Friday, December 31, 2010
Sunday, December 26, 2010
No really, you might think that I could just get over the Christmas aversion. As noted, I've been trying. But Christmas Eve is always like one of those hints-of-a-sore throat for me-- you try to ignore it, you tell yourself you're not getting a cold, but deep in your heart you know that within twenty-four hours you're going to be plowing through the Puffs and knocking back the Nyquil.
And so it was upon me. The night before, my emotional sore throat. As one will attempt-- too little, too late-- to chug down the Vitamin C and get long overdue rest in a futile attempt to stave off the inevitable cold, so too did I engage in Random Acts of the Horse is Out of the Barn But I'm Going to Pretend Otherwise in a last ditch effort to keep the inevitable Christmas as bay. But you know, even if not successful in the ultimate goal, these things did help. I allowed myself to be pulled from a crushing work deadline to offer a long knitting lesson. Then I dashed off in the rain to get a pink pedicure ten minutes before the shop closed. I procured two massive chocolate Santas to bestow upon the children of my friends, who'd invited me for Chinese food for dinner.
The Chinese food was excellent, the company more so. I found myself surrounded by people my own age-- we make up that small group that fell right after the Baby Boom and right before Gen X. Our exhilarating discussion about the fabulous '80s was without irony and full of enthusiastic cheer to the point that I might just have to dig out some Thompson Twins soon, and play Hold Me Now on a goddamned loop. (I have a picture... pinned to my wall...)
The evil day itself dawned thankfully late for me-- I did my best to sleep through much of the morning. Then off to my neighbors' where I am charged with keeping a cat, a tankful of fish, and a couple of chickens alive for a week or so. The feathered ladies kindly left me a holiday treat-- a pair of fresh eggs which I promptly ferried home to make Warren and me some Croque Madames-- basically grilled cheese with extra butter and a fried egg on top. This was part of my larger plan to employ our combined culinary skills to try to recapture last Christmas in Paris. And let me tell you, there is nothing like fresh eggs, still warm from chicken butt, to get the day started.
I know, I know-- I claim to avoid the holiday altogether. But I have a kid who happens to not hate the 25th and so, in compromise-- and to try to continue to make up for the year he was three and I, not understanding he didn't yet grasp sarcasm, told him when he woke up late that he'd missed the celebration, a story I hate but that is legend in our family-- I get him a few very carefully selected treats. Warren, our token Jew, sat patiently watching as Hen and Big Red and I swapped a few things. Henry, bless his big fat beautiful heart, made Big Red and me the most fabulous posters of all time, pictured up above. We gave him silkscreening lessons. I also got him a few awesome books from Domy-- if you haven't been to Domy, you better go soon.
Warren commenced to making us all falafel, to remind me of that cool neighborhood in Paris where the Chasids and the C'homosexuals live side-by-side. There's a falafel place there that is so good people line up for blocks waiting for their turn. Warren, I am happy to say, put those French-Israelis to shame.
A couple of Hen's friends came by and for reasons I will never understand decided to listen to as much Fleetwood Mac as they could find on the Internet. My son hearts Stevie Nicks. I'm not sure how that happened but there are worse habits and as long as he doesn't name any of his future children Rhiannon, I'm okay with it.
Mostly we just sat around and watched the dogs, who obliged us with some very central casting maneuvers, namely tolerating the costumes I insisted on wedging them into. Dante was the real star this year-- as our latest pack member this was his first big holiday with us. In the months since he's arrived, I'm happy to report that all skittishness has melted away and that the other dogs taught him that not only is he allowed to sleep on the furniture, it is actually a requirement if he wants to stay with us. Granted this results in some fairly canine-porno moments around here, but Dante sprawled belly up and spread eagled will never hold a candle to Bubbles' ongoing insistence on humping Tatum's neck at every able opportunity, but most especially when there is techno music playing.
The kids were patient enough to hang out until I could finish knitting Henry's scarf, which he very kindly pretended to be surprised was for him, even though I said, about forty times, "Hey kids, can you just hang out a few more minutes while I finish this?"
Then even Warren left me, so that I could indulge my lone wolf ways. I took one final trip to Paris courtesy of a big chocolat chaud I created from about two ounces of milk and about ten ounces of dark chocolate bar. My teeth remain coated in the stuff. Then a hot lavender bath whilst listening to Stephen King's Under the Dome read fantastically by Raul Esparza (you have GOT to get this audiobook) and off to sleep, grateful to have made it safely through the day.
Next up: 2011. Bring It On.
Thursday, December 23, 2010
“She’s breaking the record for anesthesia,” I hear one of the nurses say. Or at least I think that’s what I hear her say. The funny thing about anesthesia is you never really know for sure what they said. Or what you said. Or really what did happen in there. Actually, that’s more than funny-- it’s good, because honestly I did not want to know precisely how the doctor scraped (or popped or pulled or nudged) the cataract out of my eye. Hell, maybe he shouted it out. Nor do I want to know details about how he used something involving a diamond to correct my astigmatism, though I did point out to some friends that was the closest in my life I ever came to having a diamond on my person. I had no temptation to Google photos or even illustrations of the procedure. I just wanted it done. And I wanted out of there.
The three worst parts about the surgery were these:
- The big argument I had with the pre-op nurse on the phone last week.
- The anxiety the day before surgery.
- The fucking massive splitting headache the morning of surgery, which revealed to me the caffeine addict that I am.
When I went for my pre-op appointment weeks ago, a totally rocking nurse (or PA or whatever she was) proved herself to be a good listener. She was cheerful and efficient and heard me when I said I’m uninsured and set me up with samples enough to hopefully avoid the need to pay for expensive post-op eye drops. I made it clear to her that I have anxiety issues.
I always explain my anxiety to medical personnel before a procedure, laying out the information calmly the same way I would explain, say, an allergy to certain medications. I believe it is important for them to know, in advance, that the notion of having sharp instruments near my body causes a very strong reaction that can make it hard on all of us. I like to make a pre-game plan which typically involves anti-anxiety medication in advance of the procedure.
So I told this nurse that it was really important to me that I be allowed one valium (or even a half-valium) before surgery. She said she’d check with the doctor. She called a few days later saying it wouldn’t be a problem. Ah, that was easy.
Not so fast.
Last week, another nurse, the pre-op nurse, called to go over details. I asked her to confirm I’d be getting valium. “We don’t do that,” she said.
See, this is why I double-check these things. Because if you don’t get it all worked out ahead of time, you might not get what you want—or in my case, what I need. Pre-op Nurse and I went around and around and in her tone I thought I read a cross between annoyance and suspicion that I was angling to get my hands on recreational pharmaceuticals. I emphasized to her I wanted a prescription for a single pill. I explained that before my hysterectomy the anesthesiologist had no trouble with the request. And even before my last wisdom tooth pull I got a blessing to take some painkillers in advance.
I think maybe people who don’t have anxiety as a part of their daily landscape think those of us who say we do must be exaggerating. Maybe they’ve never had an anxiety attack. Maybe they don’t understand the crippling effect.
Annoyed, I explained to her that the other nurse said valium would be no problem. I then got off the phone and started calling around. I called my doctor’s office and left his assistant a message. I called the anesthesiologist practice and was told they never know until the day of surgery who will be assigned, so I couldn’t be put in touch with that person. After a round of calls, I finally got a call back from the doc’s assistant who helped to clear up the matter. She explained that the first nurse, who said valium would be fine, failed to mention that that she meant liquid valium would be administered once my IV was in. It had been lost in translation that I wanted oral valium.
Sigh. So next I explained that my anxiety flares up around IVs.
You see, when I was in the hospital post-hysterectomy, my IV popped out of my vein—but not out of my hand—in the middle of the night. Despite the synthetic morphine coursing through me, I woke up in the middle of the night to a discomfort I discovered was an enormous skin balloon where my hand had once been. Two women in their early twenties—an LVN and someone with even less training than that—came in and assured me they could get a new IV going. Even in my stupor I knew they could not. I have rolling veins, I’ve been mis-stuck a million times. I asked for a doctor. They refused. And for the better part of an hour they literally took a stab (and another and another) at their task, chatting with me the whole time, telling me about their personal problems, the anti-depressants one was on, and so on until, at last, one said, “Well, you were right. I can’t get it.”
At which point an anesthesiologist was at long last called and he popped that needle right in on the first try.
Back to my latest pre-surgery annoyance. Having cleared up the misunderstanding (liquid vs. solid valium) I called up the pre-op nurse who seemed to think I was nothing but a pain in her ass. She was argumentative. So was I. I suppose we both felt defensive. She actually said to me, “You don’t know what we know.” Well, duh. To her I explained that what is her daily routine—she’s around eye surgery all the time—is a big fat fucking deal to me and that any surgery is, to me, major surgery. And I told her that I wanted to feel listened to. At long last, to shut me up, she mumbled something about hearing me and said something like, “Well they can probably give you some liquid valium orally but it will taste terrible.” She did not say what I wanted to hear, which was that she would get to the bottom of this and hook me up.
The day before surgery, the doctor’s assistant called to say there would be no valium, that this was the anesthesiologist’s department. Hold on, what? At some point I’d been told by the pre-op nurse it was the doctor’s department. And so, in the end I felt like the only thing my phone calls had perhaps achieved was to red flag me as a nutcase, a high maintenance patient. I shut up then, gave up the fight, and decided I would soldier through, no matter what, because I really wanted to be able to see again.
The day before surgery I was an absolute wreck. I recognized this and took careful steps to put myself at ease, calling friends, talking it through, having dinner with my knitting group, distracting myself.
Morning of, I woke up and the no-caffeine headache kicked in almost immediately. My doctor operates midday so I knew it would be about eight hours til I could caffeinate. Now I felt like the junkie the pre-op nurse seemed to believe me to be. I might as well have been on an episode of Mod Squad, curled up on a dirty sheetless mattress under a dangling bare bulb sweating and shaking. A cleaver halved my skull. I tried not to watch the clock. I tried to bang out one last work deadline before Warren came to ferry me to the surgery center.
Once we arrived, it was time to pay. As an aside here—to all of you who bought my books and t-shirts, or made flat out donations, or paid me in advance for future services, or hired me to perform your weddings, or in any other fashion supplied me with cash—THANK YOU. After three months of working triple time, I walked into that office uninsured but ready to pay. The downside? They broke it into three separate payments: doctor, surgical suite, anesthesiologist. After they ran the first charge on my debit card ($1800) the second charge wouldn’t go through. And why was that? I can only guess my bank assumed someone had stolen my card and decided to go on a spending spree at an eye surgery center. They declined the second transaction. (I was able, fortunately, to rectify things by whipping out my checkbook.)
And now, back to pre-op. The nurse—thankfully not the one I argued with—said she understood I’d requested that the anesthesiologist put in my IV but she asked if she could please try it, that she was quite good. I was so worn out by then, from the anxiety, the lack of caffeine, the lack of sleep the night before, and the knowledge that patients are so rarely heard, that I thought what the hell. I agreed she could try. And then she informed me, after we talked about my anxiety, that she did have something oral she could give me—not valium, but something. Really? Why hadn’t anyone told me this before? Had I known this in advance it would have saved me many hours of fretting.
As the nurse prepped my hand for the IV, the anesthesiologist—trim, looking like he’d just come back from a long run, sporting a leopard print scrub cap—came over to tell me a few things. Looking at my chart, he said, “I see you had a valium this morning.”
“No,” I said. “I did not. Because nobody would give me one.”
“I gave her something though,” said the nurse.
“Well I’ll hook you up with something as soon as the IV is in,” he said.
I told him that was all well and good, but that my anxiety was mostly centered around getting the fucking IV in the first place. This gave him pause. Then a sting in my right hand as the nurse shot me up with something to numb me. I didn’t watch. I did feel the actual IV go in. And a few minutes later she admitted she’d hit something—what did she call it?— but that she didn’t want to tell me when it happened because she didn’t want to upset me. You know maybe she should have skipped telling me at all. Definitely TMI, but let me temper that by stressing that this nurse was extremely nice, extremely efficient, and truly did appear to have heard my thoughts on anxiety, which she did not dismiss. It was not her fault she encountered a problem—I have crappy veins—and it wasn’t like she poked me four hundred times.
After that they did hook me up with something strong and after that it was a blur. I’m up on a table and they’re draping my eye. I’m nodding in and out. I do hear one nurse yell at me—is she annoyed?—to OPEN YOUR EYE. OPEN YOUR EYE. I am too slurry to tell her what I am vaguely thinking which is that, as with foreigners and deaf people, yelling at me is not going to get me to hear better. I want to tell her—I think I try to tell her—that as when I was in labor and the midwife said push, “My brain hears you but my muscles won’t cooperate.”
I think she undrapes my eye, then redrapes it, then starts to cut a hole around my eye and her scissors poke my face, dangerously close to my eye, which I try to tell her. Only, again, I still have no idea if I said these things out loud. I do hear her talking to another nurse about holiday plans and I wonder if I’m annoying her because if only I would cooperate she could focus on her Christmas conversation.
Then the clockwork orange device is in place. And I’m out. More people. Weird shapes and colors. Do I ask who’s there? I think I do. The doctor says he’s here. I must still be mumbling. Someone says, “Give her some more…” And someone else says, “She’s already had two…” they talk in medical lingo, measurements and medicines I do not know. That’s when I think I hear someone say, “She’s breaking a record for anesthesia.”
What does this mean? Has my anxiety prompted my brain to fight surrender? Am I talking? Are they trying to shut me up?
And then before I know it, I’m slumped over in a wheelchair and a nurse is asking me if I want cranberry juice or apple juice and I’m thinking, “I want a goddamned quadruple espresso.” At which point the IV nurse pipes up, “She wants coffee.” Now, we’d discussed the coffee situation earlier and she said other patients—sloppy groggy people spilling hot liquids on themselves—had ruined it for the rest of us. No coffee in post-op. But because she’d listened and truly heard me, she honored my request. Someone handed me a styro of creamy, sticky sweet doctor’s office coffee and it was like nectar from the gods.
I slurped it down in the car, Warren laughing as he listened to me make the usual round of post-op phone calls—my mother, my son, his father— and attempt, unsuccessfully, to sound clearheaded. Even I, in my grogginess, understand that I am not accomplishing this task well. I hear my mother ask, “How are you?” And my mind is looking around for a sentence to reassure her.
Finally, I settle on a description. “I am FUCKED UP mom.”
Oops. Later, after ten more gallons of coffee, a hot lavender bath, a sleep-of-the-dead nap, and a plateful of sushi and a mince pie leftover from Knit Knight, I’ll start to feel a little more myself. I’ll text my mom, “Sorry about the F bomb.” And she’ll text back that it’s quite all right.
As Warren drives me through the streets of Austin later on, I’ll notice that halo effect they warned me about, where every single streetlight suddenly looks like a huge Ferris wheel of color, and even the tiniest dashboard light appears to be something twinkly and related to Christmas. Oh great, now with my new bionic eye, I will get a little bit of Christmas. Every single day. For the rest of my life.
Small price to pay for being able to see again.
Friday, December 10, 2010
Sunday, December 5, 2010
Sunday, November 28, 2010
ISABEL FERGUSON 1935 - 2010
I first met Isabel in September 2009, on Monhegan Island, Maine. I knew instantly she was one of those incredibly rare people we are lucky to meet-- someone entirely different from the others, someone with a telltale otherworldly aura. In the space of just a few days, Isabel changed my life with her gentle nature, encouraging words, and the gleeful way she greeted each day (literally, greeted the sunrise). We became pen pals.
When I was planning to return to Monhegan this past September, I let her know. My heart soared when she wrote to say that she would definitely be able to join me. We only had a couple of days together but, again, those days were so uplifting for me. Isabel was truly one of those Magic People that can put everyone they encounter right at ease. Her life story, what I knew of it, was fascinating. She was also working on a book about Mary Baker Eddy that I was eager to read.
Most recently, I emailed her to ask her about a book she'd recommended to me. She wrote back to say my timing was excellent, that she'd actually just packed up a copy of the book to put in the mail to me. That's how Isabel worked-- intuitively. I got the news last night that she died suddenly last week, the day before Thanksgiving. Though in reality we only spent, perhaps, eight days of our lives together, I feel as if I've lost a lifetime friend. I am so bummed. I can hear her voice in my head, with its faint English accent, suggesting that I channel my grief toward enjoying life's little details. And I will. But first I mourn.
Here is an excerpt of a column I wrote last year about meeting Isabel. I called her Bella in the piece. That first meeting came when I was wrestling with some internal demons.
Then something happened. I was in Maine to attend a knitting retreat and one night, during group knit, I happened to sit beside an older woman. Bella was not part of the retreat, but she was staying in our rooming house, and she knits, so she joined us. Did you ever meet someone who so instantly strikes you as the personification of calm that you wish to carry that person with you in your pocket the rest of your life?
Bella told me, in a lovely English accent, that she’s been visiting the island for over forty years. She detailed, in such a delicious manner, the sunrises she always seeks out, making them sound like the best experience anyone could have ever. Better than any meal you’ve eaten, any love affair you’ve had, any passionate physical exchange you’ve engaged in. Such were her marketing skills that I hauled my ass out of bed the next morning before dawn, hiked up to a little summit, and then, in the clearing, I stood still for a moment.
Bella sat atop a cliff, the picture of serenity, gazing across a glassy ocean. I made a little noise to let her know I was there and she beckoned me over. The clouds precluded precisely the spectacular show she’d described the night before, but it was no less wonderful. Because as Bella spoke in her calming voice, and passed along her binoculars, and noted the different birds - “Listen! That’s a chickadee!”— I thought to myself, on the heels of so much self-created ugly, just how much beauty there is in this world. A ridiculous abundance of it. So much so that, should we choose to, were we able, we could skip nearly all the ugly and just wrap ourselves in the beauty.
As we prepared to head back, Bella extracted what appeared to be a whistle from her pocket. She swung it open and revealed it for what it was—a jeweler’s loupe. Carefully she’d bend down to the tiniest flower, peer through her loupe, and then offer me a turn. “Isn’t that MAGNIFICENT?!” she would proclaim, as an intricate, detailed world came into focus.
I flew back to Austin carrying images of Bella in my heart.
Friday, November 26, 2010
While I watch the cannons flashing
I clean my gun and dream of Galveston