If you can’t stop my pain, you may as well just shoot me!

pills_variety_crop380wI try to be a pragmatic user of medications. I think we have them for a reason and the reason was all mine when I found myself in rehabilitation and unable to perform the most mundane tasks because of intense pain. Having said that, let me add that I thought I possessed a healthy but wary attitude toward all drugs, especially narcotics. I realize now that my perception of pain-killing opioids was informed by my family of origin which was rife with alcoholism and other drug addictions. My father died of complications from his years of drinking excessively. My brother died of an alcohol and drug overdose. Obviously my viewpoint was skewed.

Over the years of my adulthood I have learned to enjoy an occasional glass of wine, and I once took a Vicodin at the emergency room when I had what we believe was a gall bladder event. Triage sent me home with four tablets and told me perhaps I should take only a half since the whole tablet knocked me silly. I ended up throwing out 3 1/2 of them. That experience didn’t do a thing to quell my fear of drugs. In fact, quite the opposite.  Imagine going from that kind of trepidation about taking pain killers to begging for them back in October after my accident. That’s some serious pain.

I don’t remember exactly how long I lay in that hospital bed without any real help for my pain. I know that the therapists came to my room twice a day and laboriously tried to get me to a sitting position but the pain was agonizing and I couldn’t do it. I told them I needed to see a doctor so they sent one to see me. She said she understood I wanted/needed something for pain. I explained that I had to have something if I were going to be able to get up and get well. She left an order. I don’t know what it was but it helped about as much as an aspirin. Even one of my caregivers told me that was not what I needed; that it was not going to help my kind of pain. More time wasted while my muscles continued to atrophy.

Then I got a stroke of good luck. A staff member stopped by one day and asked me how I was doing. I told her I wasn’t making progress because of the pain. She informed me that there was a doctor on staff (I think fairly new there.) who knew all about pain management. She said, “You need to see him. He’s very good.”

I tried not to get my hopes too high but I asked my daytime nurse (CNA) to ask him to see me the next day. In fact I pleaded, “Don’t let him leave tomorrow until he’s seen me.” She promised she wouldn’t. (I have this mental image of her with a lasso around him, dragging him back down the hall. 🙂 )

I don’t think she had to rope him but by golly he showed up and my rehabilitation took a one-eighty turn and I was on my way back. My relief was palpable.

I’ve thought a great deal about what Dr. H (H is for hero.) does that makes him an effective and outstanding doctor. I’ve recently been back at the facility for additional therapy and I saw him in the gym talking to a patient. She was in a wheelchair. He got down in a squat to look her in the face and talk to her. That’s when it all came flooding back to me. That’s what he does. And much more.

He came into my room, introduced himself, looked me in the eyes and we talked. He listened. What I said mattered. He showed no sign of being in a hurry. I was the only patient he had in that moment. This wasn’t one of those 3-5 minute visits. We talked until we said what we needed to communicate to each other. I understood him. He understood me. He made me a partner in my care. That matters a great deal to me. I monitored my medication about as carefully as he did. And guess what? I’m not addicted. That had been a big concern for me.

Dr. H is very young for one so perfectly attuned to his patients needs and concerns. I believe that medical personnel can be taught a great deal about compassion and patient care. But I don’t believe this doctor had to be taught that aspect of caring. He cares about people. He has a good heart. And it shines as he goes about his work. He’s very good indeed, and I’m enormously grateful.

Updates, discoveries and funnies.

I used the weather as an excuse to skip my walk this morning.  It rained all night–hard.photo-18 I know this because I woke up several times. That’s another excuse for not walking. Too little sleep.

I dreamed between spurts of wakefulness. I can recall this morning what I think was a brief encounter with my ex. Simpler times.  We were together, doing mundane tasks, together. Talking. Smiling. There was no anger, no angst. I would like to think my level of acceptance has risen to higher ground. I’m at peace.

I must say, though, that I am not quite so peaceful about my eye. Excited but not quite settled. I still wear a guard over my eye at night. That’s probably one reason for the wakefulness.  I’m still putting drops in my eye three times a day.  That’s down from four times.  And it’s one medication instead of the three this time last week.

The most important aspect of this scenario–my vision–is a work in progress.  The cataract surgery has achieved the desired goal. Increased clarity of color became evident after a few days.  It’s a miracle!

The cornea transplant benefits are more gradual. I have a very skilled doctor, and the surgery went well. He tells me that I will notice maximum visual benefits at about two months, or possibly three. I smile as I write this because I’m imagining how I would have been climbing the walls if I’d had this surgery in my middle age. I have much more patience now. I see differences almost daily and am confident I will reach the desired peak in a timely fashion. And in the end the result should be a major improvement.

I’m happy that I’ve been able to take care of myself the entire time except for needing a driver the first few days. I have discovered anew how generous and kind family and friends are. They have brought me food and sent cards.  Some have texted or emailed.  Some have called. Four different people took me for  birthday lunches, to all my favorite places. I am a lucky woman.

Moving along to the funnies part of this post. I love jamiedouglasillustration.com.  Many months ago I was searching the net for a bluebird of happiness. I came upon the illustration below.  It’s aptly named The Disillusioned Bluebird of Happiness. At the time, I contacted Jamie and asked if I could include it in one of my posts. He said I could as long as I gave him credit. In the meantime I lost my train of thought as to the bluebird and went on to other posts. But I saved this picture and I look at it from time to time because  it always makes me giggle. Thank you, Jamie, for entertaining me. Your illustrations remind me to hone my sense of humor and not to take life too seriously.  Other readers, check out Jamie’s blog.  You’ll be glad you did.Disillusioned-Bluebird-of-Happiness-38

One last thing to my favorite bloggers.  For some reason many of your email blog reminders have been sent to my Spam folder.  I don’t know why but am correcting those errors. Apparently it’s been going on for a while–maybe since I got my new computer. Aaaaargh!!

The eyes have it.

I love the eyes of babies and small children.blue_eyes_cute_baby-wide  They’re bright and clear and focused.  Their blues are bluer and their browns are browner than an older person’s.

I’m having surgery on one of my fading blue eyes this Friday.  I considered putting a photo of my eye(s) in this post but I kept remembering some of the adjectives writers use to describe eyes of the ancients and decided it wasn’t a good idea.  Bleary, filmy, cloudy, searching, cobwebby, murky are a few that come to mind.  I regret to report that any one of those words, or all of them, could be used to describe my eyes these days.

I was 53 when the ophthalmologist diagnosed my Fuchs corneal dystrophy.  He told me at the time that I would eventually need surgery to restore/improve vision.  Recently, my eye care specialist and I decided it was time.

For about a century the gold standard treatment for this condition has been corneal transplant.  In recent years doctors have learned to do a modified version of the transplant (DSEK).  A complete corneal transplant requires about a year for full recovery.  DSEK requires only 6 to 8 weeks.  My timing is good.  A two month recovery sounds way better than twelve.

I am fortunate to have family and friends to help out the first few days of my adventure.  My sweet daughter will take me to the surgical hospital and stay with me the first day.  (This is an outpatient procedure.)  She’s going to hang out with me while I lie flat on my back for the first 24 hours.  I have a friend/neighbor who insists she’s bringing food. There are other friends who have sworn to spring me and take me to lunch when I feel up to it but still can’t drive.  I might learn to like being pampered.  It’s been a long time.

Bring on the eye shield.  I’ll pretend to be a pirate.  Yo ho ho and a bottle of rum.

A day for reflection.

photo-1My ex-husband and I first met Jim and Joe (not their real names) at least twenty-five years ago.  Happily, they have continued to include me in their lives by inviting me to their parties and life celebrations.

Very few of the people I met through or with D have kept me on their social lists.  That includes family.  I have come to understand it isn’t that most of them are cold or uncaring; they simply don’t know how to be inclusive in situations that they fear (real or imagined) may get a little “sticky.”  My fiery temper during our separation and divorce didn’t help.

But this post is not about me, it’s about the remarkable and always inclusive Jim and Joe.

Since gay marriage is still not legal in North Carolina, J and J went to New York a while back and tied the knot after almost thirty-five years together.  Legal or not, they’ve been married all those years.  They never needed a piece of paper for those of us who have loved them and recognized their commitment to each other.  Yet I find myself feeling joyful on their behalf now that they have taken this big step which wasn’t available to them before.

I was not surprised when I received this most recent invitation from J and J.  I had attended their “twenty-five-years-together anniversary.”  But I felt a warm glow when I saw the announcement that they had wed.  And I felt extraordinarily happy that I was considered one of many friends with whom they wanted to share their good news.

At three o’clock on a beautiful autumn day, surrounded by family and friends, J and J had a ceremony on the front steps of their lovely home.  We friends gathered on the lawn in front and celebrated with them.  There were chairs for those who can no longer stand.  A very eloquent gentleman made comments and then J and J reconfirmed their vows of commitment, each in his own words.  We cheered!

As I drove home, I noticed dark clouds gathering on the horizon and the wind was tossing yellow leaves into a whirling dervish dance.  As I drove through one leafy frenzy after another and another, I thought of the many frantic dances my friends Jim and Joe have had to perform as they were growing up feeling different.  As they met with intolerance at every turn.  As they quietly accepted that they had none of the rights that other committed couples shared. I wondered if they did the same dance over and over for each situation they encountered, or did they vary the steps sometimes.

I keep coming back to the last statement “the eloquent gentleman” made about J and J.  He said, “Jim and Joe have taught us all how to live our lives.”  As I shout “Amen” to that, I realize the answer to my pondering in the last paragraph.  Sometimes these wonderful human beings danced a waltz.  Some days they did the twist.  There must have been days when the hokie pokie seemed appropriate.

Now that I think about it, I doubt their dances were ever frenzied.  And the type of dance is irrelevant.  Whatever the dance, they did it together and with purpose.

A day in the life…

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7:00-7:30 a.m.  Scritch, scratch.  Lulu is at the bedroom door.  It isn’t her feeding time.  She doesn’t go outside.  So, what does she want?  Company.  Me.  Sometimes I get up and let her in to snuggle for a while.  Other days I get up straight away and go downstairs with her.

Almost every day I get out of bed with an “itch” to write.  As regular readers know, I haven’t written much in the last few months.  So if I get up with a desire to write, what’s keeping me from doing so?  In part, it’s because I’ve been as busy as a honey bee in a bed of clover.  There was a while that I couldn’t write because I was seriously depressed.  That is no longer a problem, thanks to antidepressant medication which has worked a not-so-small miracle in that regard.

My upbeat mood and new-found energy have given me a joie de vivre that I haven’t had in a very long time.  I’m finding my schedule almost over-booked these days simply because I feel like doing things and seeing people.  Who knew there were so many entertaining endeavors waiting for me?  Well, I did.  But I couldn’t get past the lethargy that depression causes.  I’m grateful for another chance to live my life, and to enjoy doing so.

In the past couple of months I have been walking regularly with two of my neighbors.  (It’s lots more photo(19)fun when you have company.)  I’ve attended numerous grandchild functions:  a pre-prom photo session, an elementary school graduation, a high school graduation, two engagement parties, a gymnastics celebration banquet (the end of a rather lengthy gymnastics career–happy and sad), and more that I can’t remember at the moment.

In addition to the fun stuff, I have taken on a front yard project.  I’m wondering if my meds have made me a little more wacky than I normally am–not an easy feat since I’ve always been pretty wacky. As some of you know already, I don’t grow grass very well, so I decided I should construct some around-the-tree gardens in order to have less weedy grass to mow.photo(16)  I started by digging a v-shaped trench around the tree.  My research tells me this is a Victorian edge.  I didn’t want a brick or stone edging because it makes using the weed eater a bit fussy.  I thought the digging would be the hardest part, but abundant rain had saturated the ground and digging was a breeze.

The next step was to cover inside the circle with newspapers.  The newspaper kills weeds and unwanted grass in the finished product.  Then I spread four (or so) inches of soil on top of the newspapers.  Next came a nice thick layer of mulch on top of the dirt. Viola. The garden is ready for some shade-loving plants.photo(20)

I took this photo shortly after I planted.  We’ve had a great deal of rain and sunshine since then, so I’m able to see growth almost every day.  Only two more trees to go.  My neighbors are waiting patiently.  I’m still a little surprised (and proud) that I was able to do this by myself.  Gave me a nice sense of accomplishment.

The miracle of friendship.

photo(51)A friend is the only person in the world who understands exactly what you’re saying even though you may not be talking. ~ Anonymous

I have written before about my gaggle of girlfriends.  We have a tradition of gathering at one of our homes two (or more) times a year and sharing space and joys and woes.  We’ve been through hard times together, but what stands out is how much we are able to laugh together.

We are fortunate that one of us has a home at Carolina Beach, NC, and that’s where we were for the long Martin Luther King, Jr., weekend.  I prefer the beach in the off season.  I generally don’t head for the shore when it’s hot and sticky and there are nine million people elbowing and shouting and hoping to get in whatever space I’m trying to occupy.  That’s not my idea of fun.  Sorry for the digression.  Back to friends.photo(47)

Sometimes we play games.  Sometimes we watch movies, or an ACC basketball game.  We might eat out all weekend, or we might eat in the entire time.  There are no rules.  Well, there is the unwritten rule that we are a support system for whichever one(s) may need a sympathetic ear and/or a shoulder.

One of our group has suffered a great deal of loss in the past couple of years.  She lost her mother and her father in a very short span of time.  Unfortunately, she is also dealing with a number of other personal losses.  Still she’s our comedian.  And through all her hard times she is able to make us laugh…and cry.  I think that’s a small miracle.

photo(48)I can’t talk about this group without telling you a little about S.  She, too, makes us laugh.  When she and her husband were building their house, she wanted to know why she couldn’t omit the kitchen as she had no plans to cook.  And the miracle is that she baked cheese biscuits for our breakfast the last morning we were there.  Who knew she could cook!?

Often we give in to silliness such as these little flamingo-pink rubber duckies.  We have long had a pink flamingo thing going on, and this trip L brought each of us a small flock of ducks in that tacky color.  We had to provide a pond so they could swim.  Some of them wouldn’t sit straight in the water.  They looked like they were diving for something.  One of our group, of course, said those were the ones that had too much to drink.  (I say like some of us.)  And we giggled some more.photo(52)

In everyone’s life, at some time, our inner fire goes out.  It is then burst into flame by an encounter with another human being.  We should all be thankful for those people who rekindle the inner spirit.  ~ Albert Schweitzer

Pat’s excellent adventure.

AshevilleDowntownDayIt is only in adventure that some people succeed in knowing themselves – in finding themselves.   ~ Andre Gide

A few weeks ago my daughter and I drove up to Asheville, NC, to a reading and book signing by Barbara Kingsolver, one of our favorite authors.

Even though Charlotte is the largest city in North Carolina, I think Asheville may be the most recognized (by people outside the state) and beloved (by in-state residents) city in the state.  It’s my favorite.

We left Charlotte early enough to arrive in Asheville for lunch and a little shopping.  Asheville is a small city nestled in the Southern Appalachian Mountains.  According to the July, 2011, census report, the population was 84,458, just large enough to have many big-city amenities, yet small enough to maneuver by car without getting too lost.  (Giggle.)  Well, my travel companions might not agree with that last statement.  More on that in a moment.

One thing I enjoy when I’m in this diverse small-town city is the opportunity to eat at one of the many restaurants that specialize in vegan and/or vegetarian meals.  After meeting our friend C at the hotel, we all headed out for dinner at one such restaurant, Homegrown, near the University of North Carolina-Asheville (UNC-A) so we could go from dinner to the auditorium on campus. As promised by DJ, our meals were delicious and prepared with the freshest, best-quality groceries available.  I will look forward to a return visit in the future.

So far so good.  We were fairly familiar with the route up to this point.  DJ had eaten at the restaurant earlier in the year while in town for a conference.  And I had entered the campus from this direction – quite a few years ago.  I probably don’t need to tell you that our first approach to campus was a bust.  We circled out (I was grateful that DJ was driving.) and took another approach.  Thanks to my daughter’s memory which is more efficient than mine, we were successful on our second approach.

Malaprop’s, the bookstore where we ordered our books and tickets, had sent us a very rudimentary map of the UNC-A campus.  My attitude was that it couldn’t be very difficult to find the auditorium at such a small school.  I’m not sure C and DJ agreed with me but they gave me free rein; they humored me.  I figured we could stop and ask a student, a nice young teacher at the gym door, or any breathing human.  One time years ago my daughter told me I would talk to a fence post.  She was right.  I don’t fear strangers.

After several stops and starts to ask if we were headed the right way, we arrived at Lipinsky Hall where Barbara K was speaking.  It was a bit of a trek but we’re all three hardy types and the walk in brisk late-fall mountain air was invigorating.  (That’s my opinion.)

If you’re a Kingsolver fan you know her for The Poisonwood Bible or Prodigal Summer or photo(30)any number of other books.  Her latest, and the one she read from, is Flight Behavior.  I don’t do book reviews but let me say this about Barbara Kingsolver’s work:  She doesn’t write just books; she writes literature.  Many high school English teachers agree with my assessment, as some of her work is required reading for high school students.

photo(31)In my version of Barbara’s words, Flight Behavior is a novel about a number of things: climate change, monarch butterflies, marriage, the Appalachian Mountains, family relationships.  I don’t remember whether she included politics but it’s a word I would add.  I found the book entertaining and thought-provoking.  Every paragraph, every sentence is its own little work of art.  She’s a remarkable author.

Hearing BK read her own work was a rare and special treat for all three of us.  She is a native of the Southern Appalachians as are C, DJ, and I.  Sometimes I’m tempted to think that’s why we like her work, but that fact can’t explain why her writing is wildly popular all over the world.  It does make me have a special warm spot in my heart for her, I think.  And it helps that she pronounces Appalachia correctly.  (Sharyn McCrumb, another of my favorite Southern Appalachian writers explains the pronunciation here.)

I would like to tell you that Pat the Navigator got us smoothly back to our hotel from the auditorium.  Alas, I would be lying if I told you such nonsense.  Suffice to say that the on-ramp we were looking for was cleverly hiding near an overpass and we kept missing it.  I stopped counting after three passes.  Does anyone know if Apple has corrected its latest map fiasco?