Tuesday, November 20, 2012

I Am a Bitch

The night before I went into the hospital Excy and I were in the communal dining room of the Mason House, a transplant patient house, having a take-out Italian meal with our friend Karen, who had flown in that afternoon to sit with Excy through the first surgery. We were trying to play catch-up, and also decompress from the stress of the last several weeks, as much as one can, anyway, while awaiting major surgery.

Karen flew in from upstate New York, where she and her husband had retired after a lifetime in Washington, DC. We met when she was my first boss at the magazine, and have grown close as sisters in the ensuing thirty-one years. She and Dan had bought and renovated an old house, making it into a wellness center where she offered her massage services and taught yoga. Yeah, she's awesome.

The first surgery was the scariest and most difficult one, and she had called and volunteered to be with Excy so he wouldn't be alone while waiting, which is the type of incredibly generous person she is. Anyway, we hadn't seen one another in five years, and because she had spent a few years getting licensed and the house/center in shape, we hadn't spent much time on the phone, either, so it was a rare and precious visit. She was flying home the evening of the surgery, and I knew I wouldn't be in great shape for more visiting that day.

We were engrossed in conversation, and I was savoring my few precious hours with her (as much as I could, frankly, considering how chaotic and freaked out my state of mind was), when I noticed a woman circling in on our corner table (I purposely chose one away from the mainstream). The woman was hovering, like people do when they mean to pounce into the conversation. Here comes trouble I thought, attempting to convey through body language that this was a private conversation and I didn't really care to make 'new friends' at the moment. People with no filter, however, are often oblivious to visual clues, though, and she continued to bull-doze over.

XXX didn't have an 'inside voice.' Seeing as how MH was available only to transplant patients and their companions, this question was just an opening gambit. And because I was the only one at the table with bandages on her arms and a cane propped against the table, it was an easy guess.
Sigh. Amy. Freak Magnet.

"Um. Yeah...hi...I'm here with my husband and friend. Who just flew in from New York...we haven't seen each other in years and I go in tomorrow...we are just catching up over dinner..." (She obviously couldn't relate to the obvious).

"Well. I had a kidney transplant almost a year ago, and am with my parents for a checkup." She then plopped a photo album I hadn't noticed on the table, pushing aside a salad plate. I glanced beseechingly towards her parents, who pretended not to notice, no doubt relieved  XXX had found new targets and allowing them a respite. "See? My hair was this color, and it has grown in to this color now...here I am in recovery, and here is a photo of my donor, who had been killed in a motorcycle accident..." She went on and on...

I tried to be interested. I tried to tell her this wasn't my first rodeo and she didn't need to delve into the details. My voice sounded flat and oddly familiar, and I realized I sounded like the boss in the movie Office Space; the drone who keeps asking in a bleak voice whether or not our hero had "seen the memo..."

Finally I had an epiphany. I didn't have to sit and let this windbag suck our evening away. I didn't have to smile and nod and pretend to listen to her rattle on with her life story and the fact she's writing a book about the experience. I wasn't obligated to be her captive audience. I'd never see her again. What did I care?

I hopped up. "Good luck to you. Come on, Karen, I need to go to the room." Karen and Excy, unfailingly polite, looked taken aback, but recovered quickly, and Karen followed me down the hall. Excy used the break to gather up the dishes and gently bring the soliloquy to a close.

Yeah. I can be a bitch. But I am unrepentant.  I've earned the right over the years, so it doesn't bother me much.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

The Reading Room

I like an eclectic reading list, and aside from a month post-surgery where I couldn't concentrate on anything longer and more taxing than a magazine article, I've been devouring books at a rate of one every two days. Some are sticking in my mind more than others and I thought I'd recommend them.

On top of 'bucket list' things to do before shuffling off this mortal coil, if I actually made a bucket list that is, is to go on an African safari (sans guns, of course).  Two books I loved that detailed this life and how guides live and interact with the wild animals around them have only served to whet my appetite. Don't Run Don't Look Behind You is hilarious and hard to put down. The guide writes of just starting out, learning to be a guide (think being thrown into the deep end of a pool with no instruction how to swim), and is now teaching in Africa on how to be a guide. Often funny and, on occasion, sad, particularly for people  like me who can't stand to see an animal suffer, is the occasional story of animal abuse or endangerment.  Fortunately, it doesn't occur in the book often.

The Elephant Whisperer, by the founder of the World Organization and former safari lodge owner Lawrence Anthony, is excellent and totally absorbing.  He wrote two other books, one about saving animals in the Bagdad zoo, and another that is coming out about rhinos. Think those are actually called The Bagdad Zoo, and The Last Rhino. You may know his name because when he died of a sudden heart attack this spring, his rescued elephant herd walked more than 12 miles out of the bush to hang around his house for two days and pay their respects. They showed up within hours of his death, and his family was baffled as to how they just 'knew.' Go to YouTube or Google him.

The Few, by Alex Kershaw, is the true account of seven American pilots who snuck into Canada and then sailed to England under false identities  to fight with the RAF (Royal Air Force) against the Nazis in the Battle of Britain, a year before America was drawn into WWII. Eventually there were almost 30 Americans flying with the RAF. But of these seven, only one survived and returned to America. And their American citizenship, which had been revoked, wasn't reinstated until the '80s, which was crummy. They would have been jailed had they been caught while leaving America to fly for the RAF. Most of them saw the writing on the wall as far as war went, but they also were aviation obsessed and just wanted to fly the fast planes.

You might like to read the newest Chicken Soup for the Soul: The Power of Positive. It has some great stories. My essay on living with vHL is on page 335. If you aren't up to buying the book, read  it at the bookshop!

One book that is on the NY Times list and getting tons of publicity, is Gone, Girl. I really enjoyed it --right up until the final chapter, and then it really bombed. I cannot believe the editors didn't mind the huge gaping holes in the plot that made it fall short for me. If anyone has read it please let me know whether you had a problem with the ending as well.