Sunday, June 29, 1997

Journal entry, post-op

6/29 Sun. I’ve been in Oakland with Neil since Friday when he was released from Highland after his surgery. Funny, on an impulse, I’d packed my bag that morning, somehow knowing I was to leave, when the phone rang, Neil asking me to care for him—out of the blue. I was not consciously expecting it, but I was nearly frantic with a desire to be with him.

Driving down to Oakland in his car alone was one of the hardest things I’ve attempted since the accident. I couldn’t put the car in reverse nor crank the wheel. I had no upper body strength where they sliced my right pectoral to insert the valve. And my left side was still useless.

Ortho put my arm in a sling, a brace on my wrist. Highland is a trauma center where the addicts, the homeless and those suffering from the fallout of violent crime land to either recuperate, or die. So different from Kaiser. Neil was lucky, a whole cadre of doctors rebuilt his face from the jaw up. But recovery is akin to reliving the pain of the accident. How much more pain can he endure? Not enough Vicodan to last until Thursday. I enjoy caring for him but too many visitors wears us both out. Friends and old girlfriends call—I can tell by the tone of his voice!

Today I fed him mashed yams thinned with broth, introducing food for the first time in 10 days. Ten days into the nightmare… I told him our lives are irrevocably altered, We can’t go back to who we were. Ever. We are like Siamese twins, joined at the psyche. Where does one of us end and the other begin?

Last night he felt too frisky for his own good, serenading me with his broken mouth, jabbering up a storm till all hours. Tonight he’s paying dearly for that excess. Deep exhaustion and pain. I check for fever, worried we’ve introduced too many new foods today. Smoothies too. But I also worry about his nutrition. He needs to knit bones.

Alison wanted me to stay at her house tonight, she’d stay with Neil. But I didn’t want to go. She’s afraid I’ll get burnt out. I appreciate her concern, but I sense a darkness, an irritation—territorial? Something doesn’t quite ring true. Determined, I fight to stay. I’m almost irrational with fear of leaving him—as if my very presence was keeping him alive.

Adele Foley took me shopping for healthy foods—a grueling 2 hour excursion. Shopping at Lucky’s is almost more than I can bear. I slipped on a lettuce leaf, and it took all I could muster to keep from falling, but the pain was so intense I nearly fell anyway.

I now have trouble reading fine print on the labels.( Do I have a concussion too? I took a good bang on my right temple. Neil’s elbow, I think. Reading’s hard in general, I can’t seem to make sense of the words. They either float about, or collectively lose their meaning. My cognitive skills rearranged.) Adele is my eyes. I am determined to get the best nutritional food possible for Neil. B vitamins, connective tissue, healing—all my previous study of biology and nutrition comes into play.

Everything in the 20th century seems to exhaust me: lights, noise, color, chrome, a riot of details all demanding my attention until I’m reeling....

Friday, June 27, 1997

Elemental Portraits

Here's a link to our debut performance in 1997. I was in a car accident on June 18th, so I never had my debut. A punctured lung precluded my participation at the events on June 28 and 29. We did perform a preview at the Friedman Center on Mother's Day. It was hotter than Hades. And it was a luncheon. Nothing like the clatter of silverware during a performance.

Wednesday, June 25, 1997

Joournal entry, viewing the car

6/25 Sinéad takes me to Highland Hospital (more like Calcutta without the sacred cows than the Highlands of Scotland) where they moved Neil to operate on his face. So depressing after Kaiser. He looks better every day. Just to be near him, I massage his feet. He sticks his toe into my boob. Feeling a bit better are we?

Yesterday we went to the wrecked car and took our things out, and to banish ghosts. (Blood over the car and my book of Scottish kings we were reading from when it happened. The other day, he drilled me on the dates of the kings, our first attempt at reclaiming our lives.

I couldn’t remember very much, I worry about his concussion, his spinal fluid’s quit leaking. In my Famine book, a list of Scottish kings on Kaiser memo paper—something he’d written down to wile away the hours. I nearly cried when I found it. I took his jacket home and washed the blood from it.

The car was in worse shape than I expected. I noted the bent steering wheel, the broken windshield and the missing rear-view mirror where Neil’s face made impact, the driver’s seat shoved forward from my body. The right fender utterly crushed, the doors buckled (they wouldn’t open after the accident—we had to crawl out the window). The engine dropped down like it was designed to do.)

After leaving Neil (who goes into surgery at 7 AM tomorrow), Sinéad and I went out for sushi in San Anselmo. Things are still pretty foggy. The baby’s pelvis was crushed by Myle’s truck, an accident while we were in LA with Barney O’Reilly, Jr. Dave was in an accident too. Dave takes me back to Verona’s for I ache so much I’m weeping, and I can’t stand the noise of the TV at Sinead’s. I have no reserves left whatsoever. I resort to a Percodan to relieve the pain. Weep uncontrollably in the hot tub.

It hurts to sit up and write. I’m still at Verona’s, dependent on Vicki and Sinéad. Vicki took me home to get clothes, pillows and videos on Fri. She had a Dr.’s appt. in Santa Rosa. I was exhausted from the ride north and the heat. I dozed in the car, in suspended time. The trees, and parking garage seems so surreal.

I visited my chiropractor. He said it looked pretty bad, my back was swollen too. Didn’t want to do anything for a while. Vro’s to come home today. I’ve been tending Herman who’s not so chipper, with a crushed lumbar vertebra.

I begin my mornings with Ibuprofen and a hot tub. My left knee and right ribcage hurt the most—especially my right kidney, where Niel’s knee caught me square on (which probably saved his life, keeping him from going through the window, though my lung was punctured in the process). I can barely walk or breathe. (Vicki and I check Herman into Novato Community Hospital for observation.) I’m afraid to be alone, and so push myself too much: I break out into adrenaline sweats and can’t stop shaking.

I can barely handle clothes on my body, more than half of it is bruised, mainly my left side. Huge hot hematomas on my thigh and upper arm. Feels like I broke something in my left hand. I can only sleep on my back (carefully), and every move is excruciating. Getting into and out of bed is an expedition. The hot tub is my only salvation.

I’m worried about scar tissue forming in my muscles and lung, so I try to do some exercise in the pool every day. Can’t use my left arm yet. My lung is bothering me. I miss two paid performances I was supposed to do with Kirk Whipple in Santa Rosa. I sound like a bellows, breathless, wheezy. No way I could read poems out loud—even sitting down. Peggy Maddock’s husband tells me it takes 6 months or more. I’m beginning to believe him.

6/26/ Alison called to say Neil came through the post-op fine, though it took longer than expected. I begin to weep. My stomach’s been in knots since 7 AM. I said a mantra for him over and over.

Sunday, June 22, 1997

Journal entry, back at Kaiser

6/22 Yesterday I went into the emergency room and I wound up spending the night in the hospital after two visits to ER for a collapsed lung. A nightmare of a day and a night. I knew the nurses and lab technicians by name by the time I got out of there.

After hours of fiascoes, being shunted around from ER triage nurse to Outpatient Clinic where the doctor went out to lunch during my appointment, and the receptionist told me to do the same, I flipped, with what little lung power I had, I began screaming obscenities, and hobbled back to ER nearly collapsing from pain and a lack of oxygen.

Back at ER, I was finally seen to, only after throwing a tantrum and weeping hysterically. The triage nurse I’d seen earlier, came to my rescue and said “Admit this woman.” After hours of waiting for ex-rays, the surgeon said, “Congratulations, you seem to know your body.”

Fuck You! How come no one listens to me here? I said I had internal bleeding when I was admitted, and again when they released me. I said something is terribly wrong: “When I turn my head to the left, I begin to lose consciousness.” Arrogant bastards can’t handle the concept of the patient self-diagnosing.

(I know plenty about medicine. They released Herman with a “strained back.” I was standing there when the doctor read the ex-ray; saw the cracked lumbar vertebra myself. Granted, I was wandering in and out of everyone’s examining rooms like a zombie, fighting to stay conscious, but I wasn’t about to lose sight of my “patients” for I was the one administering first aid, getting everyone out of the car, etc., before help came.

I watched them flush Verona’s eye cuts, stitch them up. I Insisted the doctor stitch up the gash on Neil’s nose, a three corner tear needing 8 stitches. They were more worried about the fractures in his skull, and rightly so, but meanwhile, I knew his face needed attention too. Since I was a patient, they couldn’t very well throw me out. There was no one to take me home. I was already released, but I couldn’t stand to be separated from them. Safety in numbers?

I gave the ambulance drivers hell too when they tried to separate us—especially when they were going to send Neil and Herman to Novato Community Hospital. I screamed legalities, Hippocratic oaths, saying that by law, Kaiser had to admit us all. Fuck the system. Neil’s life was endangered.

A mouthy, feisty patient from hell, I even unstrapped my head restraint to go fight them off, when they made to move Neil, but they assured me we would all go to Kaiser. (Was that really me?) Then I had to insist they take us via Novato, a ride down Lucas Valley Road would’ve killed us off for sure.

The ambulance didn’t have good shocks. Lord knows where I found the strength and resolve to stay on top of it like that. Everyone else had long since succumbed to their individual pain and retreated from ordinary consciousness. I was the consciousness of the group. Somebody had to be in charge.)

Puncturing the lung is an extraordinary pain. I’ve got a Heinlich valve in my lung, but it took a surgeon three attempts to insert it through my chest wall; I was screaming in agony. My chest wall is tough and thick, he couldn’t get between my ribs. I made him go through the procedure beforehand, explaining my body was not like other women’s: more muscle mass, denser bones, but he didn’t listen.

They wanted to release me from ER, when I was in such great pain I couldn’t even move. I was fighting off shock to the best of my ability. The doctor wouldn’t check me into the hospital, but kept me for observation. I was afraid of hemorrhaging, of dying the hall.

I call Neil on the house phone and begin weeping. He said, “Not to move, help is on its way. I’m sending the yoginis.” What’s a yogini? I wondered. The nurse said, “You have two visitors.” I said “I don’t know you,” to the two women from Neil’s ashram who handed me a coral rose. “From Neil,” they said. “A rose from the Gurumayi’s visit.”

I wasn’t sure who the Gurumayi was, but this wasn’t the time to ask as I was barely conscious and had to fight to get a pain killer. I can’t believe doctors would deny me pain medicine at a time like this! After the doctor bungled the insertion twice, trying to slip it between my ribs and poke it into the lung without having gone deep enough to make an incision into my lung. Barbaric! He had to slice me some more. I was traumatized, clinically speaking.

I told them I could handle Percodan but because it’s a controlled substance they didn’t want to give it to me. “It requires special paperwork,” the doctor said. So? Demerol’s out. As are most of the IV pain killers: I had projectile vomiting after knee surgery. Vicodan also makes me vomit, I can’t handle Tylenol. Codeine surely wasn’t going to work.

The pain was so great, I could hardly figure out how to breathe, let alone vomit. Each breath, the tube rubbed the pleural lining. More ex-rays. The tube, like a tiny coiled snake sleeping beneath my collarbone, the shadowed half-moon of the collapsed lung, like an eclipse.

The yoginis (tiny poodle-haired Jane Bark from the Isle of Barra, and a giantess with coal black hair named Laura—kindly, compassionate faces) wheeled me down the endless corridors to the hospital and into Neil’s room. I thought they were angels. I was in the hands of friends I didn’t even know, having to let go, too weak to stay in control.

(Looking back, I’m surprised by my incredible reserves of strength, rage, and functionality under extreme duress. I always knew I was strong, but not that strong! Superhuman strength and will was required of me again and again. Conversely, the physical pain was quick sapping my strength, my will to survive, weakening by the minute. I was letting go…)

Neil played some chants, we meditated as pain spasmed through my body. A steady stream of tears slipped down my face, I could only take in the tiniest sips of air. He said, “You’re in the best of hands now, you’re right where you need to be. With me.”

Maybe it was the Percodan, I was hallucinating, but I swear I had a transcendental experience: energy running up my spine. I had the thought as the energy radiated into a branched pattern up my spine, that the so-called “candelabra” etched in a sand dune in Nazca is really a map of the kundalini’s path. Earlier, as we meditated, the faces of gods drifted before me beginning with the Aztec gods ending with a pantheon of Hindu gods and I don’t even know their names.

Another image I’ve had was of the dream fragments sliding into place from last June. So, some of it was also to prepare me for this accident. I’d already told Neil he was to help me through a trying time when I was very frightened. (In one dream we were married, though, and I had fear… but the image was that he took me through and out of my fear—which was connected to him. This isn’t that dream, but it’s connected. Like a dress rehearsal.)

I’m released from the hospital after three long days and nights. I’m so weak, I mostly sleep. My pulse drops so low: 113/58, but they don’t seem worried. My fever breaks the 3rd night. They remove the valve next morning. Take more ex-rays. The lung puncture has sealed. It’s staying inflated. I’ll have a scar on my chest, like a knife wound. Everything hurts. They took Neil down to Oakland yesterday. I feel so desperately lost without him. Afraid to let him out of my sight.

Saturday, June 21, 1997

Journal entry, Solstice

6/21 Hard to believe this is the Solstice, we are so broken of body and psyche, that time itself has become meaningless. Verona’s clock continues to chime every quarter hour, dividing the tedium of 24 hours into four more meaningless segments, the bells are not on daylight savings time. Twelve bells at eleven, and one forlorn bell at midnight.

I don’t want to remember my dreams anymore, too much distress and gore. I’ve become obsessive about details as if they comprised the underpinnings of life. Writing is difficult, but I fear I’ll go mad soon if I don’t write. Concentration is an effort of sheer will. I’m still on adrenaline overload. My body suffering from the ultimate fight-or-flight experience.

(My lung is gurgling, I’m bleeding internally, and now, spontaneous sweats and fevers). I make an appointment with Kaiser. I reason, if I die while waiting, they’ll find my symptoms written in my journal. I’m really scared for I know I’m broken inside. Why wouldn’t the doctor listen to me? I’m becoming too tired to fight.

Thursday, June 19, 1997

Journal entry, Kaiser Hospital

6/19            Kaiser Hospital, Terra Linda. While Alison read to Neil from the book I got him for his birthday on Ulster, I burst into tears, like my previous outburst this morning, it was too much having to take care of Herman at home. I can’t breathe, have to pull myself up the stairs. 

Patrick called and I began to sob, clutching Neil’s pants to my chest, the odor of detergent suggesting the flowered meadows we might not have ever seen again. All I could think of was how close to death he had come, my waking vision of my wailing over his prone body was not so not far off the mark. 

As Alison read, I wept uncontrollably, couldn’t stop. She held me in her arms as she had held Neil earlier. Said “It’s OK, Let it all out. It’s post-traumatic stress syndrome.” I couldn’t shake the vision of how I was covered in his blood. “The red blood of a son of Ulster,” he said, raising my hand to his poor, swollen lips, attempting a gallant kiss from that poor broken mouth. I wept as I kissed his fingers in return, from the shock they were still mottled purple, little yellow islands of fat. Am I Lady MacBeth haunted by blood?

When I could do no more at the scene of the accident, I lay down at his feet right in the middle of the roadbed, and waited for the ambulance to arrive, afraid to take my eyes off him, for fear he’d lose consciousness and die. I remember the blueness of sky broken by eucalyptus leaves, thinking how the patterns of light the most important thing in the world. If I just focused on them hard enough, then he’d live. 

Many images: had I lain at his feet before, covered in his blood, in some battlefield in a past life? I’ve plenty of present life dejá vú, but rarely a past life “memory.” Not sure I even believe. The imagery of slaughter.

Wednesday, June 18, 1997

Still Your Birthday, After the Accident

Here it is, still your birthday, half-way through the nightmare, and I am still bathed in your blood, covering my thighs like rusted armor. Would you think it strange if I buried my head in your clothes, while you swam in Demerol, your face shattered like a teacup or a mirror—seven years bad luck for all of us? During that tedious ride to the hospital, I couldn’t see, couldn’t breathe, I focused on a spot on the ceiling of the ambulance. I tried to reach you, breathing in the light, but you were so deep in pain, consciousness was an effort—small moans and gasps, our only link. In the waiting room Alison sits by me as I slide in and out. Brings me hospital tea, we groan, what we’d do for a real cup of tea—even at a time like this! The small mercies of ritual sustains us. We study catscans, count the cracks in the fragile bone china surrounding your eyes, fragmented handles against the shadowed brain, as if counting facts would avert tragedy. Níl eagla gaothe, have no fear of the high winds…

I would drink the pain from the hollows of your skull if I could. I would raise up that chalice, offer communion, if I thought it could heal the breaks. I would smooth the seismic fractures with my body as sacrifice to the gods of the faultline, travel the coastline of your body home to the land of your birth on this 44th year of your life, if I could turn back the hands of time. For I’d dreamed the fragments of this day into being: I was helpless to avert it. My imagination gone wild seeing you lying there in the road, knowing that if you lay down, death would surely find you. What use is this dreaming? But when the time came, I was a warrior at the ready: I kneeled in front of you, becoming your bolster, so that you might breathe. Kept you conscious so that I might have a reason for living.

My heart beats broken wings against the ribcage, I cannot breathe, my lung has lost inspiration for the taste of air, but I struggle to write for fear I’ll go mad. The dozen roses I bought for your birthday, abandoned on the piano, become a bouquet for the wounded. I remove a single rose, for even numbered flowers are unlucky, they are for the dead. And on this day of your birth, you still breathe. Rusty salutations rise from my lips. Each labored breath brings me closer to the sun. Rose petals bleed on the doorstep. Still you breathe, I sob uncontrollably into your clothes. Coins jingling in your pockets like the bells of reprieve.

18 June, 1997 Novato



1. Dear Niáll, a chara,
For this day, roses will bloom,
pearls will swoon with nacreous intentions
and the solstice sun will linger
a little longer on the horizon
moving towards its zenith—
twinned night’s short breath in your ear.
And the sons of Uísna will once again walk
with Déirdre in their midst
for Niáll of the Nine Hostages,
and Niáll GlubDubh, your namesake,
the champions are with us still.

Níl eagla gaothe, have no fear of high winds…
For in the mirrored existence of creation
all things are repeated—from cells to souls,
of grace approaching paradise at the speed of light.
No terra nullis, but the birth of consciousness.
If love is a drowning in flood waters
then let me be the flood. Let me be the offshore winds…
I am come of Ireland’s rocky shore to find you.
You, a descendent of high kings,
were in a hurry to be born in time for tea,
it seems, circled Braveheart’s monument in utero,
but a traffic jam in Paisley returned you home,
and you arrived blue in the face,
tasting freedom in your first breath of air
in a bedroom on High Street, in Johnstone, Scotland,
your auntie Cathy holding you skyward for approval.
And all the roads rose up with you,
the wind was always at your back
to bear you to the hollows of this final shore.

Guncuíreach tú chupa tharís le slaínte agus sonas.
May your cup be always be overbrimming
this day and all the days of your lives
with the grace that is held deep within,
not in reserve, but in abundance.
Drink deep from it,
let it intoxicate you

JUNE 18, 1997

Journal entry, Neil's Birthday

6/18 Neil arrives late at Verona’s. I’m miffed at him for turning down my invite and accepting hers. What does that tell me? Herman tells me Neil wants poems for his birthday. I scribble something. He greets them but it’s quite some time before he says hello to me (but I am writing!).

They pour champagne, I try to put away my negative feelings and foreboding. I desperately want to put a stop on this day, stop time. I don’t want it to go forward. I’m uneasy in my skin. I don’t want to go to lunch with them. I’m the party-pooper, antisocial as hell.

Bad dreams this morning. The maja veil is over my mind: I can’t recall enough to know what it’s all about. I remember thinking that something really traumatic needed happen to bind us to each other. I stared idly at Neil’s picture when a vision came into my head. Something about an accident. Neil laying in the middle of the road. I chalk it up to aggression, I’m a bit pissed at him. Then felt guilty.

We drink a toast and get into their car. It was just broadsided in a hit-and-run. The fender squeaks. Neil hesitates, “Shall we go in my car?” he asks. Verona says, “No, no. Don’t be silly. It’s your birthday. I’ll drive.” Neil and I crawl into the back seat. I reach for my safety belt, it’s not all there. Neither is Neil’s. I figure, “Oh well!”

We thaw and begin to flirt. The champagne’s gone straight to my head. It’s like it was Easter—the tension's rising. It’s still there! I’m elated. We test each other on British kings, We know more that Verona, and she’s English!