Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Human Reply to Auto-Reply FAIL

A guy I work with, but whom I've never met in person, responded to my out-of-the-office auto-reply e-mail with "Are you having a baby?"

Wha? Huh? Who in the h**...?

My first thought was to respond, "Oh yeah, I forgot to tell you. It's yours."

As an absolutely hilarious comedian* I saw last winter would say, "First thought wrong..."

I didn't go with the first thought. Nor did I opt for the...
  • 2nd: see above italics
  • 3rd: "Been there, done that. Please donate to the March of Dimes"
  • 4th: "Have we met?"
  • 5th: "Please be available to field calls from HR."
  • 6th: "Please see the attached photo from my endoscopy."
  • 7th...
*Mark Lundholm.

Pudding for a 25% Shot at Immortality

It's tax season. And as they say, in this country anyway, the only sure things are death and taxes. But according to some smart folks in Sweden, maybe not. Pudding might solve one of those little problems. No, no really!

I came across an interesting article. The all-too-generic headline, "Calcium Linked to Longer Life" is essentially the "Consumable of Some Sort Linked to Longer/Shorter Life" article du jour. In this case, my attention was suckered by the deck (that stuff under the headline designed to drag you into the rest of the article):
People who get the most calcium in their diet reduce their risk of death by 25 percent, according to new research on calcium and health.
Wha? Huh? Really? Bring it on! I clicked through to the article. It gets better. The editors provide immediately accessible advice under a nice little "what you can do" heading:
"Boost your calcium intake by eating healthy food sources like low-fat dairy, spinach, kale…and pudding!"
Pudding may be the secret to everlasting life! Or it could be kale. But... It could be pudding! I wonder:
  • Is butterscotch pudding more or less effective than chocolate pudding?
  • Is there a true hierarchy based on flavors? Brands?
  • IS BILL COSBY IMMORTAL?
  • Does adding bananas to pudding enhance or diminish the health benefits?
  • Can you make kale pudding?
I just gotta know!

Someone please explain why are we not dancing in the streets, stopping traffic, and plastering the screens of CNN, CBS, BBC, NBC, and anyone but Fox News with this? Where is Geraldo Rivera uncovering the long covered-up coverup? Hell, where is Oprah? Or that guy who always has very scary, extremely pale toothless people fighting in their way-too-small-and-even-tackier underwear? (I'm rather proud of myself that I can't remember his name, nor do I have any urge to Google it in the name of journalistic research.)

(And another note -- anyone else think they're marketing pudding to single women? Smooth, rich, and available?)

Monday, March 29, 2010

Polar Bear in Pursuit? Just Use a BSO!

Should you be chased by a polar bear down Mountain View's Castro Street while on foot, simply do a u-turn and a street fair will appear. Apparently, polar bears -- or people dressed in mangy polar bear costumes, yet still frightening when chasing you -- are easily distracted by jewelry at art & wine festivals.

But perhaps only the variety of art & wine festival that appears like a pond in the desert when you make an abrupt turnaround midstreet. I'm not sure. I've not experienced another polar bear chase -- costumed or otherwise -- nor encountered an apparition-type art & wine festival.

It was clear, however, that the jewelry (ooooh shiny, prett-ty shiny things) is what captured the attention of the bear. The BSO strategy works again.

Four more instances where Bright Shiny Objects (BSO) work well in tough situations:
  • Presentations that are not going well -- mention some new, obscure feature or technology and watch the eyes glitter as they quickly forget the facts you were trying to explain, -- oooh, that's neat too, what metrics, i want the bleeferblarb widget
  • Disagreements with romantic partners -- especially useful when it's measured by carats and you're a professional athlete who really f***ed up (literally or figuratively)
  • Gremlinized children who really, really, really want -- oooh, that's neat too, what candy, i want the race car
  • Blog posts in which you really can't explain the whole polar bear thing except to say those meds for the digestive thing seem to have some really funky side effects
I can hardly wait to see what will play out across my eyelids tonight.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Hiatus for the Cape & Tights

I realized my invisible superwoman cape isn't working. I sent it to the wrong dry cleaners and they used some sort of solvent that neutralized my superpowers. That's what I get for trying to save a buck.

OK, honestly, I was never quite comfortable in the tights either. The stilettos gave me blisters. And the leotard always gave me a wedgie, which made the cape useful until I remembered it was invisible.

Why is it that superheroes always have such ridiculous wardrobes? If they're superheros, wouldn't they have the special powers to save the world in jeans, a t-shirt, and flip-flops?

Big decision. I'm taking time off to get back to healthy, feisty, and strong.

My ego tried to convince me that I could simultaneous climb Everest, juggle flaming chainsaws, work full time, keep up with @, and figure out how to live without snobbishly good dark chocolate as the fourth food group (the others were fruits & veggies, tofu, and whole grains).

Hmmm... There might be a wee bit of exaggeration there. But it sure sounds like a fairly realistic list of "mom" things at first glance.

So it's learning time. Learning to adjust to the new hobbies of my digestive system so I can get back to my normal frenetic kid-chasing, dog-walking, hill hiking, etc. self. (I think I leave the falling out of trees behind.) Or whatever the new version of my self happens to be.

And away we go -- in my comfy clothes.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Tuna Glow, Tuna Know

Dead tuna do tell tales. As one friend describes it, "your stomach muscles just up and decided they didn't want to work for a living anymore." He continued on a short rant about the French and labor unions, but after 20+ years of hearing his redneck raving, I'm nearly immune.

His pre-rant phrasing pretty much covers it. The medical definition of such activity, or lack of activity, is gastroparesis. (And no, it's not caused by stress!)

Thanks to my lovely radioactive tuna sandwich experiment, not to be confused with Ken Kesey's Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test (which was waaaaaay more colorful, man), I discovered that although my brain spins quickly, my gut does not.

Whee! Having answers I don't like is better than having no answers at all. After a several months of mystery starting last fall, increasing discomfort, and entertaining tests, it's now onward into the breach of figuring out the next step.

OK now, this makes sense.  That makes sense.  That other thing makes sense.

The acid reflux, energy zonks, progressive lack of fun. (Should I mention random drops in blood sugar often characterized by a dangerous careening visit to the Beyatch Zone? Hmmm... Maybe not.)

It seems that not being able to digest food properly tends to be problematic. Who knew? Oh, everyone. Yes, well.

It's possible that gastroenterologists spend so much time learning to spell g-a-s-t-r-o-e-n-t-e-r-o-l-o-g-i-s-t that they lose their humor. Yes, the crack about taking my gastrointestinal muscles to the gym definitely fell flat. In fact, I'm fairly sure he's questioning my sanity and planning an award-winning medical research paper on the amazing number of gastroparesis patients who are also nuts.

Lose the ability to eat or sleep and you too will find yourself looking for those marbles you've lost. Or the nuts the neighbor squirrel buried three years ago.

Weak stomach muscles are not the same as abdominals, so crunches ain't gonna solve this thing. Googler that I am, I started sniffing around for ideas about changing my diet. Some gastroenterologists in Pennsylvania with a spiffy website provided a three-step diet supposedly designed to "to reduce symptoms and maintain adequate fluids and nutrition."

It sounds really inviting. They have this great grid with columns for "recommend" and "avoid" next to different food groups (milk products, vegetables, fruits, etc.). It would have been oh-so-much easier and less cruel to the web developers to simply list what you can eat: plain saltine crackers, Gatorade, soft drinks, fat-free consomme, boullion. Oh yeah, that's gonna work. You do that for three days and then move on to Step 2.

I'm convinced that the purpose of Step 1 is to make Step 2 look good. Much like when trying to get a six-year-old to eat vegetables you offer beets, brussels sprouts, and carrots as the options. Money has it you're going to hear carrots. But if you have my kid, you'd better have the beets and sprouts on hand. Not because he likes them, but because he will call your bluff on random occasions.

Yes, Step 2 did need the ugly first step to make it shine. Dinner from the sample menu looks downright deliciously decadent: A tablespoon of peanut butter, six saltines, a half-cup of vanilla pudding, and a half-cup of grape juice.

Bring out the candlelight and violins, because I'm ready to swoon over a meal like that. SWOON I tell you. Just friggin' swoon. Or wait, maybe it's pass out from dizzyness and HUNGER.

Step 3, the long-term maintenance diet, brings the promise of plain chicken, white rice, and cooked beets. No fresh fruit, no raw vegetables, no whole grains. Have we met? I have a loving relationship with fresh fruit, a strong preference for cold crunchy veggies, and dig my nice healthy whole grains. I have to give up my uber-healthy diet to stay healthy. Explain that one. (And before you jump on the potato chip easy-cheese bandwagon, my healthy diet also did not cause this!)

This definitely calls for more research. And a really freaking good sense of humor. And anything, yes anything, other than a future of cooked beets. Blech.

P.S. Good news: I don't have to pretend to like broccoli anymore. Apparently, eating it has the potential to hospitalize me. Who knew?!

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Rabid Dust Bunnies

I have a very big broom. I have often used it to sweep things under the rug in the interest of maintaining a relatively calm relationship with my mother. We've pretty much always had challenges getting along.

I'm told I'm too independent. And not just from Day 1. Stubborn from Day -2, that's me.

Apparently I have been a royal pain in the hindquarters since refusing to be born prior to her 30th birthday. Willful fetus that I was, I grabbed hold of her uterus and refused to come out for an additional two days -- not just one, two. Just to spite her. (The things you learn in a shared therapy session at the age of 18.)

There were more crimes in my list. I embarrassed her. People often mistook me for a boy. I was a quiet bookish soccer-addicted tomboy instead of a gregarious perky girl. I was shy to the point of dissolving in tearful terror when expected to order ice cream.

Oh yes, and willful. I willed my breasts to grow bigger than hers at an age far earlier than she thought appropriate. (Actually it wasn't will, it was Miracle-Gro. But don't tell anyone.) I didn't do much to try to fit in. Meanwhile, I was getting good grades, playing in the band (albeit badly), and selling my share of Girl Scout cookies in my little green uniform.

I recently went through an exercise about resentments. In total, I have very few. When it comes to my mother, I admit there is a list. And resentments are definitely on my to-do list. Interestingly, hers come from things over which I had no control. Mine have to do with her inability or refusal to acknowledge any of it. I've reached out, admitting that raising an unhappy kid couldn't have been easy, etc. I've given her free passes. She won't take them.

Two of the biggest examples are related, yet happened twenty years apart. When I was 18, I was working the summer near Donner Summit and was hospitalized twice after my blood pressure started dropping so low that I would lapse into shock. I spent a day in the ER, then was admitted for another four days. She didn't come to the hospital. She had plans to go to my grandparents' cabin in the area on the weekend, so she waited rather than modify her plans, by which time I had been released.

I delivered my twin boys -- her only grandchildren -- 14 weeks early. One of my sons died the day he was born, the other spent nearly four months in intensive care. Although she now lived in Seattle, she had a boatload of free airline tickets. Yet, she waited more than a month.

Even as an adult, but especially as a mother myself, it's hard to comprehend. I'm thankful that my brother has had a significantly better relationship with her. When it comes to me, any time anything has come up in conversation, it's quickly shut down in defense. Zero acknowledgment.

When I had my biopsy a few weeks ago, I sent a note to my mom, brother, and dad. My brother replied immediately, my dad called. A few days later, my mom wrote contending that I'd made myself sick via stress. The "you did it to yourself" is a pattern. In her medical omniscience, I contracted salmonella that kept me horizontal for nearly three weeks because I didn't wash my hands after using the restroom. (Wha? Huh? How dare...) The state health department on the other hand, traced it to a truck carrying lettuce, cantaloupe, and live chickens...

I considered getting out my big broom again, but found it jammed in the closet.

I wrote back explaining that I'm less stressed now than I can ever remember. She fired back about about me being rude and how messy my house was at her last visit. I'm facing a potential cancer diagnosis and her focus is on a messy desk.

Well, without big broom in hand, the rabid dust bunnies emerged.

I finally brought up an abbreviated list of "unacknowledged things." And that list, well -- I used to joke that I was raised by wolves. Someone who knew my history corrected me, "Oh no, wolves are far more nurturing."

I didn't expect an apology or some groundbreaking shift of tectonic plates. I accept that I can't change her. Any change must come from within her for her own reasons. But I can change how I interact with her. Saying it "out loud" to her took courage, but it also freed me because it gave the truth light and air.

After the second e-mail exchange, I got one more: "Have a nice life." I wasn't surprised.

The first words that came to mind for me? "I will."

Thursday, March 11, 2010

That Certain Glow

"Eat the whole thing, but be careful not to touch the filling," he said very seriously as he handed me a grayish tuna sandwich.

Huh? OK, don't touch the tuna, just consume it?
That's comforting.
As was the fact he was wearing bright blue gloves.
You don't want the stuff on your hands, just in your gut? Hmm...

My breakfast was in fact a standard-issue hospital cafeteria tuna sandwich augmented with a lovely condiment of radioactive isotopes. Mmmmmm? Or Hmmmmm...

Next task, remain absolutely still on a table for two full hours while nice people in lab coats use a screen to track the glow as makes its way through my digestive tract. I have an oddly convenient ability to fall asleep during medical tests. I actually slept through most of this one, until the last 30 minutes where I was fairly convinced my upper arms were going to catch fire from the position into which they'd been forced. (Good news, no actual scorching.)

Yesterday's little snack-and-glow was the third major attempt to figure out what is going on with my recalcitrant gut. These tests are like a series of midterms, without the studying. Is it reflux with a stubborn streak to match my Taurean birthdate? Is it something entirely different? Did one of the understudies from Sigourney Weaver's Alien series take residence in my abdomen?

Live the mystery! You have to be able to laugh when one of your four major food groups is oatmeal. Maybe you don't have to but me, I choose to laugh. A lot. It's always a matter of choice:
- Dwell on the discomfort or laugh through it.
- Stress about the lack of answers or work with what information you have.
- Worry about what comes next or be present now.
- Find medical pictures on WebMD or Alien pictures on IMDB.

I learned something important when @ was in the hospital. I could try to figure out all of the potential issues every time something came up, or I could deal what was in front of me from day to day. Given his initial health issues, the list of possible scenarios, challenges, and outcomes increased exponentially on a daily basis.

I don't do math.

Once upon a time I was a contingency planner -- I assessed things, identified potential outcomes, and had a plan for each one. (Effective when planning ski trips for 100+ people, but not universally applicable.) That little habit went out the window, quickly, when my sons were born.

As I applied that same perspective of "what is in front of me right now" to more aspects of my life, my stress level dropped. The less I try to figure out, control, predict, manipulate, etc. the more things work out on their own.

So, yes indeed, I ate a radioactive sandwich yesterday in what's called a gastric emptying study. And no, I have no idea what the results showed. I'll know when I know. And with that information, the next step will present itself. Until then, I'm looking out the door at a bright shiny day, putting on my shoes, and scraping up the energy to walk to the pharmacy. Because I can :-)

Monday, March 1, 2010

Reaching Out -- For the First Time

I've spent the first two months of 2010 growling at myself for picking the high-deductible medical plan, given how much time I've spent with the medical community thus far. I like rice and oatmeal as much as the next girl, but there's been precious little variety beyond that since November.

Two weeks ago my esophagus and I had a photo shoot (think internal vogue-ing on enough valium to make a horse levitate). I expected to awake to answers, not "We'll have biopsy results in ten days." The concept of biopsy threw me; it somehow wasn't a word I was expecting. But it was less the potential of what it might mean than the nebulousness of not knowing the next step.

Boy howdy the Serenity Prayer does come in handy when you're scratching for control you're just not going to get. God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.

I knew I couldn't change the test result, but I could change how I approached it. For me, it wasn't a simple change. It was akin to bungee jumping for the first time.

I have a reputation for being "strong" through adversity. At one point after my sons were born very early, I would quietly and to myself get ticked off anytime someone told me how strong I was. Were they clueless?! I had zero interest in being strong. I crumpled when no one was looking. I cried in my car. Why did everyone think I was so strong? Why couldn't they give me a break and let me be less than strong?

I finally figured it out over tea with a friend last Friday. (Yeah, I'm 41 years old. Sometimes I'm just amazingly s-l-o-w to catch on.) People think I'm strong because I've been oh-so-careful to never show weakness. I was raised in an environment where if you had to cry, you did it alone and behind closed doors. You didn't ask for help. You never admitted you couldn't do it yourself. I got very good at masking and compartmentalizing my emotions. I've been called "cold" when in reality, I'm pretty damned emotional (on the inside...).

I always showed strong. I never asked for help. I never admitted anything other than strong.

Last week, I took a new step. I ditched the mask. It felt weird, but I used my Facebook status to ask for positive thoughts because I was getting biopsy results that day. And I was scared. I second-guessed myself about 42 times, but I left the post there. I was hoping a few people would read it and maybe toss a good thought my way before moving on to the next post. I got far more than I bargained for.

Between the original post and the follow-up that the biopsy was indeed clear (yay), I had nearly 50 messages of support. I was overwhelmed, amazed, comforted, and truly humbled. I still am. The test result itself is now a minor footnote to the day.

By reaching out and asking for help, letting down the mask of strong, and allowing my friends into the scarier part of my world, I got an amazing sense of the people in my life. And of peace. And it carried me through my day. It buoys me nearly a week later and will continue to do so for a long time.

Now I get it...