Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Trip Recap, Part 6

Still in Zurich...

It's funny how some individuals have problems with certain things.  Maybe you are squeamish about small birds; maybe you are scared of heights; maybe you are unable to use a cork screw; maybe you have problems opening and closing locks...well, European locks at any rate.

Imagine having meandered around Zurich, stopping here and there, checking out the scene, withdrawing funds from Swiss bank accounts, when suddenly, deep within the Zurich University Botanical Gardens, an urge to micturate overcomes you.  Naturally, you would seek out the facilities, which, in our lucky case, happened to be dead ahead of us.

So, my traveling companion heads straight for the small building which appeared to house toilets.  There were three doors.  Suddenly, I had flashbacks to Monty Hall's Let's Make Deal.  Will she take door number one, door number two, or door number three?

First, she heads of door number one and either pushes it or pulls it, but the door doesn't move.  She moves on to door number two and either pushes it or pulls it, but the door doesn't move.  Note that she either pushed or pulled, rather than attempting both directions.  I was standing back, admiring the view of the city, as the gardens are raised and one got a rather good view of Zurich.  The third door had a set of keys dangling provocatively in the lock. I hadn't noticed this until I turned to see C. turning the key in the lock, back and forth, round and round.

Of course, I had seen these lock manoeuvrings during our stay in Paris, at the impossibly small apartment.  I neglected to mention that the door to that apartment had three locks.  My companion, I realized, is European-lock-challenged.  North American locks seem to pose no problems.  It's the turn-left-two-and-a-quarter-turn type of lock that seems most confounding.

Suddenly, we hear banging and clanging and panicked screams from the inside.  Within a few short seconds, she had managed to lock a workman in his office and was unable to unlock the door.  I imagined that the Swiss gentleman must have been worrying that we were locking him in so that we could make off with various botanical samples, or worse.

I hurried over the scene, and freed the man, who looked completely stunned after having been confined to his office by two strange Canadians.  His expression suggested that he needed an explanation, and my companion tried to comply, but then he looked decidedly non-impressed.  I suppressed the urge to tell him that this is what happens when you leave you keys in the lock, but I was afraid of being expelled from Switzerland.  He removed the keys from the lock and went back into his office.  I hope he learned his lesson.

After rescuing the man, I wandered over and pushed or pulled on the door (you know, like tried both directions) of what appeared to be the female can and it opened.  With her bladder empty, we were able to continue on through the foliage.

Monday, March 22, 2010

A look at my CD collection, part 8: Anjani - Blue Alert

Finally, changing topics...

Q: What kind of a 76 year-old-man dates a 51 year-old-woman?

A: Leonard Cohen

I kind of hate Leonard Cohen, with his constant cadre of women and his perfect songs.  Damn him all to hell.  Blue Alert is what happens when you pair the best song-writer of the 20th Century with a good voice.  It's a jazzy affair, but I think the lyrics are stronger than the music.  There is something not quite right with the musical direction on the album, but I can't put my finger on it.  Maybe it's that the mellowness overwhelms the lyrics to such an extent as to make the songs anemic.  But, I am not a jazz expert by any means.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Sometimes, Doctors are Wrong

Soon after visiting my brother in the hospital, he developed a fever.  This turn of events seemed to strengthen the belief that the doctor had been quite correct.  Everyone thought that this would be the thing to end it all, but then something almost miraculous happened.

After ten days of unconsciousness, he "woke up."  This is amazing, unexpected news, but it is not exactly as good as is sounds.  He cannot speak.  He can only open his eyes for a few seconds at a time.  His is so weak on the right side, that he cannot really move his right arm.  He cannot swallow, meaning that they have to keep a tube in his throat.  He cannot eat because his stomach will not function properly and nothing is kept down.  He is on oxygen.  Of course, since he cannot speak, it is unclear if he is suffering from any brain damage, aside from the obvious speech issue.  He did manage to shake his head in reply to some questions.

What lies ahead, should he continue to come out of this, is months of rehabilitation and a long, slow recovery.  I am not sure that recovery is the correct word since he will most likely have limited mobility and a poor quality of life.  The doctor emphasized that my brother remains in grave condition and that he is very ill.  The doctor is uncertain what lies ahead.  In fact, his original prognosis might still hold true.

So, again, we wait.

Sunday, March 07, 2010

I Have two Brothers but I am Brotherless

My brother is going to die.

It's almost impossible to describe the overwhelming sense of sadness in that hospital room.  With my sister, step-mom, my brother's step-daughter, and her child, we stood around trying to make sense of it all.  Five days after his hemorrhagic stroke, he is still unresponsive.  The doctor described two possible outcomes. The less likely is that he will surface and, in the best possible scenario, will de disabled and have massive brain damage.  The other - more likely scenario - is that he will slip into a coma and die of something else, like an infection, perhaps pneumonia.  So certain is he of this outcome, that we all agreed with a "do not resuscitate" plan.  In short, my brother is going to die, but we don't know exactly when.  It could take hours or days or weeks or longer.  But, the timing is irrelevant: my brother is already gone.

The average hospital bed is not up to the task of containing a 475+ pound man.  By some estimates, he is over 500 pounds, but that won't last, not in a hospital bed, especially since his stomach no longer functions: the food forced into him by a tube is regurgitated immediately.  My brother fills the bed completely, like a child lying in a bed made for a toy doll.  Cables and tubes connect him to an array of medical instruments:  a heart rate monitor, a blood pressure cuff, two IVs, and a respirator with its long tube running down his throat.

Throughout the day, I experienced a deep sense of guilt and anger.  My brother is such an asshole.  It's difficult to write that about a family member, one who is on the verge of death, but he is an asshole and it has always pissed me off.  I was supposed to be his friend.  I was supposed to be close to him for my entire life.  We were both supposed to have kids who would play with each other and come over at Christmas.  We were supposed to go to the beach together.  Or, he was just supposed to be around, to be an unconditional friend, to a part of my life.  Instead, he bailed on his entire family, after being a jerk when he was an adolescent.

His three kids (the first of whom came when he was only 16) were sexually abused; the mother and step-father were sent off to prison, the kids being distributed to various foster homes, never to be seen again, though we are looking for them.  Sure, he paid some child support, but only after court orders, and then that dried up when he went on a disability pension.  He made no effort to find them.  He didn't try to obtain custody after the trial when their step-father was found guilty of sexual assault and the mother found guilty of permitting it to happen.

I am angry with my brother for ruining so much of my childhood.  From his violent behaviour toward me to the theft of family possessions, he was a complete bastard.  What can you say about someone who would steal from his own family? At least my other brother, the one who left home when I was 4 years old, never stole from us.  He sold drugs and paid the price, and then I never really saw him again. He disappeared and I have seen in a handful of times, and only twice in the past 25 years, maybe 5 times since I was four years old.  It's like he was never my brother.  He is a mystery to me and I can't even say that I know him.

In the hospital, staring at him in the bed, I was inexplicably on the verge of tears, for a man I never liked, for a man that failed to be a brother, who was a terrible son, a lousy human being, and a disinterested father.  He spent his life barely able to survive, finally ending up a on disability pension because he was too obese to work.  He has sleep apnea, hypertension, diabetes, asthma, troubles with blood clots, and a weak heart. By all accounts he ate massive amounts of unhealthy food and had an immense passion for smoking.  I still insist that this is the outcome he wanted: he wanted to be pitied, to be the village freak, and he did it.  In the end, I might compare him with Ignatius J. Reilly, but without the creativity, or maybe Homer Simpson, but a Homer without any sense of responsibility or love for anyone other than himself.

You may think this uncharitable, but it's true.  The way he spoke clearly indicated that he loved attention.   If he was sick, everyone knew about it.  Everyone knew how many pills he had to take each day because he displayed them in his apartment for some sort of pitying effect.

After a conversation with the doctor, we went to have lunch, and then drove to his apartment.  It's difficult to think about him as being dead, when his is still alive and breathing, but we were forced to investigate the bills, to pay the landlord the overdue rent, to plan for the emptying of the apartment.

The floor around his bed is scarred with burns from cigarettes that fell through his hands as he drifted off to sleep.  Miraculously, there was never a fire.  He gave up smoking six months ago when he needed oxygen.  The bedroom has six oxygen tanks; he has a night-time breathing apparatus.  Another oxygen machine sits in the living room.  I looked around the dismal place and was stunned to see a shelf of family photographs.

I didn't speak to him over the past 25 years, maybe once or twice.  I was angry with him and could never understand how my father could have forgiven him so easily.  My mother too.  But, I guess that's what parents do.  Standing there, staring at the photographs, I began to feel angry with myself for being the holdout, especially when my sister said she had been speaking with him recently.  And then, I saw two photos of me and my two kids (whom he has never met) on a shelf along with recent photos of my sister.  My sister had sent him photos and he ran out to buy frames so he could display them.

I felt like such an idiot.  In the back of my mind, I always assumed that our paths would cross, that we would speak again, that we could forget all of the garbage of the past, but now that's impossible.  He is dying in a hospital, and I am pissed off, but I am not sure if I am angry about him dying or for him failing to be a brother.  How is it that I ended up with two brothers who walked away from their family and never tried to keep in contact with any of us?

I got back in the rental car and headed back to Toronto, feeling a profound sense of loss for a brother I hardly knew.

Wednesday, March 03, 2010


My estranged brother has had a stroke.  This is both odd and not odd.  It is odd because he is young, only 17 months older than me.  On the other hand, he is morbidly obese and he leads a very unhealthy lifestyle.  (You can read more about my brother here and here).

He remains unresponsive in a hospital bed, about to be shifted to a different hospital where a neurologist can examine him.  Initially, we were told that the prognosis is grave.  Currently, I have no idea and am just waiting to get the updates.