October 12, 2006

Odds, Ends, and Surrogate Parents

On Saturday, Lynnie and I speak at the NAMI-Connecticut Fourth Annual Conference, to which Joe and I are going as registered guests to attend workshops etc then on Sunday Joe and Karen leave for the Clinic because on Monday Joe goes into the hospital for an overnight stay to get ready for his PEG operation on Tuesday. I truly wish I could be there as I would be waiting for him when he got out of the OR and I would make sure to visit him as much as he wanted during the day, whereas I believe Karen plans to spend the day at the Mall, though that may be Monday and NOT Tuesday. Still, I wouldn't let him be alone all day Monday either, but would go with him to the hospital or meet him there as soon as I could.

But alas, the date coincides with a speaking engagement that has been planned for nearly a year in advance, to which nearly 1000 people will be coming (Patty Duke is the keynote speaker, so of course she's the draw) and there is no way that Lynnie can do an hour and a half on her own. Plus, I think the whole presentation sorta loses its impact without me...But I wish to god I didn't have to be there as I'd much rather be with Joe, and told him so. At least Karen will be there, but I know he wishes I could be too...That's one really big drawback to having a schedule that you can't easily cancel. I could, were I the only one who could go with Joe, but since Karen can, and is driving with him, I don't feel right about cancelling this other event at this time. Another time, I might.

Today I visited my surrogate parents, Cy and Lynn, the couple I've known as long as I've known Joe, who have stuck by me through thick and thin and kept a seat free for me at their table any time I wanted to come over for lunch or supper. They have spoken with my doctors and nurses and visited me in almost every hospital I have ever been in, almost every time I've been there since 1985, all times when my own parents were out of the picture. They were the ones to bring me special gifts of homemade food or cups of Dunkin Donuts coffee and items I needed that I hadn't brought with me, or to give me a ride home when I was discharged. Cy used to come into the hospital when I was catatonic and announce to one and all that Uncle Cy was here and was taking Pam out for a walk. Then (this was when a unit could still be "open" rather than locked) he'd get me out of bed and put me on my feet, put an arm around my back and take my both my hands and gently guide me, pushing me ever so slightly to keep me going, down the hall and into the elevator and out the door, all before anyone could object to his taking me, never mind his even coming in when it wasn't visiting hours. When I couldn't be roused even to "be walked" like that, and couldn't bring a spoon to my mouth, Cy would literally feed me.

Cy was the one to suggest the glossy national magazine, Tikkun, whose editor was Clinton's cultural advisor, for a poetry submission, and lo and behold, they accepted my poem, and even paid me for it. Lynn adopts my dying plants, which I can't bear to throw away, and heals them, then grows another or several more healthy plants from the poor specimen I gave her and returns to me a robust plant that will survive even in my always too sun-warmed west-facing apartment. We can talk about almost anything, anything but the one subject for which she has no give, no flexibility, no open-mindedness, which is Israel. But except for that, which I stay far away from, we are politically as one. That is a relief, because if Cy and Lynn were right-wingers I dunno how I could possibly feel as close to them, mistrusting as I do, fundamental right wing values.

But they are both in their 80s now, Cy 85 or is it 86? and Lynn is 80. Both are not well. Lynn almost died this spring when she caught viral pneumonia while they were vacationing in Israel and she is still not her old self. She is in constant pain, despite oxycodone, from a damaged shoulder that has been declared untreatable. Hence, she sees a chronic pain specialist, but so far, no helpful results yet. I hate to see this, because the quality of her life is so diminished when she is in pain, and that is so important. I wish they would be more agressive about making appointments when the pain continues, but perhaps they do get the earliest ones available, it just happens they are several weeks away.

Cy is also "getting old" -- I mean, he is 86, but he is suddenly showing his age in a way he never did before Lynn was so ill and he had to take care of her. I think it has exhausted him and it shows in his limp and his use of a cane to walk. Despite Lynn's emphysema and weakness due to prednisone-induced myopathy, she walks faster with her walker than he does with his cane...all of which is pretty scary for me to see. I'm glad that they have so many people stopping by to help and visit, so they are not alone and without anyone's assistance. I help Lynn on the computer once a week and would do more, but basically that is all she seems to want me to do right now. Maybe once I get some driving lessons (Karen's idea!) under my belt, I'll feel better about going more places and can offer to do errands or get things for them.

Agh, too many people are too close to mortality right now for comfort. I realize that none of us know when we will die, and that I could die tonight in my sleep and never know it, or in a car crash on my way to anywhere etc etc but you know what I mean. Barring unforeseen circumstances that can shorten anyone's life, we all expect to live the average lifespan. But too many people around me are approaching a place in their lives, natural or due to illness, where death has become, well, all too thinkable. I don't know how I will handle it, in either sense of the word "how." ("in what manner" and "whether I will or not").if Joe dies and Cy and Lynn and even my father goes...Oh, I understand they have to. We ALL die. But I do not know how I will handle it.

Posted by pamwagg at October 12, 2006 07:48 PM


Hi Stuart and Yaya,

No Stuart, I won't forget that there are those who read this blog and do not comment, but who care nonetheless, though I wish they would occasionally make themselves known as it is so hard to write in a void, hoping someone hears you. It is like talking to a large seashell -- all you get back in the roar of nothingness...That said, do introduce yourself on Saturday, if you can. I'd love to meet you!

Yaya, if I happen to have a chance to talk with Patty Duke, which I doubt, but if I do, I will tell her that story, as I think she will appreciate it. Any writer would be gratified to hear that their book helped bring about such a life-changing event!

Thanks to both of you,

Posted by: Pam W at October 13, 2006 06:15 PM

Hi Pam,

Good luck to you and Lynnie with your talk on Saturday. Please tell us all about Patty Duke. She is one of my heroes. My friend Carol who was given every mental illness diagnosis for twenty plus years accidentally ran across Patty Duke’s book. She read it and told her therapist…. This is what is wrong with me. I have the same illness Patty Duke has. The therapist referred her to a psychiatrist. The psychiatrist put her on lithium and a small amount of anti-depressant. Carol’s life practically changed overnight because of the book Patty Duke wrote. Carol is now a very balanced happily married woman.

As for your friend Cy and Lynn – they sound like wonderful people. They remind me of a couple I knew when I was 15 years old. I called them Grandpa and Grandma Pearl. They were so genuine and loving towards me. Both of them were in their 80’s when I met them. Both of them were Russian Jews and came to America after the Bolshevik revolution. Both of them called me darling and told me I was a special person and that they loved me for who I was. Everyone should have a Cy, Lynn or Grandpa & Grandma Pearl in their lives.


Posted by: yaya at October 12, 2006 11:00 PM

Hi Pam.
My name is Stuart. I found your book a few months ago. Your sister's name jumped out at me when I saw the book. 5 or 6 years ago I used to see Carolyn (as I knew her) pretty often at some dancing places. I have done ballroom dancing for about 15 years. Besides being a very talented Dr., and an awesome sister, she is also a great dancer. I have read your book and everything else I could find on the internet about your story. I have been meaning to say something to you for several months now. I suspect there are a number of other people who have not written you yet, but who have read your book and are keeping up with your blog. I have been very inspired by you and your sister. I have had some big struggles of my own, but nothing like you have had. I have had problems with panic attacks for many years. 2 years ago they were becoming too frequent (still nothing like you have gone through). I am very thankful for a friend 2 years ago who made an appointment for me with a psychiatrist (Dr. C.) who has been very helpful to me. I have been on an antidepressant for the past 2 years, which has made a huge difference for me. The perscription does not solve my problems, but has been one of a number of tools that have been very helpful to me.
I enjoy everything you write about. I enjoy reading everyone's responses also. (I am inspired by those who contribute to this blog, besides you.) I got the details for the conference in CT this weekend. I am hoping I can get to some of it (I hope to meet you). Please keep in mind that there are some like me (I bet many) who you don't hear from often, but who care for you, and pray for you and enjoy reading your blog. Please take care of your self. Love, Stuart

Posted by: Stuart at October 12, 2006 10:53 PM

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