Still Summer, Still Reading

from p. 118 of Landfill: Gull Watching and Trash Picking in the Anthropocene, “Needs”:

I’d read my Henry Mayhew on London’s waste workers and had been out at night on the Thames with the body-salvagers of Dickens’s Our Mutual Friend. I stayed away from Milton. My telescope wouldn’t have been welcomed by anyone and I don’t think I could have used it. The hunt for the body resumed in the late autumn of 2017 in a part of the landfill adjacent to the area already examined. After seven fruitless weeks the search was called off.

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Redwood City, July 2019

Love Dee’s book. So much.

Stay tuned.

 

Again, a Shift

Did not finish The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat. With only one or two exceptions, the case studies were elderly people. Everyone knows growing old SUCKS. Oliver Sacks is masterful in telling all the different ways. Next!

Diving into Tim Dee’s Landfill: Notes on Gull Watching and Trash Picking in the Anthropocene, a book self began reading a while back, which got pushed back because when traveling, she finds novels easier to digest.

Tim Dee did not always have a fascination for gulls, just as gulls are no longer necessarily seagulls.

pp. 17 – 18:

Calling them seagulls is wrong — that was one of the first things I learned as a novice bird-boy. They are as much inland among us as they are far out over the waves. Yet, in fact, this state of life for them is new. Over the past hundred years, human modernity has brought gulls ashore. They have lived in our slipstream, following trawlers, ploughs, dust-carts . . . They live as we do, walking the built-up world and grabbing a bite where they can.

Stay tuned, dear blog readers. Stay tuned.

The Dobu Islanders: FLOW, p. 79

. . . the culture of the Dobu islanders, as described by the anthropologist Reo Fortune, is one that encouraged constant fear of sorcery, mistrust among even the closest relatives, and vindictive behavior. Just going to the bathroom was a major problem, because it involved stepping out into the bush, where everybody expected to be attacked by bad magic when alone among the trees.


Strange how self can relate to this mode of feeling, which is a form of “magical thinking” — the idea that one can actively seek to prevent future bad things, by taking inordinately neurotic precautions.

Stay tuned.

Patient # 4, LET ME NOT BE MAD

For the past two days self has been reading A. K. Benjamin’s Let Me Not Be Mad. She must be in a zone: it’s her third memoir written by a doctor since the start of the summer.

At first, self found Benjamin’s style a little too fraught, but Story # 2 was a shocker. Laid her flat.

Story # 4 is about Michael, 58, who’s recovering from a traumatic brain injury.

He invites his doctor to attend a football match: Arsenal vs. Halifax.

The doc agrees (Self thinks there must be a different level of permissible interaction between doctors and patients in England? In the States, no doctor would accept such an invitation.)

This deadpan sentence has self clutching her sides:

  • He will of course be hyper-litigious in the event of an incident.

Stay tuned, dear blog readers. Stay tuned.

The Capitalism of My Father: Story # 7 in Bulosan’s THE LAUGHTER OF MY FATHER

There is such a streak of fatalism that runs through the Filipino character. Was that a legacy of the Spanish? Or was that always present, even before?

Carlos Bulosan was from Pangasinan. So presumably this was how life was in that province, pre-World War II.

  • The farmers sold their bales and went to the market. They bought the things that were most needed in their homes and walked around in the plaza counting their money. Some of them were lured by the gamblers at the cockpit, and they went home without their money.

Stay tuned, dear blog readers. Stay tuned.

“Book Greed”: James P. Blaylock in POETS & WRITERS July/August 2019

  • A writer’s library is more than just a collection of books. It is also a piecemeal biography of that writer’s life, and measurably so, as most have writers have spent countless hours reading the books that they now own or have borrowed, hours that add up to years, perhaps decades, given a long enough life.

— James P. Blaylock, My Life in Books

Love this essay, which echoes so many of self’s feelings about her own library. Just recently, self decided to start reading some of her collection. Books she’s picked up from author’s readings, and then stashed away on a shelf, in the fond hope she’d get to them “someday.”

Someday is here!

Two of the books she’s owned for years but never got around to reading:

  • Carlos Bulosan’s story collection, The Laughter of My Father
  • Kelly Link’s short story collection, Get In Trouble (She read a couple of stories, not the whole collection)

Stay tuned, dear blog readers. Stay tuned.

Reading on the Fourth of July, 2019

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HOME: 4 July 2019

Today self finished Stephen Westaby’s Open Heart and began a re-read of the Rosario Ferré collection The Youngest Doll (University of Nebraska Press, 1991). Some pieces are memoir, some are nonfiction, some are magical realist.

  • Being a writer . . . one has to learn to live by letting go, by renouncing the reaching of this or that shore, to let oneself become the meeting place of both . . . In a way, all writing is a translation, a struggle to interpret the meaning of life, and in this sense the translator can be said to be a shaman, a person said to be deciphering conflicting human texts, searching for the final unity of meaning in speech.

Stay tuned, dear blog readers. Stay tuned.

Still Reading Stephen Westaby

Summer continues. The days are long. Self’s favorite time of day is after dinner, when the heat is dissipating. Around 8 p.m. It’s still light.

Self’s reading has slowed with the warm weather. Today she’s on Chapter Nine of Open Heart: A Cardiac Surgeon’s Stories of Life and Death on the Operating Table: Westaby is doing a heart transplant on a 10-year-old boy named Stefan. The doctors begin surgery when they get word that “the donor heart had left Harefield” and “would arrive in Oxford in thirty minutes.”

It arrives. The assisting doctor, Marc, “started to trim the donor heart,” which was “from a live person with a normal brain.”

(In parts, this book reads like a horror story — Westaby seems to have a taste for the gruesome detail)

It was time to cut out Stefan’s own sad heart and make ready for the new one. Out it came. The empty pericardium was a curious sight. No heart. It must have been scary when Barnard did it for the first time. Like a car without an engine under the hood.

Then, the implantation:

Any donor heart is slippery and wet. Not easy to hold in position.

My treacherous imagination takes over.

Stay tuned, dear blog readers. Stay tuned.

“The Dreaming Spires”

Self is still on Ch. 7 of Stephen Westaby’s Open Heart. It’s a very gripping chapter. Everything unfolds in Oxford, hence “the dreaming spires” (repeated twice in this chapter, the editor must have really liked the expression).

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  • It was almost 8:00 a.m. The summer sun shone brightly on the dreaming spires. I left Katsumata to close the chest and went to warn the ICU about the impending arrival. Something different. For the next twelve hours, Julie’s critical period, she would have no pulse.

As Westaby explains in the previous paragraph, pulse “was much less important than blood flow . . . it didn’t matter whether the blood had pulse or no pulse in it. Flow was the key.”

Further on Julie’s condition:

  • Her kidneys had quit. She would need dialysis for a few days. And she was a little yellow. The liver was suffering as well. By most criteria, she had been dead. But we hoped she would live now. Good or what?

Self would say Julie just won the Lotto. Because Westaby was paged, and because he was willing to come in despite not being on call.

He goes to the patient’s anxious family and they can read his expression: despite “mask dangling down and blood on my theater shoes, I looked pleased.”

Whew! What an event! Like a real battle, and the outcome: “Julie was still alive.” The doctor’s not sure about brain damage, though.

Stay tuned, dear blog readers. Stay tuned.

 

The AB-180, 1997 Prototype

From reading Sheryl Recinos’s harrowing memoir of surviving on the streets as an under-age runaway, to Stephen Westaby’s memoir of his most wrenching heart cases.

Sheryl Recinos ended up a doctor (amazing), but that part is not in her memoir, Hindsight: Coming of Age on the Streets of Hollywood. (Maybe there will be a sequel? Self hopes so)

Stephen Westaby’s memoir, on the other hand, describes his work as a member of the team that produces the first artificial heart.

Ch. 7, Open Heart: A Cardiac Surgeon’s Stories of Life and Death on the Operating Table

It took the team five years to produce a spinning blood pump the size of a bicycle bell, weighing just half a pound . . . First called the AB-180, it was intended to support the circulation for up to six months . . . It was so simple that one of the technicians attached a prototype pump to his garden hose and drained his fish pond with it.

The first English “guinea pig” for the AB-180 was a 21-year-old woman who had contracted “viral myocarditis, a viral illness like a cold, but when it involves the heart, it can be fatal . . . a desperate situation for a vivacious young woman who had been normal the week before.”

As self told Dearest Mum many years ago: Dying has nothing to do with age.

Look at self’s older sister, dead of streptococcal pneumonia at 34.

Look at Dearly Departed Sister-in-Law Ying, who died at 38 of leukemia which had been diagnosed less than a year before.

In Westaby’s memoir, Julie’s “leg was already blue — pouring out lactic acid.”

Self was the person who received her sister’s autopsy from Lenox Hill Hospital. Her parents couldn’t bear to read it, so self did. It listed her sister’s cause of death as sepsis. Blood poisoning. 11 days earlier she had presented at Lenox Hill’s emergency room, complaining of a bad cough.

As Westaby writes, “most patients with viral myocarditis get over it.”

As most patients with streptococcal pneumonia, what self’s sister contracted, probably do.

Self can tell you she never, ever expected her sister to die that year. That it happened so close to Christmas made all subsequent Christmases into depressing occasions. In fact, a Christmas present her sister had mailed from New York arrived in California three days after she had passed.

11 days. That’s all it took to move a healthy young woman, a mother of three, to illness and then death. That was time enough, though, for self to fly to New York. Time enough for her parents to fly in from the Philippines.

In Westaby’s book, “the doctors scrubbed with haste. What was more important now? Survival or sterility?” He grabs a scalpel and runs the blade “straight through, hard onto the bone.” He runs “the saw up the sternum.” As Julie’s “heart was stopping, I kept moving . . . ” He gathers Julie’s “flickering little ventricles” into his fist and hand-pumps.

Stay tuned, dear blog readers. Stay tuned.

 

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