Daily Life (In the County)

The other day –and which day I can’t remember; for they all run together here – I received a letter from my friend Jodi Skinner. I had asked Jodi to periodically put a call in to my mom, just to make sure she’s OK. Jodi had been wonderful about it and in her last letter –true to Jodi form – she acknowledged that “your mom sounds so young, I like her voice more than I like yours.” But then it hit me. I had been very unfair to my mom lately and although I sensed it, much like Corey, I couldn’t help myself.

My mom has always been there for me but I have continued to see her as the person who was there when I was ten or twelve. That person – the person she was then – was omnipotent. There wasn’t anything she couldn’t or wouldn’t do.

Being in Solano County, I depended on her as a contact to the outside world. In particular, I had used her as a “research assistant”, “secretary”, “paralegal”, and what have you; all unfair on my part, but hey, she’s mom. The problem, though, is she’s not the 32-year-old supermom any more. Despite the fact that she looks young, dances daily, volunteers, and my friends think she sounds younger and more vibrant than all of us, she’s still 75 years old. The bottom line is she’s trying to help me and I need to be a little more patient. I can feel my voice rising and my level of frustration growing – and certainly so can she – when she’s not finding the papers, or the program I need fast enough. I need to check that. I’ll address it the next time I get to talk with her. She needs to know I appreciate everything she does, and is. My life has truly been blessed from that perspective.

I suspect the greater part of my dissonance, and hence frustration, is where do I go from here? This “Solano County thing” will pass. The question is where do I go from here? Do I get my practice moving again, do I move on to teaching and writing, do I stay the course and continue on with my original plan? The fact is, in all honesty, the financial future in medicine does not look too promising. No one wants to pay the doctor.

These are the pressures I’m starting to feel, and the answers just aren’t coming fast enough. I’ve thought a lot about Foreign Service. Perhaps I can create the situation where I can work humanitarian relief for six months out of the year.

What to do next is what I need to be spending my time figuring out. Frankly that is the downfall of a lot of my colleagues. They neither have a goal, nor a plan on what to do next, and so eventually drift back to what they were doing before. It’s a cycle of failure. I guess change is good.


One of the mod workers, a young Latino guy, picked up on the same things I did concerning Corey. During my “blackout” about where do I go from here, he stopped by Corey’s door to say hello. He asked how he (Corey) was doing, but it was his response that spoke volumes about mental illness.

Corey was at a loss to understand why he was there. I guess the “cat” had left the room. Corey had no idea of why he was asking. He simply asked, “Hey, you got any sugar…what about coffee?”

The message there was clear to me. I needed to get on with it, to get actively involved in planning the next twenty years. You simply cannot wait for life to come to you. You’ve got to go to it. I resolved to begin “where I was now”.

“What could I do right now”, I thought, “that could and would move the ball further up the field. It would not be good enough just to get clear on what my goals are, and more importantly, to just write them down. No, what could I do? What action could I take? What could I actually do now that would put me ahead when all this was behind me?


A few days have passed as I pondered my options. I feel no further along than I was a month ago. I’m trying to concentrate on my goals but unfortunately life in Solano County has gotten in the way. I don’t necessarily like or dislike my bunky; as I said before he seems a tolerable fellow, not someone I would hang out with mind you, but not disagreeable. In a sense he reminds me of my father, passive with an undertone of anger and disappointment, but so beaten-up by life that he has neither the desire nor the inclination to take charge of his life. He is content to tuck his head between his legs and ride it out until death comes knocking at his door. I personally find that attitude and that philosophy offensive, but I suspect a part of it is in all of us. All of us procrastinate at some time. Clearly that is what I am doing.

Nonetheless, he has perhaps served his purpose well. Focusing on him has demonstrated my own self-sabotaging and frankly, this has gotten to be unbearable. I find that I have come intolerant of me. More often lately I consciously demand of myself that I get on with it. This morning I got up and cleaned the cell. Little triumphs are also important. The cell had a nice clean smell when I left for unlock. On my return, I smelled stool. It was everywhere.

My bunky was under the covers like nothing had happened, either asleep (or pretending to be). He obviously had soiled himself, and in my absence made a futile attempt to clean it up. My problem was that he had been doning this – soiling himself – about every other day for the last month or so, and had comtinued to refuse to see the doctor or do anything about it.

The simple solution would be to request a move, but frankly, considering my colleagues, that’s a crap shoot, no pun intended. There is no telling what I might get. While the inhabitants of this module represent overflow from the medical unit, a lot of them have psychological illnesses. The last thing you need in here is a bunky who hears voices telling him to “kill you in your sleep”. There is considerable information to suggest that these are indeed, “the misfits on H-mod”. There are no “tough guys” in here per se (though more than a few are in here for murder), but most of them are unpredictable, and that makes them even scarier.

I decided to talk with him privately. Hell, I am a doctor and that is one thing I could do right now to help another person. “Mike,” I said. “I got to tell you, I worry about you because, you know, I obviously smell stool, and we’ve got to talk about you soiling yourself.” There was silence and he remained beneath the covers.

After a long pause, he then offered reluctantly, “Yeah… I kind of had a problem.”

“I know,” I returned, “and it’s been going on for a while. You’ve got to tell the doctor about it. If it’s your meds, he needs to adjust them; if not, he needs to do something else. But the fact is if I can smell it, it means it’s in the air which means we’re breathing it, and that I can’t deal with.”

“Yeah…I understand that…I’m going to see the doctor.”  But Mike made no move to do anything. He just lay there on the top bunk in silence, not moving. I sat fuming. “I do want to thank you for worrying about me, though,” he said finally.

“Well, I do worry,” I replied, “but I’m going to be honest with you. I’m more worried about me. It’s fucked-up in here, but none of us have to be a victim. I won’t. So you and I need to do something because I can’t live like this. I’ll do the time, but I won’t be a victim. Shit, you’re about to go up to the penitentiary. You can’t go up there like this. You’ve got to get this taken care of.”

Again there was silence. I know he felt embarrassed, but this needed to be addressed. At the same time I wanted him to have the opportunity to think this through. The bottom line was that I was going to have to do something… Right now, I was going to blow my nose…again. I felt like stool was climbing up my nostrils into my head.

I also decided to let it go for now. There was nothing in Solano County that was going to make it happen immediately anyway. The guard had “suggested” a request slip: one to see the doctor, and one to consider a transfer. I had taken them but didn’t act on them.

I went back to reading…the Scarlet Letter. It helped to pass the time, and it helped tosettle me down.

I love the fact that Hawthorne knew Melville and Poe. The time between 1820 and 1890 must have been fascinating in America – and the world – because that was the time that Dickens and Austen were writing too. They all seemed so much more in touch with their words than we are today.

Perhaps, though, I just identified with Hester Prynne at this point in my life. I know I’m determined to confront the rest of it with her level of dignity. I will not be a victim, period. These people will never break me. I will never quit.

With that, I guess it’s important to get back to my goals. So far I’ve brainstormed and listed by personal goals. I’ve got professional, family, and relationship goals to consider. After I’ve written them all down, I’m going to rank them by time: those to accomplish in 6 months, 1 year, 2 years, 3 years, and so forth. I’ll then get started on them. I wont’ bore you with the details but I will share the conclusions when I’m done. You might want to try it too.

Find some time alone where you can think. This place is great for that type of thing. Divide the categories up: personal goals, professional goals, spiritual goals, relationship goals, family goals, etc. Then take each category and write down everything you would like to accomplish within that category. Above all, be selfish; be like a five-year-old at Christmas. Then rank them. I’d like to accomplish this in six months, five years, or what. Then, get started. Simple and effective!

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