Category Archives: Medicine

Notes From X

My cat Güino loves pieces of Burger King’s Impossible burger as much as I do. I don’t have the heart to tell him it’s vegetarian. Yes, he speaks English, but only when I talk with a formal tone of English. (He’s a tuxedo cat, after all.)

Untrue fact: nipples are exclamation points in Braille.

I finally made it to 151 lbs, after weeks of trying to incrementally gain weight. My self-determined setpoint is 155.

True (But hard to believe) fact: you can lose up to 30% of your taste bud’s ability while flying. I won’t explain the three main reasons but it is fascinating. Flying while on mushrooms doesn’t count.

I’ve been subscribing to Everlywell’s at-home medical diagnostic tools. It’s allowed me to do an amazing array of testing that doesn’t cost me a fortune and gives me peace of mind. I did accidentally spray blood around the kitchen during one of my earlier tests. Evidently, you’re supposed to nick a finger rather than one’s jugular. My last test was for metabolism and its relevant testable components.

True fact: mace is made from the lining around nutmeg seeds. It is possible to get high from ingesting a lot of nutmeg. I tried to eat 74 slices of nutmeg-dusted custard pie (which I LOVE) and instead ended up with temporary diabetes and the ability to run to the bathroom faster than Flash.

True fact: the last letter added to our alphabet was “J” in 1524. Before that, the ” i ” was used for both sounds. This leads me to want to add other letters to the language, as English dropped a few along the way, which surprises people. Having said that, most Arkansans routinely drop several as they talk – and never bother to bend over and pick them back up.

My cape and mask gift provided a LOT of anecdotes. I’m not sure how to share them all. It was a total hoot. There were a couple of party-poopers about it, of course. Some people loathe others’ happiness, which is an unfortunate fact. But for some, I turned their disapproval in my favor by doing pirouette cape flourishes and magic tricks. My best trick was making the naysayers fall off my radar. One of my favorite moments was when two Latino construction workers were talking about me at the convenience store. I approached and told them in Spanish, “This cape allows me to understand and speak any language.” The looks on their faces were priceless. “Au Revoir and Auf Wiedersehen,” I told them as I spun, flourishing my cape and laughing.

The cape didn’t allow me to fly unless I’m experiencing a “Greatest American Hero” scenario. (That’s an old TV show for the whippersnappers reading this.) It did, however, give me a lot of joy and happiness – leaving me feeling like I was on Cloud 10, which is one cloud higher than the proverbial Cloud 9.

One more true fact: young children ask up to 300 questions a day.

A lesser-known fact is that a jealous wife or girlfriend asks 1000 questions an hour.

True fact: a woodpecker’s tongue wraps all the way around its brain. It’s a shame they can’t hold an ice cream cone, isn’t it?

Allegedly True fact: most of us spend a year of our lives on the toilet. I’m sure this is a low measure now, given how many go numb in the legs from scrolling social media and TikTok.

Untrue facts: Viking warriors wore helmets with horns. Completely untrue, although film and tv have cemented this false narrative into everyone’s brains.

I had more to say but I got sidetracked reading about all the things that people know to be true but are completely wrong.

“It was only when I bought a motorcycle that I found out that adrenaline is brown.” – Not my quote. 🙂

Love, X
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Making Me Me

Tomorrow marks two weeks since I started taking Lexapro. After three days on half doses, I increased it. It’s definitely starting to work. The old cliché, “It’s making me me again” definitely applies. It is both a blessing and a curse that it revives my ability to just tell people what’s on my mind. It’s both awkward and exhilarating to state my truth. A year ago, I never would have believed I’d be at less than 150 lbs, on the other side of a jolt to remind me that pretty much everything distills down to being a human being among other beings. We can dress it up and distract ourselves with subterfuge; at the end of the day, we’re left with the idea that finding meaning in ourselves and other people is the only way to live. I’m 19,956 days old. You’d think wisdom would come easily to me.

Love, X
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Levity & Lexapro

“It is a curious thought, but it is only when you see people looking ridiculous that you realize just how much you love them.” Agatha Christie

I posted this picture because it is one of the best ridiculous pictures of me I have. Coffee, happiness, love, youth: a recipe for the perfect life. I still have a great life and great people in it.

No, I’m not afraid of brain-eating zombies. For some reason, every year they ignore me and increasingly so as I get older. It’s a good lesson that there are benefits to failing to apply the lessons I’ve learned. I get to use the joke every year that if brain-eating zombies do invade, I’m going to run into a conference room full of middle managers. Zombies instinctively know that there aren’t any functioning brains in such a room.

“If you can’t beat them, arrange to have them beaten.” —George Carlin

“During the day, I don’t believe in ghosts. At night, I’m a little more open-minded.” – Anonymous. The same is true for the tricks my mind plays on me when I get anxious. As the night falls and the hour grows quiet, my mind stretches and starts its gymnastics. Being creative sometimes has its drawbacks, as it allows me to take a minor concern and let it blow like those billowing air devices at car washes. Last night, I took melatonin which previously had little effect on me. It brought strange dreams, one of which brought an infinite loop of the “Kiss From a Rose – Jesus Loves Marijuana” from the tv show “Community.” I woke up still hearing the song in my head. It’s a fitting song for the last day of October.

After waiting a bit too long, I went to the doctor Friday (finally!) and started taking 1/2 doses of Lexapro. Many months ago, the clinic told me to come in if I really needed to; when I did, my doctor was at another clinic and the other doctors deferred due to it being anxiety-related rather than a medical need. That’s when I immediately reached out for counseling. It bothered me a great deal that they’d turned me away when I was honest and said I needed to be seen. So few people just come right out and say so. I’ve watched so many people fail to be honest about what’s going on in their heads and lives; most choose alternate forms of self-medication.

I don’t want to sound ungrateful. I have insurance. Surgeons saved my life six weeks ago. I’ve lasted 16+ years in my job and I appreciate it in a way that I didn’t up until a year ago. This last year has been five years long. I’ve had so many great experiences despite the bad ones. There are some exceptional people in my life, some of whom were hiding in plain sight. They didn’t change and suddenly become open; I did.

My doctor didn’t really hesitate to prescribe me something less powerful, especially due to the fact that I’m seeing a counselor and seem to be very aware of how my body and mind react. He might not have thought so before my crazy weight loss journey and exuberant confidence about other areas of my life. Apart from all the other issues I’ve had with the clinic, the doctor told me again he had never seen a person just SAY they were going to be thin and just do it without any structured program or surgery. He told me to remember that it is an accomplishment worthy of maintenance. And that he fully expected my anxiety to be temporary. His certainty was a welcome addition to my medical visit. I joked that since medical bills were a part of my cyclical worry, that I appreciated his pro bono treatment. He laughed. For a brief second, I thought of Leslie Nielsen in “Airplane!” when he said, “You can tell me, I’m a doctor.”

You know that the doctor thinks you’re going to live a while longer when they agree to bill you. That’s optimism in action.

Due to my cousin’s advice, I refrained from hiding behind the door to scare the doctor this time, even though it’s Halloween. I wanted to take my stylish brown sheet and ‘ghost’ him, so to speak. Instead of leaning away from the truth, I told the doctor that I thought he might not appreciate the level of my anxiety if he based it on how much I LOVE a good laugh and how I interact with his staff. He told me that he learned a long time ago that people’s internal issues rarely intersect evenly with their personalities. I told him my feedback loop theory and he nodded. To make him laugh, I told him Ronnie Shake’s hilarious quote: “My doctor gave me two weeks to live. I hope they’re in August.” To his credit, the doctor did burst out laughing.

Walgreens committed another in a long line of unexpected and hard to believe messes. I switched to CVS – late on Friday afternoon, no less. There are several stories I’m omitting here for brevity. I’m just shaking my head about it.

Note: it’s not recommended to grind up and snort this sort of medication. Not because it makes it less effective, but it leaves people with the impression that coke is making a comeback. The protein powder I sometimes eat raw directly from the canister probably already sends the wrong message when it sticks in my mustache.

I’ll let y’all know how it’s affected me when I figure it out and it’s built up in my system. If you see me pretending to ice skate while wearing banana slippers, just wave and ask me to put some pants on.

I look forward to my old optimism kicking back into full gear. That I need a serotonin boost doesn’t embarrass me in the slightest. That brain-eating zombies don’t think I’m worth the effort bothers me a bit.

“The most powerful weapon on earth is the human soul on fire.” Ferdinand Foch

If this post rambled a bit, I’m okay with that.

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

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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

Tuesday, Life, And Me

I visited my primary care doctor this morning. Inexplicably, my appointment started 45 minutes later than it was supposed to. Due to C19 (thanks, Lynette, for the cool abbreviation), I had to wait in the parking lot, observing the spectrum of patients waiting to be called from their vehicles. That’s what gave me time to write my Stolen Beauty post. Since I arrived 1/2 an hour early, I called 30 minutes after my appointment. Drinking two nutrition drinks, two bottles of water, and two cups of coffee before leaving the apartment (one from Kum & Go) left me with a conundrum: public urination in said parking lot or going inside the covid perimeter to the bathroom. Luckily, the woman on the phone could hear that I was almost gargling with the need to go. The nurse and I had a long and fascinating conversation about hospital conditions, my journey toward losing all the weight, and a dozen other topics. She told me she’d been put in the position of being the only nurse on an entire wing before she left her last job at a hospital. She also encouraged me to hide behind the door in an attempt to scare the doctor. Again. I’m guessing we laughed thirty times while we talked. Laughter is the best medicine – and they’ll likely bill me for that too. 🙂

The notecard is one I left on the doctor’s table prior to his arrival. He laughed about that, too. No one found the other couple of witty messages I placed in the exam room. At least, not yet.

I did hide behind the exam room door to scare and/or startle him. I think he might have charted himself a reminder to check behind the door on the way in, though, because he cautiously opened the door and peeked around just as I surprised him. The doctor was in shock that I’d lost so much weight. During my last visit, I told him he’d never see me fat again. I asked him to chart it when I last saw him, because I knew then what no one else believed: I was done being overweight. Though unplanned, The Stay at the hospital left me about 90 lbs. lighter than the last time he’d seen me. I told him the story. He said, “Yours is the single biggest self-done transformation I’ve witnessed as a doctor.” Please forgive me if this comes across as humblebragging. I stopped taking my blood pressure medication shortly after I saw him last year. Yes, my blood pressure has been fantastic since I went below 190 lbs. He told me details about my procedure that I hadn’t known. A herniation happened around my appendix, an improbable combination. He couldn’t tell me if they removed my appendix, though. Because of the CT Scan in the ER, the surgeons expected a tumor or something horrendous. I never knew that. The area affected was minimal compared to what they expected. They gutted me and fixed it in record time. Biopsies and lab tests confirmed nothing suspicious. He said I might be able to return to work once the staples are removed from my abdomen. (Note: they don’t want you to keep them and make a commemorative necklace out of them. That’s disappointing!) The doctor and I talked for several minutes. We laughed several times, too. I’ll never forget last year when I told him that I was over wasting time gaining and losing weight.

I didn’t sleep well last night. But I did stand on the landing outside my apartment as the lightning, wind, and rain made their approach. I could feel its chilly proximity. When the sheets of rain reached me, I felt like I was the only person outside witnessing it. It was sometime after 1 a.m. It was beautiful. The clotted overhead gutters gushed water in torrents unidirectionally. I was glad to have witnessed it. Later, around 4:30, as I started my morning, I watched the lower water-laden branches of a tree cast witch shadows across the pavement, the movement resembling awkward stop-motion photography. After my doctor’s visit, I noted that the parking lot is increasingly awash in thousands of newly-fallen leaves. I said “Hello” to the hummingbirds, who’ll soon leave for the season.

Because of the cause and a friend always recommended it, I went to Peace At Home Thrift Store. I found a shirt that called my name. I had to cut the shoulder pads out of it, which indicates which section I found it in. And for a pittance, I bought several things that seemed like they needed to come home with me. One of them is a nice fleur-de-lis brooch inset with sparkling stones. The woman who helped me pick them out had on a cacophony of jewelry herself. She laughed when I said, “I don’t really wear jewelry.”

Because it’s so close, I had to celebrate the great doctor’s visit by going to Renzo’s and getting a Caprese salad. I liked Caprese before but discovered that Renzo’s connected the dots regarding what it is SUPPOSED to taste like. When I arrived at the apartment, I ate half of it with pleasure. You might have heard me yum-yumming with delight?

“Old keys don’t open new doors.” That’s true. But they unlock parts of our lives that need to be examined. Closed rooms are secrets, ones that occupy parts of our minds and hearts that need to be aired out. A house is meant to be lived in – and our minds are meant to be free and open.

This beautiful key was a gift. It hangs on the wall next to my stove.

P.S. IF all goes well, I might be able to return to work shortly after my staples are removed.

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.

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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.

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Another Life

I woke up this morning grateful to hear the birds chirping. Even at 2 a.m., when some miscreant biker needlessly revved his motorcycle with a cacophony to awaken the dead, I was happy. To be alive – and to not be confined to the hospital another night. Twice I awoke, worried that I had imagined my discharge or that I was trapped in a Groundhog Day cycle of never-ending hospitalization.

Washington Regional is about to loosen its visitor restrictions again. It was good practice before – and it’s a better practice now: do as much as you can to have someone with your friend or family member as much as possible to be an advocate for their care. With staffing issues and the seemingly impossible task of coordinating complex care and so many moving parts, one of the single best things you can do for your family member is to simply be an eye and advocate. It is possible to be kind to staff while aggressively pursuing good care for your friend or family member. Never apologize for being an advocate for your loved ones; good healthcare workers are humans too and will not resent your participation. And if they do? Trust your instincts.

I learned a lot of lessons while I was in the hospital. Some of them I’ll probably never write about. Though my eyes were open before being a patient, I’ll never be able to relapse back to ignorance about the challenges our healthcare system faces. For those great people who work hard to be both compassionate and medically competent, I can’t say enough to thank them. For the others, my words won’t have a positive impact on the problems. I’ll have to think about how best to translate much of my experience into a helpful narrative; criticism, even well-earned criticism, seldom lands how we want it to. This is true one-on-one, and more so with complex organizations.

I imagine that many of my experiences will find themselves buried inside jokes, mirthful anecdotes, and disguised narratives. Comedy is one of the best means to hide the truth in plain sight. Most great jokes are wrapped around a nugget of truth, no matter how brazen or outlandish. Here’s an inside joke, based on one of my experiences: “She didn’t fall out of bed. She climbed over and sat on the floor from a surprising height.”

For now, it’s Saturday. The breeze is cool and the birds are dive-bombing their food. I’m waiting on laundry to finish because, well, let’s face it: the laundry doesn’t care where you’ve been. It places its demands like every other mundane chore required of us. In a minute, I’ll carefully go down the flight of stairs into the dungeon to retrieve clothes. And I’ll be happy to do it.

Even the Zen masters have a saying: “Before enlightenment, chop wood, carry water. After enlightenment, chop wood, carry water.”

Each of us has to find a way to not only put one foot in front of the other without fail but also discover a way to find meaning and joy in the distractions.

I’m good.

I hope y’all are good too. I was reminded how much all of us need other people. Even those with tough exteriors need kind words and soft voices sometimes. Life wouldn’t be worth living without other people. I’ve had enough of Blake, though.

Love, X

P.S. I put a picture of my incision in the comments, so you can skip it if you wish. I’m currently working on a series of false and/or creative explanations for the scar I’ll have. I love scars; they remind us that we survived.
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Here’s a post from my social media from Friday morning….

It’s a good thing I’ve always had a wild imagination. Though I was allegedly a fall risk, I was left to get up and take care of myself these last few days. It is odd that the room they put me in overlooks my favorite place at the hospital. Below me is the gazebo, facing out toward the rustic farmhouse. It’s always been an escape and meditative spot. I have stood at the window three dozen times in the last two days, remembering how many times I stood at the gazebo. Sometimes watching the sunrise, sometimes waiting. Off to the right, I can observe the building I normally work in and the relentless comings and goings of daily commerce. The hospital is undeniably a business. But it’s powered by people and people need it to be made whole and healed. I am running toward the idea that I will be able to leave today. It’s possible that the ongoing and inefficient bureaucracy of the place might needlessly prevent that. Hopefully, sooner rather than later, I’ll be back here to work. The first thing I’m going to do, though, is to walk to the gazebo and look up, to perhaps find the window of the room I laid in. We all need people more than we like to admit. I’m already futurizing because that is optimism in action.

P.S. the surgeon’s nurse ripped off the bandage. The wound is really cool, bordered by an insane number of small staples. It avoided my belly button, something that was on my mind for some reason. I contacted my agent. He was so happy, because an unblemished belly button means that I’ll soon be gracing the underwear pages again.

Love, X.

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Here’s a post from my social media from Thursday…

I don’t have a catheter or an ngt tube anymore. (Old friends I never hope to see again…) The IV will be pulled sometime soon too, since I’ve been drinking a river of ice regardless. I haven’t eaten in 68 hours. The irony is that last Friday I started deliberately incorporating other foods into my diet to get my weight up to at least 155 or 160. Did I mention how good the Impossible Whopper was on Saturday? For the last few days I guess it has literally been impossible.

It is such a crazy coincidence that after 11 months of die-hard level commitment to health and healthy eating that something like this unexpectedly slaps me so hard.

I’m starting a clear liquid diet this morning, something that should have happened yesterday. I’ll be polite and skip all of that story for now. PS just because vodka is clear doesn’t mean it’s included in the diet.

I feel terrible for my coworkers, who are already strained from covid and absences. Some of us openly joke about how these kind of surprises and tragedies happen simultaneously. We rarely have enough help to do the job the way it needs to be done. I suspect this may be a universal symptom of our modern times- and the medical field in particular.

I have 2,342 stories already to tell about my incarceration, I mean my hospitalization. I’m glad to be alive to ponder them. But I am leaving here with a first-hand and profound education regarding healthcare. As much as I thought I knew before, this has been a true education.

I hope everything continues to go well and I get out of here. Because this is a bureaucracy, there’s no clear answer or straight path to getting that done.

Meanwhile I’ll continue to engage in a battle of amusement and wit with anybody who comes by. If they get snarky or out of control I usually have a mostly full urinal by the bedside. I’m guessing that it is very aerodynamic.

Thanks to everyone who reached out.

Life can still surprise me.

I hope I can still surprise myself.

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Seeing the Grand canyon and running a marathon might be great, but having my catheter yanked out will certainly be more memorable.

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Here’s a post from my social media from Tuesday…

An obstructed bowel jumped up at 3:30 yesterday and put me in the ER. I had emergency surgery early this morning around 1a.m. Worst pain of my life! I didn’t have time to be anxious or scared. PS no, this is not a Photoshop.

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A Deceptive Photo For This Post

I spent another afternoon painting everything. Well, not everything. The neighbor’s dog escaped. My quest to fill my life with color is proceeding like the General Lee across an unexpected levee. If that reference is too old for you, try this one: …like an NFL linebacker making his way to the pizza… or a housewife driving into a Target parking lot.

The Covid debate raged around me everywhere. I wish everyone could visit a full ICU-Covid unit and see how incredibly difficult this virus has made everyone’s lives. It’s easy for me to forget that not everyone shares my vantage point. For many people, it’s like imagining a war fought overseas; distant, disconnected. The truth is I find myself doing my part while simultaneously glancing away. Each day that passes, I hope that no one I know or love will need emergency care. The waits are incredible, and the misery is real for everyone, patients and family members. I have my opinion about BB&BBQ, Arkansas football games, and other social gatherings. But no one cares about my earned opinion. Instead of throwing my two cents in, I hope everyone can avoid Covid if possible. And if not, that it does not cut you or your family too profoundly as it lays its fickle finger across your life.

So that you know, I still go out in public. I wear a mask and try to avoid licking my fingers at random times. For me, my most significant exposure to Covid has been inside my allegedly safe bubble at work. Repeatedly. Even if I do everything right, I must work. It doesn’t stress me. It’s not because I fail to understand the risks. It’s because I’m at the mercy of everyone around me. The truth? I always have been. We all are. The sooner we realize it and act like our actions affect everyone around us will be a good day. While we’re at it, let’s make fundamental changes to our social policy and healthcare system so that no one will worry about medical care.

Until then, I’m going to get back to painting.

But I’ll be thinking about y’all and hoping we’ll all be safe. We won’t be. But I’m hoping.

Love, X

I Have A Question

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I’m still waiting for a reasonable, honest answer to this question: why did the State of Arkansas fail to require a Covid test for all healthcare workers?

You’ll note that the Governor goes out of his way to classify correctional carriers and other sectors. Notably absent? Healthcare workers – one of the single most important possible classifications to track.

It has always been in the public’s best interest to ensure that all healthcare workers are tested, yet proposals to do so have been unceremoniously shown the door like a drunken Uncle on New Year’s Eve.

We’re required to get flu shots each year, among other things.

We mandated that non-emergency patients be tested, yet did not conduct a baseline safety test to benchmark how many of the healthcare workers helping them might be carrying the virus.

Knowing how many healthcare workers have the virus would give us insight into the behavior leading to getting it. After all, healthcare workers are presumed to be the most cautious and educated about this sort of public health hazard. Their infection rate leads to immediate recognition of how well what we’re doing is working.

When I point this out to people, they get that recognizable and confused, puzzled look on their faces, the one that immediately indicates that they assumed that sort of thing had happened.

It hasn’t.

This kind of question falls under “public safety and worker safety” guidelines, so I of course am unconcerned about asking such a reasonable question publicly. I’ve asked it at least 500 times in the last two months.

I’m still asking.

It’s the right thing to do, even at this late date.
– X