Autonomic Anonymous

If you are new to this blog of the upcoming book Viking Funeral, celebrating the life of Dave Linane with booze, words, and fire, welcome.  The timeline above shows you where we are in the book. While each chapter can stand on its own if you wish to read from the beginning, click here.  More info is available, About Dave or the FAQ section explains who the book is about and the arc of the storyline. If you found me through a grief group, this page of my perspective of why we are all here in this place right now may be helpful. XO M
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Expect more of the unexpected and education of living life as a paralyzed individual in this next section.  

The autonomic nervous system functions outside of our control, things like…breathing, digesting, producing hormones, and the like, all the standard operating functions that we don’t have to think about, yet they carry on. Coughing is among these functions that serve to save us from ourselves, like when we swallow something, and it goes down the ‘wrong’ pipe, the coughing reflex responds and works to remove whatever offending something from the wrong pipe so we can carry on with…the living of our lives.

Depending on where the spinal cord is damaged, myriad autonomic nervous system functions can become paralyzed alongside the sympathetic nervous system…the system that helps us move. The higher the damage on the spine, can affect one’s ability to breathe, for example, Christopher Reeves broke his neck basically at the base of his skull and was unable to breathe on his own. Dave was lucky in that regard, his injury was a little lower down, and he could breathe on his own after the initial swelling from the trauma of his injury went down.

Everyone in our family and many, if not most of Dave’s friends, fed him at some point or another. It could have been an entire meal or something as simple as a cookie, a handful of chips, popcorn, or nuts. You know, food of any sort. Again, being paralyzed and all. I mentioned this briefly in an earlier chapter but will explain again because it is a pretty big deal to pay attention to if you hang out with paralyzed people. It would work on anyone, by the way, so it is not a bad thing to know. If Dave began to choke on something and needed assistance, we would have to perform a modified Heimlich maneuver since we could not possibly stand behind him and reach around his waist to carry out the compressions to force his muscles to push out the offending food particle that was blocking his airway.

A modified Heimlich maneuver consists of placing one’s hands over each other and forcibly pushing in an upward motion in the location of the choking person’s (in this case, Dave’s) diaphragm which is located at the bottom of the sternum, where our rib cage ends in the soft place most of us think of as our stomach. It requires some significant force, something akin to knocking the literal wind out of someone but in a measured way. As stated earlier, I NEVER had to perform this, nor did I ever witness anyone perform this on Dave, but I knew what to do IF he choked and knew to pay attention to him while he ate and was prepared if he did choke to bring it.

Anytime Dave made the slightest peculiar cough noise, slightest half-cough while eating anything, I would dramatically stop everything, make eye contact with him and ask for some reason loudly, “You want me to HIT you?” Of course, it was not hitting at all, but that is what I called giving him this modified Heimlich maneuver. Every single time I asked, he would shake his head communicating demonstrably NO, whilst turning red and working through the offending cough causer. If you can hear noise, that means air is getting in there, and most likely everything will be fine. Most likely.

Some of Dave’s autonomic nervous system functions continued to work, he could cough a little, but it was a VERY weak cough. He could take deep breathes, and he could empty his lungs, but he could not FORCEFULLY cough the air out of his lungs. I could only liken his cough to how you might cough when you have a broken rib. You don’t want to cough because you know it is going to hurt like a bitch, so you try to take little breaths in and cough ever so slightly so as not to awaken those bitchy broken ribs. That timid cautious cough is what his cough sounded like, a half-cough, except he was not avoiding pain; he just couldn’t put any force behind that wind.

When he was up in his electric chair and in the house, he enjoyed eating in the kitchen, looking out the large window onto 25th street and the world of our neighborhood life. My mom would sit beside him, or whoever was feeding him, which could have been many people, but mostly my mom and on this occasion, definitely my mom. SO, my mom was sitting beside him on a kitchen stool; they were yakking about nothing. They were not exactly facing each other but somewhat side-by-side. Dave was facing the window, and my mom was on his left next to the cupboards, focusing on the food on the plate to her left on the counter. She was talking, Dave was listening, and he began to choke. For real.

She kept yakking on and on about who knows what at this point, but there he was continuing to choke without notice. Dave could move his arms a little; he had an extremely limited range of motion, but not in a predictable manner because mere movement could trigger an uncontrollable muscle spasm with a wide variety of random outcomes. He could not hold anything at all in his hands, but he could move his arms a bit.   

So back to Dave choking, he was choking, and my mom was still focusing elsewhere on his plate of food and the story she was determined to tell. Dave began moving his arm between him and my mom, trying to nudge her to get her attention that he was choking. My mom felt him nudge her and didn’t think anything of it, somewhat pushed his hand away, thinking he was having a spasm, and she kept on chatting away about whatever she was telling him about. Meanwhile, he was still choking.

He reached out and tapped her again, this time she turned around to say, “What the…” when she realized he was trying to get her attention. She quickly turned on Wonder Woman mode, performed the modified Heimlich maneuver, and saved the day.

He caught his breath as she returned from her superhero alter ego, and apologized for completely missing all the clues like 1) he was not commenting at all on what she was saying for quite some time…he was silent, in fact. And B) He was nudging her in the only way he could communicate, and she brushed his hand away. In her panic after-the-fact, she shouted, “Oh My GOD DAVE!!! Why didn’t you tell me you were choking???”

Dave immediately started laughing his barking seal of a laugh at her, at the situation, “I was TRYING to get your attention, but you just kept talking!” She realized he had been nudging her maybe more than the two times she noticed. She replayed the last several minutes out loud and revealed that she kept feeling him touch her leg but just didn’t think anything of it. Dave patiently rolled his eyes at her, and they got to laughing about how she 99.9% of the time was completely plugged into his every move, every breath, she anticipated anything and everything he needed, but this ONE time she was leisurely yammering on about some stupid bullshit, THAT is the time he choked on something. They laughed, he laughed until he was out of air from laughing, and that made them laugh even more. 

***

Forgettaboutit

We have this perception of who needs to be looked after, usually depending on the age of the people in our presence. For example, most adults have a keen awareness to look after children in our presence, ok most people have this, not all, but most pay attention to when children are getting into a precarious situation and protect them from themselves. Because Dave was a fully mature adult, and his presence was so relaxed, people simply forgot about his glaringly obvious physical disability and sometimes forgot that he needed to be looked after differently than most. 

One semester when Dave was attending Cal State San Bernardino, he had a class in a lecture hall with something like stadium seating in a semi-circle arena. This was an upper-division course, not an elective; Dave had to complete this specific class to graduate. The entrance level was at the top of the stadium seating. There was no room for him to navigate, let alone to park anywhere. This was just another day in the life of Dave out in public.

The only way he could attend this class was on the ground floor. To get there, he had to take an elevator down, but first, he had to wait for someone to walk by and push the button to call the elevator for him. He would explain that he would also need them to push the button inside the elevator once it arrived, and he hoped they had time to wait a moment to help him out. Sometimes they pushed the hall call button but didn’t wait for it to arrive, so he would have to start over again and wait for someone else to come along. Once down to the lower level, he would exit the elevator, go down the hallway to wait for his professor to open the door for him to enter. He tried to get there before her because if she was already inside, he didn’t have a way to get her attention to let him in otherwise.

Once inside, he had to maneuver his wheelchair to one side of the teaching platform of the lecture hall, basically directly across from the teacher in front of the first row of students in the class.  Repeat in reverse order exiting the room. Someone needed to hold the door for him, call the elevator and push the button to send it up for him. Imagine having to wait for someone, anyone, almost always a stranger to help you push a button to get on an elevator. What would happen if there was a problem with the elevator? He couldn’t use the call button inside to call anyone. These are the sort of questions that I am certain haunted my parents and have not really been solved in the thirty years of technology that have transpired since that time.

The campus is located directly at the edge of the San Bernardino National Forest in the foothills of the city very near the Cajon pass, which is prone to high winds. Combine high winds with a national forest, and every so many year there will be fires, sure as hell. No pun intended. More than one devastating fire has taken 500 hundred homes at a time in the university neighborhood. Hence, fires are the kind of shit taken seriously by the university and our community. In this circumstance, there was a growing fire nearby, and the administration decided to close campus by way of setting off the building fire alarms. This was in the days before everyone had a cell phone and text services as a means for receiving information.  

The good news is that we have such things as fire alarms to warn people of imminent danger. The professor and students reacted instinctively to the alarm by swiftly leaving the room and, ultimately, the building. The bad news is that in their hurry, everyone, including the professor left Dave in the room. Dave sat there, listening to the frantic sound of the fire alarm. He laughed to himself, “Hmm, this is interesting; I wonder how long it will be before someone realizes I am still in here?”

His teacher returned to the room a few moments later because guess what doesn’t work when the fire alarm is activated in a building? That’s right, the elevators! She entered to access the stairs in the classroom to the upper floors and out. She freaked out when she saw Dave just sitting there calmly by himself with that horrid sound of the alarm painfully filling the entire space. She felt awful for forgetting him, and apologized with an “Oh MY GOD DAVE!!!! I CAN’T BELIEVE I FORGOT YOU!!! I AM SOOOO SORRY!!” She repeated herself a few more times but more to herself out of sheer shock than to Dave. She called campus security to come and clear the building. The fire was at the edge of campus but not in the building itself so they could eventually be safely evacuated by way of the elevators, thank goodness. 

For the record, this took place AFTER the American’s with Disabilities Act had been in place for almost a decade in a brand-new building that semester. Architects, professors, students, most people do not understand that they have to look out for you when you have special needs like being paralyzed in situations of ingress and egress of buildings. You cannot open doors for yourself, push elevator hall call or floor designation buttons once inside the elevator, or likely leave the building in a hurry in the event of a real crisis.

***

One Tequila, Two Tequila, Three Tequila, Floor

When Dave was out in the world with people, his people, they had all grown accustomed to looking out for him in ways he might night even realize that he needed. It was a given that someone was going to load him in and out of the van, open doors for him, feed him, help him pay the bill, all of that was just an understood part of hanging out with Dave.

Dave was out to dinner with Brian and had a little too much tequila at a restaurant in Palm Springs. He rarely got drunk, but on this occasion, he was, and his exuberant friendliness expanded beyond their table. He was even more freely talking to people around them; its all fun and games until someone gets hurt, right? Good thing Brian was the designated driver.

Besides being tasked with safely getting Dave home, Brian was keeping a close eye on Dave’s drinking and driving skills, because he was getting a little sloppy with his wheelchair controls. In the process of talking to some people at another table, my guess is they were lovely ladies, Dave tried to turn his chair just a little to be able to make better eye contact, or maybe to be more comfortable for his neck which only turned so far to the right. He was normally very smooth moving his electric chair around the world, but in his drunken state, he clumsily lurched it forward careening toward the ledge of the patio, which dropped off about four feet to an adjacent patio. Brian luckily caught the controls with his hand and quickly prevented what could have been a total shit-show of margaritas gone wild. I could just picture Dave laughing on the ground bleeding from somewhere unbeknownst to him and convincing everyone he was ok. But, thankfully, that tragedy was averted. 

***

He’s Just Adorable…

Dave was like any red-blooded adult male; he had a sex drive like anyone else; he just couldn’t carry anything out because…paralyzed. I have a vague understand some things can work down there, but he and I NEVER talked about that aspect of his life in an unspoken agreement; He didn’t ask if my va-jay-jay was seeing any action, and I didn’t inquire about his wiener, just one of those understood taboo don’t go there topics because he was MY BROTHER, UKK.

However, he could not wait to tattle on himself in something like a morning-after confession for some reason. He drank probably too much at Brian’s house one summer evening following a B-B-Q and drove himself the roughly 1500 feet home. But he was feeling restless, wasn’t ready to go into the house yet even though it was a bit late, maybe 10:30. Instead, he drove to a neighbor’s house down the street on Arrowhead to see if she, Myra was home and maybe up for a little chat. He sat outside her house, calling to her through her open windows. She heard him and came outside to see what was up. He explained that he was bored and wanted to know if she wanted a kiss, “Come on, give me a kiss, Myra! Tongue and all!” Besides being a neighbor, she was a friend of our mom’s as in one year younger than our mom. As he was telling me this, I was cringing as I sat on his couch and pulled a blanket over me to protect me from this awful, embarrassing story. I screamed NOOOOOOOOO YOU DIDN’T!!!!! NOOOOOOO, OH MY GOD! YUK!!!!

He was laughing at himself, embarrassed as he stammered on further through his laughter to answer my question, “OH MY GOD DAVE!!! What the HELL was her reaction?” “Well, he mimicked her voice, she said, ‘OH DAVID! STOP!’” He was already laughing at himself in real-time with her. I, of course, was beside myself with laughter but also hiding my face behind the blanket in the middle of summer because I was so mortified for him, mortified that he was telling me, all of it was hilariously mortifying. Our neighbor, along with everyone else, adored Dave, so I knew there was no harm committed in him taking a shot. But wait, there’s more.

He could hardly form the next words; he was laughing so hard because he knew where the story was going. The contagion of his laughter pushed me further off the edge to crying laughter as I waited for what I was sure was going to be even more awkward in the light of day by his lack of control of words, air, his laughter.

He almost cried out as he repeated their conversation, “Oh come on, just a little kiss!”  She was still laughing, “I am old enough to be your mother!” “So what? Just a little kiss? No Tongue.” They were both cracking up; she said, “Nope.” “Is that your final answer?” “Yes.” “So, showing me your boobs is probably off the table, too, then?” She gets hysterical with laughter, cannot believe my sweet brother is being so forward, (neither can I for that matter, and I am dying on the couch, behind the blanket also covering my face with my hands cringing at this hilarious confession).

She was trying to catch her breath from her laughter, says, “OH, MY GOD David, do I need to call your mother?” They continue cracking up; Dave can’t believe these words have escaped his thoughts, let alone his mouth, emphatically says, “NO. You do not need to call MY MOTHER. I prefer that you never speak of this with MY MOTHER.” They laughed even harder, losing their breath at this last unexpected turn of the conversation. She went inside, got a beer, sat on her porch, and shared a beer with him as they recovered from their hilarious laughter at his unexpected for both of them, forward request. When he left, she kissed him on the cheek, and he headed up the street a block to home.

I was out of my mind with how funny this was, with painful sides, trembling cheeks, crying eyes, mortified at his smooth move with our neighbor, our mom’s friend. “OH. MY. GAWD, Dave!!!” I couldn’t look at him because it just made me laugh harder. “SO GROSS!!!!” was all I could get out. After convulsing with laughter and tears and losing my breath again, I added, “You reverse Mrs. Robinsoned her! (Long pause with more laughter from both of us) I have one word for you…(he knew I was going to say it because we always made references to movies) PLASTICS!”

My next question had to be, “DOES YOUR MOTHER KNOW YOU HIT ON HER FRIEND?” further eruption of laughter. After a moment, he squeaked out a “YES!” “DOES SHE KNOW YOU ASKED TO SEE HER BOOBS?” Another squeaked out “YES”! I could not believe how hard one can laugh in moments such as this. I managed to lob out, “You are SO lucky you wear a catheter because I might pee myself right here on the couch. No one would ever know you peed yourself!” We could not stop laughing.

The next question from me, “HAVE YOU APOLOGIZED TO HER?” “YESSSSS. I called her this morning.” “So you have tattled on yourself, did it feel good to get that out?” He just nodded no and mouthed the word NO, while we both were uncontrollably laughing.

We had watched Paul Newman’s Born Yesterday not long before this conversation, or embarrassing debacle took place; Paul Newman’s character asks Melanie Griffith’s character, a woman who is the wife of his friend to show him her boobs, ‘PLEASE?’… and she flashes him. I explained to Dave, “First of all, you are NOT Paul Newman AND B) that shit doesn’t work anywhere but in the movies.” 

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What Goes Around Parties Down

For a brief period of time, when Dave was in his trying to figure out what he was going to fill his life with, he worked for my sister Linda’s husband, answering the phones for his plumbing business. When you have a small operation, it is nice to be able to have a live person answer the phone and speak to clients. It was something for Dave to do; it helped both parties. Dave had a headset, a radio voice, was great with people in general, helpful, and it gave him a little mad money. I mentioned previously that he was terrible with money; he was like a kid in a candy store with it, which is why I call it his mad money.

Anyway, the business had completed a bathroom remodel. The clients, an older retired gay couple, two refined professional gentlemen, were throwing a party to celebrate and showcase all the new changes made to their home. They invited their friends and everyone who worked on the project to attend. Linda invited Dave, their receptionist, to join them, and of course, Dave was always down for attending a party.

The remodel was lovely; the house was beautifully appointed. The party was a tame gathering of an interesting mix of dusty geriatric polished gay gentlemen, contractors, and their significant others, pleasant people. Dave parked himself with Linda and her husband, and they partook of party favors,  booze, canapes, and the like as they enjoyed the outdoor space they had chosen to sit.

At some point, the host, Archie, stopped by their small group making the rounds of his party as all good hosts do. This must have been the first time he met Dave in person. The two struck up a conversation, which is no surprise; Dave was always very interesting to talk to, and according to my girlfriends, he was also an attractive man. He was my brother, so I cannot comment on that. Linda’s husband got up for some reason, maybe to get more food. 

As the conversation unfolded, driven by Archie, more than 35 years older than Dave (who was in his mid-30s) by my guesstimation, learned details of Dave’s life. I have no idea what exactly was discussed, but Archie found Dave to be endearing, which he was, but neither of the two men in this conversation was available, or at least one of them, namely Dave, was not looking to hook up. Archie was very animated about his impressions of Dave and became more animated as the conversation progressed with outbursts like “Oh, bless your heart,” And “Well, aren’t you something!”

Dave whole-heartedly accepted everyone, regardless of race, creed, or sexual orientation. Obviously, he was comfortable attending a party hosted by an older gay couple.  He was a very pro, live-and-let-live person.

Linda then left the two of them. She was gone a while, and during that time, Archie moved in closer and began asking more personal questions of Dave, such as, “Do you have someone special in your life?” “No.” “Bless your heart.” As sexually naïve as Dave was, he began to recognize behaviors indicative of sexual tension increasing in the intoxicated Archie as he became more engaged with each new revelation. Oh, you’re are a Pisces? Well, I am whatever sign suits Pieces best! I am making this (what’s your sign?) shit up because I don’t remember what topics Archie was finding so appealing, but Dave was magnetic, warm, charming, unassuming, approachable. A Pisces.

I can only describe from memory the texture of his mounting move as being cheesy. Archie lobbed questions at Dave that he answered directly without any intention other than feeling obligated to answer. Archie began speaking in a breathy manner that conveyed what alcohol he had been drinking, “Oh, I like YOU!” following Dave’s responses. “Oh, I-I-I LIIIIIKE YOU!!!!” Dave was becoming uncomfortable as Archie moved the conversation forward from covert to full-on overt flirtation.

 I should add that Dave rarely drank much more than a beer at most if out anywhere in the world and even rarer was the occasion that he was drunk, I mean it happened, but it was rare. We have all been in some similar situation, been the sober one at a party, hit on by an overly intoxicated person, man or woman in an awkward circumstance, like the client of your brother-in-law, in a long-term relationship.

Dave described Archie looking at him with wide, unblinking doe-eyes, growing in adoration. Dave was trying any way he could to change the subject, to end the conversation. Archie had cornered Dave on the patio, so there was no rolling away from this guy and his obvious advances. Further, Archie in his drunken state was probably pushier or less inhibited than one might expect, but he was clearly making the moves on Dave.

Archie took his flirtation to the next level, talking about how attracted he was to Dave. Dave was not one to worry about much of anything because, as previously stated, he lived by the ‘What’s the worst that could happen?’ credo. Dave was NEVER hit on this hard by any woman or fawned over other than at a strip club, which was not an encounter of real-world proportions. He had zero frames of reference for what he was experiencing being hit on in real-time by a spoken-for man, not that there is anything wrong with that. He was painfully shy with women, which makes the whole Myra thing even funnier, but with this situation, he had no plan, no words, no escape, nothing.

Archie asked Dave, “Can I kiss you?” Dave replied instantly with a very shocked “NO!” Followed by a series of responses meant to convey NO, “No, thank you! Not even just a little! Please No! God NO!! Please don’t kiss me!” Archie completely ignored him and began what was probably meant to come off as a romantic descent in for a kiss. This was slightly different from Dave’s Myra kiss request debacle, but still, talk about what goes around comes around.

Dave described, “It felt like I was watching slow motion as Archie and his lips moved closer.” Dave repeatedly said, “No. NO! NO! NOOOOO!” He managed to duck his head at the last minute as Archie planted his lips on the top of Dave’s head in his hair. It is quite inappropriate to make advances on someone who is unable to get away. I understand why Archie was attracted to him because Dave was pretty wonderful on all accounts. But still. No means NO.

Dave managed to get Linda’s attention with the announcement, “It’s time to go!” When they got in the van and pulled away from the house, Dave shouted like a tattling kindergartner whining, “ARCHIE KISSED ME!!” He was laughing at himself, having immediately gotten over his initial surprise and recognized the entire scenario as hilarious. He conveyed his story to them, cracking up the entire time. They all laughed all the way home.

A few days later, he shared the story with me, by that time he was not only over the shock of almost being accosted by a drunk dude he was laughing uncontrollably as he described how he didn’t realize how irresistible he apparently was. He was in his bed but acted out how he ducked his head, the face he made as he cringed at the incoming lips and how he managed to avoid connecting with those lips ducking at the very last second. I was laughing so hard at HIM and his expressions. He was running out of air as he shouted again ‘NO! NO! NO! NO! GOD NO! NOOOOOO!’ Depicting the scene for me.

I responded in my most judgemental Well, Well, Well voice that “You deserved what you got for asking Myra, “OUR MOTHER’S FRIEND if she would show you her boobs!” Like I would forget to throw that on the fire every fucking chance I got. If this were a movie, I would break the fourth wall and look directly at the audience for recognition of a perfectly pointed out bit of Karma.

He was humble enough to see the similarities between those two incidents and at taking a well-deserved jab; He admitted, “I deserved that.” It seemed like every time I entered his room he would have some wild story to tell me about that had transpired in his interesting life since the last time I saw him, which might have been the day before. I suppose this book is proof that he was not hyperbole, that something interesting was always happing in his life. Damn, I just adored laughing with that guy.

I share these loosely connected examples of things you don’t expect of someone who is physically disabled, like their vulnerability and their continued capacity for sexual feelings. They are not out of sight, yet they are often out of consideration (mind).  

“According to Science Daily 11/2011 Research discredits the persistent stereotype that men think about sex every seven seconds, which amounts to more than 8000 thoughts about sex in 16 waking hours. In the study, they found young men’s thought about sex stood at almost 19 times per day.”

So, my working theory is that somewhere between those two numbers is how often a man thinks about sex daily, and even when they cannot have sex, they still think about it, they remain sexual beings emotionally, just like the rest of us and should be seen as such. They can have both good and awkward sexual encounters like anyone. Their vulnerabilities to all things, as well as odd things large and small, are greater than those of us who are able-bodied. This collection of examples hopefully raises awareness of everyone reading, being educated at the Caring for Dave University.

© Mardi Linane Copyright 2020

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