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Monday, October 28, 2013

Sympathy, identity and other Carer stuff – Guest Posting

Tracey James: Carer
In a comment recently I suggested to Tracey that she ought to do a guest posting on what it was really like to be a Carer.

She refused, and then thought about it. 

"Maybe I will," she said, "but I doubt that you'll publish it. I'll write it anyway – it'll be cathartic. You may not like it."

There were indeed things about it I did not like. I made a note on it.
You're right. In some ways, I do not want to publish this without some modifications, but I will do so, not a word changed. If I don't publish it as is, then my blog becomes a lie, and it would mean that how you feel is less to me than what I believe some people may think – of me as well. And because you mean everything to me, it would be dishonest not to. I love you.
This is the posting probably every other carer in the country – maybe the world – would like to post, but for a number of reasons, never would. Here it is.

    I have a super power.   
I am an invisible woman.  

Every week I get the handsome sum of $57.70 from the government for being a ‘Carer’.

Lord knows I don’t do it for the money. I also don’t do it because I live to serve, although there are people who seem to cast me in that role.

As a full-time Carer I have not been able to work for nearly four years and, golly gosh, I have no idea what sort of job may await me after being out of the work-force all these years, while saving the powers-that-be lots of cash in the process. I have two degrees and I do not consider myself a dummy but that is still a scary prospect.

The landlord, Coles and electricity company are not going to give two hoots that I have spent all these years doing as good a job as I can muster, trying to emulate Mother Teresa, giving it my best shot at curing the sick and attempting to be sweetness and light to everyone I meet.

That is not always particularly difficult. I don’t actually get to speak to many people in the flesh.

Did you know that when you sell something on the local buy, swap and sell site that a real flesh and blood person from the outside world actually comes to your house? If they are agreeable you might even get to have a little chatty poo with them for a few minutes. Amazing.

Virtually every single person who has come to our house to visit in the last four years has come to visit Denis...with me sort of tacked on. Yes, they are happy to see me too, or in some cases meet me for the first and probably only time.

But, they come for Denis (or themselves). Because he is dying.

I have often thought it is almost like only one person lives in this house. The patient is the primary consideration in all things and that is as it should be. But here’s the thing. They are not the only consideration, because there are also two other people who live here. It doesn’t often feel like that.

Imagine someone told you that as of today you were only able to leave the house maybe once a week and when you did, you were going to have time to go to Coles or the chemist. Or, on a very exciting day, both. Every other thing that you ever did and loved to do would stop. As of today. For years.

Don’t confuse this with simply not going out because you don’t feel like it, can’t afford it, having no one to go out with or nowhere to go. This is about not being able to simply walk around the block in case someone has a fall, needs the toilet commode, has a seizure, a stroke, a heart attack...

Imagine on your outing to Coles or the chemist that you bump into someone and they exclaim how it is years since they saw you and they ask all about Denis and how he is and then on parting call you Mandy because they have forgotten your name. Even though you have actually known them for years and longer than Denis ever did, and you spent weeks working with them on that routine you choreographed for them...

Imagine when someone you are currently friends with on Facebook looks blankly at you, even after you speak to them, because you are long, long forgotten in the mists of time and past days of social activity.

I have a super power. I am an invisible woman.

You can’t really imagine these things, no matter how much you think you can, and I don’t really expect you to be able to. None of this is me complaining. It is just how things are. It is almost like some sort of interesting social experiment. Except that the characters are real and the situation is dire.

There was this day.

We had been woken by Denis having a string of violent seizures. There is nothing to do while they are happening, but I always try to be there, do what little I can, be comforting and watch the clock in case the ambulance needs to be called. Afterwards, I organised Denis as I always did, got his breakfast, his medications, spent an hour helping him undress and shower and then dried him, had him dressed and sitting comfortably out in his study at his computer and hey presto...THE DOOR BELL RINGS.

So, I stopped everything and made the mandatory cups of tea and got the biscuits out for the unannounced, unexpected visitors and tried to be social while being extremely preoccupied by stupid things like knowing that if I didn’t get the washing on right now, before they left and Denis went back to bed (the laundry only accessible through the bedroom and ensuite) that I couldn’t do it today.

I had held my bladder for an hour after waking while attending to Denis. I was now sitting there in my pjs and dressing gown feeling dishevelled and self-conscious. It was lunchtime and I hadn’t had a moment for myself, to shower or dress or even have breakfast.

As the visitors were leaving they said all their lovely goodbyes to Denis then one turned to me while going out the door and said “And you...GET DRESSED!”

Injustice stings.

Patients are designated as people. People are designated as people. Carers are non-people.

It is totally acceptable, expected and even encouraged for a patient to:
Talk about themselves and their medical problems
Get stressed, emotional, fearful and therefore sometimes upset & irrational
Moan about daily stresses, big problems and smaller inconveniences
Be upset about loss of independence

As ‘a person’ it is totally acceptable for people to:
Talk about themselves and their medical problems
Get stressed, emotional, fearful and sometimes upset & irrational
Moan about daily stresses, big problems and smaller inconveniences
Be upset about loss of independence

I have found that it is totally socially unacceptable for a Carer to:
Talk about themselves & their medical problems (because their loved one is so much worse off)
Get stressed, emotional, fearful and sometimes upset & irrational (because their loved one is so much worse off)
Moan about daily stresses, big problems and smaller inconveniences (because their loved one is so much worse off)
Be upset about loss of independence (because their loved one is so much worse off)

As a non-person there is also the additional delight that it appears to be perfectly acceptable for people to burden me with absolutely anything at all. Being a Carer somehow gives people carte blanche to tell me about anything from their latest crisis and their inability to cope with something, to their medical woes. I think I could do up a medical file on practically every person I have spoken to in the last four years.

Sympathy. What a useless concept.

The other day I had run the gauntlet at Coles. By that I mean fending off the usual round of Denis questions from a number of well-meaning people, with time running short before the paid Home Care lady would expect to be leaving our house. That is emotionally tiring. You start to feel like a cracked record giving the same gloomy report over and over.

I got to the check-out and was asked again about Denis. This time I said something totally factual. I didn’t say it harshly or with any inference. I said “Still alive, still dying.” Now you may be as shocked as the cashier was but I’m taking that risk. She recoiled and exclaimed “You might try to be a bit more sympathetic!”

She’s right. I am not sympathetic. I did not sympathetically get up three times that night during a short night’s sleep and wash out the poo in the toilet commode and then sympathetically continue to wash it out nearly every hour the following day. Nor did I sympathetically keep emptying the urine bottle or wash the blood off the sheets from who knows what. I did not sympathetically clean the urine that missed its correct destination off the carpet and Christian and I did not lift Denis up off the floor after yet another fall, with any sort of sympathy. Nor did I do a million other little things during that particularly bad day for Denis out of sympathy.

I did it and continue to do it out of the utmost love and respect for Denis as my husband and as a person. I do it not because I am paid or because people think I should or simply expect me to. I do it because I actually genuinely care, in the very real and complete sense of that word.

One day I will get to be a person again too. In the meantime, I will be a Carer because it is a damn sight more effective than just feeling sorry for him.

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Thursday, October 24, 2013

The stifling of independence

Two walking frames that I use. The one on the left is a very sturdy one which is best for around-the-house use, while the light one on the right is best for getting in and out of the bathroom.

It's something that's happened countless times in all periods of history and all cultures. It happens because people develop an illness where they lose mobility by degrees until they are incapable of critical faculties and management of bodily functions.

   I have such an illness, but I’m not quite at that critical stage. I’m close to it now. I'm inside a body that I can describe only as feeling like a peg that's being hammered into the ground.

   I'm not in the least interested in sympathy. I want to tell healthy people such as I was a few years ago something you probably won’t understand. “It’s only the wearer who knows where the shoe pinches” goes the old saying, and it's as close to an absolute truth as we get in this world of relativity.

   Not even the carer, even one like a spouse or partner, can quite understand the pain of dependence. They have their own pain, seeing their loved one suffer, and all that goes with being the one depended upon more and more as the illness takes hold, and steals so much from both.

   The problem with independence is that we take it for granted in normal life. From the moment we leave the womb, the quest for independence begins, and it is one of the driving forces of life.

   No normal human being wants to be dependent. The toddler screams that they want to do it themselves, whatever "it" may be. The adolescent may become a sullen monster and (we hope temporarily) hate these stupid parents who dare to restrict their freedom in any way.

   This is an annoying, often painful and necessary pathway to adulthood, and yet the human race depends on it for its development. The arts and sciences wouldn't progress without it. Adaptation is necessary for survival and that is what independent thought amounts to.

   In every human lifetime, except in the case of sudden death, independence comes to an end. When its loss happens slowly, there may be some time to adapt – to improvise, as I've constantly done, or use equipment to compensate for loss. Even then, the time comes when there’s no further improvising. Dependence on equipment gives way more and more to dependence on people.

   I suppose I should speak only for myself. I don't mind depending on equipment, because it just sits there waiting to be used, but having to inconvenience others (usually Tracey) is another matter. If she happens to be close by, I don’t mind asking for help. But to buzz her to come from the other end of the house for a petty need when she’s undertaking some task there is another matter.

   She's said repeatedly that she doesn't mind. I believe her. But I mind. I'll deal with it myself if I think I can.

   Just now is a good example. I want to reach my bottle of water, on the right side table. It's just out of my reach from this sitting position, no matter how far I stretch. My right arm and hand are useless. To get it myself, I need to go through a series of operations; removing the laptop from the tray, then the tray, then the small blanket, placing it on the table, raising my chair, reaching for the frame, then dragging myself to my feet, gripping the handholds of the frame, moving the half-metre to the table, picking up the bottle with my good hand, putting it on a corner of the table where I can reach it from the chair, turning 180 degrees and repeating all those in reverse so I am sitting back here to type again.

   There are a myriad of little things that you don't think of when you have two hands. I surely didn't. Try putting toothpaste on your toothbrush using only one hand. No cheating now. Cutting fingernails. Try opening many sealed containers. Just one hand now. Peeling fruit. Cutting up food. Doing up buttons or zips. Taking a photo. All are designed for people with two hands. Funny that....

   What about legs? From walking reasonably normally in 2010, I began to take Tracey’s arm, for the sake of balance. My right leg started to drag and I battled to keep it usable. Recovery work was undone by the next seizure. Fewer and fewer brain signals have been getting through and now the ankle and knee joints have all but failed. I abandoned the rollator/walker and replaced it by zimmer frame. Increasingly I have become more wheelchair-dependent in a house never designed for it.

   But leave those aside. My point is that with this condition, my dependence on those around me continued to increase bit by bit but has now sky-rocketed. To return to the original metaphor, the peg is being driven into the turf relentlessly.

   I now realise something more keenly than ever just what those myriads of people who have come before me had to deal with, and what's on the agenda for those coming after. 

   With increased dependence, dignity and privacy are eroded. It's inevitable.

   Every mature person over their lifetime develops their own code for each. These are not quickly or easily set aside, not after a lifetime of living by that personal code. At a formal dinner party some guest is unlikely to ask you loudly, “Have you opened your bowels this morning?” In a hospital, it happens daily.

   To survive, you learn to accept violations of that lifetime code. Questions about bodily functions are necessary. Being disrobed unceremoniously in front of a stranger can't be avoided. Having your body prodded and probed in mysterious ways must be endured. Rationally, it's simple. Emotionally, it takes longer.

   This is no criticism of anyone, including myself. No-one needs feel any guilt. It's just stating the facts of life for a dependent person. Forgive the elderly who rail against being patronised or not listened to. What they’re hating is that they’ve lost their independence, and know they’ll never get it back.

   I don't really know how a person enduring dialysis, Motor Neurone disease, Multiple Sclerosis or pancreatic cancer feels, because I can't. I'm not them. I can be sympathetic – maybe now far more than most because of my experiences in the past few years. The person who takes care of them lovingly has the best idea. I can't even truly know just how Tracey feels, though I feel guilty every day knowing she has to cope with me as I am. Of course it's not my fault, but it's impossible not to feel responsible in some way.

   But when it comes to it, it truly is only the wearer who knows where that shoe pinches, and no-one else in the world. The shoes of us all pinch somewhere, and all have no choice but to deal with their own sore spots.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Not the colour purple

It's funny where a sequence of thoughts can lead. A friend was saying how she thought a particular colour was puce; one I took to be khaki. 

   Quite a difference, you must admit. I had no doubt about the colour of puce, because of an incident that took place when I couldn't have been older than six.

   My mother was helping me in the bathroom with buttons on a new shirt – you know how tight the buttonholes on new shirts can be  when we heard a crash, the sound of which I'd not heard before in my short life, nor ever heard since.

   It was the explosive sound of a tall cabinet crashing to the floor with nearly every piece of crockery in it being smashed simultaneously.

   My baby sister, Kay, was a crawler at the time. No, a better description is a “wriggler”. She didn't exactly crawl; she wriggled along the lino on the uneven kitchen floor like well... a worm. In fact, Dad called her that  “Worm”. 

   She liked it when Dad did, but no-one else was given the privilege. They got a tongue-lashing from a less-than-one-year old who had a surprisingly large vocabulary. Some of its more colourful tinges she had learned by illicitly eavesdropping on Dad, and he tried to encourage her to unlearn them before she startled her mother.

   Fat chance of that. Unlike the Bourbons, she learned everything and forgot nothing, and knew just when to drop a new expletive into the dinnertime conversation.

   She had her own wicked streak, and on this occasion she thought it would be great fun to grab my sister Lyn by the ankles as she was putting away the cutlery. She was quite good at silently ambushing from behind.

   Thus it came to pass that Lyn found herself tackled like a rugby player, with nothing to save her but the knob on the cutlery drawer – one which, sad to relate, had been a temporary stuck-on job using Tarzan’s Grip. And like many temporary fixes in our home, it had acquired a degree of permanence that was neither intended nor desirable, regardless of the admirable adhesive qualities of Tarzan's Grip.

   The knob lost its permanent status the moment when Lyn, under sibling podiatrical attack, attempted to use it as an emergency hand-hold. Sadly, in the process, the tall, solid cabinet, unbeautiful in appearance but highly serviceable, began its descent.

   Apart from Lyn’s desperate effort to save herself, the floor’s unevenness was the cabinet’s reason for its downward journey, and it may have been in a precarious state of imbalance for ages. As well, it was somewhat overloaded at the top, containing, as it did, enough crockery for six perpetually hungry mouths. 

   Lyn jumped backward, taking Kay with her, clinging like a leech rather than a worm, which unlike the leech has no capacity for clinging to the human body.

   Kay’s steely grip was just as well, given that there was a fair chance that the descending cabinet would have crushed her little skull and its entire vocabulary like a passionfruit. Incidentally, I don't mean the little wild passionfruit that grew amongst the bougainvillea. The latter had thorns like No. 6 fish-hooks that we’d brave by crawling under to get those wild pashies. They were as hard as golf balls and you had to crack them with a hammer. I was comparing Kay's skull with the regular passionfruit. Now where was I?

   Oh yes. The descent of the cabinet. As described by Lyn in an email I received this morning:
It contained the dinner set that had been Grannie Wright's, and all that was left was the large platter.
   No-one was deemed to be at fault, although Lyn was greatly frightened that she would be in serious trouble for the devastation she felt she had wrought. Kay was later instructed as to the unwisdom of her little frolic, and she was so frightened by the sound of smashing china just centimetres from her little ears that she was only slightly insulted by the lectures she got consecutively from our parents about bringing anyone down in the presence of large cabinets which might become involved in her game.

   Happy as we were to share, family democracy decreed that Grannie’s large platter was insufficient for the family's crockery requirements, probably because there was a fear by my siblings that I would appropriate far more than my share at every meal. This was a true if unkind observation, and because I was not earning my keep at that stage by milking cows, the matter of a dinner set of some description was deemed a priority.

   Dad was the only one who could drive our first ever new car at that stage, so he set off for Gladstone to buy a replacement set – brand new from Friends Department Store, of course. You don't think we’d settle for less, surely? We were proud farming folk and we bought nothing second hand. Either it came from a shop out of a box from the manufacturer, or we did without it till we could pay for it. Right?

   Mum was a little concerned, not completely trusting my father’s ability in crockery aesthetics, but he had the car-keys and she didn’t. We needed crockery and whatever he bought would be it full stop. All she said just after he left on the expedition was, “Just as long as he doesn't come home with anything puce pink....”

   Puce may have been Marie-Antoinette’s favourite colour, but it wasn’t Mum's, and I inherited a distaste for the colour ever since.

   In the fullness of time, as bad story-tellers and shonky British Prime Ministers say, Dad returned, beaming, triumphant. We were crockeried once more. Out from the tissue wrappers in the carton from Friends Department Store came the dinner-plates.

   These would be, and were, the plates we had until my dad died. They were adorned by large flowers with dark green stems, nicely painted, aesthetically arranged.

They were, needless to say, the pucest of puce pink.

Addendum: and here, thanks to my sister Jan for her wisdom in keeping it, is one of the bread and butter plates from Dad's choice. Magnolias. They weren't so bad, really.

Friday, October 11, 2013

Legally assisted suicide

A programme I saw not long ago that made me think deeply. In my position you won’t be surprised. 

   A British man and his wife were entering a clinic in Switzerland. I noticed that as he entered, he looked for a secure hold on the door frame as he passed through, and by his gait, I knew immediately that his problem was neural.

   I was already aware that he’d come to that clinic to die, on that day. After all, that was what the programme was about. He was terminally ill, and his future was bleak, without hope of relief. He’d made a decision to do so, by the process Switzerland is now famous for, (or infamous, whichever way you look at it).

   Assisted suicide is its real name, but it's wrongly called euthanasia. That term has been hijacked, which is a pity. Euthanasia means nothing more than a “good death”. 

   Hands up all those who want a bad death? Not a lot, I see. However you want to die, whether by Dylan Thomas’s not going gentle and fighting in rage all the way, or by slipping quietly away in peace, you surely want what you regard as a good death.

   I'd like to see the unhijacking of the term, euthanasia. Let's unhook it from Assisted Suicide. Well, I will, but probably it will remain confused with many other things: suicide without any help from anyone else, encouragement to suicide, assisting someone else to die illegally, unnatural death of one sort or another right through to murder  everything that doesn't leave you to controlled palliative care but leads to premeditated death tends to be called euthanasia. 

   When people argue about it, they are often talking about different things. It annoys me sometimes that they don't agree at least what they're arguing about, and just muddy the waters.

Australia: Source
   Two things I want to clarify at this point. I do not seek assisted suicide for myself, but I'd like it to be available to anyone else who’s terminally ill (by any reasonable definition of the term). I don't want to get into discussion about suicide pacts by couples and the like right now, either.

   My focus here is on something more limited; legally assisting in the death of a person of sound mind but with a terminal illness – because they’ve reached a point that they want to die.

   That's exactly what this chap had come to Switzerland to do. He and his wife entered the clinic and sat down side by side in a lounge chair. He talked with his wife and the medical staff there about the process – not for the first time, obviously. This was the culmination of an extended discussion he’d had with them over a long period of time, after talking with his personal doctor. He had fulfilled their strict conditions.

   His wife was hesitant, but she had decided long before to support his wishes. She'd seen what he'd been through up to this point. Her acquiescence was an act of love.

   At one stage, when asked how about her feelings, she said she wished that he would have stayed so the family could have one last Christmas together, but she knew he felt he had had enough.

   I thought she was very brave.

   So this was the day. The process was unhurried and calm. He was given plenty of time to face exactly what he was doing, or to change his mind now that he was on the brink. Then came the irrevocable moment of decision. Once he had drunk this clear liquid, that would be it. Really it.

   He shared some chocolate with his wife and made some little joke to lighten the moment. I think part of the reason for the chocolate was that the liquid he was about to swallow was very unpleasant-tasting. There seemed a lot of it, but he’d been warned not to stop once he’d started. One last little kiss shared – a rather formal one, given they were surrounded discreetly by medical personnel. He smiled at her, gulped the liquid down.

   Within seconds, he laid his head on his wife’s shoulder, snored quietly and peacefully for no longer than a minute, gave a little convulsive movement, and his breathing stopped. The medical staff took his weight gently from his wife’s shoulder and proceeded with the preliminary formalities of declaring him dead.

   As far as I recall, his wife was very calm. She didn’t cry. After some time, she got up, and quietly walked out of the door. She was going back to England shortly after. I think his body was going back home on the same flight.

   I confess my first thought was how eerie it all must have been for her. She had walked in with her husband who had a few minutes before been smiling nervously and talkative, and she now walked out alone, knowing her husband was dead. She would get in the car, alone. Have a single seat on the plane.

   It was a premeditated act, a choice of death over life. Just how could she have felt?

   I can't imagine. Some state of numbed shock, surely, now that it had come to pass.

   He had found the peace he was ready for. I'll never begrudge him that. I'm not sure how long it would take her to do the same.

   I hope it wasn’t long.

[to be continued, I intend.]

Monday, October 7, 2013

Stress, anxiety, fear. A letter from abroad

A couple of days ago I received an email regarding the Ten Point guide I wrote that appeared in newspapers and was discussed on radio and TV in various parts of the world, to which I responded thus:

On Fri, Oct 4, 2013 at 8:09 PM, Denis Wright ... wrote:

Dear Carlos,

You have asked [an excellent question].... Do I have your permission to place the parts of your letter below on the blog? If so, may I use your name or do you prefer to remain anonymous?

Mr Gomez readily agreed to be named. This is the question he asked:
How do you deal with your fear and anxiety under normal circumstances?  
For example in a job interview when you are under the pressure that if you want the job and you fear not to get it, then you become anxious, nervous and then you will have a bad performance during the interview.  
I think your advice deals with the “what”, so I was wondering if you would like to write something about the “how” to deal with fear and anxiety, let’s say under the normal circumstances of life....

I should say at the outset that I am no more qualified to answer such a question than any other person, except that I may have a little more life experience than most. Lack of formal qualifications is not going to stop me having a lash at it.

   Anxiety is a form of fear, usually regarded as lower level, but which can be crippling at times. Fear is an emotion that has been necessary for human survival from the beginning – for the survival of any sentient creature in fact. If you have no fear of anything, then you probably won’t last too long. 

   It triggers the ‘fight or flight’ response. Adrenalin is there to supplement it, for a good reason. But anxiety in our normal lives needs some thinking about, because it can be destructive if handled badly.

   So in any decision I make, the first question is, am I going to flee or fight? I don’t take that too literally most of the time, unless I’m being chased by a pack of wild dogs. So far so good on that one. It hasn’t been tested. I was charged by an argumentative bull once, and I chose flight. Fortunately I was close enough to the fence for that to be the best option.

   That job interview – I can decide either to do it, or not. In other words, fight and have a go at it, or flee and back out. I'm probably not going to do the latter. I can expect to be a bit stressed. I need the adrenalin to be at my best. 

   The next thing is to find out as much as I can about what I want to accomplish in order to help allay as many anxieties as possible about it. Take the mystery out of something, replace it with understanding, and I find a lot of the fear vanishes. It gives me confidence about handling it. Knowledge definitely is power.

   If finding out more about it makes me more rather than less anxious, I may have to reconsider the whole thing... look for someone to share ideas about it... listen to advice while keeping responsibility for whatever action I choose. Not everyone has a partner, but if you do, I suggest listening very carefully to their point of view, because every window on a decision opens a different way to view it. Your partner is inevitably affected by your actions and has a right to top consideration in your decisions.

   We create anxiety for ourselves by thinking we have to win every battle. We don't need to. There are times to compromise, and to be generous, even though we might have preferred some other result. What is the priority? What's the ultimate goal? What can we live with and accommodate what others want, and in consequence relieve our stress, without sacrificing something too important to give up?

   Get priorities right. I see people fighting all the time about things I regard as petty. The way to lessen stress and anxiety is to ask ourselves, what is the worst that can happen if we lose this particular battle? What if we swallow our pride and accept what seems to be a lesser option? Most importantly, why burn ourselves up with resentment over things that don’t really add value to our lives?
   The difficult area, if you are living the sort of life I imagine, is in personal relationships. In these we really have to establish our priorities. Relationships are subtle and infinitely variable. We don't go through life without taking a course of action we later believe wasn’t the best. 

   The worst thing we can do is dwell on it. Or maybe there's one worse – that is, not to contemplate it, and so go on repeating it. In that case, it's a wasted opportunity. 

   We should be generous, and I'm not talking about money (but don’t be mean with money – there are no top-dollar front row seats in any afterlife you might contemplate). If we're generous of spirit, we find our stress levels drop.

   You mentioned my 10 Points that seem to have made an impact I couldn't have imagined in various parts of the globe. I didn't write them just for people facing deathly crises in their lives, but as a touchstone for creating a less stressful life for all of us and those around us. All of that list applies to everyone, and many of the ten have been with me through life as I picked up wisdom from all kinds of sources. Some I know I could have benefited from much more had they passed beyond a superficial understanding earlier in my life. But who knows?

   If you are stressed or anxious, try to isolate exactly what the stressful element is. That's where you have to be ruthlessly honest with yourself. Then you can deal with it directly. 

   Of course, there are too many personality types and too many things that people get agitated about for me to start analysing each circumstance. One size doesn't fit all.

   But... if you want the advice my guru gave to me when I went for an interview for the only job I faced a panel, it was this: listen to the question you're being asked and answer it directly. Take time to do think about it first, if necessary. Don't be afraid to say, ‘I don’t know.’ Most important of all, just be yourself. 

   Be yourself. He stressed that last one. It must have worked. Well, something did.

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

A commonplace posting

It was my friend Zoë who introduced me to the idea of a Commonplace Book. Consequently, I can lay the blame for this strange collection on her, even though she has no idea she did it.

   On her blog, there's a link to many other blogs, and one of these is called A Commonplace Blog. A definition of the original Commonplace Book is given in this blog.

   To me, it's a very appealing idea. What it means is that you collect thoughts, ideas, sayings, or bits and pieces from other sources that strike you as interesting or relevant to your life. In the days of pen and ink, they used to write down these things in a book that resembled a diary. It reminds me of Sei Shonagon's the Pillow Book.

   When I read articles or books, I make my own notes of selected pieces from these sources. It's easy to do when I'm on the Kindle reader, because I can simply command it to make a note of whatever it is that interested me. 

   This is as close to a Commonplace Book as I get. It's not quite faithful to the original idea – but it's mine.

   I thought I might make a blog posting here of selections from things I read in the last few weeks. I have several files of these from past months, and I probably should go through some of the earlier ones as well, but to keep it simple, here are just a few selections from my latest reading. I hope you enjoy at least some of them.

The History of Mr. Polly (H. G. Wells, 1866-1946) 
[In which Mr Polly, portly, middle-aged drapery shop-owner, attempts to engage in fisticuffs with the equally portly, middle-aged proprietor of the neighbouring shop.] 
There on the pavement these inexpert children of a pacific age, untrained in arms and uninured to violence, abandoned themselves to amateurish and absurd efforts to hurt and injure one another — of which the most palpable consequences were dusty backs, ruffled hair and torn and twisted collars.
[In which Polly muses with his friend, the Fat Lady, of the Potwell Inn. 
He tried again. “One seems to start in life,” he said, “expecting something. And it doesn't happen. And it doesn’t matter. One starts with ideas that things are good and things are bad — and it hasn’t much relation to what is good and what is bad. I’ve always been the skeptaceous sort, and it’s always seemed rot to me to pretend we know good from evil. It’s just what I’ve never  done. No Adam’s apple stuck in my throat, ma’am. I don’t own to it.”
Why War: Einstein and Freud’s Little-Known Correspondence on Violence, Peace, and Human Nature 
I am convinced that almost all great men who, because of their accomplishments, are recognized as leaders even of small groups share the same ideals. But they have little influence on the course of political events. It would almost appear that the very domain of human activity most crucial to the fate of nations is inescapably in the hands of wholly irresponsible political rulers.
Political leaders or governments owe their power either to the use of force or to their election by the masses. They cannot be regarded as representative of the superior moral or intellectual elements in a nation. In our time, the intellectual elite does not exercise any direct influence on the history of the world;...
... Chaplin’s iconic speech from The Great Dictator, proclaiming that “we want to live by each other’s happiness, not by each other’s misery.”
Why docs don’t do death? (MD James Salwitz) 
Doctors get the clear message from medical schools that they do not have permission to “give up.”
Neglected in teaching, death is a humiliating failure, and doctors learn none of the skills and attitudes to help patients in the last days of life.
Because of our society’s global phobia and lack of intimate experience with death, families may have little personal understanding of end of life events and therefore unrealistic expectations for cure.
Physicians fail to understand that end of life care is a core part of medicine and that all their patients really want is honesty, symptom control, and the reassurance that the doctor will not desert them.
Three Men in a Boat (Jerome K. Jerome) 
[This story is about the perils of nineteenth-century self-diagnosis by indiscriminately reading about medical matters, as do people these days on the internet.] 
So I went straight up and saw him [his doctor], and he said: “Well, what’s the matter with you?” I said: “I will not take up your time, dear boy, with telling you what is the matter with me. Life is brief, and you might pass away before I had finished. But I will tell you what is not the matter with me. I have not got housemaid’s knee. Why I have not got housemaid’s knee, I cannot tell you; but the fact remains that I have not got it. Everything else, however, I have got.” And I told him how I came to discover it all. 
Then he opened me and looked down me, and clutched hold of my wrist, and then he hit me over the chest when I wasn’t expecting it — a cowardly thing to do, I call it — and immediately afterwards butted me with the side of his head. 
After that, he sat down and wrote out a prescription, and folded it up and gave it me, and I put it in my pocket and went out. I did not open it. I took it to the nearest chemist’s, and handed it in. The man read it, and then handed it back. He said he didn’t keep it. I said: “You are a chemist?” He said: “I am a chemist. If I was a co-operative stores and family hotel combined, I might be able to oblige you. Being only a chemist hampers me.” 
I read the prescription. It ran: “1 lb. beefsteak, with 1 pt. bitter beer every 6 hours. 1 ten-mile walk every morning. 1 bed at 11 sharp every night. And don’t stuff up your head with things you don’t understand.” I followed the directions, with the happy result—speaking for myself —that my life was preserved, and is still going on.
Magical thinking about death [David Myers]
We think too much of death and not nearly enough of dying. There is a reason for that. Dying is a mental discipline, which entails many hours of training in (among other things) the renunciation of fantasies that death will be anything other than it is—the cessation of consciousness—and the bitter facing up to the reality of that fact. Those who prefer daydreams of impossible release from what awaits them will leave themselves (and those they love) tragically unprepared for the conclusive Bustle, which is “almost consequence.”
Now this last one I originally had in, then I took it out, and now I've decided to put it back in. It was a book of high interest to me. Alexander was in a coma for seven days from what he claimed was a condition that medical science said was impossible to return in anything but a vegetative state. 

I became skeptical when some of the claims made about the state of his consciousness or what he claimed was totally beyond consciousness were not relating to mystical experience on a level I understand. This may be my failing but it is something central to my philosophy of life.

His knowledge of brain function makes sense, but the relationship of his personal experience with the science became more and more extreme and highly disputed by many of his peers

In my opinion, he was hallucinating. If so, to me it's an interesting exercise in turning hallucination into something people long to believe. The bits I recorded were more on the medical side. It may seem a strange little collection.
Proof of Heaven: A Neurosurgeon's Journey into the Afterlife (Dr. Eben Alexander) 
 ...the brain is the machine that produces consciousness in the first place. When the machine breaks down, consciousness stops.
I was encountering the reality of a world of consciousness that existed completely free of the limitations of my physical brain.
My experience showed me that the death of the body and the brain are not the end of consciousness, that human experience continues beyond the grave.
E. coli are also highly promiscuous. They can trade genes with other bacterial species through a process called bacterial conjugation, which allows an E. coli cell to rapidly pick up new traits (such as resistance to a new antibiotic) when needed. This basic recipe for success has kept E. coli on the planet since the earliest days of unicellular life.
Further tests revealed that the bacteria living in the man’s large intestine had acquired the KPC gene by direct plasmid transfer from his resistant Klebsiella pneumoniae infection. In other words, his body had provided the laboratory for the creation of a species of bacteria that, if it got into the general population, might rival the Black Death, a plague that killed off half of Europe in the fourteenth century.