Last week I went to Puerto Rico to take my so-called spring break to visit my mom. I expected a semi-relaxing visit as her caretaker, Milagro, would be around and I also expected one last visit with my mother before embarking on the difficult process of moving her into a nursing home, which I planed to do over the summer. But a day and a half after I arrived, we brought her to the hospital because she basically had stopped eating and even drinking water and now that she has been released from the hospital, she has been placed in a nursing home.
We brought my mom to the hospital because she was malnourished and dehydrated. To admit her was an exercise in managing a fireball of pure fury. Even if she was weak, she mustered every last piece of her energy so as to transform herself from a little old lady to a little old lady of pure Russian terror, unleashing her wrath left and right, not to mention up and down. But well, thanks to her (I think, somewhat calculated) wrath, at least they took her in immediately (despite a truly truly packed packed emergency room). Once inside, it took 4 nurses and her caretaker to put the initial IV in her arm and then they threw in a little haldol to “calm” her down. We waited nearly a day to find out that her doctor, Dra Nazario ordered a feeding tube without consulting with me or my sister (of course at some point they would need consent). At first I did not want a feeding tube put in her. But after talking with various nurses and other family members in the hospital with parents with Alzheimers, I decided to go for it. It is clear that my mom just does not eat enough and when she does, she eats poorly and I did not want to go through another traumatic visit in the emergency room at some future date to do the same.
After her operation and after a few days of getting food, she was conscious but barely so. She did not want to talk, did not seem to be able to talk, and this of course, was heartbreaking because we thought that the operation, 4 days without food, and the really difficult hospital entry did her over. But once she developed slight pneumonia and an UTI, funny enough, she actually came back to life pretty much as she was before the hospital (which is still pretty limited but at least she did not seem any worse and it will be interesting to see what happens after she gets proper nutrition for a few weeks).
So in the last 9 days I spent a lot of time in the hospital, more than I have ever spent in one. Let’s face it they are creepy places and exude a low-level, sometimes higher grade level of architectural and atmospheric grossness. The smell is so distinct: part disinfectant, part something that I can only describe as that of pre-death (or pre-rot), a smell that especially lingers for it co-mingles with the palpable sense of anxiety and worry (and tiredness) that family members carry with them. I took my mom to Hospital Pavia, which is supposedly one of the better hospitals in the San Juan metropolitan areas, and like 3 minutes from my house. And generally things were orderly and run well but there were a few times, when I was floored and beyond livid by they way they treated my mother and it is clear that a hospital is only as good as the doctors and the ability of the nurses to carry out their orders correctly.
When you join an academic department, you are just one body and mind among many others doing what you do: teach, write, go to conferences, answer a lot of student emails, advise, etc. However, what you don’t get to do is really see your colleagues very often. While we come together far too frequently for faculty meetings, once you are done, you just want to scuttle out of the room (and as quickly as possible) to continue what seems to be an endless stream of work. But over the course of months and years, there are times and moments when you do come across your colleagues and their work: you may assign some of their work in your class class, go see them speak at an event, or learn about their work over coffee.
This weekend during a PhD prospective weekend, I finally got to learn about what is probably one of the coolest projects to come out of my department, The Dead Media Archive run by Ben Kafka and Alex Galloway for their Dead Media Archeology Class.
Loosely inspired by a mailing list by the same name started years ago by Bruce Sterling (which eventually suffered its own death), they are collecting information and analyzing the significance of all sorts of Dead Media, some of which were quite present and important for our economy and communication systems, others which flickered much more briefly as a bright idea but never really caught on. As part of their class assignments, students have to write in-depth descriptions, histories, and analysis’ of these objects and they are fantastic; so if you are into dead media, do check out the archive.