Tuesday, May 6, 2014

No. 30 – Wings for Marie (Pt. 1) / 10,000 Days (Wings, Pt. 2)

Performer: Tool
Songwriters: Maynard James Keenan, Adam Jones, Danny Carey, Justin Chancellor
Original Release: 10,000 Days
Year: 2006
Definitive Version: None.

Some of my song suites, some might argue, ought to be broken up. This one, however, is clearly one song—just look at the title—but even Tool didn’t want to have a 17-minute single track on their album.

This is, in my estimable opinion, Tool’s best song, although (SPOILER ALERT) it’s not my favorite Tool song. It is my favorite song from the Aughties, however, which was a decade underrepresented in my canon due mostly to the three-year period where I made no money, so I had no money to spend on music.

It also had to do with not really finding much new that I liked. I tried the new garage rock at the beginning of the decade, like The Strokes and White Stripes, but I didn’t like any of it. Then, after my self-imposed hermitage ended, I never reconnected with anything except My Morning Jacket and, only recently, Porcupine Tree. After this here list ends, I plan to dive back into the newer music pool and see what I can find.

I particularly love the slow build of the 10,000 Days second half. It’s relentless up to the cathartic climax of Maynard’s dead mother banging on the Pearly Gates, demanding her just reward.

Given the subject matter—the unwavering faith of Judith Marie, despite being paralyzed by a stroke for 25 years before she finally died (that’s the 10,000 days)—I thought of Debbie’s mom, who lived for 20 years after a debilitating stroke of her own, when I first heard this song. Things change. Now, as you might suspect, my thoughts are a bit closer to home.

When I left Mom at St. Ann’s Hospital March 1, 2011, I had no idea that it would be the last time I’d see her alive. I was just relieved to be getting a break after a stressful day. I was looking forward to seeing Jin and Bridget, who just arrived from L.A. Laura made dinner for everyone, and it seemed that by tomorrow, Mom would be in palliative care, which would help.

With Jin in town, I was in the Bat Cave, aptly named by Casey. Without a nightlight, the basement at Dad and Laura’s condominium was pitch black—to the point where I took a flashlight with me that I could use to find my way upstairs to the bathroom if need be.

That night I had an incredible dream. I was at work, and things looked more or less like they do. As I looked out my office window toward the southeast, I saw large cracks form in the ground, running from the parking lot down the street. All of a sudden, a massive upheaval of the ground beneath my office building raised it 100 feet into the air. When the earthquake stopped, I stepped outside my window onto the small ledge of concrete outside. Now how do I get down?

That’s when I was awakened—heart racing—by my cellphone. I was in the Bat Cave. I had no idea what time it was, but I knew it still had to be night time. Well, you know my philosophy about late-night phone calls, right? I knew what this one was about even as I kept trying to figure out where I was.

I flipped open my phone and saw it was exactly 4 a.m. A woman of Indian descent said clinically that she was a nurse at St. Ann’s and that she regretted to informed me that Mom had died.

I said, “Oh my God!” I wasn’t shocked that Mom died, per se; I knew she was going to die, but I had no idea it was going to happen that soon. I thought she had days left when I last saw her. It turned out she had only hours. I told the nurse I’d be there as soon as I could.

I called Laurie, per her instructions, and gave her the news. Then I sat in the darkness and collected my thoughts for a few seconds. I didn’t cry, but I heard crying. It was Bridget, whom I could hear through the vents. The phone didn’t wake her up, did it? It’s just as well, because I knew Jin was awake.

I got dressed and went upstairs. Bridget had a nightmare (join the crowd) and was in the bathroom in Casey’s room when I arrived. As Jin said later, when she saw me, she first thought, you didn’t have to come up to see what was wrong with Bridget and … oh. You’re not here because of Bridget, are you? I gave Jin the news and that I was heading to the hospital. Jin said she wanted to come, too, adding not to say anything about it to Bridget. No problem. Jin got dressed quickly, and we tucked Bridget back into bed together, whereupon she went right back to sleep.

We woke up Dad downstairs. He was sleeping in the den because of a cold that he didn’t want Laura to catch. We told him we were going to the hospital and why, and Jin asked him to keep an ear out for Bridget in case she wakes up again before we get home. Dad said he would and offered his condolences.

I felt for Dad in a way. Even though he and Mom had been split for 35 years, it still had to feel strange to hear that a former lover was dead. I haven’t experienced that feeling.

We called Scott along the way to the hospital, telling him not to rush up to town, because there was nothing he needed to do here. We were going to go to the hospital and find out what we had to do next.

We were about the only ones in the visitor parking lot when we arrived. Unfortunately, Mom still was in the same room as when I last saw her. The staff psychiatrist had been unable to get her into palliative care after all.

The nurse who gave me the news that my mother was dead was there, as was a pastor. The pastor asked if I wanted to go into Mom’s room. I said yes, because I thought someone had to. Jin said if it was OK with me, she wanted me to go alone. I understood. She hadn’t seen Mom for almost the past year. No sense bothering now.

In movies or on TV, you see scenes where cancer patients die peacefully in their rooms, with loved ones surrounding them. I never told Jin or Scott what I saw when I went into Mom’s room, and if they’re reading this, they might want to skip the next two paragraphs, but I didn’t have the same experience.

It seemed no one at the hospital had done anything for Mom—who wore a Do Not Resuscitate bracelet—after she died. She lay in bed, her body twisted as though wracked by pain, her mouth agape, her eyes blank and staring. It appeared as though Mom’s final moments had been miserable: She died alone, in the dark and perhaps in agony.

I closed Mom’s eyes and said, “You’re at peace now.” The pastor told me that some people prefer to see the dead body, for closure … Great, can we step outside now?

She led me and Jin into a room, supposedly for grieving purposes, but our relationship with Mom wasn’t like that. Instead, our questions were procedural. I had to sign a few forms. Mom’s oncologist would come in and sign the death certificate, and—most comforting to me—the hospital would hold Mom’s body until funeral arrangements had been made. Then we left.

On the drive home, Jin and I stopped for Tim Hortons doughnuts—a former Canadian treat of which I used to partake all the time but hadn’t since I’d moved away in 2005. We agreed we needed the solace that sugar would provide.

Dad was awake by the time we arrived, so he joined us for a doughnut around the breakfast table before Jin and I went back to bed. Of course, I got no sleep.

Scott and Shani arrived a few hours later, and the main chore was to take care of funeral arrangements. I called a bunch of funeral homes to get estimates. Per Mom’s instructions, we paid as little as possible for cremation and a box that needed only to hold her ashes for as long as it took until we spread them in Lake Michigan, as she wanted.

I took the lead based on what I’d learned about the funeral industry through my magazine, and Jin and Scott thanked me for knowing what to do. It was fast and remarkably stress-free. Afterward, we had a “post-funeral” brunch at the Rusty Bucket in Upper Arlington, and later that night, we had a Donatos pizza wake. Now we had to handle the estate. A memorial would come later.

As time moved forward, I kept thinking about everything that had happened since I became directly involved in Mom’s care (good ol Nos. 241 and 130). The more I thought about how Mom died, the angrier I got.

I’ve been careful about naming names in this here blog, but I’m naming one right now: Dr. Leslie Laufman at Ohio State. Don’t call her. Don’t see her. And if, God forbid, you or anyone you love is referred to her, whatever you do, ask for another reference. I firmly believe that she was to blame, not for Mom dying, of course, but for how Mom died.

I said as much to Jin, but she wouldn’t hear of it or feel sorry for Mom. Mom was to blame, she said. She was the one who wanted to take care of herself at home. She was the one who sent away the home-care nurse. She was the one who abused herself in the first place. All true, but the end still was avoidable.

Later, reading his New Historical Abstract, Bill James crystalized my thinking on the issue. In the entry for Don Kessinger, James notes that Kessinger defends 1969 Cubs manager Leo Durocher against charges that he wore out his players and caused team’s epic collapse. However, James wrote, Cubs players never had been in a pennant race before. Durocher had been, in lots. The players, being competitors, wanted to keep playing. Durocher, given his experience, should have foreseen the ending and taken charge of the situation, resting his players and keeping them fresh for the stretch run. He didn’t, and the team sank like a stone in September.

Well, pardon my pointing this out, but isn’t that exactly the situation with Mom and Dr. Laufman? Mom never had terminal cancer before, but Dr. Laufman surely had treated patients, perhaps hundreds, who had. Mom was a competitor; she wanted to fight, but she didn’t know the road ahead. Dr. Laufman did. The doctor should have taken control of the situation but didn’t, like Leo Durocher.

Let me share something I’ve kept to myself. As I drove to town to pick up Mom from the hospital after her February superchemo treatment, which I honestly believed was a waste of time, I called Dr. Laufman.

What happens next, hospice care? It seems like it’s time, doesn’t it? Her response—as I tooled along I-70 in Indiana—was, and I quote: “I’ll make that call.”

That response struck me as arrogant over the phone then as it reads on the screen now. As we all know, her call was to send Mom home to care for herself—at the request of someone who’d never gone through this before. What could possibly go wrong?

I’ve said this before: I’m not an expert, but I know enough to know that when cancer has metasticized, the patient is going to die. The only question is how soon. So the only consideration then, it would seem, is end-game strategy.

But that was Dr. Laufman’s call, wasn’t it? As long as Mom wanted, she was going to “respect her wishes” and continue to push treatment, so she did. She made her call, and with no due respect, her call sucked ass.

It should come as no surprise whatsoever that we never heard from Dr. Laufman again—no call of sympathy or card of condolence, nothing. Why should we have? There was no more patient to treat with totally unnecessary yet expensive—but thankfully Medicare-funded—treatments. She already had moved on to the next one.

So, yeah, I’m pretty bitter about how Mom died. There was no closure, nothing life-affirming or uplifting about it at all. The only thing I gained from the whole experience is the certainty that I won’t go the same way if I can help it.

As soon as I hear the words “metasticized cancer” and my name in the same sentence, I’m checking into a fleabag motel so none of my loved ones find me, opening my best bottle of wine, draining an entire bottle of oxycontin or whatever I can get my hands on and going off to sleep forever. That’s MY call to make, and I'll make it when it's time.

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