Sunday, June 12, 2016


Yesterday I went to a yoga class for the very first time.  Well, not counting some kind of yoga sort of thing that I went to once at our church where we lay down on the floor for an hour doing a progressive relaxation exercise in the dark for an hour (seriously - we never moved at all - it was a weird experience).  

To help you understand my experience a little, you need some background.

I grew up Baptist.  Now, I can't speak for all churches of this denomination, but I can tell you that I was taught that Satan had his hand in an awful lot of stuff.  Almost anything that came from anywhere outside of our home town was pretty suspicious, and a heck of a lot of what DID come from our home town was for sure hell-bound as well.  So the Catholics were doomed (they had statues in their churches, idols, doncha know! AND beer tents and BINGO!), and Mormons and Jehovah Witnesses for sure. The Methodists might make it even though they baptized BABIES for crying out loud, and the other Protestants might be okay.  I'd never even heard of a Muslim or a Buddist, honestly, but I knew that Hypnosis and Accupuncture and Iridology and Reflexology and most other non-traditional-medical-ologies were certainly dabbling in the Devil, and Yoga was certainly right up there as a doorway straight to Hades.  Namaste, y'all.

Clearly I had some things to work through in my medical training, as well as in my spiritual journey.

But Babygirl's new doctors have literally prescribed yoga three times weekly for her headaches.  So here we are, pushing through yet another rediculous cultural barrier leftover from childhood.  

"Namaste" literally means "I bow" but implies "I bow to the divine in you" as a recognition of the spark of the divine dwelling in all people.  Taken from the narrowest view of my childhood I suppose it could be interpreted as "I worship the divine in you" which would, of course, put this greeting right up there in the 'idol worship' (go straight to Hell, do not pass Go) category.  Taken as my heart has come to understand Christ's call to us all, I would interpret it as, "I recognize that you, as I, are equally created in the image of God, and I honor that image."  

We are called to love others as ourselves.  We are all made in the image of God.  The fact that I was taught to distrust my own theology if it came in a foreign language doesn't change my theology. Namaste.

The class was an hour and a quarter.  I was, somehow, not expecting it to feel like exercise.  This, it turns out, was a serious error in judgement.  My legs are pretty good from all the walking.  My abs? Not so much.  I rehabilitated my right leg after a foot fracture a few years ago so my balance there isn't TOO bad, but the left?  Let's not talk about it.

Before the poses requiring us to stand on one leg, the instructor kindly told the class that we were all welcome to move to the wall if we needed support for balance.  It wasn't until today that it dawned on me that she was actually only talking to ME, the new, grey-haired lady with zero yoga experience.  

We both had some perceptions to work through.  I didn't fall over because of my grey hair, and lightning didn't strike me for growing up Baptist and attending yoga anyway.  I think we'll all be okay.


Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Going to Medical School.....

Dear Class of 2020:

I'd like to introduce you to one of your new teachers.

Jerry was born there in Buffalo in 1934.  He moved to the snow belt with his family, graduated high school and married my mom at 19. He worked his whole life at the Ford Stamping Plant, had three kids, and died of Parkinson's Disease and COPD last summer at the age of 80.  An ordinary life, but....

When we were kids, he and my mom packed us up in an old station wagon and went camping all the way accross the U.S. TWICE.  We saw mountainous sand dunes in Indiana, glaciers in Montana, boiling mud in Wyoming, and trees so huge they beggar imagination in California.  We stood on four states at one time.  We stood in a massive cavern in New Mexico when they turned out the lights and let us see what it was like to be truly blind.  We went white-water rafting in impossibly challenging waters.

He built a two-story cabin in the woods, by himself with his own two hands. He taught me to handle a gun, same as my brothers. He hiked two generations of Boy Scouts up Mount Marcy.  He had bright blue Paul Newman eyes. He was an extraordinary man.

When I was 20 I became my family's first college graduate, with an associates degree.  A year later, a Bachelor's.  After three years of cancer research at Roswell Park I called my Dad to have my weekly 'tea-by-phone' conversation with him.  "I'm thinking about going to medical school, Dad."  It was a low-key conversation, discussing pros and cons, expenses and logic and career paths without pressure or judgement.  He was kind and supportive. "Either way, honey."  Ten minutes after we finished talking, his sister from California called in a state of total excitement and exclaimed, "I hear you're going to be a DOCTOR!!"  He was THAT proud.

When I graduated from NYCOM in 1987, he was there.  The day before the ceremony we went to campus to look around, and he specifically wanted to see the anatomy lab.  It was a brand-new building, barely finished in time for us to use it.  I told him about our first day; how we were all nervous and trying to not show it.  About the moment of silence honoring the people before us who had volunteered to be there to be our teachers, and the somewhat useless reminder for us to be respectful and reverent.  We then met our cadaver.

There were four of us on the team, and it took all our strength to raise her to table height.  She was short, she was round, and she was HEFTY.  We named her Addy, because she was very Adipose. I told my dad about that first disection: To get to the chest wall, one must remove the breasts.  Some of the construction workers who had just finished the building had asked to observe, so when our forceps proved less than adequate for the amount of tissue involved and we lost our grip (slapping a large, wet breast back down onto the exposed chest wall with a room-stilling THWACK!), one of them offered us a pair of pliers from his tool belt.  That was the end of any solemnity we had left in us.  We laughed hysterically, completely DONE with nerves, finished the dissection like pros and ordered Chinese from the lab with the scent of formadehyde still strong on our hands.

My father found this story hilarious.  My mom found it nauseating.  Dad asked to see a cadaver.  Mom fled.

As we examined a fully-dissected body, Dad and I talked at length about how the cadavers had taught us much that we would never have learned in mere books.  And despite the appearance of disrespect, when I spoke of how emotionally challenging it was for me to perform Addy's facial dissection, he understood that there was, and remains, a deeper connection to humanity both because of and despite what many would see as a very dehumanizing process.

I suppose I wasn't too surprised, then, when I discovered that Dad had sent himself to medical school upon his death. His lack of education never reflected low intelligence but rather lack of opportunity, and he took his opportunities where he could find them.

And here is my message to you:  I want you to know that Jerry knows you are going to laugh at the things you find as you dissect him, and both of us are okay with that. His pacemaker IS on the wrong side (he's a left-handed redneck - putting it on the correct side would have interfered with his shootin' arm). Lord knows, he has a million scars and they each have a story (the chain-saw wound on his thigh, the toe amputation due a run-in with the lawn mower, the extra belly-button-like mark from a power drill?  Feel free to make up a story.  I guarantee the real tale is funnier).  But I love that battle-scarred old guy, and I miss him, and I want you to remember he is there because even after a life well lived, he still had it in him to want to teach YOU.

Respect that.


Friday, June 3, 2016

A Day at the Beach.....

Sometimes you just have to call it a day after a million doctors' visits.  We are 90 minutes from the Jersey shore here, and despite a less-than-stellar shore weather report, we decided that today was a good day to play hooky, and instead of coming straight home, we loaded up a cousin and went to the beach.

The temperature was 68 degrees, and the sun, nowhere to be seen.  

It didn't stop people from being out and about, and it didn't stop the beach from being the beach.

We managed to keep my flip-flops from floating off to Florida. The sweatshirt did eventually come off and swimming did finally happen. 

And we ate good food!

(And, to be honest, some bad food - one cannot be on a boardwalk for six hours without eating a few fried goodies LOL.)

We had our hair styled bye the salt wind. (Mine never quite comes out this well.)

And we found peace.



Thursday, June 2, 2016

Wilmington Adventures....

Today's appointments were with our newest doctors at Numours DuPont Pediatric Hospital in Wilmington, Delaware.  Now, before you all get your knickers in a twist, this hospital is just 20 miles past CHOP, so it's not such a stretch for us to get there.

We came down late last night to our home-away-from-home, and left at about 10:30 AM for a 1 PM appointment.  Good idea, actually, since despite the distance being only about 40 miles, we arrived at 11:45.

The new neurologist did a couple of new things:  She shifted Babygirls's current migraine prevention medication from once daily short acting to a 24-hour formulation at a higher dose, and she put her foot down and insisted that Babygirl become religious about her fluid intake, and begin yoga three times weekly.

The pain management specialist did an evaluation, including the now-familiar depression and anxiety screening.  Then we spent nearly two hours with a pain management occupational therapy specialist, who assessed Babygirl's general coping strategies, posture, and overall levels of satifaction/frustration with her life/pain.

Then we drove 'home' through rush hour traffic through Wilmington and Philadelphia.

It was, in total, exhausting.

The only simple thing was the parking.  And lunch. Lunch was easy.

We aren't sure what the next step will be.  For sure we will be going back in August for another round of Botox. The neurologist feels there is benefit in continuing even in the face of failure thus far. She feels that relieving the ongoing secondary muscle stress that must necessarily be occuring as a result of Babygirl's daily pain is still of some benefit even if there is no obvious relief of the headaches.  The team will determine if we need to come down for weekly/biweekly sessions for pain management training or whether that could be done somewhere closer or not. Once we have some information about follow up we will schedule Nephrology at CHOP.


Tuesday, May 31, 2016

He DOES Have a Pulse.....

When my baby brother first met Larry, he asked, "Does that dog even HAVE a pulse??"

Yeah, he's pretty laid back.  And the first couple of weeks, he moved like an old man, stiff of hip and slow of step.  He just generally didn't have a f..., well, any energy, to give.

He was stressed.  He was mourning.  He'd lost everything, twice over:  His name, his surroundings, and most of all, his person.

I'm pretty sure it was just one person, and I think it was probably an old guy.  Larry perks up every time a slow-moving old guy with a cane and a baseball cap comes by, and moves a bit faster to check him out if possible.  With Maybelle we were able to keep her name.  With Larry, we only knew that the rescue had been calling him HotDog for a couple of weeks, and they didn't know his original name.

Camping this weekend loosened him up.  He knows how to work a zipper (but you have to watch - he likes to take the slider off - we have a couple of sweatshirts that don't zip anymore) so he could get into the tent anytime.  And even though he could have left the tent without assistance, he woke me up for permission when he needed to go out in the night.

The fenced dog park let him do what he likes:  Monitor the perimeter.  And once that was done, he RAN.  It was amazing to see a dog that only a few days earlier required dragging to move, run.

This mornings' walk got even more interesting.  Larry got a squirrel by the tail.  Yes, Dave, yes, he did. There were a few factors in this.

1) City squirrels are oblivious little gits.  They apparently assume they are pretty safe.
2) Larry has some pretty impressive sneak skills for a big dog.  He drops low, the tags stop jingling, and he moves in careful.
3) When he shifts from stalk to strike he SHIFTS FAST.
4) Squirrels, when in a panic, underestimate the size of their squirrely butts in relation to the openings of chain link fences.  It was a nearly fatal slowdown.

In the end, the squirrel's tail was missing a good bit of fur, and Larry was wearing his finest Stoner Smirk.

He's becoming quite the family man. If you don't go to him, he'll come to you.  Yes, the boy has a pulse.


Sunday, May 29, 2016

The Smell of Childhood....

From the time Citygirl was three I've been taking her camping.  The first time was laughable.  I learned quite a few things on that overnight in the woods:

1) I had been camping all of my life but I had never been 'The Grownup' on the trip before.
2) 'The Grownup' has to pack more than a tent and sleeping bags.
3) Waking up in a camp with no coffee is horrid.
4) Other campers, although total strangers, are sympathetic to this fact and will give you coffee (AND Tylenol) if you look pathetic enough.
5) You need to find other people who are better at adulting than you are to go camping with.

Fortunately for us, we soon after met our neighbors across the street. Their three young boys and their orange tent ("The Rainmaker") were veteran campers, willing to let us tag along while I figured out 'The Growup' thing.  THEIR friends had two boys, and a girl nearly Citygirl's age, and a huge canvas tent they lovingly referred to as the Taj Majal.  (The first time I met them, they were assembling this tent in the dark.  Their then-11-year-old boy was assisting as dad instructed:  "Move the pole left.  Left!  NO, MY left!  You'll NEVER be a f***ing engineer!"  I debated the wisdom of staying.  I'm glad I did - that line is etched in camping lore and laughter forevermore.)  We all camped together at least once a year for a long, long time, returning each Memorial Day Weekend to a local campground, adding family and friends as time went on.


Kidney failure. Transplant.  Constant concern about germ exposure.  Our campground flooded and the team worried that leftover contamination from the flooding would make it an unsafe place for Babygirl for a year or so.  Citygirl's graduation weekend took us out of town one year, and....I don't really know what all else happened.

So this year, for the first Memorial Weekend since 2010, we went camping at 'our' campground.'  Many of our campground friends have grown up or moved away.  But some still come, and for Babygirl this is campground "home."

"Remember that time we had that race where people had to put their heads down on a bat and spin around and then ran?  And people ran right into parked trucks?"  "Remember those people over in the corner who always had that HUGE fire?"  "Are we going to build the big slip-and-slide on the hill?"  For a child who often cannot remember being anything but sick, such memories are sharply sweet.

Home. Return to a simpler, worry-free time.  S'mores around a campfire, teaching a new generation Grampa's song about the bear, and spending time on the thyme-scented hill where Citygirl and I used to lie with Bobbe and Tory, watching the stars until we felt sure it was the earth moving under us, and not the stars moving over us.


Monday, May 23, 2016

Wait....Where's Maybelle....?

Getting a new dog right before you lose your beloved old dog was regarded by many who know us to have been a somewhat insane idea.  We kmew, of course, that Maybell was dying.  We had no idea, obviously, that it would happen only a week after we arrived home with Larry.  But the advantages of that choice have been very clear in the past five days.

Starting with Simon:  The old man did not do well when his brother died.  He spent weeks looking for him, and clearly mourned his loss.  I can't say that Simon and Maybelle were as close as Simon and Garfunkel were (they were littermates, after all), but having another dog here has made the loss of Maybelle less traumatic for him.

Then there's us:  Larry is acclimating, and increasingly showing us his goofy side.  He's begun to play, and if he still isn't the world's best walker, he at least appreciates the opportunity to get out of the house.  The fact that he so clearly likes us, and is so happy to be here helps ease the pain of the loss.  And when I needed to cry the other day, he sympathetically let me sob all over him and didn't protest.  He's like Maybelle in that way.  Maybe it's a hound thing.

Finally, there's the neighborhood:  Everybody who sees Larry is excited.  "What a sweet/beautiful/awesome dog!"  "Yeah, he's pretty laid back.  We suspect he was a serious stoner in a previous life."  "Hahahahaha! Yeah, I can see that! Probably went to Woodstock. Hey, wait....Where's Maybelle.....?"  It makes telling people about her loss less painful when there is a gigantic goofy distraction at the end of the leasth.

Once again, I have to say:  If you are looking for a dog, consider an adult rescue.  Larry came from a high-kill shelter, and we are lucky to have him.
Larry, snuggling with Hubby's ALF toy.
In the SMALL dog bed, naturally.