P is for Procedure

(I haven’t been too consistent with this project but I’m really enjoying it. Sorry this post is so long ….)

In the past 3 months I’ve experienced more medical procedures than a gal could ever be expected to go through. Especially a gal who was walking around as one of the healthiest people she knew, until, bam, there goes the appendix, and I’m practically out of commission for six weeks.

When I first went to my doctor complaining of a stomach ache, she ordered blood work and a CT scan. Ok, everyone’s had blood drawn, so that barely counts as a procedure – although even the most expert technicians concede that my veins are extremely tiny and difficult to find, and that they roll a lot. It’s not unusual for me to be poked three or four times before they find the vein.

Then there was the CT scan. Before they do the actual scan, you have to drink this thick chalky liquid. It’s bad enough when you’re feeling half way decent, but when you’re nauseated to begin with, it’s pretty horrid. And then the vein-poking begins. They tell you it’ll feel warm as the contrast liquid goes through you, and that you’ll feel as though you’ve peed in your pants. Trust me: they are not kidding. I’ve now had four CT scans in less than three months. Every time, I thought I’d peed in my pants, but I never did.

Next I had this lovely procedure to drain an abdominal abscess created when my appendix burst. Luckily I’m old enough to have had a colonoscopy, so I wasn’t too freaked out about how they planned to access the abscess. I’ll let you figure it out on your own. And of course that drain had to stay in for a while, so every last drop could come out. Not fun.

I didn’t mention the IV fluids – and, thankfully, pain meds – they started pumping into me pretty much the moment I got to the ER. Seemed like every day they added something new to the pump: antibiotics, potassium, magnesium, liquid nutrition. The IV eventually gave way to a pic line, which basically performs the same function but is placed higher up in your arm. You can leave it in for up to 6 weeks. In my case, a nurse came to my house every day for two weeks to give me IV antibiotics, which took about a half hour to administer. But no more poking.

And then, thanks to all the trauma my body was experiencing, my intestines decided to check out (the medical term is “illeus” although I’m sure my spelling is off), so all my normal bodily secretions were building up in my stomach and making me very bloated. Not to worry, though: there’s a procedure to alleviate that problem. It’s called a GI tube and I was going to say it’s the worst but since then it’s possible I’ve experienced a few things that are even worse. The tube goes up your nose and then down your throat and it pumps all the crap out of your stomach. Enough said.

Along the way I also had a number of fairly bread-and-butter procedures: x-rays, more CT scans, ultrasounds (to check for blood clots, which I was at risk of getting because I was basically bed-bound for 2 weeks).

And then the mother of all procedures: abdominal surgery. Twice. The first one was to correct a blockage in my intestines, and remove whatever was left of my appendix and the abscesses that formed when it burst. The doctors had indicated that they were trying to avoid surgery, and I was getting frustrated because I felt like, if I’m not getting better, why are you delaying surgery? Then I had the surgery. Now I know why they tried to avoid it. Wow. It was like being bowled over by a herd of hippos. I literally could not move for a couple of days, and I was hooked up to all these monitors on the surgical step-down unit. (That’s one step down from intensive care, in case you were wondering how sick I was.) And my intestines were so messed up that I had all these drains sticking out of me, including a colostomy bag, which fortunately was temporary. The temporary part was a double-edged sword: I don’t think I could survive with a permanent one, but removing/reversing it meant a second abdominal surgery.

Since the reversal surgery was, supposedly, somewhat routine, I thought it would be, relatively speaking, a piece of cake. (Which it was for the surgeon, but not for me.) But before the actual surgery I had to have – you guessed it – more procedures. Another CT scan, which I’ve become rather expert at, and another one on the list of procedures to avoid at all costs, a barium enema. I’d really rather not go into any detail about that. If you’ve ever had one you’ll know why.

Finally my last surgery, which was last week. The post-op pain was so much more intense than I expected. I was on double doses of pain killers. (Hospitals are pretty adamant about pain relief these days.) But even with the pain meds I couldn’t move, so they tried to make me pee in a bedpan. That just wasn’t working, so they did  – yup, another procedure. Can you guess? It was a catheter, but only the temporary kind. It really wasn’t so bad, believe it or not.

Because of the nature of the surgery, they left me with an open wound, to reduce the risk of infection. They put the stitches in place but they didn’t actually close the wound, although they did cover it with dressing, which they then need to change after a day or so. (Can you say another procedure?) Then on my last day in the hospital (hopefully for a good long time) they closed the wound. That hurt quite a bit more than I’d expected, and it continues to hurt, although it’s getting better every day. In two days they remove the stitches and my medical saga will come to an end.

P is for Procedure

M is for Moon landing

I was pretty young when Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin landed on the moon. (I guess I should say “the Earth’s moon,” since there are a lot of other moons out there.) My mom made me watch it on tv; she said it was history in the making – not just the fact that two men were actually on the moon, but also the fact that we were able to watch it in real time.

I know I was way to young to understand just how historic it was – I had no sense of history, or science for that matter, at that point in my life. But my mom was pretty smart so I figured she knew what she was talking about. And I’d seen the moon, so I could understand that it was really far away and therefore it was probably a really really big deal to get to it.

I wasn’t too young to know there were starving children in India, though. I was a chubby child as a result of having to clean my plate because of those starving children in India. (“Finish your dinner; there are starving children in India.”) What I couldn’t understand was how the grown-ups could figure out how to get to the moon but they couldn’t figure out how to feed the starving kids in India. But what did I know? I was just a kid. I assumed that when I grew up, I’d understand those kind of grown-up things.

I guess I haven’t grown up yet.

M is for Moon landing

J is for Justice

Thanks to my years as an advocate for the poor (homeless families and low-income senior citizens), I refuse to refer to our legal system as a justice system. The people who get good results in court do so because they have one or more of the following: money, access to well-connected lawyers, and luck.

This lesson was hammered home to me in one of my first cases as a practicing attorney. It was a family law case involving child custody and child support, and I represented the mother. There was also a history of domestic violence. The father … well, I’ll keep my opinion to myself. We basically got what we wanted in the custody matter, but the dad lied through his teeth about his – and his live-in girlfriend’s – financial situation. Plus, he knew someone who worked in the courthouse, who was able to get him a lawyer who, unbeknownst to me at the time, was a dear old friend of the judge. So you can guess who won.

Now, this was a case I had taken pro bono, and the agency that placed the case with me offered to provide a mentor if I wanted to appeal the judge’s order, which I did. However, when I explained the facts to the mentor, he told me it was absolutely futile to appeal, because the appeals court would never reverse this particular judge, especially given who the opposing attorney was. After that conversation, I closed my office door, put my head in my hands, and cried like a baby.

J is for Justice

K is for Kayak

The thing about kayaking is that you can get up close and personal with all manner of aquatic critters. Also, you can explore both surf and turf locales that you couldn’t get to any other way. And, of course, there’s the sheer simplicity of a kayak and the tranquility of gliding through the water in one.

I have had the great fortune of kayaking in some pretty fabulous places. In St. John (one of the US Virgin Islands), we rented kayaks at our campground and got dropped off on the other side of the island, so we only had to kayak with the current, back to the campground. The water was the most luscious  sapphire blue. We paddled alongside sea turtles and of course lots of fish, and we stopped at tiny beaches inaccessible by land. (Well, at least not easily accessible.)

On an altogether different trip, I had the opportunity to go kayaking – twice! – in Antarctica. One beautiful sunny day we were let loose in a protected bay where our only instructions were to stay a certain distance from the icebergs, lest they “calve” (think of an iceberg avalanche) and cause a major wave. But there were no instructions about staying away from leopard seals. My partner and I saw one fairly close to the island we were paddling around. The creature leapt out of the water and grabbed a penguin – obviously not a particularly hale and hearty one. For the next five or ten minutes I was tasked with keeping our boat positioned for maximum viewing of the event, while my partner videotaped the leopard seal eating lunch. I felt like I was in a Mutual of Omaha taping session.

Just a few days later, kayaking below the Antarctic Circle on a snowy gray day, my partner and I were enjoying the view of some  smaller seals (not the giant leopard variety) who were lounging on a small iceberg, when suddenly we saw a whiskered nose pop out of the water about half way between us and the aforementioned iceberg. Just as quickly it disappeared … and then popped up again several yards away. Was it really looking right at us? It disappeared again, and resurfaced again, this time considerably closer to our somewhat flimsy vessel. The next thing we knew, we saw the gentle giant swim right under our kayak. Yes, I admit, I almost had a panic attack, but the whole thing happened so quickly, it was just thrilling.

I’ve also kayaked in the Everglades, the Pine Barrens, Monterrey Bay (with the cutest little otters), and Vancouver – to name a few. I don’t think I’ve ever been bored in a kayak.

K is for Kayak

I is for Iceberg

IMG_0465I didn’t expect to wind up with a collection of photos of icebergs. But in January 2010 my mother and I went on a trip to Antarctica. She had worked as a research chemist and was very much into science, so Antarctica was her idea of a great vacation. She had wanted to go to the bottom of the world for about as long as she’d known that everyday people could go there. She often travelled with friends, because the only travel my dad could tolerate was a trip to the beach, just a few hours down the road. He expressed incredulity that someone would want to spend thousands of dollars to see snow and ice. (He was the type of guy who, in his retirement, would go to three or four grocery stores in a day to take advantage of the specials.) So my mom kept putting off her trip to Antarctica.

Then my dad died and left my mom a lot more money than she expected. Once she got over the shock of his death, she announced that she was going to Antarctica.

IMG_0555By then she’d started showing signs of memory loss, and I was a little concerned about her going on an expedition like that by herself. She was in her late 70s, and none of her friends were particularly interested in such an adventurous trip. But I was. I’d starting thinking I’d ask her to take me with her, when one day she asked if I wanted to join her – on her dime. Naturally I said yes.

It was quite the trip. The company partnered with National Geographic, so it was very education-oriented. There were scientists on board, as well as professional photographers and even a celebrity guest: Buzz Aldrin! And not surprisingly, all of the passengers (only about 100 or so) were pretty interesting folks, and I’ve actually kept in touch with a number of them.

P1000214Our daily activities included hiking on the little islands off the Antarctic peninsula, kayaking in some of the calmer waters, cavorting with penguins (lots and lots of penguins), going out on little dinghies in search of a variety of seals, visiting the Palmer research station and the Port Lockroy historical site and museum, relaxing on the boat and watching the albatross in the air and the whales in the water, and taking pictures … of icebergs. I’ve included a sample in this post. Enjoy.

I is for Iceberg

H is for House

Or is it home? To me, these four stone walls are just a house, a place where I have lived for 15 years. It’s true that when I walk in the front door I totally let my guard down. But I would leave this house in an instant if a better offer came along, like, say, a million dollars.

Not so for Edith Macefield, the woman in Seattle who refused to sell the house she lived in for some 50 years even though she supposedly was offered $1 million for the little house that would probably go for $50,000 anywhere else. Why was the house so valuable? Because commercial development was coming to town. But she wanted to live out the rest of her days in that house, and you know what? She did. She was 84 in 2006 when the developers unsuccessfully tried to buy her out, and she died about two years later, in 2008, at age 86. I guess she showed them.

Apparently she became quite the local celebrity, seen by many as an inspiring a documentary, a biography, a music festival, a cocktail and a tattoo. (Read about it in today’s New York Times.)

The funny thing is, the house is still there, but not for long. It’s up for sale because the current owner seems to have neglected to pay property taxes. Oops. Because current zoning regulations forbid residential use, conventional wisdom has it that the house will be torn down, and there’s talk of doing something with the land to preserve Ms. Macefield’s legacy. Looking at the picture in the Times, it seems like the logical solution would be some kind of green space.

A lot of folks really admire Edith Macefield. It’s not that I don’t – I totally get the desire to stay in the place you’ve called home for 50 years.  The part I don’t get is the desire to call one place home for 50 years.

H is for House

G is for Gougères

Gougères are one of life’s simplest but most intense pleasures. They are nothing more than cheese puffs made with a pastry dough called choux, which is usually used for desserts like profiteroles and eclairs, combined with a top notch cheese, traditionally gruyere. Milk, butter, flour, eggs, salt, cheese: how much more basic can you get? And yet, after a little cooking, a little blending, a little baking, you wind up with something that’s not basic at all, but spectacular and special.

Like everything that’s worth having or doing, gougères require just the right ingredients and just a modicum of skill in the kitchen. They do take a little time, but not so much that you’re stuck in the kitchen all day when you’d rather be in the garden. And gougères have that quality that puts a smile on the faces of all home cooks who love to entertain but who also love to spend time with their guests: you can prepare them in advance, stick them in the freezer, and pop them in the oven when your guests arrive. Half an hour later, toss the little puffs into a nice serving bowl and watch them disappear. No doubt about it, gougères will earn you a place in the appetizer record books.

G is for Gougères