Tuesday, June 26, 2007

How I'm Spending My Summer Vacation

"Were you planning to have more children?"

I've been asked this question fairly frequently since my second marriage last November, even though my close friends know I'm closer to 40 than 30 and I've really never professed a desire to add to my parental burden beyond the two children I have now. And usually, I respond to this question with laughter and a quick discussion of my countdown to empty-nested-ness (nine years, two months).

However, when asked this by the emergency room doctor at 4 in the morning (a time of day that I'm actually a little superstitious about), this question get a new found sense of gravity.

"What?!?" you may be thinking. You may not be aware of my visit to Kennestone Hospital in the early hours of Wednesday, June 13th. To help limit the resultant stress of your heart racing and to avoid the quick grab of the phone to call, I will jump to the end of the story and tell you that I am doing fine and recovering well at home. I expect to be back out and about and back to work, by next week.

Here is the story between the above bookends.

I went to work Tuesday the 12th with no premonitions of ill. Around noon, I had sort of a stomach cramp, but if you are female, you know how you occasionally get those "ugh" sort of feelings. It was either that time of the month, or an unhealthy lunch. I mostly ignored it and it went away. I picked up the kids that night (I had swapped my Tuesday kid-free night for Wednesday because I had - ha! - a doctor's appointment on Wednesday evening) and drove them home. As we pulled in the driveway, about 6:30, I got another cramp, much worse. I went upstairs, took 4 Motrin, laid down on the couch, instructed the children and Scott to make themselves sandwiches for dinner, and took a nap. When I awoke about 8, I still felt kind of crummy, but I sat up and watched some TV with Scott until about 11. Off we went to bed.

I woke up in screaming pain at 12:30 AM. Screaming, as in "MOTRIN, MOTRIN, FIND THE FUCKING MOTRIN!" except I was also crying, so I think only the "fucking" part of that was really intelligible. Scott found the Motrin, I took 4, it didn't really help. I stood, hunched over, and started to get dressed. This is a funny part: It's the middle of the night. Scott's had maybe an hour and a half of sleep and been jolted awake by me yelling. He is watching his wife that he loves hunched over in pain trying to get a pair of jeans on, her head on the bed because standing up straight is just not an option, and she starts giving him lists to things to do the next day. How to get the kids up, what kind of lunches they need, where to drop them off for camp, where to meet me at the hospital. Even in this kind of pain, I am still able to produce to-do lists. Fortunately for me, Scott completely blew all this off. He got dressed, got the kids up and in the car, and took my sorry ass to the hospital.

You probably know how long it takes to get emergency room care. Not their fault, there are just more people that need assistance than overnight staff at the hospital. It seemed like a long night, but a lot got done - a CAT scan for one thing - which actually solved the mystery of the pain pretty quickly, as they had one from two years ago to compare to (I had gone in for a possible kidney stone, but nothing really got discovered). Turns out I had (excuse the spelling) a dermatoid cyst on my right ovary that had grown substantially from my last visit in 2005. This discovery is what prompted the ER doc's question. "It has to come out, sooner rather than later," is what he said.

"Okay," I said, being more sanguine now that I had been given Lor-tabs, "I'll call my Ob-Gyn in the morning."

"No," he said, "We are trying to reach her now."

Okay, my worry meter has just jumped way up. We are going to try to reach her at 4 in the morning? Holy shit, this must be bad.

While waiting to reach my doctor, other things happened. Scott found the family waiting room and stashed the children there where they could watch TV and be hyper and/or dopey, depending on their adrenaline and sugar levels, which fluctuated all night, not surprisingly. Prior to finding this room, the four of us had all been hanging out in a little ER room with one bed (dibs on that), one chair and a TV that I did *not* want to watch - I was already in pain. They had already made the tour of the ground floor at least twice, and found the vending machines. Putting them in a soundproof room was ideal for me, Scott, and the nurses.

I eventually got taken down to ultrasound, where they wanted to get a bunch of really detailed pictures of this thing in my tummy. After being scanned for over half an hour with more scans planned, I called Scott where he was waiting in ER. Things looked serious, and I assumed I'd be admitted. The plan was that Scott would take the kids home for a quick nap before packing them off to day camp, then come back to spend the day with me in the hospital.

I was in ultrasound for something like an hour and a half. I actually started to doze off during the scan, wait for results, radiologist wants to see more, do more scans. When I got back to the ER, it was morning and the Ob-gyn on rounds came to see me. Please note that I had been lying in a bed for 6 hours, with almost no movement and great painkillers. When the doc got there about 7:00, I was unhappy but not miserable - which meant he sent me home because my condition was urgent, but not an emergency. He told me to make an appointment for Friday (recall that it is now Wednesday morning) for us to evaluate my condition and schedule surgery for next week.

I called Scott and we revised the plan. He had already dropped off the kids. He would come get me, take me home and go to work. And so it was. I got home about 8:00, took a shower, went to Walgreen’s to get a Demerol prescription that the doctor had written (“Take Advil to keep the pain at a constant level, take one or possibly two if you need them to keep the pain down”), went to Burger King for breakfast (good thing, too, based on what happened later), and came back home. I had at some point called the office to let them know I was not going to be there, but I wanted to check to make sure payroll was going all right. I did some computer work, made a few phone calls – ask me later about the $25,000.00 mistake I was trying to resolve with the bank – and then, about 10:50, the pain came. The pain came back and the super painkillers were not working.

Okay, maybe they worked a little, because after a few minutes I was able to stagger into my office to call the doctor to tell them I was taking myself back to the ER. And I was able to wait on hold while the nurse consulted with the doctor and came back on the line to tell me to come in to their office to see the doctor before going across the street to the hospital. Poor Scott. He is operating on less than 2 hours of sleep. He had to call his office and cancel his afternoon pickups and come deliver his crying wife, because I had called him to give him an update and immediately begun sobbing, to the doctor. Then he had to call the backup driver, his brother Eric, to come get me because Scott was caught in traffic and couldn’t get away from Northside Hospital (irony, irony) quickly enough to get me to the doctor’s office.

The story speeds up here. The doctor sees me, recognizes that I am in tremendous pain (I was refusing to answer questions, it was that kind of deep down, labor intensive pain), admits me to the hospital. I am given a very nice room in the Women’s Center with excellent pain medication to get through the night. Surgery is scheduled for Thursday at 12:30 in the afternoon. I am allowed to eat or drink NOTHING from when I am admitted until the morning after surgery, about 48 hours after my extremely well advised decision to stop by Burger King on Wednesday morning.

A quick shout out here: Mary Kay Lip Balm saved my sanity and kept me out of trouble. No eating or drinking before and after surgery – I was on an IV – meant no water either. This is to keep things out of your stomach to prevent problems with going under the anesthesia and coming back out. Being able to put that lip balm on kept me from trying to have illicit drinks of water to get some moisture to my poor, dry lips. Thanks, Janie.

At some point after surgery, the doctor came by to tell me they had taken both ovaries (the more children question is thus answered). The right one, the problem, was the size of about a Nerf football. Take a moment, think about that. I had a Nerf football on the right and a baseball on the left. I am not perfectly clear on my physiology, but I think ovaries are supposed to be about the size of jelly beans. Apparently, my cysts had been in some kind of overdrive for the past couple of years.

I got to eat on Friday. The plus side is: I got to eat. The down sides are: the morphine pump got taken away with the IV, and the food I got was the “pink meal” – that is what they call the bland diet. This was served 3 times on Friday: chicken broth, strawberry Jell-o, cherry ice, fruit juice and ice tea (coffee at breakfast). Fortunately, my spirits and recovery were looking good on Friday evening, so I got permission for some real food, too – which was good because I had requested Scott bring me some egg drop soup and we had Chinese for dinner.

I was walking around the hospital floor Saturday morning, June 16 – extremely slowly but again with a good attitude – so the doctor sent me home with instructions to rest up and not to drive for 2 weeks. Let me praise Scott once again. From when we got the kids home Sunday afternoon (their dad had been good enough to steward them from Wednesday night to that point) to now, Scott has been doing all the household maintenance, getting Things 1 and 2 up and ready and delivered to their respective camps every morning and picking up one or more of them at night, plus taking care of me and my various doctor’s appointments, emotional meltdowns, etc. You can submit other nominations if you like, but he wins the “best husband ever” award here.

Between then and now I have been at home doing a little work, some movie watching and a lot of napping. The fact I haven’t wanted to talk to or really communicate with anyone other than Scott and my mom may indicate to you the seriousness of my condition. It takes major surgery to get me out of touch.

Sometime today I will be getting my staples out. Oh yes, I have staples. Twenty-five staples in a line down my stomach that will be pulled out today with a thing that looks just like a heavy-duty staple remover you can by from the office supply store. When you are released from the hospital, they give you this thing in a sterile package to take to the doctor’s office with you for the post-op appointment. I can’t be the only one to see the creepy factor here – I am carrying around this implement to pop out my surgery staples, a procedure that is going to have at least a little pain at the time and some more after recovery. I get a shiver just thinking about it.

One more quick story about the post-op visits: when I called the Monday after surgery to schedule my follow up appointment, the doctor who did my surgery, Dr. S_______, was not available for a Wednesday appointment. Okay, I told the nurse, I will see the doctor who released me Saturday. He was a nice guy, I thought, he can handle it. I told her I thought his name began with an “H.” No problem, the nurse told me, Dr. H____ can see me on Wednesday afternoon. In my defense here, I would like to point out that post-surgery I was well-medicated on first morphine and then Percocet, and the morning of the call I was coming up out of the influence of a sleeping pill – my first time ever for that.

When I arrived on Wednesday, a doctor I had never met before came into the room. “How can we help you today?” was his question. Ah. This gentleman was not the doctor I had seen in the hospital. Whoops. Scott told me later that the doctor who released me was Dr. Mc-something (Scott knew the name, but it escapes me even now). Doctor H____ took a look at his co-practioner’s work and advised me to wait to give the incision more time to heal. I was a little frustrated that this meant another appointment, another co-pay, and more time with my staples, but things have still managed to work out correctly though, because the delay has put me back with my original surgeon, Dr. S_______, today to remove the staples and that’s probably for the best.

There are some other funny interludes in this story, but I think I am probably done with sitting and writing today. Thanks again to Scott who, when I moaned about getting nothing done with all this “spare” time, told me to go write this story as something to do. So, I've done some writing now and you get to read it. It’s win, win. Love you, honey.

Monday, May 21, 2007

Be a Writer

I am a big fan of Dorothea Brande, author of Becoming a Writer. Ms. Brande wrote her book back in the 30’s and, other than some quaint discussion of whether typewriters are more distracting that writing by hand (because when I consider how distracting my computer and the Internet are, I just about give up considering writing on this thing), I think her advice is some of the best available still. She begins with the assertion that writing classes do not help many or most struggling writers because the classes deal with structure, style, etc., but those are facets of writing that many aspiring writers don’t even get to because they can’t get anything written, whether it’s called writer’s block, or lack of time, or lack of confidence.

There are other things she talks about, but her writing premise as I understand it is this: if you cannot or will not make yourself write when you need to or are available to, then stop calling yourself a writer. Find another avocation or call your scribblings something else, but stop beating yourself over the head about being a writer, because you are not.

If this seems harsh, I think it is because she gives two seemingly easy tasks to test your mettle. (I wanted to put a pun in there – something about quill or pencil or other bad rhyme, but I couldn’t think of one. Insert your own.). One, get up a half hour early and write. Don’t talk to anyone, don’t have coffee, don’t do anything but sit down and write. Ms. Brande makes some suggestions – record a dream before it fades, or a bit of scene or dialogue you are thinking about, or anything else. She suggests that you write as long as it flows, but that you increase your time as you get used to this schedule. (If you’ve read The Artist’s Way, you may recognize this advice. In that book, it’s thirty minutes a day as a sort of memory/anxiety dump to clear your head for the day.)

Ms. Brande’s second requirement is that you make specific, short appointments with yourself to write and that you keep your appointment, even if it means excusing yourself out of some other activity. And the times change, so that you get used to writing for fifteen minutes at eleven o’clock one day and four o’clock another. If you can do both of these things, basically making yourself write on command and with precedence over other activities, then you can call yourself a writer, you will be a writer, and now you can go on to the other challenges of crafting your stories. I’m not sure how long these exercises are supposed to last, but I’m guessing that if you do it for the twenty-one days that modern psychologists tell us we need to establish a habit then you’re in.

So, today I am a writer, this blog being the second part of today’s obligatory exercises. I plan to be one tomorrow, too. Whether I’ve got the moxie to continue to practice being one, only time will tell (start humming bad 80’s tune here); more updates to follow.

(Note: This blog is being simulcast at our web site: www.keepwriting.org.)

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Sharing

As the some time, assistant editor of an online literary journal, I am often amazed by the courage that writers, mostly poets in this case, display in sending their work in to us to be evaluated. So much of what we see never reaches the light of day through us. Especially at the time of the annual poetry contest, we may see two hundred poems, only a few of which are going to see electronic publication in our magazine.

I often wonder what possesses people to send their intellectual children off to strangers to be critiqued, knowing that most the time the answer is going to be “No, thank you,” if there even is an answer. Often, the response from the editorial staff is silence – if no return envelope or email is provided, we don’t usually send comments back – so the author has to just wait and know that no news is not good news, no news is probably a rejection.

I had only a little experience with publicly sharing my work before graduate school. Once in fourth grade I won a poetry contest and in twelfth grade a short story was chosen as the best in the school to go to a state competition. Both times though, I think that teachers must have submitted my entries, because I don’t remember being that brave. My shrink in college would have something to say about this, but I’m pretty sure this desire to keep my writing to myself is partly a result of being the child of a college educated mother who was quick to critique any writing I shared with her – no doubt out of a sense of helpfulness, but stifling none the less.

It wasn’t until I got into a graduate writing program that I really got into the swing of workshopping. Fortunately, I was in classes led by faculty that supported constructive criticism, not the bashing and personal attacks that workshopping horror stories are born of. Possibly, some of my stuff was pretty good, because I don’t remember ever having my feelings hurt too badly and I continued on with writing to share again. Or possibly it was all crap, because we were never too harsh on anyone, even the girl who wrote what I can only describe as complete tripe.

It was out of these classes that I became part of my current writer’s group and they are the people that I now share with, secure in the knowledge that they will give me useful feedback and without the fear of anything worse than some gently scolding for not getting pages written, but that’s a common problem for all of us. Some of us have sent our progeny out to the world to be evaluated and even successfully published. I am not there yet.

(Note: This blog is being simulcast at our writing site: www.keepwriting.org.)

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Oh yeah, that burning interest.

Ooooh, Joe. Caught me. "You're a writer, don't you have a blog?" Well, yes, but having it is not quite the same as using it. How pathetic that I couldn't even remember its URL - lol.

So the original premise is still valid - this is number 3 of the 100 times I have to sit down and write in this blog. I am only counting attempts that can be substantiated here, not the other attempts at NANOWRIMO (www.nanowrimo.org), or the little bit of top of the brain stuff I occasionally spit out.

Which I did a few weeks ago at work when I brought the typewriter into work to use for the tax returns. There is something deeply satisfying about typing on a typewriter. The hum of the machine as it waits for you to begin, the feel of the keys as you press, the sound of the little thingy hitting the paper, seeing the word be formed on the page. I'm not a Luddite in any way - I used an electric typewriter for one thing - but I totally get the appeal of sitting in front of the edifice, vibrating every so slowly under your hands and sending the letter-minions out to create new constructs. The computer just can't recreate that feeling.