Friday, July 31, 2009

Reading my dad's medical chart

Last weekend, I was talking with my aunt Deverle (my dad's older sister) and ended up on the subject of my dad's medical records, which were filed at the University of Minnesota hospital and recently changed to Fairview Medical, where Dee used to work as a dietitian. Dee sent an email to someone at Fairview on Sunday evening. Early Monday morning we had an email back with contact names and numbers. So I rang and spoke with an exceptionally kind and helpful woman named Anne, who had his chart on her desk the following morning with an email-scanned signature release from my mom. Anne set up an appointment with us so she could explain the chart and answer questions. About nine years ago (when I was living here last), I'd contacted the University of Minnesota, but they were so unhelpful and put out that I'd sort of given up the idea of looking at them.

So Thursday morning we made our way through road and building construction to the Release of Information office where we met Anne. She set us at a little table and brought my dad's chart. It was small. Only a little over an inch thick. I expected more. But then he was only there for two weeks.

The first page was his admission sheet. Three blue ball point signatures of Keith L. Schultz, all carefully written. He'd forgotten the L. on one of them, and added it afterward. I felt the signatures. Weird that my dad actually wrote them.

The only time I cried was when I saw the next page:
Admission: 10-20-83
Discharge: 11-2-83 expired (handwritten)
I can't imagine he would've thought he'd never be going home when he checked into the hospital.

The autopsy report was next. I felt strange reading his autopsy report, like I was sneaking in his underwear drawer. It basically said the leukemia had infiltrated much of organs. It was hopeless.

It was like I'd read the ending of the book first because next were the doctors' and nurses' notes starting from the beginning. The doctors' notes were detached. The nurses' real. They were concerned that he was numb to his situation at first (who wouldn't be) but after a few days started to talk more about what was happening. What do you say? "This was a crappy deal."

What he did say was:
"I'm doing 100% better." (After he was in the hospital a few days.)
"I didn't know I'd get so sick. It was like a torpedo." (He threw up from the drugs.)
"The doctors told me to eat like a pig, so I'm doing the best I can."
"I wish I hadn't lived so much for the future." (When things got worse a few days later)

On November 2nd at 4:30AM, he'd called the nurses in and had lost all vision in his left eye but was initially completely coherent. The nurse told my mom he asked, "Where are my girls?" The nurse asked him, "Keith, where are your girls?" He said, "They're at my sister's house." Then he went into a coma- he'd had brain hemorrhages. When I was reading it, I felt so bad for him- he must have been so scared. Later that day he was taken off life support and died. Age 34. Wife of ten years. Three girls: ages 7, 4, 7 months.

My aunt Dee told me, "I used to go to third floor (where he died) and just stand there and think 'I can't believe that happened'." She was working on her master's at the time. She also said, "Your mom had called me whispering, (before he was diagnosed) 'He has 64 bruises on his legs. That's just what I can see'" My dad was sleeping. What they all went through, I can't imagine.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Jim, Al, Larry, and Sara ("I'm not makin' this up either")

Scene: In front of a large commercial window sits a camel leather couch across from two olive green velvet chairs. Two small tables stand between the couch and chairs. Outside the sky is grey and trees are half bent over in the wind. Storm appears emminent though hardy Minnesotan Starbucks patrons are sitting outside on the black metal tables and chairs.

Location: Edina, Minnesota. Galleria shopping mall Starbucks. The foo-foo area of town.

Characters: All have thick accents except Sara who is just eavesdropping and scribbling it all into her journal.
Sara: Of the inspired adventurer blog. Blondish female wearing black cotton dress, black sandals, orange fleece and carrying canvas bag with Portland written on the side in green.
Larry: Square-faced, slight, 45ish year old brown-haired man with baggy blue jeans, polo shirt tucked in, belt, wire glasses and solid black geriatric lace-up walking shoes.
Jim: Square-faced, slight, 55ish year old, wavy silver-haired man with khaki chino shorts, polo shirt tucked in, belt, wire glasses and solid white geriatric lace-up walking shoes.
Al: Square-faced, slight, 65ish year old silver-haired man with khaki chinos, polo shirt tucked in, belt, wire glasses and solid white geriatric lace up walking shoes.

[Larry seated to the left of Jim on the leather couch. Sara directly across from Larry with head buried in journal and Travels with Charley book. Al seated in velvet chair to her right.]

Larry: (To Al) I had a couple tips for you and your antifreeze problem. Your pseudoantifreeze problem. I'll save that for later.

(Greetings all around.)

Jim: Say, Larry, I don't mean to offend you or anything, but are you actually singing tonight?

Larry: Ya, sure am.

Jim: Larry. Very impressive.

Larry: Thank you.

Jim: Do you play any Simon & Garfunkel? I have one of their albums. I think it's called Concert in Central Park.

Larry: No, I don't really like that too much. Never did. I like the Doors.

(Mild-mannered debate ensues around the Doors and Simon & Garfunkel. I personally prefer Simon & Garfunkel along with Jim and Al, but keep that to myself even though I'd like to share. I'm enjoying my eavesdropping too much.)

Al: Do you read the New York Times? Maureen Dowd wrote [something] I think your wife would like to read.

Jim: I'm not sure that Leslie would know who Maureen Dowd is. Maybe I'm selling her short though. I have to go now- Leslie'll be wondering where I am.

[Jim stands up to leave.]

Jim: Think I'll stop over at Barnes and Noble for five minutes. Five minutes. Ya.

(Goodbyes all around.)

Larry: Say Al, you can have your engine oil analysed and it will tell you if you have head gasket problems. If antifreeze shows up in your oil, then you have a head gasket problem. That test just costs twenty-two bucks...

Friday, July 24, 2009

Spy on the Wall

That's me. Not a fly. A spy.

I'm drifting from house to house, state to state, quietly spying on my relatives- in broad daylight, on their couches, in their cars, at their friend's houses. Okay, I'm not sure if it counts as spying since everyone can see that I am there and I am watching with my spy eyes.

Since my travels in Asia, I have acquired a new ability to sit peacefully and watch people or just wait patiently to see what happens next. As someone who formerly could not be duct-taped in place for longer than five minutes, this is a truly enjoyable new skill. It's like being a kid again.

I've gotten insight into my relatives' lives, learning about cutting watermelons, daily walks, nursing newborns- I could go on. The opportunities for learning are endless. Deciding what I might implement into my life when I settle down again as I quietly observe has been just as worthy as the months I spent traveling the globe.

Thank you all who have welcomed me into your lives, couches, spare bedrooms, tea parties these last two months. I have truly been inspired in all sorts of ways.

Thursday, July 23, 2009


Today's Star Tribune (7/23/09) featured an article on Manscaping, the removal of male body hair, something which is becoming more and more common. Studies show no difference in hair removal incidence between the gay and straight male populations. I've experienced this to a degree in many of my past boyfriends (if that is not too old-fashioned of a word). Prickly legs on a man are not a turn on. Even if you think you are some sort of cycling God. I have the same sentiments for prickly chest hair.

This hair removal obsession used to be uniquely the women’s arena and now it's bleeding into the male population. Unsurprisingly, most of this manscaping is being driven by the advertising industry. When there is money to be made, someone will be happy to point out your flaws and show you where to buy the product to fix them.

Is it this the androgynization of the sexes?

What is wrong with men being men? Body hair, five o’clock shadows, deep voices. It means they have testosterone. Which I think is necessary for reproduction, so it would seem that women would find it fine and attractive for a man to be a man. Unless we are talking back hair, then I give you permission to visit your waxer. But if then again, if you don’t care, I don’t care.

Please men, don’t fall into this whole trap that women have with body hair removal. What’s next? Manscara? It’s a slippery slope.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Next stop on the world tour: Minot Reunion Land

Last Friday, I wandered into the fifty year class reunion for Bishop Ryan, where I went to high school. Normally I would not partake in such an event, as I wouldn't be likely to shed a tear if the school happened to burn down.

However, I had one friend (Amy Grosche) who I really wanted to see who I thought would be there, since she'd been conned into organising it. I'd told her long ago that I had no idea where I'd be come reunion time. I think I was in New Zealand at the time we spoke, so it was not a lie.

Friday night I was out with my mom and friends listening to live bluegrass in downtown Minot. After one glass of red wine, (yes, that is enough to get me to do crazy things) I decided that I'd just wander over to the reunion and see if I could find Amy.

I drove my mom's black Buick to the bar, pulled into the showtime (read: outside the front door) parking spot and stumbled into the bar. Looking around the room, I saw no one I really recognised. I saw no one who I wanted to recognise. I actually just wanted to return to the bluegrass bar. But I told myself I would make an effort to find Amy, so I waded through the crowd of ex-jocks, seeking her out.

After one pass through, I didn't find her and thought I would leave. I walked out the back door and then decided I should really give it one more shot, and besides, my car was out the other door. So I retraced my steps and looked around.

No go.

I was about to leave when I decided I should really say hi to at least one person (just to prove I was there) so I did and suddenly appeared Amy. She'd thought that it couldn't be me, since I was still supposed to be in New Zealand. We sat down and chatted. I met her husband. We made plans to meet again before I leave.

So I accomplished my goal for the night. And now I never have to go to another high school reunion event. Checked that off my life's list.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Audi Jo

Last May (2008), my Aunt Audrey lost her other half, my uncle Jim, my mom’s oldest brother. I can’t imagine what it’s like to lose someone after spending so many years together, making a life. I tried to think what it would be like to return to Minot and see Audrey without Jim. I had no idea.

Most days, my mom and I stop over and bring the paper and see what’s new in Audrey’s house. Since I’ve returned, she’s had the basement of her house remodeled and repaired after water leaked in this spring. She’s had the trees sprayed for aphids, the shrubs trimmed, and cleaned up Jim’s beloved peonies.

For the 4th of July, the three of us piled into my mom’s car and headed to the cabin. Beforehand Audrey and I made a batch of her chocolate covered peanut cracker sandwiches, sprinkling them with red, white and blue stars for the holidays. Snickering as we whispered over the chocolate while my mom was on the phone, I knew I was hanging out with a kindred spirit and this was something special.

People move in and out of our lives at times. It is the way of life. I’m sad that my Uncle Jim is no longer here in body, but I know he is here in some way. What I really am is truly amazed and proud of my Aunt Audrey who is working hard and showing me again just how strong women can be in the face of diversity.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Just Me and My Mom

When I was a kid, one of my favorite books was Mercer Mayer's Just Me and My Dad, a book about a camping trip with multiple mishaps, which I couldn't read without peeing my pants in laughter. A few days ago, I had an experience of my own to parallel the book.

For the Fourth of July, my mom and I picked up my aunt Audrey and headed for the lake cabin in Bemidji to hang out with the other rellies. My mom's still healing up a broken left leg, so we have to take things easy.

The second day at the cabin, we headed out in the morning to go canoeing, which we decided would be okay since it's the arms that are most important.

Down the lumpy hill (holes and tree branches), my mom held my arm as we neared the red canoe that we'd taken out many times in the past. I was assessing the situation of seating with great anality, trying to figure the best seat for my mom. We decided the back seat since that was the one closest to the lake.

My mom got in the back seat. I pushed the canoe towards the water, but my brute strength didn't budge the canoe. (Perhaps the three feet of canoe in the water wasn't enough?) The canoe seemed to be tilting left a little, so I tried to hold the canoe steady and push again but next thing I knew, the canoe was going sideways and I poured my mom out onto the dirt and grass. She was half in and half out of the canoe, facing headfirst downhill, while the canoe was filling with water at the lower part, which was in the lake.

I tried to help. "Mom! Can you get your legs out of the canoe?" I laughed, falling down a little myself. It's slightly difficult to help when you're weak from laughing. I hoped no one was looking from the cabin. They would think we were idiots! I laid down on the ground a bit, difficulty breathing from the laughing. "I'm not laughing at you!" Gasp. Gasp.

We got my mom's legs out of the canoe and helped her to stand from the precarious position of downhill muddy footing. I had to rebank the canoe and tip it over a twice before I removed enough water for us to make a second attempt at embarking on the peaceful morning ride. The second time, we were off and managed over an hour on the lake before returning to shore with no stories to tell that time.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

North Dakota

Most of my trips home are a quick turnaround, rush in and out and back to my life of frenzy, wherever that may be. But this time I'm not on a schedule, which is exactly how you should visit North Dakota. It's a state which beckons contemplation, peacefulness and slowing down. Perfect for me while I'm in a transition phase of life, trying not to make a hasty decision about my future.

Perhaps all Americans should be visiting North Dakota. It's where neighbours who are staunch republicans can be friends with those who are bleeding heart liberals (my mom), where people greet you and thank you and mean it, where people hold the door for another entering or exiting. It's the small things.

I could say there is nothing to do here. It's too quiet. There's too much sky. Not enough trees or mountains. But those are all the things I love. I stood on my mom's front porch this evening, watching the sunset for the second night in a row, the city of Minot lying beneath it in a valley bowl. And I thought, this is something special. I know why my mom came back.