Grace Dammann's Journal
May 1, 2011
Written May 6, 2011 1:16pmMay 1, 2011
Everyone in her life should get to watch a live birth, be with someone they love as that person is dying, officiate at a wedding between people they love, and have a song dedicated to herself at a musical event. As a physician, I’ve gotten to do many of the first two but, recently, I got to officiate at a wedding and I loved it. It was such a gift to me. The hope expressed by two people who love each other who let us witness the vows they make to one another is so powerful. Two people being completely themselves, with love, reminds us of the vows we make in our lives, of those things for which we would lay down our lives and die. When the world looks most hopeless, the most hopeful thing we can do is to recommit, formally.
And this is one of the wonderful things about getting older. I am no longer afraid of commitment. Last night, I got to hear my favorite women’s band, Blame Sally, sing at the Great American Music Hall. I haven’t heard them in about 3 years. They have grown and I was so struck by the power of song and music to call forth the emotion that travels along with our language patterns and how we describe our lives (mostly to ourselves). In particular, my friend Renée sang this song: All Rise. It was written in response to her cancer diagnosis...and with the words of the song I could feel, totally, how my heart wants to break with compassion for my smashed up poor little body. It was dedicated to Fu and me:
All rise, all rise hear the recommendation,
All rise, sometimes the guide’s disguised in pain all rise, all rise hear the recommendation
Meet the guy with an open light, all rise
And then they came into my home
They knocked me down and took
everything I owned
I tried to see beyond alone
Where empty makes room for
something new and unknown
All rise, sometimes the guide’s disguised in pain…
All rise, all rise hear the recommendation
Meet the guide with an open light,
What I am doing now is beginning to live a life, not one that is very familiar (though the elements making it up are totally familiar) but one that I am trying to create. What this entails is helping out in the office at Green Gulch and volunteering half a day of week at Laguna Honda, and continuing with seemingly endless rehab. While it is familiar, I do feel awkward. My body, which has been mine since birth, is now what is so peculiar and foreign and unknown. And…I am learning to know what it needs, and love it.
And… this IS my life and…I am so grateful to have it. I am so grateful to have friends like Renée who gives such a unique gift to the universe and my young friends, Thea and Ivan, who let me participate with them in something very special. We ARE interdependent. What each of us does matters so much to those both near and far. We are each a slightly misshapen stone dropped in a great big ocean and the ripples that emanate from each of us ultimately rock and lull all the others.
So, in Rene’s words, may we All Rise…and meet the guide with an open light…Happy Spring.
With much love,
Written Jan 1, 2011 11:53am
It is a new year…once again, a time of reflection and recommitment. Last year, if I think about it honestly, was kind of a wash. I spent too much of the time in bed recovering from various surgeries. But they are done! And with that I noticed that I’m wrapping up the loose ends on my old life. I went to the lovely new Laguna Honda on the day of the move, and was struck by many feelings. First, it was the first time that I had been back to the hospital to see the people I had worked with since the day of my accident. I had seen the doctors when I cleaned out my office but this was my first visit to the institution. I saw the nurses, my patients, the CNAs, the myriad people who make up that small town in which I “lived” for over 20 years. I walked down the now empty AIDS ward that we have started in 1990. I was struck by the overwhelming feeling of what it had been to be in the epidemic at its very beginning. As I walked down the hall, I remembered the people, as if it were yesterday. I felt the love, anguish, terror at being unable to help, and again love. And then, I followed the patients from that AIDs Unit into the new building. Because it was raining, they invited me to go down the tunnel from the old to the new building. I hadn’t been there since I last visited it in a hard hat about a month before my accident. It really is wonderful. Any of you, or us, would be delighted to stay there. It feels, in places, as if you are in a treehouse or a great college dorm. The art studio is a lovely.
Once I was in the safety of my own car, I wondered how much would really change in terms of the care patients receive, how this staff responds to each other, the staffing ratios, supplies and equipment, whether the move would make any or what kind of difference. It remains to be seen.
And, at the end of the year, we had a fundraiser for the film that they’re making about my recovery. In the process, I noticed that I was really “coming out” as a person with disabilities. I had had the same feeling when going down the hallway at Laguna Honda. It is such a strange experience to look up that everyone with whom you have been on eye level with your whole life. That is the experience of being in a wheelchair. As an aside, I would encourage all of you when you’re talking with somebody in a wheelchair to kneel down. The “level” difference cannot be masked. Finally, one of my physicians from Ralph K. Davies and I are giving Grand Rounds in Santa Rosa to Family Practice Residents. The grand rounds will be on the subject of traumatic brain injury, and will begin with my case. In preparing for this, and in seeing the clip of the film they’re making about me, I have had to confront the reality of this accident in a very graphic way. As I read the admission note from John Muir Hospital, I was struck by how precarious the whole situation had been. I’ve looked at my CT scans and the MRI of my brain and I am just amazed that I can sit here and dictate this. Nonetheless I can.
And that brings me to the next point: what are my (new) commitments anyway? I guess it boils down to being awake. What do I mean by that? It means that I hope I notice what the world and life is asking me, and I hope that I respond by just saying “yes”. For whatever reason, my body and spirit decided to stay alive and I have to honor that by how I relate to whatever comes next. I vow to just “do it” now.
May your year be happy and full!
Written Oct 24, 2010 10:51amOctober 24, 2010 It is pouring rain outside today. However, the great news is that the Giants are in the World Series. It was absolutely a toenail biter. I have never felt so rung out or worked over after watching a sports event. Their pitching staff was superb.
I had a minor breakdown somewhere in the middle of the third inning, and I was so exhausted that I had lie down in bed. It is the only been recently that I’ve become quite so sensitive or bummed out by the pain and discomfort of this whole event. I realize that it’s been one year of backsliding. This time last year, I was walking around the zendo several times. What with the two surgeries this year, I have spent about nine months non-weight bearing on anything on my right side. It is a real drag getting pushed around pulled around and being beached like a whale on my bed. The challenge, of course, is to accept it and accept the pain of it and just get on with the act of living. Accordingly, I cried a little and then I got back into my “happy whale” mood. I guess that’s the issue and being happy is just getting back on the horse, as it were. There is some level at which I am finally accepting something. I’m not sure that it’s that I have accepted my disability but I have finally accepted that my life is completely different than I ever planned it to be. I am listening carefully to the sounds of the earth and what it brings forth as my next task.
My brother-in-law Albert, who is 55, had a heart attack over the weekend and is facing quadruple bypass surgery sometime this week. He is young. He has a great heart metaphorically speaking and he is a real love and I fully expect him to do quite well. He had a heart attack but no damage to the heart muscle. For those of you who are physicians, he had a non- ST segment elevation MI. In any event, it brings to mind that everything changes in a nanosecond (or heart beat). I ask you please to send him your prayers.
I have 13 more days of non-weight-bearing status. On November 4, I will have the cast taken off my right leg. I will wear a boot for several months but at least I will be able to put weight on that leg. Hallelujah. In any event, I very much feel like I’m in the home stretch. And I am so so grateful for my friends, for my family, for the Giants, for the sun that shines but not today. Being happy is about remembering that the sun does shine even if it isn’t happening today. (And that being all right). Good bye for now.