erik lundegaard

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Personal Pieces posts

Friday June 21, 2024

No Xanadu

Earlier this week I woke up in the middle of the night with a song in my head. This song:

I'm the morning in your morning
I'm the morning in your evening
I'm the morning in your silvery moon

It had a tune, too, but I don't recall the tune. I don't think it's a real song, just a pastiche of sentiments. No idea what it means. I'm the fresh part of your day? Or is “morning” also “mourning”? That would fit the state of my world for this week/month/year. 

Coleridge takes a nap and gets:

In Xanadu did Kubla Khan
A stately pleasure-dome decree:
Where Alph, the sacred river, ran
Through caverns measureless to man
Down to a sunless sea.

Right: I ain't Coleridge. I'm lucky I got anything. I also like “silvery moon.” 

Posted at 05:40 AM on Friday June 21, 2024 in category Personal Pieces   |   Permalink  

Sunday June 16, 2024

Father's Day

This is my first Father's Day without a brother and the first with my father in a hospital with serious health issues.

I'd actually bought him Father's Day gifts last month, before the current shit storm, as the ideas came to me: a biography of Washington Senators shortstop Cecil Travis, who led the AL in hits in 1941, the year Ted Williams hit .406 and Joe DiMaggio hit in 56 straight games, but then lost four years to WWII, and maybe some sense of touch in his extremeties to frostbite during the Battle of the Bulge. He seemed on a Hall of Fame trajectory but came back and wasn't the same; he was gone from the game by '47. A class act, he never blamed the war or the frostbite. He said you lose a fraction of your talents and you're done. Ted Williams, for one, thinks he belongs in the Hall. Cecil was Dad's favorite player growing up.

The other is a T-shirt of a baseball diamond with players' names from Abbott & Costello's “Who's on First?” routine at each position.

I gave him the gifts early, a week and a half ago, in the ICU at M. Hospital: the Travis bio as maybe something to do, the Abbott & Costello T-shirt because the occupational therapist needed a shirt to work with and no other was available. I don't know if he remembers the T-shirt. I'll give it to him again today. Meanwhile, I've read him the foreword of the Travis bio a few times. Would be great if he could feel strong enough to read it on his own but we're not there yet. 

He's no longer at M. Hospital. They moved him to a long-care type facility: R. Hospital. Its title includes “Minneapolis” even though it's in Golden Valley. He feels stuck in a system whose goal is to move him forward as he progresses even if he doesn't progress much. Yes, like kids who can't read. At M., he even seemed to regress. R., meanwhile, feels lesser. It feels a little low-rent. It's a place with the various therapists (occ., phys., speech), and he gets all of those weekdays but none of them weekends. The physcial therapist can move him from bed to chair but no one else can; the attendants have to use some lift contraption—to avoid slip-and-falls and litigation, one assumes—but it feels unhelpful and dehumanizing. He needs to use his stuff (mouth, arms, legs) to improve, to move on, but the lift contraption, which can barely fit into his hospital room, just lifts and deposits him. He is without agency. An apt metaphor. 

Yesterday I was there about five hours, 11 to 4, and it was nice that he had many visitors, including several old newspaper colleagues, who are fun and funny and no bullshit, and around whom he perks up significantly. I got him to sing yesterday, too, which feels like it'll exercise mouth muscles, and while I served up the first few lines of his favorite Beatles song (“Across the Universe”), he went with Gilbert & Sullivan: “Tit Willow” from “The Mikado.” He'd played that part, KoKo, several decades ago, and was cracking himself up during this rendition. When he was done, he said he was laughing because he was remembering Groucho sing the song on the old Carson Show.

We'll try more singing today.

Posted at 08:04 AM on Sunday June 16, 2024 in category Personal Pieces   |   Permalink  

Wednesday June 12, 2024

Can't Get There From Here, Don'tcha Know, or the Hwy. 100 Two-Step

The other day, after visiting my father at his new post-stroke facility in Golden Valley, Minnesota, and driving south on Hwy 100, I figured crosstown would be rough at 4:30 on a weekday so why not take the 50th/Vernon Ave. exit and just take 50th to my sister's place near Lake Nokomis? I mean, why don't more Minnesotans do that? Avoid the freeway awfulness. See the neighborhoods. See people. Fun!

Famous last words.

After the exit I took a left onto Vernon and immediately ran into a snarl: two lanes merging into one. Then I realized, no, wait, we're also being detoured. Vernon Ave. was under construction and didn't go through. The flow of the traffic, bumper to bumper, stop and go, wound right and around, and to my eye it almost seemed to be going back onto Hwy 100—but north this time—the place I'd just come from. But that couldn't be. As I inched along, I kept trying to figure out where the detour went.

And that's where it went: back onto Hwy. 100, heading north. 

Had I missed an alternate route? A path that made more sense? Nope. It wasn't a bug, it was a feature. If you exited Hwy 100 south the way I did, taking a left onto Vernon Ave., the only path for you was to get back on Hwy 100 heading north. Isn't that astonishing? The old joke is there are two seasons in Minnesota, winter and road construction, and this was that, but I'd never seen anything so stupid in my life. 

And it didn't end there! Consult the map. Since the detour sent me back north I had to take the next exit, the Excelsior Blvd. exit, but the path I was on, the detour path, was packed and slow-moving and infuriating; so at the first opportunity I tried to get far from the madding crowd. Or, to use another literary allusion, I tried to take the road less traveled. But Edina/Minneapolis wouldn't let me. I might have a clear path for a few blocks, but then I realized why I had a clear path. This road didn't go through, either—construction was everywhere—and I'd have to double back with my tail between my legs. Sheridan didn't go through. Thomas didn't go through. Neither did Upton, nor Vincent. I had to go all the way back to Xerxes just to get to 50th, just to try to get home. It took me an hour.

Posted at 04:12 PM on Wednesday June 12, 2024 in category Personal Pieces   |   Permalink  

Sunday June 09, 2024

Room 715

It's Friday night at 6:00 and I'm with my 92-year-old father in Room 715 at M hospital in the Twin Cities. I call it the Henry Aaron Room. Dad gets it if not many others do. He's sleeping. We were watching “Jeopardy” but he'd been sitting up in a chair for three hours and that proved wearying.

Last week, Dad had a mild stroke and the paramedics took him here. I had been at the Mariners game in Seattle, had called him with the good news of the Trump convictions (“Guilty on all counts!”), and got his wife Ingrid instead with the news that he was being loaded into the ambulance. Initially, I thought: “This again.” Six weeks earlier, maybe eight, he'd had something similar—suddenly unable to lift his left arm—and been taken to A hospital, where they'd determined that it wasn't a stroke but a TIA. You can look it up—I had to. He recovered from it pretty well. This wasn't that. The paramedics determined this was a stroke, and took him to the nearest hospital, which was M hospital.

I left the game early, and called Ingrid when I got home. On the phone his voice sounded very, very slurred, and I flashed back—not to six or eight weeks ago—but to 2016 when my mother had a stroke in her apartment over the weekend and wasn't found until Monday morning. She lost the ability to speak for the last three years of her life.

“Was he given the TPA drug for immediate stroke aftermath?” I texted.

“I haven't seen the doctor yet,” Ingrid texted back, “and the nurses can't tell me. But the paramedics told me this is a top stroke management hospital. Wish you were here.”

“I'm just googling it. Apparently it's called tissue plasminogen activator.”

“Yes, I know about it, but he doesn't have an IV. Great stuff if you can get it.”

That back-and-forth took place around 6 PM Minneapolis time. At around 6:40, an emergency room doctor burst in on him and Ingrid, demanding to know when exactly the stroke happened because they were thinking they were reaching the outer limits of when the TPA could be given safely. The trouble was, there was no “exactly.” He'd had lunch, felt off, went to take a nap, and when he woke up: this.

I knew about this back-and-forth because I was on the phone with Ingrid. During a pause, I asked what the tests suggested and were they sure it was a stroke? No, they weren't sure. Everything was too inconclusive, and in the end they didn't administer the drug. Instead they ordered an MRI. Which told them—the next day—yes, it was a mild stroke. Therapists (occupational, physical, speech) were assigned to him.

And then things got worse. Over the weekend he kept coughing when he tried to drink water. He ate cut-up meals just fine—so Ingrid and my sister Karen said—but the water was problematic. Too late the hospital staff ordered thickened water. By then he'd aspirated something—probably water—into his lungs. Now he had pneumonia. Now he was on oxygen. Now he was in the ICU. And I booked a flight to come out to Minneapolis.

I'm still not over this initial fuckup. If you have a stroke patient, even one with a “mild” stroke, how do you not guard against aspiration? What precautions are taken? That seems like the No. 1 thing to watch out for. But they didn't. And things cascaded down. They took a semi-healthy man with a stroke and within days brought him to death's door.

People kept showing up—now PT, now OT, now the nurse to check his blood sugar, now the nurse with the nebulizer, now the RN to move him in bed. Strangers kept waking him up, screaming “BOB!” in his face. They keep asking the same questions:

  • Do you know where you are?
  • Do you know what month it is?
  • Do you know what day it is?

To see if he regresses in his answers, I'm told. But it bored and annoyed him. He's a sharp man in a weakened body. Dad doesn't suffer fools gladly and now he was being treated like one. One time, he was so bored telling them “June 6,” he just said, “D-Day.”

There's so many of them, and they never seem to know who he is. “BOB! HOW DID YOU GET AROUND AT HOME? DID YOU USE A WHEELCHAIR OR A WALKER?”

Dad, through slurred speech: “I walked.”

A feeding tube was ordered but that was another disaster. On Wednesday morning, the nurse inserted it before I arrived but X-rays indicated it wasn't in the right place. Or it was kinked. So she did it again. I was standing outside the door and could hear his cries of pain. And even this wasn't right. And the third time wasn't right. My sister to the nurse: “Should we get someone else to try this?” Even the fourth or fifth go, which seemed OK, didn't work. It got clogged. The processed food wound up overflowing onto the machine. They wound up turning it off and inserting his tube the next morning via X-ray. Fifth or sixth time's the charm.

He still has his sense of humor. We were watching the Twins play the Yankees other night and a nurse interrupted to give him a blood-thinning shot in his stomach. “BOB, I'm going to give you a jab, it'll be a little painful, and then you can go back to watching the Twins!!” Dad: “I don't know which is more painful.”

I keep wondering over the illogic of so much of what they do. When his oxygen levels go below 88%, his monitor beeps, and sometimes someone shows up to investigate; other times nobody shows up to investigate. I asked why. “Oh, we can see it back at the nurse's station. We're monitoring it.” Got it. After she left, I wondered, “So ... why do you need the monitor to beep in his room then? You already know what you need to know. And isn't that keeping him awake?”*

* Apparently they have readings and alarms from one of the monitors (breathing, heartrate, etc.) but not from the feeding tube. Point still stands. 

They reduced the nebulizer from four to two times daily. Why? Because he's improving, they said. Is he? I said, listening to his wet cough. We take shifts—Ingrid has the brunt of it—so he has an advocate. So the medical staff gets a sense that it's a person there.

I envision a horror movie, Kafkaesque, about someone entering a facility and slowly, bit by bit, losing mobility, health and agency by a staff of cheerful, chipper people who think they're doing good. They're not evil. They think they're helping. But they keep blowing it. Until there's nothing of him left.

That's all of us eventually.

Posted at 08:04 AM on Sunday June 09, 2024 in category Personal Pieces   |   Permalink  

Saturday May 11, 2024

DIY 9-1-1

Increasingly it feels like nothing works anymore.

Yesterday afternoon I was meeting a friend at the Mountaineering Club, a rooftop bar atop the Graduate Hotel in Seattle's University District. It was a beautiful day, Seattle's first 80-degree day of the year, and I drove over, parked, starting walking, then ran into what we often run into in Seattle: a bit of unpleasantness. This time it was a shirtless, shoeless man, 30s probably, vociferous and angry, sitting on the sidewalk. Was he talking to me or just talking out loud? I could see blood on his forehead and blood on one of his bare feet and he was asking me to call 911. It was more demanding than beseeching, but I stopped, took in the scene. Yes, he seemed to be bleeding. Yes, I guess I should call.

So I did. I explained to the female operator: I'm passing by, a guy on the sidewalk, bleeding—sotto voce: he might not be all there—and he asked me to call. 50th and 11th. Then there was a bit of a delay. She was asking more questions than I'd anticipated and eventually a male operator got on the line, too.

Male Operator: Are you near the Fire Dept.?
Me: Yes, it's across the street.
Male Operator: Well, can't you just walk him over?

I was a bit stunned. Was 911 part of the Fire Dept.? I thought it was—I guess cops? Or its own entity? Plus I'd never heard a 911 operator make this kind of request before. Wasn't it usually “Wait there.” Instead I got: “We're a little busy, how about coming over here instead.”

Me: Well, I...
Male Operator: Can he walk?
Me: I guess? It's just...
Female Operator: Sir, do you feel safe?
Me: It's more—he's not very responsive. I don't know if he would go. Again, he's not really all there.

Mostly I didn't relish the idea of trying to convince him. Because I didn't care that much. I wanted to do bare minimum. Plus, as I looked over, he no longer seemed to be bleeding from his head. And the blood on his foot seemed pretty red. Too red? Like fake? Was the whole thing a scam?

But I walked across the street, rang the doorbell of the Fire Dept., explained what was up. Everyone seemed confused by my presence, and in the end it turned out an operator had already dispatched someone, and that was that. Just another odd moment in another odd day in another odd, awful year. Walking away, I had this thought: “Even 9-1-1.”

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Posted at 09:02 AM on Saturday May 11, 2024 in category Personal Pieces   |   Permalink  

Sunday April 28, 2024

April 28, 1961

Today is my brother's birthday. First time he's not around to celebrate it. He would've been 63.

I talked to my sister the other day, and she has a bit of a phantom-limb thing going: “I should see if we should pick up Chris on the way to Dad's.” That kind of thing. I don't. For most of the last 30 years, Chris and I didn't live in the same city, so there's not those automatic thoughts for me. I'd say I'm painfully aware that he isn't here but after five months it's more numbly aware. I also know, more than before, that Death doesn't stop to let you lick your wounds. It doesn't care. It keeps going. And going. And it'll get to you soon enough. And it's not personal. Life keeps going, too. That litter box still needs cleaning. Groceries still need buying. 

Here's what I keep thinking: “I wish Chris were here to see this.” “I wish I could talk to Chris about this.” “I wonder what Chris remembers about this.”

There's no real point to this post. Just another day where I feel like I should do or say something and don't know what that is.

Posted at 12:00 PM on Sunday April 28, 2024 in category Personal Pieces   |   Permalink  

Wednesday March 13, 2024

Way to Be

The other day, walking around a city that is increasingly full of homeless drug addicts, Bob Dylan's “Tryin' to Get to Heaven” came on iPhone shuffle, and these words hit me in a new way:

When you think that you've lost everything
You find out you can always lose a little more

Chris and Jellybean last fall, Clem last month. And, as the man said, it doesn't have to end there. There's more to lose. “Not single spies but in battalions,” as another man said.

And here's yet another man, Craig Wright, who, the other day on his SubStack, gave us an ode to living with uncertainty and a warning about its opposite.

“...every time I've seen a properly sad and searching human being stop searching quite so desperately because he believes he's finally found enough of what he needs that he can rest his soul for a bit, I've seen those human beings lose some of their human being: most pertinently, their ability to listen. The machinery in them that used to be for listening gets repurposed...

”But I have some news for you, those of you who are (thankfully) still sad and searching, who don't quite believe what you believe and have no place to rest: you're supposed to be sad and searching and there's no time to rest. You're doing great! If you're doing your job as a real human being, the job should get harder. You should know less every day and move with ever more caution and quiet through a landscape about which you should be increasingly suspicious. That Grief that children (and inner children) want to flee should look bigger and more unjust as we grow in awareness, and nothing that claims to quell it should be trusted because that Grief is actually where the Hope and Love we need most to keep searching forever live.“

That is a balm to my soul—assuming I'm still a sad and searching human being, as opposed to just sad. Either way, it spoke to me. In a way, it was better than Dylan's or Shakespeare's lines. Theirs are basically ”Tough luck, kid.“ Craig's is ”Welcome to the party, pal," but he means it. He wants us at that party. Because the other party is just assholes.

I recommend the whole article. Pass along if you know someone who could use it.

Posted at 02:57 PM on Wednesday March 13, 2024 in category Personal Pieces   |   Permalink  

Sunday March 03, 2024

Clem, Continued

How much does the ending dictate the story? 

For a week I thought the story was this: a good-hearted couple doing what they could to help a newly adopted two-month-old kitten overcome dysentery and thrive and live a long life. They doubled their laundry load, put warm compresses to his backside, fed him medicines, bought him diet supplements, cooked him chicken and rice, and spent more than $3,000 on five vet visits over a eight-day period to make it right.

Now the story feels like: two dullards who missed the clues and let a small animal suffer and die.

The image I can't escape is one from his final full day. He had been eating well, and filling out a bit. But he'd already begun to leave wet spots and he was still walking slowly and creakily. Because his backside hurt, right? That's what I thought—incorrectly probably. This day, this Friday, he wanted to walk in the hallway outside our second-floor condo, as our cat Jellybean liked to do. And as with her in her final days, I accompanied him on the slow walk. But now I accompanied with a squirt gun. I'd bought the squirt guns in anticipation of teaching him bathroom protocol. He understood the litter box, but not always, but we assumed it was dysentery dicatating the mishaps, including the sudden peeing, and once he got over it, things would self-correct. But just in case, squirt guns. In the hallway, he huddled in a corner, his preferred place for peeing and pooping outside the box, and so I leveled it. In my head I was a responsible pet owner ready to teach bathroom etiquette to a kitten. In reality I was an idiot leveling a squirt gun at a kitten slowly dying from malfunctioning kidneys.

I didn't pull the trigger. But I can't get over that image.

During this messy week, many people suggested we give Clem back to Seattle Animal Shelter, where we adopted him on Feb. 13. He was too much trouble. A question in the adoption papers asked something like “What might make you return your pets?” and we wrote “Can't imagine.” Now we could. But that wasn't us. That's what I said to Patricia one of those nights: “We're not those people.” Now I'm wondering if it would've been better for Clem if we had been those people. Maybe they would've picked up on the clues in time.

I still wonder about all those vet visits. The regimen we went with was: five days of antibiotics, and if that didn't right things, an abdominal ultrasound. He didn't last the five days; he had one dose to go. The final vet said his kidneys seemed off, wrong, but no ultrasound or radiograph was done, per the invoice, so maybe she was guessing. At this place, at the outset, they let you know how much it might cost—the high end of it, Clem's was $5,936—and you pay that before they do anything. And if they don't need to do everything, you get what they call “a refund.” We got a refund. The only new item on the final invoice was euthenasia: $203.11.

Taken together, the vet diagnoses feel like a bad joke. Does he need more extensive care? Not yet ... not yet ... not yet ... too late. 

Some of the real clues, including the sudden wet spots, didn't materialize until after the penultimate vet visit, but would we have known enough to tell them properly? You need a way to relay the facts to someone who has the knowledge to interpet the facts. We didn't have that. Clem didn't have that. Sadly, he just had us.

Posted at 09:07 AM on Sunday March 03, 2024 in category Personal Pieces   |   Permalink  

Wednesday February 28, 2024

Clemente ‘Clem’ Bradbury-Lundegaard (2023-2024)

Day 8

We didn’t even have him 11 days. 

The day before Valentine’s Day, my wife saw a photo of two cats on the website of Seattle Animal Shelter (SAS), where she’s a volunteer dog walker, and gave me a look like a kid in a Lassie movie. Can we keep ‘em? Can we? He was a tabby with big, cute ears; his sister was a tortoiseshell. After our cat Jellybean died last December, we talked about how, next time, we’d get two cats, so they could keep each other company when we were away; so we wouldn’t worry they were lonely. These were those two, Patricia was saying. They were from the same litter, bonded, and sleeping together. Somebody had left them in a box on the doorstep of an animal shelter, and that shelter transferred them to SAS on Feb. 7. They were just two months old.

Though they were recovering from neuter surgery, SAS let us take them home that afternoon. They were tiny things—as light as dust bunnies, I thought—but the boy didn’t seem worse for wear. He left the cat carrier with a tough-guy walk and explored the joint like he owned it. He was mouthy, and if he wanted your attention, and your back was turned, he’d scramble up your body like Spider-Man, then perch on your shoulder, meowing. 

“Right now it’s endearing,” Patricia said with a laugh that first night. 

For those first few days, I was a little out of it. As we sat at SAS filling out the paperwork, what was initially sniffles got worse. I’m guessing it was just a bad cold—all my COVID tests were negative—but I missed some of what was going on.

Patricia floated the idea of naming the girl Daphne, and I was an immediate no. “Why?” she asked. Overhearing, the SAS woman taking our information said, “And you can name the other one Fred!”

“That’s why,” I said. “‘Scooby Doo.’”

Eventually Patricia landed on Maisie for the girl. I forget what other names she’d floated for the boy but I kept shooting them down and she kept pestering me for a replacement. One morning, she asked while I was at my computer, and I had the Baseball Reference page up, with its revolving photos of ballplayers in the upper left hand corner.

“What about Clemente?” I said.

“Clem!” she said. “I love it!”

“Clemente.”

Clem.”

At this point I was more worried about the girl. Clemente had his tough-guy walk and seemed more athletic. He was able to jump onto the bed, for example, while she had to find a foothold and do it in stages. The bed thing didn’t last long anyway. Though they understood the litterbox idea, one of them wound up pooping on the bed the first night. Worse, it was a little loose, a little runny. And it kept happening. The second or third night, Patricia thought that if she slept on the floor, next to their cat bed, they’d be that much closer to the litterbox in the bathroom and use it. Nope. In the morning, Maisie jumped onto the bed and peed near my pillow. That was that. We became a closed bedroom door family, and they would sleep in the heated cat bed out in the living room. Once we got the diarrhea problem under control, we thought, we’d work on bathroom protocols.

That was a common refrain: Once we solve this, then that. We didn’t know we would never solve this; we didn’t know we’d never get to that.

* * *

On the first Wednesday, Patricia bought a pumpkin supplement from Mud Bay, and a day later picked up cat food and a probiotic from SAS, all to help with the diarrhea problem. But whose problem was it? We had just the one litter box and didn’t know whose stools were getting firmer and whose weren’t. But we had our guess. Maisie was filling out, Clem wasn’t.

“Is he not eating?” I asked.

“He is,” Patricia said. “Just as not as much as she, I guess.”

SAS told us to have them checked out by a vet within a week but they didn’t tell us how to get the vet appointment. Our old vet, Four Paws, wasn’t taking new customers—new animal customers—so Patricia asked around and went with Jet City Animal Clinic, which was nearby, but the earliest appointment she could get was Monday, February 26—two weeks from when we got them. And with the way Clem was going, that seemed too far in the future. He needed help now. So on Friday Patricia made an appointment for the following Monday. By Saturday morning, he was so thin that the following Monday seemed too far in the future. So she took Clem to Urban Animal on Capitol Hill, which was open on weekends, and where subcutaneous fluids were given, and blood and fecal tests taken.

On Sunday, while Patricia was away, I googled his symptoms and wondered if it wasn’t worms or parasites. I was texting her my theories, while Clem lay on a heating pad in the window seat in my office. Then he went over to the sleeping bag in the corner. Was he squatting? Peeing?

He was shitting. Almost liquid.

“No no no no no no,” I said, picking him up, and holding my free hand under him as I ran to the bathroom and the litterbox.

“The pumpkin is doing nothing,” I texted Patricia.

To friends I began quoting Kurt Vonnegut’s brother, Bernard, who, after he became a father for the first time, wrote to Kurt: “Here I am, cleaning shit off of everything.” We were in the laundry room a lot. We began to use a separate bag for shit-stained items.

The fecal test came back negative for parasites, while the blood tests were a bunch of numbers—we didn’t know what they meant. But the vet at Jet City—our Monday appointment—took one look at them and said: “He needs an IV.” He recommended a couple of places. BluePearl was within walking distance from our condo.

And the vet there said, no, Clem didn’t need an IV.

Patricia exploded. Patricia never explodes. But this was her third vet trip in three days and we weren’t getting any closer to a solution.

At least they gave us a gameplan. The diarrhea might be viral-related, the vet said, and recommended a regimen of oral liquid antibiotics. She showed us how to administer them: hold the cat firmly, cheeks back, then edge the syringe toward the side of their mouth until it opened. I got fairly adept at it.

In a follow-up email explaining the blood numbers, Saturday’s Urban Animal vet seemed to agree with the BluePearl vet:

For the most part, this bloodwork is normal for a kitten of this age. The SDMA result is difficult to interpret since this kitten is so young and there is no accurate reference range. 

The potassium is mildly high and can be seen with kidney disease, but in Clem's case the kidney values are normal. In some cases parasites can cause an elevated potassium. The significance and the cause of the mild elevation in potassium is not readily seen from the bloodwork and fecal at this time.  

If Clem Fails to gain weight, I would consider other diagnostics such as abdominal ultrasound.  

By Wednesday, Clem’s stools were getting bloody. When I patted his butt with toilet paper after he pooped—a necessity with the diarrhea—it came away with less poop and more blood. And his anus was … was it supposed to look like that? Patricia called it distended. When the BluePearl vet gave us a follow-up call, and we mentioned all of this, she recommended a return visit.

Again, the IV route was discussed, and again it was rejected. A normal PCV or Packed Cell Volume, was 30-35, she said. His was 38: elevated but not dangerous. If it was above 42 she would recommend hospitalization. All his other labs were within the normal range, too. She gave us prescriptions for two anti-diarrhea meds, both orals, meaning by Thursday poor Clem was taking seven different oral doses a day. We also switched his diet. Both the vet, and a friend, had recommended chicken + rice for animals with diarrhea. And holy crap did he like it. He attacked it. He ate like a champ. It warmed Patricia’s heart.

And for a day and a half he filled out. His stools were still slightly soft, with blood snaking through them, and his butt still sore, but he seemed to be getting better. Didn’t he? Per the vet’s instructions, I also began putting a warm compress on his backside for about a minute or so. He didn’t seem to mind this. Maybe it felt OK. Maybe it was because we were doing it in the bathroom sink, and he had a fascination with sinks. Most of his feedings now took place on the kitchen counter—to keep his food separate from Maisie’s—and afterwards he’d stroll over to the sink, where I might be washing dishes, and just stare, fascinated. When the water was turned off, he'd climb down and nose around.

But this was him at his most curious. After a meal he would normally crouch at the edge of the counter and stare down. To Maisie, the world was a toy. She zipped, batted things, chased sparkle balls. He wasn’t doing any of this. And his tough guy walk had become a stiff-legged gait—we assumed because of the distended backside. Once he got past it, we thought, he’ll be OK.

Once that, then this.

He was in my thoughts all the time. All of this happened during the Seattle International Film Festival’s Noir Festival, to which, several weeks earlier, I’d bought a pass. But between my sickness and Clem’s, I didn’t use it much. I went Tuesday night (“Black Tuesday” with Edward G. Robinson) and then again Thursday night (“La Bete Humaine” with Jean Gabin), and I was thinking of staying for the second and final feature. But I was too tired and I wanted to see how Clem was doing. A drink maybe? No, I was too tired and I wanted to see Clem.

When I called my father and step-mom during a late Friday afternoon walk, I went through the trials and tribulations of our week. What a shame, they said, that we couldn’t enjoy the fun and kittenish moments. “I don’t know,” I said. “When we first got them, and our friends came over to coo, etc., I wasn’t feeling it. It wasn’t until all this happened that he really entered my heart.”

Besides, I said, we were on the upswing. We were beginning to get past it.

* * *

When I got home, he was laying on the window seat in my office. I kept an eye out so he didn’t poop again but missed it when he left a big wet stain near the window. The night before he’d driven Patricia batty by suddenly peeing in the pantry. “What are you doing?” she’d admonished. But that pee didn’t smell like pee. Neither did this.

“Doesn’t he seem thin again?” Patricia said. “Yesterday, he was eating a lot and his tail was up. Now…”

“And we’re down to one antibiotic dose.”

That night he stopped eating. He stopped drinking. He didn’t look comfortable and couldn’t get comfortable. He’d stay in my lap a few seconds but would move off, and crouch nearby. In the kitchen I watched as he bent over his water dish, put his mouth close, and just stared.

“Maybe we need to go to the vet again?” I said.

“I don’t know,” Patricia said.

Another vet trip so soon seemed like a lot for him. I thought I might be overreacting. “Let’s see how he is in the morning.”

I woke up at 4 AM with a panicked thought: What if the wet spots that didn’t smell of urine weren’t urine? What if something inside him had broken? I found him, not in his bed, but sitting in the dining room, like he’d never gone to sleep, like he couldn’t get comfortable enough to go to sleep. BluePearl, it turned out, was closed weekends, but there was a clinic in Shoreline—the place that had diagnosed Jellybean’s cancer last September. I phoned, and they picked up right away. Patricia joined me in the kitchen as I explained to the clinic what was going on. We left shortly after 5 AM.

“Am I overreacting?” I asked.

“I don’t think so,” Patricia said.

At the vet they took Clem in his cat carrier and told us to wait in the lobby. We waited. And waited. And then, in a separate room, the vet, Dr. A., told us they’d run a test and didn’t like the looks of Clem’s kidney. She said we had two paths. One involved stabilizing Clem and then running a battery of tests.

And the other? I asked. She paused, and looked delicately at us.

“First option,” I said.

After another half hour or so in the lobby, the nurse came out with an update. Did they know what the problem was?

No. They couldn’t even stabilize him. They were losing him. They recommended we say goodbye.

Like that.

We found him in the back room lying on a table, an IV tube in his little leg. We could see his belly going up and down rapidly. Dr. A. tried to explain how euthanasia worked—the first shot to relax him and put him to sleep, and the second shot to…

We know, we said. We’d just been through it.

* * *

Our apartment at 9 AM felt eerily empty and calm, and we both tried to deal with it however we could. I went into my office to write it all out; Patricia went into the kitchen and began throwing away leftover medicines and syringes. She did the laundry with the pooped-stained towels. She was cleaning it all out but there was no cleaning it all out or writing it all out. It just kept hurting. 

I don’t know how it felt to Maisie. I don’t know how she misses her brother. We just know she hasn’t slept in their bed since. The point of the two cats was to make sure they wouldn’t be lonely when we were away, but I wonder if we made sure a part of her would always be lonely.

I now assume it was acute kidney failure: the lethargy, the stiff gait, the sudden peeing that didn’t smell like pee, all are indications—I read that day—of kidney malfunction. But why didn’t it register in the tests? Did he arrive with it and it got worse? Was it a consequence of the week-long dysentery and dehydration? Or did the infection that caused the dysentery—if an infection caused the dysentery—travel to his kidneys?

We don’t know. I just know he got a raw deal. Everybody let him down—starting with SAS. They were bad partners. Both kittens were neutered the day we picked them up, and they were supposed to come with cones, and didn’t. Nobody even mentioned it. It wasn’t until Maisie’s stomach became distended that Patricia brought her back and demanded to see a vet. That was on the same day Clem returned to BluePearl for his penultimate vet visit. Because the cat carrier was at SAS, for Maisie’s re-surgery, I had to take Clem there in a tote bag. And then I had to take him home in a cardboard cat carrier they provided. He’d already beshat it and himself when they handed him over. He was such a mess we had to wash him in the bathroom sink at home. Another indignity. 

Mostly I think of those oral meds I gave him—particularly the anti-diarrhea one he hated—all of which did nothing. “Sorry, buddy,” I’d say, “but this’ll help you get better.” The last dose I gave him was around 6 PM Friday. Afterwards he gave me such an exhausted look, it nearly broke my heart.

“Sorry, buddy,” I said. “But we’re almost done with it.”

We had him fewer than 11 days. He had fewer than 11 weeks.

Xoxo

Day 1

Posted at 10:42 AM on Wednesday February 28, 2024 in category Personal Pieces   |   Permalink  

Saturday January 20, 2024

61*

This was part of an exhibit at the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis that we saw last August, in what I now think of as the before time, and I was amused by how it went up to the day before my birthday and just ended. 

Was the artist commenting on the final days of the Reagan presidency? Hadn't thought of that—oddly, since I'm all about the politics, and if anyone knows when Inauguration Day is, it's anyone born January 20.

Today is my first birthday without my brother. Last night I dreamed we were sharing a prison cell, and I felt kind of safe, but then in the middle of the night someone broke in. They were a slow heavy presence, on top of me, and I felt weak and ineffectual, and I kept trying to wake Chris up. But he didn't wake up. A little on the nose, unconscious.

Posted at 09:56 AM on Saturday January 20, 2024 in category Personal Pieces   |   Permalink  

Saturday January 13, 2024

Billy Bob and Me

Someone telling you that the pain you're feeling, that bone-deep psychic pain, won't ever go away? Well, generally that's not something people find comfort in.

I've slept poorly now for several years, it's not just a consequence of my brother's death two months ago, and one day last week it was the usual 2:30 AM wake-up call without being able to return to sleep. So I went online. By happenstance I came across a post on Threads in which Billy Bob Thornton talked about the death of his brother, who was young, in his 20s I'm guessing. I'm guessing it was several decades ago. And he says this:

Yeah, I've never been the same since my brother died. There's a melancholy in me that never goes away. I'm 50% happy and 50% sad at any given moment. And the only advice I would give to people for when you lose someone is: You won't ever get over it. And the more you know that, and embrace it, the better off you are.

You grab comfort where you can. For whatever reason, during this awful time, Leonard Cohen's music helped. “The World According to Garp” helped. And this helped. A lot. Afterwards, I felt less alone.

Posted at 01:23 PM on Saturday January 13, 2024 in category Personal Pieces   |   Permalink  

Sunday December 31, 2023

Eulogy for My Brother

Here is the eulogy I delivered for my brother at his memorial on December 27 at Lakewood Chapel in south Minneapolis. I wish it had been better. I couldn't get at how much it hurt and still hurts. I've spent a lifetime writing but I don't have the words. 


In the summer of 1973, our family was out on the east coast for two months—an eternity when you’re a kid—and for much of it we stayed at our grandmother’s house on Cedarhurst Road in Finksburg, Maryland. Yes, it was like it sounds. She lived on a long, long block without sidewalks, and without many people, and definitely no kids. So what did Chris and I do? We set up a Kool-Aid stand. We didn’t understand why nobody came. We weren’t exactly Business 101.

One day Grammie sent us on an errand to the corner grocer. On the way back we were goofing around, swinging the loaf of bread like it was a baseball bat. And in the middle of one swing, the bottom of the cellophane bag ripped open and bread … went … everywhere. We tried to gather up the slices, but they were dirty now, and the bag was torn, and we couldn’t make it right again. I was usually someone who didn’t get into trouble so this was new territory for me, and I began to cry. Chris always got into trouble, he was used to it, so he knew what to do: lie. Remember what awful businessmen we were? Well, we were worse liars. Our lie was: We were walking, and suddenly the bag burst open. Yeah, nobody bought it. A few weeks later, after visiting friends and relatives in other states, we returned to Grammie’s. It was raining—a huge summer downpour. And as we turned onto Cedarhurst Road in Finksburg, Maryland, Chris, with a thick-as-thieves gleam in his eye, whispered to me: “Look out for soggy bread.” 

I’ve read somewhere that the measure of a good sense of humor is the distance between the setup and the punchline. If so, this was world-class. He was 12.

That’s a shared experience, a shared memory, I had w/Chris. Last month, it became singular. I’m sure there are a lot of shared memories in this room that became singular that night.

He was athletic and I was not. He could do handstands and cartwheels. We went to a day camp, and there was archery, and I couldn’t hit the target while Chris won ribbons. I think our parents signed me up for wrestling because he had done so well with it. I lasted one match, about 10 seconds, in second grade. Chris wrestled through high school.

Then there was Evel Knievel. We went to see the biopic starring George Hamilton at the Boulevard, and afterwards Chris was inspired. At first it was enough to catch air on his sting-ray bicycle. Then he jumped over stuffed animals. Soon he got the kids in the neighborhood to lie down on the other side of the ramp and he would jump over them. Until the first parent looked out the window and saw what he was doing. 

He was better at confrontation. He fought bullies for me. At the same time, he seemed to be holding onto parts of his childhood. He wanted the crust cut off the bread until he was …8? He carried around a blanket. It had once been a big blue blanket, but by the time I knew it, it was just this gray rag. All the adults tried to get him to give it up, probably in ways that were not helpful, but he held onto it. He had trouble throwing things away.

By high school we were drifting apart. I was becoming more of an introvert, he an extrovert. He’d always liked performing: Children’s Theater, “The Crucible” at the Guthrie, Shaun Cassidy at Millwheels. He wanted to be a rock star, and sang along to The Who, and Sabbath, and Zeppelin, on our father’s stereo. He got so good at Shaun Cassidy that when we visited our sister and mother—living in Timonium, Maryland, after the divorce—one of Karen’s friends got Chris on the radio where he pretended to be Shaun Cassidy. They got so many calls from teenage girls in Timonium they had to get him back on the line to admit the lie: No, not Shaun; Chris from Minneapolis.

In high school he became a cheerleader. I remember going to a Friday night football game at Parade Stadium—some big rivalry with Washburn. Whoever won the game got to keep this bell for the next year. Washburn won the previous year but they were losing this game. At one point everyone’s attention was fixated on one end of the field, where the action was, and nobody saw students from the other side creep across until they were dragging the bell, clanging, across to their side of the field in celebratory fashion. Woo, we got your bell! Everyone looked, stunned. Everybody but Chris. He tore after them. He reached them midfield and leaped into the pile, fists flying. Seriously, it was cinematic. It was action-hero stuff. He halted their progress. And other Washburn people joined him, and they got the bell back, and they dragged it up and down our sidelines, bell clanging, celebrating. 

And there was me in the stands—swelling with pride, and confused by it.

And then he got kicked off the cheerleading squad for smoking pot. Then he was drinking and getting drunk. He was throwing parties, and passing out in the basement, and I’d have to drive his friends home. “What a jerk” became “Screw you” became “What’s going on with you? Are you OK?” That took 20 years. For most of it, I was not … there. I went to an Alanon meeting in the early 2000s, and most participants were the opposite of me: women trying to distance themselves from the alcoholic loved one. That wasn’t my issue. I’d always been good at distance. I was 2,000 miles away and probably further in my heart, but now I wanted to help.

But then a familiar cycle: proffered hand, betrayal; proffered hand, betrayal. I patted him on the back once during this period and he felt so …. Insubstantial. Like straw. Eventually, as a family, we decided no more proffered hands.

Chris’ recovery, beginning August 19, 2013, wasn’t exactly smooth. It’s not like he stopped drinking and life became amazing. Life, as it’s very good at doing, kept tossing stumbling blocks in his way. It gave him every excuse to go back to drinking.

He moved in with our mother—who still drank. Then she had a stroke and lost her voice. We lost her in 2019. Chris lost all of his teeth, a result of the alcoholism, and the dentures never fit right. He had trouble finding work. He had trouble getting credit. He was trying to begin grownup life at 52 rather than 22. It’s hard enough at 22. Try it in your 50s with no credit and no teeth.

We had a worldwide pandemic that isolated us all, and many, including me, used this as an excuse to drink. Not Chris. He quit smoking, he found work, he found better work. He became very methodical. I think he liked staying within the confines of his routines: going to AA every Saturday morning, then taking the bus to visit our mother at the nursing home; calling my father every Sunday at 11 AM. He was playing guitar, lifting weights, taking trips.

One of the things he hated about his alcoholic life was the impotence of not being able to pay for things. So sober Chris was always paying for things. No, I’ll pay for me. No, I’ll pay for Dad’s tickets to the Twins game. He hated not having money for Christmas gifts, so he wound up giving some of the most thoughtful gifts.

He still held onto things. There’s a bit of a hoarder mentality in our family. A common refrain from me during the last 10 years was “You still got that?” He had this blue felt Peanuts banner from the early 1970s: Snoopy on his doghouse, and the words: THE SECRET OF LIFE IS TO REDUCE YOUR WORRIES TO A MINIMUM. It was a bit ragged along the edges but for blue felt it was in pretty good shape. I thought of him, and those words, this past week when our family was going through our various COVID crises. When I got depressed about how we were screwing up Chris’s memorial, or COVID was, I’d think of Chris’ reaction. A shrug. A joke. He has a Maya Angelou quote taped to his refrigerator: “You may not control all the events that happen to you, but you can decide not to be reduced by them.” He lived that. Lose your teeth? Call your dentures “chompers.” Your mother is in a nursing home unable to speak? Visit her every Saturday and make her laugh. Bring the tuna fish sandwiches she misses and that you can eat without teeth. Take two buses to work, greet people enthusiastically. He was small but entered rooms big.

For some reason, October became the month he came out to see me in Seattle. In 2019 I took him to the local sites. We went on a hike up Tiger Mountain. This October we expanded it: The ferry over to Port Townsend. Paradise trail on Mount Rainier. It was early October and he was already buying Christmas presents.

When I hugged him goodbye at SeaTac Airport, just 2 ½ months ago, his back was firm and strong again, and we talked about the next steps on our journey. San Juan Islands? Oregon Coast? Taiwan maybe? I’d lived there for several years and he’d never been to Asia. I liked the idea of it. If I’m honest, even into his sober stage, there was an element of indulgence in us. Who’s going to pick up Chris, who’s going to drive Chris? Where’s Chris going to spend Christmas Eve? Eventually it was like, “No, I’ll go get him. No, I’ll ride with him.” He’d become one of my favorite people. Every day, he was overcoming something bigger than anything I’d ever overcome in my life, and he was doing it with a joke and a smile. I swelled with pride and this time I wasn’t confused by it.

One more story. My wife says she could always tell when it was Chris I was talking to because of the timbre of my laughter. It was the soggy bread line. It was the trip down to Albert Lea the summer before last. This was for another memorial—Eric’s mom, Reggie—and on the way we saw a billboard for a casino: a pair of dice and in big letters the words: LIVE CRAPS. I nodded toward it and said, “That could really be misinterpretted.” Chris started riffing off that, imagining a guy who’s disappointed when he finds out it’s just gambling. He kept riffing off it, and I kept laughing. I laughed so much my stomach began to hurt and I worried I wouldn’t be right for the memorial. When I tried to relay the story to the rest of the family that night, I couldn’t even get the words out I was laughing so hard.

My shared memories with Chris are singular now, but it was nice sharing them with all of you. If anyone here has memories of Chris they’d like to share, please. Stand, sit, come to the podium, whatever you’re comfortable with. We would love to hear them.

Posted at 02:12 PM on Sunday December 31, 2023 in category Personal Pieces   |   Permalink  

Sunday December 03, 2023

Chris Lundegaard (1961-2023)

My brother Chris on the Paradise hiking trail at Mount Rainier two months ago. He was murdered at a bus stop in Edina, Minn. the evening before Thanksgiving. 

More later.

Posted at 07:52 AM on Sunday December 03, 2023 in category Personal Pieces   |   Permalink  

Thursday May 18, 2023

Dreaming of Stopping a Crook

I was at my father's house that wasn't my father's house, doing work-work in a sideroom. But rather than work, I was doing something I shouldn't have been doing—like watching old black-and-white sitcoms at 2:00 in the afternoon, as if it were a flashback to the wasted moments of elementary school summer vacations. Then I heard someone lumbering up the stairs. Or was I imagining it? No, there was a dude standing on the landing—stouter than my father, kind of bullish, wearing an ugly suit. 

“Who are you?” I said.

He said his name was Henry Hathaway. He said my father had asked him to take away some stuff. 

“What kind of stuff?”

Stuff from ... the fair. 

The fair? I said. The man was obviously (and ineptly) up to no good, and so I said the thing you should never say in such an instance: “I'm calling the cops.”

Then he was shooting at me. He was chasing me and shooting at me. I could see the flight paths of the bullets, like in “The Matrix,” and even though I was trying to get out of range I couldn't get out of range. I felt a slight sting at times but that was it. Was he not using bullets? Was he using some other projectile? Or did he keep missing? I made it to a secret place where I could phone the cops, but even then I couldn't remember Dad's address. Then I flashed on it. Right, of course, 5339 Emerson. 

Later I was telling this story later to a group of friends and acquaintances but we kept getting sidetracked. I only ever made it to the intro of Henry Hathaway. No one ever wanted to hear beyond that point. They kept missing the whole point of the story.

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Posted at 03:18 PM on Thursday May 18, 2023 in category Personal Pieces   |   Permalink  

Sunday September 25, 2022

We Blow

I experienced a couple of leaf blowers this weekend—one across from Scarecrow Video yesterday, the other on my usual walk to Lake Washington today—and for some reason this time they just felt like the end of everything to me. We created this device that is super-noisy, fuel inefficient and just generally inefficient, whose purpose is not to clean but to move a mess from one location (yours) to another location (theirs) while bothering as many people as possible. And these things still exist and thrive after decades. They're indicative of what we're like as a species and why we'll end. 

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Posted at 04:48 PM on Sunday September 25, 2022 in category Personal Pieces   |   Permalink  
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