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Tinsel Snowbottom, at your service

Retro Xmas lights

I wasn’t planning on doing an annual Holiday Card Exchange this year. Even though I’ve been coordinating one since forever (oh look, since 2002. Holy crap.) And as the month of November flew by, no one mentioned it, and I shrugged and started to wonder if maybe I was the only one who really loved the Holiday Card Exchange and maybe everyone was just looking for ways to cut back this year, with the economy being kind of a downer and everyone being so busy and insert the very good reason of your choice here.

Then Jayran asked me about it. And someone else asked about it, doing that careful skirting thing you do when you don’t want to make someone feel guilty by disappointing you, so you act like something isn’t a big deal when in fact, it’s a little bit of a deal.

Today, we have snow here in Coldington. Big giant It’s a Wonderful Life-sized snowflakes. The kind that really do stay on your nose and eyelashes. And I find myself pining for LED lights to wrap around the tree trunks in our yard (so many tree trunks though… oy) and enough net lights to do all of our landscaping. Our old house had but five tiny boxwood bushes that only took three net lights, but now I need probably ten times as many lights to handle the bush situation we’ve got all up in here. I researched curtains of lights last night, because of course the fake candle in every window that was good enough for my grandparents is just too twee for me and I have to go all RuPaul’s Drag Race up in here. Have to give our neighborhood full of retirees and dark snowbird homes a little pizazz or something.

Alas, I don’t have the disposable income to buy $5000 of LED lights to trim out our new ginormous yard, and I doubt Esteban would appreciate feeling like a Las Vegas showgirl every time he walks through the dining room windows (although you have to admit that a 20-foot-long wall of lights would really be something).

But I do have a couple of books of stamps. And I have a fireplace and mulled wine and two dogs who love it when I sit on the couch with them and do projects. And I have a lot of people who like to get holiday cards.

If you’d like to join our annual Holiday Card Exchange, sign up here. Also, here’s the FAQ on the Holiday Card Exchange, although we won’t be doing the little questionnaire, since we have such a shortened timeframe. The deadline for participation is THIS FRIDAY, December 6th, and the list will go out to everyone before Sunday, December 8th. Yup, there’s not a lot of time. There’s never enough time, though. Isn’t that always the way?

PS. Only the people who’ve been reading this blog for a very long time will get the reference in the title, but I don’t care. If you get the reference, you win!

Bull

 

They say “What the heart loves, the will chooses and the mind justifies.”

This past January, I was planning a trip to Chicago with my brother – a reward for his making the Dean’s List the previous semester at college – when Esteban was off picking up our pug from doggie daycare. When he came back, he had a horrified expression on his face and said “Oh my god, I may have just totally fucked up our lives and I’m so sorry.”

Did he crash the car? Did he quit his job? My brain went to a million dark places, but instead, he said “There was a puppy at daycare. Someone surrendered her and they handed her to me and then I said ‘We’ll take her.’ And I’m so sorry. I told them I had to talk to you first. She has epilepsy and that’s why the people didn’t want her. We don’t have to take her. We really don’t. I won’t be upset.”

“What kind of puppy?” I said, my eyes narrowing.

“A French bulldog.” He made a helpless face. “They didn’t tell me she was homeless until they handed her to me. I shouldn’t have picked her up. It’s my fault. She’s ridiculously cute. Like… it’s a super power or something.” He sat down on the couch and cradled his head in his hands.

I ended up not going to Chicago that weekend because suddenly? We had a seven-month old French bulldog.

Zuzu's first night with us

We discovered that her former owners had kept her in her crate for extended periods of time, so she was not potty-trained, not socialized and had actually been untrained not to foul her own bed. Also, she had seizures. And apparently wheat and corn allergies — which the former owners never really understood, thus exacerbating the diarrhea problems that led to messing up her crate. Said diarrhea led to the former owners using toxic cleansers in her crate that they thought might have caused the seizures, thus they were afraid to bring the dog into the vet to get treatment for the seizures.

Grill!

We named her Zuzu.

Zuzu didn’t understand that going potty was done outside. She didn’t look at people. She wasn’t treat motivated. She just wanted to play and sleep and pee on the floor two minutes after coming back inside.

We made great progress with Zuzu through the winter. She got a little older, which helped a great deal with the bladder control, and we had the bonus facet of a pug who is amazingly well trained. Zuzu loves Avi more than she’ll probably ever love Esteban or myself. When Avi does something, Zuzu does it too. She figured out that we pee outside and poop outside and hanging out with the peoples is pretty okay too. We got her seizures under control, bringing them from 6-12 per day to about one breakthrough episode every thirty to forty days, which the vet feels is totally manageable.Inspecting the undercarriage

Then, unfortunately, Esteban got sick. That meant Zuzu and Avi went to Grandma and Grandpa’s house. For Avi, that was awesome! She loves Grandma’s house! She gets to do whatever she wants and bark at those fucking dachshunds next door. For Zuzu, though, this was yet another place that she’d been shipped to, with more new people that she didn’t really know and a new routine that she didn’t understand and who didn’t make her sit before eating and wait for the humans before going into doorways. It was, in essence, her fifth home that we knew of in her little short life. She regressed. Then we came back and rerooted her again – and she regressed again.  Then we moved to a new house.

Zuzu hopes that you won’t feel bad for her. Zuzu doesn’t feel bad for her. Zuzu thinks that she’s awesome. Avi is awesome. Peanut butter is awesome. Barking is awesome. Also, bulldogs are awesome.

We found that it made more sense to have her medication compounded into a liquid form by a pharmacy in Milwaukee. This made it easier to give her two daily doses because she tended to hide the pills in her substantial inner cheek flaps. Of course, in the process, this transformed a very cheap medication into a suddenly super expensive medication that needed to be refrigerated, but ah well, the things we do for the pets we love.

The side-effects of the medication aren’t minor – she is more lethargic and more difficult to train on the Pheno Barb. After her dose kicks, she basically takes a two hour nap, but it keeps the seizures at bay and we have the ability to be more patient than the drugged bulldog is stubborn.

Zuzu the French Bulldog poses

Earlier this week, she seemed particularly playful. We chalked it up to her feeling more comfortable in the house – that maybe she had really never felt right since before Esteban’s illness and was finally feeling like this was home. Esteban even remarked a few times “Are you sure you gave her the Pheno?” when she’d be springing around, acting like a damned fool (a mode we call “Stinky Boing Boing”) and in general, totally charming and also, hilarious. During one such episode, she was boing boinging around so fast that she actually ran into my foot with her mouth, effectively biting my toe and giving me a nasty contusion. Because bulldog!

Then on Thursday, she had a seizure. We were glad that we had decided to stay home on Thanksgiving, gave her a rescue remedy and hoped that would take care of it. Then she had another one that knocked her flat on the floor where I found her, sprawled and unable to stand. I held her for hours, soothing her, gave another rescue remedy and figured that there’d probably be another small one.

On Friday, there were two more seizures. We started to suspect that the latest refill of the compounded medication wasn’t up to par, given that her new energy coincided with the new bottle, so we called our vet and got the same medication in pill form. Unfortunately, her seizure medication takes a while to build up in the system before it really works.

On Saturday, I gave a preemptive rescue remedy, as with multiple seizures, we want her to go 24 hours without having one before we stop. Unfortunately, she had two seizures in short order, and then another two. We had friends over and we all took turns holding her to try to calm her down enough to administer the rescue remedy but she just was stuck in postictal tremors and panting. Then she finally seemed to calm down but before we could dose her, she had three seizures in rapid succession.

Then things went downhill quickly.

I was worried that having people in the house was upsetting her, so I put her in her crate (which is actually what we’re supposed to do, according to the vet, but since she has crate anxiety from puppyhood, I tend to hold her instead, which seems to calm her). Ten minutes later, she was wheezing and struggling for breath. I ran to the crate and saw that she was clearly asphyxiating.

Zuzu the French Bulldog

You know how when you’re in an insane hurry to get somewhere, everyone drives like a fucking moron? They hesitate at green lights and text and smoke and talk on their cell phones and seem to have no sense of urgency whatsoever? And it’s enfuriating? Imagine holding a dog in your lap, a dog whose tongue is actually turning purple because she can’t get a breath and the fucking emergency vet is a 20-minute car ride away. Then you’re going to be trying to give mouth-to-mouth to a dog while serially hate-staring every idiot who had the bad idea to be joy riding on a Saturday afternoon while wishing you had a rocket launcher to encourage them to fucking move when the light turns green already.

Every minute of that car ride, it felt like Zuzu was about three seconds away from shuddering and going still. Thankfully, we made it to the emergency vet, where they were already waiting outside and holding the outside door open, thanks to Esteban’s quick thinking to call ahead while we were driving.

As they took her from my arms, they asked if they had permission to do whatever was necessary to save her life, including intubating and resuscitation. I nodded, because I couldn’t talk for fear of crying, but when the vet’s assistant’s second comment was “Even if you understand that resuscitation starts at $500, will you be able to pay that today?” I couldn’t stay strong anymore. After the vet’s assistant disappeared with Zuzu behind the ER door, I went to the counter to fill out paperwork and then basically lost it at the reception desk. I kept thinking about the people would have to actually stop and think about whether they could afford to save their pet’s life in such a situation, and about how I remember being in such a position twenty years ago myself, how you hope and pray your pet is just the kind of sick that needs medication and not the kind of sick that needs needles and overnight stays and surgery, because then you’ll have to own up to the fact that you don’t make enough money to keep your animal alive.

They were able to save Zuzu’s life. They didn’t need to intubate, as she was responding to supplemental oxygen and a sedative, but just the same, they wanted to keep her overnight. We visited her in her crate, where she would be monitored all night long, went off to get her some food, and then went back out to get her some specific new seizure medication at a people pharmacy. Then we went home and basically were upset all night, certain that we were going to lose Zuzu.

At 7:30 the next morning, the phone rang and announced that the call was from the emergency vet. My heart sank as I leapt for the phone. The vet introduced herself and started off with “Zuzu’s condition improved throughout the night. She was up and eating without a problem.” Vet’s don’t call at 7:30 in the morning for a status update… especially since they had told us that she’d be there for 24 hours of observation. It was bad news, it had to be. I held my breath, waiting for the “But…”

Except I could hear a familiar “Arf! Arf! Arf! Arf!” in the background.

Zuzu strikes a pose

The vet continued, “Then around 4 this morning, we had another patient come in, which woke Zuzu up. Normally we like to keep them for 24 hours, but she’s definitely feeling better.”

“Is that her barking?”

The vet laughed. “It is! I was just thinking that if you’re going to be home today and can keep an eye on her, she can come home as soon as you can come and get her.”

The unspoken Midwestern translation: Lady, please come and get your annoying but insufferably adorable dog. She’s upsetting the other patients.

(I’m not making this up: I just now had to go into the living room where a certain bulldog had decided to go mountain goating on the tables to check out the remote controls – and had knocked an entire table over. She knows that you’re reading this and would like to say “Bulldog!”)

We’re getting her blood from Saturday tested to see what her levels of Pheno Barb were, and if they are low, then we’ll definitely be letting the compounding pharmacy know that they sent us insufficient medication. I doubt that they’ll cover the emergency vet bill — which was way more than $500 by the way, but honestly, it’s a small price to pay for this face.

Adorable French Bulldog blog

Unfortunately, we don’t get to choose who we fall in love with. Not even when they are an incontinent, ill-mannered but ridiculously charming and sweet little basket case.

Þakka þér fyrir

 

Iceland Lone Viking rock sculpture watches over the North Atlantic

Two months ago, I was invited to a press junket. In Iceland. Like, no kidding, the country Iceland.

We would be wined and dined and wined again and meet titans of industry and also, government officials who are much more attractive than any government official has a right to be.

I would be stupid to pass that up, right?

I am not stupid. At least sometimes I’m not.

Iceland's route 1

It was a very short trip, which seems odd, because you think of Iceland as being practically the North Pole, but in reality, the flight was less than six hours from Minneapolis, smack in the middle of the US, and even less on my way back when I came in through JFK. Kind of crazy to be able to go to Europe in such a short jump, but it really was all about readjusting my perceptions. I think nothing of the flight to Las Vegas and that’s well over 4 hours from the Midwest, and when you land, you’re just in stupid old Las Vegas. If I had only ever realized that I could land in a place where you can get pear-flavored Skyr and beautiful wool and angora sweaters for pennies on the Kronur for the very same amount of time spent in a coach seat!

Iceland water fall

I landed at 6 am and was greeted in the Keflavik airport by my driver, Oli, who had to have been 7 feet tall. I seriously felt like I was eight years old again, standing next to him. Then he folded himself up into a Mercedes Benz sports car and we drove off through a foggy magical landscape to get to Reyjavik about forty miles away. Oh, there’s the Atlantic Ocean, and people are just like “Yeah, that’s always been there.” And oh, there’s steam vents from where the volcanic activity is just kind of busting through the ground, and yup, there you go.

I started thinking that Oli was just taking me on the pretty route to the city, but even later that day when I took another route through the countryside to find the black sand beaches of Vik, it’s all beautiful. It’s all amazing. Your brain just can’t soak up enough to comprehend how every single brain snapshot is a freaking tourist postcard.

This photo? I took it from inside of a bus, going 75 mph down a highway. Everything is just that freaking picturesque.

Iceland from the highway

It turns out that a lot of movies are shot in Iceland. That’s somewhat because there are so few people and so many huge vistas of open space that it’s easy to pretend that you’re in Westeros or Asgard but also I have come to understand it’s also because everyone looks a million times more attractive in Iceland. Seriously. I couldn’t take  a bad picture there. Even the day I arrived when I ventured out on little sleep and serious jet lag and zero makeup to hide my rosacea shame, the photos are all either the best I’ve ever looked in my entire life or filed under “Actually not bad considering that I felt like someone had hit me in the face with a sledgehammer”.

IMG_0510

 

Also, everyone in Iceland is very tall. So very tall. Or, conversely, not tall at all and very fine boned and wee. I’ve never felt so petite and also, like a giantess at the very same time. It was very conflicting and also, awesome because everything was made for tall peoples! Lots of leg room! Super high shower heads! Long beds! I want to live there very much.

As for traveling in Iceland, it was pretty easy to do. You drive on the right side of the road and everyone speaks English fluently. What’s more, they are pretty good at assessing whether you’re going to be able to speak Icelandic or not just by looking at you, because it’s a fairly isolated island so the natives tend to stereotype foreigners and default to English on sight.

About thirty five US dollars in Icelandic Kronur

Oddly, I only learned thing about the stereotyping foreigners by accident after my fellow journalists remarked that they had heard not one single person speak Icelandic in their presence and they were beginning to suspect that it was dying out, like Gaelic. I was so confused, because I’d lost count of the many awkward exchanges in which I said “Hello” and the native Icelander would default to Icelandic. Basically, if I didn’t start the conversation in English with a very specific and flat Midwestern-accented “Good morning”, they assumed that I was a native.

IMG_1585

 

Of the other journalists at the junket, only two guys and I were being treated like locals, and those two guys were both over 6’5”. I’m not THAT tall (although I’m taller than the average American woman). Later, a waiter explained that my pale skin and eyes combined with my dark hair and particularly my hooded brows are a fairly distinct Icelandic feature.

In fact, I never

IMG_1532really thought it was that unique until I started noticing that about a quarter of the women had exactly my look going on.  I looked more closely at my genealogy and I definitely inherited my browline from my paternal grandmother, whose father was Norwegian (which is basically what the Icelandic people are, genetically). Science!

When I wasn’t working, I was falling in love with Iceland. It’s hard not to, as it’s incredibly pretty. Also, they value sweaters. I’m a sweater girl, myself, so I appreciate the enthusiasm for lopapeysa and angora socks. (I should have bought more socks while I was there. I’m kind of kicking myself, honestly.)

Also, you don’t sweat there. And Skyr? Skyr is a freaking miracle. Basically I don’t know why Icelandic food gets a bum rap because they have Skyr, and why would you eat anything else if there was Skyr available? It is a mystery.

IMG_0429

It was a pretty glorious break in the year. It was a reminder of the person I am when I travel.

Some people think I’m brave because I’ll just go exploring on my own.

Honestly, it’s the most cowardly thing imaginable.

I’m pushing myself out of my comfort zone and out into the world for a selfish reason –

 

– because I’m afraid of what I might miss.

IMG_0384

(Continued)

The logic of optimism

Sights

This has been a crazy year.

And not in a “oh ho ho, cray cray!” head-shaking thing that you do over missed appointments or weird coincidences. I almost can’t talk about every that has happened because it’s almost like words themselves don’t carry enough meaning, like I should reduce everything down to interpretive dance followed by firmly grasping of your forearm and perhaps a strong look complete with massive eyebrow movements and then some gutteral sounds followed by wordless keening that lasts approximately 14 hours.

I’ve been told that I sound optimistic when I talk about things to come. I suppose I do. I seriously have to believe that things are going to continue to improve. Esteban is now up and walking around. He’s still tragically unable to get adequate or even anorexic nutrition on his own. He’s undergone several more procedures over the summer to improve his ability to swallow something as negligible as mashed potatoes – including a procedure late last week, which won’t be the last – and is losing weight at a striking rate.

Interjection: It’s always such an odd moment when people remark upon his weight loss. Our culture has been conditioned to understand that being fat is evil, that all fat people are absolutely trying to lose weight through whatever means necessary. They don’t understand that his visible bones and decreasing waistline is evidence of his ongoing starvation due to what happened to him in May. I know that they earnestly think they are paying him a compliment and have no idea that all we can think is “Would you understand that this is not even slightly okay and wipe that fucking grin off your face?”

But I’m optimistic. He’s alive and able to laugh and sleep in a bed and he no longer has tubing sticking out of him anywhere. We should be able to financially support ourselves despite the fact that I no longer had a stable income a few days after Esteban got out of the hospital. We’re making it work.

Things really are so much better than what they were even last month. Already we’re seeing improvement with Esteban’s condition and have hope that another procedure or two will make this situation markedly better for him.

And we moved into a new house! It’s really really big! And now, really filled with boxes. We have deer that visit our backyard every day and somewhere on our street, there is a band of roving turkeys. Apparently our yard is deer territory, though, as I haven’t been able to coax the turkeys back here, but I have a turkey decoy that I’m going to put in the woods so hopefully some desperate turkey will ba-cock over here and try to make sweet sweet love to this hunk of foam and then realize, hey, there’s a pretty sweet deal here behind the Bix Chalet and maybe stick around. Because pretty much all I want to see are turkeys and deer and bald eagles and maybe a great white shark in my backyard. Is that so much to ask?

One thing that has come out of this crazy year, however, has been a really impressive perspective. I feel like this perspective is what you normally get around year 70, and if so, I’m really grateful to have a glimpse of it a few decades early. It’s the kind of perspective that allows you to be happy sitting in a rocking chair, holding hands, and knowing that you are loved. It’s the kind of understanding that this is the only chance we got so make it count. It’s the kind of realization that the only thing we know for sure is today – and even that isn’t guaranteed. So you start doing it – whatever your “it” is – and don’t even stop for a moment to question it because the moment is going to be gone. All we have is now. So when a friend invites you to visit or you have a choice between a snuggle on the couch or checking email, you need to figure out what’s going to still be there tomorrow and choose accordingly.

I’m still trying to figure out what really matters, but I think I’ve got it in my sights.

ReykjaBix

Course correction

Home again home again

So, the month of June was a series of ups and downs.

After 42 days in the hospital, Esteban was finally released. That was pretty awesome. Then I was bitten by a large dog the following week (which necessitated a trip to the urgent care, a bunch of gauze, pain and a whole lot of strangers staring at my nether parts) and then four days after that, I found out that I was no longer employed.

(By the way, whatever you’re thinking after you read that last bit, you’re probably spot on, but talking about it on the internet is messy, so I can’t really comment.)

So, punch to the crotch, both literal and figurative? Check.

Clearly the universe needed a course correction. So next day, we put in an offer on a new house.

Apparently, when you have a life-endangering event, you just don’t really give a shit anymore. All of the old fears and trepidations about change and uncertainty? Really not important any longer. Oh, it’s not like they’re gone — I’m still having panic attacks about my lack of steady income — but in the whole scheme of things, are we in the ICU right now? Is someone with a needle trying their best to screw up a routine procedure and put us in danger of a cardiac episode? Can we do something as simple as take a fucking drink of water?

Or, as Esteban put it much more succinctly, “You know, I almost died last month so I really don’t think this is a big deal.”

Yeah. We’ve got this. The second half of 2013 is going to be awesome.

 

 

 

 

Signs

Purple gloves

I’ve been staying at a non-profit family housing facility near the hospital. I worked for a homeless shelter through undergrad and there are facets of communal living that I understood from an administrator’s point of view but am now seeing from the other side. How important it is to have toilet paper and clean up your space. How weird it feels. How every single item in the place has the psychic energy of hundreds of people who came before you. How vulnerable you feel. How grateful you are to have a place that understands what you’re dealing with and that you might just burst into tears at a moment’s notice.

It’s a nice place. It’s named after a young lady who died well before her time. Her portrait hangs in the large common room, always lit with a spotlight, so that when I come back late at night, it’s usually just Kathy witnessing it from above the fireplace.

There are a lot of signs with homilies and Hallmark card sayings on them, posted around the place. One about a caterpillar becoming a butterfly. One about how God is handling your problems today. One about how life is beautiful in all forms and all stages. No matter where you look, you can’t escape the fact that death is hard work for everyone.

I rarely see people in the common rooms. In the same room as Kathy’s portrait, there’s a piano and an organ, complete with sheet music that no one ever plays. Every time I walk through, I have the urge to see if I still remembered Pachelbel’s Canon in D by heart, but of course, I leave way too early and I come back way too late to disturb the rest of the residents with my crappy piano skills.

There’s a family of Amish (which is my shorthand for whatever plain clothes, beard shaving, bonnet-free religion these people are) staying at the housing facility. They’ve been doing the hospital thing for almost as long as we have. I knew that their loved one was also named Esteban and that he was also in the ICU, but I didn’t ask questions. I never want to intrude, even though I’m terribly curious about them.  I  just knew it was bad. I knew that he didn’t look like he did normally. I knew that it was bad enough that they called in relatives and church members who traveled from all over the country to ring his bedside in the ICU and prayed in unison, both adults and children from tallest to very very smallest, all with perfect braids and little stiff formal plain clothes suits.

In the elevators, sometimes I cautioned a casual question about how Brother Esteban was doing. I tell them that I’m praying for him, because I knew it would make them happy the way it makes me happy when people tell me that they are praying for my Esteban. I think about their Esteban all the time, and hope that he’s getting better the way that my Esteban is getting better. I worry about him, being in the ICU so long, way way longer than my Esteban, who left the ICU still incredibly sick. If he were still in the ICU, it had to be because Brother Esteban was in peril.

The Amish family and I bump into each other in the kitchen in the mornings and usually late at night too.  A kind of camaraderie has developed. We each know that we’re the long haulers, that we’re each experiencing the kind of nightmare that these people with their three day stays can’t even imagine. They’re sprinting and we’re each in the midst of our own marathon, with a finish line that is promised just around the next bend but always is just a little bit farther.

Friendships develop there, even though I feel like I’m only in the common areas long enough to swap out my Joint Juice and Lifewater out of the fridge, grab a bagel and sometimes make some iced coffee. The hospital has a very renowned brain specialist and it seems like almost everyone is there for chiari malformation surgery. One of my favorite ladies had flown in from Washington for her daughter’s chiari surgery. The people who moved out of my suite a month ago were from Kentucky and they were there for their 8-year-old daughter’s chiari. Someone else was in from Baltimore for the same surgery who is leaving today.

A week went by without bumping into the Amish family and I started getting upset, worrying that Brother Esteban never made it out of the ICU. But then I saw them again and was so relieved, which is silly, because I don’t even know their names, just the name of their son.

Jan, the lady from Washington, actually conspired with me to make spaghetti supper for the household. I gave her some cash to help with the ingredients since she was willing to do the cooking, because I didn’t expect to be at the house for it. I crawled around the through the community food cupboards, containing all the food left by people who have checked out, and grabbed all the things that could possibly make spaghetti sauce for her, so that she wouldn’t have to get down on the floor and stoop. She reminds me of Ann Richards, with a regal kind of sophistication but at the same time warm and awesome. She teared up when I talked about Esteban’s organ failure.  Every time we see each other, we ask about our patients and offer encouraging quips about how nice it will be once this is behind us.

Last night, I ended up staying later than usual at the hospital, due to late visitors. Now that I’ve been actually sleeping at Kathy’s House (instead of using it as a mid-day shower and clothing change while sleeping in a chair in Esteban’s hospital room) I haven’t gotten to see our night shift nurses as much. My favorite PCT, Eric, reminds me so much of Michael that I can’t help but adore him (and my favorite nurse Laura reminds me so much of Allison that I favor her for the same reason) and I heard his voice out in the hall, running this way and that, and got happy because I hadn’t seen him for about three weeks. Esteban decided to walk me to the door, as part of his stamina building, and we bumped into Eric in the hall, racing with a portable vitals unit, to another patient.

He said “Hi Wendy!” and I said “Eric! I heard your voice and was hoping I would bump into you and get to say hi.” And he parked the vitals unit, then said “Now Esteban, don’t get jealous!” and gave me a huge hug.

It is perhaps a sign that we’ve been here too long when the staff actually has a chance to miss you if they haven’t seen you in awhile.

This morning, I slept in. It was a rare event, because I almost never manage to sleep longer than six hours straight (except for the Saturday night when I rudely abandoned M. Giant after dinner and had a record-breaking 11 hours of sleep). Nine beautiful hours of sleep. I got dressed and exited my suite, feeling happy with myself that I managed to have dreams that didn’t involve medical tubes or the ICU or miserable doppelgangers of childhood bullies in white lab coats.

The minute I opened the door of my suite, I heard the piano music. Someone was playing it! Perhaps we had new residents? The pianist was smooth and confident and a crowd had gathered in the large communal room. As I turned the corner, I saw the Amish parents sitting in the chairs nearest the piano.

The pianist was a young gentleman in pajama pants. He had a black eye patch and his head had been shaved but had about three weeks growth. His hair was not yet long enough to hide the transorbital twelve-inch scar that crossed his skull like a girl’s headband, nor the staccato of black sutures across the incision.

The Amish lady saw me and mouthed “This is our Esteban!” The boy played from memory, the corners of his mouth curling up as he ran through the classical piece from memory. He had been helping his community build a house and had a massive brain injury. The surgeons said that he had only a 5% chance that he’d still be the same Esteban if he survived, but there he was, his mother told me, the same Brother Esteban that he was all along.

The piano was an Everett and his mother told me that it was her sign that he would make it, because the Amish Esteban’s middle name was Everett too. It was a sign, she was certain. It was a sign. He would play that piano and here he was, playing it. Right there in that moment.

It was too much for me. Too much all at once. Jan saw me starting to tear up and came over to give me a big hug. “It’s such a beautiful thing. Good news for everyone! It’s going to be the same for your Esteban, I just know it. I love you!” and then she told me that her daughter had been released the night before and that they were flying home at noon today. It was a happy morning for everyone. I was so glad for them all, these people who have been through so much. It felt a lot like all happy endings, like graduations and V-J Day. You feel all the emotions because it was a lot of hard work and now it’s over. It’s almost over.

The less you can control, the more you look to signs. The more you get superstitious. The more that mundane things have meaning. You get the Turkey of Health. You cry the second time that REM’s “It’s the End of the World as We Know It (and I Feel Fine)” is on the radio in a 24 hour period. The more that the brand name of a piano begins to resonate with fate, the more that you listen to a sign on the door reminds you of caterpillars and butterflies.

Today we heard two more four-letter-words from our surgeon.

Home. Soon.

I might have to start believing in signs too.

 

Hospital fortune

 

 

 

 

Letters from gastro camp

 Time is the enemy

Did you know that when you are visiting someone in the hospital, you risk a temporary kind of parking paralysis. You may park with half of your Buick’s ass askew into another parking spot. You may feel that you have pulled into the spot all the way when in fact, half of your car is sticking out into the driving lane. You also may be a hooker with 7-inch wedges and a handicapped parking tag for your vintage 80′s era Firebird with T-tops. This is a thing, you guys. It’s a real thing. There should be a telethon, because dayam. Dayam.

It’s Day 39 of Esteban’s hospital sentence. I don’t think “Day 39″ adequately explains what kind of hospital lethargy you begin to experience. The expectation of going home is gone. There’s nothing but this place, these walls, that window with the shade that is always drawn. We’ve outlasted five bouquets and two mylar balloons. You know how long those freaking mylar balloons last? A long time.

Things I have learned:

  • The fastest way to get attention from doctors in the hospital is to wear a pair of bright orange Tieks. I’ve pretty much been wearing the same pair of Brooks running shoes for the entire time I’ve been here, but one very warm day I wore a pair of orange Tieks with capri pants and I couldn’t get in the elevator without someone in scrubs not only commenting on them but exclaiming how much they want a pair and were they really as comfortable as they say (they are). I wear them all the time in Green Bay and no one ever knows the brand name, but here they not only know exactly what they are but also how much they cost (way too much). Apparently even surgeons aspire to become trust fund yoga mommies.
  • For what it’s worth, as comfortable as Tieks are, they are defied by the sheer amount of walking I must do at this giant maze of hospital. Back to the Brooks shoes the next day, which do not attract nearly as much attention.
  • Danskos are the number one preferred shoe of doctors, nurses and basically everyone that has to walk the miles and miles of hallways in this gigantic hospital, but only the waterproof ones, for obvious germ-destroying reasons.
  • Doctors are horrified by hospitals. Think about that for a minute.
  • Nurses have seen everything. Nurses are basically saints on earth. I don’t know how nurses do what they do, but I’m in awe of them and their ability to withstand daily heartbreak and grossness and then taking a lunch break to enjoy a meatball sub.
  • If I never see that hospital cafeteria again, it will be too soon. I have exhausted all of the edible everything and am down to just grabbing a pretzel roll and peanut butter whenever I absolutely have to eat there.
  • There are Amish people staying in the family housing on the other side of the wall from my suite and they have been there almost as long as I have. I have a crazy urge to play Black Sabbath and Ani DeFranco at loud volume somehow corrupt their children but I’ve learned that I’m not as rebellious as one would imagine.
  • They are actually not Amish because they don’t cover their hair and the men shave, and also they drive cars, have computers and I saw one with an iPhone. My Google skills are defied by “plain clothes religion who use technology” and I’m too afraid to ask them what kind of religion they are. Non-Amish Amish people, if you’re reading this, what are you exactly? Anabaptist? Huttite? I’m dying here. Also, I enjoy your elaborate braids on your womenfolk.
  • I’m working from Esteban’s hospital room and thus am subject to whatever daytime television Esteban is watching/sleeping to. I’ve basically been subjected to 24/7 of NCIS and Law and Order reruns (I vetoed SVU because I can’t handle it). He has oddly tired of the non-stop crime dramas and instead watched some bad TLC reality shows instead. I learned that there are people who buy houses without ever going inside, people who remake cars for huge monetary losses and also, enough people who didn’t know that they were pregnant until a baby appeared between there legs that they actually have a show about it.
  • My favorite quote from that show: “I looked down and there was a baby in my sweatpants.”  That’s right up there with my other favorite reality show quote, “The crackers keel my life.
  • Uncrustables peanut butter and jelly sandwiches are the perfect hospital food, with a few rules that must be followed. 1) Don’t leave them in the fridge. They need to stay frozen or they become little stale gross things that eventually get moldy (which is somewhat relieving) and 2) Do not buy the healthy ones. You save calories and sugar, but at what cost. WHAT COST?!
  • After you’ve been in the hospital for about two weeks, the rules change. For instance, the surgical team has now gotten so familiar with us that they just refer to each other by the first name. “What did Maurice say?” “It’s Caitlyn!” “Let’s ask Abby what she thinks.” All of them except for the actual surgeon, whom everyone respects with reverence and austerity, so much so that when even he accidentally dropped an F bomb in our room, it felt like some kind of victory.

From all indications, we’re on the last lap of the Gastro 500. Fingers crossed.

Better

Cherry blossoms in DC

We’re still in the hospital. We’ve been here for 30 days.

Please consider that for a moment. 30 days.

If Esteban were a heroin addict, he’d be out by now. If a zombie plague had broken out, civilization would have collapsed by now.

The parking attendants now don’t believe me when I tell them I’m a visitor. They think I work here. I do, actually, just not the way they think.

I have a routine (skip this paragraph because it’s very boring): Wake up at Kathy’s House, take a shower, get dressed (no make up, yoga pants, the same pair of Brooks running shoes that I’ve been wearing every day for a month because they’re the only shoes I brought with me, hoodie sweatshirt, wet hair), hit the communal kitchen to stock up my backpack (purses are worthless) with supplies for the day (Uncrustable, a few sticks of pre-wrapped string cheese, a few Sobe 0 calorie Lifewater things, sometimes filling my Nalgene with iced coffee), sign out of the facility (a requirement) and then drive the half mile to the hospital, pull into the parking ramp up to the fourth floor, grimace at the flute “From a Distance“, walk a very long hallway past a bunch of CT scans of past procedures and medical studies, cut through Cardiology (or as Melinda called it, “Cardio”) then settle into the spare recliner on the far side of the hospital bed and log into the shitty network to start my day job. Sometime around lunch, I’ll meander down to the cafeteria, where I know the staff by name (Alvina is my favorite, by far, but I also like Me because she has the perfect Grumpy Cat expression all the time. I too am a human Grumpy Cat and I understand that it’s not your fault, it’s just your face) and know to avoid the steam tables most of the time and most of the soups are delicious but also will give you the worst unhappy tummy, but not nearly as bad as the curry, which is SO VERY delicious but will give you distress that makes you wonder if they’re drumming up more business for the Gastro wing, because holy crap. Esteban now watches the clock for me and reminds me when I’m about to be SOL because the cafeteria is about to stop serving dinner at 6:30. Sometime after 9 pm, I pack up my stuff, bid Esteban a good night, tell him I love him, then walk back down the long hallway, past the pictures of the insides of strangers, out the door into the parking ramp, and back to the family housing, park and sign back in. I usually grab some more Sobe Lifewaters out of my car into my little shelf inside the middle refrigerator.  Then I go up to my room, try to either open the windows and turn on the fan I bought to air it out, or crank up the AC to blow away the mustiness. Then I send Esteban a text message, telling him that I love him, which he won’t notice until he turns on his phone around 2 am to listen to a podcast when he can’t sleep.

Then I try to stream video on the wifi to watch while I try to fall asleep but usually give up after the fourth buffer/loading incident and instead watch the same episode of Downton Abbey  that resides on my iPad. I’ve been watching it pretty much every night of the last month. It has become comfort viewing.

Thomas really never had a chance, man. He was an asshole from the get go.

Then I wake up and the cycle begins again. The only difference is how big my laundry pile is and the occasional run to Walgreens between the hospital and the family care facility –

– which I’ve caught myself calling “home” more than once.

So, yeah, that happened.

*

Our 14th wedding anniversary was this week. I almost didn’t want to mention it to him, because it would be just another reminder that time is passing us by as we sit here, waiting for something invisible to happen inside his body, something that is hard to understand and difficult to measure, and involves a lot of hand-waving and long Latin words and $5K radiological tests. But in the end I did wish him a happy anniversary and then he made a sad face that sitting in the hospital, watching reruns of The Mentalist and NCIS isn’t our ideal or even remotely awesome way to spend our anniversary.

What I don’t say is that four weeks ago, I was wondering if we wouldn’t make it a whole 14 years, that our tongue-in-cheek motto of “Lucky 13″ would be foreshadowing the marital vow that ends in “do us part.” What I don’t say is that when I say “I’m just happy to be spending it with you” it’s not just a Hallmark platitude but rather because I was horror-thinking a future without him, and what’s more, I couldn’t remember how we had spent our 13th wedding anniversary and it was making me sad that I had forgotten already the anniversary that might have been the last.

Esteban is getting better. There’s at least another week more to go in the hospital, probably more, but we are in the end game now. He’s off the IV antibiotics. He’s off the IV painkillers. He’s off supplemental oxygen. He’s off many of the things that made you think “That there is a very sick person” when you looked at him. He still has an IV hookup overnight for his nutritional intake, but even that is in transition. Things are going well.

Except inside my head.

I’m getting there. I haven’t cried or lost control for at least two weeks (which is amazing considering how bad the week prior was) but then someone commended me for my grace under these circumstances and then I walked away and lost my shit for exactly 40 seconds.  Then I got it back, pulled it all back continued on as planned. One more day. One more day. Just get through today.

It is so much better than the alternate universes that have transpired in my head over the course of the last month. I just keep reminding myself that.

*

I wish you guys could see how much better he’s doing. I wish you could see how slowly he’s come back to life, how he is now more present in conversations, how he can now walk quickly down the hallway without bracing himself along the railings.  More importantly, I wish he could see it when he gets discouraged and talks about how much time has passed, about how he doesn’t want to go outside because he’s worried he’ll be filled with dispair.

It’s getting better. It really is. I just have to remember how far we’ve come.

Esteban is getting better. This is doable.

It has to be.

When we were young

CES 057

Oh, that picture up there? That’s just me with Felicia Day. What, you don’t hang out with celebrities during your business trips?

I am doing a big technology conference in Vegas this week. It’s been filled with celebrities (I’ve seen Rohan Marley so often that I’m beginning to feel like he’s part of my family) and rich food and not enough water and entirely too much walking. I pulled a muscle in my back and hate how I look on camera. Also, my hotel room smells like the body fluids of a thousand strangers. And I wouldn’t trade a minute of it, honestly, because this has been personally and professionally a great week.

Usually, business conferences are pretty lonely affairs for me. I eat a lot of room service and watch a lot of broadcast television and Hulu. However, through some happy coincidences, my bff Jake was in town and willing to act as camera support team for me. While the conference certainly has its share of party opportunities, we were both wearing our professional hats this trip, so there was perilously little rock star life.

Ok, for about three hours, we did pretend we were rock stars.

What you should know about me is that I get a LOT of email from publicity folks. A LOT. Like, I kind of space out and ignore most of them. So when I got an invite to an app developer party, I didn’t really pay attention to it.

Then I heard a rumor about that party. The rumor was unsubstantiated but it was still a pretty believable rumor that one particular band would be the entertainment for the private party. One particular band that I have, in the past, paid a ridiculous amount of money to see and for said ridiculous money, was in the “VIP” seating which wasn’t very VIP at all. I’m sorry, but if the concert tickets are almost as much as a brand new car payment, you should pretty much be sitting at the feet of one Mister Brandon Flowers. You should be able to touch him if you were so inclined (I am not so inclined, but the option is all I ask).

And the tech people, they know how to throw a good party. They ALL throw good parties. In fact, I had to choose between skipping a party where I KNEW that Maroon 5 was playing or going to the party with the rumored entertainment that was one of my absolute favorite bands in the universe. I mean, as hot as Adam Levine is purportedly, I would much rather gaze upon the man who asked “Are we human or are we dancer?” And this party? This rumored party? It was in a tiny club venue. Maybe 400 people there, while the Maroon 5 thing would have like 100,001 people there. Yeah, it was worth a trip across Dean Martin Drive to check that out.

Life is good, my dear reader, life is good.  Against the stage, front and center. Jake caught a drum stick. I got the lead singer’s set list. The lead singer and I had a moment or fourteen. It was…the experience of a lifetime, let’s just leave it at that. They are a beautiful band.

Tonight, I’m alone in the city of neon, on the back end of a whirlwind tour of duty. I had another slew of parties tonight (one with lady bloggers, one with Alecia Keys as the entertainment and some kind of star-studded thing with Ms. Day, or Fel as she told me to call her*) but I’m going to play it less Golden God and more Golden Girl tonight. Three solid days of schlepping my shitbox work laptop, full camera, iPad, microphone and all the assorted ephemera that attaches itself to tradeshows has destroyed my shoulders like you wouldn’t believe. I’m getting old, dear reader, woe I am so old and broken. But at least I can manage to party it out for a few hours a month.

I think the answer to the question, though, is that we are human 99% of the time… but if we’re lucky, if we’re really really lucky, we get to spend the other 1% as dancer.

photo(3)

*She did actually not tell me to call her that.

Still waters

Anemone

Every New Year’s Eve, I used to have a tradition: wrap up the last year and look at how far we’ve come. About half a dozen years ago, this turned into the Year End Video. I planned that thing months in advance, coaxing my friends to provide B-roll. It was even an inside joke whether a person was funny enough to make the Year End Video, in the way that we are funny assholes sometimes (this is absolutely true… me especially, heavy on the asshole sometimes).

Last year, I didn’t do a Year End Video.

When people asked about it, I said that I was pretty sure that no one would notice if I stopped. That’s how I do things: Distract by putting people on the defense. Of course, it wasn’t even true. Looking at my blog’s stats, I can tell you that people did notice — there was a huge traffic spike here on New Year’s Eve 2011, looking for that video.

You know, if we’re being honest here, 2011 kind of kicked my ass. The terminal illness and death of my grandmother was psychologically wearing on me. Our friend Jesse (and Esteban’s cousin) unexpectedly passed away at the age of 41 in October, and it kind of destroyed what little equilibrium I’d managed to recover after my grandmother’s passing. The video is supposed to be a joyful thing. It’s supposed to make people smile. They still make me smile. But when it came to making the video last year, I just couldn’t. I just… couldn’t. I felt selfish in a way that I can’t really explain. A year later, I still can’t explain it but I’m feeling selfish again.

Actually, I can explain it. I don’t want to but I can and probably should explain it.

When my grandmother was going through chemo, through rounds upon rounds of appointments and tests, she loved to look at the fish tanks. There are elaborate salt water fish tanks at pretty much every oncologist or cancer doctor’s office. At the hospital, where we’d spend hours and hours, there was even a big round one that takes up an entire column, where you can play hide and seek with the colorful fish. My grandmother liked the yellow ones the best, while I was fond of the shrimp. They always seemed so jaunty, like perhaps they should be wearing top hats and maybe spats. They are the Fred Astaire of the salt water set. There’s a big fish tank in the radiologist’s office too, where last December they did various things to my left breast and its very deep, very suspicious mass.

So that’s why I didn’t want to make a Year End Video last year. Last December, after what had already been a hell biscuit of a bummer year that I was really hoping to see gone, my annual mammogram showed something suspicious. So I had to go back and get another, more awful, terrorizing hold-your-breath-while-we-rip-your-tit-off test (and of course, while this was going on, my head was still killing me from Hodor’s timely departure). And then a very weirdly intimate ultrasound that would have been very sexy with its bulbous wand and all the KY Jelly and low lights and the technician who kept telling me that she was going to put pressure on my nipple, except, you know, it was the opposite of that. And then I got in my car and cried and then went home and demanded sushi.

So something had to go and it was the Year End Video. Instead I was going to a variety of medical tests and then spending time eating lots of raw fish and mulling upon the certainty that my left boob was going to become my ex-boob and full of distinct memories of the oncology ward and how chemo makes everything smell weird, like foot insoles and turns your toilet into a bowl of poison.

The mass looks a lot like a miniature fan coral. I’d like to believe that Nemo and Dorie are in there, going “Whoa, that’s NOT cancer.” But of course, these are the silly things you think when you’re staring at the umpteenth fish tank at the umpteenth doctor’s office, except now you’re there for your own scary thing inside your very own body, the thing that just might be killing you without your permission.

That’s why I wanted sushi last New Year’s Eve. Fuck you, fish tanks.

My little coral fan is being monitored. It waves at me from the lab films. I’ll get to visit it again this week for what will be my fourth boob smashification in 370 days (certainly that can’t be good for your boob, right? I mean, why is “Hulk smash” a viable medical test? Who thought of that?). Last time, the radiologist was almost entirely sure it’s not cancer. I have two friends who were told that it probably wasn’t cancer too and wouldn’t you know it, they both found themselves in chemo lounges, sitting in woefully awful hospital recliners, making nice with nurses and sipping V8 juice and probably staring at more and more fish tanks. Those ladies are healthy and alive and both have been declared cancer free by people who know these things. They are both glowing and beautiful and everyone in the world wishes that they should be as lucky as these ladies, who are both the poster girls for chemotherapy.

I’ve spent a year thinking about the thing in my boob. Sometimes I tell Esteban “My cancer is itchy!” when I’m digging around in my boob pit (Life Reality #573: big boobs have itchy boob pits. It’s yet another downside to having a giant rack) because I’m a funny asshole that way. It’s the only way I can deal with it. I wasn’t actually going to tell people about this Thing In My Boob. I told like four people I think, and two of them wear lab coats. I didn’t really want it to turn into a huge attention thing or anything, because it’s probably nothing, absolutely nothing. In my head, I know this. In my yed, that is. Maybe Hodor was helping me be brave.

My friend Tex passed away on Christmas night after a seven month battle with pancreatic cancer. And you know what? It’s fucking bullshit, that’s what. It’s awful and unfair and when I visited Tex and his wife Fredlet earlier this month, my heart was breaking and so full of love for both of them that I almost missed my plane because any day that goes from seeing a very ill friend to having to get patted down by the TSA and then jammed onto a plane seat seems like the very worst of all possible hells.

And then I get mad at myself for being upset about my little coral reef under the dome, about this little dense mass of indeterminate diagnosis that is very probably just my boob being a drama queen. And then I feel a little bit like a cry baby for not doing the Year End Video again this year.

Maybe fish tanks are a good thing. Maybe they act as a distraction, a perfectly contained little world when the one outside is falling apart. Maybe they remind us that the world is capable of wonderful acts of beauty and grace.

It certainly won’t be by the end of the day, but 2011 needs its Year End Video. It was a fucking asshole of a year, but god damn it, we were all in it together.

 

 

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