Wednesday, January 30, 2008

You are a BAD man.

I don't know if the businessman in this story is just really into vengeance after being slighted or if he's simply barking mad. I don't know that being able to pin him down to being one or the other would help me to sleep at night, because either way he's still at liberty to roam the streets.

Here's the source article. HERE

The original incident from 2004 is that the Spanish businessman hit a 17-year old on a bicycle. The kid died instantly. It was night and the kid wasn't wearing a helmet or reflective equipment. The court ruled that the driver wasn't criminally responsible. So far, this is a tragedy for all involved.

It was determined that the driver was moving in excess of the speed limit. A police report says that the driver was moving at 70 mph inside a 50 mph limit. An independent investigator hired by the boy's family determined the car was moving at 107 mph. In any case, the kid was hit from behind and dragged 350 feet. The driver's insurance company awarded the family 33,000 EURO to acknowledge the "excess rate of speed". Not so much a tragedy for the driver, now. He's careless at best, or negligent.

Breathe deep.

Recently (several years after the fact), the driver filed charges against the family to recoup repair costs for his automobile. His Audi A8 suffered 14,000 EURO in damage. Also, he wants a further 6,000 EURO for the cost of hiring a rental car while his auto was in the shop. The businessman said of the charges, "I'm also a victim in all of this, you can't fix the lad's problems, but you can fix mine."

So.

Having just exited the Christmas season, I still have a fresh recollection of Lionel Barrymore as the crotchety old Mr. Potter from It's a Wonderful Life. I don't see it as that great of a stretch to see this Spanish businessman as a latter-day Potter, growling about how some kid's corpse scratched up his car.

Except that Mr. Potter is a film character (a Capra character, no less) whose designed to be nastier than real life, to make the hero seem angelic in comparison. This businessman is real. He lives in Europe and he's attacking his victim's parents through the court system. That is awful and dehumanizing.

It turns out that he's just withdrawn the case. According to CNN, his lawyer stated that the "extensive publicity" of the case in the Spanish newspapers amounted to a "public lynching." Hundreds of people had shown up at the courthouse in support of the kid's family.

And I'm back to my original thought: is this person just petty and trying to be vindictive against a family who caused his insurance rates to go up? Or is he a sociopath, who possesses no feeling of how a family grieves, and sees only a balance sheet?

Either situation is unsettling.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Virtual Life

I'm sure it's somewhat of a cliche to muse about death in one's own blog. Further, I'm sure such thinking is remarkably more likely after being very ill and visiting the hospital. The difference with this post is that it's not really about my mortality. I haven't really though about my own mortality at all in light of my hospital trip. My illness did not make me confront death or evaluate my life or even draw up a will. I've been at peace with death for a long time and this wasn't a severe enough attack to make me contemplate dying any further.

It came to my attention today from talking to other people at school and at my place of employment that some people didn't receive the whole message about my condition. I had people telling me that they heard I had been confined to the hospital. One person said that he had been told that I was, and I quote, "mortally ill."

This sort of statement embarrasses me, somewhat! I certainly don't think that message was between the lines of the few letters I sent to various teachers and employees. I would wonder at people's imagination running away, except that it seemed to be coming from many sides. Would several unaffiliated individuals each decide that I was in the process of shuffling off this coil? It was a little surprising.

I missed one week of school. To most acqauintences, this translates to maybe two or three missed opportunities of seeing me. It's different for one group, I'm sure, because I missed an extra rehearsal and concert. That doesn't explain everyone else.

This didn't really bother my conscience until receiving an email last weekend about a Conservatory student who was killed in a car accident. A scholarship has been established in his name and the funeral and visitation are coming up. He's not an acquaintance of mine; as far as I know, I never saw or spoke to him.

Today, on a whim, I visited his Facebook page. I wasn't sure whether or not he'd even have one, but I figured it was a fair assumption, based on his age. He does have a page, which has (in the intervening period after his death) been transformed into a memorial.

Friends have left many postings on his wall addressed to him, telling stories or explaining their grief. His picture has been replaced with one stenciled with his birth and death dates and a farewell message. Comments on individual photos speak to him in a way people don't talk to the living: they praise him for his friendship, they laud his patience, they extol the best of all his qualities.

Were such declarations made during his lifetime, in such a way? I doubt it. The wall from before his death is filled with posts about parties and girls and bad teachers. I feel that it is a tragedy that his friends may never have praised him to his face.

In reality, it is the cessation of life that forces us to evaluate people. The dead have lost the ability to alter how the world perceives them. While living, the greatest saint can rob a bank or the lowliest guttersnipe save a child. Dead, they become fixed. They have been. They are no longer. At someone's death, we unconsciously sum them up and set the memories neatly on a shelf under their own label.

Obviously, it would be strange to be perennially telling people how wonderful they are. We reserve that for communication between idealistic people while they're dating. We register the deeds of people in passing, almost without comment. There's Rick; he opens the door for everyone because that's what he always does. There's Elaine; she always listens when I complain about heavy workloads.

Each of us is assisted through our days by the thoughtless kindnesses. We are enveloped in the effortless decency. Every day, the people around us do a hundred things that would be worthy of being eulogized.

And how many are thanked while it still matters? It's a fine thing to lionize people after they die, but who is it for? Other people will nod and agree at the passing of a great person, and the survivors who make the praise may be fired by the passing spirit. The object of affection is lost, however. Let's set aside the afterlife, since no one knows the extent of the connection. The chance to praise the one who should be praised is lost.

Who reads a Facebook post on a dead man's wall? The family? Perhaps. Friends? For a while, anyway. The deceased? Let's hope not; after all, it will be a crying shame if the only way to get information in the beyond is by reading the internet. Shouldn't a spirit know the minds of his friends?

So we come to C.S. Lewis, who famously wrote that by praying, he wasn't expecting to change God's mind. He was praying for himself; that the prayer changed something inside of himself. Just like the wall post: we write it not because we expect God to see it, or even that we expect the dead to see it. We write it because we need to see it written. It's not enough to think it in our own heads, when writing it down can make it real and concrete.

Has it always been the case that we need to tell everyone "Here hath been a great man" only after the final moments? Or is it easier to let our emotions go and be jubilant with our praise after the person is gone? When someone like Heath Ledger dies, then comes the accolades. Then comes the testimonials. Then comes the swell of public acclamation.

Finally, I'll leave you with a situation in which technology has leapfrogged our emotions. Since his death, parts of the man's Facbook account remain frozen. His status update from Saturday evening still praises the Kansas basketball team. But the account is not idle. Since his death, he's made several more friends connections, written on people's walls, and even plans to attend the event of his own funeral.

The digitally-animated doppelganger disgusts me. I realize it's just family members making connections and organizing memorial services, but to see this digital zombie going through the regular motions that hundreds of thousands of other Facebook accounts go through on a daily basis seems demeaning to me.

Monday, January 21, 2008

Godzilla's Big Brother

While checking out at the grocery today, my clerk and the lady doing the bagging were having a conversation:

CLERK: If only the sun would shine! I can take the cold if the sun shines.

BAGGER: They said we'd get Global Warming, but we get this instead!

CLERK: Oh God, I worry about the Global Warming coming and destroying our city.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

The Price of Optimism, Part II

When I wrapped up the previous entry, I was clouding the scene with dire overtones. For the next three nights, I was sleepless. The coughing and incredibly painful swallowing combined to rouse me from sleep every time I drifted off. There weren't more than five or ten minutes sleep in each day, and that usually came in the afternoon when I'd managed to eat/drink enough of the right things to grant me some duller pain moments.

My brother reported hearing A (1) snore from the couch where I was sleeping. Once.

I don't know if you classify that as insomnia. I always had much more fuzzy mental pictures of "insomnia", with the chronically afflicted people working away into the night on projects of one kind or the other. It wasn't that they couldn't get to sleep as much as they'd simply determined they could do without!

This was like dying of sleep thirst. I desperately wanted to go to bed. My entire brain screamed continuously how much sleep I was missing. But the medical conditions conspired to keep me away from anything resembling sleep.

At first, it wasn't too bad. The first night was an oddity. "Oh, look! I'm up all night. How "Animal House"! I laughed at the lack of things to watch on TV at 3 AM. In the morning, I ate breakfast and hit the ground running.

The second night was less fun. I tried to sleep in the bed, but moved downstairs earlier than the first night. I ended up playing commentary tracks to "Return of the King" in the dark with a warm cloth over my eyes, so I wouldn't go insane waiting for the next time I absolutely had to swallow. I don't know what anybody talked about during those commentaries, but with a four hour-plus movie, it eats up a lot of time.

The third night I no longer made an attempt at starting the evening in bed. I knew it would be pointless. The madness was starting to percolate to the top. I watched a wretched movie with Julia Stiles, who wanted to be a doctor, and some generic British guy, who was the crown prince of Denmark. But she didn't know he was the prince and they fell in love, even though he starts as a Jerk. But then they move to Denmark, and Miranda Richardson was his mother and James Fox was his father. I kept waiting for Miranda Richardson to be the evil witch, as she so often is. I was disappointed.

Luckily, I was still sane enough to avoid the sequel which aired immediately following. Same guy, different girl, still trying to get married, etc. I remember crying a couple of times, which had less to do with the movie and more with the awful constriction in my throat.

The next morning, Monday, we tried to get into the doctor's office. Whatever I had wasn't getting any better, and I really couldn't be relied to shrug off a fourth night's sleep as easily as the other three.

We couldn't get my previous doctor, but got an appointment with one of the other fellows in the office. He turned out to be a short, brusque man who looked in my ears, nose, and throat and announced what I needed to do and take. I was happy to have anyone tell me to do anything.

The cough syrup he recommended was nice (though foul tasting). The aerosol steroid was fun (never had an inhaler before) but didn't really seem to do anything. It was mainly for wheezing, which I wasn't doing. And I had a prescription for antibiotics, but directions not to fill it unless it unless things seemed to be getting worse.

Things didn't improve. I felt that I had a stone in my throat. When I swallowed, it would go down, until it got low enough to cause me to cough. That would make it ascend until it started to tickle, which would force me to swallow, which lowered the stone again. Also, coughing and swallowing still hurt tremendously. I couldn't escape this stone. It became my entire reality; getting the stone up, bringing it down. It wasn't even possible to distract myself with other things; eventually my eyes would lose focus and I'd swallow or cough again.

By dinner, the prospect of another sleepless night and many more to come was starting to burden my emotional control. After coughing so hard I strained by neck and chest (which produced no relief from the (imaginary?) stone, I broke down crying. Not that "two or three tears" stuff when people get married, but a composure-destroying sniveling-fest. I felt so helpless and frustrated. What could be done?

Eventually, we went to the emergency room. That produced people who actually listened. Acute sinusitis and acute bronchitis were diagnosed. Much time was spent making sure we understood what was needed. It was like being wrapped in a fuzzy blanket. Everyone was so helpful and concerned.

At the close of our stay, the nurse was talking to me and my mom about what to take at what times, when to use warm cloths on my face...... when suddenly, I felt strange. My vision swam and I felt pins and needles on my lips. The nurse was talking, but I tried my best to interrupt her. "I..." "I thi...."

Finally she stopped talking. "I feel strange," I managed to get out. By this time, visual noise had completely covered my vision. I heard the nurse start moving into action.

"Do you feel like you're going to pass out?" She asked that two or three times, and I wanted to explain that I've never really had the feeling of passing out before. I have no idea if this is it or not. That was too long a sentence, though, so all I ended up getting out was, "I feel like I'm ... fading."

By this time, I'd gone white. Apparently, my lips (ordinarily quite red) had gone blue. I could feel people stroking my arm and commenting on the clammy and sweaty nature. My blood pressure, which had been 130/90, had fallen to 80/40.

Eventually, my "fainting spell" passed. It was a possible side effect of running 103 degree fever (as I was). Exciting, though.

As I write this, a week later, I feel fine. The cough has receded to a one-in-a-while thing. The throat pain has vanished. The headache is gone, as is the fever. I'm basically back to normal.

In the height of my sleep deprivation, I had passing thoughts about all those people over the years who have complained that I don't show enough emotion. Surely they would have been satisfied to see me break down sobbing after coughing yet another time. Or the fact that I saw a Christmas tree in someone's window on the way to the ER and cried. Or that in the dead of night I had conversations with myself about whether or not it was possible to die of lack of sleep like that "Star Trek: The Next Generation" episode.

I eventually decided that no matter what I thought, part of me was correct in that the lack of sleep would just be a contributing factor to death. I was certainly able to put me in my place!

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

The Price of Optimism, Part I

I've been sick. I had plenty of time on my hands (insomnia will do that to you) but I just couldn't focus enough in order to blog. That's a shame, because if I had been able to type out entries, it really would have helped me tick away the hours.

I'm on the road to recovery now, with the middle point of the see-saw coming last night at 11:00, when the decision was made to go to the Emergency Room. This all started last Tuesday, when I woke up with a little sensetivity in my throat. I suspected it would be something bad, and it was. By that night, I had a killer sore throat and cough. Shoot, it must have been my typical illness.

I call it my "typical" illness because I tend to get it more often than any other. I'm usually in good health, so the list doesn't have any really high numbers. But on two other occasions, I can recall getting viral strep throat. Antibiotics are useless and my life devolves into waiting for the next time I am forced to swallow. This time felt no different.

I was disappointed because I had scheduled a trip to Chicago to visit friends. I haven't been to Chicago in 5 years, and even on that particular trip I didn't see anyone I knew. I hoped that I'd still be able to make the trip. I made my hotel reservations Tuesday night.

Wednesday morning made it all seem like a good idea. After a nice breakfast of hot oatmeal, I felt pretty good. The throat soreness was minor and the pain for swallowing was only inconvenient (as opposed to eye-wateringly excruciating). But the day marched on and by evening things were bad again.

"Surely you won't be going?" my parents asked. "I'll make a decision tomorrow," I said hopefully.

Thursday morning was worse. I regretfully wrote to cancel my scheduled visits. I canceled my reservations. I consoled myself that I did the right thing by avoiding passing on whatever illness I had to the kids I would visit.

And then my health really started to go downhill.

The kicker is that each day when I woke up, it always felt a little better. I avoided going to get treatment (or even diagnosis) because it always seemed like things were improving. Or at the very least, how could anything be worse that the current point in time. Naturally, I must be at the worst point NOW.

Though I don't think earlier treatment would have allowed me to completely dodge the bullet for the second phase of illness. More on that next time.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Your Host is on the Fritz

If the human body is a glorious machine, then my machine is broken. I'm currently trapped under the weight of a most un-fun sickness. One of the side-effects is that I haven't slept in 3 days. Let me tell you, that's TOTALLY not as fun as it sounds. There's very little to do in the dead of night, though I manage to keep busy with a regular routine of hour-long repetitive coughing jags and grimacing.

I'm getting really good at the grimacing part. I've managed to expand my total repertoire from the basic "You're not funny" and "this food is spoiled", and I'm currently incorporating "my god, what's that smell?", "I can't believe my car was wrecked again!", and I'm trying my best to get "you're so un-funny I may have just contracted cancer" perfected before the big meet at State. It's a hard one to pull off though.

Take comfort in the thought that I'm not thinking about any of you, as my thoughts are entirely devoted to anticipating how much the next cough will hurt my throat.

I'll write again when the environment-suited agents from E.T. leave my house.

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Sick

Bleh. Painfully sore throat, again. Headache arriving, after I cautiously told my mom earlier, "No, I don't think I have a headache". And on the eve of my first trip back to Chicago in five years.

I would be mad, if I thought it would help to be mad at someone or something.

Instead, I can only be cautiously disappointed, with the possibility of having to cancel a looked-forward-to activity.

[raises a glass of fluids] Cheers!