Working to Convince Myself

It’s 5:30 in the morning. I’ve been up since 4:03. Why do I always wake up early when I most need to sleep?

I tried putting on the television, but it didn’t distract me. I buried my fingers in Blitz’s fur, closed my eyes, and tried not to think about it. That never works.

I’m taking the SAT today. It sounds ridiculous, doesn’t it? I’m fifty-seven years old and I’m taking the SAT. But it’s true.

Why am I taking the SAT?

I need to have a current score above a certain level before I can teach the SAT at work. My scores from high school don’t count. I don’t particularly want to teach the SAT because I don’t like the hours. It’s too much overlap with Mike’s evening hours at home, but I’m trying to be supportive of my boss and give him someone to call when the main people are out sick.

On top of that, I’ve worked with the new SAT tutors for the past ten weeks so they can hone their skills. My boss can also quote any increase in my scores to potential clients.

I have gone above and beyond to do my job, yet I wasn’t paid to do any of this. Why not?

I’ve wondered that myself. My boss said that since I’ll get paid more as an SAT tutor, I will benefit from being tutored. He’s right, but I’ve put many hours into this so I’d have to sub quite a lot to get those hours back.

Why did I do it?

I want to teach the essay when it comes down to that. I know how to teach writing. I enjoy teaching writing. The rest of it? Well, I’m glad that my math skills are more up to speed at work. It’s a relief because I used to sweat any time anyone in eighth grade or higher used to sit down and ask for help in math. Now, I’m almost comfortable with everything a math student can throw at me. I did every problem in the SAT math study guide, every single problem. I learned a lot. Well, I relearned a lot. Thirty-seven years ago, I knew this stuff. I think it’s been good for my brain, like those old people who try to avoid dementia by doing crossword puzzles and sudoku.

I also learned a lot in critical reading and a little more of editing. I learned that the SAT is designed to trip up the student, that there are correct answers that aren’t the best correct answers. That is such a crock of shit. I don’t think that any test should be designed to trick a student. It shouldn’t have to be. Tests don’t have to be kind, but they don’t have to be cruel either. Trying to trick a student into answering incorrectly is cruel.

I went through almost the whole English portion of the SAT study guide too. I say ‘almost’ because I was really good in the editing portion of the practice test when I took it in November. That’s my forte.

So, I’m going to try to go back to sleep now. I’ve worked hard to get to this point. I’ve helped the tutors get ready and I’ve studied on my own. I’m much more familiar with the way the test works, so I’m ready.

Can you hear me trying to convince myself? Can you?

It’s working. I am ready for this.

And afterward, maybe I should clean my house and take down the Christmas tree. Afterward, I’ll put away those study guides for now and focus on my own creative work. Afterward, I might stop at Starbucks with my notebook and a book and sit for an hour. I need time to stare into space. I can’t wait to get that extra time back during my week. I’ve earned it. I have a plan for those hours.

Thank you for listening, jules

It Sounds So Stupid When I Describe It

Why yes, I can crawl out of bed without moving the cats that weigh down the covers on either side of me. First, I lean on my left elbow and slide as far across my pillow as I can get without banging my head against the bookshelf that is the headboard.

So sue me. I like having books at the ready. I like feeling as though I can flip on my reading lamp and reach up for a book, or two or three. Who knows what I’ll feel like reading in the wee hours? Sometimes I fall asleep with a book under my pillow.

But in the morning gymnastics, the bookshelf can be a hazard. If I manage to keep from whacking my ear as I flounder, I rotate forward in a nearly fetal position until my butt is borne out of the covers. Then, I try to keep from falling off my bed while I lift one knee past a cat who glares at me for disturbing his morning sleep hygiene. It’s actually an all-day routine because Seth, the old one, sleeps about twenty-one hours a day. For two more hours, he sits on a lap to get petted. For his twenty-fourth hour, he complains that the water bowl isn’t full enough, the kibble bowl has no kibbles in the center and he might starve to death soon, there needs to be kitten kibbles here and fresh wet food there, and don’t sing or whistle. Don’t you dare sing.

I used to think I was pretty good at singing.

Seth also tells me I can’t sit in that chair because he just decided to sit there just milliseconds before I sat down. He is faster than I am. He has possession of this particular chair. He also glares at me to tell me the dog needs more food even when the dog is asleep on the couch. Seth does his angry-cry to complain any time Blitz adds a turd to the litter box and I don’t immediately clean it.

Seth’s last hour of wakefulness? It is one long-ass hour.

So when I try not to disturb Seth’s nap, I am well motivated not to wake him as I try to wriggle out of my cocoon.

If I manage to get that one knee out, I lie on my side in fetal position, head hanging off the bed, one knee up in the air as if I’m getting a really good PAP smear, and I try to half-sit and roll backward without banging my head on the bookshelf again. I have managed to get up some mornings with bruises on the back and also side of my head. The best thing to do is rest my neck on the bookshelf edge and roll gently to my other side while holding one leg perfectly straight and the other one up to my chin in a tight birthing crunch. Then, I repeat the process on the other side of loosening my knee from its bondage under the covers.

By now, I realize that any sane person would have routed those cats the moment the alarm went off.

I am not sane, nor am I alpha. I should have made a resolution to become more alpha in my own house, but whenever I tried to do that, especially with the teen, and menopause, it was not pretty.

But now, I can finally pull my last leg out and I have emerged from my chrysalis, metamorphed into a beautiful butterfly.

Just kidding. I’m still the lumpy, nearly hairless, overweight love bug that I always was.

But I’m not done yet.

At that point, I have to stretch my head off the other side of the bed, where it grinds into the poorly textured wall, lift my legs clear of the piles of cat, and aim my toes toward the side of the bed where I can slide out.

Oh, to go back to the days when Mike would fall asleep on my hair and all I had to do was wake him to get out of bed. Cats are much more fussy. Seth, awake now, looks at me placidly. Blitz, looks back and forth between me and Seth, perhaps wondering if he should move. Seth stares at him momentarily as if to say, “Stay put. I want to watch the end.”

I consider crawling on my hands and knees along the wall to the bottom of the bed where I might be able to get out more easily. I’ll bruise on the useless footboard. Why couldn’t they have made a shelf of it for more books?

Instead, I scootch toward the exif at the top of the bed, where I would ordinarily sit as I take a peaceful moment to wake up. I gather a PJ wedgie sliding feet first until the balance of my weight rights me, my one good abs crunch for the day. My toes reach for the cold floor after all my exertion.

I am up…

… and standing, with my right foot in a squishy spot. One of the cats has puked.

Welcome to my morning.

Thank you for listening, jules

Golden Threads of Light

The other day, I walked with a friend of mine, Dina. I always feel a glow when we’ve walked. I look at trees differently. I feel so relaxed, connected. It’s magic.

Or is it?

Dina is a reiki practitioner and has opened Moon Valley Healing. She seems to heal wherever she goes.

I am a convert to reiki. In the past, I would have asked about the science of it, the proof. But somewhere along the way, I became more comfortable with the unknown. I’ve felt direct benefits of acupuncture and pressure points. Just ask me how my back is feeling today. It’s great! I felt the flow of energy after taking tai chi class and came home invigorated, flexible, and relaxed.

Yet, my science mind wants an answer to the mechanism of reiki and finally, I found an answer: reiki can be linked with quantum physics. That Newtonian physics works for what we see, touch, and hear makes it seem more rational. But on a very small scale, we all consist of moving particles that don’t work according to Newtonian physics at all, but instead follow completely different rules of existence, of energy, and of light. Everything around us, everything inside our bodies and outside them, also operates according to the rules of quantum physics. I give you reiki.

Take that, you skeptical science nerds.

I wonder if there are also links between quantum physics and biofeedback, prayer, creative visualization, and the placebo effect. Has anyone studied that?

So, when Dina performs reiki on me, I feel heat from her hands. It might not seem so unusual except that her hands ordinarily seem cool. Something happens to them when she’s at work.

The most amazing response I have to reiki is to see swirls of colors while I lie with my eyes closed.

Here’s the thing - at bedtime, sometimes I see jagged black and white patterns and sometimes I see purple swirling behind my closed eyelids when I’m trying to fall asleep. If I can get the purple light to spiral out or in, I can always fall asleep. I think of it as biofeedback though I have no proof what it is, really. If I’m agitated or drank too much coffee, it’s difficult to achieve this movement of light, but when I can, it helps me sleep.

So, the first time I experienced reiki, I saw green and yellow swirling light instead of purple. It moved in concert with Dina’s hands above my body. I felt so creative, so relaxed. I even opened my eyes to see if light was somehow coming in a window. It wasn’t.

At other times, I’ve seen orange and blue. But afterward, every single time Dina did her reiki magic, I felt a deep connection to the world around me. It may have faded as I reentered the busyness of my life, work, errands, and chores, but continued treatments allow me to stay connected longer, to recognize a level of spirituality that I want in my life and sometimes, to create it.

The other day, all I did was plan to schedule a reiki session with Dina, a Christmas gift to myself. Then, I began to visualize golden threads that connected me to you, yes, you. It was a lovely web of light, delicate, but not fragile. I closed my eyes to look at the light, your light. And it was beautiful.

I can really rock that quantum physics, don’t you think?

Thank you for listening, jules

A Chewed Jute Ornament

Mike vacuumed and put up the tree while I made him pizza. Not a bad trade, right? Keep in mind that I can’t even eat pizza any more, no crust, no cheese, because of my body’s reaction to them. It was a little bit agonizing, to be honest. The guys would have homemade pizza and I got leftovers again. Two-day old salmon didn’t leftover all that well.

In my kitchen, I put on a Christmas CD but by the time I finished kneading dough, rolling it out, layering it with their favorite ingredients, and came out to join Mike, he’d already finished the lights and most of the ornaments, then put on a movie that had arrived from the the library. I love getting free movies from the library, but sometimes the hold timing isn’t all that great. So on TV? The Purge. Why were there always so many horror movies around Christmas We weren’t looking at a simple curmudgeon like The Grinch, but instead out and out murder, terror, and gore, the premise of suspending all legal consequences for one day. The story went straight to slaughter. I had trouble tuning it out.

It changed my mood away from Christmas. I needed to shop for more presents, but I didn’t want to do it under the influence of The Purge.

But the cats were excited. In the course of the season, I anticipated that they would climb the tree trunk, bat at accessible ornaments, remove their favorites to other rooms for play, chew pine needles and garland, and nest in the tree skirt. Later, if I put garland on the mantle, Blitz would gaze from below while Seth leaped the great height, weaved through the mess, knocked off a framed picture or two, and generally managed to pull the balance off so that the loops and the lights would be wonky at least twice a week.

Then, if they chewed anything up, like the jute angel my sister gave me two years ago or the cabin I bought made of bark and twigs to replace it, I would find bits and pieces of them in the litter box later. Mike hung all breakables and undigestibles where he thought they were out of reach, but you’d be surprised how far the combined will of two fifteen-pound cats could reach.

I wouldn’t be surprised if I came home from the grocery store to find the tree overturned and garland and lights pulled half way across the living room floor.

Welcome to the season!

Thank you for listening, jules

Christmas Gift Experimentation

Tonight, I made caramel corn for dinner.

Okay, we had some great leftovers, pork tenderloin chili, chicken noodle stew, and meatloaf with horseradish. There were two kinds of veggies ready to go into the microwave, and extra mashed potatoes.

I love leftover mashed potatoes.

But I didn’t want to eat any of that. Mike had come home from a Scouting event with a new bag of popping corn. We already had two open bags of popcorn, so I popped some popcorn and munched while wondering if I could make a load of popcorn balls for Christmas presents for my students.

I could, except that I’d never made popcorn balls for Christmas before and I have this little gift of crazy when it comes to new recipes. So, I decided I needed to make some caramel even though I didn’t have any corn syrup and most of the recipes called for corn syrup. I blended most of the ingredients, minus the corn syrup, until the taste of the raw stuff was like the buttery caramel I wanted to eat. Yup. That was the taste I craved, buttery sweet.

Oh, the sugar called me like a siren song. Sugar is addicting, isn’t it?

And so I stood at the stove for over an hour and stirred the creamy mixture on very low heat. I had visitors. Both Mike and Nick brought spoons to taste-test. The house smells incredible. Now, I have a pan of caramel that I’m pretty sure will set up well enough. Somehow, I misplaced my candy thermometer and just now remembered the test of a ball of candy in a cup of ice cold water to see if it would set.

It’s late and now I’m too tired to see if it will set properly or stand at the stove any longer. I also mixed some of the caramel with a wad of popcorn. I want to see if it will work or just turn into a soggy mess. Nick will be my taste-test participant tomorrow at lunch.

This is a test. This is just a test.

Nobody minds these kinds of tests, at least not in my house.

Thank you for listening, jules

Don't Eat Too Many

Today, I made a pillow for Mike and protein bars for Nick.

Nick can’t eat most of the protein bars out there because of the nuts in them. He’s probably better of that way. We’ll see how he likes the ones I made.

Do you remember those no-bake oatmeal, peanut butter, and chocolate chip cookies that some moms used to make for the PTA bake sale when they didn’t have time to bake real cookies? Well, it turns out that you can add protein and cranberries to that gunk and call it a protein bar. It didn’t taste half bad. I know I should have squeezed them into a bar shape to avoid the cookie moniker, but I didn’t. I rolled them into little cylinders that fit into my fist, still about the same size as a cookie. It was all finished and put away in about twenty minutes.

I could probably have used a classic oatmeal cookie recipe instead. I could have added protein powder to a real cookie. I might try it sometime when I have more time to bake. Yeah, I’ll admit. I am that mom, the one who only has twenty minutes before the bake sale and wants to throw something at the other ladies that looks reasonably homemade. Rice crispy bars were invented by one of those brilliant women. At least they were homemade.

Or I could use my trusty old Hudson Bay bread recipe I got from my brother’s Boy Scout troop when we were young punks going on canoe trips. Oh, that one would be good because if anyone ate too many at a time, they’d have…

… well, they’d have some unintended digestive issues.

I’m going to have to try all three methods and…

… then I’ll wait to see what happens. I never told you I was exactly nice, but don’t worry. I’ll warn him of the possibilities.

Thank you for listening, jules

The Joy of the Day After Thanksgiving

Yesterday, I cooked in the kitchen from 7:00 am to 4:00 pm, and then later, I ran a load of dishes. I love Thanksgiving, my favorite holiday.

I love it because I believed it to be nondenominational, so there was no arguing how you wished your neighbor a happy holiday or whose holiday was more significant. Unless you went all the way back and protested the genocide and mistreatment of Native Americans, you could simply state what made you grateful and leave it at that. These days, nothing is without controversy, so I tended to let them have at each other while I cooked and listened to ‘Alice’s Restaurant’ on the radio.

For Thanksgiving you don’t have to worry if your gifts are good enough. You don’t have to try to match your gifts to the ones that you receive.

All the food on the plate can touch without grossing you out. An ordinary brunch with friends can be horrifying with all the unmixable flavors. Don’t get me started on jelly and eggs. Ugh. And then there are all-you-can-eat situations including tiny little plates stacked high with stuff that really shouldn’t mix.

You might cook all day, but you can turn the music up loud and rock out in the kitchen.

And finally, the leftovers are marvelous. Just picture that open-faced sandwich with toasted homemade bread, turkey, cranberry sauce, gravy along with cauliflower in cheese sauce and crunchy-chewy yams on the side. I just finished a plate like that and it still sounds delicious.

I also love the holiday the day after Thanksgiving, today, the one that means you get the day off but don’t have to cook, clean, or entertain if you don’t want to. This is that day.

My feet ache today, but I’m happy anyway.

I slept late. I watched some television with Mike and Nick. I procrastinated dirty dishes until Mike ran a load. Then, I walked the dog alone in pouring rain, saw sheets of hail cross the pond in a blustery breeze, and paused at the sight of ducks bobbing up and down on the surface of the water, checking on each other and shaking their heads every time they came up. It was a solitary and happy show.

And now, after drying Teddy off with a towel and making myself a cup of earl gray, I’m back on the recliner, watching a movie with Mike that I’ve seen at least four times before.

Happy Day-After-Thanksgiving.

Thank you for listening, jules

Insomnia and Teaching Children

I have a student I don’t like. I even found myself gloating when he made mistakes yesterday. Did I do that out loud? Could he sense it even after I tried to hide it? Oh, crap!

So far, I haven’t been able to turn it around, to find that one thing I like about him, to draw him into the lessons we both know he needs to learn. He’s arrogant. I have trouble with arrogance. He interrupts me. He avoids writing. He works to distract. He’s disruptive to other students.

Okay, I’ll start. He has brown eyes with a sparkle to them. He wants me to read him a story. He smiles whenever he’s being particularly arrogant as if he knows what he’s trying to do will bug me.

Eh, I’ll have to work harder than that. I’ll have to keep trying to find that way for us to connect. I haven’t found it with him. It’s my job, to find that place from which we can accomplish something.

I have another student who is very quiet, so very quiet. He’s almost silent. But he tries to make me laugh with what he writes. Sometimes, it’s outrageous, but it makes me laugh and like him more. He knows that, so he goes straight for it when he’s trying to avoid serious work. Even when he accomplishes nothing, I have an affection for this quiet and very bright kid, this kid who makes me laugh.

Ah, that’s not all that fair, is it? I’m supposed to be impartial with my students, but I’m not. I’m totally not.

I know I’m supposed to be chatty here, but insomnia lurks in my veins, makes my blood sluggish, fogs my mind, sours my heart against people, even children, and blinds me to beauty and awe.

So every morning, when I get up after five or six hours of sleep, I am a curmudgeon, surly and aggravated. I worry more after only five or six hours of sleep. I know. Many of you out there only exist on six hours of sleep, are grateful for a six-hour night, but not me. If I get less than six, I’m a mess all day. I say inappropriate things, something like what a moderately drunk person might say. I don’t have the patience for my job. I’m caustic.

And I’m telling you that I need patience for my job. Why did I sign up for a job doing something that requires ultimate patience when I am not naturally a patient person? It’s crazy. I work with children.

I know so many patient and cheerful people who should be on the front line of child-rearing and education. They’re wise. They naturally comfort a child who’s shy or sad. They gently challenge an arrogant child. They’re suited.

I’m not, especially after less than six hours of sleep in a night.

That’s why I’m about to go back to bed. It’s my job to get enough sleep so that I can be a reasonable human being. Mike said so long ago.

I had asked him if it ever made him mad when I got more sleep than he did and yet I still complained about it.

We were in the kitchen. It was 5:45am. Neither of us had slept, but I had a chance to go back to bed later. He was in the middle of opening a can of tuna. The cats stood at his feet. I was trying to get into the silverware drawer where he stood.

He stopped and looked up at me. I‘d expected him to say something funny, but his face was serious. He paused, measured his words.

“No. You should work to get as much sleep as you can,” he said. “One of us needs to be able to function.”

What he so politely declined to say was that I was rather like Jekyll and Hyde. I was reasonably nice, though not particularly patient, after sleeping enough, but I was a bear when I hadn’t.

So now, I’m going to take my monster self back to bed. It’s daylight outside, but I’m going to pull the covers high over my head to block out the light. I’m going to close my eyes, concentrate on the swirling nature of the light I see in the dark with my eyes closed.

Do any of you see swirly lights when you close your eyes and try to go to sleep? I do. It’s annoying.

And I’m going to sleep until I’m done sleeping. Then and only then will I be able to walk calmly into a room full of exuberant children who are sometimes arrogant and resistant to learning.

Thank you for listening, jules

The Power of Water

Over the weekend, I started to think that I might not need to join the chorus of Go Vote! among the blue masses. I know we need every single drop in our blue wave, but I feel that riptide pulling me along as we approach the vote.

When I was six, my parents drove us south through the Midwest in our camper to Florida for Christmas. I had never tasted oranges so sweet. I had never heard an alligator roar. I had never seen the ocean. It’s a whole story of how a little girl can wake up to a new world around her. Plus, we got the inside tour at the Kennedy Space Center because my dad, an engineer for the Navy, had a seismic experiment that was going up with the Apollo missions.

I remember my first ocean moment. We stopped at Kon Tiki, a campground on the Atlantic side near St. Augustine. It isn’t there any more. That day, the weather was almost too chilly for swimming. My mom and my sister wore long striped pants and cardigan sweaters that they held tight across themselves in the wind. They got their feet wet and probably the bottoms of their pants too. My dad, brother, and I donned our bathing suits and prepared for an Arctic plunge.

My teeth chattered as the three of us walked forward into the water. My dad wore a bathing suit that looked like a tight white pair of shorts with a waist that went up too high. My brother’s suit was red and elastic. Why do I remember that? I have no idea what my bathing suit looked like. I remember shivering and being too excited to feel much fear.

“Bud, you hold onto your sister’s hand as we go in,” Dad said. “Whatever happens, don’t let go of her.”

And he took my other hand in his. He held it a little too tightly. I knew not to pull away. Dad got stern when he was afraid. He sounded so strong. Will of iron.

And we paced three by three into the foam. The first swirl of cold water over our feet rose quickly to my ankles, knees, and then my waist. It was cold.

Then, I laughed as a wave taller than any of us raced toward us.

I had no idea how to face a wave back then. I was a Midwestern kid who’d never seen the ocean. None of us knew to duck down before it hit.

I laughed just as it slapped us square in our faces. My brother’s hand crunched my small hand suddenly, until the bones ground painfully together. He tried not to let go. He really tried. Even my dad couldn’t hold onto me.

And that ocean swirled sand and water into my mouth and my eyes, took my feet out from under me, pulled me deeper, lifted me up for a catch-breath and back under and down into green water. I opened my eyes to the sting. Then, it swirled me end over end over end until I had no idea which way was up, but somehow ended up lying panting on the sand with my bathing suit wedgied in the back and twisted around on my torso.

Everyone ran toward me. I was the baby. I’d been snatched.

I felt the grit of sand between my teeth. My hair had pulled out of my braid. I took a couple of breaths and jumped up, laughing and screaming to do it over again. Relief flooded my dad’s face.

I had never felt water so powerful, like huge hands that decided my fate, that negated all my dad’s control over the world, Dad’s will of iron bent like putty under the will of that tide.

It opened my eyes to the power of water.

Today, I want all those drops of the blue wave to move together, to rise up, to check the power of our corrupt politicians. I want that wave to tower over their heads and rip their linked arms apart. I want them to be flipped upside down, to be washed up onto the sand, breathless, and in awe that tiny individual drops of water could carry such a current as this, could have carried them out to sea and down to the depths, breath denied.

I want to feel the glory of the blue wave just like that day when I was six and first met the ocean face to face.

Thank you for listening, jules

The Heart of a Kitten

I need to update you on the state of the kitten.

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Remember the kitten? Blitz?

He’s two years old now. I still call him the kitten even though, technically, he’s bigger than Seth, the other cat. He’ll always have that fear of starving the way he did when he was tiny. But he’s not eating kitten kibble any more. Being called the kitten is totally about attitude.

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Seth manages the household with a serious face. Blitz manages to look cute.

This morning, when my alarm went off, Blitz rubbed against the door, the cabinet, the heater on the wall, just in case I found any loose cookies up there in the cabinet that I could give him. Cute, but not really that cute yet.

Then, when I sat down to write my three morning pages, he leaped onto the desk on top of my notebook and pushed his head into my hands. Then, he rolled around as I petted him. He swatted at my pen, at my flower magnet, and at a rock that held down an old Polaroid of Amsterdam that I found among Mike’s grandma’s photos. I took the rock away from him and put it back on the corner of the Polaroid. He knocked it off again. He really wanted that rock. It was a good rock, the best rock, my rock. In the meantime, Seth walked past, shook his tail, allowed me to pet him once, then glared Teddy out of his oversized dog bed. Then, as Blitz squirmed and encouraged me to pet him more, Seth sat like a sphinx and stared at me in the expanse of bed.

After ten minutes of intensive petting, I gave up on my three pages of writing and went upstairs to make my smoothie and Nick’s lunch. Most days, it goes like this. On the stairs, Blitz raced ahead of me. At the top step, he fell over, rolled onto his back and looked down at me with his front paws curled inward. Think sea otter with dots and dashes across his belly. When I finally got to the top, I sat down and rubbed his belly, really rubbed his belly. It’s so soft. I can’t help it.

Then, I got up and went into the kitchen. Nick hunched over a bowl of Cheerios. I patted his shoulder, hoping it wasn’t too much contact for a teenage boy. I opened the fridge. It was too bright in there. Mike had put last night’s dinner into lunch containers, so all I had to do was wash an apple, pull out a little carton of milk and I was done. Yay! After I made my smoothie, I turned on the computer and prepared to look at emails I’d ignored all week.

Just then, Nick got up and wandered toward the top of the stairs. Blitz ran over to his spot and fell onto his back. Nick bent over and petted him while murmuring to him. I loved hearing that tone of voice coming out of my rugged teenager. He picked him up and set him onto the banister, a place Blitz couldn’t jump to on his own. Seth could. Then, Blitz sat there while Nick held him in a loose hug.

“He’s purring, Mom,” Nick said.

“Of course he is,” I replied without looking away from the computer. “He loves you.” I felt a little guilty at my inattention and spun around in my seat. It was a Kodak moment. I resisted. The teenager still didn’t tolerate many mom photos.

Teddy got off the couch, came over to the left side of my chair, and sat down. He groaned. I looked over at where he’d been and Seth sat there as if it was his birthright. Asshole. Nick went into the bedroom with Mike and I opened up my inbox to begin to figure out which emails I had to address and which ones I could ignore. Junk mail littered inner space, would be stored forever if I didn’t delete them. If we all spent an hour once a year deleting old junk from our files, I’d guarantee the cloud would shrink by thirty percent. But we’d also lose something we needed the next week.

It was mostly junk mail. I didn’t have time to delete everything. How did these people find me?

Teddy whined and I looked down at him. Blitz rubbed his body across Teddy’s cheek and alternately batted his ear. Then, just as Teddy was about to get up in frustration, Blitz leaped over his head and promptly fell over onto his back and looked across his belly at Teddy, sea otter style.

‘Rub my belly, please?’

Thank you for listening, jules

What the Tutor Does When She’s Hungry

I’ve been asked by my boss to explain to his other tutors what I’m trying to do with my students.

What I do is go long.

When I was a kid, I loved catching a football. I loved how the prolate spheroid shape of a football caused it to spiral in the air. I loved how it tucked under my elbow as if it were designed to fit there. It drove me crazy how a loose football might bounce toward me one time or bounce in any other direction each time it hit the ground.

It turns out that someone wrote a book about the science of that football: Newton’s Football by Allen St. John and Ainissa G. Ramirez, Ph.D. Cool. I can bring that to work with me.

Some kids are like footballs and some are like soccer balls. Some kids, the soccer balls, are predictable and easy to train. They bounce in the direction you plan them to go. Others, the footballs, bounce in any direction that’s away and stare into space, wishing they could be somewhere, anywhere else, but where they are.

Some lessons are like football too. Some of the work is interesting and easy to understand. Other stuff just seems tedious. Some lessons don’t bounce at all, let alone in a chaotic direction. Lead balloons.

My job is to get the work to spiral in the air, to help the student tuck that information into the pocket and run with it.

No, that’s not it.

But right there, I searched the Internet to find out what the shape of a football is, a prolate sphere. It’s the three-dimensional shape that’s created when you spin an ellipse along its longer length, a football, a Tic Tac, a blimp.

When you spin an ellipse along its narrow length, it’s a oblate, like a flying saucer, the Earth, Skittles, or an M&M. Yes, the Earth is a very slightly squashed sphere. Did you know that?

I really did sit down here with the intent to tell you what I do with my students to make the work more interesting. Instead, I used a flabby metaphor for a football. Then, I looked up the name of the shape of a football. Then I found out that a coach and some professor wrote a book about the science of football and that chaos theory happens when no one catches it and it bounces across the field. Then, I clicked the opposite of prolate to see what oblate was and I wanted to know what that looked like, so I clicked ‘images.’ Then, I saw pictures of M&M, Skittles, and the Earth.

Mmm, M&Ms, Skittles, Tic Tacs.

And then, I realized that is exactly what I do when I work with my students, go long.

Thank you for listening, jules

Brian Damage

I’m afraid I’m losing my sense of humor.

Oops. I’m losing my ability to sit upright and spell words right now too. Okay, so you’re going to get short shit today, and not even funny short shit.

This is the new me, or the temporary me. I’m not sure which. But I hope I’m going to find that brain damage didn’t just hit the part of my brain that made people laugh. (I just typed Brian damage three times.) And maybe, if I’m lucky, I won’t have brain damage at all. (One more time.)

Today, my endocrinologist told me that my sugar levels have been dangerously low which is why I wasn’t getting enough oxygen.

Don’t ask me to explain that.

I’m all like, “Clear lungs mean oxygen gets in. Freshly ironed blood means that hemoglobin can carry oxygen. A good heart means that oxygenated blood can reach my fingertips and toes. What else is there?”

She explained it to me, in four part harmony, but I didn’t understand a word she said. I’ll try again later. I think my blood sugar was low when I was listening to her. But I had a great time listening to her wisdom.

And I was all relieved because finally, one of my doctors had a reason for what I was experiencing. Plus, she explained how I could be all dehydrated while drinking between fifty to sixty ounces of water every day in addition to my smoothie, tea, soup, and seltzer. So, I was actually happy for a minute because I’ve gotten so sick of being all confused, dizzy, nauseated, and spinny whenever I laid down in bed. It felt a lot like all those times in college when I drank too much and people told me I was going to lose brain cells from it.

On my way home from my appointment, as I thought of all those times I drank too much in college… that was when I started to wonder if I’m brain damaged. (Crap, Brian. Get out of my head.) I don’t feel brain damaged, do I?

Except that I might not have a sense of humor any more.

Thank you for listening, jules

Like Riding a Bike on the Interstate

I had so much to say earlier, but I’m not sure where all the stories went. It seems too hard to write. I’m not well yet. I’m still low on oxygen. My whole life is gathered around how dizzy I feel, trying to remember the right words, trying to spell, trying to drive after work this morning even though I felt like I had one too many drinks and didn’t want to give up my keys.

Yesterday, I got my hair cut. I could tell by my hair dresser’s face and tone of voice that she didn’t want me to drive home, that she didn’t want to be on the road with someone like me.

I know I’m that driver who’s just a little bit impaired who drives just at the speed limit, who stops at a stop sign for an exaggerated moment, who looks both ways and both ways again. I am that moderately drunk designated driver who doesn’t want to let anybody down at the end of the night, the one who suddenly starts driving like his grandmother does in her 1987 Ford Taurus with the pink crocheted seat cover on the driver’s seat and country music set low on the radio.

Today, when I didn’t feel outright nauseated, the recliner spinning me and alternately feeling like I was drowning in a sea of air, I felt a little bit drunk. That was when I felt better.

Am I repeating myself?

Sorry.

Mike and Nick are on the couch watching ‘Goosebumps’ with Jack Black while Nick works on his physics. Earlier, Nick asked me to help him and I totally had the answer wrong, doing simple algebra and showing him what I thought it would be. But then, I gave up and went to take a nap, a long nap, the kind that gets so disorienting in the afternoon.

When I woke up after three hours, I knew the answer to that problem. Isn’t that weird when that happens? You go to sleep with a question and by the time you wake up, you know the answer. With Nick’s problem he needed to take the integral of the acceleration to get the speed.

In some deep recess of my brain, I still do physics and calculus, but it’s fucking thirty-seven years old and the neural pathways aren’t strengthened with repetition or even flush with oxygen. I’m only at 95 percent oxygen. That’s not all that low, but that still makes me see stars when I bend over to put dog food in Teddy’s bowl. How the hell did I remember that calculus shit? How?

Now, they’re talking about significant figures, how many digits you write out in your answers, and somehow I understood and could talk lucidly about it.

Can I be impressed by my own brain? Can I brag?

I never thought that physics would be a little like riding a bike. I never had that much confidence in what I learned in engineering school before the semester was over. I kept breathing and madly studying until the class was over, then slept for three weeks. Then, I didn’t think about what I’d learned until the next class laid more details on top of what I’d been uncertain about the previous semester. That school kept me off balance the whole four years even though I had a B average and worked my butt off.

I believe in slowing things down enough that my mind can settle into a topic. I like when my mind wakes up one morning and says, “Hey, I know this shit.”

Yeah, that didn’t happen in college. It was intentional. Professors kept telling us that a third of us would flunk out. They worked toward that. And afterward, I worked in digital logic, electronics, so I never used those physics equations again.

Until now.

There’s a tiny part of my brain that whispered while I was sleeping, “Hey, I know this shit, sort of.”

Thank you for listening, jules

Redefining Pretty

So, I’m supposed to be better now. Everything is out, kidney stone and stent, and I should be back to normal by now, right?

Well, I guess so.

I’m really tired, seriously tired, like I must go back to bed for a while.

I watched five and a half seasons of Drop Dead Diva on Netflix during the past month of couch time. Can you tell I like that show? It’s about a model who is brought back to life in the body of an overweight lawyer and a lot of the cases are a metaphor for what is happening to her. It helps to redefine beauty. Our culture needs that, or in the least, we need to make sure we aren’t harming our girls by constricting beauty into a size zero for the rest of their lives.

Hey, it’s a fluffy show, but it addresses fat-shaming and self-image issues. I liked it enough to watch five and a half seasons. The problem is that I’m going to be doing my normal stuff soon and I want to watch the rest of it.

I could pretend to feel worse than I do and let everyone take care of me while I sit on the couch drinking my lemon water and watching TV.

Did you know that lemon water helps to keep kidney stones from forming?

The problem with this plan is that I feel worse than I thought I would and everyone is taking one look at me and doing all this stuff for me while I sit on the couch drinking my lemon water and watching TV. I still have bags under my eyes. I’m still wearing my new floufy dresses because waistbands hurt.

Did I tell you that I bought a couple of floufy new dresses?

And I’m wearing them around the house with my wooly socks, ugly slippers, a scarf around my neck, and my ugly old hoodie. I even went to work last Saturday for an hour that way, minus the wooly socks and slippers. I put on dress socks and real shoes, but the ugly old hoodie stayed on. I’m sure I looked….

different.

Still, I feel very pretty in my new dresses. They’re scoop neck, three-quarter sleeve, loosely fitted at the bodice, and have a flowy skirt that doesn’t touch my waist and swirls around my knees. Plus, they’re so soft, like wearing pajamas. I bought a black one, then went back online and bought a forest green one after the black one arrived and was so perfect.

Now, I want another one only in a turtleneck and made out of thicker material so that I can stay warm without wearing my ugly hoodie.

I could make one of those. I could. Except it requires fabric that is really stretchy and I’m not all that good on my sewing machine with really stretchy fabric. I’ve never sewn a turtleneck either.

Maybe I’ll just look online. It was amazing that I could buy a dress on Amazon and it fit and felt so comfortable.

And, I feel pretty, except for the dark bags under my eyes, the new grooves in my face, and my wooly socks and ugly old hoodie.

Thank you for listening, jules

But I Lost Some Weight

I worked for an hour today, one whole hour.

I needed to sit down for a little bit after I took my shower to get ready. I needed to rest my shaking hands after holding my smoothie too long. I needed to lean my head back on the headrest after I drove to my usual parking spot under the pines at work.

When I tottered in and everyone began to talk to me, even to ask me how I was doing, I was overwhelmed. I almost cried. One boy jumped up from his lesson and hugged me. And the sweet boy who I pretended to tutor today was so compassionate that he kept leaning into me and hugging me.

A little too hard.

Over the past few weeks, I’ve lost track of time. I feel as though I’m going to feel this way for the rest of my life. I never did walk Teddy the other day when I told you I was going to walk Teddy. I never did stop at the grocery store. When I finally got home from work today, I slept almost five hours.

Before I went back to bed, I did get myself some of the homemade tortilla chips leftover from Mexican food last night. I sat on the couch next to Mike. He watched me eat. My hands shook as I lifted each chip to my mouth.

“You’ve gone from fifty-seven to eighty-nine,” he said.

I thought he was talking about velocity. I didn’t feel any faster. I stared at him, maybe with a vacuous look on my face.

“You got old enough this week that pretty soon, we’re going to have to move into assisted living.”

“Do I look old, really?”

“Yeah, you do.”

I wasn’t offended. I’d looked into the mirror. My hair was the same color, but my face belonged to a different generation. Just a couple of days after the surgery, I got some pink back in my cheeks, but I still had deep ruts carved into my skin and dark bags under my eyes.

Ooooh, I want to tell you something.

I’ve lost weight!

I don’t know how much, but I feel noticeably thinner. My appetite is returning, but slowly. Every woman I know talks about how she lost weight when she was sick with this stomach bug or that flu. I’m no different. Isn’t that sad? I can probably wear my skinny pants now if I want. That is the state of our fat-shaming culture, that we celebrate illness if it has a desired effect on our weight.

But that wasn’t what Mike was talking about. He was looking at my eyes. I can tell you that pain sucks your eyes deeper into their sockets. Pain dulls the sparkle in them, makes them lose focus.

With true beauty, it’s all about sparkle and glow. Fuck the weight.

I tried to glow for Mike. Instead, my head bobbled a little bit as I looked back at him and ate another chip.

“But I lost some weight,” I said.

“Woohoo,” he said.

And he twirled his index finger in the air in a mock celebration.

Thank you for listening, jules

How to Build a Zombie

Hydrocodone bitartrate with acetaminophen or Tylenol, just the acetaminophen?

After a surgery, do I take as much hydrocodone as I want for my pain? How long does it take to become addicted? How much pain is too much pain to endure without help?

That’s the question I always have whenever a doctor prescribes the hydrocodone. Yeah, two days after my surgery, it still hurts and I still have a choice between the hydrocodone with Tylenol or just Tylenol. Yesterday afternoon, when I switched to regular Tylenol, I had to wait a full four hours after it wore off before I could take anything else. So, after interrupting Mike’s video game last night to chat with him about addiction, I wondered whether or not to take one more of the heavy-duty, knock out the pain, knock out my brain kind of pills.

I am really afraid of getting addicted.

Could you imagine how I could go from an ordinary housewife in pain, the same one who has stared down the drug dealers in the library, who has called the police during drug deals, to being one who seeks those same dealers out after my doctor’s prescription runs out?

I do not intend to become that woman. No.

Yet I have to admit that sliding down into that painless state of being is inviting. There it is, the little secret I haven’t told anyone, not even Mike. It would be easy. It would take away pain, maybe even more than physical pain. I could be comfortably numb. And now that song is in my head. ‘Hello. Is there anybody in there? Just nod if you can hear me. Is there anyone home?’

So, that’s why I decided to fight it this morning, to go for plain Tylenol instead. I’ve taken three of the hydrocodone pills since I got home from my surgery on Tuesday. Three. I’m absolutely sure I needed the first two. But the third, the one last night? Did I really need that one?

Last night, Mike sat on the couch, the headset askew so he could hear me with one ear. I rattled on and on about which pill I should take. ‘One pill makes you larger and one pill makes you small.’ Now that song is going to compete with Pink Floyd for the musical part of my brain, filling in whenever there are gaps in sound. I stared at Mike with the Ziploc bag of my prescriptions in one hand.

“Do you think this pain will keep you up tonight like it did last night?” he asked. I had been up all night, restless, not comfortable, not comfortable at all.

I stood in the middle of the living room floor and shifted from foot to foot. I needed something. It was finally time and it was a few hours past the time I began to hurt again. But how much did it hurt? Volumes of pain are hard to measure.

“I’m going to take one more of these. I might not get addicted by one more.” Was that the truth? Wasn’t I afraid to admit to Mike how I really felt?

So, before I could change my mind, I took another hydrocodone. Even after sleeping most of the night without pain, I’m still tired, maybe a little loopy. It’s hard to tell.

Yet this afternoon, I know I need to walk the dog, buy groceries, and get dog food. Can I accomplish that much?

I’m not sure. If I had to decide right now, I’d say no. But if I had taken another hydrocodone this morning, I wouldn’t have been competent to drive safely, not really. So, I took Tylenol this morning instead.

Am I repeating myself?

I am. I’m still under the influence of the hydrocodone I took last night at bedtime. It worked. I did sleep. Mike was right, at least a little bit. Sleep is important to healing.

But the hydrocodone also makes me dull. The word is stupid. I don’t like being stupid. I’d rather be bright and in some pain than be stupid and in no pain.

Stupid or not, what I didn’t like most was that little bit of excitement, that anticipation of taking the hydrocodone. That was the most dangerous part of that decision last night, and again this morning.

Be afraid. Be very afraid. Zombies are coming. They live in the hydrocodone.

Thank you for listening, jules

Simmer Your Raisins in Cream

I just remembered that I told the guy holding the mask over my face in the OR how I got my butt scar. Crap. And Mike just said I told me I said the same thing while I was in recovery.

Seriously?

I had to tell him that?

You get really messed up with anesthesia. I think it even affected my taste buds.

Why is it that when I can eat absolutely anything I want, I almost always crave broth or soup or squash or something healthy like that?

Earlier, my recovery nurse tucked me into warm blankets after my surgery and said, “Now, you can eat anything you want.”

Anything?

I went instantly into food realm. You have to live on a desert island and you can only bring one book and pick one kind of food for the entire time. It’s a food drama I’ve played more than the number of times people have asked me the question. I looked past my sweet nurse, out the window at majestic trees and sky in the distance. I could eat anything I wanted. I made a mental list and perused it: creme brulee, tiramisu, brownies, cherry pie, ice cream, my grandma’s raisin pie.

I’ll tell you the secret. Grandma simmered those raisins in cream before she put them into a pie with a bit of brown sugar, flour, and butter. If you’ve never had a good raisin pie, don’t doubt that it’s the richest…

Okay, I just tried to google a synonym for ‘mouth orgasm’ before I realized those are the perfect words for what I wanted to convey.

It’s the richest mouth orgasm you’re ever going to experience.

Grandma wasn’t a very good cook, but she could make a hell of a pie. How can a woman be a terrible cook and make pie like that? She wasn’t even all that good at baking cookies or cake. It was just pie. Raisin pie was Grandma’s gift to the world.

Grandma’s raisin pie, never too sweet, was rich. Even if you wanted to, you really couldn’t eat more than a narrow slice. So yes, that was on my food list as I reclined in my hospital gown, opened at the back and considered my options. I made eye contact with my good nurse. Tears filled my eyes.

“You really are good at what you do,” I said. It wasn’t the anesthesia.

“Thank you. You’re still coming out of anesthesia. It’s normal to be a little bit emotional.”

It wasn’t the anesthesia. This nurse had a way of tucking me in, of looking at me when she talked to me. She had warm brown eyes. She was kind.

“Do you want me to get you anything to eat?”

The list.

But no. I wanted chicken soup and scrambled eggs. What the hell was that? What was wrong with my taste buds?

My mind just went blank for a minute there, but I’m happy I’m alive. I’ve been excised from my connection with the crystal in my kidney.

Is there energy in those crystals? Bad juju.

Why do some people keep their kidney stones? I didn’t want to keep mine. On the contrary, I wanted that thing pulverized, ground back into the earth, at one with, well, with anything but me.

My grandma, the magic pie grandma, kept her gall stones in a little pill bottle on the back of her stove. I hated watching her cook with those things so close. They were something akin to snot or a scab, something that needed to separate from her body, and preferably be held at a greater distance from me and any meal I might eat. I wanted to bury those stones. If I had the pieces my doctor had just lazered and scooped out of me, I would bury them too.

Bad juju crystals.

So in my recovery room, tucked into my narrow bed, I looked at my compassionate nurse and finally answered her question.

“I don’t have any idea what I want to eat.” If I’d been on that desert island, that dessert island, I would have failed my own test. Miserably.

“Do you want me to bring you something?”

“Yes, thank you,” I said.

My nurse left the room and came back with a tray.

“Here’s some apple juice and crackers for you.”

No. Seriously. No. This wasn’t even the end of my food realm, my food drama, not even the reality show version. Apple juice and saltines? And the saltines were low-salt.

“Are they even allowed to label them saltines if there isn’t any salt on them?” I asked.

My good nurse laughed.

It was a beautiful sound.

Thank you for listening jules

Out of My Hands

It is hard to ask for help.

I really want people to pray for me because I just can’t do anything else right now. That’s when I pray, when I have to have something to do because there isn’t anything else to do.

People have asked if they could cook meals for us. They can’t. We can’t eat onions, carbs, nuts, cheese, greens, fructose, and I can’t even think of what else. So, no thank you. You can’t cook for us as much as all that might help.

I wish someone would come and walk Teddy.

I almost asked for that when a good friend asked what she could do, but then I imagined having to talk when she stopped by to pick him up. I imagined what my house looked like after two weeks of ignoring it. I imagined what I looked like.

Did I tell you about the ugly mumu? I think I did.

Colors alone. The mumu is sleeveless faded blue and white seashells with little bows at my shoulders. My cozy sleeping shirt under it is a goldenrod henley with long sleeves. The warm wooly socks my sister knitted me are green and purple. My slippers are gray and blue, but the insides are worn down to foam and the footbed is falling out in one of them. I don’t care. I need my slippers. And my hair? My hair is probably pushed up on one side or at least flat in the back where I’ve been sleeping on it.

Plus, I have a great new set of bags under my eyes.

I look like shit and I feel like shit. Even if a friend showed up to walk Teddy, something I could really use help with, I’d go all verkelmpt because people were taking care of me when I couldn’t take care of myself.

I really can’t take care of myself right now.

I can make tea. I can eat leftovers from the fridge. I don’t even feel like eating leftovers from the fridge. Shoot, I could eat anything I want right now and I don’t really want to eat much at all.

That’s probably why I have bags under my eyes.

I can sleep. I can change the channel. I can read a little, but that dream of having two weeks to just read is out of reach because I’m so exhausted from sitting upright. Even reclining feels too upright. The other day, Mike had to stay home and drive me to the doctor because every time I stood upright, I felt darkness closing in on me. He stayed with me all day. I’m still dizzy, but I’m not going to pass out now, I think.

It’s been a hard couple of weeks. I look like a homeless woman in my old mumu and stuff. I can’t take care of myself. For the first time in a very long time, my life is in other people’s hands.

Oh, I know that feeling like your life is in your own hands is an illusion, but the illusion has been stripped away. I feel death nearby. I want my life to have meaning.

I’m not sure if I’m done yet. I’ve got stuff I need to finish.

But right now, I can barely make tea, can only lounge around in my ugly mumu outfit, and I can’t even read a fucking book. I want that illusion back, that I can do this life right, that I can make it all mean something, that I’m not about to die in a pool of existential angst.

It’s time for me to ask for prayers.

Thank you for listening, jules

Don't Worry About the Mumu

I just realized that I’m like an oyster with a grain of sand. Someone could shuck me open and find a big sparkly pearl inside me. Only, the thought of a kidney stone is gross. How is that any different, really, than a pearl? Can I tell you that I secretly hope my kidney stone is pretty, one of those white crystals? But really, the easiest ones to pass are smooth. I know I should opt for easy rather than pretty, but...

So last night, just as I got settled onto the couch with a bag of ice and a blanket, Mike said, “Hon, I really hate to say this, but something’s wrong with my eyes. I'm seeing flashy things.” Men in Black flashy things? I think I said this out loud, but I'm not sure.

I stared at him blankly. He stood at the top of the stairs, still in his gym clothes. I did not want to get up. I’d rummaged through my closet and found my old blue and white mumu, loved for all its looseness. I’d layered it with a black LLBean T-shirt and my big brown jacket for warmth. I’d even bent over and put on ragwool socks to complete the ensemble. I was a picture. And I was comfortable.

I knew I deserved my couch time. I fucking wanted my couch time. I bobbled my head a little, trying to convince him I understood what he was getting at. I couldn't quite wrangle the idea that I might have to get up. I didn't want to get up except to get into bed.

“I think I need to go to the ER.”

NO! Not the ER again. Two times in five days is enough, more than enough for one small family.

But love and common sense won out. If a retina detaches, it changes your vision and can become permanent if you don’t get it treated quickly. I didn’t want Mike to go blind this week.

I didn’t want to miss signs of stroke or anything either. I saw a woman having a stroke once at church. Because she waited to get help, because none of us called 9-1-1, she had a harder time recovering. I didn’t want Mike to have a stroke either.

I slowly got up from the couch. My stent, you know, that extra-long bendy straw the urologist placed inside me just two days before… it hurt at the effort. I’d done too much earlier. I was tired and sore.

I began to gather gear, mostly my book and a notebook. Water, my new meds, an ice pack, and a charging brick.

And then we were off.

You know, I’m too beat right now to tell you the whole story in long form. Here are the highlights:

·         I dropped Mike off at the ER door.

·         I parked then shuffled down a long hallway to the ER. A nurse, possibly suspecting that I’d escaped from the psych ward, wandered in from tent city, or was about to collapse on the floor in need of an ER myself, decided to walk with me. After I told her my story, she walked the whole distance with me. She was kind. She worked the right job, in a hospital helping people.

·         Mike had been escorted right into a room.

·         When I arrived, they moved us into ‘the eye room.’

·         We waited. Nurses and doctors came and went, asking the same questions. Is it one eye or both, meaning did Mike have a problem with an eye or his brain. Do you have a headache? Did you notice changes in speech, slurring? These indicate a stroke. Did you get hit, fall, or exert too hard doing exercise? This referred to a detached retina. I pictured an old sign with a rusty bolt that finally gave out.

·         The doctor came in and listed a bunch of possible explanations. She added a brain tumor. Fuck, a brain tumor?

·         Then she left to look some stuff up. She even admitted it. I loved that, a doctor willing to admit that she didn’t know absolutely everything. Those are the best doctors.

·         CT scan.

·         And we waited.

You know how it is. You rush to the ER, they rush you inside according to triage. Then, when they’re pretty sure you aren’t going to keel over on the spot, you wait. And wait.

It’s hard, but it’s the right thing to do. Triage saves lives.

We talked. We sat quietly. I read. Mike read on his phone. We stared at each other. Mike laid down in the gurney. I sat up in an ophthamologist’s rig. I wanted to try it out, but I didn’t. I told Mike about the personal escort I was given to his room.

“She probably thought you looked like you were going to pass out.”

“Do I look sick?” I asked.

“You’ve looked better.”

“I know. The mumu doesn’t help.”

“But the mumu is comfortable. Don’t worry about the mumu.”

“And the wool socks.”

“Don't worry about them either.”

“Thanks honey,” I said. My eyes filled with tears. It felt good knowing someone loved me even with pasty skin, even with bags under my eyes, even with bad hair, even wearing wool socks, and even in a great big mumu.

Thank you for listening, jules

The Battle of the Asteroid

Warning: I’m going to talk about medical issues. Yuck.

TMI, TMI, TMI, TIM, TMI

Tim, you can go out of earshot while I whisper to my medically rugged friends about how I feel?

“Pray for me honey. I feel like shit.”

I remember when Mike’s grandmother said those very words over the phone when she was ninety-five or so. By that time, her life had become a misery of pain. I knew it and could never make myself offer any advice about handling it, no useful advice anyway.

Isn’t medical advice from people who are not doctors overrated? Seriously.

Here’s the deal: I have a kidney stone. Yes, it hurt like a bout of food poisoning when it started. Then, it went on and on. It put me on the floor of my bathroom. I figured if I laid down first, then I might not pass out and whack my head on the toilet. I’m not sure you all need the play-by-play, do you?

ER next.

Going into the ER, shivering in pain, seeing flashy lights, having pukyness, and of absolute necessity, the Universe saw fit to put a few acquaintances in my path at the door. Great. I had been in the process of clutching at Mike to get out of the car, hyperventilating, and moaning. The woman I saw was nice and didn’t detain us or expect to chat. I like those people, but I still hated being seen like that.

I wore, as a fashion statement, a nice pink LLBean t-shirt, a pair of black track pants with dog hair all over them, no socks, ratty house slippers, and nice bright blue underwear. Of course, when they rolled my wheelchair into a room, they got me out of my lovely pink LLBean t-shirt ratty slippers, and furry track pants and into a hospital gown, letting me keep my bright blue underwear. Apparently, what my mother told me about wearing nice underwear in case I got into an accident was good advice. Who knew?

Do you think my handsome ER doc judged me based on my pretty underwear because after that, I proceeded to writhe around on his gurney flashing my backside for a while until he decided to give me something for pain. He was pretty quick.

Dilaudid, an opiate.

“Do I have to worry about becoming addicted?” I asked my nurse when she came in with a box of syringes.

“No, when you’re in extreme pain, it interferes with addictive conditioning. But that’s a good question.”

That sounded good, but I still worried about it a little. I didn’t want to imagine myself looking for that skeletal drug dealer in Fall City with open sores on his face and the soul sucked out of his eyes.

I said yes to the dilaudid, extra strength Tylenol, and a prescription for the prostrate. The nurse was going to give it all to me in my IV tube after she played with the computer.

“I don’t have a prostrate though, do I?” I asked her as she typed.

She laughed.

“It turns out that it also dilates the …..(insert here the technical term for pee pipe between my kidney and my bladder),” she said.

“Okay then,” I said. “Go for it.”

Then she scanned my arm band like I was produce in the checkout line, tested my IQ by asking me my name and birthday, and plunged relief into my IV tube.

Define dilaudid. A liquid that rushes into your veins, makes you weight five times what you already weighed (thanks for that), and spins you around like the spiral on one of the newer roller coaster rides. Who needs Wild Waves when you’ve got a friendly nurse with a syringe full of tilt-a-whirl?

And that went on for a few hours until they told me that my CAT scan showed that I had a one centimeter in diameter rock trying to bore its way out of me like Bertha under the Alaskan Way viaduct.

“It’s Olympic size,” my doctor said. Had I won some kind of prize? Was there a cash award?

Then, he sent me home and gave me a bunch of pills that would take a whole lot longer to relieve my pain. He said I could possibly pass my asteroid out of my body on my own but he doubted it and that I should come back if the symptoms increased.

Increased?

In the meantime, I was supposed to strain my pee in case that sucker fell out without me realizing it. Hell no. I would have realized an asteroid just passed between my legs. Besides, I wasn’t going to pass that sucker, was I?

That was Monday.

On Tuesday, I asked Mike to come home early. I have no recollection of the previous hours except to say that they lasted a lot longer than normal hours ever did. Time is pretty springy with pain and dilaudid, like a slinky. Fast for fun and slow for the worst moments. It didn’t take Mike long to get me back to the ER that afternoon

Once we got there, we had a bit of time alone in the room.

“You’re a hot mess,” he said more than once when he escorted me into the bathroom to pee. I couldn’t manage peeing and straining it on my own. After that, I couldn’t get the dispenser for the hand wash to drop into my shaking hands. I was dizzy, grabbed at the handicapped handrail, leaned on the wall or Mike when I could.

I looked into the mirror as I washed my hands - big bags under my eyes, gray skin, greasy hair pressed up on one side and presumably flat in the back. Lets not talk about the open back of my gown or my old underwear. Plus, I stunk from pain sweat. This kind of work isn’t for beauty queens.

At the ER this time, I I’d worn an older pair of black underwear with a stretched out waistband underneath my ensemble. Somehow, the whole ER crew had a harder time staying ahead of my pain that day. Do you think they were unimpressed with my underwear?

Or was it that I waited too long to ask for another ride on the dilaudid spiral?

Or maybe it was the guy in the other room yelling, “Fuck, FUCK! Get your fucking hands off me! Fuck.” I got Mike off his earbuds so he could listen to the show. We needed a show.

Fuckers. You don’t fucking ….” and then the volume was turned down too low to hear what he said next. We could hear grappling. Then, a bunch of things crashed to the floor and broke. There was another hollow bang and the wall bounced. I was glad it didn’t sound like he had a gun. But I imagined one of those nice nurses being thrown into a wall as she tried to help.

“Code grey, please, code grey,” an announcer said over the intercom.

Code blue means someone is dying, right? Well, now you know that Code Grey is an asshole breaking the ER and threatening dedicated people in it. Somebody big needs to get there STAT to sit on the asshole so he can be sedated, completely. I too felt like complete shit, but I wasn’t going to body slam my caregivers.

That was the best part of being in the ER, the show. Well, and the nice doctors and nurses. And Mike staying with me and rubbing my shoulder when everything hurt too much. He’s a keeper, that man.

Eventually, I felt a whole lot worse, maybe a little worse than when people I barely knew saw me coming into the ER on Monday.

They took another scan and suddenly, my asteriod stone showed itself to be 1.5 centimeters and not moving. That’s about the size of a dime. Not too big, you think? Oh that’s big.

I was trying to give birth. I had had an epidural and a C-section when Nick was born because his head was bigger than the opening in my pelvis. Don’t tell Nick I compared him to a kidney stone. He was a much more pleasant outcome than passing a kidney stone will be.

Creatinine went up. What the hell did that mean? My kidney was unhappy.

You think?

Plus, the asteroid stone blocked the tube into my bladder (that medical term again) so my kidney was backing up with fluids. The ureter is the tube. Hydronephrosis means pee is backing up in your body because your kidney isn’t happy.

See, you’re reading something and learning at the same time. Don’t you love that? Science is amazing. What would have happened to me before science and medical people?

I would have fucking died.

So, I always figure that all of us knowing more science is better than not.

Plus, you now know that wearing nice underwear to an ER is a smart move.

Suddenly, they said they were going to give me a bed overnight in the hospital. Good. I couldn’t get comfortable in my gurney and the idea of going home was terrifying.

It took two or three hours to get moved in. Hurry up and rush.

Mike pulled the earbud out of his ear during a lull in my pain.

“So, if they gave you a choice between cutting off a finger permanently and not having any pain, would you do it in exchange for this?”

“Oh yeah. In a heartbeat,” I said. “I could relearn how to play the piano with nine fingers.

“How many times have you felt like that in the last couple of days?”

“I’d probably have seven fingers left.”

After that, I got to shaking uncontrollably and Mike called for the nurse. More drugs. I was on my course to becoming a drug dealer yet.

Finally, I moved, I got cozy in my new bed and they switched me to morphine. It was much less like riding a roller coaster in three times gravity than the dilaudid. But don’t they give morphine to patients who are about to die? I didn’t want to die.

I actually slept. Plus, I learned not to wait to long when my pain increased because the call center has to find a nurse and the nurse may have to ask the doctor. That’s what you should know about ERs and hospitals. Don’t wait for pain to become unbearable before you ask for meds.

Don’t wait to ask to be unhooked from all the lines to pee either. Sometimes that takes a little while.

My nurses were wonderful and patient. Should I list them? Nicole, Tatiana, Bobbie, and Emily.

I can tell you that it is the nurses that make a sick person get better in a hospital. They are conduits to care. These nurses were efficient, smart, funny, and totally caring.

In the morning, Wednesday, I actually felt well enough to sit a little upright and write in my notebook. Then, I relaxed and watched part of a movie. A Wrinkle in Time. I loved the beginning. As a dad, Chris Pine said all the right things to his children. But it got interrupted and I went back to sleep whenever I could.

Suddenly, it was time for my urological surgeon to place a stent up into my waterworks. Can we say she drilled some pipe in case that sucker of an asteroid tried to bore through me again. She even wrote her initials on the right side of my belly so she’d operate on the correct kidney. I like that. I have been autographed by the famous urologist. What was her name? Better than having my boobs signed by Howard Stern.

I did so well afterward that they let me go home after I ate something and walked around the floor for a while. I could see mountains out my window and the walk afforded a beautiful view of Tiger mountain.

As soon as I got home, I felt like shit again, not as bad as before though. My kidney is much happier, but girls, it feels like I jammed a tampon up inside me the wrong way and like I have a raging UTI.

In two weeks, I will go back to my wonderful urologist. I remember now. Dr. Kavasseri. I love Dr. Kavasseri.

She’s going in - I picture her like one of the girl ghostbusters- with a camera, a laser, and a fish net to blow up and capture the pieces of my stone. Or maybe she’s more like Bruce Willis in the movie Armageddon, drilling and nuking that asteroid so it can break into two big pieces and pass Earth safely. But he dies in the end of that movie, doesn’t he. I don’t want Dr Kavasseri to die in the end. She needs to live another day so she can drill pipes, blow up asteroids, and pull them out with a fish net for other people with kidney stones like me.

Thank you Dr. Kavasseri.

Thank you for listening, jules