Author of Breasts Don't Lie

Archive for the ‘surgery’ Category

Bad Hair Days

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I’ve had a two-year run of bad luck. Not horrific big bad luck but the kind of luck that wears away at you. I am the pebble in the middle of the roaring river eroding away into a mass of crankiness.

First there is my damnable car. Never ever buy a Fiat. Italian design does not make up for bad wiring and Hendricks Service Center. These people are incompetent. While the car does not meet the legal definition for a lemon, it makes my mouth pucker. I am on first name basis with a representative of Fiat who must regularly scour the FaceBook pages of all things Fiat for my posts.

“Emily, it’s me again.”

“Uh what’s the car doing?”

“Well, the engine shut off and I had it towed to Hendricks Fiat.”

An hour later, Emily called back. “They can’t find your car at Hendricks.”

She’s a nice young thing. I can hear her cringe over the phone when we talk. I don’t curse or yell but I am ready to drive the thing, I refuse to call it a car – that’s giving it too much credit, over a cliff.

Second, I have had a series of painful operations and medical procedures for the last eighteen months. I am not a ‘nice’ patient being the type who does extensive research beforehand. When I don’t understand something about my care, I ask for an explanation, throwing doctors’ schedules off. I will go and cry in a doctor’s waiting room alarming other patients if they ignore me. More effectively, I will write the NC Medical Board and call the insurance company when I receive substandard care. Probably wouldn’t want me as a patient either.

But the straw that broke the camel’s back, my back, was last week when my hair started falling out from all the stress. Really folks, I have chunks of hair saying ‘bye-bye’ to my scalp to clog my sink. I have learned to use a plumber’s snake. Fudsicles or other words. I’ve never had great hair except for 1998 and the first four months of this year. And today I am getting it cut off. Again.Whine, whine, whine.

This is sucky. I am in the pits except … I have friends. Wonderful crazy ass friends who commiserate and then don’t.

Friends who take me to the Angus Barn when I have two black eyes and a beard of bruises on my face. Parents covered their children’s faces as I approached. A 40ish man fell off his bar stool after one look at me. Not my problem.  I asked the waitress, “Do you have anything soft to eat?” It’s a steak and ribs place. “Can I have a straw for my Chardonnay?” My friends kept talking between my slurps of mashed potatoes and sips of wine. I guess he made it back on the bar stool. I felt Medusa powerful.

Friends who love me no matter how silly and self-indulgent I am, for a little while. Friends who care take.

“Take your painkillers.”

“No I can tough it out.”

“Take them now you’re being a pain in the ass.”

I have the ability to work, not as much or as thoughtfully as I would like but still work. I found a voice, my medicated voice sort of like Freud or Sherlock Holmes. Ergo, a 430-page manuscript full of sex and violence written last year titled “50 Shades of Meow” meets “The Mummy.”

I have a sister who talks to me. Really. Lots of families don’t talk. We don’t agree on a lot but we are connected to each other.

I have a body that I am sure somehow, someday, will become pain-free and mobile again. Soon. Maybe not in the way or to the degree I wanted but good enough.

I had the opportunity to love something, dancing tango, for years with an obsession that was quite obsessive. Did you want to know about my collection of matching satin shoes and handbags for each of my tango dresses? No I didn’t think so. I learned there is an arc for loves, things, and events in this life. I am learning to let go.

Bad luck. I wouldn’t wish it on you but if you have a streak of it, you’ll reach deep down to find a way through and that I wouldn’t give up for all the good luck in the world. Bad luck taught me to know myself.  Count the blessings of friends. Laugh at myself. Stand up for myself. Love myself in all my crankiness. I don’t wish it for you but give me a call if it happens to you. I’ll listen to you whine then kick your ass into gear.

Off to get a really short haircut.

NSFW: Middle-Age Surrealism

steps26   Post-surgeries life has been painful, funny, crazy, and just plain odd. I am not sure whether or not to look at it too closely.

Last week, I was sitting with a friend at dinner. As usual, my right foot, post four or five surgeries, was propped on a stool. My skirt was hiked to waist level. In an attempt at modesty definitely not fashion I have taken to wearing leggings under my skirts.

“Fuck,” I said.

“Fuck what?” said my dinner companion.

“Life is just plain weird.”

“Well yes,” he said. “Did you expect it to be any different?”

That’s a good point. Definitely I did not expect it to be like this. Really not expecting anything like this. I started to cry then hiccupped into a laugh and decided to finish my meal.

The night got weirder.

After the meal, I limped upstairs to get something. Can’t remember what – the pain medications short circuit memory. CRS syndrome.

Standing at the top of the stairs, holding the who-knows-what, I realized that I couldn’t make it down.

“Hey, I need some help up here,” I said loudly, really almost yelling. My friend’s a tad deaf in one ear.

He made it up the stairs. Slowly.

“Why are you creeping?” I asked.

“Bad knee,” he said.

“If you have a bad knee and I have a bad foot, how do we get down?”

We looked down the stairs; many rungs slamming into a wall then a sharp turn to the left. Yep, we did not think this through …

“Kind of glad I had them put the best grade padding under the carpet,” I said.

We giggled. I climbed on his back. We made it three rungs before he made a loud OOF and I struggled off as his knee buckled.

“Okay then. Plan B,” I said.

“Plan B?” he asked. “You got a Plan B?”

“Can you drag me by the feet, my good foot, if I lay on the stairs?”

“I could try. Let me rest my knee,” he said.

We sat, talked before he hobbled down three steps (now he was midway), grabbed the ankle of my left (good, non-surgery impaired) foot, and pulled me down two rungs. My head bounced off each step, eyes rolling back in my head.

“Stop,” I yelled, my eyes trying to focus. Stars circled my head just like in the cartoons.

“Huh?” he said braced against a wall but still holding my ankle.

“I have a concussion or at least a headache,” I said in a small voice.

“Sorry,” said my friend, dropping my ankle (which bounced) to hold his knee with one hand and the wall with the other hand. He lowered himself next to me. Bad knee out straight.

This was a conundrum. Neither of us could get down the steps. A goodly number of steps to go. Unexpectedly we were looking at Plan C.

“You do have a Plan C?” he asked.

“What exactly would be a Plan C?”

We sat on the stair pondering a Plan C, gathering our strength, and letting the pains ease. It got dark. Like nighttime dark. Still not ready. When the cat passed us on the stairs, we knew it was time to act.

“No one told me middle-age would be like this,” I said.

My friend nodded. His face solemn but twitching with a smile. So one at a time, we slid down the stairs on our butts.

“I need wine,” I said.

“Bourbon,” he said. With the help of furniture, a few rest breaks, and the goal of body-numbing alcohols, we made it through the living room to the refreshments.

“That was definitely freakish,” I said feeling the egg growing on the back of my head.

“And bizarre,” he said rubbing his rapidly swelling knee.

“Funny in a surreal way,” I said pulling bits of carpet out of my leggings and wondering where the who-knows-what was. The cat meowed her agreement.

“Bloody hell, where’s the toilet paper?”

Both of us turned to look at the stairwell.

Truthfully, on bad days, I wish my foot surgeon many – at least four – intrusive surgeries by new interns, in a teaching hospital, so he can learn empathy. On good days, I am reminded not to take simple things like going up and down steps for granted. To throw out the expectations so I can enjoy life’s surrealism.

Painful Humility

September has been a bad time coming off six months of painkillers. I have headaches, slurred speech, memory problems, weight gain, and general crabbiness. But I have clarity about human fragility.

I admit I am spectacularly judgmental about drug abuse. My mom was a horrible drug abuser and I am terrified of getting addicted. I always said I would never use drugs.

Pain wasn’t too bad until the nerve blocks wore off three days after the each of the initial surgeries in March. EEK. I thought my body was on fire and I would have done anything, well almost anything, to put it out.

The Friday after my arm surgery, in my surgeon’s building, I pleaded for painkillers. The staff was wide-eyed and scared. At one point I was sitting on the waiting room floor, sobbing, covered in body fluids, unable to see beyond my immediate painful reality. A patient handed me a box of Kleenex. An hour later, an unspecified person gave me a prescription for a strong morphine-type drug.

The pharmacist at my neighborhood drug store talked to me about having someone stay with me or at the least, check on me while taking the medication. I nodded at her. Unthinking. Wanting her to scream at her to go away so I could speed home and take the drug. Unable to see any future beyond the agony of that moment. A neighbor came over every two hours and checked on me throughout the weekend. Thank you neighbor. I hope I was civil to you.

Truthfully, I asked her to check on me because I was scared. Scared witless that the doctors would find out and take away my medication. I didn’t care about waking up as long as the opiates made the pain go away.

After about a week, when I could sit upright, I realized I would never go to the bathroom again until I stopped taking the opiates. That was my bottom. So I went off them. Coming off was a very lousy three days. I watched a lot of stupid TV, serial killer shows and sitcoms, but not movies. I could not concentrate on a feature length film. I itched all over. I ate many bags of corn chips and drank a lot of tea. I hate corn chips and tea. Corn chips taste like pasteboard. Tea tastes like my idea of embalming fluid.

During those shitty seventy-two hours, I reassessed my judgments about addiction. Forgave my mom a little more. Was humbled by how easy, how seductive, and how compromising it was and is to get hooked on a painkiller. Imagined ingenious ways to get back at my surgeons.

But chronic pain set in after another series of bloody painful procedures and in office surgeries. I spent the next four months on non-opiate painkiller medications. I am almost off these medications. Tapering off these medications has been another lesson in patience and in compassion for anyone trying to deal with pain. Starting with myself.

When I have more distance from non-opiate painkiller withdrawal, I’ll tell you about it.

I keep hearing my teachers say, “All behavior was productive at one point.” I wish I could have been more understanding with my mother.

Throwing Down the Gauntlet

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My body has thrown down the gauntlet. My thighs, hips and tummy are challenging me to grow up. I am fighting it the entire way.

I am pretty lucky. Through my teens and twenties, when I gained weight, the fat cells, like little mounds of dimpled orange skin, distributed themselves evenly over my body. I was pretty happy with my body. Okay dokey.

Hah. Until I hit 30. Then the dimples hit the fan. The fan directed them to my thighs.

“What the hell is this?” I said.

“Ah aging,” said my husband.

“No but it wasn’t there yesterday … “

“Yeah it was. Get over it. Let’s get brunch,” said my good chunk younger husband.

Still my butt was a rounded curve. My tummy was flat and firm – a six-pack when I was working out regularly.

Then I hit 40. My ass fell. Where did it go? It fell downward. Gravity took a bite. I asked an anesthesiologist for plastic surgeons about my flat butt. He looked at me.

“Not too bad. You’ve lost too much fat.”

“Huh?” I said. “I weigh the same as I did in high school.”

“You lost the fat pad at the top of your hips that keeps your butt high,” he said.

Good grief. Now I need a certain amount of fat to keep my butt in place. This is a bad joke.

I made peace with my thighs and butt. I decided ‘body peace’ beat becoming a gym bunny, perpetually obsessed with how I looked and unable to eat a Starbuck’s Morning Bun.

In my 50s, teaching 6 to 12 yoga classes a week kept me too busy to ruminate about my changing body. I would say to myself, “I am strong. My body is strong.” I learned to love my body. There’s nothing quite like wearing yoga clothes four or five times a week to get comfortable, even oblivious, to fat. I learned to love the different body shapes of the women and men in my classes.

Bodies became fantastic objects – I know we hate that word but the changes to my body feel less and more personal now. Bodies are capable of beautiful movements, showing our feelings, receiving information, and exchanging pleasure.

Two surgeries, four debridements, thirteen types of painkillers, and five months of antibiotics later, I am six months into a period of enforced rest with a prescription for minimal movement and medications that trigger sugar cravings. I have gained weight on my thighs, ass, and tummy. I have a fluffy tummy. Not flat. To add insult to injury, I have wavy arms. Ick. I had to reassess my self-concept.

“Crap,” I said to a friend.

“Crap yourself. You’re healing from the surgeries. Make peace with your body,” she said with an “I’m-not-putting-up-with-this” attitude.

We were perusing the Spanx aisle of the department store. “Aren’t these just light weight girdles?”

“Yep. I remember them from my teens,” she said.

“Holy crap. I remember my mom trying to get me to wear one. Fuck. I felt like a sausage with stuffing come out each end.”

“Well that sounds uncomfortable. Don’t buy one,” she said.

She’s so smart.

So I didn’t buy the Spanx girdle and the funny thing is, yesterday I picked up my body’s gauntlet.

As long as I am living, I will need to have a relationship with my tummy, hips, thighs, and arms – my body. In whatever shape they are. With however much I am fat or not fat. Dimpled thighs, flattened butt, fluffy tummy, and wavy arms, my whole body with its increase in fat, fat cells, cellulite, is mine. I own my shape.

You out there – I’m tossing you the gauntlet …

Love Is What We Need

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This year has taught me lessons in humility and acceptance.

During this year’s multiple surgeries and procedures, people have gone out of their way to be kind to me.

A person arranged to have my yoga class bring me dinner, sent me notes, dropped by to check on me. What a lovely heart!

I love the person who sent me a Moon Pie for being “wonderful.” Love, love, love her.

Friends have commiserated with me, transported me to and from surgeries and appointments, laughed with me at my crazy outfits as I navigated an arm cast and surgical shoe, and picked me up when I fell over.

People have called to check on me throughout this time. You are my lifelines and I promise to pass this on to other people.

People have stuck by me during the goofiness of my painkiller months. The months were I had to take painkillers to make it through the day – rescheduling clients, putting off reports, and being unable to find names or words. Some days I forgot to shower … oops.

I gave my best reading of my work after falling asleep on a friend’s shoulder. Waking with a start, I stumbled up to the podium, and kind of ad-libbed my way through the piece – but with uncharacteristic animation. Thank you for the applause.

One friend said to forget the written word and just speak from the heart; I was entertaining enough. What a giggle. I’m a card-carrying introvert.

The only comment on my ten-pound weight gain has been, “It fills you out.” Yeah, okay.

The friends who tell me to “Go home, you’re in too much pain” when I limp into the coffee shop have been my tough love and caring ethics committee.

You taught me to take life as it comes and do what I can. Even if it meant sitting upfront at an art opening of my stories matched to images, plotched on Gabapentin and Trammadol, effusively saying, “Welcome to Litmus Gallery. Snacks and wine are in the back.” You came up front to check on me, told me jokes, and repositioned me on the stool when I started to slide off.

It was crazy-feeling for me – I couldn’t imagine how trying it must have been for you. You have come through for me. I am overwhelmed by your sweetness. Thank you.

I could not have survived the carelessness of the medical community without you: the surgeon and wound care specialist have never said how difficult this must be for me after almost six months of digging around in my foot with a scalpel; nurses who did not pass on my requests for pain relief; and doctors who told me not to cry.

I would have ended up in jail without your steadying influence dealing with the clueless: the bloody assholes who use handicapped parking slots for their convenience; people who walk so fast I can’t keep up; and friends who break their promises to help. I know this isn’t personal. This is their stuff.

Good lessons, painful lessons. The lessons keep rolling in. Thank you Universe but I am done. No more. Let’s get on with the living.

I guess I already am.

Handicapped Parking, Coffee, and Spam

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I have been going to my coffee shop for 19 years. The same shop, same people, same coffee for 19 years. Through rain and shine, snow and black ice, writing my doctoral dissertation, mourning the loss of my husband, a breast cancer scare, unfulfilled engagements and the last set of surgeries, it has been the constant – the place I go to start my day with people I have history with and love deeply.

At my coffee shop, I learn about important cultural icons, like Spam.

“There’s a sale of Spam at the Piggly Wiggly. What exactly is Spam?” I had asked in the first year.

There were a few gasps among the coffee slurpers.

“It’s kind of like bologna.”

“Have you ever had bologna?”

“No. What’s bologna?” I asked.

“Bits.”

“Bits of what?”

“Oh, sometimes, meat.”

“I think they add filler,”

“They add oatmeal and blood, like to haggis in Scotland?” I asked.

“Not really, more like fat, noses, lips, feet, ears.”

“That’s revolting.”

“Haven’t you had a fried bologna sandwich?”

“Spam is very popular in Hawaii.”

“Why Hawaii?”

“We’re not in Hawaii.”

“Does this look like Hawaii to you?” I asked.

“Not really. Nope. Not even if you squint.”

“Maybe they’re brewing Kona. Kona is imported from Hawaii.”

“Will they add Spam to the Kona?”

“Has everyone taken their ADD medicine today? Please check your pill boxes … now!” The group laughed and settled down to enjoy their coffee.

“Will some one please tell me what the hell Spam is?”

“A noun with a dangling participle?”

“Hawaii’s bologna.”

“Bologna is Spam moving at the speed of light.”

We pondered that for a while.

“Bologna flattens out and then Spam can feed many hungry people.”

“Maybe there are a lot of hungry people in Hawaii. Subs or hoagies for lunch?”

These interactions are why I love my coffee shop friends but last week, the coffee shop let me down in a big way.

As some of you know, I have not had a great spring or summer dealing with a muscle reattachment surgery (went well after some painful weeks) and multiple foot surgeries, debridement procedures (think excruciating surgery without anesthesia), and infections. In the morning, I can barely walk. I hobble; yes hobble, to my coffee shop. Sometimes in an enormous, clumsy surgical shoe. Around 11 am my foot starts to feel okay (the painkillers kick in) but until then, I am in some pretty significant pain.

My coffee shop friends have helped me get through it. They talk to me, buck me up when I am blue, celebrate the little victories (never, ever going back to that surgeon – he’s a schmuck) and I do the same for them.

But it is predicated on being to get to the coffee shop. For that, I have a Handicapped-parking sticker. It took a lot of guts to get this – I have prided myself on being self-sufficient. I cry each time I have to renew it thinking my independence is slipping away.

Last week, the Handicap parking spaces were full. I had to limp, tears in my eyes, from a space about 200 yards away to the coffee shop backdoor. In one of the Handicapped-parking spaces, a man get out of his SUV taxi, no Handicap sticker front or back on his car, and walked around the building. I shuffled in, sat down with my friends, and saw the man lit a cigarette while watching the traffic through the shop’s front window. Feeling nauseous with pain and unable to focus enough to do more than sip a coffee, I decided it was the establishment’s job to deal with the illegal activity.

At this point, I told the manager of the coffee shop about the situation. She nodded and went back to work. The man came into the coffee shop and bought some coffee. The SUV was still parked in the Handicap space when I left. For half an hour, the manager had not made any attempt to check out the situation or handle my concern.

I have to think about this. This coffee shop is an important social gathering place in my life but it doesn’t appear to value me as a customer.

The take-away:

1) Do not park in a Handicapped-parking space unless you have a reason and a sticker. I spent an hour at the DMV on two different occasions getting a bloody Handicapped-parking sticker (standing – on my bad foot – the DMV does not let you sit down). The ability to park nearby is the difference between whether I go to a place or go somewhere else. And I need my coffee and coffee friends.

2) If someone tells you they need help, what I did with the coffee shop manager, then help him or her, contact someone who can, or tell them you can’t help them. Pay them the respect of being honest.

3) Don’t get between me and my coffee or me and my friends. Ever. I have three surgical boots and I’m not afraid to kick you with one.

Off to get my latte, among friends but minus the Spam, and talk to the coffee shop management.

Words of Thanks

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First thing, I wanted to say thank you for all the lovely personal responses to my last blog. It was frighteningly vulnerable to write such a very personal narrative of what happened the night of Rod’s death.

Each communication – the comments, the personal emails, the phone calls, and the precious spoken words – means so very much to me (even the hate mail). The responses allowed me to put the event in perspective.

This blog will get back to normal (funny, goofy, snarky, honest, at times educational) within a month. I have been out of communication as I slog through medical problems. So far I have gone through a dental procedure and a foot surgery. The last surgery is on Monday to repair my arm. It is quite a tickle – I will look like the mummy – appropriate to the book I am writing about ancient Egypt.

I wanted to acknowledge your support through these last two weeks. People have driven me to the surgeries, spent time with me, advocated for me in the processes, and watched stupendously bad, sometimes just plain stupid TV or movies with me. You have bolstered my spirits when I wanted to cry in frustration. You have understood my grumpiness. You have held me when I cried. You have cut me some slack.

People have sent me emails, phoned, and texted without expecting a return communication. I can barely type or write or hold the phone.

Thank you to the members of my yoga classes who have signed up to bring me food. I look forward to being back with you, nourishing you in my way. I miss laughing with you as we pick ourselves up after falling down.

Big hug to every one of you! You confirmed my faith in people and community in a time when the world is a painful place and so is my body.

No matter what else happens in my life, this opportunity to create community will be my greatest accomplishment. Thank you.

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