Thursday, October 20, 2011

A Very Bad Wizard

I think you are a very bad man," said Dorothy.
"Oh, no, my dear; I'm really a very good man, but I'm a very bad Wizard, I must admit." -- The Wizard of Oz

Our pastor cited this quote on Sunday -- I wish I could tell you that I could connect the dots between this and the Gospel lesson the way that he did, but four days later I'm not quite able to manage that.

What I can tell you is that I certainly know what it's like to be a very bad wizard.

There's the thing with our pond fish. This spring, after the pond thawed, there appeared to be no fish left at all -- just some winter-killed minnows floating on the water. There were no sign of the bluegills we'd put in the pond the year before. So in a burst of aquacultural enthusiasm I added a little bag of feeder goldfish for some color. As spring progressed into summer, everything seemed hunky-dory. But suddenly it seemed as if there were more fish in the poind that what we'd planted -- goldfish and bluegills. There wasn't time for them to reproduce. So apparently some fish had survived the winter, and were now competing for resources with the newcomers. I usually don't root for the great blue herons that regularly visit our back yard, but now I was practically flagging them down for an all-you-can-eat sushi buffet.

And then there's the thing with the honeybees. Our bees are still alive; they've been on our flowers and vegetable plants and wild plants all summer and fall. It's been fun to see them in the morning, working the annual bed, the herbs and wildflowers; "Hi, girls," I'd say. But because of the unskilled-noob way we installed the packages, we can't open the hives without hopelessly disrupting the colonies, and now it's too late in the season to mess with them; they're no longer able to create the wax to repair their homes. So now they're stuck in their original hive body and the roof area where they decided to establish themselves (honeybees actually don't like the frames that beekeepers use in hives, and if left to their own druthers prefer to hang their own elongaged ellipses of comb from any handy upper support). If they had taken to their frames, we would be able to add a top feeder to their hive body and supplement their own stores of honey this winter; but as it is they're pretty much on their own. Every other day I've been feeding them with jar feeders, with increasingly thick formulations of simple syrup, some of which they'll eat and some of which they'll store; but when it gets too cold to continue that, they're going to be on their own. I recently related our dilemma to some crusty old downstate beekeeper who came into the antique mall one day, and I saw the look in his eye when he said, "You might have a problem keepin' them bees alive."

Now, keep in mind that people who raise semi-wild animals for a living learn to roll with the punches of nature and circumstance and human error. The bee guy who came into our store -- a  guy who's been doing this for decades -- confided to me that last winter he'd lost almost half his hives; some to the colony collapse disorder that's devastated American beekeepers in recent years, but some just to chance. He told me that despite disappointments like this, there's no place he'd rather be on a given day than out working with his hives.

I want to get to a place like this, instead of where I am now, secondguessing my attempts to play God, or at least wizard, with sentient beings. I mean, I don't take my garden personally; when crops fail, as they sometimes do, I'm able to step back, analyze what went wrong and move on. This summer the weather necessitated a late planting of almost everything, which meant that my experimental teepee of yard-long beans didn't amount to  -- well, to a hill of beans. I think I picked a half dozen. I didn't go into a depression. I didn't berate myself for wasting the lives of helpless beans that don't really belong in Zone 5. I shrugged and thought, "Next year I'm growing those up a trellis alongside the sunny side of the garage."

At some point this fall I hope to pass by the pond, salute our fish and say, "I'm glad I saved you from life in a pet-shop tub and fish-farm pool. I'm glad I was able to give you all six months of freedom in the wild; and I'm glad you gave us the pleasure of watching you live your lives. I hope I see you again come spring thaw; but if I don't, thank you."  And on the way back to the house I'd like to be able to stop at our two beehives and say, "Thanks, girls, for pollinating our vegetables and flowers this year. Thanks for teaching us a lot. I may see you again around April or I may not; but you've made our yard and our neighborhood a better place. And whether we're out with our hive tools doing some renovations on your house next spring, or making room for a whole new colony -- know that what you did here this year was important; important to us and important to a lot of the other living things around us."

That would, I think, make me a better wizard than the one I am now.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

To Sleep -- Perchance to Dream

Let me tell you about my night at the sleep center.

This was one freaky-deaky experience.

Since sleep apnea can be a contributing factor to anesthesia going awry in some patients, and since I exhibit some symptoms of apnea, my doctor arranged for me to undergo a sleep study. My appointment was scheduled for 9:30 pm, at a sleep center in the same city as my doctor. Fellow Traveler and I, already angsted up by late-night driving through deer-intensive countryside, arrived at the given address to find ourselves in the parking lot of a rather conventional professional building housing everything from insurance agents to electrolysis practitioners. The building was mostly dark; but when we buzzed the intercom a light came on in the hallway, and when we identified ourselves we were directed by intercom down a winding stairs to the ground floor.

About 5 seconds into this descent I had the sudden urge to run, run like the wind back to the Jeep -- it seemed like the setup for a local film student's horror movie ("This 'sleep clinc's' patients are just dying to get out!") -- but when we finally reached the bottom of the stairs we found a mild-mannered technician who introduced herself and led me into my room -- which, other than lacking windows, could have been in any decent business-traveler motel; roomy bed with a pleasant duvet in restful colors, wardrobe, flat-screen TV. My angst level ratcheted down a few notches.

I had a few minutes alone to get into my jammies, and then the tech reappeared and we got down to business -- a business involving a myriad of leads and electrodes which the apologetic young woman glued and wove on my face, into my hair and down my shirt and legs. A shock of wire led down from my head like a horse's mane, gradually merging into a lighted panel on the bedstand. The tech snapped a pair of belts around my torso, over other wires, and pulled another band around my head. I then had a breathing tube added to the mix. If I'd been in a more jovial mood I might have feigned The Robot, but that frisson of anxiety I'd felt at the top of the stairwell shivered through me again; especially after I got a good look at the closed-circuit camera aimed at me, that would be recording my movements all night.

FT and I said our goodbyes, and then the tech left. "You can watch TV until you're ready to go to sleep," she explained. "When you turn out the light you'll hear my voice on the intercom, and I'll have you do a few exercises for me to make sure that everything is attached correctly."

So that's what I did; watched part of a depressing Tigers-Rangers game, decided I didn't want to see it through to the end, clicked off the television and turned off the light. And, on cue, the tech came on over the intercom, giving me instructions like "Move your eyes from left to right, and then repeat," and "Flex your right leg," and "Count slowly from one to five."

Then -- darkness; mostly, except for the flashing lights next to the bed and the camera and sensor pointed at the bed. And I lay there, feeling all the hardware attached to me, unable to get comfortable and afraid to move too much lest I mess up the wiring, and feeling very sorry for myself. This has got to be the most miserable, most expensive sleepover ever, I thought glumly.

I'd like to tell you that at some point I relaxed and fell into a lovely sleep; but I didn't. I tossed and turned -- on at least two occasions forcing the tech to come in and reattach the leg wiring -- self-conscious in the knowledge that every movement, every breath, was being monitored and evaluated. I finally did drift off to sleep, a few times, enough to engage in some very bizarre dreams with complicated storylines...and then a voice came over the intercom again: "Good morning! It's time to get up!" It was 6:00 am.

I was surprised to find FT already back at the office; she'd only gotten a couple of hours' sleep at home before packing the dogs in the Jeep and returning. After being slowly, methodically detached from my wiring I shuffled off to the bathroom down the hall -- unlike the nicely composed sleep lab, this room had obviously begun life as a janitorial area, with a walk-in shower and foofier faucet fixtures added but the deep utility sink retained; and to add to the thrown-together ambience, I couldn't get the warm water going in the shower, and emerged cold and cranky.) We said our goodbyes, then made our way across town to one of the few local diners open at 6:30 before finally heading home -- where we both promptly crawled into bed and fell asleep for the better part of the day.

The tech had told me that a surprising percentage of the population suffers from sleep apnea; that it's most commonly obstructive apnea aggravated by things like weight, poor sleeping posture and adult tonsil issues but can also have its roots in a neurological problem, the brain periodically failing to send the proper "breathe" message. Fixes may include everything from diet and exercise to tonsillectomy to a C-PAP machine that helps maintain constant airflow at night. The tech also told me that she loves her job, and that, unlike my night there, the clinic is usually booked up with two patients per evening. I would be horrible at any shift work, but I have a hard time imagining myself sitting in a room all night watching strangers writhe around in bed (although I suspect some of their nighttime dream conversations provide a good laugh for the staff).

Geez. I remember back in the day when old folks just seemed more snorey, and no one questioned that. Now I have become a snorey old folk myself -- one who might have to spend more nights attached to a machine. During asthma season FT often needs to give herself breathing treatments, and I have visions of us in the evening, hooked up to our respective breathing apparati, in a scene that's not nearly as appealing to the two-rocking-chairs-on-the-porch-in-the-sunset scenario I'd prefer.

Oh, well -- it was quite a night, anyway. And I'll get my results next week.

Saturday, October 08, 2011

Happy to Be On This Side of the Grass

Hey -- guess what? I'm still here.

That was not a given back at the end of September. I'd gone in for a routine colonoscopy -- in fact my first, baseline one recommended for we 50-year-olds. I was lightly anesthetized with Versed and Demerol, a mixture I'd been given before for oral surgery, with no ill effects.

I remember waking up woozy and uncoordinated and having to ride a wheelchair to our car. I remember eating a late lunch on our patio. I remember walking inside and lying down on the sofa. At some later point I moved to the bedroom.

Then, apparently I experienced what they call a rebound effect from the anesthesia; instead of passing out of my body the way it's supposed to, it somehow re-anesthetized me, to the point of seizure and respiratory failure. Fellow Traveler, who'd been checking on me every quarter hour, stepped into the bedroom to find me on the floor, face bloody, writhing and trying to cry for help. Yup; I almost bought the farm that night, while the local first responders and ER staff worked on me.

I'm not sure whether to be relieved or disappointed that, during this medical crisis, I didn't see Jesus or my dead relatives; I wasn't encouraged to walk toward the light; I just woke up in ICU, stuck with tubes and sensors, being coaxed into eating a really bad omelet.

I came home for a week of marginal functionality -- I was on bedrest, which wasn't difficult for me because my head felt as if it were stuffed with a heavy bolt of wool, and I was having a hard time with eyestrain and sudden changes in light and dark. I also discovered that, during my seizure, I'd broken a molar, my notorious "weather tooth." But my biggest problem was fear: fear of going to sleep and not waking up; fear of sleeping alone.

Then, just as the fog was starting to lift and I was tentatively puttering around the house in gentle activity -- I came down with a bad upper respiratory infection, one that knocked me back into bed for another week.

All of which is to say, it's been an interesting couple of weeks. And I'm on a fairly short leash for the next six weeks. Oh -- and Michigan law mandates that, since I seizured, I can't drive for six months. (How advantageous that most of my six months will be during the time of year that I hate driving the most.)

But as FT's uncle used to say, any day on this side of the grass is a good day. Right now FT is at the antique store where we keep a booth; I'm taking a break from some very low-key laundering and dusting, watching the honeybees on our new mums and asters. My head and eyes are still "heavy," but they're getting better.