The Woman Who Came Back to Life

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I’ve had this fear of being in a car accident and waking up days later in the hospital with no memory what happened other than getting out of bed the morning it happened. How weird would that feel? Would I be scared or relieved that I couldn’t remember the harrowing events of a wreck that had me unconscious for days?

On Friday night, September 16, I went to bed and don’t remember anything until Tuesday, September 19; however, the cause wasn’t a car accident. Undiagnosed sleep apnea sent me into cardiac arrest around 4:15 am that Saturday morning. Danny called 911 and the operator gave him directions for CPR. The paramedics showed up and took over for another half hour. When they wheeled me into the emergency room, I was in ventricular fibrillation.

The doctors put me on a ventilator, kept me sedated, and lowered my body temperature to stave off any further damage; however, no one knew how long I had gone without sufficient oxygen. No one could say if I would come out of sedation as my normal self or without the ability to walk or talk.

The fact that I’m here on the blog writing about it obviously tells you that it all came out okay. The truth was, I more than “okay.” I was sitting up and talking pretty much the same day I came off the ventilator — three days after the cardiac episode. The next day, I had a heart catheterization through my wrist (Through. My. Wrist. Y’all. Science…) that came back clear. The day after that, I had a procedure to insert a defibrillator that went off fine. Throughout my week in the Cardiac Care Unit, I had nurses coming to my room who had seen me the night I arrived, and after I was in a regular room, other nurses visited who just couldn’t believe how well I was doing:

“You’re not supposed to be sitting up and doing this well, this soon.”

“I just had to come see you for myself.”

“I can’t believe you’re the same person.”

The Human Pincushion

If I had a dollar for every time I heard those statements, I could pay off the hospital bill. The words “walking miracle” get thrown around, and I’m completely uncomfortable hearing it. The day before I went home a 6-year-old boy was shot along with a teacher and another child at an elementary school in a neighboring county. He did not get to become a “walking miracle.” He died four days later. A former coworker’s 12-year-old daughter who went in to the hospital during my stay is still there fighting for her life, trying to beat a scary illness affecting kids all over the country. Last week I stood in front of a college friend, held her hands, and wept with her over the loss of her husband, feeling guilty that I was still here and he wasn’t. What makes me so special that I get to be the one who gets to walk away?

A couple of friends and family have commented on my Facebook statuses that they can’t wait to see what I have to say on my blog about the whole event. Honestly, I’ve been sort of stumped about what to say.

There are not enough words in all the languages combined to express the wealth of gratitude I have felt for family and friends who turned the CCU waiting room into a can of sardines, the ones who came and kept me company and saved my sanity, the ones who sent flowers and food, the staff who went above and beyond to take care of me, the EMS workers whose quick work helped increase my chance of survival.

The general agreement of all who’ve had knowledge of my case is this: in the moment Danny considers most terrifying was also the most fortunate, because the noise I made that woke him up had to have been the exact moment I lost the ability to breathe. His jump to action kept my time without oxygen to a bare minimum. Many of us say that our spouse saved our life in a figurative sense. I get to say that my spouse literally saved mine. However, he will tell you what he told a friend of ours; he actually saved his own.

The first thing I remember after Friday night was that Tuesday, when I reached for something attached to my face and then someone taking my hand and telling me I was in the hospital. I was trying to pull out the ventilator, something I attempted with such persistence that they had to tie my hands down. After I got home, I went back and read Facebook posts that gave updates on my condition and detailed what my family was going through.

I am relieved to not have memories of what went on while I was out of it (except maybe flipping my mother the bird when she commented on my barely there toe polish). I can’t imagine their fear. Perhaps I had the easiest job of all in trying to get better.

Music is often my catalyst for change, and I heard this song today by one of my favorite bands, Foo Fighters. It sums up where I am right now.

Two Years

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In high school and college, I spent hours honing my ability to craft good introductions for my papers. I love finding the perfect first line for anything — essay, article, short story, blog post. However, I have found no good way to introduce the fact that Dad died two years ago today.

You try to convince yourself it’s just a day. Tell yourself it’s simply the combination of a day and a number in a month that happens every year. After all, people say that age is just a number. Weight is just a measurement of gravity. If we lived on the moon, our weight would be six times lighter. If we lived on Mars, a year would be almost twice as long. So then I wonder, Would that have given us more time with him?

Only people who are capable of loving strongly can also suffer great sorrow, but this same necessity of loving serves to counteract their grief and heals them.
— Leo Tolstoy

I never really blogged about how that first year went. I didn’t really blog about anything, actually, for over a year. All those firsts came around: first Thanksgiving, first Christmas, a family funeral, first birthdays, first Father’s Day, a family wedding. To believe he’s  watching over us is comforting, but his absence at special occasions still leaves a gaping hole.

I’m not really sure there’s any trick to coping other than the clichés of getting out of bed every morning, putting one foot in front of the other, and taking it day by day. Not long after Dad died, I sat in my Nurse Practitioner’s office for a regular weight-monitoring visit (that’s really more irregular) and relaying to her what had happened over the past few months. When I was done, she asked, “And how are you?”

“Oh, I’m fine,” I said.

“Really? You lost your dog, then your dad, then started a new job in the span of three months. Those are some major transitions and stresses.”

I had not stopped to think of it that way. Perhaps I wouldn’t let myself do that in order to keep myself from buckling under the pressure? Usually, anxiety doesn’t affect me until AFTER the stressful event is over. In this case, it came almost a year later.

Starting last July, I found myself overemotional, hypersensitive, panicky, irritable, moody… you name it. For weeks I couldn’t figure out why. It wasn’t until after that first anniversary, during a journaling session, that the thought rolled out of my head, through the pen, onto the paper. As of 24th, I was more than a year removed from his presence. I could no longer say, “At this time last year, Dad was still here.”

Grief is not a disorder, a disease, or a sign of weakness. It is an emotional, physical, and spiritual necessity, the price you pay for love. The only cure for grief is to grieve.
— Earl Grollman

In January I felt ready to get out of the funk, to do something that made me feel as if I were actually living, not just existing. The process has gone more slowly than I wanted and left me beyond frustrated — proof that I am my father’s daughter. I had to take time off from the gym because of a knee problem, which then kept me from doing some physical challenges I wanted to do. That’s better now, so I’m trying again to get back in the groove. And I’m writing more as well.

I heard this song a week or so ago that summed it all up what I was trying to do. My favorite thing about music is how it can express so much of our own feelings in just a few notes and words. May it inspire you to get out of whatever funk you might be experiencing as well.

Marco Polo and Cancer Can Bite Me

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Until I was around 14 or so, my family and my dad’s sister’s family (including her parents-in-law) went to North Myrtle Beach together during the third week of July every summer. When they were in high school, my older cousins each brought a friend as well, so I remember several years when there were 13 to 15 of us in a three bedroom condo.

Every morning the living room was a minefield of air mattresses and snoring teenagers, and to this day, these weeks remain my favorite vacations ever. They’re probably the reason why I feel like a road trip feels incomplete without at least five or six people with me.

swimming poolDuring these beach trips, my brother and I spent the majority of our days submerged in chlorinated water until our skin shriveled to the point where even a prune would be like, “Damn…” Attempts to keep us properly sunscreened proved futile, and our fair, freckled skin turned angry pink in just the first day. Eventually, mine settled into a reddish brown with extra freckles.

Sometimes we’d see other kids in the pool playing Marco Polo — a game that never interested me. Who wants to be the one kid standing alone, eyes closed, flailing about in desperation to tag someone else who stays just out of reach and then disappears only to pop up again behind him or beside him?

Just don’t get tagged, you might say. But sometimes you slip up. Perhaps you lose your footing on the bottom of the pool and fall within reach. Perhaps the “Marco” ends up being faster than you. Sometimes, getting tagged is just a matter of time.

I find the game as sick and twisted as Dad’s lymphoma. At the beginning of January, the doctors sent out all their Marco calls in the form of scans and tests and nothing answered, so they said Dad was in remission — except there was this pain that had started in his hip, like his sciatic nerve had started acting up.

Then the pain was in his back, and last Friday he ended up in the ER with a bunch of jackasses who had less compassion than a drill sergeant. Dad had an MRI, and despite not having done a spinal tap yet, one of the a-hole doctors swaggered over to him announced that the lymphoma had moved to his spine.

Unfortunately, the spinal tap did show lymphoma in his central nervous system, in the blood-bone barrier — a hiding place that would not have shown up on any scan or bone marrow test. Polo

The Leukemia and Lymphoma society predicted that almost 70,000 Americans would be diagnosed with non-Hodgkins lymphoma in 2013. For ease of math, (which I’ll still be doing with a calculator because… English major) we’ll say 70,000. Of those 70,000, five to ten percent will receive a diagnosis of mantle cell lymphoma, the type of lymphoma Dad has. Some statistics say it’s closer to four to six percent, but let’s be generous and say it’s ten percent.

Then 7,000 people should have gotten the mantle cell lymphoma diagnosis. Of these 7,000, LESS THAN FOUR PERCENT of them will have their lymphoma move to their central nervous system. We’ll be generous again and give it an even four percent calculation, which equals 280. Two hundred and eighty people will wind up with their lymphoma moving to their central nervous system, and Dad is one of them. How sick and twisted is that?

If my advanced math skills hadn’t vanished after my first semester of college or if I had the patience, I might try and figure what the odds of this occurrence would be, but I’m not attempting those calculations because they don’t do anything to change our new reality.

The new reality is that he has to have weekly chemo shots into his spine along with a daily dose of a new drug approved by the FDA in November. The new reality is that the doctor is not as optimistic about remission; however, this new drug in its trials reduced or eradicated the cancer in 66 percent of the participants.

While we knew the chance of relapse was present, we hoped that we’d have more time to enjoy the good news. Instead, the road has narrowed and lengthened and developed potholes that make this nightmare of a journey tougher to handle.

However, Thursday morning as I sat and listened to the TV on ESPN at work, I heard Curt Schilling’s statement regarding his cancer announcement, and despite talk of him being the occasional a-hole himself1, I found comfort in the following statement:

Tough times don’t last, tough people do.

And if there’s anyone who’s tough enough to outlast this lymphoma (or a rousing game of Marco Polo), it’s my dad.

1 — With the exception of the Atlanta Braves in the early ’90s, I’ve never been a huge MLB follower.

Hello, This is the Concierge at the Hotel of Life with Your Wake-up Call

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retro phoneFour days after I wrote that letter to 2014, I found a lump in my breast. Good one, 2014! Way to listen to my request there! ‘Preciate ya… sure do…

Then I did what any person does when they find some sort of bump, lump, or pain — I Googled it. The first information I found sounded promising. The lump moved around easily, so it was most likely a cyst. Then I came across another cite that said you can’t always go by that because sometimes malignant tumors are movable.

My lump is in the lower inner quadrant of the breast, so  one site said that only six percent of breast cancers are found in that area. Well, that sounded good until I realized that the variety of my dad’s lymphoma makes up only six percent of lymphoma patients. Fun fact: Medical issues in my family freakishly happen in similar numbers. The sebaceous cysts I inherited from my dad? My first one popped up on my chin in the fourth grade. My dad’s first cyst popped up on his forehead in the fourth grade. My father’s father died at age 57 of a heart attack. My dad turned 57 while in the hospital recovering from bypass surgery.

Those coincidences were in the back of my mind as I read another website that said breast cancers found in the lower inner quadrant can be difficult to stage correctly because they sometimes spread to mammary lymph nodes between the breasts, making them harder to treat.

So I stopped Googling… Public service announcement, peeps: Do not Google symptoms. No good comes from it. None.

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As My Ovaries Lay Dying

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Warning: As noted in the title, this is a discussion about Those Female Lady Parts. So, fellas, if you get squeamish hearing the following words — ovary, period, menstruation, menopause, among others — do yourself a favor and skip this post.

I’ve mentioned before how The Husband and I have had a fair amount of shit shoveled onto our plates over the summer, so the insomnia that started a couple of months ago didn’t surprise me, except it usually consisted of me waking up uncomfortable and sweaty. On the one hand, I’m a hot-natured person. If I say I’m cold, Satan is down in Hell wearing a parka. However, we’ve had an unusually cool-ish summer, and despite sleeping with the ceiling fan running, I still couldn’t cool off.

Then I noticed abnormally emotional bouts with PMS. Someone could raise an eyebrow to me and I’d erupt into tears with, “WHY DO YOU HATE ME?” Monthly cramps came on as strongly as they did during my teenage years, and other odd medical anomalies popped up that made me wonder what the frak was going on.

So I did a search of my symptoms. Yes, I know, it’s like opening Pandora’s Box. A small bump on your finger could be a zit or leprosy. (Don’t pop it! You could lose that finger!) What I kept seeing was the term “perimenopause” — defined by the Mayo Clinic as “the time period during which a woman’s body makes its natural transition toward permanent infertility.” Really, Mayo Clinic? That’s what you want millions of women to read when they can already have an emotional breakdown with the slap of a feather?

Please excuse me while knit myself an afghan to curl up with as I watch Matlock reruns.

I also take issue with the Mayo Clinic’s use of “natural transition” — because these symptoms do not feel natural. Is it really natural to wake up in the middle of the night sweating under a ceiling fan or to suddenly start sobbing because someone asked me to pass the salt?

But, Carla, it can’t be menopause; you’re only 41! Yep, and my mom told me that she started having the same symptoms around the same age. By the time she was 46, her Monthly Visitor had stopped making its regular appearances.

In coming to terms with this phase, (I refuse to call it “The Change.” It’s a change inside the body, not a metamorphosis into some alien-looking creature.) I propose that Hollywood reverse the way it depicts menstruation and menopause. When a girl gets her first period in a TV show or movie, the other women get excited and exclaim, “Oh, you’re a woman now!” Please… My mother did no such thing. If anything, she offered sympathy for the decades of monthly ups and downs ahead of me.

I definitely didn’t feel like a woman when it showed up for the first time — about a month before my twelfth birthday, during my last bathroom trip before going out to wait on the school bus. I still remember standing in the bathroom and shedding the first of many, many, MANY hormonal tears to come. Unable to compose myself in time, I missed my ride, and my mom had to take me to school.

And why does Hollywood love to show a middle-aged woman thinking she’s pregnant only to discover that her missed period is a result of menopause? All that’s missing is the WOMP womp of a horn section. Yes, yes, we can no longer have children. We are as barren as the dessert. We are now permanently infertile. Our biological clocks are deader than Kenny from South Park, you bastards…

There’s also the version of crazy hormonal lady a la Fried Green Tomatoes‘ Evelyn and her alter ego, Towanda. Movies and TV love to portray menopausal women as out of their heads due to their hormones being out of whack, so we end up thinking we need a Ned Stark Internet Meme to warn people.

Menopause

Eh, that’s too tame…

Bat-shit crazy lady

That’s more like it…

What movies and TV need to show are girls experiencing a bummer attitude about having to put up with the ups and downs that come with a monthly cycle. The times they’re caught off guard with their period starting and no feminine hygiene product in sight. The times they’re going to freak out over being late and worry that they’re pregnant. The cramps… Oh, those damn cramps…

However, women finding out they’re perimenopausal need to whoop that shit up. They are almost done with this monthly burden, and it is time to let the champagne flow. Yeah, yeah, they’re biological clocks are sputtering their last breaths, but that doesn’t mean they’ve got one foot in the grave. They’re not any less of a woman just because they don’t have to buy tampons.

I, for one, look forward to sending my Monthly Visitor on a permanent vacation. I will help her pack and drive that bitch to the airport myself.  I’ve eased the bat-shit crazy symptoms by making sure I keep up with regular exercise, and the other women in my family never experienced over-the-top issues with this change. My mom said her “hot flashes” were more like periodic night sweats, so I’m hoping for an average transition.

But y’all pray for The Husband. Just in case Ned Stark is right.

Pleasantly Plump

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"I'm not fat! I'm big boned!"

“I’m not fat! I’m big boned!”

“I think Carla is a good friend,” Surrena said, patting my leg. I gave a timid smile at her thoughtfulness… and then she continued, “And she’s not fat; she’s pleasantly plump.”

My fourth-grade classmates giggled and guffawed at her unintentionally backhanded compliment. Mrs. Nesmith had meant well — sitting us all in a circle and giving us the exercise to say something nice about the person on our left — but Surrena, bless her heart, had no way of knowing the class would still consider her statement as confirmation that I was overweight.

The pediatrician also confirmed it at every yearly physical: “She’s ten pounds overweight.” I got teased and ostracized for it — not a malicious, daily torment, but I would hear the occasional snide comment, see the up-and-down-then-disgusted look from the popular girls, or get chosen last for a team at recess or in PE. Carrying around ten extra pounds in childhood turned into carrying twenty extra pounds as a teenager — all at a time when kids weren’t nearly as big (weight-wise) as they are now. So my chubby self was in the minority.

Middle school was better than those fourth and fifth grade years, and high school was better than middle school. But I never really lost all the weight. Somewhere in the back of my mind, I believed that if I lost the weight, I was admitting that I agreed with all those who teased and shunned me.

I tell you about this experience because of this girl — who had the audacity to post a photo of her “grotesque” self online. The comments on the HLN article range from “good for you” to “you are hideous.”

With every article that goes up talking about weight issues, the comments section becomes inundated with people who say that fat people are just lazy. (As an aside, I truly believe that the establishment of a comment section on news sites is one of the worst things to happen to journalism in the internet age — a bunch of alpha gorillas beating their chests, hurling insults with horrible spelling and grammar, incapable of being civil or convincing other readers to change their minds. I wish every news site would dump them.)

In fact, compared to the articles I’ve read on addiction, those who are considered obese have been the only ones who are called lazy. No one tells a heroin addict to get his lazy ass off the couch and go to rehab. I’ve never seen someone tell an alcoholic that all she needs to do is just quit drinking.

I’m not saying that obesity is always a food addiction, but I do believe it’s possible to be addicted to food. Look at eating disorders. No one calls anorexics or bullemics names because they can’t magically stop starving themselves or binging and purging, yet many people just can’t believe that someone who is overweight just might have some mental issues that keep him or her from achieving a healthy weight.

And there’s another issue: “healthy weight.” So many people consider the BMI the authoritative measurement, but I know muscular people who are considered obese according to the BMI. Even in my case, I’m considered very obese by the BMI, but when I had a body fat composition test last year, I was just barely obese.

I’m not advocating the “fat acceptance” movement because I realize that being obese isn’t healthy; however, if  you hate your body, you’re not inclined to take care of it. So hearing people tell overweight and obese people to “put down the fried chicken and get their ass off the couch” is not acceptable motivation. Losing weight for revenge is as mentally unhealthy as keeping the extra weight is physically unhealthy.

And now, if you’ll excuse me, there’s a plate of powdered donut pancake surprise calling my name…

(Yes, I’m kidding…)

2012 in Review

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A cold, rainy day here in Upstate SC provided the perfect opportunity for me to look back on my 2012. All in all, it wasn’t as eventful as 2011 but not nearly as sucky as 2010 — or 2008 for that matter — but I find myself comparing years to 2002. For some reason I look back on that year as a great one — perhaps because I was finally writing on a full-time basis and we had just bought our first house. Things just seemed more promising — although things aren’t bleak right now. I don’t know. I suppose I spend too much time comparing years instead of trying to make the current one the best it can be.

When January 2012 began, I really thought we were in for a lousy year. Our 11-year-old shepherd/collie mix, Domino, had just been diagnosed with an upper respiratory infection, elevated liver enzymes, and diabetes. In the first two weeks of the year, we dropped at least $700 at the vet. Yeah, happy New Year to us. Combine that with my dark-thirty toilet demolition on New Year’s Eve, and I pretty much decided to just go stick my head in the sand until December 31st.

But we bought a new toilet tank, and Domino’s liver enzymes stabilized in February so that we wouldn’t have to fork over $200 for those meds every two weeks. Plus we all got the hang of the twice-daily shot routine, so things started leveling out nicely.

At the end of March, despite the lack of training, I did my second Cooper River Bridge Run — which I vowed never to do without training again, especially since I might have to toss a bitch into the Cooper River.

It took me until April to actually post on here again — and even then, it was a blip of a conversation between Cinlach and me. I’m trying to change that frequency, but more on that later.

I hit the big 4-0 in May and celebrated with a party at a local pub. Some friends came, we had drinks, we played Rock Band, and we almost burned down the bar with my cake (kidding!). I think a good time was had by all. And then the next week I came down with my first verifiable case of food poisoning. One of my friends (this chick) and another coworker took me out to eat for my birthday and let me pick the place, so I chose one of those hibachi places. Here’s a fun fact you might not know: Rice has a naturally-occurring toxin that is released if not cooked/stored/reheated properly. Who knew? I sure didn’t, and apparently the hibachi restaurant didn’t either.

I’m still wary about rice, and I haven’t been able to go to another hibachi place since. It’s not that I’m necessarily afraid of getting food poisoning again, but you know, once that comes back up on you, you just don’t have the appetite for it.

We went to the Heroes Convention in June — its 30th anniversary — and Stan “The Man” Lee was there. We didn’t pay the buttload of money to stand in line to get a pic and autograph, but he did show up to the artists’ auction on that Saturday night.

In July, I finally sat down and gave a real post: a tribute to my friend Carmen, who had passed away in December 2011.

Also that month, I delved deeper into geekdom and started doing some D & D type role playing stuff. Right now, the coolest things about it are painting the figurines and collecting the neat-looking dice.

The hard drive to my iMac died in August, but luckily, I have a back-up external drive and an Apple Care plan. So I didn’t lose too much stuff, and there was no charge to replace the hard drive. Ironically, two months later, I received an email from Apple about the hard drive issue that encouraged owners of iMacs to go ahead and back up their stuff and go get a new hard drive. Thanks, Apple.

August also brought a few tense weeks for us in that the company Cinlach worked for was not renewing their contract with a huge client, so we didn’t know who would pick up the contract and if he would have a job with them and if he did, would said job be here in town? Lots of hand-wringing and back-up plans being made.

But in September, the new company was announced and decided to hire him — as well as keep operations in town — so we dodged a bullet. That same month, I signed up for several fall 5k events to start training for the Cooper River Bridge Run. My first event was the Race for the Cure; I finished in 1:04:49. I felt pretty good about that since I’d been walking diligently for a couple of weeks.

I kept improving in October with the Upstate Step Out to Stop Diabetes, finishing in 52 minutes, and the Spinx Run Fest, finishing in 57:50. Also in October was the International Day of the Girl, which I observed with a letter to my 15-year-old self.

In November, we went to see Kevin Smith at the Peace Center, and we had awesome seats on the second row. He says he’s coming back this year, and the husband and I plan to be there again — thoroughly enjoyed his stories. During this month, I also ended my freelance gig with LivingSocial. Well, I actually didn’t, they ended it and hundreds of other freelance gigs (no doubt in an effort to conserve costs). On the one hand, I’m gonna miss the money. (Boy, am I gonna miss that money.) But on the other, it did take up a lot of time from my own writing — whether for this blog or for my own fiction.

December brought one final 5k, the Furman Flatlander, which I finished in 57:24 — thanks to help from Kaylin and her urging that we beat the whiny girl who kept lagging behind her mother. My husband and I also celebrated our 13th anniversary. We went to a lot of hockey games. The world didn’t end. And the holidays flew by in a blur.

So here I sit on January 1st, the last of my eleven days off — the longest streak I’ve had since being laid off in 2008 — plotting and planning for my 2013. I do plan on posting here a lot more often now that I don’t have daily deal copy for LivingSocial, and I ‘d like to build this thing up more. A few years ago I had quite a few regular readers and commenters, and then I got slack and things just sort of dropped off.

I leave you with a video slideshow of some of my favorite 2012 photos. Happy New Year, y’all!