Sunday, June 13, 2010

The little brother I never knew

Although I never got to know Gem, I often thought of him and Gus. I imagine it would have been alot of fun to be the big sister. My deepest sympathy to his family and friends. Wendy

Friday, April 30, 2010

A little snow still in the meadow, but it's melting fast!

I got the hole for the maypole dug before the snowfall, and am going to try to put up the pole when a few friends are here later today. That'll be after we try to fix the solar panel array, or at least determine how bad the damage is after that last storm knocked half of it down. The road in to the meadow is OK, and though things around here are in a state of end-of-winter disarray, and my life is a fragmented, disorderly mess in general, I don't really much care about those things at the moment, and I hope you'll overlook them too ; )

Blue jays are nesting outside the big cabin window, the big leaf maple leaves are vibrant green, grass is growing in places where we usually don't see it, the springs flow strongly, and dogwoods are just beginning to bloom. AND — the sun is shining today!

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Happy days with Gem at UC Berkeley!

[This was sent by Gem's UCB friend, Kim]

"Here is a brochure [Gem's friend] Lisa made. She was part of our group and shared many memories of Gem. I have also included numerous pictures I have from adventures of Gem. The giraffes was one of Gem and my favorites from the zoo. He loved that sweatshirt from Santa Cruz - it was mine but he borrowed it permanently:) Also, there are pictures of Gem's first college girlfriend - Rachel who was my roommate and pictures of Pat one of Gem's best friends. Jess, the blonde, is also in there who is part of our group and knew Gem well."


Sunday, April 25, 2010

Finally Writing About Gem (part 3)

There I go again, ending my Pt. 2 post by labeling a sequence as if it can be understood in time, as if there is ever a beginning or an end. We humans, trapped in time, see things in sequential order; we like discrete steps, orderly series of causes and effects. But I don't really know when the end began, or when the beginning began for that matter. What karma did Gem perhaps begin this life with, that I will never know with my conscious mind?

Gem was born early in the morning May 2, 1981, at the cabin his dad, Gary, and I had begun to build on Moody Ridge 9½ months before. We had excitedly made a down payment on a 10-acre parcel of raw, partially-logged mostly-level forest land, and moved onto it in July 1980, setting up a camp and glorying in our long-awaited chance to join the "back to the land" movement of the time. We had then been married 8 years, had completed college, lived together in three states, done a fair bit of traveling, and we felt ready to start a family and grow a homestead. I was 26, Gary 34. I had stopped taking birth control pills a few months earlier, but didn't conceive Gem until my first cycle after moving onto the property, which felt undoubtedly propitious. As Gem grew within me, our cabin also began to take shape. We had little money left after the down payment but lots of energy, and so we cut our own building materials from trees on the property. Gary used a chain saw milling attachment to cut all the boards. Friends, neighbors and family helped on some phases of the construction. Slow, hard work. But by my late-April due date, we had come through our first winter on Moody Ridge, and we were living inside our funky hand-built cabin.

In retrospect, this was a pretty amazing accomplishment, as Gary was still working full time (though taking as much time off as he could get away with) and I was working part time, which meant we had to commute on and off the ridge often through that winter... using our two old, 2WD vehicles—a venerable VW bug, and an old Dodge pick-up. The 3.5 mile access road to our property had no rock bed at that time—it was nothing but a raw, red, clay track. It turned to snot when it got wet (deep, deep dust when it got dry) and became impassable routinely, even for 4WD vehicles when the snow was deep. We kept studded snow tires on the VW, which did remarkably well unless under-carriage clearance was an issue. Then we would leave that car out at the county-maintained road, and use the truck—which had much higher clearance and a powerful low "granny gear"—as our ridge runner, chained up, and with a load of wood in the back to increase traction over the rear drive wheels. That too was often inadequate for the challenge of Moody Ridge Rd. in winter—very often, we walked/plodded/skied the 3.5 miles in and out. I'm not kidding. And me increasingly pregnant of course—what a winter that was for us! But, basically we were in the cabin in time for the home birth we'd planned. One thing we hadn't accomplished yet was the stairs up to the floor, which was 8' above the ground. We had two ways of getting up into the cabin: a ladder (which I'd made myself) and a 20' ramp, 1' wide, with little molding pieces nailed on for traction, and not even a hand rail. It bounced a little going up and down but was the easiest, quickest way to get up. The stairs would come later...

Gem proved to be a big baby, 8lb 11oz if I recall, and he travelled the birth canal "face up" instead of face down, presenting forehead first instead of crown of head—taking a difficult path even then.

My pregnancy had not been particularly hard (I'd enjoyed it actually) and the first part of the labor was more or less routine also. I had seen a couple of doctors early on for prenatal exams, and had been working with a midwife throughout the pregnancy. All looked well going into labor, but as the pushing phase began, Gem's unusual orientation made progress slow. It became dangerously slow, as his traverse of the birth canal lengthened into hours, his body having to curve the opposite way around the pubic bone, his head forced into it's widest configuration—so by the time he actually emerged, both he and I were completely exhausted. He simply went to sleep, in my mother's arms; I wanted to also, but the important matter of expelling the placenta had to be dealt with first, and thus began the most serious problem. My uterus had just shut down—done—no contractions resumed to expel the placenta. My wide open uterus continued to bleed, and external massage intended to provoke contractions, which would expel the placenta and seal off the uterine capillaries, was ineffective.

Remember that we were a LONG way from the nearest medical facility. My midwife was getting very nervous at this point. She finally decided to probe, and something she did caused me intense pain, did NOT provoke contractions, but DID increase the rate of bleeding. I was bleeding uncontrollably. It was truly an emergency. Time to get HELP—we sent my friend Deborah to call for an ambulance. At this point she had just returned from carrying news of the birth to Gary who was waiting at her nearby tipi home—he had opted to tend to her 9-month old at the tipi while she helped with the birth. So Deborah walked in, full of high spirits—but flew back out, drove at crazy speed down to the nearest phone at Alta which took 20 minutes, waited another 20 minutes for the ambulance to get from Colfax up to the Alta exit, and then guided them in—so it was an hour before help arrived. A very long hour for me.

I could not move. Every part of my body was heavy as lead, and every time I moved even a little, I felt a rush of blood. I knew that I was hanging on by a thread, and needed to slow my heart, slow the pumping, slow everything, to increase my chances of hanging on until help arrived. And the very knowledge that I couldn't move made me WANT to move! I wanted to scream and jump about! Wave my arms and kick my legs! I wanted to move, to LIVE! Not to lie passively while my blood drained out... it was a terrifyingly contradictory set of impulses, but my cool head won out, I "chilled", I waited. I watched my mom, holding my sleeping newborn boy, and tried to share with her a calmness neither of us truly felt, but which wisdom dictated we pretend to feel; and my midwife, afraid of culpability, went outside to find a place to hide when the ambulance arrived.

The two paramedics burst in, bringing color and light in the door with them, and they were already on the radio getting counsel from their support team. My blood pressure had dropped to 50/30. Within about a minute of entering, these wonderful pros had fluids flowing into my body, which didn't immediately staunch the flow of blood, but did almost immediately bring some strength back into me. And I knew the crisis had passed. And then they gave me a shot of pitocin to induce contractions. And then began consideration of just how to get me to the hospital where I would need a blood transfusion. I was now hooked up to a life-preserving IV feed, and had been moved onto a stretcher to be carried to the ambulance. But—remember the ramp? Imagine the scene! It took two people to carry the stretcher... I was on the stretcher... and a fourth person (this was Deborah) had to stay close enough to hold up the IV bottle that was attached to my arm—and that whole parade had to get down a 1' wide bouncy board ramp to reach the ground and the ambulance. It was a bit harrowing, probably hardest for my mom, watching, while holding baby Gem. I wish I had a photo of that scene!

So, I eventually got to the hospital, had a blood transfusion, and continued to regain strength, but for the first 24 hours, I really couldn't even sit up. I was still awfully weak. Deborah, along with her still-nursing baby Surata, Gary, and my mom, focused on Gem. They stayed at a motel near the hospital, and brought Gem over to me every time he awoke, to see if I could nurse him yet. But I was always either asleep, or unable to even sit up during that first 24 hours, so Deborah nursed him for me as needed. He slept calmly most of the time, and seemed deeply peaceful they told me afterward. I remember thinking then, that Gem was in good hands, so lucky to have so much support, so many people who loved him already. And that was a pattern that continued through his life. All the way along his life path, there were people around to help as needed; he always had supporters, even when he became much less cute and lovable. But there was a place in his soul where he was always alone too, where no one could reach, a deep place of aloneness and pain.

And so I think about all this, about the framing incidents of Gem's life, and I just wonder. What has it all been about? I will wonder about Gem all my life; I know I have not learned all the lessons he has for me.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Finally Writing About Gem (part 2)

Part 2

Part of me—a large part—doesn't want to tell this story. It is a hard thing to reflect on, but apart from that I don't want to put a troubled and troubling image of Gem into the heads of people who remember him as a healthy, vibrant young man, a quick-thinking child with beautiful eyes... I don't want to alter or tinge those existing memories with the cloud-cover of his last years. But I feel that I must, because his last years are a crucial part of who he was whether we like it or not. A life is a whole thing. And also because I believe we can learn something important and grow in our own lives and relationships from pondering Gem's experience. And maybe from my experience as his mother.

But, if you knew Gem personally, please—before you read beyond this paragraph—stop, disconnect, take a moment or more to think, recall, and lock in for yourself a typical or simple memory moment about Gem. Live there in your memory for a bit and maybe write about it, record your memory in some way—the "before" image. I just don't want you to lose that. I'd love it if you'd share it also, but mostly I hope that you will be able to keep that for yourself. Then DO return, if you are inclined, and follow on.

Another hesitation I have in writing about Gem is that I am all too aware of how one-sided my story is, how non-objective. It is just my story of what I shared with him, my viewpoint, and nothing more than that—not a definitive chronicle, not a case study, and there are parts of his life about which I know little or nothing—please just take this for what it's worth. (And share your story also, if you will!)

There were four particular areas of mental disorder I noted in Gem: a semi-catatonia that came during the most acute phases; non sequitur thinking and speech that I began to notice before any other symptoms, but didn't give much attention to at the time; psychotic delusions that sometimes overwhelmed his consciousness; and a gradual, complete loss of all positive emotions and good feelings.

In the Spring of 2005, after several days of hallucinatory experience and not eating around the UCB campus and in his Berkeley apartment, he left his home, wearing only light clothes, heading south from Berkeley along the railroad tracks. Four days and 60 miles later, having eaten only a lemon he found along the way, and during which he slept very little, hiding in weeds, he reached a point of complete exhaustion and pain. This culminated in his lying down on the tracks to await a train and death. He was just DONE as he told me later; he had no life energy left.

But he wasn't done, as it turned out. Here is the account of that episode that I wrote to some friends at the time:

My 24 year-old son, nearing the end of his years as a student of Art at UC Berkeley, has been living on his own for 5 years, and all OK... until this occurred. He apparently had several delusional experiences over a few days in mid-March, stopped eating, began to believe he couldn't use money or drive. He left his apt walking along the RR tracks south through the worst sections of the east bay cities... walked for 4 days and nights, no supplies, food or shelter--just sleeping in the weeds by the "river" all the way into San Jose (60+ miles), where he was so weakened--now 7 days with no food except a lemon he found, and only a little water from the filthy river along the tracks--and at that point he didn't want to spend another night out in the cold--so he resignedly laid down ON THE TRACKS! He did not move when a RR official hollered at him, so the police were called, and they picked him up and took him to the county hospital. Severe dehydration, starvation (he was thin before, but now he's just skin and bones) and a rare physical condition of air in the chest cavity and spinal column ("subcutaneous emphysema") were the diagnoses. He was put on a 3-day hold for mental evaluation because of his clearly self-destructive behavior, and because he refused a procedure to try to diagnose the cause of the air in his chest. They had to force that procedure on him, since a perforation in the lungs or trachea is a life threatening condition. They thought he might have swallowed glass or sharp rocks. (No perforation was found--the condition is rare anyway, and even rarer to have no apparent cause--though it is known to occur spontaneously sometimes in "very thin men".)

Through all this, he didn't give the hospital my phone number--he was there 3 nights before I had any clue. He was still in an abnormal state of mind, mumbling about good and evil. I found out he was missing because his boss at the campus library where he's worked for 5 years began asking other students where he was when he didn't show up for work or call in. This was totally out of character for him. His friends then starting calling each other. When no one could reach him, and he hadn't told anyone of a planned trip or anything like that, one of his friends called me, and finally I called the campus police. They had received a query about him 2 days before from the doctor who was treating him. Somehow they had learned he was a Berkeley student, maybe from ID he had on him. But the university had only a defunct phone number for his dad who had since moved to Hawaii, and no phone number for me.

I got down to San Jose as soon as I heard all of this, and spent the next 3 days at his bedside, where he initially made little sense and was so weak he could hardly talk at all. But he began to respond to me quite quickly. He was talking more like himself by the end of that first day, steadily ate the fruit I brought him, and was transferred late the next day to the emergency psychiatric clinic for the required evaluation. He was in that center for 8 hours, witnessing all kinds of scary things. I wasn't allowed to be with him there, and was quite concerned, not only about his mental state, but also I fretted that he wouldn't eat in that environment--and he SO needed to continue getting nutrients. At this point, *I* was really struggling. I broke into tears several times in that stark, lonely waiting room. I was so overwhelmed with uncertainty of how to help. The ER doc who treated the medical conditions had told me this was probably the onset of schizophrenia, and that he would probably require ongoing medication to control the condition. I made calls to my husband, and a friend, and just waited, wondering and worrying.

Two psychiatrists evaluated him, and diagnosed the incident as a "single manic episode". They did not believe he was experiencing schizophrenia, or that any medications are required at this point. They recommended regular follow up visits with the health clinic at the university, lots of strength-building foods, and watchful attention from his friends and family as he resumes his normal life. Apparently, a single episode like this is not all that uncommon.

He is now back at his apartment and picking up the pieces. He's still quite emaciated, but is eating normally, using money, has driven his car, gotten in touch with his boss and his professors, and has a first appt. at the health center this week. I am calling or emailing every day and he responds well.

So that was the beginning of the end of Gem's life. There is more to the story—I will continue later.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

OK, I will finally start to write about Gem

It is a lovely, sunny, warming, late-winter day. I have been rambling about outside, here at my Moody Ridge home, less than 3 miles from where Gem was born, puttering at tasks, just generally loving this place, loving life, loving Gem, missing him. I have been realizing how deep and wide my bound-up, postponed expressions of that love are — I'm bursting with it this morning. So I will let loose a little and see what happens.

Where do I start? Sometimes I think that the story starts at the ending. I don't always dislike knowing the ending of a tale first, (or is it maybe, a middle after all? or even a beginning?) — that would imply that a subsequent reading of a book could never be as right, as satisfying, as a first reading. Simply not true. Maybe I can get more out of recounting Gem's story starting from his death and working back. That's what I'm inclined to do.

Gem Emilio Wiseman. On July 5th, 2009, he leaped off the 700+ foot high Foresthill Bridge near Auburn, CA to his death. He was 28 years old. He was my first-born son.

He had struggled mightily and painfully for the four years just prior with psychotic episodes, swirls and swamps of mind disorder, interspersed with relatively normal periods of productivity and self-sufficiency. Ins and outs. I can't give a formal diagnostic label to what ailed him. Largely because of the cyclic (or rather, the increasingly wide extremes of a sine wave pattern) nature of the thing, one of the first diagnoses we got was bipolar disorder. I read a lot about that, and I don't think the patterns match very well, but what do I know? We never got a confident diagnosis from any of the psychiatric medical people who interacted with him. Gem himself did not participate willingly in their efforts to label him with a mental disorder. He said he was fine. "I am not sick, I do not need help," as in the title of the insightful and helpful book by Xavier Amador.

But something was not "normal"—he would become so neglectful of the needs of life that he would be at risk sometimes of dying in one way or another—several incidents happened. He would get dysfunctional, or he would act in a way that scared other people, and then security, police and/or medical people and/or family/friends would step in and corral him into a forced treatment regimen—until he again met expectations. The forced treatments included locked-door, prison-like shelter, forced psychotropic and other drugs, frequent group counseling sessions with seriously disturbed, dysfunctional people, behavior modification reward-punishment systems, isolation from exposure to healthy people and environments, and huge mega-thousand dollar billings, followed by bill collectors, loss of home, car, etc.

I can't diagnose, but I can describe the symptoms I observed. I'll get into that in my next post.