Thursday, September 28, 2006

My New Favorite Song

I could just as easily have titled this blog post "Words to Live By" or "Thought of the Day". I received the new Indigo Girls album "Despite Our Differences" in the mail last week and have listened to it obsessively ever since. I LOVE IT! I'm printing out the chorus to the first track on the CD and posting it on my refrigerator door, office wall, inside my wallet, and in the car to remind myself. The words are:

"It doesn't come by the bullwhip
It's not persuaded by your hands on your hips and it's
Not the company of gunslingers
The epicenter Love is the pendulum swinger"

I want to remember that force and whining are not terribly effective if I truly want to change something and swing the pendulum back toward peace and justice. Both in my microcosm of the world and in the world at large - I must work to change things with love. Man, I love those chicks!

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Obscure News of the Day

First penis transplant reversed after two weeksOperation successful, but recipient suffered 'severe psychological problem'

Man with 10-year erection may not get his cash
Judge dismisses handyman's claim against maker of glitchy penis implant

Do I have your attention? These are both actual headlines I found on today. I am just wondering whether anyone has thought to introduce these men to each other. The first one suffered some secret accident that chopped off his penis. Because he was unable to urinate or have normal sexual relations, he underwent a transplant. After the surgery he was able to urinate normally, but he and his wife both apparently had some visceral reaction to the physical appearance of his new appendage such that they requested a reversal of the procedure after only fourteen days. Perhaps someone should have contacted John Wayne Bobbitt and asked him to share his experiences with penile reconstruction with the couple to give them a realistic idea of the recovery period. I can’t imagine how disturbed someone has to be to ask to have their penis cut off a second time.

The second man underwent surgery at the age of 58 to have a plastic and metal penile implant that would allow him to mechanically control his erections at will. Unfortunately, the implant did not work as planned and he has since been unable to “relax”. He states that he has had physical pain and suffered psychological humiliation (forget asking anyone to dance!) for the past ten years. When at first I wondered why he did not simply have the implant removed, I came upon the other headline (yes, they are out of order above). Perhaps undergoing surgery on one’s penis is more frightening than the prospect of living out your life with a permanent erection. Either way, it may be that medical advances are not always all they are cracked up to be, especially when they involve “elective” surgery.

For the record, my husband, bless his heart, is convinced that anyone who undergoes any kind of surgery on a voluntary basis may be nuts.

Sunday, September 24, 2006


“Good for the body is the work of the body, good for the soul the work of the soul, and good for either the work of the other.” ~Henry David Thoreau

I am struck once again by the magnitude of abuse the human body can take and recover from. Bruises and cuts, broken bones and viral invasions are all suffered mightily and then the damage is repaired. There is often a scar or other testament to the painful blows but the body goes on. We have adapted our lives to having diminished abilities, using crutches and wheelchairs, eyeglasses and portable oxygen tanks. Digestion and respiration continue in the face of incapacities in mobility or loss of limbs or eyesight or hearing or speech. Our brain function continues so that we can make calculations and have social interactions. Often there are prolonged recovery times during which our bodies automatically marshal energy to heal wounds and restore balance within, completely invisible to us and those who care for us.

It is difficult to envision what must be occurring on a cellular level inside the body. I look at Bubba and know that his internal organs are bruised and swollen and stitches are dissolving as scar tissue builds up around new pathways forged by the surgeon inside his stomach and small intestine. The three layers of abdominal muscle tissue that were scored by the scalpel are held together with tight sutures and strain against them each time he coughs or yawns or twists or grunts. I can only see the thin red line that traverses his flesh and dips into his belly button. I imagine the blood flowing through his veins and arteries, carrying a healing tonic to the wounds and gradually patching the defects without knowing why. There is some comfort in knowing at least the mechanics of this healing process and I can trust that it is occurring even without seeing it.

I know, from experience, that the soul also endures a multitude of cruelties, but the process of recovery is not one I can envision. We also learn to adapt to the soul’s flaws in our every day lives, but I think we are perhaps not quite as kind to those who suffer these as we are toward those with bodily disabilities. It is possible to heal the wounds one’s soul suffers, but there is no pharmaceutical solution and, it seems, no conventional wisdom as to how one ought to best go about this recovery. I think that the repair of one’s soul may well be as individual as the character of the soul, and I, for one, have certainly struggled with finding the most effective manner in which to do this.

Any thoughts?

Monday, September 18, 2006

The Eagle has Landed!

My husband is home from the hospital. He's steeped in oxycodone and at least ten pounds lighter and finds it difficult to move without wincing, but he's home at last. Never one to look at the rough side of life, he has surprised me over the last couple of days with his downturned mouth and the trenches that have settled in between his eyebrows. I cannot imagine the pain he must be in and how exhausting it must be to never be without it.

I have been reminded again and again of an important lesson I have been slowly absorbing over the past year and it is this: I cannot "fix" things for another person. It is not my place, nor are there usually simple solutions for the problems and pain others face. The most valuable thing I can offer is to sit with someone and help them hold their grief and sorrow. I can think of so many other things I would rather endure than watching my husband suffer physical and emotional agony, but I have to remember that simply being with him is helpful.

A little over a year ago I was in a great deal of psychological pain and found myself in a very dark pit from which I was unsure I would ever emerge. No matter how many times I heard from people I trust and love that things would be fine and I would get through this, I could not accept that. To be in that place of such despair felt hopeless and I only wanted to lie down and hide. I can see that enduring physical pain without even intermittent relief and having to rely on others for the most basic functions one normally takes for granted can produce the same helplessness and I sympathize. I know that his body will heal and I have witnessed him make leaps in his abilities every few days. I can conceptualize how his body is depleting its resources by fighting pain and growing scar tissue and performing the acts of daily living under such stress, but to communicate that to him is not as helpful as simply sitting with him and offering my love and support. Just because he will look back on this in a few months' time and be grateful to be without pain or physical limitation does not mean that today's pain is less. 
Acknowledging the power of his current state to affect his psyche is one part of the partnership I have agreed to uphold - sharing his discomfort and supporting his right to express it.

Saturday, September 16, 2006

Tag: I'm "It"

Okay, my friend and fellow writer Michelle O'Neill tagged me with this meme and I couldn't resist. Here goes:

A book that changed my life: “A Tree Grows in Brooklyn” by Betty Smith
I read this book a thousand times when I was growing up. The fact that this girl could flourish in such rough circumstances and keep her eye on her goals gave me the courage to do the same. I soo wanted to be Francie, and did my best to live by her principles and mine.

A book that made me laugh: Anything by David Sedaris
“The Girlfriend’s Guide to Surviving the First Year of Motherhood” by Vicki Iovine

A book that made me cry: “Where the Red Fern Grows” by Wilson Rawls
“Breaking Her Fall” by Stephen Goodwin
“My Sister’s Keeper” by Jodi Picoult

A book that I wish had been written: One that appeals to pre-adolescent and adolescent children and helps them navigate the tricky waters of growing up in difficult situations. For every kid who lives in such conditions and doesn’t have a positive role model, a book should be available to encourage them to find their own way to heal and grow and flourish.

A book that I wish had never been written: I don’t really have an answer for this one. There are certainly ideas and beliefs that I don’t necessarily agree with, but I don’t have the right to censor them. I guess any book whose sole purpose is to cause pain or destruction has no authentic reason to be out there, in my opinion.

A book I’ve been meaning to read: “Dance of the Dissident Daughter” by Sue Monk Kidd. I’ve looked in every local bookstore and library and cannot locate a copy of this book. I think I’ll probably be forced to buy it on, but I hate doing that so I’m resisting.

I’m currently reading: “The Artist’s Way: A Spiritual Path to Higher Creativity” by Julia Cameron
"The Breath of a Wok : Unlocking the Spirit of Chinese Wok Cooking Through Recipes and Lore"
“Water Witches” by Chris Bohjalian

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Just Like a Coward!

Well, the surgery went well. The tumor is not, I repeat, NOT cancerous! We are obviously overjoyed and I feel as though we've gone down from DefCon 5 to PermaGrin. Yesterday was a very long and emotional day, and although he looks like hell at this point, my husband is going to be okay.

The bad news is they were unable to remove the coward (that is, the tumor). I am now even more convinced that Osama bin Laden is holed up inside my husband's pancreas - effectively the only place it is impossible to remove him from. It is difficult to accept that this little bastard will live inside my partner for the rest of his days and, indeed, I have blatantly lied to both of my children and told them that the offender has been removed so that they can believe he will be okay now. Perhaps someday I'll 'fess up, but for now I just want us to be able to move on, albeit with a terrorist in our midst. At least the surgeons made sure he won't cause any more trouble. I don't have the time or energy to go into details (nor do I expect you truly care about all of them), but my confidence in the medical team he has is strong and I believe they did the right thing.

Thanks for all your support and kind words. We felt them all and are truly grateful.

Monday, September 11, 2006

The Humor in the Tumor

I married Bubba because he makes me laugh. Sometimes he makes me laugh so hard I hurt the next day and I love that. Don't get me wrong, he has a myriad of other fantastic qualities that endear him to me, but none of them would have sealed the deal like his twisted sense of humor. We understand that there are things we find hilarious that other people just don't get, and I take solace in knowing that there is at least one other person on the planet who will laugh when I get especially morbid or dirty-minded.

The past month has been especially trying for our family and we have sought out ways to make fun of ourselves as we struggle through the uncertainty and fear. My youngest is convinced that the egg-shaped tumor is either an egg that Daddy ate and it went down the wrong pipe and got stuck, or her long lost stuffed naked mole-rat that Daddy ate with BBQ sauce by mistake one day. She rolls her eyes as she tells him to pay more attention when he eats. My husband has taken to calling the tumor his "pet" and wonders aloud if it is actually a mole come to take revenge for all of the battles he has waged over the years to take our lawn back from the mounds that push up overnight in the spring and fall.

Yesterday, as I was asking if there was a way we could have a photograph of the tumor post-excision (so that I can reassure myself it is actually no longer part of my sweetie's body), a tabloid headline flashed through my mind:

Man's Tumor has Face of Osama

I mean, the trail for him has gone cold, right? Could it be that Bin Laden has found the perfect hideout, sequestered in the stomach of a farmboy-turned-Democrat? We may never have found him if my husband's immune system hadn't revolted and thrown him into periodic attempts to purge everything inside himself. I saw myself staring at the Polaroid of the tumor sitting in a gloved hand, my eyes searching out the beard and bound head of the Al Qaida leader and having it all make sense in that one moment...

I know, I'm weird, but you've got to allow me a little wiggle room here, right? Leave me to my coping mechanisms, no matter how strange.

Friday, September 08, 2006

Be Careful What You Wish For Part II


ME: I don’t do waiting.
BIG EAR IN THE UNIVERSE: Really? Oh. Gosh, I hadn’t realized. (pause) Okay, let’s see. We’ll take this waiting and give it to someone else who won’t find it nearly so stressful. Now then, what shall we do with you?
ME: Now that we know he needs surgery, let’s plan it, schedule it, and execute our plan in a timely fashion. Waiting three weeks to meet the surgeon and then three more weeks to get in for surgery and then waiting again for lab results is making me crazy. Why can’t we just schedule the surgery for next week and get it over with?
BIG EAR IN THE UNIVERSE: Well, when you put it that way, it sounds perfectly reasonable. I completely understand your impatience and the strain this is putting on you and your family, so let’s just do it. We’ll ensure that something opens on the surgery schedule next week for some miraculous reason. Don’t worry, we won’t harm anyone, and you don’t even have to know the details, we’ll just put your husband in that slot. We apologize for putting you through so much.
ME: Whew! Thank you so much. I really feel better now.


ME: I don’t do waiting.
BIG EAR IN THE UNIVERSE: Well, let’s see what we can do about that. Perhaps if your husband’s condition suddenly worsens in the middle of the night, you could rush him to the ER and wait for five hours to have him admitted. They can do some blood tests and take some films to confirm that, yes, he does need to have his surgery performed quickly and they will admit him. After stabilizing him medically, they will schedule his surgery for two days from now. Is that soon enough?
BIG IRONIC MEANIE IN THE UNIVERSE: Well, she asked for it. I hope watching her husband endure severe pain and vomiting for several hours while sitting in a terrifically uncomfortable waiting room surrounded by sick and injured people isn’t too much for her to handle. Hope she knows she’ll have to find someone to watch her children while she rushes him to the hospital and she won’t know quite when she’ll be able to leave him when he finally is admitted. It’s too bad his surgeon isn’t the one on call and they will have to end up redoing several of his tests because the other ones are at different hospitals and it’s too hard to chase them down at 2:30am. Maybe as long as there is constant activity over the next couple of days (kids to be fed and driven to school, meetings to cancel, colleagues and family members to notify, doctors to meet with, and animals to care for) it won’t feel too much like “waiting” and will be enough to meet her needs. What’ya think?
ME: Crap. Wish I’d never said anything.

Sunday, September 03, 2006

Can you say "precocious"?

Yesterday my daughter snuck her first boy into the house. Lola. She's four. As in, four years old. My older daughter has never had much use for boys other than her father. She falls firmly into the camp of those little girls who believe that boys are "YUK" and have cooties, and I don't anticipate that changing for at least a few more years. The other one is an entirely different story. The first time Lola fell in love she was two.   Our young, good-looking friend from Argentina came to visit for a few weeks and she must have felt that latin vibe, firmly wrapping her arms and legs around his shin like a monkey on a tree. He was forced to limp around the house for hours while she gazed up at him in adoration. He humored her, allowing her to "paint" his toenails and fingernails with sidewalk chalk and when he occasionally ventured out by himself to explore the local sights, she mooned around sobbing, "Mama, when is Carlos coming back? I loooove him!" Oy!

Yesterday evening as I was elbow-deep in dishsoap, she came to me, eyes wide underneath a furrowed brow. Her head dipped in contrition and she confessed that she hadn't told me the truth about something. I stifled a giggle and encouraged her to go on. She explained that when she had disappeared shortly after dinner to go upstairs and "play with the cat", she was actually heading up there to check on Troy, the neighbor boy whom she had led into her bedroom half an hour before. I was totally unprepared to react to something like that, so I just thanked her for coming clean. Apparently feeling absolved, she wheeled around, tore down the hall and slammed the front door on her way out.

I finished the dishes and headed upstairs to take a hot bubble bath. As I entered my bedroom I heard a scuffle and walked around the other side of my bed just in time to see a pair of five-year-old boy feet disappear underneath. She had abandoned him! I just assumed they had gone outside together, but she left him to his own devices up here. Deciding to spare him the trauma of being outed by Lola's mother (not something I will do when they boy in question is a teenager, believe me), I headed back downstairs.

I found her in the garage with her older sister and some neighbor girls, practicing dance moves to the soundtrack from High School Musical (don't get me started). I explained that inviting someone to sneak into your house and then leaving them alone was neither polite nor very wise and asked her to go get him. She looked at me as if I were nuts, shrugged her shoulders and said, "Oh, he'll be fine, Mom. I need to practice with the girls now. We're putting on a show later."

She is one child I won't have to worry about co-dependence with. She was willing to sneak him in and hang out for a while, but once she realized her mistake and confessed, he was on his own to take responsibility for his actions. I have no doubt that the whole thing was her idea, but at least she's letting him face the music for himself. I pity the boys who have to learn that lesson the hard way with her. From now on, when I hear someone entering my house, I'll be doing a head count. Until then, I'm opening a bottle of wine and watching the show.
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