It’s been more than a month since I blogged—possibly the longest silence on record since I started Dirty Laundry in October 2006. And it’s not as if I’ve been writing something else, like a novel, or ghosting a book for someone else, or even copyediting. Nope. I haven’t been writing, period. Of course, there’s a reason; as my dearly departed friend Richard used to say, “There are always reasons, never excuses.” Richard was hard on everyone, including himself, and was consequently depressed most of his life.
Actually there’s only one reason I haven’t been writing: my son Daryl was hit by a car (his second such adventure), broke his ankle, necessitating surgery, and, since he can’t walk and take care of himself, he’s been in a rehab/nursing facility since the beginning of January. I call the place the Garden Spot of Alameda. Daryl’s an adult of 47, so readers might wonder why the circumstances of his life would affect mine. The short answer—and that’s the only one I’m going into today—is that I’m used to taking care of Daryl, as he was born with a chronic medical condition (hydrocephalus) that led to seizures, learning disabilities, and other physical and mental challenges. His first car accident, in 2004, inflicted further brain damage, or TBI (Traumatic Brain Injury). The upshot of all this is that Daryl needs a lot of support, primarily emotional.
Daryl, Immediate Post Accident
When he first checked into the Garden Spot I felt so bad I visited daily, but at this point he’s used to it, so I’m only going two or three times a week. If there’s a reason beyond time that I haven’t been writing, it’s the traumatic crash course I’ve been getting on American (all?) nursing homes. Though the facility serves two populations, not just the elderly, the aged predominate. And, since everyone in this place is, I believe, governmentally subsidized, the residents tend to be, um, financially challenged (Don’t you just love my euphemisms?). The motives of the owners and managers ….well, I’m not going to go into the specifics until Daryl is home safe and sound. In the meantime, I’ll speak in generalities.
Nursing homes are notoriously hellish. After my father died, my mother began telling me not to put her into a nursing home, ever. Being a 30something brat who, like all brats, was ignorant of aging issues, I poked fun at her. Now I wish I hadn’t. This is an important, urgent issue that all families should talk about. Attention must be paid! I’m now telling my kids all the time, “Don’t you ever put me into a nursing home!” And, of course, they make fun of me.
I would not last one night in this place. To begin with, I’m claustrophobic—and they put 3 beds into not-so-big rooms. Also, I consider myself, like 25% of the population, a Highly Sensitive Person, a designation that in recent years has gained recognition. I’m certain I’d be having panic attacks in the Garden of Alameda—especially if, like Daryl, I was at the mercy of people I didn’t know, some of whom aren’t entirely wonderful, and I couldn’t get out of bed by myself. Because he has a broken ankle on the right and a fractured toe on the left, Daryl needs someone to help him get into a wheelchair. He uses plastic urination bottles and has a portable toilet next to his bed. As stated, I don’t want to get too specific–but staff has to empty these receptacles. Would readers care to speculate how quickly they perform this task? Can you imagine the odors that fill the room when these containers aren’t dumped in a timely manner? And that’s just one of the discomforts that can drive a Highly Sensitive Person batty. Not one day. I couldn’t do one single day.
For the first month Daryl had a roommate who was, IMO, certifiably insane. The night he was transferred from the hospital to the Garden I was hanging his clothes while the nurses got him into bed, when R., the roommate, came over and began whispering to me about all the trouble Daryl was going to have getting the nurses to help him use the facilities. He was a real yenta, this guy, and I immediately took myself away, vowing to avoid him from now on. During the next few days, though, he helped Daryl a lot, getting him water, or nudging a nurse if he needed one. He saved his newspaper crossword puzzles for me, went out of his way to be “helpful”. He also told funny stories—so I changed my mind, figuring my first impression of R. had been wrong. Eventually, however, I discovered that my first impression was in fact one hundred percent spot on. R. was constantly in our business. He eavesdropped on us and unashamedly brought up the things he’d heard; when I was on the phone with Daryl he’d shout out conversational tidbits to me; he called me “Mom” and followed me out to the lobby whenever I left to give me his reports on Daryl’s behavior. He was driving Daryl completely crazy. The last straw came when I was trimming Daryl’s beard, and kept telling him not to talk so I wouldn’t slip with the scissors. R. walked up to the other side of the bed and hit, yes, HIT Daryl on the arm, hard, and yelled “Stop talking!” Daryl got pissed off, picked up a half full cup of coffee and threw it at the wall, and told ME to leave (Daryl takes out all his frustrations on me because I’m “safe”.) R. had the chutzpah to follow me out to the lobby, saying “See? That’s what he does!” After that I wouldn’t let him whisper his reports to me, or inject himself into our conversations, or shout through the phone at me. He got weepy, almost crying as he begged me to engage with him, but I wouldn’t. Yes, he ‘s a lonely guy—60 years old, and he never had a single visitor—but is that my problem? Fortunately, the social worker found a permanent residence for R.—I never found out WTF he was doing there to begin with—and he left. Daryl’s attitude and behavior since R. is gone has been a hundred percent improved. No more yelling or throwing things or telling me to go home. In fact he’s the perfect patient, despite wanting desperately to go home. Which might happen next week.
I was planning to write a lot more here, to catch up on the movies I’ve been seeing, podcasts listened to, friends old and new—as well as some of the more amusing residents of the Garden. Unfortunately, I’m already drained. This is what happens when a writer doesn’t write every day, or almost. Doris Lessing says she finds herself becoming “unbalanced” when she doesn’t write for a few days. This applies to me as well. Bad enough being unbalanced, but I bet Lessing doesn’t let her craziness show; but me, I’m talking to myself a mile a minute! Sure, most of us talk to ourselves once in awhile–but I’m a regular Chatty Cathy these days, and I’m doing it out in public. Without the outlet of the paper, or screen, words just come spilling out of my mouth. I don’t even realize I’m doing it until someone looks at me oddly on the street, and I get embarrassed. Or I’m in the supermarket, when suddenly someone swings their head towards me, thinking I’m talking to them. Unbalanced indeed! Finally, when I do try to write, I seem to undergo a certain level of fear. It’s like I get when approaching a new story, or unfamiliar territory. It’s as if I have to wade through the shallow end of the pool before I can get to the depths. Like starting over.
So here’s what I hope to do: I’m going to write a little bit every day, and post it if I think it will interest anyone. I know it will interest other writers—we all love hearing about each other’s process, especially how to work our way out of Writer’s Block. I‘ve frequently claimed I never, or rarely, have Writer’s Block—but what else is this? It’s just that the way I’ve heard it described, Writer’s Block usually comes out of nowhere and hangs around with no rhyme or reason. My blocks, if that’s what they are, have a root cause: lack of writing, usually of necessity. When my children were little I grabbed every scrap of time I could for writing, and I learned to be ready to roll the minute time became available. For a mother, Writer’s Block is just one more unaffordable luxury. Now I can afford it. But surely there are better ways to spend my time.