Sunday, February 28, 2010

In The Moment

I take time for tea, now
waiting for the water to come to a boil
letting me calm down, focus on the here and now
and pick out my cup and the kind of tea—
all I have to decide now, here and now.

The cup, one of a kind, made by hand by a friend,
a potter, an artist, who lives by the ocean,
and sees, in her art, life, and finds her

Slow down, the water tells me, not quite ready
and so I wait, and ponder the day, and life, and take time
to look at the birds on the feeder, to really look.

The roiling water finally turns to steam, and the whistle
sounds, calling me to the stove, to my cup, to feel the
heat of the kettle, feel the steam rise as it pours into the
cup, covering the tea, freeing its scent for my nose to
savor, as it steeps and soaks, turning hot water into

And, now, I wait, until it cools a bit, the steam
rising from the cup, filling the room with its scent,
again calling me to slow down, to wait, to be here
in the moment
with my cup of tea.

---Neal Lemery 2/28/2010

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Critical Care Notes, chapter 2

Friday, February 19, 2010. It is the day of the “procedure”, the angioplasty. The word comes from Greek words meaning to mould a vessel. The encyclopedia calls in a “non invasive” procedure. Well, it sounds invasive to me.

First, they open up my femoral artery, the one carrying blood from the heart to my right thigh and leg. My thigh bone is the biggest bone in the body, and so it does seem like a big deal. I’ve had part of my groin shaved for the occasion, which makes it a big deal, too.

The party starts at five a.m., when I am sleeping like a log, and getting in some serious shuteye. The nurse comes in to do all my vitals, and the automatic blood pressure cuff springs into life, attempting to pinch off my left arm. It stops its relentless pressure game just in time, in my mind, and starts to ease off.

I apparently need not two, but four IV holes for today’s festivities, so the nurse attacks my left arm, the one that’s been left alone for a few days now, recovering from the first day of onslaught by the IV Special Forces. I still have bandages from their last raid on my veins there. She launches the first wave of needles, and is repulsed by my defense forces. She attacks again, this time in the forearm, and is again repulsed. I want to claim victory, but if I let her win, the needles will stop.

Nurse Ratchet is not to be defeated. She has turned from the sweet nice night nurse, who fluffed my pillows, into this needle armed amazon, seeking blood at 5 a.m. What gives?

She calls for reinforcements, bringing in the professional vampires from the lab. Super phlebotomist arrives, fresh from her patrols of the other wards, apparently, and digs deeper into my cringing left arm. No luck, she moans, and attacks again. She’s passive aggressive, gently patting my arm with her soft hand one minute, then diving deep into the muscles and almost to the bone, with Satan’s needles.

Not quite successful, she elicits a moan from me. I think that’s what she wanted, along with my blood. Again, she attacks, digging into my hand, looking for nerves now, I think. Yes, she’s found them. Victory is hers as sweat breaks out on my forehead, and any memory of a good night’s sleep has fled into the night.

Finally, she attains her prize and my blood fills her needle.

“Ah,” she cries, finally satisfied. She caps the geyser, proud she’s made a few new holes in me, and slinks away before the sun rises, back into her dungeon, where she can gloat on her victory.

“Get some rest now, honey,” my passive aggressive nurse coos. Oh, sure, you first try to squeeze off my arm, then poke it nearly to death, firing up all the nerves in the arm, and then you want me to drift off to dreamland. Right. Yeah, I’m ready for a nap now. Right after all the nerves in my arm calm down and I can quit gritting my teeth.

I can’t order breakfast, or even the insipid decaffeinated beverage they label as coffee, as I am “NPO”. NPO is a code work for these Special Forces. They are planning to starve you to death, and even deny water to a dying man. So, no breakfast, no coffee, no nothing. I vow to be an unhappy camper today. No more mister nice guy.

Amazingly, I drift off and come to life a few hours later, when the nice day nurse shows up, all perky and smiley.

“Hey, I can get you a cracker and some cheese, and a sip of water. How about it? “ she whispers, conspiratorily. “But, you can’t tell anyone!”

I nod, taking any act of kindness since I am now “NPO”. Maybe she can help me escape this place. We can make a run for Starbucks, maybe even a pancake house, for real breakfast. But, I doubt it. All the tubes are still connected to me and to the bed. I’m not going far.

All too soon, the anesthesiologist comes and talks to me about my upcoming “twilight sleep” and how it’s all going to work. I’ve seen the video, how they send a wire up my artery, into my heart, and inject dye. They watch all this with an X ray camera, watching where the dye goes and where it doesn’t. And where it doesn’t is why we are here today, why half my groin is shaved.

They’re on a mission, looking for blocked arteries and how the heart is working. And, I guess they are pretty good at it. They’ve been doing this for quite a while and they have a good team.

My conspiratorial nurse returns, with two Valium and a tiny bit of water. Good. Valium is good, but I really don’t want to be awake when wires are in my heart and they are trying to widen heart arteries. Not that I don’t care. I just want to give up my front row seat. Today is the day for happy drugs, isn’t it?

They are Johnny on the spot and are ready for me before the allotted time, and off I go, down the hallway in my hospital bed, with all my wires in tow. They’ve moved the heart monitor wires to a portable unit, which now shares my bed, and I give my wife a final kiss, at the “kissing corner” in the hallway. She heads left, into the waiting room, and I head down the hall and into a big room.

It’s Alaska in here, chilly and breezy. I’m glad I dressed for the occasion in my thin hospital gown and, … nothing else. Oh, that’s right. These folks get to explore my groin a bit, as they open up an ARTERY. Oh, that’s right, I’ve had Valium. And, something else, right in the vein. I don’t care, too much. All I want to do is sleep, while they open up an ARTERY! And, work on my HEART. Valium is my friend here. I love my Valium.

I get to slide off my hospital bed, onto the two by four they are calling a table. I nearly fall off on the other side, but they are all around me now, all the Special Forces in their surgery scrubs, and I’m not going any where. Some other boards come up and I put my arms on them, and stretch out flat, looking up to a huge array of lights, and a big white box that says “X Ray”.

This must be the place, as Brigham Young said. About time to get into that artery and look around.

Now, you’d think I’d notice if someone was playing around my groin with needles and ready to open up an artery. But, all I felt was a cool breeze, as they lifted up my gown. Something good was going into one of the IVs that I had, and I’m even thinking four IVs is a good thing. That MUST be some good drugs, as I’m having a pretty good time.

“OK, Neal. We’re going to start now. Just relax,” a pleasant voice said, and I almost laughed.

I’m having a good time here. You guys just go right ahead. I’ll wait right here.

The next thing I remember is some guy telling me they found three blocked arteries and they are getting ready to fix them up.

“OK,” I mumble.

Not a big deal. Just fixing three arteries in my heart. You guys go right ahead. I’ll wait right here. Fine with me if you operate on my heart. This cold steel plank feels pretty good. Feels? No, that’s not the word. Good night.
The next thing I know, I look up and recognize the ceiling tiles of my hospital room. I’m back here, back with my day nurse, the one who smuggled a cracker and cheese to me this morning. I see her face, and it’s a good thing.

My wife peers over at me, a big smile on her face.

“Hi, honey,” she whispers.

Oh, yeah. I’m alive. I made it. They said the odds were one percent I wouldn’t. And, once they got in there, they might crank up the music and turn it into a quadruple bypass or something like that, the surgeries where they open up your chest and really get serious with replumbing. But, it wasn’t that way.

I had three blocked arteries. You only get four. Three is a big number in this game. And, I have three stents now. Big metal guys, strong and coated with drugs, so things like blood clots and bad cholesterol don’t want to hang around.
I’m liking my new stents. I better. They are pretty close to my heart.

Friday, February 26, 2010

End of February

Daffodils and quince, and new black lambs
romping and bleating in the pasture
next to where the two horses just finished their race
taking the warmth of the day in stride.

Creek water noisy under the bridge
whites and silvers and dark blue black
flowing to the sea, but not too fast--
still needing to sing its song below the trees,
below the green pasture.

Air in and out of lungs, smelling good, rich
earthy loam and a bit of sea salt, blown in
by the breeze promising a storm tonight
by the darkening clouds, thickening, wet--
a stray drop falls on my face, the harbinger
of March.

Neal Lemery 2/25/2010

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Critical Care Notes, Chapter 1

When you are in “critical care”, you are generally tethered to your hospital bed with a variety of tubes, hoses, and other devices. Some of the devices are connected to needles inserted into your veins, and others are electrified and taped to your chest, so there’s no chance of escape.

One time, I really had to pee. I got up to go to the bathroom and there were some hoses and wires which were connected which put me, literally, on a short leash. Plan B is always to pee in your bed with the urinal, but I was already up, and, well, frankly, Plan B doesn’t always work the best.

So, I was standing up anyway, and as there was a big window with the blinds up, I didn’t think facing the window was the best plan. So, I faced the door of the room. Now, the door is always open and there just a long shower curtain kind of thing there, and it’s not always shut. And, there’s no place to knock, and well, folks don’t knock anyway. Anyone barges in, including the computer tech, the maid, the electrician, maybe even the interior decorator worried about what color they should paint the walls.

Time was of the essence, as this was the day we needed to get my kidneys working really well, I was “well hydrated”, which results in “full bladder status” at least every hour. So, I turned to the door and was doing my business in the urinal, nearly filling up the container with my precious bodily fluids. My female nurse walks in and gets flustered.

No big deal to me. I had to go. She is a nurse. It’s not like I have privacy. Oh, and this was “pantsless Thursday”, the day I couldn’t wear underwear or the Capri style drawstring pants they had for me. Just the barely long enough but not really hospital gown, the ones where your butt is always hanging out.

The nurse apologizes, but, hey, its not a big deal. She says something about trying to respect my modesty.

So, she empties the urinal, and compliments me for being so productive. (Thank you, thank you.).

She comes back a few minutes later, to shave my groin!

Oh, no worry about modesty today, thank you! She’s worried about seeing me pee, but hey, taking a Schick to the right side of my balls and all points east, no problemo!

But, its not terribly fashionable, as I only get shaven on one side. Is that the new look? Should I keep my new “do”? Maybe go Brazilian? Or, maybe a Mohawk look? I dunno. I can’t seem to find out anything about the new styles in GQ.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Driving Out of Town

The sun was falling lower in the sky, starting to turn the brick walls of the hospital to a buttery bronze. It was one of those incredible late winter days, when the daffodils were opening up, the breeze was actually warm, and one could smell the earth, readying itself for spring.

The ambulance attendants wheeled me out, gently rolling my gurney into the back of the ambulance. They went through their checklists, tightened the elaborate harness holding me firmly to the narrow gurney. The siren sounded and we were off.

It hit me, then. I really had had a heart attack. Not just back pain, or a torn muscle, or perhaps pneumonia. This was the real thing. Oh, I think I knew it when my doctor at the clinic ordered an EKG, or when he asked me for my car keys and said he was driving me to the ER. Or when the nurse handed me a small container of aspirin and told me to chew them up and swallow.

“It gets in the bloodstream quickly, that way, and that’s what needs to happen.”

Oh. OK.

They drew blood, did a second EKG, and both my doctor and the ER doctor came to tell me they’d been talking with the cardiologists at St. Vincent’s. There was a cardiologist here today, too, and he was looking at my blood work and the EKG.

“You need to go to Portland,” the cardiologist said, a few minutes later. They’ll do an angiogram there, probably when you get there. But, I heard the word “if” in his voice.


It had felt great, when the oxygen flowed into my nostrils, immediately easing the thick, dull pain that had been in my neck and between my shoulder blades all morning. That’s another sign, they had said.

I filled out a one page checklist on what I felt, and I was checking most of the boxes. Oh, a cardiac health survey. Oh. I’m close to 100% on this test. And, that’s not good. This isn’t a test I’ve wanted to ace.

But it is good, the cardiologist said. We caught this early, and you’re already getting all three of the anti-clotting drugs we use for heart attacks. But, you’ll need the angiogram, too. Time to learn new vocabulary, time to be a smart student of the human heart, my heart.

Time to relax now, time to chill. I was going for a ride, and had three EMTs with me, ready to work on me if I had another attack. Good stuff still flowing into my vein, into the first IV I’d have on this journey.

I was born in this hospital, almost 57 years ago, back when it was brand new. My dad was one of the doctors on staff. When I was in high school, I’d do my homework in the waiting room every day, waiting for my dad to get done with his rounds. Some of the nurses would look in on me, and I became a part of the hospital family.

I went off to college, but returned late one night, after dad’s second big heart attack. He was here a week, tenderly cared for by so many of the nurses he worked with. He died here, too, and I remember the good talks we had that week, before he lost consciousness and slipped away.

The day after he died, I brought something back to the nurses station, and got a big hug from one of his favorite nurses. About ten years later, we reconnected. I was a lawyer then, and she wanted me to help her sell her house, entrusting me to sign the papers for her. Trust: it goes both ways over many years. It has no price.

I did my first adoption here, too. The mom signing the papers, with tears, letting her baby go to people who could raise her daughter well. She wasn’t up to it, and trusted me to know her daughter’s new parents were up for the job. We cried together, and I cried again, a few minutes later, watching the new parents hold their new daughter.

My mom spent part of her final illness here , too. A lot of visits, a lot of tears. I was here again last year, for a colonoscopy. Taking care of myself and wanting to avoid cancer. Cancer has killed so many of my friends, and I want to be proactive on that.

The ambulance rolls towards town, and we pass the funeral home. My doctor and I, we joke about sending me there. When I was the DA, he was the medical examiner, and we would find ourselves at some pretty amazing scenes. We had fun, analyzing and pondering how people had died, helping to answer the family’s questions, helping them in their grief. It was part of our jobs, and we were a great team. He’s still the medical examiner, and I think of his kindness today, driving me to the ER and sticking around, making sure I was in good hands, knowing I could die today.

The funeral home is where this community comes together, to grieve, and to be with each other, as we sort out the impact of another person dying, one of our own. I think I’ve played all the roles there, well, except the final role, in how we work through our grief. One time, I was the officiant, reading my good friend’s obituary, telling a few funny stories, and getting the crowd to tell a few more. It was a good role to play, a good way to honor him. He’d asked me to do that for him, and I couldn’t say no.

And, in the next block was my dad’s office. Mine, too, after I came back from law school and hung out my shingle. Practicing law was fun, a lot of challenges. I was humbled by how people trusted me with their secrets, with their stories, and what they had done. I heard of their disappointments, their tragedies, and their goals for their families.

A block down the side street was where I lived when I first got married. I moved into Karen’s house, and we made a family there. Sean was nine, and slowly let me into his life as a stepdad. He went to grade school, junior high, and high school. He went off to college from that house, and we were so proud of him, for all that he had become, and for all that he would do in his life.

It was a small house, really not big enough for three. But we did well and fixed it up. I still remember getting my foot tangled in the pipes underneath the living room, the day I was putting in long mats of insulation. Cobwebs and mouse turds were everywhere, and I was covered from head to toe. I was the least claustrophobic of all of us, and thought I’d get the job done fast. When I finally crawled out, it was a sight to behold. And, I never went back.

The ambulance slows a bit. We are almost downtown, and the new library is on the left. When I was a kid, it was a lumber store, and I loved the smell of the fresh cut Douglas fir and cedar, and the big bins of all sizes of nails and screws.

Now, it is one of the nicest places in town. Two stories, filled with books, and study tables, and chairs to sit and read in. Anytime you go in, a couple of dozen folks are there, working on computers or studying, or checking out books. And, the children’s library takes up a good share of the main floor. I always love to go in there, and see kids with a big pile of books to check out.

It’s the third library we’ve had. When I was a kid, the library was in the top floor of the old city hall. A creaky wooden ramp led up to the old library, which smelled so good, old books and leather and a bit of dusty paper. When I was in the first grade, we paraded downtown, all in a row, and took turns getting our first library card.

The second library was opened a few years later, filling up an old car dealer’s space. We thought it was great, with glass and aluminum, and fluorescent lights, and big stacks of books. No creaky old ramp, but the librarian would still give you the evil eye to be quiet when you walked in the door. In high school, I’d meet my friends there to study, and then slip next door to the Swiss Chalet, the local hamburger spot, and get a snack.

Another block, and we are in the center of town. We blow through the red light, the driver pulling rank over the pickups and log trucks, people trying to make a living today. On the right is the Beals Building. My dad’s first office, right after World War II. That was when all the businesses and professionals were downtown. The place was jumping, and when I was a kid, Saturday afternoon was when folks went to town and did their shopping.

On the ground floor was the Man’s Shop, the only place in town you could get a nice shirt, or a pair of jeans and some work boots. I always liked the back of the store the best. That’s where all the work clothes were, and I liked the smell of the leather work boots, loggers’ caulk boots, and the racks of the gray striped work shirts that all the loggers wore. Oh, they’d cut off part of the sleeves and the hems of their jeans, so they wouldn’t get tangled up in their saws. And, soon, their shirts would get greasy from the oil on the chains of their saws. But, it was where real guys bought their clothes and their boots, and you could always smell a bit of sawdust and oil back there, back in the back of the store.

Across the street was the old drug store. There was always a huge scale by the front door, the metal painted gold, and a big dial. It was always fun to make the big needle move when you went inside. The scale is over at the Y now, but they don’t let you step on it anymore. It would be fun.

The drug store was always fun, and you could get penny candy there, and sticks of peppermint and butterscotch. I loved the clerk there. She always wore thick eye makeup, her eyelids bright purple or pink. When I was in high school, she asked me to trim her hedge. I was looking for something to do, and we agreed on a price. But, it was the biggest hedge I’d ever seen, and took me three days to do the job. I made the offer of what I thought one day of work would be, but boy, was I ever wrong. A good lesson to learn, though: always make sure you know how big the job is before you make a commitment.

We roll a bit further, still stopping folks in their tracks. We pass by the stationery store, the one where at least two generations of clerks have retired now, ever since I started going there with my mom. Its still my favorite place to get cards, and paint now, since I’ve started playing around with my artistic talents.

There used to be a laundry across the street, big enough they had a steam boiler. When I was a kid, the noon whistle would always go off there, telling everyone in town it was time for lunch. Next door was the Piggly Wiggly store. It closed when I was a kid, and now, hardly anyone in town remembers when we had a Piggly Wiggly store. I just like the name. But, I miss the noon whistle. It would be a good thing to bring back.

The next block is the courthouse. I work there now. Well, not today. Today, I’m having my heart attack. I’m one of the judges there now. That still seems odd to say. When I was a kid, I’d go with my mom there, to pay the taxes or get something from the extension service. They had big wooden doors then, almost too big to open. And, there was always that big black sign on the front, “no caulk boots”. You couldn’t have the loggers marking up the white marble tiles on the floor.

We’d always walk by the Circuit Court doors. We knew the Circuit Judge, Jack Bohannon. He was a nice guy, who always had a smile and joked around with my dad. Judge Bohannon had a fishing boat in Garibaldi, and court was always adjourned the whole month of August, so Judge Bohannon could take his boat, the Nan B II, out every day, across the bar, and trawl for salmon. My dad had a boat, too, just a sport fishing boat. But, when we went fishing, we’d always check to see where Judge Bohannon was fishing, and he’d call us on the radio sometimes, and come by when we were coming in, to see how we were doing.

When I was in high school, I worked for the county clerk, reboxing old records and shredding a pile of cancelled checks. It was dusty work, down in the basement, but I got to know people there. The clerk was the clerk of the court, so I saw the Judge a lot, but he was pretty serious when he was at work, and we didn’t talk much about fishing.

The courthouse has been good to me. I practiced law for quite a while, and got to be the district attorney for a term. I think I did some good things when I was there, starting the victims’ assistance program and beefing up the child support program. I started handing domestic violence and DUIIs differently, too. People still tell me I was a fair guy when I did that job. And, that’s a nice thing to hear.

Now, I’m the justice of the peace. I hear all the traffic cases, and small claims, and most of the eviction cases in the county. I hear a lot of the aches and woes of the community, and see poverty and addiction and mental illness in most of their awful and painful colors. And, I get to do some good with all of that, and help folks get back on track. It’s a good job for me, and my ability to listen and be calm and come up with the right decision gets tested all the time.

So, I silently send a blessing to my fantastic staff and all other folks in the courthouse, as the ambulance picks up speed a bit and heads out of town. I’m leaving my robe behind today, and instead, I’m wearing a hospital gown and have an IV tube running down into my arm.

We pass a dairy farm, and I think of all the good times I had on my grandparents’ farm, between Cloverdale and Woods, in the south part of the county. They loved the land and their cows, and the routine of milking every day. It was a good place to visit, and to learn how to do a bit of milking and farming. My grandpa taught me to milk by hand, when I was about seven. His big, calloused, meaty hands wrapped around mine, as I held Dream’s teat, trying to coax a bit of milk out of her warm, soft udder. Dream was my favorite cow, and she would low a bit whenever I came into the barn.

We head out of the valley, the sun highlighting the green of the pastures, the light not as faint, pewtery like the light of winter. This light promises Spring, and is richer, fuller. On the left is the ribbon of water that is the Wilson River. We will head up to its headwaters now, along its banks, and I will see the rapids and the long stretches of calm, and the many forks and creeks that feed into it. The late afternoon light will sparkle on the water, and the white mottled bark of the alders along its banks. In a month, the alders will bloom, their dark bronze blossoms like spider legs along the thin, twisty ends of the branches. In April, their leaves will fold out, accordion ribs slowly flattening, slowly hiding the river and the depths of the forest from our eyes.

We enter the canyon and there is the spot I caught my first steelhead. It was a cold winter day, freezing, actually, when my brother took me fishing. We cast out into the deep green of the river, the current falling slowly after a storm. Icy winds started forming ice in the eyelets of my fishing pole. Suddenly, a fish grabbed my bait, mud shrimp with yarn and an orange plastic lure, resembling some salmon eggs. It was a long struggle, and I nearly fell in, fearing cold river water running over my boots and drenching my Filson wool red and black plaid coat.

We landed the fish just about dusk, and scrambled up the bank, slipping on rocks and mud, more than half frozen. I still have that photo, of me barely holding up the huge steelhead, a big grin on my face. Thanks, brother, for that day.

We head higher, moving up the highway, a few trucks and pickups pulling off to the side. The siren is on now only once in a while. I can tell the driver knows this road, and knows when to slow for a particular corner. The EMT sitting next to me checks my IV and makes sure the anti-coagulant in the bottle is going where it needs to go. I am in good hands.

We pass milepost 11. That is where our cabin was, when I was a little boy. We went there a lot, before my folks built the big house west of town, the place with five acres and lots of woods for me to roam with our dog. I liked the cabin, two rooms and a big porch swing in the summer. It was above a creek, and it smelled like forest and creek water. I’d play in the creek for hours in the summer, building dams and catching crawfish, and enjoying life.

My dad and brother and I would wander around sometimes, occasionally planting trees. It was part of the Tillamook Burn and Doug fir trees were small. Deer ate them incessantly, and we often had to replant. Now, the trees have grown up and are nearly ready to harvest. The place has been rebuilt, and it looks real nice now, not like the dark green shaked cabin I remember from the 1950s.

We lived there one winter, after my folks had sold our house in town and the new house west of town wasn’t quite finished. We nearly froze, as the place wasn’t insulated and the only heat was a trashburner stove in the kitchen. Sometimes the pipes would freeze. I got the measles there and laid in bed with a fever one morning, while Mom went out to rethaw the pipes after Dad had left for work. After that, we didn’t go there much, and I remember helping my dad type out the contract to sell it a few years later.

We go on. Another mile and we pass my high school chemistry teacher’s house. She’s long gone now, but she was one of the best. She made me think, and made me a good scientist, one lab experiment, one equation at a time. She expected a lot out of me, and I rose to the challenge. Years later, I thanked her for being such a good teacher. She laughed and thanked me, and said whatever I did in my life was all up to me. Good advice from her, as usual.

Up and up we go up the canyon. Past the place where the game officer showed me a tree, the bark all shredded by bears. We pass the place where the old Jordan Creek Inn stood. Best breakfast around when I was a kid. It burned down about twenty years ago, and now you wouldn’t know it ever existed. A friend of mine owned it for a while, packing a pistol as he was afraid of being robbed. I think he just liked wearing a revolver on his hip. He always wanted to be a cowboy.

Up Cedar Creek, my dad and I would go deer hunting. It was on the way to Triangle Butte, where you could see the ocean and Mt. Hood, and even Mt. Rainier on a clear day. In the 1960s, it was a lot different. The various fires of the Tillamook Burn had taken all the big trees, and there were just big snags left. A lot of the snags were logged, not burned enough to destroy the thick, even grained wood that fed all the mills in town. Little Doug firs were growing up, but they were just a few feet high. The hills were covered with bracken fern and fox glove. The fern turned brown, brittle in the fall, and it was hard to walk through the hills without making a big noise.

We’d always stop for lunch at a place we could look out over the mountains, binoculars at the ready, looking for deer. We always ate big sandwiches, and there was plenty of coffee. We didn’t talk much, and deer hunting was always a silent affair. Still, the smell of bracken fern in the fall always reminds me of our hunting trips.

Now, they log Cedar Creek, hauling out big truckloads of good sized logs. And, I wonder about the passage of time, the passage of my life, measured in the thickness of trees.

We fly past Lee’s Camp. I always like that little store. A good place for a cold pop and a snack on a hot summer day, those days when it’s a hundred degrees out and you can’t believe this is the Coast Range. They always have pictures of guys with their fish or their deer or their elk, all stapled up on the wall by the cash register. You won’t see my picture there. I may fish once in a while, but I’m a lousy catcher. I make a better fisher.

Another six miles and we go by the south fork of the Wilson. There’s a prison camp up there. I used to represent a lot of the inmates, guys seeking to set aside their convictions. Post conviction relief, the law calls it. A lot of guys got burned by their lawyers, people in suits who didn’t know the law or didn’t do the job to defend their clients. I liked most of my clients there. Oh, they were criminals, but most of them had been plagued by drugs and alcohol, broken families and not having any dreams, the dreams I had when I was a kid. Life has a lot of forks in the road, and I think I’m pretty blessed by the ones I’ve taken.

The inmates all wear jeans and denim shirts, with a big orange stripe on the side. One time, when I was the DA, my family and I were about a mile from the camp, taking a hike. I had on my jeans and a denim shirt. One of the guards drove by and gave me the eye. He talked to me quite a while, checking me out. If I was one of his, I was clearly escaping. He looked a little surprised when I pulled out my DA badge. It was a good lesson for me: always dress appropriately, no matter what the occasion.

I went there one time when the Governor came. The inmates had built a fish rearing pond, and were raising thousands of steelhead and salmon smolts. It was quite a project and the state was pretty proud of it. Two former governors came, too. I showed up, being the DA, and I got to say a few words during the ceremony. It was a fun day, everyone relaxed and having a good time. The Governor took time to talk to some of the inmates, and it was good to see everyone just as people, happy about taking care of fish and loving the land.

We climb to the summit, the heavy ambulance lagging a bit, slowing down, as we climb to a thousand feet, and then another five hundred, making the summit. I say good bye to Tillamook County, perhaps for the last time. The sun is almost set now, and I see the mountains of my homeland silouetted against the late afternoon sky, still blue. I wonder if I’ll be back, and I hope I will. I have a lot of things to do.

Down and down we go, bouncing over that section of the highway that always sags and splits a bit, in the winter. And, every year, the highway department fixes it up and every winter, it slips and sags again.

We fly downhill now, the Washington County side. In a blur, we pass the place they used to keep all the old trolley cars. We stopped there one spring day, and took a ride. It was a ride back in history, back to the day when people in cities rode the trolley to work, before the days of freeways and traffic jams and malls and parking lots.

We pass the place where my dad and my brother almost got killed. They were headed out to the valley one day, I forget what for. An old man pulled out in front of them, my dad hitting him nearly head on. Mom and I had to go pick them up. They were fine, just shook up, my dad feeling awful he’d killed a man and his wife, coming out of a fruit stand, with a box of apples. Dad and my brother had to go to court later on, telling a grand jury what had happened. Nothing came of that, not that I remember. My dad never talked about it, after that day. Just like he never talked about D-Day, or the Battle of the Bulge, or the day he helped liberate Buchenwald and was the first doctor for all the Jews in that camp.

We charge over Prune Hill. No one calls it that anymore, except the people I’ve known for half a century. There used to be a lot of prune orchards there, back when Brooks prunes were grown and harvested and then dried. Now, hazelnuts and apples grow there. There must be more of a market for those now. But, I still call it Prune Hill.

We go on now, still a bit of siren, a few lights now and then, scattering the farmers and the folks commuting into Hillsboro or Portland. I doze a bit, fatigued by the day, the pain fully gone now, the oxygen in my nose and the IV drip doing their magic. Soon, we hit the freeway and a Sheriff’s car helps us move the traffic off to the side.

We pull into the hospital, to the place that only the ambulances go. I’m quickly slid out of the back, my three companions jumping into action. Around a corner and then another, and up an elevator, and I’m so lost. A nurse greets me with a big smile, fastening my new ID bracelet on as she stethoscopes my chest.

“Welcome to Cardiac Care,” she says, the crew quickly sliding me onto the hospital bed, my home for the next four days.

Neal Lemery, 2/23/2010

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Remembering Dad

It’s a date that always sneaks up on me. Oh, two days after Valentine’s Day, so not like I don’t have a few clues, what with all the flowers and red hearts in all the stores and giving my sweetie some presents, and getting a few presents in return. I was writing today’s date on something at work. Oh, yeah, February 16.

But, it’s a day that still surprises me. Dad was born on this date, back in 1913. He’d be 97 today, and if he hadn’t died so young at 60 with a bad heart, I’m not sure he’d be making it to his 97th. But, maybe he would. It would be nice, real nice. I still miss him. There’s some things we need to talk about, stuff I’d like him to know, and stuff I’d like to find out. We could drag out that bottle of whiskey he kept stashed in the bedroom.

Yet, he still is around, in so many ways. I look in the mirror and brush my teeth and trim my moustache, and I see his face. All that gray hair, the wrinkles in the face, just like him. And, I thought he was kinda old back then, back when I was a teenager and getting ready to run off to college. And, now that face in the mirror that looks like him is really me.

I remember how he was like around people, soft spoken and gentle, and asking questions about their health and welfare. And, he really meant it. Other people remember, too, and people still come up to me to show me how their thumb works so well, after they’d nearly cut it off and he sewed it up for them. One guy even wanted me to feel how the joint worked, like he was getting a check up again, after all these years.

The other day, I took a seventeen year old boy over to the health department. He’d shown up in court, because he hadn’t been in school this year, and said he was in a lot of pain. He looked it, too. It wasn’t just a story to get out of a ticket. There was more going on than a painful rib. He was needing a lot. So, I sent him over to the clinic to make an appointment. He was pretty scared and I said I’d go with him to see the doc, if he wanted.

Well, he did. And, the nurse did too. She called me up when he made his appointment and said I should come, too. The boy needed a dad person there, someone who could ask some of the tough questions, the ones about depression and suicide and domestic violence. The questions that really needed to get asked.

So, I went. I’d promised, and anyway, this kid needed someone to care for him. His mom had shown up in court, too, but she didn’t say a word and didn’t know where the clinic was, either. She had a lot of pain in her face, the pain that wasn’t just medical.

Well, his face lit up when I walked in the door, and he had me help him fill out the paperwork. He couldn’t read very well, and he could barely print his first name, so we got through the paperwork and went back to the little exam room. He pulled off his shirt, and all his ribs stuck out of his thin little chest, and he was pale and winced with the effort of taking off his shirt.

The doctor asked a question or two, but he looked to me for the answers. So, I stepped up to the plate and asked the questions the doctor wanted to know, and he started telling me about the pain, and the injury he got in PE class two years ago. The doctor slipped me the depression scan questions and away I went, changing the big words to little words and asking him everything, in a quiet, kind voice.

And, as we were going through the list, and checking his blood pressure and doing all the medical work, I heard my dad again. I heard his kindness, and his persistence, as he calmed people down and got them to tell him things, the things that had been on their minds, and all their worries and concerns. The doctor was taking notes and started doing the physical exam. But, she was a woman, and he couldn’t really talk to her too well. She knew that, and I knew that, and so the judge became the doctor, for the few minutes we had.

He kept looking at me, and so I’d do the talking and the listening. And, he started to relax and started telling us his story, and told us of the pain, and missing school and not getting enough to eat, and wanting to stay home and look after his mom. It was just the two of them, and life was pretty tough.

And, pretty soon, he was laughing and we cracked some jokes about it all. He got to be a boy then, having a guy there with him, and a doctor, too. People who actually cared about him, worried about his pain and him not going to school.

His mom was there, too, but she hid in the corner, not making a sound, and looking down at her feet, not saying a word. Dad would understand her, too, and would make her feel at ease. He had that way about him.

The doctor wanted him to get an x-ray, over at the hospital, and the poor kid didn’t know where the hospital was. He’d lived here for five years, and had driven by it a lot, out to visit his buddy in Netarts, but hadn’t noticed the hospital. I felt a tear run down my face, at the life this kid leads.

We talked a bit more, and he thanked me for being there. His words came from his heart. And, when I told him it was my pleasure to be there with him, I heard my dad’s voice, once again. And, I felt pretty good, sitting there with him, in that exam room at the clinic. Dad was there, too, and I felt right at home.

Happy birthday, dad.

Neal Lemery 2/16/2010

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Towards Understanding

To know someone with whom you feel there is understanding in spite of distances or thoughts unexpressed-that can make of this earth a garden.-Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

A true friend is a treasure, to be savored, celebrated.

An understanding, compassionate ear does wonders in solving the problems of the moment.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Going Through Time

Time in a bottle
Time on my hands
Sands in an hourglass
Numbers on a wheel.

Sunrise, sunset
Tide in, tide out
Moon full, moon dark.

Days long, days short
Hot, cold, rain, dry.
My hand, the same hand as 50,000 years ago
the same as yesterday.

“But there never seems to be enough time
to do the things you want to do once you find them”---
Jim Croce wanted to put it all in a bottle
until the end of eternity, then spend it all
on the one he loved.

Time to find my bottle, and fill it up
Time to take what is here today
Spending it wisely
With all that I can.

Neal Lemery 2/2010

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Victim Impact

Every other month, in this room
the most recently convicted drunk drivers and underaged drinkers
gather, sitting in every other chair, silent, staring down
at first, then at us, hard, cold.

We take turns, telling our stories,
the stories we’ve told time and again in this room
every other month, most of us for ten, fifteen years.

We know each other’s stories by heart, word for word
tear by tear, death by death, nightmare by nightmare
and yet, each time I hear the stories
the knot in my stomach is still there.

One speaker always speaks second, telling, again
how her brother took a week to die, after the drunk
driver slammed into him, spinning him over the highway,
and how she still wakes up, crying ---
telling her husband she dreamt her brother was killed,
and the husband has to tell her, again, its true.

Most of the drunks walk out, averting their eyes, seemingly
indifferent to our various tales of drunks and how they
change our lives and the lives of so many others---
but, a few make contact, a few shed a tear or two, and
shake our hands, telling us they hear the pain, and want to change.

I hope they do, but the last names on the roster are always the same
and the room fills up, every time we meet, every time
we tell our stories, again, and again,
every other month.

--Neal Lemery 2/2010