Bad Dream

Funny thing about anxiety, I was thinking as the evening bounced along, sometimes it’s real and sometimes it isn’t. And what is ‘real?’

Ah, so terribly profound, particularly leading up to dinner, already possessed by some vague and nameless fear. When did it start? And what did I make of it? The usual. Fear drifts in and out of my daily experience.

Actually, it provides a natural set of guidelines. Just the other evening, the night routine being a bit out of sequence, I had taken off my shoes before rolling into the kitchen to make the nightly tea. Linoleum and bare feet do not get on well. So my usual grab at the sink to lever myself up to a tea-making posture slightly failed. Instead I slipped forward on my wheelchair cushion and now sat right on the neuromuscular edge, as it were. I couldn’t grip anything with my feet, correction, one functioning foot. Meaning, that I couldn’t push myself back on the cushion. What to do? Well, I could have dragged the whole musculoskeletal assemblage backwards, out of the kitchen and onto the carpet, where my bare feet can get enough traction to apply some force. Or, safer, yell for the wife. The latter has the general effect of lowering the anxiety level – always useful.

As it was that evening approaching dinner. I wasn’t very hungry, didn’t touch my wine. And afterwards I was feeling more afraid than ever. Of what? In a post-dinner moment I talked to Jane heart-to-heart. I was trying to feel what it might be, the internal quality of dread. Fears of making such a big commitment to a house? Panic about leaving my suburban home of decades? What was happening to me?

I started vomiting around 9 PM, but not much. In fact, this seems like a possible nervous reaction to my own free-floating nerves. Afterwards, I felt better. Then I felt worse. Then I went to bed and had a hard time sleeping, everything queasy, right on the edge of nausea. Until I awoke. Soon I continued right over that edge, vomiting quite a bit. This seemed to go on a while, and it wasn’t quite clear what I was vomiting. So off we went, Jane and I, to the local physicians.

A.K.A., Palo Alto Clinic, which must be among the nation’s elite healthcare providers, things being what they are. And ‘things’ being profoundly unequal these days in our United States, I can’t help wondering what it’s like to seek medical care without money…in some forgotten part of the country. That’s all for away, of course, once one is deep in the medical experience. For the latter is all about us being fearful – and offloading that fear onto a supposedly qualified professional.

A wise person once told me that we have some secret component that wants to be sick, that desires a state of illness. What on earth could this mean…I have wondered ever since. Perhaps it’s the need to surrender utterly, to be taken care of completely. If that’s it, the feeling is both seductive…and needs to be heartily resisted.

Lying in Palo Alto’s Urgent Care department…yes, I was told to lie down on a cot…I heard a little too much from the adjoining beds, nominally separated by sliding curtains. Most conspicuously the Stanford professor’s kidney stone, it’s size, likely penile impact, and so on. I wanted out. I wanted the kidney stone out. I wanted the verdict (a virus) – was I okay, could I go home?

Yes, of course…although with each advancing year, I mutter ‘of course’ with less and less conviction. And that is the thing. Perhaps illness frightens me more. And perhaps I rebound more slowly…and that frightens me too. And, yes, overall, what is there to be frightened about? I mean, I’m not lying dead on some Berkeley street 50 years ago…or am I, maybe, and Calderón had it right…life is a dream. I hope I get the message, eventually that whatever it is…try to make it a pleasant one.

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