I get these little sticking points, these moments of non-acceptance. I’m cast from my place of ease and serenity, or at least my finger on the pulse of the dharma – into confusion, a small smudge of despair – rudderless. Tonight it’s in the car, as we drive to the hospital and my 12 year old daughter hears her mother praying aloud and crying, the helpless cry of abject suffering. Finally pull over at the side of the road – this is at about 9:30 PM – to vomit. Drive up to the ER and check in for pain relief. Pace and pace and breathe – finally on the bench in the lobby, rhythmic humming sounds. Placing myself in a trance to endure.
My daughter knows I won’t die, I’m only in severe pain. She gets to learn what it’s like to offer someone moral support – a loving presence. She puts her hand in mine. I tell her it means so much to me that she’s here.
These days, kidney stones pass about every three weeks. Most are a couple hours of pain – intense, distracting, maddening – but often such that I can walk about and focus on the business of others. Most times the pain eventually eases off – blessedly.
Tonight wasn’t like that. The pain started at about 2:30 and came and went, getting worse. Bringing a nausea that kept me from eating for about eight hours. At seven – right when we’re ready to take the stage for tonight’s performance – it steadily worsened. It took all I had to stay in the show to the end. The memory of getting through each bar of music, each song, each act. I was in a small, fourth-dimension place of a pain so acute the world seemed a Victorian-era vignette, unreal and distantly depersonalized.
I am home now. Exhuasted, but pain-free except for the ache in my lower back.
The hospital was kind. I am fretting about another medical bill. I haven’t yet moved off of that (futile) worry.
Still – today was, somehow, a good day. I kept a glad spirit – or I started off that way and it sustained me. And then: help, from so many quarters. A friend took me out grocery shopping. Another friend bought us our Christmas tree (!) and then delivered an oilskin envelope along with it – folded twenty dollar bills. Another friend sent me an online donation. Another friend let me help her with a home repair project. Another friend hosted my son this evening and took him out to a diner, and played video games with him besides. Another friend asked me along to her lunch. Castmates gave me hugs – castmates who aren’t particularly demonstrative.
If it weren’t for friends, if it weren’t for kindnesses large and small – my life would have little meaning.
And now, exhausted, I am back to pacing myself. Tomorrow: a matinee. I am behind on work for clients. I am tired and will need to recover further.
I can’t figure out tomorrow, today. That is for certain. I am grateful for the help and support I get. May it always remind me how worthwhile it is, to help and support others!
I’ve had kidney issues since I was sixteen, stones only (no infections, thank goodness, and no urinary problems otherwise). It was under a year ago a specialist first told me I had renal tubular acidosis, type two, and that this was a birth defect, in other words a problem I’ve always had and that I didn’t “cause” in any way. Which is still a bit odd to think about. Maybe because by and large I got about an eighteen year hiatus from horrible attacks, I’d just have one now and then, a few achy pains. I had some acute painful attacks last fall which resulted in treatment and a (minor but unpleasant and terrifying) surgical procedure.
Today, to my dismay, I had to drive myself to the ER because at about twelve twenty I realized I was about to have a world of hurt, as the pain ramped up and up and up. Passing a stone, I guess, or my body is getting ready to. It’s a pretty horrible pain, and I’ve experienced gallstones and natural childbirth (and unnatural childbirth!). So.
I didn’t want to take myself to the hospital. I didn’t want to be in pain, I didn’t want to have to change plans, which meant changing other people’s plans. I didn’t want to incur more medical expenses. And while writhing in a helpless and contained way on a small cot, and feeling more nausea than I’d ever felt in my life, so far, and crying by myself in harsh lighting, I didn’t want to consider another invasive procedure in my future.
But anyway all of that went down, and I chose to accept this, as exhausting as it feels. My kids and husband came to my side and helped me at the hospital. And everyone on the hospital staff was very, very kind.
In other news, yesterday some apparently very kind and loving ANONYMOUS soul left me a monetary gift at a local shop I teach at. That was wonderful timing as we are 1 1/2 months behind on rent, so this gave me some grace money to take the kids out and get some food, and save a little besides. I can’t think who the donor might be, and I suppose if they are anonymous I’m not supposed to know. I wanted to write more about this event, but I’m not feeling well at the moment.
So yeah. I’ve had a tiring day, full of pain and nausea, four needle pricks, IV fluids and strong medicine, and lots and lots of vomiting. I’m also having a medicine hangover so I need to rest.
This was the first New Year’s Eve I remember in my life, where I didn’t count down like everyone else usually does. I’d planned on, after our dinner guests left, taking a friend and my family to a Buddhist meditation at midnight. Instead I was sitting with these folks in the Emergency Room, waiting to visit a friend who’d been trucked in after a collapse. My kids, husband, and my girl H. played some kind of Twister knock-off on a carpet a few feet away. Next time I looked at my watch it was thirty-four minutes past midnight.
The fireworks from the hospital’s hill were lovely. It was cold. Nels had about three girlfriends by the time we left the parking lot. A social child. Also, earlier, a grouchy child who’d disrupted our earlier dinner a bit.
My friend at the hospital seems out of the woods. I am very grateful. I gave him my number as he’s staying overnight, and told him to call if I could bring him anything at all.
We had a good day today; the kids and I accompanied another family to adopt a kitty for little E. It was pretty choice, getting to visit with and pet the kitties.
Phoenix was a very kind little girl at the shelter, taking stock of each kitty and remembering their names and tempraments. There was another Phoenix working there as a volunteer, a teen boy. He and my daughter got along great, although I think like many he didn’t, at first, think a younger child could conduct themselves with aplomb at a kitty shelter.
E. and her father discuss adoption plans.
Raider. A favorite of J.’s. He was a handsome kitty. But E. was intent on adopting a lady kitty.
Here’s a kitty I like to call Noel, MY NEW BOYFRIEND. HE LOVED ME SO MUCH AND IMMEDIATELY CLIMBED IN MY ARMS right after I snapped this. He is the handsomest thing I have ever seen. Not convinced? Would you like a closeup?
I am going to get a tattoo of Noel and his likeness. His green-blue eyes are the inspiration of many sonnets. I’m sure he will be adopted out in no time and it just kills me.
E. + Nels + Noel. You can click through for like eighteen adorable pictures of them all looking at a “flashing light” they saw outside.
Nels reacts to something Noel said, probably something very suave and witty.
Panther may have trouble getting adopted.
Happy New Year. Anyone reading here with any regularity knows how grateful I am for my life. How blessed. I don’t mean “blessed” because so much good shit has happened to me or because God is super into me, I mean “blessed” because I’m very glad for the gifts I have. It is the gladness, the awareness, the awakenedness, when I have it, that is the gift.
Here’s Ralph taking a picture of me tonight just before tacos, because I wanted a new photo for Twitter. Thank you, husband, for taking a picture and making it of my ENORMOUS FACE.
After my medical procedure on Friday I didn’t want to be by myself. Once home I was inclined to rest (as I was under the influence of a small cartload of drugs), eat (as I’d had to fast since the evening previous), and listen to and talk to my family while they went about their business. And I received these gifts. I was in a bit of a haze when Ralph brought me home, although I knew my mom and children followed behind in her van. When the latter carload stepped through the door they brought a large vase of flowers, roses in many colors. They’d gone to the florist’s between the hospital and my home. While in the flower shop they ran into a family friend and got to talking about me. After listening to what were likely ebullient shows of love by the quartet in attendance, the florist wouldn’t take more than $30 for the generously-styled bouquet, her own gift for the occasion.
Ralph has been caring for me steadily. Cooking and making coffee and bringing me water. He’s bought me sopes and tea and Ibex wool gloves and every kind of juice he thought I’d like. He’s brought me blankets and kitties to cuddle and he’s done dishes and lit candles throughout the house (he knows I like candles). Very valuable to me, he’s helped me in my daily commitment to have a walk, something that has meant a great deal to me.
My friends and family have called, texted, IM’d, DM’d, and emailed, but with a great deal of consideration for my rest and recovery (that, physically, was quite swift, likely as the procedure was minor and the surgeon knew what he was doing). Friends have looked after (and fed) my children and tonight someone brought me an orchid as a gift. You know? I’ve wanted an orchid a long time. I once bought one for a friend, a beautiful and expensive specimen, and only a few minutes after I delivered this to the home of this friend, our other friend had cocktails and got nervous and knocked the beautiful thing over with a swoop of her ass. I remember thinking it was very funny, although my friend with the errant posterior probably was embarrassed. I knew even those years ago I’d like an orchid but I never gave myself permission to buy one. Tonight the blooms occupy the highest position in my home, a reminder, a flag of friendship.
I’ve been saying (and writing) “Thank you” a lot for a couple weeks now.
I write these events out as I want them recorded somewhere besides in my heart. I think in some way people’s kindness amazes me and it finally breaks down some barrier, some resistance I’ve long held very deeply. I am not invisible, and I am not unique, and I do not need to suffer alone.
There was a time in my life where I felt I’d been unfairly done by. I remember stewing over a great deal of unfairness, dealt to me and others, angry over embarrassments and humiliations, large and small. I remember worrying a lot about what I’d do for paid employment or how my kids would turn out or what people thought of me or if something bad would happen. I’ve felt angry at those who had more material wealth, I’ve felt superior to those who (seemed as if they) had more troubles than I. I’ve felt eager for the good opinion of some while ignoring others entirely if they did not seem in some way useful or special.
But over time many of these judgments and perceptions have fallen away, and I’ve been left feeling more curious and grateful, and a bit more tired for some reason. And now I simply must accept the goodness and kindness so many have to offer, either that or pretend it isn’t what it is.
Today the wonderful nature of people evidences itself in so many ways. I have been loved and cared for far more than I “deserve”. This is not to say I believe I am a wretched person, only I believe I cannot in anyway repay, or even pay forward, the great deal of care and consideration that has been afforded me. I must only admit the world is a wonderful place full of lovely people, and I’d like to be a part of. In time I shall likely feel better again, after recent seeming setbacks, but I do not need anything other than I have to exhibit kindness as has been shown me. It’s a wonderful meditation, and a wonderful practice to cultivate.
I am supine on the cold table and something is beamed at me and takes pictures of my insides. The technician is very friendly and conversational, quite professional. I am subdued because I have been enduring medications and procedures that are not especially fun, although I am struggling not to retain a poor attitude. My children are in the hallway, clean and neatly dressed, reading to themselves. After I get my pictures taken I dress again, gather the kids up and get them a bubble tea to share before we head to the specialist’s.
After review of my results they tell me a series of little reports, mundane to their field of expertise, but each one a blow which threatens me into a smaller and smaller corner of myself. They recommend a procedure that will involve general anesthesia and intubation, have a device installed within my body, and then wait two weeks where I must rest while likely enduring chronic pain that cannot be corrected by medication, during this time which among other restrictions I am recommended to not lift more than ten pounds. Two weeks of very likely chronic pain. This sticks with me and the fear threatens to consume me. Then after this time, the removal of the device, a procedure which also hurts, lots. When a doctor tells me it hurts, I know it hurts more than they say.
Today I am not in much pain, but I am in some. I am not in as much pain as I will be, so I take that time and enjoy it. But what to say when people say, “I hope you’re feeling better”, and things aren’t better? We assume those sick improve, but not always so. I should know this acutely watching my father go through cancer (and, worse, cancer treatment). Sometimes there is no “better”, or better takes time.
Attending me I have a loving family, competent (as far as I can tell) medical personnel, some medical insurance, and most of all, my sobriety and spiritual practice. Indeed these last two are the only things I can rely on, these practices. I can tell you without them I would be consumed, eaten alive by fear and misery.
â€œThe whole secret of existence is to have no fear. Never fear what will become of you, depend on no one. Only the moment you reject all help are you freed.â€
In the ER they have these fancy little barf bags I don’t remember from eighteen years ago when I suffered, I suspect, from the same malady that brings me here today. Back then the Emergency entrance was on the north side of the building and the whole bit was a little more pinched and darker and dingier; I remember throwing up on the floor between my feet while the intake lady looked on in disapproval, her nails angrily clack-clacking my low class to her keyboard.
But today I cough and vomit into a tidy little blue bag and the personnel there are cheerful, trying to make conversation while I’m a bit blind from sensation, except to note my systolic blood pressure is up thirty points due to pain. My daughter strokes my back and puts her head against mine and eventually I’m on a narrow bed in my own room writhing around. After a while the grip of convulsions slow a bit and I can lie still and formulate some thoughts; I instruct Phoenix to call and cancel her own dentist appointment, and to call Ralph, to cancel this or that (like a little VIKING I finished a meeting commitment today, the last twenty minutes distinctly uncomfortable, before driving myself directly to the hospital where I got up to the weeping and choking), to let my mom know where I am as she has my son. Meanwhile they put a needle in the hollow of my elbow and take blood and ask for urine and put stuff in an IV and my arm is cold.
I watch some bad television but it really is Bad. I click it off and stare at the thin cotton blankets not keeping me warm. Soon Ralph is there and more stuff is put in my IV and them I’m wheeled in for a CT scan where the operator pulls down my jeans, belt and all, and has me push up my bra, and I lie on my stomach under blankets and tubes and curiously comfortable but in the most undignified state of sartorial disarray. The operator is friendly too, and he wheels me back and I feel distinctly odd at being wheeled anywhere, and it also occurs to me how fun it would be to have remote control and bang through the halls like a maniac.
The pain is rising again and they give me some more meds. The doctor comes back in eventually and tells me bad news. I am kind of shocked although I kind of also knew what was likely wrong. I am told to call so-and-so Specialist tomorrow. I sit helpless on my little gurney under blankets. My blood pressure is finally down to normal again, thanks to a rather effective pain medication that unfortunately makes me vomit again, although this time I don’t mind nearly so much.
All in all it’s exhausting to go through but you can imagine how relieved I am to not feel pain, and when I get home my mom comes over with my son, and they’ve brought roses. But they bought the roses even before they knew I fell ill which kind of is the Best Thing Ever.
You never know what the day will bring. Here I thought I’d be making a double-chocolate bundt cake, sewing a Halloween costume, going to a book study, and up late on a date with my husband. Instead I’ve been on the couch a while, only breaking for a bath and to sit up and eat pizza, and Heather is up late a few feet away writing a poem about pancakes. I try not to worry about the onset of more pain and I shall instead use my time to appreciate the sensations in my body now, agony-free.
Before parenthood there were some things out of the breadth of my life experience which I now, fast-forward, idenfity as regular facets of it. Like creative urinationrituals, or being screamed at in public, or a midnight run to a grocery store for a box – you heard – of wine.
Both my children are incredibly active and as they are not required to sit at a desk in school all day they are mostly riding bikes, climbing trees, swimming, skateboard, arc welding, etc. In short they are a mass of bruises from the knees down and often their hands and feet have scratches as well, which heal with a remarkable alacrity (think: alien life form, it’s actually quite scary).
Especially Nels. With the injuries, I mean. Who today, after we got home, got into a horrific scooter accident before the screen door swung shut behind my ass as I brought our groceries in. He had hopped on the scooter to go down the block and check on a much-younger child who was alone on the corner (to make sure the kid was okay). But his shoe caught on the treacherous motherfucking HQX sidewalk and down he went. Phoenix came right inside and told me Nels had fallen. She was completely calm but she let me know it was a serious fall. When I got to him he was sitting on the grass crying but no harder than a minor spill. He put his arms around me and I saw the abrasion on his knee and felt that familiar pang of sadness, softness, empathy and love. Inside the house Phoenix ran a bath (to bathe his wounds) and got him some new clothes. He was calm before I sat down with him on the couch. Then I noticed the alarming goose egg under his blonde hair. Like: gross. Massive. I almost threw him off my lap.
I am no stranger to kid-injury of course. Last time we had a bike accident that warranted medical attention I managed to get right into the doctor for a look-over. This time, no dice. The receptionist told me I had to get him to the ER. Now honestly, this didn’t seem necessary, but since the doctor wouldn’t see me and we don’t have Urgent Care anymore … well fine. So my afternoon was spent in the hospital, a place I don’t find particularly depressing or distressing. Nels was a hit with the personnel because I think they are used to parents talking for their children, and of course I don’t need to speak for Nels at all. He made sure to tell each person who helped us that he was not there to get shots.
A not-too-long wait and lots of paperwork and interviews of the little guy…
and poking and prodding (they even had him get into a wee little hospital gown!)…
And we were on our way home with the normal, “Call us if you see vomiting or if he gets nauseated or an eyeball pops out of his head, etc. etc.”
I’m glad my little guy is okay.
Oh and P.S.: today in the bike shop he reiterated his desire for a unicycle. So. Yeah.
Our adventure put aside my sewing project, a kick-ass coat for the little fellow. Sneak peak:
A few days after having my second child I brought him to the small group Bible study I’d been attending for many weeks. While my eldest played downstairs in the (excellent!) childcare setup the group had provided, my group of ladyfriends – about six in all – passed around my new baby and congratulated me and were very sweet to me. I’m not a big baby-lovin’ mama, but new babies are pretty interesting – just another amazing facet in life’s mysteries. Fathers and (especially) mothers of little kids were pretty damned awesome to be around when I had a new kid; usually they really got it, they were there for me in an elemental and so wonderful way.
The women in my group asked me about my birth experience, preparing to sympathize or laugh or pity or shake their heads or hear something harrowing. I can’t remember what exactly I said but I know that in those first few (days/weeks/months/years) whenever I opened my mouth about Nels’ birth it felt less like a coherent account than like flowers, blooms falling from my lips. I couldn’t believe how wonderful it had been: powerful, amazing, very quick (I was in hard labor with Nels from 10 PM to 1 AM – Sophie’s birth at the hospital two years prior had taken 18 very rough hours), unmessy, entirely dignified (it felt to me), no bother, non-disruptive (our oldest slept through the whole thing), pretty mellow all in all. And no one saw my vagina while I pushed out a baby, which is actually pretty cool for me. On Nels’ birth night an hour after having him he was nursing and the house was clean and calm and there was home-cooked food and juice and champagne (oh my gosh… I swear I would re-pregnate this instant just to have my nursing baby appetite back! Food and drink never tasted so good!). There was so much to my birth that had astounded me, and I know now part of my incredulity had been the many, many years growing up in a culture where birth is, take your pick: scary, silly, high-tech, messy, ridiculous, dangerous, in need of instruments and experts or it wouldn’t happen, mysterious because it was gross so it was draped in shitty hospital gowns and pricked with needles and catheters and instruments and took place in sterile rooms where in your shame you suffered but if you had a (more or less) healthy baby at the end of all that then everything else didn’t matter and you should feel grateful!
So if I ever wax on about my second birth, it’s not just that it was a good one: it’s that it was the exact opposite of everything I’d been brought up to expect and, to some extent, experienced in my first birth experience.
So I don’t remember what I said in this Bible study, but I remember words flowing and just so much gladness and joy and I couldn’t suppress it. And after I spoke there was a silence. The women were clearly pleased and happy for me, but they were just damned confused. “I’ve never heard of a birth like that before,” one of them finally murmured, and the rest agreed. My honesty and happiness and giddiness (and post-birth hormones!) shone through and I was evidence that it was real, yet they didn’t know how to frame what I’d just purported.
In the above video I particularly appreciated the following:
1. The description Dr. Declercq (from the Boston University School of Public Health) gave of the “cascade of interventions” (04:08 in the film) is apt and so relevant to many women I know. In my first birth I went to the hospital believing I’d have a natural birth, but I was unaware of just how unlikely this would be; unaware of how much self-advocacy I’d have had to employ – while birthing for the first time! – in order to avoid a huge amount of interventions. Birth professionals told me, “You’re taking a long time, take this medicine, it will help with the contractions”. One thing the drugs helped with was creating more agony: Pitocin-induced contractions are painful and intense but not necessarily effective. Let me tell you, I was begging (or broadly hinting, rather) for an epidural after having that drug (fortunately, I managed to avoid one). Compared to the Pitocin contractions with my first birth, my second birth work was so much easier I remember telling my midwives they were lying when they told me I was almost done. In my first birth I labored a long time and avoided a C-section, for which I’m grateful – knowing what I know now. I’m less grateful I was advised to have drugs, and I’m sad I was raised to believe doctors know best and thus had more or less put the whole business in their hands without being willing to do the work of making my own decisions.
2. Judy Norsigian, the Executive Director of Our Bodies Ourselves (06:42 in the film) delineates the fact that the vast majority of those who choose homebirth aren’t fringe or “hedonistic” or wanting a “spa-like experience” – they have carefully reviewed safety concerns. Oh my goodness. Every time I read or hear this sort of thing, that homebirthers are silly hippies – and lots of people profess this stuff – it makes me crazy. Ralph and I (mostly me) read up like you wouldn’t believe when pregnant with Nels, and homebirth seemed the safest and most appropriate choice (interestingly, many people think of hospital as “normal” and anything else being a weird choice departing from normal; but of course, once you and/or your partner is pregnant, you do make a choice, wherever you end up). The reality is as an American woman in good health, all my choices were pretty safe. But homebirth was the safest choice (and seemed easiest on me and the baby) of all – based on facts available to us. We didn’t choose this route because all I cared about was a frou-frou or spa-like or mystical fly-up-the-arse experience and that makes me Crazy Angry to think anyone who knows me (or doesn’t) would assume those kind of superficial concerns would comprise my primary motives for one of the most important events in my life.
While we’re at this “spa experience” bullshit, let me point out it isn’t homebirthers or “natural” birth proponents who barf out the “spa” birth crap. Pick up any mainstream parenting magazine (homebirth isn’t mainstream – last I checked it represented 0.6% of births in this country) and you see all sorts of, “buy this candle or this aromatherapy pillow or this birth mix CD or this-or-that to make your experience all fluffy and frilly”. The “special snowflake spa birth” mystique is a product of marketing much, much more than single-minded pursuits of individual women.
3. I remember being surprised at how inexpensive my homebirth was – the statistics on Massachusetts indicate a home or birth center birth is 7 times less expensive than the C-sections (which were 34% of the state’s births in 2007!). Even should a couple avoid a C-section, the way we’re doing birth in this country is expensive. When it comes to the healthcare debate and individual choices, many in our culture like to pick on some people (fat people! poor people! smokers!) for costing us in health dollars spent but wouldn’t dream of spouting their ire on you know – most people who breed – for participating in normalized (and as it turns out, overly expensive) birth practices.
Our country has the birth-crazies. That is, our culture currently reports birth as dangerous – a medical event (in reality, no offense, birth is like taking a shit. Normally things go pretty well and it is rare – but not unheard of – to need help). Many people believe doctors are needed to make the decisions and any C-section by virtue of being performed proves it saved the mother and/or baby from something horrid. Forceps and EFM and inductions and epidurals and IVs and ticking clocks and repeated vaginal checks are necessary and God (or whoever) designed women totally different than other mammals – our pelvises are too small, our blood isn’t right, blah blah.
Yet with our experts and technology our country still has poor neonatal outcomes amongst industrialized nations (infant mortality rate ranks in the twenties), and even if you don’t stop and think Wow, why is birth outcome so dismal in our country? it isn’t all about if a baby lives or not: women are hurt and made to feel defective and wrong, men absent themselves from the discussion – I heard two pretty nice guys, husbands of my girlfriends, in private conversation basically saying, “I don’t know why she cares so much about this stuff, all I care about is that she and the baby are safe” – as if passive do-nothing-hope-for-the-best wasn’t the exact crucial factor keeping our status quo in effect. Women make the best choices they can in the circumstances (I truly believe this to be the case most of the time) then feel defensive about their choices if they are in any way referenced or called into question. Women who were smart and did their homework and did what was right for them and were fortunate to have good outcomes (like me) pick on the women who had more birth intervention, often villifying those women (not like me) and again – give male partners a total out on the conversation. There is an emotionalism in the subject (discussed briefly by an MD at 03:38 in the above film) that prohibits honest, logical discussion – that is, to admit our C-section rate (in the low thirties) is way, way too high can’t be discussed without individual women feeling angry, hurt, defensive, and often attacking other women’s choices (again, giving the male of the species a total out).
So yeah, I don’t talk about birth too often. I post my homebirth story every year at Nels’ birth (and if I’d thought to write down Sophie’s hospital birth story I would post hers – I’m sad I did not document it. Funny how I had so much less energy after being put through the drug-wringer); and I write about it now and then, and I’m passionate. Because it really does matter – but only if you think women, families, human beings matter. If you don’t, no worries.