Honey, We’re ALL Dying

I’m sick. I might be dying. I think I have scabies, what with these weird little bumps on my skin. But really, it could be anything. Also, my stomach hurts, so I think I have appendicitis. Did I say I was sick? I might be dying.

'First step is the hardest. You've got to admit that you don't have a problem.'
‘First step is the hardest. You’ve got to admit that you don’t have a problem.’

I’m sick. I might be dying. I think I have scabies, what with these weird little bumps on my skin all of a sudden.

But really, it could be anything.

Also, my stomach hurts, so I think I have appendicitis. 

Did I say I was sick? I might be dying.

My head hurts too, so I could be having a stroke, like Dr. Jill Bolte Taylor had that morning she woke up with a killer headache. She’s a neuro-specialist and so knows a WHOLE lot about the brain, yet didn’t she crazily jump on her exercise machine anyway, stopping only when her vision swam and she started to hallucinate – which is something I just know I’d do myself. I would totally try to keep pedaling right through a stroke. Right through a heart attack.

Come to think of it, I sort of did do that on the day I was working away at my keyboard and, out of the blue, got these chest pains, and every single thing I did from then on was dumb:

First I opened up my browser and typed, “Am I having a heart attack?” then moseyed around several sites looking for  answers.

Twenty minutes later, I finally phoned my paramedic son-in-law for advice. The advice came in a small tersely delivered sentence: “Call 911.” 

The person who answered old me that the ambulance was on its way and she would stay on the phone with me until it arrived. She also told me to open the front door and go sit by it.

“I’m hungry though! I need to pack a lunch.”

“Forget lunch,” she said.

“And I have to go to the bathroom!”

“No bathroom,” she said.

“But I HAVE to duck in there! I’ve had like a gallon of water!”

”Take me with you then,“ she sighed.

The next thing I knew, I had been mailed like a letter into the roomy ambulance, in which I lay flat on my back, looking up at the lovely sky, the passing trees.

In the end, I spent five hours at that hospital ER until it was determined that my heart was just fine and all I had likely done was strain the place where my ribs meet my sternum by exercising with some overly heavy weights. Costochondritis they call it.


All of this took place just a year ago, which, it now occurs to me is just about when I began having these health fears. It is only now, as I am setting these words down, that I see the possible reason and the reason is this: While being transported to the hospital, I was delivered straight back to the winter day when my mother was brought from my house to this same hospital, along the very same route, she too flat lying on her back.

Only she couldn’t see the lovely sky, the passing trees, because her own chest pains had claimed her life before the ambulance could even get here.

And doesn’t that connection point to the great truth: When you finally tell a hard thing, and truly feel it again in the telling, you find that it loosens its hold on you. It just does.

So chances are I’m not sick at all, really. And if I’m dying, well aren’t we all dying, carried along as we are on Time’s great conveyor belt – perhaps to glories unimagined, where pain, and even skin rash,  hold no dominion – and isn’t THAT a loft thought for the start of a work week! 🙂



Here’s a Fun Thing to Try


Colonoscopy2imgTestI was closing in on 50 when, at my yearly checkup, my doctor asked that question we all understand to be key these days, about the medical history and cause of death of my two parents.

“My mom: heart attack,” I said “but my dad left before I was born, so I have no clue how he died.”

“Find out,” the doc said. “Do some digging if you have to.”

So, I dug. It took months, but by the time I came back I had my answer. “’Intestinal cancer’ it says on his death certificate.”

“OK, then. You’re overdue for  a colonoscopy.”

“ Hey come on,” I said, going for the joke. “I didn’t even know the guy!”

 He didn’t laugh. “A colonoscopy is indicated for anyone past a certain age either of whose parents had cancer ‘below the bellybutton’. Here are the names of some people who do this procedure. Pick one and get it done.”

So… I picked one, and in a month’s time found myself seated across from a white-haired GI doc for a little facetime. Did I have any questions? he wanted to know.

I did indeed. “My sister has had this procedure and she says it’s super uncomfortable and I should ask for medication, so I wondered: what do you give people?”

“A muscle relaxant of course, as well as a drug called Versed  which acts an amnesiac.”

“An amnesiac?! You want us to forget then, which means it MUST hurt!

“But does it, really?” I asked, hoping against hope.

“Oh, I won’t say I haven’t heard a few good groans over the years,” he answered cheerily. “I mean think about it: You’ve got a five-foot probe and…three right angles.”  

I thought about it; pictured that flexible wand and its seeing-eye fiber-optics. Then I pictured the colon itself, an inverted letter “U” that you explore by ‘driving up’ a squiggly on-ramp.

I went head anyway and booked the procedure.

When the day came the two drugs, administered in painless I-V fashion made me feel fine. Wonderful, in fact.

“Let’s see that five-foot probe!” I gamely sang.

“Here it is!,” the genial doc sang back.

I turned then to look at the monitor – and then somehow a 90 minutes swath was cut from my life. I was lying on my side and it was 8:41; then suddenly I was sitting up and it was 10:11.

I do have a vague memory of turning in protest once, but it seems more dream than memory and, as the saying goes, if a tree falls in the forest and no one hears it, does it make a noise? If a highly ‘personal’ but beneficial experience is visited on you and you don’t remember it, can you call it uncomfortable? Maybe not.

So line up and get it done if you’re at the magical age. The dread snacks you get in the Recovery Room alone are make it all worth while.

colonoscopy fears


Necessary Roughness

mammogramWhat can we say of the yearly mammogram? 

The glass plate is cold, they make you stand so close to the machine your ribs bruise, and then they force you to hold these contorted positions and stop breathing for like a million minutes while they set up the shot

And then, of course, there’s the vise.

That victim of  the revenge of Joe Pesci’s character in Scorsese’s  Casino comes to mind.

head in a vise

Your eyeballs don’t pop out like that guy’s did, but it feels like two things further down might pop for sure.

Oh I know, I know, you don’t really get permanently disfigured during a mammogram, and it’s a crucial diagnostic.

It’s just that you go in with two rough approximations of this shape on your chest:


And two minutes later they look like this:


I think I was even leaning over like this guy by the time we got done – and though he appears to be almost smiling,  I sure know I wasn’t!

Say What You Think!

zumba_dancing_and_traningSo I’ll get to the meaning of THIS picture in a second. I was at the office of this bone guy, whose waiting room as I walked in held just one elderly couple. The husband of the pair was filling out his wife’s health history on a clipboard.

 “Knee problems,” he told me cheerily, nodding toward his spouse, who within the space of 30 seconds had thrown back her head, closed her eyes and begun performing an aria of happy snores.

Just as suddenly, she snapped awake and shot me an assessing look.“Nice you clothes,” she told to me in a heavy, Slavic-sounding accent.

I glanced down to see what I was wearing, because you know how it is: you’re not always sure just what you’ve ended up putting on in the morning. “Well, thanks!” I said.

I knew I would miss my visit to the Y that day, so instead of donning my usual crummy workout gear, I had on a forest green boot-length corduroy skirt very wide at the hem and a fur jacket that I have owned since the impenitent, over-the-top 80s when I found it for 60 bucks in an antique store down the road.

“All my life I work in clothes,” she said. “I am knowing good clothes.”

I would have asked more about that, but just then I was called into one of the examination rooms of this new-to-me doctor, who scrutinized my bent toy kite of a spine and asked about my daily life.

I mentioned the Zumba classes I take thrice-weekly at the local Y.

“Zumba?!” he repeated. “Zumba’s all wrong for you. You can’t be sending your thoracic region in one direction and your hips in the other! No more Zumba!”

“No more Zumba? “ I squeaked. “It’s the only thing I do that makes my back pain stop!’

“It’s CAUSING your back pain.”

“I don’t think so.”

“I think so.”

“What happened to ‘Movement is life’?” I said.

“What happened to ‘Listen to your doctor’?” he said.

 We looked at each other for a beat. Then, “Is this our first fight?” I said. “Listen the dancing is mostly salsa, where you keep your chest fairly still and just send your hips out to the right and the left.”

 He shook his head.

 We talked a little more, then he wrote me a prescription for physical therapy and suggested I also see a back surgeon.

 Fat chance I’m having back surgery, I thought to myself.

“He’s a surgeon, you know, and a prominent one,” he said. “He’ll hurry into the room surrounded by younger doctors. Don’t be afraid to slow him down. Make him answer your questions. Stand your ground.”

“I’m thinking that won’t be a problem for you,” he added, smiling.

 I smiled too, thanked him, and after we shook hands I returned to the waiting room, where the woman and her husband still sat in their chairs.

 The woman got right back to work examining me.

 “Good clothes,” she nodded as much to herself as to me.

 I looked down at myself more self-consciously this time, and picked up the end of the dark-green, tan and cream-colored scarf I had thrown around the neck of my jacket.

“The scarf isn’t right though, is it? I tried to find a better scarf but I don’t seem to have one.”

“No,” she said. “Scarf no good. The rest OK. Nice you clothes,” she said again.

 “Happy to meet you!” exclaimed her husband and with that we all bowed to one another and said our farewells – but not before I thought to myself how much I do appreciate frankness, wherever I chance to encounter it.

Racing, but to Where?

Maybe people are just stressing out and that’s why they send along nasty demeaning emails, like the ones I was talking about here on Monday.

Maybe stress is also responsible for the curmudgeonly ways of that crotchety shopkeeper I told about Tuesday.

A documentary dealing with stress and what stress does to our kids was screened in my town the night before last. I couldn’t go see it because I was three towns away getting sweetly peed upon by a naked baby just now learning to sit upright, which is what she was doing, on my lap , while the two of us watched the soapy fun her brother was having in the tub.

Still, I honored the event in my own way yesterday morning, when I looked up the documentary on Google and watched its every trailer and clip, the coverage the New York Times gave it the interview Katie Couric did with Vicki Abeles who made it – everything I could find about it on the Internet in short.

In Race to Nowhere as  director Abeles has chosen to call her film, we get a look at all the must-do’s in our public schools, from the hours of assigned homework to the introduction of  the high stakes testing that came on the scene with the No Child Left Behind program inaugurated by the previous President George W Bush.

A chief point made in the documentary is that the so-called “high ability” kids are so pushed to achieve that many are nearing the breaking point, even as other students, who do not do well on standardized tests, are growing discouraged by their results on these standardized tests and dropping out of school at a much higher rate than in the years before this program was implemented.

Additionally most educators agree that when you merely “teach to the test,” working to prepare students for a single  exam that will be used to label the teachers and the school system AND the students, you drain all spontaneity and creative ferment out of the classroom.

Maybe you’ll agree with the film’s thesis and maybe you won’t but one thing is sure: with adults in this society exhibiting the levels of stress that they do the last thins we need it to be inflicting more stress on our children. As the Mayo Clinic’s website puts it, ““When the stressors of your life are always present, leaving you constantly feeling stressed, tense, nervous or on edge, that fight-or-flight reaction stays turned on. The less control you have over potentially stress-inducing events and the more uncertainty they create, the more likely you are to feel stressed. The long-term activation of the stress-response system — and the subsequent overexposure to cortisol and other stress hormones — can disrupt almost all your body’s processes. This puts you at increased risk of numerous health problems, including heart disease, sleep problems, depression, obesity, memory impairment…” And that’s just a partial list.

Watch the clip now and see what you think.

Chapter 9,864, in which I (FINALLY) stop being such a baby

It’s hard for me to know sometimes what I’m supposed to be doing here: tell what I’ve been up to or just entertain the troops, so to speak. It’s the dilemma of all columnists-and-bloggers who write to delight a weary public.

Anyway, I said the other day that I did some flying, which is how our learned about that we can no longer pack our snow globes in our carry-on bags, but I didn’t say where I was going or why.

I also didn’t say that I was nervous about the trip and not really getting it about how you have to be AT the airport two hours before the flight. Old Dave was away and I kind of lost focus. Two hours before the flight was to go Wheels Up I was still watching my documentary about Annie Leibowitz and sewing the hem into a pair of drapes. I also forgot to call the cab company to GET to the airport until 10 minutes before I needed it to come fetch me.

And then, trying to fix my hair, I burned my face in two places. Really burned it.

I was nervous because I was unsure of my ability to fulfill my mission here in Salt Lake City and care for this girl who has been part of our extended family since the spring of 1990.

Here are Annie and Susan back in high school, Annie in the Barnard T-shirt next to dark-eyed Sooz.)

About six months ago, Susan lost feeling in her face and began stumbling a bit at night, on her way to the bathroom, mostly, when the house was dark. It turns out she had an acoustic neuroma, a rare growth in her auditory canal that was pressing on some key cranial nerves . It didn’t look like It was going do any shrinking and it was leaning uncomfortably close to the brain stem.

She had surgery to remove it on July 25th. Her husband Kevin and her brother Gary were there in the hospital all that day and sent us all updates. (“Update: the ENT surgeon has finished making the opening in Sooz’s skull and the neurosurgeon is now removing the tumor. SO far it’s going well.”) TWO surgeons! Six hours!)

Once she was released five days post-op, a local friend came, then a college friend. Then Annie came for a week and I flew in the day Annie flew out. And another fleet of people will carry on when I leave, Susie’s dearest aunt, another college friend, Kevin’s parents… )

Our work – and my work this week – has been to buy/cook the meals, play with the baby, do the laundry and help dress the surgical site. ‘Sites’ I should say: there are two since the surgeons needed to patch the opening they made in her head with a bit of fat from her belly. (They made in her head with some fat from her belly. (Free lipo!” she had joked on the phone, but she frankly has no fat at all in her belly or anywhere else either which is why her tummy is so sore: they had to really dig to find enough.

I was nervous about how I would do all I needed to do with my problematic back and my thumbs that will no longer press down hard on the release of a carseat belt.

I was nervous about being able to lift little Peter and cajole him into doing what we needed to do moment to moment. So nervous! – right up until I got here and saw what she was facing every day with swelling at the tummy and an eyelid that won’t close and a half a face that’s still not moving these three weeks later – at which point all nervousness ceased and I got down to work.

It was a good lesson for me… and like all such lessons put me in my place, and reminded me that I myself am actually at the center of very few stories indeed.


Body Talk

How ’bout we make this Frank Talk About the Body Week here at Exit Only? I figure we might as well since we began the week evoking the image of a man sleeping with one leg thrown over his bedmate. In fact let’s start there:

I know lots of guys like to sleep that way and if their partners like it too, fine. Still, I have trouble imagining that many women like it. I mean here you are sound asleep and suddenly boom! a 40-pound leg arrives on the delicate breadbasket of your pelvis. AND you’re lying on your side where there isn’t that much cushioning!

I know I couldn’t be with a guy who liked sleeping that way. I go a million miles away when I sleep. And when I wake I’m not sure even sure who I am never mind what century it is. I’d be a terrible candidate for this kind of straddle-spooning. Lucky for me I’m 40 years with the same guy who sleeps like the very dead, even when awake. Plus he was a preemie and did time in an incubator. That means he totally gets it about the need for ‘space’ when you’re sleeping.

But back to our human bodies which are let’s face it the least unique and most interchangeable things about us. Yet there’s all this talk always about the body, who’s thin, who’s thinner, who’s had breast augmentation, who’s had his back-hair dipped in hot wax and snatched off so as to look better on the beach or in bed. What must God think of us?

I bet He’s proud of the ones who have honored the body and told the truth about it. This is the 40th anniversary of Our Bodies Ourselves, a book about women’s health and sexuality produced by the organization then called the Boston Women’s Health Book Collective back in ’71.

Let’s talk a little about that tomorrow, why not. I won’t make anybody blush I promise, or encourage you to speculate about your friends sleep. In fact let’s call the picture below “What are YOU lookin’ at?” Because the sleeping room as they call it in German really is the one place we  can find sweet oblivion, and our minds can rest at last as slumber knits up what Shakespeare called the ‘raveled sleeve of care’.