I’m in Limbo

Last night in my nightmares, I couldn’t breathe properly. I shifted awkwardly between asleep and awake, laying thinking of one memory in particular that haunts me – my mother on that Tuesday night before I dropped her at the hospital on Wednesday morning; my mother sitting at the dining room table after walking from her bedroom to the lounge, just a few meters being enough to leave her out of breath, sitting there panting with her head in her hands. I laid there thinking that, and then shifting back to sleep where I dreamed that I was the one struggling to breathe. Then I woke confused, uncertain if this was a dream or if I really did struggle.

I’ve started wondering if this was really a sensible time to quit cigarettes. My last smoke was quite late on Thursday night, but the craving has been quite intense since then. But it’s not just craving – I’m angry. This anger flares up in response to tiny things that should be insignificant. I don’t remember ever craving meth like this, but I am craving a cigarette. The part of me that wants it begs and pleads, insisting that all I need is one; that I can bum from my neighbour, Mervin downstairs, who normally bums from me. But no! I shut those thoughts down each time, by playing back that mental image of my mother, sitting there with her head in her hands as she struggled to breathe. I hear her voice, as she called me on her last day, a week ago yesterday, to tell me that they would try to drain the fluid from her lung using a needle. I thought I’d see her later that day. They were supposed to help her, not suddenly kill her! That’s why I’m still in shock. And I think of how she died not two hours later, but also that she might have lived much longer if she’d quit smoking sooner. I need to quit and not give in to any cravings, so that I can live longer, for my son.

So I have motivation, but it’s hurting. The more I think about it, the more it hurts.The grief and sense of loss is otherwise not as bad as it was a week ago. It’s still bad, but it’s OK. But the not smoking thing is really fucking me up. Even my sense of the passing of time is different without nicotine. I don’t know how that can be, but some annoying tasks, such as pulling off from a traffic light… seem to take much longer now. The waiting for the lights to change from red to green… seems much longer than it needs to be. I used to take a lot of smoke breaks as well, sometimes before and after doing just about every little thing. Now I have all this extra time and no clue what to do with it.

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How fragile is human life?

Yesterday my mother died suddenly. I’m not coping with the loss very well at all.

This has all been a shock. Two weeks ago, I dropped her off at Edenvale Hospital before going to work. It was just supposed to be a checkup, but I found later that day she’d been admitted. She had an enlarged heart due to fluid on her lungs. They also picked up something on her chest but didn’t know what it was, so she was scheduled to go to Johannesburg General hospital for a test, a bronchoscopy. But things did not go as planned.

They let her come home, and she was scheduled to go for the test this past Tuesday. I dropped her off at 6AM, again at Edenvale hospital, and their “messenger” as they call him took her to Johannesburg General hospital. But she hadn’t been told not to eat breakfast, so she had to return home. The messenger berated her, bullied her, telling everyone it was her fault. This was the second time he did so; the prior week another test had to be aborted because of a seafood allergy (which she had disclosed) which left her sensitive to the drip. So on Tuesday after making her walk from one side of the hospital to another (It’s a huge hospital.) because he parked on the wrong side, he let her wait three hours for the transport to go back to Edenvale. Is this how you treat a 70 year old woman who is struggling to breathe because of blood clots on her lungs? is it fun to bully an easy victim?

So on Wednesday, I took her back to the hospital again. They took her back to the larger hospital, where the bronchoscopy had to be abandoned because of a complication caused by her reaction to the medication. But I wasn’t notified. After work on Wednesday, I went to Edenvale hospital, but nobody knew where she was, so I then had to go look for her at Joburg Gen myself. It turned out she was in ICU, where she stayed overnight. After that amount of stress and no sleep, I stayed home on Thursday – I could not go to work in such a state of mind and without having had any sleep.

But on Thursday she was OK. She felt much better, was happy and in good spirits; she even joked with the staff there and made friends.

I went to work on Friday, dressing smarter than my usual jeans and t-shirt because we had an office year end function that afternoon. I planned to attend, and then leave early because visiting hours are 3 to 5PM.

She called me around 10AM to let me know that the bronchoscopy had not been done. Until then, we thought it had and that we simply had to wait two weeks for the results. I was under the impression that she was coming home. But instead, another procedure was going to be done where they would drain the fluid from her lung sing a needle. I asked if she would be anaesthetized but she told me she didn’t know because they had yet to explain it to her. I wished her luck, not knowing that this was the last time I would speak to her.

At 11:55AM I got the call to get to the hospital as soon as possible, but by the time I got there, she was already dead. She had again reacted badly to the medication, went into respiratory arrest, and while they tried to resuscitate her, went into cardiac arrest. They did resuscitate her after 30 minutes, but did not manage to wake her, and after another 30 minutes, and her not responding, they gave up.

The whole thing has been a nightmare. It happened too quickly, and I am shattered. My son and I have depended on her for so long now, but that’s not the worst part… I’ll find a way to cope with all the tasks that need to be done, but so far, I have not been able to make myself go through her things. Apart from her room, her toothbrush is still hanging in the bathroom, as is her towel and her toiletries. Her writing pad is on the dining room table, and I cannot bring myself to disturb those things. It seems sacrilegious somehow.

This is so much more difficult because of her staying with my son and I. In the years before this, we were not so close. But now, having her stay here these seven years had brought us closer together, and I was closer to her now than ever in my childhood.

How fragile are we, that life can so abruptly end? No time to say goodbye or even, “I love you, mommy”. There’s a part of me that fears that it is somehow because I didn’t tell her that I was worried in that last phone call, that somehow if she knew how much I cared and how worried I was, she might still be alive. I know it’s not true, but this part of me believes that if I’d said, “Please don’t die” that maybe she wouldn’t have.

How does it feel to burn out?

It seems close.

Work is a nightmare. Today I lost my cool and called somebody an idiot. Not to his face, but still… I was helping him with something – explained it to him four times and still he didn’t understand. Each time I returned to my desk, only to read yet another asinine question on Slack. I have little patience at the best of times, but today it was thinner than usual. So without considering it, I turned to my closest colleague and said, “You know what the problem is with [Redacted]?” Pause… “He’s an idiot.” I tried to take it back, suggesting that maybe the idiot is me, but it was too late. The words were already spoken. Words I did not mean.

My mother has been on oxygen since Wednesday. I didn’t even know until today. She told me the enlarged heart is not serious, and she only has a mild infection on her left lung. They’re treating it like pneumonia. In other words they don’t know what’s wrong. And there’s something on her chest but they don’t know what it is, so she’s going for a scan at another hospital on Monday. I don’t think she sees how serious this might be.

I struggled to focus at work today. Again. I was pulled in every direction. Again. Two disasters averted today, one of which involved preventing duplicate transactions from being sent out, by updating some data the last minute before the daily run. Nobody thanked me for averting this disaster that wasn’t even my responsibility, but I was reprimanded for something that went wrong in a deployment on Monday. Pressure pressure pressure. All the time. I can’t take it much longer. Something needs to change or I need a break.

Fuck this Black Friday, especially when I only get paid in a week.

I’m worried about my mother and it’s really quite difficult to focus on anything else. Now I hear my son is being bullied at school. I used to fantasize about being bullied, so that I might be able to bloody my fists on some fool’s fetid face. But nobody ever did. Still it’s hard to relate. Josh won’t listen to me – I tell him to either fight back or tell the principal. (I did both at his age.) I can’t help him if he won’t listen, although I am proud of his ability to taunt the bullies verbally. It’s a step in the right direction.

All I want is to be happy. It isn’t happening at the moment. Tomorrow’s another day?

My mother was admitted to hospital yesterday

Excuse the lack of posts recently.

It hasn’t been the best year. Work-wise, this has been the toughest year for me, in a long time. I was responsible for a large portion of software that’s now in stores (here in South Africa) nationwide. In addition to that, I’ve been hopping from one project to another, one deadline after another, with more pressure that ever before and some of it unreasonable in my opinion, and on top of that, a dev lead who hasn’t been performing, such that I and others had to take up the slack. I could say more but it’s best not to. (On the positive side, I have been responsible for some innovative work that I can be proud of.)

I’ve been off sick for two days, but on the second day, I had to rush my mother to hospital as she had difficulty breathing. It turns out she has an enlarged heart and water on her left lung. So she’s been admitted, but we don’t know yet what the cause is. And when I called my brother to inform him, he told me that he doesn’t care because she has ruined his life. (But not in those words.) She has not.

Now, I have no help at home with my son, and it feels like I really am a single father for the first time. Last night I roasted some chicken for supper, with olive oil and peri-peri sauce. It came out rather delicious and I have some leftover for lunch today. But tonight it’s gonna be McDonalds, as I won’t have the time, and with that it’s off to work I go…

Why Aishah is important to me

Let’s try this again… Hopefully this will be my last post on this subject for now, and I will try my best not to write bad things about Megan.

Background: Megan is my ex, and the mother of Josh, my ten year old son who is with me. Aishah is Megan’s daughter, so she’s Josh’s half sister. In September 2013, they moved in to my apartment, and on that day, I quit using drugs. (Meth.) Somehow the beautiful little three month old baby girl was my motivation to be clean, which has left me feeling guilty for years because Josh didn’t motivate me the same way.

I waited a year, and then with one year’s sobriety I took part in the two programs that were stipulated by a court order to get Josh back, as he was in foster care. I took Megan along and we did those two programs together. Eventually I did get Josh back (on 15 December 2015), but by then Megan had moved away. She only stayed just short of two years, then initially stayed close by for a year before moving to Cape Town.

Recently they stayed with us again for just over three months, with Aishah now five years old. These are some of the many things that Aishah did, making it impossible for me to stop thinking of her:

  • Every day, she waited for me to come home from work.
  • In the first two weeks, we had a “bring your kid to work day” at work, so I took both Aishah and Josh. They had worksheets they were given by the receptionist, who Aishah called “teacher”, having all the other children follow suit.
  • For weeks, Aishah would carry on writing on those sheets, saying she was “doing homework”. She stashed them under the bed, where they were forgotten.
  • Every day, she’d ask me, “Are you going to work tomorrow?” and try to convince me to stay. We used this opportunity to teach her the days of the week. She knows them well now.
  • Even though she’s old enough to eat on her own, she’d insist I feed her, or wouldn’t finish her food.
  • Every night, she’d insist that I brush her teeth, or that she brush teeth with Josh and I.
  • After they were here for a month or so, she decided that she preferred to be bathed by me, not “mommy”. Actually it was like this for most things while I was at home, even brushing her hair.
  • She’d sit beside me when I played Diablo 3 on the X Box One, demanding that I “Sit back” so that one arm could go around her.
  • She played too. At first, she had to “finish all the bounties (in a town)”, and then she learned about key wardens and infernal machines, which she called “keyboards” and “machines”. She could navigate to any act to find the key warden, play it, and then go back to Act 1 to open the portal to the infernal machine. She also played standard nephilim rifts, but didn’t quite master the greater rifts which have a time limit. Sometimes some of the maps would confuse her or some of the monsters would frighten her, so she’d want my help. Also every time I levelled up, she insisted on putting my Paragon points on for me.
  • Every evening I play Diablo shortly before we all sit down and watch whatever series we are watching. (I’m a creature of habit.) While I play, my mother makes me a cup of coffee. Aishah loves coffee and would often drink half of mine. Megan did not like this, just like she didn’t like me giving Aishah soda at night. I don’t see a problem with such things… Sugar rushes are a myth, and if giving children what they want, but not doing so excessively, makes them happy, why not? After all, a happy child is… happy.
  • Sleeping arrangements were awkward, since my mother has the children’s room. My room has a queen size bed and a single bed, one for Josh and one for me. At first, the plan was for me to sleep in the queen size bed with Josh, so Megan and Aishah would sleep in his bed. But Aishah wanted to lie next to me. Both children wanted me to turn to them, so to compromise I’d lie on my back, with one arm around each of them. Then they’d fight over who could put their hand on my chest. Another compromise – they’d each get a turn on alternate days. After Aishah fell asleep, Megan would move her to the other bed; then she’d sneak back to me in the middle of the night. Last night I slept like that, reaching out my right arm to where Aishah used to be.
  • I’d take both children to the park, and Aishah would love me to push her on the swing.
  • Every day, she wanted me to play hide and seek with her.
  • When I get tired over weekends, I put my glasses on the table and lie down. She’d pick them up, bring them to me, and say “Put on your glasses”, meaning she wanted me to play with her. Other times when she was tired, she’d say “Take off your glasses” and then take them off and put them on the table, showing me that she wanted me to lie down and nap with her.
  • Every day she asked when it would be warm enough to swim. I took her to the pool, and she’d just play on the steps, waiting for the time when I could swim with her, but they left before that time could come. Even on the last day she asked me about this, and I had to tell her that she wouldn’t be here. (It is warm enough now.)

Those are just some of the things that I remember. No doubt I have left out many others. I literally can’t do anything without thinking of Aishah, and it breaks my heart that they left so soon.

For reasons that I can’t understand, I’ve been blocked on Megan’s phone now. Before these three months, we used to call them every night, so that I could speak to Aishah, and Josh could say goodnight to his mother. Now he can’t. Effectively she has blocked her son too and it breaks my heart.

Here is Aishah playing on the steps at the pool:

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And here she jumped on my shoulders while I played Diablo:

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She was settled and happy here, and our bond was unbreakable. I love Aishah. I can’t look at these photos without crying, and I can’t fathom why this bond had to be so abruptly and cruelly broken. It’s not right.

Some photos from last weekend

Last week Megan’s mother visited us on Sunday, as she had some time in Johannesburg between two flights. It was good for Josh to see his other grandmother, since he last saw her when he was about 18 months old and didn’t remember her.

Both Josh and Aishah insisted on swimming in the complex pool – even though it isn’t warm enough for that yet, and I took some photos.

In the first shot, Josh is wearing the tracksuit he got from Megan’s mom. It’s size 11 to 12, and he’s 10, which is why it looks so big on him.

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Aishah can’t swim yet; she plays on the steps. If Megan and her stick around long enough, I will have to swim with her and hold her. She’s been asking me about that almost every day, but it’s way too cold for me to get in the pool now.

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I didn’t get any decent photos of Josh swimming in his costume. There’s a video of the two of them, but I can’t upload it here. In these, taken right after they got out the pool, it seems Josh really is feeling the cold.

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Why do we make things so complicated?

I’d make a terrible judge.

I’m thinking of those TV judges like Judge Judy and the like. They’re presented with two people who have some sort of disagreement, and who make their cases. I watch those programs with fascination, often being quite unable to see through the layers of bullshit to find who is right and who is wrong. Instead, I see both sides. I see degrees of right and wrong on both sides, and layers of complexity hiding the truth. Sometimes those layers may be deliberate obfuscation by one party, but more often than not, they’re really just signs of the way we all make everything so complicated. All of us, to some degree, are selfish, self centered, self serving creatures who make everything about us, and seldom see anything from each others’ points of view.

There’s been an interesting development with Josh (who is ten) and Aishah (who is five) lately. Suddenly all their arguments and fights are being resolved, by the five year old. She has figured out that all she needs to do is say “Sorry”, and ask him to “Say sorry” too. He does so, albeit reluctantly, and then they move on. They play together and all is well. While her view may seem naïve and simplistic, it works. The amazing thing about it for me is that she does it even when she knows she is not wrong. That makes her, at five years old, in some ways more mature than the ten year old. It also makes her smarter than him. Heck, that makes her smarter than me.

I never did that by myself when I was a child. My father had to teach me, and then I still didn’t catch on to why straight away. It’s a lesson I’d since forgotten. Children are amazing.

As for Megan and Aishah returning to Cape Town, that’s probably still going to happen. But I think there is more to it than I know. There’s something she isn’t telling me, and anyway, I did originally say they can stay as long as they like. I was hoping for it to be longer than this though…

Is feeling loss before it happens a good coping strategy?

Time for a personal post again.

I mentioned a couple of months ago that Megan (my ex) and Aishah (her five year old daughter and our son’s half sister) are back. This was after agonizing over it for months, with her pleading for me to let them come back. So now she is talking about going back to Cape Town and there is absolutely nothing I can do to change her mind.

I should have known.

Things are not going perfectly, but they are going pretty well. I love Aishah like my own child, and she loves me. She’s happy here and I think it would be in her best interest to stay. There have been issues with both children fighting for my affection, issues with sibling rivalry, but on the whole it’s getting better.

Aishah meanwhile, wants to spend more and more time with me and less with her mother. She wants me to brush her hair, bath her, cuddle with her, and even help her brush her teeth. The teeth brushing thing started last month when Megan went away for a weekend. I had to make sure both children brushed their teeth, and take her with to Josh’s school sports day on the Saturday. Ever since then, the normal custom we have of Josh and I brushing teeth together at night has changed. Aishah wants to brush her teeth with me too. The bathing thing started last week.

A while back, we had a “bring your kid to work” day at work, so I took them both. Now every day Aishah asks me when she can go to my work with me. She also takes turns on the Xbox, playing one of our demon hunter characters in Diablo, playing standard rifts and bounties. Besides playing the levels, she even knows how to sell items she picks up, and upgrade gems. She’s actually pretty good at the game.

I tried telling her that Mommy wants to go back to cape Town soon, and she doesn’t believe me… She replies with, “No, we will stay here for a looooong time”. It breaks my heart.

Anyway, I’ll spare further details. The thing is, while I’m there at home, I am still just as happy. Anywhere else, I remember to be sad that they will likely be leaving soon. I’m not sure if this is a good coping mechanism or a bad one, but I have this habit, when something bad is going to happen, such as when they will leave (or someone will die and so on), of feeling some of the emotional pain in advance.

I don’t know why or how it works exactly, but I always do this. When I was younger, I thought it would prepare me for the real loss that would come later. But it doesn’t. It still hurts just as much when the time comes… All this “coping mechanism” achieves is that now I hurt beforehand, when I don’t have to.

I wonder… Is this normal?