Season of the New Year

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The day before New Year’s Eve, I got up from an indulgent post-breakfast nap with my throat on swollen fire. I had a column of nasty pain running up from about where the esophagus hits the stomach, all the way up to my jaw, and it was even going into my left arm a tad.

GERD,” thought I. But it seemed unfair. It had been a small breakfast. And sitting up wasn’t relieving the pressure in my neck. It had never made it to my jaw before. Tried TUMS, tried milk, and sent the kid to the store for Mylanta. By the time he got home, I was feeling some better, but it was still bad. Mylanta did jack. That was when I . . .

. . . started Googling. Heaven forfend I act on impulse and call 911 or something. For GERD? It was most assuredly bad GERD. I’d had most of those symptoms before. But . . .

. . . women and chest pain, we’re weird. Both in the way it hits us, and in the way we handle it. That is to say, our cardiac symptoms are not classic, and ever since menarche, we are conditioned to shrug off pain. Tell you a secret, guys? We think you’re big, wussy babies; we tell jokes behind your backs about how tough you’d be with period cramps. Having a baby, ma’am? Walk it off!

SO there I was, fully dressed and ready to go–and not ready to go. My son, however, snarled at me, which is unlike him, so we . . . called a cab. No fuss here, just GERD.

They let us sit for ten minutes in the ER, which told me the admissions clerk must be just as impressed as I was with my chest pain, especially since I only got about a C+ on the little test she gave me, consisting of male-normed symptoms of The Big One. But they took me in, gave me an EKG–which I aced–and took some blood. I didn’t even ask them why, because that’s what they do: collect samples just-in-case, and send in some brave soul to put in an IV.

Welp, I failed the blood test. The resident was freakin’ perky as he told me that one of my heart enzymes was 50 times normal: My heart muscle had been damaged, and I had had a heart attack. Small, but undeniable.

“Oh, shit,” I said, and started to giggle. I mean, a heart attack? I’m 54. True, I have every other major risk factor except being a smoker (let’s not be excessive here), but it just seemed so surreal.

Because it was a three-day New Year’s weekend, I spent it in the hospital, waiting for the slightly fancier hospital’s center for angioplasty to open on Tuesday. I had many sticky things placed under my left boob and a heparin drip in my inevitably screechy IV. As holidays, despite visits and a good view of the fireworks, it sort of sucked.

Tuesday came, however, and I started off with an echocardiogram, which is a sonogram of the heart. I was a little appalled to learn that the heart doesn’t politely and sedately tap out a simple one-two; it dances sort of gelatinously, and the Doppler picked up several different rhythms, including “du-wacky-du-wacky-du.” What was this thing in my chest, anyway?  Then I had the angiogram.

I thought I’d known what it was and what it was up to.Wrong. Right coronary artery was 95% blocked. In the words of the OR nurse, I was “one cheeseburger away.”

This is having your guardian angel scruff you seconds before you go over a precipice, only it’s THE Precipice, and why not have gone there in the Sooner rather than Later?

Kinda leaves you with a question that wants answering, that does.

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Tears, Idle Tears

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I know not what they mean,

Tears from the depth of some divine despair.

Rise in the heart, and gather to the eyes, . . .

Listening to k.d. lang’s version of “Hallelujah” at the Canadian winter Olympics and crying my eyes out. No surprise. Loreena McKennit’s “Lady of Shalott” does the same thing to me. The Tennyson version, yep. LOTS of Tennyson (quoted above, ironically), which in this modern day and foreign country is supposed to show my bad taste in poetry.

My YouTube channel is in my blog roll; go there and you’ll see other things that made my fat little chin quiver uncontrollably. (The Marines lip-synching “Hold it Against Me”? Oh hell yeah!) The Muppets singing “Bohemian Rhapsody” probably holds the gold, though. And I don’t feel too bad about “Where the Hell is Matt?” because it does it to at least one of my friends as well.

Times I have cried in my current therapist’s office in the last seven or eight years: 1. I don’t understand this. Strangely, I used to cry at the therapist all the time. Then I found the one who (for lack of a better word) cured me, and after she left–not so much. I have a more collegial relationship with my current therapist, working in mental health as I do. Maybe that’s it–although I’ve cried in front of colleagues. We showed The Pursuit of Happyness at my center one day. I was a soggy tissue basket case. People were polite and did not notice, but I felt kind of stupidly naked.

Indeed, Lord Tennyson, I know not what they mean. Did you?

There are three different types of tears: basal (lubrication), reflex (onions), and psychic (Tennyson). Also known as stress tears, these last release leucine enkephalin, a neurotransmitter and painkiller. Maybe my crying fixation is similar to a bulimic’s vomiting–I feel cleaned out and better after a good cry. (Good cry is defined as one that I don’t try to choke off and which happens by myself–my family knows all about this peculiarity, but it’s still embarrassing.) I have long lashes, and when sodden with saline, every blink deposits a tiny drop on the inner surface of my glasses, like snowy flyspecks. I feel a minor shame and an infinitesimal bit of anger when I clean them off: They are evidence of a behavior I do not understand.

What interests me and confuses me most about my tears is that they are usually evoked by the profoundly beautiful. I remember choking up at the Metropolitan Museum of Art on a school trip in high school. And let’s not forget perhaps the high point of this: The time I tried to explain it.

It was during that big pre-qualifying exam crunch read in grad school, so I was already under even MORE stress. My (now ex-)husband came into our bedroom and found me sobbing hysterically. I jabbed a finger at Keats’ Ode on a Grecian Urn, and blubbered, “All the little people have left the town, and they’re never coming ba-ack!” Amused, my scientist said, “Yes, dear. Would you like some coffee?”–this being the only possible logical response. Damn thing still makes me cry.

I can’t read moving poetry aloud. Sometimes in choir I have to make my mind a blank while we sing certain passages; I think music is what makes me most susceptible.

I am hereby positing a theory about what I’ll call my idle tears: Although my life is pretty stable right now, it wasn’t always so, and my excellent curative therapist only had two years, so we only scratched the surface of my PTSD from all that childhood trauma. Said trauma was pretty severe–I score a 19 out of 20 on a professional scale of childhood suckage–and maybe it’s still all in there, buried too deep to dream away, but not to cry out.

I just wish I could control them. But maybe the whole point is that I can’t.

 

In Which Our Heroine Chews Through a Strap, Part Two

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(This was sitting in my drafts pile for over a year. “Part One” is somewhere back there on the blog. I have no idea why; it’s still as true today as when it was written, except that there are a few more rays of light, now and then.)

Once upon a time my spiritual jaws were in top form: After long and prayerful consideration, I pushed aside all the “no” and “I can’t,” and entered formal discernment in the Diocese of Baltimore to become an Episcopal priest.

Things went well enough for about half a year, and then my faith was extracted by giant pliers of Life, leaving behind bleeding caverns where I had also once had a home and family (which I admit were fragile to begin with.)

I fell down the rabbit hole: I had been battling too many stressors for too long, and this loss triggered my illness. You can accomplish great things while hypomanic, and I put together my ragged little pieces as best I could and crawled back to grad school, and after some more upheavals, at last I got well, and crawled back out of the hole. All I had left with which to chew God was a lacy bridgework of outward and physical signs criss-crossing the horrific gaps it left in my soul stuff.

I have a good life now–but now that I am comparatively well, I have been grappling with a sad and bitter question: Was my faith only a symptom of my illness, all that joy and sense of purpose just mixed up with the dreaded “religious ideation?” I have recovered from bipolar disorder I and dissociative identity disorder–have I recovered from God as well? Was that extraction not a tooth, but a tumor? Many good and kind people would say so; would congratulate me for coming to my senses. But then why do I feel so sad?

Because I do, and not even Jell-o® Instant Pudding can make it go away. I miss that life. I miss the magic of driving half an hour on a cold spring morning to light the new fire of Easter.

When my faith got pulled, tooth by tooth of it, and I was left sore and still numb in a homeless shelter in New Jersey, I ran into a wise priest who heard my story over tea and gave me permission to be angry with God. I clung to that, both the anger and the permission, and when my head told me to get my ass back to church, I did it, despite the hollowness of that cheated feeling filling my torso. So I joined choir because I knew that shaky as my soul stuff was, my Performer was intact, and it would bring me back to church,

It’s been over ten years, and I have come to love that choir for its own sake. I’ve become a much better singer, but my sense of wonder, of grace, has remained cold and stiff, lying on the margin of my plate unchewed.

Dead or hibernating? And what happens if it comes back?

 

Aiee! Learning Experience!!!

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This one in the shape of “If you can Google it, never trust them to make good decisions without your input.”

A week ago Monday I had my second knee replaced, and if anything, the surgery went even more smoothly than it had last time. No nasty little surprises like the blood clots in my lungs. But by Friday I was ready to move on to rehab. Fidgeting my brains out, actually. My roommate was a tiny older woman who amused and annoyed me by complaining about how much nicer my attendants were than hers–amused, because this was a textbook case of the Golden Rule, annoyed because I have limited patience with cranky extroverts. When she left, I realized that I would never have to hear the story of how the dog pulled her down the steps again, and life was GOOD.

Then my ambulance arrived, and off I went.

Now, for those new or who have forgotten, my last rehab center was quite nicely posh, and the two weeks there were a sort of vacation. The case manager at my hospital had explained to me this time that one could never be sure of landing in the right areas, and hinted that my rockstar recovery from the first surgery might mean I would only qualify for a “skilled nursing facility.” They had reassured me that my surgical group was all over this particular one out in Boston (i.e. easier for my spawn to visit) and it was quite nice; people wanted to go back. “OK,” I thought. “Sounds like a plan.” They waved a list of rehabs and SNFs at me, and made researching them sound boring and complicated. Besides, I knew that chances were great that it all really boiled down to where a bed was open. And maybe that’s what happened here.

It took a couple extra days, as it was; and although the place they picked (NOT the one my surgeons liked) didn’t look spiffy from Google maps, their website made them look a good bit spiffier. So then there we were, on the second highest heat index day of the year, and . . .

. . . I smelled pee. And bleach. Started to panic. But then, of course it was a nursing home, with people living there, not just traveling acts like mine. My eyes met those of the sympathetic ginger dragging the gurney. “I hope you know I’m trying not to throw myself around your legs and scream not to be left here,” I said, feeling my pulse begin to rocket.

He grinned. “You’re not here yet.” Meaning I still had a bit to go before not being able to change my diapers inspired me to clean out the medicine cabinet the uh, final way. Then they left, and I started to blink back tears.

I have no idea what my deal was even now; I have no nursing home-related traumas. But this place was . . .OMG. Remember, I was expecting a nice state-of-the-art rehab facility. Luckily for me, the admitting nurse was a nice normal person who validated what I was saying, squeezed my hand, and told me what the steps were to get transferred to another place. (Complicated and overwhelming.) She overheard me asking a kid on the phone, “Remember the sanitarium level in Psychonauts? This is it,” and cracked up. Aha, gamer girl! No wonder she rocked.

The residents shuffled. Or sat in gloomy deshabille in wheelchairs. It was hot and sticky, and, I repeat, there was The Smell. No art on the walls except for a big, dour calendar of events–your basic bingo, arts and crafts, and other thrills, none of which were actually announced while I was there. I was wheeled into a room with a lopsided old lady, who started telling me her woes immediately. I noticed that my bed was only sort of made, with the pillows scattered here and there. At least they were embarrassed enough of themselves so as to keep the rips in the pillowcases face down.

The bed itself was scary. It was from I don’t know how many decades ago–it had to be cranked from the floor to be raised or lowered, and the gizmo that made the head go up and down was the squeezy thing covered in grotty-looking rubber. It had a headboard and a footboard made of cheap lumber. The mattress was a chunk of foam rubber.

I ended up having a panic attack. My first real panic attack, complete with chest pain. Mercifully, I’m prescribed a benzo to help me sleep, so they had an order for that that came through by 11. I cowered in my weird little tent (the sheet-thickness curtains went right around the bed itself) and tried to work on my breathing. I have never been so close to having something click in my brain and send me to a psych ward involuntarily. (OK, it would have been voluntary. Anything to get me the hell out of there.)

The one decent nurse apologized a lot, especially for “dinner” which was what the kitchen scraped together in the wee hours of the morning (i.e., 6:30 pm): two limp cheese sandwiches in humid wax paper, with soured canned fruit and milk cartons (it was a 94 degree day, but still) and teeny yogurt containers. I had half of one of the sandwiches and one of the yogurts, because diabetes; but it was hard to get down.

In short, you name it, they had it–nurse assistants FOB (fresh off the boat) who didn’t have much English. (I unfortunately have no Haitian Creole and had to point at things.) Roommate fell out of bed in her quest for City Hospital. Got popped in upon by residents who were lost. Strange noises. The staff went through all my stuff, ostensibly to catalog it in case of “loss.” (I got a speck of amusement at how impressed they were that I’d packed a full two weeks of panties.)

My daughter there-there’d me during our incoherent phone call that evening, but her face made up for it the next morning. “Did I lie?” I demanded. Wide-eyed, she shook her head.

The nice nurse had warned me to expect resistance on the part of the upper staff to the idea of my getting out of there, and they indeed treated me almost as condescendingly as they did the dementia patients. And why not? I was saying the same things: I don’t belong here. I want to go home. Please, just let me go home. I’m not crazy. I bolstered myself by remembering that there were laws against imprisoning people against their will unless there were compelling and legal reasons. And took my Ativan around the clock, all weekend long, until the full staff (i.e., decision-makers) showed up on Monday morning. At least they had internet and I had my laptop so I could block out the screams, hoots, and moans of the milieu.

Big stroke of luck–their visiting doctor (yup, no full-time on staff as with the last rehab) works in the same team as my own PCP, which I swear gave me points or something. Or maybe it’s just that he didn’t have a whole lot invested in bed-filling in this dungeon. Anyway, I used the big word decompensation (pro-speak for “mental breakdown”) and he admitted I made a very good case and he had no problem signing me out to go home.

By more luck, I had already been practicing going up my 37 steps by using my good leg only, so I got home on Monday afternoon, only briefly flashing on kissing the ground and claiming it for Spain.

This Monday marks the three week point, and I would have been leaving a nice rehab right now anyway. Knee is doing well–0 and 105 degrees of straightening/flexion, so I can’t complain too much over all that missed PT and OT. But it took me a few days of awakening in my own bed before I realized immediately I was home and not still back there.

Next week: I learn how to complain. Bwah-ha-ha-ha-ha. Feed me soggy cheese, I dare ya.

 

 

 

A Confession

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I read self-help books. A lot of them; I think my average is about one a week. But here’s the thing: I am not the typical reader Looking for Answers. Instead, I’m looking for bad grammar, faulty spelling, and an inability to stay on topic–i.e., I style-edit them. (How’s that for a What’s My Line? job?)

Most of them say the same things: Stop negative self-talk. Get in touch with your spirituality. You can be happier–here’s how. (Many of the suggestions are solid, but then, some Harvard professor did a lecture course and wrote a book about it, so we already know this stuff.) In fact, I’m waiting for the book entitled We Already Know This Stuff. (But maybe that’s the subtitle of this blog entry.)

Every once in a while I run into one that borders on the toxic, like the followers of gurus who are considered really sketchy, or who tout pish coming from organizations under the disapproving eye of people like QuackWatch. Sometimes it’s really hard to smush down my opinions on the material, but we’re professionals here at Nova Terra, and even the unintentionally hilarious bits go no further than my kids. But none so far have been written by haters, although there’s some unconscious naivete now and again that I squash like a bug. (It’s the 21st century–for the love of Mike, don’t have your bad guys dressed in black and your good guys in white! *facepalm*)

But most of it is a cheerful treacle of love, joy, and unconditional good stuff, and you know what? It kinda works, in that I am more conscious of the good things in my own life. I’m not so sure it’s because of the soundness of the philosophies in the texts; rather I think it’s because I’m spending time with upbeat people. You know, sorta like how you get on a bus full of Jesus freaks headed cross-country and somewhere around Idaho you get drawn into a surly chorus of Kumbaya. And then they let you play with the tambourine, and you teach them a little bit about Neo-paganism or secular humanism, and you all get off the bus giggling and hugging.

Somewhere around here I have a couple of crystals and two Tarot decks, and I think my daughter has some essential oil. Maybe I should get it all together and play and then journal, especially since I’m at T-3 days for the surgery, and I have some sort of staph which already requires this purification ritual of putting stuff up my nose and showering with surgical scrub. Some silk scarves and candles and chanting with the Buddhist rosary might make it all more . . . fun. And fun, mah brethren and sistren, is what this vale of tears is all about.

I Wanna Be Sedated

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In a little over two weeks, I have the second surgery. The stress has been driving me nuts; I doubt it’s a coincidence that my blood sugar has catapulted to over 200. I have another week of work, my insurance still hasn’t cleared my root canal with my dentist, the housing lady still hasn’t gotten back to me to acknowledge that we need to meet to renegotiate rent because now we will all be living on my disability, Long-Leggedy Beasties is being steadfastly ignored, sob–and my rewrite of the very first book–the trilogy–is like rolling in a huge wad of flypaper: Just as soon as I free one piece, something else gets stuck. I even had to dive in and do a nip and tuck on Max, because he will now chronologically come first in the series.

But the most irritating part of my life is that I can’t seem to sleep well. There are three big basic types of insomnia: difficulty in getting to sleep, staying asleep, and waking up too early. I have all three.

Worst of all, I have something called Restless Legs Syndrome, where just when I’m about to drift off, this electric impulse shoots through my body and I have to move my legs and sometimes my arms. The med my long-suffering shrink suggested (Mirapex, or pramipexole) doesn’t seem to be working. I went off my anticoagulant so I could try a dose of an NSAID. Nada. What did work was Percocet (courtesy of dentist above), and can’t you just hear the threatening chord of music there?

Luckily, I’m not stupid, having just had to wean myself off oxycodone for Knee #1, so I’ve just happened to take the one. (Dental tip: Take the antibiotics, stupid. They cool down a “hot” tooth and are a far more effective way of dealing with the pain than narcs. Who cares if it messes with your GI tract for a few days? Eat some yogurt, and stop whinging. Oh, and take all the antibiotics, which is your way of keeping resistant bugs from spreading.) But, ooh, that night of uninterrupted sleep was nice!

So I’m dealing with my surgery anxiety in the possibly unhealthy way of looking forward to the drugs.

The down side of the narcs, though, is that for some reason they slow my creative processes down to a crawl. (Picture Flash the sloth at the Zootopia DMV.) Don’t expect much from me while I’m on them. Coloring is a lot of work; I just hope I can find something good on Netflix, having exhausted NCIS at last. And then there’s the pain they’re treating. Not kidney stones or bad cramp pain, just a gnawing sort of ache and the discomfort of your leg having not enough space to accommodate all the swelling your body wants to do. Le sigh.

But at least I’ll sleep.

 

 

My Silent Instrument

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(Written to Genesis’ “I Can’t Dance.”)

I’ve just finished a spot of what my son calls “ADHDing,” which means browsing the net (usually inspired by something on Facebook; this time it was actually from a piece I’m editing) and pulling up YouTube vids by the criteria of “Hey! Let’s go lookit that!” This is by far my favorite way of wasting an hour, but it always ends up making me feel a little bad.

I can’t sing terribly well, and my dancing is a private thing. My photos are all badly composed and only the evolution of the camera saves my thumbs from being stars. I can’t play a musical instrument, and I’ve lost my drawing facility through non-use. And I kinda doubt I have the kind of fantastic patience it takes to do animation. Is this what it’s like to feel dumb? In both senses of the word?

All I can do is write, or so it feels. And I know that’s important, and it has its own magic: I can make people hallucinate sights, sounds, and smells. I can make them feel sad, or make them laugh. I can make them happy. But sometimes that’s not enough. Or is it?

Bribe

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A number of my followers and friends have read Long Leggedy Beasties, either when it was posted here or by my giving out beta and review copies. And the first two and a half chapters are available on Amazon. Here’s the deal: I hope you liked what you saw–writing for me is at least partially in blood and sweat, and now I’m going to offer to do a little bit just for you . . . but you have to do a little bit for me first:

Below is a link to my book page, which will take you to Amazon. (Or you can just go to your Amazon account and search for me (Idony Lisle) or the book.) The first twenty-five reviewers will get either a limerick or a haiku, written just for you. (You can pick which and suggest themes, but cut me a little slack.) Just slip me a quick comment here after you write your review.

Why that number? Because that’s when Amazon starts including the book in “You Might Like” lists and “also bought.” Means a lot.

Oh yeah, the book is only $2.99. Support the up-and-coming author! (You can buy it on any of the other venues, but please review on Amazon.)

https://books.pronoun.com/long-leggedy-beasties/

Stupid Writing

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OK, got Long Leggedy Beasties launched as my first experiment in self-publishing, finished fine-combing Max AGAIN and am now waiting for my typographer son to finish the cover. Meanwhile, I’ve dived back into Dark Crimson Corners, which is now almost ten years old, and . . . yeesh!

It’s not that I was a bad writer back then. I was a somewhat weaker writer back then; but the yeesh! part is the intensity. This was my first novel, folks, and of course I threw everything but the kitchen sink into it–autobiography to just weird wild hares up my bum. Going through it is exhausting and I need breaks. I’ve been editing out unneeded plot threads and random asides (and changing “Pharaoh” to “Max” because Max’s book is coming first.) I’ll then put together Damascus the serial Slayer’s story (said unneeded plot thread) and run it as a sort of prequel to the rest.

After that? I dunno. By then it’ll possibly be November, and time for NaNoWriMo while battling the pain of a post-surgical knee. (Am going in for the other one on August 8th.) Seeing as I already have a stub done for Things That Go Bump in the Night (sequel to Da Kitttehs), I’m not sure what my WriMo will be. I might stick with the cat theme seeing as it seems to be working.

Oh–an aside for anybody who actually ends up *reading* the stuff: Eureka (published here) is non-canon, meaning it’ll stay here and not mess up the reality my fingers are trying so hard to make coherent.

In other news, back at work and trying desperately to do everything that needs to be done in the seven weeks remaining before my surgery, including putting together a training on the autism spectrum for my co-workers.

My allergies have been killing me, to the point where I have succumbed to using Flonase (ewww), and the new knee is still stiff with painful muscles. (The surgery has healed solid as a rock–no more bone pain!) My sleep is disrupted in that I now wake up too early. (It’s 07:30 now; been up writing since 5, and am yawning to nigh-decapitation.) Despite having tea and morning meds, I will now try to go back to bed for an hour.