I Was Frozen (Temporarily)

A while back I mentioned my encounter with my dermatologist friend…as a patient. I thought it might be fun to revisit this topic.

If you will recall, my hair was falling out. Feeling I was in danger of going bald, I wrangled an “emergency” appointment with one of the local dermatologists, whose office is just a block or two down the street from my own.

Now, you should understand that many physicians are terrified of looking stupid to their colleagues. Those that say they are not are probably lying. We only go to the doctor when something is very, very wrong. Very obviously wrong. Or we are pregnant.

Physician heal thyself!

But despite the fact that my hair was falling out in drain clogging clumps for months, I had this irrational anxiety that he was going to pat me on the shoulder and say there was nothing wrong. Well, he did confirm that I did indeed have hair loss by doing a pull test. Maybe he was just lying to me to make me feel good. I don’t care because either way, I was relieved. If there is anything worse than losing your hair, it is thinking you are losing your hair and having your dermatologist think/say you are crazy.

Of course, I had already drawn the appropriate labwork (thyroid levels, ferritin) and that was fine. So he informed me that I was either experiencing telogen effluvium, in which case this will stop and my hair will grow back, or I was having age related pattern balding in which case I am hosed. I already knew this, but I was hoping he had some secret serum that would fix everything. He was supposed to be my fairy godfather for crying out loud!

“What does your father’s hair look like now?” he asked.

“It is great! He has a full head of hair. See, I will show you a picture… (scroll, scroll, scroll)….oooooh. Yeah. No, not much hair after all…wow.”

My heart sank.

I was doomed.

I don’t like to think of myself as a terribly vain person per se, but I was about to turn forty and I had these new wrinkles, pregnancy stretch marks and post breast feeding deflated boobs that made my Agent Provocateur undies look out of place, and the genetically induced huge butt I was talking about in yesterday’s post and NOW I am going to go BALD? Shoot me now, please.

He must have sensed that I was pretty down in the dumps about this news, so he says, “Scowl for me.” What? But I obliged. Then he says, “You could use some Botox. Want to do some Botox?”

Honestly, it took me aback. For a minute, I was paralyzed (pun intended). Do I really want to do this, cross this line that I swore I would never cross?

(Sigh.)

Yes. Ok, yes. Give me the Botox.

I want to say that I did it only for the experience, so I could tell patients how it felt, what it was like having bits of your face paralyzed for months, but that would not be entirely truthful. Secretly, I thought I needed it, that it would possibly be the fountain of youth for me. I was turning forty. I was getting desperate.

Let me tell you, Botox hurts. It feels weird after, sort of numb but not really. My office staff liked the fact that I could not scowl, but as the effect started wearing off and the muscles started waking up, my forehead would go into grotesque spasms at even the slightest provocation…which made for interesting discussions with patients.

“Uh, doc? Are you OK?”

“Yes, yes, I am fine…my Botox is just wearing off. I am not having a stroke, I promise! BUT, you should work harder to control your diabetes and blood pressure or YOU will be having one yourself…”

I don’t think I will be trying that again anytime soon.

My hair…it stopped falling out, finally. Turns out I am not going bald after all. And that matter of turning forty, not so bad on the other side.

Tomorrow, tune in as I discuss the laser treatment on my face…another lesson in humility.

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You OWE me, man!

There was brief period of time in my adolescence when my mother would rattle off how much I owed her for giving birth to me, breast feeding, changing my diapers, etc. I eventually came up with the perfect response: “Look, I didn’t ask to be born.” Most of the time this brought on silence. If it did not, I had the follow up comment at the ready. “I did not ask to be born. You did that to me and as such you have a social responsibility to provide lodging, clothing, and sustenance, and to provide for my education until such a time as I come of age.”

Of course she was quick to point out that my clothing could very well come from the thrift store (most of them did, anyway) and the food…well those culinary horrors inflicted on me as a child will be saved for another post.

In fact, once I understood how sex worked and how pregnancy and childbirth went, I could not understand for many, many years why someone would choose to do this. Willingly.

And then it happened to me. Twice. Still don’t understand…

Shortly after my second baby, an adolescent patient was bemoaning the fact, in front of his mom, that he was a few inches too short for his taste. I imagined my own kids says something similar in the future and it made me sad. I did not make you good enough? It struck me then that he was a physical reflection of his parent’s love and what a beautiful thing that was no matter what form he came in, and how even if his parents were no longer together, there had been something there once and he was the monument to that. Not sure he got the point then but I bet he will remember that conversation when he is looking into his own son’s eyes someday.

I have thought about this in my own kids, how even their genetic imperfections are beautiful reflections of me and their father when I look at them. I am hardly objective.

But there is a dark side of this gene thing. Inherited diseases. What about those getting passed on unwittingly? Or worse, what if you knew you had a 75% chance of passing on some horrible autosomal dominant disease and you chose to have children anyway? People do.

What about things that seem a bit more innocuous? I struggled with passing on some of my own things… like my huge butt that will just not go away no matter how small the rest of me is. Knowing how painful that issue was and is for me do I have any right to inflict that on my daughter? I keep a running list of all of the unpleasant things I have inherited from each of my parents…godawful bunions, a pilonidal cyst, the aforementioned huge butt, and the list goes on. I joke, sort of, that this means I should get a bigger and better birthday present than my brothers every year. Not that it helps, mind you. I only get a card. A regular sized card. Phooey!

Do we owe our parents? Do they owe us? If there is a debt, when is it paid? (Thanks John Callaghan of Get Off My Lawn for your thought provoking comment yesterday!)

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Demented

I used to go to nursing homes as a kid to carol at Christmas time or visit with my school class or less often to visit someone specifically, a family acquaintance that was living there.

Truthfully, I hated them. They smelled…odd. Sometimes the patients screamed. They were tied to wheelchairs or beds and would beg me to take them away, saying the staff was trying to kill them. Worst of all, they wanted to touch me…pet me, kiss me, hug me….I don’t know you.

At the time, I did not really understand what was going on and being afraid to ask, it was all the more frightening.

Years later, while still in residency, I had a few experiences that made me reexamine my feelings.

First, I was discussing a patient’s blood pressure medication and I asked her if she needed refills. “Oh, no,” she says,”I get my medication off of the residents.”

What?

Turns out she worked at a nursing home and was taking a patient’s medication. Meds intended for that patient. And I flashed back to the several calls I had received from various nursing homes about patients’ blood pressures being out of control. I asked casually, “So, uh, where do you work?”

“I am not going to tell you!” she said with a laugh. “I don’t want you reporting me.” Guilty. That was totally what I was going to do. Between us, I still got her in trouble.

Another incident was when a 95 year old resident of an assisted living center insisted the staff was taking her belongings. She was in tears and very specific about how it was happening. I was there doing an onsite visit, making rounds. She was not demented. Not at all. So I called her daughter to come sort through her belongings. Sure enough, she was not lying. Jewelry, anything of value, gone. She told me she had told the other staff, the assisted living director, other physicians, no one would listen. They just assumed she was not right in the head and brushed off her accusations. Turns out, other residents had also been stolen from. These staff members would prey only on ones that they could plausibly say would be confabulating … Except they misjudged this woman. And me.

I have never been in a nursing home that was operated well. I am sure they exist, I just haven’t seen them. There ARE sometimes great staff even in the awfulest of places. I have met some of them.

And so, I joke about my plans to stay out of nursing homes by baking bread for my kids every week, but it is a very real fear and not entirely irrational as you see. I wrestle with my own fear when I am recommending that a patient get placed. It probably means nothing to them as they glare at me, seething, that I am so, so sorry I am even discussing taking away their life and freedom and advising that they go to (that place).

So that brings me to decisions about my own family. Soon, I will have to make a decision about my own father as his dementia is advancing rapidly.

Do I pay lots of money to have someone care for him at my house or do I place him in a nursing home? This may seem like it should be an easy decision but truthfully, I hate the man and even as he is losing his mental faculties, the meanness is just getting worse fueled by the fact that he does not have reason and understanding to temper his temper. I can rationalize that this is not really his fault necessarily on an intellectual level, that he should not be held responsible for his behavior now, but emotionally I still remember that he WAS this way when he could completely understand.

I know what I will do in the end. I will keep him from being institutionalized. I have to. He did keep me clothed and fed and provided a roof over my head during my formative years. And I hope my kids will do the same for me, even though they will undoubtedly hate me just as much…because I fear nursing homes so much and because this type of dementia is genetic. I will have it eventually.

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In Passing

One of my first inklings that the world was a lot more complicated and horrible and unfair than I had been lead to believe was when I read Maya Angelou’s I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings.

It was forbidden in my house growing up to read anything so controversial. Books were prescreened by my mother and this was never allowed past her censor. So, I finally picked it up when I started college. I think I blew through it in a day, I just could not put it down.

Maybe I should be sad about Maya Angelou passing today, but I am not. She was an incredibly wise and gifted woman and she was able to accomplish so much in her lifetime despite suffering and oppression. She died today with dignity and grace and the knowledge that she rose above what anyone else other than her own herself expected of her. That is much more than any of the rest of us can hope for.

I am grateful that her words will live on, giving ignorant white girls like me some small sliver of….I want to say understanding but that is not right. I can never understand. I can’t even really know. I have never had to live these things.

Maybe I should say instead that I am grateful that she opened my mind to the existence of alternate realities? It helped me understand that my own silly experiences and how they allowed me to interpret the world around me in such a limited way did not make my interpretations truth for anyone else. I shudder to think of who I would be if I had not been able to finally read that book and then all of the other books that came after.

Thank you, Dr. Angelou. Rest in peace.

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It Takes One to Know One

In celebration of a good first day at the new preschool, my kids and I went to a local fast food restaurant as a treat for dinner this evening.

In the indoor germ pit, I mean playground, a little girl of about four was put into time out by a young man in his early twenties that I thought at first was her father. He told her to stop spitting. This was reasonable. After a minute or so, however, he began to loudly and publicly berate her for the spitting, telling her he would make her spit into a cup 100 times if she ever did it again (for the record this is stupid and very bad idea) and how that spitting into a cup was going to take at least two days to complete. It went on and on. “I don’t know if your parents let you spit at home but you will not do it in my household!” It was then that it dawned on me…he was either fostering or more likely, he was part of the local children’s home that has kids divided into “family units.”

I wanted to take him aside and tell him that punishment does not have to mean breaking a child’s spirit. Whatever was going on in her life, she was not with this man by choice. Her expression was flat as he went on and on, like so many kids in her position who have learned that no expression is best at keeping the attention off of them. If I could have wrapped her up in a huge hug and held her tight without the authorities being called, I would have. Instead, I whispered to her that she was beautiful and she snuck me a smile.

Feeling self righteous and indignant, I took my own kids home.

While we were playing on the porch in the rain after getting the kids unloaded, my back was turned as I was picking a flower for my daughter. Thud. I turned around and there was my son standing over the remains of my favorite big blue pot.

Anger rose up in me and yelling I sent him to time out. I seethed, thinking of some creative punishment that I could use on him.

Sometimes, time out is more for mommy than it is for the errant child. A minute ticked by. Then two. I calmed down enough to realize that he had no idea that the pot would break. He had never done something like this before. In his world, everything is plastic and rubber and bounces if you throw it.

I was embarrassed over how easy it had been to get over the top with my own son. I hate reminders that I am not perfect, but here it was again…I am human just like everyone else in this world. Damn it all to pieces. Fortunately “I’m sorry,” can go both ways.

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Happy? Memorial Day

As I was pondering what to write about this morning, I hesitated. It is Memorial Day, and I found myself worrying about what is an appropriate post for this day. I wanted to say how much I enjoy lazy long weekends with my kids, playing in the rain. But then wondered if I would upset someone. And then I wondered if other bloggers were second guessing themselves.

I have watched pictures of fathers and grandfathers who fought in various services posted all over social media, as if the posters have the right to celebrate because their relative fought/served in some capacity. I am sure that is not the only sentiment intended, but I wonder what these men (and women) would think about their photographs being plastered on social media once a year. They are all smiling in their pictures. War and death are bloody suffering, grief, and despair and not these bright, shiny, cleanly scrubbed portrayals. Is that how they would want us to remember? I don’t know.

There are posts that insinuate that those barbecuing and relaxing with their family are not showing the appropriate level of respect for the sacrifice that made the day possible. And so I ask: What is the appropriate level of respect? Should I not make that blueberry, strawberry, and whipped cream pound cake trifle I was planning? Is a soldier’s life or even their leg worth my potato salad? Should I take my kids to the cemetery and put out flags? Should we attend a parade? Should I show them grisly war documentaries? Should I bow my head in solemn respect all day? I don’t know.

It IS a sacred holiday. But much like Easter that is celebrated in a myriad of different ways (and I am not really sure that God is as threatened by the Easter Bunny as my parents wanted us to believe as kids), Memorial Day can be celebrated with as much diversity. And that is the point, the point of all of that death and sacrifice.

Whatever the reason for our involvement in those wars, whether we were right or wrong, whether we won or lost…we are still here as a country. We can celebrate our diversity on every level, including how we celebrate Memorial Day. That is what makes us special, what makes us strong. Are we perfect? No. Are we better than everyone else? No. Acceptance and love. That is what we need even on Memorial Day.

Some day it may be my own son or daughter whose death I will be thinking about on this day. And so for now let me say I am grateful, so very grateful for what I have right now…a holiday to make special memories with them. Some day memories may be all that I have.

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D-Day Memorial and American Cemetery in Normandy, France

Flat Tire

“When a person is down in the world, an ounce of help is better than a pound of preaching.” – Edward Bulwer-Lytton

When I was a young adult, I had my first flat tire. As it happened, there was a steak knife in the middle of the freeway for some reason. My father belittled me for quite a while for not watching where I was going. Not in a joking, teasing manner. In an aggressive, I want you to feel like crap manner. I wanted to scream at him, “Look, I think I learned my lesson very well at this point, can you just help me change my dang tire?” But I didn’t yell at him. I was too afraid of the man.

I think about this a lot with my kids, my patients, and myself. Instead of yelling at my kids for spilling something, we try to practice how to do it right the next time. Instead of saying “I told you so!” to my noncompliant diabetics when they have their first amputation, we talk about how to prevent the ones in the future.

But when I am lying awake at night thinking about how I should have approached something differently in any realm of my life, I never really stop beating myself up.

That hardly seems fair.

Reflected

My kids decided to play mommy and baby today. It was the kind of sweet play that makes your heart smile. They were playing well together when my daughter started talking like me, copying my phrases and tones.

And I cringed.

Do I sound that contrived? Am I that distracted in real life? Those words sounded so much better when I said them, didn’t they?

Those little reflections of me. Sometimes the mirror they hold up is not very flattering.

The Time I Ate a Spider

A number of years ago, whilst in Cambodia (back when I was a cool, jet setting world traveller…before kids) a woman passed by the table we were sitting at having breakfast. On her shoulder she had balanced a huge tray piled high with black leggy things.

Closer inspection revealed these were actually large spiders, seasoned and roasted to a crisp.

I decided to buy one to stage a photo of me “eating a spider” to wow friends and family back home. Of course, this was before Facebook and other social media had taken off but I knew the power of this kind of picture for future generations…the cringe factor.

The problem was that apparently when a foreign woman buys a spider EVERYONE wants to watch her eat it. In short order everyone in that roadside stand and everyone within a half mile radius showed up and gathered around the table.

Suddenly there was tremendous pressure to actually eat this thing.

Now, some quick cultural and historical background… We had almost been arrested and jailed once already (long story for another time but it involved an accident by another van in our caravan on the way to Siem Reap). There are a ton of rules about what is socially unacceptable (i.e. do not sit in such a manner that you point the bottoms of your feet towards someone or leave chopsticks standing up in the bowl). Something as innocuous as chewing gum…against the law. AND there was the small matter of the Pol Pot regime’s brutality in the not so distant past.

So back to the spider that I now had in my hand. What is a girl to do? Mustering all of the bravado I had left, I bit off several legs and chewed them. I picked legs as they would be less likely to be squishy. I chewed with a fake smile plastered on my face, then swallowed.

Someone at the back of the crowd asked the next obvious question…of course it had to be translated for me. “Did you like it?”

No. No I did not. The legs were crunchy, much to my relief. The bits and pieces stuck in my teeth and I was picking out parts for the next several hours.

“Would I want another?” No. The woman with the tray was very disappointed that I would not buy a bag of five. I felt bad for her and went on ahead and purchased them. She was probably playing me, but it was a cheap thing to get played over. The spiders got thrown away as no one from our group wanted to touch them. Go figure.

On the rest of the drive I wondered how THAT many spiders came to be on her tray. There must have been a couple hundred. It was piled that high. Were they caught? Were they bred? More relevant, should I be concerned about spiders as I slept?

So now, I have truth to my photo of eating the spider. I learned a valuable lesson. And I know that if our society collapses and Harry our tarantula is the only edible thing left…he is going to be goner…because I know I can do it.

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