I’ve been here before. A man reclines against a pillow, eyes closed, and presses his fingers alongside his nose and then between his eyebrows. A woman drags two fingers down the sides of her throat, looking serene. A group of people take notes while a doctor inserts swabs into a man’s nose. Yes, I’ve seen all these YouTube clips before, on another desperate middle-of-the-night internet search almost three weeks ago - that’s how long I’ve been suffering from the worst sinusitis of my life. I think I may be losing my mind. Is it just a long tedious march to the grave now with chronic illness? Treatments, doctors – is this my new calling? I try to put it in perspective, against all the pain and suffering going on in the world, a stuffed up head is no big deal. I try the meditation technique I half-paid attention to in yoga class. At least I’m home in my own bed, not like last week when I was in the guest room at my dad’s senior living facility. There was no internet access, no phone service; a rubber sheet on the bed. On the surface, it’s a reasonable enough room that the place rents out to families of the residents, a ground floor ensuite decorated in late 90’s period Hampton Inn: hunter green and burgundy accents and one of those scrolled strips of wallpaper just below the ceiling. Maybe it's what's above the ceiling that makes it so airless, so not comfortable - four floors of the aged, in varying stages of decline. I was truly in the Twilight Zone.
Great, there's a TV! I thought, but it only fed my disorientation – ads for high-tech beauty products like airbrushes and battery-powered cleansing brushes that make my own makeup and skin care routines seem so bacteria-ridden and out of date, I would’ve dialed or gone online to buy them if only I’d been able to.
For a little while I was forced to watch the VH1 Awards. I didn’t know VH1 still existed. Who is Hozier? Who are any of these people?
I missed Eric. He and I have stayed in this place before and it felt the same, only upon entering the room he’d immediately loosened the corners of the rubber sheet, pulled it off with a toreador’s one-handed grace and deposited it in the closet without disturbing the rest of the bedding. This time I got up eventually and pulled it off as best I could, knowing he’d ask “Did you remove that horrible rubber sheet?” whenever I managed to talk to him again. Just knowing I could honestly answer “Yes!” made me feel a little better.
I couldn’t breathe in the old folks home either, but it was too late to take the Nyquil, my final stop when herbs and homeopathics and antibiotics and other crap haven't worked. I watched a show where Meatloaf has a haunted room in his house, the very room where he’d rehearsed all the songs for Bat Out Of Hell, and a medium is there to help him make peace with the spirit. Eventually I got up, threw on some clothes and drove to Eat n Park. It’s a Pittsburgh classic – it had occurred to me a few hours back that I could go, but I couldn’t face it at four in the morning. Now it was almost six and people were starting their days with eggs and pancakes, dressed in Steeler black and gold. It felt like nothing had changed since my high school days in the seventies. “Oh yeah, she looks pretty good for her age, ‘n whart she’s been through,” one of the guys at the next table said in his Pittsburgh accent. I knew he wasn’t talking about me, but appreciated the sentiment. I texted my older brother John who lives nearby, knowing he’s up for anything, and sure enough he joined me. I was starting to feel like I could face breakfast in the breakfast room with my dad and his wife.
“Are you new here?” a tiny, white-haired lady asked me as I held a jug of what might have been orange juice up to the light in the senior facility’s breakfast room. Yes, it had been a hard night, but I must look rougher than I thought. My dad and Lois my stepmother waited for me back at their table with Bill, another resident;
“Bill’s from Rochester,” my dad said. “Amy’s going to play a concert in Rochester tomorrow.” Oh lord I’m not up for this I thought, any of it. Please let me be well enough to play and sing. I’d just needed to see my dad. I’m losing friends in their fifties and sixties now – can the old man be far behind? Is the future just an endless ticking off on a long scroll of friends, loved ones, acquaintances, enemies and heroes? Gone, gone, gone.
“I just came over in case I don’t get to say goodbye,” a woman with dyed red hair and big glasses was leaning over her walker by my dad’s chair. “I can’t believe you’re leaving us!”
My father and his wife just bought a condo. They can’t stand living in this place anymore - everybody’s too old and decrepit, he says. My dad’s eighty-eight. Upstairs in his apartment are liquor boxes and copy paper boxes for packing. “Dad, you know you can go to Walmart or U-Haul and just buy a bunch of boxes,” I told him. “They don’t really cost a lot.” I couldn’t believe I was telling my dad how to move. But there was excitement and possibility in the whole enterprise. And I’ll never have to stay in the rubber sheet room again.
Back to my internet search. Acupuncture. It has never occurred to me before to try it. Apparently it has excellent results for sinus conditions. At three in the morning, I book an appointment online and immediately feel a little better. There’s always the possibility to learn about new things, grow and change. Until there’s not.