Brushes with death!

The opening piece on the local 11 o'clock news was about a child's body, found inside a burned dumpster off Whyte Avenue (the only hip street in Edmonton). If it bleeds, it leads, I guess, although in this case there's not much bleeding to be done. What with the burning and all.

Once I got done gazing longingly at Olivia Cheng (decent writer, too), my eyes began to pick out familiar details of the surroundings. A brick wall, some big factory-style glass windows... wow, that looks a lot like that parking lot behind the Orange Hall off of Whyte.

Wait, that IS the parking lot behind the Orange Hall.

Wait: I was there on Saturday night. In that corner of the lot, too. I wasn't ten feet from that burned-out dumpster.

Holy shit.

Now, I can't remember if the dumpster was there or not when I was, or whether it was burned out at the time. But it's still disconcerting to realize that you may have set foot within spitting distance of somebody's remains, in the very recent past. I realize I shouldn't really be disconcerted by that - after all, I go to school next door to a hospital, which has been the deathplace of many a person - but I suppose it's the fact that this is such a gruesome site that gets me. Rarely, if ever, are patients in the hospital charred beyond recognition. (Look, it was one time, I was drunk, I was playing with the lighter near his oxygen tank... won't happen again, I promise.)


Speaking of Saturday night, I apparently drank myself into a delusional state. I could blame the fact that I decided to have ~9 beers after skipping dinner, but I prefer to blame the pint of Polish lager instead. You can't trust those crafty Poles; all that solidarity makes me think they've got something to hide. Like Communism! (Seriously: Zywiec is damn fine beer and I plan to have it again if I can find it.)

In my ritual post-blackout rundown, I asked somebody I remembered talking to if I'd inadvertently said something I needed to apologize for. Tally said, "Not really, but you talked a lot about techno and how there wasn't any good music in Edmonton, and then you said you were lonely." Sounds about right.

I may be an alcoholic, but I'm a charmingly depressive one, goddammit!


the ethics of dying

An acquaintance of mine took offense to a morbid comment I made on a mailing list. I wrote something in rebuttal to his angry reply. The argument leading up to this is unimportant, but I like how I've articulated the medical mindset, and reproduce it here:

I'm sorry if I gave the impression that I don't care about patients, because I do. I want them to live, and I want to do everything in my power to make that happen, and when it can't be done, I want them to be given the dignity they've been accustomed to their whole life. And even though I hate the thought of doing it, I need to be the one to tell them, clearly and as honestly, that they're going to die. Because, goddammit, somebody has to do it.

At this point, I've only had to give 'the talk' to hypothetical patients in role-playing situations, and it's heartrending even then. The worst part, from where I sit, is having to kill any hope the patient has, but it's far, far crueler to leave someone with a false hope that they will get better, than to give them the chance to prepare themselves and have as good and as peaceful a death as is possible. The whole thing is devastating for them, but that's why they teach us to do it as compassionately, as straightforwardly, and as honestly as possible.

Do most doctors crack bad jokes about everything in the business? Of course. But that's because it's the way most deal with the cold reality that, despite the fact that you've dedicated your life and career to saving other people's lives, and no matter how close your relationship with your patients becomes, eventually every single one of them will die and you won't be able to do anything about it. The futility of it all is enough to make anyone nihilistic, unless you keep a sense of humour about it. Morbid and twisted as that is, the alternative is staring mortality directly in the face, every day, for the rest of your life.

The conversation with a terminal patient, however, would involve none of that, because it's my responsibility and my privilege to help them face the end of their life with dignity. We ask them if they'd like a family member there for the diagnosis, because they'll see their family as their source of support and consolation. We explain carefully and straightforwardly what we found, and the implications of those findings, and make sure they understand. And we talk about getting them into palliative care, so they can be at home for as long as possible and be made comfortable and dignified until the end. And I'll spend as long as it takes for them to collect themselves and to let the news sink in, because I do give a shit that they're given the best care possible, if only because I want someone to do the same for me when my time comes.

An exercise in futility

This being my first experience with the blogging universe, I'm somewhat taken aback by the freedom offered by this space.

"I can post anything?"
"And people will read it?"
"Well then."

In any event, I feel a need to use this as an online journal of sorts. It's been a while since I've written anything, and this, hopefully, will shatter the 'ossification of the mental faculties.' Plus, I'm going on a wicked-awesome road trip this summer and plan to take along a lot of Vonnegut and drugs. If that ain't journal material, I really don't know what is.


Last night, I went to see a play with my friend Diana (and some guy that I apparently know named David). "Dialogue and Rebuttal" by Gao Xingjian, Nobel Laureate in Literature (2000). Part of me feels that I'm simply unable to fully experience a work of art centred in a cultural tradition I'm unfamiliar with, and part of me just wonders how this fucker won the Nobel Prize. The play is billed as a 'modern Zen drama,' which apparently divests it of the need for Western conventions such as 'a plot,' and 'characters.' (And, incidentally, 'clothing.' I've now had at least 300% of my recommended daily allowance of scrotum.)

The lines are spoken by 'Man,' and 'Woman,' who are more or less archetypes of their genders. If they were actual patients, I'd say he has antisocial personality disorder, and she histrionic PD; they're taking their genders to extremes, in other words. I see Gao's intention in having the audience's experience be one of reflecting their own lives in the words of the characters; in that sense, the first act works rather well. There's some nuggets of wisdom there. Unfortunately, the first act ends with a double homicide and the nuggets get stuck and turn into intellectual dingleberries, as the 'afterlife' becomes absolutely incomprehensible.

Death, apparently, consists of some crazy bitch yammering on about 'crumbling walls' and 'one crack! one crack!' before a Confucian monk opens a curtain to reveal an expanse of white nothingness. The play ended on that beautiful visual note, the characters silhouetted against the white void (nirvana?), but that's not enough to redeem my headache.

Di drags me to these things, and in her defense they're usually quite good: 'Lysistrata' was excellent, and 'A Midsummer Night's Dream' was an unbelievable production. Ironically (as everybody kept their clothes on), the latter was far sexier than 'Dialogue and Rebuttal.' Funny how nudity can be desexualized based on content. It's good, at any rate, to have a friend who will expose you to art beyond the photos of anorexic models in the lobbies of the shitty nightclubs that dot this town. We went for a drink with David afterwards: I told her I couldn't decide if she liked him or not, and she hit me and said she couldn't decide either. Heh.


In other news: I have purchased items of a consumer nature. Including some great Converse shoes for $40, and some workout gloves. Those'll come in handy at the gym; I've started lifting more often, and the callouses that are developing are a pain in the ass.

Today's workout:
Flat bench (10X3X105 lbs.)
Incline bench, machine (10X3X~100 lbs.)
Pec deck (10X3X105 lbs.)
Bicep curl (6X3X~50 lbs.)
Bicep hammers (10X3X20 lbs.)
Infraspinatus pulls (10X3X20 lbs.)
Subscapularis pulls (10X3X30 lbs.)

Add the 5K run I'm doing tonight, and I wonder why I'm going to sleep like a goddamn baby. Well, that and the staggering boredom from reading oncology notes all night.

I actually didn't mean to write this much, and I don't anticipate doing this daily: I do, however, want to see how this looks.

I made this blog

...for the sole purpose of posting comments on Sofi's blog. And, at the very least, to inform people of the horrors of Stevens-Johnson syndrome.