Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Recovery



For those of you who are less than super-tech-savvy, I often include links to more information on certain topics in my posts. When a word or a phrase is in purplish-blue instead of black, that indicates a link (which you can click on) to read more information about the subject of that word or phrase. 🙂


If you haven't read my previous post, you might not know that I've been putting up with a tiny bit of illness since mid-November.

I'm better now. Much better. A week ago I saw Stephanie, a Physical Therapist at Kaiser Redlands (who is terrific, by the way—kind, patient, empathetic and a great teacher). She did some evaluation, told me she suspected I have Cervicogenic Dizziness, and gave me some exercises that are classified as Vestibular Therapy to unlock the stiffness in my neck (which I will discuss further in a sec—keep reading because that's the human interest part).

It was a lot to take in, but I will tell you I was literally sitting on the edge of my chair as I listened to her, and I was so relieved when she said, "Oh yeah, I think we can relieve your symptoms" that I had to will myself not to start crying. ("Focus, Kay, focus," said the rational part of my brain.) Even as she demonstrated and had me do the exercises, I began to feel a bit of relief from the constant wooziness. Now, one week later, I am immensely improved—so much so that I think after another few weeks of doing the exercises I will feel better than I have in years in terms of the chronic neck pain I've had forever. (Well, not literally "forever," but you know what I mean. I haven't even been alive for "forever." Kinda feels like it sometimes, though.)

Two funny bits to share (and this is where the human interest part comes in):

My crush in the sixth grade was Ricky Smith. He liked me, too, and he came over to the house a few times, took me square dancing and gave me a St. Christopher medallion. After school one day, he mentioned that I should relax more, telling me, "You walk around school with your shoulders all hunched up." Oh my Buddha! How embarrassing that he noticed! Yet... how true. At eleven years old, I had already experienced enough in life to keep me in a state of constant cringing. So add all that neck tension to the injuries I sustained to my head and neck around the same time (from getting tossed off horses), and you have the makings of chronic neck pain.

Also: Kudos to my bestie Donna who had read my previous post, so when I told her about the cervicogenic dizziness diagnosis she was able to link the onset of it with that two-hour stint in the dentist chair for the crown. (Her super-power is analytical reasoning.) I don't think I've mentioned on the blog before that my childhood dentist was a sadist. No, I mean, he actually was a sadist. For thirty years, I have seen my dentists twice a year, but it still triggers profound anxiety.

I want to extend giant hugs to all my friends, family members and blog readers who prayed for/chanted for/sent energy to me plus all those who continued behind the scenes to make suggestions as to what might be the cause. I love all of you, and thanks so much for your support through these weeks. You kept me on the sunny side of life while I was slogging away with the docs, trying to find a resolution.

Life is good! (Hence the smiley seal pictured above.)

Tuesday, January 30, 2018

Madness Dancing

Since mid-November, I have been, er, under the weather. Ill in some way, certainly, but not exactly "sick," as I would characterize it. The week before this malady began, I had some dental work (a crown), and I had a flu shot. Three days after the shot, I woke feeling dizzy, achy and with a mild headache. I took a nap that day—and slept three hours. Despite having slept eight hours the night before, I was still so sleepy after three hours of napping it was all I could do to get up and take Thomas out. It was chilly in the house, but I woke feeling clammy, as if I'd been sweating.

"Dang," I thought, "this is quite the reaction to that damn flu shot. Thank goodness it will go away in a couple of days."

But it didn't. After the symptoms persisted for four weeks (cold sweats, daily dizziness, headaches and a profound need to sleep excessively—rivaling the number of hours I slept when I was pregnant), I made an appointment to see my doctor. By the time I saw her, I'd narrowed my own diagnosis down to either Lyme disease or a brain tumor.

Dr. V. ordered a CT scan, so no, I don't have a brain tumor. I do have a brain that shows "no abnormalities." (Comment on that as you will.)



After a second appointment, here's what I know:

I don't have BPPV (Benign Paroxysmal Positional Vertigo) or at least it doesn't seem so.
This is not a neurological problem—or at least it doesn't seem so.
This is not West Nile Virus—or at least the doc doesn't think so.
It's not got to do with my hypo-thyroidism.
There's no infection in my system, apparently (according to blood tests).
I probably don't have cancer. (Yay!)
I don't need new glasses (as Harry R. suggested).
This probably won't go away if I "relax enough" (as Harry C. suggested).
I'm not dehydrated.
The symptoms worsen dramatically when I don't nap or if I become overly fatigued.

I'm only posting all that so that the sleuths among you can get busy thinking and come to some conclusion that would be a possible diagnosis. (Go ahead. Have at it. Please click on "comments" below to offer your two cents.)

Anyway, my life has gone on unabated—thank the Universe. I'm still walking my dog (though I try not to get too far out in the boonies lest I keel over and Thomas has to find his way home alone), still writing, still feeling blessed for having the ability to sing (but not dance because, yeah, too dizzy).

And today I transplanted a tree. A week ago I mowed the lawn, a chore that hadn't been done in many weeks as I just didn't trust my body with the task. Today I felt good enough (albeit somewhat dizzy) to dig up the orange tree that the previous owner had planted on the shady side of the house. Now it will have more sun and more love and some prayers that it will re-root itself and finally grow some oranges. If nothing else, it will give all my little backyard birds a place to sit while they're taking turns at the feeder.



Since my days of wooziness began, I've had a song off Rick Shea's new album ("The Town Where I Live") stuck in my head: "Trouble Like This." It's a catchy tune, but I think it's been on repeat in my mind because these multiple doctor visits with no resolution remind me of the fall of 2012; it took three months before my bronchiectasis was diagnosed. (And that only happened because I insisted that my doctor order an MRI of my lungs. "Okay," she said, throwing up her hands, "if that's what you want." Yes, humor me, please. And what do you know? The MRI revealed the holes in my lungs.)

Rick Shea at a recent concert.

Today, though, my brain worm switched from Rick's song to a song by Bob Bennett, "Madness Dancing," from his "Matters of the Heart" album. Lordy, I love this song! And I have for nearly forty years. Consider these lyrics:

In the middle of this madness I am dancing
Though I'm not sure why just now
I tried to be sober, tried to be logical
But I could not stop my feet.

I know I haven't turned off my mind...
I know there's evil all around
But for now it's outside, and I am in my room
Joy is like a crashing tide.

I don't wanna burn no books
Don't wanna argue rock 'n roll
I don't wanna shoot anyone with my high-powered doctrine gun....

That's pretty non-judgmental for a man who professes to be an evangelical Christian.

At any rate, it's the crashing tide of joy and the madness of dancing despite all the dire woes in life that make me love this song and sing it again and again. Especially right now. I may not be in top form physically, but I am still so blessed to be alive—whether I can dance right now or not.

Sunday, December 24, 2017

Merry...



Sgt. Thomas Tibbs hates Christmas. I'm sorry. He does. That is not my snowman in that photo, but that is definitely Thomas attempting to, once again, slink away while I'm trying to take a photo. This is one of the downsides (really there are so few! Maybe a handful at best! Okay, honestly, the list is long, but who cares?) of deciding that a feral dog is your best buddy. First of all, he's never learned "sit." Telling him that and doing that age-old motion of pulling up on the leash while pushing down on the dog's hindquarters scares him enough to put him in That's-it-I-mistrust-you-again mode. He knows "wait" as a command when I drop the leash, but... yeah, he's only going to hold that wait as long as I'm close enough to step on the leash if he starts walking. That cute snowman is on my next-door-neighbors' front lawn. Their house looks beautiful, so I positioned said feral dog first near the sleigh... but no, he wasn't having it... then by the snowman... again, he was quite insecure about it. So every time I tried to back up into the street and take the iconic "Look! It's Christmas! Here's my cute dog!" photo, he would slowly start idling toward our front porch next door. I don't blame him. I understand. He fears the snowman. He fears all the bright shiny tinkling twinkling moving singing Christmas decorations.

And that's so sad. Because I love them. So, full disclosure here, I've been tormenting my best buddy every night by making him take long walks around my neighborhood so I (selfishly) can look at the lights and tell him (quietly) "Thomas, that's so cute, though! Why you scared o' him?" Poor guy.

The girls, on the other hand (Princess Purrl and Sugar Plum), are in love with Christmas every year. Mostly because of the wrapping. Also because of the ribbons. Definitely because of the fuzzy feathered catnip toys their Big Sister Nic brings them:



This is Purrl's favorite position in the morning, by the way: Bottom to heater. We've been waking to temps in the 30's, so I don't blame her. In this photo, she is jealously guarding this toy so Sug can't get it. Naughty....

On the upside for Thomas, though, I do have to say this has been a great year for him. Since I no longer leave the house to work, we've bonded even more, and we often take long walks out in the country where he feels much more comfortable than walking where there are terrifying things such as people and flags and Christmas decorations and ducks and other dogs and lawn ornaments.

What he likes most, though, is to ride in the extra cab of the truck, looking at everything from the place where he feels safest in the world. So yes, I'm still driving him around every afternoon when we go to fetch the mail. "Thomas, ride?" is all I have to say. He trots down the hall, out to the garage and jumps in the truck--if the door is open. If it's not, he dances, shifting his weight from one front foot to the other while shaking his head in delirious joy. Riiiiiiide!




And now he plays. He has created a game that he adores. I'm not sure how it started, but he will often run for the bedroom when he sees me getting the leash. (Yes, I know; he's the opposite of most dog-buddies.) It makes me laugh, and some weeks ago I told him, "I'm going to get you!" which made him laugh and wag his tail--and run away faster. So now it's a game. I pick up the leash and he gallops down the hall to the bedroom, spins around in a circle and does a dog bow. I follow, then I turn and run back down the hall and he chases me. I stop when I get to the kitchen, turn and say, "I'm going to get you!" and he tears down the hallway again, wagging his tail furiously. It's hilarious. And man, does it ever make me happy to see him happy.

Oh--there is that other game he plays. Possum. You know how most dogs get excited in the morning when their human gets up? It's time to go outside! Yes! Pee time! Hooray! Major sniffs and leg hiking and all that! Not Thomas. He waits for me to come and sit beside his bed and rub his back and scratch his ears and massage his head until he finally rolls over on his back and laughs and says, "I have the best life in the world!" as he wraps his front paws around my arm.

Yes, yes he does. The new year marks the end of his fourth year with me. He was living as a wild dog for at least five before he was rescued. So I tell him often: "You've gotta have at least five good ones, buddy, to make up for the five awful ones." We're working on it.





Sunday, December 3, 2017

When Children Lose Hope


Our little city of Calimesa made the news last week, and not for anything good. Thirteen-year-old Rosalie Avila, a student at Mesa View Middle School, hanged herself in her bedroom. She was found by her parents.

This is a tragic story.
This is a familiar story.

This is a photo of Rosalie:



Kids at school told her she was ugly. Her parents had arranged counseling for her months before her suicide because they discovered she'd been cutting herself. They did everything right in their attempt to save their daughter. Sadly, forces greater than themselves intervened.

In August,  the Huffington Post ran a story on teen suicide rates--because they have hit an all-time high and continue to rise. Nowadays, more young girls kill themselves than ever before.

This is a gut punch to me.

I want to blame social media. I want to blame a society that reveres youth and beauty above all gifts, talents, abilities or strengths.

I want to blame the parents of the bullies, but I know that those parents love their kids and think they're terrific. Of course they do. It has been my experience that the parents of bullies are the last people to discover that their 'good' kids are going off to school and taunting, tormenting, and humiliating other kids.

I want to blame the bullies, of course. I want to pull them aside, sit them down, get in their faces with my harshest teacher voice and ask, "Do you understand exactly what you did here?" But... they're kids. They did what kids have done for countless generations. I was told horrible things in middle school, too. "Your teeth are crooked." "You walk funny." "You're ugly." "You're dumb." And I was depressed, though not suicidal. That depth would come later, in high school, when I was fifteen.... All those voices echoing in my psyche contributed, though, I have no doubt.

I want to blame somebody, anybody, because I'm just angry. I'm furious that another girl thought she wasn't pretty enough... thought that happiness would only be held out to the beautiful people in life. I'm sure she watched enough TV and saw enough online and heard enough at school to believe that this is so.

And so she simply lost hope. She was embarrassed by her crooked teeth. Her parents got her the orthodontia she needed, but then she was teased about wearing braces. She couldn't win. So she gave up.

We lost her. And I am so sad for that.

I went for a walk this morning around Mesa View Middle School. I took Thomas with me (because one should always take a beloved companion along when one chooses to immerse oneself in sadness). We walked the perimeter of the school, then found ourselves walking the athletic track, then discovered Rosalie's name scraped out in the dirt in letters as long as my shadow. I stepped back in order not to walk on someone's memorial and saw that a third of the track had been covered in messages:

Rosie, we miss you!
Rosie, we love you!
Rosalie (signed by Aubrianna)

And the last one pictured below. To that one, I say, Amen.



Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Why writers go to Starbucks to work





Because it was windy and cold this morning at 5:30a.m., I decided to write for an hour--or at least try to--and then walk Thomas. That's when the trouble began.

See, animals are creatures of habit and routine. And like grumpy old men, they become anxious if you switch things up on them. Our usual routine goes something like this: I roll out of bed already promising to take them outside/get their food/fetch fresh water as soon as I brush my teeth, etc. When all their needs are taken care of, I enjoy one cup of tea while checking my email before setting out to walk Thom for a half hour or so.

When Thomas gets anxious, he shakes his head and flops his ears. As the time approaches for us to walk, his ear-flopping becomes like a snooze alarm. He's in the back bedroom, and I'm in the dining room, but I'll hear him get up and then FLOP FLOP FLOP FLOP, the ears go back and forth. I hear it, dismiss it, and go back to answering email. Ten minutes later I'll hear it again, then five minutes later he flops again. If I'm not up and putting my shoes on by then, he trots down the hallway, then into the kitchen, around the island, back down the hall to the bedroom and FLOP FLOP FLOP FLOP.

Mind you, Thomas still does not enjoy walking. After four years, we still begin each walk with resistance, me gently pulling him up the street as he intermittently turns back for home or simply sits his butt down in the middle of the road--

"Mom, wait, there's a monster."

"No, Thom, that's just a trash can. Let's go."

"Mom, wait, no, there's another monster!"

"Thomas, no, that's a raven on top of a streetlight. He won't hurt you. C'mon."

"MOM, NO, NO, NO, WAIT THAT'S A HUGE SCARY FLAPPING MONSTER!!"

"Thomas. That's a flag. It's windy. You're okay, buddy, let's go."

Every. single. morning.

Still.... He knows what the routine is, and if I switch it up, I'm in for ear flapping and the sound of his toenails dancing across the laminate flooring every ten minutes.

And that's just the dog....

Purrl waits for us to walk because she knows that when we return, the sun will be up, the neighbors' dogs all trotting around outside sniffing, peeing and barking, so it's safe enough for her to be allowed into the back yard (like the other dogs... even though she's a cat) to sniff around and settle back on her haunches below the bird feeder and wait... and wish... and twitch her whiskers.... (No, she can't really see the birds up there, since she's mostly blind, but she still hears and smells them.)

But this morning we didn't go. There I was, thinking I would just finish that 44th chapter of the first book in my middle grade urban fantasy novel, and I was really into it, my protagonist dealing with conflict on all sides, when suddenly--

"Meow." Tap tap tap.

"MeOW." Tap tap tap tap tap.

"MEOW!!" Tap tap tap tap tap tap tap tap tap.

The tapping sound was Purrl, her front feet up on the door to the garage, scratching at it repeatedly so that I would let her out.

"Not yet, Purrl Jam," I said the first time, sweetly.

"No, Purrl," I said, slightly annoyed, the second time.

"Seriously, I'm trying to work here!" I said the third time as I rose from my chair and let her out. "It's cold and you won't like it and you'll be right back in the house in five minutes!" Which she was, of course. Which is about the time I gave up and put my shoes on--because I had returned to the computer only to find Sugar Plum curled in my chair. And since Thomas was making his fifth circuit around the kitchen island, I decided I simply had to cave to their demands. 

Sigh. I really do understand why some writers have to leave the house to get anything done.

"Ready go Mom?"


Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Thankful



Last night I woke in the middle of the night. I felt the warmth and pressure of a cat curled against the back of my knees. I reached down in the dark and stroked Sugar Plum's head, resulting in a vociferous vibration. Another cat lay stretched against my thighs on the other side. I knew better, but like an older sibling who just can't leave well enough alone, I reached down slowly to touch her--and felt her teeth in my hand. She didn't bite down, and I chuckled. Purrl will always remind me that she doesn't appreciate being disturbed when she's sleeping.

The sheets were clean and cool, the pillow soft beneath my head. I lay in the dark, waiting, barely breathing, until I heard the sound that has been the source of comfort many, many times throughout my life in similar midnight wakings--that gentle susurration of a dog's contented sigh. Thomas has his choice most nights of where he wants to sleep. The door to the garage is always open; he has a bed there (where he sleeps when the house is too warm), a bed in the living room (where he sleeps if I have the bedroom window open--because it startles him every time the neighbor snores or coughs or... whatever... in the night) and a bed next to my bed (where he comes to be close when he feels safe). He is never with us when we fall asleep, but he is often there when I wake in the night, and though I cannot see him in the pitch-dark room, I hear the long sigh he emits when I laugh at Purrl or whisper to the cats to move over.

These three amuse me, comfort me, give me a reason to rise every morning early (because how can I not when Sug is poking her foot in my arm wanting food?) and guard me against profound loneliness. I am thankful for them.

Last night, when Thom sighed, I did, too--a long inhalation and exhalation, and I smiled. No wheezing! Nothing rattling around in my lungs. I didn't use my inhaler before I went to bed, but my breathing was clear and easy. I am thankful for that, and I am thankful for my pulmonary doctor who diagnosed my bronchiectasis five years ago and did it cheerfully. ("But you don't have cancer! This is great news!") He is bright and vibrant and funny, and I enjoy our annual talks, which have now become "How's your family?" conversations, because my lungs are behaving despite their disease. And I am thankful for that.

And while I know we live in stressful times with new political turmoil every day, I am thankful for what we have achieved as a society. I am thankful that my gay son can be who he is every day, openly, wherever he is. I am thankful that my transgender friends can be who they were born to be. I am so, so thankful for all the women who've had the courage in recent weeks to come forward and say, 'This happened to me, and it is not okay.' I will always feel proud to have participated in the March for Women this year, to have shown up and participated, even though it's outside my comfort zone to do so, as I know it was for many of the women and men who showed up and marched. Good job, my friends.

I am most thankful that right now, at this moment, all of my children are safe and well. That might not be the case tomorrow, I know; we are given no guarantees in this life. But last night as I lay awake in the middle of the night and did my motherly head count, I smiled to know that all four were safe and well at our last communication. May that trend continue....

I woke this morning (before dawn, of course, thanks to Sug) to brilliant stars overhead, and I took a few minutes outside (while Thomas trotted around, wagging his tail, sniffing out a possum trail) to identify the constellations I know, to allow the magnitude of the Universe to sink in just for a moment (before its enormity overwhelmed me, as it has since my childhood). Then I went back inside to make breakfast for all of us--and aren't we abundantly blessed there as well? The animals chowing down on all the good stuff that comes to them from Petco, and me with my day-greeting Irish breakfast tea and the steel cut oatmeal with raisins and walnuts that bolsters me for those long dog walks once the sun rises.

Oh, and just the walking--that is enough in and of itself to be thankful for. The Sesamoiditis I had a year ago is mostly gone--or relieved enough for me to walk as far as I want with Thom and not even think of it. The torn ligament in my left foot is healed. The SIJD in my right hip has not been an issue of late, so my level of chronic pain is way, way down.

As I write this, it's almost bedtime. The front door is open, and a cool breeze is wafting in. It's time for Thom's Last Chance Outside opportunity. Then he gets his Greenie (his favorite part of the day) and retreats to his garage bed to chew it up and, I hope, contemplate what a good boy he is. The girls have already wandered off to the bedroom; I'll have to relocate someone (gently, if it's Purrl) in order to get in bed with a good book. When I switch off the light, I will resist thinking about what happened in the news today, and I will begin to count again the many blessings in my life. Really, though, they are countless.


Saturday, November 4, 2017

Wherein I applaud my new hero, Cady Mansell


This is my sister, Peg, on the day of her First Holy Communion at St. Maria Goretti Catholic Church in Long Beach, California, circa 1960. (I spent a couple of hours looking for a photo of me in a similar dress--or probably this same one, as I often wore her hand-me-downs--but couldn't find one. There is also no photo of my baptism--but don't get me started on all that because it would make for an entirely separate and very long blog post.)



And this is my new hero, Cady Mansell, wearing the outfit she planned to wear on the day of her First Holy Communion at St. John the Evangelist church. Isn't it stunning? Isn't she amazing? Are you not crying tears of joy for her that she was raised by a mom who clearly said, "Sure! Wear what you want! Be who you want to be!"? I am. Cady is me. I am Cady. Well, yes, 55 or so years ago, but still.... Oh, how I would have loved to take my First Holy Communion wearing something as stylish and non-gender-conforming as that incredible pantsuit Cady is wearing. Anything but the itchy, uncomfortable, so-not-me, Why-does-this-look-like-a-bridal-gown? dress I had to wear. My legs were always cold. My legs are still cold!

Sadly, Cady missed out on that special day--because she was not allowed to take her First Communion--because she wasn't wearing a dress. (You can read that full story here.)

For the love of Mary and all the saints that are holy, are you kidding me, parish priest? You denied her communion?!? Because her legs were encased in fabric instead of being barely covered by a dress? Come on! Give me the scriptural proof text for that outrageous mandate! But you can't, can you? There isn't one.

It is not my intention here... at this time, anyway... to attack the Catholic Church. It's not about a church or a religion. It's about a man who purports to be a holy man, connected to a higher authority, but uses that position to dictate what is and is not "feminine" (his word, not mine). Feminine? You think you know what God intended "feminine" to be, Father Clueless? You think that word only encompasses women who wear dresses? How very, very sad.

But let's not focus on the negative. Let's look again at the positive example of Cady and her mom, who are part of a new generation, a generation of individuals who have the courage to be who they are (Yes! Go, Cady girl!) and to express themselves in the style that fits their own personal identity--without conforming to some idea of a societal norm.

I am sixty-three years old. But let me tell you, Cady is an inspiration to me, and I have no doubt she is an inspiration to girls (and boys) across the country to simply be the person they were born to be. Period. Without applying labels of any kind. What a rock star she is! And a smartly dressed one, at that! 

Here's one more photo of Cady... on a different day... in a different style... because, again, it's all about being who we really are... on any given day: