Gallows humor

Today I made some kind of funny remark about autopsies, and started chuckling.

My husband (who is the doctor, and normally the one who displays zero emotions at all connected to illness or death) snapped at me that it was a serious subject, told me he found it scary and disturbing that I was laughing, and asked if I had gone insane.

I haven’t gone insane. For the last six months there has been zilch in my life but stress and grief, and waiting as the long shadow creeps up the wall toward my father. This is my life these days; my life is death. Whatever comes out of my mouth these days is going to be about death or dying; the sad, the absurd, and now and then the slightly comical too.

And that’s what gallows humor is. In the face of the impossible, cracking a joke sometimes helps.



I continue to voyeuristically read a number of forums for IMG (international medical graduates) matching into residency, despite the fact that my husband is safely in residency now after a six year struggle, and we are done that particular part of the ordeal.

I am stuck by how all of the forums are chock-full of things like “God is so good! I matched. God is with me.”

And while the IMGs are patting themselves on the back and thinking that God personally arranged their hospital’s rank list, all around are wars, famine, and diseases. Cancer for one, which physicians are likely to personally know the horrors of. God/the Universe/the Flying Spaghetti Monster doesn’t stop any of those things. God sure hasn’t done a great deal for my dad, who was a faithful and kind man who believed, and served the public for many decades.

So I suspect God does not care about whether a particular IMG finds a US residency, thus enabling him or her to someday in the distant future drive a Beamer.

The Match can be a demoralizing, expensive, and labor-intensive process, fraught with uncertainty. I saw my husband go through it multiple times before he matched. Not only was it a financial drain, but for years I lived with paralyzing uncertainty about where he would go the next year if he matched, what would happen to us, and how we would start a family if we spent our mid-30s living on opposite sides of the country. I do feel for all the IMGs who are struggling, especially the older ones. Nobody knows the Match like my husband and I do.

But waiting for radiology or pathology match results is nothing, nothing like waiting for a radiology or pathology report. I know, as I’ve waited for both.

So when these forum-IMGs start calling on God, I want to tell them not to take their career trajectory so seriously. There are far worse fates than a career in the pharma industry, or not doing the exact job they trained for, or even relocating back to whatever country they went to med school in.

And if God isn’t out there helping those people who really need it, God probably isn’t doing much for the IMGs either.

And yes, I have read that piece called “Footprints in the Sand.” I first saw it at a colleague of my father’s house, at the age of eight or so. I wish there were a higher power helping me along, but it doesn’t feel like that at all. I think I am forcing myself to go on, because I love my father. Most people I know are religious. It is hard for me to understand how people could go through something like my parents are, and retain any faith that a higher power is watching over them, protecting them, or takes any actions at all with their well being in mind.

Life and health are fragile, and no guardian angel sits between any of us and the abyss. I wish that having discovered the fragility of life made me appreciate life more, but it just makes me frightened about what could happen, and what is going to happen tomorrow.

Love after Love: A poem by Derek Walcott

A poem by Derek Walcott:

The time will come
when, with elation
you will greet yourself arriving
at your own door, in your own mirror
and each will smile at the other’s welcome,

and say, sit here. Eat.
You will love again the stranger who was your self.
Give wine. Give bread. Give back your heart
to itself, to the stranger who has loved you

all your life, whom you ignored
for another, who knows you by heart.
Take down the love letters from the bookshelf,

the photographs, the desperate notes,
peel your own image from the mirror.
Sit. Feast on your life.

Not going there

The following is a mantra of the brain cancer (and other cancer) communities:

Don’t go there till you get there.

If “there” is my worst nightmare, we are there.

However, I guess the point is that I should not think about the fact that fall and winter are on the horizon, and that if my father survives that long (it would be past the prognosis of this beast) then it will be even more of a challenge to get him to his doctor appointments, etc.

I remember my teenage years, when the biggest worry in my life was attending a new school, or how I’d do on a 7th period history test. Or that I would end up not going to my dream college (I did not) and end up at Big State U (I did, and it turned out fine). I hadn’t chosen a major yet, so I hadn’t made the decision to pursue a field with no jobs–a decision which has dogged my whole career and which I regret.

That must be why people say high school is one of the best times of your life. It sure didn’t feel like it at the time, but I guess the point was I had no idea what lurked in the future and that it would, for the most part, be much worse than zits or a history exam. That while my friends all settled down and started families, I’d spend a decade having awful relationships and heartbreaks, living far from home in places I hated for the sake of my career, and ultimately losing the career anyway. That I would spend years constantly at the hospital, surrounded by illness and death. That pregnancy would be so, so difficult and that I would have to raise a baby in the middle of all of this chaos–and that as much as I’d longed to be a mother, the constant responsibility for another life would not feel like much of a joy at all.

Many people say “the best time in your life” thing about your thirties too. If this is the best time in my life I shudder to think what that means about the future.

But I guess I won’t go there, until I get there.

I am sorry for all of these sad blog posts. I was a happy person once. And if you go back to the beginning of this blog, even when my mom was going through chemo and radiation I still managed to be reasonably happy. It’s just recently, since my dad’s diagnosis, all gotten to be too much.

How to Get Up after a Fall

This is not a philosophical post about how to get up when life kicks you, although that might be useful too. This is an actual post about how to help someone who has fallen.

I went to my parents house and spent about an hour yesterday trying to help my dad up off the floor, where he had fallen and was unable to get up because (I think) he was having back pain. I am looking for assistive devices that will help with this, because my back is tired and this has happened multiple times. I will post more as I find them, but in the meantime I found this video on techniques to get up:

I also found this device called the Camel Lift Emergency Chair; however it is very expensive (prices are in the thousands of dollars).

There is also a list here that lists a few devices.

It occurred to me that maybe a regular air mattress might work. I have one that is the size and height of a regular bed, with a powerful pump. If I put my dad on it and inflated the mattress, he might end up on top of the bed. I will try it on myself at some point and see whether it works and is safe.

[Update: Dad is on the floor again. I guess I will test the air mattress idea this afternoon.]

[Update: I cannot get my dad onto the air mattress. I will wait for my husband and then if we cannot lift him together we will call the fire department.]

[Update: My husband was able to lift him.]

I have ordered a device called a Hoyer lift for the next time this happens.

We were supposed to take dad to the GP today but after the last two days he is not able to go anywhere today.

I am tired and cried for two hours last night. When I woke up this morning I still felt exhausted and like I had run a marathon in my dreams. I hate mornings these days. I always wonder how my dad did in the night–whether he fell again, particularly–and what new indignities and challenges I am going to wake up to.

Dear Robin Williams

So yesterday I turned on the news, and saw that you had committed suicide.

These days, I dread waking up in the morning. My dad is dying a dog’s death from a brain tumor, my mom has cancer that could recur any time, and I have been living in this hell for almost two years now.   For the last three weeks, I have been sick myself and watched my parents suffer without being able to help.  The only end I can see to this horrible situation is that my father will die, which means that he is released from his suffering and I from watching him suffer–and then there will be years of grief, and the rest of my life without him.

Life is such a fragile thing, and so precious.

My parents aren’t wealthy and famous like you were, but my mom fights every day, for one more breath for my father. I too would give anything to bring his mind and health back for another few years. Anything.

I feel empathy and compassion for the depression and isolation you must have gone through. Things must be bad when you decide the pain of ending it all is worse than the pain of going on.  And people will say that severe depression is a sickness, it’s a chemical imbalance, etc., and I have no doubt that they are right.

But I have to admit that I alternate between feeling bad for you, and wishing that there were some process by which the life that healthy people abandon could be given to those who actually value it, and fight for it, and want to live.

Maybe you wished that too.