Cost of a taxi from SFO to MTV: ~$90. Cost of BART+Caltrain: $5.75. Hm … this green thing has more advantages than just feeling good about "saving the environment". Of course, it takes way the heck longer and many of the trains aren't full, so I need to add public transit to my things to study.

Why Are Norton Products So Terrible … Now?

I have fond memories of many old Norton products … the Norton Utilities, Norton Desktop, even Norton Antivirus in its early Symantec incarnations. But somewhere around the time that Norton/Symantec introduced Product Activation, things turned sour.

Norton Antivirus for Windows 95

Not that that’s the problem – even though I once had to pay for Symantec’s Antivirus suite twice on my wife’s computer because of an unresolvable error with the antivirus subscription. The problem wasn’t so much the Product Activation per se, but that the software got into an unstable state which prevented it from accepting the subscription – which I could prove that I paid for – and eventually the only way to fix it was to nuke the site from orbit, reinstall everything, and pay again.

Maxtor and Iomega External Hard Drives

And therein lies the kernel of the problem: it’s so easy for Symantec (née Norton) products to get into an unstable state, activation or no. There’s the antivirus issue I mentioned. I once installed Norton Antivirus on a PC with Zone Alarm installed, and the two products got into a death match over which one was the “real” firewall even though I was not trying to install Norton’s firewall features. There have been several other instances, most with Norton 360 Premier Edition, and now this:

Norton Freezes on Configuring Backup

You can’t see it in the picture, but Norton 360 is frozen like a Canadian lake in winter. Recently our main backup drive for our Windows workstation died, and I replaced the old Maxtor with a larger Iomega drive. However, when I went to change the backup to point to the new drive, Norton locked up trying to determine … what, I don’t know. Files to back up? Looking for backup locations? It isn’t clear. On the first try of this, it appeared to be frozen checking backup schedules:

Norton Freezes on Finding Backup Schedules

It stayed there the whole time I was working on this article (up to this point). Right around the time I wrote that sentence, I finally killed Norton and restarted … no dice. Now it can’t even find the backup locations:

Norton Freezes on Finding Backup Locations

There is no excuse for software to be written this way by a professional company with collectively over 30 years experience. This is the kind of crap I write the very first time I whip together a utility for a new operating system, before I learn where the blocking calls are. A program should never block on a dialog finding something as simple as a list of backup schedules, much less files or anything else. Modern computers have millions of cycles a second available to realize a call is taking a long time, present the list of items found so far, and give the user the opportunity to do something – which, in this case, would be me telling it to forget the old backup location and to try the new one. Instead, I get this, still frozen trying to find a list that could be easily cached, interpolated, discarded, supplanted, SOMETHING:

Norton Freezes on Finding Backup Locations

This goes to my overall rant on what’s wrong with disk and networking software. Modern web applications like GMail have vast abilities to cope when servers are offline. Networking and disk operations, in contrast, are either blindingly fast, or pause for minutes or even hours, obviously befuddled but never bothering to pass that information on to the user. Someone, I can’t remember who, wrote an article about this a few years back, pointing out that it was all related to design decisions we’d made early on in computing that are wrong. He sketched out how you could design a computer to never effectively lose data, even if you powercycled in the middle of writing an essay, by changing how we think about saving data. I’ll dig up the essay, but for right now, we STILL have THIS, frozen in the same place:

Norton Freezes on Finding Backup Locations

At the time of this writing I’ve spent almost THIRTY MINUTES waiting on Norton to perform what should have been a two minute operation: changing a backup disk and starting the new backup. This makes my problems with Apple’s Time Capsule look trivial. By the way … Time Capsule is working perfectly now. Time to switch my wife to the Mac?

-the Centaur

Postscript: we went and worked out, and this window was still up, an hour and a half later. I took the pictures I needed for this article; then, I did what I hate to do: asked my wife to log out (in her session, she was working on proposals and had half a dozen windows open) and rebooted the machine. When we returned, Norton worked just fine. I started this article feeling nostalgic for Norton/Symantec’s older products; well, Norton gave me what I wanted, and took me all the way back to 1995, when you had to reboot to do anything.

Norton Antivirus for Windows 95

It’s all right, Peter. We still love you. This isn’t your fault, nor is it necessarily something that the hardworking people at Symantec could have fixed in this instance. But if I don’t complain, you’ll never know anything was wrong.

Unfayre Humours, Part I

A few random thoughts from recent conversations:

You know the best way to improve British food? Cook something else.

Some people’s cell phone contracts last longer than their marriages.

Saying that the web is an engine for delivering vast amounts of irrelevant information is like saying that a library is a building for warehousing vast amounts of irrelevant books. Of course – if you can’t be bothered to learn to use them.

-the Centaur

About the Author: “Anthony Francis is a computer scientist who eats fish and chips on a regular basis. His longest cell phone contract lasted 1 year longer than his longest relationship, and if anywhere is a vast collection of irrelevant books, his house is it.”

A Strike Against Taurlink

As part of “renewing the Library”, I’m digging up all the old “Articles” from the “classic” version of this site, which I maintained by hand before I trusted blogging software.

So now I bring you a blast from the past: “A Strike Against Taurlink“, from April 23, 2004. Boy, this was a heck of a rant, at least by my “can’t we be a little more diplomatic” standards:


Ah, the lovely state of tech support these days. Admittedly, I’ve had great experiences with tech support for *large* products produced by *small* companies — toys sold to the tune of $100K a pop, feeding 100 or less mouths. But as soon as you get to products and services produced by 100K employees at a company charging less than 100 a pop … welll… things can get difficult.

Here’s an example, taken from a tech support chat session about a problem with a large Internet Service Provider we’ll call … “Taurlink”. Since this is fairly recent, and I remember what I was more or less thinking while the conversation was ongoing, I’ve filled my thoughts in in italics.

Enjoy.


Welcome to TaurLink TechChat!

Some guy from tech support will be with you shortly. Your chat session may be monitored out of habit, but don’t be worried about your privacy: no-one ever reads logs anyway.

‘HelpGuy’ has joined the channel.
HelpGuy: Thank you for contacting TaurLink TechChat, how may I help you today?
TheCentaur: Hi, Guy. I have a problem with running CGI scripts on my web hosting account that I’ve been unable to debug. The short story is that I can run very, very simple scripts (hello world) but when I try to run TaurLink’s provided code samples, they fail with a 500 error.
HelpGuy: Can I know which script you are unable to run?
TheCentaur: Ok … one moment…
HelpGuy: Sure.
TheCentaur: Ok, here’s an example.
HelpGuy: TaurLink does not support custom scripts.

WHAT did he just say?

HelpGuy: Please check if you can use the Mailto script or not.
TheCentaur: Go back to the previous note. “TaurLink does not support custom scripts.”
TheCentaur: Is this correct?
HelpGuy: Yes, I am sorry it is correct.
HelpGuy : Please check with the script from the link:
HelpGuy: http://help.TaurLink.net/websupport/startersite/mailto.html
HelpGuy: Once it works all the scripts should work.

Ok, that’s nice that they have a testing script. But right now I’m not trying to run “custom scripts” … I’m running code examples THEY provided ME!

TheCentaur: Are you aware of the CGI hosting help at this URL: http://help.Brainboing.com/docs/002/mime-n-cgi/BEHHBCEF.php3

That’s a code example they provide, that doesn’t work, that this guy’s telling me he won’t help me debug? Get real!

TheCentaur: Is this still valid?
HelpGuy: Yes, you can use that.
HelpGuy: It has the information on the scripts.
TheCentaur: Let me be sure I understand you correctly: TaurLink permits, but does not support, custom scripts…. and mailto is a good example of a script that *should* work.
HelpGuy: Yes, TaurLink allows you to use custom scripts.
HelpGuy: However, it does not support it.
TheCentaur: Ok.
HelpGuy: I apologize for the inconvenience caused to you.

Do you? Do you have ANY IDEA how close I am to typing
[Ctrl-Alt-G(oogle)] “internet service provider perl cgi” [RETURN]?

TheCentaur: I will try out the mailto script … just a moment…
HelpGuy: Sure.

Ok, Guy, you may not be aware that I’ve got the site open in my FTP window … and there is no frigging mailto script, so unless I don’t understand CGI, this ain’t gonna work.

TheCentaur: The mailto script does not appear to be in the scripts provided in dresan.com… where is the source for that?
HelpGuy: You need to create the two html pages and include the code that is there in the link.
HelpGuy: I am sure it will work.

[Gritting teeth] OK-now-working-through-whole-example, step by step, just because you say so. Create a web page, containing a form, pointing to the mailto script, which doesn’t exist, uploading, uploading, opening in window, trying … ok failure, just as expected, because there is no frigging mailto script for the CGI server to run.

TheCentaur: I assume you mean the link

“http://www.domain.com/cgi-bin/mailto”
TheCentaur: where domain.com is my domain name?
HelpGuy: Yes, it is your domain name.
TheCentaur: Ok, just to confirm … I have an FTP window open to the cgi-bin directory of dresan.com and there’s no mailto script (and I get a 404 error when trying mailto in the URL of a browser). Should it be working anyway?
HelpGuy: Once you create the html pages it will work.
TheCentaur: One moment…
HelpGuy: Sure.
TheCentaur: Uploading now…
TheCentaur: … uploaded.
HelpGuy: Okay.
TheCentaur: Testing…

And of course, it doesn’t work, because there is no frigging mailto script for the CGI server to run, a fact which does not change just because I rewrote my script.

TheCentaur: Ok, when I ran it I get: http://www.dresan.com/cgi-bin/mailto
HelpGuy: Okay.
TheCentaur: HTTP 404 – File not found Internet Explorer

There’s a long pause. Guy appears to be processing this.

Hm. I have an idea.

Perhaps my website, which is pre-TaurLink, is missing files he expects me to have! Perhaps that’s the confusion. Maybe if I ask the nice web guy he’ll recognize the problem and load my site up with the right stuff.

TheCentaur: Dresan.com is a fairly old web site … I originally got it via Brainboing before you became Taurlink. Could it have an outdated collection of scripts?
HelpGuy: No, the address is not what you are entering.
HelpGuy: The html page should be one of the pages of the website.
TheCentaur: Ok.
HelpGuy: When the visitor submit the form then it will work.

[grit-grit-grit] Aaalright. Stay with me, Guy. Let’s go through this step by step, just so you understand.

TheCentaur: Ok. Here is what I did:
TheCentaur: (1) I visited and read the URL: The page HTTP 404 – File not found Internet Explorer
TheCentaur: Shoot
TheCentaur: try again 🙂

[laughs] Egg on face — make sure the URL actually copies this time, centaur, or how can he follow you? Better start over, from step one.

TheCentaur: Here is what I did:
TheCentaur: (1) visited url: http://help.TaurLink.net/websupport/startersite/mailto.html
TheCentaur: (2) copied first code sample to test1.html
TheCentaur: (3) updated “domain.com” references in test1.html to point to “dresan.com”
TheCentaur: (4) copied second code sample to test2.html
HelpGuy: Okay.
TheCentaur: (5) uploaded to dresan.com via LeechFTP
TheCentaur: (6) visited http://www.dresan.com/test1.html
TheCentaur: (7) entered stuff into form and hit send
TheCentaur: (8) got a 404 error on http://www.dresan.com/cgi-bin/mailto
HelpGuy: One moment please while I check it.

Suuuuper long pause.

TheCentaur: Maybe I made a typo 🙁
TheCentaur: Inspecting the source of test1.html, it seems like I’ve got the right URL. Did I read it wrong?

The long pause… continues.

TheCentaur: My hypothesis is that the mailto program is simply not present in the cgi-bin directory of dresan.com.
HelpGuy: Kindly hold on.
TheCentaur: Perhaps this is because dresan.com was created back in the days of Brainboing? I see a whole bunch of cgi* programs in that cgi-bin directory.
TheCentaur: Ok, sorry…
HelpGuy: One moment please.
TheCentaur: Ok.

Typing over each other here … best wait for Guy to catch up. Is there something that I can debug here? What about these other old scripts. Ferret, ferret, ferret … hm, there’s at least one script that works, the site counter (which I don’t use, but hey, it works).

Waiting… waiting… ok tired of waiting now..

TheCentaur: Note that the “counter” script seems to work.
HelpGuy: Yes, both the scripts should work.
HelpGuy: The mailto will also work.,

KA_GOTD_AMN_FUKKIN_BOLL_SHAT! ARE YOU LISTENING TO ME? ARE YOU EVEN PAYING ATTENTION? NO, the mailto script will not MAGICALLY start working just because I found a DIFFERENT script that DOES work … because the mailto script DOES NOT EXIST!

Whooo… deep breaths, deep breaths.

Let’s explain this as to a novice.

TheCentaur: Guy, the contents of the cgi-bin directory are: cgicso, cgiecho, cgiemail, cgifile, counter, justcgi.pl, simple.pl, and test.pl
TheCentaur: There is no mailto script.
HelpGuy: It is not required there.

Alright, the novice doesn’t want to even listen. But let’s give him the benefit of the doubt. What if I’m wrong?
[Ctrl-Alt-G(oogle)] “cgi scripting standard” [RETURN]
Browsa… browsa… browsa… Google sez: no fuckin way.

HelpGuy: I suggest that you recreate the two html pages once again.

Smiles patronizingly. Ok. I can play this game. How would I do it? What can I check? What could I have done wrong? Perhaps Guy, uberwebguy who can make scripts that don’t even exist run, can perhaps work this out for me? Here, Guy, check this out?

TheCentaur: Ok. Perhaps there is a typo in my form: “http://www.dresan.com/cgi-bin/mailto”
xenotaur@Brainboing.com: Can you see what’s wrong with that?
HelpGuy: It appears to be correct.

Shocked, shocked am I that ten years of web experience could enable me to enter a form.

HelpGuy: Please recreate the 2 html pages once again.
TheCentaur Alright.
HelpGuy: Okay.

Suure. Why the fuck not? Hey, I’ve done this what, three or four times now? I’ve gotten good at it. It should only take … timing…

TheCentaur: Created form.html.
TheCentaur: Edited to point to right domain.
TheCentaur: Created thankyou.html
HelpGuy: Okay.
TheCentaur: Uploading…
HelpGuy: Okay.
TheCentaur: …done.

…aaabout a minute.

HelpGuy: Let me check it.

Oh, there’s no need, Guy. I’d ALREADY checked it. And this is what I found:

TheCentaur: Verified form presence: http://www.dresan.com/form.html
TheCentaur: Entered values, hit send…
TheCentaur: And 404 error.

Again: shocked, shocked am I.

HelpGuy: Kindly hold on.

Suuuuper long pause.

HelpGuy: Thank You for waiting.
HelpGuy: I apologize for the inconvenience caused to you.
HelpGuy: I am escalating the issue and it will be resolved soon. Please allow 2-72 hours for the issue to be resolved.
HelpGuy: Please do not delete the two test1.html and test2.html files.
TheCentaur: Ok.

He finally gets it. THANK YOU.

TheCentaur: Before you go, I want to bounce an hypothesis off you.
HelpGuy: I sincerely apologize for the inconvenience caused to you in this regard.
TheCentaur: No problem.
TheCentaur: Thank you for helping.

At this point I start to type my hypothesis about the presence of the script files he was expecting. Halfway through that sentence… and I mean, just a few seconds….

HelpGuy: You’re welcome and thank you for using TaurLink TechChat. Should you need further assistance, please feel free to contact us again.
HelpGuy: Thank You for your patience and understanding.
HelpGuy: Have a good night.

Uh, Guy? Didn’t you just read me say “I want to bounce something off of you? Quick, type:
“Hey, wait!” [RETURN]

Chat session has been terminated by the site operator. When you close the chat window a survey window will open. Please take a minute to fill in the survey and let us know how your chat session was.

AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAARGH!


Thirty minutes later….

To the web hosting team,

I recently had a chance to chat online with one of your
technical support representatives. Upon the termination
of the call, your site attempted to pop up a chat survey
window but was blocked by a pop-up blocker.
However, I saved that chat session, appended below.
And I have the following comments:

1) Thank you for making technical chat sessions available.
Talking with TechGuy. helped me realize what was wrong
– namely, that I was trying to use code samples from

http://help.Brainboing.com/docs/002/mime-n-cgi/BEHHBCEF.php3

when I needed to look at the more modern help at

http://help.TaurLink.net/websupport/startersite/mailto.html

This dialogue enabled me to get more debugging
information about my problem, construct several
useful working hypotheses, and has given me new
potential actions to try to resolve the problem.

2) Update your web hosting help for former Brainboing customers.
This is the biggest thing that led me astray.
The code samples I found there

http://help.Brainboing.com/docs/002/mime-n-cgi/CHDDCFCH.php3

do not appear to work. At one point I carefully tested
this particular code sample and could never get it to run
in any permutation. After talking with Guy, however,
I was able to find some useful code to use as a starter.

3) Make sure that your technical support representatives listen carefully to their customers.
I understand that many users often make bad assumptions
which lead them to make mistakes which lead them to
assume that you guys have done something wrong
when you haven’t. I know I fall in this category
from time to time.

However, with all due respect to Guy, I empathize with
techncial support representatives and myself have some
experience with server-side software, and so had carefully
read
the available online documentation and attempted to
run code examples before I ever contacted you guys.

Now, that doesn’trule out a short between my screen and
my keyboard or some other id10t error on my part, but, I
must admit that it was somewhat trying for me to be asked
repeatedly to run the mailto script when I was looking at the
cgi-bin directory in my FTP client and could see that the mailto
script was not there. Now, Guy suggested that it didn’t
need to be there, and perhaps I don’t understand how
your common gateway interface is configured, and if so,
I apologize, BUT then you should reword the following

What standard CGI scripts are provided by TaurLink?

TaurLink provides the following ready to use scripts:

  • mailto
  • appendto
  • counter

so as to unambiguiously state that TaurLink is not actually
providing the scripts.

However, I think the simpler answer is that if the script
isn’t in the cgi-bin directory, it won’t run. And I think that
might be traceable back to the fact that this is an older account,
originally set up on Brainboing, that may not have had mailto
installed in it. Or maybe there’s some other explanation.

4) Make sure that your technical support representatives listen carefully to their customers.
I quote the following section from the chatlog.

TheCentaur: Ok.
TheCentaur: Before you go, I want to bounce an hypothesis off you.
TechGuy: I sincerely apologize for the inconvenience caused to you in this regard.
TheCentaur: No problem.
TheCentaur: Thank you for helping.
TechGuy: You’re welcome and thank you for using TaurLink TechChat. Should you need further assistance, please feel free to contact us again.
TechGuy: Thank You for your patience and understanding.
TechGuy: Have a good night.
Chat session has been terminated by the site operator. When you close the chat window a survey window will open. Please take a minute to fill in the survey and let us know how your chat session was.

Now, I’m sorry, but “Have a good night” is not an appropriate
response to “Before you go, I want to bounce an hypothesis off you.”
In all fairness, I don’t think Dan even saw that, as he responded quite
well to my “Thank you for helping.” However, I must be honest and
say that it left me somewhat vexed.

5) My experience with the CGI features of Brainboing/TaurLink web hosting has been underwhelming
From limited documentation, non-working code samples, lack of
response to my earlier emails, and finally to the difficulties I had
in communicating the problems I was having with my scripts,
I am seriously questioning why I spend money on this service.

To be more blunt; when I heard:

TechGuy: TaurLink does not support custom scripts.

You came within thirty seconds of losing a customer. I feel
like shouting “But I was calling you with regards to YOUR
PROVIDED CODE SAMPLES!” followed by a long stream
of cusswords, but that’s not fair to you or TechGuy.

Now, on one level I understand where you’re
coming from; and this policy is not TechGuy’s fault.

Nonetheless it is completely unacceptable.

I have a choice in selecting a web hosting provider, and
based on my previous good business relationships with
Brainboing I have chosen to stay with TaurLink. However,
what I am paying my web hosting for is to get scripting
access, and if you cannot provide it, there are other
choices available.

I look forward to your response.
-Anthony

Dr. Anthony G. Francis, Jr. ~ Software Engineer
xenotaur@Brainboing.com ~ http://www.dresan.com/
5 King’s Tavern Place, Atlanta, GA 30318 ~ (404) 483-8215


Epilogue

Taurlink did not adequately respond to my complaint.

Actually, it’s worse. My first response was entered into a comment form, which promptly ate it without sending it. I re-wrote the response (above) and DID get a response from TaurLink Tech Support … asking me to return for another chat session to “work through” these issues interactively.

Which of course I HAD JUST DONE. There was no indication they had actually READ the response … just went with their standard reply:

“In order to help you these issues as efficiently as possible for both yourself and TaurLink… we suggest TaurLink TechChat!”

I’m sorry, I’m not going to play that game. I have a choice for my hosting providers. f@nu fiku will be hosted on another provider, and if that provider works well I’m pulling the plug on Taurlink as my web hosting service provider.

-The Centaur
Renaissance Engineer

A Strike Against Blogger

Continuing the translation of “articles” to modern blog entries… Article 34 from March 16, 2004.


Strike one against blogger.

I haven’t been using it for a week and already I have problems. I can no longer publish blog entries to my web site.

I’m not sure of the cause yet, so I’m going to do some research and give them a few days to work out the kinks.

But, regardless, this is pretty stale for week one.

She Was Dancing All That Time

Continuing the translation of “articles” to modern blog entries… Article 31 from February 7, 2004.


SO Mom contracts pneumonia early in January, and life goes on hold.

I’ve learned a lot in the last month: “pneumonia” is not so much a disease caused by an agent, like SARS or Alzheimers, as it is a physical condition: buildup of fluid in the lungs which impedes the ability to breathe – often progressively, sometimes fast. Sometimes this condition is caused by a virus, sometimes by a bacteria, and sometimes just by inflammation; but for smokers, people over 45, or those unlucky enough to be both, it can be VERY difficult to fight off.

And then there are the complications. Forget bedsores and rashes, arms scarred from IVs and throats raw from intubation, or even the simple indignity of a nose dried out by the omnipresent oxygen tube; the real fun is still to come.

Pleurisy, another “process”, arises when fluid collects between the lung and the chest wall, making what little breath you CAN draw an agony; it becomes worse when the pneumonia infection leaks in, filling the space with pus. You have to drain that out surgically, in a procedure called a VAT (Video Assisted Thoroscopy) which is far better than cracking the chest wall open but still leaves the patient with tubes draining fluid slowly, slowly, from a hole in their side.

Which opens the door to staph.

Methicillin-resistant staphylococcus aurorae — MRSA or, more poetically, drug-resistant flesh-eating bacteria. A third of us have *some* strain of staph colonizing our bodies peacfully at any given time; but given the right conditions, staph can turn nasty, blooming into an itchy red rash which is ripe to infect others or, worse, slip into a healing wound to cause blood poisoning (septicemia or bacteremia).

But a bacterial infection is not an annoying neighbor named Ted or his ill-behaved dog Spot, to be easily cured by a restraining order or a stiff whack with a newspaper. An infection is an entire *population* of a particular type of bacteria, millions of them, breeding and reproducing according to Darwin’s law of evolution by natural selection.

In the hospital environment, Darwin’s law rewards the toughest individual bugs — the ones who can colonize and survive on the insides of IV tubes or cling tenaciously to an ill-washed hand, the ones that inflame your body with infectious sores so they can spread like wildfire — and the ones who can surivive the typical spectrum of antibiotics that the hospitals typically use.

Hence MRSA — a description of a particularly nasty evolution of staph, typical to populations of individuals in close contact like prisoners, drug addicts, high school wrestlers … and hospitals, where it colonizes health workers and attacks vulnerable patients.

Doctors are aware of this now. They’re careful with the antibiotics they *do* have, using only the ones they need. And they bring in the big guns only rarely in an attempt to keep knowledge of their arsenal from the mindless gene-memories of their bacterial foes. And they try to alert their patients — use all your antibiotics, as prescribed, so that your body isn’t left with a tiny residual population of the most resistant bugs.

Oh, and they wash their hands. A lot.

Staph still slips through, of course; but they stop it, most of the time. But you can’t *count* on them to stop it, unless you or your loved ones take charge of your care. The doctors care about you — really, they do, even the ones you wonder about — but they have ten, twenty, fifty or a hundred patients to consider, and if they see something unusual — a fever, restlessness, unexpected difficulty breathing — that could … just … quite … fit into the normal progress of a disease, they’ll assume the treatment is working and will stay the course.

And of course they have to contend with a vast number of fools, both patients and family, where by fools I mean those people who don’t really want to know what’s going on and don’t really want responsibility for their own health care decisions. So even if you do ask, the doctor is likely to tell you “she’s getting better”.

Only you can know your loved one’s health condition. Only you can see that this fever IS unusual, see that this restlessness IS getting worse, see that she is visibily NOT improving — and it is up to you and your relatives to read up on the condition; to assess that more needs to be done; and to send in your very own IFFM (Infinitely Formidable Family Matriarch, in our family my father’s younger sister) to bust the doctor’s heads and get them to call in the specialists your loved one needs.

So your mother’s getting better. And you do what you can. You HAVE to do for her, but you CAN’T do to much. If you DO too much, you’re likely to wind up in the hospital yourself, puking your guts out because of the stress, doing no-one any good. So you need to get help. But you can’t do everything — not even you and her cousin and the IFFM and all the aunts, uncles, cousins, nieces and nephews can do everything. Even when you have to turn to outside help, they can’t do everything.

You can hire a sitter to stay the night with her so she doesn’t pull out her IVs, leaving you to go get a good night’s sleep, but then the sky can fall and the roads turn to deadly sheets of ice and you’re left with the realization you, yes you, are the only one who can stay to help her. But even then, sooner or later, you WILL have to leave her, even if only for a little while, to put food in your belly. And when the roads clear, you’ll have to leave her longer — or you’ll have no job to go back to, and no food to put in your belly even if you want to.

But somehow it all gets done. Someone’s there to stay with her almost every day, to the point that she sometimes asks the nurse to put up a NO VISITORS sign. But even then, you can’t do everything. She will say and do things she would never otherwise do, demanding the impossible, the contradictory, the unbelievable. Her loving friends will leave in tears, distraught because she says they’re not doing enough for her … after they’ve just stayed the whole night watching her to make sure she didn’t pull her IVs out in her sleep.

But it does no good to get upset. Stand up and take it calmly. Comfort the caregivers: remind them that pneumonia and pleurisy and surgery and septicemia are wearing her down, and making her say and do the impossible, the contradictory, the unbelievable. When she recovers, she will be back to normal.

In fact, when she recovers, if she’s lucky, she’ll remember none of it. Don’t be upset when she asks if it’s the first time that you’ve been to see her since she’s been sick, even if you’ve already stayed three weeks at her side. She will get better. She’ll recover from the disease and the drugs and the surgery and tell you about how she remembered going to all those parties.

The … parties, you ask? Oh, yes, she says. Just a few weeks back — when YOU remember a tube stuck down her throat and her tongue dried to sandpaper and her arms restrained to the side of the bed because she kept trying to pull all the tubes out in her sleep — SHE actually came home from the hospital.

While all of YOU waited, breathless, in the ICU waiting room, not knowing whether she was going to live or going to die, SHE had already *gone* home. And she *partied*. She went to her birthday party (six months away) and to her sister-in-law’s birthday party (also six months away) and to a homecoming party thrown by her brother in law — but when she left the party, she left her presents, and could you call the restaurant and see if the presents were still in the lost and found.

You’ll tell her what really happened, and tell her how worried you were; and she’ll
roll her eyes at herself and tell you how she thought she had just gotten back into the hospital, but how she knew that it was just the cocktail of drugs they had her on that was messing with her brain and if she could just get those out of her system, then she’d REALLY get better.

Then the pain and fog will lift and, energized, she’ll tell you to gather her bills, to pay her taxes, and to check out a probate issue that needs to be settled — and at once you can see she’s still sharp as a tack.

And you’ll smile. Because you can see she’s coming back. Because you know she’s going to be OK. But most of all, you’ll smile because you now know that all that time she was writhing in the ICU, she really wasn’t in pain. She was out partying.

And she was dancing all that time.