Me and the Camel

I have been thinking about dying and it’s really confusing to me.  The first thing that happened when I told people I’d been referred to Hospice was that the conversation would come to a dead halt, and I don’t understand that, either.   Why do people stop talking when the subject turns to death?  Somebody drop me a note and explain that to me please.

Hospice decided not to accept me.  As far as I can tell, that’s because they lack the medical expertise to understand the course my kidney disease is going to take.  It’s a rare disease, and me and a doctor who left town are really the only two people who understand it.  (One web site lists the occurrence as 1:25,000 but that’s actually referring to a different kind of diabetes insipidus.)  So I’m kind of on a self-determined hospice without any guidance.

It’s not so much that I’m dying as that I’ve decided to stop living, which is what hospice is—it’s a renunciation of all efforts to continue your own life, which is kind of weird.

If you no longer cared one whit about living, how would it change your life?  What would you do differently?  And don’t tell me that you’d move to the South Sea Islands and live on the beach.  By the time you make the decision to not live, you don’t have the energy to get to the airport.  “Grow where you’re planted” now becomes “Die where you’re rooted.”

My mom was referred to Hospice some years ago, then she was troubling about having to go to her cardiologist’s office for a routine stress test that always was unpleasant for her.  “Mom,” I said, “all you have to do is tell them you’re in Hospice, then they will drop you like a hot potato.”

“Hm-m-m,” she said, “I’d never realized that.”  And that’s part of how the trip to dying is:  you realize stuff that you never thought of before, like now I can eat all the ice cream I want to and not worry about the consequences.  For a decade, my daily ice cream intake has been limited to half a cup to keep my blood sugar down.  Now I can eat all I want—but I still only eat half a cup.  Go figure.

One thing that has changed is my thinking:  I don’t do it much anymore.  There came a time when the place in my head that used to be taken up by thinking became occupied by a kind of white noise.  There’s just a kind of buzzing where there used to be ideas.  It’s not unpleasant.  I just lie in bed and listen to music.  My first choice is WCNY classical music, which is kind of funny because my father was a college professor and it seemed like every weekend of my childhood I got dragged to some classical concert and hated it.  Now I really like it.  Go figure.

I knew a fellow who loved music and his wife.  His wife got the really bad kind of multiple sclerosis and he wondered to himself (he used to do stuff like this) if he had to choose between the woman he loved and the music he loved, which would it be?  Then he realized that the music was inside of him and would always be with him, so he’d never have to choose.  My second favorite is WAER and jazz, followed by on-line Pandora One where my stations are Bette Midler, Paul Simon, Frank Sinatra, John Denver, Kenny G, John Philip Sousa, Broadway, and How Great Thou Art, but 60s Folk Music is my favorite.  That was the time that defined me.

I’ll tell you one of the worst times in a person’s life:  when you get a whole lot sicker and the level of services doesn’t rise to meet the need.  I went through this ten years ago when I stopped taking “medications”—drugs by any name—and it was really awful.  And has been awful this last month or so since the Visiting Nurse Association terminated me unlawfully.  (The NYS Dept. of Health has been screwing around “investigating” this for weeks.)  But this morning a second aide arrived to work 8:00 a.m. to 10:00 a.m. every day, backing up Amelia, who is a very young woman whose workday starts somewhere between 9:30 a.m. and 2:30 p.m.

I don’t exactly know why the additional aide makes me feel so much better but she does.  I just couldn’t cope, you know?  It was either brush my teeth or make coffee because I don’t have the energy to do both.  (Coffee, of course, takes precedence.)  Today, with the additional aide, things got done without wearing me out.  By ten o’clock the dishes were washed, the bed made, breakfast gotten, and so forth.  My minimal needs will be met.  That makes me feel safe, which I haven’t felt for a long time.  But safe from what?

I don’t feel like I’m dying.  I feel like I’m just too tired to go on living.  Stewart Alsop was a newspaper columnist a long time ago.  He got a rare form of cancer, something like leukemia, and he wrote, “A dying man needs to die as a sleepy man needs to sleep and it is wrong as well as useless to try and stop him.”  This morning John Habkirk gave us a new word‎ “Exhaustipated:  Just too tired to give a shit.”  That’s me.  I’m too tired to walk, too tired to breath. 
This morning I watched a television show about camels.  Why is it that sharks, lions and elephants get all the press and camels get ignored?  Camels are cool.  Energy comes from burning fat and that’s what is in the camel’s hump:  fat, not water.  They carry all their fat up there in one place because if it was spread all around their body then it would provide insulation and they’d die from the heat.  Camels were introduced to Australia about one hundred and fifty years ago.  They’ve been increasing by . . . oh darn, I can’t remember.  Well, increasing a whole lot and now they have to be shot to limit the numbers.  (Update:  population doubling every nine years?)
A camel and a horse raced from one Australian village to another.  The horse beat the camel by several hours but then it dropped dead.  The next day the camel made the return run to the first village.
There’s no point to this story.  It just is, like me.

About annecwoodlen

I am a tenth generation American, descended from a family that has been working a farm that was deeded to us by William Penn. The country has changed around us but we have held true. I stand in my grandmother’s kitchen, look down the valley to her brother’s farm and see my great-great-great-great-great-grandmother Hannah standing on the porch. She is holding the baby, surrounded by four other children, and saying goodbye to her husband and oldest son who are going off to fight in the Revolutionary War. The war is twenty miles away and her husband will die fighting. We are not the Daughters of the American Revolution; we were its mothers. My father, Milton C. Woodlen, got his doctorate from Temple University in the 1940’s when—in his words—“a doctorate still meant something.” He became an education professor at West Chester State Teachers College, where my mother, Elizabeth Hope Copeland, had graduated. My mother raised four girls and one boy, of which I am the middle child. My parents are deceased and my siblings are estranged. My fiancé, Robert H. Dobrow, was a fighter pilot in the Marine Corps. In 1974, his plane crashed, his parachute did not open, and we buried him in a cemetery on Long Island. I could say a great deal about him, or nothing; there is no middle ground. I have loved other men; Bob was my soul mate. The single greatest determinate of who I am and what my life has been is that I inherited my father’s gene for bipolar disorder, type II. Associated with all bipolar disorders is executive dysfunction, a learning disability that interferes with the ability to sort and organize. Despite an I.Q. of 139, I failed twelve subjects and got expelled from high school and prep school. I attended Syracuse University and Onondaga Community College and got an associate’s degree after twenty-five years. I am nothing if not tenacious. Gifted with intelligence, constrained by disability, and compromised by depression, my employment was limited to entry level jobs. Being female in the 1960’s meant that I did office work—billing at the university library, calling out telegrams at Western Union, and filing papers at a law firm. During one decade, I worked at about a hundred different places as a temporary secretary. I worked for hospitals, banks, manufacturers and others, including the county government. I quit the District Attorney’s Office to manage a gas station; it was more honest work. After Bob’s death, I started taking antidepressants. Following doctor’s orders, I took them every day for twenty-six years. During that time, I attempted%2
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6 Responses to Me and the Camel

  1. Denise says:

    Dear Anne, I do not know you personally but I feel I have gotten to know about your life by reading your blog. You are a true inspiration and an amazing writer. I will really miss you when your body and mind is no longer part of this world.

  2. MAD IN VERMONT says:

    Maybe the camel is the inner resources you built up in your struggles over the years. Spiritual Fat.

  3. Jack says:


    I really do enjoy your writings
    – What you say and the style in which you say it. (or ‘write it’ i suppose.)
    I have a friend who writes online through some kind of “Speak and it Types” kind of cellphone application. It’s gotta be a beta-product of some kind though since it gets every 3rd word wrong and she spends more time fixing it I think than if she simply typed it in herself.
    Do you use a reg. p.c. (I do) or a cellphone? Was just curious.

    If I were to be bold enough to even try to answer that question on why people get all quiet and silent at the talk of death/hospice care.. it would have to be that it scares them. They also have No Idea what the ‘proper’ or ‘helpful’ thing would even be.
    I think it’s b/c most people being afraid themselves of death – their own death… and have yet to come to terms or even think about if they don’t have to.. going for a more “out of mind, it doesn’t exist” approach to it. Which is of course a ridiculous approach.
    But because of their own inability to find any words of comfort for Themselves… They certainly have no words of comfort or acceptance of the inevitable to Share with You.
    Know what I mean?

    And I find sad, since a lot of the time – The times “I” have found the greatest comfort or that connection of Souls so to speak, has often been in the quiet silence between 2 people. Friends, family or the ‘one’ in which you love. Those times when perhaps there is no words of comfort to be found – nor even wanted – I find sitting in silence with a good friend most comforting. For when the rambling words cease, that silent connection where words are no longer needed to convey
    “I am here for you”. It is these rare moments I can look back on even decades later and that air of peaceful comfort returns for a brief moment again. Making a kind of Lasting Comfort.

    People can only give what they have – as it goes for material things, it’s the same for wisdom and loyalty and love. They’d give it if they had it to give.
    Do you have the strength for an online friend? I do have other questions or things I’ve been wanting to ask you of, but haven’t been sure if I could.

    In any case, peace be with you where ever you go, and for ever long you’ll be there.

    • annecwoodlen says:

      I use a regular laptop.

      Why are people afraid of death? It’s as natural and inevitable as sex.

      You speak of comfort; I speak of reality. I don’t need comfort, just for people to accept my reality.

      “When the rambling words cease . . .” My ex-pastor called that “abiding”–when there is nothing you can “do” to help your friend, but you keep company anyway–don’t abandon.

      You can contact me at for further conversation.

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