Thursday, February 28, 2008

again with the feeling lucky

Lately my reading has had a theme, "So Glad It's Not Me." I was feeling depressed, and what perks me up personally is not a comedy or a feel-good romance, but rather some down and dirty tales of other people's suffering. It's not exactly schadenfreude, but rather getting reminded of how fortunate I am.

In that genre, the Memoirs of Hellish Suffering, I must recommend the mindboggling "My Lobotomy" (2007) by Howard Dully (with Charles Fleming). Poor Howard Dully had the worst stepmother imaginable, who had him lobotomized when he was only twelve. This highly absorbing book tells not only about Dully's horrific childhood (right up there with Mary Karr's "The Liars' Club", that giant of the fucked-up childhood memoir genre), but also a lot about the history of lobotomies and the extremely strange man who did Mr. Dully's. Poor lobotomized little Howard first realized something was wrong about the operation when an audience of doctors at UCSF (where I gave birth to Iris Uber Alles and Lola, incidentally) booed his doctor off the stage. The doctor had taken Howard and two other lobotomized teens to use as living exhibits at a lecture promoting lobotomies, but the UCSF faculty was enraged at Howard's youth and interrupted the lecture.

Currently I'm reading "Tokyo Year Zero", a novel about a Japanese policeman in Tokyo in 1946. Although it's fiction, there's more than enough depressing historical fact to keep that one in the theme.

I think, though, it's time to wrap up this reading project, as real life is providing more than enough examples for me of How Damn Lucky I Am and How Grateful I Should Be. Over the weekend we learned that one of my husband's oldest, closest friends is severely ill. His previously unthreatening lymphoma has metastasized, and every day brings a new diagnosis: leukemia! Brain tumor! The poor man is only 40, the father of four year-old twins. In a completely inadequate gesture, we sent a gift basket to the hospital. The friend himself won't eat any of it (he's being kept under sedation), but we thought his loved ones conducting a bedside vigil could use some good snacks. Sending the gift basket caused a new dilemma: what to write on the card (even though it was optimistic to think the poor man would ever read the card, his wife and family would). Normally I am at no loss for words, but this was one time I felt tongue-tied. "Thinking of you" felt too cliched. Would "This sucks" be enough?

And then today we learned someone else we like has been facing a series of problems of a Biblical proportion. We knew one of his lovely and amazing daughters had an immune disorder, but we weren't aware that it had become much more serious. (She's only sixteen, poor girl, and having to undergo some gruesome treatments causing all her hair to fall out and also weight gain. That would be hard enough for an adult woman to handle, but a pretty teenager? So unfair). On top of that, his marriage has hit the rocks, and he lost his job. My God. Where does it end? We're having him over for drinks soon, but that seems so inadequate.

And meanwhile I'm enjoying nearly perfect health (a sore throat), a pleasant spouse (except for when the cats annoy him), two delightful children (apart from the occasional outbreak of intrasibling violence), and the companionship of far too many charming pets. I feel positively ashamed of my good fortune, so undeserved, really.


hokgardner said...

I think "This Sucks" is perfectly acceptable. We have good friends who foind out that their then-3-year-old son had Duchene MD, the worst form there is, and miscarried for the fourth time in a year all in the same week.

When I saw the dad for the first time after all the news, his one comment was "This isn't fair." THe only thing I could think to say in response, along with a hug, was, "You're right. THere's nothing fair about this. This totally sucks." He actually cracked a smile at the comment.

hughman said...

luck has little to do with it. after all, you're the one who snagged the husband, groomed the kids, etc. i think you've managed to create your world very well.

Anonymous said...

Bloody hell - where are medical ethics when you need them?? It's the same everywhere - if you have anything resembling a mental health problem then human rights are out of the window and psychiatrists can basically do whatever they want to you! Resistance is futile.

Captain Steve said...

When I was 6-ish my uncle died of lymphoma and my cousins were beaten down into a bloody pulp, as was my aunt. "This sucks" was very commonly heard, usually with a few creative expletives tossed in. I don't recommend expletives for the card, but otherwise? Yeah. Totally.

Trouble said...

These are the times when i wish I were still religious and could just say, "I'm praying for you."

It's harder when you're agnostic and don't believe in heaven.

Although, I do think "this sucks" fits way better than some of the "standard Christian responses" we got last year at a funeral for my grandma.