Paying Attention Bill McDonald’s
August 2021 - Volume 21, No. 8
A Near Complete Change of Plans
Part A - Planning my Florida Vacation
For some years (before Covid) I’d plan a Winter vacation itinerary that would include a number of visits to an established collection of Florida friends, most with available guest rooms, etc. The highlight of each visit was our usual brand of quality conversation. Now with Covid somewhat tamed (!), it seemed high time to reinstate the pattern - this time as a Summer occasion. Two weeks were carefully planned out, enclosed within a convenient pair of round-trip Allegiant Airline tickets.
Everything was going well and happily.
Until the morning of August 4
Part B - An Emergency Hospital Visit
I was enjoying a breakfast of coffee and a strawberry quiche with my friend Janie in Punta Gorda. Then it seemed all hell broke loose. Best described, I was having a stroke-like event. I recall her table covered over with coffee, and breakfast - and somehow within ten minutes flat she had an ambulance loaded with me for BayFront Medical in nearby Port Charlotte (less than a half hour away) - well-known as a heart specialty hospital. Only later did I realize I had practically no heart function during that time, and yet made it to their ER. Strangely I felt no stress, even though I knew an ambulance tech commented on his difficulty even finding a pulse. I recall thinking that when we get to the ER we’ll be able to find something. I learned later I had a function of somewhere around 11 (very very low!). It was a true emergency, yet felt no stress. Only later did I realize how close to death I had come - and my primary response was to realize I’d missed the obvious drama of it.
I recall some of the ER visit. I guess I answered questions to my best knowledge. I was aware I was slurring my words - and recall a day or so later when the slurring disappeared - I and everyone else involved breathed a sigh of relief that a potential stroke symptom had disappeared - ratified also apparently by a determinative CT & and MRI.
I remained hospitalized for ten days, and still would hear from others “oh you’re the one.” My temporary pacemaker was eventually replaced with a permanent one - but those first nights, I had an old battle-axe of an observing male nurse who would yell at me every time I tried to move too much. My wrists were bound to the bedrails, and even though I had no idea why I wasn’t supposed to move, his eagle-eye yelling at me worked. “Do you want to die!” I’m sure he also saved my life those nights. And I remember being grateful for his presence - though totally naïve about temporary vulnerable pacemaker leads.
An incidence of angina brought to mind that back here in Michigan we’d been waiting for a break in Covid when it would be safe for an anticipated Heart Catheterization. (I’d had a previous one in 2012.) Well, the expertise was there, the timing seemed right, so we went for it - and I now can boast two new stents.
I was discharged on Saturday August 14. Stayed over with Janie & her boyfriend, and was able to get a 6am (!!) flight Monday out of Punta Gorda on Allegiant to Flint. My Ann Arbor daughter picked me up in Flint, and brought me home - where piles of mail, and an appreciative cat, (and a really messy house) welcomed me. I’ve rested a lot, and have begun to see a few clients.
I’m pleased to discover that my therapist brain (skills) seems intact. Yet the voices of friends (at least 39 of them all as in a Greek chorus) echo my need now to stop working so much.
Part C - Choices of Meaning
One staple in my therapist bag of tricks is to ask the question: “Now that you have an idea about what is or has been, what do you want it to mean?
a. As I’ve already noted in a few places my almost stubborn lack of any anxiety. In the past few months, I’ve introduced a few clients to the concept of equanimity [mental calmness, composure, evenness of tempter, especially in a difficult situation] as an outcome of the therapeutic process. Some will say this part of my own character - which I take as a compliment.
b. Or it could mean that I’m just too naïve to pay attention to my own safety or well-being (or mortality). I don’t think this is a major option for me, but it’s worth considering. I recall years back Mad Magazine’s Alfred E Newman with his “What, me worry?”
c. It could mean that I’m too old or tired to care. It is perhaps worth noting that during the ‘vacation’ part of my Florida visit, I did celebrate my 80th Birthday with friends.
d. It’s usual for me in the face of important questions to pay attention to my dreams. But so far (curiously) I’ve noted no dream activity over this past month. Maybe ‘stay tuned’ Bill.
e. Another option emerged from a client session a few day ago. A number of years ago, Richard Bandler (of NLP fame) shared this therapy vignette with a group of us.
In his first meeting with a new client, he asked the question “How can I help you?” The client responded, ‘I’m not going to tell you.’ (Setting up a passive aggressive impasse.) Richard responded (with equanimity), “That’s OK, but here’s what I want you to do. Go home and make up a problem, totally different from your real one, and come back in a week and tell me.” The client agreed, and returned with a ‘made-up’ problem. They worked on that for a few months, until one day Richard asked about the client’s original problem, to which the client replied, ‘Oh, that went away a few weeks ago.’
Richard explained to us what he called ‘generative change.’ His teaching is that much therapeutic change is not at the data level, but at the pattern level. His client in ‘making up’ a problem had unconsciously duplicated the pattern of his original problem, which the therapy had then unconsciously healed.
The current teaching for me is to allow the ‘meaning’ of my ‘Florida vacation’ to remain elusive, and in the meantime simply learn not to work so hard, even at doing work I love.
Life still is, and I still am.
The old heart did need to get me to the ER, and just barely!
I really do need this new pacemaker. And a couple new heart stents. Oh well.
I gain strength slowly and daily. And I feed my cat. (It’s such a pleasure to watch him eat.)
I still suggest paying attention - even when it may seem to mean its opposite.
In so many other parts of this world of ours - human suffering is beyond so many of us to comprehend, let alone know how to respond. Still do not neglect to do what we can, even no matter how little.
Do not neglect hope for our world and all its many peoples. Amen.