Category Archives: Hyperventilate

I’ll stick with Diet Pepsi…

Yeah, take it from me: on a Monday morning when you’re struggling to wake up, remembering to pack a lunch, and figuring out what to wear, all at the same time, nothing snaps you awake like realizing your beagle/husky mix is quietly having a seizure in the living room.

Holy Crap.

Ricky was lying on his stomach, head stretched between his front legs, trembling violently all over, for about 2 minutes. Then he was a bit dopey for another minute or so. I was still dressed from the waist down in my stinky, should-have-been-washed-Sunday dog walking jeans and tennis shoes. I grabbed the first clean shirt in my closet, called the vet, loaded Ricky in the car, and tore off across town. Ricky was, of course, by now feeling fine and hanging his head out the window enjoying the unusual Monday morning adventure. Me, I got to work just in time to teach and realized mid-class that my once-a-month period migraine was starting. What a Monday.

They did a blood draw on Ricky. Apparently the most severe and immediate concern with seizures is liver/kidney failure, and he was fine in that department. He was dehydrated, though, which may be the foundation of the seizure. He’s been suffering an allergic reaction to a bug bite all weekend (I took him to the vet for that on Saturday morning) and when he’s not feeling well, Ricky just stops eating. I guess he was drinking less, too, but I hadn’t really noticed. The other possibility is the early signs of epilepsy, which is fairly easy (and cheap) to control in dogs, I understand, and may not ever require medication if seizures are few and far between. Either way, I’m glad my boy is doing well for now. He came home and drank a lot of water and ate a full meal for the first time since Thursday.

Now he’s resting, I’m resting post migraine, the parrot is asleep on my shoulder as I type this, Violet is snoozing beside me, and Astrid is in the basement, pissed as all hell that Ricky came home — she spent his absence stretched out on the living room sofa.

My credit card can use the rest, too.


I’ve seen to the dark side…

…and it is pink and lacy.

I’ve been single now for 7 years. And while I have dated, I knew during those relationships that they were nothing permanent, and I realized about three years ago just how much I enjoy living on my own.* And I want to make it clear that I arrived at that realization before moving to n.w. Iowa and coming to a second realization: that the likelihood of me meeting an attractive (to me, anyway) man here, given the small size of the town and the facts that I’m over 40, over-educated, over-tall, and overweight,** is pretty much nil.

Anyway, for at least three years now, I’ve thought of myself as a kind of born-again spinster of the Katharine Hepburn (or Granny Weatherwax, for you Pratchett fans) variety — a tough spinster. A no-nonsense spinster. A leather spinster. And then today, after a visit to the pet department of the local farm supply store (I’d gone in for flea spray and that’s a whole ‘nother story), I found myself at home putting new collars on the dogs. Oh, the collars themselves are serviceable enough, black nylon with plastic, backpack-type pressure buckles, but they are overlaid with strips of ribbon, like these.*** Printed ribbon. Matching ribbon. Cute-little-dog-bones-and-flowers-covered ribbon. And it gets worse: Violet’s ribbon is pink & purple and Ricky’s is shades of blue. And then I thought, “Oh, it’s not that bad. The really crazy single women dress their dogs in little outfits.” But when switching over the tags from their old collars to the new ones, I realized that, more than year ago, I had Ricky’s engraved ID tag made up as a blue bone. And Violet’s, which I bought in April, is a little. pink. heart.


Okay. Deep breath.

I’m going to spend this weekend reading a gritty, noir-esque fantasy novel and drinking beer, or possibly neat scotch (more likely munching peanut butter m&m’s, but we’ll pretend otherwise). Perhaps I’ll rent a movie centered on a spinster — Turn of the Screw….no, The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie….no, Jane Eyre……wait a minute, isn’t there one story in which the spinster is neither crazy and/or sexually deprived-depraved nor going around falling in love with a married man who just happens to have imprisoned his crazy fire bug wife in the attic?

Sheesh. It might have to be scotch after all.

*Which isn’t to say I wouldn’t like to date, or even form a long-term, monogamous, emotionally supportive, you-have-your-house-and-I-have-mine relationship. Or shag George Clooney.

**Plus, I have it on good authority that some men find me intimidating. Wusses.

***Except I paid A LOT less!

Home again, home again, jiggedy-jig

I’ve just returned from spending a week with my eldest sister and her family in Peabody, Kansas. A hot, humid, Scrabble-game-losing week.* We knitted and shopped** and Linda cooked fabulous, rib-(and hip-, no doubt) sticking meals and we watched a couple of DVDs. Just the kind of low-key visit to satisfactorily wind up my low-key, high-enjoyment Summer of Not Moving, Finally.***

I took the dogs, of course, and my BIL and nephew had built fence panels so Ricky and Violet could have a secure area to play (a little — it was hot) and poop (a lot) in. Very generous of the men folk and much appreciated.

And now I must share my moment of my humiliation**** and Linda’s triumph. To fully appreciate this, you must know that Linda is a full 18 years older than I am (62 to my almost-44); she’s not only biologically old enough to be my mother but believably so — it was even less unusual for an 18 year old to become a mother in the early 1960s than it is now. First, though, I must share two other factors that I know led to my downfall, but while I can acknowledge them, they do nothing to lessen the pain: 1) I’ve stopped dyeing my hair, which is significantly gray (I’ve grayed younger than any other of my siblings*****) and 2) in the eyes of a 21 or 22 year-old, anyone much over 30 is simply ancient.

But still….

Linda and I went to a bead store in a nearby town to repair some of her jewelry and to make matching earrings (meaning that I repaired and made, and she was incredibly picky about the color and quality of every. single. freaking. bead. in. the. store). We were sitting at a work table and chatting with a young female employee; when Linda left to get some sodas, I mentioned to the young woman that I was visiting from Iowa and that Linda and I are sisters.

“How nice,” she said, with a big, welcoming Midwest smile, “which one of you is the older sister?”

*I won 1 game and lost 4 (or maybe 5; abject defeats blend together, I find). Linda used all seven letters on the first play of the game TWICE. That’s just not natural, I tell you.

**In a four-town radius. Approximately one funky little shop per little farm town.

*** Summer 2005, I moved from Ohio to Iowa. Summer 2006, I moved into my new home. This summer, I napped. A lot.

****The Scrabble loses aren’t humiliating; nothing that certain and habitual can retain the power to humiliate for 30+ years

*****doubtless because I’m the youngest and have had to endure their abuse my entire life******

****** Think abuse is too strong a word? When I was three or four and walked into the house from the yard, Linda would say to me, “Who are you, little girl? You don’t live here. Go on home,” while pushing me back out the door. I grew up to be me — an old boyfriend once commented that I had abandonment issues. Linda, of course, grew up to be an elementary school teacher.


And today, we had the classic “I’m done being stressed out so I relaxed” migraine. I couldn’t go to Quaker meeting, which I’ve already skipped about 6 weeks in a row due to school, and I was stuck in a dark room all day, trying to nap past the pain. The dogs loved it, though, and stayed on the bed with me, eating rawhide bones.

A new post, real post soon, I promise. But I have to clean the house first. And if I don’t clean the birdcage soon, I’ll have to buy Zeke a tiny rebreather……

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Two weeks until the end of school, two and a half if you count graduation, which I should since all faculty have to robe up and attend. I’ve been having very unQuakerly thoughts about a couple of my students, their terrible, late, obviously-didn’t-look-at-the-assignment, depending-upon-weak-charm-rather-than-actual-work papers, and the Ordeal of a Thousand Paper Cuts.

Neither Jesus nor George Fox taught freshman composition.

Okay, I guess crucifixion for the world’s sins and oppression and continuous time in ooky English prisons trumps the end of the semester. I hate putting things into perspective.

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April Showers…

… bring April grading.

As the need to post to the blog simply adds to my guilt for all the essays I’m NOT grading while I grade other essays, eat, and sleep (in between grading other essays)*, I’m shutting down for a month. Look for more Oats come late May.

*9/10 of the time, I adore being an English teacher. Around the end of the second semester, though, I wonder why I didn’t become a science teacher.** They seem to spend April and May chatting while they feed Scan-tron forms into the reader.

**besides my lack of ability with math. And science.

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Well, Left o’ the Mississippi is back, and lots has happened since my last posts back in October. The most notable occurrence, however, was surgery, served up with painful squashiness and a soupcon of poetic justice.

Back when I was 34 (9 years ago), the recommended age for a baseline mammogram was raised from 35 to 40. This meant I could skip merrily along for another 6 years without having my breasts repeatedly smashed in a vise. And when I did turn 40, I was in graduate school with little insurance and less cash and, no matter what the medical community said, there was no way I was going to pay money for breast mangling that could better be spent on rent, novels, and peanut butter M&Ms. However, in the spring of my first year at BVU, armed with insurance, I submitted to that painful rite of passage that is the first step toward middle-age, menopause, and multiple cat keeping.

It hurt.

It was also surreal. The women’s center here is decorated in plums and teals and has changing rooms curtained off with rich, floral draperies, each room containing a willow basket of breast self-exam cards, pamphlets, handiwipes, and Hershey kisses. They asked me to undress from the waist up and gave me a lush, spa-style robe. Then, in the mammography room, the technician worked very hard to keep my off breast, the one not being x-rayed at a given moment, modestly covered while simultaneously slinging the naked one around like so much pizza dough. I suppose there are women so tender and shy, but I wanted to say, "Hey, we both know why I’m here. Slap the girls into the squeeze-o-rama, get this done, and send me on my way with some of that chocolate. Hey, you should give out little packages of peanut butter M&Ms!"

But I did not get any chocolate. Instead, at the end of the mammogram, I got to have an ultrasound because it turns out my breasts are full of fibery tissue. This was supervised by a male radiology doctor (everyone else I’d interacted with had been female and quite pleasant). His attitude could be summed up thusly: this is your first mammogram and why on earth did you wait two extra years and don’t you know breast cancer can develop even without a family history and it’s important that you are properly terrified of cancer and it’s especially important to keep track of changes in fibery breasts like yours and however often you’re doing your monthly self exams it isn’t often enough because we know you don’t do them every month and you probably don’t floss your teeth daily either and it’s absolutely criminal to let a person like you even have breasts if you’re not going to take care of them and you probably shouldn’t be allowed to take kittens home from the pound, either.

I didn’t like him.

The upshot of the ultrasound was that boy, I really do have fibery breasts, and I should come back in 6 months for another mammogram just in case. I did so, about 8 months later, in December. They repeated the squash-lecture-ultrasound and found a small lump deep in my left breast. Tiny, only 15 mm, but it had tripled in size since April.

Now, "lump" and "breast" are two words you don’t want to hear in the same sentence, much like "Bush" and "president." I told myself and others that I wasn’t too worried, because my sisters have had benign breast masses removed and there is no cancer in my family. I didn’t lose sleep or go off my feed.* On the other hand, if I hadn’t had a very dear friend as a houseguest at the time (hi Jennifer) and another dear friend in town staying elsewhere (hi Andy), I might have come completely unraveled during my waking, non-eating hours because whenever I thought about my mass, growing away inside my breast where I couldn’t feel it or see it or reason with it, I wanted to wallow in a hot bath and cry and drink cheap brandy in fruit juice.**

Also, to make an unpleasant situation worse, even though the lump was found around January 10, the surgery couldn’t be scheduled until January 31. This not only left me lots of time to cheerfully insist to people in the know that I was fine, really, and then take long, hot, teary, brandy and fruit juice baths, but put my surgery smack in the middle of the first week of classes. And just try to plan a course syllabus while slightly drunk in the bathtub.

On the day of surgery, my classes canceled, I found myself back in the ultrasound room, waiting for a radiology doctor to show up and drive a long, hollow needle into my breast in order to set a copper wire into the mass, for the surgeon to follow during surgery. Now, I’d been told about the hollow needle by several nurses and doctors over the course of the previous three weeks*** and every singe one of them assured me that my skin would be numbed first. "Oh no", explained the radiology tech while preparing me for the insertion, "the doctor feels that instead of making you endure two pricks, both the lidocaine and the hollow needle, you’re better off just having the one. And it’s only piercing the skin that hurts. The needle glides through the fat of your breast like it’s just butter. Unless you have really fibery breasts, in which case it can be more painful."

"Have you even looked at my chart?" I started to ask, but was interrupted when the radiology doctor came in. I’d been afraid it would be the male doctor who had lectured me before,**** but it was instead a large woman with long, blond hair and a German accent. She was quite nice and funny. She was all positioned to do the hollow needle thing when the chat I was having with her and the tech turned to the topic of pro-choice and clinic protests.***** The doctor, having what turned out to be strong pro-choice, anti-anti-abortion picketer sympathies, started waving her arms above her head and loudly declaiming that anyone with balls simply cannot be allowed to make reproductive choices for women. Except she used a bit more profanity. I can’t remember it all because, by that time, she was gloved up and holding the hollow needle in one of her righteously flailing hands. So I sat up a little and said, "I agree. Could you calm down a little before you do the whole plunging the needle into my breast thing?" and she laughed and apologized and calmed down and then plunged the needle in and, while it wasn’t the most excruciating pain I’d ever had, it was memorable enough that I’m hunching over a bit just while typing this.

When that procedure was done, I was left with about 5 inches of thin, dark wire protruding from the upper, inner curve of my left breast. The wire was capped with a small blue plastic cylinder, which had enough weight to make the wire arc a bit, so the whole thing curved out from my breast and bobbed gently with every movement. The thought that there was another 3 or 4 inches of wire inside my breast made me a little ill,****** so I instead considered the wire’s similarity to a radio antenna and wondered what I’d do if my left breast suddenly started playing am/fm.

Then a nurse came into the room to escort me to the next stop on my journey toward surgery. Explaining that we had to be very careful about moving me, since sometimes the wires come out and then have to be replaced (meaning you have to have a long, hollow needle stabbed into your fibery breast again), she cupped her hand under my left breast and supported it as I walked across the hall (because hey, where your left breast is taken, you pretty much have to follow) into — Holy Shit — the mammography lab. Yes, it seems that the surgeon wanted not only the guiding wire itself, but mammograms of the wire in the breast available to him during surgery AND I DON’T CARE HOW GOOD AND CAUTIOUS AND METICULOUS A SURGEON HE IS, HE’S ONLY DOING THIS BECAUSE HE’S NEVER HAD AN ORDINARY MAMMOGRAM, LET ALONE ONE DONE ON A BREAST THAT’S JUST BEEN SAVAGED BY A RAVING, HOLLOW NEEDLE WIELDING GERMAN RADIOLOGIST.

It really hurt. And here’s the poetic justice: remember the second paragraph of this post where I explained how I’d managed to duck getting a baseline mammogram for 8+ years? Well, here I was, having my third mammogram in 8 months — a total of 18 breast-smashing exposures, the last four being the dreaded "hollow needle special."

After the mammogram, they taped the wire to my breast to keep it in place, returned my breast to my custody and my robe, and sent me back for the surgery. That went as surgeries do, with the anesthesiologist making bad jokes and then me waking up in recovery with a nifty new 1 1/4 inch incision and minus a breast mass, which turned out to be benign. I was given Tylenol with codeine for pain, which was a total gyp — a bottle of something more fun, like Vicodin, should be standard issue following any surgery, just like getting a lollipop when you’re good at the doctor’s office. Then I was released and told I could go to work the next day.

And here’s the good part about the surgery (besides not having, you know, cancer): my school and my colleagues were fabulous. Two different instructors came over to make sure Ricky got his walks. The Associate Dean of Faculty took me to the hospital, waited during my surgery, took me home, went and got my (wimpy) drugs, and called me every 4 or 5 hours to check on me. She and my chairperson, as well as the Dean of Faculty, insisted I stay home the next day (and the next, if I needed), despite the fact that I was released for work the day following surgery. Heck, the university president’s office even sent me a huge get-well bouquet. Oh, and my lovely neighbors sent over dinner and dessert the night after the surgery.

And that’s how I spent my winter vacation.

*of course, it would take something really serious, like death, to put me off my feed, and even then I might scrounge around the morgue for a bit of chocolate.

**Leftover Xmas brandy in Welsh’s Tropical Cherry juice, with lots of ice. Yum.

***Surgery consult, GP pre-op visit, various chatty nurses, Internet medical sites.

****Thus introducing a third prick into the hollow needle discussion.

*****Don’t ask me how we got on that subject. Deep inside, I was gibbering over the whole hollow needle thing.

******I can’t watch someone give me a shot or take my blood. I can’t even watch someone get a shot in a movie or tv show. Oddly enough, I had no problem watching the doctor slice into men’s testicles during my Planned Parenthood vasectomy clinic assistant days.

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