Category Archives: Medical

Wrong About Much

I can be simple: “While the biological cause of covid is a virus, it only spreads because our social nature is embedded in us. There’s no cure for that, and if there were, it would be our end.” – X

I’ve taken each covid shot and booster as soon as it’s available. The science is clear: getting them reduces the likelihood of a more pronounced case if you get infected. We fought the same reluctance with the flu shot prior to covid’s arrival. Our contrary nature bedevils us, but it also keeps things interesting. I look at some people’s aversion to science or vaccinations differently than I once did. It’s not a question of intelligence; of that, I am completely sure.

It’s still true that a large number of people who are infected are asymptomatic. During the colder months, many people will think they have a cold or allergies. It’s often covid. Many people with symptoms ignore them – and that’s okay. Really. Whether they have misconceptions about the efficacy of covid shots, engage in conspiratorial theories about covid’s effects and origins, or simply see that it’s going to be around for a long time, it’s not irrational to feel that way. A lot of people just go on about life, and they either get better or don’t. We all rely on one another to keep each other safe, but our actions are always realized as individuals.

Studies that randomly test people reaffirm that at any given time, a lot of people test positive for covid whether they have symptoms or not. Each of these people comes into contact with hundreds of people daily, their spider web or potential exposures growing exponentially.

For most employers, masks have disappeared. In public? The same.

And that’s okay.

We are only as strong or as safe as our weakest link. That link? It’s all of us, unable to live our lives with love and seeing that we are so interconnected that any improvements or cures require all of us to actively work for it. We can’t even stop wars, so it’s no surprise that a medical emergency could have derailed us. Hell, we can’t even get a lot of people to use turn signals. On the other hand, the surprise of seeing where they decide to go at the last second is often a beautiful Pandora’s box.

Statistically speaking, you will be around many people who expose you to covid. There’s not much you can do. Knowing many people who undertook considerable change to limit their exposure – and got it anyway – I don’t want to sound like a pessimist. With covid, it’s obvious you can do everything right and still fail and get it. Watching people go about their day substantially proves we’re not doing everything right. Yes, that includes me, but I recognize my own grasp of known science compared to the practicality of attempting to limit a disease that lies at the crux of being social.

I had covid not too long ago, and then I got my fifth covid shot. Yesterday, I woke up to sniffles. I felt like a million dollars, which I characterize as feeling like I’m a human battery. I checked my temperature and found I had a fever. The sniffles worsened, so I tested after work.

Yes, covid positive again.

Maybe I shouldn’t have tested. Many don’t. It’s no worse than not testing regularly or having a nationalized system to randomly monitor unknown infections. I know how that sounds, written that way. But it’s a lesson I have learned pragmatically and in observance of a couple of years of real human behavior. I would not want to knowingly infect someone else. That recognition should be contrasted with people’s decisions not to get shots, or to test, or to attribute their symptoms (or lack of, for that matter) to allergies, a cold, or just feeling tired. Not everyone is lucky enough to work somewhere where they don’t lose a piece of their paycheck if they test positive. As for me, I’d much rather be at work, around people, and contributing. It’s certain that as covid continues, our policies will change as the cold compresses into smaller spaces sharing the same air. Practicality will bend policy, just as it did when covid jumped up and caught us unprepared. Lord, the things we did!

The psychology of people is what fascinates me. They worry about covid yet actively work and walk in public without masks, social distancing, etc. They grocery shop and attend events wherein large groups of people participate. Even if you are actively engaging in behavior that limits your exposure, it is a certainty that you are being exposed repeatedly. At work. At the convenience store. At the theater, sporting events, and concerts. If you’re not testing regularly, you may have had it and been an exposure yourself. Any behavior that puts you into contact with people is a potential exposure, not just the ones you know of due to a covid test. If you’re not testing regularly (which isn’t really practical on a national level), you’re only able to feel like you haven’t infected anyone simply because you are unaware.

In my case, I tested much more frequently than anyone else I know. Not because I was afraid of covid, but because I wanted to feel confident that I was not the source – and that it seemed like the right thing to do absent a system that encouraged all of us to do so. I did the best I could to cure my ignorance as to whether I might be spreading it. Because I sure as hell wasn’t limiting my social behavior as covid allegedly winded down. I hate sounding haughty or self-satisfied, but I do keep it in mind when I hear people express concern about getting it who didn’t take the time or money to test as regularly as I did during the bulk of the pandemic. Fear of getting it, a sincere fear, to me, means you’ll reciprocally do what is necessary to avoid being the one giving it. I wasn’t kidding when I say I don’t know anyone personally who tested more often than I did.

And that’s okay, too.

We’re social creatures. We hug, we eat, we touch. And we breathe the same air.

As for me, everyone who knows me well knows I am a world-class hugger. I can’t imagine a world wherein that wasn’t the case.

You can’t avoid covid. You are welcome to try.

I won’t complain as long as those who do remember that every single point of human contact is an exposure. There’s no practical way around it. If you are breathing their air, you are sharing all their invisible bacteria and viruses. It’s always been this way and obviously always will be.

We were lucky covid wasn’t the catastrophe it could have been.

As for me, I’m optimistic.

People’s behavior in the face of covid fascinates me endlessly.

I had the advantage of being in the medical hotseat when it blossomed. I watched as people verbally warred over its causes, its reality, and its treatment. Covid ended many lives prematurely.

At the center of it all is the fact that we are social creatures.

There is no cure for that. At least, I hope not.

Please don’t “at” me with anything other than an agreement that you understand that being around people is an agreement that anyone can have covid – or that you can, too, and not even know it. Short of locking yourself in a self-contained safe room in a contamination suit, you’re being exposed routinely. Even from those who’ve been fully boosted, from those who haven’t, and from those who look and sound perfectly healthy. You can worry about it all you’d like. But if you’re not in the aforementioned safe room by yourself, you are agreeing that being social is the risk you’re willing to take every day.

I don’t like the sexual analogies some use to compare covid. Sexuality is voluntary and expressed with one individual (Well, in most cases. Let’s not get crazy here!). You’re accepting the risk for yourself and responsible for your behavior. Covid is a disease that transmits omnidirectionally without other participants realizing it. That’s the social truth of these diseases. We rely on each other, just like we do when we drive the crazy streets with the assumption that the other driver is paying attention, not under the influence, and not ready to meet their maker.

All of us owe a huge debt to medical research and medical care itself. It’s easy to forget the pyramid of discoveries that have prolonged our lives. I don’t have to wonder ‘what if’ about the vaccines. I’ll never know. And I’m happy to be able to say that.

PS Remember that I’m not dead yet. I still have it penciled in for 2034. You’ll know it’s my time because I’ll probably be on the news: “local man dressed as a superhero can’t fly after all.”

Love, X

PSA Personal And True

Despite some of my missteps, I’m still not a fan of secrecy. It leads to all sorts of behavior, much of it counterproductive. I learned the hard way! Which seems to be the way I learn everything. I’m using the word “learn” very loosely here.

When I talked about anxiety and taking Lexapro, this social media platform restricted my account a few months ago. Given the content I see, I’m still perplexed by this.

I can only imagine what this post might trigger. It’s personal and honest. And maybe a little irreverent. I have a sense of humor about it, just as I do with everything else.

About 50-80% of adults have oral herpes (HSV), a virus that we usually know as cold sores. Another 16% have been diagnosed with HSV2, the kind that typically hits below the belt. Many more have it, as they are either asymptomatic or the symptoms aren’t apparent. There is no cure. Over time, most people tend to have fewer symptoms. Women in particular often have it without any visible signs given their anatomy.

I have HSV2. I recently used Everlywell at-home testing to confirm it again. It doesn’t usually have any serious medical complications. There are exceptions for some people.

Most of the people who have it don’t talk about it. That’s a problem for a lot of reasons. The principal consequence is that so many people don’t tell their potential partners. Additionally, most people don’t get tested for STDs, or even have their yearly blood tests for the spectrum of other possible diseases or illnesses. Testing for STDs is essential for sexually active adults. So many people have one without being aware. No one likes to imagine that a partner might be infected; either the potential partner knows or doesn’t. It’s on you to be proactive, no matter how phenomenal someone looks standing next to the fireplace while wearing a come-hither look in the dim light from the Bed, Bath, And Beyond candles on the mantle.

If you are wondering, you can get herpes of any kind even when you’re with someone who has no symptoms. Even if you are careful and use protection. Using contraception as an example, none is 100% effective. As I’ve personally learned, being ugly isn’t a guarantee, either. Someone will look at you with fire in their eyes. It’s one of the most complicated parts of being a human being. We superficially talk about it, of course, but few people are direct about how important this side of private life is. It’s possible to have a fulfilling life without sexual expression, but it’s one I couldn’t imagine. I can listen to only so much NPR.

If you have an STD, it is the least you can do to have an uncomfortable conversation with your partner before engaging in the horizontal mambo. Such discussions will likely be awkward. All important ones are. It’s possible to avoid transmission to a long-term partner. But it is equally valid to remember that nothing you do is 100% safe. Your libido will lead to a satisfying sex life if you’re lucky. Any potential partner worth having will be glad you took the time to allow them to make an informed choice. Giving someone an STD is the best example to prove why “it’s better to give than to receive” is problematic.

Suppose you want to test without the embarrassment of going to the doctor? In that case, you can use a service such as Everlywell to test yourself for all manner of medical conditions affordably, STDs included. It’s better to know the truth than to risk someone else’s health.

I know what you’re thinking. No matter how attractive someone is, they likely have something for you to worry about, not the least of which is bad credit and a penchant for being best friends with their exes. Hopefully, an STD won’t be an additional worry. If you haven’t had comprehensive blood testing and an STD test in a while, you owe it to yourself to do it.

You can get back to Chad or Suzanne afterward. Or Chad and Suzanne if that’s your thing. No judgment here.

Love, X

PS Yes, I will say anything on social media.

Washington Regional Rebranding Idea

Infrequently, I try to use my endless ideas to create something ‘serious.’ I hate that word, as it needlessly demarcates life into impossible categories. I’m both ridiculous and contemplative – as most people are.

For years I’ve thought that Washington Regional Medical System needed both a new logo and a new name, one that reflects simplicity, recognizability, and appropriateness. The hospital system is flung across multiple counties, with dozens of clinics. As it has grown, the “Washington” part increasingly becomes a misnomer, especially as it encroaches on other systems in the area.

The name I invented is pronounced “Regional Plus.” The logo is just the word “Regional” with a symbol that uses the essential foundation of the complicated logo it utilized for years. It’s simple, recognizable, and has a plethora of built-in marketing potential. I’d rather have the word “Regional” be purple, too, but I used a nondescript gray to keep the suits and ties happier. Additionally, my proposed rebrand fits on t-shirts, badges, and marketing materials – something the longer current one does not. It will save a LOT of space on signs, too.

“At Regional +, we’re not just a hospital, we’re a hospital plus.”

It doesn’t take a lot of imagination to extrapolate dozens of such marketing phrases. Naturally, I have several funny ones, too, but I’ll leave them for later.

I shared it with marketing and a few other people and didn’t get a response. Crickets.

The weird thing? Without evidence, I see this logo becoming the new one for the hospital.

Tell me that mine isn’t better and I will shut up.



Four Weeks

Four weeks ago today I woke up briefly at 6 in the morning. I had an NG tube, a catheter, an IV, and a spider web of other connections to machines. I was alive and the horrible spasmic muscle pains in my abdomen were gone, replaced by a strange feeling of void in my body. It feels like it was both yesterday and a year ago. As I walk the neighborhoods this morning, I’m grateful that my feet are capable of walking all these miles only a month later. I’m greedy for many more. It’s very dark here in suburbia, as close as I am to College Avenue. I can barely see the asphalt in front of me. I trust my feet to find their way. I’ve surrendered to the idea that no matter what we do, life always gets the last word and laugh.Love, X

Wednesday Wins

I parked at the Harp’s on Garland as I evaded the ongoing renovations to the store and parking lot. Getting out of the car and walking along the front of the building, I greeted one of the workers in Spanish. We traded comments and barbs. He pretended to hand me a shovel and said in Spanish, “If you want me to have a good day, you can have this.” I laughed as I pulled my shirt out of my waistband, revealing my exposed scar. “¡Me ganaste!” he said, even as he laughed. Yes, I did win that round.

I walked the long, challenging hills in the area, taking in the houses, plants, and people. If you want to feel your legs burn, try N. Hall Avenue or Vista off of Wedington. It was sublime, as the rising sun was overcast by clouds that diffused the light that you can only find in October. As I passed a yard whose perimeter was overgrown, I attempted to take a picture of a fox or coyote as it darted into the browning bushes with the red flowers. Its head is barely perceptible in the shadows.

I was grateful that I’d slept so well the night before; I didn’t stay at my apartment last night, and I’m thankful I didn’t. Despite seeing a counselor again yesterday for the first time in a while, anxiety crept up my spine like an imperceptible shadow. No matter how people sell you the idea of solitude, loneliness is its undesirable first cousin. People struggle against the notion that people flourish the most when they have people in their lives. I love introspection, reading, and writing. There’s a vast chasm between having people available and choosing solitude, though.

When I finished my long, circuitous walk, I passed a Razorback bus stop. A couple of dozen students were waiting impatiently. Almost all of them were staring down at their phones. When I exited Harps, I put my food in the tiny trunk compartment and left through the back parking lot, looping around the side road. On a whim, I stepped out and said, “Does anyone want a ride to campus?” I didn’t expect anyone to accept. Surprisingly, several people looked around at each other, wondering if they’d be judged for saying “Yes.” I said, “Despite how small this car looks, I can hold three of y’all in here.” Two guys and one girl stepped away from the pack, shrugging. I reached over and unlocked all my doors, as my car is manual everything. They hopped in. I said, “If you do not want to go to the same drop, talk among yourselves and decide where to go first.” They chattered away as I waited at the traffic light at the bottom of the long hill up to campus. They decided to all get out at the same building. As I drove, the girl explained to one of the riders in the back seat that she only had a slim laptop because she had photographed every page of her textbook. The two guys both had backpacks perched on their laps. “That’s genius,” one of them said. Indeed, it was. As I pulled up to the sidewalk to let them out, they thanked me. Though they probably waited for the bus without any enthusiasm, they’d been granted extra minutes for the morning. I hoped they used them well.

People ask me why I prefer old headphones instead of modern earbud ones. Part of it is comfort. But having wired ones allows me to accidentally drag everything out of my pocket clumsily when I pull my phone out. I’ve tried a few sets of wireless earbuds; so far, none have worked magic for me. It could be worse. I could choose to go old school and use a boombox. I’m not quite a boomer, though.

I have a couple of weird side effects from my surgery. One of them is an odd indentation a few inches above my belly button. The other is a valley where the scar sits. I’m eating much better, but I’m still at 150 lbs. No matter how active I am or optimistic, it’s hard to forget that surgeons removed a section of my bowels. It’s a special kind of vague anxiety that only those who’ve had it would understand.

Though I’d rather have never had surgery, I love the deepening scar. It’s a reminder that anything can happen at any time, a lesson I thought I’d mastered years ago. I was wrong. If anything might happen, it also encompasses moments of surprise and pleasure. Though I walked alone this morning, I saw beauty and felt the air around me. And by risking a bit of social awkwardness, I briefly talked to three optimistic students, all of whom are looking to the future. They probably don’t know how strenuously life will challenge them. And that’s a good thing on this October morning. There’s time for that later. Much later, I hope, for all of them and myself.

Love, X

Weight & Exercise Thoughts

(A long read, of course! 🙂 ) 

“Your body reflects what you do habitually.” I’d add, “Your life is the same.”

Choices. Habits. Focus. 

Stupid buzzwords that also are true. There’s no magic formula for most of it. It’s just consistency and using our intelligence and creativity to let our bodies do what they are supposed to. It also requires silencing that negative voice in your head. You are not your past or your past choices, even though that’s precisely what most of us think when we’re alone with our thoughts. Life would be staggeringly bad if we believed that we were incapable of striking out on a new path. I look at my hands each day and find it impossible to think that I bit my fingernails for 50+ years. It’s stupid. I look back at my pictures, and even during years when I was appreciative of life, I can’t help but wonder how much more life I could have experienced if I’d woken up sooner. I can’t recapture those years, but I can tuck them away as a constant reminder. 

I’m a few days away from my original year-long health/weight plan. My brother died on October 5th of last year. Following that, I had the morning where I thought I had covid and felt like I would die. It seems like five years ago. But I still feel the gong of that day in my head when I remember ‘seeing’ my new self. Over the last several months, I’ve worked on reading, watching, and absorbing as much science-based material that I could about health, weight maintenance, and exercise. For me, it is painfully obvious why most people fail in their efforts. 

I know people read some of my thoughts and wonder why I feel like I can give advice. All of us have our moments and experience. I know what I learned and what worked for me. Almost everything can be boiled down to wanting to change and then experimenting with what I thought I knew versus what works. I can’t help but be a little evangelical about it because not a day passes when someone doesn’t express a desire to get control of this aspect of their lives. I’m insistent on telling them that they can, even if they do so, without disrupting their days with crazy programs and “musts” that don’t hold up to science. Major change can be achieved incrementally, one little choice and habit at a time. 

I started on June 1st with pushups. Within weeks, I was doing hundreds a day, culminating in me doing 1,500 some days. That makes me laugh. A week before my emergency surgery, I decided to limit myself to 500 a day for maintenance and modify my diet to add protein and more calories, in part to shift to more muscle-building. How ironic that I’d made the shift just three days before my surgery on Monday, September 13th. It is unfathomable to me that it’s been only three weeks. For anyone who doesn’t know, my surgery didn’t result from overexertion. I had a tiny bit of scar tissue that caused my intestinal loop to get lodged in the void created by the scar tissue and cut off. The only way I could have ‘caught’ it would have been to have a colonoscopy very recently; even then, surgery would have been required. 

The surgeons look out the small loop. Pain saved my life, even though I will never forget rolling around on the cement floor of the ER for hours. Being thin made my recovery incredibly faster. Since then, I’ve followed the advice of surgeons and nutritionists. I’ve used dumbbells relentlessly so that my transition back to work will be less eventful. What happened to me could happen again – or to anyone. I’m thankful it wasn’t a tumor, a heart attack, or an aneurysm. After I woke up alive, I found out that my initial CT Scan had a mass that looked indistinguishable from a tumor. The surgeons thought it was going to be a complicated surgery. They were surprised to find it was straightforward. Life’s lottery gave me a pass for another day. 

In a nutshell, here’s the gist: the simplest way to stay thinner is to control what you put in your mouth. (Sounds obvious, doesn’t it?) Beyond that, move around, preferably with activity. But while you’re at it, get rid of the idea that you have to artificially block off time or engage in rigorous (and likely boring) traditional exercise. Walk your dog, cat, or opossum, vacuum, play frisbee, walk across long parking lots instead of hovering by the door. Be creative. 

Anywhere from 75-90% of every calorie you burn is from just living. You burn 10-20% of your calories exercising at most, and that’s pushing it. Yet, most people jump into health kicks thinking exercise is the critical component. It’s not. Controlling your diet and maximizing your ability to consume and burn calories when you’re not moving is key to any long-term weight maintenance routine. Since most of your calories are burned from everyday living, the biggest bang for your time is derived by taking the effort to control what goes into your mouth. The second biggest results from moving, no matter how you choose to do so. 

Exercise is essential for a lot of reasons. But you’re going to have to get over the mindset that it’s the single solution to weight maintenance. You’ll note that most healthy people incorporate activity into their everyday lives. It does not need to include weight-lifting, running, or other dedicated activities. If you enjoy those things, knock yourself out! If you don’t, find something that works for you – things that don’t cost you a fortune, injure you, or make you resent activity. We have so many options to entertain ourselves. 

Most people don’t stick to unnatural attempts to exercise. Much of the gym universe is predicated on taking financial advantage of people’s inability to stick to life changes that become habits. All that time you spend driving to and from the gym would be much better served walking or finding ways to stay active during your day. (IF you’re not going to stick to it long-term, I mean) And if you do enjoy the gym, by all means, go! If you find that the routine of the gym galvanizes you into continuing with exercise, don’t think I’m saying it’s a waste. It’s not. Any routine that works for you is worth the effort, no matter what it is. If you’re willing to learn new comfort zones, you’ll more likely stick to what works for you. Don’t worry about what everyone else is doing. 

And if you don’t, find inexpensive equipment to achieve the same result at home. Most of us are not athletes. Feel free to run if you want to. But a 180-lb person burns about 170 calories running a 10-minute mile. You burn roughly 100 calories walking a mile. This isn’t a cardio-versus-exercise post. The point is that if you commit to a sustainable diet and activity, you’ll be more likely to be successful. Sheer bouts of willpower don’t work very well. And they contribute to that creeping feeling of failure or disappointment when you fall off the wagon. 

Quit fighting the science that tells us that slower-paced exercise yields almost the same benefit as intense bouts of bone-wearying exertion. If you do activity or exercise that builds muscle, you’re going to burn more calories when you do give in and sit on the couch. You don’t have to spend an hour at a time to get healthy. However, you have to commit to making habits that make staying fit and healthy an inevitable consequence. Taking six ten-minute walks yields almost the same health benefit as an hour-long walk. 

If you do build muscle mass, you’ll burn a lot more calories than by simply losing weight. It’s one of the reasons you need to keep in mind that muscle will increase your weight and keep you healthier and adjust your metabolism. And you’ll look better and feel better. I’m not anti-weights at all. I’m anti-starting-what-you-can’t-always-continue-to-do. Every activity you choose pushes other alternatives out. If you’ve got the time and stamina for weight training, that’s great! I don’t want you blaming your perceived ‘failure’ for not going to the gym. You don’t need a gym if you have the motivation to do things differently. 

Recently, someone I know was lamenting that she hadn’t “went to exercise the entire week.” I asked, “But if you’re at home on the couch, you can do 1,000 exercises. Pushups, dumbbells, walk in place, run in place, etc. If you can watch four hours of tv, you can definitely do 30-60 minutes of activity – and still watch tv while you do it.” She looked at me blankly, knowing I’d eviscerated her excuse. “Yes, but a couple of those evenings I was at sporting events or with a friend.” I paused. “Okay, but you can still do a lot of activity when you’re at a sporting event or a friend’s house. Or, heaven forbid, while you’re working. Instead of getting out your phone, do sets of exercises. How is that any ruder than ignoring your friend while you’re on the phone? You can still talk to your friend even if you’re on the floor doing pushups. You have to normalize your choices and stop normalizing your excuses.” My sermon was over. 

Use incrementalism to achieve the same objective without devoting your precious time to artificially forcing yourself to exercise. If you can’t do it the rest of your life, you’re making it worse for your future self. 

Pick something you know you don’t need. Doritos, for example. Eat less of them. Just that tiny step will, over time, reduce your weight and improve your health. Keep adding small changes by choosing differently. If you’re not hungry, stay out of the kitchen. If you can, don’t bring home things that you know you can’t resist. Use them as treats rather than staples. In our world, there are so many options we can choose from instead of empty calories. You’re not going to get where you want to be by doing the same things; change is mandatory. 

It’s day one for you, rather than “one day.”

Keep moving. Eat less. 

Find ways to make food both enjoyable and rational. If you don’t choose to do this, your hard choices are already made for you – and the person you’ll be next year will have to deal with your current inability to focus. 

Food is not going to stop being delicious. Food manufacturers are beyond incredible at what they do. They design foods that make you want to eat more. Don’t feel wrong about being normal and loving such foods. Feel bad that you know it and won’t choose a different way to react. 

So what if you binge on terrible foods? It’s more about the arc of your effort than a single day. Eat a large pizza or a pan of lasagna. A single day’s extravagance will not derail you. It’s all mental. 

Choose your hard until it becomes easy. 

I’m just a few days away from October. I started my journey and promised myself I’d take a hard look after a year. Despite having surgery, I’m more convinced than ever that I’ll never be fat again. 

It’s just math: keep my intake lower than my exertion. It’s not much of a secret formula, is it? You already know all of this. 

WW, Jenny Craig, and the hundreds of other programs are out there if you need them and if they work for you. But it is entirely possible to achieve your goals without paying for an extra program. 

The secret is a desire to be the person you want to be and find a way to get there. 

Put it into literal action. 

Love, X


P.S. Yes, that picture behind me is of a monkey seeing my reflection in the handheld mirror..

Kudos For Donna

As part of my after-care, a Blue Cross case manager called me yesterday. We talked for an hour. You’re going to think I’m kidding, but it was like talking to a Grandmother and friend I never knew I had. She was engaging, personal, and we talked about a lot of things other than my health. I hope she’s rewarded for this kind of outreach. I would not have imagined that someone from such a large bureaucracy could be so personal. Because she’s a nurse, was on a ventilator in the hospital due to covid, and knows the medical system as well as anyone could, she also allowed me to openly discuss the mess we face when our health falters. She should be the face and soul of Blue Cross. As much fun as I have poking at organizations, she deserves recognition.

Love, X

Once In A Lifewhile

Yes, I know I look tired in the picture. But I did sleep last night and woke up grateful again.

I sat with a borrowed cat this morning, its purr against me, slitted eyes sleepily pondering me, and my fingers languorously scruffing its neck. An empty coffee cup was in front of me, its contents too hastily enjoyed. It’s going to take a while for me to fail to appreciate making a cup when I want one, perhaps even a lifewhile, a word that appeared in my head as I stood outside feeling the chill of the morning.

I’d taken out the trash and threw it on top of the unimaginably overfull dumpster. I couldn’t convince myself that it had only been a week since I used my extermination kit to spray the dumpster; it’s a duty I took on to control the ridiculous fly problem. It seemed like a metaphor was at play. I wandered around the outlet of the apartment simplex, observing the distant roll of clouds against the early morning horizon.

My surgeon and hospital team forgot to include work notes or restriction information in my packet; I suppose my five follow-up reminders weren’t a sufficient hint. By sheer accident, my supervisor Joe was standing in the room when I noticed the oversight. He’s accustomed to the complexities and holes in medical care. “I guess I’ll be back at work Monday,” I said. We laughed. I wish I were returning to work tomorrow.

I’m supposed to maintain a routine and stay active. While in the hospital, though I might not have said so before, I did the breathing exercises 100 times a day and walked a thousand loops in the hallway without assistance. The worst thing physically I had to do was to shower myself without help. Not only because I had a massive hole in my abdomen, but because they’d left the IV in the inside of my left elbow, making safe flexibility on that side of my body impossible. I can’t stress enough how HARD that was, but I knew I would go without a shower for a week if I didn’t.

For all of y’all who are concerned, I am “taking it easy.” But I am not laying down or sitting needlessly. I’m working on a plan to reset my diet. Even before The Stay (as I refer to it now), I was formulating an effective way to gain weight. It made me nervous about getting on the scale once I was back at the apartment. My weight had dropped to 142 by Friday afternoon. For those with inside knowledge of my stay, they’ll tell you that I fought tooth and nail to get substantive nutrition and a plan of action; the bureaucracy of care cost me two days of what amounts to starvation without dehydration. Unbeknownst to me, someone who shares a weight loss journey with me was just about to reach out and lovingly tell me to pull up a bit before I had posted my intention to gain some weight back. It’s amazingly easy to take advice from someone who has walked the path themselves – without feeling attacked or defensive.

Even the hydration cost me constant vigilance, though. I still hear the alarms and claxons of the empty bags when I sit in silence. One of the secrets of a hospital stay is that staff will ignore alarms with steadfast consistency. If the person coming in to silence your alarms isn’t assigned to you, they will turn it off without much concern about whether it’ll be refilled or restarted. This includes scenarios whether you’re getting normal saline, anti-seizure medication, antibiotics, or any other drug. Call lights are hallway illumination until someone is ready to acknowledge them. You can’t take it personally. You have to learn to play the game of attention and leverage. It’s unfortunate, but one that no one in the system will possibly deny. This is another reason you need to have someone with you if you’re in the hospital. I have suggestions on how to make a game out of it, too, if you’re interested. This will keep the men occupied, assuming you can get them up and into the hospital room with you.

While in the hospital, I got a teddy bear, a t-shirt, a bag of suckers, flowers, activity books, a few visitors, 357 calls, messages, and well-wishes, all of which I appreciated immensely for one reason or another. AND one request to have something done with my face while I was already in the hospital.

PS A lifewhile is an indefinite length of time characterized by the unease of knowing something significant has shifted yet beyond our perception. In this case, my attacker was unseen in its approach. As I speed away from Tuesday at 1 a.m. when my surgery started, I’m accumulating lessons. The biggest ones are trite and already well-known: people are essential, and life is limited. A lesser-known one is that life is always casting its net out in the world, regardless of who you are or what you’ve accomplished. Your checklist can be full or empty when it snares you.







I took the above picture to capture that strange shoulder bone protuberance. I could feel that another layer off my body had melted during my hospitalization.