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"You're a burden now..."

Research Objects

by MISSY COMLEY BEATTIE

“As Gregor Samsa awoke one morning from uneasy dreams, he found himself transformed in his bed into a gigantic insect-like creature.” ~~Franz Kafka (The Metamorphosis)

The human condition is absurd.

Ten hours into 2014, I’d broken the only resolution I made: to give no advice.  I shrugged with an “okay, nobody takes it anyway.”  Even when they ask for it.

He’d cyber’d, “Thanks for encouraging me to_________ “ It doesn’t matter who or what I advised. Only that after this expression of gratitude for my advice, advice he took briefly, he then detoured, hurting people, throwing pain into a world already submerged in it, adding insult to insult, injury to injury.

Later, opening email, I saw a name in my inbox. At first nothing registered. Suddenly, it did. Because I’d opened the OTHER side of the story. There’s always more than one side—he said/she said, you know. Witnessing the butterfly effect, I imagined someone’s pulling the wings off fragilities. The man who’d thanked me for encouraging him had become a microcosm of Empire, like US foreign policy in its self-fulfilling prophesy.

(As Missy Beattie awoke one morning from uneasy dreams, she found herself transformed in her bed into a gigantic insect-like creature.)

I made a new resolution. I will stop climbing the walls in anxiety. When I feel the familiar alert, the change in heart rate, the hyperhidrosis, I’ll visualize a STOP sign, a popup—to remind me of absurdities.

Two-thirds of the Sisterhood drove to St. Simons today. Laura and Erma loaded their Lesbaru with the cats, cat carriers, workout equipment, groceries, suitcases, beach chairs, computers, and myriad other STUFF. This leaves me to work the resolution alone. Okay, Laura NEVER worries. Laura will not wake up, transformed in her bed into a gigantic insect-like creature. Erma’s on my angst-card.

All these years, my anxiety has been productive—yes, producing acid that scalds my esophagus, which led me to take a proton pump inhibitor (PPI) for over 10 years to check said production.  Little did I know the PPI was depleting my body of vitamin B-12, and perhaps contributing to depression, nerve damage, and dementia. Those who take a PPI for more than two years are at risk. Earlier findings linking PPIs to bone fractures and impaired vascular health are enormously alarming, and so is this latest research.

PPIs are big business, one of the largest classes of drugs sold in the US with sales in the billions. Drug companies may minimize or dismiss the findings about their use. Those who take these medications must weigh the benefits against the risks—really, a prudent measure for any decision.

Some months ago I met friends for lunch in DC. One is Charles’s former colleague, a physician and scientist. Another researcher joined us. When they discussed drug trials, I asked about the length of these studies. My friend’s colleague said he’s interested in long-term follow-up observation. He gave the example of a drug that was removed from the market because those using it had increased risk of strokes and heart attacks. And then he said that a significant number of people who took this drug now have Alzheimer’s. Obviously, short clinical trials can’t test for effects that occur years later. (Hmm, now there’s a connection, circling back to giving advice, taking it, or not. Advice one gives or takes in the short term may have unexpected consequences years later.)

When Charles was sick, I Googled Parkinsonism etiology and found that research supports both genetic and environmental factors. Later, someone mentioned my husband’s exposure, as an anesthesiologist,
to anesthetic agents. I dismissed this, thinking that more anesthesiologists would have Parkinson’s. Wouldn’t this link be established?  I don’t know. I considered many things, his hobby before we met, photography development. The chemicals necessary.  And that he operated the nuclear reactor at New York University.  So many variables.

We want to find something, some cause, that we can limit contact with or avoid.  I say to my children. “Don’t eat that meat with all those antibiotics and Mad Cow prions.” I’ve inflicted my don’ts on them so many times they no longer take me seriously.

Some of us die worse than others. I’d like to exit this place without a diagnosis of dementia. Certainly, I prefer not to be Frankenmammal, a neurologically impaired byproduct of pharmacology. It’s that I have these rules, a plan—about end of life choices, the right to choose time and place. We cling to life though, even when it isn’t really living. Is this innate? I don’t know. I just hope I have the courage someday to say, “I love you, goodbye.” Before I’m a burden. My children are funny. If I read this to them, they’d say, “You’re a burden now.”

Missy Beattie has written for National Public Radio and Nashville Life Magazine. She was an instructor of memoirs writing at Johns Hopkins’ Osher Lifelong Learning Institute in Baltimore. Email: missybeat@gmail.com.