Kevin Gildea is hard to google.
He’s an English professor in the Ottawa area, part-time (from what I can tell) at both Ottawa U and Carleton. When I was in his class a decade ago, he never gave you the sense of being self-aggrandizing enough to have a web presence, much less the fan base he should. He’s the only professor I’ve ever had who in a single lecture managed to completely dismantle and rebuild my sense of self and place, and change the whole direction my life has taken.
He had Nietzsche’s help to do it, but hey, backstory time; I was having a shitty year at the tail end of a series of shitty years, partway through a degree I didn’t know if I wanted or cared about or not, staring down a future I didn’t know if I wanted or not, and not really having a sense of what I could do, or if there was anything I could do, about any of it. And what he said, approximately, was this:
Suppose, for a moment, that space is finite. Space is finite, matter is finite. Time is infinite. Take that as your axioms. What does that mean? A lot of things, but one of the things it means is that there’s a finite number of ways that the matter in all the space can all fit together. So eventually, everything will repeat itself: all of us are going to be here in this exact room, having this exact conversation, again. And again. And then he said, who’s responsible for your situation? Not who’s fault is it, but who is responsible for it? If not you, who else could it be? And if you’re unhappy, what’s keeping you unhappy, if not your choice to remain where you are?
If you don’t like where you are, what’s stopping you from changing that except you?
Nietzsche said it like this:
“What if a demon crept after thee into thy loneliest loneliness some day or night, and said to thee: “This life, as thou livest it at present, and hast lived it, thou must live it once more, and also innumerable times; and there will be nothing new in it, but every pain and every joy and every thought and every sigh, and all the unspeakably small and great in thy life must come to thee again, and all in the same series and sequence-and similarly this spider and this moonlight among the trees, and similarly this moment, and I myself. The eternal sand-glass of existence will ever be turned once more, and thou with it, thou speck of dust!”- Wouldst thou not throw thyself down and gnash thy teeth, and curse the demon that so spake? Or hast thou once experienced a tremendous moment in which thou wouldst answer him: “Thou art a God, and never did I hear anything so divine!”
It doesn’t matter if the postulates are scientifically true or not, because you are here, now. This is a way of thinking; what would you have to do, who would you have to become to own your choices without remorse or fear or nagging doubt, to be able to say honestly that you don’t fear being here in this moment, again and again, forever?
Longtime readers will note that I’ve mentioned it once or twice before; it made quite an impression. But I’ve occasionally had the sense that much like Nietzsche’s abyss, as I try to embrace the ideal, the ideal tries also to embrace me.
That was Wednesday night: surprise, we’re doing it all over again. Except this time we’re a week pre-term.
At about 9:00 Wednesday night, Arlene went from feeling mildly uncomfortable to agonizing contractions in the space of twenty minutes. We called the hospital, and they say that when they start coming five minutes apart and lasting for twenty seconds, you should come in. So we start timing them, and for the next twenty minutes they’re three minutes apart and lasting for thirty seconds. We call them back, and this time we’re not asking. Maya’s mercifully asleep, and we called a friend over to keep an eye on the house while we pile the bags into the car and roll off to the hospital. Parking lot, wheelchair, triage, nice and chilly, keep moving.
Suppose for a moment that bed space is finite and time is of the essence. They booked us into the same room we were in last time, room 707.
Really world, I was thinking, that’s how we’re going to play this? Really?
I’ve done this before; I know I’m tooled up for this work. If that’s how it’s going to be, let’s get started.
I mentioned this last time: when I say things like that, the universe hears me. And that night, the universe obliged. In the broad strokes, we did the whole thing again: sudden onset labor, epidural, low progression, instrumentation, c-section, all of it. But to my surprise all of that happened on what looked for lack of a better term like Easy Mode; slower, more predictably, better-managed and almost entirely crisis-free.
I didn’t hear the words “crash”, “emergency” or “distress” mentioned even once.
We got triaged quickly and cleanly, on a night where the hospital wasn’t clearly overloaded and threatening to go off the rails. The epidural went in on the first try instead of the eighth. The labor took a long time, but didn’t fail out dramatically at any point. I got to track Arlene’s progress on the printed readouts over the day, and talk to the staff about hour-over-hour trends instead of hearing them mutter nervously about the last five minutes; one nurse complimented me on that, which was nice. The decision to go in for a caesarean section was made in a calm room full of people with the time to give the question its due consideration.
The long wait alone in the room after Arlene had been wheeled into the operating room to get prepped was about three times as long as the last one, and it was a hard wait; how could it be anything else? But it wasn’t the bone-charring nightmare fuel I very, very seriously expected. I have a lot of confidence in the East York General staff now; I know we’re getting through this.
Carter came out looking like a slightly smallish, slightly beat up and other wise utterly normal kid. I had him lying on my chest and my wife’s hand in the other when the only real excitement of the day started and my wife got very pale and started shaking uncontrollably. Because the Eternal Recurrence of the Same has a checklist and a schedule apparently, and time was moving on so chop chop let’s get it all in we have a deadline people.
So, funny story. And by funny I mean fuck you, universe.
The operating surgeon paged the anesthesiologist, but he was already answering another emergency page. So I’m the only person on this side of the curtain who can look at the relevant instrumentation, an appliance the size of a vending machine. As you might imagine this is the first time I’ve ever seen anything like it; the surgeon is asking for a blood pressure reading, everyone else in the room is busy helping her sew my shaking wife’s guts back together and here I am with my newborn son in one hand, my eyes skittering around the controls as I try to learn how to operate a brand new machine that’s wired directly into my wife’s anatomy through, fuck you universe, a series of tubes.
As moments go, it was perfect.
The old reflexes die hard, and the old intuitions never go away. I’ve never done this before, but I’ve done this before. I’m tooled up for this; let’s get started.
“Can we get pulse and a BP reading?”
“The, um… one second. The… The cuff’s deflated, I think. There’s a null reading on the screen where it says BP. Hang on… OK, there’s one button here that says NIBP; I’m pushing it, one moment.” *click*.
I’d guessed “non-something blood pressure”, and the button was just below the null readout I was looking at. The cuff started inflating immediately. Anyone who tells you that user interface design doesn’t matter is a fool, this stuff save lives.
“Pulse is… 109, BP looks like it’s going to take a minute.”
“Ok, thank you. Good work.”
“I told you we should keep him around to look at stuff”, one of the nurses said.
Carter Alan Hoye, born 6:30 or so Thursday, February 23rd, and if he looks like he’s been in a fight, that’s because he’s been in a fight.
Arlene was wheeled back to our recovery room, and after treating her shakes with some drugs and a heated blanket, she’s made a shocking recovery. She was lucid in hours, able to walk and eat solid foods in a day. She and Carter are back at the hospital today to treat him for some jaundice, but both of them are recovering from the ordeal surprisingly well. Carter is a cause for mild concern, because he’s lost a bit of weight since his birth, but my own belief is that’s only because he’s losing fluids as the swelling subside; the poor guy was bruised all over from the protracted labor. He looks much different now, and I’ll have more pictures on the way soon.
I’d honestly forgotten they make them that small.
Maya has been struggling a bit; she seems to like Carter but dislike not being the center of attention. And she got a bit scared during our absence at the hospital, so we’ve got to make it up to her over the next few days. We’ll have to figure that out, but we’ve got time.
I’ve received a lot of messages, via Twitter and email, wishing us well. I’m grateful for all of them; they mean a lot to me. When the universe decides to try to knock you around some, there’s no better feeling that knowing you’ve got great friends.