Rants from the Crib

An Ob/Gyn gone mad

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The Tragedy of Growing Up Smart in Alabama

You landed there by chance, probably.  Maybe your family started out there, but they probably didn’t.

You moved there when you were 3 years old.  One of your first memories in Alabama was thinking, as a toddler, I’m never going to sound like that.  One of your first tragedies moving towards middle school was realizing I’m going to have to try to sound like that.  Otherwise, like a test chicken with a red spot painted on, you’ll be pecked to death.  So, you stumble with that twang on your tongue, and it tastes like poison.  The second tragedy is when you realize that twang is in me.  And try as you might, you can’t flush it out.  You thought you were a safe chameleon, but it came with a price.  Almost your soul, not quite.

Tennis lessons in middle school, terrible popular girls who have reached that status not because they were raised with any care for grammar, or diction, or how to edit a piece of prose until it shines, but because their daddy has a car dealership.  Stupid medium fish, shallow murky pond.  It gets late; the mosquitoes bite.  You say we need some insect repellent, because that is what you need, and one of the smirky girls says, why can’t you say BUG SPRAY like everyone else, and the night is poisoned.  Never mind she married out of high school and faded, little consolation later, when you pick up a tennis racquet (which you spell with a q, which is also wrong) and not like everyone else is what you hear.

You hate these people.  Your parents are educated; they have class, and knowledge, and care about analyzing things before making decisions, or believing anything they hear.  They are a humiliating joke to your carpool mates, because the Chevy they pick us up in is embarrassingly old.  Years later you realize those were classic Chevys you helped Daddy work on, and then you hate yourself, because you were embarrassed too.

You try to make friends, but your mind is freakish, and your eidetic memory for words is freakish (and WordPress has flagged eidetic not because you spelled it wrong, but because it isn’t in their dictionary, and you have to add it), and the fact that you maintain an insect collection is beyond freakish, and apparently the way you carry your backpack isn’t right either, and you can’t say bug spray like everyone else. 

Most people make friends in church, or meet dates in church, but you don’t go to church.  Everyone knows you don’t go to church.  Everyone knows exactly where everyone goes to church.  There are even right and wrong Baptist churches to go to.  Everyone knew that First Baptist was better than Central Baptist.  First Baptist was bigger; more money dropped there into the collection plates.  You say it FIRST Baptist and CENTRAL Baptist, emphasis on the first, and the central, because you must declare allegiance, and obviously, the Baptist part doesn’t mean much, since it’s the FIRST and CENTRAL that you lean on.  There are maybe 15 Catholics in your whole school and they are viewed tolerantly as different.  You are not different, you are other.  Everyone knows.  You want to belong, but you don’t want to go to church, because apparently it makes you stupid.

You don’t escape.  You want to go away to college, but your folks both teach there, and you can get a good education for an insanely small amount of money, so you stay.

You don’t escape.  You get into medical school, and you are so very excited.  You’re still stuck there, but maybe there will be some forward thinkers, some real intelligent folks with whom you can have an intelligent conversation without having to say bug spray.  After all, they’re going to be doctors, right?  You don’t escape.  Some of the folks who have medical school study prayer group were in your high school, and everyone believes that medical school study prayer group is actually a thing.  You were not invited, and you didn’t want to go.

You escape.  For a blink.  You do your residency in New Orleans, and you fit.  Everyone is different.  It isn’t the south.  It’s other.  They have a Mardi Gras ball for people who don’t fit, called MOM’s Ball, which stands for Misfits, Orphans and Misfits, and it’s the best ball ever, because The Radiators play it every year, and you know them, because every time they’re at Tipitina’s, or anywhere else, you’re there with them, getting radiated.

You get a job in Atlanta, which is the biggest small-ass town you’ve ever lived in.  The hot chicks just come from families with bigger car dealerships.  Anyone who’s anyone knows each other, and I once heard a guy in a Buckhead bar say he couldn’t find beauty in anything bigger than a size 5 dress.  You ally yourself with your gay friends, and your black friends, and your pierced and tattooed friends, and hang out in Little Five, and eat at the Vortex, because the White Bread Brigade (your words) are beyond repugnant, and horrid.

And then you spin out. Because you don’t escape.  You’ve married, and had a baby, and your folks still live in Alabama, and they’re getting older, and can’t travel much, and so, back you go.  For 15 years now, you’ve swallowed bullshit and vomit back in the swamp, and worried when your daughter talks about being an atheist, and she’s only 12 and doesn’t know what that means, and you’re actually not an atheist at all, but you might as well be.  And you think that if your daughter says atheist one more time at school that they really will burn a cross on your fucking lawn.  And everyone knows she doesn’t go to church.

So now you travel, and people around say, oh yeah, I thought so, I hear some twang, and you want to go in the bathroom and make yourself puke.

And then trump happens.

You’ve spent most of your adult life trying to persuade yourself that these people aren’t that bad, it’s just a different ideology, surely you have more in common than not, and OK, so they don’t know what onomatopoeia means, or where Singapore is, or how to speak any other language, or what an adverb is even.  You know this because you accidentally said something in front of someone, who is a nurse, and you thought somehow she’d be smarter, because you still haven’t learned, and you say that you think the trend of naming your kids adverbs, like Heatherly or Amberly, or Fucking Stupidly, and just tacking “ly” on the end, or whatever, is dumb, and she says I have an Amberly, and I don’t even know what an adverb is.

And you said to yourself, I bet she knows I don’t go to FIRST Baptist.

And then trump happens.

And the worst thing ever happens, because you’ve spent your whole damn life getting along with them and telling yourself you won’t hate them because they’re rabid about church, or judgmental, because you’re better than that, and you try to turn that cynicism off, so you’ll be a better person.

And then trump happens.

And you realize your whole damn adult life, you’ve been lying to yourself, and it’s not cynicism if it’s true, and these people really ARE THIS FUCKING HORRIBLE, and you think to yourself, you’re not really sure that JESUS could be better than this, or forgive these money changers and lenders and worshipers of wanton stupidity and hypocrites and JUST GAWDAWFUL inhuman losers.

And then you realize you’ve been speaking to yourself in italics, and referring to yourself in the second person, and these people have no fucking clue what those are either.

And then you think, wow, Mom’s really healthy, and we may be lucky enough to have her for another 20 years, which would be amazing, and then you think Holy Christ, 20 more years.

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Extreme(ly Unpleasant) Camping: Part 1

Is it possible to have two worst camping trips?  This is a rhetorical question. It is possible.

This, Part 1, is the Hot One.  Part 2 will be the Cold One, which my loyal readers will eagerly await, no doubt.

The hot one was hot. And sticky.  And sweaty.  I was living in New Orleans doing my residency, and I was dating a talented painter from the Mississippi coast. For July 4th weekend, he proposed a double date. We and another couple would sail to Horn Island, an uninhabited island off the Mississippi coast, and camp there.  He loved that island, and he idolized a painter who had camped alone on the island and had done several series of paintings of it. His dad loaned B his catamaran. We would sail, and camp there, and watch the Fourth of July fireworks over the beaches of the Gulf Coast.

On a beautiful day, we sailed across the bay to the island, replete with camping gear and a good deal of beer.  En route, we spotted a pod of dolphins cruising with the boat. They seemed curious. B let me get on the back ladder, which was not locked down. The boat was moving at a good clip, and the ladder pulled out horizontally.  I held on to the bottom rung.  I felt like Superman, flying.  The pod swam closer.  I think they were wondering about this land-bound creature, swimming so fast. They swam next to me until we were close to the island.  I knew they wouldn’t hurt me. They were more brown than the grey I expected, and some had barnacles on them. Maybe they did think I was a superhero.  I was sorry when I had to climb back up.  In hindsight,  I was “drinking and laddering”.  If I had slipped off the ladder, how long would it have been before I was missed?  God, as they say, protects drunks, fools, and little children.

We anchored off a shallow spot on Horn Island and waded in with our camping gear. We pitched the tents, and found wood for a fire. In the height of summer, on an island in the Gulf of Mexico, the heat and humidity were oppressive. On the island, there was little wind, and it was stuffy.  I didn’t so much notice during daylight, because we were busy chatting, and walking around the dunes, and looking at the pools with crabs in them, and gathering burnable wood. Evening came, and we sat around the fire, which was inconveniently hot, and cooked hot dogs and marshmallows. The big fireworks were set off over the beaches.  We had a great view, and beer, and life was good.

Eventually, we found our way to our tents. I tossed, fitfully, and realized after a few hours that there was no way I could sleep –  I was miserable. There was a mosquito in the tent.  Mosquitoes don’t bite me much, but they love to fly into my ears.  NYEEEE  NYEEEEE!  SWAT!  And a miss.  SWAT!  There is nothing more fun than boxing one’s own ears to smash a mosquito.  I wanted to open the tent flap,, but I knew the mosquito wouldn’t fly out, but more would come in.  I was hot.  I was sticky.  I couldn’t stand it.  I got up quietly, unzipped the tent flap, crept out, and zipped it back before flights of Valkyrie mosquitoes came in.  I walked down the sandy slope to the dark water. I was going to get in.  It was SO freaking hot, even at night. The shallows were proverbial bathwater. The bay was as hot and humid as I was.  My hope was to splash water, and maybe when I got out, it would evaporate off my skin and cool me.

I was waded in waist deep, and was scooping water over me when B spoke behind me, as close as the mosquito, and much more unexpected. “Watch out for the swimming logs!”  At first I didn’t understand.. “Alligators,” B said. “They pass right through here all the time.”

He didn’t seem at all concerned, but my exit from the water was expedient and less than graceful.  I was now left with no respite from the heat at all, but at least I had not been a snack for gators.  We got a couple beers from the cooler, and some water and ice, and we splashed and drank.  It helped so very little.  We crawled back into the tent and when I heard the inevitable mosquito, I sucked my head into the sleeping bag like a turtle.  Way too hot, but no mosquito.  I put my head back out. Still too hot, but still mosquito.  Nyeeee… nyeeee… nyeeee

Too early and too late, we got out of our tents and begin packing up all the things.  It was a tad too early for beer. Not much, because we did live in New Orleans.  Everywhere else, people say, “It’s 5:00 somewhere”, when they want to make excuses for drinking early.  In NOLA, we say that it is noon somewhere. The bars there are open all night and all day.

It was much too much work in the sticky heat to pack everything up.

At last we were on the boat, and the breeze over the water helped a lot.  We were getting closer, close enough to see the people on the beach, and we were passing a small catamaran race.  Suddenly, the little boats were tipping over, one after another, like dominoes. B knew exactly what this meant.  He was scrambling, frantic, to get the sail down. A squall line had come up suddenly.  If he didn’t get the sails down before it got to us, we were tipping over too, cabin and all. Suddenly there was lightning, and grey sky.  He got the sail down in time, and for a moment, we thought we would tip over anyway.  We crammed into the cabin and closed the hatch, out of the driving rain and lightning, in case we we tipped over into the waves.  We were little comforted by our tiny shelter, knowing that that metal mast went all the way into the boat next to us. The waves were huge and tossed us, slamming us and tipping us almost horizontal. The girl began moaning about how seasick she was.  I was thinking how awful it would be to be trapped in a swooping cabin with vomit. I found Benadryl and made her swallow it. That stuff is a miracle drug, useful for nausea, motion sickness in humans, dogs, and cats, and anxiety, and sleep. I made sure to tell her that it was super for nausea, hoping for additional placebo effect.  And thank God, she didn’t throw up. The thunder and thrashing water continued much longer.

At last, the swaying slowed, and the thunder got farther away. We ventured one at a time to the deck of the boat, and put the sail back up.  Alas, there was now no wind in the wake of the gust front.  None.  We were in our own small Horse Latitudes. B tried to start the small trolling motor in hopes of getting us home.  It wouldn’t start.  We were becalmed.

We had a nauseated girl, a clueless guy,  me, irate and certainly cursing the universe, and B, who was very concerned that his motor wouldn’t start. No one was happy. Magically, the motor sputtered awake at last. We were able to choke and hiccup our way toward shore, realizing that we might run out of gas, or be overcome by oily gas fumes. At last, we caught some wind.  We docked MANY hours after we had expected.  Then, we were left with a messy, soggy boat.  B firmly explained to us that despite the fact that we were exhausted, queasy,  hot, and pissed off, one never leaves a boat unswabbed and messy,  no matter what.  Our ground-kissing had to wait until everything was dry, clean, and put away.  Theoretically, I understood that this was something we had to do.  In practice, I was very very pissed at the universe.

We were very quiet on the ride home.

 

 

Hello Again

My last post was January, 2015. What the hell happened that January? I feel like a manned space capsule at the beginning of an Aliens movie. ” The last communication of the SS Stork was 31.01.2015 (cue sinister music). The ship is believed to have simply vanished – there has been no explanation for the disappearance.  (cue image of screaming person in space helmet). Then a distress call was received…”

I have a date tomorrow morning. I found a writer’s group through MeetUp, and they meet about 30 minutes away, every second Saturday. I am going to make myself get up off my ass, go meet some like-minded writerly people (too freaking early in the morning) and write the shit out of something. There. I am committed. See you all tomorrow.

Sacrifice on Good Friday: Finding Meaning As An Agnostic

This is exactly what I wanted to say. Except I would have sounded a little more… bitter. So I chose this instead. Because there is peace and acceptance here. Very wonderfully put!

The Stretch For Something Beautiful

I was having a conversation with one of my coworkers yesterday about religion. He’s Jewish, and this week, he is celebrating Passover. As we stood in the dusty warehouse, with the shafts of light illuminating the dust from high above, he told me that for him, it’s not about religion. It’s about tradition. It’s about remembering where he came from and why he celebrates.

I’m not religious – not really. The best I could probably do is to say I’m a Christian-leaning Agnostic. I have too much history with religion to ever want to commit myself to one again, but I’m not ruling out the existence of God or a higher power. I think that man-made religion is full of corruption and hurt. I think most of it is created to lord it over someone else. It makes it hard for me to want to be part of that. That…

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French For Dummies

My mom was a French teacher, so guess what language I got to take in school?  Yep.  French.  I must say, no one even inquired whether I would like to take a different one, as was so often the case.  Mom used a lot of French and English words interchangeably, so a lot of our little family jokes are multilingual.  She minored in Spanish, but apparently this did not rate, except that we always referred to hands as “manos”.

I got pretty much immersed in French.  I knew a lot more words than I thought I did, even as a kid.  My folks referred to each other as “Homme” (Man), and “Femme” (Woman), except to be cute, they shortened their pet names to Um and Fum.  Since French for girl is “Fille”, I got called Fee, and was photographed in front of every US Fee area sign across the United States.  Ha ha.

Mom referred to most body parts by their French names, so when I was a kid, a “bouche” was of course a mouth, and “pieds” were of course feet.  Didn’t everybody know that?

Mom was a Helicopter Parent long before it was cool (was it ever?) and had me doing all sorts of fun projects, like doing French language tapes while washing the dishes, which annoyed the piss out of me.  I used to roll my eyes and rattle the dishes while chanting zombie-like enchanting phrases such as “Bonjour, Sylvie!  Ou est le bibliotheque?”  (Because a library is the first thing we look for when we arrive in France.)

By the time I got to high school, I had taken years of French.  Looking back on it, it was pretty amazing.  I remember in one French lit class, we read Camus and “Le Compte de Monte Cristo” in the original.  In my boarding school, we were given assignments to translate Edie Piaf songs into English for fun.  One day, it was pretty outside, so we had the classroom windows open.  Our teacher required us to speak only French in class.  A wasp flew in the window, landed on the soft part of my thumb, and stung the crap out of me.  I jumped out of my seat and yelled “SHIT!!”  Madame eyed me with irritation, sighed, and said, “Non.  MERDE.”  Je regrette, Madame, je regrette..

I admit, we did have fun.  Mom and I went to Europe together at least two or three times, once on an art museum tour, since we took an Art History class from the same teacher at Alabama, just about a decade apart.  (We were, of course, superlative students.)  We hit the Louvre, and Les Tuileries, and Monet’s home, with the real water lilies.  We used our French every chance we got.  Mom had lived in France for a time when she was in college, as part of an exchange program, so between the two of us, we could whip up a pretty good conversation.

I did discover that native French speakers are not necessarily ecstatic about dabblers in their language.  When trying to buy a t-shirt in Paris, the sales girl hautily informed me to “Speak English.  It will be easier.”  Bitch.

We derived great amusement from travel guide books.  You can learn some truly useful phrases in them!  One that can still make Mom and me howl after all these years:  “Il y’a des moustiques au plafond!  Veuillez les vaporiser.”, which translated literally into English means, “There are some mosquitoes on the ceiling.  Please come vaporize them.”  Awesome.

While I was in medical school, dating the Emotional Terrorist, his sweet sister lived in Montreal with her super jock boyfriend, who was an extreme skier who had grown up there, among other places.  We would go up to see them every winter, to ski Mont Tremblant.  Quebec, of course, has attempted to secede from Canada over the use of the French language, among other things.  The Quebecerais are pretty insistent about the correct use of French, especially outside the tourist area of Montreal.  The Emotional Terrorist, who had no language ability or knowledge (except for the ability to hurt my feelings, in which he was both fluent and multilinguall) wanted to insist on using “French” at all times, despite the fact that he didn’t know any.  (He tried to pull the same bullshit in Chile, with Spanish, years later when he was visiting me there, with equally unimpressive results.)  He crawled over the seat at the drive-through window at McDonalds and attempted to order his Egg McMuffin in French.  Our host clapped his hand over ET’s mouth and hissed, “Don’t DO that!  They will SPIT IN OUR FOOD.”

Years later, when I lived in New Orleans, I was friends with a “mixed” family – a French speaking Cajun woman had married a native Parisian, so their kids spoke fluent French, in two completely distinct dialects.  When the daughter, my “birthday twin”, got married, she married an Irish man, in full tartan and kilt, and his best man was a Scotsman. What an amazing, wildass party!  A bunch of drunk cajuns, Parisians, Scots and Irish?  In New Orleans?  And no, they don’t wear anything under those kilts!  I was lucky to speak French well enough to speak it at the wedding and for some peculiar reason, one of my Mom’s childhood gifts to me were an entire collection of French folk songs, which by happy coincidence turned out to be French drinking songs. Who knew?  Not my mom, that’s for sure.  Somehow I got us started and we all started slurring, “Sur Le Pont D.Avignon”and “J’En Bourrez, Oui Oui Oui, J’En Bourrez, Non Non Non, J’En Bourrez, Si Le Vin Est Bon….”

I used to love to torment my friend Fred with phone calls, after I had moved away from NOLA.  I was pretty good with accents, and I would ring him up and say, “Bonjour, Fre-e-e-d,” in this really sticky sweet accent, and I always had him convinced it was his ex-girlfriend, calling from Paris.  He’d start jabbering away, and I’d hold up the receiver and laugh and laugh, and he’d know I’d got him again.

The ridiculous irony was, of course, that I had always wanted to learn Spanish.  Beautiful as French is, in the US, it’s not all that useful. Some Cajuns (mostly the older ones) do still speak French, but the dialect is so extreme that it hardly sounds like French at all.  You can use it in Quebec, but at your own risk, since they may spit on your McMuffin.  Some regions of Africa are French-speaking, but if you’re stranded there, you may have worse problems than not speaking French.  You can use it on some Caribbean islands, but frankly, they pretty much speak anything involving money.  You can, of course, speak French in France, but again, native speakers of French are somewhat less welcoming of inexpert attempts than, say, their Spanish speaking counterparts.

Which leads us to Spanish.  Which is spoken here and in myriads of other places, all the time.  So when I started med school, and  noticed that a LOT of my patients spoke it, it was time to learn Spanish, which is a whole ‘nother blog, for another time.  But if I ever want to order “fries with that” in, say, a ski lodge on Mt Tremblant, I can at least be fairly confident that they won’t expectorate in my food.

The Night Before Duck Fest

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‘Twas the night before Christmas,
And all ‘cross the pond,
Not a tree leaf was stirring,
Not even a frond

The leaf bags were were hung on the rushes near by
In hopes that St. Duckolas soon would fly by

The ducklings were nestled all snug in their nests
In need of a nice warm Christmas Eve rest.
Mama Duck with her brown tail
And I with my green breast
Had just settled our feathers
For tomorrow’s Duck Fest.

When up in the sky arose such a quacking
The owls were scattered; they all were sent packing.
To the edge of the nest I hopped in a flash
At the edge of the water I heard a loud splash.

The moon on the breasts of the local pond fowl
Gleamed off of their feathers and flashed off my jowl
And here to my wondering eyes was the sight
Of a flock of beautiful creatures in flight.

With a fearless feathered leader
The swans V’d behind
More rapid than eagles
With beady eyes kind.

St. Duckolas honked and quacked out their names:
On Flapper, on Flyer,
Now Soarer and Hopper,
On Honker and Flocker!
To the top of the rushes
To the top of the reeds
Now splash down, now splash down, now splash down with seeds!

As the wild birds that fly before winter winds
When they met with an obstacle, they banked their webbed limbs.
So up to the rushes
The white swans they flew
With packs full of snacks and St. Duckolas too

And then in a twinkling, I heard on the water
The splashing of webbed feet, the tossing of fodder.
As I poked out my head and was turning around
Down on the mud St. Duck stood on the ground.

He was fluffed all in feathers, from his beak to his feet
And his white feathers were clean, and tidy and neat.
A bag of wild oats he had strapped to his back
And a bag full of corn and stale Cracker Jack.

His eyes – how they twinkled! His beak all a-smile
His feathers all glistened
You could see them for miles.
An ear of gold corn he held tight in his beak
And a jaunty green feather he had on each cheek.
He had a wise face and a breast full of down
And great strong black feet
As he stood on the ground.

He was chubby and plump,
A well-fed old duck
And I quacked when I saw him;
He’d bring us good luck.
A wink of his eye and a cock of his head
Soon gave to me know that we’d all be well fed.

He quacked not at all but scattered his oats
And millet and corn and wheat that was roast
And leaving delicious fresh grains in his wake
He flew off again, that generous Drake.

He opened his wings
To the swans gave a quack
And they all flew away with more food on their backs
But I heard him honk, as they flew out of sight,

“Happy Christmas to Fowl
And to all a good flight!”

Merry Christmas to all from Guck and family!

Mommies Don’t Need Showers

The same scene plays itself out at my house every morning.  I tell my daughter,  “I’m going to take my shower, honey.”. She mumbles “Mmmmh hmmmmm.”

I turn on the shower, get the temperature perfectly adjusted, and get in. Mmmm.  Nice hot shower. Peace and quiet.

Then I hear it:  “Mommeeeee!”. It always sounds urgent, so urgent that I am always suckered in. She sounds somewhat frantic, like she may have cut herself or broken something.

I pull the shower curtain back so I can hear her, since the situation is obviously so dire, and call, What, honey?”.  Of course all my nice warm steam is instantly gone and the cold rushes in. “MommEEEEEEE!  Where ARE you?!?!”

Well, this is infuriating on multiple counts. I told her I would be in the shower, explicitly so she would know where I was, so she would not come screaming around the damn house looking for me. So did she just totally ignore me, or is she playing dumb, because she can’t bear for me to have a moment of peace when I am in the shower?  AND, the water is running in the shower, so it should be damn obvious where the hell I am.

” I TOLD you, I am IN the SHOWER!”

“Mommeeeee!”

“I can’t HEAR you, the water is running!”

Closer now:  “MommEEEE!  Mumble mumble mumble ”

Pull back the shower curtain, cold air rushes in again. “WHAT?!?!”

” Mommeeee, are you dressed?”. She is not allowed to come in until I am dressed.

“Honey!  Would the water in the shower still be running if I were dressed???”

” Oh. No. Can I come in anyway?”

” ND!  I’M NOT DRESSED!”

“But I need …” (insert pointless nonessential thing here).

” NO!”

A pause. Will I finally get to finish my shower in peace?  Now:  whining and scratching. Our daughter desperately wants a puppy, which she has been told she cannot have. She launches into puppy mode, whimpering and wagging, and carrying balls in her mouth to fetch. More scratching and whimpering at the door.  The “puppy” has arrived. She almost certainly has a ball in her mouth. Patience is wearing thin.

“STOPPIT!”

“But Mommeeee!  I’m a PUPPY!”. Are you dressed yet??  Can I come in?  I PROMISE I won’t look!”

” No!  That’s not the point!”

” MEANIE!”

What the hell does she want?  Why can she not STAND for me to take a shower in peace?  Does she want to check and see if I am still a girl?  Is she jealous of any moment of time I have to myself?  Is she so lacking inner resources that she cannot tolerate even a few minutes alone?  Why must I be tormented every single time I take a shower?  By the time I am out I just want to choke her like a chicken.

I finally let her in. Now she stands on the side of the tub, staring at me while I put on my makeup. “What’s that??  Can I have some blush?  Is that a pimple?  Why does your hair look so funny?”

Am I too impatient, too intolerant?  Or is this behavior specifically designed to push all my buttons?  She is eight years old. Isn’t she too old for this bullshit?  Or does it just never end?  God, I hope it ends.

Horrid Ant Rodeo!

Wow, my last post was in June.  Blog, I have been sadly neglecting you.  I Skyped with my husband last night, who is currently in Bulgaria, and after my daughter and I told him our wild tale, he gently reminded me that it would make a great blog post.  Remember the blog?

A few months ago, my mom and my daughter and I went outlet shopping, ostensibly to get school clothes for my daughter.  For some reason (maybe because they are neat, and cool, and I had one when I was a kid), I bought her an ant farm.  These newfangled ant farms are much cooler than their predecessors.  Mine were in sand, and you had to remember to feed and water your ants.  I forgot.  They didn’t live very long, but they were cool while they lasted.  This new one was a space age ant farm!  The sand has been replaced by a green gel, which is used not only for tunneling but as a food and water source.  No more forgotten dried up starved ants!  And they came with a battery, and a built in light, and the tubes and gel would illuminate a brilliant irridescent green so the ants could be watched in the lit tubes, busy at work!

A few weeks later, we got around to ordering the ants from good old Uncle Milton.  Yes, this is still the company that made my ant farm and grew my ants 35 years ago.  Uncle Milton informed us that he can only ship ants at approved ant temperatures, which are basically below 80 degrees and above freezing, and predicted to be sustained for at least a week.  This really meant that we were going to have to wait all summer and part of the fall for the ants, because it simply does not get below 80 in Alabama in the summer or early fall.

At last, last week, we received notification that the ants were shipped.  My daughter was ecstatic!  I was pretty excited too, and so was my husband.  So we set out to wait for the ants.  My daughter was dying of impatience.  Daily, we had to check the tracking number and see where those ants were.  At last, they were slated to arrive this Monday.

The ants came early, on Saturday.  It had been a pretty cool day, in the upper 50’s most of the time.  I picked up my daughter from her friend’s house and told her I had a surprise.  The ants had come!  She was wild with excitement.  So, frankly, was I.

We opened the envelope and found a tube of ants and some miscellany, ant life stage and photo poster, magnifying glass, ant farm club card, and instructions.  The instructions warned that if the ants were warm and moving rapidly, they should be placed in the refrigerator for a few minutes before attempting to transfer them to the farm.  The ants were hardly moving at all though, and they were all huddled down in the bottom of the little tube.  I figured they were cool enough.

Your weird piece of advice for the day:  always refrigerate your ants prior to dumping them from a tube.  I cannot stress this enough.

We raised the top of the farm, popped the tube lid, and tipped the tube in one swift motion to dump them into the farm.  They BOILED out of the tube and up out of the bottom of the farm, escaping faster than we could catch them.  Ants on the counter!  Ants on the floor!  AWFUL ants with huge mandibles, which made a clicking sound which was audible.  It was if they had been lying in wait:  Now, everyone, huddle in the bottom of the tube and look cold and pitiful.  When the gullible dumb lady tries to dump us in, EXPLODE OUT OF EVERYTHING!  An Ant Coup-d’Etat!

My daughter was panicked.  She is allergic to fire ant bites and had been warned not to touch the ants.  I told her firmly that this was no time to panic, that we must capture the ants and get them in the farm.  (Of course I was secretly panicking – my kitchen was full of HUGE ANTS!)

There was no chance of replacing them in the tube.  It would have required a piston-like action to shove them back in there, which would have resulted in flat ant pieces.  We couldn’t leave the farm open to load them in, as they boiled out the top when we opened the lid.  I looked around wildly.  What to do??

I grabbed the cut open manilla envelope and thrust it at my daughter.  Hold it open, I told her.  I scooped an ant with a piece of paper and dumped it in the envelope.  My daughter shrieked, “Mommy, the ant is getting out!’  I told her to thump thump thump the envelope so he would keep falling back to the bottom.  Keep thumping!  Thump!  Thump!  Keep thumping!

I scooped another ant and shook it violently off the piece of paper.  It had chomped the paper and was dangling off of it with its huge mandibles.  I thumped the paper.  The ant was in the envelope!  Thump the envelope!  Keep thumping!

I kept scooping ants and dumping them into the envelope.  We actually managed, I think, to round up all the ants.  They were a bit dazed, probably from all that time in the tube and the dark, and they didn’t run far.  Success!  Only, not, because now we had an open envelope full of ants that we had to keep thumping, and an ant farm that we couldn’t open because all the ants would come boiling out.  What to do?

Tape the envelope!  We both arrived at the same thought at the same time.  I grabbed the envelope and shook all the ants to the bottom hard.  Then, I quickly folded over the top of the envelope and taped all the edges tightly closed, taking care not to push on the envelope and squish the ants.  It went again every one of my natural instincts not to just stamp the wretched things into mush with my heels.  There were ants!  Running around!  In my kitchen!  And they were HUGE!

Success?  Welllll… we had an unopenable ant farm full of roiling ants, and a taped envelope full of ants that we couldn’t see, that might, or might not, be mushed or escaping.  It was a dilemma not unlike that of Schrodinger’s Cat.  Were they alive in there?  Would opening their envelope affect that outcome in any way?  We had an envelope full of mad ants, a farm full of mad ants, and one mad ant that we had somehow imprisoned back in the original tube.  Into the refrigerator they all went!!

Now what?  Now we would wait for the ants to get sluggish.  Why oh why did I just not chill them in the first place?  We ate dinner and waited for the ants to chill.  Periodically my daugher would say, Mommy, I need to go check on the ants.  She would peer into the refrigerator and report back.  Yes, the ants in the farm seemed to be moving slower.  No, the ants in the envelope did not seem to have escaped.  By the end of dinner, with great misgivings, we decided to go with Ant Round Two.  So far, the ants were winning.

We lined up the farm, the tube and the envelope.  I quickly shook the tubed ant into the farm.  One down!  Next, the hard part.  I gave the envelope a vigorous shake so that (with any luck) the ants would be shaken down to one end.  I cut off the other end and peered in wildly.  Yes!  They were in there!  I tried to shake them into the farm in one smooth motion.  No joy.  Some of the ants were clinging to and biting on the envelope. They wouldn’t shake loose.  I gave the envelope a vigorous thump.  Some fell in.  Another thump.  More fell in.  One wicked ill-behaved ant glommed onto the edge of the envelope and then fell on the floor.  Mommy!  The ant is on the floor!  Damn ant!  Come here, ant!  Scoop!  Cling!  Fall!  On the floor!  Come here, you bastard ant!  Mommy, don’t say curse words!  Sorry!  Scoop!  Cling!  On the counter!  After several rounds of this last recalcitrant ant and its cursed behavior my daughter told me to oh, just stomp on that one, because it’s stupid!  I was tempted.  However, I had wrestled this ant for so many rounds that I was determined.  It would go in the damn farm!

At last, in it went.  The lid went on the farm for the last time.  Success!  The wretched ants were imprisoned!  We peered in with great interest.  They were still climbing up the sides, trying to go out that way.  Ha ha!  No exit for you, ants!

I can neither confirm nor deny that there were a few ant pieces (OK, more than a few) in the bottom of the farm, but I was pretty sure I had seen some ant pieces in the bottom of the tube before we opened it the first time.  So of course, we were not responsible for some of the pieces.  I was pretty sure that we HAD beheaded an ant or two in slamming the lid back on the farm the first time.

We counted ants.  The order was supposed to contain 30 ants.  There were, in fact, nearly 30 ants, plus assorted ant pieces, so I felt greatly reassured that they had not assembled a mutinous colony under my dishwasher.

Now my daughter was amazed.  The ants are awesome, Mommy.  Yeah, awesome, I told her.  The only good ant is a dead ant!  We hummed a few bars of the Pink Panther Theme and giggled.  I went to put the ant farm in my daughter’s room and she stopped me short.  She didn’t want the ants in her room.  She was scared of them.  So now the horrid things have taken up residence in the main area of the second floor.  Ants!  Wretched ants!  Never again!

Skinny Me

OK, so I’m not skinny.  I’ve never been skinny.  The closest I’ve been was the first couple years of college, when I wore a size 4.  And weirdly, I lived on Diet Cokes and Hershey bars out of the library vending machine.  Even at a size 4, I found myself sucking in a little tummy pooch.  I could never get that sucker flat.  I obsessed that one day I could just relax in a bikini and not suck in at all.

I have been a yo-yo dieter all my life.  During that same college experience, while dating an extremely tall guy, I attempted to match his monster food intake and soared up to a size 14.  My mother of course began to nag.  And I wasn’t very happy with how I looked.  I spent a lot of time wearing my boyfriend’s boxers and oversized t-shirts, in an attempt to hide the extra weight.  When we broke up, I lost the weight again.

I have had a love/hate relationship with eating and weight since I was real little.  I begged my mother for a pair of blue jeans when I was around 11 and she refused.  She said they just wouldn’t look good with my “little lazy tummy.”  When I look back at prepubescent pictures of me, I see a tiny little girl who, if anything, had a tendency to stand a bit swaybacked, which is the only reason I had a “tummy” at all.  But the seeds of discontent were planted early.  My mother continued to dress me in coveralls and overalls.

I was 13 when I went on my first diet.  I carefully followed a diet plan I found in Teen Magazine (remember that rag?).  My mother applauded my efforts.  I probably weighed about 110 pounds at the time, but I was already obsessed with that stomach pooch.  I fell off the diet with a WHAM when we went to a school reception and I was faced with a plate of Krispy Creme Donuts and a table full of cookies and cakes.  My mother wrinkled up her nose in distaste.

When I was in my teens, Mom had me walking around in heels with books on my head.  She could hear me peeling a banana from across the house.  She would scornfully swoop down on me, and whatever time of day, she would inform me that I would gain weight and spoil my dinner.  I learned from my dad that stealth, cunning and gluttony were the keys.  Stealth and cunning were the only ways to get snacks with Mom around.  We learned to look for cooking ingredients like marshmallows and chocolate chips, which were hidden behind other containers in the pantry.  Often we would get up to eat after she was in bed.  And I think we both ate out of spite, just to prove that we could do it and get away with it, which set a very bad precedent for my future.

The rest of my life, my weight has swung up and down.  I began eating to spite myself, gorging when I was angry with my life or sad or upset because I was gaining weight.  Smoking curtailed that behavior a bit, high school through just out of residency, since smoking is another way to punish yourself when you are upset or sad.  That kept the weight off a bit.  There was a fair amount of drinking with the smoking, however, and that put weight on both via calories (my drink of choice has always been beer) and via complete loss of eating will power when I was drunk.

I have always had a closet full of clothes, but part of the reason for that was that I have kept a range of sizes from 6 to 12 my whole life.  My weight swings that much.  I only keep items that flatter at whatever size, although some sizes are just unflatterable.

When I got pregnant, I got the diet monkey off my back but good.  Pregnancy was an excuse to eat whatever I wanted without the guilt.  After all, I was eating for 2, right?  And I would lose the weight after the baby came, right?  At least I managed to avoid gestational diabetes.  I remember one time eating two Cinnabons at the same time and feeling right queasy afterwards.  I weighed 190 pounds when I had my baby.

Amazingly, the weight did come off.  I dropped to about 135 just by breastfeeding and cutting back a bit.  I sure wish I could breastfeed without having another baby.  Boy, if I could pump those suckers out a couple of times and drop some weight, it would be totally worth it.  Then I went on an extremely restricted calorie diet, which I maintained by writing down every single thing I ate and looking up the calories in a book I carried with me everywhere.  I dropped to 123 pounds, which I loved, as I was hovering between a size 6 and a size 4, but my husband began telling me I was too skinny (huge mistake, in my book) and I lost my discipline and started eating again.  It didn’t help that at the lower weight I began to get light headed and pass out at work, during surgeries when I had to stand for long periods of time.

My job finally got the better of me.  I had hated that job, hated my line of work for so long.  My stress level was unbelievable.  My partner and I had been looking for a new partner, and it took us the better part of 2 years to find one.  When we did, she turned out to be a total sociopath, and we had to let her go.  We then entered a stretch where we were on call every other night for 2 and a half years.  I ate.  I stress ate.  I ate when I was angry.  I ate when I had a bad day.  I ate when I was stuck at the hospital late at night.  My husband became the nemesis that my mother had been, and I ate to spite him.  I ate because I was depressed and I hated my freaking life and I had nothing to look forward to and it was the only thing that gave me pleasure.

I finally hit rock bottom.  Or should I say, rocky top.  My weight soared up higher than it has ever been since pregnancy.  For 2 years, I weighed 175 pounds.  At 5’3″.  I have never looked so bad.  I didn’t have pregnancy as an excuse.  I was wearing about a size 16.  I hated myself.  I hated myself because I was fat.  I hated myself because I love clothes, because I had an entire closet full of beautiful clothes that didn’t fit.  I hated myself because I lacked the willpower to diet more than a day before backsliding.  I looked so ugly.  I wore scrubs all the time, because they came closer to concealing the fat.  I actually had a patient scold me because I had “let myself go”.  My face blew up – it looked like I did when I was pregnant.  I lost all self-respect, cut off all my hair into an ugly haircut, and stopped wearing jewelry or makeup.  And I hated myself every day.  Not one day went by that I did not call myself ugly names and loath myself.  I never looked in mirrors.

I found salvation when I finally ditched my shitty job.  I quit and began work as a locum tenens, or traveling doctor.  This meant when I was working, I wasn’t home and therefore was not feeling the stress of failure as a wife and mother.  And when I was home, I was off.  I could enjoy being a wife, mother and housekeeper.  I made a rule that when I was on the road, I would not eat out.  I allow myself one treat:  a yogurt parfait with granola and fruit.  And the pounds finally came off.  Melted off.  I’ve dropped from 175 to 142 and I’m still going.  I’ve got 20 pounds more to go, to get me back in my 6’s, or even 4’s.  I now am wearing a 10, and some 8’s are fitting.  My closet fits again!  I can wear all my clothes!  I’ve been trying on the entire closet, reveling in the fact that everything fits!

I’ve never been so happy since that weight has come off.  That 175 pounds was one of the most humiliating experiences of my life.  I missed opportunities to see old friends, because they would see how fat and ugly I looked.  I hung my head in shame when I met new people, because I knew they were judging me for my ugly, lumpy, misshapen bulging body.  I love photography, but for 2 years I dodged every opportunity to be photographed, even if it meant having no pictures with my family, because I couldn’t stand the sight of my ugly self.  For 2 years my Facebook profile pictures were pictures of my daughter.  I have never been so full of hatred and humiliation.  To hell with people who say, “Love yourself the way you are.  You’re beautiful at any size.”  I call bullshit.  I looked like pure shit crap.

So now I’ve gone on this self-improvement bender.  Not only have I lost weight, I’ve grown my hair out so it looks pretty, I’ve started wearing makeup again, and I had my teeth whitened (a whole other post).  I’m enjoying my hobbies again.  That ugly depression that dogged me for two years, it’s almost gone.  And it’s a circular thing.  The less depressed I was by work, the better I felt and the more able to improve.  The more improved I became, the more I liked to strut my stuff and the more the depression faded.

My advice:  change your life.  Your whole life.  It’s probably the suckiness of your life that’s keeping you where you are.  You probably hate yourself because you hate your life.  No matter how scary it is, make the bold move.  Decide what you want, and do it now.  Even if it means decreased income, decreased power, decreased approval from friends and family.  Do what you love now, before your life is over and you look back and you realize you hated the whole freaking thing.  Allow yourself to have dreams again.  For almost 10 years, I had no dreams, no goals.  I never imagined that things could be different.  When I finally made the move, the whole thing came together.  I have never been so happy.  DO IT.

Trim on my honeymoon

Trim on my honeymoon

My ugly fat body after birth - forewarning of things to come

My ugly fat body after birth – forewarning of things to come

Trimmed down again, about 135#

Trimmed down again, about 135#

Down to about 125#

Down to about 125#

Freakin’ rock bottom. 175# at my best friend’s wedding shower. Note: no makeup, didn’t even dry my hair, triple chin

Never mind the red eye. A friend took a picture of me when we ran into each other a couple days ago. She posted it on FB and captioned it: “Dr. H – 30# lighter!”

The Doctor Is The Patient

CT scanner, from aestheticdoctorsingapore

I became a patient instead of a doctor last night.  The day before yesterday, I flew home from North Dakota for a few days at home before going on a trip to South Dakota.  Yesterday, I experienced sudden left calf pain for no reason at all.  I hadn’t had a cramp, nor had I injured the leg in any way.  Sudden unexplained calf pain can be a sign of a DVT, or a deep venous thrombosis, which is quite dangerous as that blood clot can be thrown into the lung, which in severe cases can result in instant death.  Travelers are at high risk for a DVT because sitting for long periods of time can impede blood return from the legs to the heart, and with the blood pooling in dependent areas, it can set up as a clot.  I am also over forty years old and am on estrogen in the form of birth control, which increases my risk for DVT even more.

I considered the pain for a while, and I could think of no plausible reason for it to be there.  And knowing I had another plane trip in two days, it would seem very foolhardy to hop back on a plane and risk throwing a clot at 30,000 feet up, where there is no medical care available.  So I made the decision to take myself to the ER, as they would need to perform a number of tests, most of which are not available at an outpatient clinic.

I arrived at the ER, in my own hospital where I have worked for ten years, and signed in.  I was recognized immediately and was signed in.  Membership does have its privileges.  They instantly brought me back to triage, before an entire waiting crowd of people, had my vitals done and they whisked me directly to a bed.

They immediately drew bloodwork pertinent to the diagnosis of a DVT.  Everyone who came into the room recognized me and chatted with me.  The lab tech came in and said she’d drawn bloodwork a million times with my name on the order slip, but had never drawn blood on me.  She confessed she was a little intimidated.  I told her not to be; I have amazingly beautiful veins and I told her she would have no trouble accessing one.  Indeed, I was an easy stick.  While we were chatting, she told me she was pregnant, and that her doctor was my former partner, who is a great person, so I told her I was happy for her.

Next the ER doctor came in, and he is one of my friends, which was great.  He’s also brilliant, by any standards, which is also great.  He’s also qute eccentric, which I enjoy.  He was always calling me when I was on call, and he always starts his explanation with “I’ve got this girl here…”.  Doesn’t matter if the girl is twenty or eighty.  So he came in and chatted with me about what the problem was, and he checked out my leg and checked pulses and all that good stuff.  Then he ordered leg dopplers and headed back out.

The doppler tech came in, and I know her too, so we started chatting about all the crazy things going on in the hospital, and about how everyone is so scared for their jobs, because they are slowly shutting the hospital down.  She scanned the leg, and everything turned out OK.  Several years ago, I had contacted the CEO regarding equipment that they needed for the vascular lab and weren’t getting.  I asked if she ever got the equipment.  She smiled and said she got it the next day.  It was good to see her.

The RN came in to see if I needed anything.  We chatted too, about the job situation.  She’s a former EMT and firefighter, and she has maintained her certification in both so she may have more options than some.  She adjusted the thermostat for me and got me tucked in to wait on lab results.

The doctor came back in the room.  My clotting labs had come back abnormal.  He wondered if I had already thrown a clot from my leg into my lung.  If it was a bad one, I would have died already, so I would likely be OK.  But the abnormal lab meant I needed a chest CT to make sure there was no clot in my lungs, because if there was, I was going to have to take blood thinning medication to get it to go away and prevent future ones from happening.  I knew the CT would be done with contrast.  I’ve had a CT before, so I knew how weird it feels when they push that stuff into your vein.  You get a massive hot flush from your head to your toes, and a cough reflex when it hits your lungs.  It’s not a lot of fun.

That means I needed an IV.  The RN came back into the room to start it.  She too confessed that it was a bit intimidating to start an IV on a doctor.  I told her number one, I am not at all intimidating, and number two, I have beautiful veins and she would have no trouble getting one.  As advertised, she nailed it on the first try.  I didn’t even feel it much.  She told me I would have to keep my arm straight as it was at the bend of my elbow.

They came to pick me up for my CT.  I was wheeled down the hall, and the CT tech informed me that this contrast would be twice and much, and pushed twice as fast as the contrast I had had for my previous abdominal CT.  Great.  He also told me that the chest CT was the equivalent of 300 chest x-rays.  Double great.  We laid me out on the table and he did one pass without the contrast dye.  Then he rolled me back in and BAM I felt that stuff hit my body, a mile a minute, head to toe.  I was in the breath holding phase of the scan and the urge to cough when the stuff hit my lungs was almost impossible to control.  But I made it through, and it wasn’t even as bad as I had remained.  It gave me a really weird afterglow feeling in my privates for a minute or two though.  Then I was wheeled back to my room to wait for results.

The results took about forty five minutes.  I laid on the bed and kept my left leg straight because it hurt, and the right arm straight because there was an IV in it.  Then the doctor came back into the room and told me there was no clot in the lung.  Thank God!  Now I could travel to my next assignment and not have to be stuck in the hospital.  There were some other weird findings on my chest film though.  There were some areas that looked like I might have had TB, which as far as I know I’ve never had, as I am tested for it every year since I started med school.  Another possibility was histoplasmosis, which is common in the South and many people carry it asymptomatically in their lungs.  It only reactivates if you are somehow immunosuppressed.  Hopefully that will not happen.  Also, my blood sugar was a little high, and my blood pressure was a lot high, which kind of worried me.  Now I will have to go see my primary care doctor and have all these things worked up.

I didn’t get home until after midnight.  Hubby and daughter were passed out in the bed.  I was very relieved I didn’t have a blood clot, as I leave for South Dakota for work tomorrow.  My husband wondered in the morning why I didn’t wake him to give him the news when I got home.  I reminded him that he has insomnia and if he was asleep, I wanted him to stay that way.  So when I get back, I’ll be following up with my regular doctor to explain all these adjunctive findings that we came up with while ruling out the DVT.

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