Tuesday, August 14, 2018

In the pause

"The first week of August hangs at the very top of summer, the top of the live-long year, like the highest seat of a Ferris wheel when it pauses in its turning. The weeks that come before are only a climb from balmy spring, and those that follow a drop to the chill of autumn, but the first week of August is motionless, and hot. It is curiously silent, too, with blank white dawns and glaring noons, and sunsets smeared with too much color."―Natalie Babbitt

At this time a year ago, my husband was bedridden, in excruciating pain with unceasing back spasms, and not yet aware that the source of it all was a broken heart. His aortic valve was shredded, and the precipitating infection had traveled to his spine, but we were still two weeks away from figuring everything out. On this day a year ago, I got on the phone with the insurance company and begged them to approve a spinal MRI. I kept calling until I finally reached a sympathetic ear. This man listened as I described the pain my husband was in, then he said, "Okay, have the doctor call me right now at this number and I'll give the approval." The MRI showed osteomyelitis of two vertebrae of the lower spine, and when the doctor read it, he called and told my man to get to the hospital right away. He left that message on my husband's cell phone, and since he was sleeping when it came in, he didn't pick it up till eleven that night, at which point he tried to negotiate with us, his family, to let him wait until the next morning.

Our son wasn't having it. He was at work on his EMS shift at the time, and he told his dad, "Either you go in voluntarily now, or I'm coming up there with an ambulance to get you." I could tell his bossiness made his dad proud. And thank God we went in that night, because by the next morning the doctors had detected the source of everything and scheduled his open heart surgery for the Friday before Labor Day weekend. Had we gone in just a few hours later, he'd have had to wait for the surgery till the following week Wednesday, which would have been dicey, the doctors said. It was lucky that the infection went to his spine, they added, because the more usual route was to the brain, causing a stroke and worse. Of course, my husband would have been luckier never to have fallen ill at all, but all things considered, the whole ordeal could have been so much worse. And now, he is so much better.

I remember coming home late at night when he was in the hospital, and crying in our big bed alone, and thinking that he better get better and come back home, because I didn't want to keep sleeping in that big bed alone. And I remember how quiet the house was. I remember I was afraid.

So in the pause of this summer, which has been blessedly uneventful, I am feeling thankful for my husband's renewed health, and for the closeness of family all around. We're having houseguests every weekend this month, and in between I am keeping my head down, working with some urgency. My subject, a courageous social justice activist, has received several death threats this week—no joke. Really vile stuff. She's a strong and determined woman, but it gets to her sometimes. Yesterday, she said to me, "I'm thinking we need to hurry up and finish this book before they come for me." She was utterly serious. I got off the phone and wanted to weep. She is a good person, this woman, something you wouldn't necessarily know if you googled her name. The right wing disinformation machine is thick and remorseless. All she wants is what is just and fair for constituencies who don't have access to what is just and fair. And for this, the toxic hate comes at her.

Pray I do her story justice. It feels like a really important one to tell, so this is where I'll be for the rest of the summer, and into the fall, except for a weekend when my daughter and I are escaping to a place with a lazy river, as we did one spring break when she was in college. It will be fun. Life is such a mixed bag these days.

How has your summer been so far, dear friends, and what are you looking forward to in the fall?


  1. What a scary time that was...Blessings on you both. Your family is such a beautiful light on this planet.
    Our summer so far has been far too busy for my liking. I'm hoping for a "slower" fall. XXOO

  2. The love that you and your husband share moves me deeply. Thank you for making the vast past, present, and future that we call August so real and immediate with your writing today. Your photograph evokes hope in me.

    For most of this summer I have been grateful that our sky has been clear and that I have had a growing sense of beloved community. My sense of beloved community has been expanding in the context of good times as well as difficult times. Although the region of the world where I live with millions of other people has been filled with smoke much of this summer, the air in the corner of that region where I live has only grown unhealthy in the past few days as a result of smoke drifting south from out-of-control fires in British Columbia. As I wrote that, I realized that smoke doesn't recognize arbitrary national borders. The smoke goes where it will. Right now there is a community of those who are breathing unhealthy air and looking at a red sun. No one here can completely avoid this experience.

    I'm looking forward to the end of the 2018 fire season on the West Coast. I'm looking forward to the season of rainy days and rainy nights. I'm looking forward to seeing Orion rising and crossing the eastern sky in the coming months on the occasions when there is no heavy cloud cover. I'm looking forward to my 69th birthday in October and, further on, turning 70 in 2019.

  3. I can't fathom thinking my work will get me 'taken out.' That alone makes me cry. Blessings on your friend/heroine and good juju on you as you tell her story.
    As for osteomyelitis....it's evil!! My hubby's left thumb kept getting infected. He was a painter all his life (not the artistic kind; the kind that paints buildings, houses, bridges, and water towers), and the recurrent infection made it impossible to wor sometimes. He went through several antibiotics and three surgeries, each time cutting a little slice of his thhumb off. The fourth surgery was amputation at the first knuckle. I can't imagine having this horrible infection in your spine!!!!

  4. It is such a relief, isn't it, to be able to look back and give thanks that "now" is good. I'm glad it worked out okay.

    I love the quote about the first week of August, especially the comparison to being at the top of the Ferris wheel. It expresses just how I feel when the calendar turns to this month. A bit melancholy, too, to be truthful, because as much as I mind the heat and humidity of July, August is the beginning of summer being over. The sunlight changes, the sound of the wind in the trees changes, the smells in the air change, too.

    Sending you supportive wishes as you work on this book. How sad and terrifying to live with death threats only because she is doing good things for the world. I hope for her safety.

  5. There are so many tricks the human body has up its proverbial sleeve which we never see coming which can send us off. I am SO glad that it is this year, a year later, and not last when everything looked so dire. But I am mostly glad that between the science and art of medicine and the powerful love of your family, your man is back, hale and hearty.
    May the subject of this book not be taken out. May you help her get the words out that need to be said.
    What a strange and frightening world we live in. I guess all we can do is keep on doing whatever we can to shine light into the darkest corners. And to witness. And that is exactly what you're doing.

  6. Has it really been a year? How does time go so fast? I am so grateful he is still here, loving you, loving your children and all of you loving him.

    I am really excited to read your newest book! I will be sending you that package soon. Our mail system is notoriously slow.

    The quote at the beginning of this post is beautiful. I read it earlier and have been thinking about it all day.

  7. Reading this and remembering your posts from last summer makes me catch my breath. How fragile life is and how much of our wellbeing depends on the right people at the right moment.

    My summer so far has been wonderful and awful in equal measure, happiness always trying to outsmart the downsides. My family's closeness is what sustains me. I managed two days back at work after four weeks ill at home and suddenly, the world is bright(er).

  8. Carry on, you are doing good and important work. I fear for the author! Love and wishes for hearty health for you and your beloveds!

  9. I'm confident you will do her story justice. It pains me so that there is so much toxic hate and that your client's fear is real. That makes the words even more important. I'm so glad your husband is better. Reading of the love here helps me realize the world isn't all awful.

  10. Thanks for the beautiful thoughts on mid summer or end of summer as it seems for those of us thinking about getting back to school in the next couple of weeks. I have complained way to much this summer about the heat and humidity. When the ice storms come I will wish for it. I just returned from central park with my granddaughter. Even though we were soaked to the bone because we were caught in the downpour somehow I didn't even mind the packed train ride home because being wet felt good - but a clean shower at home was even better.

  11. It's been a year indeed. I can't imagine living as your social rights activist lives, with death threats. I am thankful though that there are people who are that strong.

    The summer has been hot for the most part. It's seems to have flown by somehow. The garden is getting ready for fall now, the trees are just starting to turn color and a few leaves have fallen already. The annuals are leggy and looking worn out. The big guy are going to the mountains next week for a few days which will be nice.

  12. I remember clearly when you wrote about open heart surgery and how terrible it was. It was just terrifying. I am so happy for you both that the true cause was discovered and fixed. Who knew a problem with a heart valve would manifest as back spasms?

  13. I remember reading about your husband's ordeal last summer and how worried I was for the whole family. Such a time that was. I'm so glad now that a whole year has passed and things are going well.

    It is unbelievable that the subject of your book lives in fear for her life. How is it that we have come to this? It is heartbreaking. You will do her story justice, my friend.