my account was not straightforward enough to properly explain the problem I had, I will explain it from our differing perspectives.

You: I didn’t schedule enough time for this patient. I am the best at these procedures and can usually slam twenty of these out in an eight hour day. I am paid by the procedure, not by the time, so I need to maximize every minute, to ensure I can fit as many patients as I can into my booking times allocated by the hospital. This one is a pain in the ass and ended up with more polyps than I counted on, and has already cost me money. Now, she is moving around, and making my work harder, as I don’t want to inadvertently harm her while doing the procedure, as it will maybe affect me financially or professionally. I wish that nurse didn’t give her more medication, because that cuts into my profit margin. Oh well, I will just finish this one up as fast as I can, and she will be on her way!

Me:  Confused, medicated and in pain. Room is dark. Being penetrated by something from behind me. In and out. In and out. In and out. Frustrated male voice telling me to stay still and stop moving. Angrier male voice telling me to STOP MOVING AROUND, while I am being penetrated and my insides feel like fire and my backside is stinging. I can’t run away. I am at the mercy of the male in control in this dark room. Freeze and stop moving and hope it’s over soon or you just die so it stops.

I just received a letter in the mail from your office today, informing me that you have scheduled me to be back in February to do it all over again.

Right at this moment, I doubt I will be there.

Today, I doubt I will even give you the courtesy of a call to confirm that I won’t be there.

After reliving this once again in order to write this for you, I hope my not cancelling costs you money, in fact.

The childish part of me wants you to hurt too, and this seems the easiest way to make that happen.

Once again, I’m sorry. But you are the one who awakened that child again in that dark room, when you didn’t have even the smallest bit of compassion or human kindness within you to take at most three minutes out of your busy day to see why your patient was distressed.

Here’s a link that may educate you a wee bit.

I hope this letter helps to educate you and your colleagues and I also hope it helps to ensure that this kind of experience doesn’t happen as frequently as I fear it might.

Signed,

One Sorry Patient

 

Featured image courtesy of Project Unbreakable

 

 

 

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Rebirth

Following three days of oblivion, my senses awoke one by one.

 wiish-wiish-wiish-wiish wiish-wiish-wiish-wiish wiish-wiish-wiish-wiish

The sound and feel of  the sequential compression stockings as they filled with air and squeezed my thighs and calves.

pffffffffffffffffffffffffffffffffffffffffffffffffffffffffffffffffffffffffffffffffffffff as they released the air.

The beeping and alarms of the machines attached to my body. Every organ and body part being monitored by its own very vocal team of wires and stickies and buttons. What looked to be huge heavy snakes  hanging over or draped through the bed railings and tucked under the sheet over me.

( Jungle Book in the theatre at 4 years of age. so happy to be sitting there with daddy alone and no one else. the scene where Kaa the snake appears. stiffening up and peeing a tiny bit from fright and trying not to cry cus mommy said be good or he wont take you again. daddy seeing your fright and pulling you out of your seat and into his lap clumsily. pushing your face into his chest and smelling the man smells of tobacco and old spice and knowing you are safe.)

trust

Voices were coming out of the wall somehow. In the dim lighting of the room, I could hazily see a small white square, which seemed to be talking to me.

” Assist needed in 701-2.” ” Karen to desk.” ” Code Blue – Unit 70.”

“Over here, Dad…I’m here. Over this way.Come help me.”

” I don’t know where I am, Dad. Come get me, please. I want to go home now.”

He’s been dead and gone for over twenty years but I babble away from dry stoned lips, voice cracking from disuse and fried vocal chords from screaming and hoses jammed down my throat.

Once my sight adjusts to the lighting, I notice I am not alone as I first thought.

I can make out shapes of others in beds like the one I am in. Shadowy shapes under white sheets .

Three others in the darkness with me.

The one beside me is crying quietly and melodically. In the days and mostly nights ahead, I will come to know the rhythm of her crying very intimately. More intimately than I have ever become one with a stranger.

I have long forgotten her name and with great deliberation have mostly obscured her ravaged face from my memories.  The closest I can come to most accurately describing the imagery of this poor soul is with the explanation that her face had been literally torn off and then seemingly stitched back on with thick black stitches and metal clips to hold it in place.Her cries I have never forgotten and still hear and feel to this day.

Heartbroken rhythmic crying like a child. The crying took on such a life of its own within my psyche during my time there with her that she is a part of me now.

There was a young man directly across from me with severe brain injury. He was 19 years old and had committed himself to the state he was in by having 2 beers and then riding in the back of a truck his friend was driving in circles around a parking lot during a tailgate party. His mother later told me that the truck never went over 5 miles per hour. So, moving very slowly, almost too slowly to even move. That her son was sitting on the side and simply fell backwards and hit the pavement head first.

He was a physically beautiful young man with a lovely complexion and warm auburn hair who had been suddenly turned in to an inappropriate three year old who asked questions constantly and also used some pretty bad language that he brought with him when he reverted back to toddler-hood.

He said the most filthy things imaginable over and over and over again, mostly to his mother, as she was always there with him. Day and night. By the side of his bed. I fell asleep to her soft voice telling him stories and awoke every morning to her gentle good morning. To this day, I still carry love and admiration in my heart for this woman and hope her difficult journey with her childlike son became easier as time has gone on.

Bed 4, kitty corner to me, never had anyone in it long enough that I got to know them or their stories. In my head, I was calling it the death bed, as not single person left that bed to any place other than the morgue. The lady whose ex husband shot her for leaving, the man whose step father stabbed him repeatedly with a knife during a family argument, the catatonic middle aged wealthy women who flew straight off the back of her husband’s brand new Harley directly into oncoming traffic.

The door cracked open that first night I lay there and a nurse appeared, letting in strands of light from the outside hall behind her. She approached my bed and stood there for a moment looking down at me. As I looked up at her, the lighting around her shimmered and swayed. She was hidden in the dark, but her hair and uniform made a ghost-like aura of light around her.

Well, hello sleepy-head. Decided to wake up for a wee bit, did you?”

She spoke to me the entire time she was checking the machines, and changing IV bags, measuring inputs and outputs, and straightening the bedding over me. She had a crisp british accent and used words like pip and rubbish and gutted.

She showed me the button I was to push for more medication from the box beside my bed and the button I was to push to bring her to my bed from the hall.

She told me about the stockings and how they might be bothersome, but that they would keep me safe from clots and pulmonary embolisms.

She gently placed a sponge soaked in ice water into my mouth and swirled it softly against my teeth and then did it over and over again as tears of gratitude rolled down my cheeks from the simple taste and relief of moisture on my tongue and the knowing that the metallic blood taste would be washed away down my throat.

She asked me questions about the year we were in and who was the prime minister and was it summer or winter. What my children’s names were. Did I remember what schools they went to?

She explained my injuries and why my wrists were restrained and after I promised not to pull at any wires or tubing, she let me free.

” You caused quite a cock-up in the recovery room, my dear. Quite the strength for such a broken girl. The neurosurgeon said they should have expected it from the girl who beat the train.”

She spoke to me and touched me so gently that I began crying again and shivering, almost bewildered by this kindness from a stranger.

She gave me more medication, then brushed my hair back from my forehead and looked directly into my eyes.

As the medications began to do their magic, she said to me ” you are a fighter, dear and I need you to keep on fighting for me.”

Closing my eyes and dreaming of

fresh out of the tub and in flannel jammies curled up into her daddy watching Mary Poppins on the big picture box. the lady who talks funny is singing about medicine and daddy says he will always give her some sugar as long as mommy isnt watching, because sweet helps make the bad stuff not as bad.

 

 

 

5,114 days- The Dividing

5,114 Days = 122,736 Hours
5,114 Days = 7,364,160 Minutes
5,114 Days = 441,849,600 Seconds

It sometimes seems like a lifetime ago but can be broken down into hours and minutes and even seconds by a simple Google search.

14 years ago today is when the dividing of my life into two parts occurred.

I have linked the background posts within this piece for reference if anyone should have any curiosity about what led up the the “dividing” for me.

I have learned there are no coincidences, and Cheryl posting this prompt this particular week has pushed me to try and make sense out of one of the most significant losses I have so far endured in my life.

I lost myself that day.

I lost the young, optimistic, cheerful girl who never felt dread or fear of the smallest things or places or smells or events. I lost the feeling of power and trust in the easy fluidity of my physical self and the endless opportunities I had before me.

I lost the dreams of someday walking the Camino or along the Great Wall. Those had to be put away permanently for me. Shattered pelvises and broken backs tend to limit the ability to walk too many steps in a row or run up stairs without a deep aching pain. So you tuck those away and try not to think of them any more.

“You were just a dreamer and likely would have never made it there anyway. You had responsibilities and children to raise and those types of adventures are for wealthy people, anyway.” 

And you stop browsing travel  books and delete links to adventure destinations and start listening to co-workers’ & friends holiday stories and make excited sounds while looking at their pictures and try and save those images in your mind to feed your soul. So you feel a little bit like you were actually there yourself years ago; you can still feel a part of it all.

A consolation prize of sorts.

A Participant ribbon.

My best girlfriend in the entire world came to me and my children when she heard the news of my accident. I remember opening my eyes and seeing her beautiful blue eyes full of tears, looking down at me in the trauma room I was taken to for  the putting back together of all my broken pieces.

She was sobbing and muttering  in a quiet voice ” I loved the way you walked. You had the greatest walk in the world…so loose, arms swinging, long strong legs, Shannon. Your walk was amazing to see. Not a care in the world. You will never walk like that again.”

At the time, in my drug haze, I brushed that off, as it seemed the least of my worries. But that moment between us two has come back to me many times since then.

I have never walked that way again.

There is a tiredness and caution in my walking now.

Always a moment of stiffness and pain and stretching before I can even begin walking.

A measured carefulness, much like with the elderly.

A preparing of sorts.

A measuring of steps and time involved and stamina.

A quick visual for obstacle or danger lurking around a corner somewhere waiting to harm me.

I lost that naivety and sense of comfort that the world was an open one without danger and numerous opportunities for mishaps and accident which would take away the person you had always been and leave the empty shell behind.

That girl and this girl.

I grieve for what my sons lost of me that day; my best self forever gone. The young carefree mother who was up for any adventure. The one who danced like no one was watching and who jumped on a bike or ran through the sprinkler with them. The one who did cartwheels over and over one sunny day in the backyard for them when they were toddlers just to make them laugh and clap.

Not the embarrassing,fearful, broken one who jumped two feet in the air with a scream and horrified bulging eyes if someone’s lawn chair on the next patio over blew over in the wind, making a clatter.

Not the one who suddenly wailed during a family movie night if there was fast camera work occurring or sudden violence, or god forbid a train or train scene at all. Their worried eyes looking at me fearfully and their clumsy hugs of comfort.

Not the one who cried and cried watching the news; whose heart broke over and over and over again every evening at 5. Who stopped watching the news and just relied on others to keep her updated on things on a need-to-know basis.

Certainly not the one who would drive them all to the big stores and malls and then last three minutes in the mall before telling them she would wait in the car, because all the lights and sounds and people were just too much and always would be. Too many dangerous variables in those places. Too many things that could go suddenly wrong. And all those damn steps. Doing her best to not leak that fear into them and their sense of safety. Making jokes about how she was getting older and really hated places full of people and noise.

I became the master of excuses with my sons and friends.

I laughed when I felt like crying over losing her.
The real me.

The after this brought the mother who obsessively checked flight tracker when her eldest went to Germany the first time. Not once. Not twice. Probably over two hundred times. Sitting at the laptop, chain smoking, endlessly hitting refresh…watching from afar, checking, checking, checking. Watching the little air plane icon moving away from her ” boundary of safety” and out into the world of dangerous happenings. The silent prayers uttered…the pleas of ” if someone has to die  in the universe tonight, please take me and not him”, her cuticles chewed and torn and dripping blood on the keys of the laptop.

The one who talks to herself and reassures herself in whispers that surely if there even is a God, he has already doled out the suffering allotted to her and will spare her sons. The one who thinks in a fair world, you should only have to endure a specified amount and if you endure more, your loved ones get a pass on their suffering.

My sons were robbed of the mother I was supposed to be and ended up with this version. The  after this Mother I became. They have never talked about the ways I have changed or admitted any judgement on the changes, but it is there in the way their eyes light up or voices get more excited when they share a memory they had with the before this Mom.

I am slowly putting the pieces back together on the inside for us all.

There will always be the divide of selves, but I have time to try to put in the work involved in making this one great in her own way.

441,849,600 seconds since she became me.

 

 

 

 

Into the Abaddon

These events occurred following this.

Paramedics transported 37 yr old female victim of the MVA to nearest acute hospital twenty miles away from the crash site. Assessment by Emergency Medical Transport personnel indicates multiple spinal fractures. Pressure gauze applied to gaping head wound. O2 given by nasal cannula as SATS decreasing rapidly. Shock. BP  decreasing to 96/57 during transport. Patient responsive to stimulus but non verbal.

blinding lights and pain. more pain than could ever be imagined or a loving god to allow to be suffered by one of his children. too many faces, shimmering in the lights of the icy cold room. chattering teeth slamming uncontrollably against each other. can’t stop them from tearing into my lips and tongue and a hand shoves something warm between them to stop the violence of the shaking. taste of warm blood in her mouth, coppery, thick, running down her throat, causing the heaving. Ohmygodohmygod cant breathe. and struggling to sit up and stop the hurting and then a prick of the needle 

and

nothingness.

wake to the uniformed man asking about drinking that day and how much. crying please leave me alone, no, no, i wouldn’t do that ever. . he is telling the nurse with grey hair that he wants the blood immediately. has to have it before i decease for some legal reasons. the priest who is sitting by the stretcher tells him to stop, he is upsetting me and I am gasping for air, and to go away and what does any of it matter any more. the nurse is pushing the officer out of the room telling him she will get to it after,unless he wants to steal it like a thief right off the floor or me and  that it can be done quickly when it is needed. am i dying? i turn to the priest and whisper am i dying? and he looks at me with the saddest eyes and moves his lips in prayer         

“I believe in God, the Father almighty, creator of heaven and earth.
I believe in Jesus Christ, God’s only Son, our Lord,who was conceived by the Holy Spirit,
born of the Virgin Mary,suffered under Pontius Pilate,
was crucified, died, and was buried;
he descended into hell.”

i awaken in the blackness of nothing and silence.  it is quiet and feels like death has come for me after all. no pain, no sound, womb-like, with no atmosphere but the absence of everything. entombed in a shroud of blank space and opiates. sensing like an animal that i am not alone, i turn my head and see the whites of my sons eyes looking at mine. “mom mom mom, are you going to be ok? please be ok.”  i must be dreaming or stoned or dead. i feel removed and cannot open my lips to speak to him.he isn’t here, i must be dreaming of him. suddenly a  horrible pain in my stomach and a splintering inside of me. feeling the heat of it rising up my stomach to my throat and the spewing out of the blackness and a sudden tearing of tissue and searing agony and …ohmyGOD..and as it comes pouring out of me, out of everywhere it possibly can, burning me with its heat, i hear my son’s voice again,

” SOMEBODY COME HELP US PLEASE COME HELP US MY MOM IS BLEEDING, SHES BLEEDING ALL OVER AND IT’S EVERYWHERE! HELP HELP HELP.”

STARS air ambulance dispatched to rural hospital at approximately 2000 hours to transport MVA patient to FMC in Calgary. Internal hemorrhaging, right side pneumothorax and C7 spinal fracture primary injuries noted on transfer form.

whirring and roaring in my ears and freezing like ice, oh so cold. machines are bleeping and sending spirals of paper down to the floor and something is covering my ears. someone in a spacesuit is trying to talk to me but i can’t hear him over the whirring and clattering sounds of the copter blades and the screeching coming from the machines. i understand i am alive and moving to another hospital but not aware of urgency. i feel like i am in a space ship with all the machines and coloured lights and sounds. i don’t recall my son being with me at the hospital at all. my reality has turned into  a series of waking and nothing moments. no slow drifting from consciousness to sleep, rather a sudden jolting of existences. i no longer feel sadness or fear and feel weightless, floating along wherever these ever-changing faces take me. what makes me me, the ego, the id, my instinctive force within, has disappeared.  there is a sense of wonder and relief in the letting go

 

 

 

June 08 2002

The day my life changed forever and I became my second self.

Fact: It was a beautiful sunny June day, warm but comfortable. A beautiful day for a country drive. I had spontaneously offered to drive a young girl to see her boyfriend that day.

Background: I had met her a month before through an acquaintance. She was new to the city and was struggling to catch a break. She was a lovely little free spirit – 19 years old and alone in a new city with a lousy job at 7-11. Her name was April and within an hour of meeting her, I knew her entire life story. She talked a mile a minute and laughed and touched you while she was excitedly telling you everything about her. I worried for her. Her open heart and being alone in the city, so I offered to let her stay with me for a couple of months until she “got on her feet.” I had recently left my husband of almost twenty years and was settling into a new home with my two sons;  she may be of help to me while I was helping her, watching the boys for that hour or so after school before I got home from work.

I was like my mother that way- helping others, taking them in, getting them sorted and sending them on their way. I was not selfless- I knew she could help me too, but from the bottom of my heart, my primary purpose was to keep her safe. I felt such an intense feeling that I needed to protect her…from..something. That feeling of mine will become  a mockery  as this story finds its way out of me. My only hope is that I can somehow explain in a way that makes sense, a truly senseless tragedy, that to this day confuses me to my core  in regards to why April had to be a part of it.

Fact: We were driving in my car away from her boyfriend. She had visited with him and kissed and giggled and laughed her way through the entire time she spent with him. She was on top of the world, motor-mouthing to me about how she was so in love and how they would get married some day and the names her children would have, and how I was the BEST person she had EVER met for helping her out and taking care of her like a MOTHER would. She was sitting sideways in the passenger seat and talking with her arms and hands flying with emotion and I laughed as I told her to  sit properly in her seat and to put her seat belt on before we reached the highway. I couldn’t see out her side of the car at all and didn’t see anything until it was just….this….much…too …late. I strained to look around her as we came to the train crossing, and not seeing anything, I drove forward. The last words out of my mouth in the split second of realization that occurred were” Oh FUCK.”

RCMP Accident Report: The Northbound Canadian Pacific train struck the passenger side of  vehicle at 1535 June 08 2012. The car was pushed for approximately 30 meters, with the occupants remaining inside the vehicle, with occupant belongings being ejected out the shattered passenger window and rear windows. Witness reports stated there was a smell of gasoline and burning rubber, and that one witness (occupation: Registered Nurse)  crawled under the train to get to the victims inside the vehicle.

Eyes wide open in shock, mouth gasping for air, hurts, hurts, hurts, HURTS, HURTS HURTS,FUCK IT HURTS IT HURTS IT HURTS OHMYGOD WHAT IS HAPPENING TO MEEEEEEEEEEEEEE??? SOMEBODY HELP ME PLEASE, MOM. MOM, MOM, MOM, PLEASE HELP ME ANYBODY HELP ME OHMYGOD IMDYING IMDYINGMYSONSMYSONSMYSONSRORYNICKYRORYNICKYRORYNICKYRORY OH NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!WHAT HAVE I DONE??????? I LEFT THEM ALONE I LEFT THEM ALONE NO MOTHER NO MOTHER I’M SO STUPIDSTUPIDSTUPID!!!!! WHAT IS ON TOP OF ME? WHAT IS THAT? I HAVE TO GET OUT OF HERE BUT I CANT GET THIS OFF OF ME WHAT IS IT? 

closing my eyes. too bright, too much, too hot,  close them for just a minute, put your head back and rest and close them for a minute, they are burning and something hot and sticky is in them and on your face and you suddenly smell your newborn son’s neck. the car is filled with the smell of new baby and the sweet smell envelopes you and you want to close your eyes but just for a minute and you hear your Dad’s voice and you can almost see him but he won’t help you and you cry a little and moan and almost pant like an animal and you hear his voice saying, “no, not yet, no, no, no, not yet – OPEN YOUR EYES!”

hard to breathe and whistling sounds and you sit straight and look down…and you push…that…off of you. you push hard and cry and try to breathe and then you push the arm away and you push…the other…away and you turn to your door and you slide out like a snake and fall to the ground. you get up to stand and fall again. you do this three times before someone holds you down and tells you to stay down. she tells you that you are badly injured and need to stay down. she is crying but she doesn’t  even know you…she cries as she holds you down gently.you try to tell her that if you can stand up you are alive but she can’t hear you. you have no voice left, just whistling, whining puffs of nothingness.

on your stomach with your face in the prickly grass and ditch weeds, you can smell the earth and the dirt and you can feel the sun hot on your back and the blood and your tears and the dirt become one and you hear the others whispering but you don’t care as you think about your babies and everyone you ever loved and those that loved you and it goes so fast in your head and spins and whirls that you feel dizzy and want to sit up. you almost feel like throwing up but you know that these people are sad already and you try to keep all that down and let yourself go..go..go.

you are in the ambulance tied to a board and the lady with the blonde hair is asking you who to call and you can’t say your mother cus she is old and far away and you know that is the call that will kill her so you tell her to call your brother who is reckless but strong like you and who will come for your sons if you die and they need him. she wants to know your children’s names and how old they are and what you would say to them if they were with you right now and you watch her try to write in her little coil notepad and her hands are shaking and you can’t breathe but she keeps talking and asking and writing as the ambulance moves to where they are taking you.

she asks about April’s family and numbers and you try to turn your head as far as you can in the brace

            and then close your eyes

                                              and disappear…. 

 

 

 

 

Brothers and Other Addicts

kidsThe Early Years

When I’m thinking rationally with my adult hat on, I have absolutely no doubt in my mind that my brother fell “victim” to the family “disease”.

That, of course, removes any blame from his otherwise pretty broad and fearless shoulders.

It also removes me quite nicely from the guilt of not catching it.

From my mother’s account, he was difficult right from the damn start. She was married for the second time and had produced a (gasp) daughter the first time at age 32, so had to basically take one more for the team and try one more time for the heir apparent at the age of 34.

After suffering through nine months of hell, losing weight and puking her guts and stomach lining out daily ( according to her), my brother, Mark, came sliding into the world. Weakly, thin, blue, and in most desperate need of an immediate blood transfusion. He was given new blood and a shit ton of drugs to just keep him with the living.

I have read enough to understand that the statistics regarding traumatic births and the need for resuscitation and desperate measures immediately following a birth can lead to addiction in later life. ( See? Adult hat appearing once again).

But I can tell you right now, that I believe in my heart that a whole lot of other things conspired within my brother’s universe to lead to his addiction and eventual death at the age of 47.

He was dealt a shitty hand, I think, and I am just now realizing with survivor-like guilt, that there was really never going to be a “happily ever after” in his lifetime.

I got the Aces and he got the 2’s, so to speak.

Strike 1: Our Dad was a drunk. A lovely guy, really…but a drunk. Back in the sixties, when we were born, boys and girls modelled themselves by their gender-alike parent. Lucky him.

Strike 2: Our Mother was already up to the eyeballs trying to be the responsible one, keeping a roof over our heads, food in our bellies and teaching us morals, all while trying to keep control of a stealthy drunken hubby. She was angry 99% of the time, slap-happy, and tired. But never too tired to slap and swing a belt at us, as she desperately tried to raise us into “good people”. Guess which parent we chose to spend the most time with? The predictable one – two moods…drunk(happy)…and…sober(quiet/staying out of my Mother’s way).

Strike 3: Everyone was just too busy trying to keep their OWN heads above water to pay much attention to what my curious little brother was up to. Sorry. Not sorry. I had my own shit to deal with and quicksand to manoeuvre!

So, fucked he was, right from the start.

And though I make light of it here, I am profoundly saddened to the core that all of us let him down in the ways we did.

Towards the end of his life,he once looked at me with an unbearable sadness in his eyes, and joked that we grew up in the same foxhole. We were survivors of the insanity that our home life was. He would sometimes be pissy and say that I “got a pass” from most of our Mom’s verbal and physical abuse. I just learned really early on that keeping your mouth shut and flying under the radar was the easy route through the blitzkrieg.

He never learned those lessons. Ever.

And yet he was her favourite;her baby: him with the loud, look-at-me voice so much like hers; him with the natural affinity for physical affection, so much like her. I guess he gave her the cuddles as a child and the love and affection as a boy and man that she never accepted from dear old fall down drunk Pops.

I have a couple vivid memories from my brother’s youth. One was him being mauled by a neighbour’s dog when he was around 4. I had once again been forced to take him with me (goddamnit!) out to play and headed right over my friend’s place to play with her dog. I swear, that little dog chased its own tail around, let us all play around with it for about a half an hour, and then just randomly snapped and went right at my brother’s face. Fifteen kids at least standing in a yard, and the dog zeros in on my brother’s face.

I remember the skin and the blood and the screaming…and I remember my brother running blindly away,trying to find his way down the block back home, blood streaming down his face..skin hanging…and me running even faster…AWAY from him and his pain and fear. A lesson for him on that day, and a reminder for me of how damaged we both were already at those tender ages.

That’s a little something called fright or flight instinct and I was obviously already well versed in that by the  age of 5 1/2.

The shit had hit the fan and I was getting the hell out of there before the hammer fell. I was supposed to be watching him. Keeping him safe. And I had failed. Abysmally.

He ended up with stitches all over his face. Came pretty close to losing an eye and most of his bottom lip, but he used it to his advantage for the rest of his life by telling people when asked about the scars ” You should see the other guy!” That instinct to turn tragedies into humor is something we both learned by osmosis.

A coping skill that served us both well.

The second memory digging at me today involves a harmless prank he and his gang of buddies pulled off when they were about nine. They had all stolen laundry soap from their homes and came up with the idea of pouring it into the fountain outside the hospital entrance in our fairly small town.

Looking back now, having raised two boys of my own, that is a pretty creatively, awesome prank. One I could have almost got on board with AS a Mom!

Unfortunately for my brother, our mother saw things much, much differently.

Being a small town, they got fingered and I.D.’d before they even arrived back home.

My mother met him, at the door, with a broom. She was swinging like Mickey Mantle before he was even all the way inside of the house. The shame he had brought on our family. The atrocious horror of the neighbours all knowing one of her kids had done such a reprehensible thing!

She actually broke the broom hitting him with it. I tried to stop her, first grabbing at the broom, then attempting to grab her swinging arm. Nothing stopped her, and my interfering actually ramped her up even more. She started jabbing at him with the broken end, practically using it like a spear. I caught a bit of that spear action to my side, just as she said in no uncertain terms that if I didn’t get the hell out of the way, I was gonna get some too.

Shots fired.

I retreated.

Left him to it.

Listened as he begged her to stop.

He wouldn’t cry.

I have so much respect for him today for not crying. I got accidentally speared once, not even a direct hit, and I was already bawling like a baby and can feel the hot tears sliding down my cheeks now,  just in the remembering.

Afterwards, we sat on the floor of my room, and listened to some music, keeping both it and our voices down, so as to not start her up again. I remember washing him up the best I could, and telling him he should have known the natural outcome of a stupid prank like that. Telling him he had to learn to not piss her off. Telling him it wasn’t really her fault… she was just worried/tired/mad/overwhelmed/broke…whatever she was in that moment where she lost her mind so totally and completely that she would beat and stab at a nine year old boy with a piece of broken wood.

Looking back,I think that was the moment in time that we made the mutual decision/pact to keep each other as safe and out of harm’s way as we possible could.

The love we couldn’t express verbally, would be shown in loyalty to each other.

Like brothers in arms.

Foxhole, indeed.