Friday, April 21, 2017

Crash Test Dummy

Crash Test Dummy

This post is in response to several emails from far flung readers who have been asking about my health. Fair enough. I hadn’t posted for four months, and a silent Sharon is something of an oxymoron. Going forward, I don’t plan to indulge much in what my father used to call the organ recital, but at least with this, everyone can rest assured that I am now back on my pins.

September 22nd was one of those days that had started innocently enough. In the early afternoon, I was contentedly preparing fresh ginger for a rhubarb syllabub, enough to feed about 40 people, but then I started to feel some abdominal pain. This was no big deal to me. I have lived with brief and occasional bouts of diverticulitis for at least sixty years. This time, since it was a bit more upper-case insistent, I decided to drive home, for a bathroom break and a brief rest. Home was only a few blocks away, and I expected to be back in an hour.

What happened instead was that as I drove over the speed bump at the exit from Roberts Creek Cohousing, I totally blacked out. This was a new experience for me - becoming a Crash Test Dummy. Thankfully, no one was between me and my eventual destination.

As the police later reconstructed the scene, I continued to drive a good hundred feet or so until I plowed into a ditch. From there, I continued on inside the ditch for at least another fifty feet with the car on a forty-five degree angle. (I would note that this says a lot in favour of the effectiveness of the Subaru Forrester all-wheel-drive system.) Anyway, when the ditch ended, being blocked by a driveway, I powered right on out of it, pedal to the metal, hit a parked car, and then careened across the road and was finally stopped by a cluster of trees.

When I came to, I was puzzled that there were branches and leaves touching my windscreen. From a distance, I heard a woman saying, We have called 911. Then she touched my arm, so I realized that she was right beside me and had been for some time. An ambulance is on its way. I think I said something like, I’m OK. I just need to go to the bathroom, and then lie down for a bit. That must have sounded decidedly idiotic.

Then the police showed up. I recall glancing at my rear-view mirror as one of them was asking me questions. I could see my youngest daughter sprinting towards me, parting the waters of the onlookers while repeatedly saying: Let me through. I’m family. She watches enough TV to know this is what you say. This is good.

Reconstructing the scene afterwards, the conclusion was that the seat belt had tightened as I had gone over the speed bump, causing the pain to spike. I then had a vasovagal syncope, which is a fancy way of saying that I had passed out. Had there been any warning that this could have happened, I certainly would not have been driving, but as it was, I hadn’t passed out since I was about thirteen years old. That time, I had been hanging up my coat in the closet, and had awoken to the nearby smell of boots.

This time I emerged – amazingly -- without a scratch, bruise, or a single pulled muscle, although one thing puzzled me. In the weeks that followed, I felt addled, and could barely concentrate even though nothing amiss had shown up on the CAT scan. There was no evidence of a stroke or other damage. The only observation of any interest was that I had an age appropriate brain. Fair enough. This is probably why I find it harder to have every word instantly at the tips of my mental fingers these days. That, I can live with. The little white spots look like flecks of snow.

For the next several months, and maybe it was in response to this event, I sludged my way through one respiratory infection after another. The worst part of it was that when I would try to write, even just for my blog where my standards are more relaxed, it wasn't worth the candle. I used these barren months to transcribe deeds and such. I also made plans for another research trip to Ireland.

A little over two weeks before I was due to leave, another kick to the gut. This time the onset was more intense, and more sudden than the last. One moment, I was enjoying dinner at a Greek restaurant with friends, and the next minute, one of them was with me in the bathroom, comforting me, and saying that she would help me up when I was ready. In the end, it took two people to help me out of the restaurant, across the street, and into the car. As we were leaving, one of the waitresses said, Have a good evening. Really.

After more tests and scans, the long and the short of it is that this was the same thing that had decked me in September. An acute diverticulitis attack. Apparently, now that I have reached the august age of three score years and ten, age is not my friend. Fortunately, two kinds of antibiotics, accompanied with significant down time, worked. Even so, just like the last time, my brain might as well have been parked in a room three doors over for all the good it was doing me. Right up to the day before I was due to fly out of YVR, neither Andreas nor I were sure that this was a totally brilliant idea. Then I had a good night’s sleep, the first in weeks, and then a good start to the morning. So I went for it, and am now in Dublin. Thankfully, it was the right call.

There is a John Newlove poem that Andreas and I have on the wall in our bedroom. It seems timely:

I'd like to live a slower life.
The weather gets in my words
and I want them dry. Line after line
writes itself on my face, not a grace
of age but wrinkled humour. I laugh
more than I should or more
than anyone should. This is good.

So, on this trip, unlike my usual approach, here is my plan. I will do my best to act my age. Ahem. I will take naps when needed. I won’t work my usual sixteen hour days. 

Here is where I am at. Two of the outstanding questions that are the focus of my work this week are:

Where is the farm in Co. Kildare that Sir Thomas Jackson (1841-1915) supposedly owned  in the 1890s. Finding it might clear up some other questions that I have about him and his family. My bigger question continues to be: How did this happen?

Sir Thomas JACKSON - age 23 - before leaving Armagh for Hong Kong where he became by far the most effective and compassionate international banker that Ireland has ever produced. (Some would say, there isn't much competition - but he was an exceptional person.)

My 2nd question is a bit more far flung and concerns Reverend William JACKSON (1737-1795), the United Irishman who took poison in the dock after he was convicted of treason but before he was sentenced. Was he related in any way to the Henry JACKSON of Ballybay, Co. Monaghan who had fled for his life to America after also he was convicted of his involvement with the United Irishmen? Or was he related to the JACKSONs of Coleraine? Or Antrim? Or Down? Or ….? Would he have met Barbara DONALDSON (1783-1865), the widow of William DONALDSON (1768-1815), a leader of the United Irishman in South Armagh? She was both an aunt and a significant mentor of the young Thomas JACKSON, right up till her death at the age of 82. We have some of their letters.

Rev. William JACKSON - United Irishman.

In the next couple of months, I plan be blogging about all this and more. After all, I really am a bit of a magpie. Anything bright and shiny always catches my attention. Who knows what comes next?