[8 July 2016]
I am in Zürich for a week, at the end of the normal Jung-Institut training sessions…
I went to the graduation ceremony; there was an unusually large number of graduates, including a lot of friends (some of whom started after I did, but oh well). Hope to be up there in a year – it is still possible; we’ll see.
I talk to the new director of studies at the Jung-Institut, who is a big, tanned, muscled, pleasant-looking German man. He’s friendly but very serious, and slightly preoccupied – you get the feeling that he’s still nervous about all his responsibilities; he stumbled a bit on his introductory speech for the ceremony, but with an earnest commitment to get things right.
So, yes, basically: hot.
And, possibly more importantly, since he takes things seriously but is trying to be supportive, it’s not difficult to discuss strategies with him for completing the various requirements to be completed this year.
It’s true, though: I am doing a bit more on this trip than is easy to manage, as I still feel ill fairly frequently – but also fairly regularly, mostly after taking my medications; otherwise the body seems calm, three weeks after I’ve finished the HCV regimen. I would even say that I am gradually feeling better, but there is still such a lot of veering up and down from hour to hour on any graph of well-being that I hesitate to commit myself to any predictions….
A couple of days ago, I left the HIV patient group – not in a huff, but definitely. I feel surprisingly calm about it: I was increasingly argumentative in meetings over the past year – as were others – and I didn’t really like where things were going – not because they were awful, but because they just didn’t fit my idea of the group’s purpose.
It actually felt like the splits that have been going on in political parties such as the Democrats and Labor – with me as the cranky old, inflexible, marginalized contender from the socialist left… But enough of all that; it’s not a government, it’s a patient group, and as I’ve been involved and/or running things for thirteen years now, it’s fine if I go and do other stuff.
In fact, since this change, there is an enormous reduction in the noise of anxiety and aggression in my life… which is very welcome: paying attention to one’s shadow in analysis is one thing, but staying in a constantly reactivating situation doesn’t seem worth it. And, of course, with everything else going on in my life (and in the world), I’m glad to have less to do.
[12 July 2016]
I am on a train between Zürich and Einsiedeln, heading to a session of supervision, aware that my ensuing ticket to another supervision session in St. Gallen leaves from the wrong station and needs to be changed, and that I need to get some cash, and…
Looking at Facebook on my phone, I see that a friend in San Francisco has posted an article: ‘No Linked HIV Transmissions in Long-Term Partner Study After Couples Had Sex Without Condoms’.
I glance through the article, and – I start crying: and can’t stop.
No one is near me on this quiet countryside train – I have a napkin from my packed lunch…
By the time I arrive in Bob’s office in Einsiedeln about fifteen minutes later, I have partly put myself back together – he asks what’s wrong; as I try to tell him about the headline, I start crying again.
It’s amazing, really. As I’ve casually told friends, the main question that I cannot really answer that comes up in my own personal analysis, and even in supervision, is: so, have you given up on ever being in a relationship again? – on ever being happy?...
I generally answer, with varying degrees of terse irritation: I know that I’m doing this, I don’t know how to fix it, I’ve been asked that before, look it is what it is. Let’s get on to other things.
There is some link… There is some disjunction in my memory and conscious patterns: when I look at ‘myself’, at my attitudes and responses to this, they go back perhaps ten years or so. Which however implies, as I realize on the train: I tend to forget my direct experience of the rage, despair, loss, of the previous twenty years – of knowing that everyone is dying, and in any case I’m infectious and so are they, and…
I mean, it’s all very familiar, I write and talk about it all the time. But I don’t ‘go’ there anymore – it’s not really available.
Basically, I don’t have an immanent experience of who I was before about 2006-8 anymore…
There is a link here between a mindset that became so familiar it was no longer visible, and later conclusions that were reached on that basis, as their forgotten foundation: this article heading, which reasonably (but, to me, almost mockingly) points to huge numbers of couples, men who have lived together for a long time –
and also to the emptiness, to the brutally trivial inaccuracy, of my assumption that unsafe sex was dangerous, especially in a relationship… that the commitment itself would cause you to infect, and thus kill another person: so the commitment inevitably would lead to its own violent end…
You don’t get into a commitment, because if you do you’ll kill somebody. Eventually.
Or, well: something like that. Something never exactly reasoned out, something that didn’t quite operate as a line of thinking, but – a cloud of implicit experiences and anxieties that long ago congealed into a pattern, which has been suddenly, appallingly, triggered by a nice newspaper headline that certainly looks happy-making, doesn’t it.
I suppose, for a long time, I’ve been able to handle the death part; but losing the possibility of relationship – no, less abstractly: of love and comfort, of a reason to go to bed at night and get up in the morning – is truly painful…
I do know that this emotional crash occurs partly because it is available to me: much analysis, and especially the internal fusions and transformations of the past year, have left me… open to seeing such things.
Which is, frankly – and unquestionably – a good thing.
However it might feel at any given moment.
Back on the train, Einsiedeln to St. Gallen. The clunky little I Ching app on my phone gives me:
24, Turning Back. Turning back or returning. Reaching the point of no return, and returning.
2, The Receptive. Receptivity, acceptance, facilitating.
[13 July 2016]
Supervision is good: because I’ve stayed a week after everyone else has left, my supervisors are calmer and more relaxed – surprising insights and corrections, and a general sense of respect and being respected.
Evenings are hot, the café outside this small, stylish urban apartment is noisy – I take the computer to a trendy, student-y Italian restaurant to work on the paper I need to finish for Greg and William. It is going quickly, I feel fluent, this should get finished soon –
[14-16 July 2016]
4 am, I wake, in pain. A lot of pain: I take stomach pills, they do nothing.
My plane leaves around 11 am.
I lie in bed, roll around –
I get up and walk a bit –
lie back on the bed –
lie on my other side –
After three and a half hours of this, I decide the plane is moot, I must get a taxi to the hospital. I dress, a bit sloppily, with shaking hands, throw things into my backpack (it will turn out that in choosing what to take I make some very smart choices, yet completely forget other necessities) and go down three floors into the streets.
It is sunny; it will be a lovely day. Zürich is quiet at 7:30 am in this neighborhood; a few people are walking around.
I approach a couple – I am of course looking rather messy, dissolute, which is rare in Zürich – and ask in German where there is a taxi stand, to get to a hospital; they look at me in confusion. They are British, I translate back into English, they don’t know. They look sorry and slightly guarded… I walk onward, three or four, or five or six, blocks… and finally a taxi…
I shouldn’t do the whole story; memory gets chaotic for some hours after this anyway.
The Universitätsspital, early morning; a kind nurse, a lot of pain, a lot of waiting. Emergency room, curtained bays around a central block of offices, pleasant, alert, and remarkably good-looking young doctors of both sexes come in and out.
(See, CSI isn’t so unrealistic after all: there are indeed public service systems where everyone looks as though they are taking a break from their modeling career.)
I have a tube in my arm, it turns out that I am being put to sleep by something in the tube; I am fairly groggy all day. Young, smart people come in and go out, they shake my hand when they enter, I explain health, HIV medications, HCV medications, pain on a scale of 1 to 10, we talk about my UK health care (and Brexit, and whether that makes a difference), I find my health insurance number in my phone, my University travel insurance is on an email from a month or so ago, my diagnosis, procedures, things they might do, medications for pain.
By early afternoon, I am awake and in no pain. Somewhat groggy.
Around 7 pm, they are satisfied that they know what to do – at this point things are quiet, and the shy, friendly young man who keeps checking on me has obviously gotten a bit tired of waiting for return calls from Urology and from my insurance. They finally take me to a ward, an exceptionally gay nurse with a wicked sense of satire finds me a dinner, I ask about showering but they say, firmly: tomorrow. I fall into deep sleep…
Friday. A different nurse, also male and gay (though not quite as gay as the first one, but hey it’s not really a contest). A big, serious German – good, controlling advice about everything, a definite approach that involves ordering me around…
Enough. Let’s turn the next pages in quick succession.
Shower, the nurse sneaks me a pair of nice rubberized socks, food. Young doctors come in and out: you can’t fly today, in fact you can’t fly unless…
The brashly handsome one, like Brad Pitt with Top Gun glasses, asks if he can examine my genitals before the procedure – he says, you wouldn’t believe what we find: rings, tattoos, all kinds of… I say, oh yes I would, I would absolutely believe it.
He finds no rings or other paraphernalia.
Trolley, elevator, anesthetic unit…
(the film reel runs out…
and after an unmeasured time it is replaced)
I wake, relaxed: I have a ‘pigtail catheter’ invisibly inside me, near the right kidney – without it they won’t let me fly, as the pain of another kidney stone would mean the plane would have to land. (Really? It’s just pain, isn’t it?)
Another twenty-four hours: bed, boredom, walking, chatting to nurses, reading on the iPad.
Friday evening, a big, bluff Swiss guy – a nice guy, an athletic young dad, like a big, uncomplicatedly friendly dog – is wheeled in to the other bed; we intermittently joke and chat, he falls frequently into deep sleep.
Saturday morning, more of the same: young doctors come in and out and explain things, we settle insurance.
The woman whose apartment I’ve been renting actually packs my luggage – including sweaty clothing from several hot days: well beyond the call of duty, but she is kind about it. Brinda, another Jung-Institut student, is even kinder, bringing me my suitcase and taking the apartment key back to the woman.
Five pain medications: the German nurse says, don’t bother with the last one, it’s got too many side effects – and walks me downstairs to the pharmacy to buy the first four, talking about his plan of visiting Berwick-on-Tweed, just north of me, in the next year. Yes, he has my card.
On Saturday afternoon, I step into the pleasant Zürich summer day to take a tram to the airport. People are walking around, enjoying themselves – I am suddenly in the outside world: I feel as though I have come to miss it –
even though over only three days –
As I’ve written a brief, Bravely Bearing Up notice of hospitalization on Facebook, Norma messages me to say she’ll pick me up at the airport.
Home. Norma carries my suitcase upstairs over my objections, comes in to check that things are all right… we chat, I make her a cup of chamomile tea…
I tell her I don’t think I can travel any more – at least not much: is this the fourth or fifth time in a decade that I’ve done wheelchairs in airports, delayed flight plans from hospitals, emailing my doctor?... my health just isn’t so good that I can traipse around the world, or even around Europe.
And, frankly, I’m not sure I can finish the degree at the Jung-Institut – if I can’t really travel, can’t dependably go places, do things –
Norma is lucid, direct, corrective: giving up is pointless. You’re taken care of – you never know what’s next with health, or life –
She’s right, in one direction at least; I remain slightly uncertain, but mollified.
And later, sleep, in my own bed.
Sunday. I cancel all travel – I won’t go to Spain to see Susan and Rob, I won’t go to the August conference in Japan. I won’t take a train to Sheffield for analysis.
It is sunny, warm. I am relaxed… pain medication, my usual pills after missing them for two days…
I walk to Gay Pride, but walking is not quite so easy: and I have misunderstood which end of the large park is the right one. Long walking, late afternoon, the health area is closed, things are winding down. I walk, looking for a taxi… home… sleep again…
Monday. I finally, actually, start volunteering at the hospital dementia ward: I sit, walk with a lonely, anxious woman in her eighties – the nurse takes me straight to her when she hears I’m working in psychology: the woman is unexpectedly paranoid, and keeps talking about her husband, who is either in another ward or hospital – or, as she doesn’t seem located entirely in the present, perhaps he is dead.
A restless, lacerating grief floats through her running monologues: at times she wanders the ward, picking up other patients’ belongings, which I cajole away from her as I lead her away – the other ladies look at me in grateful relief: she is familiar to them by now.
But it is not unpleasant, or difficult, being with her: as I’ve only been back from my own hospital visit for two days, there is a direct and guiltless empathy – my body remembers what she feels, as she twists and mutters on her bed.
And I am, without trying, detached: not uncaring, not overwhelmed – there is a sense of ongoing time, of the inevitability of our last years and months, and a knowledge that she will not become miraculously happy and relieved –
but just sitting here, occasionally chatting, rearranging her clothes as she pulls them out of her locker and drapes them on the chair where I’m sitting, is in itself calming:
pain cannot be removed, but my own breathing calm makes time itself less acute, makes its passing hurt less – for her; and for me.
Monday evening. The paper I was writing is no longer in my mind, but I know the chunk I’ve got, plus all of these notes, will be enough to get me restarted.
In the ensuing days, I catch up with things, rapidly, briskly. I ask my doctor when the catheter will come out, translate the reports from the Zürich hospital (except the arcane medical bits that aren’t on the web), see my own patients, meet friends in cafés…
Perhaps Norma is right; perhaps I don’t need to remove myself from my own life. Not yet, anyway.
[27 July 2016]
Finally, the hospital, and Urology!
An astoundingly fast-talking, sharp-edged, decisive doctor, a woman in a restrained but classily dark dress, absorbs information instantly or a little bit faster than that, turns on a recorder and reads back, evidently from her meticulous memory, a five-minute history plus diagnosis plus procedure plus planned outcomes plus instructions to phlebotomy, nurse, and anesthetist.
(She does crack a smile at one point, as I explain the past two weeks...)
She walks briskly out; the gentler nurse and I get to work.
The catheter will come out in a week or two…
preparations are made…
I walk out into a different sunshine and go home.