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Sickness and stars and Y2K

Night of the light-up balls   

Most of the nights I've been up all night are pretty standard fare--all-nighters on term papers in high school and college (I was devastated to find out during my first term paper of my MA that “old age” had decidedly ROBBED me of that ability), junior high lock-ins for New Year's Eve, sleepovers in elementary school--the usual.

You'll notice I didn't list any all-night benders or stints at “da club” in the above list--because yours truly is a bonafide square, born and bred. However, during the summer after college I was up at my last year of music camp (before I aged out of the program), and my friends that year lovingly taught me to...what is it the kids call it...chill out? And harmlessly act a fool during a lot of late night rowdiness.

But this was music camp, so it was rowdiness, but nerd-style: we learned the Fireman Song, about a man who puts out fires but whose sister just puts out; a my friend Stephen brought his accordion and led us in all the songs that fit the chords he knew; and one evening, we stood around a piano and scream-sang the entire score to the musical Avenue Q; the only song book anyone had thought to bring.

The final night of the session was the most memorable: we all packed up some beverages and some food and hiked out to the Lookout Point in the dead of night to go stargazing. The night fell quiet around us, and when conversation flagged, Stephen would break out his light-up juggling balls, and try (and fail) to juggle them, the light illuminating his crazy grin. We were free and easy, with nothing to win and nothing to lose. Those are the types of moments I live for.   



Night owls - not by choice

For years, I struggled with insomnia. Sleep was this elusive creature, so simple in concept but just out of my grasp. Even today, I get by on what most would consider 'not enough' sleep. I joke that I have not slept through the night since October 1998, except it isn't really a joke, because that was the last time I slept a full 8 hours.

There are many nights I am up practically all night long. If I were still in college, these nights would have been filled with friends, perhaps some alcohol, and amazing conversation (or fantastic sex). Once I became a parent, however, my sleepless nights became far more mundane and far more frequent. Colicky babies, bad dreams, kids climbing into bed, flu - all things that take their toll on sleep.

When your child is sick, sleep is what you sacrifice to be sure that child is okay. When your child is chronically ill, you learn to love and embrace the wee hours of the night and morning. In 2009, my middle son was diagnosed with type one diabetes. My youngest child had just turned four, and we were beginning to master 'spend the night in your big boy bed'. The dream of a full 8 hours of uninterrupted sleep was just over the horizon.

But then the bottom sort of fell out of that plan. It was, and still is, like having a newborn in the house. Although the doctors will tell you that you don't need to get up and do night time checks of their blood sugars, way too many kids die in their sleep. They call it “dead in bed” syndrome. It is too common with families who deal with type one, because of the insidiousness of the disease. Early on, the pancreas, with its dying breath, will throw out a bunch of insulin, meaning the shot I gave my son at dinner is now potentially lethal. Or perhaps it is his pump that has malfunctioned without us knowing it, and his blood sugars soar so high that he is vomiting and feeling horrible. 

I started with getting up once a night. Wake up, test the child, do some basic math in my head, determine if he needs food or insulin, back to bed, wait for morning. Then we got some technology that takes more readings for us that we ever could do on our own, and I started seeing very frightening patterns. Soon, the alarms were set for every two hours. If something was awry during those two hours, there was no going back to bed, waiting for the next one. It was feed, monitor, or deliver insulin, monitor, correct, monitor, correct again, wait.

I have been told I coddle him. I have been told he needs to learn to do this on his own. I agree. He will need to do this, for the rest of his life because diabetes is not curable. And because he needs to do this for the rest of his life, I will willingly sacrifice my sleep in order for him to get a little more, and to be sure my child wakes up the next morning.



Brain surgery

I was up all night, but I did not remember much of it. I remember awakening to a handsome man staring me in the face. He wasn't my husband. He was asking if I knew what day it was. I thought hard and figured it must have been the weekend because I wasn't thinking of work, which I almost always was otherwise.

It was not Saturday, it was Thursday-going-on-Friday. I had had a tumor growing in my head for 10 years, I found out much later. It had aroused itself finally to cause me to have a seizure.

I learned later that my husband, after hearing strange sounds then finally seeing me on the floor, had called 9-1-1 and yelled in a panic uncharacteristic of himto please sendanambulancefast, that he'd found his wife next to the bed in a puddle of blood (to this day I have a swollen eyebrow where my face hit the floor and where the stitches went afterward). When the handsome paramedic and his compatriots arrived they must have considered the fact that it might have been domestic violence; John says they walked in slowly, looking around carefully. He couldn't understand why they were not making a mad dash toward my unconscious self.

I am told that I kept blowing kisses to the paramedics after they got me to sit up.

I vaguely remember the ambulance ride (“What hurts?” I was asked. “My hand.” “It's the IV,” he muttered to someone else).

My memories begin mostly at 4 a.m. in the hospital. I kept telling my husband, No, I cannot call my parents or brother, they would freak out. I wasn't freaking out. I still wasn't sure what was going on. 

Next it was 5:30 or so and I was trying to decide whether I would allow brain surgery. This seems strange, to ask of the organ that makes decisions, and needs surgery, to consider whether it needs surgery.

By was morning.



Saving the Keith-Albee Building

She needs a lawyer and begs me to help her.  I remind her I have no expertise with real estate or saving buildings from demolition, and she knows I am swamped with work, but she persists and starts crying, hugging me.  She is my girlfriend --we live together and I love her-- so I say yes.  The hearing is the very next day and our jobs have prevented us from preparing until the last night.

A preservation expert, she is the lead witness in a citizens’ effort to save the Keith-Albee Building from the rapacious Washington, D.C. developer, Oliver T. Carr.  The building drips history, right across from the Treasuring Building on 15th Street, near the White House.  Carr wants to demolish the entire block, including the building’s magnificent Beaux-Arts façade and theater, and build yet another big glass and steel office cube. 

We work through the night on presenting the case, including her testimony, showing the historical and architectural importance of the structure.  Mostly, she must prepare for cross-examination by Carr’s lawyers.  I tell her she should get a little sleep, and we agree to turn in before the birds chirp.  But at dawn we are still working and then drinking coffee and off to the hearing. 

She holds up, barely, and the judge agrees to stop the demolition.  After we leave, she hugs me and cries with tears of joy.  Later, we agree with the developer that the building may be demolished, but he agrees to save and preserve the entire façade.  She claims a big victory for preservation.



750 Miles, Round-trip         

I've always prioritized sleep above most other things. I've never been one to stay up particularly late or rise particularly early. Sometimes I think I'd have been much more productive in my life, if I didn't love sleep so much. The times I've stayed up all night are, thus, few and far between.

In my early 20s, my friends and I would tend to go all night—leaving bars at closing time and going to terrible late-night diners where we'd stay until just before dawn. On a few occasions, I'd go directly from there in to work. I'd never want to live like that again, but I'm glad those nights exist as happy, distant memories.

The only time since then that I can remember staying up all night was in May 2014, when an unfortunate confluence of events required me to be in San Francisco on a Friday night and in Los Angeles Saturday morning.

The storyteller/performer Mike Daisey doesn't travel west very often, doesn't publish his works, and doesn't tend to perform them again once he's finished a run. Thus, going to the Yerba Buena Performing Arts Center in San Francisco was a necessary journey to see his show: American Utopias, which describes stories from three unlikely micro-societies: the Occupy Wall Street movement in Zuccotti Park, Burning Man, and Walt Disney World.

I left work early that day to make the drive up to San Francisco. My plan was to stay with friends in the city, and drive back Sunday afternoon. On my drive up, however, I received word from my closest friend that her aunt—with whom she was very close and who I had known quite well—had passed away. The family and close friends were gathering at her house the next morning.

I knew she would have understood if I didn't make it, but I felt strongly that after 10 years of friendship and spending holidays with her family, that I should be there for this gathering too, even if it meant an all-night drive back to LA. Incidentally, she was a friend that I had bonded with in those days a decade earlier, when I'd routinely stay up for 24 hours on a Friday. What was one more all-nighter then?

Mike Daisey's show ran almost four hours, but it flew by. I tend to have a short attention span, but this was – of all the shows I've seen – the most thoughtful and engaging, and I'm so pleased I didn't miss it. The subject matter, about why and how people gather and form communities, couldn't have been more relevant.

After the show, I found a nearby Starbucks and bought a large coffee, and headed back to LA. I made it through the whole night, except for about 45 minutes, when I parked in the back of a Denny's parking lot to take a recharging nap. Whenever I make the drive along the 5 freeway, and I see the sign for that Denny's in Coalinga, I think about that nap, and the type of soul-emptying fatigue I very rarely experience."          



Meteor Shower        

My brother-in-law was visiting from I'm not sure where. I think he was finishing medical school and coming to California looking at residency programs. And it happened to be the summer nights when the meteor showers are at their height.

In Los Angeles, of course, we have far too much light pollution to see stars, let alone meteors. We would need to head north in the dark of night. Along with our friend Jill, we hatched a plan. I would go to sleep immediately, then wake up and drive us north up I-5 to Red Rocks, 120 miles north. Jill and Scott would sleep in the car going up and drive back. Amy, the non-driver, was just along for the ride.

I pulled my end of this bargain. I climbed into bed at 8:30 p.m. and slept until 11.  I slurped down a cup of coffee, we piled into my Subaru and were off. The roads were empty, the freeways were empty.

We crawled into the campground, where it was so dark and so quiet that we thought for a moment we were the only people there. But no, the place was in fact full of campers and stargazers,  but of course they had all their lights off waiting for the big show. We found a spot to park -- amazing, given how damn dark it was and how many people were there. We pulled out our camp chairs, and Jill -- a master camper -- leapt into action making hot cocoa.

The shooting stars were miraculous. It was one of those Perseid shows where there were more than 100 meteors per hour. It was one of those moments when you realize that fireworks are a pale imitation of the galaxy.

About 4 a.m. we got back into the Subaru to head home. I drove us out of the park, but the plan was for Jill or Scott to take the wheel once we got to the freeway. I should point out that it was not far to the freeway. But by the time we got there, they were both fast asleep in the back.

The idea of waking someone up and putting them behind the wheel of my car didn't seem like a good idea. Amy gamely tried to talk to me during the drive to keep me awake and alert. It was all going fine until we reach the northern edge of the San Fernando Valley and began our decent into the city, at which point the words coming out of her mouth weren't making any sense. She'd entered that semi-dream state, and her half-conscious words felt dangerous like they would lull me into unconsciousness too.

We made it home and as Jill and Scott roused themselves just enough to tumble out of the car and into their respective beds, I thought, You guys are the worst."  



A Night That Was Less Than Advertised

I admit I stayed up all night a lot more than I should have, but there's one night that is work related that I can easily share.

I spent most of my working career doing computer stuff for credit unions, which is boring enough, but that also meant I spent a lot of time stuck in a seventy degree room looking at computer monitors and telling a machine what to do and when to do it.

Then, picking up and separating all the paper that it produced.

The problem with running, fixing, and enhancing computer systems is that it's often a twenty-four hour affair, although broken into shifts by a team of people. Some big things meant I had to be there, working, for long hours, most likely because all the loan officers and tellers and everyone needed to have everything working perfectly by the time they came in.

One night we all knew would be a long one, and one we were prepared for, was when Y2K happened.

We'd spent a lot of time over the preceding months testing everything so that the computer wouldn't, you know, blow up or anything and would still be able to give us the right dates and figure interest correctly and all that jazz. We all knew that it would be okay, but management wanted proof, so we all worked lots of overtime.

Year end is a busy, often rushed time anyway for us. We had all the normal month-end stuff to do (producing statements for the account holders, running programs to see how much money was made or lost the previous month, how many people called in to use our various services, etc etc etc), plus year-end ones to zero out all the year-to-date figures and prepare everything to start adding it all up again for the next year.

As far as the special "Y2K" stuff went, I was working in downtown Los Angeles and by the time midnight rolled around, we already knew that there wouldn't be any weird troubles because no one else in the world had experienced any.


Come to think of it, my other all night adventures would have been more interesting.


Into the woods, and the ocean, and the operating room

Snakes, Skis, Loose Teeth and Incomprehensible Speech