09 December 2013 03:03 PM Categories: Graduate school
Even back in the olden days, in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s, I never pulled all-nighters. Instead, I got myself up early, typically at 4:00 a.m., and just started studying or typing. Yes, typing, the real deal, with an actual typewriter or, in the later years, a typewriter-word processor. But I am afraid, my friends, that tonight I will be pulling an all-nighter. Or, if I am lucky, an all-morninger, if tomorrow morning starts before 4:00.
My Law & Ethics presentation group members are flung here and there. They have classes, jobs, meetings, and, in one case, a very sick kitty. There has been no time in which we have been able to converge, not even virtually via the wonders of chatting or Skype. And I am in charge of writing the paper that goes with the presentation, the paper that incorporates everyone else’s work. Meanwhile, I don’t totally know what our position is based upon or what our central arguments are. It is unclear from the assignment what, exactly, we are defending. At the moment, I can’t do a damn thing but wait around for other people to put up their PowerPoint slides so that I can incorporate them into my write-up. I know folks are working hard, but each one of is is working in a vacuum. (Just got off the phone with one of them. That was a [slight] relief.)
In addition to end-of-the-semester-madness stress, something came up with the boy at school. Dealing with it has taken up some emotional energy, though now it sounds like it may be resolved thanks to the other parents and the school principal. I am relieved, though still feel uncomfortable about the whole thing.
So I am drinking coffee, eating dark chocolate, and waiting. None of which appear to be quelling my anxiety. But maybe this will help. You have probably seen it before:
Image of someone who isn’t me looking stressed from here.
I was so stressed that I had a typo in my subject: Stresed and stuck!!!
08 December 2013 07:27 AM Categories: Graduate school
This is procrastination, pure and simple.
I have a stack of articles to read, legal documents to decipher, and, eventually, a tightly-packed, single-spaced, two-page paper to write in which I will take on an untenable ethical position. I have a group of fellow grad students to corral (it is like herding cats; very busy, over-committed cats). I have a kid who needs coaching about how to handle himself in less-than-ideal schoolyard situations.
But the kid is still asleep, as are most of the grad students, and the documents are just passively lying here beside me. So let me eat my leftover biscuit and put off work just a little longer by writing about it.
The case my Law & Ethics class group is presenting on is Shin v. MIT. Elizabeth Shin, a sophomore at the Institute, caught on fire in her dorm room in April 2000, suffered severe burns, and subsequently died when she was taken off life support. Her death was ruled a suicide, because Shin had threatened multiple times to kill herself in the year leading up to her death. Actually, she had gone past threatening, having made at least one attempt through a “non-fatal” overdose. On the day of her death, she was one of the agenda items on the university’s “deans and psychs” meetings, where they discussed her imminent appointment with an off-campus psychiatric facility.
Shin saw at least five psychiatrists at the university. From the timeline I’ve created, which is three pages long, it is hard to believe that no one had her hospitalized prior to her death (with the exception of the actual suicide attempt). Her parents sued the university because they believed they should have been informed of the fragile nature of their daughter’s mental state. In addition, they asserted that the university, acting as de facto parents (in loco parentis) should have provided better care to Shin and so were negligent in their treatment of her.
They didn’t just sue the university. They also sued a few administrators and the psychiatrists involved in her care. Eventually, the case against MIT itself was dropped. Then the case against the administrators was settled for an undisclosed sum. As far as I know, the psychiatrists are still on the hook for their part in the whole thing. However, in the time between Shin’s death and the dropping of her case, toxicology reports came out that indicated that she had been taking sedatives at the time of her death. It was more likely that the death was an accident, another “non-lethal” overdose with a horrible outcome. She took too many pills and forgot to blow out the candles in her room. When she caught fire, Elizabeth Shin couldn’t react quickly enough to the flames.
My group has been assigned the position that MIT was ethical in its handling of the case. Shin was entitled to confidentiality. She was an adult. It was up to her to let her parents know what was going on, not the university’s. Legally, this may be the case. But after reading through Shin’s history of interactions with the mental health center, it is really hard to defend that position ethically, especially considering how many times she was taken there after threatening suicide and then sent right back to her dorm. There are times when breaking confidentiality is required. Even if the university and its staff did not tell the parents, they should have taken her threats more seriously. It does not matter if her death was unintentional.
It is a sad, complicated case taken on by a group of students who have not met in person or even virtually to talk about how we will approach our presentation of it. But, no worries, right? It will all work out.
Image of Elizabeth Shin’s parents holding her portrait (USA Today).
06 December 2013 01:51 PM Categories: Graduate school
Stress. It drives me to write. It robs me of creativity and the time in which to craft something meaningful and transcendent. I only write about what is in front of me or disappear into escapist fantasy gone amok. And haven’t we had enough of escapism, of aimless desire?
So. This morning. The whine of the shower. The rush of forced air heat. My cold feet on the color block Ikea rug I bought after my divorce 15 years ago. The caffeinated rush. That continued underwater feeling, which at this point is more low-grade illness than mere tiredness. The panic in having a group presentation on a complicated topic looming next Tuesday evening when no one in the group can meet in person and everyone is too busy to even think about how to divide up the work. My eleven regular clients that range in age from five to twelve. The task of developing a social skills group for a select group of kindergarten boys. Final case and process notes for the last mock session. The necessity of waking the boy from his well-deserved slumber. The icy mysteries of the unheated upstairs bathroom and the chilled bedroom of the boy.
And when I listen to Ella Fitzgerald sing “How High the Moon,” I start to cry and cannot stop.
Title comes from a Sarah Vaughan version of “How High the Moon” on the “Live from Mr. Kelly’s” album, though technically the line is “Ella Fitzgerald sings this song real real real crazy.”
04 December 2013 09:45 PM Categories: Graduate school
If you are attentive, you can feel the earthquake before it happens. It starts with a low growl, the announcement that something powerful this way comes. The growl turns into a rumble as the house shakes and the windows rattle. As the wave dissolves back into the earth, everything goes quiet and still. But when it starts, you are never quite sure if this quake will be one that lasts, one where the power builds in intensity until the walls crack and the ceiling crumbles upon you.
Between mock counseling sessions and fitful sleep, between attending class and tossing and turning, between frantically researching for next week’s Law and Ethics presentation and glancing at the clock every hour after 2:00 a.m., I write to you. I ignore the dog and my need for sleep. I pretend that the work I have to complete in less than six days is really due in three weeks. I write to you. Maybe for you. But really, it is for me.
Where are you right now? What are you wearing? What music is playing in the background, what girl warbles behind the sound of splashing bath water, what fights can you hear from the too-close neighbors? What can they hear from you?
I am underwater tired right now, the kind of tired where it feels like I have spent too long in a chlorinated pool. It is a sooty dampness in my chest and head. Both feel hollowed out and weary. Mold has gathered in the crevices and corners of my mind, which has also been colonized by obligation and stress and fantasies where I do things I do not want to do. I cannot help doing those things. The ghosts compel me.
I wonder: when will it all break apart? When will the growl turn to a rumble, the fissures suddenly appear, the foundation become marbled with cracks? Because the center cannot hold. Or I cannot hold on to it. Not for long.
All I have to do is tough out the next few weeks, ride out the tremors, pay no attention to the ghosts. And keep on writing.