rescue me

When I was a kid, one of our cats got stuck in a tree.  Several cats had climbed this particular tree but had found their ways back down promptly.  Not this one.  She went up it and then stayed.  The tree had a strange placement, really my whole back yard was strange.  Our yard backed up onto a massive rock formation.  It wasn’t too wide behind our house.  From east to west, it created a relatively flat shelf full of thorny bushes and small trees that went back probably 50 yards or so.  But it was high and long…it ran about a mile to the south, expanding in width as it got further from my house to fill the area between houses and highway.  As the rock bordered our yard, it eased from a steeply dropping rough mound, which rose to the third floor of our house, to a more gradual set of slopes at the north west corner of our house.  The tree grew where those slopes met the ground in piles of large rocks covered in moss and brambles.

The tree wasn’t far from the side of my house where my bedroom was, so at night we could hear the cat crying.  And in the daytime my siblings and I, and the neighborhood kids, would all try to climb up the nearest highest rocks and reach up to coax the cat down.  I distinctly recall smearing most of a can of nine lives cat food onto the rough bark of the tree…no use.  The cat stayed stuck for days.   Why did she go up?  We asked ourselves, each other, my parents.  No good answer.  Why did any cat go up?  It’s what cats do.  Go up trees.  Run around like fools.  Chase squirrels, birds, and other small wildlife that flourished in the woods that grew on and around the rocks.

Another one of our cats decided to come along with us one day during an exploration of the woods.  We were a little older then and ventured quite a bit further.  We packed food and punch.  It was hot out.  We had moved through the wooded areas and broken into what was known as “the crushes”, a sort of gravelly expanse with not a tree in sight.  It was summer, the sun was out, and it was hot.  The cat kept up for a while, but after an hour or so, she started panting.  Shit.  Who’s gonna take the cat back?  No one wanted to be the one but no one wanted to leave her there so near the highway.

Both stories resolved.  Both cats were saved.  The one who got stuck in the tree continued to do not terribly bright things and eventually got lost because she had taken a nap in my dad’s car one summer day (the window was open) then dashed out as soon as he stopped several miles from our house.  The other was a hell of a lot smarter.  She lived a long, happy life of chasing and catching snakes and doing adorable things for nibbles of people food.  She eventually died of natural causes when I was living out in The Great Midwest as a young adult.

You don’t think of cats as needing rescuing.  They’re very independent. They’re little predators even.  But sometimes they do things that get them stuck.

And so it is with 41 year olds with chronic illnesses, it seems.  I hate having to be rescued.  I can honestly say, with the exception of the time I dropped out of college and my parents had to come help me move back home, I have not had to be rescued since I was a little kid.  Actually, now that I think about it, even the times when I properly needed it, like passing out, not one person has done a good job of taking charge.

  • Felt bad at lunch and told the teacher.  She left me alone in the classroom rather than sending me down for lunch.  I started feeling really bad and chose to walk myself to the nurse’s office.  I passed out and came to alone in the hallway.  I was 8.  

    illustration of placing person in recovery position

    Notice how no one is dragging the afflicted person around by his arms…

  • Felt bad on a field trip into Big Historic City in 6th grade.  Told a teacher.  Was told, basically, to just suck it up.  I passed out and came to alone on a bed in the recreated house of a famous US patriot.  
  • Felt bad on a flight to Europe in 11th grade.  Told my brother, who was embarrassed and whose single gesture of “assistance” was to throw the barf bag into my lap.  Passed out.  Came to.  No help.
  • Felt bad at lunch in 11th grade.  Told a friend, who took me to a lunch monitor, my guidance counselor.  Was told to suck it up again, lunch was almost over and I could go to the nurse then.  Passed out and was dragged through the entire lunch room by the guidance counselor and the friend.  
  • Passed out numerous times in numerous bathrooms throughout adolescence and early 20.  Alone, came to alone.  Took care of myself.  
  • Got horribly sick at college, retching and cramping, feeling really faint.  Campus emergency response came and I had to explain that the strange blood pressure readings they were getting were symptomatic of shock and insist that they call a real EMS.  Then had to convince real EMS that my insurance would pay to transport me to the less horrible local hospital, this convincing included calling my dad while in bed, drenched in sweat, not able to see because the graying of my vision had reached such a severe point and I could barely hear for the roaring in my ears.  Got it straightened out, onto the stretcher and started down the stairs, then passed out.
  • Passed out while out for drinks with a friend from work. A nurse.  She left me at the table alone while she went to call 911.  Came to still in a chair with a law student trying to check my pulse with his thumb.  Made my way to the bathroom where I refused to come out of the stall.  
  • Passed out at home on the toilet when I was married to my ex the doctor.  “Oh you go stiff when you pass out” he told me.  “I practically had to break your legs to get you out of there.”  I don’t count this as particularly helpful, although I was grateful that he at least knew an unconscious, upright person is a bad thing.  My legs god damned hurt for weeks.  
  • Passed out on my ex the diabetic.  Started feeling faint, called for help – was ignored.  Staggered into the bedroom then promptly fell, hit my head, and lost consciousness.  I had to insist he take me to the ER after I came around, and I kept asking why my arms hurt so much.  It wasn’t until much later that the idiot admitted he had yanked me up and onto the bed by my arms.  
  • Got a sudden onset migraine at my old job that reached monster proportions.  I felt shaky and like I was going to pass out, I couldn’t see much at all, and I was sooooo nauseous.  I couldn’t hide how sick I was when I told my boss I had to go, and so she decided to “help”.  While my boss and other staff stood around me in the lobby trying to decide if someone would drive me to the ER or just give me the damned taxi number like I had asked for, the vomiting began.  So I dropped to my knees, grabbed the nearest trash can, took out the bag inside and reached in for the extra empty bags I knew the custodial staff put at the bottom of the can, then rocked back up into the chair I had been hunched over in, bag in hand.  Everyone was just staring like “d’uh?”  Yeah, thanks guys.  The staring and doing nothing to assist is really super helpful.

I don’t consider any of those times to be situations where I was rescued, like really rescued.  Like taken care of without stupid arguments, and stupid (sometimes dangerous) behavior.  Or taken care of with cool cloths and even minimal first aid including appropriate body positioning.

Since getting sick(er) in my 30s though, I’ve needed rescuing.  Like the cat, I get places then find I cannot get myself out of them.  So mostly, I’ve just stopped climbing the trees.

Sometimes I do though.  Last night, I did. I thought, I’m feeling  a bit better. And it’s not too cold out, it’s not raining.  My husband’s done so much for me the last month, I want to do something nice for him.  I’ll pick up food at the excellent middle eastern place that’s only four blocks from work.

We made plans, tentative based on how I was feeling.  But I was feeling ok.  So I went.  As I was ordering, I noticed that I couldn’t see the server’s face.  Shit.  Shit shit shit.  Surreptitiously, I covered first one eye, then the next.  Is it?  Yes, a little faceted sparkle in my lower right visual field of my right eye.  As I moved down the Subway-like food ordering line – giving instructions and answering questions “yes, tahini.  no hot sauce.  no tomato,” – it grew.  By the time I got to the register, the lateral border of the entire right visual field of my right eye was throbbing in a shimmering warning of the pain to come.  Thank god at least there is this count down.  It does help, well, sort of.  It’s hard to walk when your vision’s doing this.  And there’s the nausea.  And the talking.  I drop word endings or put the wrong ones on.  So my verbs come out all foreign caveman-like, “he drive now..then we walks later!”

I began texting my husband, which in case you haven’t guessed, is not easy when your vision is set on scramble. I guess it’s time to put in some short cut text for “I have a migraine and will be waiting inside.  Please call when you pull up”.  I don’t know how he figured out that what I typed was meant to be “washington street”.  I looked at it later and while it did start with “w”, it all went to shit after that.  My knight in deisel hybrid sped down the roads of Big Ass (historic) City, nearly knocking pedestrians out of cross walks and probably pissing off more than a few taxis, and called me to let me know he was there.  I was testy.  He seemed to want to talk me to him over the phone but I cut him off.  “Ok, so I have to hang up now,” I said in a tone that I hate “because I don’t actually have much vision in my right eye and I have to stand up, put on my coat, pick up my bag, and get the food and I can’t do all that and talk on the phone like this”.  I’m no good at being rescued.  So no more trees for a while for this cat.

free at last!

I don’t know if it’s drugs or me or the weather, but I finally have felt  if not well then at least  not awful for several hours.  Several hours of work even.  Several hours of presenting tech options to barely college aged boys who really had much more important things to do than listen to me. 

Yeah, that attitude will last until they realize they need the help.  Damned boys.  Some of them are still in the “I’m not a momma’s boy” stage even when they get to college. 

For one of them, it took all of two hours and he was back here asking “Can I get this book on CD because it really is a lot of reading for me.”  We got to work with me offering only a little bit of moderate gibing.  1/2 hour later he had his required reading as a DAISY book, a free text to speech enabled reader, and even some nice enhanced voices all downloaded and working great on his computer. 

So.  I had already rescheduled this Thursday’s doctor appointment before I knew for sure how I was going to be feeling.  Not a huge loss.  I’ll take rescheduling perhaps unnecessarily if the consolation prize is that I don’t feel terrible.


Since I’m moving sloooow this morning, I thought I’d poke around in the blogosphere, and hey, looky here!  I just ran across a pretty neat blog called “FWD/Forward: Feminists with Disabilities For A Way Forward” via a great post by contributor Chally, which touches on some topics I’ve had quite a bit of experience with as both a teacher, a student, and a college staff member.  What is “doing fine” for someone with a chronic illness based disability?  Especially with one that robs you of your energy.  Some interesting questions are raised:  Do you go for the flat out pace that is expected (demanded) of people by society?  Do you pare it down and use your bone deep understanding of personal pacing and balance to ward off feelings of not living up and of being judged internally and externally for it?

I add the category of family to the mix.  As women, we are expected to accommodate – the primary zone for this agreeable accommodation is family (not because of nature, but because despite advances of women outside the home, western social norms insist that home and family are “woman’s domains” – any doubt of this can readily be tested:  who plans birthday and holiday celebrations?  Who plans meals, grocery shopping, cleaning?  Yes, men do “help” more often but until they stop “helping” and just “do”, I argue that these areas are seen by men and women as primarily responsibilities of the woman).  So how do you find your balance among these areas of responsibility, of demand, where you as a student, worker, mother, daughter in law, wife are expected to live at a pace defined by the ability to consistently and (minimally) compliantly rise to an impossible level of work?

No, seriously.  That’s not a rhetorical question.  How do you do it?