YOU'LL GET BETTER
"Only when individuals collapse - one at a time, first here and then there - does social order then also eventually decay. Through the collapse of human beings - a Wilhelm Reich here, a Lenny Bruce there, a Janis Joplin elsewhere - the social order begins to crack and heave, edging toward ruin."
~ Kerry Thornley
Christmas Eve had been an ordeal. It had been 3:00 in the morning when Kerry had been discharged from the hospital after a dispute with a doctor standing in for his regular physician, who was on holiday. The only reason he hadn't been put out in the street upon discharge, even though he had no ride, was that a sympathetic nurse ignored doctor's orders and allowed him to sleep through the night on a stretcher in the hall, until his ex-wife Cara could come pick him up in the morning.
Kerry was seriously ill: his primary diagnosis was Wegener's granulomatosis (a fatal auto-immune disease); secondary diagnoses included chronic renal failure; congestive heart failure; endocarditis; and pneumonia. Troubling symptoms were shortness of breath; difficulty urinating and defecating, sore mouth/thrush; bilateral conjunctivitis; and dry, cracked skin with bleeding sores all over his body.
He gave me a phone number to call when I got to the Atlanta airport, so that Cara or his son Kreg could come pick me up.
Although I had talked to Cara on the phone, I didn't think to verify the phone number with her. I would later find out that the number Kerry had given me was Cara's work number. This made an already tense situation much more complicated.
The last plane left at 7:00 P.M. and I barely made it. When I reached the Atlanta airport, I kept calling that number to get someone to pick me up. It was after midnight, with three hours of dialing only to reach the same machine, when finally I tried another approach and called Frater Flatulus Gelatinus, a veteran Discordian in Reno, Nevada, who in turn sent out a call for assistance to some beautiful Discordians living just north of Atlanta in Cobb County. Though they did not know me, they thought enough of Frater Flat and of Kerry to drive 35 miles to the airport and take me home with them.
Meanwhile, Cara had taken Kerry to another hospital emergency room, and they remained there from 9:00 p.m. to 8:00 a.m. As he could neither urinate nor defecate, they catherized him and referred him back to the hospital that had discharged him. After being up all night, Cara took Kerry to the original hospital, where they yanked the catheter, causing an injury that still pained him when he died. Though he was bleeding from the wound, they would not admit him. All this time I could not find out anything because nobody was getting the messages I was leaving on Cara's work phone, and they no more knew where I was than I knew where they were. HAIL ERIS!
The next day they finally dialyzed Kerry, while Cara went back to work, picked up my messages, and called me. I took the train into town and waited near the dialysis center until Kerry came out, looking frail and far more emaciated than the last time I had seen him a year before. Cara picked the two of us up and took us out to Kerry's room.
I spent the next three days with Kerry, holed up in that small bare room at the Mill House - an artist's colony in a bizarre old unheated house on three acres of wooded hillside. A river runs through the property, traversed by a footbridge, ideal for viewing the waterfall. The other residents were all away for the holiday, leaving only the echoes of their departed spirits to keep us company. Kerry had two space heaters that would have kept the room quite cozy in the frigid winter chill, except that he left the door open so his menage of ten cats could come and go at will.
There was a phone, but you could not get any incoming calls; it was a sort of inadvertent piggy-back onto the phone line of a little shop. You could only call out in the middle of the night when you felt fairly sure someone from the shop was unlikely to pick up the phone.
Kerry minimized his condition. He explained that when he had said for me to "get here today," he meant that he'd probably be going back to the hospital soon and I wouldn't be able to visit him freely. And he insisted that "What do you think?" - his reply to my question about dying - was meant to be ironic.
Kerry complained that I was overreacting, and that nobody appreciated his sense of humor, telling me that Kreg had told him, "You're going to have to start taking this SERIOUSLY!" Again and again, he grumbled and growled about how he never wanted to see his son's face again - because he never appreciates his jokes. Fortunately, his irritability improved before any harsh words were spoken to his son.
The cracked, dry skin on his back was itching, and even bleeding in places, but he wouldn't let me put lotion on it. I slept in the same bed with him, but he didn't want me to touch him even in his sleep. The first night he stayed up all night pacing and raving while I wept. The second and third nights I tucked him in with a small dose of Xanax, so SOMEBODY could get some rest.
Again and again we argued. I accused him of not caring for himself or allowing other people him to care for him; and of putting his cats ahead of himself and everyone who loved him.
I watched as Kerry picked vermin off the cats. They shit and pissed and threw up on the floor; one even brought in a big, nasty RAT!
After three days of this, on the fourth day I endeavored to take him on a taxi-train-bus-transfer journey into what he called "enemy territory," ranting on about how Cobb County had banned gays and otherwise mortally offended his sensibilities. The purpose of this journey was for him to see his own website for the first time, and to meet the gentle Discordians who had extended their hospitality to facilitate this visit.
The driveway from the Mill House to the outside world was about a quarter-mile long. There was ice on that rocky, rough lane, uphill all the way. Then there was another quarter-mile up the road to the bus stop. His heart and lungs full of congestive fluid, he couldn't walk more than three or four steps, coughing and hacking, without having to pause and rest. Still, he refused to let me call a taxi! Finally, I showed him my watch, that we had already missed the bus for the second time, so grudgingly he agreed to turn around and head back to the house.
I used the sometime-phone to call a taxi. While we waited, I sat with Molly purring on my lap as the radio played Beethoven's Ninth - the Ode to Joy never drifted so heartbreakingly languid through the air.
I was crying the whole time. Tears were just flowing down.
The taxi finally came and took us to the train station. We rode and transferred and rode again, until we exited the train and stood in the wind waiting for a transfer to a bus.
Kerry turned to me. "Either this bus is going to come or I'm going to die of pneumonia."
Convinced he might be right, I tried to get him to turn around; we would go back to his place, I said, so he could get back in bed. But the old Discordian turned fierce and abusive.
"This was a harebrained goddamned idea to come out here."
"You're right. It's my fault. Please, let's just go back."
"NO! After we came this far?"
And so we continued our quixotic voyage.
When we got on the bus I sat one seat away from him with my bag between us. I just wanted to withdraw.
Uncharacteristically, he reached towards me, touched my arm and smiled.
I was wary. "Are you mad at me?"
"Of course not! Why should I be?"
So I scooted over and nudged up close to him. When he began to drowse off, I put my arm around his shoulders and held him. His body seemed small, as if his anger had puffed him up and then afterward it subsided, he had shriveled back down into the black hole of his disease.
As the bus swayed and swerved along, at one point, he turned to me and said, "I think I really am dying this time."
"Maybe you'll get better."
KERRY WENT SOUTH
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