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ONE SIDEDObservations On living with the aftermath of stroke and other unrelated topics
By P. Francis Quinn
AuthorHouseCopyright © 2012 P. Francis Quinn
All right reserved.
Chapter OneTHE OPPOSITE OF ME
Who is this stumbling, bumbling curmudgeon? I have become?
Who is this volunteer cynic, this diviner of all good judgments?
Nature has held me down but not held me back.
Who is this overweight slob, this slow-motion sidewalk Acrobat, who
shuffles along at no miles per hour?
Who is this used-to-be athlete with a fresh buffet of aches and pains
who can no longer scramble madly up the hill and pass up the
slower poke riders? This much I know: He is now one of them.
Who declared this confused Socrates the guardian of all wisdom?
who longs for the swaddling comfort of a dry sleeping bag and
a tent to bottle our scent of a daylong ride on a country road
where farting is anonymous and peeing in a cornfield the
Which of these unlucky, stinking cattle I see will boast of their
corn fed credentials, unaware of how this plant was fertilized
on a hot July afternoon in 2005?
This sit-at-home lazy ass is a finger shadow of his former self.
He is entertained while he walks by watching his ghost always
fifty feet ahead and scurrying in a Type A rush he only now
experiences in his haunting dreams
He longs to be swirled up in a tornado of busyness.
He longs to be asked for consult on the intricacies of slamming
He longs to be overloaded with questions that exceed his answers.
a paycheck every two weeks would be fine, too.
Who is this opposite of me with whom I have come to live?
THE OPPOSITE OF ME—SEQUEL
There are so many things that have changed in my life I am barely a memory of my former self. I would rise at 5 a.m. every morning and be gone on an aggressive exercise routine on my bike by 5:30 a.m. 1 hour and fifteen miles later, I was finished with my ride and my shower, picking out my tie to match the starched shirt and suit I had chosen for the day.
If running late. I could skip or jog out to the car. I would pull into my parking space at the office and soon have my computer opened up to the point I left it the previous night. Perhaps I had minutes of a meeting to dictate for my secretary's, transcription. I would quickly walk to the cafeteria for my first of several cups of coffee.
These things like walking quickly and performing all actions independently are my used-to-be-life. I now need help setting off on my bicycle and ride so slowly that I would be late for work if I attempted my previous regimen. My secretary now often brings me coffee, an expectation I never imposed upon her before. I often receive an offer of assistance when donning my jacket-and I often accept.
These things are not life-ending, but they are the opposite of the me I had practiced to be.
WE ARE ALL SNOWFLAKES
As if by a burglar bold I have been robbed of my athleticism, and my job and sentenced to spend my purgatory, adrift on this barely bobbing buoy. My ability to multi-task, my opportunity to manage large departments has vaporized, largely due to the cunning and bias of the vermin above me. My ability to type swiftly with two hands is gone, like a cloud that has simply passed. A two-wheeled bicycle is now out of my reach as gravity constantly draws my left side to the ground without resistance. My three-wheeled bike, my greatest compromise, is the passport to the hills I so enjoy conquering-a barely acceptable respite from the tossing sea. I want the thief caught. I want justice. I want to hurt the lusty thief who lured me into this trap ... I want my balance and my left hand back; I curse the rubber band feel of my leg and the days I spend not in work. This theft of my world was committed by an unknown Jezebel flaunting her power over me. I waited, at first, as I wait for a letter to arrive—an hour, then two, then a day, two, a week, a month, the days blend together. I wait for the-return of my wholeness as I wait for my letter carrier. Two months go by, I am still no closer to work or home. My bed remains alarmed, if I attempt to cheat the nurse with my impulsive derring-do and find my own way to the bathroom a blaring siren sounds and astounds my roommates. They gather in bloodthirsty, NASCAR-esque curiosity to watch the crash. I do not disappoint them. But dare I leave my bed, for fear this delivery person will return with my package of left handedness while I'm gone?
My boss insists she must know when I will return. She is not the lusty thief, but just a human. The doctors are no help. "Everyone is different, you know—like snowflakes." My doctor insists she can't predict my release. My boss explains that she can't wait and must hire a replacement. My job is gone now and I am left alone with this illness. Damn this one sided life. What does anyone—even the lusty thief—know? She must envision herself a mysterious, desirable mermaid afloat in these waters. She has gotten away with it. The irrationality of falling down on every attempt to walk is like trying to grasp an armful of water or digging a hole in this sea. Everything is falling down: the pencil in my hand, the cane at my side, and now my job.
I want you, thief. Show your face you measly vermin
Stop teasing me. Go find a new host. You are nothing but a courier of something lost ... Now be done and be gone. You've worn out your welcome. Your days with me are numbered. I will now accept Normalcy as your replacement.
THE ABSENCE OF PRESENCE
There is no rapture in this state. This is the pits. Having a stroke is waving goodbye to your former self-whoever that was. It is a daily grind of "not quite being there." The you that was there is gone and can't be conjured up no matter how hard you concentrate. Your acuity, your lightning fast mind is absent. Your adroit handling of matters is a thing of the past. You scream inside for someone to be blunt and honest with you but you soon learn that's not part of the protocol. The protocol only allows for the continued impossible fantasies of Normalcy and a vague unbudging belief that this state is a passing thing.
You scream for someone to help you out of the hole. No one answers except with paternal reassurances that are closer to condescension than the kick in the pants you need.
Imagine for a moment the frustration of not being able to explain to someone that you understand and can fix a problem. But like pushing a car in the snow you just can't get it out in words as if your brain is constipated
If this impotent feeling was only about solving problems it might feel manageable but you encounter this inability to align your ghosts at every turn. Like a silent fart that dominates a room its miserable presence inhabits every nook and cranny of your life. It will remind you of its stinking being on every task from zipping up to tying to writing or typing-it is there-ever present but not quite "a thing." Rather, the absence of a thing.
This absence is the M. I. A.-ness of all that we take for granted. Simple tasks inculcated in us from our youth become insurmountable snow banks of frustration.
JUST DO IT, IF YOU CAN
My father always warned me never to stand in a boat. The bottom will shift before you know what's happened Walking was falling for me until "I got my sea legs."—a, continuous tipping forward, saved by a lurching leg as a kickstand saves a falling bike and keeps it from tipping over. I constantly compare my progress to that of my grandson of five years, who moves faster than I ever hope to again. He senses, I know, my inability to hug him with two arms. His cuddles come from grandma, but I know he knows I mean well.
Swimming is drowning as the oft-clichéd one-finned, fish, which swims an eternal circle. Even at that, I envy its ability to stay afloat. Even treading water demands the interplay of four appendages. I have been gypped of two and so avoid the water altogether keeping one eye on the lurking shark, waiting for food scraps, and perhaps me for lunch.
Mounting a snow bank is fodder for America's Funniest Home Video. I may as well try Mount Everest: or climb an ocean's wave. Slipping feet portend a coming crash like leaning over the side of this boat for a pier that is almost within reach
Showering in a strange place is a chancy adventure—ever sure of foot is not my staple. Hotel rooms are like Christmas morning. The prize is unknown until it is unwrapped upon my arrival
Cooking is a hazard of life,—a mystical transfiguration of ingredients. What to do with a pot of boiling water? It rocks back and forth with the motions of this boat The potatoes feel soft to the fork tines. But there will be no dinner if I only lift half the pot. Like ringing half the bell. A scalding crash, another shouted curse. Dinner is over before it's begun. Aahh!! I wonder ... A recipe book for one-handed cookers! Could there be a market?
The weather man says snow today. What's a boat owner to do? but then, between me and this boat, I wonder, who owns who? Another lesson in Statics is coming (an eccentrically loaded shovel with my wrist as the fulcrum) the seats are almost clear and dry for sitting. Feet bearing simply supported on slick icy concrete. Every surface is sloped to trick me as my bed alarm. Cantilevered aching back, random stacking of scooped snow, the architectonic creatures at the microscopic level locks them together and keeps them from slumping and sliding back to the walk. Isotropic icicles for my grandson to suckle and crunch in his new teeth. But, alas, form emerges as Connor plops down, butt-first, and makes an angel in the snow.
Dressing is Tarzan's next great challenge. When left or right is gone. The confusion of left and right makes a bad start to every day. Many times my left leg has found its way to the right leg of my pants. Standing in this boat to feed one leg into my pants brings back my father's warning. And that useless opening on the front of my shorts diminishes even further in value when in the back. Donning a shirt is a demonstration of magic, doing it correctly is a demonstration of luck. I have not tied a tie in five years, nor a shoelace. Why would I dress for the coming clouds and blowing wind? What luck! I declare, when Famous Footwear has Velcro shoes or begins to sell elastic shoelaces that self tighten. Or I find zipper ties at the local store.
Damn, the loss. Damn the Delta: the difference between what I had and what I have, the simple things stolen out from under my feet. Damn damn damn it all.
Overall, I am stupid about disability for all the design work I have done. For all the codes I have read and obeyed until I embraced disability in my own arms I never saw my sister, Peggy. She and I now share the same type of orthotic device—this clunky fiberglass thing Velcro-strapped to our feet that makes it possible for us to walk using an interplay of mechanics, that is at once simple and complex. for us, it was always a field trip to see Peggy and madly readjust her hospital bed. We knew she'd be home soon—skipping and running on her crutches with her monster plaster cast that made her different from us all the while never understanding polio as I never understood stroke.
SAINTS AND SINNERS
This essay was Published in the Faces of Stroke series on its website by the National Stroke Association
I cannot slip beneath the waves until I give my burdened wife one more "thank you". When my self passed five years past, the paramedics kidded along with me, as they gurneyed me down the steps having answered all the questions, still shivering from having wet myself that day. As I lay on the floor. I could only tell my wife. "I'm sorry." I lay there, guilty as any Christian fed to the lion and later listened to the wailing and rackety tack of the ambulance as it sped to the hospital and I could only think to apologize for all the changes I knew this would bring to our lives. I was already carrying the burden of Catholic guilt for not consulting before collapsing. She is the saint. I would be the sinner. I had had the day to consider the theft of my leftyness, the end of my architectness, I knew, somehow already, a farewell to my job was bobbing on the horizon.
I was righter than I have ever been, as I left home, shoved off in my dinghy for this endless poky drift across an ocean.
Sainted, too, are the therapists and doctors and their endless pushing-Linda, Cassandra, Colleen, Kari 1, Kari2, Kathy, Mo(Larry and Curly, just kidding), Jay, Evan, Josie, Joyce, Cheryl, Val, Ryan, Rebecca, Krista, Gail, and others whose names I have forgotten. For all the stretching, waking and reminders ad nauseum of "proximal first, distal next." I heard about sublexation and spasticity till blue in the face. I stretched till it hurt for two and three hours a day. The strange thing of it was that they never gave up. Then one day, I straightened out my left leg, stood and walked across the room with a white knuckle grip on a cane. It was the home run of my life. Several months later, I would watch my grandson, win his own ball game and take his first precarious steps. As he slowly learned to run across the hardwood floor with his Nike-clad feet slapping happily in triumph I cheered for reasons unknown to him. Someday we'll explain it.
Let me not forget my sons who have appeared magically when the snow falls or the door breaks or my wife and I hatch a plan for the next house project.
I also need to deliver a thank you to the ubiquitous and anonymous strangers, who always seem to appear when I'm struggling to find the sleeve of my coat or cross a street, open a door, or float across the ice. This experience has been a lesson in giving and receiving. I have never yet been in a situation when I needed help and there wasn't someone murmuring, "You look like you could use some help here." I have done my best to thank them on the spot, especially the kids who aren't always cognizant of the true value of a helping hand-as I too have had to learn.
Our neighbors who have shoveled or helped us recycle or sent over cookies have all received their halos here on earth. They are testimony to the kindness that bursts forth from nowhere and runs like an ocean trade current.
AND THEN THERE IS LIFE
The stinging salty spray of disgust with my life does not detract from my survival. I wonder at times if this is all real or another mirage on this choppy desert of saltwater.
The noise and whining birthday party children distract us from the daily grind and glacial progress and remind us that Connor is here. Wonderful Connor. A growing, screaming smarter-than-us next generation of Quinn. Amid the rubble of presents and relatives and little buddies' smiles as common as amazement at new toys. I can see through the fog perched over this ocean to the day when I will be an old man with grandchildren littered around me, hiding my cane, waking me up, learning my name (Poppy).
"Why do you have that thing Poppy"? "Why do you wear that thing on your foot, Poppy"? "What's wrong with your hand Poppy"? "Poppy, can you help me fix this?" "Poppy, why are you old?
Life is all around me and I give you now the bad news: I will be here till I'm 100 years old. I invite you all to my party on August 17, 2049
Excerpted from ONE SIDED by P. Francis Quinn Copyright © 2012 by P. Francis Quinn. Excerpted by permission of AuthorHouse. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents
This Little Boat Of Mine....................xiii
A Funny Thing Happened....................xix
The Opposite Of Me....................3
The Opposite Of Me—Sequel....................5
We Are All Snowflakes....................7
The Absence Of Presence....................9
Just Do It, If You Can....................11
Saints And Sinners....................15
And Then There Is Life....................17
Wrong Handed And Off-Balance....................19
People Of The Sea....................25
The Manicure Dilemma....................27
Suicide, If I Could Only Live With The Regret....................29
Left Side Neglect....................31
Everything's An Opportunity....................37
One Lucky Man....................39
The Fruit Drink Axis Of Evil....................41
People Is Funny....................43
Et Tu Velcro....................45
Past Perfect Tents....................47
Leaving Baggage Behind....................49
Gadgets For Independence....................51
Some Final Words About The Bike....................55
The Purpose Of A Stroke....................57
Follow The Way-I'll Lead You....................73
Transparency And The Vanity Mirror....................75
Dark Matter Meteor Creates Invisible Catastrophe In Downtown St. Paul....................81
The Passion For Passion....................83
The Grand Irony Of Equity....................85