Category Archives: health

>The Aftermath of Disaster

>Today I went out early to try out my new light, strong weed-whacker and I wept. I didn’t cry at the efficiency of the machine or its ability to cut clean swaths through my over grown acreage. No, I cried because I had snipped a snake in two.

The temperature dropped and it rained hard last night, not ideal circumstances for a reptile, but great for a middle-aged gardener who likes to work hard when it is chilly. The snake was one of my favorites, a ribbon. He was green with light yellow ribbons running all round his small lithe body. I saw him and he was in half.

I stopped and bent over him, there was nothing I could do so I returned to clipping, perhaps a little more carefully. And then I started to tear up, then cry and before I could even identify what was wrong I was collapsed in the garden chair sobbing, with my Maine coon cat galumphing to the rescue.

My daughter and her 25-year-old French boy friend had been visiting us in the in country three weeks ago. They were cute, he is lively, silly an artist and a wild thing. One day he helped me clean the haymow in the big old barn and when we finished sweeping and carting the hold hay, he leaped form the loading door in the mow and down to the lawn. Maybe forty feet. It was thrilling and scary as so many of those stunts are. I laughed and my husband upbraided him. “Never do that again here, do you understand?’ The boyfriend quieted, as do all the boys when faced with my husband’s stentorian tines. He agreed.

The next day we went on a drive to see the local goats and the boy friend took his skateboard. He had asked my daughter to take him to a big hill earlier in the day and he had skate boarded down form the historic house Olana, built on a precipice of the Hudson River. She drove behind him and said he was going nearly 45 miles per hour. No helmet, no pads, shorts and a tee shirt.

On this trip home he hit a rock, pothole, divot and the next thing we knew he was on the street. We raced back and found him quiet with blood pooling on the pavement trickling out of his ears. He began breathing a heaving rattle. Terrie fed I took the car to the neighbor, as of course I had no cell phone reception. They called the ambulance; it came. I convinced the driver to allow my daughter to ride with as the kid speaks little English and in a crisis I know second languages go fast. They left; I followed the tortuous 30 miles to the nearest trauma hospital.

We spent days in the E.R and then the ICU. We had to call his parents in Nice. The arrived and we all translated and intervened. endlessly. We drove back and forth, we slept fitfully, we interviewed and befriended doctors, nurses and aides. He lived. The brain bleed stopped just as they were going to operate. He lost tons of weight, has a cane, is exhausted and jokes that he lost three days. His parents go home tomorrow. He follows in two weeks after the Neurosurgeon gives the OK for him to fly. And I will stay here changed.

I am terrified, and quaking at cars, roads, motorcycles, barking dogs. I made it through September 11, rescued my kids, wrote a book, volunteered and carried on. But this is the first item that someone I know, I like, I am in a way responsible for has gotten this hurt on my watch. I imagined the worst and I fantasized a jubilant return home for the cute, artist boy. I slept next to my daughter and we patted each other every night for weeks, when the nightmares came. I still find myself shaking my head like a wet dog, in an attempt to clear the images that leap in.

My friend Susan who studies the brain and alternative healing says that when an event like this accident happens the memories are logged in the limbic brain. In a way they by pass normal feeds of memory are logged right where they can crop up more easily and unpredictably. And they do.

SO today when I unwittingly sliced into the snake and sniveled, I know full well I was crying provoked by this new memory and sense of incredible fragility that it has installed in my very own reptile brain.

>Rocky Racoon

>Last night was so rocky that what I said to composer Doug when the lights finally went out and the 3 people in the audience (OK that is an exaggeration but sparse yes) finally left was “WHEW…that was Rocky Raccoon!!!!!”

It was awful to watch for me, not because the cast was so bad, but the energy to get the show going was flat and scary at the same time.

Here we go.

I get a call that there has been a fire in the dimmer board, the thing that runs the lights.

All the programming is gone.

Then they say ”Oh, we think we can fix, it don’t worry.” But when I arrive it is bad and the poor tech director is in the hospital attending to a dying friend. Hard to say, “Hey fix our lights, friendship be damned.” I didn’t say that. I hugged him and let him cry.

Lights can go on and off. And believe me, last night they seemed to flicker in a random not good way, leaving the cast in darkness in the middle of one aria. Even LaMama is not that experimental.

There is a very sparse crowd expected for the rest of the weekend, I think sometimes folks think, “Oh a good review in the Times we won’t be able to get tickets,” and then no one comes.

So last night tonight. Let me not list the things that went wrong, but for the rest of the weekend hardly a soul is on the books.

And more about last night, the stage manager again at 5 minutes before the show is to start. That’s what happens when you pay nothing, again really nothing, when they are paying to transport themselves even.

We had an understudy who did super well, but still it was a different energy.

And that was me today unable to get my ass to the gym, although I promised, unable to go to pottery. I thought that might make a good diversion. A little phone time trying to get a manager for the future of this show and butts in seats or a recording.

And then the tasks to secure the REAL JOB, the biggest something called, Assessment Testing. It is supposed to take between five and eight hours. I did the one part, 350 questions where you either AGREE or DISAGREE. Crazy stuff like:

* I like to re-measure my rulers to make sure they are correct.
* I feel everyone is out to get me
* I always want to eat ice cream
* I am never depressed

Sp weird, so I just motored through them. At first, I tried to read them out loud to Zac, to say look this could be fun right? But he was mad I was putting myself through this and left for a walk. In his words, what manager would do this?

I don’t know that I am in my good sport phase, wanting this job for tons of reasons: it is a very cool job and it would allow me to contribute to my neighborhood AND the economy is tanking and we have no health insurance. So from broad-based to specific, needs based stuff.

I have lots of other parts to tackle, but for now I am one foot in front of the other. Eat an egg, get some soup, go back do more test. Go to the show; take a fabulous shower, AHHHHHHHH clean hair… so fluffy.

More to come.

>How to conduct oneself

>Yesterday was a lesson in old time values that one does not usually see bundled together and they are: Dentistry and Musical Conducting.

I went back to the dentist for what I thought was the completion of my dreaded root canal. Instead he got in there, cleaned the bad hole for the second time and lo and behold there was still–this man does not mince words–PUSS. He further went on to extol the virulent nature of the infection by graphically describing the fact that this infection, (as stubborn as its owner) had begun to eat away the bone in my jaw.

“Really, they don’t teach you a better way to say this stuff in dental school?” I moaned from inside a rubber dam with clamps and a sucky thing in my mouth. I also found out that both SHIT and FUCK couldn’t be said with your mouth wide open. -IT and -UCK are all you get, but that didn’t stop me form uttering them as he continued on his graphic tale of tooth aliens. Finally he filled in the hole with gross tasting medicine, told me not to chew there or even brush hard for 3 weeks and to take an antibiotic that might give me diarrhea so violent that if I let it continue could result in a colonic ulcer.

Oh my god, this man was clear. And still on course, I rode my bike home down Fifth Avenue from 50th Street, after stopping at Saint Patrick’s Cathedral, how could I not, it’s across the street. Is there a patron Saint of teeth? Is it George Washington?

It made me realize in brilliant relief that in another time, I would be on my way to dying from this tooth infection or would walk around in terrible pain with half a jaw. All so so scary.

I dutifully went downtown, got my dreaded prescription filled, and bought myself 15 bucks worth of sunflowers–not part of the recovery plan, but wildly necessary. I made the promised risotto, met with Liz the costume wonder and then rode to the first music rehearsal where the assistant conductor Carl Bettendorf was to preside.

OK WOW. Who knew that music was so precise and magical? I have been in the land of improvised for way too long. These musicians, clarinet, violin, cello and piano representing very American, Slovene /Swiss/ Australian and German backgrounds all sat together for the first time with flowing scores and Carl, who looks about 12, held sway, and they played. BEAUTIFULLY. I mean the music flowed out and they rarely stopped. They paused occasionally and discussed fermatas and notation. It was so impressive. Maybe more so in my fog of drugs and pain, but I was bowled over to see this young man, large and more than in charge.

Composer Doug sat fixing the main score, lead diva Nicole, the mother, asked to be cued for her part, which she read and sung silently nodding and noting all the while. After a full hour, no stops, no diversion, no dithering Carl called for a break. Which he sort of got, but he had so super-charged the musicians that most of them played their parts; sawing, blowing, plucking out the difficult sections only to resume with more gusto.

I begged to leave as this half way juncture, not because the proceedings didn’t mesmerize me, but rather I was fading and needed dinner and a bed. I got half of that wish and worked feverishly until early morning.

I woke up with visions not of sugar plums, but something better for now, visions of Carl in his baggy cargo pants standing in a bare loft space on Great Jones Street conducting musicians who played the notes that Doug and I have been dreaming of for years now. I was so full of gratitude and the belief that these amazing people will bring to fruition a project, an opera. And because music can be read, sung and recreated globally as its own language, I think we may be able to leave something that could ring in small corners for a while.

>What was your favorite age?

>My husband, my lovely, sweet, generous husband’s mother is sinking into the miasma of Alzheimer’s and it is unraveling him.

I watched my father dance around the edges of dementia as he limped into his nineties, but he did continue to take in new information and even upbraid me with his Irish rancor when I repeated myself after he had processed and owned the new facts. But Nana is losing all sense of who she was, who her kids are, if she even has kids. She questions why she is living in this house, the home she lived in with her husband and seven kids for nearly 50 years.

Nana has settled herself in her late teens and early twenties. When she looks at old photographs of herself and her not yet husband, and all their friends at parties, visiting Atlantic City from Washington D.C. and she can tell you all their names, where she bought the fabulous hat and what they ate for dinner at the crab shack. But she often doesn’t know my husband, can’t recall that he is married and has two kids; and that makes him sad.

I watched my mother, near the end of her life, not really altered by Alzheimer’s, but shot up on morphine, and anti-depressants to get her through her life after a stroke. She was very interested in going to the place where her parents and her cousin lived. Both my mother and her cousin Robert were only children and they were raised more as siblings than just cousins. My mom adored Robert, a few years older than she, and there are photos of her trialing after him with a look of adoration spread across her grimy little face. Robert was a Navel pilot, shot down over Tokyo Bay and never found. My mother kept a picture of him, all gap toothed grin, smiling out. As she got near the end of her life she was in her late twenties and waiting to go to a party where Robert and her long-dead parents would be in attendance. Kind of a wonderful notion. For my mother.

But tough for those who don’t seem to make it into your conscientiousness. It sometimes made me feel as if I was diminished in her eyes. Why didn’t she want to return to the time when I was little or, graduating from school, or giving her grandkids?

It made me wonder, into what time would I retreat? Young mother with baby children, carefree romps in fields as a child myself, producing plays, gardening. I can’t predict what time will most captivate me. And as I think about that notion, I try to continue to make incredible memories, so when the time comes to revisit whatever moments my inner projector chooses; I will have a giant bank from which to choose.

I am content that Nana has a place to retreat when times are tough; but I am sorry my husband feels so sad when he sees her and has to confront the realization that he and his brothers and sisters are often not a part of the place where Nana has gone.

Life and old age are not for the faint of heart.

>The Health Ostrich

>Is it just me? Or is everything we have to say or write about health embarrassing?

It seems wrong to be constantly complaining about how one aches, or does or doesn’t digest food, or feels dizzy or slow.

Maybe it is this: I have begun to assume that any malady effecting me, after 50 or after 55, is just me getting old. That’s the sum of the sickness and I just have to suck it up and get used to it.

Lately, this has turned out to be a terribly dangerous path.

I am chastened to say this, so here goes: For the last few months, really since November, I have been dizzy, really dizzy. The kind of wobbly where when I get up, I have to hold the wall. I have to take my Pilates classes and position myself near the wall. I have had to sit up in bed and focus on a point in the distance before getting up to go pee. And also embarrassing, I have been getting up wobbly every ninety minutes for the same three months.

I attributed ALL OF THIS to getting old or older. “Get used to it girl, and get on with it,” I counseled coldly. “OK so you will no longer have uninterrupted sleep. You did it with babies — you can do it now.”

Dizzy, NO you CANNOT STOP EXERCISING. You have to push yourself. DO more, not less. There goes that horrible Puritan part of me, not my mother’s Italian heritage, that says, YOU ARE LAZY, just do more!!!

And so I did. I cooked for 36 at Thanksgiving and kept up a frantic pace through Christmas and the New Year. I loaded wood and wrote and edited for a friend who had a stroke. I kept riding my bike uptown and downtown and I just got more unstable and tippy.

I went to the doctor for a check up and she did blood work that indicated I had an infection somewhere in my system. But I didn’t want to take antibiotics on a whim. I’ll beat this on my own I crowed. And two weeks later it was no better, really: IT WAS WORSE. And my doctor said, after the urine culture came back positive for infection, “OK, NOW YOU GO ON CIPRO! No more fooling around. What is the matter with you anyway? ”

I know the answer, but my doctor is 12 and I don’t think she’ll get it. I was trying to be tough, to make my body heal itself. That is one part of the answer, the other piece, and this is so sad: I thought this was who I had become with age and this was who I was going to be from now on. Another side effect of aging, like the white hair I color, or the less than vigorous body, which I attempt to tone up with exercise and occasional good eating. But the frequent visits to the loo, as the Brits say, well I was going to get used to that.

My doctor screamed at me, “Having to pee every ninety minutes is not frequent, that is insane. Having to stabilize yourself using a wall is crazy and not what it means to be middle aged. It is a sign you are ill, that you have an infection!”

And so I sheepishly rode my bike home from the doctor, went and filled my prescription and prepared to go back to work. WHAT? Well they are firing lots of people at work and it scares me that I may lose my job with the economy on the skids and a kid still in college. So I went back in until the February issue was sent to the printer. Then I went home and cooked dinner and today I rode my bike, not bundled well enough, to Pilates and now I am home writing in a big fluffy blanket feeling a little better. Thank You.

Tomorrow I am going to write, cull through magazines and eschew exercise, cooking, maybe even worrying and just give myself a well-deserved DAY OFF.

I need to recognize sooner when I am in trouble. health wise. I once shared with a close friend the sensation that I often couldn’t tell if I was upside down or upright. It was my way of conveying how confused I get with all aspects of life. When she moved last year from NYC to SF she gave me a small artwork done by a friend. It is a faux packing tag that reads, “This end up “ with an arrow that points down.

I have to move the tag to where I can see it and allow it to remind me that I can be just fine if I allow for the fact that middle-aged people do get sick and wobble and they recover. They return to stand up right with no grasping at walls. That is not my fate for the next 30 years or whatever I get.

I know too many people who are hypochondriacs, but the opposite is just as dangerous. I think I may be just old enough to take a moment to check out how I feel without it being about my failing middle aged health, but rather just a moment in time where I don’t feel too swift and I am going to get some well deserved help.