Those Were the Days. For Me, They Still Are.

You might think it’s next to impossible to develop a close relationship with a TV that doesn’t have cable, but you’d be cynically wrong. My TV and I became good friends during my recovery from surgery. Besties. BFFs.

You only need one good TV channel to make a fulfilling relationship. I found mine in a channel called meTV—Memorable Entertainment Television. The morning I discovered that two episodes of Leave It to Beaver were showing five days a week was the morning I changed my bad attitude about recovering from abdominal surgery. The morning I was introduced to The Donna Reed Show was the morning I wished I had a year’s worth of sick leave and an understanding boss.

Those two shows turned out to be the balm that no codeine-laced drug could replace. In the months before the surgery, my life had become extraordinarily stressful and complicated. I found no relief in gardening, sleeping or drinking heavily. I had hopped on that great greased slide to misery and despair—and knowing that I hadn’t hit the bottom yet was demoralizing and scary. So, spending an hour and a half with nice people whose problems were never more serious than a son’s bicycle left in the driveway brought the peace of mind and distraction I needed.

For many weeks after my surgery, my routine rarely varied. I’d get up about 6:30 and slowly shuffle through the dining room and kitchen to the living room sofa, lugging along a brain that was barely functioning, having been marinated in narcotics during 6 days of hospitalization. Bleary eyed and dazed, I’d sit for a few minutes waiting for a few synapses to fire up and then turn on the digital flat screen TV that had barely gotten any use up to this point.

Not counting the Spanish-language and religious channels, my TV has 7 viable stations to watch. I raced through the first five and when I reached 12.2, I stopped. Here was meTV, soon to become my very special, euphoria-producing myTV.

It was disheartening to find that The Beverly Hillbillies came on at 6:30. But, mercifully, my brain was still working at half strength, preventing me from experiencing the full force of the supreme inanity that are the Clampitts and their costars. It’s a surprising and disturbing testimony to the power of moronic southern stereotypes that TV shows about backwards, mouth-breathing folks still persist today and find an audience. But so it is.

After the first couple of mornings, I was able to tolerate the few tortuous minutes of TBH because it was followed by the delightfully charming Donna Reed Show. I had heard about The Donna Reed Show years ago by accident, and now, here I found it on my TV screen, also by accident. I recognized Shelley Fabares, even though she was decades younger than the person I had seen on other TV serials. Donna Reed, playing the mother of two children, was a new face to me. She was a stunningly beautiful woman sporting the very bad hairstyle of a 1950s modern housewife. Her husband, Dr. Alex Stone, played by Carl Betz, was equally enticing eye-candy. Their youngest son, played by Paul Petersen, was an adorable crack-up, with excellent comedic timing.

The bridge from The Donna Reed Show to the heartwarming and funny Leave It to Beaver series is an almost intolerable half-hour of I Love Lucy. I don’t like the character Lucille Ball plays. She’s loud, stupid, deceitful, sneaky and shallow. To make better use of those 30 minutes, I used that time to force feed myself something I could keep down.

For almost 6 weeks, before I returned to work, I believed the world was a very nice place to live in. I believed that no one cursed, hit anyone else, divorced their spouses, abused children, got into drunken brawls or twerked. “Affluenza,” global climate change and the Kardashians hadn’t been invented yet. Duck Dynasty dumbasses and puerile Housewives of Any City didn’t exist. No one was worrying about global climate change and fretting about the noodle brains who disavow it.

Ignorance WAS bliss and it had a powerful therapeutic effect. Though my sister worried about my addiction to long gone TV serials and winced when I explained the plot line of one particular episode of The Rifleman (another favorite of mine), I felt more relaxed, carefree and content than I had in ages. The world was new again and it was safe. I wanted to wear dresses and pearls everyday. I wanted to bake cakes with perfect icing.

Eventually, though, I got better and had to go back to work. Sigh. If I want to watch Leave It To Beaver, I’ll have to purchase it from Amazon. For now, I can only squeeze in The Donna Reed Show because it comes on right before I leave the house to walk to work. However, fortunately, two episodes of Leave It To Beaver are shown early Sunday morning. I discovered today that I’m now watching season one of LITB. Jerry Mathers sure was one cute little boy.

When my sister finds out about my ongoing TV watching habits, she’ll think I’ve lost my mind and need an intervention. She better mind herself, though, because I’m also now watching Petticoat Junction early during the weekdays and I might just come over and show her the Hooterville Hop.

digital illustration of June Cleaver and Donna Reed

Not That Patient Anymore

It’s inevitable, I think. Spend enough time being taken care of, stuck by, scanned and swabbed by healthcare professionals, spend enough time in a hospital or a doctor’s office, and eventually you lose yourself and become “the patient.”

On June 19, I had surgery to remove a tumor on my pancreas, along with half of my pancreas, and my spleen and my gallbladder. I won’t mince words: Recovery was brutal. The lion’s share of discomfort centered around an inability to eat because of nausea and an awful metallic taste in my mouth—result of temporary damage to my taste buds. I knew that eating would help me get my strength back, unfortunately, nothing tasted good and the whole world (my home) had an unpleasant smell. I even gave up coffee because it had become one of the worst flavors ever. That was a tough day.

I stopped working on June 18 and left behind what I had always let define me—a job that was sometimes rewarding, but too often not so much. Sometime into the second week after the surgery and for many weeks afterwards, I began to see myself as the patient with the thing on her pancreas. I’m not sure I could have avoided this dramatic alteration in identity. I felt like a patient. I was needy and often just plain scared. I depended completely on my caregivers. To be a patient is to be vulnerable.

But needing other people isn’t the worst thing that can happen to a person by far. Imagine a world in which people let you fend for yourself in times of sickness and injury. I shudder to think about it.

I had a magnificent, dedicated surgeon, and throughout this recovery, I have been cared for by amazing, compassionate healthcare professionals. It’s easy to forget when you’re feeling well about the thousands of caregivers who devote their lives to helping others recover.

This ordeal is almost over. My incision hasn’t yet healed, but each day it becomes less obviously a remnant of June’s surgery day. I go back to work this coming week. But I’m not going back as this person with a job. It’s time to see myself as much more than a paycheck earner.

As a side note, the tumor on my pancreas turned out to be a very rare mass called a “hamartoma”—so rare that I’m one of only 20 people in the world who’ve had this thing.

But I must remind myself: I don’t want to be known as the 20th patient in the world who had a pancreatic hamartoma, no matter how special that sounds.

By the way: Thank you to everyone who offered such kind words and support after I wrote my previous blog entry. I’ve been away for a long time. I’m feeling rusty at this blogging thing, but I’ll get my “legs” back soon.

pancreatic hamartoma (from http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3491237/)
pancreatic hamartoma (from http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3491237/)

You Could Hug a Bear for That Long

A lot of things we endure in life aren’t really as long in duration as we think they are. They seem so at the time because we’re in the moment. We’re attending to anxiety, grief, fear, worry or anger. We can’t seem to remember, or convince ourselves, that in the grand scheme of things, most of the stuff we experience is quite short-lived. So short, that we could hug a bear for that long and not notice his meaty breath.

Shortly after my Boston Terrier, Sally, died, I developed upper abdominal pain. In a week, it had progressed to an attack of acute pancreatitis. This is not a normal condition in a relatively healthy person who doesn’t drink like a sailor on shore leave. An ultrasound and an MRI, done that evening in the ER, introduced me to a mass on my pancreas. Now, weeks later, the specialists think it’s a noncancerous tumor. None of them want to commit to a name for it, so I’m calling it “George.”

The first visit with the surgeon was long, informative and stressful. But we both agreed that the thing is large enough that it must be taken out. Surgery is scheduled for June 19. At this point, I don’t know which organ is going to be given up. Originally, I thought I’d lose a good portion of my pancreas, my gallbladder and, possibly my spleen. But at this point, none of the specialists know what this thing is or where its home is. As far as I’m concerned, I just want the mass removed, and, unless it’s a puppy, I have no desire to see it after the surgery.

Given all the events that preceded the attack, I wonder at times if my poor emotional and mental state caused this small mass of cells to grow to a size that it could no longer be ignored. Were upset, anxiety, anger and depression the fuel that inflamed the tumor? Does unrelenting stress awaken the potential for abnormal growth?

I’m not certain, but I have my suspicions.

Along with recovery from surgery, which will be lengthy, I’ve got a tremendous amount of other things to do—one of which is to start enjoying life. The phrase, “Life is too short” must no longer be a cliché for me. Life is too short to let yourself get caught up in petty hurts and insults, and wallowing in misery and bitterness. As I make changes in my life, some things have to go, some things have to be dusted off and take priority.

One of the first steps I’ve taken is to shut the door on one of the biggest time wasting and unsatisfying activities in my life—I deleted my Facebook account. I didn’t deactivate it; I deleted it.

The Facebook administrators, who’d admonish me at regular intervals for not posting, will have to find some other dull slob to harass. On the deletion page, my comment for leaving was short and sweet: “I hate Facebook.” I didn’t have the energy or desire to say what I wanted to say—that Facebook is a miserable excuse for keeping in touch with friends and family. No social media site, no matter how many bells and whistles it has, no matter how “personal” an experience it tries to disguise itself as, can substitute for making the in-human effort to nurture meaningful relationships. Virtual friendships, as a way of keeping in touch, are like Angel Food cake—they have a hint of flavor, and once experienced, they’re too convenient to pass up for the real thing—homemade sweet biscuits buttered and eaten warm. Real friendships are buttered and warm from the oven—you savor them and you want more.

But worthwhile relationships take some effort, which I’ve barely made in the last few years. It’s no longer a matter of when I have time to focus on them. For me, for anyone, time may cease to be in a day, a week, a month.

After my surgery, I’ll have a nice portion of the year left to get it right. The scar I’ll have after this operation will be a nice reminder to stop wasting time.

hug a bear-01

It’s a Matter of Perspective

They’re the rocks you don’t see in the path as you merrily, and obliviously, trot over as you go through life. Sometimes you anticipate them, and step carefully over them. Other times, a rock catches your toe, and you sprawl, face forward, arms flailing, onto the path in front of you.

These are all the things that come at us day after day. We can prepare ourselves for some of them, but when being ready is not an option, you have a few choices:

  • Rely on a higher power
  • Crumble
  • Rely on a higher power and perspective
  • Rely on perspective

Frankly, for me, crumbling isn’t an option. Well, long-term crumbling isn’t. A brief moment of shattering, disintegration and some blubbering is okay. But I think you’ve got to get to perspective as quickly as you can before you start self-medicating, wearing grimy pjs all day, and alienating family and friends.

I’m slowly replacing the grief of losing my little Boston Terrier, Sally, with some perspective. I can be grateful for the few years I was blessed with her presence. She was a loving, quirky, funny little girl who brought so much laughter into my life. She’s no longer suffering. Her ashes rest next to Beanie’s ashes, my other rescue Boston Terrier who I lost several years ago. I can look out my studio window upon the perennials I planted there as a memorial to two wonderful, adorable creatures.

During the time I was going through Sally’s illness, some horrible man with a tiny ego and a need for power took issue with me on the Facebook page I managed for a program at work. He seemed intent on punishing me for a couple of fairly innocuous posts. Hell bent for retribution, he involved my manager, her manager and quite a few other people in his pursuit to right this insignificant wrong.

I went home that Friday, exhausted from the turmoil at work. Sally died in my arms that weekend.

Perspective arrived the next week.

How very, very small some incidents seem—how quickly they fade into the background when the big things enter your life.

This last week, I had a bout of acute pancreatitis. I went to the ER, and had an ultrasound that showed a mass on my pancreas. I had an MRI that still couldn’t identify the mass completely. We think it’s a cyst. I’ll know in about two weeks.

On the day I heard the results of the MRI, I found out that my other Boston Terrier, Stella, has a tumor near her liver. I’m opting to do nothing but manage her pain when it comes, given that she’s 13 years old. She’s still spry and energetic.

I’m right here, reaching for that perspective. And it’s there—showing me that life is very short, very unpredictable and that you better appreciate—and show that you appreciate—everyone and everything dear to you.

When I was in the ER a couple days ago for the pancreatitis, the doctor asked me to rate my pain on a scale of one to ten. I stumbled a bit and said, “It’s very close to 10. I’d say it’s a 10.”

My gracious brother, who’s a physician, waited till the ER doctor left the room, smiled at me and said, “I used to tell my patients that a 10 meant you’re going to die.”

I laughed. Yeah. Perspective.

snoring dog studio watercolors, watercolor of Boston Terrier
Stay by Snoring Dog Studio

Break, Broken

My precious, beloved Boston Terrier, Sally, died in my arms early Saturday morning. I cannot see my way to doing much but slogging through the next few weeks, perhaps months. I don’t know what’s at the end of this process, but there’s a lot of work I need to do. I’m saying goodbye for a while.

Sally2012July

Okay. I am my dogs’ mom.

I used to hate it when people referred to me as my dog’s mom. I’ve never been a mom and never wanted to be one.

Some people can own a dog and, throughout its life, adhere to the distinction between the species human and canine. The dog is treated like a dog, not a member of the family. I don’t find fault with that. Each person’s relationship with a pet is unique.

And though I used to cringe at the notion, perhaps I knew, deep down, that my relationships with my dogs transcended pet versus owner status.

Compassion is compassion. Love is love. Is it necessary to treat differently the recipient of that compassion and love because it has four paws and a tail? Is it anyone’s business how a pet owner views his or her animal? A dress or a pretty coat can sometimes simply be something to keep your pet warm. And, yes, sometimes it’s a thing that reminds the owner that the pet is his or her child.

My younger dog, Sally, is very ill now. She has meningitis. It was discovered more than a month ago after she began having grand mal seizures. We are in the treatment phase now—a roller coaster ride of this medication, that medication, observation, emergency intervention and expensive tests.

And unmitigated anxiety combined with a month of nearly sleepless nights. And days spent at work, struggling to remain focused on tasks. And constant worry about her future. And tears, grieving, panic, lost appetite and heart palpitations.

That sounds like the reaction of a human to a child’s serious illness, doesn’t it?

I am my dogs’ mom. I can’t turn off this switch that would, that might, put up a protective barrier between Sally’s illness and my reaction to it. I will be with my dog until the end, whatever that might look like. And my heart will be in this experience the entire way, exactly as though she were my child.

SallyJune2012DSC_0349Sally2012July

I’ll Feel Better When Idaho’s Legislators Leave Town

More than a month ago, I caught a cold. Eventually it squatted in my lungs and sat there tickling the tiny bronchioles and the alveoli, causing uncontrollable coughing, which was magnified at night when I’d try to sleep. I’d lie there, picturing the virus holding onto feathers, brushing my lungs’ inner workings every time I tried to doze off. Sleep left me for at least a week. Worse than that, the coughing was so violent, I pulled a muscle in my groin and my backside. Right now, weeks later, I still have a little cough. And, I can barely walk, what with the sharp twinge I feel each time I take a step on the right.

I’ve never been to see a chiropractor. But, with gardening season coming up, I need the full use of my back and legs. That’s my next doc appointment.

Here in Idaho, politics are just as crazy and misguided as ever. The legislators came to town and immediately began Satan’s work. They passed a bill to allow concealed guns on college campuses—in spite of the pleas against it from college administrators and presidents, the police force and students. In spite of the fact that there have been no instances of college students being shot on campus. But let’s be proactive, eh? Somewhere, the supporters of this insane law have located in the Constitution, the right of all Idahoans to tote guns wherever they want to. The proponents quote these words in defense: Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness. Of course, in order to achieve these things, they must be able to kill someone else and rob them of Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness.

Happiness is a warm gun, I guess.

A must read is this from an Idaho professor: When May I Shoot a Student?

The looney legislators also passed the Ag-Gag bill in spite of vocal opposition. But, in the end, the Dairy Industry dragged the legislators along by the rings in their noses and the bill passed.

Ag-gag bills are anti-whistleblower bills that criminalize whistleblowing on factory farms. Never mind that whistleblowing employees have played a vital role in exposing animal abuse, unsafe working conditions, and environmental problems on industrial farms.

The agribusiness industry wants to prevent people from finding out about animal cruelty, food-safety issues, poor working conditions, among other things in factory farms.

In Idaho, last year, workers at an Idaho dairy farm were filmed viciously beating cows with canes, jumping on their backs as they moaned in distress, kicking them in the face, and even dragging sick and injured animals across concrete flooring with chains attached to their necks.

But the Dairy Industry here prevailed. And now, I will no longer support Idaho’s dairy or meat industry. Fortunately, Trader Joe’s has come to Boise—their meat and dairy products aren’t produced in Idaho.

And no way will Idaho allow silly, inconvenient regulations by the EPA to get in its way to pollute the environment. Rep. Paul Shepherd’s bill, HB 473, to nullify the EPA because of concerns from suction dredge miners about regulations is quickly making its way into the toxic waste of other “care-less-about-the-environment” bills.

Here in Idaho, our legislators are easily swayed by nonsensical testimony, like this that spews forth out of the mouth of one of our craziest legislators: “EPA just wants control, they want power,” Sen. Sheryl Nuxoll, told the committee. She said veterans are “precious to us,” and many veterans find it “soothing” to do recreational suction dredge mining. “They’re trying to control us, and they’re trying to control our vets also,” she said.

And Rep. Lenore Barrett continues to introduce bills to repeal the state health insurance exchange, in spite of the fact that almost 44,000 Idahoans have signed up so far.

And HB 480 could be the law of the land soon. This bill will make all city design review rules voluntary, under legislation being pushed by Rep. Ed Morse, which means that developers in Idaho couldn’t be told to make structural changes in buildings they’re proposing just for esthetic reasons. So, by all means, sprinkle the beautiful Idaho landscape with monstrosities and pavement.

And, then we’ve got a bill proposed by Sen. Luker, sponsor of the “Free Exercise of Religion Act,” or what Bill Cope from the Boise Weekly calls the “Hall Pass to Be a Bigoted Bastard Bill.” Bigoted bastards will be allowed to refuse service to gays, lesbians, bisexual, transgendered individuals if these people violate someone’s “sincerely held religious beliefs.”

I wish I had Bill Cope’s job so that I could get paid to call people like Luker, “despicable, paltry, unfit, dumbshit cowards.”

But the one bill that will never get passed here, that won’t even get a hearing, is the one that supporters have been trying to pass for almost 8 years, in spite of the fact that 81% of Idahoans support it. This bill would amend the existing Idaho Human Rights Act (IHRA) to include workplace, housing, public accommodation, transportation, and education rights based on “sexual orientation” and “gender identity.”

Each day, Add the Words proponents have shown up at the legislature, hands over their mouths, silently protesting the refusal of this government body to even hear the bill. Police have arrested protesters for unlawful assembly, for trespassing, and for resisting and obstructing. That includes former Idaho State Senator Nicole LeFavour.

Well, that’s life in a state dominated by crazy Republicans and Tea Party folks.

It’s a sunny day. I’m going to hobble over to the nursery with my mom and buy a bunch of flowers. I will gaze upon them, hoping that their loveliness will distract my thoughts from the crazy that goes on here every year from January till about April.

asters

Rape Culture at UofO: Come at Me, Bros

Snoring Dog Studio:

This is how the world ends… when half of it is bullied into silence.

Originally posted on Make Me a Sammich:

Trigger warning for discussion of rape and rape culture.

Screen shot 2014-03-03 at 2.59.43 PMMy friend Anne Thériault of The Belle Jarwrote a post a few days ago about an incident at University of Ottawa wherein several male members of student leadership gathered to chat about Anne Marie Roy, president of the Student Federation of the University of Ottawa. Ms. Roy had apparently beaten a dude for the office, and these dudes were not happy. They went on for several screens talking about how someone should “punish her with their shaft,” speculating about what venereal diseases she might have, and offering to buy beers for a guy who says he’s going to “fuck her in the ass” on someone’s desk. You’ll find the whole disgusting mess over on The Belle Jar. Here’s an excerpt from Anne’s article, which you should go read right now.

Someone punish her with their shaft. Someone punish her with…

View original 632 more words

The Science is In. My Dog Does LOVE Me!

“Your dog doesn’t love you.” – My brother has said to this my sister throughout the years in spite of her insistence that her dog Carmella does, truly does, love her.

He’s convinced that Carmella’s relationship with her is based solely on the fulfillment of her needs—primarily Carmella’s food needs, which are all-consuming (no pun intended). John isn’t convinced, no matter how much my sister makes a case for it, that Carmella’s behavior is evidence of true love.

Carmella
Carmella

I admit that, for a long time, I thought the same thing, even about my own dogs, especially Stella, whose behavior towards me has always seemed more like disdainful tolerance, rather than true affection. In the case of Carmella, I, too, assumed that her close bond to Carolyn stemmed from years of lavish treat-giving. A dog would have to be a fool, or a cat, to bite the hand of the person who puts the casserole dish on the floor after the humans have had their dinner.

But now, I’m happy to say to my brother—YOU’RE WRONG! Wrong. Because, researchers have discovered, through the amazing magic of MRI scanning, that dogs do experience the same feeling of love that humans do. Without all the shaming and petty disagreements over leaving the toilet seat up, however.

Scientists at Emory University, a place that receives lots of money to do useful studies, were interested in finding out how dogs’ brains work. They already know how cats’ brains work, which is to pursue killing or taunting their owners in the most devious ways imaginable. No mystery there.

digital illustration by Jean Calomeni, digital art by snoring dog studio, illustration of girl with Boston Terrier

The researcher, Gregory Berns, and his colleagues, first trained the dog subjects to tolerate the noise of the MRI machine. Frankly, if my dogs can tolerate the sound of my singing, I’m sure that getting used to the racket inside an MRI is nothing.

This study was done the right way, instead of faking the results and creating a not-really-controlled control group. They even obtained consent forms from the dogs’ owners! And witnessed by an inked paw print at the bottom of the form, too.

What they’ve discovered is that a dog’s brain isn’t that different from our own. Fascinating. That helps explain my snarling at strangers who get on the elevator with me just to get to one floor above or below.

The magic of this chemistry occurs in the caudate nucleus, a part of the brain that both humans and dogs share. I don’t know about cats. They’re not into sharing.

The caudate plays a key role in the anticipation of things we enjoy, like food, love, money and the upcoming season of The Walking Dead.

What Berns discovered was this: “…many of the same things that activate the human caudate, which are associated with positive emotions, also activate the dog caudate. Neuroscientists call this a functional homology, and it may be an indication of canine emotions.”

Go ahead and call it love Dr. Berns. You know you want to.

Berns even proposes that dogs “have a level of sentience comparable to that of a human child.”  I admit to feeling a bit uncomfortable about that, considering my aversion to human children. But I do dress my dogs in human-like clothes. There’s that. And they get Christmas and birthday presents. And play dates.

The most startling comment made by Berns has to do with assigning “limited personhood” status to dogs. Before you get all uppity and indignant about that, you non-dog lovers, consider this: If the Supreme Court can grant citizenship to corporations, they sure as hell can do the same for my dogs. And, frankly, dogs behave much more responsibly as persons than 99% of corporations do. We let nincompoops vote, why not my dogs?

Assigning personhood to dogs is a fine thing for me. Most of the time I’d rather spend time with dogs rather than humans, anyway. And knowing that my dogs love me makes Valentine’s Day just a bit less gruesome for this single woman.

Carolyn, the next time your brother denies that Carmella loves you, really loves you, point him to this study. Tell him to get used to thinking of Carmella as a sentient being who loves him, too. As Jane Seymour says, “If Your Heart Is Open, Love Will Always Find Its Way In.”

digital illustration of boston terrier, snoring dog studio digital art,