Wednesday, January 27, 2010


In a moment of surreality that is so typical of my life, I found myself at 9:10 this morning in the cemetery of Dorothea Dix Hospital, one of several state-funded psychiatric facilities. 20 minutes later I would be in a warm conference room meeting about changes in the mental health system, but at that moment, I stood in front of a field of grass that was the DDH burial site from 1859 to 1970. Like so many of the patients who lived out their entire lives here in past centuries, the cemetery lay forgotten, neglected, and overgrown until recently when it was restored to its current mowed-fescue glory.

It took only a second to imagine the lives of those lying in rest here. My imagination is rich with photographs and recordings of people's experiences in this and similar hospitals--ghosts, if you will, whispering in the wind that blew open my coat and stung my cheeks. The cold kept me grounded, and I turned after a few minutes to face today's insurmountable task: fix the mental health system in NC.

Somehow, my long list of insurmountable tasks, my gazillion-car repair woes, my cystic kitty--all the things I was thinking about as I drove to the hospital this morning--somehow none of it seemed quite the same as I walked back toward the conference building.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

The kinds of weekends I have...

My Martin Luther King weekend started with a birthday-celebration lunch at Armadillo Grill, so I knew it would be a good weekend. We had a big table with lots of friends--a loud crowd in a louder restaurant. And then it dwindled to a couple of us who talked work, and I couldn't leave for my road trip till after 2:00. A hectic week with no car and arranging rides meant I had gotten home late in the evening several days and didn't get to pack ahead of time, so that was going to push me back further, but then I got in my newly-fixed car with its brand-new clutch, and its new-clutch smell, and I drove and then there was a strange whining noise like a vacuum hose, but then there was a grinding noise that was intermittent but sounded scary, and then there was smoke billowing forth, and so I pulled over and called my brother, Tony, who had been helping me negotiate the repairs to the car, and he came and got me, and then followed me to the car-fixing place, and they said they'd look at it, but not till Tuesday since they're closed on Monday for the holiday, but in the meantime my mom had offered me her car, so we went and got that, and then I went to the grocery store for supplies for the trip and then went home and packed in a most disorganized way, throwing things in a suitcase and loose in the car, and forgetting my phone charger and choosing not to bring my iPod but remembering my journal, which in the end I never opened, and remembering my pen and the notebook for notes and at the last second, remembering a pillow and blankets but forgetting the camera batteries but REMEMBERING the beer, and that was important, and soon, I was off, in mom's car, with the mapquest directions and excitement for the trip, a mere four hours late...

Even so, as I drove, I couldn't resist stopping to take pictures of the sunset and fog over a lake off Hwy 15. And then I pressed on, and as the sun dipped lower, the landscape seemed to float up to me, and emerging from the dark distances came silos and fields, new barns looking pristine in the shadows and old buildings falling apart. The whole atmosphere felt like work and life and stress were drifting away behind me as a magical nighttime world opened up a little at a time as I drove through the dark and followed my headlights through tiny towns and onto winding roads and through the rural areas of Carolina and Virginia.

And after getting lost in the park itself, I finally arrived at the cabins. I was far too late for dinner, and likely to miss the opening ritual. But I also know we operate on pagan standard time, so I was thinking I might make it for the Ritual. I burst through the lodge door into the bright and cheerful main area, where I was hit full blast with the boisterous chatter and energy, and there they all were, full plates in front of them, just settling in for dinner, hours late. Oh yes, I LOVE pagans! They make me, and my lateness, feel right at home!

I was told, though, that I'd be sleeping on the picnic table (always with the picnic table), but was able to fenagle decent sleeping digs (don't even ASK what that cost), and I got to eat a delicious dinner, sit for a bit with a nice neck and shoulder rub, and then Ritual with good friends.

Saturday started (after breakfast) with a class on nurturing yourself--a reminder to sloooooooow down, commit to taking care of ourselves, and promise ourselves, and each other, that we'd do something different. Me, I promised to lose this ridiculous weight, and part of doing so would be to walk three times a week. I stopped walking when I got the bike--a beautiful day for a walk is also a beautiful day for a ride, and the next thing I knew, two years had gone by. Maybe, just maybe, I might also do a little less. I know it sounds incredible, but maybe...

The afternoon, though, was totally different. Cordials and Elixers. Take booze, some fruit, and some honey, and you've got delicious aperatifs, apricot brandy, kaluha, even cough medicine, or a million other options, and I'm SO THERE. A dozen of us tasted a variety of elixer recipes, learned how to do each one, and then passed out on the lodge couches--every one of us. People poured in from other classes and stopped, surprised. "What happened?" "The cordials and elixers class--all passed out on the couches." LOL!

After dinner and the main Ritual, one of the group got a bunch to go down to the river and jump in, pagan-style (nekkid). He had decided against the pond when he saw the four inches of ice that couldn't be broken up for the jumping (this man is not right in the head...), so he decided on the river, and lo and behold, a half-dozen otherwise intelligent and sane people JOINED HIM, and I watched them go, happily ensconced on a couch with a blanket and pillow and good company while people brought out the drums and the normal among us began the evening's celebrations. Soon after, the river-jumpers returned, and the younger women put on shiny, sparkly, jangly clothes and belly-danced to the drummers while I enjoyed more massages and fought off sleep.

Sunday morning came way too quickly and involved a lot of rain. Coincidentally, the class I'd hoped to attend was cancelled--the instructor was sick an never made it to the lodge--so I left early and headed back to town. I stopped to take some side-of-the-road pix, which I just posted on the Which Way site on fb. I was able to hook up with Bill and some friends for lunch, and was even able to hire one of them to come work under my house next weekend.

Sunday afternoon also involved a trip to FYE and the purchase of a bellydancing video. Oh hell yeah. I also got on line and ordered some herbs for those elixers. Yeah, man. I'll be making my own booze, and I'm happy to share.

Monday, though, proved to be even more surprising. Bill left for work, and I hung at BT for a while, and then went home to get some laundry and chores done. Around noon I moved my body a little bit with the bellydancing video--I learned slides and shimmies and figure eights and undulations. I know you're jealous.

But while in the after-dance shower, the doorbell rang and Eddie theneuroticwonderdawg went nuts, and so I rushed to the door in a towel and robe, and I see three people I don't recognize getting in a car on the street, so I debate my next move--I am, after all, nearly naked, and these people I don't recognize, but I decide to do "the right thing," and I lean out the door, and say, "Can I help you? Do you need anything?" and the guy headed into the driver's seat stands up, and OH MY GOD, it's my BROTHER DAN, whom I haven't seen since my dad's funeral in 1995. Fifteen years. I had lost complete contact with him for about seven years until very recently when he came onto facebook. Even so, we had simply said "hello," and since he's not a big fb user, I knew almost nothing about what's been going on.

Turns out his wife's mom is elderly and lives in Raleigh, and he's been coming down quite a bit. Now, we're not a close family, and it doesn't surprise me at all that he hadn't gotten in touch sooner, but I thank his brother-in-law who pressed him a bit to be sure and hook up with me, and it was his brother-in-law who finally got him in the car and to my driveway. We all chatted a little bit at my house, but then he wanted to see my mom, so we all went over there, and we sat for some time and got caught up. It's been a hard road for him--with cancer--but he's on the mend, and things are looking pretty good, as long as he can keep his health. I also got his new address for keeping better touch, and it turns out he moved only next door, so he was surprised to discover his mail had been returned to me, as he was assuming I had simply stopped writing.

What a beautiful holiday weekend. I may survive 2010 after all!

Monday, January 11, 2010

A Day in the Life...

I slept like a log last night. A long weekend of birthday celebrations, neurotic dogs, and overnight company meant very little sleep until last night, when I was out for like 10 hours straight. (This is HUGE for me--I rarely sleep more than 6 in a row.)

So I awaken to Decker's cold, wet feet in my face, and I offer him the dry food dish near the bed, and try to stop Eddie from stealing it (cat food is like crack to dogs), and then I offer a separate serving of dry food to Cinnamon, and the pouring wakes Tolliver who was sleeping in the laundry basket, and he stretches and comes over to me for food, and this also draws Eddie again, who must be fought off, but then I can finally get up and take a shower, and I use my new shampoo that I made myself, and it feels good, and I then dry off and go back to bed (my morning ritual) where I sleep deliciously until I must get up, and I put on a robe, get the coffee going (no car means no BT), but also serve up the wet food to the cats, fighting Eddie back from those dishes now, and a separate bowl for Rudy in his cellblock, where I have to move the chair that's blocking Eddie, drag Eddie back out with me, and put the chair back, when I finally get dressed and try to enjoy my coffee without ever tripping over Decker who is winding around my feet all morning because he has lost his sense of smell and loses track of the cat food even while he's eating it. And it's just now about 7:45.

My work day starts slowly when I get in to the first 25 emails and 7 voice mails, and I'm trying to attend to each one in turn, when socialworkernumber1 calls to say she's running late for our 10 a.m. meeting, and then she's there and we're talking about ways to change the clinic, start a community support team, keep up with documentation and billing and new laws in the state and shift caseloads and team more effectively with residents and see more patients and meet their needs and work the system and get paid and bill and work and see and do and document and bill and... then it's noon and I grab my lunch and my water and my fork and my notes and my notebook and my calendar and we go up to a meeting of more social workers where we talk about changes in the system and changes in the clinic and I add three things to my to-do list and we each chunk up a big task to do more things and then the meeting is over but there are more decisions to be made about billing and doing things for patients when no one will pay and more things to add to the to-do list as we talk in an impromptu circle away from the table as I'm trying to get out the door.

And then I have to be at the other clinic in 35 minutes which means I have to collect all the things I need to do all the things on my to-do list at the other clinic so I can carry it all with me and I'm trying to leave when womandoctor stops me about a new patient and mandoctor stops me about an old patient and frontdesknicelady stops me about my schedule and crisisworkerlady stops me to see how I'm doing, and then I realize I don't have something I need, so then I'm digging for my keys and back in my office when VERYniceresearcherlady tries to stop me but I can't, and I'm off, only I'm borrowing socialworkernumber1's car, which is parked in parts unknown, and it takes me 25 minutes of walking around to find it, during which time I'm talking with a patient on the phone who is worried about many things, and I'm listening and trying to help until I finally find the car after walking around in circles and up hills and down huge staircases, and finally I'm in the car when the crisis phone rings while I'm on the phone with the patient as I'm pulling up to the clinic, and it's almost 2:00...

when I rush in to talk to bigbossmandoctor and residentmandoctor about the patient who maybe shouldn't drive and also about the new patient coming in at 2:00 and then I meet with a patient for an hour about things that plague her and then when I open the office door, the new patient and her family are in the hall and I meet with them about medicines and then I am late to pick up the guy I am taking to VR but I have to stop and talk to administratormanagerlady about the demographic make-up of the patients in the clinic, and one of the patients in the waiting room knows me well and is trying to chat with me but I have to be kind of quick because I am late and I jog to the car while checking my voice mail--11 new messages--and then I drive to my patient's house, where he's waiting outside (I'm late) and we go to VR where we're met by reallyreallyniceVRguy and we talk with him for an hour before I take my patient back home, where we schedule the next visit--in two weeks--and I call socialworkernumber1 whose phone is dead, but I see that my mom and Bill have both called to make sure I have a ride home, and I try socialworkernumber1 at two different numbers, one of which I must get from the crisis phone I'm carrying, and I reach her and we make arrangements, and she "powers down" and agrees to meet me outside when I call my mom back to let her know I have a ride and then I'm there and socialworkernumber1 comes out and we head home, discussing the changes in the clinic and the politics of the department and how much we love the residents, and how to help them more, and it's a little after 6:00 when I get to my mom's house for shrimp and pasta and can call Bill and let him know I've made it home, mostly, where Tony has been working to figure out how to get my car fixed.

And I get home and call back the patient who was interrupted by the crisis call and check the voice mails again--none of which I've been able to respond to, but also none of which sound like emergencies--and I set to the emails that have piled up as I haven't been in front of a computer since 10:00 this morning, and I MUST knock out some of the things on that to-do list from the meeting because they are due tomorrow, and I look at my calendar and see that tomorrow I have 8 patients and a team meeting and one of my emails is from my boss checking in, so I call her and we discuss my schedule, which is booked solid--including lunch hours--all week, and I'm feeding the cats and the dog and giving a pill to the newcat and remembering a big thing that I MUST do by tomorrow but just can't bring myself to do, but it's 9:10 and I have to try and knock it out...

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Animal Kingdom

Where to begin--with the latest feline addition, or the avian intruder? Hmmmm... decisions, decisions...

So, yesterday was get-Rudy day. In true fashion, I was running quite late for the 7 p.m. drop-off, and I pulled into the driveway just as David drove past my house. Oh right, I took the house number off when I started painting. So I called him--one of those bizarre 21st-century situations where you find yourself talking on the phone to someone a few feet away, leading him into the driveway like it's a runway...

Anyway, I get Eddie, the neurotic wonderdawg, calmed down enough to lock out back, and David brings in the enormous carrying case with the magnificent orange tabby, Rudy. Rudy is not the least bit concerned that he is in a new house that smells like dog, cat, cat, cat, cat, and vaguely, somewhere in the background, tiger spray. We do the exchange of information--here's his medicine, this is the food he's used to... yadda yadda. Rudy eventually comes out of his box, and after David is gone, Rudy ventures forth. He is simply, totally unconcerned about the situation. He smells some corners, takes in the decorations, "Hmm. She went with a purpley gray in the hall..." and goes about his day.

Tolliver meanwhile, comes around the corner expecting everything to be normal, and OMG! He sounds the INTRUDER alert--sirens blazing, STRANGE CAT IN THE HOUSE--HE MUST HAVE COME IN THE BACK DOOR--GET HIM OUT GET HIM OUT GET HIM OUT!!! His tail is about four inches in diameter, his back arched, fur flying, the sirenous bawling-growling-intruder-alert screeching forth from his 12poundsthatyouwouldnowswearis40, and he is losing it.

Rudy, meanwhile, is inspecting a crack in the floor. "Hmm. A little bit of caulk'll clear that right up for you."

I pick up T-man and carry him to the food dish, intruder alert still blaring--oh food!! Sure, I'll eat some food--but his tail is still four inches HUGE, and he has a paranoid check-the-door-every-three-seconds behavior that continues while he simultaneously wolfing down every last bite of the super supper goo on his plate. After all, he may never eat again, right? Tail remains huge.

I get Rudy sequestered to the back bedroom and finally sit down in my room for a few seconds' rest and to change my clothes. In half a second I hear a hard-to-describe rustling noise. Faint enough to question whether it's real, and over so quickly. It's coming from a picture frame I've got propped up next to my dresser (don't ask--I've got crap everywhere since I "cleaned up" for the recent slew of holiday parties). I instantly remember the three teeny tiny grey feathers next to the dog's food dish when I went to get Tolliver's food, and I can easily guess the source of the rustling.

Remembering back to the terrifying babybunnyscaredmenearlytodeath episode a few years ago, I decide quite firmly that the rustling sound was indeed my imagination, and if I close my ears to it, nothing will happen, and I will be able to get my jammies on and go to sleep and there will most definitely NOT be a bird in my bedroom. After all, I can't see it. And sometimes, I even glance over in that corner for half a second or so. Definitely, nothing there.

So I get my jammies on, and once more hear a faint and very quick rustle. Denial rushes into my brain. It competes with Intelligence, but I'm tired and it's been a long day, and Denial wins.

I sit down to eat a snack of cheese and crackers, and dangit--there's the rustle again. Only this time the damn thing has crawled out from behind the picture, and there, undeniably, plain as day, a freakin' bird. Intact, fine, healthy. IN MY BEDROOM. Dammit.

So if you know my history with wild animals in my house, and if you remember the terrifying babybunnytriedtokillme episode, then you know what I did next. I took my snack, my phone, my iPod, my book, my notebook, my pillow, my jammied self, and I went into Rudy's room and turned on the TV, shutting the bird in--and the animals out--of my room.

Time goes by, and I'm realizing I've GOT to do something about the bird or I'll never be able to sleep, so, being the badass-biker-chick-hangs-out-with-tigers sort of gal I am, I did the one thing I knew would solve it all.

I called Bill.

He, of course, was at dinner supporting a friend through a terrible tragedy, and I, of course, didn't want to interrupt that, so I simply asked him to call when he was done, and about an hour later he called to say he was on his way "to get rid of whatever it is you need taken out of the house." Ahhh, he knows me so well!!!

Shortly after, Bill arrived to save the day, Rudy got some lovin', Eddie got to play with his favorite play mate, and Tolliver's tail eventually returned to size. Although Rudy's since had the run of the house--he slinks under shelves and along walls--Tolliver appears to have forgotten he's here and hasn't sounded the intruder alert again.

I locked Rudy up while I was at work, and now that he's back out in the house again, Tolliver is asleep in the laundry basket. Clean clothes, of course.

Oh, and this evening I called my niece--the sculptor--and asked her to make me a big "6" for the house.

Life is good.