Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Matters of the Heart

I don't know if I made the right call. Don't know if what I did was the kind, responsible thing to do or the sentimental, ultimately pointless thing. Won't know for a while. Have a feeling the guilt and worry is going to bother me for longer.

Here's the thing: I love my animals. I'm generally a dog person, but I honestly love the vast majority of animals. Can't claim a strong affinity for rats, but I'm not out to get them either. Having said that, I am also a realist. I don't "baby" my pets in the stroller, outfits, and real bed sort of ways. I take the best care I can of them, but I also treat them like the animals they are. Reliable, caring, professional boarding? Absolutely. Doggie ice cream before bed and an armchair to sleep on? Um, no.

Bubba is sick. Really sick. It happened last night after supper -- fast. He was suddenly restless, drooling, breathing heavily, trying unsuccessfully to vomit. I felt his stomach and it seemed full of air. In the two minutes it took me to find the number for the emergency vet his abdomen had swelled a third more and was hard. By the time we got him to the vet he was already in shock. It was a classic case of bloat, the dreaded sudden condition which can cause death very quickly if not treated in time. X-ray, IV, tube down the throat... Boo and I served as the lab techs.

Bubba and his ducky
Today Bubba was transferred to the area critical care and surgical unit. Further tests showed a stomach which was twisted and folded over on itself. The only options were immediate surgery or euthanasia. Given the potential costs of surgery and after care, given the fact that Bubba is a mutt who is in the beginning stages of hip dysplasia and joint fractures, I wrestled with the decision. He's 7(ish; he was a rescue, so we don't know for sure). He may or may not be overcome with terrible pain from the other bone issues and need to be euthanised within a year or so anyway. He may have 5-6 years of good life ahead of him. And the money... The money is of course an issue. The vets were very sympathetic and supportive, but I had approximately 10 minutes to make the decision. I messaged furiously with Jasper. I prayed.

We opted for the surgery.

Because although the practical thing was euthanasia, my heart couldn't take it. This dog helped save me when I was at my worst post-op. This dog has helped walk off frustration, loved me when I wanted to be left alone, irritated me beyond measure occasionally, and always demanded that I care for him. Which has meant I couldn't sit around and be miserable all the time. Because when you take on the care of an animal, you have a responsibility to that animal. So even when the house was empty and all I wanted to do was sit and sob, I had to take Bubba for a walk. And that might not have physically saved my life (although the exercise surely didn't hurt!), it did help save my bigger, non-physical life. I owe him.

Which might all be sentimental drivel; I don't know right now. Oh, God. Forgive me if I've done the irresponsible thing!

Bubba is out of surgery but still in intensive care. We won't know if he's going to make it for a few more hours. I'm just hoping and praying for peace and the best thing for Bubba, whatever that is.

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

What Not to Wear, Redux

Listen. I've always had a bit of a funky edge to my dressing. Turquoise Chucks and prairie skirts, blue hair and curls, emerald green toenails and anything. Professionally, I generally keep things calm, and always try to dress appropriately. Now at age 44 and sporting a stoma, I'm having to redefine my style.

And I'm not really good at it. I've never been one to spend hours and hours on my clothes, hair, or make-up. Okay, truth time: I was a teen in the 80's. I spent HOURS on my hair. But for the rest, not really. I tend to wear what I like, what I'm comfortable wearing, and what works for whatever I'm doing at the moment. But many of my go-to standards don't work with the stoma: most jeans cut across it too close, belts are uncomfortable, sheath dresses allow too much of the bag to show, etc. So I've been looking a lot at different styles and options, wondering how to go about choosing a new look which I'm still comfortable wearing, can still funkify as needed, and which won't break the bank.

Did I mention I've been doing a lot of looking? Looking, but not buying. Because I hate shopping. Really, really hate shopping.

Yeah, I'm pretty much a Style Icon.

My idea of High Style...
The funny thing is this: I am more comfortable and happy living in my body now than I ever have been, stoma and beginning wrinkles and middle-aged thighs and all. Which means I am in a perfect position to respond to one of the Facebook Most Hated Shares from this week: "24 Things Women Should Stop Wearing After Age 30." (Or you could just check out this response at Warning: Curves Ahead, which is my favourite of the many already posted; language warning for those who are sensitive to that sort of thing.)

So here are some tongue-firmly-planted-in-cheek thoughts on 24 Things People Under 40 Should Never Wear, based (loosely) on the original article:

24. Vintage graphic tees: I don't care how hip you are, or how many stories you've heard or retrospectives you've watched. You weren't there, you don't get it. It's a 40+ thing. You can rip my "I'm a Pepper" tee off of my cold, dead body. (You'll have to dig through six feet of dirt and crack the coffin lid, because I intend to be buried in it.)

23. Um, the whole bedazzled thing. Pretty much anyone can pull this off if they have enough sass. Except for ignorant opinions about bedazzling, which really don't bedazzle me that much.

22. Blue eyeshadow: As mentioned above, I was a teen in the 80's. Don't even attempt to lecture me about blue eyeshadow, and don't ever think anyone can pull it off better than we did when we applied it while dancing to the B-52s.

21. Victoria's Secret Pink: Take your own advice, missy. I'll rock my not-so-grannyish Vanilla Blush stoma undies, thank you.

20. Leopard print: Only completely fabulous Elizabeth Taylor-esque women can pull off larger quantities of this off at any age. Mostly because she actually looked like a WOMAN at all her ages past 15. If you still resemble a cute girl-child, don't even think about a small dose of it.

19. I'm sorry, how much have you traveled? Because there are all sorts of sparkly, shiny pants all over the world which don't meet with the very US-centric vision presented. Please don't lecture an entire world population based on your very limited life experience. I think Queen Maxima pulls them off quite nicely, thank you.

18. Oversized sunglasses: Clown-sized sunglasses are not meant to be worn seriously, or even ironically. Just for funsies. People under 40 tend to take themselves entirely too seriously and cannot be trusted to have a silly good time in very large sunglasses without being self-conscious, and therefore should not wear them.

17. Bare feet/unmatched or fun socks: No one under 40 should ever go around barefoot; their feet are too tender and haven't walked enough miles in other people's shoes. They should also not wear unmatched or other fun sorts of socks; these draw too much attention to under-educated feet, causing embarrassment. Please protect those feet; join us in mis-matched or funky socks or barefoot all-year-around land when you have a few more callouses to balance on.

16. Hoop earrings: Once again, how much have you traveled? Let's survey women from more than one ethnicity and culture about their earring sizes...

15. I think Chewbacca pulls off furry boots very well.

14. My dog is a regular accessory. Does he count as a "furry anything"?

13. If nobody looks good in tube tops, then why are only over 30s targeted for wearing them? I am tiring of the lack of logic here.

12. As to short dresses/mini skirts, I have two words for you: Tina Turner.

11. Ah, yes, Crop Tops. Actually, unless you meet at least two of the following criteria, I don't think you have any business calling attention to your belly in any way, because you clearly do not know its proper uses yet:

  • You don't care what you look like dancing.
  • You enjoy fantastic food with really good wine and don't freak out about the calories.
  • You know how to let loose a lovely belly laugh.
  • You have survived/overcome any sort of trauma or ailment to/in your abdomen.
  • You have been preggers.
  • You don't bother wasting time with navel-gazing; you're pretty sure it's still where it always has been.

You know what, I'm getting tired of this ridiculousness and I've changed my mind anyway. Forget everything I said above. (Except the part about traveling. "Travel more" is excellent advice.) People under 30 (or 40) should go right ahead and loudly state opinions about what is appropriate or not appropriate to wear after 30 (or 40). Just be sure to write those opinions down and keep them in a safe place -- they are going to be pretty funny to look back on in 10 or 20 years! While you're at it, make a list of all the "right" ways to raise children before you have them, a list of things you will never do as an adult, and all the things people with a mental or physical illness you have absolutely no experience with should do to fix themselves...

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Combatting Hospital Boredom

Ah, the hospital. Where one is sent to rest and recuperate. Yeah, right. Between the noises, the smells, the awful beds, the tests, and the weird schedules, rest can be very elusive. Sleep dances before one like a demented fairy, just out of reach. And boredom sets in.

Daytime television only takes one so far. Books can be difficult to hold. Walking the same loop over and over and over stunts one’s desire to ever walk again. So what to do, with limited mobility and resources but infinite time?

Should you ever require hospitalization, go prepared to deal with boredom. It will happen. Here are my top suggestions for taming the annoying beast:

If you can get a hospital gown, don't close the back and go for a walk. Drop items in strategic places so as you retrieve them you moon staff members/visitors/other patients who annoy you.
Order a nice Chateaubriand with your meal tray. Request an after supper brandy.
If you are in the ER in an exam room and haven't seen anyone in a while, move around the room opening every cupboard and drawer and looking inside. I don't know how they know, but this will bring someone in to check on you quickly.
Obtain a stuffed toy or Teddy Bear. Insist the staff perform all procedures on your stuffie as well as you. Carry on conversations with said stuffie. It is helpful if it is named something along lines of "Gerard" or "Your Majesty". This has the added benefit of bringing in a psych evaluator. And they are REALLY fun to mess with.

Mine is a sheep called Rosemary.
Every time you hear an alarm sound, shout "He shoots! He scores!" really loudly.
Ask a nurse or orderly to help you find the cat channel on the television.
Fun things to do with jell-o (in case you have the misfortune of being served this): mix with mashed potatoes to make a lovely coloured substance. "Draw" pictures with it, using a knife to spread. If in cubes, stack cubes and begin gently wiggling the tray, slowly increasing the strength and speed of the wiggle until the tower topples; experiment with various structures to find the longest-standing. Suck a bit up into a straw and then aim & blow hard and fast on the straw at a specified target.

Carefully tear pictures or quotes out of exceedingly old magazines from the waiting room or Day Room. Make a collage using plasters or medical tape as adhesive. Hang the collage on the wall directly across from the nurses' station.
Remove every pad, diaper, and cloth you can from the cupboard in your room (or a passing cart). Fashion these together into a general body shape. Place this creation in your bed, under the covers, and attach yourself to the tail end of the medical student/intern rounds. When discovered and told to return to bed, protest loudly: "But there's someone else in my bed!" (Again, this will bring in a psych evaluator....)
Request a bedpan, otherwise known -- for some reason I have never discerned -- as a "hat" (when used on a toilet to collect urine). Wear said bedpan on your head every time you use the toilet. Keep a running list of how long it takes each staff member to get the joke.
And my favourite: rearrange flowers to match your or other patients' medical conditions. Heart condition? All red. Nausea? Green and yellow. Orthopaedic surgery (with bruising)? Blue, black, green, and yellow. You get the idea. It might have been the drugs I was on at the time, but coming up with colour-coded flower arrangements for various medical conditions once kept me happily engaged for an entire day.
Boredom will do that to a person.

Sunday, August 3, 2014

Bland, Thick, & Lumpy OR Death By Low Residue

Lord, have mercy.

I do not like bland food. I mean, I really do not like bland food. My mother discovered my penchant for spicy food when I was only two and I single-handedly ate almost an entire bowl of chile con queso she had made for a party. At age five or six we were eating supper when I noticed the meat was different and asked, "What kind of meat is this?" (It was venison procured by my father.) In a fit of God-only-knows-what-he-was-thinking my father answered, "It's Bambi." According to both my parents I merely blinked my eyes once before pronouncing, "Bambi tastes good," and cleaning off my plate with relish.

When I was pregnant with Boo I ate pretty much anything and everything I wanted. The only food which regularly made me sick was plain, un-spiced chicken breast. For some reason people kept serving this to me under an assumption that I could not eat normal food while pregnant. I ended up throwing it all up every. single. time. Bland food and I do NOT get along.

Fast forward to today, three and half weeks post-op after my latest Fun-Filled Hospital Extravaganza, and I am on a low residue diet.

The makings of a typical low residue meal. Yee haw.
A low residue diet, for those of you who have never had the privilege of experiencing one, is a diet designed to both lessen the frequency and thicken the consistency of one's output. By which I mean this: thicker poop and fewer instances of messing one's self. Yes, it is definitely as fun as it sounds.

The reason I'm on this diet is because I had a pouch advancement on June 26th (they cut loose my J-pouch and pulled it down into my rectum) in order to (hopefully) deal once and for all with the @#!$% fistula I've been fighting for the past three years. This was part one of a two-surgery procedure. (For those keeping score, surgeries 12 and 13.) I then had to wait around in the hospital for two weeks, almost completely incontinent -- yes, that was as much fun as it sounds, too! -- until the second procedure on July 10th. During this procedure the ends of the pouch were trimmed and fully stitched in place. Voila! One exceedingly sore hiney and a LOT of poop to contend with.

So. Here is a list of food & beverage options I get to choose from daily: oatmeal, white rice, potato, white pasta, white bread, decaf tea, water, multi-vitamin juice (one small glass per day), Actimel (also one per day), plain meat, very small amount of cheese, banana, applesauce, and avocado. As a treat I can have a tiny bit of hummus on plain crackers, and later today I might try some beets, as I've been handling the banana, applesauce, and avocado without too many problems. Woo hoo, party time!

For extra excitement, I also get to drink a glass of water mixed with Questran-A three times a day, before each meal. This is a powdered medicine which works in the gut to cut down on the acidity of poop, hence helping to cut down on both urgency and hiney pain. (Do not be fooled: Butt Burn is no laughing matter.) This is a good thing. The yucky thing is that while the powder is completely tasteless, it makes the water thick. And lumpy. Thick, lumpy water three times a day. Yum. Boo & Little Toot have taken to counting how long I can keep from gagging after each glass; so far my record is three seconds.

This combination of bland, thick, & lumpy is slowly getting to me, folks. Fair warning: if you don't see me for a while, check the corners to see if I'm sitting in one, quietly sobbing while trying to down a glass of Questran-A enriched water. If I'm not there or, of course, in the bathroom, then I am afraid I might have wasted away. Please make sure my tombstone is engraved with the following: "Here lies Feisty. She survived Ulcerative Colitis, fistulas, 13 surgeries, and innumerable side effects but was finally finished off by Gastronomic Boredom. May she rest in peace and enjoy that Great Baked Brie in the Sky."

Thursday, April 3, 2014

A Boot in the Butt

All of us need a boot in the butt occasionally. Okay, maybe none of you do, so I'll speak for myself.

Sometimes I need a boot in the butt. Sometimes I get too down and self-absorbed and forget to do the things I know will help me feel better. Sometimes I get too busy running around trying to fix everything "while I can" and end up making myself sick. Sometimes I get lazy. At these times, it is helpful to have a boot in the butt to get things on the right track again.

Sometimes I start feeling sorry for myself and whining. Now, seriously, there's a time and a place for this, but -- after a bit -- it is time to move on. And this is when someone else needs to step in and say, "For goodness' sake woman, get a grip!"


I received an email this week from an acquaintance which (I am going to assume) was meant to be helpful. Let me be clear: I have only met this person once. ONCE. He had sent an email asking my professional opinion on a matter and wondering if I could meet with his organisation. I politely declined and explained that this was due to health issues. He emailed back almost immediately, expressing sympathy, and offering this bit of wisdom:

He said that at one point in his life he had been quite ill with a persistent infection and had repeatedly seen a particular doctor about his symptoms and complaints. One day the doctor said to him, "Young man, as I learned in Auschwitz, either you get better or you die." The email author went on to state that this gave him needed perspective.

Okay. Deep breath. I think I am intelligent and flexible enough to see the bit of existential wisdom here for a given situation. Perhaps my emailer was being whiny or was a hypochondriac or expected miracles or was simply impatient about being ill. Perhaps he had been babying himself too much or not following directions. Perhaps this doctor gave him a very much needed boot in the butt, a "snap out of it!" moment of which he was in want.

Or perhaps the doctor didn't have the time of day to extend appropriate sympathy to a genuinely hurting patient.

I don't know; I wasn't there.

What I do know is this: you don't say (or write, in this case) something like this to a person you barely know, whose situation you know absolutely nothing about! As a matter of fact, probably most situations are not the appropriate vehicles for this gem.

Here's some general guidelines about giving anyone a boot in the butt: Do you know the person? No? Don't say anything. Do you know them well? No? Don't say anything. Do you have hesitations about giving them a piece of reality? Yes? Then don't say anything. Do you have no hesitation whatsoever about sharing your wisdom? No? Then for heaven's sake, please don't say anything.

If you know the person well, know her situation well, love and respect her and would value a blunt, down-to-earth piece of wisdom from her about your own life, then give it a second thought. After that, if you honestly feel it is needed, then speak kindly with your friend.

Because sometimes a boot in the butt is needed. But no one needs just another pain in the ass.

Encouragement from friends who know me well.

Sunday, March 9, 2014

Umbrellas & Butt Wipes

Here's the current lay of the land:

  • Fistula repair definitively failed; another surgery needed.
  • Must choose between a muscle graft (MAJOR surgery) and a permanent ileo (major surgery).
  • Being sent to an IBD surgical specialist for his opinion on which procedure would be better; referral letter was lost (grrrrr!!!!!!) so appointment isn't until April 15.
  • Which means surgery won't be until May. With, depending upon the procedure, a 3 to 12 month recovery period.
  • And we're moving in July.
  • In the meantime, the fistula is acting up more than it has in about a year, causing much discomfort, some pain, and a blasted evil yeast infection. (@#$!@%)
  • The stoma is now tipped flush with my abdominal wall, which means I resemble raw hamburger where it empties. If the surgery isn't until May, I will need a surgical stoma revision in the next few weeks.
  • Abdominal & stoma pain have been plaguing me for a week; the symptoms are beginning to look like adhesions... Which also require a surgical fix.
So yesterday was one of "those" days. Tears, frustration, hopelessness. I sent a whiny missive to a friend who also fights with a chronic illness and used a particularly colourful phrase to describe what I felt like I was dealing with. She responded by saying, "I'll bring the umbrella and butt wipes."

I prefer unscented flushables, but chamomile or aloe will also work!
This, my friends, is what is needed on "those" days: a friend who doesn't roll their eyes, get grossed out, tell you to "just deal with it", or smile tightly. Instead, what is needed is someone with a bit of sass, who understands, is empathetic, but doesn't let you wallow in self-pity either. It's a gift, this ability. And these friends are a HUGE blessing.

Today I feel much better, physically and mentally. Here's what I'm doing to continue to fight:
  • Writing this.
  • Doing laundry (love the fresh smell).
  • Making garlic knots. Because I want to.
  • Sitting in the sun at some point for 10-15 minutes.
  • Plowing ahead with some things I need/want to get done around the house.
  • Counting each little bit I get done as a success.
  • Writing a letter to a friend who really needs a pick-me-up.
  • Praying for those who are in so much more need than me.
  • Goofing around with Boo & Little Toot.
  • Right now, after I post this, I think I might have another cup of tea and a scone.
And maybe, just maybe, I won't need the umbrella today. (I always need the butt wipes!)

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

A Down Day

It hits out of nowhere.

Well, not really nowhere because I have PTSD and am fighting an infection which makes me tired and am facing the difficult truth that I a) did NOT develop a new fistula (which means THREE repairs have now failed) and b) I must now make a choice between a really hard surgery and a really, really hard surgery in order to move on with some semblance of life. All around me hard things are happening; deaths, illness, struggles. I feel powerless to help myself, let alone "be there" for anyone else.

So, okay, there's background.

But mostly I think I do a pretty good job of dealing with it. After the initial post-surgery fugue and the inevitable crash when the bad news is first delivered, that is. (Those are really bad days, just ask Jasper.)

After the initial shock, however, after the crying fits and the exhaustion and the utter weariness, there comes a kind of -- well, not acceptance, but sort of an even period of coping. Of just moving on. Realizing that it is what it is and nothing I can do will change it so I might as well get on with things. There comes a sort of equilibrium.

"I'm on the hunt for who I've not yet become,
but I'd settle for a little equilibrium."
-Sara Bareilles, "Hercules"

It's fragile, though, this equilibrium.

Sometimes I know what sets it off. More bad news from the doctor, a horrible news story, that feeling that no matter how hard I try I will never be the mother I want to be. (That last feeling may or may not have been set off today by one of my offspring managing to slip out of the house without brushing her teeth. Again.) Sometimes nothing really sets it off, I just wake up with a weight holding me down, an utter feeling of exhaustion, and the knowledge that today is going to be a Down Day.

In the former circumstance I can more or less deal with it, with help. I can cry and express frustration and talk with people about why I'm upset. In the second, however, I never really know what to say. How do you explain what it's like when everything just feels heavy? When you are so damn tired that even the thought of a shower exhausts you?

These are the days when, if I do make it into the shower, I stand there and cry. For no reason. For every reason. Because-- 

Just because. Because even the shower drains me, and I don't know why.

I hate it; I hate these Down Days. They suck everything into an abyss and I. Just. Can't.

Jasper and I were speaking with a friend once, in the midst of several Down Days, when the bad news just kept coming, when even those we thought understood made it clear they had no clue. We were describing what was happening all around us and to us and in us and I was frantic to be understood, practically frenetic with my need to be understood. And this friend, with infinite love and understanding, looked me straight in the eye and said, "That is really shitty. It is just completely shit."

And I thought, "Yes. Yes, it is." And I began to feel better. Because sometimes, sometimes, everyone just needs someone to acknowledge the poop.