Monday, February 27, 2012

the wolf and the seven kids / scissors, needle and thread

Time for another Grimms fairy tale from my grandfather's book. I choose this one because I love the illustrations--scratchy ink sketches that capture posture and expression. Thank you once again, master illustrator Fritz Fischer.
The kids in this story are baby goats dressed like children. Throughout the book animals are depicted both dressed and undressed. Hairy bears, sleeping cats, green-skinned frogs. The decision to anthropomorphize seems arbitrary--nothing to do with their role. Some of the animals speak and reason, yet stay on all fours.
Here we have the wolf who's the bad guy in this story--three different angles, just in case we don't get the message. Look how he handles that walking stick. The ragged hems of his trousers despite the worldly pose.

BTW, for anyone looking for an exact translation: I don't translate word for word. I've kept the plot twists and turns in the event that some reader sees their significance more than I do. Words and sentiments are often repeated--as they are in children's stories. Say something once and it's said. Say something twice and it resonates. Say it three times and doors open, fate slams into place, wonders, magic, and/or destruction happens. After all these centuries, throughout so many cultures, three-time repetition seems a hackneyed mechanism. A tired flourish. Yet human nature hasn't changed. Readers expect it. So be it. I've kept the repetition. However, I've trimmed some of the lengthy verbal constructions that belong to German. I don't believe I've rewritten or changed the story. I'm aware that the concept of translation versus interpretation versus adaptation has many nuances for those who work as professional translators. But I'm simply translating fairy tales from my old Grimm's--and no one is paying me.

Once upon a time there was an old mother goat. She had seven young kids she loved dearly. One day, when she needed to go into the forest for food, she called them around her: "Dear children, beware of the wolf when I'm gone. If he gets in the house, he'll gobble you up. He'll try to disguise himself to trick you, but you can always tell it's him because of his harsh voice and black feet."
The kids assured her they would be careful and she could leave them alone without worry.
Not long after the mother goat left, someone knocked on the door. "Open up, dear children, your mother has returned with something for each of you!"
The kids heard the harsh voice and cried out, "You are not our mother. She has a soft lovely voice. You are the wolf!"
The wolf left the house and went to a shop where he bought a large piece of chalk which he ate to make his voice softer.

--is this true? I just googled "eating chalk" and discovered that it's an eating disorder which will constipate. No mention made of its effect on the voice.

The wolf returned to the house, knocked on the door, and called: "Open up, dear children. Your mother is here with something good for everyone."
But the wolf had laid his black paw on the windowsill and the kids cried out: "We won't open the door. Our mother doesn't have black paws. You are the wolf!"
The wolf ran to a baker and said: "I've stubbed my feet. Paint them with batter." From there he ran to the miller and said: "Dust my feet with flour."

--I'm wondering 1) why the baker didn't have flour and 2) if a doughy, floury paw is a plausible disguise. But this is 2012 and the story was published in 1812. Perhaps people were more gullible then. And I've just noticed the dates. 1812 was 200 yrs ago which makes this an anniversary of sorts. Oh yeah... and it's a children's story.

The miller guessed that the wolf had some nasty scheme to deceive someone and hesitated, but the wolf said: "Do what I tell you or I'll eat you."

--so why didn't the wolf? Why not, if he had the miller standing in front of him? Why go through all these messy shenanigans with doughy feet to get seven little goats to open the door?

Afraid now, the miller sifted flour across the wolf's paws. Yes, that's how people are.

--that last comment isn't me editorializing. That's one of the brothers Grimm intruding on the narrative flow.

The wolf returned to the house, and for the third time, knocked on the door, and called: "Open up, children, your dear mother has come home and brought each of you something from the forest."
The kids cried out: "Show us your paw, so that we know you're our mother."
The villain laid his paw on the windowsill and when they saw that it was white, they believed him and opened the door.
When they saw the wolf, the kids were terrified and tried to hide. They darted under the table, into bed, inside the oven, to the kitchen, in the cupboard, under the washbasin, in the chest of the wooden wall clock.
One by one, the wolf found them and popped them down his throat. He missed only the youngest and smallest who'd hidden in the wall clock. Satisfied now, he made his way to meadow where he lay under a tree and fell sound asleep.
Soon the old mother goat came home. And what did she find? The door to the house gaped wide; the table, chairs, and benches were upended; the wash basin was in shards; the covers and pillows yanked off the bed. She searched for her children, calling one after the other by name. When she called for the youngest, a small voice piped up: "Mother, dear, I'm stuck in the clock case." She pulled out the child who told her that the wolf had eaten all the others. You can imagine how she cried.

--more authorial interjection which is quite unnecessary to the story. But in the 19th century the author liked to remind the reader who was writing. For me, this self-consciousness about the text feels vaguely postmodern. (Did I just use that word? Ouch.)
In any event, since I've interrupted, let me mention gender. In German, there are three: masculine, feminine, and neuter. Children--girls and boys--are neuter. While translating, I've avoided using "it" when referring to a child, because I don't like it. In the story, this last child who wasn't eaten is an it. The illustrator obviously made his own decision because he dresses the kid in a skirt.

The old mother goat ran with her child to the meadow where they saw the wolf under a tree, snoring so loudly that the branches shivered. From where they watched, they saw movement and kicking in his big fat belly.
Oh God, thought the mother goat, are my poor children still alive?
Quick, she sent the littlest kid running back to the house for scissors, needle, and thread.
With the first snip into the monster's belly, one kid popped out a head, and as she kept cutting, all six sprang out, one after the other. All were unharmed, since in his greed, the villain had swallowed them whole. The kids danced about and hugged their mother.
Their mother said: "Go now and find big stones." The seven kids dragged heavy stones to their mother who dropped them into the wolf's stomach--as many as she could. Swiftly she sewed him up.
When the wolf finally woke, he got up, and since the stones in his stomach made him thirsty, he looked for a well. As he started to walk, the stones in his stomach knocked against each other and rolled about.
"What rumbles and bumbles
Around in my belly?
I thought I ate six young kids
But it feels like stones."
When he got to the well and bent over the water to drink, the heavy weight of the stones tipped him and he sank to the bottom and drowned.
The seven kids cried out--"The wolf is dead! The wolf is dead!"--and danced in joy with their mother around the well.

Yup, you have to read one of these old-timey stories if you want an innocence-is-rewarded scenario. It also helps never to forget scissors, needles, and thread.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

life post-hospital

Having bellyached about my time in the hospital, let me assure everyone that I am slowly but surely healing.
It's been almost five weeks since I had surgery. My chest still occasionally feels like a stiff corset with buckles up the middle, but that discomfort is relieved with a mild, over-the-counter pain killer. My appetite is good. I sleep a lot--long hours at night and naps during the day. The fourth and fifth fingers of my left hand are still numb. And I'm left-handed. I've figured out how to type but can't hold a pen--and boy, do I have fun trying to brush my teeth. Fortunately, I can eat with my right hand. I'm trying to get used to the ticking of the valves. Obviously, ticking is better than not ticking--or I'd be dead. But not hearing the ticking would be best.
I walk every day, and every day a bit farther. The booklet I was given at the hospital tells me to walk in shopping malls where the ground is even and there are benches to rest. Shopping malls are so dreary. The lights, the muzak, the over-breathed air. I would sooner take my chances and walk outside. It's cold and it's winter. I risk sliding on ice. So be it. At least we're having a mild, reasonably dry winter in Montreal. No thigh-high snowbanks to clamber over to get to the next street corner. I walk slowly, but I walk.
Uphill is hard. Last week I had to return to the hospital for a blood test, which meant trudging up the steep hill from the subway to the grey stone castle on the side of the mountain. Ah, the lovely topography of Montreal, a city built around a mountain! It's somewhat less lovely when you're huffing for breath. I had to keep stopping for breaks. Blinking catlike in the sun. Mumbled cursing.
There are various tasks listed in my booklet, which I'm supposed to use as a guideline for what I'm allowed to do. Some make no sense. Fold clothes? Is that so strenuous that it counts as an activity? Not the way I fold clothes. And mini golf? Do people truly play mini golf? I thought it was a torture devised for parents with a carload of children to amuse.
And here on the list is sexual activity. Not to be attempted before you can climb two flights of stairs. I'm wondering if by "sex" the booklet means actual physical rowdiness or simply having an orgasm (which, even achieved gently, increases the heart rate)? And is this "sex" gender specific? Surely it requires more energy to thrust than receive. Though I suppose that depends on the style and the manner.
I'm still post-hospital wary of my body. My legs, okay. I trust my legs. I have my Austrian grandmother's mountain climbing calves. My arms and hands... well, forget the left hand for now. I'm still not supposed to lift anything heavier than 5 lbs. (The booklet seems not to know that Canada switched to metric in the mid-70s.) My back is sore because I keep trying to find contorted ways to sleep so I don't hear the valves ticking. I still feel protective of my freshly hacked torso. This purplish welt from my collarbone to my diaphragm. My flesh zipper. My expensive tattoo. (Though as a friend pointed out, tattoo-wise it looked more impressive when I still had the metal staples.) I drape my neck and chest in collars, turtlenecks, scarves, and shawls.
According to the booklet, I should start driving this week. I didn't realize I needed a driver's license and a car to have cardiac surgery.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

possible complications post cardiac surgery

If anyone reading this is about to have heart surgery, bear in mind that what happened to me was unusual. Gastro-intestinal bleeding can follow the intense anaesthetic and heavy doses of anti-coagulants required to work on the heart during valve surgery, but GI bleeding more usually presents as a bout of bloody stools, ie farther down in the body.
The surgery itself had gone well and I was expecting to be released from the hospital next day. The nurse said I could take my first shower in a week--YAY!--and I was walking down the hallway with R to check out the facilities. I suddenly felt the urge to vomit and told him to grab a basin.
Now. I'd vomited that morning. It happened while I had a visitor, and in my embarrassment I quickly folded the piqué across the mess I'd made and gave it to the orderly. I didn't take a good look, but I'd noticed that it was black and grainy. I work in a hospital and had heard the term "coffee grounds" to describe vomit, though I never knew what it meant. I've since looked it up. Molecules in red blood cells become oxidized by gastric acid. Coffee ground vomit means that your stomach is bleeding. I knew that what I'd vomited didn't look right. I asked the orderly to keep the piqué to show the nurse. He didn't. She returned from her coffee break and gave me anti-nausea medication so I wouldn't vomit again. She didn't ask any questions and I was in no state to badger her. I fell asleep.
When I woke, I called the friends who planned to visit that afternoon and told them not to come. I didn't feel well and I was in a foul mood. Though that, in itself, was not so unusual that it was a marker.
Later in the afternoon, when I was looking for the shower, I vomited dark red blood. No mistaking what it was. Everyone reacted quickly. I was dropped onto a nearby commode, wheeled to my bed, and had a  tube crammed down my nose--ostensibly to drain my stomach. The procedure was extremely painful. I asked the doctor to freeze me; he said he had no time. A nurse commented that my narrow nostrils were pretty but made the insertion of a naso-gastric tube very complicated. Uh... thanks. I think. Was that a compliment or a reprimand?
I was rushed back into the step-down unit where I began vomiting fresh blood: bright red gobs of egg yolk consistency. I will never forget the texture of it coming up my throat and out my teeth. Carmine rich semi-coagulated blood.
I shouldn't have been vomiting at all with an NG tube in place, begging the question: was it in the right place? My anecdotal guess--merely present at the center of the mayhem--is that it wasn't, but I seem to have been the only one asking.
The surgeon came to see me. He wanted to know if I had a history of ulcers. No. Never. He explained that upper GI bleeding was a possible complication after valve surgery. He apologized that it had happened. I understood that it wasn't his fault. It was how my body had reacted.
The GI doctors wanted to do a gastroscopy to investigate. My heart rate was over 200. The ICU doctors wanted me shipped to the ICU, but first they had to free a bed.
I realized I wasn't stable. Again, because I work in a hospital, I recognized the language. An upper GI bleed is not a good thing. The fact that the large blue cart--the crash cart--had been pulled up next to my bed in preparation for a cardiac arrest was not a good thing. I had an IV pole over my head with a chandelier of blood products hanging. Bags of yellow platelets, yellow plasma, red packed cells. Also not a good thing. At one point there must have been more strange blood than my own blood circulating in my body. And still I kept spewing it out. The doctors were trying to counteract the anticoagulant I'd been taking to keep my valves functioning. That might help stop the bleeding, but might also clot my valves. I overheard the doctors discussing my case in heated Latinate syllables. The GI doctors insisted that they had to scope me. The ICU doctors weren't sure that my heart would withstand the added stress of a scope. Which was more likely? Bleeding or my heart stopping? No one used the word death. Doctors are superstitious too.
I thought I should say good bye to R and tell him I loved him, but I didn't want to jinx myself either.
A doctor arrived to place a central line in my chest to facilitate access to my bloodstream. The line would have three faucets which could be turned on and off. They would be used to draw blood, as well as give me blood and medication as I needed it. My heart was still racing wildly.
The doctor had unfolded a transparent plastic sheet over the top half of my body, including my face, to make a sterile environment. R was pacing the hallway, bunching his fists in his hair. A doctor friend, who'd stopped by to visit, undertook to keep me talking during the procedure, because I was supposed to stay awake. He began by assuring me that everything was fine. I told him to stop the fucking bullshit. NOTHING WAS FINE. He said, okay, what do you want to talk about? I was lying with my face covered by a blue plastic sheet. My subconscious was in free-fall. The whole while I'd been in the hospital, the nurses had kept giving me messages that my sister had called to inquire about my condition. I knew it was a friend who was calling, but all this talk about my sister--who's been dead for 30 yrs--was beginning to work its effect on me. I was lying with my face under blue plastic, wondering if I was going to bleed to death or have a heart attack. I started talking about this stupid shitty coincidence of lying there with a plastic sheet on my face, because the last thing my sister would have seen before she died was plastic. This doctor friend had no idea what I was talking about. He knew nothing about how my sister died. He didn't know if I had family. But he was very good-natured and kept me talking, even when I called him names.
Another doctor drew arterial blood. Do you know where your artery is? Deep in your wrist. Imagine someone digging around with a fat-gauge needle to find your artery. Why anyone thinks that slitting their  wrists is an easy way to commit suicide, I'll never know.
Finally a bed was ready for me in the ICU, but the transport orderlies couldn't be located. The effort to get me to the ICU would have been comic if I'd had the least thread of humour left.
The GI doctors were still waiting to do a gastroscopy. It was 1 a.m. Again--because I work in a hospital--I understood how dire my situation must be for a medical team to be willing to do a procedure in the small hours of the morning. Partway through, though, they had to stop because my heart rate was too erratic. The doctor said she couldn't stop the bleeding and would have to repeat the test the next day.
The next day my heart was still fluttering madly. I still had the dreaded blue crash cart next to the bed. The ICU doctors debated and decided to try a medication that would either slow or stop my heart. Oh, the suspense. Six doctors standing around the bed watching the monitor as another doctor fed the medication into my IV drip by drip. Guess what? It worked.
I had a second scope that afternoon. The bleeding in my stomach couldn't be stopped completely, but my anti-coagulants had been stopped. I hadn't vomited since 5 a.m. The surgeon felt I had a window of a couple of days during which my valves would continue to function and my stomach might heal itself.
I ended up spending three nights in the ICU. R stayed for all but the last night when I told him to go home, shower, eat real food, and sleep in a bed. A dear friend came to spell him. My friends were all supportive with visits, checking up, bringing food, sending messages. I felt surrounded by a net of goodwill and comforting thoughts--as heartful and helpful as the umpteen bags of blood. That includes the doctors and the nurses who took such good care of me.
When R got home, there were many messages on the answering machine asking about me. Among them was a cheerful voice congratulating me on having won first prize for the Prairie Fire 2011 Fiction Contest. What fantastic news! And what timing!