The Quarter-Century

It’s my 25th birthday today…I know I haven’t announced its advent like in years past, but besides it being a turbulent time, website uptime reliability has been nonexistent. Then, after was moved to a data center, the data center caught on fire. My inbox has ceased it’s flooded state of emails screaming that the site is down…I suppose y’all have realized that it would more closely relate to “news” if you told me my website was up, running, and error free.

“Y’all.” Hmph. Thought I had eradicated every bit of Southern from my person.

And, of course, no birthday will ever compare to my last. I’ve been grateful to my recovery the last weeks, as I know the overwhelming fatigue has stayed the pangs of reminiscence, of longing. “Do you feel 25?” they ask…I am forced to reply that I do not, indeed. I feel much older…sluggish…tired…and oh so weary. I worry that my eyes have lost their brightness some days.

They tell me, “Oh, once you finish healing…!” and they just don’t understand…the hyperaging has been raging for a very long time. A very dear friend wrote to me in an email just yesterday, on the subject of finding people who truly understand you (Hi, Anna!), “I think both you and I probably went from puberty to our mid-thirties straight away…”

Thus far, my twenties have been saturated with illness and death, marriage and divorce…and happiness…overwhelmingly, with happiness. I am awed that life can be so rife with joy after so much pain, through so much pain, in spite of so much pain and perhaps because of so much pain. I’ve caught myself groaning that I hope better tidings for the next 25 years, but when I surmise of just what that means, I am uncertain. How could life improve for a person who is able to love so freely, embrace so uninhibitedly, and smile so easily?

I’ve retained the parts of myself worth keeping in the last years. I had dinner with Debbie and Brenda last night…Debbie asked for my menu of choice and unabatedly I replied, “Seafood Alfredo, steamed asparagus, fresh-sliced tomato…and homemade apple pie.” And it was worth every morsel. This morning, Nick caressed my ears with the birthday song just as we woke, pampered me with gifts, and had me smiling from ear to ear…no simple feat for a girl who dreads the start of the day so wholly.

I’m still the luckiest person I know…I have friends in this life and the next, and I am well-protected in their affection. The last 25 have been difficult…the next 25 will be difficult…and the love will continue to cascade about.

Self? Happy Birthday.

Little Amber Bottles

We’re quite used to them lining up like little soldiers across the kitchen counter, bedside table, and occasionally, in a wounded heap next to my stupored form rumpled about the couch. I’m the resident druggie…this must be a shock to Nick, who professed undyingly in January that he never gets sick…ever. In fact, when asked, he was able to name neither his medical clinic nor his physician. Must be frigging nice.

My over-the-counter sleep aids live in the drawer next to Nick’s pillow, and my vitamins in the cupboard next to the salad plates. The Titan-sized bottles of Ibuprofen and Tylenol suck it in to fit next to the “rocks glasses” (as I’ve been instructed they are to be called), and the stomach remedies, which I hopefully won’t need any longer, are tucked away serenely beneath the bathroom vanity. The prescribed medications kind of flirt about the place, buddying up with this array of dosing or that.

The wussy antihistamine I’m taking is more of an act of “at least I’m doing something” and stays with the vitamins that I take shortly after greeting the day. The sleep aid prescribed to me in April finds it homey enough within the confines of my jewelry armoire…and the painkillers rub elbows with the notepads, post-it notes, pens, menus, bills, spare keys, batteries, and whatever else migrates to the “everything drawer”. C’mon, we all have one…just admit it.

Once empty, naturally, a shutterbug such as myself finds them as fodder for photos. And, once empty, I know it’s only a matter of time before a Walgreen’s pharmacist is asking in conclusion, “Do you have any questions regarding this medication?” I have the genes of the Gods, I tell you! I’m used to being a druggie…I’m used to living with druggies. Growing up, we dedicated an entire breadbox to our collection of medications. We kept it in the central nervous system of the house—the kitchen…not to be confused with the 3-door bathroom cabinet. One learned early on to use caution when opening any of those shiny, mirrored doors…you never knew when the next bottle of saline solution, bacitracin ointment, or calamine lotion would take it’s revenge on the cramped living quarters by launching itself in propulsion toward your very head.

My aunts have a drug drawer in their kitchen…an actual drawer dedicated to the dosing and administering of supplements, vitamins, prescriptions, and narcotics over the counter remedies. To waylay the head-launching of my childhood home, they’ve designated a cupboard as drug overflow. I feel like we’re all a version of Rudy from The Cosby Show…but instead of cheering “King me! King me! King me!” we’re growling “Pill Me! Pill Me! Pill Me!” while clenching the medical professional’s collar and holding their person but inches away from our rabid mentalities. You must understand that we’ve had a long haul of going to the doctor, misdiagnosises, and, thus, ineffective solutions to what ails. The patience tends to run a bit thin at times…and you’re just so gosh darn sick of being sick!

But back to me and my personal assortment of substance use—I’m sure Nick isn’t used to this surplus of chemical engineering that we of my bloodline find ourselves forced to initiate. When I find a way to absorb his knack for good health as swimmingly as I have his knack for leaving his shoes everywhere, we’ll be able to expel the yellow-brown vermin from our nooks, crannies, and everything-drawers. Until then, I hear that Rx bottles make for very pleasant conversationalists, or, leastwise, an over-drugged psycho’s blog-material.

The Blessings of Barb, Kathy, and Carol

Ah, my girls. I love them so.

And, incidentally, the best physician’s assistant, nurse, and x-ray technician a person could ever hope to have in charge of their health care.

I was there again today, my clinic. You know you’ve been there way too often when you clear the threshold and the receptionists both greet you by name and ask about that sweet boyfriend of mine—you know, the one who changes my dressings. They can never remember his name but they think he’s just the peachiest guy in town.

A rash. A big, ugly, itchy rash. I reported it earlier in the week to the staff in charge of my butt issues over at the University Hospital—the non-plan-provider staff—via phone. At the time it was only a warm, rosy patch at the base of my neck and they suggested it was a fever rash…completely harmless. I’ve been in much pain and come THIS close to breaking into the Vicodin many a night. I stopped taking prescription pain killers the day after I was released from the hospital because I feared addiction…so, as Nick pointed out, we’ve got enough Vics to kill someone and perhaps we should look into an eBay account. Contact me if you want to make an offer. The marketing potential completely slipped my mind.

So, with as much discomfort as I’ve had, I considered a blood rash to be feasible as well…all of the muscle cramping and chaser-straining will do that to you. But today…today it was unbearable. It was raised and itchy, and I came to terms with the fact that for the first time ever, I had broken out in hives. My forearms joined the party, and my upper thighs look to be coming around as well.

Quite used to seeing EOB’s and bills filter through my mail, I went ahead and called my clinic, which is now programed into my cell phone. Jason, Wisconsin Jason, not North Carolina Jason, has his doctor’s number programmed into his phone, and I once spent an entire evening with Sarah laughing over the silliness of such a thing. Marinaded with a touch of fresh cilantro, crow doesn’t taste so bad…if you find yourself eating it enough, you might find the flavor grows on you…or, you don’t gag as much anyhow.

So I get a 2:45 slot with Barb, the woman who calls me a couple times a week JUST to see how I am feeling that day…health care professionals genuinely concerned with your health! Magical! I walked through the front door with two objectives in mind. (A) To swipe a box of gloves for Nick’s dressing-changing needs (and whatever else he finds himself needing latex gloves for I guess) as the variety off the shelf don’t seem as good as those we made out with from the hospital. (B) To get rid of the itchy ugliness on my arms, chest, and legs!

So Kathy, Barb’s nurse, calls me back almost as soon as I’m checked in. She takes down all of my information and we chit-chat about what’s happened since we saw each other…last Friday. Kathy calls to see how I’m doing as well…such caring people. I’m in very loving hands. She grabs me a box of gloves—PURPLE! She tells me Barb will be in shortly…

…and so she was. Barb grimaced when I exposed myself my chest, and asked the standard line of questions—any new soap/laundry detergent/perfume? No…I’m a creature of habit. I haven’t changed soap away from Dove in years, not since I stopped making my own. I am a Tide girl all the way…and perfume? Make mine Crabtree & Evelyn. Though, I am rather proud of a recent change I’ve made in my hair care…gone are Herbal Essences after a ten year stint and newly arrived are the Therappe line from Nexxus…so lovely.

Then, back to the rash now, came the smoking gun. The Augmentin they flooded me with first intravenously and then a twice-a-day-horse-pill week-long regiment. I guess it’s a butt-kicking, bacteria-killing machine from the penicillin family, and it kindled an allergic reaction. Icky. So Barb prescribes three drugs…two pills and a cream. But, I get to the pharmacy to find she’s cancelled the Prednisone. Why? It messes with the body’s response to inflammation…great for treating a rash! Baaaad for someone who’s got an extra cavity on her person that she wants to close up again one day. So Barb calls, explaining this, instructing that I come back next week if the other drug isn’t enough to make the hives go bye-bye.

Barb and I talk more about everything I’ve learned about my messed up genetics in the last month. I tell her about my aunts’ health, and she becomes teary eyed and asks that I keep her up to date on all of them. She agrees that if it is so that I am unable to have children, maybe it’s for the best…maybe these genes don’t deserve another generation to mutate. Just maybe.

I go to leave and Kathy calls to me. “Carol wants to see you! Don’t go yet!” She yanks my arm toward the hall and I come face to face with the woman who made me cry with sentiment at memories of Mom, who drove me personally to Meriter Hospital for a last-minute MRI that Kathy called all around the area to obtain. Carol knows how to hug and I found myself biting my tongue as I said goodbye, for “I love you,” just about slipped out…to a woman I barely know.

And yet I do, I do know Carol. There’s something warm in her eyes, and I find myself wanting to wrap myself in it and wait out the storm. I always teased my mother for loving hospitals so…I hated my stay a few weeks ago. But, I love going to my clinic…I love seeing my care providers…I love feeling like my concerns are considered, like my voice is heard. I love that I feel as though I matter.

How many people can say that?

And, seriously, if you’re interested in those Vics….

In a reflective mood

I found myself returning to the hospital today to have last minute paperwork completed by my health care providers there. These last minute finicky details have had me grumbling, wishing back my small company of a few months ago…they didn’t have nearly so many checkpoints such as these…but then I look at the twenty-one grand-bill my butt has charged and remember that there are perks to those large companies that provide kick-ass benefits.

Dad took me there to the hospital…I cannot drive, really. Stupid place for a boo-boo. It’s hard returning to the UW for these things…that was Mom’s hospital. That’s the Cancer hospital. With my chosen HMO, I should be going to St. Mary’s…but my doctor still feels I need Cancer experts working on my case. I’m scared out of my wits.

I received my packet from the geneticist the other day. My oncological surgeon made certain to refer me to the very same geneticist who reviewed Mom’s case in 2004. Brenda kept a file of all their 2004 findings, and reviewing them yesterday, found the odds of Mom’s illness recurring among her family members to be 1,000,000 to 1. Yet, my doctor tells me she’s no longer willing to believe what they know. Nick thinks I ought to take up gambling…the odds looking to be in my favor and all.

Not that life comes with guarantees or anything, but it would be so lovely to receive a clean bill of health…to know that the ache of recovery is leading somewhere pain free. My grandmother is in the hospital right now…a UTI that’s spread to her kidneys and who knows where else. She keeps falling…Dad’s talking assisted living. Great…the badness of luck has spread to the other side of the family…woo! Aunt Debbie says come New Year’s Eve, she’s going to guzzle a whole bottle of Asti and celebrate the end of the worst year on record.

My grandmother feeds on drama, she love people calling her hospital room and visiting her…feeling sorry for her. I happen to be the opposite…the less people who see me at less than 100%, the better. I don’t want phone calls while I’m in pain…I don’t want to make small talk when it hurts…I don’t want people to visit because whether I’m up to the task or not, I’ll put on the exhausting face of nonchalance and good health.

I get that from Mom…that booger. I’ve always been proud that I inherited my mother’s softness, sweetness, and love of expression…but I got the other junk too. Thanks a lot, Mother. That trait of hers that irritated me so…she never let people know how badly she felt, and they never knew how rapidly the disease was spreading. Her sister saw her in early January, and chided us for leading her to believe that Mom was dying and soon. She was angry at our urgent call for a final visit—she thought we were being overly dramatic. Mom passed away two and a half weeks later.

Dad and I discussed this earlier today, and he put me in my place as only a parent can do. “That was your mother,” he said, agreeing she was both bullheaded and heroic up until the very end. He agreed that he, too, was very afraid where my road of health care was headed. But he reminded me of time’s cruelty, too. “She didn’t want to meet Nick until she was better, remember? She was determined she was going to pull through, and she didn’t want him to see her down…it’s sad that he never got to really know her.” Yes, and it will always be one of those great regrets…that I didn’t force the meeting…I guess a part of me wanted to believe she was going to pull through, too.

For a person who doesn’t believe in regrets, I seem to be swimming in a lot of them lately. I found an old email from Mom last week:

It is Sunday night and I am home alone. I just got home from Debra and Brenda’s. We had a nice birthday dinner for Debbie. I was just looking at websites to hats/scarves. Go to see if there are any there that you like. I don’t quite know what to do – get a wig (seems like a pain), get a hat or two or get scarf, or go without anything. Isn’t it funny how we worry about how we look so much. I should be ashamed. But, I’m too busy being scared right now to be ashamed.

I love you so much…and I miss you. The house feels emptier with you back in North Carolina…come home again soon, ok? I need my best friend.

And I’m led to wonder why I ever moved away. My dear friend, Sarah, once cheered to me, “I am so happy for you…this is the only thing you’ve ever done JUST for you!” And years later, I feel like the most ungrateful, selfish child who ever graced this life. I didn’t know that after I moved away the fairy tale would be irrevocably broken. My time in NC enriched me personally—I fulfilled a lifelong dream of escaping Wisconsin and Winter, after all—but it wasn’t until I left that the ache for the Midwest began to take hold of my heart. I had three years of feeling completely homeless, yet my patience (read: stubbornness) prevented me from returning to my home state sooner. Was I wrong? Did I know what I had before I left? Damn that hindsight being 20/20!

I’m a big believer of the “bigger plan” theory…everything does happen for a reason, even if we’re too small to understand why. It drives my loved ones bonkers, but it keeps me going. So many now, so many intimate with the details of my bad luck chain of events, have suggested that something big and great is coming my way, and I’ve needed a couple years of misfortune to appreciate whatever it may be. I remember Nick talking to my pastor during Mom’s visitation…saying how bad he felt that really my mother’s impending death is what enabled him to come to know me. Her illness caused me to leave NC, added to why Miles left, and left me needing a shoulder…I was blessed to find so much more. Pastor Doug creased his eyes and mumbled, “God has a plan…”

You kind of need to shake the world up, like a gigantic snow globe…turn it upside down, then right side up…only then does it look as it should…I’m ready to be righted—and I don’t know about you, but I’m getting awfully dizzy with all of this shaking going on.

Why Nick isn’t to be trusted with my camera phone.

So, your girlfriend is taken to the hospital because they’ve determined she has a presacral tumor…they perform a somewhat rushed surgery to drain a rectal abscess of 50 ounces of fluid from a monster infection of this tumor (that they still have to track down and eliminate).

She’s trying desperately to regain her strength and youthfulness, and lifts a balance ball behind her to gently strengthen her triceps—she has, you must understand, come to depend on her arms for a lot of her maneuverability…when the lower half ain’t workin’…well, you get the picture. The body compensates.

Now, a good boyfriend in this position—and granted, Nick is the best nurse around, and he’s been bending his schedule more impressively than a contortionist to fit my needs…but still—would applaud her efforts toward recovery…encourage, cheer, and even celebrate. Nick, on the other hand, captures an innocent moment wherein it appears as though she is pulling a giant growth from her butt.

Good God, I feel attractive.