Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Feb 21, 2003 - Am reposting this with an explanation - Larry Schwartz, MD - Going off Lithium - Poem: The Night Refrigerator

Am cleaning off my Desktop, which means I'm deleting the Unnecessary. Thought my FIVE READERS - yep! - it's down to five - would enjoy this. 

The phone rang.

“Hi Rob. Hold on a sec while I put on my headphones.”

I put on my headphones and clipped my phone onto my warm pink PJ bottoms so I could walk around the house and water the plants while we talked.

It was three in the afternoon. I’d gone to bed late after a fantastic day in NYC (“your second home,” said Rob)

“Tell me all about your weekend,” I said. “I can talk until 3:15 and then I have to get ready to see my psychiatrist.”

“What time’s your appointment?”

“Four, but he always runs late, so I’ll bring stuff to keep me busy.”

I figured I’d print out my Keys to Recovery which Dan loaded on the website and have him read them and I’m also going to write a poem about him. I can’t do anything without a deadline.”

“I’m happy for you, Ruth. You’ll get to talk about yourself. It’ll be good for you.”

Rob was one of the kindest caring people I knew. Always hang out with people who care about you, who ask questions about you, and compliment you. Lots of people send me pictures of themselves and I keep them on a beautiful desk in the living room, which is coated with two inches of dust. When I have my next Compass party, I’ll dust. The Compass. What’s that? I asked my psychiatrist to hypnotize me so I’ll be in the mood to work on the Compass.

Just then Rob’s other phone rang. This guy is amazing. He has three or four phones and every time I’m talking to him another one rings or his call-waiting beeps.

This reminds me that upon occasion, not very often, I’ll get a crisis call from someone I don’t know and right in the middle their call-waiting goes off and they say, “Can you hold on a minute?”

Like, they’re in the middle of committing suicide, and the beep goes off so they’ve got to answer it.

It was Pam, “The Singing Psychiatrist.” London Barrett.

“Oh, tell her I say Hi, I haven’t talked to her since she got back from San Diego.”

Rob, Pam and me. We’re one big happy Jewish family. I commented once to Ada, “What would I do if I couldn’t say “Oy!”  It’s a stress-reliever!  What do gentiles do?

I could hear Rob talking to Pam in the background. This is probably a truism with Jews. You call up one Jew and they’re always talking to someone else in the background. When I call my mother, there’s always a bunch of people at the kitchen table and she talks to me and all the other people at the same time.

I can’t stand it. It boggles my brain.

The telephone is the weirdest invention. I’m sitting there all alone on the living room couch, the mailman comes to the door, and it looks like I’m having a conversation with myself, waving my arms, gesticulating wildly, laughing hysterically. I mean, can you imagine doing this when we lived in tents in the Negev?

“How was your trip to New York?” Rob asked.

“It was phenomenal.”  Rob and I both learned the word “phenomenal” from Pam. You hang around with people and you pick up their lingo. Lingo, now there’s a word I never used before. Where the heck did that come from. You have a different vocabulary when you speak and when you write. Two different sets of language embedded in your brain. 

When I talk to children, I talk to them as if they were adults. It’s fun to hear how people talk to one another. I used to go to a poetry group where the head poet rolled his eyes when another poet was reading. Rolling the eyes is great body language for: “Get a load of this character! This person is not within my belief system.” Or, “I’m giving you a message that I am totally embarrassed about what this person is saying.” When was the last time, dear reader, you rolled your eyeballs?

Then Rob’s call waiting went off. “It’s Phil,” he said.

“Robert, everybody wants you. You’re a fantastic human being! You help so many people. You even listen to my poetry over the phone. I can’t wait until you move around here.”

He’s going to be moving into a high rise nearby. It has an indoor swimming pool. I didn’t tell him, but I plan to visit and use his indoor swimming pool. When I swim at the Abington High School pool, I always ask the lifeguard for tips. She told me when I do the free style to keep my hands straight, not cupped, so I can slice the water aerodynamically. Swim like a fish. Grow gills. The smell of chlorine is one of my favorite smells in the world. After I go swimming, I love the smell in my hair and my body.

Anyway, I wrote a poem about my psychiatrist in 15 minutes, printed out some other poems that I’d read him if we had time, and took the back streets to Abington Hospital. I always park in the same spot so I can get in my power walk. It felt fantastic to walk real fast and get my heart rate up. Then I took the stairs up to his office for more exercise. (When I worked as my dad’s secretary in NYC many years ago, I’d walk up 16 flights of stairs for exercise.)

I arrived at 4 on the dot. Shifts were changing. I walked real fast, averting my eyes when I saw sick people being rolled around on gurneys. I used to look at them, but now I avert my eyes. See the movie Million Dollar Baby. Terrific!  Clint Eastwood did the right thing. That’s my opinion anyway. My psychiatrist told me I wield a lot of influence over people. That I should be careful what I say. I told him, “Larry, nobody looks at the goddam website anyway! Who has time to read all this stuff?”

I love visiting my psychiatrist. “Call me Larry,” he said when we first met. “I consider us colleagues.”

She went into the waiting room and put her stuff on the chair. Stuck her wallet underneath everything so no one would see it. $300 plus credit card, library card and business cards. She trusts everybody. Left her door open when she left the house. 

Depends on where you live. When I lived in Ossining, New York, I didn’t leave the door open. When I lived at Castor and Cottman I didn’t leave the door open. You use your judgment and good sense.

Schwartz would be checking me for hypomania. He can’t believe I’m on nothing but Klonopin and thinks I’m gonna go off my rocker any day now.

A guy left his office carrying a plastic bag full of samples. He was walking like a zombie. I was sitting out in the hall working on a short story in my Mead Composition Book.

“Make sure you’re not published posthumously,” Rob said earlier. He’s very low key. He was checking me for hypomania when I mentioned to him I bought a mezuzah and talked to God upon occasion. I should have left the God part out. I haven’t talked to God lately. It comes and goes, the relationship. Off and on. Sometimes I forget about him. Hence the mezuzah.

While Rob was checking me for hypomania, he said, “But I interrupted you. What were we talking about.”

“We were talking about the great movie I saw, Million Dollar Baby,” I said. “One of the ways you check someone for hypomania, Rob, is you see if they remember what they were talking about. I passed the test.”

So now it’s Schwartz’s turn to see if I’m hypomanic. I brought in a little pile. I wrote a poem for you, I said, and began to read it.

Through the miracle of mobility
we will be together again
in less than an hour,
for only an hour.

It’s all I need.
An hour with Larry.

I will sit in the chair
across from you
slip off my coat onto the back of my chair
place my warm gloves on the floor
and present you with my poems
and my list of things I’ve done

And watch the way you watch me
from start to finish.

That’s why I’ve chosen you
among all the others,
I like how you watch me….

I could tell he was bored.

“These are my Keys to Recovery,” I said. “My son loaded them on the web for me.”

He couldn’t wait to read them. He has flared nostrils. All-white hair, parted on the side. Gained a little weight since I saw him last. Looked tired. Told me he was recovering from a cold. I know nothing about his personal life. Am not really interested other than the rudiments.

One of his patients died, a member of our group, and he asked me if he should go to the funeral.

“It would be nice,” I said. “I’m going to go just to give my condolences to his mother.” It was a couple of years ago. I wrote a poem after the funeral and read it to his mother over the phone. She was sobbing on the other end. I emailed it to her.

Every time I pass the funeral home Givnish, I think of him, Adam Antosh. It’s been two years.

I was sitting in the chair looking around while Larry was reading.

“What page are you on?”


“You’re not saying anything. Do you like it? Is it good?”

“So far!?” he said holding out his hands.

Then he started getting excited. In a bad way. “Ruth, you’re giving the impression that medication isn’t important.”

“Oh, Larry, that’s totally not true.”

“You’re a leader and you’re telling people you don’t take medication…."

“Larry, I started off saying that through a series of mishaps and just plain good luck, I’m only on one psychiatric medication. I’m not telling people to go off. What”s my No. One Key to Recovery:  Find a Good Psychiatrist? And number two? Get on the right medication. Key number two. Look, I even list all the goddam medication categories at the end.

“I think you should list it under medication. Put it under No. 2, don’t leave it for the end.”

“Larry, I wrote a poem and loaded it on the website to show my opposition of the war in Iraq.” I’d brought the poem but there wasn’t enough time to read it. I told him the last lines. When you write things, you memorize the lines. “It’s from the point of view of an 18-year-old kid who’s dying, and so he’s kissing his hands and feeling his face because there’s no one else to do it. He’s dying all by himself.”

“Ruth, that’s extraordinarily creative,” he said.

“Really!” I said. “Thanks! Yeah, the idea just came to me. Larry, I like when you compliment me. Listen, you didn’t vote for Bush did you?”

“Oh, now I’ve got you,” he said. “You’re hanging by a thread. What, if I voted for Bush? I’ve lost my credibility as a psychiatrist?”

“Forget it. Let’s not go there. Forget I ever said it. Hanging by a thread, for chrissakes.”

“Ruth, I’m your doctor. If anything happened to you…"

I leaned back in my chair. I didn’t want one of his sugarless candies. I hadn’t brought my water bottle. I wanted to travel light. My purse weighs a ton, so I only brought the wallet.

“When I was going through all those medication changes, Larry, when I was coming off all that stuff, my mind felt like it was being torn asunder. It was terrifying. My mind was reshifting itself. Like tectonic plates that shift when the earth shifts. Memories came flooding back. My mind opened up. I started remembering books I’d read. I was just telling someone last night about Chekhov’s story The Lady with a Lapdog. It was like all these portholes in my brain were opening up that were blocked. It was a study in terror. I just went along for the ride and had faith that my mind would settle down and I’d come out whole.”

He nodded.

“I’ve won the battle, Larry.”

“You’re an extraordinary woman.”

“Yeah, but you’re going to qualify it and tell me I’m going to get sick. Is it possible for you to keep an open mind? I’m the queen of paranoia but I’ve given up my reign."

I’d brought a terrific poem I wrote about Simon. I was lying on my couch with the white eyelet cover pulled over my head so you could see the light coming through and it was raining and I had this great idea for a poem and ran up to my computer before I forgot it. Didn’t even bother emailing it to Simon. He never reads my emails.

“What page are you on?”


“You’re not saying anything nice. By the way, I gave a talk to the nursing students. They were supposed to tell you and say hello. Did they?”

“Yes, they did.”

“I delegated authority. Sharon Piercy in my group gave the talk and I sat off to the side  making hysterical jokes. I wasn’t at the meeting either the other night.”

“Oh, now I know you must be getting sick. Why weren’t you at the meeting.”

“Larry, there’s other things in the world than mental health. Look, I’ll always be here, but I’ve got to write. I’ve got to write so bad I can taste it.”

“Ruth, you’re a very good writer.”

“It doesn’t count. I’ve gotta get published and have my picture on the dust jacket.”

He was on the last page.

“Thanks, Ruth, for giving me credit here.”

“Yeah, Simon is really the main person. I read him every word. He’s a very wise person. Larry, when I leave your office, we have to make sure I leave on an upbeat note. I’m not having a good time.”

I pictured it outside. Getting dark. I’d walk briskly to my car and would enjoy that. It was all fixed from when I crashed into the schoolbus. I had a great relationship with the auto body guy. He was a true master. Si talked to him on the phone. He thought he was cheating me. I knew he wasn’t. You can tell when a person’s honest or not. Very very quickly.

“When do you want to come back?”

“Well, I guess in three months. Isn’t that when I see you? Every three months.”

“It should be two months. You’re not on any medicine.”

“I’ll be back in three months. When’s that?”

He got his little book out of the drawer. I wasn’t watching. I was thinking. This man doesn’t trust me.

“How’s May 16?”

“Fine. Can you imagine the month of May. The flowers will be out. It’s just so hard to imagine. I mean, February’s the worst month. Do you think so?”

“You mean the endless process of dark days.”

“Yeah. Hey, have you been to any conferences? My friend Pam went to one in San Diego. I haven’t talked to her since she got back.”

“I went to one in Bethesda.”

“What did you learn?”

“Robert Post said to prescribe 1 mg of folic acid for women, 2 mg for men. It’s good for the central nervous system.”

“I hate vitamins. They give you awful burps.”

“Ruth, I’ll write you a prescription. It’s good for the ….”

I forget which brain chemical it was supposed to help. I’m a writer not a scientist. I can’t keep them straight. Lost my desire.

He wrote out three prescriptions and I tucked them in my Mead composition Book. We stood up to go. He put out his hand. We had a huge handshake.

“Let’s see if your next patient is here,” I said. “I didn’t hear anything.”

No one was in the waiting room.

We talked some more. He shook my hand again.

 “I’m giving a talk to the Einstein residents on Friday,” I said. “I’m going to tell them to give their patients a firm handshake. You’re a master of the handshake. Nice and firm. Very strong. Very strong. It’s meaningful. A meaningful handshake.”

I had no clothes to wear for the Einstein residents. My daughter loaned me a pair of beautiful striped silk pants and a low-cut pink blouse. She told me I should wear clothes that hug my body and told me not to wear my diabetic socks from the Sox Lady in Furlong.

What do you wanna bet? I’ll bet you anything I’ll be wearing my diabetic socks.

I left his office and started quoting myself:  These walls are lined with hope. I’ve walked these carpeted halls many times. This time I took the steps down. You have to be careful when you use the stairwell. When I was a student at Temple University a man blocked my way as I was on the stairwell.  I was a married woman and have always had good self preservation techniques.

“Ruth,” I said to myself, “your only defense against this big towering man is to scream.”

I had never screamed before but gave myself instructions. I let out a towering scream that echoed throughout the stairwell. The man ran away. I quickly ran in the other direction. No one came to my rescue. I reported him to the campus police, and never used the stairwell again. 


by Ruth Deming

(Dedicated to my children, Sarah and Daniel, who bought me my new refrigerator on the occasion of my 9th birthday, December 25, 2004.)

All is still and dark
and I have awoken
from dreamless sleep
and come to the dark kitchen
for water.

The refrigerator is new
brought in on a red dolly
by a man who turned corners
carefully and wheeled
it in like a newborn
in a carriage.

Alone in the night
in the dark kitchen
I hear the sounds of the night.
Is that a moon outside
casting its brightness
onto my table to make it shine?

And I
the recipient of brightness
in my dark kitchen
find by careful fingering
a glass
sparkling streakless squeaky
from the dishwasher,
we are modern people,
and no longer go to the well,
but in the dark,
place my glass just so,
pushing the rubber udder
of the water dispenser
on the outside,
and listen
for the fullness of the
Then, turning round,
listen for the sounds
of the night
no birds, no winds,
no squirrels scurrying on the branch

the hum of the refrigerator is all I hear,
and heat pumping up from the basement,
we no longer live by campfire
or hear wolves howling in the distant hills,
these are the sounds of a quiet home,
more windows than wood,

the first thing we do,
and the last.

Feb. 22, 2005


1 comment:

  1. I do admit I had a bit of a hard time following this post. Glimpses of brilliance are in it, of course, and like the fridge poem but jumping around in time confuses me. It's just my little brain and how it works.

    Why is your doc waiting for you to get sick? That does bother me! Folic acid, by the way, is a good thing and esp as we get older, or are pregnant, which I assume neither of us is!

    I was about to look for and download your Keys to Recovery again to give to someone whose father is living with her, and just realized it is on your website and not your blog.