Wednesday, August 20, 2008


Pollyanna - The Glad Game, originally uploaded by Mamluke.

You probably know why some of my friends call me Pollyanna--and not always in admiration. I understand; I really do. Sometimes optimism can be grating. When you're in the middle of a divorce or a twenty-four hour flu, you don't need your friend to tell you to take two ounces of bliss and call her in the morning. Or that even even the most dire circumstances might contain a secret gift. Sometimes, you just need someone to give you a huge hug and say, "You're right. This sucks."

Two days post-surgical and stilll unable to get my pain under control
(I still think that my pump apparatus wasn't working though no one believed me) I learned something revelatory about the human condition: suffering isn't fun. I also learned something about myself: I'm not very good at it. I'm not good at being lying in a bed in an uncomfortable positiion, unable to sleep or eat or enjoy the presence of my family because pain owns me.

I didn't want flowers. I didn't want to talk to anyone. It was a beautiful day outside. Really? Close the curtains, please.

I counteracted it with prayer, meditation, two ounces of bliss, but I gotta tell you, physical suffering is a pretty daunting opponent. If I looked in the mirror and saw my old Pollyanna self, I would have pitied her. Poor naive fool; she just didn't know...

Then, determined to exacerbate my misery, my nurse announced I had to walk to the solarium at the end of the hall. I steadied myself on my IV pole, and went, trying to smile at my nurse, but inwardly I was walking to the "this sucks" beat. Cha-cha-cha.

I thought about my old friend, Marie, who while suffering from stomach cancer, a broken hip, and a stroke, gave me her usual luminous smile and promised it wasn't so bad. She lied, I thought.

"I'll leave you here for a while to enjoy the view," the nurse said, settling me in what looked like a giant highchair. (The indignities never end.)

Of course, I wasn't happy with that either. I wanted to get back to my personal torture wrack where I could moan and twist with abandon. But being the people pleaser to the end, I agreed.

The view from the solarium was indeed a lovely portrait of Boston on a late summer day. It looked directly on Simmons College, where they were working on the soccer fields to get them ready for the fall. There was a cosp of trees in the background, and that intangible excitement of people walking through the city, students heading for the hospital to study medicine, skateboarders flipping dangerously between sidewalk and street, business people walking with the high purpose of Napoleon.

I wasn't a bit interested. I felt bad, lousy, miserable...well, you get the idea.

A woman sitting in a similar highchair greeted me. "How you doin?"
she asked.

"Good!" chirped the automatic Pollyanna. (Well, nobody wants to hear the bad, lousy,miserable line anyway...) Especially not one who could have surely spouted her own litany.

Then we started to talk.

She'd had some extensive surgery the same day I did, came from one of the city's poorer neighborhood, and appeared to be quite alone. But she radiated the kind of happiness Pollyanna would have recognized.

When she heard I came from the Cape, she glowed. "I go down there a few times every summer," she said. And she soon proved that she had the seaside in her veins in a way that I, a local resident never did. She didn't visit the Cape for the usual tourist outing. She came to do some serious fishing.

"I'm like a squirrel storing my nuts up for winter." She listed all the fish she caught; striped bass, scup, and a bunch I'd never heard of, though they were all pulled from my friendly neighborhood ocean.

Hmm. I could actually smell the air by the harbor. "But what do you do with them when you catch them? How do you get them home and turn those giant fish with eyes and heads into something that looks like food on a plate?"

"Well, I got myself a big cooler," she said, probably thinking I was an idiot. "And I clean them right out on my porch. When my neighbors who pass by, they all stop and ask when I'm gonna cook them up. 'You'll know,' I tell them, 'you'll know.'

And they do, too. Soon as I start cooking that fish, people are knocking on the door."

"I should try that," I thought already imagining another adventure for the consultants, their grandfather and myself. Maybe the whole family would go, and we'd eat fish all winter...Maybe we, too, would learn to store up our nuts!

"Fishing on Cape Cod, huh? That sounds like fun," I said, as if it were new to me, and in a way it was. I'd gotten so used to driving past the fishing boats as if they were furniture, I never actually thought about boarding them. But now, seventy miles away, I SAW them.

"Maybe I should try that."

"You should," she said, nodding her head. "But don't wait; life is short. You and I know that." It was her first reference to our common trials. She paused and looked out the window.

"You've got to appreciate the good days," I agreed, looking out at the people on the sidewalk.

"That's for sure," my new friend said. "But I'm grateful for days like this, too." She laughed. "We're here, right? And look at how green those trees are."

Everyone seemed determined to make me see those damn trees. By then, however, I WAS seeing them. And I was thinking about fishing next summer, and eating in the greasy, fish fry places near the harbor that I usually avoided, and sitting on my deck and cleaning fish...well, okay, I probably won't go that far. How about, sitting on my deck, drinking Chianti, and watching Ted clean the fish?

And once again, I was back in the game again. Glad, glad, glad.

P.S. Much gratitude and love to all of you: Even when I didn't feel like doing anything, I still loved it when Ted read the blog responses out loud, and I imagined each of your faces. (I know I haven't seen a lot of you yet, but you still have faces for me.)

And thanks, too, to those who never leave comments, but who have followed along and contacted me in other ways. (Theresa G: If you're reading this, please know your beautiful, courageous letter left a particular mark.)


Anonymous said...

patry, i'm so sorry to hear that your pain has been so severe and unmanageable lately, but so inspired (as always) by your courage and grace. sending you many healing prayers and wishes.

Crockhead said...

Pollyanna can still write in a way that connects with her many, many fans. Even on a down subject, your writing is uplifting, Patry.

Patry Francis said...

rubygirl: So nice to see your gorgeous sunflower, and to receive your healing message. The pain is MUCH more manageable now. xo

crockhead: Good to see you here, old friend. Thanks for the good words!

Larramie said...

So, Pollyanna, once back home what will you write first? More of your WIP or the Gone Fishing sign?

And be sure to enjoy those green trees for they'll soon be changing colors -- another spectacular event!

mm said...

You write so beautifully about this particular section of your life. I'm sorry it has been so hard of late.

I wish you sunny days, wide blue skies, salt air and, yes, fish. :-)

Anonymous said...

I'm one of those who (almost) never comments but I'm out here, thinking of you often.

Aimee said...

Again, you've spread your bliss and silver lining to me, here. And I thank you.
Something else about fishing...a surprise you'll find, especially if you take a boat: it is the single most relaxing, trans-like activity a person can find. I am a great lakes girl and every time I fish I sleep the most amazing sleep on our little row boat. While I'm awake I have the best thoughts. You should go fishing.

Patry Francis said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Patry Francis said...

Larramie: I think I'm going to be "gone fishing" for at least another week. By then, hopefully, my anesthesia fog will have lifted a bit. THanks for showing up with your daisies!

mm: Thanks so much for your kind words and for checking in on me. Things get a little easier every day.

diana: Glad to know that. I was just experimenting with the idea of a blog when you left the first comment ever and got me hooked.

aimeepalooza:My new fisherwoman friend also recommended fishing by boat--which sounds wonderful. I love the image of you sleeping on your row boat. I think I'll close my eyes and imagine I'm THERE.

Anonymous said...

I read these posts and feel admiration for your willingness and ability to SEE through the fear and pain that your situation has put you in. Then I look at my now 11-month old daughter and see her anew, because your writing reminds me how damn lucky I am to be alive. Thank you. Thank you.

Natalie d'Arbeloff said...

Dearest Patry, love love and more love coming your way, from all four corners of the universe.

pohanginapete said...

You're right. This sucks. But glad you got some respite from it, and I wish you much more relief; more glad times. A huge hug from Aotearoa, Patry.

Anonymous said...

. . . pollyanna or not, i think you're on to something . . . that it isn't about knowing something is wrong, but in knowing it's right, and wondering how so, how it fits into the bigger picture.

. . . and i learned a trick when i was doing holistic work with cancer survivors (in addition to their creedo of 'oh, please, enjoy your life, because really, who has time for the unfun bullsh*t?) they taught me about 'riding the pain' and how humming into it, singing with it, changed it into something that was less "other". it helps me when my tmj shoots cattle prod spasms into my head :) maybe it'll lend some ease for you too. (ted and the consultants can help you harmonize, maybe :)

Anonymous said...


There's no place like home...maybe your ruby-colored shoes helped to get your there. Your writings about this travail are beautiful and poignant. I know you, but I don't. I'm just sorry that you have to go through this.

Patry Francis said...

kathryn: Seeing your delight in your daughter this last year makes ME grateful to be alive.

natalie: If anyone could channel the currents of that four corner love, you could!

Pete: Thanks for reminding me of another means of escape--through your wonderful view of the world. I haven't visited nearly enough lately. (Not just your blog, but anyone's--even my own.)

kate: What a wonderful suggestion! The pain meds have their use, for sure, but sometimes the side effects are pretty distressing themselves. I also have to agree with the survivors you worked with: zero tolderance for unfun bullshit. I only hope I remember that when I start making myself miserable over something silly.

jane n: I never realized they were ruby slippers until I posted them on the blog the night before surgery. But suddenly my impulse to buy some magical shoes, and my attraction to this particular pair makes a new kind of sense. Thanks for visiting!

Kerstin said...

Physical pain does suck. Is anyone ever "good" at bearing it? I remember what I was like in hospital after they had just removed one of my organs and I had holes in my tummy and could barely breath without pain. I just wanted to be left alone. Did not want to to see anyone. Just listened to Van Morrisson's most soothing tunes through my iPod and waited for Pain to be done with me and let me breathe again. Which I knew it would do eventually. And I am glad to read in your comment replies that it's eased its grip on you, too.

I think there is a difference between being an optimistic person because one has a deep-rooted trust in life and all that it encompasses, and the kind of cheery happiness that choses to ignore the fact that suffering and pain are also part of the deal that is life. I would put you squarely into the first category :)

And I wholeheartedly agree with your other readers about the grace, courage and humor with which which you share this journey with us. Because I am such a chicken when it comes to all things to do with illness I would usually shy away from a blog where cancer was amongst its topics. But not yours. Quite the contrary, you make me feel braver and more hopeful when it comes to the realities of suffering and pain.

Sending you warm wishes and another big hug for your continued recovery. K xo

robin andrea said...

I have been thinking of you, patry, and am so glad that you wrote to tell us how you are. I have to admit that I am scared shitless about relentless pain, so I understand your turning away from the window and the trees. Still, somehow lifting your eyes towards the trees, and beyond that to a future with fresh-caught fish and a glass of wine, has a way of dulling even the sharpest twinges.

Continued healing and best wishes to you.

Patry Francis said...

kerstin: thanks for such a thoughtful comment--and for the hug.

You draw the distinction well. I know people who pretty much refuse to acknowledge any problem, political or personal, because they want to "think posiitive." I'm definitely not that kind of optimist.

P.S. I've always been the type to shy away with all things related to illness, too so I well understand.

Robin: Beautiful words, as usual. Perhaps that's one of the cruelest things pain does to us: it makes us turn away from the window. It feels good to be gazing outward again--if only sporadically.

Zhoen said...

F**kitsucks polka.

Pain can take anyone's legs out from under them, scouring away their courage and optimism. It's what you do, what you are doing, that reaches into the deeper core.

I still don't know how D kept on going through the Year of the Shattered Elbow. He was never chipper, but always steadfast. And we laughed so much. The best humor grows from pain manure.

KrisT said...

Glad you're back, Patry.

Sustenance Scout said...

Patry, my girls and I enjoyed some yummy (!) blueberry pie last night in your honor while I tried to think of you and not worry, and here you are today reassuring me everything is going to be fine. I went with a two-crust version this time around; sure wish I could bring you one!

As always your writing paints an instant portrait. I love your fisher-lady friend and hope she's feeling better every day, too. Hugs and prayers, K.

rdl said...

Oh P. i wish i could make it all go away. and you are such a people pleaser - i would've saidto that nurse something like- you're f-in kiddin me right?
but then you met that other nice soul and wrote this wonderful story. You amaze me - but then you always have.

Myfanwy Collins said...

Patry, You ARE two ounces of bliss. I hope you know that. I'm sorry you are suffering, though. I hate that.

p.s. might be down on the cape sometime in September with my husband and our babe and would love to see you--if even for a few minutes.

Patry Francis said...

K: I think about the fisher lady, too, and hope those neighbors who enjoy her fish are stopping in on her. Somehow, I'm sure they are.

r: Now don't go and make me cry! It hurts my belly too much. Love to you.

Ric said...

Walking the never-ending dark road, seemingly alone, nothing to guide you along the hard packed surface but a flashlight growing ever dimmer,

Just when you think the road goes on forever without a break, or friends, or loved ones, the dim light finds a tiny yellow flower, bright and shiny.

And when you stoop to see it better, there are thousands all around, bringing with them hope, love, and the solidity you walk on becomes soft and easy and welcoming.

After a day like today, I offer a tiny flower to my friend.

Dawn Anon said...

Joanne just blogged about inspiration and what inspires us.

I thought about you while I thought about my comment. I'm inspired by you and your blogs. I came to the blogs looking for writing inspiration and how awesome it is that not only my writing is improved by what i read, but my life is improved.

Thank you for sharing with us.

Patry Francis said...

Ric: Your yellow flower and your beautiful imagery are both gratefully accepted.

dawn: Thanks so much. I think we are all in the process of making the leap together.

Patry Francis said...

Just came back and realized that I'd somehow missed a couple of comments. Blame the drugs!

zhoen: You always have the best way with a phrase. The f*ckitsucks polka says it all. And oh yes, thanks for reminding me about the humor!

kcutter: Thanks so much.

Myf: I can't imagine anything more delightful than a visit from you and Alan and the babe. I hope we can make it happen!

Anonymous said...

And I'm glad to have read this at the end of your post: "And once again, I was back in the game again."

And yes, pain sucks. Whether anyone puts a bright or sour face on it, pain still sucks. I hope your pain goes completely away very, very soon.

What a treat to read 2 posts from you in the last 24 hours! (Yes, I was late to the first one, but better late than never...) :)

Anonymous said...

Dear Patry, so sorry about the pain, may it all go away soon and you will be like new again. You amaze me that you can still see the beauty out there, and write with such love, and even come and visit my blog, thank you! As always my heartfelt wishes for a speedy recovery to you!

Dale said...


Pain is a bear.

Sky said...

oh, what a good patient you are. i can hear me now telling the nurse just what she can do with her spare moments! she was, of course, right. the walking and the different environment likely brought you to the turn in the road which helped you get home as quickly as you did.

your personal strength and persistence, the part of you that doesn't let depression fully take over and that holds on tightly to hope, the part of you which still cares about how other people feel even when you are feeling like crap (no matter that you call it people-pleasing) - these parts of you are remarkable, patry, and set the stage for teaching others how to find our own best selves, even when the road is long and rocky. thank you for the extraordinary storytelling, for reminding us of so many valuable pieces of life. :)

now about the fishing - every time we have fished or crabbed (on the east coast only) we have had a blast. we grew up fishing on the lake where we summered. such excitement pulling them in! my sister lives on the atlantic, and i have crabbed with her right off the pier! we are going to have to get our fishing licenses here in the pacific nw, and when you and ted return for your next visit the 4 of us will take a fine picnic over to lake washington and plop our chairs by the shoreline and fish for our dinner! :)) continued healing, dear patry. so good to find you here. i have missed you very much this summer.

floots said...

thank you for sharing your strength weakness and laughter - aka your humanity/your self
as i look out of my window this morning at the rain and silent sheep everything seems a little sharper - thank you and best wishes

leslee said...

Aiie, Patry. Glad to hear the pain's more manageable now, and hope it continues to seep away. Wonderful story - you always find one (or one always finds you)!

Anonymous said...

I have no idea how I'd do in your situation, probably much worse.

Continued good wishes.

I'm holding Cape Cod down for you.

The Life of Mel said...

I am so glad that you are continuing to be uplifted, even if sometimes it has to come from an outside source.
And we in turn, get to read along with you, and crave fish, and the sea, and to be in the trees again.
I am thankful I found your blog (from Neil Gaiman's link to it) everytime I read it.

Fred Garber said...

Patry...I can smell those fish frying now! We should have a big fish fry. Your friend from the hospital will supply the fish. I will bring some salads. My great aunt's cucumber and red onion salad and my caponata. I will grab some sweet corn from the guy up the street. We can grill it. I think that I can talk my wife into making some fresh tortillas so we can have some fish tacos. It is only 9:30 in the morning here and I am so hungry from reading your wonderful post.

Carleen Brice said...

Sometimes "this SUCKS" is the only sane response! Positive thinking is great, but give yourself permission to be pissed off when you need to be, too. Honoring all our emotions is healing.

Anonymous said...

Oh, you describe that misery and despair that comes as a result of physical suffering so well, but you're better than I was at turning towards the beauty in life. I remember hospital stays with unrelenting pain after cancer surgery, and pain meds that made me sick, and horrible side effects. I remember the nurse who made me walk when I could barely stand. "You take little Chinese steps," she told me. I guess, though, I tried to be nice to her, as you were. "I'm sorry," I said. I was apologizing for being slow, and also for being angry inside. Your inspiring writing brings back memories, and fills me with admiration.

I am so happy to see you posting again. All the best. I think of you often. tk

Lisa said...

Much love to you Patry.

Patry Francis said...

kg: Thanks for checking in on me!

marja-leena: The support of blog friends meant so much, I wanted to visit you all and thank you. But I didn't make it very far down the list so far...

Sky: Thanks for the beautiful words--and the promise of a fishing trip. If I close my eyes...

Dale: A LARGE one. With imposing claws.

floots: I was talking to my sister-in-law on the phone this morning when she had to hang up abruptly because one of her sheep had escaped. Of course, I thought of you.

leslee: The pain waxes and wanes, but will hopefully soon be gone. Thanks for your good words.

Gerry: I'm always surprised how strong people are in the hospital. I think we surprise ourselves a little when our backs are to the wall.

Mel: Thanks to Neil Gaiman for sending you here! He's brought me some great readers.

fred: Even without an appetite, that sounds like a fish fry worth waiting for.

carleen: You're so right. In fact, I'm having a little spell of "this sucks" right now.

tk: Hearing from someone on the other side helps me remember there IS another side--and that it's a wonderful one.

lisa: back at ya.

Ivy said...

Dear Patry, I'm sorry to hear you're in pain. I hope all will be better soon -- can't keep a good Polyanna down for long. I'm so glad that you're 'back in the game again'. *hugs*

MB said...

Thing is, being glad is damn hard some times. But your post reminds me of the thin threads we hold out to each other that pull us back. Love to hold you, fill you, heal you.

Anonymous said...

I am one of those that lurk and never leave comments. I love visiting here and reading what you have to day - I am never disappointed.

Hope you are feeling better.

Susie in RI

Anonymous said...

Patry, hope you feel a little better every day. Your words reminded me (as they did the first day I read your blog: don't know; just have to accept) of a Jane Hirschfield poem. Continue to heal and keep writing anything and everything!


Formatting is off, sorry!
Three Times My Life Has Opened
-Jane Hirshfield, The Lives of the Heart

Three times my life has opened.
Once, into darkness and rain.
Once, into what the body carries at all times within it and starts
to remember each time it enters the act of love.
Once, to the fire that holds all.

These three were not different.
You will recognize what I am saying or you will not.

But outside my window all day a maple has stepped from her leaves
like a woman in love with winter, dropping the colored silks.

Neither are we different in what we know.

There is a door. It opens. Then it is closed. But a slip of light
stays, like a scrap of unreadable paper left on the floor,
or the one red leaf the snow releases in March.

paris parfait said...

Patry, your post brought tears to my eyes once again ...and reminded me once again how silly and ridiculous we all are when we worry about small things. Much love to you and prayers that your pain diminishes in the shadow of your sunny spirit. xoxox

Becca said...

Patry, may the summer sun shine on you and continue making you smile. Your words always illuminate my life, and make me see things in a shiny, new way :)

I do hope you're feeling better in all ways very soon!

Patry Francis said...

I was back in the hospital for a night with an electrolyte imbalance, but I'm home again, determined to begin my recovery again..

Ivy: Hugs to you, too. I've missed you.

mb: I guess we aren't meant to be glad all the time. Thanks for your beautiful words--a poem in themselves.

Susie: So glad to hear your voice! I hope you'll speak up more often. Meanwhile, thanks for your kind words.

Mary: "You will recognize what I am saying or you will not." I do, I do. Thanks for this, Mary. I've read it three times today, and have seen/felt something different each time.

tara:You're so right. I only hope I will remember not to get caught up in the silly stuff again when I'm well. Good to hear from you. xxx

Thanks, Becca. This was actually one of the most--if not THE most spectacular days of the summer. (But then again, how do you rate them?)

Leslie Rose Watson said...

I'm one of those who reads and never comments, but your post about fish hooked me. (One reason I never write? I can't help using god-awful puns, which is embarrassing.) Just today, I told my wife that I was yearning for a canoe, a flyrod, and the Current River back in the Missouri Ozarks. She reminded me that we live a short drive from the mountain streams of Western North Carolina where the trout are plentiful. And now here you are writing about fishing. Coincidence? Probably, but it reminded me to get off my ass and stop feeling sorry for myself. Thanks for the butt kick. As always, great thoughts are pointed in your direction.

Maryanne Stahl said...

a fishing trip, by boat, sounds just the thing! and you can save one of the fish for fish-art with the grandkids: freeze one fish whole, then paint it with vibrant colors, then press carefully to paper, paint side down. lift off and voila, a fish print!

or, you can catch and release, and breathe deep of sea-salted air, and be glad.

xxx peace and health to you! I am always amazed at the beautiful stories you write through all your suffering. thank you, again.

steve on the slow train said...

Patry, I was a bit scared reading the beginning of your post. I'm a pessimist by nature--steeped in the writings of Ambrose Bierce, H.L. Mencken, and the like--but I've admired and sometimes envied your "two ounces of bliss" outlook. But I certainly don't envy what you've been going through during the last year. And your description of the last few days--it sound hellish.

But then you did what you've always done, both before and during your illness. You gave us a story. They were wonderful stories then, and they still are. I know your illness has changed you in many ways, but not, thank heaven, in your ability to tell a story.

Anonymous said...

Oh Patry! I didn't know you'd had another surgery - I'm so very sorry you've been in all that pain. I am such a wimp when it comes to that...that you even tried to smile at your nurse - to me, that is a profile in courage! I'm afaird I would have been complaining, left and right...
Your grace of spirit and temperament, even with all you've been going through - including still managing to find some light to share with us through your wonderful writing here -- is just awe-inspiring. You are amazing.
I hope and pray you're feeling better and better, every day, my friend~XOXO

Patry Francis said...

kevin: Oh yes, get that boat going! Sounds wonderful. I'm sure my fisherwoman would be so glad that she's inspired you vicariously. Thanks for the good thoughts.

Maryanne: Love the fish art idea. Can't wait to share it with the kids, who will be here tomorrow. I will tell them "my friend Marianne suggested it," and they will be so impressed. They always say I have more friends than anyone, not understanding how few I've actually met!

Steve: Whether you call yourself an optimist or a pessimist, I think that stories save us in so many ways. How else to make sense of suffereing? Thanks for being here--and for reminding me how much I love AMbrose Bierce.

Anonymous said...

Patry thank you for your posts...I have been reading for a while now, but never comment..

Just wanted you to know that you are in my thoughts and prayers.

Thanks for the inspiration... I just love your new shoes btw.

With warm regards from Down Under


Anonymous said...

XO Now I want to fish too.

I used to think hay bales were put there by farmers for Andrew Wyeth to paint, like you looked at fishing boats and saw furniture. Now living here in Virginia, I understand the whole thing about hay.

Mary Sheehan Winn said...

Oh Yeah! You had those shoes before Sarah Palin did and you'd be a better VP too.
Hope you are enjoying your trip.
Happy Anniversary!