Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Giving thanks to my brother

My younger brother

November is a month of many notes in minor key. --Transitions from light to dark, skies turning a moodier  mauve and grey; trees preparing to sleep, horizons embracing night by five 0’clock, and in the process, introspection tugs me back into myself to a time of rebirth and deep, unexpected gifts. 

This time in November--23rd to be exact--marks 32 years since my bone marrow transplant. I was in my twenties. I had a fifteen percent chance of surviving without one and a 50 percent chance if I chose to have one. Was it really a choice? The procedure back then was dangerous (often fatal) and highly experimental.

Thirty-two years ago, my brother, whose bone marrow matched mine, went under anesthesia for several hours while doctors harvested bone marrow from his hip. He was only seventeen. In fact, he was under age and we had to go to court and get the state's permission to allow this. His bone marrow—a liquid substance—was filtered into plastic, transfusion bags, then hooked up to a plastic tube called a shunt, which was surgically attached to my thigh. Here’s a picture of that shunt, which was eventually surgically removed.

In my intensive care, isolation room in a Boston hospital, I envisioned my brother’s bone marrow as homing pigeons returning to roost.  I also imagined his marrow as carrying seeds scattering throughout my body, taking hold in the earth that was me. Bone marrow is the largest organ in the body. It’s everywhere.

When my brother woke up, his hips sore like Charley horse, he shuffled into my intensive care room and stood outside the plastic curtain that divided us, cheering me on. I was freaking out.  Powerful sedatives during high doses of chemotherapy were wearing off. (The chemotherapy killed my old bone marrow to prepare for the new, which meant I had no immune system.)  My body was vibrating, my mind on warp speed with anxiety. Trapped in a cage, in a six by eight hospital room that I was forbidden to leave, I feared I might go insane.

My brother returned to his boarding school a few days later. I stayed in the sterile, isolation room for another two months under the care of this man.

And my primary nurse who spent several hours with me every day.

And the behind-the-scenes care of this man.

Karmu, the amazing faith healer

And so many others (a team of about one hundred).

Eventually, I wrote about this experience in a story called Recovery, my first published story. It won a prize from Redbook magazine in a national fiction contest.  You can read Recovery here if you’d like. I also talked about my transplant in Susan Henderson’s wonderful interview on LitPark.
This is the laminar air flow room (or bubble) originally created for astronauts. I'm getting ready to go home.  See those gloves? I had to wear them everywhere. The mask, too.

So, once again, thank you, dear brother, and thanks to my team of more than a hundred people—nurses, doctors, researchers, family, faith healer--for your dedication and care, for extending my time on this planet.

In the car with my mom, heading home.

My dad took this pic days after I was home from the hospital.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Home is about feeling Safe

This is my dad, who was an artillery man in the Army,WW2.  His division helped liberate Dachau concentration camp.

What makes you feel safe at home? For me, a feeling of safety is vital to my sense of home on a personal level and as a citizen of the United States. On a primordial (cave) level, my home shelters me from bad weather, and wild animals and violent human beings. What happened last week at University of California Davis crossed my line of safety at home in America. Those police were violent toward peaceful protestors. They acted like criminals, not peacekeepers, not protectors of our safety.

Universities are meant to provide shelter to its students. It’s meant to be a safe home of learning, a place to teach young adults how to rebel, express outrage, protest, and take action in a peaceful, affirmative way. That’s what these students were doing. It was an opportunity for change, a change to harness young people’s honest intentions. Instead, the Chancellor stomped on these young spirits. Do you think such things can quash our spirits? Of course not! What happened was egregious and criminal.  Please read this letter from professor Brown calling for Chancellor’s resignation. Send an email expressing your opinion.

I’m not usually politically active per say, but this chancellor and those police crossed my safety line, and debased the sanctity of my country as my home. I remember Kent State. I remember a lot of things from the sixties. As a mother of a son considering college, I need to know that our universities are safe, responsible representatives of Democracy.  

My son

Please read Professor Brown's letter, which I've copied in its entirety here.

Open Letter to Chancellor Linda P.B. Katehi

18 November 2011
Open Letter to Chancellor Linda P.B. Katehi
Linda P.B. Katehi,
I am a junior faculty member at UC Davis. I am an Assistant Professor in the Department of English, and I teach in the Program in Critical Theory and in Science & Technology Studies. I have a strong record of research, teaching, and service. I am currently a Board Member of the Davis Faculty Association. I have also taken an active role in supporting the student movement to defend public education on our campus and throughout the UC system. In a word: I am the sort of young faculty member, like many of my colleagues, this campus needs. I am an asset to the University of California at Davis.
You are not.
I write to you and to my colleagues for three reasons:
1) to express my outrage at the police brutality which occurred against students engaged in peaceful protest on the UC Davis campus today
2) to hold you accountable for this police brutality
3) to demand your immediate resignation
Today you ordered police onto our campus to clear student protesters from the quad. These were protesters who participated in a rally speaking out against tuition increases and police brutality on UC campuses on Tuesday—a rally that I organized, and which was endorsed by the Davis Faculty Association. These students attended that rally in response to a call for solidarity from students and faculty who were bludgeoned with batons,hospitalized, and arrested at UC Berkeley last week. In the highest tradition of non-violent civil disobedience, those protesters had linked arms and held their ground in defense of tents they set up beside Sproul Hall. In a gesture of solidarity with those students and faculty, and in solidarity with the national Occupy movement, students at UC Davis set up tents on the main quad. When you ordered police outfitted with riot helmets, brandishing batons and teargas guns to remove their tents today, those students sat down on the ground in a circle and linked arms to protect them.
Without any provocation whatsoever, other than the bodies of these students sitting where they were on the ground, with their arms linked, police pepper-sprayed students. Students remained on the ground, now writhing in pain, with their arms linked.
What happened next?
Police used batons to try to push the students apart. Those they could separate, they arrested, kneeling on their bodies and pushing their heads into the ground. Those they could not separate, they pepper-sprayed directly in the face, holding these students as they did so. When students covered their eyes with their clothing, police forced open their mouths and pepper-sprayed down their throats. Several of these students were hospitalized. Others are seriously injured. One of them, forty-five minutes after being pepper-sprayed down his throat, was still coughing up blood.
This is what happened. You are responsible for it.
You are responsible for it because this is what happens when UC Chancellors order police onto our campuses to disperse peaceful protesters through the use of force: students get hurt. Faculty get hurt. One of the most inspiring things (inspiring for those of us who care about students who assert their rights to free speech and peaceful assembly) about the demonstration in Berkeley on November 9 is that UC Berkeley faculty stood together with students, their arms linked together. Associate Professor of English Celeste Langan was grabbed by her hair, thrown on the ground, and arrested. Associate Professor Geoffrey O’Brien was injured by baton blows. Professor Robert Hass, former Poet Laureate of the United States, National Book Award and Pulitzer Prize winner, was also struck with a baton. These faculty stood together with students in solidarity, and they too were beaten and arrested by the police. In writing this letter, I stand together with those faculty and with the students they supported.
One week after this happened at UC Berkeley, you ordered police to clear tents from the quad at UC Davis. When students responded in the same way—linking arms and holding their ground—police also responded in the same way: with violent force. The fact is: the administration of UC campuses systematically uses police brutality to terrorize students and faculty, to crush political dissent on our campuses, and to suppress free speech and peaceful assembly. Many people know this. Many more people are learning it very quickly.
You are responsible for the police violence directed against students on the UC Davis quad on November 18, 2011. As I said, I am writing to hold you responsible and to demand your immediate resignation on these grounds.
On Wednesday November 16, you issued a letter by email to the campus community. In this letter, you discussed a hate crime which occurred at UC Davis on Sunday November 13. In this letter, you express concern about the safety of our students. You write, “it is particularly disturbing that such an act of intolerance should occur at a time when the campus community is working to create a safe and inviting space for all our students.” You write, “while these are turbulent economic times, as a campus community, we must all be committed to a safe, welcoming environment that advances our efforts to diversity and excellence at UC Davis.”
I will leave it to my colleagues and every reader of this letter to decide what poses a greater threat to “a safe and inviting space for all our students” or “a safe, welcoming environment” at UC Davis: 1) Setting up tents on the quad in solidarity with faculty and students brutalized by police at UC Berkeley? or 2) Sending in riot police to disperse students with batons, pepper-spray, and tear-gas guns, while those students sit peacefully on the ground with their arms linked? Is this what you have in mind when you refer to creating “a safe and inviting space?” Is this what you have in mind when you express commitment to “a safe, welcoming environment?”
I am writing to tell you in no uncertain terms that there must be space for protest on our campus. There must be space for political dissent on our campus. There must be space for civil disobedience on our campus. There must be space for students to assert their right to decide on the form of their protest, their dissent, and their civil disobedience—including the simple act of setting up tents in solidarity with other students who have done so. There must be space for protest and dissent, especially, when the object of protest and dissent is police brutality itself. You may not order police to forcefully disperse student protesters peacefully protesting police brutality. You may not do so. It is not an option available to you as the Chancellor of a UC campus. That is why I am calling for your immediate resignation.
Your words express concern for the safety of our students. Your actions express no concern whatsoever for the safety of our students. I deduce from this discrepancy that you are not, in fact, concerned about the safety of our students. Your actions directly threaten the safety of our students. And I want you to know that this is clear. It is clear to anyone who reads your campus emails concerning our “Principles of Community” and who also takes the time to inform themselves about your actions. You should bear in mind that when you send emails to the UC Davis community, you address a body of faculty and students who are well trained to see through rhetoric that evinces care for students while implicitly threatening them. I see through your rhetoric very clearly. You also write to a campus community that knows how to speak truth to power. That is what I am doing.
I call for your resignation because you are unfit to do your job. You are unfit to ensure the safety of students at UC Davis. In fact: you are the primary threat to the safety of students at UC Davis. As such, I call upon you to resign immediately.
Nathan Brown
Assistant Professor
Department of English
Program in Critical Theory
University of California at Davis