Sunday, December 20, 2009

The Adoption

I adopted out a kitten today. I found him a home. I placed him with someone I’ve never met before and know almost nothing about.

I’ve never done this before. And I find myself feeling tearful, a little depressed, a little empty. And struggling not to doubt myself.

I think he’s got a good home.

Does he have the perfect home? I don’t know. I don’t even know what that means or if it exists.

I know I want him to be loved, to be happy and to be safe and to have a good home for as long as he lives.

I’d hoped to adopt him out with his sister but the woman only wanted one.

We never even named him. He’s a beautiful gray kitten who’ll be five months old at the first of the year. His birth was, like his two sisters and several other kittens we’ve given refuge to this year, unplanned.

I am in the middle of this as I help my mother manage an outdoor cat population. We’ve given refuge to about three litters this year as we try to capture and “fix” the parents who’ve made their home in my mother’s otherwise empty barn.

Since summer, I’ve slowly fallen in love with this kitten or that. I’ve already taken in four, only expecting to take in three. My mother has accepted one to join her house cats but there had to be a cut-off somewhere.

Until today, five have been enjoying a little kitten-ville in her heated breezeway. It’s comfortable enough, but not the home they deserve.

For months, I’ve been looking for homes, posting signs, sharing images and information via email and asking almost everyone I encounter if they might be willing to adopt.

In all these months, the only two kittens we’ve adopted out until now went to a good friend from high school and her husband. That was October 1. I suffered a little separation anxiety when she drove off with them, but I trust them completely. If only they would take a couple more.

It’s agonizing enough to let them go when you become attached. It’s harder when you aren’t sure of the person. When you realize you may never see that animal again, may never be sure they are okay.

I’ve said no to people, too. I mean, we could have probably let go of all these kittens had I not asked questions, didn’t care if they were adopted out in pairs, didn’t really want to know their fate. I told my mother to let me handle it. I wanted to be the gate keeper.

Not that I have the time. But I have the commitment. I do not know another way. I wish I did.

We also could have taken them to a no-kill shelter but why not just foster them ourselves? Maybe we didn’t want to let them go.

I’ve lost some faith in people in the process. Or maybe just got scared of them.

First was the girl at the pet store who told me never to give them away for free. “People sell them for medical research,” she told me. Now that’s always in the back of my mind.

And so I decided to tell people I’d charge them $50 or $100 which I’d refund when they sent proof they had taken the kitten to the vet. I don’t want their money. I want loving homes.

There was the almost perfect home. The woman who saw my sign a few months ago at the hardware store and thought it must be destiny. She told me she’d put it out to the universe, or something like that, that very day to find two needy kittens to adopt when she stumbled upon my flyer. She sounded perfect. She and her husband were recent empty nesters who’d lost their beloved cat not long ago. She was even volunteering with Leader Dogs for the Blind. We arranged for her to see them the next day.

Then she called back. Her husband wanted two girls, specifically sisters. I didn’t have that. I had two girls, not sisters. No deal. Her husband was set on that. I was as annoyed as I was crushed. But in the end they adopted a couple of needy cats from a shelter. And in that way, that was okay. I just kept hoping to find more people like her.

Mostly, I seemed to find the wrong people. Or they’d find me.

There was the man with the two-year-old from the other side of town — too far I thought — who told me they had to “get rid of” the last kitten because it kept scratching their daughter (immediately I pictured her pulling a kitten’s tail). Then he wanted to know “how much?”

As I told him about the refund arrangement, already sure I was not interested in him, I mentioned a woman I knew who was trying to adopt some kittens that already had shots. He’d already called her, he said bluntly. “That didn’t work out.” Apparently he didn’t have the money “that month” to pay her. I think all she wanted was maybe $50.

Didn’t have the money “that month”?

I politely told him I’d let him know and knew I’d never call him back.

Then there was the eager but simple sounding woman who was also from a town too far and not a good part of town at that. I tried not to be judgmental. She saw my sign at the pet store when she went there with a friend. Her heart was in the right place, it seemed. She had two rescue cats and two small dogs already.

As we chatted I learned she was on a fixed income, which didn’t sound too terrible as at least she had a steady source of income. Then I learned she didn’t drive and had bad arthritis. I wondered if she was able to handle that many pets. I’d decided it wasn’t a fit but didn’t want to be rude. So as I lied that my mother was also talking to some people, I asked her name again in case I thought something might work out.

When she told me her last name, I said, “Oh, yes, I saw that on the caller ID but it was a man’s name.” “That’s my fiancĂ©,” she said. I found it interesting she used his last name. Something was just odd about that. Then she offered up: “He’s going to be home by Christmas.”

Now I don’t recall exactly how the rest of what she said came about, but I definitely classify it as: “You can’t make this stuff up.”

“He’s in The Local Jail,” she blurted out.

I was simultaneously shocked and not at all surprised. As I learned the offense involved alcohol, I tried to sound exceedingly normal.

“Oh, was he driving or did he get in a fight?” Somehow I pictured this man I know nothing about in a brawl.

“He got in a fight and pulled a knife on someone in a bar,” she said.

“Oh, he can’t do that,” I said as if talking to a little child. I pictured him threatening her pets to get his hands on her fixed income check each month.

“I know,” she said. “I think he’s learned his lesson.”

Clearly, I was never calling her back. I said a little prayer for her pets and her two new rescue kittens she called the next day to inform me about.

Meanwhile, I’ve been watching as our kittens get bigger. With that I keep hearing my mother’s concern: that people want kittens, not cats. I’ve been losing sleep worrying that we’re not trying hard enough.

So in the last two weeks I printed off a new slew of flyers and posted them half-heartedly around town — grocery stores, the hardware store, the bookstore — hating myself a little each time, as if I’m prostituting the little babies.

Why couldn’t I just keep them? Why couldn’t a trusted friend just take one more?

But the reality is this: You can’t push them on your friends if they are not ready. And we are near our limit with what we’ve taken in and what we may be left with.

And here is the most painful reality: no one has been calling.

Then I got the voice message last night.

A woman, married with two teenage daughters and two cats, just a couple of miles from my mom’s house where the kittens are living, saw my sign at a grocery store.

She wanted a boy, ideally with short hair. But that was it. I hoped she might take two but it didn’t sound likely. At least she had two cats so he wouldn’t be alone.

I was happy at first, but then in the middle of the night and as morning neared, I began to get slight pangs of regret, mostly feelings of loss.

She came by around 1:30 today with her two daughters. They were not fancy people but they seemed like decent, even good people. They seemed devoted to their other cats.

I tried to smile as I showed them our beautiful kitten, gray with an almost elegant face. He's more unusual looking than either of his parents or sisters. I likened his coat to a cashmere sweater and wondered what I was doing. A kitten like this doesn’t come along every day, I felt myself saying inside. But I couldn’t listen.

It’s hard. I’m like my mother. I’m really not cut out for this. Not when it comes to strangers.

She asked if he was affectionate and liked to be held. I told her he’s been spending more time with four other kittens than in the house so she’d need to find that out. But yes, he’s sweet, I said. He’s very social and playful. A great kitten.

I told her if for any reason he did not work out as she hoped, or he did not seem happy, or her cats did not get along with him, I would — and wanted to — take him back. No questions asked.

As they got ready to leave, I petted him and said good bye as I looked at his little body toward the back of carrying case. I imagined what he must be thinking: What’s going on? Who are these people? Where are my friends? Where am I going?

I prayed he was not scared.

I asked the woman if she minded if I called to see how he was doing. She wanted my vet’s name anyway. I went to the window and watched them drive off in a gray minivan.

And then the woman called a little while ago. She wanted to know what food he’s been eating. She didn’t want to disrupt his routine too much. We chatted a while. She told me they have him in the bathroom until he gets adjusted and the other cats can sniff him through the door.

One wants to play with him already, she said. One also likes to bathe her other cat. I liked that. My gray boy is used to that. I hope he gets a nice bath from her cat.

“He’s purring,” she said.

Did I find a perfect home? I don’t even know what that is.

But I hope I found a good home.

Thursday, October 1, 2009


In all the years when I probably could have been stopped by a cop for a wee bit more alcohol in my system than should be in anyone behind a two-ton machine, it never happened.

Well once, after a very late night at a bar sometime shortly after I graduated from college, I did pull out in front of a car a bit closer than I should have. It happened to be a cop and I did get stopped. But he let me go after a quick chat. And frankly, I was more tired that intoxicated anyway, something he probably knew.

No, I tend to get pulled over for weaving when I’m perfectly sober. It’s now happened twice.

The first time was years ago when I was driving through Michigan’s upper peninsula with my mother. It was late. We were exhausted. We were coming home from Montana. I was driving my father’s boat-like Mercury Grand Marquis. I knew I was tired but was in the zone where you don’t grasp just how tired until you fly over small hill a bit too fast — like a roller coaster — and find yourself gripping the wheel as the car makes a slight screeching sound rounding a curve. Even my mother perked up to say, “Watch it.”

And then came the cop. Thank god. He surely thought I was DWI until he saw us, me worn out looking in a baseball cap with my mother beside me. “Get some coffee and some sleep,” he urged us before letting us go. And we did.

That episode came back to me in the past few days as I was ruminating about what happened last Thursday night when I was stopped on my way home from a visit to my cousin’s house.

Let’s start with the facts: I had a mild headache, I was quite tired, though not sleepy, and I was, though I admit I should not have been, chatting on my cell phone. There’s more: I was wearing my glasses (which I’m not as used to as I am my contacts) because my eye was healing from an infection. The roads were dark and it seemed I kept coming upon construction zones and orange barrels placed in ways that I found confusing in terms of which way to go around them. Plus, I was driving on a road I’m never on, even though I was by now just a few miles from my home.

Oh, yes, I’d had a couple of beers, but that was early in the evening, at least two to three hours earlier, followed by water and soda pop and about half a can of mixed nuts.

So there I am, sitting at a light, a big bright red left-turn arrow signal. I don’t see those too often so I was especially diligent to heed it. As soon as it turned green, but not too soon, I proceeded through the light to turn left and head south.

Then I saw the lights. “It can’t be me,” I thought as they continued tight behind me.

“You’re kidding,” I said, a little irritated as I pulled to the right of the southbound lane stopping as close the curb as I could. By then I’d realized it could be something as simple as my tail lights not working.

A female officer appeared at my window as I grabbed for my wallet. “Can I see your license and registration and proof of insurance please?”

“Sure,” I said, adding a bit incredulously: “Did I do something wrong?”

“I’ll tell you in a minute.”

What’s the big secret? I thought as she walked back to her car, my mind fumbling for what I’d done, thinking it can’t be the alcohol. I’m fine.

She came back to my window. “Where are you coming from?”

I told her the city where my cousin lives, probably 10 to 15 miles away.

“What’s in That City?” she said in what sounded like a mocking sing-song voice.

“My cousin,” I said flatly.

“You were weaving and then when we stopped you you nicked the curb.”

Weaving?? Where? I thought. And hitting the curb? On a dark road, with a cop tight behind me with blinding lights and no shoulder to pull onto. Are you kidding me? I nick curbs all the time, I wanted to say.

I don’t even remember if she asked if I’d been drinking but I knew that’s what she thought.

I felt mild panic as I told her I had two beers much earlier, that I’d had an eye problem and didn’t see as well with my glasses, which I was not used to wearing. Then there was all the construction, unfamiliar streets, the headache, the tiredness. I almost said: Feel free to breathalyze me. Then thought, don’t be stupid. What if…??

“Are you using eye drops?”

“Yes,” I said, wondering what that had to do with anything.

She shined a light in my eyes and asked me to follow it.

Then she asked me to recite the alphabet “without singing it.”

By now I was feeling guilty. My heart was beating a bit faster. I was even nervous about reciting the alphabet.

I think I did okay but all of a sudden after V and before W I sort of wondered if I did something wrong. I think I did okay.

“Without looking at your watch or clock can you tell me what time it is?”

I said I thought it was about 10:30/10:45.

The second she walked away, I looked at my clock: 10:30 on the dot.

She returned for more. This time asking me to step out of the car and walk back right into her bright headlights. By now I saw she was with a male partner, who was letting her run the show.

I was almost finding this comical had it not been so unnerving. Still tired and headachy and not feeling 100 percent, I was putting my energy into being as normal as possible.

“Do you have any weapons on you?”

I nearly laughed as I said, “Of course not,” as she — with the first bit of humanness I’d seen — said as she PATTED ME DOWN: “Sorry but I have to do this to everyone.”

Then she asked if I had good balance.

“Well, I do yoga…”

“Oh, then you have VERY good balance,” she interrupted, again sounding slightly mocking.

“Well, I don’t know if it’s THAT good. I don’t normally do yoga in these shoes,” I said looking at the black wedge sandals on my feet.

“You can take them off if you want.”

“No I’ll try like this first, I’m pretty comfortable in them.” I didn’t want to stand barefoot, which felt naked, on the concrete road.

I did as she told me, hands to my sides, one leg up straight in front of me several inches above the ground while counting until she told me to stop.

I got to about 19 before she said stop. I was still on one foot. Steady. I was pleased.

She wanted more. She told me to walk toe to heel for nine steps before turning around and walking back nine steps in as straight of a line as possible.

Now these things can be a challenge if you have had NOTHING to drink and feel fine, are in the comfort of your own home and have no one judging.

Go ahead. Try it. I’ll wait.

See? It’s not so easy, is it?

So there I am thinking, nothing I do is convincing her. I wished I could have been a fly on the wall to see what I was actually like.

I did the heel to toe. I thought I did fine, especially considering how I felt and now with the added stress of being treated like a criminal, out in the street with blinding lights on me.

I kept waiting for them to let me go. What more did they want? I was not drunk. I knew that. I didn’t know if I had some trace of alcohol in my system. What does .08 feel like anyway? I have no idea. I wish I knew. But I knew it couldn’t possibly be what I had in my system.

It wasn’t over.

She led me up from the curb onto the grass where her partner was standing. She put the light in my eyes again, asking me to track it. I thought I followed it fine.

“How am I doing?” I finally asked.

“We’ll let you know.”

Again, what is the big secret?

Suddenly, her partner is asking me to take a deep breath and blow though this plastic straw.

Finally, I thought. A breathalyzer. Why didn’t we just do this from the beginning? At the same time I hoped those two beers two to three hours earlier weren’t in my system more than I thought.

I finished. He looked at the instrument and said, “You’re free to go.” With that they both turned and hurried to their car.

I was a little stunned. “What was it?” I called to them as they moved away from me.

“Zero,” he called to me.

They barely turned back.

I felt vindicated as I called something to them about being sure to be careful and alert on my drive home, something I’d have expected them to offer to me. I mean, after all, here they went through all this thinking I’m intoxicated, but when I blow a zero, they just take off? Suddenly the “weaving” they saw as enough reason to stop me wasn’t worth a word of caution for any other possible reason?

At least that cop up north cautioned us to get some coffee and sleep and be careful.

I felt used.

It also left me wondering if they really did suspect I was intoxicated. Were they just cracking down on everyone? Practicing their skills?

So many questions.

At least I know one thing. I can handle a couple of drinks as long as I don’t have any more within a couple of hours of hitting the road.

And, it’s not a good idea to be chatting on your cell phone when you’re behind a two-ton machine.

And those are lessons worth knowing,

Monday, August 24, 2009

My Mom: A Guide to Happiness

I was just reading an interesting article on money and happiness. It talked about how the common wisdom has always been that money cannot buy happiness, but how now, according to a couple of researchers, that in fact, if used correctly, money can indeed buy happiness.

The main difference was this: If people buy “stuff,” from fancy cars and watches to bigger homes, ultimately they are not much if any happier. But those who give money away — to charities or to other people, or spend it on experiences, like vacations or even a bar crawl with friends — they are actually, yes, happier.

This information confirmed something I always thought — that money can contribute to happiness if it buys you experiences like education, travel, time with friends and, more powerfully, freedom, particularly from a lousy job.

It also immediately made me think of my mom.

Just the other day she was sitting on the couch watching the news when she heard that the lottery had reached $200 million. Her face always lights up at the thought of buying a ticket and actually winning.

“I’d love to win the lottery,” she said. “God, wouldn’t that be fantastic? Why don’t you buy a ticket?”

I always turn all grumbly and say, “No way. That’s just throwing your money away.”

And mostly it is a waste, considering the odds of actually winning the thing, or any portion of it. But sometimes she gives in to fantasy (although, yes, there is the minute chance she could win) and contemplates what she’d do with all that money.

“Of course, the government would take half,” she went on, deciding what she’d do with $100 million. At this point, because I’ve heard this before, I get a little annoyed because even though this money does not exist, I know what she’ll say.

“I’d love to give it away. I’d give at least million to each of my nieces and nephews and my sister. And all my charities….”

She relishes the fantasy with such enthusiasm I wonder how I can possibly be related to her. But then I’m glad to see some common sense surface: “I’d keep about $30 million. That’s all I’d need.”

At that point, I realize even $30 million is way more than she’d need, this woman who these days is so down to earth it pains her to even buy a new shirt without at least throwing one away.

But then I realize, she’s not thinking of possessions at all, or hardly. She’d probably make her home and property into a sanctuary for homeless animals, and the money would free her from the worry of food and vet bills. She could even hire workers to tend to the menagerie.

She’d probably spend some on travel and taking friends out to dinner, maybe fix her Jeep’s air conditioning or possibly even buy a new car, but nothing fancy, just something safe and sturdy to get her around if her old Jeep gives out.

I have come to realize that any slight irritation that arises within me when I hear her talk of all this sharing and giving so much away is really an awakening of my own fear of scarcity.

Though I’m far from a materialistic status seeker (thanks to my family), I admit, my first thought is not to give away to others (other than those closest to me, of course) but to hoard. To make sure I’ve always got enough money to be comfortable, to travel, to leave a bad job, to have the freedom to do what I want.

So while I’m thinking I can hold my head up and say, "See? I’m honorable, I don’t want a Gucci watch or Ferrari, a mansion or Chanel bag. I want experiences," I realize I have to take a cue from my mom and think even more of sharing the wealth.

I also realize that's something you can do right now. Not “one day” if you win the lottery. I don’t have a lot of extra money, but I bought lunch for a friend recently and it felt great.

Of course I’m still far from being where my mother is.

I used to tease her when my cousin and his wife and kids would stop by and she would offer them things as they got ready to leave. Nothing fancy, just what she had around.

“Do you want to take some bananas?” she’d say, pointing to a few sitting in a bowl. Or she might pick up a bag of chips and say, “Here, take these.”

At the time I’d think she was silly, knowing full well my cousin could easily afford to buy his own chips. But that was not the point. And now I just think she’s amazing. She just loves to give. And I know, without any doubt, I could count on her to literally give me the shirt off her back whether I needed it or not.

More important, I realize it’s a rare person who is so giving and with such enthusiasm. I’m lucky to have her as a role model.

And I didn’t really need to read that story about how money really can buy happiness. My mother already taught me.

If you want, see the story here:

Sunday, August 2, 2009

On My Mind....

New post coming... soon. Stay tuned.

Meanwhile, this is the kind of stuff that's been on my mind:

The author of the below linked article on the issue of buying kidneys (due to the crisis of too many people waiting for one while on dialysis combined with the shortage available from either deceased donors or living donors like myself) says:

"History suggests that once the rich and powerful figure out a way to exploit the poor in one way, they'll pretty quickly start pushing the envelope in related directions as well."

I say: Not all people who need a kidney are rich and powerful and plenty would do ANYTHING to raise the money to buy one, and it would be money well spent. If only they would allow the system to regulate this. Maybe instead of paying a donor the donor would get lifetime health insurance or another incentive.

My main concern would be that people taking money to donate a kidney get a very good health screening for their sake and the recipient's.

Donating a kidney to save a life is a relatively safe procedure for living donors. You can -- as many, many people do and don't even realize it -- live a full and healthy life with one kidney. The second is really like a spare.

The best solution? Have people OPT-OUT of being donors on the donor card rather than OPT-IN. It's worked wonderfully in other countries and let's face it, you aren't using it anymore at that point anyway. Plus, one person saves two lives (two kidneys).

Really folks, something must be done.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Father’s Day

I will see my father on Father’s Day.

I wonder what other people are doing to celebrate. Picnics, BBQs, cakes, golf dates, bike rides, opening presents.

We might do some of that — I have a card and a gift and my mom might get a cake.

One thing I do know is how we will spend part of our day:

He and I will gather in the afternoon or early evening for his three-hour in-home dialysis treatment just as we do every other day. Just as we’ve been doing for almost two years.

First we will set up the machine that cleans his blood. It’s about the size of a small refrigerator. We’ll open the door and install a cartridge, then hang a bag of saline. We’ll connect a series of lines, made of surgical tubing, which ultimately get connected to my father. We’ll start the machine to get the saline running through the cartridge and eliminate air bubbles. That takes about 20 minutes.

Then one of us will lay out gauze pads, Bandaids, two fat needles, alcohol and betadine wipes, adhesive tape to secure the needles, syringes to fill with saline, and one syringe we’ll fill with the blood thinner heparin. My father usually heads to the kitchen at this point to make coffee.

The machine will chime, alerting us to a few more things we need to do before he is ready to hook up. Then my father will wash and prep his left arm, the one with the bulging fistula (an artery-vein) that winds its way up between his inner wrist and the crook of his elbow.

He will sit, inserting one needle, then the other. For each, once we see the blood pulsing through the base of the narrow surgical tubing connected to the needle, I’ll secure it with a Bandaid then connect it to the tubing that snakes through the machine.

We will start the machine, ramping up the cycler to our cruising speed of 460. If all goes smoothly — no alarms, no need to remove tape and adjust the needles — I can work on my computer just a few feet away for the next three hours. Sometimes I read or get him something to eat, pour him some coffee or fetch him some paperwork since he’s confined to a chair.

He will take regular blood pressure readings and record that with information from the machine onto a log sheet. He might watch the news or do a crossword puzzle. He might nod off for a bit or work on his laptop. He’s been enjoying discovering Seinfeld through re-runs. I laugh too.

We always talk. Some days more. Some days less.

Last weekend he asked, “What did you do today? It was a nice sunny day.”

“I went for a bike ride,” I said, a little taken aback at his interest, and for a moment I felt a tinge of guilt, a fleeting self-consciousness at my energy and freedom. Not that he would want me to feel that way. Maybe he just wanted to talk about something other than dialysis or the news.

I thought how nice it would be if he had gone for a bike ride, too, with me or not. I don’t know the last time he went for a bike ride.

My father gets around. He shops, keeps in touch with his friends, goes to a weekly conferences related to his profession, though he’s retired. But he's also tired. Dialysis takes up a lot of energy and, especially, time. More for him than for me.

Sometimes I think he feels guilty for taking my time. For relying on me.

He shouldn’t. This is my commitment. I’ve made this part of my life.

And the truth is, though I don’t like that he has to be on dialysis, I like being able to help, being someone he can depend on after so many years of me depending on him. And I even find comfort in my routine of being there every other day. It anchors my weeks.

So, yes, I will see my father on Father’s Day.

It’s not what many people will do this day. But I don’t care.

I will give him a silly card and some fancy coffee that we will share in coming weeks and a book I think he’ll like.

And we will talk. We will talk of sunny days and things other than dialysis.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Morton's F'ing Toe

Mother F!

I stood in the crowd of people wanting my friend to shut the F up! It’s not that she was saying anything that embarrassed me so much as she was infuriating me because she might be right.

I did not want to hear it. I did not want to hear it. I did not want to hear it.

Worse, as she said it she was standing there in these stupid “sensible” shoes:

“You probably have Morton’s Neuroma. That’s what I have. I can’t wear high heels anymore.”

Shut up. Shut up. Shut the F up.

I’m usually not this bad about denial. But in contemplating my possible future with heels, I’ve taken to telling people lately that I’d rather give up drinking alcohol for the rest of my life rather than give up high heels.

I had a kind of reckoning last New Year’s Eve after my left foot was screaming in such pain it might has well have been throttling me by the neck begging for mercy. I knew then I had a bigger problem than I wanted to admit.

For days afterward my toes, specifically the middle toe and the one next to my baby toe as well as those joints below them, alternated between numbness and pain when I walked even in bare feet.

I swore off heels unless absolutely necessary. (And yes, it is necessary sometimes.)

I tried them again — a pair of boots this time — a month or two later, for just a couple of hours, and sure enough, the pain emerged. It was not so bad because I didn’t wear them too long but I could see this was not something that was going to go away nicely.

I tried again a couple of months later, after finding myself unable to resist a pair of shiny brownish-red boots on sale for like $30 (Christ, they were originally $175!). I wore them, with hopeful caution, to a birthday dinner with friends. I mean, I was in them maybe three or four hours, most of that time sitting.

By the end of the night, the combination of walking and toe squeezing got the best of my foot. Sitting with my legs crossed under the table, I could not believe such an isolated and specific pain in my foot would cause me to want to scream, to be incapable of focusing on anything else, to feel damn near ready to throw up.

Desperate for some relief, I bought some shoe pads at Nordstrom and proceeded wearing heels only as needed, mostly wedges, taking care to notice which shoes I could handle and which I could not.

The night my friend in her “sensible” shoes declared this to me a month or so ago, I was wearing a slightly chunkier heel of maybe three inches, a sort of rounded-toe Mary Jane wingtip-style. I think we got on the topic because she was admiring my heels. I probably brought up my foot pain obsession.

Oh, how I hated that term: Morton’s Neuroma. It sounds like cancer.

Of course, I went home that night thinking, how could she possibly know what my problem is? She probably is so mad she has it she wants everyone else to have it, too. Pick on someone else, I thought.

Then I Googled it.

My god. I could have drawn the picture with the big red blob indicating pain exactly where I felt it. And the description was right on. It’s a nerve issue.

I read that you can treat it by numbing the nerve with cortisone injections.

I later asked my dad, a doctor, if he’d heard of it.

“Morton’s Toe?” he said. Ewwww. An even grosser term, I thought. “Sure,” he said, offering up yet another treatment option. “They cut the nerve.”

I immediately wondered how much that cost.

Don’t look at me like that. I’m only five-foot-three and half.

I suppose they do that if it’s bad enough. I’ve been contemplating seeing an orthopedic surgeon or podiatrist ever since. Though I do fear they’ll look at me with disgust when they realize my reason is so I can wear heels.

What’s interesting is that, as I’ve been sharing my self-diagnosis with some friends, several seem to know what it is. “Morton’s Toe?” they say, proffering up the hated words.

Some of them have since decided they have the exact same thing.

Clearly, this is far more common that I realized.

Regardless, I have a dilemma. I still need a proper diagnosis, then have to determine what I can or can’t afford to do about it.

Now as I look with equal parts nostalgia and fear at my collection of pointy-toe stilettos and heels of four inches or more, I'm thankful for summer with its mostly open-toe wedge-style sandals and espadrilles.

For now, I am doing my best to defy Morton and his stupid Neuroma Toe.

But I’m no dummy. I always have a second pair of "sensible" shoes in my car (they’re actually kinda cute), just in case. Which, let’s face it, is what any sane podiatrist will tell women today anyway:

Wear walking shoes on the street or from the parking structure, then slip the heels on at your desk or destination. Only wear as needed.

And yes, they are needed.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

A Death in the Family

I was on my way to other plans when my mother called me that last Wednesday in April.

“Can you come up here? Mahie’s sick,” she said a little before 2 p.m. I was standing in a store looking at candles.

My mother sounded tired. She was. She’d called the vet, Dr. M, after finding Mahlie that morning thrashing around in her stall. Colic, it seemed. I wasn’t panicked, as we’d been through this before. But I dropped what I was doing to get there as soon as I could.

Mahie, our beautiful black half-Arab half-Welsh pony who was born our property, was standing beside my mother behind the barn. Her reddish-tinged hair was damp and matted while her thick black mane hung in wet clumpy strands. For years too fat, Mahlie has recently been looking trim and healthy. Today she looked thin.

She had blood dripping from her nose. I was alarmed until I realized it was the result of a tube Dr. M inserted there to get warm water and mineral oil into her stomach to encourage some movement through her system. Then he smeared a steroid ointment in her open eyes, which were rimmed with blood from her bashing her head in her stall.

I was also alarmed at how dull she appeared until the vet explained that he’d tranquilized her to do his examination. He filled me in on what he’d told my mother. That her chances of “making it” were about “15 percent.”

He wasn’t sure if it was colic, basically a stomachache, which can be lethal if they roll on the ground to alleviate their pain — which she was certainly doing. That thrashing can cause the stomach to twist, which chokes off the digestive system and requires emergency surgery if they don’t die first. He thought it could be that kind of obstruction or even possibly an obstruction caused by a tumor.

Her heart rate and respirations were double what they should have been, obvious signs of distress. She showed no interest in the fresh green grass or spring hay. She had no gut sounds and was not making any manure. That’s death to a horse.

Her right front leg shook with fatigue and her head hung down almost to the ground. I wanted to hold her up but the vet said to leave her be.

“It’s the tranquilizer,” he reminded. “She has a strong urge to balance herself.”

She looked like she was dying.

As he left my exhausted mother and me alone with her, he gave us instructions for the next “few days” — a sign of hope, I thought — quickly explaining how to administer several doses of an anti-inflammatory medicine, more ointment for her eyes and an electrolyte mix to shoot into her mouth with a large syringe.

“Worst case scenario is she goes back down in the next couple of hours and you call Dr. C,” he said, referring to the vet on call.

* * * *

Mahlie would have been 33 this month.

My mother cared for her every morning and every night for all those years. Few parents care for a child that long.

Times such as these, coping with a suddenly sick animal, disrupt. They grab hold of your carefully laid plans and rip them to pieces. They tear at your heart. They exhaust and confuse.

We’ve lost pets before, so many. But this was different. Mahie the last in a long line of horses in our family. It was the end of an era.

When our last horse, Tess, had to be put down a few years ago, I watched as Mahlie, clearly agitated, trotted around her body, by then covered by a green plastic tarp. She pawed at the lifeless mound with her hoof and tugged on the tarp with her teeth as if trying to wake her friend.

I wished I could have soothed her. Picked her up and cradled her and said, “It will be okay.”

We worried for Mahlie then. She’d been used to being in the company of horses. As many as eight at one time. And five llamas, too.

But she adapted. And for us, she kept the barnyard alive. And my mother was able to maintain the routine she’s had for so many years. Grain in the morning, with fresh hay and water then turning her out to the pasture. At night, always around dusk or bit after, she’d call Mahlie into a clean stall to enjoy grain with chunks of freshly chopped apples and carrots.

* * * *

By the time Dr. M left, I was still hopeful, thinking I might even keep some of my plans that day. As my mother rested on a camping stood in the middle of the barnyard, I brushed Mahlie’s coat and combed her mane, which seemed to relax her. I cut off any stubborn matted pieces of hair. Her eyes and nose were no longer bloody. She looked good, too, which, I imagined, also helped her feel good. Maybe that's an illusion we need to give ourselves.

As the drug wore off, she perked up and I began to walk her. She even seemed to want to walk me as I pulled back to slow her down. It was going to be a long day, I thought. I didn’t want to tire her. She even bowed her head, we thought to sniff the grass. Maybe it was. Maybe it’s just in her nature. But she would not take a bite. Later we brought her grain and hay. Still no interest.

Still, we were encouraged enough that after a couple of hours I let her off the lead rope to walk on her own. “Let’s see what she does,” my mother said. I went to clean her stall, just out of sight, then heard my mother calling to her. I saw as she got up to follow Mahlie around the back barn. And then I watched Mahlie go down.

I cursed myself for letting her go. Once she was down it was not in our control to make her get up. But even then we told ourselves she might just be tired, maybe she needed to rest, she’d been up all night and walking for hours and not feeling well. She looked exhausted, like she just wanted to sleep, laying her head down on the ground, her eyes looking sleepy.

But then she groaned and began to roll.

We paged Dr. C.

* * * *

Dr. C was the vet who helped rescue Mahlie a little over a year ago when she escaped my parents’ property one night. Mahlie had slipped on a shallow icy pond and couldn’t get up. I thought she wouldn’t make it then. But we pulled her through. (A Super BowlTale)

This was also the vet who was there with Dr. M some six or seven years ago when Mahlie had colic for the first time I can ever recall. She was always so hearty.

I was there that time, too, walking her repeatedly and watching her through the night, checking her heart rate and respirations, seeing if she was making any manure or showing any interest in eating and making sure she did not lie down and roll. I even hand-pressed a large bag of fluids into her through an IV line to keep her hydrated.

At that time, I remember deciding in my mind sometime in the wee hours — after hearing no gut sounds with my father’s stethoscope, seeing no interest in food and seeing no manure — that she was not going to make it.

I was sleeping on a sofa downstairs at my parents’ house, mourning her imminent death, when my father came in from outside early the next morning and said she’d passed some manure, proof that she was not obstructed.

You’d have thought it was Christmas. I couldn’t believe it. I felt guilty for giving up on her if only in my mind. Even the vets were surprised and heartened.

* * * *

Shortly after we’d paged Dr. C, for whatever reason, Mahlie surprised us by getting up on her own. Was she feeling better?

We walked again, the same restless kind of walk. Urgent, yet disorganized. I’d stand still and she’d make a tight circle around me, reminding me of the way a dog goes in a circle before lying down. I didn’t want to think that’s all she wanted. If we could just keep her moving…

I compulsively listened to her gut. I know I heard a few gut sounds, a gurgle, a pop. No she was not eating and her heart rate and respiration were still high but it was a hopeful sign.

I began to wish we had not called the vet. Just then, before the vet arrived, Mahlie went down again, rolling on the soft grass before sitting up with her head lifted and legs tucked near her. She almost looked comfortable.

Dr. C told us she could not examine her conclusively if she was not standing so we desperately tried again to get her to stand, calling her name, tugging at her lead rope. Nothing.

Then, like the last time, Mahlie decided on her own to stand. We were relieved because now Dr. C could tell us more. We knew there was a decision to be made. God, please tell us something conclusive so we’ll know what to do.

Like Dr. M, Dr. C was not 100 percent sure of anything except the “15 percent chance.”

She said Mahlie’s heart rate was even higher than before, which I attributed to her rolling and getting up. She listened to her gut. “I hear nothing,” she said.

I told her I know I heard some sounds. “You probably heard her breathing,” she said. I didn’t think so.

Dr. C talked and talked, offering reasons to put her down but also reasons to wait, maybe buying us time as we decided what to do. She said things like how she knew we liked to try everything in our power before letting go and that this was our last horse so she was willing to give us the night if we wanted, leaving us with pain killers to inject every two hours, but also that this could be a painful experience for Mahlie and she didn’t deserve that after all these years, that older horses were more stoic than the young ones and internalize the pain, maybe one reason she seemed somewhat mellow, and that if we did wait it out Mahlie would have to be much, much improved my morning to have hope, but that it was up to us.

I did ask if it was her horse what she would do. I was surprised when she said she would probably put her down.

* * * *

I don’t think my mother was thinking completely straight. She was exhausted both physically and emotionally. I was confused, too, and didn’t want to make the call. I told my mother I’d do whatever she wanted. I later felt bad putting that on her.

We brought Mahlie into her stall to see what she’d do. At least she relieved her bladder, as she always liked to do inside a perfectly clean stall. She didn’t lie down but for some reason my mother wanted to let her do what she wanted, free from a lead rope, and said if she went down again, we would put her down.

The vet looked at me. I think she knew Mahlie would go down, that this was how my mother needed to rationalize it. I was pretty sure Mahlie would go down and wanted to tell my mother not to make that bet. But in the end, no decision felt right, though I think the vet felt it was right.

We watched as Mahlie walked outside again and then, ever so gently, lowered her body to the ground. The decision was made.

But even then, we were nagged with doubt despite a self-imposed pressure to go on with it as the sky grew dark and the vet got the injection ready. As we went back and forth, our bodies hovering close to Mahlie, I thought my mother might change her mind. I thought I might say something to stop it. Somehow we just proceeded.

I’ll tell you now, I wish I had stopped it, had taken Mahlie through the night, taken all the pain meds the vet could offer us to keep her comfortable until morning, and if she wasn’t better by then, put her down. I think that is the worst part. Not knowing if we did the right thing.

I was crouched down in front of Mahie and I said to my mother to come say goodbye. I held Mahlie’s head and kissed her on the nose. My mother did the same. We stroked and soothed her as the vet injected an overdose of anesthesia into the left side of her neck from behind. Mahlie started for a moment but very gently eased back and went to sleep.

It was over. No more pain. It was now dark, nearly 9 p.m.

* * * *

I could end this here, but there is more.

The guilt always creeps into your psyche. Did you do it too soon? Did you do it too late? Did you need to do it at all?

This time it was worse. I agonized for days afterward over putting her down that night, not seeing it through beyond any doubt. It’s all the more painful because she is the last. We should have held on just a little longer, I tell myself, not fully sure that would be the right thing to do but maye it was.

Regardless of our feelings, we had things to attend to. We covered Mahlie’s body with a couple of tarps, weighing them down with rocks.

I tell people how civilized it is by comparison to bury or cremate a dog or a cat. You can wrap them in a blanket, carry them like a baby. Even a large dog is easy for two people to handle.

A horse is different. You have to call someone with a truck with chains or a tractor strong enough to move her.

My mother decided to have her cremated. She called the same man she’s called many times before. He arrived Friday morning — it rained all day on Thursday — with his large yellow machinery.

I don’t recall what I said to this man as I uncovered her body and got choked up, but he said, as if to comfort me, “She’s not there. Her soul is gone. That’s just a body.” I knew he was right.

He scooped her up with the curved front shovel, being careful to go deep into the dirt and grass beneath her so as not to harm her body. He slowly lifted her high and took her to my parents’ pick up truck, now in the pasture, gently depositing her on the bed.

As I secured the tarp over her body, I kept thinking how I didn’t want anything blowing off and exposing her during the long journey through dirty, busy towns surrounded by traffic as we made our way to the facility where they cremate large animals.

* * * *

As we neared the cremation facility almost an hour later, we called ahead to confirm the directions. We were told just then that the person who does the cremations was out of town until Monday and that Mahlie would be placed on a tarp in a barn and covered with ice if necessary. My mother panicked. Normally they are put in for cremation the day you arrive. We hated thinking of her lying somewhere strange, alone, for days.

I know. She’s dead. Just a body, not a soul.

We pulled into a parking lot and sat for nearly an hour making frantic phone calls to find a place that could take her now. Or sooner than Monday. The most logical — and really the only other — place was two hours away. They would wait for us, they had a cooler, and would do the cremation in the morning.

We decided to stop at the first place to see how we felt, not looking forward to a long drive so far away. They understood our concern. If only we’d known the man was not available until Monday, we’d have made another plan.

Part of us wanted to leave Mahlie there, where we took Tess and other animals. At least it felt familiar. But then we left for the other place. That was better, we told ourselves as we drove away. We second-guessed ourselves within a few miles and nearly turned back. We just wanted it to be over. We just wanted someone to tell us what to do and that it would be okay. We continued on.

* * * *

By the time we got to this strange place so far from home, we were too tired to beat ourselves up, once again, over whether we’d made the right decision.

Two nice young men were waiting for us in a pleasant office where urns and plaques were on display, mostly for dogs and cats. They had close cropped hair and were neatly dressed in uniforms of navy polo shirts and khaki pants. It was somehow reassuring, that they were professional, that they would take care of her.

You have such fear that they will not do what they say. Will she really be in a cooler? Will she really be cremated in the morning? Will we really have Mahlie’s actual ashes?

One guy asked for the truck keys as my mother wrote the check for a private cremation. I didn't want him to leave us here while he drove off with her. "We're okay, we'll drive her," I said.

We parked outside a metal building just across the road. I don’t know that we enjoy watching this process of loading and unloading, but it is part of the process. And maybe in that way we need to see it. See it through.

It’s hard to say goodbye. To know this is the last “look” you’ll have.

We watched as one of the guys maneuvered a hi-low vehicle after they secured chains to her legs above her hooves. They hoisted her up by a long bar that ran between each of the front and each of the rear hooves. I hated seeing her like this, upside down, head hanging.

We saw enough. We said goodbye. I kept looking from the truck to catch the last possible glimpse of her.

At first you cannot get that last image out of our mind. You fear this is how your will see her in your mind every time you think of her. But those last images do fade and give way to better ones.

* * * *

It’s been two weeks since that day we put her down.

Her ashes now sit in an urn at my mother’s house. Three braids we made out of locks from her mane are in a plastic bag. The vet said many people make jewelry from them.

We still grieve and feel guilt and remorse that we didn’t do more. We don’t know if it would have made a difference. But it might have. We know we can’t do anything about that now.

I also grieve for my mother, for whom I know it’s a harder struggle. After nearly 33 years of tending to Mahlie, and others before that, she tells me she keeps catching herself looking for Mahlie in the pasture out of habit. Or she thinks, “I have to go out to feed now.”

Then she remembers.

The barnyard and pastures, once flush with activity, have grown steadily quieter over the years.

Now they are still.

“I thought she’d go on forever,” my mother said the other day.

I did too.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Sign of the Times?

I'm a bit behind schedule in posting my next blog — I have my theme, just haven't had the time — so for now, let me share this....

I got a voice message the other day. At first I thought a friend had dialed me by mistake while in mid-conversation with someone else and I (or rather my voice mail) was there to eavesdrop — this has happened to you, right? It's an odd feeling knowing you are listening to someone who doesn't know you are listening, not that you did anything to make the situation happen.

But I digress. It was actually a telemarketer, a young unprofessional sounding woman, who did not realize the phone picked up. Clearly a sign of the times regarding the economy:

"His wife comes and goes, 'No no no, you're not ordering that magazine," she says to her co-worker. Then she sighs. "Boom! He goes, 'Oh no, I guess times are tough we're not ordering it.'" Then she laughs.

In other matters, I spend a lot of time with my dad, who does home hemodialysis. I'm his helper so am usually in the same room with him. When we are not having a conversation, he's listening to the radio or watching cable TV news.

Thank god at those time I'm usually working on my laptop.

I say thank god not because I have a problem with cable news.

I have a problem with the constant stream of
Viagra, Cialis or other sexually-oriented drug or lubricant commercials.

Were I focused on the TV with him, how would I possibly react to the umteenth one about getting it on? Jesus, some of these make me blush. I've heard ads for products I didn't even know existed, most recently for women. It's like watching a X-rated soap opera for crying out loud.

I can't imagine what parents of teen children do when these ads come on. To think I used to be embarrassed by tampon commercials!

Bring it on Playtex. I'll take you any day.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

The Migraine Club

I’m not much for joining clubs. I never have been.

There is nothing wrong with clubs. I like them and have been in many: my figure skating club as a youth, a sorority in college, my alumni club now (heck, I’m co-president). I’m even on my University’s alumni association board, which is kind of like a club.

So it’s not like I don’t want to do the work. And I find great value in the social aspect of being in a club. Even if I think they can be exclusionary.

Though I do wish I could be excluded from one club — one I did not choose to join. I call it the Migraine Club.

In the past year or so, I was diagnosed with migraine headaches. As I think back, I’ve had these for some time.

Friends and co-workers now tell me they remember me complaining of headaches. One co-worker several years ago scared me into seeing a doctor after I announced that I’d had a headache for about two weeks. At that time, I was not diagnosed with migraines. That would take a few years.

That I finally was diagnosed makes sense. My sister gets them. My mother says her mother got them. Both of them have had it worse than I. My sister sometimes gets so nauseated she throws up. My grandmother used to have to lie down in a dark, quiet room.

Me? I typically get a burning sensation focused right over my left eye. I liken it to looking at a bright, scorching sun, the way it almost burns a hole in you if you don’t look away. That’s how it feels to me. A semi-dull but focused pain that makes me want to close my eyes and not deal with anything too taxing.

Often it goes down into my upper jaw, above my teeth on the same side of my head. I get stuffy and sometimes sneeze, which made me think for years it was a sinus problem causing the headache. Now, my doctor tells me, the migraine causes the stuffiness.

Sometimes the migraine pain takes a trip around my head. A surprise attack, like a pinch, on the right side, or a dull pressure like a band around the front of my head.

The worst of it — before I was diagnosed — was when it would settle in the back of my neck, below the base of my skull. I didn’t know what was going on, only that I felt as if every disk, tendon and ligament was grinding together like gravel with each move.

It was after chatting with my dental hygienist a year ago about her horrors with migraines (almost unbearable, nothing like my experience thankfully) that I realized we spoke the same language.

“I felt like I had rocks in my neck,” she said. I knew immediately what she was talking about. At least I think. Pain is so hard, if not impossible, to communicate to someone.

Which is why I hoped for a while my pain was not migraine. I’ve heard nothing but horror stories of people incapable of functioning with them. As with my sister and grandmother, they can take you down. Mess with your life. Make you miserable. So far I’ve not had it that bad.

But I accept the diagnosis. The clincher? When my doctor gave me some new migraine drug samples and told me: “If they work, then it’s most likely migraine.”

Boy, do they work. Damn it.

I do not accept membership into this club lightly. I’d be happy to be kicked out. I’d love to turn in my membership card and pay a hefty fee to break the contract. But I think I’m going to have to live with it. At least for now.

And so I’m making the best of it.

And you know the best part? The people. Like any club, the people are what it’s all about. I’ve still got to deal with the migraines, about two a month. But I’ve discovered a support network, however loosely defined and occasional the meetings — via an email, a Facebook comment, a conversation or tip at a party. I discover new members all the time. We help each other. We know each other.

Some of the advice I’ve gotten through my new club: Hydrate! Take extra magnesium. Watch your diet (cheese, chocolate, caffeine, alcohol are all typical triggers). Prepare for them around your monthly cycle.

I’ve discovered the drugs that work best for me: Zomig and Maxalt, even though they make my throat feel scorched and my skin feel sunburned. There is also the fatigue that turns your limbs into lead weights.

But those symptoms are better than dealing with the pain. As anyone in my club will tell you.

It’s an equal opportunity club, too. We come in all shapes and sizes, mostly female but some men, too. You’re lucky if you’re not in it, but I bet you have your own club you never chose to join.

I don’t plan to be president, and I’ll be happy if I can leave, but while I’m in it I’ll happily support my fellow members — and I do — and I know they’ll be there to support me.

What more can you ask of a club you never wanted to join?

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Stop Making Sense: Spring Cleaning and Shoulder Pads

I’m a deadline kind of girl. Give me a deadline and I’ll get it done. Be it taxes, a story or paying bills.

The problem is, spring cleaning doesn’t really have a deadline unless it’s self imposed. I’m usually pretty good at those but there are times when I let things slide. I mean, spring cleaning is a nice idea and all but it doesn’t have to be done.

And really, when I refer to spring cleaning, I’m always pretty much talking about spring purging.

Cleaning is easy when you have an absence of clutter. And me? I tend to hang onto things. Way. Too. Long.


I cannot totally blame this on a lack of discipline. The thing is, I get attached to my stuff. I look at it and have trouble letting go, everything from stuffed animals to books to — the worst of it — clothes.

I mean, I still had my high school graduation dress until a couple years ago. Really.

Part of this is a sense of value. Some of the clothes I’m sorting through look like new. Yes, they may be 10, 15 years old but they look good. And most still fit. How wasteful to toss them out, even to donate. I feel I should have really used up these clothes that I put my hard earned money into.

Another part of this is an emotional attachment. In some way, I feel as if my soul inhabits these things. That to give them away is to let go of a piece of my life. And not have a clue where it went or how it’s being treated.

I know. Crazy.

I’ve even gone through these items over the years and, yes, decided it was not time to let them go, hung them back in a closet I never use or in boxes I rarely touch. Either they still had meaning or — foolishly — I imagined I’d wear them again because they were so fabulous once, of course they will come back in style.


What I don’t do often enough is actually try these clothes on. I’ve found that to be helpful this year.

It’s also helped that I have a deadline: the National Kidney Foundation was in my area and announced a pick-up of just about anything in decent condition, including household “bric-a-brac,” whatever that is. All I had to do was set it out by the curb.

I’d dug through a bunch of stuff just a few months ago for the 2008 tax donation deduction so had already been kind of on a roll.

So I found myself the last several days unloading the upstairs closet — four sets of hanging clothes, jackets, blouses, shirts — and putting them on. As I removed each item from its hanger, I’d relive the times I wore it as if I was in some movie watching that sappy montage sequence of happier times. Oh the great times I had and how terrific I thought I looked.

But that was then.

Then reality.

Gasp! Did I actually wear this with these huge David-Byrne-Stop-Making-Sense shoulder pads?

Or those silky blouses I wore so often a decade ago but now look shapeless? I can see how I liked them at the time because that was in fashion. But now? Everything is so much more… fitted.

I still had an ensemble, which I finally donated this time — with only a slight amount of donator’s remorse — a fabulous pale yellow linen sundress and jacket which for years I could rely on to look smashing in whatever the event, be it a fashion show or wedding.

In fact, a couple of years ago I had to go to an event and thought it would be perfect. Then I saw myself in the mirror. I couldn’t believe the hemline was as short as it was or the shoulders so wide. I simply could not wear it.

It was clear, no matter how wonderful it was, it was time to part. Don’t ask why I still had it. Either I decided to keep it in the last round of purges, hopeful something would change, or I hung it up and forgot about it.

The thing is, while some of these items are a little out of style, someone who needs clothing will be happy to have them. And how many sweatshirts and T-shirts can I possibly have? I can only wear so many, even though some I wore maybe once.

It’s a good lesson: Think twice next time before I buy. Ask: Do I need it? Will I wear it? Don’t I have enough?

There is also the lesson to share the usefulness. They are useless in my closet or in boxes.

I actually began to feel motivated knowing these nice pieces will look just fine on someone else. Maybe they won’t even care how they look. Maybe they just need something. Period.

Meanwhile, that upstairs closet space can be put to better use than warehousing memories.

Although I must confess. As I filled the garbage bags the other night to set out by the curb, I was stung with occasional feelings of remorse — that T-shirt from Bermuda, the sweatshirt from Australia, that oh-so-perfect-shade-of-pink silky blouse that still looks like new — and put them in another bag. By the end of the night, it was a whole damn bag.

I told myself, I can still give it away later. I even thought if the truck didn’t come first thing in the morning, I’d sneak more items out. Alas, the guy came by too early.

Now I have a giant bag of stuff I never wear. Sitting there.

That’s okay. I can still give it away. I’ll decide later.

I just hope it’s not in 10 years.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Elephant in a Tsunami

"There but for the grace of god go I."

I met an old friend for lunch last week. In the back of my mind this phrase surfaced. She is in a battle with breast cancer. For the third time.

I cannot say I’m overwhelmed with pity for her — partly because we’ve not been in each other’s lives very much over the years. So there is some distance. But she also looks good and has a positive attitude. For what it’s worth, I’m optimistic for her.

Still, I would not want to be in her shoes.

And there but for the grace of god go I, I hear myself say.

The funny thing is, in recent years, I’ve realized people may be saying that about me, or more aptly, my family.

How strange that has been to recognize.

Before that, life seemed pretty charmed. About as charmed as any life can seem from the outside. We all know nobody’s life is perfect. But things were good.

Then in 2001, a convolution of events occurred, a kind of tsunami of health issues, mostly engulfing my mother, but others, too. Suddenly my family was overwhelmed with one thing or another…. It was really rather ridiculous.

I named this blog Only the Half of It for two reasons.

First I wanted a sense of fun. To say: Hey, sometimes things happen that are so ridiculous, you wouldn’t believe half of it.

The second reason for the name was to reflect the madness I felt I — or we as a family — have had to deal with. That it’s been bad, but even worse than you knew and I just didn’t feel like telling it all because I didn’t want to see jaws drop or looks of pity reflected back at me.

Perhaps I wanted to deny a little bit, just enough to keep my spirits up. And that’s not a bad thing.

I read after 9/11 that psychologists discovered something that ran contrary to the popular belief that you have to talk about and purge the horrors you keep deep down inside lest they fester like a cancer and ruin your life. They found that some victims of 9/11 were in fact better off, maybe healthier and better able to cope and get on with their lives, by not talking about what they’d been through. That some denial was healthy.

I thought this myself some months before 9/11. I remember looking in child-like horror into a sterile hospital room as my mother was being dialyzed for the first time, just days after she was diagnosed with sudden, unexpected kidney failure.

She looked like a mummy swathed in layers of thin white hospital blankets, her eyes tightly shut as if she was in pain. Maybe she was, and maybe she was also trying to escape the reality.

And that was this: Her kidneys had shut down. She would die without dialysis. That entailed getting a central line, something more akin to surgical tubing than an IV line, stuck into her chest so they could pump her blood out and back in as the dialysis machine did its job of cleaning her blood. This would happen three times a week, three to four hours each time. For as long as she lived. Unless her kidneys recovered or she got a transplant.

As my mother lay there, eyes tightly shutting it all out, that’s when my mother’s new doctor-by-default, a kidney specialist who did not know her at all personally, told my father and I quite bluntly and with an air of criticism: “She’s in denial.” As if she needs to not deny what is happening to her.

The doctor’s words made me angry. Later I told my dad: “Of course she’s in denial. I don’t blame her.”

I’ve spent so much time in hospitals and dealing with one health issue or another affecting my family that I’ve come up with my own ideas of how to cope because I’ve had to.

It helps to remember things could be worse. It doesn’t always help to look to someone less fortunate, but I do try to remind myself, and my mother, of the bright side. I thought that with my girlfriend over lunch, that thankfully that wasn’t me. So many people deal with so many bad things you can’t even imagine it. And so in some ways we are lucky. Very lucky.

For instance, my parents are reasonably active. My mother has a transplanted kidney (mine), and despite some rejection discovered last year, she is doing okay. We are managing her other health issues. My father, on dialysis himself now, also does well. Better than my mom did. There is more but I won’t go into it. (You wouldn’t believe me anyway, as I like to say.)

So I give thanks. And I mean it.

I also believe a healthy dose of denial comes in handy. Maybe focusing on the positive is a way to deny the negative or, at the very least, get away from it so you can cope. Try not to drown in it. Even try to outrun it. This is where the elephant comes in.

I’d like to be like an elephant in a tsunami.

If you recall, when the tsunami hit Southeast Asia in 2004, elephants in Sri Lanka, Sumatra and Thailand moved to high ground before the storm struck the shores. They knew something was coming and saved themselves. The cool thing, too, is they trumpeted loudly to bring their kin, to keep them from what would have been certain death.

Call it a sixth sense. Call it a heightened awareness. Call it hypervigilance. I call it prevention.

I do not have a sixth sense. But in times of tension and terror, I want to be present. For me that means don’t assume the doctor or someone else has every answer. I’ve learned this firsthand too many times. My friend, with whom I began this story, discovered her cancer herself this third time around — not the doctor.

That’s what I want. To stay ahead of the tsunami. And trumpet as loud as I can.

NOTE: The amazing image above is from a show titled "Ashes and Snow." I saw it in NYC in 2005 before it traveled the world. See it if you ever get the chance.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

My Facebook (So-Called) Friends

I have been on FB since before it exploded among “regular” people. And I must say it’s interesting to see its evolution.

I first registered on the site I when one of my editors realized we needed to reach some students for a story we were working on. For those on FB, you could only contact them through FB if you were a member. Problem was, I was not a student. I had to contact my alumni office for a valid school email address.

I didn’t spend a lot of time stalking students for quotes. But I had a space. I was sort of parked there.

Soon, I was friended by someone I used to work with. They hardly needed an introduction. This person is a friend. One I know well. Then there was another and another and another. The friend requests came like a barrage and I began friending people like mad myself.

Most of my early FB friends were people I used to work with, all highly adept at digital technology and, hence, early adopters of the online social network. And for a good year or so most of my friends were in the digital business, people who are online a lot, use the internet for work or are just young.

I’ve even friended some people I have never met but had a connection with, either through mutual friends or business.

I will say that for every one of those people — those I’ve never met or who do not know me — I have always — repeat, always — sent them a message of introduction or explanation of why I was friending them. That just makes sense to me.

So what I find odd — and I’ll admit, a little annoying — is that I’ve been getting friend requests from more and more people I sort of know, or used to know, or met once, or knew in grade school or college and never ever speak to or have not spoken to for years and barely recognize their name.

And they put no note. Nothing. Not even a: “Hi, did used to go to XYZ school? I recognized your name…” or “Hi, I found you on FB and would love to keep in touch – my name is now XYZ but you remember me as ABC. How are you???”


I find this odd. It annoys me, as I already said. I mean, one childhood friend added me recently, which I guess was her way of saying “Hello.” Maybe I need to just lighten up here but she didn’t put so much as a, “Hi, what are you doing and where do you live?” even after I accepted her friend request and wrote a quick hello on her Wall saying she needs to fill me in on her life. I’ve still never heard from her. That must have been two or three weeks ago.


So what do I do with these people? I am not sure I really even care to have them back in my life. I’ve done just fine without them. Not that there is anything wrong with them. Maybe I’m just in a different place.

Maybe I need a reason to re-connect. Maybe we need a kind of FB date. A little back and forth to stimulate my interest beyond the kind of connection you make at a school reunion. When you are happy to see the person, get caught up and then go on about your life and do not see them again until the next reunion. Or ever.

I guess I have only so much energy for my friends, FB included.

I certainly have no time for someone who doesn’t even make a tiny effort to communicate once we are “friends.” Again, I'm referring to people I barely know now. And have no professional connection with. They are simply someone from my past. I expect a little something from someone I once knew relatively well.

I’m not planning to delete these people but I do feel slightly exposed. So what I do is engage my privacy preferences. At least until they show me a little of themselves. I mean, so what if we hung out in grade school. I really have no idea who you are today. You know?

So my attitude is this: If you want to eavesdrop on my life, please, just drop me a line.

Some have. I do not need to talk to them all the time. For them I say: Feel free to hang out. Say or post something interesting, I might pipe in. I appreciate being in on the conversation.

That’s what is nice about FB. Connecting.

Why don’t some people get that?

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Duck Duck

I seem to write a lot about animals. I guess when you have a lot of them in your life, you have a lot of stories.

One story ended yesterday.

My mother was choking back tears when she called to tell my dad and me that the duck was dying. She was home with him all afternoon, cradling him in her lap. I think she just wanted to tell us. To reach out a little.

The duck, who we always called Ducky or Duck Duck, came into my mother’s home about 10 years ago when no one wanted him. Certainly not the woman who handed him over to her one day when my mother was doing surveys for the Department of Agriculture. This woman had gotten some baby ducks for her children and as they grew, it was soon apparent this white duck, with pigeon-toed feet that kept stepping over each other when he tried to walk, was just not fitting in.

“You want him? He’s yours,” she told my mother.

My mother, who's done wildlife rehab over the years, has a kind of open-door policy when it comes to unwanted animals. She didn't hesitate to take him home with her.

He was really quite beautiful. Just handicapped. His home was a large wire cage in a heated breezeway. It was lined it with newspaper and shredded paper. He always had water and duck food from the local pet store.

In the warmer months, we’d fill a tub with water from the hose and he’d swim around like the most normal looking duck you’d ever seen, quacking and paddling away.

Then we’d take him out and set him on a grassy area under a tree where he was within view from a kitchen window. He’d groom himself as he bathed in the sun and when he got hot, he’d waddle as best he could to the shade. He could get around but not well. It was hardly a normal life for a duck. But my mother gave him life anyway.

In the colder months, she’d bring him inside the house and place him in the laundry room tub, which she'd fill with warm water. It was a funny sight to peek into the laundry room, past the washer and dryer, to see this white duck’s head sticking up and paddling around as he quacked.

Often at night, my mother brought him inside to just hang out. She’d cover a few feet square with newspapers and set him down in the expansive kitchen area next to a sofa where she likes to sit. We didn’t pay too much attention to him, we just let him be. I suppose he enjoyed being inside. Life must have been pretty boring for him stuck in a cage and not able to wander around all day.

For that reason, my mother often wondered if she should have found him a home with other ducks. But who knows? Other ducks might have attacked him or simply rejected him, as animals sometimes do to the weak among them.

No, I think he had a pretty good life.

Last night my mother, who always feels guilty when an animal of hers dies, wondered again if she did the right thing, this time about not getting him to vet to be euthanized. She told me she'd been thinking of taking him there after realizing how bad he was — that he’d been acting funny for a day or so but it was clear something was very wrong yesterday. And then he died. He was in her arms.

I told her maybe it was for the best that way. That a trip to the vet might have been even more stressful, even traumatizing.

"It never gets easier,” she said. Her face filled with pain and she looked like she wanted to cry again. “People like me shouldn’t have animals. It’s too hard.”

“No mom,” I said, “For the animals’ sake, people like you should have pets."

I don’t know that Ducky had the best life. But I know he had a good life. And he was loved.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

My Mom: The Neo-Luddite

My mother is a Luddite. A neo-Luddite to be exact.

If they had a club, she’d be a proud card carrying member.

For those unfamiliar with the term, Luddites were a group who opposed technological and scientific innovations during the Industrial Revolution. These early 19th century English workmen went so far as to destroy laborsaving machinery as a protest.

Now it’s not that my mother is really opposed to progress. She’s not. She likes her electric garage door opener and knows how to set the home security system. And while her car has no CD player or cruise control or electric seats, that's more because she’s frugal. She enjoys things like cable channels and even owns a cell phone and uses the microwave oven.

No, I think my mom’s real issue is fear of technology, which translates into her being rather angry about technology.

After all, she is a bright woman — one who holds a master's degree in social work and nearly finished a second master's degree in fine art. She's just not tech smart.

Let me share some examples:

She has learned to use the universal remote on the TV, which is kind of unbelievable as sometimes I can’t even figure it out. But she’s really just learned the process of “always push this then that” without understanding what she’s doing. Hence, if something is awry, she’s clueless. That’s when she calls to my dad:

“I’m just pushing buttons. Just pushing buttons,” she’ll say loudly, the remote in her one hand as the other dramatically taps away at one button after the other until my father comes running in, aghast and frustrated: “What are you doing? Give me that.”

Of course, she’s a smart woman. He does it for her, which is what she wanted in the first place.

But then begins the explanation of the remote. It’s an act of futility. I can literally see her eyes glazing over as my father or I try to get her to understand the way it works.

“See, you have to turn the cable on first. You hit the cable button, then power, then you hit the TV then power, then go back to cable to be in that mode…”

“But I don’t want to watch cable,” she’ll say. In a twisted way, she makes sense. She wants to watch the network news.

“But mom, it’s all cable, the networks come through the cable.”

I can totally tell she’s not getting it. She doesn’t care. She just wants to watch the damn news. Sometimes it’s just easier for us to do it for her.

Oh, there are many examples like this. She pretty much treats the microwave the same way, pushing buttons, rather clueless to how it works but somehow getting things heated. It drives my dad crazy.

Then there is the issue of the computer and email. She gives people my dad’s email address so they can contact her. She has no idea of how to work the computer or access email. So he has to set it up for her and tell her to sit down, showing her each time how to go from one email to another.

And then of course, rather than compose a Letter to the Editor or other correspondence on the computer, she writes things up long hand. I’ll usually end up retyping it for her.

Then there is the mystery of digital photography, which she cannot seem to grasp. She is an artist accustomed to submitting her work for juried exhibitions on slides. Now that more and more shows are requesting CDs with jpeg files, she’s practically considering giving up showing.

“Can you make a jpeg?” she’ll ask me.

“Yes, I have a digital camera. I can take them and send them via email or put them on a disc.”

“Okay, let me know and I’ll pay for the film,” she says. I don’t even know how to begin the explanation that there is no film, but I tell her that anyway.

Now most of the time these instances are not a terrible problem — just sometimes a little frustrating.

But it can be problematic. I mean, I’d laugh if the ramifications were not so serious sometimes. For instance, she was put on a drug called Coumadin, a blood thinner. It can be a dangerous drug. People take it to avoid forming life-threatening clots. If you take too much, you could bleed to death from a fall or have numerous complications from internal bleeding.

Basically, people get a loading dose followed by a smaller daily dose that gets altered weekly depending on how much of the drug is in your system, which is monitored via weekly blood draws. You need to be in a therapeutic range. Not too high, not too low. Too low means you are not protected and there is no sense even being on the drug.

When my mom's cardiologist suggested she go on this drug recently, my dad decided against it, agreeing with a couple of her other doctors that it was not worth the risk. But my mother got concerned and decided to go ahead and get the prescription and take it.

So I asked her the other night: “How much did you take today?”

“I took half a pill. Dad didn’t want me on it so I thought I’d just take half.”

“Mom, what is your prescription? What does the bottle say?”

“One pill a day.”

“Mom, you have to follow the prescription. It doesn’t work like that….”

I tried to explain how it works. I could see her eyes glazing over soon into the explanation. I chose to see it as a challenge and continued a good five to ten minutes, using analogies and making hand gestures to portray a range as if on a chart, thinking: “I can win her over, I just know it.”

A few days later she informed she’d taken half a pill “because dad doesn’t want me on it.”

I guess it’s better than her taking too much. And she’s too smart to do that.

The other big problem is her cell phone. Oh, this makes my father and I crazy. Insane.

She has no idea how to access her voice mail, use her address book, change her ring style or adjust the volume. None of that. It’s all too complicated.

In her defense, there is way more stuff on these phones than most of us need or even use. Even I have to read the book sometimes. But as a regular technology user, I have a basic understanding she doesn’t possess.

So I’ll call her and she’ll pick up, then immediately hang up. This happens so often I’ve asked what she is doing.

“There’s something wrong with this phone,” she insists.

“Mom, nothing is wrong with the phone. You’re doing something.”

“No, there’s something wrong with this phone,” she insists again. "This phone is crazy."

I think I figured it out once in the car with her when she got a call. That she has it set to answer on open, and hang up on close, and when she’s driving and fumbles the phone she hangs up inadvertently. Or something like that.

More maddening, she somehow manages to turn her phone onto silent without realizing it and, thus, has no clue you are trying to reach her. This is a real problem if we don’t know where she is and are worried, or need to reach her for something important.

Other times the volume mysteriously goes down. If I call, she will yell:

"What? I can't hear you."

Then I scream into the phone: "Turn the volume up."

"What?" she'll yell back, even though I can hear her fine.

"Your volume. Turn it up."

Then, just as I feel thankful that I got her to answer her phone, she'll say, "I'm in traffic. I can't hear you. I'll call you back."


So far, thankfully, nothing horrible has happened through all this. And while I do think my mother would be happy if she easily grasped all of these gadgets and technology, it never was her way of thinking anyway.

And deep down — and this is why I call her a Luddite — I think she likes it this way.

I mean, I feel enslaved by technology sometimes. It would be nice to opt out now and then. Not have to read a manual for everything. Turn off the email and cell phone. Just have a few TV channels. Life might be simpler.

But, mom. Pick up the phone now and then, would you?