Early in November, Ann Marie and I went to Open Studios, followed by dinner at Los Jaliscos. She was wearing her customary floating layers of orange and silver and red, and enormous pieces of jewelry, including a ring one third the size of a baseball featuring the image of an insect. All of this dazzled the artists. Periodically I explained that I myself had dressed in navy blue from head to toe so as to be an effective backdrop.
Another day, Ann, Tom, Ann’s friend Jill and I saw Daniel Handler’s play Imaginary Comforts at Berkeley Rep, preceded by lunch at Au Coquelet. Jill is a very cheery soul, and helped Ann with the driving from Sacramento. I love these afternoons at the theatre, a gift from Ann.
One Friday afternoon, I took a walk with Anita, my ex-CPE supervisor. I was planning to have dinner with Karen that night, but she hadn’t confirmed yet. Anita and I made our way to Balmy Alley and enjoyed the murals, and then we were both hungry, and I was still unable to reach Karen, so Anita and I decided to go ahead and eat, which we did at Heung Yuen, where F. and I used to go. I ate all of my substantial entrée, and a few bites of what Anita left of her entrée, plus half an order of pot stickers. Then I got a message from Karen saying she’d be at my door in a few minutes!
Karen and I went to Udupi Palace, a vegetarian Indian restaurant, where she observed mournfully that I had done with Anita exactly what she and I were supposed to do together: eat and go for a walk. I told her I’d have a little snack while she ate, but ended up ordering—and eating—a second full dinner, after which I felt extremely ill, followed by five straight days of diarrhea. During that time, the heat was broken in our apartment building, so I spent several days huddled in bed underneath all of my blankets, waiting for my intestines to settle down.
On Wednesday, I called my mother and she said you’re not supposed to let diarrhea go that long—that you can get dehydrated and end up in the emergency room. Who knew? She ordered me to go to Walgreens and get some Kaopectate or Immodium AD. I dragged myself over there and back; I had to sit down to rest on the way home. Back at home, I took both Kaopectate and Immodium AD to be on the safe side, which worked so well and so immediately that three days later I was wandering my neighborhood looking for prunes.
Late in November, I went to Michigan to visit my parents and sister for Thanksgiving. Right before I left, I submitted my application for school—a two-year low-residency program that will afford the exact 48 units I still need for board certification, if they let me in.
My visit home was nice. I spent a lot of time with my parents, and my sister came over twice, and I had lunch with Amy at Seva. Ginny was not feeling well on the day we would have gone to Café Zola. My parents made a wonderful Thanksgiving dinner: roasted chicken, dressing, two kinds of gravy, Waldorf salad, baked lima beans with olives, biscuits, Mama Stamberg’s Cranberry Relish (as well as cranberry sauce from a can, for those who don’t care for Mama Stamberg’s), and chocolate-chip cookies for dessert.
After I returned from Michigan, I felt super-crabby for several days—maybe too much MSNBC, which I only get to watch every six months, or maybe my brain got dried out on the plane. In class Wednesday night at County Hospital, we talked about trauma exposure and self-care and Clementine mentioned that since we deal with so much death and loss, creating something can be powerful: making art, gardening, writing, playing music, cooking.
She and I had a one-on-one and I told her about a patient I visited who had gotten a terrible diagnosis and had been wailing loudly off and on for weeks, per what I heard from another caregiver and certainly during much of our time together. After I left her room, I felt worried that I’ll get what she has. This has not really happened before, and Clementine said it was a flag—perhaps a signal that my self-care needs adjusting. She has stressed to us that self-care needs change over time. I don’t want to be the chaplain who is burned out or suffering from trauma exposure, but the latter, at least, cannot be avoided. As it was explained to us in the class at Sati Center, if you work around those who are traumatized, you will experience secondary trauma, just as surely as you will become warm if you stand near a fire.
On Friday at County Hospital, I visited a patient who was very cheerful, who said she was fine: “The universe takes care of me if I take care of my universe.”
As I was leaving the hospital at the end of the day, I came upon a man pushing a cart full of empty water bottles and singing to himself in an exceedingly merry fashion.
“You’re in a good mood. What’s your secret?”
He turned to me, and I saw how cheerful and relaxed his face looked. He explained, “I don’t want to be a grumpy old man. I want to be a happy old man. I realized that the difference between my very worst day and my very best day was my attitude. Also, I don’t believe in problems. I believe in inconveniences, which might be small or large. God solves problems.”
Still thinking about effective self-care, I decided to actually cook something other than cereal for the first time since June, 2016, and immediately felt more optimistic. Yesterday I made lentil-potato-tomato stew, while listening to music, and it was really nice. I have not had enough opportunities to listen to music lately, which is something that brings me joy. (Two favorite new songs: Radiohead’s “The Tourist” (new to me, anyway) and Janelle Monae’s “Tightrope” (her solo version). The former is so beautiful and the latter is so infectious. What a lovely voice she has. I was surprised to hear some ukulele at the very end, which she mentions, saying the name of the instrument in such a sweet way.)
Speaking of optimism, Nancy Gibbs used this wonderful phrase in an essay in Time magazine (soon to be partly owned by the Koch brothers) about the state of our nation: “The expansive, oxygenated opportunity of optimism.” Outstanding use of Os.