Don’t despair

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Today is the ninety fifth
anniversary of my father’s birth. 
He’s been dead now for nigh on thirty years.  Gone from this world for so long and yet he still seems alive
to me.  
Maybe the fact that he died
from a series of heart attacks in his sixty-fifth year has made me toey and
fearful that I too will cop a heart attack simply by association.
What did the doctor first ask me
last week when I visited her and told her of my fears of having a stroke? 
‘Is it in the family?’ 
Stroke is not in my family, I said, but
heart attack is.
I’m late to writing this morning
because I spent over an hour waiting in the doctor’s rooms to have three vials
of blood taken for measuring and an ECG to help me overcome my fears.  The doctor last week was confident
that all was well, but still I’m having these tests for good measure.   
This morning the practice nurse
took blood from my left arm.  I watched as she applied the tourniquet to plump up my
vein.  I watched as she scrabbled about
my arm much like a cat plumping up a cushion until she was satisfied.  Then I watched as she plunged in the
needle, a slight prick and no other sensation, not even a twinge as the blood
raced into the syringes, one, two and three. 
The whole procedure took only a
matter of minutes, but the paperwork took twice as long.  The nurse checked and double checked
the spelling of my name, my date of birth, my address.  She was determined it should be exactly
so.  And fair enough, too.  I would
not want my blood mixed up with someone else’s. 
Then the nurse lined me up for an ECG.  I was naked from the top to my middle.  I froze on the examination table until she
offered me a blanket, almost by way of accusation.
‘I don’t want you cold,’ she
said.  ‘It can interfere with your
reading.’ 
I huddled under the thick layers of
the hospital type blanket, which she had folded over my middle.  She left enough naked skin exposed for
the plastic pads which she stuck strategically across my torso, concentrating on
my heart side.  
This procedure also
took only a few minutes and the paper work was less dramatic, once only instead of
three times to be certain all details were correct. 
I have felt miserable ever
since.  The morning’s wait in the
doctor’s rooms for over an hour interfered with my Saturday morning writing
routine, but more than that it has addled my mind.  
While I waited I read crap magazines when I could have plucked the novel
from within my handbag and launched into more of William Maxwell.  I’ve been carrying him around with me
for weeks now.  But serious writing
seemed too heavy and magazine writing too light.  
This Goldilocks cannot settle into anything.  I have washing to hang out.  I have bills to draw up and pay.  I have a blog post to write and all of
this weighs heavily.  
Worst of all
is the sense that my writing has turned to mush overnight.  I’m swamped with jealousy by the
success of a recently found writing friend, Kate Richards, and her wonderful book, Madness
This feeling will pass, I tell myself and I hear Mr Bennett’s voice in my
head.  Mr Bennet from Jane Austen’s
Pride and Prejudice when he tells his second daughter Elizabeth how heartily ashamed he feels for
allowing his youngest daughter, Lydia to go off to camp with the militia at
Brighton.  Lydia leaves the militia to elope with the scurrilous Captain Wickham and the entire family of Bennett girls are
threatened with the shame and disapproval that pursued young women whose connections
were tarnished by a fallen sister in those days.
‘I’m heartily ashamed of myself,
Lizzie,’ he says.  ‘But don’t despair.  It’ll pass and no doubt
more quickly than it should.’
I wish Kate well.  I want her book to succeed, but oh how
I wish it were my turn to have a book out there, ready for the readers’ judgement. 
Mine’s not ready yet and I fear now
it never will be.  
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40 Comments on Don’t despair

  1. Birdie
    February 2, 2013 at 7:43 am (5 years ago)

    Being proactive against disease is the best thing a person can do for themselves. That said, ever since my died from Ovarian cancer I am waiting for the other shoe to fall.

    Reply
  2. Jim Murdoch
    February 2, 2013 at 10:20 am (5 years ago)

    I think it’s fair to say I’ve never been one to worry about my health. I’ve had more than my fair share of ill health throughout my life—most of my childhood I was a poorly kid and my adult life hasn’t been a bed of roses either—but I can’t say I’ve ever worried about it. I get annoyed when I’m sick—it’s a terrible inconvenience—but I don’t spend a lot of time waiting for the next ailment to arrive and I’m far from being a hypochondriac. When it can’t be avoided I visit the doctor but despite the fact he was regularly called out to our house in the middle of the night when I was young (or, perhaps, because of that) I’ve never been one to trouble doctors needlessly. It’s fairly typical of males but as I don’t regard myself as a typical male I can’t really justify my reticence by blaming my gender. My mother didn’t like doctors. That dislike ultimately killed her because as she was lying on what would become her death couch she refused point blank to allow me to phone her GP. By the time she was out of it and I decided to disobey her it was already too late. I’m not wracked with guilt or anything for having dallied too long because the bottom line is that if I’d called sooner she might’ve survived to suffer a long and painful death from cancer; the pneumonia was actually a blessing and I’m pretty sure she didn’t cling to life or anything.

    Dad had two heart attacks, one when he was about fifty and then the fatal one in his early seventies. I can’t remember any of the dates, not even his date of birth to be honest. Posts like this always embarrass me because they make me feel guilty for not having the same regard to time as everyone else seems to have. I could go to my wallet, pull out the train tickets and tell you exactly when both my parents died but what does it matter? I looked the dates up a few months back to comment on someone’s blog and I said then I’d forget within a few weeks and I have.

    I see your friend’s book is a memoir. I wonder what the difference is between a memoir and an autobiography. (That’s me thinking out loud—I could easily look it up but I don’t care.) I don’t think I’ve read anything that’s referred to itself as a memoir but I do have a few autobiographies (or maybe I don’t, maybe they’re all biographies). I printed out what little I’ve written of my next book while Carrie was in the States last and it wasn’t as awful as I remembered; the first page is actually salvageable. It’s all to do with memory and I’ve been using my own as a template to get me going which is a first for me because, unlike many other authors, I rarely plunder my past for ideas. Every time I try to remember things I find I can’t, not in any detail. And it’s not just the bad stuff—if anything the bad stuff’s usually a little clearer—I just don’t have this attachment to the past that people like my wife (and you) have.

    I read a book while she was away—The Garden of Evening Mists. The basic premise is that an old woman has been told that, as she puts it, “I’m losing my ability to read and write, to understand language, any language. In a year—perhaps more, probably less—I won’t be able to express my thoughts. I’ll be spouting gibberish. And what people say, and the words I see—on the page, on street signs, everywhere—will be unintelligible to me.” She, of course, has an interesting story to tell and the book is her record of that story but if I received the same news on Monday what would I want to record? It’s a good question. Is my past so unmemorable that I’ve nothing I want to write about? It certainly feels like that at times. And yet of late, certainly since I learned of the death of my first girlfriend, I’ve found myself wallowing in the past. A good chunk of the TV I saved to watch while Carrie was away were nostalgia shows.

    As far as your own book goes, none of us think we’re ever going to finish our books. It’s part of the deal. You just keep plugging away at it and one day it’s done and it all feels so ruddy anticlimactic.

    Reply
  3. Mary LA
    February 2, 2013 at 10:21 am (5 years ago)

    What William Maxwell are you reading? I love his fiction (and letters) with a passion and reread So Long, I'll See You Tomorrow almost every year.

    Do persist and have faith, Elisabeth, I would love to read you in print one of these days.

    Reply
  4. jabblog
    February 2, 2013 at 10:46 am (5 years ago)

    You're unsettled and will continue to be so until you have your test results back and learn that you are robustly healthy. I think the period following Christmas is always unsettling anyway – the blank after furious activity can be difficult to fill.

    Reply
  5. River
    February 2, 2013 at 10:54 am (5 years ago)

    Like Birdie said, being proactive is good. My Mum died from bowel cancer, so I have a colonoscopy scheduled this year. My Dad died from lung cancer so I get a chest xray every few years. My mum had diabetes, so I get tested for that too. but I don't worry overly much about the tests, a lot of the time I forget completely, because I live a vastly different lifestyle.

    Reply
  6. Yvonne Osborne
    February 2, 2013 at 1:08 pm (5 years ago)

    Oh how I relate to this post! Why do they only put crap magazines and drug phamplets in doctor's offices?

    It is hard for us to escape our family history. My father is 92 and still smart as a whip but when he struggles to find the right word everyone pauses with what they're doing, praying he finds it. It's like watching an old man walk with a cane, every step a held breath. I wonder, when a parent dies, do you still think of them often? Does memory fade as it has with my grandparents? That is the saddest thing.

    Why do you say your book will never be ready? Forget the damn medical warnings and all that jargon. We make ourselves sick with worry. Don't worry! Work on your novel. We can get it done in 2013. Done and pubished and out there. It's our turn.

    Reply
  7. Ms Sparrow
    February 2, 2013 at 2:25 pm (5 years ago)

    Heredity is not destiny–words to live by!

    Reply
  8. sarah toa
    February 2, 2013 at 2:37 pm (5 years ago)

    It sounds like it has been a big day …

    Reply
  9. The Weaver of Grass
    February 2, 2013 at 2:39 pm (5 years ago)

    Come on now, Elizabeth, perk up and look on the bright side. I am sure that in a few days all will be well again and you will be writing with renewed gusto.

    Reply
  10. Elizabeth
    February 2, 2013 at 7:42 pm (5 years ago)

    Interesting — I lay in bed this morning mulling my health and how much I take it granted despite being overweight and nearing the age of fifty. I don't feel anxiety about it, just not attentive enough to it. I got up and vowed to pay more attention. Perhaps your blog post is a serendipitous attention call, as well. I wish you good results on your tests and the ability to get past your worry and keep writing so that we, too, can read your book or books!

    Reply
  11. Anthony Duce
    February 3, 2013 at 12:54 am (5 years ago)

    I do like your writing. And I must say it’s nice to know others deal with similar distractions and jealousies and memories…
    If only getting older didn’t have to include watching what’s going to happen eventually anyway with hopes of keeping anyway, further off.

    Reply
  12. Elisabeth
    February 3, 2013 at 2:09 am (5 years ago)

    Birdie, you left out the crucial word. Who died from ovarian cancer? Your mother, your sister. Whoever it was I can understand your fear that 'the other shoe will fall'. And I agree with you, the best remedy is prevention. People who visit doctors regularly tend to live longer. Though of course here are the exceptions and the extremes. There's nothing worse than hypochondriasis, which my daughters accuse me of occasionally.

    Thanks, Birdie.

    Reply
  13. Elisabeth
    February 3, 2013 at 2:20 am (5 years ago)

    That's the way I felt about my thesis, Jim, anticlimactic. And so I have to remind myself as you remind me here, that this is part of the deal, the feeling we will never finish our book.

    As for your fragile memory of personal times past, I suspect if you one day decide to put your mind to it and write into your memories, follow snippets pf images that come to your mind's eye from the past, you might remember more. A la Gerald Murnane.

    Of course it will all in some ways be made up. So many of our memories are reconstructions and therefore to a large extent made up but it might make you feel more solid about your past. You've got to want to do so, though, otherwise I reckon it will keep evading you.

    I too have a poor memory for dates and the like. there's so much I don't remember but family stuff has long been a passion of mine as you know.

    Unlike you, I'm up and down about the health stuff. At this moment I feel less anxious, because I've looked into it and so far found there's nothing to be too alarmed about, but if there's a hint otherwise I might well go into panic mode again.

    Thanks, Jim.

    Reply
  14. Elisabeth
    February 3, 2013 at 6:57 am (5 years ago)

    I'm reading So Long See You Tomorrow, again Mary LA, Like you I find the writing powerful and strangely irresistible.

    Thanks for the kind words. I hope one day I can do justice to this wish of yours and mine with a complete book.

    Thanks, Mary.

    Reply
  15. Elisabeth
    February 3, 2013 at 7:03 am (5 years ago)

    I think you may be right, Janice, that strange period post Christmas/New year, especially here in Australia when things begin to resume a normal rhythm can be unsettling.

    I long for Christmas, find the break welcome but unsettling and then getting back into the norm is equally unsettling. There's never a perfect time for anything. And if we never felt unsettled we'd never have the urge to produce something new to counter the discomfort. There has to be some solace in that.

    Thanks, Janice.

    Reply
  16. Elisabeth
    February 3, 2013 at 7:08 am (5 years ago)

    Life style must impact on these medical test results, River. My father was a three packs of cigarettes a day and a bottle of brandy every two days type of man so his heart attack and emphysema is consistent with that, as well as his personality.

    Like you mine's a different life style from my father's. It's more in keeping with my mother's though there are differences there too. She had eleven pregnancies. I've had only four. She smoked or yeas, albeit not much. I smoked briefly in my mid to late twenties but not since and I probably enjoy more wine than her, but she prefers cakes and chocolates. All up we probably balance out.

    Thanks, River.

    Reply
  17. Elisabeth
    February 3, 2013 at 7:12 am (5 years ago)

    You say 'we can get it done,' Yvonne. Does this mean you too have the goal of 2013 for completing your book, too? I suppose if we don't remember those who've gone before us we're left depleted in many ways, however much our memories might be distorted. Better a distorted memory I say than none at all.

    As for your father's struggles to find words, I'm with you there on the pain of it.

    Thanks, Yvonne.

    Reply
  18. Elisabeth
    February 3, 2013 at 7:15 am (5 years ago)

    I agree, Ms Sparrow: 'Heredity is not destiny'. Comforting words. There are so many other factors that impact on our life outcomes, but somehow heredity still seems to have a powerful associative effect, even if it's largely in the mind.

    Thanks, Ms Sparrow.

    Reply
  19. Elisabeth
    February 3, 2013 at 7:16 am (5 years ago)

    Yesterday was a big day, Sarah, and has been part of an even bigger weekend, but it's on the mend – I hope.

    Thanks, Sarah.

    Reply
  20. Elisabeth
    February 3, 2013 at 7:18 am (5 years ago)

    I hope you're right, Pat. I'll try to perk up and look forward to that renewed vigour you anticipate in only a few days. Roll on fresh enthusiasm.

    Thanks, Pat.

    Reply
  21. Elisabeth
    February 3, 2013 at 7:21 am (5 years ago)

    I hope your new determination to check out your health is worth it, Elizabeth.

    Even so I think we can overdo these things, and maybe sometimes it's worth not looking too closely or obsessively. On the other hand…

    Thanks, Elizabeth.

    Reply
  22. Elisabeth
    February 3, 2013 at 7:23 am (5 years ago)

    I agree, Anthony, this expectation of dreadful health issues down the track can take all the fun out of growing older. Growing older is great as long as your body does not leave you behind, and your mind can keep up with all the new things you learn every day.

    Thanks for the kind words, Anthony.

    Reply
  23. ellen abbott
    February 3, 2013 at 4:12 pm (5 years ago)

    Oh no. Do not compare yourself to others. That is always an exercise in futility. But I know how it is, how it feels. I often feel the same when I look at others work who work in the same technique.

    Reply
  24. Macy
    February 3, 2013 at 9:19 pm (5 years ago)

    Not sure I should put this is in the comments but here goes.. I had a heart attack a year ago. It was a mild one, and I didn't even recognise it as one at all until they ran the tests on me.

    I'm 49 and female. I think it was stress related – I'd seen my partner die of cancer the year before.

    What surprised me most was what can be done to treat heart disease now. My life is 100 times better than it was before the episode And while it scared me, that brush with mortality, I remember the calm of it too. There are worse ways to go I remember the world fading out of consciousness and in retrospect, it really wasn't scary at all.

    Reply
  25. Elisabeth
    February 4, 2013 at 9:44 am (5 years ago)

    I have heard it said, Macy, that one of the greatest of life's stresses is to nurse a loved one and watch them die.

    Thank you for your generous comment, so heartfelt and authentic it heartens me to read of your struggle.

    I have heard of people suffering mild strokes and not even noticing until as you say the test results reveal they've had one. I've not heard that the same can apply to a heart attack.

    Maybe your heart attack however mild enabled you to start to take care of yourself. My husband also suffered a heart attack some eight years ago and it was in some ways mild in the damage done, but had he not been in hospital at the time for a routine colonoscopy he might not be with us here today. So these things matters a great deal.

    I'm pleased to hear you're doing well.

    Thanks again, Macy.

    Reply
  26. Kath Lockett
    February 4, 2013 at 6:22 pm (5 years ago)

    My book is suffering the same fate as yours, Elisabeth.

    Will they ever be finished and, even more importantly, will anyone get to read them?

    Reply
  27. oosterman
    February 6, 2013 at 5:27 am (5 years ago)

    Hope those tests confirmed you are healthy. I had a crook and painful back. It came just out of the blue. I hate taking painkillers but the Doc thought I should.
    I took a couple and now it has gone. Your dad three packets a day! I gave up many years ago but do have a liking for a glass of wine. It is difficult to steer through life without sometimes using a bit of a crutch.

    Reply
  28. oosterman
    February 6, 2013 at 5:31 am (5 years ago)

    Hope the results were good. Health is everything. Your dad smoked three packets and so did my dad.
    I gave up years ago.
    I do like a glass of wine in moderation. Sometimes when life is hard we need some kind of crutch.

    Reply
  29. Kass
    February 7, 2013 at 10:47 pm (5 years ago)

    I'll be turning 65 soon so I have a number of tests scheduled for when I receive Medicare. I've been putting them off for years because I don't have insurance and I resent the high costs of Drs. and testing. Luckily, I am healthy (as far as I know). I did submit to some tests that were administered by a traveling health van and everything tested out perfectly. I worry about my Dad having polyps so I hope I have 't waited too long for the colonoscopy.

    I know the feeling of jealousy when a friend seems to have accomplished a goal I've been working on. It's draining and further curbs my efforts toward productivity.

    Hope you bust through all of this in a positive way.

    Reply
  30. Elisabeth
    February 8, 2013 at 1:00 am (5 years ago)

    I agree Ellen. I often reflect on how important it is to avoid comparing yourself to others, whether positively or negatively. It can detract so much from the pleasure pf being alive, and yet it's hard sometimes to resist that impulse.

    Thanks, Ellen.

    Reply
  31. Elisabeth
    February 8, 2013 at 1:03 am (5 years ago)

    I suppose that's one of the big reasons we want to finish these books, Kath, the desire to have others read them. And then follows the fear of that reception. But we have to get there first, and so much can get in the way along the journey, not least our self doubts.

    Thanks, Kath.

    Reply
  32. Elisabeth
    February 8, 2013 at 1:55 am (5 years ago)

    I agree, Gerard, we all need the occasional crutch to help us steer our way through life. It's a problem only if the crutch turns into a strait jacket. I'm glad your ailments subsided.
    Mine seem to be disappearing now, too.

    Thanks Gerard.

    Reply
  33. Elisabeth
    February 8, 2013 at 1:58 am (5 years ago)

    It's lovely to see you here again, Kass. I trust it's not to late to start with medical testing. Chances are given our health they'll all come back negative.

    And as I predicted in my post, this dreadful feeling of despair would pass, it has, at least for the moment – until next time.

    Thanks, Kass.

    Reply
  34. R.H.
    February 9, 2013 at 10:11 am (5 years ago)

    As a help to others, some people do sit down to write an honest account of horrible events which have destroyed their lives. It takes guts to do it. Saying that these poor broken people are mistaken or telling lies is a low and vicious insult. You should be ashamed.

    Reply
  35. Elisabeth
    February 10, 2013 at 12:37 am (5 years ago)

    I read through my post again, Robert and I can't see where or how I've accused 'poor broken people of telling lies', here in this post at least, unless you're referring to my comment about 'crap magazines' in doctors' surgeries.

    And here I'm referring to the long line up of celebrities and all their goings on, as light weight and trivial. Not the celebrities themselves mind. They're people too, but they are exploited I reckon to gratify some other media agenda. It's the price they pay for wealth and fame.

    Thanks, Robert. If you could clarify without insult I'd be grateful.

    Reply
  36. R.H.
    February 10, 2013 at 4:16 am (5 years ago)

    Here in this post you link to William Maxwell. One of his quotes is: "In any case, in talking about the past we lie with every breath we draw." It's a smart line, an attention-getter: bullshit, and I'm sure he knew it.
    You say the same thing yourself. But if this really were the case there'd be no court trials, no history books, no autobiography whatsoever.
    You're not an authority on this, but don't have to be to dishearten me and thousands of others who want to unburden themselves. If what I say about the rotten things I've done and rotten things done to me as a child are to be seen as lies why would I bother at all? There would go my only chance of forgiveness.

    Reply
  37. Elisabeth
    February 10, 2013 at 5:05 am (5 years ago)

    Now I understand, Robert. Thanks. I suppose my only defense is that I suspect Maxwell did not mean this to be a literal 'telling of lies', rather he was alluding to the degree to which we inadvertently remember things differently every time we remember and in so doing we shift away – at least a little – from the actual factual experience, which cannot be retrieved in its entirety anyhow.

    I don't think he means we fabricate and bullshit. This 'recreation' of our pasts is part of the creative process and not meant in a derogatory way.

    Thanks again, Robert.

    Reply
  38. R.H.
    February 10, 2013 at 7:07 am (5 years ago)

    The force of events in my childhood are etched into my brain making me what I am today, to doubt their precise truth is to doubt I exist at all. There's no room for variation, no inadvertancy, only a desire to travel back and intervene; make changes. I'm objective, looking down on the child I was and playing over and over these identical events. There's as much chance of altering them as altering scenes and dialogue while watching a movie.
    I'm insulted, furious, and disgusted by deadheads who can only sit back and chant "Liar Liar".
    Well it doesn't matter, but in my case I've been given government records, welfare reports, which describe the general circumstances as even worse than I recall them.
    But it's not the dirt, the broken windows, the mattresses on the floor that get to you; it's not the poverty. It's the events, the happenings, that break your heart, your spirit, your faith, optimism; respect for fellow beings.

    Reply
  39. Elisabeth
    February 11, 2013 at 10:07 am (5 years ago)

    I hear you Robert, loud and clear. Your ability to share something of the horrors of your experience is powerful and resonant. I would never want to detract from it.

    Thank you again.

    Reply
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