Monday, February 28, 2011
When was the last time you were in a hospital, either overnight or for a few days or just an out patient center? I bet it wasn't an experience you'd like to have again. I know my seven hours in the UCLA out patient center was definitely not a walk in the park.
The good news is that I didn't need to use my last directives. You know, that form indicating how you would like to be treated at the end of life should something go wrong. Some doctor by accident nipped at your gall bladder while trying to find your appendix and you went unconscious and you explicitly desired not to end up on life support for more than a day.
I entered the UCLA out patient center at around 11 am on Friday morning. I had not eaten anything nor had a drink of liquids since 8 pm the night before. I was scheduled to have the laparoscopic operations around 1:30 pm. At about noon, I was ushered into a small room to strip and put on a gown. I got my Cleopatra book out and began to read. About 12:30, a male nurse came in to check me and ask me the same questions that were asked me upon admission. He stuck a needle into the top of my hand and my vein collapsed. Then he stuck a needle into my arm and tried to draw some blood.
"I'm dehydrated," I said weakly. "You won't be able to get much."
"Really? Why is that?" he asked without a trace of irony.
"Because the last time I had water was nine last night? It's now one o'clock. I usually drink water all day to hydrate."
"I can't seem to get any blood," he replied.
"I just told you I'm dehydrated and now my blood sugar is falling."
The nurse took the little bit of blood in the vile out of the room. I waited about fifteen more minutes and walked into the hallway. The nurses were all talking around the station.
"Hello," I called out to anyone who was listening. "Can I talk to someone, anyone?"
A nurse came over and I told her I was dehydrated. I went back to bed.
Several minutes later, a nurse came into the room with an IV hookup. On her heels came the anesthesiologist all perky and oblivious.
"Hi, how are you? I've just got a few questions?"
"No questions. I've got low blood sugar and am going to faint in a minute," I shot back.
It's very difficult to use my nice voice when I feel I have been ignored, and especially when the operation was to have taken place at 1:30 and it was now 2 pm.
"Where's the doctor? He's late." This time I was using my hostile voice.
"Well, you don't want the doctor to rush through his last operation. I was just with him and it took longer than expected. I'll get you some glucose." He wasn't smiling now.
I became sullen. Suddenly, I felt totally alone. I wanted an advocate.
Next came a barrage of other questions - the same questions asked me many times before by many other people in the hospital.
"How long is it going to be?" I asked the anesthesiologist in a slightly more polite voice.
Another half hour or forty-five minutes.
My head was about to explode. The once faint headache was not becoming a thumper. No food or water for almost eighteen hours.
"My ride is coming at 6. He can't come later. I have to be out of here at 6, downstairs ready to go. You have to put me in a cab if I can't get out of here at 6.
My doctor walked into the room. He was full of good cheer.
"Hi, how we doing?" he asked but didn't really want a response.
The anesthesiologist told him I had to be out by six.
"We can do that," my doctor responded. "My last operation was similar to what wer're dong with you. I'm having plenty of practice today."
Did he really say that?
I don't know what happened after that because I think the glucose was laced with anesthesia.
I woke up at 5:15 in a room without a nurse in sight. Where was my doctor? Where was my advocate? I was completely alone. It was having a pity party.
It was pouring rain outside when the nurse wheeled me out of the entrance. Water was hitting me in the face. The nurse had no clue that I was getting drenched. I spotted my ride, my savior, my knight in shinning armor.
"How did it go?" my wonderful friend asked.
"I dont' know. Never saw the doctor afterwards. Never saw a nurse. Don't know." I started to cry.
As soon as I saw my apartment building, my mood changed. I was never so happy to be home. I practically crawled up the stairs to my apartment in the pouring rain and realized that for the first time that day I wasn't lonely, for the first time I didn't need an advocate. My pity party was over.
Friday, February 25, 2011
Remember the concept of mortality? We boomers don't like to think much about the prospect of dying because we're so close to it, but I'm forced to do just that today. I'm going in for a "Medical Procedure." Okay, it's not invasive surgery; it's the laparoscopic kind. Three little cuts and it's done! Voila! I'm out of there. I think.
The out patient hospital called yesterday afternoon to register me. Lots of questions, including my mother's maiden name. Why that? My mother died a year ago. What possible...
oh, yeah, they can trace me to some dynasty in the nineteenth century in Poland - to my grandfather Jake - the labor organizer. He certainly wouldn't be popular with Wisconsin's governor. Don't get the granddaughter of a a commie/pinko talking about labor unions.
But the piece de resistance question was:
"Do you have a will?" the sweet nurses's voice on the other end of the phone ask with trepidation.
"You're kidding. What? Am I going to die?'
"Oh, no," she politely replied. "If you don't have a will, we have a form..." her voice trailed off.
Awkward conversation to say the least.
"Yes, I have a will. My son, the lawyer has it. But I don't know if he remembers that I made one out or if he still has it or if he....." I trailed off.
"Well, I have it in my computer," I continued picking up the lull in the conversation.
"Well, good because if not..."
"I know you have a form, which I will fill out when I'm admitted."
I was left with an uncomfortable feeling that I just faced my demise. Dead. The finality of all life. Dead. Couldn't get it out of my mind. Dead. It came back to me all after noon, through the teaching of two more yoga classes, through "American Idol" final 24, through the shower, through my Cleopatra book, and trying to fall asleep after Antony's disastrous battle against Octavian.
But as yogi, I am prepared for death. Oh, yes, dying in the ethereal sense of the word. We yogis call it transitioning. Our spirit, our soul leaves out mortal body and enters the universe. Energy never dies. All physicists know that. Energy gets somehow recycled in the universe, in the space world. I do believe that. I do believe energy continues to be a force in our atmosphere. I even believe in reincarnation. Thank God. That's kind of comforting about now. However, the mortal thoughts, the dead thoughts are disturbing when one faces an operating table, even though my gynecologist is a genius, an expert, but human. Everyone is human. Mistakes happen. My friend's mother was having a kidney operation and the doctor nipped at the bladder. Opps. So there is that slight chance that the "in and out" procedure won't go as well as ordering a burger from "In and Out." With the latter, you're sure of the outcome.
The unease prevails and the knots grow bigger in my stomach as rain starts to pound the southern California streets. Is that a bad omen? I only know that my adorable yoga student just texted me this comforting thought:
"Just think, J, you can have a glass of wine after it's over."
So mortality doesn't feel so bad after that thought. Starving as I am, thirsty as I am, and dying for a latte as I am at this very moment, I've got some really tolerable goodies to look forward to after my ovaries are gone. Sex, I hope, is another goodie still waiting.
"And how long do I have to wait for that, Doc?" I ask plaintively.
Wednesday, February 23, 2011
I woke up one morning last week full of gratitude for my life. It was an ordinary day - Wednesday, I think - and I thought about all that I had going on in my life. The privilege o teaching yoga all over UCLA campus, attending to my private yoga students who faithfully practice yoga every week with me, my book signing and reading for Sixty, Sex, & Tango, Confessions of a Beatnik Boomer, at Book Soup, the hippest bookstore in LA and probably one of the best in the country, five flourishing grandchildren, two amazing adult sons, a brother whose support and unconditional love is truly brilliant, and lots of loving friends. I live light. I live in a one bedroom apartment with only minimal furnishings but the choices I've made inside my home are meaningful. I am surrounded by love. I have gratitude.
And gratitude leads me to thoughts about the Middle East. I look over my yoga classes at my beautiful and dedicated students and I am aware that any one of us could have been born in a country that is now in turmoil. We could be in the streets marching for freedom, running from thugs with weapons, put under arrest for being the opposition, sleeping nightly in doorways without sustenance or surrounded by family love, patiently waiting for a sign that the kleptocracts, the autocrats, the barbarians behind the palaces will listen to the painful cries of their people and leave the political stage where their corruption has left their people without education, opportunities and a decent way to fully live their lives.
We live in our protective and nurturing environment unaware of the true nature of suffering and repression. That idea blows my mind. We were born in America; we are citizens of a country that although an imperfect democracy gives us our freedoms and provides opportunities for choices. We do not live 60 years behind the times; we do not live without resources; we have food and services that will take care of those less fortunate. No, this is not a perfect country. People fall through the cracks, loose their jobs and are marginalized. But our basic values are sound and we are a work in progress, ever-expanding our horizons and providing room for growth in our governmental institutions.
I tell my students to offer gratitude daily - in yoga class, walking to class, taking a break from studying, before eating, before sleeping, before taking a test, whenever/wherever. Giving gratitude is way to take a mini meditation, to breath deeply, to reflect on the many gifts we have in our lives.
With gratitude it is easier to forgive. It is easier to live a joyous life. Gratitude and forgiveness - the essence of living well.
Sunday, February 13, 2011
Remember that first career you started when back when in the late sixties or early seventies? Maybe some of you were in law school (the men) and some of you were studying to be school teachers (the women and some men) or nurses (only women) or doctors (mostly men). It seems like eons ago. But recently I revisited my first love, my first career in the theater.
I was a kid who knew what I wanted to do in my life from almost the moment I was born. In all the years through elementary school and high school and university, I wanted to be an actress in the theater. I never doubted my path. My mother spotted a little talent and put me through my paces: dance, piano, speech and drama in high school. She was a stage mother who hid behind the scenes. I went off to college to study theater, to be that actress and then to reach for the higher academic success as a college professor.
As with all plans so meticulously ordered, there was a glitch. I got married and ended up in Las Vegas, Nevada, far away from the hallowed halls of Berkeley in the 60s. I went to work at the Sahara Hotel in in the sumer of 1964, went on a belated honeymoon for a month in Mexico and ended back in Vegas, baby, Vegas and took to my bed for 3 months. I read every book that I had wanted to read in college and got fat. By January, I knew my isolation was on overdrive and I went to some place called Nevada Southern University to finish what I thought was my last semester of college. Alas, they didn't have a theater major - I had actually completed my major - and I had to start all over again with another major. So theater became my minor and history became my major with an emphasis on education. A year and a half later, I graduated with a teaching credential, fully credentialed in history and theater and went off to teach drama in high school. I was back in theater minus the PhD.
I had a wonderful career in Las Vegas. From high school teaching, I then taught at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas (name changes do wonders for the institution of higher learning), received a masters in Education and Theater and wrote two textbooks on acting. I acted in summer rep for years at the university and even ended up at the Kennedy Center one year to participate in the top ten theater productions around the country. I taught acting and stage movement as an adjunct professor. And then I reached the glass ceiling. There were no full time female professors in the theater department at the time and there wouldn't be for many years to come. There was no way to get a permanent position in theater, and so I went down the street and opened up my own theater. And for the next five years, I was ran a professional equity year round theater. It was what I had always wanted to do. Those were most difficult years of my life but the most joyful and fulfilling.
When my marriage was over, the theater was over. I left town and pursued acting in San Diego (kids in tow) and worked professionally for two years more. And then the party ended. I no longer felt the need to wait back stage for my cue. The year was 1982 and I went to Los Angeles and changed career directions and ended up in film school (American Film Institute) and never coached an actor or directed a play until two weeks ago.
The Jewish Women's Theatre is an organization that gives voice to Jewish writers, actors and artists. I was asked to join the board of advisors last summer. I'm not a joiner. I don't like groups without men. I like the mix of male/female hormones in a room. Women's groups creep me out. The matriarchs comes out in droves. Women get a chance to show power and get their mood swings validated without men watching. I said yes because I liked the idea of the format. Four evenings of salon readings. I pictured it like a reader's theater program. I like the idea of working with narrative material. My evening was to be called "Jewish Women Do Men." At the time, I wondered if Jewish women had a separate and unique take on men or had different relationships with their men that every other culture and/or religion didn't possess. I suspected that there is a universal context for relationship between men and women.
The director of the theater and I went through lots of narratives material, plays and poems. We selected the material and we shaped the evening. It wasn't fun. I wanted it to be fun but I was the new kid on the block and what did I know? I was used to working in the theater in collaborative relationships that were joyful and not stressful. Going back to a theater concept was suddenly angst. What was going on? Ever heard of mano a mano? This so-called collaboration had aspects of a dictatorship. I was mostly on the losing end. But we toughed it out over the material and I was reasonably pleased with the selections but not perfectly pleased. My eyes and ears were not her eyes and ears. I don't think we ever came to a full understanding of the material.
The director is supposed to casts the evening. I wasn't allowed to do that. Someone else picked the actors. We waited two weeks for a "star" to accept a role. Never happened. I finally brought in an actress that I knew would do a wonderful job. Then, I didn't have enough rehearsal time. That was standard operating procedure with this group. Nothing ever looked polished. Was I really in charge of directing or did I have a someone next to me to give me notes? I wasn't in full charge.
I was to do the first two pieces. The first piece was about how I know men through the lens of Argentine tango. Then my friend and I danced tango. My second piece was a reading from my book, Sixty, Sex, & Tango, Confessions of a Beatnik Boomer. I was back on the boards again, back in front of audiences. Piece of cake, I thought because I am in front of my yoga students daily. I "work" rooms of 60 students. I free-flow ideas and sometimes crack jokes and create an atmosphere in which joy prevails.
After several tough days with the person in charge of the theater, I was determined to go back to a theater experience that made sense to me, to get a sense of the actors, to rehearse more and to get a rhythm of performance going. I knew how to do that; I had done it for twenty-five years once upon a time in my past and I still had the chops to do it now.
I wondered: is what we once chose as a profession always available to us? Was I born with the capacity and the love of theater and was it true that I could never lose that feeling? Was it in my DNA?
"You really know what you're doing," the theater founder said to me one night at rehearsal. "I can learn a lot from you."
Years of classes on acting, acting styles, writing, directing, performing, organizing, setting plays for the seasons, having an eye for what is good and what works, for the tone and style and rhythm of a play or an evening - how do you learn that in one or two nights of watching someone direct or coach an actor. It's passion with a high degree of education and it's in your blood, your heart, your mind and it never leaves you, ever. That's what I learned through this experience and I never knew beforehand that it was possible to still possess the knowledge and skill of once upon a time having all of that inside of me.
The three evenings went very well. We all got better each night and by the third night we could have done a week of performances. A group consciousness had been built and joy came into our work. It was an ensemble and we were hitting our stride. It's what we do in the theater. It's what we love about the theater.
Friday, February 4, 2011
Two of my grandsons are taking a nap at the moment and I am contemplating taking mine. It's so quite in my son's house. The only noises come from the heat and the ice making machine. I'm lying on the futon, the bed where I sleep in the upstairs "boys room" (translated: the sports room) and I'm feeing at peace.
Once again, the week was full of news from Egypt and the upsurge in protests for more democracy the the region. I'm not sure if it is a full fledge revolution, but I do know the Middle East is changing and it give me pause to think that something interesting might happen, that perhaps the regions is changing and will, indeed, change.
Boomers have been though many changes in our lives. Probably the first event we remember with clarity is the death of John Kennedy. Several years later, we were witness to other tragedies: the death of Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy and the Vietnam War. Since then we have born witness to more death and destruction - the Gulf War and the last ten years of a protracted and unsupported civilian war in Iraq and Afghanistan. It seems our world is always at "sixes and sevens."
This peaceful moment leads me into reflecting on how I feel about witnessing another generation of my family grow and develop and make their place in the world. Sometimes being a grandmother is simply a wonder of life. I love to visit their schools and see them interact with others. I love to see what interests them at different stages in their young lives. But I view it all not from the ground floor, but from a distance away. I see it clearer than if these children were my own. Being a grandmother makes life really interesting in these days.
I've been grappling with the issue of whether I should leave UCLA and stop teaching yoga and cut back my work commitments. I'm doing more today than I have been since the days of my running a theater in Las Vegas. People always say that the more you do the more you get done and I think that's really true. "But don't you get tired?" people ask me.
I was dancing tango last Saturday with one of my oldest tango partners - a young man who just happens to be one of the few Babylonians left in the world (the old Iraq) but his people are true descendants of that ancient culture. He puts in long hours at work and then comes out late to dance after he has spent time with his family. I asked him if him was particularly tired and he responded that he never gets tired. He had no connection to the concept of "tired."
I thought that was interesting and I've been thinking about that all week. I've also been thinking of time as it relates to being tired.
Here is how it goes in my life: I teach all week - mostly 7 classes a day. This week I rehearsed three nights for an evening of salon readings that will take place next week, practiced my performance, and taught late on the night I didn't rehearse. While driving in my car to get to my scheduled private yoga clients, I rehearsed my performance pieces. Last night I drove to Vegas after teaching all day. I got on the freeway at 8 pm. I decided to dismiss from my mind that I might be tired. And than, I took the concept of literal time out of my thought process. I always liked the concept of quantum physics in which time as we know it is simply a human condition. In quantum physics, time does not exist except on a continuum. Past, present and future merge into one. Then I thought that if I took the concept of time away from me would it be possible not to feel tired. If there is no definite time does being tired even exist. It's kind of an existential proposition.
The idea actually gives me energy. I've decided not to take a nap. Anyway, Jude Love is up and he needs a diaper change.