Pain Management: Lifesavers

I kept falling asleep while I wrote this…and when I tried to proofread it, the same thing happened. So, oh well! It is what it is.

Remember how I mentioned pain management last time? How I said I’d had to call, almost immediately after surgery to say, “Yo, this medication isn’t cutting it, can I take more?” And then, I had to go see them, again, to say, basically the same thing?

Being bed-bound has its advantages. Look at my companion. Like the cats, he never leaves my side. He thinks that the headphones make him look like an official “gamer,” and he made me take his photo.

Being bed-bound has its advantages. Look at my companion. Like the cats, he never leaves my side. He thinks that the headphones make him look like an official “gamer,” and he made me take his photo.

 

Well, I had to call again. It still wasn’t strong enough. I was told to take a different combo of the same meds, at a different time. Because of the amount of meds this would require, I needed a refill almost immediately. I know, I know, it sounds like I might be a giant baby. Or, I am craving my Dilaudid and Oxy combo, and becoming some kind of fiend. Or, the most likely scenario, the whimpers and sobbing that came out of me, as the meds wore off, are indicative that the medication is both not strong enough, and not lasting long enough.

 

So, now I was on visit/call number FOUR, to pain management. This time, I was scheduled to see the actual doctor, not her PA. This was the big time. I was both afraid, and excited. I was afraid, because I knew I had to tell her that I’d been taking one extra pill per dosing period. I knew that was important for her to know, so she could dose me properly, when she adjusted meds; but, this was the first time I’d ever taken more medication than I was prescribed. To put that in perspective, I’ve been on opiates of some kind since 2014. In five years, I’d never taken a single extra pill. That’s how brutally painful this surgery has been. So, this scared me, because I was afraid she’d think I was taking them for the wrong reasons. In reality, if I didn’t take them, I was shaking in pain. I was excited too though, because I thought that she might be able to help me. There is nothing, nothing, nothing that will ever shake my optimism about seeing a doctor when I’m truly sick. I continue, perhaps blindly, to believe deeply in the curative power of the white coat, and the deep humanitarian desire to help others that they all share.

 

Doing homework, with my judgemental pal. He helps me do well, otherwise he has an opinion about it.

Doing homework, with my judgemental pal. He helps me do well, otherwise he has an opinion about it.

Sitting in the waiting room was brutal. I’d gotten close to my dose time while we were sitting there, so I was in agony. It isn’t that I couldn’t take my meds while I was at the doctor; they have water, and I packed my pills. It was that I couldn’t take them for another hour or so; I was only close to my dose time. Close means my meds had worn off, and I was suffering. The worst part was that we had sat there, patiently, for forty-five minutes past our appointment time, before we asked the front desk if something had gone wrong.

 

They, of course, said I was next, and I’d be called momentarily. You could see them scrambling behind that little window. Someone had clearly misplaced my chart. I’d never have been called, had Bryon not gone to the front desk and asked about me. They called me back, almost immediately…to what amounted to a spare stock room, not an exam room. Sure, I was next. It was absolutely planned this way. Except that the tech that called me back profusely apologized for misplacing my chart and causing the whole thing. I do love when people apologize for messing up when they are in a face-to-face customer service industry, it makes all of the difference in the world. I was immediately no longer frustrated.

Loki’s opinion of my homework is far less strict. He feels that as long as I do my best, he’s cool with it.

Loki’s opinion of my homework is far less strict. He feels that as long as I do my best, he’s cool with it.

 

Anyway, when the doctor came in, a doctor who I’ve never met, yet who is the doctor I’m billed under every time, this is how the beginning of our conversation went:

Now that Bryon has gone back to work. Collin is my day nurse. I usually don’t wake him up until the God forsaken hour of 10 am. But, even then, it’s too early for him, and he comes dragging into my bed for these precious snuggles. I had to break my leg for this, but it might have been worth it.

Now that Bryon has gone back to work. Collin is my day nurse. I usually don’t wake him up until the God forsaken hour of 10 am. But, even then, it’s too early for him, and he comes dragging into my bed for these precious snuggles. I had to break my leg for this, but it might have been worth it.

 

R: I don’t know you. (yep, this is how I greeted her). I mean--sorry. Probably should’ve said something else, it’s just that I have been seeing someone else. Maybe---

 

Dr: Probably Diana?

 

R: Yes! Diana!

 

Dr: Don’t worry. I oversee all my patients. I’ve read your chart from top to bottom and I just reviewed it now. I see your meds are fucked up for this. Tell me about your surgery. It looks like hell.

 

R: (Shocked pause….then told her about the surgery).

 

Mew is enjoying my convalescence as well. He spends a lot of his day hiding under the bed, so now that there is someone IN the bed that he hides under, he is quite pleased to have a visitor.

Mew is enjoying my convalescence as well. He spends a lot of his day hiding under the bed, so now that there is someone IN the bed that he hides under, he is quite pleased to have a visitor.

I thought I would never find a doctor I loved as much as Doctor W in California, but she’s quickly becoming a close second. She swore, so goddamn much, I was impressed. I’ve never seen a doctor behave like that. But, It wasn’t he swearing that I liked, it was the matter-of-fact way that she dealt with my situation.

 

More homework. This is my general plan-ish for my big paper. It took me days to come up with this plan/idea that looks like a mess. Going to start working on it this weekend and see if it falls flat.

More homework. This is my general plan-ish for my big paper. It took me days to come up with this plan/idea that looks like a mess. Going to start working on it this weekend and see if it falls flat.

When I told her that I was taking an extra pill at every dose, she wasn’t mad, she didn’t judge me; she said she was glad I told her because she needed that info for her math to figure out how to plan to dosing for what she wanted to prescribe next. She was pissed that her staff of PA’s didn’t think of putting me on a long-lasting opiate, instead of short-acting ones, that work, but have the nasty tendency to provide peaks and valleys of pain relief and absence of pain relief for patients in acute pain.

 

More joyous cats who are happy I’m in bed.

More joyous cats who are happy I’m in bed.

I told her that I’d specifically asked for an extended-release opiate when I came in, before my surgery, and we discussed the plan for pain relief. The doctor got angry when she heard that. A few “F-bombs” were dropped. I explained that, based on my brain surgeries, I knew that had been what worked the best for me, for serious surgeries; so, it was my best guess here.

 

Now, four weeks in, I was up to 80 mg of oxycodone, and 16 mg of Dilaudid a day. That is an insane amount of opiates. It was enough to be getting dangerous, especially when combined. The worst part was that I was still in pain, despite the massive amount of drugs I was taking. It seems impossible, but I was. I could kiss my doctor for telling me that it wasn’t, and that it was perfectly reasonable to be in this kind of pain with short acting meds, after this kind of operation.

 

She scribbled on a piece of paper for several minutes doing all kinds of complicated math. She mumbled half addition and multiplication problems randomly, drew arrows all over my intake page, crossed-out, and finally came up with an answer. She prescribed an extended-release opiate, in the 36 mg dose, which happens to be the largest it comes in (the pharmacy had to order it). I take it twice a day (every 12 hours). Additionally, she prescribed a short acting opiate for breakthrough pain that I’m allowed to take up to three times a day. Viola, a plan that should work.

A rare sight: all three cats in the bed, in close proximity to one another. Homer hates Mew, and Mew harasses Homer. It’s all very social dynamics of cats, in real time, developing. I’m always reprimanding them, and giving them serious lectures about how to treat our friends. They don’t listen.

A rare sight: all three cats in the bed, in close proximity to one another. Homer hates Mew, and Mew harasses Homer. It’s all very social dynamics of cats, in real time, developing. I’m always reprimanding them, and giving them serious lectures about how to treat our friends. They don’t listen.

 

She ended the appointment with this:

 

“You call here if there is a shitstorm, and we’ll fix it. This amount of pain is unacceptable. Un-accept-able. We’ll get through this. Together. I promise.”

 

There’s no way of explaining how awesome it is to feel like your doctor is totally on your team. I felt like I could pick up the phone, at any time, call, and say, “it still hurts, help,” and she’d drop everything to call in something new. I needed that feeling, right then, after struggling for so many weeks.

 

So far, for the last few days though, I think we may have found the right balance. The problem will be that getting off the extended release opiates is a different story than getting off short acting opiates. It is a whole different animal, and a pain in the ass. I’ve done it before, and I can do it again, but ugh. All I can say is that at least it’s not Fentanyl.

 

Alas, this is where we are at, at the moment. I’m finally on extended release opiates, and I just started PT, which is brutal. I cried yesterday, but she didn’t stop. I think she liked watching me writhe. I am still taking my Harvard class, and kicking ass in it. Yeah, that’s right, broken leg and all, I’m doing awesome. Nothing brings me more joy than school. I’m crazy, I think. I wish we had class every day. I can’t wait for next semester, when I have two classes. It will be a dream!

 

I am up to being encouraged to bear 25 lbs. on my broken leg, which doesn’t sound like much, but the goal is to be off the crutches in about a month. So, between the exercises that PT has me doing at home, the massages that they want me to do, and just regular aches and pains of healing, my leg is giving me a run for my money. Thank goodness for new pain meds, and a pain management doctor who cares about pending shit storms.

Fulkerson Recovery, So Far: By the Numbers

It’s hard to talk about this surgery’s recovery without simply breaking down into racking sobs, complaining endlessly, or considering amputation. So, I thought I’d just give you a run-down of a few “by the numbers” factoids, instead of a rambling essay about how damn much it hurts, twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week.

My nurses, making sure i get lots of rest.

My nurses, making sure i get lots of rest.

So, in no particular order…


Weeks, to the day, since surgery: 3

 

Times pain management has had to adjust (increase) pain meds, because the pain had caused uncontrollable shaking: 2

 

Seasons of “My Big Fat American Gypsy Wedding” I’ve watched since surgery: 6 (side note: amount of guilt or shame I’ve felt for watching total trash television is absolutely zilch, nada, zip)



Showers I’ve managed to take, in total, in three weeks: 4 (I say “I,” but it’s a “we” process, because it requires massive assistance from Bryon. It takes about an hour from start to finish, and leaves me exhausted for about two hours afterward)

 

Blood clots I’ve managed to accumulate: 2

 

 “Dangerous” blood clots: 0

My third nurse, who tends to alienate himself from the other two, or from combinations of the other two, at any given time. He’s kind of a jerk, frankly. But, he likes me, only me, and can be awfully sweet, when he wants to be. And, he’s awfully cute.

My third nurse, who tends to alienate himself from the other two, or from combinations of the other two, at any given time. He’s kind of a jerk, frankly. But, he likes me, only me, and can be awfully sweet, when he wants to be. And, he’s awfully cute.

 

Amount I’ve learned about blood clots: Lots. Apparently, you can have blood clots in the soft tissue, not just in the vein. And, they can be huge, as I’ve also learned. Soft tissue blood clots still hurt like a motherfucker, but aren’t dangerous. Eventually, they break up, and re-absorb, but in the meantime, they are intensely painful, especially to the touch.

 

Upper Respiratory Infections: 1 (Always have to thank the kiddos for bringing home colds at the most inconvenient times)

 

Average number of times I get up to pee per night thanks to extra fluid intake: 4 (again, “I” = “we.” Bryon is a damn hero. He holds my leg up while I pee, so I don’t have to try to lift it myself, to a stool, in the middle of the night. Seriously, Bryon=Hero).

 

Pillow arrangements we have tried to “get” comfortable and/or elevate: 5,049,789

 

Hours a day I’m supposed to use the torture leg extender machine: 6

 

Torture leg machines that have broken so, far, and have had to be replaced: 2

 

Birthdays that I have had during recovery: 1

 

Years on this planet: 41

 

Years I thought I had on this planet: 42

Diamonds!! The float freely inside the face, and they are so pretty! The hands and numbers are actually sapphire blue, as are the little nubbins on the side, called cabochons. The whole thing is just so pretty I can hardly believe it. It’s possible I love jewelry. I’m not sure.

Diamonds!! The float freely inside the face, and they are so pretty! The hands and numbers are actually sapphire blue, as are the little nubbins on the side, called cabochons. The whole thing is just so pretty I can hardly believe it. It’s possible I love jewelry. I’m not sure.

 

Present I bought for myself for my birthday: my first Chopard (yeah, I know it’s not a number, but it cost a bunch of numbers, and it made me happy when I wasn’t feeling so happy. Just pricing it, shopping for it, and negotiating for it, kept me alert and happy for several days. I love it. It adds to my fancy watch collection, and it is glorious. It’s pre-owned, so I got a good deal from an awesome jeweler, which made it affordable. It looks great with jammies. – P.S. Bryon gets nervous when I say things like “my ‘first’ Chopard.” I wonder why?).

 

Days I spent on my last homework assignment: 2

 

Weeks left of the semester: 6

 

Weeks left until I’m allowed to bear any weight: 6 (again: the timing of my first class with this surgery is the absolute worst…but I’m pressing on. Collin told me, the other day, unsolicited, “Mommy, I’m proud of you.” It was singularly, one of the greatest moments of my life. I’m holding that memory in my heart as fuel for the rest of my career, and life).

This is the strap that goes around my leg for the leg torture machine. Collin felt that it made a good hat. I think he looks dashing.

This is the strap that goes around my leg for the leg torture machine. Collin felt that it made a good hat. I think he looks dashing.

 

Bags of frozen squishy pockets I’ve eaten (other people call them pot stickers): 14? Maybe more? I love them.

 

Bouquets of flowers, and new potted flowering plants Bryon has filled my room with: 6

 

Naps I take throughout the day: 2-10 (long vs short 10 min-ish)

 

Nice bruise on the side of my foot, just because it felt like appearing there. It actually hurts too. The best part of this photo is that the striped fabric under my foot is a DRESS! I wasn’t wearing jammies that day. I was dressed, wearing jewelry, and had combed my hair.

Nice bruise on the side of my foot, just because it felt like appearing there. It actually hurts too. The best part of this photo is that the striped fabric under my foot is a DRESS! I wasn’t wearing jammies that day. I was dressed, wearing jewelry, and had combed my hair.

Bruises that continue to pop up, randomly: indeterminable (new one on my foot last week, and more on the back of my knee – they can continue to pop of from my foot to the top of my thigh for the next six months. Pretty).

 

This is the back of my leg. If you are wondering whether this a  bruise that looks worse than it feels, it isn’t. It looks just as bad as it feels. It’s horrendous both ways.

This is the back of my leg. If you are wondering whether this a bruise that looks worse than it feels, it isn’t. It looks just as bad as it feels. It’s horrendous both ways.

Overall, this experience has been, and continues to be, rougher than I had expected it to be. I start physical therapy next week, which promises to be another step towards healing, but also to be painful. Thankfully, my mother-in-law will be taking me to my first appointment, and there is no greater comfort than her at an appointment like that. My orthopedic surgeon promised that I should expect a few steps backward when they start their work, but also that by the time this is all over with, I will be so happy I did it. We shall see! I am still optimistic, and despite my tendency toward depression, especially when I’m stuck in invalid positions, I’ve actually been feeling really great, mentally. I am making a conscious effort to hang onto that positive attitude, and focus on recovery, at the same time.

Break a Leg

The long-awaited date of the Fulkerson Osteotomy, with bonus cartilage transfer, finally arrived on Monday. To be honest, I wasn’t all that nervous (because I was an idiot). I’m a surgery pro, these days. Instead of being scared, I was dreading the pending little irritants that come with any medical procedure. For example, there is nothing worse than the wait between getting in the gown, and getting wheeled back to suck down the knock-out gas. This time, I was only a tiny bit joking when I told both the nurse and the anesthesiologist, that anytime they felt like knocking me out, I’d be fine with it. Or, it gets mildly annoying to repeat your name, date of birth and drug allergies to everyone who walks by; why the janitor needs to know that you are allergic to Cipro is baffling. I understand, of course, that it’s a safety issue ensuring that they are always talking to, and working with, the correct patient. It doesn’t make it less tedious when you are already stressed, and in your altogether, barely covered by a gown they’ve asked you to leave untied (why??).

First Day post op…before the bruises developed all the way. Under the steri-strips there are NO stitches. When I asked why, the nurse laughed and said that there are probably hundreds UNDER the incision and that people who have no stitches on top are the ones who have the no-shit surgeries. He said that, basically, on the knee, you should be grateful if you have stitches. Good to know.

First Day post op…before the bruises developed all the way. Under the steri-strips there are NO stitches. When I asked why, the nurse laughed and said that there are probably hundreds UNDER the incision and that people who have no stitches on top are the ones who have the no-shit surgeries. He said that, basically, on the knee, you should be grateful if you have stitches. Good to know.

 

It started at about noon, and I came around from anesthesia at around 5 pm. So, deduce from that, what you will, about how complex of a procedure it was, and how fucked up my knee was, and is. The surgeon did what surgeons always do, handed me some pictures that he took during the operation that make perfect sense to him, but look like scribbles done by a two-year-old with only two colors in in crayon box: red and flesh. “Ahh, yes,” you say when he points at things. “I see,” and “great!” you acknowledge, when he looks for reassurance and praise for how he rearranged the fleshy bits. From my special photos, I was supposed to glean, generally, that my knee was far more of a disaster than it was since the last time he was in there, and that he made it all better. Hopefully,

What bruising actually looks like..and that’s my fist next to my leg. I know it looks weird. The worst bruising is under my knee cap and on the back of my calf. But, it hurts too badly to turn my leg over and take a picture. I literally cannot turn my leg without crying. So, you just get to see these. This is on day four.

What bruising actually looks like..and that’s my fist next to my leg. I know it looks weird. The worst bruising is under my knee cap and on the back of my calf. But, it hurts too badly to turn my leg over and take a picture. I literally cannot turn my leg without crying. So, you just get to see these. This is on day four.

 

The general plan of a Fulkerson Osteotomy is terrible. The surgeon drills holes in your shin-bone, then “gently” cracks it, and uses the break to stretch the shin out a bit, leaving it easier to line you knee up with it later. In case that last part was unclear: HE BREAKS YOUR LEG. This is important because when it’s time to do the second bit, which is picking up your kneecap, which happens to be securely held in by muscles and ligaments that he has to get out of the way by slicing them, he’s got to have a nice secure place to line it up with. He drills a few holes in that broken leg, and then, puts in some surgical bolts, realigns the knee cap to allow it to track in the right place sews all the muscles and ligaments back where they go, and viola, new knee. Sort of.

 

My surgery was special, mostly because I’m special, of course. But, it was also special because I was lucky enough to have a few spare cells of cartilage left under my knee that weren’t too ravaged by arthritis. And, when I say, a few, I’m not exaggerating. I had such a small amount left, that when the surgeon went in to harvest them, that was literally all that was left. I had such a small amount of cartilage that my knee had been rubbing bone on bone so long that it had created a new shape on the underside of my kneecap, a giant pothole. It’s nice to have your body compared to a bumpy road.

 

Obviously, I have top-notch nursing care while in my convalescence. Mew is still in training, so he runs off to chase dust-bunnies, shadows and other random objects and invisible non-objects. But, when he’s in cuddle mode, he’s pretty purrr-fect. I couldn’t resist.

Obviously, I have top-notch nursing care while in my convalescence. Mew is still in training, so he runs off to chase dust-bunnies, shadows and other random objects and invisible non-objects. But, when he’s in cuddle mode, he’s pretty purrr-fect. I couldn’t resist.

Anyway, they used my tiny few cells to clone a whole new “sheet” of cartilage to slap under my knee cap while it was being shifted to its new spot. While my leg is wide open, ain’t no thing to flip my knee cap over like a bowl and glue (yes glue!) some new cartilage under there. It’s like an empty cup, fill ‘er up. This part of the surgery is immensely fascinating to the people in my corner of the medical community, apparently. For example, my primary care doctor is obsessed with the details of the cloning laboratory, which is in Boston. He wants to know everything about the lab, the process, and the transfer. And, my physical therapy office has therapists fighting over who gets to be my post-op provider because this is such interesting technology; they want to watch the recovery evolve real-world, instead of in theory.

 

“In theory,” was how I treated this whole thing since I started planning for it. I “imagined” the recovery. I was told that it would be at least about nine months before I’d be about to return to a modified “normal” activity level, and about a year before the cartilage fully adhered to my body. So, I’d still have to be exceedingly careful about how I used my knee for quite some time. Okay, got it. I knew that I’d be in a lot of pain, for quite a long time, as well. In the reading about prep, it’s recommended that if I had a job with NO physical requirements, I should plan to take a minimum of 12 weeks off. I should’ve seen that as a warning, but I didn’t.  Every doctor I saw, (the surgeon, primary care, pain management) all told me that there was no real way to describe the pain I was about to be in, that this was a major surgery, and that it’s exceedingly painful. Okay, got it. Filed away in the part of my brain labeled, “Rachel is an idiot who ignores important stuff.” To be honest, that file drawer is more of a room that that looks like a hoarder house.

 

Of course, surgery is painful. I even filed the “exceedingly painful” part away. It’s all relative, right? When they all told me that the pain and recovery was best described as “brutal” for the first two weeks, I didn’t so much ignore them as file it in my brain as a theoretical event. It’s like I thought it was a thing that happened, but not so much to me. What the fuck was I thinking?

 

We’re on day seven, and today, I only broke down in hysterical sobs for a total of about two hours. This is less than yesterday, and I’m counting that a victory. So far, today, I’ve only shaken, in uncontrolled pain for several hours, and they weren’t all consecutive. But, the biggest victory of all is that I got out of bed, all by myself, and returned to bed, all by myself. I went a distance of three feet, to get a sweatshirt. While the distance itself is not the victory, I lifted my leg both out of the bed, and back into the bed, without breaking into a cold sweat, and without breaking into tears.

 

As you can tell, being theoretically prepared probably didn’t leave me especially mentally ready for what was to come. Although, if I had known, I don’t know that I’d have liked to have lived with the fear of what was coming. This is, hands down, the most painful surgery that I’ve been through. I can safely say that because I was so doped up during brain surgery recovery, that I don’t remember a lot of it. Bryon assures me that I had bad moments then too, but watching me go through this, he’s pretty sure that, now, this is quickly overtaking a surgery in which a doctor sliced my neck muscles like a curtain, drilled a hole in my skull, and then shoved my brain around, squashing it back through the skull hole. Yep, this is more painful than a surgery that required my body to be bolted to a table.  

 

In the last seven days, my leg has been having a contest with itself. It’s trying to decide which hurts worse: the broken leg, or the knee cap that the doctor fucked around with, including the ligament and muscle movement. For several hours at a time, my shin will hurt as if I have the worst shin splints known to man, times a million. Then, suddenly, as if from nowhere, my knee will feel as if…actually, there truly are no words. The only way to describe the pain is to say that I wish I had no knee. I wish I had no leg at all, in fact. I’m sure that in a few weeks, or maybe months, I’ll take that sentiment back; but, there have been so many moments in the past seven days that I’ve genuinely felt that. I feel like I owe the amputee community an apology for wishing to be disabled (“especially” abled?? What’s the right way to say it) in that particular way.

 

The “best” part of this whole procedure is this torture device. I don’t know what it’s actually called. I’ve been coming up with medical-sounding names for it, and alternative casual names for it. I feel like we can be on first name basis, after all; I mean, it’s seen me cry. For example, I have called it things like, simply, “the device,” or “the knee re-inventor.” But, I use my best horror movie preview announcer voice. Or, I call it Helga, or some other brutal-sounding name to American ears, like Oleg. I think it was invented by a masochistic doctor, who, in his private time had a murder dungeon and went undetected as the nation’s most prolific serial killer.

This machine is super weird, large, and ridiculously loud. It’s not supposed to be loud, but I think it’s on its last legs. We’re already on our second machine. The first one broke on the first day, and the machine delivery dude had to bring us a “new” one. This one groans and creaks every time it raises and lowers. The black tubing is to the ice machine. The tubing is connected to the pad on my knee that is filled with ice water that continuously filters back and forth from the cooled machine on the floor. it works pretty well.

This machine is super weird, large, and ridiculously loud. It’s not supposed to be loud, but I think it’s on its last legs. We’re already on our second machine. The first one broke on the first day, and the machine delivery dude had to bring us a “new” one. This one groans and creaks every time it raises and lowers. The black tubing is to the ice machine. The tubing is connected to the pad on my knee that is filled with ice water that continuously filters back and forth from the cooled machine on the floor. it works pretty well.

 

This machine’s job is to keep my knee from developing too much scar tissue, too quickly. Additionally, it’s to help keep me from losing basic mobility, while in the first stage of the healing process. I have to strap my leg into the machine, set the angle, which for this week is a maximum of 30-degrees, and then let the machine raise and lower, ever so slowly, repeatedly. This sounds easy enough. However, I have to do it for a minimum of six hours a day, and considering it hurts my knee even to breathe, raising and lowering thirty degrees for six hours feels like a bridge too far most of the time.

 

Still, I’m not going through all this recovery pain for a knee that heals wrong; so, I suffer through it. I do what the doctor orders. I literally clench my teeth, and do it. I sweat in pain, shake, and whimper. I cry, sometimes scream, sometimes moan, and sometimes simply put my brain in a place no one, and nothing, can find me. It’s been an adventure in suffering that I have been unprepared for. Truly, with what I’ve already been through, I thought I’d be ready for this. I was wrong.

When I’m just chilling (which is always) between ice machine sessions and torture machine sessions, this is my standard look. I have a giant brace that weighs more than Collin when he was born. it’s very restrictive. It has dials on the side that adjust to how far my knee is “allowed” to bend. Right now, I’m not allowed to bend at all.

When I’m just chilling (which is always) between ice machine sessions and torture machine sessions, this is my standard look. I have a giant brace that weighs more than Collin when he was born. it’s very restrictive. It has dials on the side that adjust to how far my knee is “allowed” to bend. Right now, I’m not allowed to bend at all.

 

If all this isn’t enough, the humility that a surgery like this forces you into is pretty astounding. First of all, I farted at my first post-op appointment, so loudly, in front of the X-ray technician, that it echoed, and I had no choice but to own up to my flatulence, and apologize. Thanks to all the opiates, my stomach is a mess, and I have tons of gas. I was valiantly holding it in when the X-ray tech wanted an image of one leg over the other. I was laying on my side, squeezing that poor ball of gas in with the might of a thousand clenched butt cheeks. But, she grabbed one leg and twisted my hip to rotate the back leg over the front leg, basically wringing out all hope of my holding my fart in. I will, forever, call that position the fart-wringer.

More of my nursing care buddies. I love that they choose to lay in the smallest spot possible, just to lay near me. They keep getting pushed off my lap, because they can’t lay on my knee, but they want to be near. They are so sweet that I can’t stop giving them too many treats. I’m not sure which they love more, me or the treats; but, I don’t want to pull too much at that thread.

More of my nursing care buddies. I love that they choose to lay in the smallest spot possible, just to lay near me. They keep getting pushed off my lap, because they can’t lay on my knee, but they want to be near. They are so sweet that I can’t stop giving them too many treats. I’m not sure which they love more, me or the treats; but, I don’t want to pull too much at that thread.

 

The care your loved ones provide for you, especially personal care, is also humbling. I’m no stranger to this kind of care, of course, thanks to my history, but this time it has gotten even more personal, which I didn’t know was possible. Because I can’t bend my knee at all, Bryon has to hold my leg up in the bathroom. There’s no room for a stool. You know it’s love and commitment when your husband holds your leg up while you pee, and worse. Obviously, he’s got to wash me, feed me, and bring me everything I need. I cannot, and I mean cannot get up from the bed without assistance. I’m one-hundred percent reliant on him.

My favorite nurse, doing what he does best. I love this picture of him. His little leg hanging off the side of the bed is too precious. When he sleeps with his face down, we call him Garfield.

My favorite nurse, doing what he does best. I love this picture of him. His little leg hanging off the side of the bed is too precious. When he sleeps with his face down, we call him Garfield.

 

Wish me luck because today we are attempting my first post-op shower. Yep, seven days and I haven’t had a shower yet. I’m a little ripe. The pain has been so intense that the idea, while we’ve been throwing it around, has seemed like suggesting going out for a Forrest Gump-style run. Now, it’s gotten so long that we sort of have to do it, regardless of pain. I’m a little scared. Bryon is putting on his brave face, and I’m bracing myself.

Homer is a great care-giver, but he is old and ornery. If he doesn’t get control of the remote, he gets grumpy. He gets a little impatient when all I want to watch is reality television for 18 hours straight.

Homer is a great care-giver, but he is old and ornery. If he doesn’t get control of the remote, he gets grumpy. He gets a little impatient when all I want to watch is reality television for 18 hours straight.


 

I have learned a few things so far though:

 

  • Move your leg from the horizontal to the vertical position as slowly as possible. As the blood flows down, it is the most painful sensation you can imagine. Poor Bryon has claw marks on his shoulders and arms from my death grip, as I shrieked in agony, every time he helped me up to pee, until we figured out this little trick.


  • Use your good leg to support your bad leg, in bed. It doesn’t matter how many pillows you’ve got, or how you have them arranged, it’s not good enough. Use your foot, and nestle it against your bad leg until it’s just right. You’ll be able to fall asleep. You’ll wake up a tangled mess, but the rest is worth it.


  • Ice. Ice. Ice. Ice. Ice. Then, more ice. Ice. Ice. There can never be enough ice. Always ice. You will be given (actually, be forced to buy) an ice machine. Use it. Instead of putting ice and water in it, get those tiny water bottles and freeze them. Use those as “ice” in the machine. They stay colder longer, and they work better. But also pack on the traditional ice packs too. The ice machine pad isn’t big enough to cover your leg from the knee to the ankle. This surgery can cause bruising from the thigh to the tips of the toe for up to six months. Obviously, you need lots of ice packs.


  • Miralax, in a steady stream. Never stop mixing it with your drinks. Yes, I’ve “heard” the weird study about how Miralax is supposedly dangerous with kids; I’ve also got critical thinking skills, and can evaluate how to recognize a flawed and biased study. Use it at least once, maybe twice a day. If you have a serious surgery like this, you will be on serious opiates. You will never poop again if you don’t do something really proactive about it. It seems like a small issue, until it isn’t. Trust me.

Congrats McClain Men

So, while this was probably a pretty boring post, with not much to say, it all has to be said. I am madly in love with my family, of whom I am intensely proud.


This week has been busy. First of all, my son reminded me (and Bryon) that we are, indeed, getting older, by graduating from elementary school and “rising” to middle school. At least, that’s what they call it, these days. He’s now a “rising” seventh grader. My infant, tiny baby is now a middle schooler. I’m not sure when, and how that happened, but somehow my baby is now a pubescent mess most of the time. Sometimes, in fact a lot of the time, his sweet self still shines through. But, there’s a fair amount of the time that his hormonal self is on full display.

 

Nonetheless, he rose to seventh grade this week. We sat in a crowded gym, because there were something like a million sixth grade classes. They had to do two graduation ceremonies, divided by alphabet, because there were just so darn many sixth graders to rise. It was very well organized, and efficient. Forty-five minutes of very quick name-reading, organized clapping, and absolutely no hugging of your student and no contact. They were shuffled in and out without so much as a wave to their parents. The number of disappointed grandparents with bouquets and balloons that went undelivered was heartbreaking to see.

 

Best pic I could get of my boy graduating. That’s him in the yellow shirt!

Best pic I could get of my boy graduating. That’s him in the yellow shirt!

I do have to pause here to point out that, in Virginia, they give out an award that is vaguely labeled the D.A.R. Award for Good Citizenship. It seemed obvious to everyone there that it went to a girl, automatically. So, I was immediately interested in what the hell this award was. I had to google. Only in the south do we give out awards called Daughters of the American Revolution, apparently. The DAR is clearly an “inclusive” organization these days, but…hmmm….the past.

 

I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention just how proud I was of my little munchkin though. He’s had a rough year. The principal of his school made a point of mentioning how many students had been with his school since kindergarten, as if that was some kind of accomplishment, the sense of community at the school. I’m not sure how it’s an accomplishment to, what, not move? A bigger accomplishment, in my book, is a kid like Collin, who has been to more schools in his short lifetime, than most kids will ever go to. He started two new schools last year alone. And, he did it cool as a cucumber, and managed to transition just fine. That’s my amazing boy. Military kids are incredible. They have to adjust to new surroundings all the time, and they have to do it over and over again. They are a tough breed, and Collin is just as strong as the rest of them.  

 

Still, no matter how hard he struggled with adjustment this year, and with math, because he skipped a grade, he kept pushing and he persevered. He not only passed, he did well. He made friends, and he worked hard. He performed in the solo ensemble competition with his flute, and he did well during his private lessons, even though he complained about them copiously. He even got a medal at solo ensemble! And, he won the Presidential Award for Academic achievement based both on his grades, and his test scores this year. And, to top it all off, he won student of the month, the last week of school. Needless to say, I have been proud as punch of my baby these past few weeks. Well, I’ve been prouder than usual.  

 

If this isn’t all enough, Bryon graduated from the Eisenhower school this week. In fact, he graduated the day after Collin did. It’s been a busy week, I’m telling you. Lots of events this week. If it wasn’t an award ceremony, it was a graduation, for both of them. We’ve been running around a bit, this week! And, it’s all been worth it, to watch my boys be honored in the way they deserve.

 

Bryon is the humblest man I’ve ever met. He refuses to believe that he’ll be honored with any distinction, regardless of how hard he’s worked, or how obviously deserving he appears to be. Based on his grades in the program he was in, it was pretty clear he was going to be a distinguished graduate, an honor that goes to the top 10% of the class. He kept saying, “but I have an A-.”

 

Of course, he was honored as a distinguished graduate. Not only that, was named the distinguished graduate of the entire class. This means that he was named the top graduate of the entire class. That’s my husband, folks. The best. I already knew it, but now everyone acknowledged it…again. I say again, because he seems to get awards like this a lot.

 

Bryon’s graduation ceremony was nearly rained out, so he insisted that I stay home. It turned out to be just muggy and humid. It was held in a tent, where it was sweltering and miserable. I got to watch Bryon walk across the stage from the comfort of my couch, in my jammies, via a live webcast. It was lovely. I truly wanted to go, but when he came home drenched with sweat, I’m glad he insisted that I stay home. It sounded like a terribly uncomfortable experience, especially since the run time was well over two hours, in smaller-than-normal folding chairs and a tent that trapped the humidity.

 

Meanwhile, I’m doing nothing quite as impressive as my men, except waiting for my surgery on Monday, and running errands. To be honest, I feel pretty accomplished when I get through a whole week, getting dressed every day, running all my errands without help, and making all my appointments on my own. I know that sounds like nothing compared to my son and husband, but it’s a big deal to me these days. However, I did get myself all set up to start my Harvard class this week. I am all registered, and I got my book in the mail. I start on June 25th. So, I’m ready to both have my leg broken, and to have my academic ass kicked, both starting in the same week. That’s something, I guess. Right?

My boys playing a card game that my son made up. It’s a Star Wars card game that Collin invented and drew, himself.

My boys playing a card game that my son made up. It’s a Star Wars card game that Collin invented and drew, himself.

 

Doctor Trump Supporter

When I had my measles/random rash scare, I mentioned that my GP doctor is a MDVIP doctor. This basically means that I pay a bunch of money to be treated like I’m his only patient, to get same-day appointments, and to feel like he remembers me when he sees me. It’s actually pretty great. I thought I’d give it a go when I read his positive patient reviews, as a physician, and the reviews of the MDVIP program, in general. I’d definitely continue with this type of doctor, as we move from the area. However, a sticky wicket as come up with my personal provider.

 

He’s a nice man, but he’s definitely a bit…conservative. He’s not conservative in treatment, although he is that, a bit, but it’s his political views that are the real problem. He tends to find a way to bring them up, at almost every appointment. Since even a quick pre-op clearance appointment can take upwards of ninety minutes, he has plenty of time to let his rebel flag fly. He always manages to slip it into conversation as if we are commiserating on the ways of the world like old buddies who have had this chat before, or who obviously agree that both what he has just said is true, and also that we also both agree that pineapple on pizza is disgusting. I think that because he knows Bryon and I are both military, he assumes that we simply must be of the same persuasion, as he opens all of our non-medical conversations with, “how’s the colonel?” (p.s. ugh and eye roll). You’d be surprised how many military folks are both liberal and atheists, by the way. Next time the chaplain does the “mandatory” prayer at an event, take a gander around at the non-head-bowers and share the head nod with the other non-prayers in the crowd, you’ll see.

 

Don’t get me wrong, I’m glad he’s so thorough, as a doctor, even though I have to clear half a day just to see him for a sore throat; but, I could live without him having the time to end up in a lecture about the potential danger of “illegals” killing us all at numbers we haven’t seen since the middle ages, thanks to unchecked entry with diseases like the Bubonic Plague. “Just you wait and see!” At least, that’s what the lecture was about this most recent time that I saw him. I’ve had lectures about everything from illegals, to voting, to speaking only English, and whatever other issue had Trump fired up that week.

 

These are always very awkward conversations, and they set my liberal, bleeding heart, a-flutter. I never know how to respond. Do I tell him that I disagree, and risk my doctor disliking me? Do I find a new doctor? Do I nod in silence and let him think I agree? Saying nothing makes me feel like I need a shower. It’s so confusing. There’s no one at the office to complain to, as his wife is his nurse, and the administrator is their dear friend. That’s it. That’s the staff. There’s no anonymity. When I call to make an appointment, they don’t just know me, they know me. This would generally be a great thing, but for something like this, it’s bad. How do you lodge a complaint about a doctor having somewhat inappropriate conversations with his patients, with the staff, when the staff is his family?  

 

Picture an oldish man. He looks a little like Santa, minus the beard, and a little more jowl-y instead of jolly. He’s a smidge imposing, and he’s got the upper hand in any interaction between us. He’s the one in control of my treatment and care, despite the fact that I’m the one who is supposed to feel in control, as the patient. The dynamic invariably shifts to the one with the most knowledge, and how he feels he will mete it out, in order to allow me to make decisions and draw conclusions. If he feels like I’m not capable of deciding the way of the world, perhaps he feels I won’t understand certain treatment options, or why he will make certain calls regarding my care. Perhaps, he won’t fully explain other options I might have considered, therefore not offering them to me as viable choices.

 

So, these conversations feel more threatening than they should be. This seems like a simple problem. I should just find a new doctor. Or, I should just live with this, and accept the imperfections of an imperfect man. However, neither solution is ideal. Finding a decent general practitioner who takes extended time with my complex conditions, and who has extensive relationships with referring local doctors is difficult. But, accepting, and furthermore, knowing I’m lining the pockets of someone whose views I find abhorrent, is also difficult for me, on a moral level. Ugh.

 

At our last appointment, I needed a Tdap booster, apparently. I mentioned the case of the child in Oregon, who contracted tetanus recently, to the tune of nearly a million dollars in related medical costs, and whose parents still refused the vaccine, despite seeing how ill their kid was. This brought up the aforementioned rant about how “illegals” are bringing in all kinds of diseases, and how the liberal media won’t tell you that they are going to kill us all. He told me that it’s black and white: one side wants more voters and the other side (I assume he meant the “illegals”) wants to come and work for free and get free benefits. I say that assume there, because what “side?” wants that?

 

I didn’t bother to tell him that what he said made no sense for his argument against immigration, because he described two sides of the same racist coin, in his hurry to slur the facts. But, that was neither here nor there. He’s so brainwashed by Fox that I just murmured that I didn’t think it was that simple. That’s all I could get out in defense of helpless humans being belittled in a doctor’s office hundreds of miles away, grouped into swaths of humanity that don’t even register as individuals anymore.

 

There was so much I could’ve said, so many points to bring up. Children being abused in detention facilities, deaths, rapes, families being separated. There are so many successful immigrants that I know, dreamers that have succeeded. There are so many reasons to love immigration and to support the idea that people should come here and have a chance. The dream of America is built on it. But, I didn’t say any of what I believe. And, mostly what I believe is that kindness and human decency should always trump anything else, and that we are treating our fellow man like they are subhuman, which is disgusting and makes me feel sick at night. We’re not only being un-American, we are being bad humans by doing so.

 

One might say that it doesn’t matter who your doctor is as a person, so long as he’s a good doctor. That may well be true. He could be a terrible man, but still be a great doctor. However, when that terrible man brings his terribleness to the job, and forces me to look at it, I have to assess how important that is to how he treats me, as a patient. If he’d left that part of him, at the door, before he came into the exam room, then I wouldn’t be forced to evaluate it as part of his medical persona. But, because he brings it into the room with him, every time we have an interaction, I have to ask myself how kind of a man he is, how sympathetic, how gentle, and how understanding. I have to ask myself if he’s the right doctor for me, overall.

 

Worst of all, when faced directly with this attitude by a man who looks a little like a kindly grandpa, and who is in a position of power, I did nothing. I said nothing. And, I’m ashamed. I’ve started looking at how I can transition to a provider in the same system that maintains all the same records, but is still part of the same provider network. My current doctor is less than a mile from my house, and any new one would be at least a fifteen to twenty-minute drive, but I suppose that’s the price I pay for a cleaner conscience, and for a doctor who can be more professional. I’m hoping it’s a possibility. Starting over with a new doctor is never fun, but in this case, I think it’s important that I at least try. At least I’ll know that I’m not supporting his practice any longer, anyway.

 

The Only Thing Necessary for the Triumph of Evil is that Good Men Do Nothing

 

 

 

Happy Zipperversary Times Two

Most Chiarians who have had decompression celebrate what they call their zipperversary. This is the anniversary of their brain surgery, a momentous occasion, because it undoubtedly changed their life, for better or worse. Either way, it gives you a battle scar, and a badge of honor. Surviving brain surgery is no joke.

 

For me, I’ve got two zipperversaries. One in May 2015, and one in June 2016. So, celebrating them both, roughly mid-point seems good enough. Either way, it’s been 4 years, and three years, respectively, since someone’s poked my brain, removed bits of my skull and spine, and in one case, drilled some titanium into my head. It sounds so…horrible.

 

I still can’t look at images of patients in position for my surgeries, because it sends me into cold sweats, or straight panic attacks. Chiari surgery is performed with the patient face down, bolted to the table. BOLTED to the damn table. Just that thought makes me shiver. I was BOLTED to a table. My body, my head, was bolted to a table. I know this, because I had bolt scabs for days, both times, when I woke up. I touched them obsessively. For some reason, this little item always skeeved me out the most, knowing that I was treated like a piece of wood you needed to keep still, in a vice.  

 

The second surgery saved my life. If I’m honest, I’d probably have eventually killed myself. Living in the state of pain I’d been left in, and in the state of rapid deterioration, I’m not sure how long I could’ve held out. If not that, I’m not sure how long the rest of my body could’ve held out. I was already on massive amounts of pain killers, just to survive, and my brain was mush. People underestimate what happens to your brain when you are on doses that high. You lose yourself. You become depressed, stop making rational decisions, and you forget time, space, and all sense of logic. Who can last forever like that? I was being treated as if I were a cancer patient, in her last days. There are months of that period that I have no memory of.

There was once a time that my jaw was so painful, on a regular basis, because of referred pain from my skull, that I would use ANYTHING handy, to put pressure on it, including the pain pill bottle that I was never far from…as I counted the minutes till I could have my next dose, desperate for relief.

There was once a time that my jaw was so painful, on a regular basis, because of referred pain from my skull, that I would use ANYTHING handy, to put pressure on it, including the pain pill bottle that I was never far from…as I counted the minutes till I could have my next dose, desperate for relief.

Celebrating these milestones is a strange thing. It’s double-edged. You recall that you survived and endured, and you remember that you overcame; yet, you also sit and remember that it means you are sick, and you were once sicker. It’s a weird dissonance. Recalling getting out of my hospital bed at Walter Reed in 2015, being forced to walk, to prove to the nurses that I didn’t have spinal damage, was terrifying. The fear that I might not be able to, is a memory that is part of my very core, because it wasn’t a “maybe,” it was a realistic possibility. The uncertainty of what was broken, what was going to heal, and what wasn’t, was very scary.

 

Now though, I know the extent of my “damage.” I’m healed, as healed as I’ll ever be, really. In fact, my UCLA neurosurgeons just reviewed my latest MRIs and reassured me that I wasn’t having new Chiari symptoms and headaches, and that my plate still looks great. My new headaches are because my neck, having been diced in half twice, is fucked up. It will only continue to get worse, over time. This happens with a spine that is weakened by surgery, and with muscles that have been hacked apart. But, I can feel “safe,” that it’s not my skull or brain. Phew. The point is that I will periodically fall apart, here or there, but I will likely be “fine,” from here on out…. probably. That’s what my annual MRIs are for.

 

Hello C-Collar my old friend. I hate to see you again. Truth be told, I need you more often than I let on. If I wore you more often, I’d have less pain. But, I hate you so much that I let you gather dust in the closet. You are uncomfortable. You are hot. You make it hard to see stuff because I have to turn my whole body. And, you are a flashing light for people to stare at you, in public. In short, I hate you and you are evil.

Hello C-Collar my old friend. I hate to see you again. Truth be told, I need you more often than I let on. If I wore you more often, I’d have less pain. But, I hate you so much that I let you gather dust in the closet. You are uncomfortable. You are hot. You make it hard to see stuff because I have to turn my whole body. And, you are a flashing light for people to stare at you, in public. In short, I hate you and you are evil.

So, I celebrate. I remember. I monitor. I remain vigilant. I remember that I’m the healthiest version of a sick person that I can be. I solider on.

 

This year, to mark the occasion, I go under the knife again with another major surgery. This time, I am having my Fulkerson Osteotomy on June 17th. It’s a ridiculous procedure that I think was invented in the middle ages, and hasn’t been modified since. It involves breaking my leg, installing some bolts, fully flipping my knee cap, and moving all my ligaments. As a bonus for all this torture, I get an entire new sheet (is that what it’s called?) of cartilage under my knee cap, grown and cloned from my very own cells.

 

It should take a full year to heal, so I’m super stoked for this. Supposedly, this was preferable to a knee replacement. I am trusting my doctor who basically told me that my knee was a disaster and he wasn’t sure how I was walking. Since it currently dislocates roughly 4-5 times a week, I’m ready for either this surgery, or an amputation.

I used to spend A LOT more time horizontal. The only thing I miss about this is that my kitties and I used to snuggle pretty close during these times. Poor Little Willow was a pretty good snuggler.

I used to spend A LOT more time horizontal. The only thing I miss about this is that my kitties and I used to snuggle pretty close during these times. Poor Little Willow was a pretty good snuggler.

 The cool part, at least I think so, is that I’m like a celebrity at my local Physical Therapist’s office, because although I go there for shoulder work right now (remember that surgery too – I’m a disaster), they all know the Fulkerson is coming. It’s a relatively rare procedure, both because most people’s knees aren’t fucked up enough to need it, and because when they are, many people choose to live with the pain, rather than face the terrifying operation. However, the PT is kind of specialized, so they are really excited about it. Plus, they are crazy excited to see how the cloned cartilage works out, because this part is even more rare.

 

This must be what it feels like to be popular. It’s the same feeling I get when I go to my tailor and she compliments both my clothes and me, every time. She always tells me that I look pretty. Honestly, I pay a little more (I think) to go to her, just because she compliments me. I’m such a sucker for positive attention. Praise me! Someone once asked me why I enjoy education and school so much, and I said, “because that’s the place where you get A’s.” I thought it was a stupid question. I think this sums me up, in a nutshell.

 

Anyway, it’s awesome to look back and remember that I was once sicker. I once thought I wouldn’t make it until the morning, leaning over and begging Bryon to tell Collin I loved him. I once thought I might not be able to read for comprehension again. I once thought I’d have to use my cane, forever. I once thought that I wouldn’t survive surgery. I once thought I’d be on Fentanyl until I died…then, I thought Fentanyl withdrawal would kill me (don’t start Fentanyl, kids). But, it all gets better, at least a little. Look at me now, starting Harvard in less than a month!

 

I’m still slower than I used to be. I’m still racking up surgeries like I’m collecting hospital bands, or cats (which I am). I’m still in therapy for PTSD, depression and anxiety. I still have memory issues and pain problems. I still have days where my body forces me to just…. sit. I still have more health problems than anyone would care to listen to, and I would care to list. But, I get up, every day, and try. I’m alive to do it. That’s what a zipperversary is really all about, that you lived to fight another day.

 

So, if I’ve got any fellow Chiarians reading this, keep trying. Keep fighting. It isn’t sunshine and rainbows with unicorns farting glitter, on the other side. It’s going to suck, some days. Some days it’s going to be terrible. But, the days that it isn’t, it’s pretty great. Hang in there. It can be maddening to read stories of post-op patients who run marathons after they heal, or who climb Mt Kilimanjaro, or become astrophysicists; but they are freaks of nature, or liars. Do you. Your Mt Kilimanjaro might just be to get dressed today, and that’s just fine!

Measles...Or Not

Speaking of hypochondria…


You know how it seems like we are living like pioneers in 1857, thanks to the measles outbreak(s) brought on by kooky anti-vaxxers and their fear of survival? According to the CDC, there have already been 764 reported cases of measles this year. This is more than double last year’s total cases, and more than six times the cases in 2017. This year, there have been public health notices regarding measles outbreaks in Los Angeles County, Brooklyn, Washington, New York City, Texas, Illinois, and Rockland County (New York).


I am immunized because I got all my shots as a kid, and because I was in the military. When you in-process, you line up with all your fellow new airmen and wait for a slightly senior-to-you airman to push up your sleeve up and give you approximately 97 shots at once, regardless of your vaccination history. Your arm hurts for, what seems like, weeks, probably because you are concurrently doing endless push-ups and pull-ups on those same arms. I’m pretty sure it’s just the tetanus shot that hurts, but it seems like they all hurt.

 

These new measles cases mean that adults are panicking about their decades-old shots and whether or not they need to be covered with new boosters. If you were born after 1989, you probably had two doses of the measles vaccine, which is approximately 97% effective at preventing measles, versus the single dose MMR (measles, mumps and rubella) vaccine used as far back as the 50s, which was still very effective (93%), but slightly less so. The only way for adults to tell, at this point, whether or not they fall into that “almost” covered, or not covered at all between 93%, 97% or 0%, is to get their titers checked. This is as simple as getting their blood drawn to find out if they have any antibodies that say, “yep, I’m protected from the measles.”

 

All of this measles talk has a purpose, I promise.

 

I was born before 1989, and I was in the military. So, logically, I’m covered for the measles, right? Duh. I have had my measles vaccines. In fact, I have been vaccinated twice over, by anyone’s standards. According to the anti-vaxx crowd, I should either be dead, have super-autism, or be glowing with toxic radiation. That’s how it works, right? Either way, I have no reason to assume I have the measles.  

 

Still, when I got a weird rash on my face last week, that’s precisely what I did. To be fair, I didn’t assume measles…at first. I waited several days before I freaked out. And, I kept the freak out factor very minimum. In fact, I tried to go to my primary care doctor, super casual-like. “Hey man, I’ve got this rash, can I come in? Super chill. No big deal. In fact, let’s forget the rash, let’s just get some burgers and milkshakes. I’m cool, I’m casual. I’m breezy.”


I only showed up at Urgent Care because he’s at a conference at Johns Hopkins, for the next THREE FREAKING WEEKS, and I had no choice. He’s still out of the office, actually.

 

I was, frankly, pretty annoyed at him. Not sure if you’ve heard of this new MDVIP thing; but, it’s basically concierge medical care. A lot of doctors cut their patient load down to a few hundred (or fewer) patients, which is great for you, as a patient; however, you pay a yearly fee to enroll in the practice. It works out for the doctor, too, as they work with less insurance red-tape, make a higher profit (the high enrollment fee is cash only), plus they get to practice medicine the way they want to. It makes for pretty personalized care, and a wonderful patient experience. It’s not cheap go to a MDVIP provider, and he was gone for THREE WEEKS, during a “measles” crisis on my face.

 

I digress. I suppose I can forgive him. He’s been there for me at minutes’ notice when I’ve had the flu, a UTI, and a kidney stone, in the past, so fake measles can be forgiven…this time! He’s a great doctor, and always thorough. He’s often too thorough. You can never get out of there in less than thirty to forty minutes, even for a “quick” appointment, and not for waiting, for the appointment.

 

Anyway, back to this rash on my face. It was weird, red splotchy spots that had popped up out of nowhere all over my face, primarily on my right cheek. I’d not had contact with anything new, not eaten anything new, not worn anything new, not used a new soap, nothing. They kind of itched, but not really. They felt raw when I touched them. They were spreading, and they were ugly. The ugliness was my primary concern, of course.

It’s almost embarrassing to show you all this picture because it barely shows the rash, here. But, this is the" “best” picture I have of it. Half of my face is covered by sunglasses, and half of my spots aren’t visible. Overall, it’s a pretty dumb shot to “show off” a rash. But, here it is. And, it’s a HIDEOUS picture of me. It’s probably not the ugliest picture I’ve ever posted here, but it’s still not great! But, you get the idea of what some of the spots looked like.

It’s almost embarrassing to show you all this picture because it barely shows the rash, here. But, this is the" “best” picture I have of it. Half of my face is covered by sunglasses, and half of my spots aren’t visible. Overall, it’s a pretty dumb shot to “show off” a rash. But, here it is. And, it’s a HIDEOUS picture of me. It’s probably not the ugliest picture I’ve ever posted here, but it’s still not great! But, you get the idea of what some of the spots looked like.

 

 At first, I thought they were pimples and that I was having a hideously bad acne breakout. Because I am blessed with normally clear skin, with the exception of pimples that come in singles here or there, I was pretty annoyed to have a baker’s dozen arrive on my face all at once. Still, I slept with those awesome pimple patches on all of the spots, thinking I’d wake up with lots of goopy stickers to peel off in the morning. Nope. All the stickers came off clean, and the spots were just as red and hideous. So, I was annoyed that I’d wasted a ton of those stickers. Plus, there were even more red spots. Hmmm….and grrrrr.

 

In the back of my mind, I thought they looked measle-y, but I knew it couldn’t be, because I’d had my vaccines; however, measles starts on the face as flat, red spots. Check. Logic be damned when you’re a hypochondriac. I posted my rash, now several days old, on FB and one of my friends immediately said measles. Really, I just wanted someone to say, “poison ivy,” or, “leprosy.” Really, anything other than confirming what I was already thinking.

 

This was moments before I went in to a physical therapy appointment for my ridiculous shoulder that is still bothering me. My physical therapist, of course noticed my rashy face. There’s nothing like brining a potentially contagious rash into a medical building where they treat dozens of patients, many of them elderly, a day. You feel like a criminal. Only instead of assaulting the elderly directly, I was potentially leaving behind a microbe to do my dirty work. When she asked what it was, I was forced to tell her I didn’t know. But, of course, she said it looked a little like measles. I explained it couldn’t be, that I was vaccinated, which made her more comfortable, and that I was going to get it checked anyway, which put her even more at ease.

 

So, I went to urgent care….

 

This is how check in went:

 

I’m perfectly healthy, energetic and happy, as I approach the counter. I tell the check-in woman that I’m probably fine, but if I’m not, perhaps I should sit somewhere away from others because I’m concerned the rash on my face is measles. The woman behind the desk looks up at me, looks at my face, smiles at me, and tells me to take a seat. She removes the pen that I used to sign in with from the cup on the counter, throws it away, and then sanitizes her hands, wipes the counter with bleach and wipes her keyboard. Yep. I feel great, so far. The waiting room is empty, except for a single person, so I sit all the way on the other side of the room.

 

Moments later, a nurse comes out to get me, wearing a face mask and gloves. She was excessively kind and apologetic for being so overly cautious, and said that she hoped I understood the precautions. Of course, I did! She got me to a room, checked me in and took a look at my face. From her assessment, she said it was hard to tell, but it looked like…hmmm…maybe? In other words, she didn’t know. So, she obviously wanted to wait for the doctor. What she did want me to know was that she was so happy that I came to the clinic and that she wished more people came to check on rashes they didn’t know about because it would help stop spread these outbreaks. This left me wondering what other rashes cause outbreaks, other than measles? Meanwhile, I was apologizing profusely for wasting everyone’s time and for being so ridiculous for coming in, in the first place. All I could think of, was becoming patient zero in Northing Virginia.

 

Next, a PA comes in, introduces herself, gloves up, and puts a mask on. She also apologizes for the precaution and congratulates me on potentially stopping a measles outbreak in its tracks. I am starting to feel like a god damn hero for visiting Urgent Care, instead of like a weirdo with a face rash. She spends about five minutes examining my face, which, trust me, is a long time to have someone centimeters from you face, poking it, shining a light on it, and staring directly at each spot. The end result of her exam was that she just…wasn’t…sure. She thinks that it’s probably not, but she doesn’t want to make the final ruling without a doctor to sign off on it. Just in case.

 

By the way, there’s nothing like a woman with a light squinting right at your face, quizzically saying, “Gosh, I just don’t know…what IS that?” while poking your cheek, as if she’s poking at a piece of rotten meat. It makes you feel just, I don’t know, pretty? Is pretty the right word? Gorgeous?

 

So, that’s two people who are maybe thinking it’s not measles, but they can’t 100% be sure that it’s not, so they need a third party to rule it out for certain. So, now I’m wondering, if it’s not measles, what the hell kind of rash do I have? What did I get into that’s so insanely unique that no one can even identify it?

 

The doctor comes in, this time not covered, not masked, and not gloved. He was also very nice, and congratulated me on being responsible enough to take seriously how contagious I might be to others. I was wondering if, at some point, the entire clinic might be secretly planning a party, or perhaps a parade for me? It really made me feel much better about going in for something so silly, to have everyone be so nice to me. Anyway, he examined me pretty closely as well, and determined it was “just a rash.”

 

His assessment was that it’s basically a “who the hell knows?” kind of thing. He didn’t say that, but that’s my description. I could’ve come in contact with anything, at any time, and been allergic to it. Even with steroids and steroid cream, it still took another week for it to clear up, so whatever it was, I was obviously having quite a reaction to it! He said it definitely looked very similar measles, so there was certainly a reason to feel a little concerned. However, measles tends to start more towards the hairline, and not the cheeks. The more you know, I suppose!

 

He said it might’ve been poison oak or poison ivy. It made me remember that I had, indeed, been rubbing my face in the lawn when I was gardening a few days prior. I was weeding our raised veggie and flower beds, and to take a break, I put my face all over the grass. No wait, dogs do that. So, no, I have no idea what caused the rash. It was just there. And now, it’s gone. And, it wasn’t measles. Of course.

 

So, my hypochondria sent me to urgent care for a disease that deep down I knew I didn’t have, which I was later told I didn’t have. And, all ended well. OH! I forgot the part which Bryon even agreed that it was a good idea to get checked. He was a hypochondria supporter, at least in this case. He, like me, said, “you probably don’t have it, but yeah, get checked. Not a bad idea.” Meanwhile, he was at home, texting me what he was Googling, which was that I didn’t have a fever, and all the CDC reported cases by state. He didn’t feel 100% sure that I was “safe” until he saw that there were no reported cases in Virginia yet, this year. I always know when Bryon is worried, even 1% worried, by his texts, or what he Googles or looks up. He was just a smidge concerned, just like me. A smidge counts. Hope my hypochondria isn’t rubbing off on him!

Medical Diagnosis: The Odyssey

My body is weird. I don’t say that in a “I hate my body” kind of way. Don’t get me wrong, I hate my body in all kinds of womanly ways. I hate when I get constipated and my stretchy baby bucket allows my woman pooch to fill up and look like I have a poop baby, gestating to about six months, instead of just a little bloat. I hate that I my boobs are too small, and I hate that I still get acne breakouts. I hate that I have enough cellulite, that a few months ago, Collin, who still follows me to the bathroom asked me, “Mommy, why is your butt skin bumpy and mine isn’t.”

 

But, that isn’t what I mean. I mean that my body behaves weirdly, which makes medical diagnoses difficult, time consuming, and frustrating. There’s a theory, in the medical community, that when you hear hoofbeats, think horses, not zebras. For me, it’s always the zebra, or maybe an emu, or even an ostrich who identifies as a horse, wearing horseshoes.

I don’t have any pictures of horses, ostriches or zebras, but we call Loki, Bear. So, here’s a picture of a Bear.

I don’t have any pictures of horses, ostriches or zebras, but we call Loki, Bear. So, here’s a picture of a Bear.

 

On television, we see doctors like Dr. House, who get a mysterious patient, hone in, and refuse to let go, until they reach a solution. In reality, someone like me, who presents with a wild array of insane symptoms, even one with an already bizarre diagnosis, which may complement the bizarre array of symptoms, and even be a part of the list itself, is shuffled around to an ever-growing list of specialists to find not one diagnosis to tie them together, but a laundry list of them.

 

It’s a game of hand-off, pass the patient. It makes the patient (me) start to wonder if they are crazy. Am I sick? Is there actually anything wrong with me? Maybe this is all in my head? If Doctor A couldn’t figure it out, maybe it’s because there’s nothing there, and I’m actually fine. Am I just a hypochondriac?

 

Then, I remember that Doctor A did find something. He found lots of things; he just isn’t the right doctor to deal with the stuff he found. Medicine, these days, is so compartmentalized and specialized. It’s out of his area of expertise, and the stuff he found was scary. It was so scary, he was worried and insisted I see Doctor B. But, the tests Doctor B ran, ones he was sure would present a positive diagnosis, didn’t; but, they turned up something out of his area of expertise, and now I have to go to Doctor C. And on and on it goes. Now, I am all the way to Doctor Q, and I am tired.

 

Side Note: is Doctor Q a cool villain name, or what?

 

Eventually, I question if I am a not only a hypochondriac, but if I am such a hypochondriac, that I am being a hypochondriac about being a hypochondriac. How meta is that? I am constantly asking doctors if all this is necessary. I am constantly pressing them whether this is crazy; couldn’t I just be fine?

 

Can you imagine being my therapist? She’s paid well.

 

In the past eighteen months, here’s just a sampling my saga:

 

Cardiology

I pass out sometimes, for no reason. I just, poof, go down. Imagine lying on the couch with your head hanging over the side, then quickly standing. For me, just sitting normally gives me that feeling when I stand. I also pass out if I’ve had a bad headache. I’ve never worried about it. I always wake up, right?

 

My primary care physician felt otherwise, at my annual physical, when she took my blood pressure, and it presented as approximately low enough to be dead. Meh, it’s always low. I wasn’t concerned. So, I mentioned the “spells.” She made me do the sitting, standing, lying down blood pressure tests, and they changed dramatically, so she shuffled me off to cardiology for several other tests.

 

All signs pointed to a POTS (Postural Orthostatic Tachycardia) diagnosis, not uncommonly comorbid with Chiari.

 

Then, I had a tilt table test, which is the gold standard for diagnosing POTS. They strap you to a mechanized table, that tilts up and down, to see how long it takes to make you pass out. Only medical test I know of that’s basically an amusement park ride. Because they used this table so rarely, at the hospital I went to, the table barely worked; so, I passed (not out) with flying colors. Instead of it “tilting,” to any degree of speed, it moved at the rate of a 103-year-old woman standing up and down.

 

This left the cardiologist scratching her head, and she basically said, “whelp, for all intents and purposes, I’d have diagnosed you with POTS except for the tilt table test.” In other words: Dunno? Looks like a duck, quacks like a duck; but seems like it might be a whale? So, POTS-ish?

 

Hepatology

Did you know that a hepatologist is a liver, gall bladder and pancreas doctor? I do. I know this because I have a hepatologist. I also know my liver’s soft/hard value, because it’s been tested. This is bizarre and seems like something that a chronic drinker should know. I’ve had approximately three glasses of champagne in my entire life.

 

For as long as I can remember, doctors and nurses have said, in passing, after blood draws, “oh, your liver number is elevated,” or, “hmmm, everything looks great, but your alk phos (as if I know what that is) is a little off, probably nothing.” Again, my primary care physician, being ever diligent, noticed a pattern in those pesky numbers. Turns out they are always off. Turns out my liver is a weird-o. Turns out whatever day the random doctor noticed the numbers wasn’t a fluke; it’s consistent.

 

What no one knows is why it’s off, or what to do about it. Liver issues are noted with alcohol, or with obesity. They aren’t noted in thin, vegans who don’t drink. There are a few autoimmune diseases that cause liver disease; I tested negative for all of them. So, I have idiopathic fatty liver; but he isn’t sure I even have fatty liver. At this point, he is just guessing.

 

But, the values of my labs are so off, I have to continuously provide blood to monitor them. The good thing is it’s being watched. The bad thing is that I feel like a time bomb, waiting for my liver to randomly need a replacement. I know it doesn’t really work that way, but it feels that way. Mostly, I think it feels that way because my doctor is in the Georgetown Liver Transplant Center, and his waiting room plays, on a loop, a video about liver transplants. It’s unnerving.

 

Thanks, vital organ, for being weird and janky.

Doctors, doctors, doctors! I think this must’ve been my orthopedist’s office that I felt the need to photograph and save for posterity. Flattering, no? Nothing says sexy like paper shorts and crew socks. They really shorten the leg and make you look like a troll. On a positive note, I’ve not shaved my legs in over a year! Look at that!! You can’t even tell. I have been blessed in very small ways.

Doctors, doctors, doctors! I think this must’ve been my orthopedist’s office that I felt the need to photograph and save for posterity. Flattering, no? Nothing says sexy like paper shorts and crew socks. They really shorten the leg and make you look like a troll. On a positive note, I’ve not shaved my legs in over a year! Look at that!! You can’t even tell. I have been blessed in very small ways.

 

Rheumatology

I did NOT want to go to rheumatology. I felt like it would be a rabbit hole. My pain doctor in California begged me to go for the three years, insisting that my joint deterioration, swelling, and even some of my other body symptoms were all connected. He was sure I was suffering from an autoimmune disease, and that I could be so easily helped, if only I could get a diagnosis that would tie everything together. After a particularly rough week of exhaustion so bad that I could barely move, I thought that surely no normal person is ever this tired, I finally made an appointment.

 

I have been tested for everything under the sun; but, my doctor was almost positive that I have Sjogren’s. It fit with all my symptoms. I am practically the poster child for it. For once, at my next dentist appointment, I’d have no shame about the inevitable new cavities. I would be able tell him that I have Sjogren’s and no matter how much I brush, floss and rinse, it’s almost impossible to battle the crippling dry mouth. I have virtually no saliva, cavities are going to grow. Not that Sjogren’s is just about dry mouth, but since it’s one of the things that’s most annoying, it came to mind.

 

I did find a solution that I particularly like for dry mouth though. If anyone out there has dry mouth from Sjogren’s, or from any meds that you are on, try these! I can’t find them in a store anywhere, you have to order them directly from the company’s web site. My dentist recommended them; they are amazing. It’s not too much to say that they have, literally, changed my life. Better than any rinse, strip, toothpaste, or anything out there. Best thing I’ve ever tried for dry mouth!

 

Alas, Sjogren’s doesn’t have a single test. It’s a diagnosis based on patient history and a few other tests that “help” make a diagnosis. I was negative for the ones that “help.” The test they consider the “gold standard,” is a lip biopsy. We all know how fun that was, based on my last post. I forgot to mention that I was so nervous to get the damn thing done that Bryon came with me, and was leaning over the chair hugging me when the doctor came in to start. The hug looked so awkward based on the chair’s position, that it looked like we were in a rather “delicate” position. The doctor and nurse, literally excused themselves as if we should have our privacy! So embarrassing! When we told Collin the story, he said,

 

“The doctor thought you were humping!”

 

My son, ladies and gentlemen.

 

He’s cute though, right? No, this wasn’t taken at Christmastime. He just wears his holiday pajamas all the time. Who wouldn’t? They are awesome!

He’s cute though, right? No, this wasn’t taken at Christmastime. He just wears his holiday pajamas all the time. Who wouldn’t? They are awesome!

My appointment to go over this negative result is in a few weeks; but, I expect the same type of conversation that we’ve already been having, an echo chamber of what I hear from my other doctors, really: there’s a ton of stuff we are finding in your imaging, tests, and in your blood, but it’s not matching with the predictions we’re making….you have something, I just don’t know what.

 

It’s so unhelpful and makes me so confused and frustrated. It’s always the same story: I have all the symptoms, I have almost all the positive test results, and then poof, I’m negative for something, and it’s very confusing to everyone. But then, alas, I’m positive for something else.

 

Today, I am declaring myself my own disease. I have Rachel. Since Rachel is incurable, there’s no point looking for that. Not to fear, it’s not lethal. However, symptoms are alleviated by her wonderful family (duh), presents purchased from Anthropolgie, Jonny Was, Frye, and especially from Tiffany’s. Symptoms are also reduced by spending time in California with loved ones, and by jolly kittens. They have to be jolly, otherwise the whole thing’s off. Other salves are relaxation with good books, painting, and creativity. Exacerbation of symptoms can be caused by traffic, people who don’t turn their phone volume down in waiting rooms, and anyone who won’t shut up about Game of Thrones.

 

I know that Homer doesn’t look “jolly” here, but he was sound asleep, so he let me tuck a little blanket around him; and he looked so darn precious! I’ve said before that I embrace my crazy cat lady. I feel no shame.

I know that Homer doesn’t look “jolly” here, but he was sound asleep, so he let me tuck a little blanket around him; and he looked so darn precious! I’ve said before that I embrace my crazy cat lady. I feel no shame.

Four Month Update

When I first got sick, I immersed myself into the online world of Chiari groups. I didn’t so much chat and comment, as lurk, absorbing fear and paranoia about what was going to happen to me, based on the terror stories that I was reading. Then, one day a person said something profound: there are no happy success stories here because healthy people don’t sit around all day and bemoan their lives; they are out living them.

 

Duh.

 

It made me less afraid. For about ten seconds. It worked as a mantra that I had to repeat, steadily to myself, like a tattoo, but it consistently does work in the short term. Mostly because there are real horrors with any illness. Specifically, with Chiari, people die in surgery, they die of aneurysms, strokes, brain swelling, meningitis, infections, or any other weird brain crap (that’s the scientific term).

 

But, they also die of pain medication. They die because of lack of pain medication through uncontrolled and untreated pain, committing suicide in desperate agony. Even the CDC has admitted their misapplication of regulations in opiate dispensations, causing untold consequences ranging from patient abandonment, withdrawal, and even death. Of course, Chiari patients can die from overdose too, both from accidental overdose in a misguided attempt to control pain, and from addiction.  

 

However, one of the most insidious ways that Chiari can kill patients like me is crippling depression. It’s no secret that I battle this particular war.

 

Again. Duh.

 

Hopefully, that serves as an explanation of my constant blips of absence. I have been off and on depressed. It’s difficult to climb out of it. Constantly. It’s a battle of daily and epic proportions. It could be made easier through many avenues, such as medication and therapy. I hate the medications; but I did recently go back to therapy. The medications make my mouth dry and they are always so hard to get right. And, getting to know your therapist takes a while before you make any real progress.

 

Anyway, I thought I’d try to keep up a bit better (I know I’ve promised that before; but, we’ll see). In an attempt to catch us all up, I figured I’d list-form a bunch of random updates on my health and life, otherwise you’d have to read a dissertation:

 

In June two exciting things will occur: I start my pre-requisite courses for an MFA in Creative Writing at Mother-Fucking Harvard! This is one of the reasons I thought I’d try to catch up and stay on top of this. I have to get the “crazy” out. So, to my Grandma, who always said, “you should write a short story about that,” and to all my colleagues and friends who always told me to write a book: I’m trying! Get off my back! Thanks be to the VA and the GI Bill that I have remaining from my first MA. Who knew that my stint in the AF would net me two master’s degrees, a husband and a kid? Pretty sweet deal.

 

Also, in June, I’m having stage two of a terrifying surgery: a Fulkerson Osteotomy. My orthopaedist (what a pointless, and I think, pretentious, “a” right?) already harvested the miniscule three cells (no joking) of cartilage I had left, to clone in a lab, creating a new sheet of brand-new knee cushion, to replace the 99.999% missing cartilage under my knee cap. In June, he will break my shin bone, lift up my knee cap, put down my new cartilage, re-align my misaligned knee cap, and bolt it down to my newly broken leg, in its correct position. Supposedly, this is better than a knee replacement because I still have “good bone” left. I was able to be convinced of this because I’m clinically insane. However, after stage one (the harvesting), at which point it was too late to convert to a replacement, the doctor said, and I quote, “phew, once I got in there, your knee was quite a mess…worse than I thought…a pot-hole even.” Thanks. Really. Thanks.  

 

Because of my ridiculously crumbling joints (neck, shoulders, knees…and toes?) and several other symptoms that seem lame to discuss, pain management wanted me to see a rheumatologist. Yay! More doctors! I finally went, a year later. Now, I get to go to labs, constantly, and give lots of blood. Last week, I got to go to an ENT and give a lip biopsy. I have had two stitches INSIDE my mouth for the better part of a week. Did you know that’s the worst feeling, literally ever!?


How’s that for a hideous picture? Trust me, it feels even worse than it looks! I ended up in Urgent Care five days later for the stitch I didn’t swallow (yep, that means I accidentally bit one of them out). It was so painful, I thought it was infected. It wasn’t, but it was really icky. They trimmed it and tried to pull it out. It did NOT go well.

How’s that for a hideous picture? Trust me, it feels even worse than it looks! I ended up in Urgent Care five days later for the stitch I didn’t swallow (yep, that means I accidentally bit one of them out). It was so painful, I thought it was infected. It wasn’t, but it was really icky. They trimmed it and tried to pull it out. It did NOT go well.

 

Speaking of stitches inside my mouth, I have now experienced what it feels like to attempt to remove a stitch from INSIDE my mouth, without Novacaine. I have also experienced what it feels like to be the loudest screamer in the Urgent Care clinic, and what it feels like to cry without realizing it, only feeling the tears on your cheeks, after they sit you up. As a side note, after digging for several minutes, they did NOT get the stitch out because I had to tap out. I feel no shame in this. Lots of blood vessels and nerve endings inside the lip.

 

I had the world’s worst colonoscopy, which would’ve made a wonderful long story, but I’ll give you short details. Mean nurse treated me like a drug addict and actually pushed me into a wheelchair! I broke my toe (for real!) running to the bathroom during the prep, as only I could, by stubbing it on the molding separating the hall from the bathroom. And, the endoscopy scope gave me a fat lip that lasted almost a week.

My fat lip from my endoscopy. Also from my endoscopy: I learned that my “heartburn” has been so chronic, and so bad, that I’ve essentially torn several small holes in the upper part of my tummy/lower part of my food tube. That’s what I’m calling it.

My fat lip from my endoscopy. Also from my endoscopy: I learned that my “heartburn” has been so chronic, and so bad, that I’ve essentially torn several small holes in the upper part of my tummy/lower part of my food tube. That’s what I’m calling it.

 

I’m starting back up with Neurosurgery again. I’m scared so shitless that I can’t even put it into words. I was so afraid that I didn’t even bring the pain up to my pain doctor for almost two months. And then, I brought it up as “neck pain,” not even the pain I knew it was. Of course, the muscle relaxers didn’t work. Thankfully, she ordered an MRI anyway, and my record is now updated, and sent to UCLA. Probably nothing? Who knows? All I can think about is what if I have to do this, every three years?

Mew has re-named himself (his real name is Thor, but he prefers to be called Mew, as evidenced by his constant, incessant shouting of this word). He also begs to be cuddled, nuzzled and kissed, which makes it hard to dislike him, despite his encouraging Homer to pee on the floor.

Mew has re-named himself (his real name is Thor, but he prefers to be called Mew, as evidenced by his constant, incessant shouting of this word). He also begs to be cuddled, nuzzled and kissed, which makes it hard to dislike him, despite his encouraging Homer to pee on the floor.

 Remember Mr. New Kitty? He’s not adjusting awesomely. Well, he’s okay, but since he’s been added to our family, Homer’s decided to pee outside the litter box, almost exclusively. Since Homer is 18 years old, he’s developed mild renal disease, which means he drinks a lot of water, consequently, he pees in large volume. This means our house smells vaguely of cat urine, all the time, despite constant cleaning. Behaviorally, we’ve done all the things, you’re supposed to do to eliminate this problem; so, we’ve got five litter boxes, on three floors, surrounded by puppy pads. Our house is a class establishment. In unrelated news, if you want a cat, we’ve got one available. Not Homer; he’s too awesome. The other one.  

Homer says that he disagrees with Mew’s presence, and wishes to remind everyone that he is between 88-92 years old, and he shouldn’t have to tolerate whipper-snappers, at his age. He also wishes to remind everyone that he was here first and to kindly fuck off.

Homer says that he disagrees with Mew’s presence, and wishes to remind everyone that he is between 88-92 years old, and he shouldn’t have to tolerate whipper-snappers, at his age. He also wishes to remind everyone that he was here first and to kindly fuck off.

 Bryon got promoted two below the zone to Colonel. This was huge news to us, but left us questioning where we would be living next year. Military families always are tight-rope walking with moves in the balance; but with colonels, it’s a whole new ball game. We had only just gotten to DC last summer and we were barely established. We just found out that we’ll be here two more years though, so we are a little relieved to be able to settle down some roots, despite it not being California. Collin will get to go to middle school with the same IEP, and I can at least maintain doctors for a little while, and not have to move eight weeks after major leg surgery. Phew.

 

By the way, these items are in no particular order…cat piss is, in no way, more important than my husband’s perpetual trek towards General Officer (one day, dammit!). Oh, and he may make it, and be all fancy and shiny, but if I make it through Harvard, I am just a shiny and important! Right?

 

Before the first stage of my knee surgery, I decided, on a whim, I wanted to be independent, and do something I always wanted to do, by myself. In other words, I briefly lost my mind, booked a hotel room, and mapped a drive to Philadelphia to go to the Mutter Museum. No one in my family wanted to go to this museum of death; so, I figured I’d go alone. For any true crime fan, like me, or person who is not easily grossed out, like me, it’s a glorious place.

The only picture that you are allowed to take at the Mutter Museum. No photos are allowed beyond this point. Collin felt like he should pose in this ridiculous manner. This is  before  he threw up, by the way. Well, well, well before. And, for those who are wondering, I handled his vomit with aplomb and good parenting. I didn’t run away, or scream, or anything. I was awesome, considering how much I hate vomit.

The only picture that you are allowed to take at the Mutter Museum. No photos are allowed beyond this point. Collin felt like he should pose in this ridiculous manner. This is before he threw up, by the way. Well, well, well before. And, for those who are wondering, I handled his vomit with aplomb and good parenting. I didn’t run away, or scream, or anything. I was awesome, considering how much I hate vomit.


However, true to my personality, I freaked the night before, and Bryon and Collin came along. Bryon had homework, and stayed at the hotel. Collin threw up. It should be noted that it was delayed car-sickness that made him barf, not that he was disgusted by desiccated penises (penii?) We also saw the Liberty Bell, and some other American blah-blah, and ate at the best Asian, but fully Vegan restaurant, I’ve ever been to. It was glorious, overall.

This memorializes the single moment that Collin wasn’t asking for something, such as food, a trinket, or other such item. It was the best moment of the trip.

This memorializes the single moment that Collin wasn’t asking for something, such as food, a trinket, or other such item. It was the best moment of the trip.

 

I know I gave up teaching in the classroom last semester; but, this semester, I quit entirely. It’s a done deal for me, I think. I don’t enjoy teaching online, and we can survive without the income. It’s often hard for me to grade in a timely manner because of depression, headaches or pain; so, it’s not fair to the students for me to go on. It was time. It makes me afraid to take on a new commitment like school, but I’m hoping that because it’s something I enjoy, it’ll be great!

 

Speaking of things I enjoy, shhhh, I have a creative project that I’m being quiet about. Only Bryon really knows the “topic,” but I do have a book idea. I’ve been reading lots of research material about it, and I’ve got pages and pages of notes and outlines. Finally. A real, fleshed-out book idea, instead of an idea that really hasn’t gone anywhere beyond a few little paragraphs, or a few pages. I’ve read several books so far, and I really think I’ve got something. We’ll see.

 

Collin has officially reached the pre-teen stage that marketing has tried to cuten up with the title, “tweens.” It’s horrible. Bryon says that kids get like this so that, when they are eighteen, parents are glad to shuffle them off to college. I’m beginning to wonder if that’s true. He’s still my awesome, wonderful baby at times, so I’m glad for those moments; but, when he’s tweening it up, Dear God, save us. The sass. God, the sass. And, I’ve not mentioned the pre-pubescent boy smell. His ASD aversion to texture makes him feel that deodorant feels “weird;” so, we have to force it on him, which means constant policing. Samesies, with shampoo and toothpaste. Funk, and not the groovy kind, is everywhere.

Look, it’s my sweet baby boy, showing Monkey his new computer. I have to will myself to see those moments shining through when he’s acting like his tween self 99.9% of the time these days. I take comfort in the fact that all the other parents I know are going through the same thing. I’m not alone. He and his peers are taking over the world, at the moment.

Look, it’s my sweet baby boy, showing Monkey his new computer. I have to will myself to see those moments shining through when he’s acting like his tween self 99.9% of the time these days. I take comfort in the fact that all the other parents I know are going through the same thing. I’m not alone. He and his peers are taking over the world, at the moment.

 

There are probably hundreds of tiny things I could talk about, or think of saying, but that’s what happens when I don’t write for a while! Come back later, and I’ll do my best to have more garbage to spew out! Maybe I’ll force fed some down here, regardless of importance!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

FabFitFun...FabFitFlop?

With lots of free time to flit around the web, comes lots of free time to see celebs and plain folk, like bloggers shill for paid posts for all kinds of things like cleanses and subscription boxes. There’s a subscription box for just about anything you want these days, from socks to science kits. I get a box for cat ladies. No, I’m not kidding. And yes, it’s awesome. Once a month, I’m delighted with a box full of trinkets, reminding me how fun it is to love kitties. It’s all basically garbage; but there’s almost always a shirt to add to the gym or pajama pile. And occasionally, there’s something worthwhile. Last time, there were adorable kitchen towels. Plus, the cats love the toys they get each month.

 

As anyone who knows me can attest, I’m a bit of a shop-a-holic. I call the UPS/Fed-Ex man the “present man,” because I tend to buy enough stuff that he comes bearing gifts that I’ve purchased for myself, sometimes that I’ve forgotten about. I need these presents to survive. I used to think I didn’t. But, I’ve come to accept it as part of my mental makeup. Some people need a walk outdoors, some need a chat with a friend, I need a new dress to recharge my batteries. We even have my shopping habits worked into our household budget. I cannot survive without…well…buying crap. It’s part of my makeup. One has to know oneself, right?

 

But, I truly have everything that I could need. In fact, I have everything that ten people could truly need. So, I thought that I might try one of these subscription box services that delivers a wider variety of products. I thought it might counter some of the shopping, if a bunch of stuff came to the door, unannounced. Overall, it’s cheaper than shopping, and it’s less effort. See, good thinking, right? I would be in anticipation of the present man, because he’d be bringing me an assortment of goodies; so, I don’t need to buy anything. Such a good thinker, I am!

 

So, I subscribed to FabFitFun. I had heard of it through copious advertising and seen so many bloggers do the unboxing videos. Oh, how excited they were to pull out their items and dangle them in front of the camera! Alas, full-sized products! Beauty products! Clothing! Such a combination! Seemed like a good idea.  

 

The first thing that happened when I subscribed was that I had to answer about forty million questions about my size, preferences, and likes, to sign up. That seemed okay, as I assumed they wanted to make sure that I would get appropriate products. The only problem with this process was that it took at least twenty minutes to set up my account. It was very time-consuming. I wish I had known it was going to take that long before I committed to the sign-up. It isn’t that I was busy, it’s just that I did it on a whim, and I wasn’t prepared for the time commitment. So, I got a little annoyed. This should serve as a little warning to anyone who is thinking of it: be prepared to really sit down and get into it, it’ll take a while.

 

Then…the emails started. I get no less than three to five emails a day from FabFitFun. This makes it very easy to ignore the emails that are “important,” meaning the one that allows you to log into your account and select changes to your box before it ships. You are allowed to make specific changes to your box, where applicable, which I almost missed, because the email was buried amongst the dozens and dozens of useless messages. This time, a selection, for example, allowed me to choose the color of the blanket they sent. You are also allowed to “upgrade” your box within certain time limits, and those messages can get lost amongst the rubble as well.

 

The biggest disappointment though was with customer service. I got my first box relatively slowly. My assumption is that it got delayed somewhere along the way, not really because of their shipping, but because of the postal service, based on the damage it incurred. Still, I don’t know, not for sure. All I know is that I’d seen several online posts of people talking about their “winter box,” and lots of people with unboxing videos days, even weeks, before I got my box. Finally, when my box arrived, it was very damaged. The whole side was crushed, and all the contents on that side were crushed. It was awful.

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I logged into the website to figure out how to contact customer service and talked to a representative. They offered me a measly $15 credit for my next box. Considering how much damage there was, I was pretty disappointed. I’m not really an idiot, at least I don’t think I am, so I wasn’t all that keen to take the offer. I get that the box is full of products that are retailing for approx. $45, but when you offer them for $10 on your next box, they aren’t really $45 products, are they? So, giving me a $15 credit, isn’t offering me much of anything, is it?

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You are basically giving me nothing. In other words, I paid full price for a box of crushed goods. This makes me feel unsatisfied and frustrated. If I went to a store, I wouldn’t pay full price for these items, so why should I pay full price for them to be delivered to my house?

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I was instructed to open all the crushed boxes. All of the merchandise was fine, inside, except for one item that was destroyed. They offered to replace the destroyed item, and still give the $15 credit for the following month, which would allow me to “shop” for add-ons for my next box. The add-ons are items left in stock from previous boxes at discounted rates. This is still a terrible deal, in my opinion. It made me feel like I was given factory seconds at full price, but I wasn’t really left any other options.

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The contents of the box are neither over, nor underwhelming. I’m happy with the blanket, and the conditioning mask is one I’ve bought for myself in the past. I’d wear the necklace they sent, but not necessarily have bought it for myself, if I’d seen it in the store; but only because I don’t really buy cheap-end jewelry. So, between products and customer service I’m left with a meh feeling, overall. Because I’ve heard that cancelling the subscription is equivalent to trying to get out of a cult, I decided to simply stay subscribed and to give it another go-round. We’ll see what the next box brings. The spring box may be filled with goodies that are incomparable. Who knows?

I do know this: they best not mess up the next box, as sick people have lots of time on their hands to complain and annoy customer service people into cancelling their accounts. So, FabFitFun, I’m watching you. I did my due diligence and looked into your customer service after this, and noticed that you have some issues. Eyes on you, now.

One Million Moms - and Television

I still spend a lot of time working out. Okay, when it’s a good week. Sometimes, I spent a lot of time on the couch. It’s definitely not like the “old days,” where I’d work out to the point of death, or stand toe-to-toe with the likes of Vin Diesel and stare him down for the Smith Machine, because he was taking too fucking long with his sets. But, I still work out, a lot. So, I like to have a variety of stuff to watch on the ol’ iPad machine. (Couch binging requires the same thing, by the way! Don’t judge)

 

This can pose a problem. When you have hours to kill, binging takes on an entirely new meaning. Sometimes a drama will do. Sometimes, a movie. Sometimes, you want a comedy. And, don’t get me started about how everything is shot in dark, moody lighting with dramas these days. You can’t fucking SEE anything, especially with an iPad. It’s so frustrating on treadmill. I’ve watched entire seasons of shows, not even sure who’s in them, because I watched it at the gym. Yes, I know that rant made me sound at least a million years old. But, would it kill a director to turn on light?!

 

Anyway, one of the main sources I use to select good, new shows for my “to watch” list, especially comedies, is One Million Moms (OMM).

 

Hear me out, because I realize how insane this sounds considering who I am: bleeding heart atheist liberal.

 

If you are unfamiliar with One Million Moms, they are famous for two things:

 

1.     Being famously incapable of counting to one million

2.     Being really good at getting offended about everything

 

So, it stands to reason that if they dislike something, calling it morally corrupt, or damaging to our children…..

 


 

…then, it might have a shot at being pretty funny. The other day, I found a comedy I’d have skipped over: Single Parents, for example. It’s your basic laugh-track, predictable comedy, but it’s got some good jokes; and it doesn’t require tons of concentration, which is perfect for the gym. I also have been enjoying A Million Little Things, but it’s a little heavy on the whole suicide angle, for someone with severe depression, sometimes. Plus, it’s not exactly always peppy gym material, so I take it in metered doses, despite how much OMM hates it because it has a gay pre-teen.

 

Other little-known fact about me: I skip most new shows because I can’t stand the heartbreak of one-season shows. Just as I get committed, and willing to settle in, they get cancelled. It’s devastating. There was a show, a few years ago, with Matthew Perry, where he was in some grief group, that I was just getting into, and BAM! Cancelled. Damn. I’m still not over it. He was making some real break-throughs. Emotional growth, quashed!

 

I like watching my shows over and over again. This is a trait that Bryon adores (we need a sarcasm font, and we need it now!). For example, he thinks it’s plumb adorable that I consider the characters of The Office my close personal friends…not the cast, the characters. I feel I’m not alone in this. Don’t others watch the same “comfort” shows, over and over (Friends; The Golden Girls; The Office; and new to the repertoire, Brooklyn 99 – welcome)?  

 

Anyway, One Million Moms didn’t like Single Parents, and asked Capital One to pull their commercials from the show because….wait for it…a parent hugged their child while cussing. This is early prime time, so I can’t imagine the cuss was that bad. In fact, I watched for it, and didn’t even notice it, so it must’ve been something as benign as “crap.” Well, fuck me. What a load of shit on a cracker.

 

They also strongly dislike American Housewife, a show I enjoy about 75% of the time, for gasp, the same reasons they have issue with it. I think there’s a line between being funny, and being a shitty mom. So. Much. Yelling. But I also get the idea that it’s my thing to not be into that joke because I’m not a fan of the yelling because of my personal hang-ups. Others may think it’s a hilarious take on the situation. That’s the beauty of art and entertainment. Don’t like it, don’t watch it.

 

I bought art for my home that I liked, not that someone else forced me to like, or that was censored. A-R-T. People don’t often think of sit-coms, or even the one-hour drama as art, but it is. Media is a representation of who we are as a people. It represents the very society in which we live, at a foundational core. Censorship of media is censorship at its very basic level. So, OMM, thanks for helping me ignore your attempt at creating your very own banned books list.

 

I refuse to subscribe to their page, for fear of what other pages I’ll be linked to, so I just hit them up once a month or so. I also read Faithwire, and several other crazy-pants right-wing sites like Breitbart. For good measure, I read Huffpo and Mother Jones with my NYT. Still, One Million Moms is the only place to get really good recommendations about what to watch that isn’t all, “watch this revival of Jesus Christ Superstar,” or “there’s a weird production of Waiting for Godot on PBS tonight!” I’ll take my anti-recommendations any day.

 

P.S. You should read what they think of some show called Lucifer. Their pearls and panties may never come unknotted.

Do You Like my Hat?

I went to see my grandmother for Thanksgiving, which means I went to the belly of the beast (Michigan), for a few days. Every time I swear I won’t go back, for any reason, I go back. As long as she’s alive, I can’t swear that place off, for good. So, I guess, I hope that’s forever, then. The trip was rife with panic attacks, passive-aggressive accusations, and my complete emotional shut-down, by the time we pulled out of the hotel we’d checked into.

Doesn’t she look pretty in her brightly colored dress? Her nursing home has a HUGE cage of birds back there. I could sit there all day and alternatively feel sad about them being in cages, and being enthralled at watching them. I’d go insane with the flip-flop of my mind.

Doesn’t she look pretty in her brightly colored dress? Her nursing home has a HUGE cage of birds back there. I could sit there all day and alternatively feel sad about them being in cages, and being enthralled at watching them. I’d go insane with the flip-flop of my mind.

 

On a great note, my husband, non-native that he is, thought we were staying in the adorable city of Nov-ee. Michiganders will be laughing, because Novi is pronounced just like it’s spelled, Nov-i. How cute is he?

 

It’s now Wednesday, almost a full week later, and I didn’t see, speak to, or otherwise communicate, directly, with anyone other than my grandmother; still, the whole idea of my family stressed me out so much, that I got dressed today, for the first time. Yep, that’s what that place does to me. I used to be ashamed at what a loop they threw me for, but it’s pretty common for survivors to be less stable, the further out they are from their childhood. And, it takes pretty intense therapy to get over it…which I’m in. Depression and trauma are no joke. And, one day, I hope to get past it to a degree that I don’t throw my whole life into chaos, just by being in the same state as the “family;” you know, those folks who are rolling their eyes right now, and treating me as a joke. Gosh, I can feel the love from here.   

 

By the way, since I brought up getting dressed, let’s talk hats. Hats always make me think of Go Dog, Go.

In case you don’t remember this Dr Seuss classic, this poor lady dog keeps asking this dog if he likes her hat, as she walks by with increasingly impressive head decor. He always says no…until one day…then, she gets invited to the dog party in the tree. Apparently, hats are the key to friendship.

In case you don’t remember this Dr Seuss classic, this poor lady dog keeps asking this dog if he likes her hat, as she walks by with increasingly impressive head decor. He always says no…until one day…then, she gets invited to the dog party in the tree. Apparently, hats are the key to friendship.

 

And, whenever I wear a hat, I harass my family by asking, “do you like my hat?”

 

I have the smallest “normal” adult head possible. I don’t have any medical condition for my small head, other than the dent in the back from my skull missing a large chunk (NBD, right?); but, I had a small head before that. I can even, comfortably, wear children’s baseball caps! So, wearing adult hats can be an issue. But, I like to go all out when I get dressed, even to run to the pharmacy. If not then, when? I only have two speeds for my clothes: sweats, or everything. So, I like a hat, now and then.

 

Still, I contend it takes a fair amount of confidence to not only put on the hat, but to wear it out of the house. I have a few that I wear, on occasion, with as much boldness as I can muster. No matter how good it looks, inside I’m screaming, “does this look okay?” Everyone trying to pull off a look is thinking the same thing. So, the next time you see someone wearing something bold, pay them a damn compliment, you animal.

 

Today was such a hat day. My destination? The Fairfax Clinic to pick up some prescriptions for my child. Fancy.

Not the greatest shot, but I’m not a big fan of taking twenty pics of yourself to get it right. This is what I look like, take it or leave it.

Not the greatest shot, but I’m not a big fan of taking twenty pics of yourself to get it right. This is what I look like, take it or leave it.

 

Then, it blew off in the parking lot, and my “cool” factor dipped by a factor of, at least, ten, as I had to chase it, in my high-heeled boots. It was so windy today! This one is adjustable inside, and it fits my head well. Still, I knew to keep my head down, towards the wind, the whole walk to the car. Apparently, the vacuum created by opening the car door, as I sat down, translated to: make Rachel look like an asshole.

 

Back to my original topic, I will say this: my family, that is to say my husband and son, were heroes. They navigated arrangements, so I’d have to communicate with no one. They saw I was spiraling anyway, and snuck out to buy me a present and a card (a very silly cat hat – another hat! --, with an attached scarf and paw mitten pockets – both very chic and very me), which was beyond touching. They gave me more hugs in 48 hours than any mother/wife has a right to. They rose above and beyond.

Look at that boy! Helping to show Grandma some pictures and laughing with her about how cute and funny they are. What a kiddo! So proud of him. Autism makes these kinds of interactions hard, and I was so impressed.

Look at that boy! Helping to show Grandma some pictures and laughing with her about how cute and funny they are. What a kiddo! So proud of him. Autism makes these kinds of interactions hard, and I was so impressed.

 

And, my 11-year-old child sat patiently in a nursing home, with nary a complaint for almost two days. He played a flute concert for my grandmother, chatted with her, and was all-together pleasant. My memories of nursing home visits as a kid are thinking that the elderly were trying to suck the youth right out of me, as they saw me traipsing down the hallways. Plus, they don’t care who you are there to see, you are everyone’s surrogate grandchild. As an adult, I am much more forgiving of the elderly; perhaps because I’m closer to becoming elderly.

 

Told you: two speeds, nicely dressed or pajamas. These are a cross between sweats and pajamas. I was just so tired! But, some of the people I love most in the world! Leaving one behind.

Told you: two speeds, nicely dressed or pajamas. These are a cross between sweats and pajamas. I was just so tired! But, some of the people I love most in the world! Leaving one behind.

Overall, I’m glad I went, but I’m not sure when I can muster a trip back. Hugging my grandmother enough times to try to save them up is wonderful, and gives me memories that are beyond special; and her words, just for me, warm my heart. I cannot replace those things; I shall treasure them always. I just wish I didn’t have to deal with all that pesky stuff that breaks my spirit and my heart, in order to do that other nice stuff. 

 

Mental Health

Let’s talk about something a little dark and frustrating, today; something that usually goes along with chronic illness, but is its own chronic thing too, not to be outdone: mental illness. Because, don’t get me wrong, you can be drug down, without accompanying physical pain, by mental illness alone. You can be knocked right the fuck down, right where you stand, and thrown to the carpet, never to get up again…well, at least for several days, weeks, or even months. Oh, and mental illness can be physically painful too. Exhaustion, aches, pains and the whole nine yards, of course.

 

When I’m depressed, I take my perch on the corner of the couch. I usually don’t move much, so I tend to get a lot of super cute pics of my cats…like this one.

When I’m depressed, I take my perch on the corner of the couch. I usually don’t move much, so I tend to get a lot of super cute pics of my cats…like this one.

I have a picture-perfect life. It’s the same thing we say to celebrities who claim mental illness, exhaustion, or other mental health issues. How can they feel bad, when they have it so good, right? That’s the point. It doesn’t matter how good you have it. Mental illness doesn’t discriminate. It doesn’t matter what you have around you; it’s what’s going on inside you, that matters.

 

This is hard for me to confess, or talk about, and it’s hard for most people with mental health issues to talk about. But, it’s important for people to talk about! It’s time to be aware of these things, instead of pretending that it’s not a “thing,” or that I just get a little down sometimes. Yeah, I do; but it’s a lot more than that. Let’s get real with what it really is.

 

Here’s what I didn’t know: I’m sick in the head, too. I’ve been sick in the head for longer than I’ve been sick in the body. I thought that being sick in the head was a thing that I’d acquired from being sick in the body, that my swings into depression, and my anxiety, were caused by my failing body, and the frustrations that it brought me. Sure, those things help bring on a cloud of depression. Sometimes, the heavy weighted blanket that it throws onto my body make it impossible to get up off the couch, even when I have to pee so badly that it feels like I may die if I don’t move.

 

But, I’ve learned that I have had these issues all along. I’ve stifled every real emotion that I’ve ever had, except for anger. I’ve refused to feel hurt. I’ve refused to feel love. I’ve refused to feel anything. I got really good at keeping feelings locked away, and pretending they don’t exist. I’m a good robot. So now, I fall into fits of depression and anxiety, almost at random, rather than to deal with feelings. It’s unbearable. It’s deeply painful, and it’s frustrating for me. I can never predict these sojourns into darkness, and I feel like a terrible burden to those I love.

 

For those who’ve never experienced depression, for me it’s as if the world stops, but just for you. There’s literally no reason to do anything. Nothing makes you want to move from the spot you are in. It’s as if you are almost paralyzed by immobility. I could be dying of thirst, but not go to the kitchen to get a beverage. It feels as if I’ve atrophied all my useful muscles. It’s as if my mind works, but my body won’t do what it’s supposed to do, and I don’t care about that problem, not enough to solve it. Worse, I can look around and see things I would like to do, like dust, vacuum, or otherwise take on tasks, but can’t be bothered to do them. Thus, I begin to feel guilty for leaving them to others. The same is true for tasks I should do for myself, like getting dressed, exercising, or even brushing my hair. The guilt compounds the depression, which makes the whole situation worse, and the cycle compounds. It’s a terrible cyclical situation. It’s as if the Puritans are there with the stones, slowly crushing you to death, but you are doing it to yourself.

 

As if that’s not enough though, you throw anxiety into the mix, which jumps in at random times. For anxiety, you just feel like you are dying. Suddenly, there isn’t enough air in the room, then in the world, for you to breathe. Sometimes, I get dizzy first, or my legs start shaking uncontrollably, but that’s just “mild” anxiety. I don’t take medication for my anxiety because it doesn’t mix well with my pain medication. It can cause side effects like death, so it’s generally not considered a good idea. So, I get to suffer through anxiety attacks by just waiting for them to pass. I can try to talk myself through them by gently reminding myself that there is enough air, and I’m having an anxiety attack. This usually doesn’t help. A person having an anxiety attack knows they are having an anxiety attack, and intellectually knows there is enough air. It doesn’t help them feel like they are breathing it. Alas, I just have to wait until it’s over and I can breathe normally, again, leaving me exhausted and numb.

 

My last visit to the land of darkness has been the worst that I’ve ever experienced. I can always feel it coming on, and I do everything I can to keep it at bay. I try to bury myself in routine, exercise more, take on a project, pretend that I can’t hear the little voice in my head that says, “why bother, everything is useless.” Nothing helps.

 

This time, the darkness overtook me to the point that I imagined what it would be like to forget suffering through it any longer. I’ve always seen through to the other side. I’ve always kept my son in my sights, even when the voice in my head says, “you don’t matter to him, to anything, to anyone.” I’ve always said to myself that my loss would destroy him. This time, I was able to rationalize that I didn’t care because I’d be gone. It was a horrible time. The moment I realized that I’d put my son aside, I knew that I had to tell Bryon that this wasn’t just a typical dark patch.

 

Around the same time, I had a panic attack, in my bed, at random, in the middle of the night. I haven’t been able to sleep in my bed, since. I can barely go near my bed. I’ve been sleeping on the couch. That is mental illness. My husband, tucking me in at night, kissing my forehead, and asking me what he can do to help me feel comfortable, and helping me think of strategies to get me back to bed, is awareness that we don’t have to be in this alone.

 

Not a super flattering picture of me, but Bryon took it. He said he just missed the moment when all three cats were sleeping on me. Told you, I don’t move much when I am on my depression-spot!

Not a super flattering picture of me, but Bryon took it. He said he just missed the moment when all three cats were sleeping on me. Told you, I don’t move much when I am on my depression-spot!

But, more importantly, we need to be aware of just how hard it is to find appropriate help. Finding a new therapist out here has been an uphill battle. I’ve been white-knuckling my depression and anxiety since we got here, which was a terrible idea, obviously. So, I promised to find a new doctor, especially since this last bad patch has been so rough.

 

I had only one requirement: I wanted a woman. I had a preference for a close drive. Anyone with severe depression, which I’d recently sunken into, knows that sometimes, even brushing your teeth can seem like climbing Mt. Everest. Alas, I couldn’t picture getting myself motivated to make a 30-minute trek. Five minutes seemed more reasonable. But, I’d compromise if I had to.

 

Eight phone calls later, I’d realized that I’d have to make a concession to accept any doctor with a pulse. That’s right, there are NO female therapists within a 30-minute drive who were accepting new patients. None. Zero. How is that possible? Let alone therapists that take my insurance. With local hourly rates at up to $200, how are we still shouting at people to “get help,” when they feel helpless, or to “reach out?” Where? To who?

 

I’m lucky to have a support system at home to help feed me, and make sure I’m meeting basic life-sustaining needs when I’m in the throes of a rough patch. I’m also lucky to have someone to talk to about nonsense when I just feel like babbling. I’m lucky that when I confessed to feeling like I was afraid of myself, my support system held my hand and guided me over the hump. Even more, I’m lucky that, even without insurance support, we can shoulder the burden of the bill for mental health care. But, I’m frustrated at how difficult it is to find.  

 

Everyone, and I do mean everyone, has their demons. There’s a little crazy in all of us. All of us has a tale to tell, and a little weird to let out. We’re all messed up in our own way, and we all manage our weirdness. We all have coping techniques, and they all work for us; mine were working just great, until one day, they just didn’t, anymore. I was a driven, successful woman, with an education, career, spouse and a child. Then, I got sick. My life slowed down, and I lost control. Everything fell apart. Everything came unraveled and my marble sack spilled. I haven’t been able to put it all back together, ever since. It was always in there. I just need new coping strategies and some more therapy.

 

Don’t be ashamed to ask for help, or to confess your crazy. It’s always okay. Pulling yourself together, no matter how much, is a victory. Being aware of one another and being kind is how we heal wounds. Go out there, be aware, and be nice!

Oh…and PS: No matter how dark it gets, KEEP LOOKING FOR THE LIGHT AT THE OTHER SIDE! Don’t give up fighting!

How to Humiliate Yourself at a Tattoo Shop

I did this thing, on Saturday.

My new clover - because Crimson and Clover is my jam

My new clover - because Crimson and Clover is my jam

I’d been meaning to do it for a while. I’ve put it off more than once because it’s kind of a big step to get your first visible tattoo. I guess you can often see my back tattoo peeking out of my clothes, but I can’t see it. I can see my peacock one coming out of my dresses, but it’s barely. This was different.

 

It wouldn’t have been a story without it being embarrassing or weird in some way though, right?

 

My artist was super cool, chill and relaxed, which was awesome. And, I loved the shop I went to. So far, I have had an artist I really loved, a shop I really liked (mostly), and now both. Perfect. This place didn’t play super loud music, which was so nice. I know that makes me sound like a stick in the mud; but tattoo shops tend to have the music so loud that it’s almost painful. When you are sitting there for hours on end, and you can’t even have a conversation with the dude who is stabbing you in the body, it’s both awkward and physically uncomfortable. Plus, this place had private spaces, with doors! Doors to hide body parts! Once you’ve had your entire side exposed to third street in Redondo Beach, you’ll appreciate the small pleasure this affords the forty-year old woman who may not have anything to hide…but wants to.

 

I may have mentioned in the past, that I have a chronic illness, no? Haha, right? And, that when this illness flares, I still occasionally need to take opiate pain relievers? This is relatively rare, but when I do need to take them, it really messes with my digestive system, thanks to bile salt diarrhea, a side-effect from gall bladder surgery years ago. I have to take special medicine for that too, so that I don’t immediately expel everything I eat, within instants of eating it, directly through the back entrance. It’s such a joy. But, being overly blocked from opiates, and double-blocked from those meds is a recipe for disaster. Obviously, this is a delicate balance.

 

About two weeks ago, I had a headache. I don’t even remember how many, enough that I felt better over the course of the few days it lasted. It wasn’t a ton, but it wasn’t one or two. It always takes 2-3 days of a steady dose. All it takes is looking at them though, and I am backed up! Thankfully, my system was back on track without the assistance of any laxatives or intervention. UN-thankfully, it got back on track the day before my tattoo appointment, and it announced its reintroduction to the world with lots and lots of gas.

 

So. Much. Gas.

 

If there were appropriate words to describe this smell to you, I would. But, let’s just be accurate, and maybe that will be description enough. A person’s bowel hasn’t moved for two weeks. Nothing. Not a peep has been heard. Not even a little guy has sneaked past the gate. So, it’s two-week’s-worth of old food, and old stool that got caught up behind the guard; all of it has just been sitting there festering. That’s what it smells like. It’s not an eau du toilette.

 

I had to be there at 2 pm. By 2 pm, I’d lost about 8 lbs. and gone down a full pants size. No kidding. Does everyone’s belly stretch this much? I was hoping that I was “done,” by the time I got to the shop, and had done everything I could to assure it to be so, without “stopping” the whole process back up again. Balance, people. Balance! Soooo delicate!

 

I’d stopped eating by 10 am. I was barely drinking. By the way, this is excellent advice for getting a tattoo. Go in starving and dehydrated. You definitely won’t pass out. Totally ignore me. If this were my first tattoo, I would be a total idiot. Even for my fifth, I was a total idiot.

 

Anyway, I was doing fine. I was nearly finished, when we started chatting about what the rest of his day looked like. Apparently, they’d had a Halloween special, wherein he’d been doing black cats for $40. His whole day was little black cats. I thought it was cute. We’d had such a chill and cool session, he said he’d do one really quick, if I wanted.

 

Sure. Why not?

 

“Because, you are a ticking time bomb, woman!” says my belly.

 

So, my arm’s all done, and while he’s setting up for the cutest black cat ever, I swing by the bathroom to pee. I’m still feeling totally fine, but as soon as I made room for the gas to move down by emptying my bladder, apparently, all bets were off. I farted myself out of the bathroom, and hoped no one would go in after me. Yep, I stunk up the bathroom at the tattoo shop. How classy of me.

 

In my infinite wisdom, I’d chosen my thigh for my cat, and worn overalls to the shop. In my defense, I didn’t know I’d have to take them off, but I also could’ve chosen somewhere else for the cat. Still, the minute, and I do mean the instant I pulled them down and my artist got near my thigh, the world’s tiniest but stinkiest fart escaped. Don’t think I wasn’t trying so hard to hold it in that I was visibly sweating. To his credit, he pretended nothing happened, and I died on the floor.

 

If there’s a God, he decided that wasn’t enough torture for me. He felt that this was an amusing little play he’d created, and wanted to see it play out a little longer. So, while my ass was stuck in this dude’s face for the next half an hour, he forced my stomach to cramp, over and over again. My poor but cheeks worked harder than they’ve ever worked before. I felt horrible.

 

Literally. I was afraid I would die of holding it in. If ever there were a possibility of that happening, it was that day. And, I kept picturing the moment that I couldn’t hold it any longer, when it just burst out. The artist would be startled by the sonic boom, the lines would go crazy on my tattoo. He’d pass out and die from the stench. I’d die the thousand deaths of humiliation. We’d be found by housekeeping days later, the smell still lingering. The horror.

 

Then, it occurred to me: this dude’s face is so close to my ass right now that he can visibly see when I’m clenching, and when I’m relaxed. Please, oh please, let him think I’m clenching because he’s hurting me. Oh, the humiliation of that moment.

 

When it came time to pay, I texted Bryon about the tip he thought I should leave. I ended up tipping him almost 40%. I justified it because he was cool, did a good job, and I want to have a good artist to back to…and, because I farted in his face. Anyone’s face who I fart in, deserves a good tip. I think I’ll probably still go back to him next time. I figure the amazing tip will overshadow the fart memory, right?

 

Halloween!

WARNING: RAMBLING and NON-PROOFREAD POST AHEAD! DONE OVER THE COURSE OF A VERY BUSY DAY J

 

Collin still loves Halloween. He loves dressing up, and he loves the candy (of course). I think he likes getting home and sorting it into piles, more than anything else. I’m not sure if that’s an autism thing, or just a Collin thing. The other day, he broke my heart, when he said, “Next year, I’m probably a little too old to go, so this is it, huh?”

 

Oh, my baby, you can go out trick or treating until you are the kid at the door that the grown-up judgey-lady passing out candy rolls her eyes at you. In other words, until you are forty. Then, you can dress up with your kids. You are never too old for Halloween.

 

We were all set to have a great Halloween, and because he loves it so much, I went all out decorating the porch. Years ago, I went to a social event on General’s row at Fort McArthur. It was in a Colonel’s house, but nonetheless, I was very impressed with how “decorated,” it was for the season. Literally, every space had some kind of seasonal décor. She had a seasonal cozy for the toaster, for cripes’ sake! Don’t get me wrong, that much effort is decidedly not me. And, when I asked her how she had the time and effort to go this far and do this much to beautify her home, she said she considered it her job to be a wife, everything from getting up before her “hubby” to make his morning coffee, to making his house a home. Gag.

It’s sickening how adorable this is, right? If it makes it less adorable, I forgot to get the appropriate bulbs for the pumpkins (they were burned out), so they skeletons were just hugging empty plastic shells all season.

It’s sickening how adorable this is, right? If it makes it less adorable, I forgot to get the appropriate bulbs for the pumpkins (they were burned out), so they skeletons were just hugging empty plastic shells all season.

 

I’ve sat on that thought for a lot of years. It’s ruminated. It’s percolated. It’s morphed. I’m home now, and I’ve discovered that I like making my house a home. Part of that is the seasonal stuff. I like making my boy’s face light up with the Halloween decorations. I like doing it for Bryon, so he doesn’t have to do it himself. That doesn’t mean that I don’t also insist on his help for the things that are too hard for me to do myself, of course. But, if I don’t have a job anymore, isn’t that my “job” for my family, and not in a Donna Reed sort of way; but in a way that I want to do? No one would care if I didn’t put up Halloween decorations, but I would. I would be less happy if they weren’t happy. So, up they go. That means I’m fighting you for the last 70% off decorations at Michael’s, woman-with-too-many ravens in her basket! What are you decorating? A burned-out orphanage?

This is a “progress” shot. There were more floral arrangements wired to this bad boy. The take-away message here is that I like birds. BIRDS! I had to go to two stores to get enough birds. Stupid Michael’s was sold out of decent birds. I had to get birds with hats and collars from Target. Oh well, I’ve decided that they work for fall too. Don’t tell me if you don’t agree.

This is a “progress” shot. There were more floral arrangements wired to this bad boy. The take-away message here is that I like birds. BIRDS! I had to go to two stores to get enough birds. Stupid Michael’s was sold out of decent birds. I had to get birds with hats and collars from Target. Oh well, I’ve decided that they work for fall too. Don’t tell me if you don’t agree.

 

But, someone shoot me if I put a cozy on my toaster. Please. Or, if I feel the need to get up at 4 am, to greet my husband’s day with coffee and toast. In fact, as I recall, she made him a full breakfast. Far be it from me to judge what another woman does to keep her household running smoothly, but we all have our balance, our line in the sand. That’s mine. He can make his own damn coffee, and “greet his own day,” as she called it. I’ll put up décor and run the Swiffer. We’ll see what grows from there.

Aside from some ribbon on the creepy cats, and a few skeleton animals on the back side of the bench, along the brick, this was my “haunted village.” I’ve built this over the years by buying up cheap ceramics from Goodwill, and spray painting them black. Then, I buy the really, really cheap skeletons from the craft stores, at the end of the season, and sprinkle them in. Spider web, and viola. Village. Normally, it goes inside, but this bench was a good spot for it, this year.

Aside from some ribbon on the creepy cats, and a few skeleton animals on the back side of the bench, along the brick, this was my “haunted village.” I’ve built this over the years by buying up cheap ceramics from Goodwill, and spray painting them black. Then, I buy the really, really cheap skeletons from the craft stores, at the end of the season, and sprinkle them in. Spider web, and viola. Village. Normally, it goes inside, but this bench was a good spot for it, this year.

 

P.S. I switched from Halloween to fall today (and he helped put it all up). Oh, and I’m a cheapskate. So, I ONLY buy what’s on sale the week(s) after the holiday. So, all my décor is accumulated from years of shopping post-holiday(s). Maybe more pics of fall next time!

 

Anyway, Collin’s school wouldn’t let the sixth graders wear costumes to class, which was a bit of a relief, because let’s face it, some kids would feel like they were too old. This means half the class would be too cool for the other half of the class, leaving half the class feeling dorky. So, there was a moratorium put down on costumes. Less fun, sure; but, also less chance for embarrassment. He mentioned, repeatedly a girl that he clearly feels is “cool,” that was staying home this year, to help with her family’s haunted house.

 

However, my son found his own special way to wreck the day for himself, anyway. Cops and Robbers is the playground game of choice here in Virginia. I joke that these are the two career goals here. I have said that they should be more specific: cop and meth addict. I know, super mean. Still, this is basically the only thing the kids play, when they are outdoors. Plus, it’s an opportunity to be cruel to one another, as kids, without being overt: assign the kids you don’t like to be the “robber,” chase them mercilessly, then “arrest” them, tell them they committed a horrendous crime, and “punish” them. All innocent fun! Hooray!

 

Collin was running, top speed, of course; this is the only speed he knows. He claims that he thinks he was jumping over some steps, when he fell. He doesn’t know how he fell, what angle at which he fell, or anything useful about his injury. This, this my friends, is what it’s like to have a kid with autism, when you want a useful detail. He can, however, tell you all the details you want about the playground stairs, near which he fell. They are wooden, there are eight of them, they have splinters on some of them, and they are somewhat steep. They have dust on them. The doctor felt this information was also useless. Did I mention these stairs were near where he fell, not stairs upon which he fell?

 

A pause here to tell you my biggest fear in life: that I will be at work, or otherwise engaged, and the school will call with my sick or injured child, and I will miss it. On the first day of class, I always tell my students that I leave my phone on, and that I leave it out, just for this purpose. All it takes is me picturing my sad-faced little boy, sitting in the office with an ice pack, or rushing to the hospital in an ambulance, all without his mother, and I’d strap the phone to my face.

 

With all of that fear ingrained in my soul, I missed the injury call when it came! Don’t get me wrong, I saw the call, but it didn’t say the name of his school, and the city displayed incorrectly. So, I didn’t pick up! I’ve been getting nonstop solicitor calls for the past thirty days or so, so I just hit, “ignore.” Oh, the humanity!

 

When I was headed home, Bryon told me he was also driving home, only he was with our injured boy. I about lost my lunch. I had so many questions! I cried so much that Collin was crying less than me. I felt like the worst mother in the world, for real. Bryon did his best to calm me down, because he’s the best, and he felt like it was the perfect moment to show me up with his calm, cool demeanor, and his constant praise. Screw him.

 

He told me that even if the school had reached me, I’d have had to call him anyway, because I was an hour away (Ugh! Ugh!), and he was home. He was right (I’m the worst!). Still, an injured boy needs his mama. Just re-telling this makes the mom guilt so heavy that I think I’ll be weighed down all day.

 

I gleaned from the phone chat that the kid had a broken wrist. He was relatively calm and collected, but in pain. Collin thought it was a great treat to be injured, because he got to watch cartoons in the middle of the day, before doing homework. We left for the ER as soon as I got there (at least it wasn’t for me, this time – yay!). No matter how much he practices, he can’t get that little lip of his to quiver and pout when he’s faking. He could get me to buy him a car if he could.

Collin, playing the flute…I could’ve put this picture down below, where I tell you he’s currently having trouble with this activity, which is where I meant to put it. But, it’s been a long day, and I’m tired.

Collin, playing the flute…I could’ve put this picture down below, where I tell you he’s currently having trouble with this activity, which is where I meant to put it. But, it’s been a long day, and I’m tired.

 

They took us in right away, and I was right: broken. Wait…fractured. Bryon keeps correcting me. Apparently, that distinction is wildly important. All that matters to me is that a bone in my child’s wrist is no longer structurally the same as it was when I sent him off to school, that morning. He has to wear a brace until he sees the orthopedic doctor, where he might get a cast. Poor kiddo. He’s pretty miserable. He doesn’t like the brace, and it definitely hurts.

World’s cutest kid at the Emergency Room. I mean, look at that face. Isn’t it adorable?

World’s cutest kid at the Emergency Room. I mean, look at that face. Isn’t it adorable?

 

He managed to get home in time to trick or treat at a couple of dozen houses, but he was only out for about a half an hour. It’s his right hand, so he’s pretty limited at school with writing, and with playing the flute. He’s basically a mess.

He’s some character from the Netflix show, Troll Hunters. I don’t watch the show. I let it be a Daddy/Collin bonding thing. I refuse to watch it with them, so they have a lingo all their own. It’s kind of cute.

He’s some character from the Netflix show, Troll Hunters. I don’t watch the show. I let it be a Daddy/Collin bonding thing. I refuse to watch it with them, so they have a lingo all their own. It’s kind of cute.

 

For him, the worst part is that I have to help him wash his hair. For a kid approaching puberty, there’s nothing worse than the shame of mommy helping in the shower. He insists on wearing his underwear for this procedure. At first, he insisted he didn’t need the help at all. However, the minute he tried to do anything himself, including opening the shampoo, he cried, and I heard that sound all mothers secretly long to hear, the whimpering sound of “Mommy!” He still needs me! Huzzah!

Collin’s happy face that the splint fits him, and he doesn’t get a cast at the ER

Collin’s happy face that the splint fits him, and he doesn’t get a cast at the ER

 

Still, one of the highlights, which is definitely the wrong word, of the evening was one of the worst days of someone else’s life, I’m sure. We were seen relatively quickly, and were right on track to be sent home, when a worksite accident was brought in. It was obviously fatal. All the medical staff was rushed off to one area, except for a PA, and a single nurse, who were left covering the rest of the patients. It was clearly a terrible accident.

 

Bryon had my phone,  and was apparently taking photos of me while I was in the universe entitled, “OMG MY BABY!!” This photo is called, “Rachel, you are wearing an unflattering shirt. Throw it away.”

Bryon had my phone, and was apparently taking photos of me while I was in the universe entitled, “OMG MY BABY!!” This photo is called, “Rachel, you are wearing an unflattering shirt. Throw it away.”

When the person’s loved one arrived, the anguish in her cry was something you had to feel; it was indescribable. Collin, right at that moment, was asking what was taking so long to be discharged. He paused when he heard her wail, and we explained that she just lost someone she loved very much, so no matter how badly you think your day is going, there’s always someone who’s day is worse, who has lost something more important than what you think you’ve lost, and her voice helped us remember that. He was very quiet for a while and then said, “I didn’t mean to be selfish about trick or treating.”

 

I don’t mean to imply that I’m glad for someone to have died for my son to display empathy, far from it. But, those moments are huge for a kid like Collin. He was very sad for that woman, for the victim, and even for the nurse who provided comfort to the woman, as she was so kind to him, only moments earlier. He even kept repeating, “someone always has it worse,” throughout the evening. I think it really hit home with him.

 

I’ve thought about that woman, and the victim of that accident a lot since then. I know that, for her, Halloween will never again be about opening the door to adorable children dressed as dinosaurs and princesses. But, I wish that she knew that, in some way, before she was even able to finish being notified of her loss, it was already doing someone else some good in the world. Life, and people are certainly a circle. All of us sharing the same experiences.

 

Sure, the next day, it was back to Collin’s world as usual, but some part of me has to believe that the nugget of the lesson is back there. He’s a kid that sits on those big lessons for a long time. Just when you least expect it, they come out in big, big ways.

 

Another gem from Bryon that says, “Rachel, you are going more grey than you think you are.” Also, why does my child seem skeptical of my smothering love?

Another gem from Bryon that says, “Rachel, you are going more grey than you think you are.” Also, why does my child seem skeptical of my smothering love?

So, that was our super-eventful Halloween. From the ER, we went trick or treating. I handed out candy dressed in Wonder Woman pajamas because I was too exhausted to put on my usual corset! I was wildly disappointed with the kids in our neighborhood because almost none of them said thank you, and many of them just grabbed into the bowl and took handfuls of candy, rather than waiting their turns. It was a weird night. I try to be patient with the way kids trick or treat, because kids are all battling different issues, but it seemed more like rudeness and bad manners than anything else, and I love Halloween. I love talking to the kids about their costumes, and telling them how cute they are. Overall, it was an off night, and I hope for smoother sailing next year, when Collin is decidedly NOT too old!

The cats: every time the doorbell rang and there were kids begging for candy out there. Loki felt it was unreasonable.

The cats: every time the doorbell rang and there were kids begging for candy out there. Loki felt it was unreasonable.

 

 

Every End is a New Beginning: Goodbye to Teaching

Despite having my head drilled into a couple of times, and my neck muscles pulled apart like the living room drapes, I’ve been very lucky, as far as Chiari goes. I don’t have a syrinx, which hasn’t limited my mobility. My spinal damage is limited to what amounts to pretty significant arthritis, which will certainly get worse as I get older; but, I’m not going to count those horrifying mutant chickens before they are hatched. Overall, it could be much worse, and I’m grateful that it isn’t. That doesn’t mean that I haven’t had to make some serious life-changes to accommodate where Chiari fits; and that I continue to have to do so.

 

When we moved back to Virginia, Bryon, with his pesky belief in me, was excited because he was convinced that I would be strong enough to get back in the classroom to teach, instead of just working online. So, I agreed to take on two in-person classes, one of which was a class that met only on Saturdays. It was a hybrid class, in which the bulk of the work was delivered online, but we met for almost three hours, once a week to deliver in-person instruction. Oy, that’s a long class to be “on” for. Oh, and instead of it being a standard fourteen-week class, it’s compressed into eight weeks. (My other class is a standard semester, twice-a-week class).

 

I’m not sure what I was thinking in agreeing to this one, except that it’s good money, and it got me in the classroom to get me my sea legs back. I was so nervous the first day, that I made Bryon drive me. Because it’s nearly an hour from the house, he and Collin had iHop while I taught, and then they went exploring at a local park. This became their Saturday morning ritual. They became buddies with a waitress who never ceased to be amazed that my small child could eat a breakfast burger, a full order of mozzarella sticks, a short stack of pancakes and drink a milk shake. Perhaps he could pack all of this away because his mother wasn’t there to stop this glutinous atrocity, because she was too busy trying to convince a room full of freshmen the difference between too and to.  

 

Still, this meant that I was teaching three days a week. It’s funny how three days a week now sounds like a lot, when two years ago, it would be nothing. It didn’t take long for my semi-broken body to voice concerns. Within the first month, I had a headache that lasted over a week and had to cancel several classes. I’m not sure the students minded, but I did. I felt irresponsible and guilty. I’m not a class-canceller. Trust me, cancelling class is a disaster for students who can barely follow the syllabus as it is. When you change a due date, you might as well ask them to find Narnia.  Before my surgeries, I never cancelled. I used to come to class, practically straight from the ER. I’d be black-and-blue from IV’s, and I’d still show up, looking like a junkie.

 

Then..the mistakes. I ordered the wrong textbook for my entire set of classes, as an oversight. And, then for the admin side of my class, I wasn’t making mistakes, but I was almost making them, which for a perfectionist teacher like me, was enough to bring me to tears of shame. I had to have Bryon start double-checking everything I put on Blackboard, the online administrative side of classes. I used to be able to whip up a class, the syllabus, the assignments, and do the grading without even thinking. I could do that with one hand, and cook dinner with the other. Now, even with full concentration, I was having trouble keeping straight what year it was, what month assignments went into, and what week I should make a due date. I was incapable of managing. Blackboard is not designed for user error. One mistake and you have assignments due in July of 1967. I couldn’t cope anymore. My short-term memory, and my detailed memory were simply not working.

 

Finally, lecturing was an issue too. When I first started getting sick, one of the things that pushed me to really push to my doctor, was that I wasn’t functioning correctly neurologically. I was having trouble spelling, where I’d not had trouble before. Suddenly, I was spelling everything phonetically. Or, I’d be writing on the board, and forget what I was writing, mid-word. Sure, that happens to everyone occasionally; but, it happens to me, constantly. This issue only got worse, after surgeries. It doesn’t instill a lot of confidence in your professor when she is standing at the board misspelling, or literally forgetting she’s talking about. Also, it’s humiliating. Nothing says, “your professor is an idiot,” like stumbling over basic words.

 



 

I love my job. I love teaching. I love my students. I truly and deeply value their success. This meant that it was time to give up teaching, at least in person. I had to, not because I didn’t want to do it anymore, but because it wasn’t right for me to continue to do it if I couldn’t do it to the best of my ability. I was certainly doing an “adequate” job. I was making it to work, and I was getting their assignments graded in a timely manner. I was loading quality, engaging assignments to Blackboard, and I was lecturing pretty well. My students are used to my quirks of spelling, I suppose! In fact, I get all good reviews, and most of them want to take me for the next course.  

 

But, I wasn’t doing the kind of work that I felt was acceptable to my standards. I feel more comfortable online when I can spell-check. I feel more comfortable when I can have much more time to double, triple, and quadruple-check my assignments before I post them. I just can’t put myself in a position where I’m in the classroom anymore. It’s too overwhelming to my brain. Every day, several students come up to me, before or after class, and they all want to change something, add something, or modify something, and I can’t remember everything they say. It’s not fair to them. They aren’t getting what they deserve from an instructor.

 

So, this will be my last semester in the classroom. I know it’s the right decision because as the weeks tick down toward the last week, I get lighter and lighter, and I feel less and less burdened, despite knowing I still have new classes starting in the Spring. Those classes are online. It’s a relief knowing I can handle those so much more easily. My wheelhouse has changed, which is a bit sad, but also a relief, to know where I fit. I will miss student interaction, but I also love being home. I’ve noticed that as Collin gets older, he seems to need me more, not less. I think I’m right where I belong.

 

I have to accept that Chiari has taken away something that I love. It’s taken my career. Except, that it’s not taken it fully away. It has modified it. I still get to teach at home. I have learned to accept a lot of changes with my new life, and this one is easy to accept because it means I still get to do what I love, I just get to do it spending more time with my family. And, I get to keep doing it, no matter where we live. I’m okay with all of that. I can mourn the loss, but I can also look at the brightness of the future. It’s like all things Chiari: you have to choose to see the bright side, or you get stuck in the swamp of sadness.

 


We Rescued an Owl!

I’m not sure if you remember or not, but when we lived in California, we had a neighborhood owl. I was determined to find it before we moved out of our house. At night, it would hoot up a storm, and I would jab Bryon in the ribs and beg him to go outside and try to find it with me. He would invariably refuse, I would pout, and we wouldn’t go looking for the owl. Rarely does Bryon refuse me anything, but this was one of those times. I suppose getting out of bed to look for a nocturnal bird, notorious for blending into its surroundings, under the cover of night is a reasonable thing to refuse one’s spouse. Don’t tell him I agreed with him. Ever.

 

Still, that damn owl awakened in me a need to find, before I die, as many species of owl, in the wild, as humanly possible. I love birds. I love all birds. I love hearing them sing in the morning. I Iove watching them at the feeder. I even the stupid woodpecker pointlessly banging his little beak on our aluminum siding. I adore birds. I like when my family looks at me as if I’m a savant when I say things like, “Look! A cedar waxwing!” And, they reply, “Oh, you mean that bird?”

 

Yes, I have my Audubon guide, and my binoculars. I have birdfeeders, seed and suet. I have all those things that a friendly neighborhood, casual birdwatcher might have. But, that isn’t going to help me find, or see any owls. I don’t count seeing owls at zoos (gag), or in habitats. I want to naturally come across an owl. I realize how unlikely this is. Still, I want it to happen. I’ve told Bryon I want to plan random trips to far flung places where certain species live. He just says, “Yes, dear.” Such a good little soldier he is.

 

On Saturday, Collin comes tearing down the stairs yelling, “There’s an owl in the front yard! He’s just sitting in the grass!” Of course, I don’t believe him. Mostly because, why would there be an owl in the front yard? Kids are dumb, right? Plus, logic is on my side. It’s too late in the morning, and owls don’t sit in the grass.

Sure enough, an owl, sitting in the grass. Excuse the poor quality of photo. It was taken through the glass front door. I have an 11 year-old child who washes his hands like an 11 year-old child, and then touches everything, including the glass door.

Sure enough, an owl, sitting in the grass. Excuse the poor quality of photo. It was taken through the glass front door. I have an 11 year-old child who washes his hands like an 11 year-old child, and then touches everything, including the glass door.

 

But, sure enough, there was a barred owl, literally sitting on the grass, in the front yard. It was about ten a.m., so it was far too late in the morning for an owl to be sitting in the lawn, not in a tree, which was concerning behavior for an owl. After I took a few pictures through the front door, as not to scare him off, I approached my new best friend.

 

He didn’t move, or even attempt to move, so I knew something was wrong. I grabbed a towel from the basement, and he easily let me pick him up and move him to a nearby bush, where I thought he would appreciate the shelter, at the very least. It was raining a bit. He was very light, far lighter than I expected a bird of his size to be. He weighed less than the cats.

 

Me petting an owl, in pajamas and bed-head. Pretty, huh?

Me petting an owl, in pajamas and bed-head. Pretty, huh?

He was very easy to move and didn’t object at all. He seemed almost grateful to be moved. I’ve heard that wild animals, even dangerous animals, will recognize when humans are trying to help, and become docile for those moments. He even leaned his little head forward and let me touch his head for a few strokes. It was pretty precious. I didn’t press my luck, not because it seemed to bother him, but because he’s a wild animal, and it’s not my business to pet him.

 

So, now I’ve not only seen a barred owl outside, I’ve picked one up, moved it, and pet its head. What a day. Except, this little guy is definitely not doing so hot. I tell Bryon that we need to get him something to eat. I tell him we are going to have to go to the pet store and get some feeder mice, because he’s obviously not capable of hunting; but, as Bryon points out, he’s not capable of killing the mouse himself either, and no one in this house is going to kill a mouse. Alas, we have a problem. Cat food it is. Did you know that owls don’t like cat food? They don’t. At least this owl didn’t. Or, he wasn’t hungry. Who knows? We gave him a big ol’ plate of wet cat food and the owl turned up his little (actually pretty big) beak at it as if we offered him gruel.

 

But, I knew I had to call the department of fish and game, anyway. A sick or dying bird of prey in your yard is potentially sign of danger, as they are the top of the food chain for birds. They can signify larger problems. So, I made approximately forty thousand phone calls before being routed to the correct number, which turned out to be the police, who came almost immediately to pick up my new best friend. By the way, when the police come to your house, you know it’s the police. They don’t knock, they KNOCK.

 

The cops that came were awesome. They told us that our new friend was a hatchling this year, so just a baby. He wasn’t showing any signs of West Nile virus, but they’d test for that at the lab. However, he did show signs of having been hit by a car. He had a minor skull injury, and an injury to his chest. He looked like his injuries were all minor and that he could be patched up and re-released. His daughter worked at the vet’s office that took in the birds for rehabilitation and release.

 

What was really awesome was how cool the cop was with Collin. He encouraged Collin to take a pic with the owl and he explained all of the info about the bird to Collin directly. He showed him all of the parts of the bird, described all kinds of facts, and pointed out some really neat stuff about his talons, and eyes. It was really cool that he took the time out of his day to do that. It was really special to have that moment. Although, I was probably more interested in the owl that Collin was!

My son with an owl “on” his shoulder. Yep, that’s how long his hair is. Most of it is in a ponytail. Nope he won’t cut it. Don’t even ask. We’ve given up trying. Pretty cool looking owl though, right?

My son with an owl “on” his shoulder. Yep, that’s how long his hair is. Most of it is in a ponytail. Nope he won’t cut it. Don’t even ask. We’ve given up trying. Pretty cool looking owl though, right?

 

Considering my track record with “rescuing” birds, I think this might be our best bird rescue to date. I generally do okay with rescuing other animals, but I’ve had some disastrous bird rescues (RIP to my other bird friends). All I can say about the whole situation is barred owl is checked off my list, I had an awesome day, and that we rescued an owl. How do you beat that!?

Worst Move in History

This is SUPER long, but this is the story of our move from L.A. to D.C. this summer. I swear, I feel like I’m still recovering. But, we are settled now, and hopefully here for a while; although, officially, at this very second, it’s only for a year. We shall see. I’m not sure I can take another move only a year from now, after all this nonsense. I can’t believe I’m saying this, but I want to stay longer!

 

If you don’t count our initial move away from home, I think we’ve moved, probably, a dozen times, but honestly, I can’t remember. I have lost count. It truly doesn’t matter anymore. Bad things have happened on all of those moves. Things have broken. We’ve lost things. We’ve ended up in crummy houses, and in neighborhoods that we’ve not have chosen, had we had more knowledge. Once, I literally lived in the ghetto and didn’t even know it. Six months after I moved out, someone was shot on my block!

 

But, good things have happened too. We picked, randomly, great schools. We’ve met friends that we’ve hung onto for decades. We’ve grabbed onto traditions that we cling to like life rafts. We’ve made memories out of ridiculous events, like our toddler son playing with tumbleweeds in the barren desert of mid-Texas. Things happen when you move, crisscrossing the country, like gypsy nomads, that don’t happen to everyone else, good things that you can hang your hat on as wondrous and different.

Memory from this trip? I found the tilework at the rest stops in Texas to be stunning. So, I stopped and took a picture. I thought I was alone. I was not. I was…embarrassed. Oh well.

Memory from this trip? I found the tilework at the rest stops in Texas to be stunning. So, I stopped and took a picture. I thought I was alone. I was not. I was…embarrassed. Oh well.

 

This move though, this move from Los Angeles, back to DC was the worst move we’ve ever had. Military spouses learn not to complain, at least not loudly, about the idea of moving. There’s no point. Although, I make it pretty clear that I hate leaving L.A. It’s my home now.

Collin waving to the border of California, as we cross the state line. No one was too happy to leave.

Collin waving to the border of California, as we cross the state line. No one was too happy to leave.

So, I was already primed to be miserable. I had to leave my ocean view, the hydrangeas that I’d planted, that were about to bloom. I had to leave my perfect house, and my art room. I had to leave my son’s perfect school, and the neighborhood I knew. And, I had to leave my doctor. I was basically ready to kill Bryon with dirty looks alone. Every time he came into a room, he started conversations with, “I’m sorry.”

 

“I’m sorry. I love you. What should we have for dinner?” Poor Bryon.

 

Then, this move went down in history as the worst move in history; but not just because we left L.A. and landed in D.C. Even Bryon agrees, and he’s basically neutral on ever topic in history.

 

On the road with Collin. Only days prior, he was nearly killed by this same U-haul. We stopped for candy, and he decided to jump over the trailer. Bryon was still driving! We had to have a talk about what the driver can and cannot see, and where it’s safe to move, when a car is moving with a trailer. I almost had a heart attack.

On the road with Collin. Only days prior, he was nearly killed by this same U-haul. We stopped for candy, and he decided to jump over the trailer. Bryon was still driving! We had to have a talk about what the driver can and cannot see, and where it’s safe to move, when a car is moving with a trailer. I almost had a heart attack.

Delivery

When you surrender your family’s possessions, the very things that make up your home, to the driver of the moving truck, you sign a novel’s worth of documents, including the loading manifest, and roughly twenty other pages worth of nonsense that includes insurance and other important information. One of those pages, a page that we’ve singed for every move, apparently, means that we give the driver permission to store our goods, if they beat us to the destination. Really, this, in bold, should say that they have the right to take your goods hostage for an indefinite amount of time, and damage them as they see fit, because they are pirates.

 

Obviously, truck drivers, fueled by Red Bull and Funyuns, drive faster than a family caravan loaded down with two cats and a hamster; so, they will generally get to the destination before you. However, since we were in a hurry to get to the home we already had lined up, the driver beat us by ONE day. ONE. Can I stress that he beat us by a single day? Either he is a slow trucker, or we are a fast family. We were fueled, primarily by falafel and pretzel rods, by the way.

 

We had specifically asked the driver not to store our goods. However, we’d done it verbally, and being the equivalent of a trained monkey: me drive truck, me put truck in this slot, me go home; he didn’t take other commands into account, apparently. And, we called the moving company several times to schedule delivery ahead of our arrival. Bryon had taken the month off, ready to unload and unpack, because I had just had shoulder surgery. So, when he was given papers to sign, he assumed that none of them were authorizing storage. You know, because we’d mentioned it to everyone, in advance, a million times.

 

He was told, repeatedly, “we’ll worry about delivery dates when you get here.” When he asked the driver about scheduling, the driver stared at him blankly, and basically told him “uhhhh.”

 

No one would give him a date. No one would schedule. No one would help. But, he signed the page that said storage was okay, without being told what it was, and my silly husband didn’t read it carefully enough. I don’t blame him, because you have to sign every page of the manifest, which is dozens of pages. If you’ve ever moved, they list every box, every lamp, everything. So, your manifest might be upwards of 100000000 pages. It’s easy to sign something you didn’t read carefully. Why yes, certainly, I shall sign for that pony. I expect to see it delivered in D.C. Its name is buttercup, and it eats only cupcakes. Keep her safe. Don’t give her Funyuns, no matter how much she asks. In a dozen or so moves, we’ve never had a problem getting delivery of our goods; so, it didn’t even occur to us.

 

It took over a month, after we got here, to get our stuff. A month. We spent part of it living in a hotel, and part of it living in an empty house (because they stopped paying for the hotel), sleeping on an air mattress. There’s no way to stress how uncomfortable that is.

Living in an empty house, playing with whatever you can find. In this case, the cardboard that came with whatever random thing we just bought.

Living in an empty house, playing with whatever you can find. In this case, the cardboard that came with whatever random thing we just bought.


The worst part of that is that when the stuff did come, we only had about three days to unpack our house before Bryon had to go back to work. He’d taken off an entire month to help me unpack. Instead, he got three days.

 

Pause to give my amazing husband credit for unpacking a five-bedroom house in three days. I think he’s still tired.

 

The best part of waiting this month for our things was calling the moving company every day and begging, then yelling, then going back to begging, for our things to get delivered. When they finally gave us a delivery date, they called the MORNING of the delivery and said they had to cancel.

 

“Mrs. McClain, it turns out we might not have the men to do the job today---”

 

“Hold up. Did you just say ‘might’ after making us wait a month for our goods? Because I think you just said might? I don’t care if YOU have to personally get in your fucking car and do it your damn self. My truck will be unloaded today because you promised. I expect you here at 1 pm, or I expect the name of your boss, and his boss and I expect your fucking job. This is ridiculous.”

 

“Ma’am, now that you’ve cursed at me---”

 

“Oh no. We’re not going to pretend cursing is the problem in this conversation. If you want to, you can talk to my husband, who will tell you the same thing without hurting your delicate ears. Or, I can repeat the same request in a delicate tone. But, listen Mr. XXX, I’m sorry to tell you that a lady, even in the south, can say whatever she God Damn well pleases. Now, tell me the names of who will show up here in exactly three hours, or get off the fucking phone.”

 

Frodo

We travelled with two cats and a hamster in a single vehicle. Why we traveled in one car is a long story, best left untold. However, two cats and a hamster in one car was a challenge in itself. We expected it to be worse than it was, and it actually worked out pretty well, cat-wise. The cats barely noticed him, until we checked into the hotel every night. Loki spent the first ten minutes sniffing him, and then the rest of the night buried under the comforter. P.S. the car didn’t stink!

Loki, NOT eating Frodo. What a good boy.

Loki, NOT eating Frodo. What a good boy.

 

We bought a little travel carrier, meant for small animals and Frodo didn’t mind being zipped into it. I suppose, if he did mind, we wouldn’t know. It’s not like he crafted a little protest sign that said, “I mind this!” We tucked his little carrier into small corners, away from where cats liked to snuggle, and Frodo just went to sleep. He was happy and content.

 

That is, until we got to Tuscon (BTW, they had the best falafel of the road – this is what vegans eat when they travel through the south). When we checked into the hotel, and unloaded all the bags, Bryon nudged me as he unpacked Frodo, and told me that he thought he was dead.

 

Traveling men. Not bothering Frodo one bit.

Traveling men. Not bothering Frodo one bit.

Sure enough, he was sleeping a little too soundly, and a little too stiffly. We have no idea where or when he died, because no one looked at him while we traveled. Why would we? Frodo was a victim of the road. He was an old hamster, and he definitely outlived his normal lifespan, so he could’ve died of old age, and that’s what we are going with; but Bryon can’t shake the feeling that his carrier was in a spot that was a little too warm. It’s heartbreaking to think he might’ve died of heatstroke.

Loki may have been adorable and photogenic traveler. I can’t say.

Loki may have been adorable and photogenic traveler. I can’t say.

 

We keep telling Collin that Frodo tried really hard to be with him to D.C. and he was really trying to be brave for him. Breaking death to a kid with autism was tough, especially his pet, now that he’s older. When Eddie, our dog, died, years ago, Collin felt nothing. Bryon and I were sobbing on the way home from the vet. Collin, who was about five, at the time, said, “Why are you guys sad? Let’s just get another dog on the way home.” Empathy is tough for autistic kids.

No pictures were taken of Frodo’s funeral, because that’s weird. But, enjoy another of Loki being adorable.

No pictures were taken of Frodo’s funeral, because that’s weird. But, enjoy another of Loki being adorable.

 

Frodo was buried behind a gross La Quinta that abutted an apartment complex that looked like the projects. He was mourned briefly by his family, and his grave his marked by several “special” rocks that were found by Collin, as he foraged for suitable treasures (the best ones he kept, of course).

 

I know it’s terrible, but so much of me is glad that Frodo is dead. I’m NOT happy an animal is gone; but, I’m happy to see my son have a human emotion. I happy not to deal with the fight about cleaning up the damn thing, and not to have the hamster smell in my house anymore. I’m happy to not have hamster vs. cat death matches anymore. And mostly, I’m happy to see Collin have empathetic reasoning come from this. It happened at the right age. Plus, Frodo was old. I’m not a monster. It’s not like I fed it to the cat, or something.

 

The Mold

While the moving company was refusing to deliver our things, they were claiming that there was simply not enough manpower in the area to make deliveries, move loads from docks and unload trucks. Their claim was that the government had changed regulations about illegal workers, and that their contract with them hamstrung their ability to hire enough minimum wage people to do menial labor. Yes, someone at the company told me this. Damn those illegals taking American jobs. FYI: jobs out there for you Americans looking for work, there’s good, hard labor available in the moving industry. Trust me, it’s fucking hard work.  

 

We offered to hire our own moving company to go to the storage facility to pick up our load, bring it to our house, and unload it. We were told that this was impossible, because it was at the back of their warehouse, and that they didn’t have the crew to move the rest of the loads out of the way for another crew to come in and get our load. Ummmm, okay? So, we had to “wait our turn,” to get our load out of storage, in order. Frustrating.

 

I smelled bullshit. I should’ve smelled mold.

 

As our unloading team started to pull stuff out of the truck, they started to refuse to put things into our house for health and safety reasons. This was because our furniture was coated in mold. Mold, because the load was NOT stored in a warehouse. The load was left in the truck it was shipped in, parked in the elements for the entire time, and the truck was not road-worthy. It leaked like a sieve. It was full of standing water and places where it was rusted through, both on the roof and the ground.

 

This is our meth cabinet, for example.

 

The best part about the mold issue is that we have to save all of our damaged goods until the claim is processed, but we can’t bring it inside because, obviously. So, we have to leave all of our moldy, gross stuff, in our driveway. Our house looks like Sanford and Son. It’s humiliating.

The best part about the mold issue is that we have to save all of our damaged goods until the claim is processed, but we can’t bring it inside because, obviously. So, we have to leave all of our moldy, gross stuff, in our driveway. Our house looks like Sanford and Son. It’s humiliating.

My favorite part of the mold is the multi-colored mold. I love watching it morph. Mighty-morphin mold!

My favorite part of the mold is the multi-colored mold. I love watching it morph. Mighty-morphin mold!

We have vintage vinyl kitchen chairs. The moisture seeped THROUGH the vinyl and into the foam. The mold is so strong that you can see it growing under the foam.

I grant you that this is a small spot. But, consider that I clean my chairs every time we eat. So, it’s not dirt, or a stain. It’s mold. Imagine how wet the foam underneath must have gotten for mold to show THROUGH the vinyl. That is wildly disgusting. And, it’s growing, constantly. It’s on every chair, to some degree. Would you want that in your house? And, you can’t get rid of it.

I grant you that this is a small spot. But, consider that I clean my chairs every time we eat. So, it’s not dirt, or a stain. It’s mold. Imagine how wet the foam underneath must have gotten for mold to show THROUGH the vinyl. That is wildly disgusting. And, it’s growing, constantly. It’s on every chair, to some degree. Would you want that in your house? And, you can’t get rid of it.

 But the worst part is that they destroyed a box of our holiday ornaments. One of our treasured holiday traditions is we make ornaments every year. We’ve made so many, that now we have to make a holiday “craft” because our tree is so full. They are now covered with mold. Some of them are so destroyed that they are unrecognizable and have to be thrown away.

 

ORNAMENTS

 

Ornaments my son made in preschool. Ornaments we bought to commemorate or trip to Europe. Ornaments that my husband and I bought in Vegas when we got married: destroyed. Gone. How do you make a damage claim on that?

 

Most of that is unidentifiable.

Most of that is unidentifiable.

 

I’m so angry at the moving company for their negligence. How dare they use substandard equipment to move families’ lives across the country, and then to flippantly store it just anywhere, like it doesn’t matter, like it’s just a pile of things. We went tearing through the rest of our unopened, look at later boxes, last night. Were our wedding albums okay? Were our baby pictures okay? How dare they treat someone’s things like they are just things. These are the lives of other people.

IMG_2166.JPG

 

If you have substandard equipment, replace it. If you don’t have enough storage room, get more. If you can’t afford it, then your company isn’t operating properly and you need to subcontract, or you need to give up the contract with the government. You aren’t honoring its terms. Profit over people is unacceptable when you are destroying the very thing that you are proclaiming to honor, which is moving peoples’ lives.

 

Military families have very little to hold onto when they move from place to place, and one of those things is their traditions and their memories; when you treat them with such blatant disrespect and disregard for feeling and care, you don’t deserve the government contract. In all the moves, in all the broken knick-knacks, lamps and pieces of furniture, I’ve never been so heartbroken.

Did I mention that the way your packers packed my grandmother’s red desk, in order to prevent it from being destroyed, my unpackers had to take it apart and rebuild it, and reinforce it (something they didn’t have to do); but they saw my tears and couldn’t bear to see it destroyed. One of them is a furniture builder and made sure nothing would ever happen to it again.

It’s not built to come apart like this. When they took the top off, I couldn’t even look. I cried. But, the guy who fixed it spent about an hour just on this project alone. That sucker will never budge again. He was so careful with it. The way the packers packed it, it was about to crack all the way up the sides and back. There was no reinforcement or protection. They were so careful with it. I can’t thank them enough. ONE part of this moving team was on the ball.

It’s not built to come apart like this. When they took the top off, I couldn’t even look. I cried. But, the guy who fixed it spent about an hour just on this project alone. That sucker will never budge again. He was so careful with it. The way the packers packed it, it was about to crack all the way up the sides and back. There was no reinforcement or protection. They were so careful with it. I can’t thank them enough. ONE part of this moving team was on the ball.


No matter how much claim money you hand me, you’ll never be able to replace the ornament my son made for me when he was three. You’ll never be able to replace the glee on his face when he found that knight ornament in the gift shop at Napoleon’s tomb. He was so into knights at the time, and it was the only one there. You’ll never be able to replicate those things.

 

I don’t care that you wrecked my meth cabinet. I don’t care that you wrecked my chairs. I can replace those. It’s annoying that I have to, but I don’t really care. It’s negligent and ridiculous that you did it. But, I do care that you did it in a way that says you don’t care about your job and your responsibility to do it well. How dare you treat anyone’s belongings with such irresponsibility? Our unpacking men, who knew they were breaking the rules to do so, invited us into the truck to show us what was causing the damage to our things. There were puddles in the truck so deep that you could slosh around in them.  

** I will say that the men who unloaded my truck were amazing. They wanted it clear that the damage was unacceptable, and they were wonderful. We did have a dyslexic unpacker, who kept mixing up box numbers, but I even forgive that guy.

 

The House

Plus, when we arrived, we were supposed to pull up in our driveway, meet our property manager with the keys, and slip right into our house. This did not happen, not exactly. She gave us the keys, and said we could come and go as we please, but we couldn’t live in the house yet. See, as she was having workers prep the house for last minute items, the sewer pipe in the basement burst, so we had no water. She said it should only take a day or two. It took a week. We visited a few times. When she said there’d be no floor in the basement, she was not kidding. Yikes. Don’t worry, there’s a floor now.

Hotel living - going stir-crazy as a family all in a single room, for weeks on end. There was a lot of fighting over the television. Collin won’t admit it, but he likes watching “Four Weddings,” now.

Hotel living - going stir-crazy as a family all in a single room, for weeks on end. There was a lot of fighting over the television. Collin won’t admit it, but he likes watching “Four Weddings,” now.

 

Then, she forgot to put the washer and dryer in which was in the lease. She made a mistake because she didn’t mean to offer it to us; she’d meant to offer it to a previous person she’d offered the house to, and only left it in our offer by mistake. Oh well, her loss, our gain. So, we had to wait another week for the washer and dryer. At least we could move in like that. Still, without our things, and only what we’d travelled with, that meant a trip to the laundromat.

Forgive the backyard mess; we weren’t finished unpacking/arranging. But, this was taken in my yard. But yes, I can handle living here. Look at that! Awesome, right? Except, my neighborhood just authorized arrow-hunting of them right up to near our property line, because apparently, there are too many of them.

Forgive the backyard mess; we weren’t finished unpacking/arranging. But, this was taken in my yard. But yes, I can handle living here. Look at that! Awesome, right? Except, my neighborhood just authorized arrow-hunting of them right up to near our property line, because apparently, there are too many of them.

 

Then, when we did move in, we discovered that the owner had been using the fifth bedroom as a kitty bathroom. This would be no big deal, except that he had built a large table for them to use as a litter box. It was roughly the size of a kitchen table. He filled it with litter and just let them use it as a potty and, apparently scooped it, meh, never? The cats hopped up there and, well, went. There was sprayed poop on the walls, urine, everything. It was “cleaned” up, but there was evidence of “cat,” everywhere. Those of you who have been in my house know that I do not have evidence of “cat,” despite having them. There’s no hair. There’s no smell. It was super gross. That room took hours to disinfect. Cat shit walls=ew, no matter how you slice it.

 

These two say that they appreciate the lack of stink in their home. They also say that they work hard at making stink, on a regular basis.

These two say that they appreciate the lack of stink in their home. They also say that they work hard at making stink, on a regular basis.

Happy Ending?

This house is amazing (after cleaning the cat shit). I will have to show it off next time. I have even told Bryon that despite it being Virginia, I will tolerate it, with happiness, if he follows on here. I like my neighborhood. I like my doctors. Collin found a good school. Everything is great. Now that we are all settled in, I can happily stay here for a few years. Of course, if he comes out on the Colonel’s list, we’ll probably have no choices in our lives anymore and get yanked around the universe. We’ll probably get assigned to Mars, and I’ll have to find a doctor who takes Tricare and also has tentacles.

 

 

Husband Chores

Whelp…I had a post yesterday. I wrote one. I even thought I posted it. Guess what I did? I did NOT post it. And, then…I lost it. So, you get another post that isn’t what I wrote about yesterday, and is totally off topic. I’ll revisit yesterday, tomorrow. It’ll be like we are in a time-warp.

Loki, demonstrating what I’ve been doing for the past six months: hiding out from this blog. He says that we are both back now. He doens’t plan to do a lot of writing though because when he gets on the keyboard it comes out like this, “xlahgpeay vneoah; vjaphvy po;vno;pyeia;n.” No one understands that gibberish.

Loki, demonstrating what I’ve been doing for the past six months: hiding out from this blog. He says that we are both back now. He doens’t plan to do a lot of writing though because when he gets on the keyboard it comes out like this, “xlahgpeay vneoah; vjaphvy po;vno;pyeia;n.” No one understands that gibberish.

My darling husband is out getting gas in my car for me, at this moment. This wouldn’t be all that fascinating, except that I passed a gas station, on the way home, which was easily accessible, and I didn’t even consider stopping. Okay, I lie. I did think of it. Briefly, as I drove briskly by. I loathe getting gas.

 

It isn’t the smell. It isn’t the irritating beeps and boops at the pumps. It isn’t that I hate standing in the heat, or the cold, or the wind, or the rain. It isn’t even that I’m annoyed about gas prices. I just hate doing it.

 

We all have chores that just, for no other reason than that they exist, annoy us to no end. For me, that chore is getting gas. I wish that we could just will our tanks full as we drove by the stations, like a genie twinkling our noses, or blinking our eyes. Alas, no. I have the next best thing, a willing husband. I think that I’ve lucked out, in that regard. For all the chores that I hate, I’ve got someone who is willing to simply do them for me.

 

This brings me to the idea of all the other things he does for me that I don’t want to do. When I sit down and think of it, truly I’m quite spoiled. That’s not to say that I don’t do equally as many things for him. The thing is that the things I do for him aren’t because he doesn’t want to do them, they are because he simply doesn’t do them.

 

Call it what you will; perhaps it’s been poor husband-training, over the years; or perhaps it’s because I just haven’t bothered to tell him that these things bother me. Whatever it is, I do things for him that he doesn’t do, or doesn’t want to do. These are things like never drying the counter after washing dishes, picking up his socks, or buying himself new clothes. Okay, that last one he hates doing, and if I didn’t do it, he’d still be wearing the same outfit (including socks and underwear) that he wore on our first date.

 

Anyway, I don’t ever have to do the following, and for that, I’m eternally grateful to pick up his gross socks.

 

Clean up Vomit

I’m relegated to rubbing Collin’s back when he’s sick, and pretending that I’m not freaking out that he just vomited, while also simultaneously pretending that the smell is not bothering me, at all. Meanwhile, because Collin has taken a penchant to vomiting over the side of his loft bed, poor Bryon is stuck cleaning an entire room, including crevasses and crannies one could only imagine in nightmares.

 

Grocery Shop

Sure, I make the occasional run to Whole Foods, which is fun and games; but, I don’t have to do the weekly or bi-weekly shopping. I used to the menu, but now I only “help,” with that, and even that is in earnest. Bryon braves the commissary crowd for his family. Any time I have gone with him, I need a nap afterwards because he can get in and out of a bi-weekly shopping trip in under a half an hour. It’s like a sprint workout on cocaine. I don’t know how he does it. I don’t want to know. All I know is that it’s exhausting. One time, I went to the bathroom on the way in, and by the time I was finished, he was done. Not really, but close.

 

Kitty Litter

This one is surprising, because the cats are really, mostly, mine. I used to do it; but then my shoulder decided that it no longer wants to be part of this family. Surprisingly, shoveling shit and urine, lightly encased in gravel is surprisingly difficult to do with your non-dominant hand, as I discovered when trying to do it with my left hand. I kept flicking the stupid gravel all over the room, and then having to vacuum it up, which is also bad for a bad shoulder. Alas, hubby took over litter-duty, which is a twice-a-day job now, with three cats. He loves this chore, which is the only thing I can assume based on his constant grumbling about it. Whenever I bring up the idea a fourth cat, he is so exuberant in his exultations, I can only assume that he enjoys shoveling shit, anyway.

Three cats = Three times the amount of poop and three times the amount of pee…every.single.day. You’d think they could take a day off, but they don’t. Every day.

Three cats = Three times the amount of poop and three times the amount of pee…every.single.day. You’d think they could take a day off, but they don’t. Every day.


Marriage is about compromise, right? I don’t grocery shop, and he doesn’t put the pillows back on the bed, at least not correctly. I don’t clean up vomit, and he doesn’t always remember to close cabinet doors. We all have our “things.” What I do know is that he’ll be right by my side through random illness, and countless trips to countless hospitals. And, that he’ll fill up the gas tank.