Can’t Cook, or Clean, or Do Laundry

I still can’t cook, or clean, or do laundry. That’s what the surgeon still says, God help me.

It’s been some summer I’ve been having, as full of twists and turns as the classic Wild Mouse ride that almost yanks your head clear off the celery-stalk of your dear little neck. (Or wait, maybe it’s more accurate to call those twists and turns ‘ups and downs’ in honor of all the Big Boy roller coasters out there.)

The story is, I had one of the tendons in my shoulder repaired in mid-June and it’s kind of sad, because even all this way through August I dread the nights for the pain that they bring. When you’re moving around as you do during the day, see, you’re sort of ok, in part because your movements pump the healing blood up into the site, a badly needed thing since, as I understand it, the shoulder doesn’t have much of a blood supply on its own. Most nights, by contrast, I’m so sleep-deprived I keep thinking I’m the parent of a newborn again,

Ah but the mornings! The mornings this summer have been lovely. This is the view from the guest bedroom, a view I relished every morning as I sat sling-bound in my rented recliner chair. fullsizeoutput_5127

So an undeniable upside has been having the time to look out the window at Nature.

A second downside, however, is I can’t near do near enough walking, since walking any real distance makes the pain in my shoulder worse. (Now if I were a NUN, gliding along on the roller skates my sister Nan and I always suspected the nuns in our convent school had hidden under their robes, it probably wouldn’t hurt much at all.)

But the upside there? I’m getting a LOT of reading done.

A third downside is that I can’t blowdry my hair. Oh, I can wash it, sort of, using my one functioning arm. I just CANNOT lift both arms in the way you need to do to blow it dry. And without blowdrying, my hair looks like a stainless steel  scouring pad after months of use when it loses its integrity and just splays out in runaway coils. I shouldn’t complain about that, I know, because now I get to go to this walk-in salon where I can get any one several operators to style and blowdry my hair FOR  me – and really only once did I get a stylist who gave me a definite Phyllis Diller look.

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Fourth downside, and I’ll stop here, I promise:

I can’t wear the contact lenses I have relied on for nearly 30 years. I just can’t get them IN, where I need both hands for that operation and I can’t get my dominant hand anywhere near my eye. I’ve never worn glasses in my life until now and frankly I’m not doing so well with the whole progressive lens thing. But the upside here if I’m honest?  What I’m really doing this summer is getting a whole lot of binge-watching in, and God bless the invention of TV!

So here we are…

 I slept poorly last night, natch, but again this morning I woke to a matchless summer dawn.  Below, the view from my office-that-is-an-office-no-more since I’ve left the column-writing game but is instead just an airy upstairs room that anyone at all can relax in. In fact you guys should come by anytime! I have a fridgeful of eats from the Prepared Foods aisle and I can show you my newly mastered trick of tucking in the top sheet on even a king-size bed using just my own little toes.

(Click on the video if it looks askew. It plays right when you do.) 

 

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The Upside of Being on the DL

I think where I last left off in this absorbing tale  I was two days out of surgery and throwing up on my new recliner ‘lift’ chair, an apparatus that still looks to me like a still from a Stephen King movie where somebody’s long-suffering furniture comes alive and goes after its idiot owner.

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Today though, I’ll spare you further grisly tales and say only that there are real silver linings to recovering from an operation. I mean, where would the world be without the caregivers, whether paid or voluntary? Immediately after ‘losing it’ in that grab–the-towels way,  I called two RN friends, both of whom manifested like a couple of  heavenly apparitions, one bearing an analgesic far less terrifying than the oxy the surgeon had prescribed. (And THAT stuff, whoo! You take it and you still have the pain, all right. You just also have a whole lot of other weird sensations too. On oxycodone I felt like a wildly scrambled swirl of hurt wrapped up in a cotton candy cocoon.)

Besides remembering that I was the recipient of a lot of good care in those first weeks spent feebly sitting around in my ice-filled sling I now recall watching a super long, multi-episode documentary about the Roosevelts.  Visitors came and went and I would greet them with  “Look! It’s the Roosevelts!” to which most would reply, in somewhat puzzled fashion, “Ah yes, the Roosevelts.”

I also remember in this early time of confinement actually looking at some of the seeming thousands of catalogs that drop through my mail slot every week . It seems I am now officially, and universally, targeted as a likely customer for catalogs with names such as “A Time for Me”, whose translation might as well be “Make Your Own Damn Dinner,” and “As We Change,” whose primary message is “Of Course WE Like Your New Mustache But Should You Ever Wish to Get Rid of it Our Newly Patented Mini-Taser Will Do the Job Nicely.)  Mostly of course such catalogs are marketing just two main items: (1) Loose-fitting clothing and (2) Vibrators. Who knew?

And look at that: Even setting down such a racy observation shows me that now, with the knife eight whole weeks in my past, I’m at last getting back my ability to smile. 🙂

Call Me Eeyore

eeyore quoteBack in the long-ago 90s I did therapy for six months (a) because I felt sort of busily jazzed up trying to save the world at all times and (b) because my husband thought I should. Maybe he detected a sadness under all my over-functioning I don’t know. I started going all right but every time I went to that therapist’s office I could tell her how everyone else in my life was but not how I was. After a few sessions she told me that as fascinating as my lively tales about other people were, she felt frustrated that I couldn’t talk about myself. If there was sadness underneath all my rushing-about what WAS that sadness? Darned if I knew.

Well LIFE SURE CURED THAT and these days anyway I do know why I’ve been so sad, so off my game, at times so bereft-feeling at times that this mate of mine sometimes finds me standing outside the bathroom door waiting for him to come back out. (I know! Pathetic!)

So, without further talk, here is my litany of reasons for sadness, some general, some specific to me.

  • Like so many of us, I am still sad  that we lost Bobby Kennedy. Fifty years ago this coming Saturday I watched his funeral and well do I remember the quaver in the voice of his one remaining brother as he gave the eulogy,  and the sight of his children crowding around his casket, and the sight of is that widow, newly pregnant with the couple’s 11th child.
  • Again, like many of us, I am sad about the changing climate with its ever-more-devastating weather events. I’m very sad that we in this country are doing so little to ward off what looks to be the very dire consequences.

Less catastrophically,  I’m sad about my own small stuff:

  • I’m sad about the way time is passing so fast. I can still picture the color, style and fabric of the dress I wore the day they buried Bobby, and now I am… how old? I said to my mate only last Christmas, “Just think! In 15 years I’ll be 73!” “Um,” he replied with a kind smiled, “in 15 years you’ll be 83.” Where did it all go?
  • I’ve been very sad that I can’t seem to write much anymore. It just hurts to sit, to stand, even to lie down for any length of time with a spinal column that has come to resemble a Crazy Straw the way it veers right up by my bra-line, then veers sharply left around my hips, then ends with a flourish of two additional veerings that together deliver pain not only to my back but also clear down one leg. Sigh.
  • I’m sad about my digestion-related insides since I now have “bacterial overgrowth” in there, which is diagnosed by having one blow air into a glass tube and send it off  in the mail. That part was kind of fun, to be honest, a little like capturing fireflies – only these turn out not to be fireflies at all but rather a dense civilization of little sea monkeys as I picture them. These tiny tenants  now renting space in there have apparently moved in for keeps, the doctor says, so that for the rest of my life if I wish not to suffer I can’t eat wheat, barley, dairy or really any kind of sugar including the innocent fructose that comes in apples peaches, nectarines and so on. Who wouldn’t get sad on being told this news?
  • And finally, to conclude this tale of woe, I am about to have rotator cuff surgery, which sounds both so picturesquely dreadful and immobilizing that I’m actually looking forward to the adventure of it . More on THAT another day.

So there it all is and maybe that stern therapist was right: I do feel better for having told all this.  Also, there’s a real upside to the thought of being unable to so much as wash a dish or fold a pair of underpants for ten whole weeks. Plus anyway come on: Who doesn’t love sea monkeys?

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On the Path

It’s nearly three weeks since I began taking that increased dose of the thyroid-boosting drug and, if I’m honest, nearly three weeks since I began also taking an antidepressant. Who knows whence cometh my help as the Bible says? Will it have come from those loving individuals who reacted to my last post? For sure. Will it have come as well from lifting up my eyes unto those hills that the Psalmist talks about, especially now that their trees have set their petticoats to flouncing? Very likely. And it also seems that the process of paying closer attention to everything outside myself will help. 

For example: 

The other night I sat parked next to a 100-foot stretch of bike path that emerges from a wooded glade to create a small ‘stage’ before disappearing back into the foliage. This path passes through a number of towns just north and west of Boston here, so in itself it is far from rural. In fact I found myself beside it in this parking lot because I had just met my grown daughter and her two babies for an early supper. And when I returned to my car afterward, the light of the May evening was just billowing so that I had to pause and watch as an ever-freshening stream of people passed. 

Here zipped past a whippet-thin cyclist curved like an apostrophe over his handlebars.

Now here came an identically dressed brace of young women, high-stepping like a couple of drum majors.

Now I watched a man lope by at an easy trot, plugged, like almost everyone I saw, into his ear buds.

As I sat I saw that for ten or 15 seconds at a stretch, the path would be empty. And the sky was so blue. And the light was so golden.

I watched as an older lady in a sari appeared. She paused as if winded, settled her fists on her hips, and called out repeatedly the name of an unseen child. It was like watching a play, for now, as if on cue, came the long-awaited child, a boy of perhaps five, zooming into sight on his little scooter to describe several small circles around his exasperated companion,  

I watched these folks and others for some 25 or 30 minutes. I would have gladly stayed another 30 but the light was now changing, growing both more luminous and more coppery and I knew I didn’t want to see it fade.

So instead I came home, tucked away the memory and remembered again that as the old Irish adage says, it is in the shelter of each other that the people live – and find freshly, every time, a sense of peace.

 

Bouncy No More

I wanted to write something about Mothers Day last week but lately I have felt put off by the idea of even opening up a blank page to create a post, and now it’s been over three months. What has happened to me?

I had an invitation 30 minutes ago to speak before a journaling group.

I turned it down.

I turned down two other offers too, in the last months. I’m just so tired of talking, tired of being a person who always speaks up, who thinks it’s her job to make it a ‘good class’ for the people around her, as if I did as a young teacher, eager to make every minute count. These days, I often sit through whole meetings without saying a word. I find I would much rather listen.

‘And this is OK’ I’ve told myself. ‘It’s an ebbing of ego is all, which can only be good’.

But now it comes back to me that near the end of my annual visit to my primary care physician last week, she asked me something as she was listening to my heart:

“So,” she said.  How’s the writing?”

I was slow to answer. “Well… I know I told you a year ago that I stopped producing the column…”

“I remember. But beyond that?”

“Beyond that, I…. I.. don’t write anymore.” The words alone caused me a pang.

“Oh, that’s just writer’s block,” she said cheerily. “It’ll pass!”

I looked down at my lap and remained silent then, leaving her to her tappings and palpatings. It was during that pause in the talk that a memory came back to me of an exchange I had had with some old old friends, my college roommates and co-member of the Class of a Thousand Years Ago, when we travelled to Italy together. Midway through the trip one of them said with a laugh, “So Terr, we just have to ask: What happened to that wicked wit we all remember? You’re just sort of … kind these days,” and laughed again, to show she loved me anyway.

Looking up from my lap I related this freshly remembered exchange to my doctor who took the stethoscope from her ears and looked me full in the face.

“Are you sleeping?” she asked.

“Sure,” I said. “In fact, most days I can hardly get up.” And I told how I stay in the bed, awake and looking out the window for 60 or sometimes 90 minutes until my husband gets up.

“Listen to me,” she then said. “I get what your classmates meant. For more than two decades, every time you have come in here you’ve been practically bouncing, in high spirits, and full of stories. These last two visits I haven’t seen that. At all. I think we have to consider the possibility that you have dysthymia, a term for chronic low-grade depression.”

Normally I would have laughed, the way I did back in the 90s when she told me my bloodwork revealed hypothyroidism. “Hypothyroidism?” I had said. “What are the symptoms?” We looked up the condition on her computer and she swung the monitor around so I could see. “Low energy, sadness, sleep issues,” it read, along with 40 other unhappy signposts.

I was almost offended at the time. “But you know me! “ I said back then. “Does my busy life sound as if it comes with any of these symptoms? And now you’re saying I have to take a pill every day for the rest of my life? What happens if I don’t?”

“If you don’t, you’re facing all of this and more,” she’d replied, indicating the screen.

So, these 25 years later, I take the Levoxyl, which is no big deal. Last Friday though, the bloodwork from this latest visit came back, indicating that my level of need has increased. She has upped my dosage therefore and I guess we’ll see. Either that does the trick or  I’ll need additional help.

In the meantime I want to aplogize to any of you out there who have been wondering if I’m still here. I’m here. And from now on I’ll be taking some advice I learned from the Recovery movement and fake it til I make it, which means,  “performing actions that are known to be positive even if one is not necessarily comfortable with them.” In other words “the mind may be willing, but the emotions may not be there yet.”

I’ll do that now. I’ll fake it ’til I make it. I’ll try just ‘showing up’ which, after all, is what most people do every day, whether they feel like it or not.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Oh It’s Cryin’ Time Again They’re Gonna Squeeze You

You’re almost done at your doctor’s office door when they drop it on you: “And of course you’ll have the yearly mammogram before the end of the month?” chirped my primary care person last April, with the same merry tone as when she orders up the dread colonoscopy.

Oh, I’d  go get the darn mammogram, of course I would – and I know I am lucky to be someone who can show up and fulfill this yearly obligation. Still, we all vividly remember what it’s like, don’t we ladies? The way the tech lifts and nudges those poor delicate tissues onto that cold glass plate? The mechanical squeeeeeze as she brings the second plate down upon them? The way she then tightens that diabolical vise to ‘hammer’ them flat as a couple of veal cutlets?  It’s a never-changing ritual, only this time as I held my breath the way they make you do, the room started to wobble in my sight, causing me to begin my internal mantra of old,  “I will not faint, I will not faint…”

I didn’t faint  but this was the first time in many, many years that I had come so come close. It would be a real bummer if I had, since fainting right in the doctor’s office means forever after they will label you as a ‘faller’ and snap a plastic bracelet on you advertising the fact to everyone in the place. This is the worst. If you have to faint you want to do so anonymously.

In my childhood and teen years I got to do a lot of anonymous fainting: I fainted all the time in church, first going fish-belly white and then melting down in the pew until large male hands heaved me up by the armpits and hustled me up the aisle toward the back of the church, limp feet dragging behind me. I fainted when a doctor unfamiliar with wart removal burned two cigarette holes in my right arm, scars I bear to this day.

I fainted once in the Men’s Department of a fancy store and woke just in time to hear the manager say, “just drag her behind the counter” because you can’t have a lot of passed-out people standing in the way of commerce.

But looking back now I see that the most embarrassing lapse into near-unconsciousness occurred at my own wedding, up on the altar. Cocooned as I was in a complex wedding veil and a peau de soie gown with full-length sleeves that came to a point at the base of the finger bones, I felt my young self mist over with a sudden wash of fine perspiration. Ah, I can see it all before me even now: Here was the priest intoning away. Here were the wedding guests, a sea of blurry balloon faces out their in the congregation. My bridesmaids were there too but I was unaware of them in this moment of need.  The only help I could look to at all came in the person of my similarly young, similarly perspiring groom. We were each facing the priest and not each other so I had to whisper my SOS to him out of the side of my mouth, like a gangster.

“I’m going to faint! I hissed, my eyes on the priest and my face frozen into a death mask of a smile as we stood there holding hands as instructed.

Fake smiling himself, he hissed right back. “You can’t faint!” he said and punched the side of my leg, pretty hard too, under cover of all that silk.

It worked. I didn’t faint, we were officially joined in marriage seven minutes later and have remained joined, basically thigh to thigh, every day ever since.

All of which leads me to wonder if I shouldn’t bring HIM to my next mammogram to help keep me awake and upright. Though as I think about I’m guessing that even one quick look at this whole Inquisition-style process would have out cold and flat on the floor before the tech had time to even duck back behind her screen to start taking pictures.

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How It’s Done (not me however)

On the Starship Colonoscopy

colonoscopy fearsSit with any group of 50-somethings long enough and sooner or later the talk will turn to the various strategies for getting through the  colonoscopy prep.This regimen, in case there are small pockets of the population who have not heard, involves the drinking of eight 8-ounce glasses of a thick chalky cocktail, at 15-minute intervals, until the entire 64-ounce pitcher has been drained.

That’s a gallon of gritty sludge, downed within the space of just two hours.

As one who was recently contemplating her own date with destiny, I consulted my 900 stranger-friends on Facebook for advice on how best to approach the ordeal.

“Make the drink as cold as you can!” many said. “Use a straw!” advised a second faction. “Skip the straw and just fire it down!” counseled a third group.

I had used all three techniques by the time I was finished, and let me just say I wasn’t exactly yodeling out a Julia-Child-like “Bon Appetit!” with each glass.

But as unpleasant as the prep is, everything turns rosy when, in your hospital gown and booties, you are escorted into the hospital’s ‘scope suite, where you all at once feel like a guest on board the Starship Enterprise, with the many uniformed crew members circling and circling as they tend and monitor.

You are ushered to a gurney where, alongside 15 or 20 other pre- and post-procedure folk, you stretch out like so many limp strips of bacon.

Someone comes and covers you with a warm blanket.

Then a cheerful medical professional in a pirate-like headscarf comes along to take your vital signs. His hands make a sort of Sign of the Cross as they move from your left arm to your forehead to your chest and then over to your right hand. This is where the needle goes to deliver the I-love-everything drug that cancels all fears. You will then discover another cheery young crew member sitting inches away and peering into a monitor that offers a minute-by-minute account of what’s happening inside you. You feel like the coolest guest at the dinner party. Everyone finds you so interesting!

At last you are wheeled into the operatory for the “periscope up” procedure that has brought you here. A neat slice of time is cut from your life, and the next thing you know you’re back in Mission Control with your fellow strips of bacon.

After a woozy interval, the doctor materializes and, with a somber clergyperson’s air, tells you how things looked. He dematerializes again and you yawn.

Somebody brings you a snack of juice and crackers.

You yawn again and have a little snooze. It’s like being in pre-school again, but without the singing.

In short, it is Heaven and you  have come through. you have been seen, and accepted for who you are. And when you depart, you depart smiling, with a strange but unmistakable sense of blessing, and bits of graham cracker crumb still clinging to your lips.