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BY: JAMES F O’NEIL

“We cannot learn without pain.”  –Aristotle, Politics (V.1. 1301a, l. 28)

* * *

“It’s just an overnight,” my urologist said to me.  I accepted that after he had examined my bladder and naughty bits for cancer and for whatever prompted him to speak “There’s something there I don’t like the looks of,” after he had probed me and scoped me with the cystoscope.

Now it is easy to whine about how I got to that point in my illness and relate about the symptoms which brought me to the hospital two weeks later for pre-op.  For I was so ready for the promise of relief from pain that prostate surgery would provide.  I was prepared to “undergo the knife” (or whatever other instruments the surgical team would use).

For the next two weeks I cleared my busy retiree’s calendar of all doctor and dentist appointments, planned speaking engagements (kidding…), and prepped for a hospital overnight, followed by three or four days of rest and relaxation.  I organized my writing and reading materials, organized to be placed in the TV Room–Guest Room–Sick Room, with its queen-sized hide-a-bed, with its proximity to a bathroom.  In addition, the TV with ROKU, Netflix, Prime, and hulu, among others.

I had my supply of “diapers” and other special hygiene needs.  An ample supply.

What I never did before surgery, however, was ask the doctor what took place during the procedure.  I had no clue and never did go search the Internet or Home Medical Guide in detail, or visit You Tube for any kind of heads up on what I was in for.  I expected pain and discomfort, bed rest, medications, inconveniences, and the many hours of sleep after I came home from the hospital.  Nevertheless, I felt prepared, having complete trust in my specialist, and was making myself ready for a new medical experience to add to my list containing appendectomy, tonsillectomy, hernia, and hernia repair, two knee surgeries (with a total replacement), a gall bladder attack with a swift surgery and hospital discharge to home, and two surgeries for feet and toes.

In my years, I have had sufficient days spent in a hospital and have had to slide over from a hospital bed to a surgical table: “One, two, three. . .”  I have had my trips in hospital elevators, down hallways and through No Entry doors to arrive in freezing cold operating rooms, with distinctive bright lights, beeping sounds, and muffled voices of gowned and masked nurses, and others.  Down those hallways with neon-fluorescent ceiling lighting, under one, and another, and another.  Turns and doors and more turns and more doors.

Then, once on the table, after the Q & A by anesthesiologist, oxygen tube into the nose, the familiar-to-all, from experience or from living with Grey’s Anatomy, The Resident, ER, and so many other St. Elsewhere TV episodes and movies, “Take a deep breath through your nose,” or “Count back from . . .”  “Ninety-nine, ninety-eight, ninety. . .”

Then nothing.  Except time passing outside the body.  Then, until, “Mr. O’Neil. . .”

* * *

“Mr. O’Neil, are you in pain?”

* * *

“Mostly thirsty.”

The surgery did not go as expected; I was returned to the hard black surgical table the next day for a bleeding fix-up.  Unexpected collateral. 

. . . four nights, sleepless nights, uncomfortable nights in a hospital bed . . .

“You’re going home this afternoon.”  I arrived home, Transportation by Son.  Into the Sickroom.  Into the home bed.  “Ready.”  For sleep-rest, and some Netflix.

Not so fast: It did not last.  Shortness of breath.  Days passing.  Weakness, to the point of crawling. 

A trip to the ER, there a CT scan and EKG.  The usual routine for heart attack.  The ER doctor said, “Good news and bad news.  It’s not your heart.”  And?  “Pulmonary embolisms in the lungs.  You’re being admitted.”

Collateral damage.

Thus began the journey of 41 days and overnights of hospital-patient life, including 12 days of re-hab in a nursing care facility.

* * *

“Just an overnight” became days with tests, blood draws, blood transfusions, medications, specialists, sleepless nights (but mostly tasty food when I was up to eating). 

Then depression and boredom.  (I read nothing from my Kindle or from my magazines.  I would watch television late until I couldn’t see, then fall asleep until the 3 a.m. and 6 a.m. “Mr. O’Neil, could I please have your date of birth?  I need to take some blood.”  My left arm was pin cushioned.  Some techs took blood from my hand between my knuckles.  Ouch!

* * *

“Orthostatic hypotension.”  I was a lump, a sack of bones, losing weight, with no one fixing me or making me better, I thought.

Finally, out of bed into a recliner chair—a true milestone.  I could even walk a few steps, weak, but willing to go.  And then, after, the hospital (and insurance company) deemed it necessary for me to exit my private room, and be discharged.

I was stable and prepped to go.  A new adventure beginning with a wheelchair ride into a wheel chair ambulance to my next place for recovery.  The experience in the nursing home rehab facility was a coda to all I had been through.  The staff worked wonders, getting me to Occupational Therapy and Physical Therapy.  “I can walk!  I can walk!” 

I could walk.  I could wash.  In addition, I could eat!  Oh, the meals!  At 7:30 a.m., 11:30 a.m., 5:30 p.m.  So much–too much–good food, and soup twice daily.  The twenty pounds lost during my hospital stay were regained: My muscles were beginning to re-assert themselves. 

I could walk—with help and safety belt.

Soon I was homeward bound, with cane and walker furnished by Home Health Services.

I made it!  “Going home!”  Ah, sweet words.  “Going home,” there to “re-cover.”

* * *

Anything I write more or tell about my time hospitalized is redundant (and getting boring).  My memoriesofthetime come and go, drift into my consciousness, spend some time, then drift away the way they came.  I’ll never say I do my best to forget; I simply forget some details not to be commentated upon.  Sometimes I can hear myself “It was horrible.”  Or, perhaps, “How did I ever endure?”  I did.  And it was horrible at times.  Boredom.  Pain.  Malaise.  Ennui.

I was bolstered at times by my “De profundis” (my heartfelt cry of appeal expressing deep feelings of sorrow or anguish), or “This too will pass,” despite a cardiologist’s exclaiming “What’s going on here?!”  In addition, “We can fix this.”

So I got fixed enough for home.  “Just an overnight” are words with a dimension of meaning I never knew existed for me. 

I shudder a bit when I hear “Just an overnight.”  I am confident, though, that “this, too, will pass.”

© James F. O’Neil  2022

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BY: JAMES F O’NEIL

SURPRISE: An unexpected or astonishing event, fact, or thing; to occur to with a sudden feeling of wonder or astonishment, as through unexpectedness; to come upon or discover suddenly and unexpectedly; to cause someone to feel amazed at something unexpected; a feeling aroused by something unusual or unexpected; feeling unusually alarmed or delighted [from American Heritage College Dictionary].  “Unexpected” or “unusual” can be divided into SURPRISE: sudden wonder or disbelief, unanticipated; ASTONISH: overwhelming surprise; AMAZE: astonishment, often bewilderment; ASTOUND: shock, or unprecedented in one’s experience.  (Is it all clear now?  Were you surprised at your last surprise?  Is that sur-PRIZED, or sup-PRISED?  Hmm.]

FAVORITE BOOK

THESAURUS EXERCISE: Copy the following into your speckled notebook for next Friday’s spelling quiz.  SURPRISE!  (Just kidding.): astonishment awe wonder shock nonexpectation unforeseen  godsend  miscalculation  unexpectedness  abruptness jolt precipitance  marvel  amaze  astound  flabbergast  stun  startle  stand aghast  miraculous  catch unawares  taken aback  unbargained for confounded  wondrous  incredible  suddenly  magical  without notice  remarkable  breathless  mirabile visu (“wonderful to behold”).

* * *

“The only thing that should surprise us is that there are still some things that can surprise us.” –Francois de La Rochefoucauld

“And to my niece I leave . . .”

I heard those words at the reading of my Grandma Schuma’s will.  I was in 11th grade.  The niece was my mother.  The Grandmother was really my Grand Aunt.  My Uncle Joe was really my Grandfather.  My real Grandmother Anna had died long before.  Grandma and Grandpa raised my mother as their daughter.  I didn’t know this Family Secret  until I was a sophomore in high school.  SURPRISE!  The reading of the will and the word “niece” was a real “shocker.”  I never thought of my mother as a niece.  And my Uncle Joe?  He was never my Grandpa . . .  And as far as  I was concerned, my mom and Aunt Em were still “sisters”  and not cousins . . .  That’s another story.

“A Scout is never taken by surprise; he knows exactly what to do when anything unexpected happens.” –Robert Baden-Powell (founder of Boy Scouts)

“It’ll just take a moment.”

I always locked my bike when I went into the public library.  This time I was only returning books to the Ogden Park Public Library near our home on Chicago’s South Side.  I wheeled my bike into the bike rack–unlocked–and ran up the stairs.  In a flash I was inside, in a moment, putting my books through the Return slot, and was out the door.  SURPRISE!  No bike.  Gone, in a flash.  Wham!  In the chest!  Heart-stopping bam!  What to do? tears covering eyes of reason.  Went inside, blubbering.  Park policeman came.  I made some kind of report.  I walked home, seeing ever crack in every square of every sidewalk.

Over a year later, the bike was recovered.  I walked a long, slow walk to claim it at the park police station.  It had been stripped clean: I recognized the frame and the tires and seat.  I gave thanks, and rode home, teary-eyed, remembering too well, “It’ll take just a moment.”

“Do not always expect good to happen, but do not let evil take you by surprise.” –Czech Proverb

“In sickness and in health . . .”

“We want as many children as we good Catholics can have.”  “SURPRISE!  It’s a healthy boy.”  “Don’t plan to have more than two children: you are Rh+ and your husband is Rh-.”  SURPRISE.  “We want to have as many children as we good Catholics practicing birth control can have.”  Two . . .  “SURPRISE!  It’s a healthy boy.”  The end.  The beginning . . .

“One of the greatest discoveries a man makes, one of his great surprises, is to find he can do what he was afraid he couldn’t do.”  –Henry Ford

“SURPRISE, Loser!”

I have a notebook filled with Loser Letters, those “Sorry, Charlie” or “We regret to inform you” or “Another candidate has accepted the position.”  I’m not sure why I keep them, for it’s been a very long time for Loser Letters.  I applied for my share of grants and scholarships and degree programs as others have done.  And I have received the “And the envelope, please.”  “Nope.  Not this time,” in so many–sometimes many–words.  I kept trying, up to a point in my career of forty-nine years.  And that was that.  “Wait!  Princeton University is advertising for . . .”

“The moments of happiness we enjoy take us by surprise.  It is not that we seize them, but that they seize us.”  –Ashley Montagu (1905-1999)

“Some good stuff . . .”

“SURPRISE!”  “It’s your 80th Birthday Party!”

“SURPRISE!”  “You got accepted!”

“SURPRISE!”  “They called and offered you the job!”

“SURPRISE!”  “It really was your appendix!”

“SURPRISE!”  “They approved your loan!”

“SURPRISE!”  “Oh my gosh!  That’s my new typewriter!”

“SURPRISE!”  “She said Yes!”

“SURPRISE!”  “The house is now yours!”

“SURPRISE!”  “You’re taking the Honor Students to Cambridge!”

“SURPRISE!”  “They want you to tell your story on WBEZ!”

* * *

© James F. O’Neil  2021

BY: JAMES F. O’NEIL

“I HAD A NAP BUT NOW I DON’T KNOW WHO I AM OR WHAT YEAR IT IS.”—qtd.  from tumblr

* * *

I have noticed lately, especially now that I have walked slowly and arthritically past the 80-year milestone, that I am craving a nap more than I was ever aware of before.  In fact, I hear myself talking to myself, “I need a nap.”

Around 11 a.m., I hear myself repeating that “Need-a-Nap” mantra.

“At the end of the day, the mantra is meant to bring you back to simplicity.  We live in such a complex world that it’s easy to get lost in all the details.  Mantras can help you circle back to the simplistic approach to life and focus on those things that inspire you and truly make you happy.” —Chopra 2021.

Now talking aloud to oneself at 11 a.m. is usually all right, but pre- or post-Covid-19 it is not such a good idea.  It draws a lot of attention, and stares, from those not in need of a nap, mostly the young.  I find my wife, however, is my best audience, agreeing, as she holds her second or third cup of coffee of the day.

The day: When does it all begin that I require a nap?

A day, as we know it, begins at midnight or 12 a.m.  We sleep away already part of the day at night.  My “day” can begin when my ROKU is turned off, ending my viewing pleasure of some Netflix, Hulu, Prime Video, Disney+, or Apple TV+ program, usually about 1 a.m.  So, I am tired, and I go to bed, to sleep.  My dear wife is already fast asleep.  At her feet, the cat.

Our cat is a good sleeper.  Mostly.

Now our days begin when he wants them to: play time or hair-ball, or walking and purring on my wife, whom he adores; our days begin when we have medical appointments, when the garbage pickup days occur (soon after 8 a.m. on Tuesday and Friday.  “Don’t put out the garbage the night before.”  Rats, racoons, coyotes, possums…) Most days begin at 0700 or even 7:30 a.m.

This may come as a shock to those who think that retirement or growing old means sleeping in until nine or ten every day, as portrayed in some fantasy movie.  Not so!

“I Need a Nap!”  Even AARP and major health establishments shout out “Take naps!”

When I was growing up in Chicago, I had to take a bus and an L to my high school.

CTA

I don’t recall often sleeping on the trip to school.  I was mostly studying.  But in the afternoon (or evening after an after-school event), I would definitely “nap.”  But that was not a nap (even though occasionally I would sleep past my stop).  No,

“A nap is a short period of sleep, typically taken during daytime hours as an adjunct to the usual nocturnal sleep period.  Naps are most often taken as a response to drowsiness during waking hours.  A nap is a form of biphasic or polyphasic sleep, where the latter terms also include longer periods of sleep, in addition to one single period.”

I never attended kindergarten, never had a special time-out when I and my classmates lay down on soft cushioned material, covered myself with some kind of blanket or “woobie” and took a siesta-nap.  My two boys-to-men had the napping experience in pre-school and in kindergarten.  Those experiences prepared them for family camping outings or for other napping occasions “nestled in mosquito nets, nothing above but dark night sky and stars ever so clear.  No soft meditation music to help fall asleep, only the howling sounds of wild coyotes out in the desert, and the muffled thundering sounds of big-gun field artillery conducting their fire missions off in the distance.” —US Army Veteran

afghanistan cot for nap

Except for my own naps, those of the children I taught in the Head Start Program in Minnesota summers, in a time long ago, were most pleasant.  Sixteen little bumps resting after morning activities, playground, lunch, finger painting, and then the need for rest and time out before snack, before departure.  Quiet time for me and my aide to gather our breaths.  Ah, nap time.

In time, I dozed off–certainly during faculty meetings or at boring convention presentations (perhaps some conferences even required a return to my room for a “nap” after lunch. . .).  I might have “napped” before teaching some night class, or “napped” before attending an evening faculty function.  These and other like examples become noteworthy as respite, relief, or calm.

Now my nap, our naps–“Wanna take a nap?” –can occur soon after the morning weather with Julie Marquez, two pieces of Martin’s raisin bread toast, a Halo mandarin orange, one to three cups or coffee, one apple fritter or Boston cream donut, or any combination of these.  Perhaps Frosted Mini-wheats or Honey-Nut Cheerios?  And then the local and world news events.

10:30 a.m.

Garbage Picked Up (Tuesday and Friday)

11:00 a.m. Nap Time

(Too hot and muggy to take the cat for a walk.  Maybe tonight when it’s cooler?)

CAT ON LEASH

* * *

“Are you tired?  “I don’t know about you, but I’m ready for a nap,” she said.

* * *

“I’m worn out watching all those National Geographic films.  I’ve emptied the oceans; I’ve dug around Egypt; I’ve climbed the Andes Mountains.  I need a nap.”

* * *

A nap.  A blessed and sacred event.  Well, not really, but something we do look forward to, do need, do miss if we don’t get one.  A special time.

The special time is any time, between 11 a.m. and 7 p.m.!  That’s right: 7 p.m.  Sometimes a long doctors’ clinic afternoon requires a late nap, before supper and evening news.  Sometimes a condo board meeting that began at 10 a.m. and adjourned at noon: a cold refreshing McDonald’s shake before a nap is the perfect remedy to heal the stresses of board budgets and owners’ complaints.  Ah, an afternoon nap.

As you can see, there is no set Head Start Nap Time, like 1:30 p.m.  We are flexible nappers.  We can nap anytime–and anywhere.  The best place, though care must be taken lest the body think it’s bedtime, is on the bed, with quilt covering feet, temperature set at 74-76°.  Next is the living room, sure to have cat-company.  The TV room has a couch for reclining, with accompanying cedar chest for feet and sit-up short nap, or doze-y nap, with one eye on the TV. 

But I have the most Special Place, the two-position recliner.

MY FAVORITE RECLINER

I kick back, settle, relax, and doze.  And if I am lucky, I’ll have a purring feline with me for an hour or so, curled in comfort on my lap.  I cannot, however, nap too long in the chair.  My back tells me when it is time to get up and move around, so a two-hour nap is more than enough.  A good nap, with dreams (!); and with air conditioning, an excellent nap.

And so it goes.  Each day beginning so differently, with catwalk, breakfast, doctors’ appointments, humidity, garbage trucks, coffee stimulation (or not), or a variety of other obligations or choices for the day (early morning blood tests?  Did I mention those?).  And we think about where we might be able to have nap time set aside.  Yes, that is true.  It’s like family planning, dinner planning, or planning for the rest of the day. 

Or, often, the day will simply proceed, and we will say aloud,

“I NEED A NAP!”

© James F. O’Neil 2021  

BY: JAMES F. O’NEIL

HRH Elizabeth Queen of England will “turn” 95 years old on 21 April, this year–coming up soon.

April 21, 2021

Mr. James Francis O’Neil, BA, MA, will “turn” 80 years old–still fifteen years younger than the Queen.

BABY JIMMY

. . .

“A man is sane morally at 30, rich mentally at 40, wise spiritually at 50–or never.”–Sir William Osler (1849–1919) [Quoted in Forbes Magazine, June 1961]

. . .

Is any one birthday more important than another?  Is any one particular birthday more significant than another? 

Certain days of our lives, calendar days, occurring but annually, come to be celebrated (or not celebrated, or tried-to-be-forgotten): our BIRTH-DAY, anniversary of our birth.  For some, it is important not to forget, not to be forgotten, as in Thornton Wilder’s play Our Town, Emily Webb’s twelfth birthday.  Was that birthday important or significant?  (Is there a significant difference?)

In a lifetime, certain calendar birth anniversary days (beginning with #1, the 1st, the First) are regarded more highly and celebrated–by others and by the “celebrant.”

21–I could not wait until I turned twenty-one, to have my first legal alcoholic–spirits drink.  Oh, I had drinks years before that special “21st,” but not legally in Illinois.  So, there I was, in the club car of the Illinois Central RR, April 1962, returning to classes after the Spring-Easter Break.

My Uncle Bill had taught me the best about cigars (“That’s what I do: I smoke cigars.  And I know things.”)  and was teaching me about single malts and sour mash.  He made good Manhattans.  “I’ll have a Manhattan,” I told the railroad waiter, nonchalantly.  (I was not about to venture “a Rob Roy, please.”)  “I need some proof of age,” he retorted.

Oh, I had that birthday gift, how important that April date was on my driver’s license (gotten on another important birthday in April, #16)) 1962 minus 1941 equals: BINGO: 21!)  What power!  What meaning!  What significance!   A date to be remembered–for life!

65–I skipped over a few years to here.  I don’t need to retell about “The Big 4-0” or “Half Century” (really?).  I did have a wonderful 60th Surprise Party that genuinely surprised me.  Family and friends, great foods, and a well-decorated cake, in the shape and design of an airport runway.  (I am an avid aircraft-lover.)  That birthday had special significance for me.  It was special.  (Hallmark says 60 is diamonds; I received none.)

So, the years 1–ONE–FIRST to 65 brought me surprise birth anniversaries, parties, gifts, and memoriesofatime, but not, of course, gifts in the Hallmark “official” list for anniversaries.  (Those are mostly for weddings, especially 5/wood; 10/tin/; 15/crystal/; 19/jade; and 25/silver/, 50/gold/, and 75/diamond.)

Then came the BIGGIE, the real BIGGIE: 65 . . . and important significant MEDICARE.  What can I say now?  Incredible!  I cannot believe I have partaken of that great social program . . . for fifteen (15) years!

Where has the time gone?  Who knows where the time has gone?

* * *

Her: “Thank you, Mr. O’Neil, Professor O’Neil, for your time–which is so important to you–and your willingness to talk about your 80th Birthday.  How do you feel as you approach that 80th April Day?”

Me: “Growing old isn’t easy.  But I do not regret growing older.  ‘It’s a privilege denied to many.’”

Her: “Have you learned anything special in the recent past, say five or ten years, which prepared you for this time?” 

Me: “Lifting.  I used to lift, unload box cars when I was twenty-two.  It is harder now to lift a 20-pound bag of mulch.  I am aware of not being able to go fast, but I have clocks in every room, I am so aware of time.  More time needed to plan for activities.  And, yes, being forgetful: Being in a room and wondering, ‘Why did I come into here?  Oh, yes.’”

Her: “What would you say is your greatest achievement in your eighty years?”

Me: “Sobriety: To accept the things I cannot change; to have the courage to change the things I can; and the wisdom to know the difference.  Powerful stuff here.”

Her: “Aside from all your friends and family, is there someone special you would like to invite to your birthday party?”

Me: “The author and essayist Joseph Epstein whom I have admired for a long time, for his essays of wit, thought, wisdom, and history.”  (“If I am allowed another special guest, I would like Henry David Thoreau, too.  And if there is one more extra chair, I would like to hear the barbaric yawp of Walt Whitman.”)

Her: “At present, what is your greatest desire?”

Me: “My 81st birthday, at home, with my family, virus free.”

Her: “You were in education for nearly fifty years.  You taught writing and literature, and were a school administrator for seven years, too.  Do you have any special words of wisdom that you can share that have had an influence upon your career?”

Me: “‘To err is human; to forgive, divine’ is one of my favorites.  ‘The Devil can cite Scripture for his purpose’ is one I learned early on, from Shakespeare.  And it still has meaning for me.  ‘They also serve who only stand and wait’ from Milton.  Profound.  ‘Love thy neighbor as thyself.’ One more?  ‘Know thyself.’ Something I learned long ago in Greek class.”

Her: “I know you have done much reading in all those years, surely from Aristotle and Plato, to Proust, and Kurt Vonnegut.  But you must have some ‘favorite’ or special author or book that you return to for guidance or inspiration.”

Me: “I don’t have a special author whom I can often quote from, like lines or words from Shakespeare, or the poetry of Milton, or Emily Dickinson.  But if I were on that imaginary deserted island with only one book to read over and over, I would have to choose my black leather-bound Book of Common PrayerAll I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten would be a great choice–or Paradise Lost.  But I’ll keep the prayer book. 

Her: “Of the 80 years, what would you say was the ‘Best Year of Your Life’?”

Me: “My 80th, for sure, considering all my high school classmates who have passed on.  But that is a difficult question to answer.  Year of Courtship, marriage, having children, career, graduate school, travel to Europe; moving years: Chicago, to Minnesota to Florida.  There cannot be a ‘Best Year of My Life.’”

Her: “Well, then, is there a ‘worst’?”

Me: “This is not so difficult to answer, for it always comes up the same: 10th grade!  No matter whenever I think about it.  My surgeries: appendix and tonsils.  Nearly flunking geometry: A=B, B=C, ergo A=C. Theorems and proofs.  Pythagoras and c2 = a2 + b2.  How tough that was!  In addition to learning Latin in 9th grade, I began the study of Greek in 10th grade! α β γ δ ε ζ η κ π φ ω and more–I forget the exact order.”

Her: “Professor, you have allowed me a unique opportunity to hear about you and some of your history.  Thank you again.  Would you like to add anything else now?”

Me: “Thank you, and you’re welcome.  Yes, a few more words, if I might read from Walt Whitman Sands at Seventy, “After the Supper and Talk”: ‘“. . . after the day is done . . . Good-bye . . . O so loth to depart!  Garrulous to the very last.’”

Walt Whitman, circa 1887

© JAMES F O’NEIL  2021

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