“All Quiet on the Western Front”- Impressions

I recently finally got around to reading “All Quiet on the Western Front.” I had avoided it for a number of reasons; first I didn’t want it to interfere with my recollections and second, I didn’t want it to bring up anything unwelcome.

I haven’t had clear memories of the war in a couple years now so the former was no longer a concern; as for the latter, I had to set the book aside for some weeks because it did strike some raw nerves.

In particular I’m struck by how much of what I remembered is exactly the same sorts of things Remarque talks about. Some of the images burned into his mind are exactly the ones burned into mine. That, more than anything, shook me because it drives away some of my doubts that these memories are authentic.

When he began talking about wiring patrols and star shells, I had to set the book aside because it was too much for me. I’m almost certain now that Jack met his end during one such detail. Remarque’s description is uncannily similar too.

He also described the dead hanging from trees. I had remembered seeing dead Canadians in Railway Wood but I had assumed the Germans had thrown them into the trees as some macabre warning; I had heard that a mine blown near the line could do that but nobody blew any lines in that sector. However, Remarque did offer another explanation: trench mortars. Very likely, as the last of the Canadians were retreating through Railway Wood, they got hit with a mortar barrage. I can’t say I feel any better about what happened to them but at least it wasn’t a bit of macabre landscaping.

It’s very likely the religious-looking building I seem to recall in or near Le Havre was a hospital. Jack was very likely wounded at some point and taken behind the lines to recover. Remarque mentions a Catholic hospital in his work.

For much of the book I either knew exactly what was being described or had a fairly easy time imagining it. The German experience- at least when it came to the front itself- wasn’t that different. When Remarque describes the retreat of 1918 I can’t help but think of how it was in the spring of 1915 for us, when we were caught unawares and our line was blasted into a string of foxholes we couldn’t possibly hold. Retreat under those circumstances is always terrifying.

I don’t know what else I could say about it. War is a sick enterprise and a culture that can’t stop making war is a sick culture. Unfortunately, that’s us.

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More Cheerful News

While it’s taking longer and more procedures than I’d like, that massive kidney stone has been taken down to size. I still have to go in for one last operation to clean up the bits and pieces but the life-threatening blockage is gone now, reduced mostly to grains of sand about .1 to .5 mm wide.

Also, I coped better with anesthetic this time. I was out of the hospital within an hour of waking up. I wanted to malinger because the usual post-surgical malaise made me want to pull blanket over my head and tell everyone to leave me alone, but I thought better.

The doctor said this was the biggest stone he’d seen in the last year. I signed consent for video of the operation to be pused for teaching purposes, so if any future student at OHSU sees a demo of an uncomplicated removal of a large ureteral stone from a 33 year old patient, you’re welcome.

I think the dream I had of walking with the cat I lost last February may have been more a warning than an omen. The stone that was slowly making me sicker and sicker was discovered shortly after that.  I had pretty severe hydronephrosis, which is to say my left kidney was blown up like a balloon. Without this operation I might have died a slow painful death.

Instead, I find my general energy and well being are recovering rapidly. By spring I might be in really excellent condition.

Kitty, wherever you are now, thanks for the warning. You’re loved and missed.

Squeezeboxing

Well, I may not ever be any good at the concertina, but it’s such a delight to play! It’s very relaxing, probably the easiest and most informal thing I ever picked up.

I don’t think I played it in any of my prior lives though. It was always someone else. What a loss! This thing was invented in like 1820 and I’m only just starting to mess around with it?

Never too late I suppose. If there has been any silver lining to recovering from this surgery it’s been the time I spent kicking back and picking out tunes.

I Live

I survived the first surgery with no real complications to speak of.

That being said, they didn’t get the stone. They stuck a stent in me and sent me home groggy and less than myself. They were unable to get at the stone because the inflammation was worse than they’d supposed. They said I’d be passing blood for some days but by the second day I was passing clear fluids with no visible blood.

Had to quit taking pain meds because they made me constipated. It’s all good though; the pain’s not so bad really. I’ve developed quite a tolerance for pain in my urinary tract over the years so I’m not that bad off. I’m eating alright and drinking plenty of fluids with no nausea to speak of. That much I’m not faking for the benefit of my friends.

What I am faking? Confidence and a cool head. I would have had to get a second surgery anyway, but I’m still nervous. The longer they wait to tackle this the worse I’ll feel. My health anxiety is running rather high. I don’t like this at all. The way the anesthesia makes me feel is frightening. Going unconscious and losing 3+ hours of my life is frightening. Worrying that I’ll have an infection or some unforeseen reaction to the anesthesia after the fact is frightening.

I suppose the first surgery demystified things a little bit. I know what to expect at least. But it didn’t reassure me much that the process will be trouble-free. I won’t feel so sure until this ordeal is over. Also, losing consciousness under anesthesia, while rapid, was frightening. I would compare it to losing consciousness from strangulation (the roaring in my ears, the pressure in my head, squeezing in my neck, then rapid blackout). If I die in that state I won’t die easy and I don’t really want to go to that space where you go when you die uneasy.

I’ll go back with my head held high though. I won’t let my husband or my friends or the doctors see just how utterly terrified I still am. Stiff upper lip and all that.

If anything happens to me… well, I don’t know. I thought about posting my name in case something did go wrong so I wouldn’t be forgotten, but since I came out of it alive it was a good move not to out myself. Anyhow, among my last wishes is a statement regarding my thoughts about reincarnation and my plan to “hack Samsara” as my Serbian hacker friend once said. I think it’s an apt turn of phrase. Part of the plan involves having my last testament published as widely as possible so I can continue my work if I’m unlucky enough to reincarnate which, given how pitifully short of enlightenment I am, is very likely.

I want to finish this life at a decent age. I don’t want to die at 33. I probably won’t die at 33. But the anxiety machine is working overtime and talking about this fear with someone- anyone- is probably the best way of working through it. I had to miss my counseling session because I felt so shitty. Even if one of you reads this, thank you.

A Brief Update

So a lot has happened. Surgery got rescheduled because of some worrying symptoms. Then came some news that basically means I’ll have seed money to potentially start back in the antiques trade. Then New Years and my husband and I’s first marriage anniversary.

Now the surgery is tomorrow and it’s only just hitting me how worried I am.

I shouldn’t be. But I am. I sent an updated copy of my last wishes to my father.

Odds are 100 to 1 in favor of getting out of the hospital within hours none the worse for wear. They’re good odds. But I’ve never been under general anasthetic. I don’t think the doctor at the pre-op consultation really listened to me when I said I had experienced breathing problems like possible asthma and sleep apnea, but hadn’t been diagnosed. When I went in for the first time on the 26th they hadn’t made any note of this in my chart. I’m very worried that someone’s going to fuck up and kill me.

 

On The Bright Side

On the bright side, the procedure I’m getting is pretty routine, minimally invasive, and has a very low rate of complications.

Believe me, I’m already planning around surviving this. I just bought a cheap concertina, actually. Amazon had one that got decent reviews as a beginner instrument and had an optional 3 year accident/defect plan, so I bit. I had some money from family for Christmas anyway.

Hoping to learn a few folk tunes from the lives I’ve recalled. Build a repertoire. Maybe find some folk musicians locally and jam if I ever get good enough. I don’t know; I haven’t been serious about music in a long time. I was really into it as a kid (I took piano, violin, and trumpet at various points) but Mom was flaky about taking me to lessons. In my teens and 20s I even wrote some songs with the aid of a computer. I still have a Soundcloud with a few pieces I did, everything from 80s style synthpop to a scherzetto for harpsichord and wind. But it’s been a long hiatus; I lost my software during a computer upgrade a few years back and recently I’ve been focused more on writing. But music was my passion long before writing, even if I wasn’t exactly great at it.

Not expecting to become a virtuoso… I just want to rekindle a hobby that I haven’t had a chance to explore in forever. The role of the concertina in those vivid memories of the past, and my interest in the folk music of the British Isles, has been nagging at me for some time now and I’m happy to finally get a chance to explore this.

More Dreams

Another dream log. This one was very unexpected.

I think the first part of the dream had to do with anxiety over my upcoming kidney stone surgery (26 Dec). It kept alternating between this grim city where the poor were being swept away by heavy rains, and a pleasant resort with many people (most of them older) who were going to hold hands and embrace death together. They wanted me there too. We held hands in this sand ampitheater just above a narrow beach. A wave came crashing toward us, massive and frightening. Then out of the wave came a bunch of cheering people and the wave itself disintegrated. I think they were the souls of the dead come to meet their friends and family and take them home. But there was nobody that I recognized.

The next thing I knew I was back in that dreary city next to a manhole cover. Water stood about an inch high above it. I heard the sound of water rushing beneath it, then a thud and muffled screaming. Then blood welled up from under the manhole cover.

Then the dream switched gears again. I was talking to someone and I told them my name.

Theysaid “Oh! You’re Philip K Dick’s daughter!” and I was stunned. I think all I managed was “What!?”

Sure enough, in a magazine from 1980, there was my name in an article about him. Even in the dream I knew this was odd because I was born in 1984.

But somehow I arranged to see him. As in a previous dream, he was still alive and remarried but this time, he was living in a very nice house. We didn’t talk that much but I had the expectation that I’d be back, though why he seemed to think I was his daughter was a question I wanted to ask.

This was a curious sort of thing to dream because I have a good relationship with my father and never felt the need for a father figure. Indeed, during the dream I felt more perplexed than warm.

But I wonder too if this isn’t some harbinger, especially paired with the dreams earlier and another set of dreams from some months ago where I went walking down a beautiful country road carrying my cat who died last February of kidney troubles. I fear I may soon fall prey to complications from the surgery.

It’s not like I can opt out of the surgery either. This stone is big and it’s got my left kidney blown up like a water balloon. It won’t resolve itself; I’ll die of sepsis if I don’t have this surgery.

Please, if you are a person of faith, pray for me. I’m not liking these omens.