Wednesday, June 30, 2021

TIME

 Tick-tock, tick-tock, tick-tock. The clock on the kitchen wall is almost exploding. It gets louder as I try to ignore it.  I never heard it while Standing Deer sat on his throne in the living room watching videos on TV. Now the passage of seconds, minutes, hours, and days is propelled like an arrow from the clock to my mind.

I just had my 79th birthday, (I almost wrote 89th, a slip I’ve been making for months).  Normally people my age don’t accidentally add ten years to their age, but I’ve been very aware of the speed of time in the days since I turned 75. However, it isn’t with regret, sadness or fear that I became aware of the the speed with which years advance. I feel a freedom and detachment that I would never have anticipated even three years ago. It’s as if I were looking at the earth’s spinning surface from a remote island in the sky. Everything seems present or soon will be. Whatever time is it greets us at the beginning of our ride on this spinning ball.  Although I’ve had a lot of time, I find it mysterious and multidimensional. We use our Earth, Moon, Sun and stars as a measuring system, yet the essence is a mystery.

Most of the earth's people have already moved beyond reach of this physical, measured world and become members of its history. I’m wondering if we just attend this three-dimensional seminar of a few short earth cycles from time to time primarily to brush up on the principles of consciousness and responsibility or possibly learn about them for the very first time. Eventually, I hope to move through the lower grades and enroll in graduate school. Could it be that our earthly school systems are based on an underlying cosmic model?

Standing Deer (Pba-quin-nee-e, or PQ) was a hard user. His physical body was small. He and I wore almost the same shoe size, he had strong but beautiful hands, and the muscles of a cat, and he carried himself big. However, he was careless with hardware, including his body. It took him longer than most people to discover that he wasn’t immortal.

Now that PQ has moved beyond the vibrational atmosphere of this visible world, my self-identity has done a fast replay of all the previous roles and stages of my life. As each one passed, I said no, been there done that. Let’s try one I haven’t used before. There were so many years lived secretly or as the frame for someone else’s picture. However, it’s an intuitive guess about what comes next. Honestly though, I’m ready to take some dusty tools out of the closet. Some of them have never been used before and others were almost forgotten.

 I've been cast out the door of a life I was quite comfortable with and yet I always knew the comfort had a time limit. A pleasant routine becomes delicious when you know it may end without notice. You take a memory snapshot each day. The simple things are the most addictive. I miss seeing the back of his head above the couch as he watches the afternoon news while I fix supper. His laugh when a joke strikes his funny bone, the breakfast smoothy we had with the morning news at the beginning of each day, and especially the happy hug when he met me in the kitchen ready for morning coffee. On nice summer mornings we took our coffee to the patio where he liked to talk to the birds, and they answered. In the afternoon, there were trips to the grocery store and post office. He invariably saw someone he knew from the Pueblo, went to high school with or was a pal he made in the art world. Of course, Taos was his hometown not only in his lifetime but for generations back.

And yet we were happiest in Cottonwood Arizona. I’ve tried to understand why that is. Perhaps it was because we were free to be new. It was like being born again without karma. Yet we never gave up our Taos connection. That wasn’t the point. The ripples in the lake of time ran free there, without conflicting patterns. It was a new life based on discovery rather than habit. We had, and now I have, a storage shed full of remnants of our dream to return to Cottonwood someday.

We got together too late to fulfill many dreams, but we had a delicious taste of what we want when we get another round. PQ always had an off center sense of judgement. It took me a long time to recognize this.  However, his bad choices had a trickster element attached. He once picked out an aspen tree for me, and it turned out to be a cottonwood sapling, or he decided to walk around the grocery store with me, accept visitors and sing a day after leaving the hospital which launched the beginning of the end. I no longer blame him for this strange trait. In the final cut, it turned out right. He was following a different script and the results served an alternative purpose. For instance, I had decided to plant aspens because of my small garden space, but unknown to him, I always had a soul connection with cottonwoods.

I see and must accept that he left when he needed to go. We both had plans for the future, but his body wore out and his soul knew he couldn’t do justice to the life he came to live.

To be continued, but I don’t know when or where.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Thursday, June 17, 2021

OUR FINAL ADVENTURE (MAYBE)

How can he be gone? He filled every moment of my every day. Now the air is loaded with his absence, as if he might walk through the door. Time can’t find its way through the disorganized maze of events. I don’t remember just when his exit began. He fought with his powerful will to stay in his body. He never felt his earth journey was complete and did everything he could to make those damaged, lungs keep working, and his heart was still pumping strong until just before the final breath.


A Moment Without Oxygen !
 We talked of making a will recently but ran out of time. We didn’t know the final struggle was already creeping up behind us. Our lifestyle from year to year gradually adapted to his lung disease, and although we kept the car supplied with oxygen tanks and took the big concentrator with us whenever we left town, we were comfortable, and our love for each other and our friends made life sweet. PQ was not patient by nature, but he adapted to all the inconveniences of his disease. His paintings became better as he explored new styles and media, and he continued to sing for visitors and sometimes at events, although for shorter periods of time. He was always a party boy, and a gathering, whether of two or two hundred gave him a spike of energy and sparkle. I stood behind him with the oxygen tanks.

We had a routine appointment with his pulmonologist in Espanola. He didn’t want to go because our recent visit to lung specialists in Denver yielded no new information and left us worn out. He said, “what’s the use of going to the doctor, he won’t tell me anything new.” I thought of Dr. Narayanon, and how he and PQ bantered with each other and talked of their shared political views and jokes about the differences between the two kinds of Indians they represented. I talked him into keeping that appointment.

In the elevator to the doctor’s office, he began to struggle. When we got out, he almost fainted and had to find the nearest chair. A nurse ran for a wheelchair, and when he began the check in routine of heart rate, blood pressure and oxygen, the oxygen level was bouncing up and down off the charts. The nurse quickly fetched Dr. Narayanon, who took one look and sent him to the ER. His left lung had collapsed. Then began a month and a half of hospitals and procedures. My notes on the calendar are as mysterious as the progression of time, and as out of ordinary focus as a dream.

Thus began my life of waiting in hospitals. For a small Hispanic town, the Espanola Presbyterian Hospital is clean, modern, and spacious, with a caring staff that look in on the patient every few minutes. I spent five or six hours in PQ’s room every day and drove home to Taos in the evening. I didn’t mind the hour-and-a-half drive up the canyon. It was a beautiful spring landscape that soothed and restored my energy after the long hospital visits.

However, PQ’s body was not eliminating the morphine he’d been given when a tube was implanted in his lung cavity to drain air and fluid so that the lung had room to reinflate. It was decided to send him to Presbyterian Hospital in Albuquerque. Of course, that didn’t work. It took the Ambulance too long and the room was lost, so he went to Rio Rancho Presbyterian Rust instead. Our dear friend Carol with whom we stayed in Cottonwood, now relocated to Albuquerque became my center. I spent five hours at the hospital every day, until they decided to send him back to Taos. When he arrived back in Taos, he put on his jeans, cowboy boots and shirt. He followed me into the grocery store, and we went to the post office. One day, he received some out-of-town visitors and enjoyed playing his drum and singing lightly. But that was the last hurrah. The lung collapsed again.

By this time, I’m beginning to feel like a mouse in a maze, and Taos sounds like a comforting relief. After a few days in Taos Holy Cross, the pulmonologist there decided there was a procedure that might keep his lung from collapsing again, so he was sent by helicopter to Presbyterian in Albuquerque. (Are you getting confused yet?) I was. With each change there was a hope that this time there would be a better outcome. But the promised procedure was never used nor even mentioned again and it was soon decided that he was declining rapidly and should go back to Taos into hospice care.

PQ’s son Jarrick, and I agreed to this. I gathered my things and started back to Taos and as I was leaving Albuquerque, the ambulance driver called to make sure he had the Taos address right. Hospice bed, high flow oxygen concentrators and whatever else might be needed were to be installed in our house before arrival. PQ’s oldest son Corey had stayed at our home and taken care of the cat while we were gone. He worked rapidly to clear a space for entrance through the garage and in the living room for the bed and new equipment. I arrived just before the ambulance. However, the equipment and bed had not arrived, and PQ and ambulance drivers had to wait almost half-an-hour before it arrived. Nothing was working out as planned. The hospice nurse was trying to maintain some order, but PQ was approaching an oxygen crisis. Finally, the equipment came, and the bed and concentrators were set up. When PQ got off the gurney, he had a seizure. His pulse and heart rate plummeted, and the nurse was ready to declare him deceased, but then his vitals began to rise again.

I don’t know exactly how long ago that was. Time had stopped progressing sequentially after that first hospital experience. Soon after the hospice setup, perhaps a day, his daughter Jody arrived from Florida. He wanted her visit more than anything. She was a symbol of what he did wrong in his life and wanted to make right. Just before she walked through the front door, he insisted that he had to be wearing his jeans and boots. We couldn’t tell him that his jeans were put aside in the Pueblo house for a funeral service that seemed the inevitable outcome. He insisted, so I took his dress pants, boots and belt from the closet. He’d lost so much weight that the belt didn’t have enough holes and the pants landed around his ankles. He was now eating only a few bites of his favorite foods. Just enough to arouse the fond memory of watermelon, Strawberry Cream Slush, or scrambled eggs. We all tried to fulfill his yearnings.

Our house was now a hospital room, and a hospice nurse visited every day. PQ’s sister from South Dakota and her daughter spent some time with us. Relatives, from Denver, back east, and the Pueblo filled the house every day. His musician and artist friends came to pay their respects and say goodbye. One of his life gifts was in bringing people together, and he fulfilled that calling now as death approached even more than when his body was strong. People came together who hadn’t seen each other in years. And his life as an ambassador between cultures may have been a surprise to many of his family.

Now and then, PQ was sure he was near death and asked to go to the Pueblo for the final goodbye, but then he would change his mind and ask to make his transition to the spirit world from our house, which meant that his body would be taken in a hearse to the ancestral pueblo home and given the traditional burial after death. I was very relieved by this decision. There is no electrical outlet at the Pueblo, and he was now on 30 Ltrs of oxygen. He would have been sedated with morphine and after the oxygen tanks ran out, allowed to suffocate while his relatives waited for the final breath. I thought perhaps the yearning to please his father and follow his way was behind this drastic thought. I remember the jolt of being present when his father ran out of oxygen and expired in minutes.

All of us were under stress and sometimes there were misunderstandings and flareups. I sardonically imagined this would be a good topic for a family drama. One night his oldest son and I thought he was almost gone, called the younger son to come immediately and then decided to help his transition by playing appropriate music by his favorite musicians. “Journey to the Spirit World” by Buddy Red Bow was our first choice, followed by other artists such as Van Morrison, Tina Turner and Bruce Springsteen. I no longer remember the whole lineup, but I do remember that it had a surprising effect. He became lively and started tapping out the rhythm of each song. The musical reboot lasted for two days.

I hoped he would make it to our tenth anniversary, an important date even though we had been together much longer. The marriage was an occasion for bringing our friends together in celebration of our partnership and that made it special. 

On his last day in the body we  knew, he had no energy for anything but breathing. He never entirely came to consciousness. In the late afternoon, his son Jarrick and his fiance left the house to get some food. It was now safe to leave him alone with one person. I sat beside him as he struggled with each breath. it was unbearable. Both he and I were hopelessly fighting against the inevitable. I put my hand on his forehead, stroked his wounded chest and told him, "dear love of my life, you cannot overcome this. Your lungs will never get better. I will love you forever no matter where you are. Your lungs  are keeping you trapped in a struggle it is too late to win. I love you always and everywhere, body, soul and spirit forever. Then I went outside for several minutes and prayed under the beautiful summer sky, surrounded by the trees and flowers we injoyed over morning coffee in better days. I was outside perhaps five minutes, and when I returned he had stopped breathing.

I don’t know how to end this missive. I don’t feel the process is yet complete, perhaps it never will be and it is just a long wait until we can resume our life together with new bodies. I’ve restored our house to clean, orderly and comfortable, a mutual friend sent me a beautiful white orchid for my birthday and dear friends we shared took me out to dinner. He is always present, although now he lets me talk too. That’s the big difference. I say this not to be unkind, but our relationship made plenty of space for him as a performer and extroverted party boy. I didn’t resent this because, I had a lot of sway behind the scenes and also had my personal life trajectory.

My new freedom feels like an extended gap between breaths. There is nothing new to fill it, but the beauty of early summer allows me to keep the windows and doors open to life on the outside. I hope PQ is feeling free and at ease after his long struggle with that cruel thief of oxygen, pulmonary fibrosis.  

 

 

 

Friday, May 14, 2021

How Did We Get to Heaven’s Gate?

Wednesday the 11th

Yesterday evening after leaving the hospital I bought some socks and shorts for PQ and some summer tops for myself at an outrageously huge Walmart up the road from the hospital. Some part of me anticipated that we wouldn’t be going home tomorrow, and I had one outfit and no pajamas. Nevertheless, I hoped preparing for a longer stay would mean I was preparing for something that wouldn’t happen. In no way was I prepared when I drove south to Rio Rancho. That entire drive is now erased from memory. The Espanola hospital was going to send my husband to Santa Fe. I waited for the ambulance to arrive in a few minutes, as predicted. They even had his new room number. Time went by, and the ambulance never came. Finally, I drove home to feed the cat and get ready for a trip to Santa Fe the next morning.

Then I got word that the ambulance had been called to an emergency, the hospital room was now taken, and they were sending PQ to Presbyterian Rust hospital in Rio Rancho. My heart dropped. I couldn’t drive daily to Rio Rancho. Then I called our Friend Carol who lives in Albuquerque and asked if I could stay with her.  Everything happened so fast, there was only reaction, not much thinking beyond finding the hospital in an unfamiliar city and then finding my friend Carol’s new home which I’d only visited once before.

I notice time is suspended. I’m not in the same world of two weeks ago, or is it only a week? When PQ was transported to Rio Rancho he was knocked out on morphine. The doctor in Espanola sent him to Presbyterian Rust because they had a specialist nephrologist.  His kidneys were not filtering out the morphine and he had been psychedelically tripping for two days. Finally,  he woke up in Rio Rancho, looked out the window and thought he might be on another planet. Everything was foreign. When I arrived at the hospital the next morning, both he and the staff were glad to see me. He was terrified and thought something very creepy was going on.

Thursday the 12th

This morning when I arrived, his face seemed a bit larger. Then I noticed the left side of his chest was abnormally swollen where the drainage tube had been. What’s happening? The nurse sent for the pulmonologist. She came in later and told us that PQ was experiencing Subcutaneous Emphysema. She wasn’t alarmed and said that when the delicate lung lining, and his is very vulnerable, is penetrated due to a heavy cough or some other pressure it creates a small hole where oxygen can escape into the body. The oxygen moves unrestricted into the tissue below the skin and causes the skin to swell like a balloon. She said that it’s better to monitor it and that when the hole in the lung tissue heals, the body will absorb the excess oxygen. Later in the day, the swelling increased until his eyes were closed.

He was scheduled to go home that day and was hugely disappointed. I was grateful it didn’t happen after we got him home. It would have terrified him, (me too) since we’d never heard of such a thing. I’ve since learned that it is not uncommon.

Friday the 14th

Third day in Rio Rancho: The swelling is beginning go down. If he tries hard, he can open his eyes. I don’t know how long I’ve been here. Time has slowed down, perhaps because we are in a new lifetime. Yet there is a routine in this new life. I spend each day from 10:30 AM to 6-6:30 PM in his room. Because of COVID, the hospital only allows two visitors per day. The people at the hospital entrance know me and ask how Standing Deer is doing. They did some research on the internet and discovered he was in a couple of films and has his art on Facebook, now they think he is a star and treat me like an old friend when I come in the morning.

I still can’t find my way to and from my friend Carol’s house where I’m staying or the hospital without Seri’s help. Yesterday on my way to Carol’s house, I told Seri Montano instead of Montano Plaza Drive and had a scenic drive through sagebrush and cedar.  Eventually, pulled off and tried again. Every road here has many snakelike winding curves—probably good Fung Shuai.

When I arrived at the hospital this morning, the nurse on duty informed me that they had talked to PQ about a Final Directive and he told them he wanted the full measures to maintain life. Although I don’t think he understands how brutal that can be, I didn’t bring the topic up today because I believe it indicates how much he wants to live. He has unfinished business, and not just the unfinished painting on our dining room table. That table has become his favorite workplace and his colored pens, pencils and measuring tools are waiting for him. He also needs to finish his life story. What will he carry to the other side? This should be the most important final directive. The shadowy veil between daily life and the truly mysterious world we live in has been torn for me as well.

It’s so easy to be hypnotized into semi consciousness by our everyday routines and earthly plans. We all know that life habits and routines we have become comfortable with are temporary and subject to sudden changes as much as the weather is, yet its always a shock when there is messenger from the other side at the door. Decisions must be made. Why am I here, what do I want to leave, what will I take with me. Can I finish the job I started.


Friday, May 7, 2021

IN THE HOSPITAL

Standing Deer went for a checkup with his pulmonologist on Monday. He was breathing irregularly and by the time we reached the doctor’s office, he was near to fainting. Doctor Narayanon sent him immediately to the ER, where they discovered his left lung was deflated. They inserted a tube to remove fluid and air that had escaped the lung. It had filled the surrounding tissue and deflated the lung. 

This has been building up for some time. It explains our uncomfortable trip to Denver last month and his increasing shortness of breath. I’m disappointed with the huge, efficient University of Colorado Pulmonary center for not suspecting there was more going on than normal IPF symptoms. He lived for a month with a collapsing lung.  After the Denver visit, he was so discouraged that he wanted me to cancel this last visit to his pulmonologist because, “what’s the use, they can’t do anything for me.” He believed he just had to live with rapidly decreasing oxygen intake until he couldn’t anymore.

Like riding a hair-raising roller coaster, it seems like we’ve been here much longer than we have.  Twice they’ve had to reinsert the tube that drains excess fluid out of the lung cavity. He is in surgery again as I write, this time they will insert a larger tube. I come to Presbyterian Hospital in Espanola every morning as if its an old habit, even though it’s been less than a week.

I used to be a really good driver, but since we’ve been together, Standing Deer does most of the driving and I found my self confidence on the road waning. I never minded letting him drive because it’s a physical thing he can still do well, and he loves to drive. Now, after five trips through the canyon my body and coordinated mind have reconnected with space, time and the rhythm of curves and hills. The drive has become a meditative experience. Besides, the weather has been fantastic.

Two days ago, I walked out of the hospital in a state of sadness knowing this could be the beginning of the end of our time together. The gravity of his disease was no longer looming in the background to be dealt with someday. What a contrast with the beauty of the full on spring afternoon. The air and light reminded me of the best time of our life together in Cottonwood and Sedona Arizona. Memories came in with such force that I almost suffocated in them. We will never be able to hike those beautiful red-dust trails again. How grateful I am that the memories are as clear as if they are right now superimposed on the equal beauty of this Northern New Mexican spring.

Monday, before we ended up here, our week's calendar was full of meetings and appointments, then suddenly the calendar crashed. Its like being suddenly dropped in a foreign country. I wonder if that’s what death is like or could be like. Yesterday they moved him to ICU. That worried me. In his new room, he started hearing and seeing shadow people moving around the room, some were trying to talk. He said there was a man behind him who kept saying a word he didn’t understand. Out of curiosity and some concern, PQ had me call the nurse on duty. He asked her if anyone had died in this room. She said “yes, many have.” 

They just brought him back from the third attempt to insert a tube below his lung to drain the fluid. Now all the tubes and wires have been changed out and he is going back and forth between sleep and semi-consciousness. He is seeing people walking and flying through the room again. This time he is tripping, moving his arm and fingers like he was playing an instrument.

I know he is taking the fight to a new level and I wonder if he will make peace with the reality of  his situation. We aren't young anyway but in many ways we are happier than we were when young. That is the paradox. Each round is a revelation if we are willing to let go of the way things were before.  

I’ve left the painting he started on the dining room table, along with all his watercolor pens, compass, eraser and ruler. I’m counting on him coming back to finish it. I know he will and I hope it will happen in this this body in this lifetime.