Tuesday, February 28, 2012

When a Rose Bends

By Dr. Mel Waldman

I’m in shock. I can’t believe what has happened to my lovely, soft, and gentle wife, Michelle, a beautiful and brilliant woman who continues to enchant and captivate me every day of my mysterious life. Years ago, she captured my heart on the dance floor of the St. Moritz. But with the promise of a shared tomorrow, she captures my spirit-my soul with each sunrise.

A delightfully feisty woman of accomplishment, she once directed plays, ice skated on the Perry Como Show, and performed in Tennessee Williams’ “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof” as a child actress. And she had at least one memorable conversation with Tennessee Williams.

A healthy woman, she had one issue: a defective right hip. She talked about getting hip replacement surgery for over a year.

Then, last November, she decided to get the surgery after suffering much pain and consulting with her PCP and two surgeons.

Although I warned my wife about possible complications, some quite severe and potentially life-threatening, she ultimately listened to the hip surgeon who told her she would eventually experience little or no pain after the surgery and rehab.

The surgeon showed us the X-rays of her right hip. Indeed, she needed the surgery. But he did not prepare her psychologically for the worst-case scenarios that might follow surgery. And even though we both attended a class about hip surgery, my wife ignored the possible negative consequences of this major medical procedure.

The surgery took place on December 19, 2011 in a Manhattan hospital. After the surgery, the surgeon spoke to my wife in the recovery room. He did not include me in the brief post-operative conversation. Yet I had spent 14 hours at the hospital before, during, and after the surgery. I waited in the waiting room alone, uninformed, worrying about Michelle.

When the medical staff allowed me to see my wife, they permitted me to see her for only five minutes. My wife smiled widely and glowed in a temporary euphoria probably induced, in part, by the morphine in her body.

“Dr. --- told me the surgery was a success. And I feel no pain.”

“Wonderful,” I said.

But before the social worker transferred my wife to a nursing home, Michelle suffered high and low-grade fevers at the hospital for a week. Soon, my wife experienced a series of high fevers, infections, an overwhelming and debilitating weakness, and multiple trips to the E.R. while receiving rehab in a nursing home.

Once she arrived at the Brooklyn nursing home, she seemed upbeat and ready to complete a short rehab. In the beginning, she progressed rapidly. With the passage of time, however, she learned that the daily tasks of rehab and the ultimate goals of walking and climbing stairs presented formidable obstacles. My wife became a 21st century protagonist in the myth of Sisyphus, rolling the heavy stone of rehab uphill again and again, sometimes gaining momentum, but ultimately watching the stone roll down the hill again. The tasks of rehab became Sisyphean labors.

Assaulted by multiple infections she apparently caught in the nursing home, she looked pale and drained of her life force. She lay in bed and stopped going to rehab. I tried to motivate her and used every bag of psychological tricks I had. I used tough love and soft, gentle love – all to no avail. Nothing seemed to work.

A few days ago, the nursing home staff called EMS. My wife was rushed to the E.R. of a Brooklyn hospital again. Her symptoms included fluid on the lungs, an irregular heartbeat, abdominal pain, and a fever. While in the E.R., the attending doctor informed my wife and me that she was losing blood. She needed a blood transfusion. I signed some consent forms and my wife received the blood transfusion. In the middle of the night, the E.R. doctor transferred my wife to a room in the hospital.

After a gastroenterologist examined Michelle, he ordered a cat scan of her abdomen. He also informed my wife and me that two procedures -- an endoscopy and a colonoscopy -- would be performed once her medical condition became stabilized. In addition, he pointed out that she could not return to the nursing home at this critical point in time. Without knowing why she was losing blood and without treating the cause, she would become ill again in the nursing home and would end up in the E.R. once more.

Before he completed his exam, he also noted that my wife might have colitis. I told him that my wife’s second roommate suffered from colitis. He pointed out that patients in hospitals and nursing homes sometimes develop colitis.

The following evening, Michelle had the cat scan of her abdomen. Twenty-four hours later, the physician’s assistant on call met with me and confirmed that my wife had a mild case of colitis.

Tomorrow morning, my wife will have an endoscopy and colonoscopy. She continues to lose blood. We must find out why.

Two months have passed since Michelle had major surgery. I pray that the doctors solve this medical mystery, discover the cause of her blood loss, and fix the problem. Throughout the endless night, I listen to the beating and pounding of the rain.

And I pray.

And today, I have written this poem:

When a rose bends, it turns toward earth in the
final hours of its existence, as it
leans closer to the inevitable
darkness, the Void that waits for all of us.

When a leaf wafts to earth, gold, yellow, and
yellow-green, drifting toward destiny, the
brown womb of death beckons it to let go
and merge with the timeless usurper of
life. And so it is. Thanatos welcomes
every human and all other beings.

When a wife becomes very ill, she bends
like a rose toward the earth, leaning closer
to the darkness; her husband cries out to
her. She stops abruptly. The Void does not
swallow her now; perhaps, tomorrow or
in the distant future. And so it is.

The wife I speak of is mine, a precious
rose, bending and turning to the brown earth.
But I cry out, “Not now!” And she hears my
desperate voice. And for now, she turns to me,
away from danger, away from darkness,
away from the Void, safe within my love.

Writer Mel Waldman is a psychologist, poet, writer, and artist. His stories have appeared in dozens of magazines including HARDBOILED DETECTIVE, ESPIONAGE, THE SAINT, and AUDIENCE. He is a past winner of the literary GRADIVA AWARD in Psychoanalysis and was nominated for a PUSHCART PRIZE in literature. He is the author of 11 books.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Report From Panama

By Judith England

From the lush, green appearance of a jungle you would think anything would grow there. I learned firsthand that this isn’t so.

In Panana's dense jungle known as the Darien Peninsula -- a vast protected wilderness habitat for rare and endangered species -- there are trees the size of cell towers, and palms with leaves as big as a man. Yet, to coax a modest crop of vegetables from the land requires tremendous effort.

The soil, if you want to call it that, is rock-hard in the dry season. A pick-ax and hours of labor are needed to even begin the process of working it to a planting-ready state. Deep fissures criss-cross the surface of the land – so deep in fact that I was told baby chicks sometimes fall in and perish. In the rainy season, tropical downpours create mudslides and slow walking and travel by horseback to a crawl.

At Centro Pastorale in Sante Fe, Darien the focus is on living in communion with the land.* Every effort is made to work the land, and raise livestock in ways that are sustainable and kind to both human and animal.

During this year’s visit, our small band of visitors were asked to help improve a plot of land on the granja (farm). Armed with axes, hoes, and good intentions we set to the task.

The temperature was 90 plus by 10 am, and despite efforts to stay hydrated, within two hours my body could take no more. My head was screaming, my stomach churning, and I blamed my nordic heritage for the inability to perspire enough to cool my core temperature. I surrendered and found other work at the Center better suited to my genetics and experience.

It took three long days before the garden work was done. Soil yielded, enriched with humus and lighted with sand from the river. It was a thing of beauty and the women who did the work were justified in savoring their accomplishment.

Melinda Roper is one of two Maryknoll Sisters who manage Centro Pastorale. For about a quarter of a century she has devoted her life to the land and people of the Darien. She holds nature in deep respect, and understands that sometimes, all the effort and will in the world is not enough to change what is. As she told me: “This land has the vocation to be a forest – not a farm.”

The analogy, of course, is that each person is unique, and has gifts that can make life better for themselves and those around them when recognized, developed and shared.

I’ve always counted myself as one of the lucky ones. My work life, and my personal life are all of one piece. Each is an extension of the other. What a gift it is when making a life and making a living are the same thing.

But, even if what you do to get the bills paid isn’t your heart’s calling, maybe there’s a way to give expression to what is authentically you through a hobby or service work. Take the time to find out what gives you joy, what you do well and want to do better, what you look back on at the end of the day with a smile of satisfaction.

A vocation is a calling. What is it that’s calling you?

Writer Judi England, is a yoga Instructor and massage therapist in Albany, New York. She can be reached at Yogajudi@aol.com. This piece -- and the one she wrote before leaving on her trip -- appeared first on the Holistic Health blog, which she keeps at the Albany Times Union.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Finding Mrs. Florence Martin, I finally get to say THANKS!

By Claudia Ricci

It has taken almost 40 years but I finally got the chance to say thanks for a kindness that had a profound impact on my life.

In a post on Tuesday, I wrote about a teacher I had at Brown, Dr. Horace F. Martin, who reached out to help me at a time when I was really struggling during my sophomore year at college. I wrote about the fact that I had never said a proper thank you to him for what he did.

That same day I wrote the tribute, I found out with the help of the Brown Alumni office that Dr. Martin passed away in April, 2010.

I was so sad. I felt so bad that I hadn't tried harder to find him sooner.

For a while it seemed like I had missed my chance to say a proper thank you. But several readers told me I needed to reach out to Dr. Martin's family, that they would be pleased to hear my tribute.

So I did. On Thursday, February 23, I searched for relatives through the obituary. I found one of Dr. Martin's daughters, and left a message. That evening, I received a phone call from Dr. Martin's wife, Florence, and we had such a wonderful conversation.

She told me about the many professional accomplishments Dr. Martin had: he had a Ph.D., an M.D. (which he earned at Brown about the time I was a student), and later, he earned a law degree!

Mrs. Martin says that I wasn't the only student he befriended: "He looked out for many of his students," she said. Mrs. Martin still lives in the home that she and her husband bought in 1978. While she misses her husband dearly, her life is very, very rich in family. In addition to her seven children and their spouses, she has 15 grandchildren, and all but one of them live in the Providence, R.I. area.

It was a thrill to speak to her, and she told me that if I were ever near Pawtucket, where she lives, I have a standing invitation to stop by. I just may do that Mrs. Martin; I'd love to visit with you and share memories of Dr. Martin over a cup of tea. Meanwhile, I promised to print out this post and send it to her by mail.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

In honor of Dr. Horace F. Martin, a much-belated THANK YOU

By Claudia Ricci

Sometimes we say thank you right away. But sometimes it takes us a long, long time to realize how grateful we are for someone's act of kindness. Sometimes, we wait a little too long to say thanks.

This is a letter of gratitude that I probably should have written in 1972, or shortly thereafter. That was the year I was a sophomore in college. It was the end of March when I broke up with my high school sweetheart. We'd been together for three years and had an amazing relationship. Considering how old we were, it was quite something.

Which made it all the harder when we mutually decided that it was time we experienced college separately. We sat together in Harvard Square (where he was going to school) and he sang me songs on his guitar all night. And then, as the light of day made its way onto the city streets, we parted. I can vaguely remember that I walked away. And waved.

That was the romantic part. What came after was tumultuous. I was devastated. I had lost my best friend. I had lost my anchor. I was back at Brown, completely unhinged.

I couldn't study. I couldn't focus. I can remember walking the streets of Providence in a blur, mourning my lost love. I was sinking quickly into my first bout of depression. I tried going to the counseling center. It didn't seem to help.

And then came a kind of guardian angel in the form of a lab instructor.

Dr. Horace Martin, who was a practicing physician in the Providence area, was my lab teacher. At the time he seemed older, as in, he was balding and a bit heavy set in a middle-aged kind of way. Looking back, he was probably about 40.

He was a kind man, and as luck would have it, he was very very intuitive. I hadn't given him any direct indication that I was in trouble. I was shuffling through the lectures on base pairs and DNA structure. I'm not sure how, but somehow this man figured out that I was deeply depressed.

I don't even remember the particulars of how he approached me. All I recall looking back is that he made it clear he knew I needed someone to talk to. Someone to lean on.

He told me about his family. He told me he had seven children, and they all lived near Providence. He asked me if I would like to come to dinner with his family.

I went. I remember nothing in particular except that his wife made a big family dinner of spaghetti and meatballs. I remember the warmth of the family. The kind of family I'd grown up with.

After dinner, he and his wife insisted I stay over for the night. I did and the next morning, Dr. Martin drove me back to campus.

That morning, he gave me the best advice perhaps that anybody, certainly any teacher, ever gave me. He told me to be very very good to myself. He told me that every single day of my life I had to treat myself to something special. Even if it was a very little treat. Buy yourself a candy bar, he told me. Looking back, I think I see why this man reached out to me. I think he saw a kindred spirit. Here in his classroom he recognized the danger signals, the signs that a student was suffering, or at least having a very rough time. I suspect he'd had his rough moments, and here he was, paying back.

So why am I writing this now, almost 40 years later?

I am teaching a new class called Reading and Writing the Happier Self at my university. We are reading all kinds of books about happiness -- texts from neuroscience, psychology, narrative theory, literature, as well as readings in contemplative pedagogy and spiritual practice. The lab for this class is a series of classes in mindfulness-based stress reduction.

One of the best books we are reading -- a student favorite -- is Sharon Salzberg's Lovingkindness, a book I've written about before. A book that has changed my life. A book that basically says we have to love ourselves and everyone else in the world. Not in a sentimental or passionate way, but in a way that brings out our deepest compassion. Even our enemies deserve our compassion, our "metta" (which can be translated from the Indian Pali language as "love" or "lovingkindness.") Much of Salzberg's book is devoted to the metta practices, the meditations that are designed to help us learn to love ourselves and others, including the most difficult people in our lives.

At one point Salzberg writes: "Great fullness of being, which we experience as happiness, can also be described as love. to be undivided and unfragmented, to be completely present, is to love. To pay attention is to love."

Dr. Martin paid attention to me, in a way that teachers frequently do not. He recognized my suffering and tried to be present for me.

I've thought about Dr. Martin's kindness many times through the years. About two years ago, I decide to try to find him. I tried finding him through the Rhode Island Medical Society. I tried finding him through the internet's White Pages. I found a few listings, including two for Horace Martins who were in their 80s. I didn't do anything further.

But now I regret that I didn't keep trying.

I wrote to a very nice editor at the Brown Alumni Monthly today and asked her if she could help me locate him.

It didn't take but a few minutes for her to respond, sadly, with his obituary. Dr. Martin died in April, 2010 of lung cancer, at the age of 79. He left his wife and seven children behind. In this obituary I learned that he had several degrees and so many professional accomplishments.

I am sad to think that had I done this two years ago, I might have sent him a thank you letter, one he richly deserved.

I think perhaps I should send this now to his family.

I think of him so often, especially as I am teaching this new class. I think of the lessons he taught me: the one about being good to myself. But the other one too: to attend to students. He showed me by example how important it is to pay close attention to not only the minds of your students, but to their hearts as well. He taught me to keep my eye out for those students whose faces make it apparent that they are really suffering. He taught me not to be afraid to reach out to a student to show her or him that you care, that you are there for them. That you are really present.

Lately, I've been getting more and more immersed in contemplative pedagogy -- a term that applies to the use of some rather ancient practices, like meditation, self reflection, in university classrooms. There are many benefits to these practices; they appear to help students both academically, by developing better focus and thinking skills, and also, emotionally, by promoting well-being. There is a growing movement among university educators to use contemplative practices to engage the whole student.

Last year, the first year I taught Happiness, I told my students that this new class was in part a tribute to a teacher, to Dr. Martin.

I now want to tell the world, and his family. I am eternally grateful for his simple act of kindness in 1972.

Had he not taken me home to dinner with his family, fed me spaghetti, I might have ended up dropping out of school.

Instead, I stayed. And today, as a teacher, I try as often as I can to pay back his kindness with my own kindness to other students, recalling always what he did.

LATE ADDITION: On Thursday, February 23, I was able to reach a member of Dr. Martin's family. That evening, I received a phone call from Dr. Martin's wife, Florence, and we had a wonderful conversation. She told me about the many professional accomplishments Dr. Martin had: he had a Ph.D., an M.D. (which he earned at Brown about the time I was a student), and later, he earned a law degree! Mrs. Martin says that I wasn't the only student he befriended: "He looked out for many of his students," she said. Mrs. Martin still lives in the home that she and her husband bought in 1978. In addition to her seven children and their spouses, she has 15 grandchildren, and all but one live in the Providence, R.I. area. While she misses her husband deeply, her life is very, very rich in family. It was a thrill to speak to her, and she told me that if I were ever near Pawtucket, where she lives, I have a standing invitation to stop by. I just may do that Mrs. Martin; I'd love to visit with you and share memories of Dr. Martin over a cup of tea. Meanwhile, I promised to print out this post and send it to her by mail.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Panama Called and She Responded

By Judith England

Note to readers: Writer and yoga instructor Judi England recently traveled to Panama with members of her church in Albany, New York; here is the post she wrote before she left earlier this month. .

For the past year or so I’ve been teaching a yoga class at my church here in Albany. This “by donation” class has been a blessing in so many ways. Folks from inside and outside my parish community come together each week in the beautiful space that is St. Vincent de Paul Church. Many had never done yoga before taking the class. All seem to enjoy the chance to stretch their tired bodies, and share the camaraderie of fellow yoga explorers. All the money donated goes to help our sister parish in Panama – St. Anthony of Padua – located in Darien, about 120 miles east of Panama City. Individually, not big bucks for sure, but over time, with growing numbers of students, those dollars can make a big difference. Like lots of places in the world, the community there perceives as luxuries many things we consider necessities.

But, perhaps the most important piece for me is the way in which my yoga-self has been welcomed by my parish. To finally be able to weave together these pieces of my life has blessed me in ways too numerous to count.

Truly, this has been a win-win-win situation.

So, each year a group from Albany pays a visit to St. Anthony’s. This year, I decided I wanted to go along.

Fortunately, the four other intrepid travelers have made the journey before, so I’m just following their lead. Oh yes, there’s the recommended packing list. But what it all seems to boil down to is “If you want it, you’d better bring it!”

Now I’m an organized person. I’ve got my checklists, my routines, my place for everything and everything in it’s place kind of life. I’m finding that this trip will probably stretch me even more than yoga. Sometimes as I’d roll up my sleeve for yet another tropical disease prevention shot, or read about the bugs and the snakes, I’d have to pause and ask myself “..and I want to go here – why?”

What I know about my destination is very little:

It will be a lot warmer than Albany.

I know very few words in Spanish, and most people there don’t speak English.

Electricity and internet are “iffy,” the showers are cold, and there are outhouses (oh yes, did I mention the snakes?)

You don’t bring jeans because they won’t dry if you wash them.

My expectations are that I have very few expectations.

It always seems that we see, or read, or hear just want we need, just when we need it. This past week’s been no exception.

Many of the e-newsletters that have hit my computer this week seem to have been written especially to ease my pre-travel angst. There’s been thoughts on surrender, sharing who you are, and willingness to step outside a personal comfort zone. I take the words in, and remember why I want to go.

So instead of expectations, I’m packing some intentions along with my wash-and-wear pants and bug spray. Whatever comes my way I want to show up and be fully present – right here, right now. I want to take in each experience with an open mind, and open heart – putting aside those pesky thoughts that weigh, compare and judge.

I want to live this part of the journey from the inside out.

“The world is the mountain, and each action, the shout that echoes back.”
— Rumi

Peace and catch you all on the “flip side!”

Writer Judith England's blog on the Albany Times Union, Holistic Health, first carried this post. Trained as an RN, England is a massage therapist and Kripalu-trained yoga Instructor. Stay tuned for Judi's report from Panama.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Ocean Refuge

Note: What follows is the latest relaxation exercise developed for the Happiness class.

Put down your pen, your pencil, your books and close your notebook.

Sit in a comfortable position, and close your eyes.

Take a long slow breath in, and let it out through your mouth.

Breathe normally. And now, with your eyes closed, see yourself sitting in the sun, on a soft blanket in the sand. You are staring out there onto the emerald green water, and the waves are cresting, and sparking and glinting in the rays of the sun.

You are there for the day, just to lay in the sun. Or to seek refuge in the shade of a palm or a pine tree or a cypress.

You breathe in the salty air and you breathe out all the winter fog and congestion. You breathe out all the stress that's been mounting in the last few weeks of the semester.

You just sit there -- there is absolutely nothing that you have to do except sit in the sun, inhaling the salty ocean air.

You feel the warmth of the sun on your face

and shoulders

and back

and chest,

You sink your toes into the warm sand and leave them there,


while you continue breathing and staring out at the green water.

With each breath in, maybe you want to name it.

Breathe in. Sun.

Breathe out.

Breathe in. Ocean.

Breathe out.

Breathe in. Sky.

Breathe out.

Breathe in. Earth,

Breathe out.

And keep going, repeating the names for each breath.





Over and over again. And when another thought enters your ocean refuge, just let it go sailing out over the waves, and return to your breathing,

Thursday, February 16, 2012

The Heart Loves

Note to readers: Sure, Valentine's Day is over for the year, but that doesn't mean we shouldn't keep talking and thinking about Love, Love, Love, every single day, all year round!

By Karen Beetle

The heart loves. In the deepest moments of exploration, we can understand that this is what hearts do. In any way they can and with any capacity they have – hearts love. All kinds of obstacles prevent us from knowing, expressing or receiving love. Love can be overshadowed, side-stepped, drowned out or directly denied – but its power in human experience is inescapable. Underneath all of this – there is a purity to the heart’s love that is without question.

In my young adult days, I read the history of Valentine’s Day and celebrated it as a holiday in which the oppressed were not forgotten. San Valentine was known for his love letters and other acts of compassion for those imprisoned in his community. His love was the starting point for Valentine’s Day as we know it. During these years, I gathered with others to witness to and articulate the suffering inherent in the prison system and to support prisoners in their appeals for dignity and human rights. For a number of years, I made homemade valentines to pass out to family and friends – acknowledging the human connection that feeds me in my life. I also helped my daughter make valentines and created family rituals during the years she lived at home. Now I need to be more pro-active so her valentine’s treats can arrive at her dorm by February 14th.

But I don’t forget what underlies this cultural ritual of colorful hearts and chocolate. The power of the human heart was expressed in a powerful way through the movie, "Happy." One of the women interviewed as part of this documentary was a former debutante and beauty contestant who was disfigured and underwent 29 surgeries to reconstruct her face. In a poignant interview, she describes the depth of happiness and acceptance that she feels in her life now. She experiences a sense of connectedness and groundedness that she never knew before being tested in the crucible of pain and trauma. She speaks of the heart’s power – and its unstoppable capacity to connect. Likewise, another interviewee works at Mother Theresa’s home for the dying in India. In the face of profound suffering and loss, he finds strength in the simple act of holding a dying boy’s head and helping him drink. His smile is geniune and filled with ease. Our mind might struggle with such profound loss with fear – but the heart holds the head and the water and offers the only substance that matters – human love and connection.

Let this time of year offer us an opportunity to cherish what is inalienable in our human realm. A living breathing heart accompanies us through our days. This fact can be peripherally in our awareness – or it can be the only anchor we know. Stay close to truth of the heart’s power and possibility. Stay close to the sustaining power of love and connection. Celebrate it this week – in whatever way you do – with flowers or chocolate or cards – but celebrate this ongoing doorway that welcomes and receives us – from birth until our dying hour. As St. Augustine reminds us: “If you are looking for something that is everywhere, you don’t need to travel to get there. You just need love.”

Writer Karen Beetle is a therapist and mindfulness teacher. You an reach her at (518) 424-7516 or kabeetle @aol.com. This piece appeared first in Holistic Health, a blog kept at the Albany Times Union by yoga instructor and massage therapist Judith England

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Get Yourself to Barcelona!! (The Journey We Take Alone, Part 19)

By Sandy Prisant

If you haven’t been to Barcelona, stop reading. Get to the airport and go. Now. It’s that good.

It was pretty close to paradise for us until one ordinary afternoon in 2006. Susan and I were working at the computer when I began to notice what seemed like a psychedelic window shade inside my head, scrolling slowly down over my right eye. Not much else was happening -- no pain at all. There was just no sight on the right.

If you’ve got a string of health conditions like I do, you know stuff will happen; you just don’t know what. When it does, you try to figure out two things: (A) What is going on? And (B) does it require immediate medical attention? If you get (B) wrong, it can be harmful. Or fatal.

There’s nothing heroic about doing this. You can’t have a full-time doctor sitting in your living room. Unless you’re Michael Jackson -- and look how that worked out for him.

The only practical solution for those of us with chronic illness is to be our own first responder. Uncomfortably, many of these things happen at 3am on the weekend, but this was 3pm on a Thursday afternoon.

The “drill” is simple. Here’s what I knew: This had never happened before and everything else felt fine. But what condition could suddenly rise up and snatch one eye in a matter of seconds? I could only think of one; anyway sight is the last thing any of us want to mess with. The conclusion: (A) I did need a doctor, because (B) this was probably a stroke.

Living downtown, our GP was just six blocks away. We walked purposefully to the doctor’s office.

All I knew about strokes is what most of us know -- prompt treatment matters. If that’s what it was, we were probably doing the right thing. If it wasn’t a stroke I was having a harmless walk through the beautiful streets of Barcelona (the Gaudi architecture is something magnificent.)

It’s easier to see your doctor in Barcelona than it is in other places. Every district has a local health center where most physicians and some other outpatient services are housed. You can make an appointment or just walk in. I hurried past the half-dozen patients waiting to see our doctor and barged into his office:

“No puedo ver,” I said. “El mio ojo derecho.” The Doctor stopped what he was doing, came round his desk, looked in my eye and told me to take a taxi to the hospital. Immediately. That’s how public health works in much of Europe.

The taxi dropped us at Hospital Clinic, a large medical facility nearby. I walked in, repeating “no puedo ver” (I can’t see) to anyone who looked like staff. I was ushered to a hallway beside a locked door. Soon a doctor arrived, opened the door and got down to business.

She sat me down in front of a device that flooded each eye with light in isolation. When she got to the right eye, she involuntarily gasped. The news could not be good, but she said nothing and took me to another room for two further tests.

There would be no MRIs, CT’s or blood tests. The doctor apparently had enough for a diagnosis. She took me by the arm and pulled me into the ER. Staff put me on a gurney and started pulling my clothes off, asking who I was for the first time.

Shortly I was on the way upstairs. To the stroke unit. Apparently a blood clot on the way to my brain got short-circuited in my eye.

A doctor came in. “We have a treatment for this we would like to offer you.” His uncertainty seemed strange and we said we’d like to make a call -- to Boston. The doctors agreed. Susan’s nephew is an ophthalmic surgeon in Massachusetts. She got him on the line:

“You’re lucky to be in Spain. They’re going to give you the treatment that the FDA still hasn’t approved for ocular stroke in the US. There is a risk. The treatment could cause a heart attack, but I think it’s worth having,” he said. We quickly weighed the risks and decided they were worth taking.

The treatment was done by nightfall. There was no immediate change in my vision. I woke early and something was happening. In the dead center of the eye there was light and some vision through jagged-edged debris. But I could see fairly clearly. It was like looking through a cracked egg that was opening outward. Would it keep moving away? Would it disappear?

I closed my eyes and let them rest further after the trauma, hoping they were healing. An hour later I opened them again and reality set in.

Hope and the sight in my right eye were both gone. My left eye was seeing the whole room, but from around my nose. You don’t actually see a black spot; you just see everything from the left side. I called the nurse and told her; there was little she could say. And little more the doctors could do. It was still early morning and no one to talk to at the moment. I had to cope with this alone.

On the second morning, my wife didn’t just bring espresso and croissants. She brought the morning paper. Newspapers are a part of my life. I’ve written for a few and still read several. It’s always good to see a fresh one.

Susan climbed into the hospital bed with me -- an old custom of ours -- and started reading the paper aloud to us. But after a while, it felt natural to take the paper from her and read it for myself.

And that smoothly, the worst had passed. My brain was adjusting immediately. Somehow I was reading like before. Life was going to go on.

Now there’s a little downside -- you need two eyes to create depth perception. So I can no longer hit a tennis ball very well and sometimes pour from a pitcher onto the table, at a point just behind my glass. And the odds of me getting a second stroke have risen enormously.

But maybe what mattered most was this: for all the symptoms, for all the pathologies I live with, for the first time something had happened to a key part of my body that could not be repaired, replaced or improved. That was that.

On the one hand the clot going to my eye probably saved my brain. On the other, I’d passed another milestone in the journey.

Writer Sandy Prisant lives in Florida with his wife, Susan, and their two dogs, Dolce and Vita. In "The Journey We Take Alone," he is writing about his life, including his lifelong struggle with a deadly kidney disease. Sandy is now awaiting a heart and kidney transplant, a treacherous operation which his wife Susan wrote about recently on MyStory. To read Sandy's series, "The Journey We Take Alone," go to the search function and type in Sandy's name. To read Susan Prisant's series, "The Journey We Take Together," type in her name. One of Sandy's earlier pieces from MyStoryLives was recently featured on The Health Care Blog.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Losing Papa

By Ariana Godles

When Mom first told me Papa was dying, I was mortified.

I can still replay the day vividly in my mind. I was sitting in our plain, white walled, living room with the white-carpeted floor covered in dirt and stains. I sat on the old firm, green couch there, prior to the remodeling of the inside of the entire abode that is now in our basement. The colossally tall, bulky television was on, but there was an irritating glare coming from the left of the room, probably off the painting over the fireplace of the abstract imitation of a woman in the fifties. It was a portrait that a famous artist, who happened to be a companion of my grandmother’s, gave to my mother as a housewarming gift. I always hated that painting.

I was watching a movie: approximately 53 minutes into “Superman Returns.” Ironic. That’s what Papa always seemed like to me.

I whispered, “No way. Impossible.” Superman is the man of steel, how could he be dying? How could a person so wholesome and golden right to the core rot away on some hospital bed? Anyone who can tolerate my grandmother for so long a time deserves nothing but a long and prosperous life free of pain. It just wasn’t right.

I knew he was sick for quite some time. He’d been living in our house at certain times because my grandmother was entirely unfit to care for him. She’d yell at him if he wet himself before making it to the bathroom or scold him for falling asleep while sitting up and watching television. The treatment he received from that wench was just plain unfair and unjust. She would watch him eat while struggling to keep the fork in his hand. When he ate, he was feeding what was left of his mind. He was still the same man she married, but his body was slowly decaying, dragging his beautiful soul right along with it. She couldn’t accept that.

Mom sat down next to me. We shared a brief moment of silence, and then she spoke. “Papa’s sick, Banana.” I stared blankly at the space beyond my mother’s nervous facial expression. “I don’t think he’ll be able to make it to your Bat Mitzvah after all.”

She was right. He didn’t come. I was devastated. Everyone told me he would be better by then. I saw him just a few days prior and he had some of his old, glowing aura surrounding him. I felt deceived, as if the world was lying to me, trying to shield me from a darkness that they felt I was not ready to face. And yet, I wanted so desperately to unearth it. I wanted to know my grandfather more than I ever had before, while I still had the time, even if it meant knowing that I’d lose him so soon after.

I made sure to light a candle and share a prayer for him that night for everyone to hear. I asked everyone to pray along with me.

The following week, one of my good friends was having her bat-mitzvah. It was November 22, 2005. I remember waking up that morning and instantly I knew something was off. Something wasn’t right. I had never seen the house so quiet, not even a television was on nor did the noisy floorboards murmur like they normally did. My mother helped me get ready in silence. The car ride to the temple was silent. The goodbye I shared with her was silent. I walked into that party lost and confused in time.

And, by the time I blinked, it was over and I was waiting outside for my mother to pull up in her copper Infinity to take me home.

As I sat in the passenger’s seat, she said hello, but not once did she look at me. Her face was white as milk and her facial expression was fake, almost mask-like. Who was this person who sat next to me? I didn’t comprehend anything.

“How’s Papa doing today?” No response. “Mom? Did you see or speak to Papa at all?” Again, no answer.

We pulled up to a red light. As I was about to take advantage of that moment, she pretended to be talking on her Bluetooth. I knew she was pretending because her answers were too quick and normally I could hear the echo of someone’s voice in the earpiece. But all I heard was more silence, go figure.

We finally arrived in the driveway of our house. We unbuckled our seatbelts in unison. She opened her door, but didn’t move.

“He died, didn’t he?” I muttered.

“Ariana, let’s go inside, it’s cold.” I felt enraged. I could feel my body getting warm, neglecting the iciness of the winter wind hitting my bare legs.

“No, just answer the question!”

“Ariana please, please, baby, let’s just go inside.”

“I’m not going inside, because if I do you’re going to tell me something I don’t want to hear!”

She stood there in the doorway, eyes blank as a marble statue’s with her arm raised. She pointed to the door as a gesture to come inside. I stormed in, stomping my feet and headed towards my room. She followed. With each step I took I could feel my eyes turning into waterfalls.

“Banana…” She couldn’t contain herself. She lost her composure. “Papa was in pain. He needed this; he needed for it to end. He’s in a better place now, isn’t that what you want for him? Didn’t you want him to feel better?”

“You’re wrong,” I yelled. She stopped crying for a moment and I continued. “You’re wrong! He didn’t need to die to feel better. He didn’t need to stay in the hospital for so long, and then go to a rehabilition center. I could have made him better. Me. I could have been there for him. He did not need this. He did not deserve this.”

I threw my shoe at my armoire and it made a sizeable crack in the wood. I sank to the floor and sobbed; my mother gently touched my shoulder and whispered, “You’re right.” I crawled to the drawer that I had damaged and touched the fissure I made and began to cry even more. I felt a warm embrace. We sat on the floor of my bedroom and cried together. He was gone, and he wasn’t coming back. No matter how hard we cried, no matter how much we missed him, or how much more we wished we had done for him; that was it. Now, all I have are the memories and a rather substantial fracture in my dresser, which can never be fixed.

Writer Ariana Godles is a freshman at the University at Albany, SUNY, who plans to study journalism and law. She likes to dance, write, and take photographs. She also has an "obsession" for music.

Friday, February 10, 2012

DRINK WINE, ENJOY LIVE FLAMENCO at the Hudson-Chatham Winery TOMORROW, February 11th


Just in time for Valentine's Day, flamenco guitarist Maria Zemantauski will heat things up at a special free performance at the Hudson-Chatham Winery TOMORROW, Saturday, February 11th from 12:30 to 3:30 p.m.

You won't want to miss this amazing flamenco music, guaranteed to evaporate the winter blues!

Many have heard Maria play at the Hudson-Chatham winery's legendary summer Sangria Festival in August. Maria’s back for this special winter event, joining Huffington Post blogger and local author Claudia Ricci for a book signing of Seeing Red.

Claudia’s book (she borrowed the title "Seeing Red" from a CD by Zemantauski, who's been her guitar teacher for many years) is a page-turner about a woman who travels half-way around the world in search of true love, only to find it in the magic of her own flamenco dancing. You’ll be transported by the words and the music – and a tasting of the winery’s award-winning wines! – inside our cozy tasting room.

For additional heat, the winery will be serving up some yummy nibbles featuring Larry's Southwestern Sauces, R&G’s amazing Maple Chipotle chevre cheese, and a special wine cocktail. Bring your friends and make an afternoon of it at the Hudson-Chatham Winery. You may come in cold, but we guarantee that you'll go home hot and smiling too!

Maria will be playing between 12:30 and 3:30, and Claudia will be signing books from 12:30 on. There is no admission fee. The winery
is located at 1900 State Rte. 66 in Ghent, NY. For more information, visit www.hudson-chathamwinery.com, or call 518-392-WINE.

Hope to see you!

Tuesday, February 07, 2012

The Journey We Take Alone -- Part Eighteen

By Alexander "Sandy" Prisant

Note to readers: Sorry to have been out of action for so long. Chronic illness is not just bad for you, it’s annoying. It gets in the way of thinking and writing. -- SP

The website read:

“Dolphin Reef Eilat, on the shores of the Red Sea, is an ecological site, unique in the world, where visitors enjoy a secluded beach, magical views, and meetings with dolphins in their natural habitat.”

But for me, it was another close call.

Early on, Susan and I had decided that, facing an uncertain life with my health situation, our priority would be: the world. See it. Live it. Taste it. All sorts of adventures. And we have. From Malmo Sweden to Lesotho; the Amazon to Shenzhen, China; Auschwitz to Australia’s Gold Coast.. We’ve been to every continent and lived in a half-dozen countries including Israel, Italy, the UK, South Africa and Spain.

We’ve sought out places the media bad-mouthed; we ventured behind the Iron Curtain, when there was one. To South Africa, which is more about stunning vistas than crime-ridden townships. And to the Middle East. Israel is another place that looks very little like the media reports.

But to do all this in my condition is not what the doctor ordered. It’s the life we chose, with eyes wide open.

Which brings us to Dolphin Reef. It’s at Israel’s southern tip, sharing the shoreline with Jordan and Egypt. In the middle is a huge bay where a pod of bottlenose dolphins play with human divers. The Dolphins were brought as a group from the Caspian Sea years ago to give them a safer home. Ecologists let the family head for the open Sea or stay in the Bay. They chose the Bay, where you can rent a wet suit and snorkel gear and swim out to spend time with them.

We were a few hundred yards offshore, when a baby dolphin approached and wanted to play with us. We treaded underwater as the chubby young pup swam around us. It was great, but it meant lots of shallow breathing and taking in the usual amounts of sea water through the snorkel.

And that was enough to cause a big problem. I’d almost made it back to shore, when I came up out of the water gasping for air, yelling to Susan, “Can’t breathe!”

Soon I was barely conscious but could feel hands and arms all over me, dragging me onto shore and out of my wet suit.

Suddenly Susan was giving me mouth to mouth CPR. Then everything went black.

Minutes later I was in an ambulance at the edge of the beach. They’d already intubated me and breathing was restored. I looked up at Susan, smiling, as the ambulance pulled out of the sand and onto the road. I didn’t realize I was having my third heart attack.

In the ER at Eilat’s main hospital I spent the next hour coughing up sea water and phlegm. I would only learn what that meant a day later. I was still in the bottom of the wetsuit and was sharing my bed with lots of sand from the beach.

The staff quickly got me up to a bed in intensive care. I was stable. And it was care every bit the equal of the US, even in this small Israeli desert city.

The next day, a very serious cardiologist with a young intern came to see me in ICU. After an examination she told her assistant to write down her conclusions. It felt like hearing my own death sentence:


o Congestive Heart Failure
o Pulmonary Edema
o Bifascicular Block and anterior hemi block
o Mitral regurgitation
o Ischemic Heart Disease
o Left Ventricular Enlargement and Dysfunction--severe
o Dilated Cardiomyopathy
o Anemia
o Renal Failure
o Secondary Parathyroidism
o Severe Coronary Artery Disease

They said little and left. Physically I was in no discomfort. And when you get news like this, it’s more natural to feel acceptance than terror. After all, I’d been on bonus time from the first day of my life. I’d heard this kind of news so often that my natural instinct is not to say “Is this really it?”, but rather “no point in slowing down now.”

After the standard seven-day hospitalization for a heart attack, Susan and I went back to discovering the world. A year later, we returned to Dolphin Reef. We never saw that young dolphin again, but we asked one of the staff what was new:

“We had a wild rescue last November,” he immediately replied. “A guest had a heart attack---in the ocean.”

Writer Sandy Prisant lives in Florida with his wife, Susan, and their two dogs, Dolce and Vita. In "The Journey We Take Alone," he is writing about his life, including his lifelong struggle with a deadly kidney disease. Sandy is now awaiting a heart and kidney transplant, a treacherous operation which his wife Susan wrote about on MyStory last week. To read his series, "The Journey We Take Alone," go to the search function and type in Sandy's name. To read Susan Prisant's series, "The Journey We Take Together," type in her name. One of Sandy's earlier pieces from MyStoryLives has just been featured this week on The Health Care Blog.

Saturday, February 04, 2012


Note to readers: The essay that follows here appeared in MyStoryLives in September 2008 under the title "Waking Up in New York City." At that time, I sent out an accompanying email to readers saying, "I think one day this will be a whole book." Well, indeed, Chloe Caldwell -- a young and very promising writer who lives in Hudson, New York -- is now publishing her first book, an essay collection called LEGS GET LED ASTRAY. The book is due out in April; pre-orders are available through her website. CONGRATULATIONS CHLOE!!!!!

By Chloe Caldwell

The ominous 6/6/6 fell on a Tuesday, the day my older brother Trev decided to throw a party in its honor.

I arrived after everyone else. I’d been applying for jobs around Williamsburg. Everyone in my apartment but me was a Strand employee. The Strand being the bookstore of course.

Eugene was identifiable from my Mom’s tattoo description. I saw him smoking cigarettes with some guys on the fire escape. He looked approachable in his red plaid shirt and large silver belt buckle that read “ART,” so I climbed out the window to join him.

“Eugene, right? I’m Chloe, Trevor’s sister,” I said. He was straight away warm and kept making noises of affirmation while I spoke about how I’d just moved in from upstate and was looking for a job.

“Mm hm, Mm hm,” he repeated and repeated while I spoke. I thought it was a bit strange that his eyes were twitching and his head continued to nod and bob. This guy is super friendly, I thought to myself.

Trevor and my mom had both neglected to let me know that Eugene had a harsh case of Tourette’s syndrome. Months later I learned that he’d been doing a shit ton of cocaine that night, amplifying his ticks all the more. I was twenty. Just assumed he’d been agreeing with everything I said.

From the fire escape,
I peered into the bathroom window and caught a colorful eyeful of Jack sitting on the toilet. He was wearing a psychedelic silk shirt that accented his rich scarlet hair. Freshly dyed. A girl was standing over him and I could tell from their motions they were arguing. When they came out, Jack crawled onto the fire escape in a hyper way.

“Heeeyyyyy Chloeee! When did you get here? Hey, how do you get your hair so curly like that?” he asked, tousling my hair and getting comfortable beside me.

Eugene and Jack broke down to me how The Strand operates. “They put the intellectuals like us in the decrepit basement. It’s like we’re overly smart and below good-looking, so they hide us down there,” Eugene said.

“Yeah, and everyone wants to fuck the Art Floor Girls,” Jack offered bluntly. “Anyone left gets put on the main floor—the generics,” he shrugged. I didn’t bring up that he’d pinned me for an Art Floor Girl, but it was on my mind.

Jack and I sat shoulder to shoulder on the fire escape in the black June night for a while. We passed his Tropicana bottle back and forth, taking turns swigging the vodka and cranberry juice. It was so acidic, each swallow sitting fiery in my stomach.

“I love your dangerous dark eyes.”

“My eyes are light green,” I corrected him.


“They’re dark to me. You’re dark to me,” he countered.

I was flattered.

The three-in-the-morning party peak hit, and then when five a.m neared, the festivities began to die. People started to head for the door, mumbling about work the next day or catching the train. I was fixing myself another drink when I heard Jack say, “Whose shoes are these?” I looked over my shoulder and he was near the shoe rack, fondling one of my black flats.

“Probably Chloe’s?” Trev shrugged.

“Figures. Fucking poser,” Jack snapped.

I froze with my arm halfway in the freezer. Earlier in the night he’d been pleasant. I was uncertain if this was friendly banter, or if he just thought I was a huge fraud. He intimidated the hell out of me.

Eugene, Jack, Trev and I sat on the wooden floor in the unlit living room, still and drinking steadily. Jack sang his notorious song about working at The Strand. He crooned quirky lyrics while strumming dramatic and minor chords on Trevor’s guitar.

Everyone knew all of the words and sang along:

Art Floor Girls, do you wanna discuss art?
We can laugh and sound smart, and fall in love.
Art floor girls, do you wanna discuss Goya?
Or does my greasy hair annoy ya?
Art Floor Girls.
I work in the basement—well what can you do…
But Art Floor Girls, Goddamn I can make it for YOUUUU!

My brother and Eugene had already left for The Strand when I woke up hung over in the morning. Jack had the day off and was asleep on the futon. I was still jobless.

I felt anxious, a bit afraid to be alone with Jack. I toyed around the bright white kitchen, pouring quarter full beer bottles down the drain and wiping the table down with a sponge. I picked up a Marlboro red pack off the table. Shook it. No cigs.

Trashed it.

I got bored after a while and went onto the fire escape to marinate in summer, which seemed to have arrived overnight. The crown of my head ached from last night’s liquor, and the unforgiving sunrays didn’t help, but it was just my fifth morning waking up in New York City—I was still so high on my new environment that everything felt good.

Jack rose a bit later and climbed out next to me while saying, “Morning, Little Sister.” His hard eyes were softer today. He handed me a cigarette and I noticed his nails bitten to the quick. It’s rare for me to see someone else’s nails chewed down as much as mine. His were close.

“Your hands look like mine,” I told him.

“I’m aware,” he said, reaching to light the Marlboro dangling from my mouth. He watched me inhale and exhale for a moment. “You try to make smoking look too broken in. Poser,” he nudged me and cracked a smile. I felt more comfortable with him now, sharing the nail biting neurosis.

The heat eventually pushed us back inside. Jack had misplaced his drugs at the party. He dug around for them for twenty minutes while I watched from the kitchen table.

“That’s like one hundred dollars worth of dope down the drain,” he stated, irritated.

“What do you keep it in?” I finally thought to ask him. I didn’t know his covert drug compartments yet, like I’d known those of my past drug cronies.

“An old Marlboro red cigarette pack.”

“Oh. Oops.”

I walked over to the trashcan and rummaged through to retrieve the Marlboro pack that I didn’t know had been holding a tiny bag of heroin. He smiled, his eyes mischievous. “You’re a con artist,” he smirked at me. I started arguing that I hadn’t done it on purpose and he interrupted: “Just like me,” he said, smug. “Just like me.”

Chloe Caldwell's non-fiction has been published in The Sun Magazine, Chronogram, The Rumpus, and Mr. Beller's Neighborhood. She is the curator of the Hudson River Loft Reading Series and lives in Hudson, New York.

Thursday, February 02, 2012

Green All Over

By Joshua Prescott

I awoke in a green field and it was late, certainly past my bed time. I rose up on my elbows to check my surroundings and none of, but all of it, felt familiar. I could make out the orange-yellow lights that bled a luminescent halo around the bowl of University Stadium. My head felt murky.

I turned my head and there was a girl. She wore a long multi-colored cotton dress, and I don’t know why, but I knew the waistband of it would be stretchy. Alongside of her was a boy. His clothing was of the autumn variety, but I felt not the slightest chill. They both were about four years older than I, that much was obvious, and it was also obvious that they were old tricksters on their way out, where I was still emerald green under my collar. It felt exciting to be next to them, for them to recognize me as one of their own—the sort of acceptance rarely afforded a fledgling.

She knew what to do, and we all rose to our feet following her example. I brushed the dirt I had collected from off my khaki pants, and we all broke out into a furious run. She was much too fast for me to keep up with, so I jumped on her back and she piggybacked me, leading us to, the top of a long slide, high over the earth. It was the sort of slide, painted orange, with a giant eight-wide rolling descent that one finds at a true county fair. I could smell the elephant ears, the pizza, the corn dogs, and hear the commotion of a bustling event below us.

There was a certain level of anxiety in trusting the slide to deliver me back to Earth safely, but I trusted her, and I trusted him, and together as only oblivious hell-raising youths can, we threw the fear of death from our hearts and plunged towards our destiny. Moving at reckless speeds inconceivable to the observer, we raced and raced with no recognizable design for the future. The slide changed, becoming an infinite vision of red plaid stretching further than any imagination had ever gone before, leading into a bursting yellow sun.

We returned back to our room just as swiftly as we sped down the metamorphosing slide. It was small, but quaint, the sort of room meant for boarding. The old man was there, displaying his lavender pointed hat and robe sitting Indian-styled on the floor. He was wise, and well wise enough that we were up to no good. Suddenly the fear of expulsion jerked on the thin pericardium tissue of my heart. He wanted me to sit down with him and I did. The other two were sitting on the bed, giggling and holding a conversation.

I knew they wouldn’t be punished, they were old tricksters, and old tricksters were free to roam as they please. The old man accused me of drinking, and after a second of thought, I remember taking a nip from the trickster’s flasks. I was guilty and he saw my through my fear as clearly as the bluest waters on a calm day on the Floridian panhandle. He smiled through a great long white beard revealing teeth that had seen their whitest days already pass. He was handling a glass beaker, filling it from a giant aquarium which glowed with an iridescent green that gave it a quality of vaporizing magic. He handed it to me and told me to drink. I examined the beaker carefully— white vapors rose from the bubbling green fluid.

Drink, he told me, and I did. The liquid was sweet and pleasant but tingled, like absinthe transfused with water. The vapors tickled my mouth and the tickle continued into my nose, my senses came alive.

I trusted the old man, I know I trusted him, but I was shocked when I looked again into the emptied flask and found a brightly-colored green frog with orange stripes racing down its webbed fingers. Said frog was trapped and fruitlessly attempting to escape by thrusting his small slimy amphibian body up against the unbreakable glass.

My two friends joined us in the center of the floor and took swigs from their own flasks. We sat in a circle, and the old man unveiled his message to me: “You are a fledgling, and you have much work to do before you can unveil your wings.”

He placed a bony, lecherous hand on my thigh, now embarrassingly exposed, and I attempted to roll away. I told him no. He pushed on. I told him no again, but was afraid of upsetting him. I kicked at him.

He only laughed and smiled through his old scraggly beard. I felt the other world calling me again. I knew that when I left I would miss my new friends. I knew even though I distrusted the old wizard, I would miss him too. His wisdom was invaluable. I then died in that world only to return to the former.

Writer Joshua Michael Prescott is a product of an American military family. He writes fiction at a desk in the quaint small town of Scotia, New York. He writes: “Welcome to my world as I see it.”