Monday, June 6, 2011

"If increasing sadness": Muzak meditations

Arrived at the land of Muzak, not a destination really but a hold, a pause if not a rest. "When we listen to music," Susan Howe notes, "we are also listening to pauses called 'rests.' 'Rests' could be wishes that haven't yet betrayed themselves and can only be transferred evocatively" (TT 28). While Muzak means to offer calm, it cannot rest. Relentless Muzak. The tunes are not familiar, except as Alzheimer's music. The voice-overs aim to reassure the listener: your family member is very important to us. There is no sadness in the voice-over. When I reach Heartland Health, I hear the same muzak in my ear as at the Arden Courts number. "We're part of the same corporate food chain," I'm told by a hospice worker.

In the "Health and Safety Appendix" to the Heartland Hospice Care Patient Information Handbook that's sent me as a pdf, I find a chart. Three columns, from left: "Body System"; "Symptom"; "Comfort Measures."

E calls to say mom is "comfortable," and "in no pain." But she does not have funeral arrangements. She gives me two names. One is Money & King. May I laugh at the irony? I do not think the muzak would want me to.

Under "comfort measures" for "Symptom: Feeling sad," I find, listed after bullet points:

Offer gentle support
Allow discussion of feelings
Give medicine as ordered
Notify nurse if increasing sadness

What I'm told is that my mother speaks, but that she makes no sound. Ellen: "She 'mouthed' some words but I couldn't make out what she was saying. I told her that you send your love." Social worker: "When your mom was speaking to me this morning, she was not projecting much sound and it was primarily me understanding the words she was mouthing to my questions."

Mouthing. When the mouth operates, but cannot project sound. The OED defines "mouthing" as

The action of mouth v. (in various senses); spec. the action of speaking in an empty, pompous, verbose, or foolish manner; an instance of this.

Merriam-Webster on-line defines it so, as well. The fourth definition works best: "to form soundlessly with the lips." The example has to do with a librarian. The librarian has volition; he knows he ought not to speak loudly, so he mouths his words. My mother tries to project sound, but none emerges. Another definition for the noun: "The entrance to an underground working from a mine shaft." To mine the mouth for words. To mine the mouth for words and come up without a seam, a vein, a breath. To go underground but not find the ground of saying. Form without content, and yet still content.

Muzak is mouthing's opposite. It's all sound, no meaning. No, that's not right. There's meaning, but the meaning is to avoid the underground, the mouth, the vein, to pause in thought if not in time. "This is an odd mix of the practical with the metaphysical" I say to someone on the phone from hospice.

After writing that I would not be advertising my posts any more on facebook, I got mad at Mark (this is a different Mark) for commenting that blogs are "so 2006." There are words like platform, like social networking, for what he means to discuss before he knows what I mean to say. The blog is a mouth. It opens and closes with the other mouths. It is the entrance to a mine. It is sometimes thought to be pompous, bombastic, loose with the facts. It might be Muzak. But mine. Is meditation, is retrieval, is trying to make the sounds that mean something. The Heartland handbook tells me, "You may be experiencing many emotions right now. Heartland Hospice is here to guide you on your journey." They mean my mother's journey, but it's mine. I am feeling pain. I am mouthing it. If you visit, you might hear it. In or out of the rests.

Why can't I remember the tune, the content of the voice-over? Why is there a cattle egret at the zoo, when I see three outside my window now, hunting roaches in the wet green grass? Why is memory what binds us together, like a simile, or "the cow stuff," as Sangha calls Elmer's? Why is ambition so predictable in its vehicles? Why does my chest quaver like a string? Why do doves coo, and mynas scream "cat!"?

I ask the social worker, the one who is working between the one who left and the one who has not yet started, if I should come to visit. It would have to be soon, as I'm in Scotland in July. I know this is a loaded question. [The cat comes out from under the bed; he will yell in a minute, as my door is closed. "Mom is busy," Bryant tells the kids.]


Forgive my frankness.....if you are hoping to see your mom before anything happens then I think the trip in a couple of weeks is a good idea. With "seniors", conditions can change so quickly. She is weak. I've been surprised with other clients how quickly and suddenly their condition turned. I suggest you see her in a timely manner....just in case.

There are now six egrets on the field. The cat (a "senior") sits next to me, watches them, scratches his left ear with his back left leg. She might "turn" soon. A turn in a poem is when momentum breaks and the poet turns her wheel. Away from. Toward. "When we wander in circles / Driven by keen delusion / May the King of clear skies / Go before us, turning / The great wheel, and sounding the conch / on the path of radiant light / The way of all-embracing wisdom." This is where my eye falls when I write the word "turn." Sina sends her re-casting from the Tibetan Book of the Dead for Albert Saijo's passage. It's called "Fundamentals of Navigation."

Should I choose a funeral home by its website? Should I call and test their Muzak? Should I choose the home that uses metaphor? "We understand that family care extends beyond our front door." Ah, the "straits of the liminal." Or should I choose the home that uses a more literal approach? "Among the property's distinctive attributes are its front porch lined with rocking chairs."

The hospice nurse returns my call. Cannot tell if there's urgency or not. "Aspiration pneumonia," so it's pneumonia again. Oxygen mask, so she "obviously" can't say anything. Antibiotics. Not in distress. Comfortable. Will call back with any changes.

Another call. This time it's billing. She's going to send a form, but it's confusing, so she'll explain it to me. Medicare Part B, as in Boy. Three options. Advanced Beneficiary Notice. Medications may or may not be covered by Medicare Part B as in Boy or by the secondary insurer. "I presume you'd like me to choose the first option," I say, after she enumerates them. "I can't say anything more," she says.

"'Rests' could be wishes that haven't yet betrayed themselves," Susan Howe. Why the word "betray"? I know what mom would wish.

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