116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
Guest Column | Kurt Ullrich
I knew this day would come. For the past 30 years my heart has been rotting and dying from the bottom up and it has caused me to shamble past the unguarded borders of good health, stopping in a sort of purgatory the medical profession calls ‘heart failure.’ In this purgatory one lives between life and death, trusting the newest drugs.
Heart failure is common and there are even poems about it. Poet Katy Napierski wrote a poem a few years back titled, now get this, “Heart Failure.” She managed to capture some of the feeling, writing “Heavy beat of the drum grows weary.” Indeed, it does. Now if we can just persuade whoever names these afflictions to call heart failure something a little less frightening.
Lonely winds have been blowing out here for seemingly weeks on end. Everything has changed; wind is no longer relegated to the flat plains to the west. On some of the windiest days I’ve been in my car, being buffeted about, listening to the rock group Toto sing, “I stopped an old man along the way, hoping to find some old forgotten words and ancient melodies.” Not Shakespeare, but a terrific use of language.
I have very few recollections of my high school days but I do recall one day well over 50 years ago, when an English teacher brought an album to class, an album by the rock group Steppenwolf. That day we discussed and ultimately agreed that song lyrics can indeed be literature. Thus, when Bob Dylan won the Nobel Prize in literature, I was OK with it.
Back to the Toto lyrics, know that those old men and women along the way are out there still, in our cafes, schools, churches, barns, etc. Seek them out. I’m an old man, however I‘m relatively sure I have very little wisdom to impart, and I hate it when people say, “Everyone has a story to tell.” Well, maybe, but most are not particularly interesting, and the tellers usually fail to notice.
I have no doubt my writing about my health issues was not particularly interesting, but I won’t apologize. Here’s the thing: health is huge in our lives, especially as we get older, and we like to talk about it, especially our own health, so please be kind, be understanding. It will be you one day.
As I write this my notoriously naughty tortoiseshell cat Luna is curled up on my lap. I hope you don’t mind that I once again toss her gently into the conversation. She did something more than a year ago that I shall never forget, and I’d like to tell you about it. Luna became a member of the household a few months before my wife passed and within days of her tiny arrival her veterinarian pronounced a term that is almost as unfortunate as heart failure: ringworm.
There are no worms in ringworm. It’s a highly contagious skin problem that can be addressed with isolation, proper food, and, of course, drugs. Thus, the first month of Luna’s time with us she was quarantined in an upstairs bedroom with her own litter box, food, water, and vapid talking from me. Consequently, she and I totally bonded.
Luna never once sat on my wife’s lap, never. Then something happened that science has a difficult time explaining, so we’ll leave an explanation to mystics and poets. At exactly the moment my wife took her last breath, and was at peace, Luna jumped up on her lap and curled up. I forgive all her naughtiness.
Kurt Ullrich lives in rural Jackson County. His book “The Iowa State Fair” is available from the University of Iowa Press.