November 25, 2007

Poem by Alex

I am not sure exactly what date this was written, but it was sent to me april 8th, 2003. It is interesting to read it now, several years later, and realize how Ben's 'demons' haunt him. In one sense he has an advantage over most of us who live our lives glibly, in that he faces and has faced mortality directly. I think it makes him appreciate his life more. But on the other hand, I think he feels chased by his own mortality so much that he only seems to live for the present and sometimes stops from living for the future too.

Ben, I love you, I'm here. We're all here. Together.

[Poem By Alex Brooks]

no, this is not just another drunk Lexington Saturday night story
so fucking listen
this is what happened
I was walk9ing home and I saw Ben on Maxwell
driving down Maxwell at the light at upper and he said
hey, we’re going to a prom party
so we went to this prom party, not for high school kids
but for college kids
and it was funny
like I never feel comfortable at parties
especially prom kind of parties
but after a few beers I felt better
and then I sat down
in a comfortable chair
and started to drift
and Ben said
hey scoot over and I said
o.k. and he sat down and started talking about
how one day someone like a doctor or someone
was going to tell me that one day I was going to die
and how you had know this all your life, but then
it was different
what are you supposed to tell
that you should live every day like this
that you should know
with this in mind how every minute
if you weren’t doing something that you wanted to do them you were wasting time
and how all the things we liked like
sailing and rock climbing
inherently included death and that if
you were out on the ocean and a storm came along with thousand foot swells
you were fucking toast
but you were doing exactly what you wanted to do
and he said yes, yes, and
god but I didn’t think I answered him right,
didn’t say anything important
and alyssum had her hand on his leg
and she was laying her head on his leg
and I had my arm around his shoulder,
sitting in the same wing backed chair
and he kept pointing to his chest where some doctor had told him
seventy five percent and cut him fucking open
and what kind of heart is under there
what kid of beating thing and how long it was going to last
and Ben said you know what if you knew you were gonna die some day
like sooner than everyone else
and what happened if you had to make the decision again to seventy five it or not what
would you do
and I just kept saying you had to do whatever you wanted to
each day
and I kept squeezing his shoulder with my fingers
because that was all I could do
all I could do drunk
and not knowing what to say except
live and it doesn’t matter to you if
you die it only matters to those around you
and he agreeing and us
sitting around him
and I though
I am not very important
I feel out of place
I don’t make much difference
and I told him this
we don’t think we make much difference
but really, when we get down to it
that circle that we leave feels a great importance
a great difference
and now
at home
typing this
I just want to be back there
with my arm around him
alyssum at his side
I want us to all close our eyes, lay down
I said I thought I would go into the mountains
and if they said I had a few months on chemo or death I would
go into the mountains and he said
yeah, that would be great but you
don’t really know
I said I don’t really know because that’
s just saying it
and now I wanna be back there and both of us
alyssum and I who would miss him sit there
and fall asleep in that wing back chair
fall asleep and
god I just wanted to tell him it didn’t matter because
we were there

November 15, 2007

Journal while Ben was in Surgery

Ben is in surgery right now. We got here at 6 am after a fitful night of nervous, earnest cuddling and cold sweats. He went back immediately and we saw him before he went into the OR at 7:30. He was crying silently, his lips were quivering. I just wanted to comfort him, but the lines, the hospital bed…it’s all so sterile and offputting. I overcame what I could and stroked his cheek, told him he was being brave and held his hand. I wondered if he was crying because his Dad wasn’t there. I didn’t want to make things worse, so I didn’t bring it up. Marty said a simple “it’s no fun, is it,” which was somehow exactly what needed to be said, and so hard to come up with. The nurse went about his duties giving me Ben’s clothes, letting me exchange Ben’s prana hat for a lunchlady bouffant cap, and giving us all the heads up that we were headed in, but that 6 people would be in there with Dr. Sekela making sure everything went well. Phillip stood at the back and just gave his silent encouragement. We walked down the hall, and were followed by Ben in the hospital bed. Ben’s Mom was really upset, and Ben was obviously scared. It was so hard to see him like that, so absolutely vulnerable and knowledgeable about the trauma and risk he was about to undertake. He gave me one last kiss and a soulful “I love you” and they wheeled him away. I managed to stay sunny for him, and only cried when we got to the surgery waiting room and Phillip hugged me. We both shed some tears, rather overwhelmed with how scared Ben was, and wishing the situation Just Wasn’t.
I shared the cat alarm clock cartoon to lighten the mood, which everyone in the waiting room appreciated enormously. People shared their personal cat stories as I excused myself to the corner to begin studying dermatology. The surgery began at 8:30. At 9 we got a call that everything was going alright. In my head that meant that they had successfully gotten into the thoracic cavity. I wonder what the timeline actually was. My dad arrived so Phillip and I enjoyed a needed breakfast downstairs in the cafeteria with him, discussing Ben’s demeanor and physical mien as of late. We had a long, conversational breakfast which was really nice, but I started to get worrisome. So we went back up to the waiting room just in time to hear that (10:30 am) things were going well and that they were about to put him on the heart/lung machine.
I started studying again, talked to Chelsea briefly…very tired. Kind of distracted from studying. Anxious. Kind of wondering exactly what is going on, what the surgery table looks like with Ben on it, how he’s doing, and how similar or different it will be to see him afterward compared to last time. I occasionally recall how many people are sending warm and healing thoughts today, and feel like a reiki conduit. I am a calm bundle of nerves if that makes sense. One breath at a time.

Updated that everything is okay at 12:45.
Updated that everything is okay at 1:20.
1:26 a nurse came out to say that he was off the bypass! Only 5 hours on it! I was so happy to hear that everything had gone well and so quickly. The nurse was clearly impressed with the awesomeness of Dr. Sekela.
We were ushered into a consultation room at 3 (phillip, me, dad, Sarah, jim, sue) and waited for Dr. Sekela who eventually made it in and told us everything went as expected, there were no surprises and he showed us pictures that he’d taken of Ben’s aortic graft. I was so excited I could have kissed him. Dr. Sekela was clearly impressed with Ben’s acuity…kind of excited by it himself. He took pictures just because he thought Ben would like to see them and would have lots of questions. Awww. Now it’s 5:30 and we STILL haven’t been in to see him…and I’m starting to get anxious, but I have been so happy for a couple hours that he made it through. I emailed my class and some other people to let them know.

[picture of him in ICU just a few hours after the surgery]

November 11, 2007

Ben in my life

His surgery went perfectly, took 2 hrs less time than anticipated and the recovery so far has been impressive. The relief that this knowledge gives the rest of us is immense. Here's what they did; it was really three surgeries in one:
1) replace the aortic valve with a state-of-the-art carbon mechanical valve;
2) repair the stressed and extended mitral valve with a constricting band;
3) repair the aneurysm of his ascending aorta with a Dacron graft.

I have been so amazed that he looked as good as he did the day after the surgery. As opposed to his first heart surgery when he looked like death for a month and was incredibly weak, this time he's just very very tired. He's able to carry on a coherent conversation, was standing and sitting up on day 2, and walking by day 3. He's on very little morphine compared to most cardiac patients, and I'm so so glad. This is him in the ICU the day after his surgery managing a smile, straining to keep his sleepy eyes awake while Phillip, Dad and I grin for the camera.

I was so so glad to be home for him in the few days before the surgery to comfort him and just to spend some quality time with him. The anxiety he was feeling and that I was not allowing myself to feel was strong. Getting to the other side of the surgery is no small deal.

However, I have had to return to the striking world of vet school where my time is not my own, and everyone around me speaks in exam-mode constantly. It was pretty amazing to me how culture-shocking it was to me to come back to my life here and realize that THIS is my life. How is possible to forget in the space of just a few days like that?! I write about it in concrete terms--how many hours I spent studying (21+) vs how many hours I spent sleeping (<3) in a day, how many pages I read in a week and have to memorize, etc....and while these things kind of express part of the extent of insanity, they don't really express the FEELING of what it's like to live in this world. Not just to experience it once or twice, but to LIVE IT DAY IN AND DAY OUT. For YEARS. (there I go expressing it again in concretes...). It becomes an overwhelming drive to continue on, ahead of the present moment. You never get to sit where you are and say "this is where I am". You constantly are comparing what little you've accomplished (quite a lot, actually) with the amount you haven't accomplished yet (unfortunately, quite a bit a 'shit ton' more.) Instead of enjoying your friends' phone calls, you kind of absently start a count-down timer in your head when you pick up the phone and get very nervous and agitated as their voice (the same voice that used to be so calming and enjoyable) drones on longer than 45 seconds. You furtively anticipate the next moment you can escape the conversation and get back to whatever it is that you "SHOULD" be doing. Then you realize you're doing this and feel guilty so you allow the conversation to continue for another minute, but you start multitasking to feel productive, and then all of a sudden you're paying more attention to filing papers than to the conversation at hand. And again you feel guilty--or worse, the other person calls you out. Sometimes you tell yourself to go easy on yourself, but it seems you are always in the position of choosing between sleep, a clean house, hygiene or eating well. You can rarely accomplish more than one of those at a time, and never all four.
With school the way it is, you can imagine how I might carry on a long-distance relationship. You would be correct if you picture me stealing every trip in the car to call Ben and chat for a few moments as I drive to the grocery, to and from school, as I walk between class and other buildings. I call him as I'm falling asleep, lights out, under the covers. I make dates with him over videochat that last 5-30 mins some evenings (the happiest ones). With him in recovery now, I feel lonelier than usual. I've talked to him once in the past 4 days. He was so tired he just let me tell him about my day since he couldn't muster enough energy to carry on his side of the conversation. I was very happy to hear his voice on the other line, and touched that he was content to just let me yammer on for several minutes, but I wish that I could hear his thoughts and share our feelings back and forth. I just miss him. I miss being able to call him during the five-minutes-here-and-there that make up our connection.

Anyways, when you read this Ben, I love you. You're a tremendously important reminder of the life that I get to participate in again after school. I can't wait to spend it with you.

Oh, and friends of Ben: his mom's address where he will be in recovery for the next month or so is 1336 New Ridge Ct, Lexington, KY, 40514 if you feel like sending him some recovery wishes.

November 2, 2007

Rock Climbing on NPR

I dreamed last night that I was out with a group of newbies about to share the love of climbing with them. I looked up at this rad overhanging grey slit with a traverse up this slab 50 feet high at the end. I had my harness and shoes on but hadn't tied in or grabbed any draws. I started bouldering on the lower part of the route, but before I knew it I had already passed the first 4 bolts, and was near the top. If I let go, I would land on my back, 35 feet below, and no one was paying attention to realize maybe they could spot my fall. So I kept going. Both hands in underclings, feet spread wide, stemming under the ledge, gone from sight but smearing on the unseen nubbins in a precarious but strong stance for at least the next few seconds. I kept my right hand pinched on the tiny tufa by my right shoulder and committed as I swung my left hand from the undercling to a dime-width crimp. Chalk dust flitted down and my left arm started to shake. I looked down and decided it was too far to fall. I looked up and was intimidated by the last 10 or 15 feet, but knew I had to do it. I cranked down on my right hand and stretched my body diagonally as much as I could, reaching my left arm up to a nice little chickenhead. My feet scrambled upward onto the face and my right hand matched on the chickenhead jug. I was nearing the end of my strength, but knew I could make it to the anchors. I yelled down asking someone to throw up some draws so I could clip myself directly into the anchors until someone lead the route with rope and I could rappel down. People below looked up and shrieked, realizing I was soloing, and started throwing up draws (which magically reached WAS a dream), as I rocked my weight steadily to the left toward the bomber last holds.

I haven't dreamed of climbing in so long. It used to be such an important, all-encompassing part of my life. I often yearn for those days of singular determination for something outdoors and fun, strengthening and social. I miss all my guy friends. I miss coming home, muscles aching, feeling strong and hungry and worn out. I miss feeling like I put everything I had into something and feeling better for it instead of beaten down. I miss the tinny click of draws snapping shut; the welcome sound of hiking up to a crag and knowing you're among friends. I miss the encouraging bellowing of friends below yelling "you can do it! Come on!! Crank! YEAHHH!!" and the naughty stories of how to outwit The Man in the evenings that followed.

Imagine my nostalgia and pride when I saw that NPR did a block on Chris Sharma this morning. *glowing happy*.