Uncovered

Mission ruins, San Antonio

“Mommy!” my daughter gasped urgently. “Look, she’s a mermaid…” There was reverence and surprise in her voice. 

Imagine meeting a mermaid here!

“Yes, she is…. now, shhhhhh,” I responded.

I held my breath waiting for my little girl with no filter to say something about the woman’s size. She was probably close to 400 pounds and she was wearing a two piece bright purple and turquoise mermaid swim suit like it was the most natural thing in the world.

Mercifully my daughter said nothing more. Instead she snuggled up against me wrapped in her towels and fell asleep, smiling. I am grateful that she and the towels completely cover up my thighs.

I found myself very jealous of that woman. If I could have even half of that confidence, I could… 

But then, I remembered, what I saw was probably only just the tip of the iceberg so to speak. What kind of ugly things had been uttered by people under their breath as she walked by? Was she really, truly confident or was her swim suit an act of defiance, a f**k you to the world wrapped up in flashy purple and turquoise lame fabric? I would never know the reality of what lies beneath.

In contrast to the mermaid, there was a woman who must have been a size 4 standing in the wave pool with a voluminous hot pink coverup who looked so incredibly self conscious and miserable. I felt and understood her pain. She hid her body but did not succeed in hiding her discomfort. 

“Nothing makes a woman more beautiful than the belief she is beautiful.” —Sophia Loren

I looked around me at the hundreds of other men and women, bodies of all shapes and sizes and the swimsuits of all sorts, each one an act of courage. Bacne, surgical scars, stretch marks, cellulite, fat rolls, belly bulges, love handles, etc. all exposed. 

My body is a blessing.

“You are the best looking woman out here,” he whispers in my ear as I take off my cover up. I’m not. The mermaid is, but I love that he can make me feel like he believes it is the truth. 

So I decide to walk around like I am, like I really do believe I am beautiful in my deep cobalt blue velvet one piece swimsuit. I don’t like my body but that is OK. I am not this body. I am not this swimsuit. 

I am beautiful.

The Day I Stopped Singing

Just like all kids, I had dreams. BIG, big dreams.

For instance, I wanted to be a figure skater for ages. They had beautiful costumes and were so graceful. But then one day I realized that since the freezer in my kitchen was the only time I ever saw ice, and that in itself was rare since the freezer was up high and I was not even in grade school yet, there was no way that was ever going to happen.

Then, I watched the Nutcraker ballet on TV and fell in love with being a ballerina. Those costumes were even better than figure skaters’ and it didn’t require ice. Every year I looked forward to the annual broadcast of that ballet at Christmastime. BUT since my parents thought dancing was sinful and god forbid some man wearing a codpiece touched me there during a lift, my chances of scoring lessons were slim to none. After a few years I gave up on that dream, too.

Then ROCK music came into my life. Well, my parents version of “rock” is not really rock but it was the only thing with a beat of any kind that I was allowed to listen to back then (think Amy Grant before she was “disgraced” or Micheal W. Smith). These were songs that I could feel. I just had to sing to them and I figured I was pretty good at it, too. At least I sounded good in my room with the radio turned up loud. My mother sang solos in church from time to time so it was in my blood, right? All I needed now was to be discovered…

In short order I had my entire career as a vocal star laid out and I took every opportunity that I could to sing in public until one day I recorded myself singing and then played it back. Cue the record scratch. It sounded horrible. Just like that, my music career was over before it had even begun.

After that, I stopped singing in public. I lost my voice so to speak. I would rather stand completely naked in front of a crowded room than to be asked to sing in front of them. I still sing in secret, though… In retrospect, it was the 80’s. The recording device I use using was from the late 70’s. It might not have been my voice that was the problem. Or maybe it was. I am not sure you can be a good judge of your own voice, really.

I say all of that to say that my son has started singing. He has always flat out refused to sing anything except for a few instances of “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star” sung in the darkness of bedtime when he was a toddler. It was like a switch flipped on all of a sudden a few weeks ago and now he is singing with gusto, with passion and emotion. 

As I watch him in the rear view mirror, it is an instant flashback to the time before my own infamous playback. He has a good voice, actually. I hope he sticks with it. I discovered something, too. When I join in with him, he does not scream and clamp his hands over his ears, begging for me to stop.

Now that he has found his voice, I hope he keeps it. It feels good to have someone to sing with…. 

The Troll Under My Bridge

Bridge partially obscured by rays of sunlight

“Hey, Doc?”

“Ummmhmmm?” I was trying to figure out what button to push to get his tetanus booster to propagate into the right field of his health maintenance screen. I had a cuss word on the tip of my tongue that really wanted to get said…

“Are you happy?”

That made me stop what I was doing and look up at him. 

People don’t often ask me that question. Most people just assume that I am super happy. I mean, I do have that nice looking fake wedding ring, right? Plus, there is the fact that I work hard to project joy and happiness for my patients. They don’t need me dragging all of my baggage into their office visit. 

But now that the question had been asked I took a momentary inventory of my happiness quotient. Am I stressed? Sure am.

But, am I happy?

Then it hit me. Yes, yes I am happy. Very happy. You know how I know? Generally, I dislike the holidays but this year I find myself looking forward to them. The sound of Jingle Bells does not make me want to strangle some innocent, unwitting fluffy creature. 

I do my best writing from dark places but right now, I don’t want to go there.

So I say all of that to say that while you may read dark things, like yesterday’s mediocre medical poetry, I am not writing them because I am some shell of a person paralyzed by grief who spends the day curled up in a corner thumbing through a lifetime of regrets. Hardly. I have better things to do. And when I do go to dark places it is not because they are my places. Often I borrow them. And I don’t live there. Not for long, at least! Not anymore.

Today, I am happy. 

Today I am thankful. 

Drippy

pink flower with raindrops

This part of the country has endured oppressive humidity and temperatures in the mid to high 90’s for months. Even last week running was miserable, despite doing it in the dark of night. It took me an hour in the air conditioning to stop sweating. 

Then BOOM! 

Rain. A cool front. 

This morning the air has a bit of a nip to it. 

No matter what kind of awfulness is going on around us, this kind of weather is like a healing salve. The Earth has a way of going on without us, in spite of us. In the grand scheme of the universe we are tiny specks who have no sway over the orbits of the planets or the brightness of the stars. The seasons will change whether we want them to or not.

Life will go on.

How’s that for a sappy, drippy post-debate post? 😊

Torpedo

 “I thought you were engaged?” I had caught sight of her bare finger.

“Yeah. Well. Not anymore.” She gave a noncommittal shrug. 

“Oh, no! I am so sorry.” I searched her face looking for clues as to whether this was a good thing or a bad thing. 

She smiled. 

I felt relieved.

“Honestly, I feel like I dodged a bullet, Doc.” She stared at me for a second gauging wether or not she should share the rest of the story, then shrugged again. “One day he tells me that he has sworn off carbs. No more bread, rice, pasta, potatoes. He gets mad if I cook anything with carbs.” She laughed. “I have always made bread. From scratch. Fresh homemade pesto for my pasta. Roasted herbed potatoes. I love carbs, for crying out loud! So I wait, thinking this is just a phase. Months pass. He makes comments about how much weight I will lose if I just give up those carbs.” She laughed again. “Then I realize, this isn’t about the carbs. It isn’t about him. It’s about me. He thinks I’m too fat!” 

“Ouch.” I could feel the sting of that realization. 

A torpedo to the heart. 

She nodded. “After I sat down and thought about it for a bit, I could not imagine giving up carbs. Not for him, anyway. I would rather be a bit more… voluptuous… and happy with my carbs, than skinny and starved for love with him.”

Amen.

Comparing 

zinnia in black amd white

Life is made of joys and sadness. Ignoring the sad, painful times neutralizes the joyful ones.

One of my office managers keeps insisting that we not talk at all about the negatives of our job. He would prefer that the staff and physicians only project happiness, sunshine, and roses at all times. I am not sure that is entirely healthy.

This is the way of life lately. No one wants to hear or even acknowledge the negative. Sadness makes us uncomfortable. It is painful. It is a natural thing to want to avoid it.

Why can’t you just be happy?

The problem is that completely ignoring it promotes isolation. It keeps us from recognizing who is suffering, who is at risk, who needs help. This is a tough job for all involved. What is wrong with acknowledging that so we can all work through it together? 

Am I the only one who feels this way? What is wrong with me?

And it takes away the drive to get better. 

If everyone is happy, why do I have to do it right?

The worst part is that it takes away the celebration of the real triumphs. 

What? Can we BE more happy?

It is OK to feel fear, doubt, sadness, frustration. It is what we do with those emotions that is the key. How do we respond and use them constructively?

I see this in patients, too. So many believe they should not have to feel any negative feelings, that such feelings should be avoided at all costs. 

I know I should still be happy. I am going bankrupt, my wife left me, and my son is in jail, but I should be happy. Everyone tells me I should just be happy. Make me feel happy.

Doc, I am really, really trying to stay positive. I have metastatic cancer and I am in pain all the time and chemo is kicking my butt. Everyone tells me I should stay positive or I won’t beat this but I really just want to cry. I need to cry.

You know what? Being sick sucks. Having cancer sucks. Sometimes life just sucks.

And it should be OK to say it sucks. It should be OK to grieve and be sad and to cry if need be, even if it makes others uncomfortable. 

What we need is balance. Not a cult of happiness.

The Triumvirate 

crape myrtle petals in the street in front of my house

Name the three best days of your life, not counting having kids.

Jane from Out of the Rabbit Hole asked me that question. She also wants to know what all of you would say are your three best days so I invite you to write your own posts and provide a link here or you can answer in the comments below.

My three best days (I cannot talk about some of my good days, too risquĂ© for some of you good people….):

1. Making an “A” on my first exam in medical school. (I really did belong there!)

2. The first time a patient said “thank you.” It was a great feeling, knowing I could make a difference for someone.

3. Standing inside Notre Dame in Paris when someone started playing the cathedral’s pipe organ. It was breathtakingly, achingly beautiful and felt as if it was the culmination of so many other beautiful and painful things I have seen and felt in my lifetime. If I had died right there, I would have been happy.

Your turn!

Also, is anyone else have WordPress wonkiness today?!??!??

Punishment 

IMG_3414

I stared at the scarf in my hands. Silk. Embroidered. A soft bluish gray. I bought it in Italy a few weeks prior for a stupidly expensive sum.

He owed me. I wanted to make him pay.

I had not worn it even once but now I found myself staring at a gaping hole in the fabric. The damn thing was never as perfect as I had thought. I felt sick. Revenge shopping. It was not worth it.

I deserved that.

In medicine you see the price that is paid for bad decisions. They are paraded before you day after day. You think you are smart enough to learn from it, that it will never happen to you.

Until it does. 

You realize too late, while in the ER staring at a loved one, how close you really are to tipping over that ledge yourself.

Just one more drink, right? It won’t hurt anything, he said, and I wanted to believe it. Another glass was always placed in my hand and I never, ever said no.

I liked you better after you had a glass of wine. Or two. Or three. Hell, I liked myself better, truthfully.

The perfect life, the perfect spouse, the perfect kids, the perfect house, the perfect job…. Utterly unattainable. No matter how much you want them, they simply do not exist. So much of depression is actually disappointment, not being able to accept this reality.

This is not supposed to be MY life…

All of the anger I carried around for so long? Wasted. Just like all of that money on the stupid scarf. I never told him but his fall probably saved my life, too. 

Golden Oxytocin

IMG_3987

I cannot trust
The way I feel.
How much is lust?
How much is real?
How much is you,
Inside my brain?
Guilded reality,
Coursing through 
My bloody veins.
What is attraction?
What is hate?
What is binding
Us to our fate?
Hormone from above,
The goddess of love.
Chemical thoughts
Imperceptible
Forever lying,
Forever tying
Microscopic knots.