Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Unraveling, remembering...

My dearest Nora, wherever thou mayst roam,

It seems impossible that some of the most significant and defining moments of my early adulthood were taking place at this very time ten years ago. My first love had just casually waltzed into the picture...for an accurate description of how I see that in retrospect, please give a listen to Nat King Cole's "Orange Coloured Sky." The Beatles had just recently become a huge chunk of my musical diet, and at the time, the early years were my preference. Christmas that year, when I received Sgt. Pepper, Revolver, and Abbey Road as gifts, my stance was forever changed. I can still recall how it felt to hear "For No One" and "And Your Bird Can Sing" for the first time that beautiful morning. Oh, my, and "Eleanor Rigby!" Revolver blew me clean out of my britches. Also that Christmas, I was the enthusiastic recipient of a grey cardigan sweater, which was to become my trademark sweater for the duration of my high school experience. My best friend at the time lived right next door, and it was his younger sister who had introduced me to my first love. She went to visit my neighbour that day and we watched a little of Yellow Submarine, which Lil Sister had received from Best Friend. LS made a hasty exit, citing a craving for some left-over turkey, and Girlfriend and I wasted no time immediately engaging in frantic osculation. Later, the two of us, during the golden hour, sat together under a tree in the yard, each with rosy cheeks, twinkling eyes, and pounding hearts. Merry Christmas.

A year later, the relationship had been over for a month, having been brought to its demise by my depression and insecurity, for which I sought treatment. Yet again, the nice, crisp December weather would blow in a beautiful set of ingredients from which life-long memories were made. Coffee shops, jazz musicians, a homeless man, a new girlfriend, antique typewriters, Jack Kerouac..."On the Road" changed my life. This whirlwind of excitement was over in six months. Got dumped after a month, coffee shop closed just after graduation, homeless man disappeared (never to be heard from or of again), typewriters took up space...but ol' Kerouac, he stuck around. Matter of fact, Jackie-boy saw me through my political and spiritual transformation and growth, and introduced to me, together with George Harrison, eastern religions from which I've gleaned an incredible amount of joy and countless hours of imaginative contemplation. Tea. I discovered tea, thanks to "The Dharma Bums," and haven't let it go since.

The next several years of my life, during which time you entered and subsequently exited, were filled with weekends of excess...too much to drink, too many cigarettes. Not an incredibly unhappy period, but none of this will make the highlight reel. Things began to look up again in 2005.

I was promoted at the job I'd taken on and it looked as though a career in IT was my calling. It seemed a natural fit, having always been given to technological wizardry, if you will (and I think you might). However, this was not to be, and the project I was a part of had been abandoned. Once again, "What next?" was on my mind and I turned to foreign film for an escape. Quite naturally, I decided to become a filmmaker.

Best Friend/Drinking Buddy got swept up in my passion and, using his father's Hi-8 camcorder, we suited up, slapped a tablecloth on a card table, and started acting out a mobster tale. Later, I'd saved enough for a miniDV camcorder with all sorts of knobs and levers and I began writing short films about spiritual happenings, especially awakenings. Never could reliable "actors" hit upon my projects, and around the time of my 24th birthday, I hung the filmmaking idea up indefinitely.

...I had met a woman, someone with whom I was sure I'd be spending the rest of my days. I went back to college, having a mind to become an architect, but was soon put off of that when I found that most do commercial work instead of residential. The housing market crisis gleefully hammered in the final nail in that coffin. So there I was, without any direction once more.

It was at this moment that family, work, and personality combined in such a way as to reveal the path down which I am currently strolling. My grandmother began exhibiting signs of what I thought was Alzheimer's Disease. She soon began complaining of constant dizziness, nausea, and other uncommon distressing feelings. I knew what was coming, but I couldn't admit it and my family dared not discuss it. Everything was going to be okay. Everything had to be okay

Nothing was okay.

Pancreatic cancer. Less than a month after the initial symptoms, she was gone. In the meantime, we learned that the cancer had metastised, reaching portions of her brain and just about everywhere else. Aha, it was this that caused the changes in her personality. Hmmmm, I should be grieving more, but I'm having an awfully hard time not being curious about the mechanics of consciousness and perception. This took me way  back to my mid-teens when I first met people who regularly ingested LSD and shrooms. My exposure to psychedelics prior to these interactions came from Woodstock concert footage and a couple of episodes of Dragnet--the "Blue Boy" episode, most notably. In listening to trip reports from these individuals, always my mind sort of drifted away from the specifics of what they were telling me and towards the mechanics of the process. How? WHY? I happened upon a notable street drug reference website and essentially printed off everything there was to know about LSD...in the high school's library. Far too terrified to try these things out for myself, trip reports and pages upon pages of meaningless jargon were all I had. It was a valiant effort to make sense of the mechanical (or maybe, the theorised mechanical) aspects of acid-induced hallucinations, but it was beyond my understanding. I finally threw in the towel and moved on. Funny how things such as this resurface.

My obsessive personality took hold and anything that had even a remote association to the brain and its functions that I could get my hands on, I spent inordinate amounts of time with. V.S. Ramachandran became my hero and somewhere along the way, I just knew neurology was in the cards for me.

Please allow me to back up a few steps and explain that during this time, I worked for a document imaging company whose primary clients were hospitals. They'd ship to us boxes upon boxes of ED reports and it was our job to digitise them. I ended up in quality analysis, so I was the last pair of eyes to see the images before being sent back to the client. This afforded me ample opportunity to read through the charts, which I took to doing almost immediately, before the desire to become a doctor had hit me. After a few months, I got to where I could sometimes guess correctly the diagnosis, but this was rare. Eloquent language has always turned me on, and there was just something about the reports doctors would write that grabbed me...also of great interest were post-op reports.

As far as my personality is concerned, I've always had a grand desire to take care of people, to be someone that a soul in need can turn to for a shoulder to cry on, to offer solutions, to stand firmly by someone when perhaps no one else can or will...all of these things that are undoubtedly the wistful dreams of billions of premed students. But I'm different! Hmm. I know, my dear, that I am on the right path and that my enthusiasm shall not waiver.

Last fall, I was fortunate enough to have the opportunity to shadow several doctors at a neurology practice not far from my home. There were five there in total, and I sat in with four of them over the several months I visited. The first doctor seemed a little impersonal with patients, but to me, between patients, he was eager to answer all of my silly questions and expound indefinitely on conditions and treatment. I could not, however, get over the slightly cold manner with which he dealt with patients. The second doctor I sat in with was easily in his late 60s and did not seem to want to stop laughing, which is fine by me! During examinations, he was highly personable and asked plenty of questions about patients' interests, hobbies, family... almost all of the patients seemed receptive to this and, at times, it was easy for me to lose a sense of where I was and to what I should be paying attention. Nearly every patient left the examination room smiling and seemingly unwilling to part ways! That's the kind of doctor I want to be...taking care of business and getting serious as needed, but generally relating to these patients as people (as opposed to the next ailing thing in line to be treated), keeping their spirits up when things might not look so good for them in the long run. My favourite doctor was the one I shadowed next. Not only did he also display this desire to get on well with his patients, he was extraordinarily thorough, in both his examinations and in involving me in the process!! He made me feel as though I could contribute to the diagnosis and recommended treatment (although we both were well aware that I could not), which very nearly made me pass out from excitement. Before a patient arrived, he'd tell me their issue, what he'd done for them in the past, and a little about the condition if I was not familiar. He'd introduce me to the patient, instead of just saying "Do you mind if this guy sits in?", and during the examination he'd explain in detail what he was doing and what he was looking for, including those things which are normal and those which are not. At the end of his time with each patient, he'd open it up to me to ask any questions of the patient I so desired! I had died and gone to heaven. Needless to say, I spent the majority of my remaining visits with him.

 I'll have to admit, out of all of the cases I got to see, Alzheimer's patients were by far my favourite. Apparently, lady luck was great to me in that all of the patients were subdued and gentle, and nothing like the agitated and violent people one of my nurse friends so often encounters. Dementia. To say that I am fascinated is insufficient. A girl I briefly dated when I was 19, or thereabouts, had a grandmother who was severely afflicted. We were all at some family member's house for dinner, and as I brought my dishes into the kitchen, I saw the kindly old grandmother bent over the kitchen counter examining the toaster. I was unaware of her condition at this point, and didn't know what to make of what she was doing. As I began to offer assistance, she turned to several decorative salt and pepper shakers on the adjacent counter. Still bent over, hovering over them, she appeared to be murmuring to each of them. I put two and two together, coming to the conclusion that she must have diminished eyesight. Again as I was about to offer assistance, I was interrupted, My girlfriend walked in and seconds later, her grandmother leaned in further and kissed each of the shakers. She pointed to one nearer to the middle, kissed it again, and said, "Don't tell the others, but I like you the best!" I laughed, thinking she was fooling around, but I was soon informed of her dementia. It was still a funny sight, but a wave of sickness, despair, and a large damned amount of curiosity washed over me. I had never felt so moved by something in my life up to that point. I didn't know what to do with it, so like the curiosity about perception-altering drugs, I filed it away and moved on with my life.

For fear of need of extra postage, I shall cease these self-indulgent explorations of the past and turn you loose.

May the grace of He keep you always,

J.O. Morris

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