Thursday, December 31, 2009

Where I Want to Be In One Year

It's New Years Eve 2009 and I'm miserable. I have more bills than money, my health sucks and my husband can't find a job in the field he studied for. I am absolutely determined to change all this in the coming year. Now understand I don't mean I'm going to win the lottery or my husband will magically find a job. What I mean is I'm going to find a way to be satisfied with where I'm at. Remember I was told I was dying and had about 6 months to a year to live. The doctor ultimately admitted, although he had no explanation for it my lungs were better than he expected and I was functioning at 50%. He expected me to be much lower than that. People from everywhere sent me prayers and I did a fair amount of praying myself. Something changed me inside. Despite all that I've been miserable all day. I wait all month for my pension check and its gone before I get it. So I'm determined that in 2010 I'm going to get a handle on my money and figure out where its running off to. I'm going to adhere to a strict budget and give myself an allowance. I'm going to face the large amount of money that my medical bills take each month. Facing this means facing the illnesses the medicine takes care of and that's a tough one. Telling myself repeatedly that I'm better off than many doesn't work. I suspect it doesn't work for most people struggling through tough times. But I'm going to figure out how to get through this and will write about it here. As I've said before, I'm going to figure out who retired Susan is and that includes figuring out who Susan In Control is. I've been wrapped about this big rock for the past 3 years and its been rolling me instead of me rolling it.

Now don't get me wrong. There aren't going to be magic changes. I figure if at some point the Prozac starts working that's going to help alot. A big part of all this is that I've never failed at anything in my entire adult life. I've had set backs but failure is simply not a part of my thinking. I have to find a way to move beyond the failure of my business and move on to the original dream...the dream that drove me to work all night and go to college all day. It never went away. I just assumed it was too late to pursue it. Instead I got in touch with my college professor and asked a hard question. Is it too late for a 56 year old woman to become a published writer. He looked at me as if I lost my mind and said "Of Course Not!" So I'm going take his response and try to write just a little each day on the novel that's been rolling around inside my head for years. Cross your fingers for me that at the end of 2010 instead of frustration I'll have a completed novel.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Did You Know Its Possible to Dislocate Your Foot?

Well I went to the foot doctor and it turns out my foot's dislocated. My toes separated from my foot! Who knew? I didn't even know that was possible. The doctor says he's going to put a caste on the foot but didn't go into alot of details because first he has to cure the blister. All of this is scary stuff. The blister is on the toe bone and its been getting larger. Once we fix the blister (because I'll be damned if I'll lose my foot over a blister) then we'll cast the foot. Stay tuned for how he'll put the foot back together. I'm having some pretty horrifying images in my head like snapping it all back together again. Yikes!

I'm fighting the depression hard. Some days it wins and some days I win. You can tell when I win because I manage to write in my blog. I can only hope you're not sick of my bitching and whining. Hang in there with me. I WILL overcome this. Have you ever considered how much of what you do focuses around work? If you rarely left the house how often would you wash up, dress up, put on makeup, all the things that are a part preparing for work each day? We think of not having to do those things on the weekend as a relief. And getting a vacation break as a great time to not have to do those things. I greatly miss the work world and all the social things that go with it. I'm trying to figure out what you do when you don't have the work world. I'm genuinely baffled by this. My New Years resolution is to leave the house more often. I'm becoming way too comfortable with staying home and I think I'm bordering on agoraphobia which is definitely not the direction I want to go in.

Hang in there with me folks. I'm still searching for answers. If I can figure out the things that are blocking me (health issues, inertia) I can overcome all the other things.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Finding Time to Write

It's surprising how motivating it can be knowing people are actually reading what I write. I've switched around to writing first thing and then facing everything else I have to deal within the day. Rather than think of my writing as a self-pitying tirade I know (from the comments) that there are other's out there dealing with chronic illnesses so on I go. I've got a theory about some people who appear mentally ill and walk around talking to themselves and won't talk to others. I think they're in pain. Imagine having lupus or fibromyalgia or rheumatoid arthritis and being unable to get the medical care or medicine that would help with that excruciating pain? The cold you're living in only makes it worse. Who would you trust to tell about the problem? It maybe a catch-22. The colder it gets the worse the problem.

I hate dealing with money. There never seems to be enough no matter how I try to slice up the month. Being on a fixed income from disability and pension check means there's nothing coming in in the future, no raise, no bonus, this is it. Since I'm only 56 its a long time to deal with one income. I know I'm luckier than so many since my pension and disability are based on the final income I received from NYS while working as an appointee. And I have my husbands income which I know will improve once the economy improves. But for this moment its not enough and I want to scream. Its my job to make the money thing work. He goes out the door each night and making the budget work is my job. I spent 8 HOURS going over bills and budgets and goddess knows what else and I still couldn't get it right. Where do people get their magic money at Christmas time? Do they max out their credit cards? Do they pick a bill they just don't pay? We don't even celebrate Christmas time anymore. The children are grown so its just a simple gift for one another. No tree because the cats would climb it and who knows what Herman would do to it. What baffles me even more are people who go shopping after Christmas. I'm talking about ordinary people. Where does that money come from? Do they wait to buy all their gifts? I know I think way too much about money and I don't know how to stop it. When you've had money and then you don't have money it can be positively painful. To go from a six figure salary to just being able to pay your bills messes with your head. I find myself looking at the tv and thinking "I bet Katie Couric takes a town car home. I bet Whoppi Goldberg doesn't worry about bills." Now Whoopi is one of my favorite movie stars and I know she came up through tough times. There are people you just have to give their props to. They deserve everything they get because they worked hard for it. Still its easy to get lost in the jealousy and hard to fight.

When my children were small I tried to give them these amazing Christmases which would practically bankrupt me. When Christmas was over I was usually left with a stack of bad checks and the fear of being arrested. I look back on that time and wonder what the hell got into me. I wanted to give them something better than I had which I guess everybody has tried to do. This morning I saw Sting talking about the exact same thing. His memories of how his childhood Christmases didn't match his expectations and how we don't recognize the reality of that. I have alot of respect for him saying that. Sometimes we only see these movie and rock stars as they are right now and not how they got here from there.

Tomorrow is foot doctor day. Since my toes went right and my foot went left the primary doctor says that's what happens to people with rheumatoid arthritis and there's nothing that can be done. I hope she's wrong. Even an orthotic for my sneaker would stop me from constantly falling over. Cross your fingers for me.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Late at Night Again

It's 3:05am and its been a bad day. When I got out of bed this morning I fell right to the floor. Turned out my blood sugar had fallen to 70 which would have been OK except it was above 600+ the night before. It made sense to take additional insulin but I guess I over did it. All I could think of was what if Stephen hadn't been there? How long would I have laid on the floor? We tested all day looking for a balance and things seemed to balance by late afternoon around 300 something. It must be so scary for people to be alone but doubly so for people who are sick. All day Stephen took care of me, making me lunch, bringing iced tea, making me a sandwich and just sitting with his laptop while watching over me. He says its his job, his responsibility. It amazes me but he never seems to tire of it, never yells at me, just says how grateful he is that I love him. My mother often told me that I was too ugly to ever expect to marry so I didn't. But here I am married to this extraordinary man who told the INS that his only reason for coming to America was to care for me and he's been good to his word. Its late at night and I always find it difficult not to sink into that sadness that comes from examining ones life too closely. Each physical setback is harder and harder to overcome, harder to convince myself that I'll climb back over the wall once again. I know I will but it takes a bit of time to convince ones self. Hang in there with me.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Bits and Pieces

I was watching this show called Hoarders on A&E. I think anyone who watched jumped up and cleaned off the kitchen table. It has that effect on you. Then I cleaned off the kitchen counters, then the top of the little freezer until things were basically cleaner. Its so strong the way things effect you when you think they have nothing to do with you. Somewhere buried deep inside you something is triggered and you dissolve in a torrent of tears.

My husband: My husband is a rock and I am his water. I am the water that constantly flows around him. Sometimes the water is slow and smooth, sometimes its a torrent, sometimes its a hurricane. These are metaphors for madness. Toss in my terrible physical health and you've got a very difficult person to live with and yet he stands firm against it all. I have times when he has to sponge bath me because I can't stand up long enough to take a shower. He puts on my compression stockings and then dresses me with pants and a shirt. He makes sure I take my 39 pills throughout the day. I'm deeply grateful and at times furious. No one wants to need a caretaker. I've tried to let go of the image of the strong woman I used to be who went to the gym at 5am every day and after being on weight lifting machines would speed walk to the gym, work out on the weight machines and then slowly walk back home for a cool down. I loved greeting each morning that way, seeing the sunrise, feeling the coolness of the wind on my skin. To have gone from that to having to use a seat In the bathroom so I can sit down safely and wash up makes me want to scream at the top of my lungs....WHERE IS THE WOMAN I USED TO BE!!!!! Now I do go to therapy and have a wonderful therapist whose been trying for two years to help me face the loss of who I used to me.

Wow...I started writing about how wonderful my husband is and slid into writing about how angry I am. This is certainly something in to consider at my next therapy session. Anyway, right now we're working on who "retired Susan" is. In many ways she's completely different from working Susan. We're all brainwashed think of retirement as hanging out on the golf course or sailing off on a cruise but the truth is far from it. I can't afford to do any of those things for starters. Retirement means you're on a fixed income. There'll be no more raises so your budget has to meet the fact that your locked in. It can be really scary. The other part is I was a type A worker moving at the speed of light. If you wanted something done that one else could do give it to Susan. I loved having that reputation. Going from Type A to sitting in an armchair is not my style. I loved wearing expensive business suits, going to meetings and talking about my weekend with my co-workers on Monday mornings. Before you say "there's still alot you can do" remember I'm retired AND disabled.

Since I've had enough of "self-pity retired Susan" I've started reaching out to non-profit organizations that can use my 25+ years of finding, writing, training, you name it, about grants. I found this great online thing called Volunteer Match. For instance I'm working on line with a group that needs help with their grant writing skills. For getting out of the house my daughter told me to "just put the damn diaper on" and leave the house. I had the idea of adding brightly coloured granny panties in case I finally had the car accident that all our mothers have been warning us about since we were old enough to drive. I joined another wonderful organization (the local chapter) called AAUW - Association of American University Women. Unfortunately I'm finding getting out of the house much harder. Between being too sick to get out of bed and being paralzyed by agrophobia I've missed two meetings. None the less I believe I can do this. I went to a writers group meeting at the library and was really I'm impressed with the calibar of writing and they like the beginning chapters of my novel. I'm not up to writing about that in my blog yet but I will hopefully be one day. So dear readers I'm trying. I figure if I write in my blog consistently it will force me to get healthier or at least sit up in bed. Hang in there with me and thanks for the encouraging comments.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Giving Up My Dog Herman

Herman's been away at boot camp this past week and a half. Boot camp is defined as staying with a woman that has a better grasp of how to control dogs than I do. She has 2 or 3 dogs and apparently Herman is having a ball romping in the fenced in back yard with the other dogs, rolling around in the living room and sleeping in his now appropriately sized crate (as compared to the too small one I'd been putting him in-and yes that was yet another source of guilt). The woman and I have spoken several times and it seems clear that she can provide him with the kind of energetic life he needs. I can't even walk him. It takes alot to get him across the deck and onto the run. I've discussed it with my children and my daughter said would I be willing to live with a boyfriend that only hit me a couple of times a month which is the equivalent of Herman biting me hard a couple of times a month. I've been doing some online reading about Lhasa Apsos and they're not sweet gentle dogs. In fact they tend to want to dominate the situation they live in and do not like being told to not do something. Not exactly the best type of pet for a disabled woman with mobility issues. So I'm seriously considering letting Herman stay with the family he's currently boarding with. Did I mention this is killing me emotionally?

One of the things I didn't know about myself until recently is that I'm very social. Finding myself home alone for hours is actually painful to me. Herman is company. Despite knowing he doesn't understand a word I say I talk at him incessantly. He'd tip his head and look at me as if to say that he did actually understand me. He is my company and companion. Giving him up means going back to spending alot of time alone again. I'm not so altruistic as to be able to just give the dog away because that's what's best for him. I'm really struggling with this. But I find myself beginning to fear being bitten more and more. When we curl up in bed together he growls at me if I expect him to move over. Given that he's only 8 months old this is not good. I keep wondering how he'll behave at the age of 1 year. I need to make a decision soon. At least I know he'll go to a really good home if I give him up.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

I've Become One of Those Women That Calls Her Dog Sweetie

In my own defense I'd like to point out that these emotions sneaked up on me. Herman, my dog, has been behaving horribly, biting me hard enough to draw blood. He's been incredibly disobedient, destroying my glasses and numerous other things. A good friend runs a dog boarding and training business and suggested that Herman spend two weeks with her pack of dogs and I agreed. I didn't make it through one damn day without calling her to check on my dog. I needed to know he's OK. She was wonderfully patient explaining how Herman has already begun to change some of his negative behaviors. I'm the problem.

She pointed out that he's overweight. Well hell so am I! What's the problem? But I honestly do know it can be a problem for a pet. She explained that the mixture of wet and dry dog food I give him is great but stop feeding him all the people food. My motto has been "Whenever I eat Herman eats. Whatever I eat Herman eats." My first thought was "Who am I going to eat with now?" I had no idea I'd become so dependent upon the company of a dog. My husband works the night shift at a group home. When he comes home in the mornings he wants to play his computer games for awhile to unwind and then go to sleep. A thousand years ago when I worked the midnight shift in a hospital I'd wake up in two hours increments. He sleeps straight through for six hours. I've never seen anything like it. Consequently I'm left in total silent alone.

I started out fascinated by this then soon began talking to myself. From there I went to talking to the cat, who I might say NEVER responded to a single question I posed. Its like solitary confinement. Television is canned conversation. You have all these thoughts and nowhere to put them; Consider blogging she said slyly. Anyway Herman became my person to talk to. I've tried taking him for a drive in the car with me but each time so far he's thrown up. I can personally attest to how unpleasant it is to have a dog throw up when your going 50 miles an hour. I don't understand people with their dogs hanging out the car window. The dog looks happy as hell. How'd they get them to do that? I can't even get my dog to come when I call him. So I'm officially a woman that owns a dog she talks to. My mother took care of my dog after I ran away from home. When I'd visit years later she would talk to the dog as he was a person and I arrogantly laughed at her behavior. Now here I am living the retirement life, behaving strangely. Just wait. Your time will come. You'll get so desperate to hear the sound of another voice you'll go sit in a Starbucks and when you sit down you'll realize you don't even like coffee. Just like that Boston bar but instead of Norm they'll yell your name and you'll be delighted.

I feel sicker today. My ankle is so badly swollen I can't wear a shoe. The doctors warned me this would happen, that I would hurt myself and not know it happened because the nerves are dying. I have flash moments of absolute terror. Then the world settles down. My heart tells me somehow "not today" and I calm down. Every since the doctor backed away from his prognosis that I'm dying immediately, or as he said "You have 50% lung capacity. No transplant hospital will take you until your much lower than that." I've been living that tightrope life. My time appears to be about two years give or take a missed diagnosis, I'd like to see my time add up to about another 20 years. I can't swear that the universe agrees with me though.

Monday, November 16, 2009

What Does Retirement Look Like for a Type A Persomality

I feel as if I jumped on a mental merry-go-round. I can't focus on one thought. Its the hurry hurries time 1000. Its as if something broke loose inside me. I keep thinking "Is this what true madness feels like?" A relentless whirling feeling? Well like dying I refuse to accept it. This is a question of determining what's keeping me up nights. I think I'm closing in on it. I don't know who retired Susan is. What does she do? What does she wear? From the simple to complex - all that I was was about the professional world, the business world, the world of achievement. These are the things that defined me. Being a fat black woman on a little red electric scooter is definitely NOT how I envisioned myself when I got older and lets not even talk about becoming disabled. I'm so disabled I got SSDI on my first try which I'm told is practically unheard in my category. So what does disabled retired Susan look like?

A thousand years ago my first step towards professionalism was shopping at Kmart. Yes I said Kmart. I was working nights at a psych center and having some very unpleasant things thrown at me. My clothes stunk so badly I usually thew them away after a few months. But I also wanted to dress a little better than the standard uniform when I went to my college class. Blue jeans and a nice blouse was a step up. The other day I found myself back in Kmart. I needed a new watch and my days of buying at Macy's are over. It was startling to find myself back where it all began and it felt like a major failure. When you work towards going up you never imagine you could go back down too. I'm reading a series of articles about who are you in the November Oprah (I just love that magazine) and the article is timely for me because that's my big question - who is retired Susan? What resonates about these articles is how many of the women they interviewed knew what they wanted to be when they grew up. For me there was absolutely no expectation that I would be anything when I grew up. Remember this was the 60's and MLK hadn't gone to the mountaintop yet. Little black girls were rarely encouraged to envision much more than a good cleaning job. My mother would often tell me I was too ugly to expect to marry so I needed a trade to support me. Consequently each summer I spent time with various women learning everything from plain sewing, to knitting, crocheting, tatting and finally quilting. The quilting remains with me even today. Yet through all those years the one thing that never left was an intense desire to write. I'd write about anything and on anything I could get my hands on. I can still hear my mother saying "You'd better not be writing about me girl." Of course I was usually writing about her.

Writing is why I originally went to college. I published in both literary reviews and published in a literary review called "Ploughshare" at the end of my senior year at Vassar. I turned away from my writing for the same reason most people turn away from their dreams - I had a family to support. Now the family has long since grown and gone, although I'm deeply grateful for how often they stay in touch. So I guess there's no time like the present to dust off my creaky writing skills. It's a very good sign that my college writing teacher is excited about having lunch with me. Winter maybe approaching but its starting to feel a bit like spring to me.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Living In The Shadows of Fear

I've been walking in the shadows of fear for three years now and its hard to believe. Ten yearsn ago I gave a speech to an audience of over 1,000 people. Afterward I was asked if I was afraid and I arrogantly replied "Yes but I did it anyway." The woman was astonished and said she couldn't imagine doing something like that. When I worked for the Governor of NYS I flew all over New York teaching about grants. I was usually alone and traveling alone when you're disabled is no picnic but I did it and then I retired and shortly thereafter became severely disabled. For me, being retired sucks. If you don't work you cease to exist, have nothing to discuss, see no one outside of your house. I lost my definition and worse I had no income. I knew that money mattered to me, was important to me but I'd forgotten how defined people are by their incomes. Without one I had no bargaining chip, nothing to negotiate with when talking to the telephone or electric company. In the space of three years I went from someone In a position of authority with a six figure income to someone begging and pleading for help, borrowing twenty dollars from a neighbor to buy groceries and I couldn't handle it.

At this moment in time I'm cracking up which is a polite way of saying I'm dancing on the head of a pin on the verge of falling off. I rarely leave the house because if I run into anyone I know they'll ask what I'm doing and I don't know what to say. "Well I'm on the verge of a nervous breakdown but thanks to the work of a wonderful therapist I haven't been hospitalized yet. Why is this so damn hard? I've never failed at anything I've tried in my adult life. I've had set backs but hell we've all had set backs. So what is this, this fearfulness of failure? My daughter said that the primary reason most people go to college is to improve their income...period. She's absolutely right. Its certainly the reason I worked a full time night shift at the local psychiatric hospital and went to Vassar College full time days and yes it was hell thank you very much, but I did it anyway. Now to be fair to myself being disabled and in poor health really really sucks. I leave the house with enough equipment to start up a small war and that's not counting my little red scooter. Between my fear of actually needing the equipment and my fear of passing out somewhere without the appropriate medical notes readily available for a stranger to read I'm carrying some serious fear AND my large purple bag full of medical equipment. You can see why I've got issues. Nonetheless I've got to find a way to break out of this. My newest idea is to plan around errands. Since I seem to live at the pharmacy I'm trying to make going there the goal of the day. I figure if I can get over my agoraphobia I can move on to larger goals like reinventing myself and figuring out who "retired Susan" is. Stay tuned. The doctor now says he was wrong about my death time table and I actually have time to figure all this out. Not as much as most people but alot more than I initially thought.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Things Aren't Going Well With My Dog

I got a dog a few months ago thinking he'd make a good companion. Despite the person assuring me the dog wouldn't get very large and would have a sweet disposition he's turning out to be the exact opposite. He's pushing 20lbs. and goes from zero to 150 in the blink of an eye. Last night, because he didn't want to go into his crate for crapping on the rug he attacked me. My hands are severely bitten and he drew blood in several places. Despite all this I really love this dog. 95% of the time he's sweet and loving. Its the rest of the time that's a problem. I've gotten some great advice from face book friends but I'm afraid this is his disposition and there's not much that can be done. I'm waiting to talk to a dog trainer to see if she's got some advice for me. It would break my heart to give the dog up. By the way, he's a Lhasa Apso - a lion dog. Now I understand how such little dogs could serve as palace guards in Tibet!

Saturday, September 19, 2009

The Hardest Part of Blogging Is Honesty

I'm learning that one of the hardest parts of writing a blog is putting your life out there. You start off thinking you're willing to tell the whole wide world how you're feeling but then the reality hits. You start asking yourself question's like "Do I really want to talk about my sex life, my finances, my favorite foods?" Alright so maybe not favorite foods. But talking about really personal issues can give you pause, to say the least. I'm 56 but I talk like I'm 96. I constantly refer to myself as old and if I looked in the mirror (which I rarely do) I doubt I'd recognize myself. I think it's a combination of having retired and being on disability at the same time. Everything happened at once and all of it too fast. It's taken me four years to face the reality of who I am now. I think I've finally waded my way out of the Swamp of Self-Pity although I understand now how people get lost and never find their way out. The cliche "it's like swimming through mud" comes to mind alot.

In the past I arrogantly said things like "If she really wanted to change she would." I feel like i should hunt up all the people I said things like that to and apologise. I've gone through some pretty dark times in my life but these last four years have been among the worse. Still, I have been extraordinarily fortunate to have a devoted husband and good health insurance. The good health insurance brought me the medical and psychiatric help I needed to climb out of the swamp. I decided to treat retirement like a business that I really enjoy. I'm helping two non-profits I respect with grant searches and possibly grant writing. I've also signed up for something called Volunteer Match. I figure at the very least I can help non-profits find grants. I've been complaining to my husband that no one wants my 25+ years of grants experience. What I really meant was why aren't people pounding down the door or calling me on the phone begging for help. The truth is no matter what your field except for a few people our time in the spotlight is brief. That's a hard thing to accept. I keep thinking that the problem with Hillary Clinton (stay with me on this) was that she couldn't accept that her time to be top dog had passed and it was President Obama's turn. She's got an amazing job now but it's not President. I was once so popular I actually turned down requests to sit on non-profit boards. I once had breakfast (many many years ago) with the Chancellor of the State University of New York. I don't know which left me feeling more speechless - his apartment or the woman waiting on me hand and foot. I was all that and thought I always would be. Boy was I wrong. Things change and time runs out. Most important of all the old ones were right. They used to always tell us "at least you have your health." I never understood what they meant until I suddenly didn't have my health to count on.

So anyway the journey continues. The pulmonologist said that, although my lungs are down to 50% capacity that's still alot better than he expected. In fact he was down right puzzled about it. I figure with all those people saying they were going to pray for me or at least think good thoughts about me it really helped.

Friday, August 7, 2009

It's Hard to Keep A Good Blog Going

I haven't written in some time because I just didn't know what to say. How often can you complain and moan about being in pain without the reader thinking "shut up already." But somewhere out there is someone else going through what I am so I decided to keep writing. What makes me angriest is when my body betrays me. When you stand up you expect your legs to support you. Falling to the floor is simply not in the script. Unfortunately someone forgot to tell the person writing my script so when got up last night to go to the bathroom i fell to the floor. Since my husband was at work I had to lay there for awhile until I could get myself up. Body betrayal. It's a new term I've coined - body betrayal. I'm back to the screaming and moaning stage of this damn illness. I increased the Fentanyl patches but I don't know where to go from here. I feel like I completely understand what happened to Michael Jackson. I'm in so much pain I don't give a damn what may happen, just give me something to make the pain stop. This time it's my hands. My hands, my hands. How do you function without being able to use your hands? Each tap of the keyboard sends a shock up my fingers that demands I stop typing, stop lifting that glass, stop moving that fork. Had to stop writing. My fingers just wouldn't' allow me to continue.
Two days later - Last night things got bad. Each time I urned over in bed I screamed, actually screamed out loud. I pulled out every pain killer I had but I get afraid I'll mix and match too many pills so I only take so much. That means making the choice of pain vs. pills. Come daylight Herman (my dog) forced me out of bed with his need to be walked. I couldn't walk him but did manage to get him in the backyard and on a leash. That's the thing about a dog. He forces me to set pain aside, set myself aside and take care of him. I would have lain in bed until Stephen came home, afraid to move for fear of setting things off in my body. Despite all this there's been good news and interesting developments. I did a local radio show and talked about grants. It made me feel as if my experience and knowledge are of value to someone out there in the listening public. Believe it or not I was partnered with several rappers and we all really enjoyed each others knowledge. That came as a really big surprise to me. I figured what do I have to say that would be remotely of interest to these youth. Instead I really enjoyed their music and offered them some helpful suggestions about places to look for funding for music. I also talked a bit about the history of rap as I know. I was amazed at what they didn't know. It never ceases to amaze me how I can find connections when I turn off the occasional self pity faucet (hey it's only occasional) and take a good look. I also gave a brief speech at a celebration for the Americans with Disabilities Act conference. Fulfilling is an overused word but I really did enjoy getting out of the house and taking part.

Friday, May 1, 2009

Fashions for Dying

Every since designers discovered that fat women have money to spend I've been into fashion. I've bounced between a size 16 and size 22 and have always been able to find stylish clothes and accessories. In fact, when I was working I had a reputation for dressing well and was often asked by size 5 women where I got my clothes. That was always a treat. Since I've been home due to disability and retirement there's been no reason to dress up. No reason to put on the expensive makeup or spray the expensive perfumes. There's also been no money to maintain those things. There's been no reason to behave as if I was dressing to go to work every morning. But a funny thing happened on the way to the funeral parlor...I started caring about how I look.

Now I'm not talking about wanting to look good in case I unexpectedly drop dead because as I understand it that's won't be how I die. I mean not going to doctor's appointments looking like I really am two steps from deaths door, doing nothing more than showering and putting on clean jeans and a shirt. I have spectacular earrings and necklaces and eye shadows that match damn near any color clothing I put on. But putting on makeup or earrings or necklaces implies hope and I'm not so sure I've had much of that lately. There are definitely days I know I'm NOT DYING. I can feel it in my soul. It's just not my time. But there are other times, other days when my body hurts so much and I'm gasping for air and I'm not sure of anything other than that I hate feeling like this. I rarely leave the house and it makes no sense to go through all these "dress up" changes just for myself. My husband works the night shift and loves me like I am...dressed up or dressed down. I also don't have the money to buy the clothes and other things I used to.

Still, when I think about what is the fashion of death or perhaps the fashion of hope I have to dig some of those beautiful shirts out of the back of my closet and at least start shopping for makeup at a local discount store I recently found. Clothes and makeup have always been my armour, my protection against a world that didn't accept my skin color or size and its worked well. I'm not sure what to wear to protect myself against pain, bad health and death. Perhaps the color blue? OK I'm being facetious. I actually think I want to wear bright colors like orange, red, yellow and of course purple. I've always loved the line from the book "The Color Purple" where Shug Avery says "I think its pisses God off if you pass by the color purple and don't nod at it." And of course there's the book "When I'm An Old Woman I'll Wear Purple."

So I guess what I'm saying is its time to get back to at least caring a little about how I look to the world. It's time to find reasons to leave the house and see people again. The thing is, I talk a good game but can I actually do it?

Thursday, April 23, 2009

The Wonder of Freedom

I live on the corner in a small city. Bus's come and go on my corner and I watch people waiting for the buses, sometimes huddling together during bad weather. Mothers and fathers walk past my house on their way to the large daycare center at the bottom of the hill. The problem is that I don't think of this as a house in the middle of a city. My tiny and I do mean tiny house has one amazing thing about it. The front has a sun room with almost floor to ceiling windows. Not knowing any better about cost and interest rates we had the windows installed almost the second we bought the house over 20 years ago. Now I've filled the windows with plants and anything else that meets my fancy. I pretend the room and my house is in the middle of the country. This can cause some problems when I dress as if I'm completely alone in the country - like staying in my pajamas all day. I'm usually yanked back to reality when someone runs the stop sign almost directly beside my house. The street ends in a T and running the stop sign can mean smashing into whoever is driving down the straight part of the T. It also means having to put up with people spinning their wheels and gunning their engines as they climb the hill. After 20 years I've become pretty tolerant about the cars. I have not, however, given up the feeling of living in the country. I live in one of those city's called "A Tree City." This means that back when America had money there was a grant program that provided seedlings to city's so they could move from asphalt to green. Since there was no money to maintain the trees they periodically have to be cut down due to old age but by and large it makes my little city quite pretty. Its one of the many things I love about it. When my British husband visited for the first time the crab apple trees were blooming. He was quite astonished.

I pretty much stay in pajamas unless all day unless I have to go out. For instance today is one of my favorite days - no doctor appointments, thus no reason to get into real clothes. The problem is I'm beginning to understand how old women become recluses who forget to shower, dress or even leave the house. I call them "Window Widows." We've all seen them. They sit staring out their windows, never moving, leaving us wondering why they don't leave the house. I live in terror of becoming a window widow and force myself every day to do something like work on my quilting, answer my email, something that makes me move. Still I have to admit there are definitely days when, due to the various illnesses, movement goes beyond a challenge to damn near impossible. Getting back to the title of this blog - the Wonder of Freedom - I have suffered for years from what I call the "Hurry Hurry's." I suspect many people suffer from this, particularly women. "Hurry hurry and get dressed. Don't read that newspaper you don't have the time. Why aren't you downstairs working on something substantive? Now you would think that the possibility of dying would make me move faster but In fact its helping me move slower. To do the many things I still want to do I have to slow down so I get them right and in the slowing down I'm finding an amazing peacefulness. Again you'd think someone whose retired has all the time in the world but trust me when I tell you it ain't easy to go from Type A to retired. Before I got seriously ill I thought I should tear down the house and rebuild it. After all I had to time. I'm working on creating daily time things I must do and daily things I want to do. Like at 8am do all my medical stuff (test for blood sugar, test for blood pressure, take insulin, take pills, spend 2 minutes on treadmill (it might not sound like much to you but any day I can move my legs is a very big deal) put in eye drops and on and on. On the one hand all the medical stuff bugs me and on the other hand I think its really important to show the transplant people I can toe the line and do whatever they ask of me. on time. I heard about a man who had to take 60 pills a day after the transplant so his body wouldn't reject the lung. At first it sounded like alot but I took a look at MY pill box and there are already over 20 pills in there. I was amazed. Well my fingers are giving me those signals that mean get off the keyboard stupid. I'll be back later.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Coming Out Of The Death Closet

I've never been know for doing anything quietly but I honestly didn't know just how taboo talking about death is in America. It's right up there with not talking about money. I'm hoping that what we're going through with the economy now will change that but, smile, I digress. When the doctor explained that, after years of pneumonia, bronchitis, pleurisy and everything in between, scar tissue had built up and was destroying my left lung. Now I knew things were bad. I'm on oxygen 24/7 and sometimes just walking up the steps or across the living room leaves me breathless. But when he said that my lungs were deteriorating and I needed to get moving on applying for a lung transplant he definitely got my attention. He also said it can take from 6 months to 2 years to get the transplant and most people in my condition die before they reach that point. Not to mention have systemic lupus will probably make the transplant committee very unhappy. Yep...I broke down. My husband broke down. Hell I expected the doctor to break down but he didn't. Now this may sound strange but my first reaction was embarrassment and shame. I didn't want to tell anyone. What if they were wrong and I not only didn't need a lung transplant but I wasn't going to die. If I'm around a year from now I'll now only look like an idiot but I'll appear to be a liar. Then I realized I've spent my entire life worrying about what people think of me. Sometimes it's stopped me and sometimes now but it's always exhausted me. So hung up on what people think of me that I won't tell them I'm dying. Now that's ridiculous.

The first thing I discovered is boundaries start falling like leaves when you think you're going to die. It';s amazing. The things I've always wanted to say but couldn't or wouldn't seem to jump right out of my mouth - good and bad. I saw an older couple having dinner when I went in to pick up take out. She was leaning against him and he was holding her hand. I walked right over to them and complimented them on what seem to clearly be a long and loving relationship. They were smiling so broadly you could have lite the room with it. The cashier in the grocery store was complaining loudly about this really terrible horrible day. So I said "I bet my day is worse than yours. I'm dying." That stopped him in his tracks. I never realized how much we control what we say, what we think. But my boundaries just keep falling and I'm actually learning to enjoy least a bit.

The flip side of all this is everything from extreme pain to a loss of energy to the recognition that there are things I will never do again. Some days I'm heartbroken. Some days I mad as hell. The pain is relentless and I'm no crybaby about pain. I've been dealing with lupus and rheumatoid arthritis for over ten years. Believe me I know pain. But today, for instance, I can't draw in a deep breath. I had to mash my food up like baby food because the whole swallowing thing is tied to lung dysfunction. I was determined I was going to eat anyway. Big mistake. I've got to me more careful. My husband is sleeping (remember he works the night shift) and if I'd gotten literally choked up on the food there'd be no one to help. There are alot of things like that that I'm not ready to face yet let alone talk about. But this is me coming out of the death closet online for the first time. It's scary stuff but I figure there have got to be at least one or two folks out there going through the same thing. I know it sounds old but maybe following my journey will help with theirs.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

When Doctors Give Up

My husband has been working a night shift for a couple of months now. I keep waking up, almost always at 2am. I turn over, see he's not there and get up to go find him. I'm halfway out the bedroom door putting on my bathrobe when I realize he's not in the house. It never ceases to amaze me, how ingrained behavior can be and how quickly habits form. Anyway, went to see the rheumatologist today. She's been my doctor for 10 years, 10 YEARS! It's astonishing. She's still skinny as a rail and looks like she's 20 years old. She one of the few women whose beauty doesn't make me want to run screaming from the room to find a gun. She's on a constant lookout for the newest biologic which is what I think they call drugs designed for a specific illness. After 10 years of battling lupus and RA we've pretty much run through the list. Prednisone continues to be the gold standard for me in terms of controlling the joint pain enough to keep me from screaming out loud and no that's is not an exaggeration. Unfortunately the prednisone has turned me into the African-American equivalent of a fat brown hamster. Remember how Jerry Lewis looked a few years ago when he was taking pred for an illness he had? That's me - moon face and all. So to get me off the pred we're going to try Cytoxan. I hear its a mean drug (i.e. nasty side effects) but I'm willing to give it a try if it gives me even a bit of my life back. Of course finding myself throwing up in a trashcan while losing my hair constitutes truly scary side effects. The trick to new meds is learning how to tolerate them physically until you figure out if they actually work for you. I take over 20 pills a day now so what's 2 more?

I never cease to be amazed at what human beings are willing to put up with in order to stay alive. When I was 20 years old, almost not fat, strong and determined to succeed at all costs I never, in my wildest imagination saw myself wearing adult diapers at night when I went to bed. Initially I was so humiliated I wore everything just short of blue jeans to bed so my husband wouldn't see the diaper. Two horrific didn't make it to the bathroom "accidents" later the secret was out. This extraordinary man saw me wearing a Depends, gave me a wolf whistle and said "I love you in those frilly panties baby." I cried. Now you KNOW there are men that would have run screaming from the house over finding their wife or girlfriend had traded silky negligees for a Depends diaper. But my baby found a way t compliment me. He's not just a keeper, he's an Angel and I'd be lost without him. At the moment I'd also be lost without Ramen noodles and hotdogs which is what I'm fixing to eat. I threw in a couple of eggs in to hard boil. So this constitutes an officially strange middle of the night meal. Since it seems like I may have something called a hiatial hernia I know this meal is a 50/50 shot. It may go down fine and let me sleep or it may do that regurg acid throat burning thing that shoots me straight up out of bed reaching for the nearest liquid, anything anything that I can drink to calm the burning down. This hernia thing may also be why I struggle to breath when I'm lying down. It means see another doctor, more tests, a scope down my throat while I'm awake but "uncomfortable." It really sucks.

OK so about doctors giving up, I've gone from being the patient a doctor can't wait to see (making jokes, high fiving, laughing in the face of pain) to the patient doctors don't want to see (I can't fix her, she's only getting worse and her quality of life is fading) so you begin to get the vibe. You can hear it in his or her voice - that inflection that hints at anything from boredom to pity. My rheumatologist (whose called a rheumie by insiders) said that doctor's are trained practically from day one to heal heal heal. To make the patient better and if they can't they get discouraged like any one else I guess. But when you're the patient looking in to that discouraged face its a whole different thing. It will make you more discouraged than the doctor feels. Anyway, the doctor who was working with me on pain control informed me we've moved to "maintenance." I stared at him and he stared back. Maintenance is a fancy way of saying "there's nothing else I can do for you so move along." Frankly I was kind of stunned but I realize now this kind of doctor behavior is much more common than I previously knew. I felt like I was hanging out there on my own wondering if I could get more pain meds. When you need pain meds you feel like a junkie trying to convince strangers you need a refill. I have no interest in getting high. I just want a break from the pain. Speaking of which, its 4:25am and I guess its time to throw in the towel and call it a night. I can never figure out whether the act of blogging is cathartic or self destructive. Its always a little scarey to put your life out there and risk being judged.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Three Trips to the Emergency Room

I'm that woman you hear about who spends so much time getting ready to go to the emergency room that I'll probably die before I get there. I have to take a shower, make sure there are no holes in my underwear, pack a large bag of everything on earth that I might possibly need (since I'll be in the ER minimum of 5 hours) make sure I've got an up-to-date list of doctor's names, phone numbers and prescriptions, a book to read, a magazine to read in case I don't like the book, my big red Franklin which holds all the information of my entire life, eye glass cleaners, notebook, pens, 1 DEPENDS diaper because you just never know, bottle of water, bottle of ice tea. You get the idea here. Going to the ER is terrifying enough so the more familiar things I can bring with me the less likely I am to jump up and begin screaming at random - something which really upsets the nurses by the way.

Why did I go? I couldn't stop screaming. I don't mean screaming inside your head. Mean flat out, my car is stuck om the railroad tracks, someone I love with all my life is dead, my best friend just said never call me again, you get the general picture here, flat out screaming at the top of my lungs. Every time i moved my left side even just a little the pain caused me to involuntarily scream. Now I knew the COPD thing was getting worse and worse because I was making noises like a cheap accordion. A friend also said this sound is like the wind blowing through a cheap pane of glass. Either way it signals I'm in deep doodoo on the health front. This was something new and you don't want new when you're in my condition. My daughter, who called about something else, heard gasping and demanded I go to the ER. The problem with growing older is how much your children feel it gives them permission to talk to you like you are now the child. I'm wrestling with this one but generally allow it because I know deep down it means they love and worry about me. My husband and I went to the ER at the best possible time - 5:30AM on a Monday morning. You learn these things unless you're looking to spend a minimum of 12 hours in the ER fighting with strangers over what will be watched on the one TV in the waiting room. My suggestion to make your ER visit go better. Be as polite and friendly as possible given that you're most likely in excruciating pain. However, suggestion to help you maintain your pride - require everyone to tell you who they are. I reach out my hand to have it shaken and say "And you are?" if they don't introduce themself Stops them cold every time. I suspect the ER folks meet so many people they literally forget who they are so they don't introduce themselves.

There is only one statement guaranteed to make me jump off the gurney and try to commit murder. My husband always stops me so I have yet to succeed. Someone while needing to put in an IV, do a spinal tap or worse yet draw an arterial blood gas ABG (a blood draw from the tiny artery in my hand). An ABG is so painful that I have no problem with screaming out loud at the top of my lungs while weeping. When completed, occasionally some idiot says "Oh come on. It wasn't that bad was it?" If by chance there's someone from the medical profession reading this take this message back to your colleagues. Do not insult a patient by telling them they have no right to their pain. It hurts as much as it hurts and unless you live in their skin you have no idea of how bad a procedure can be. Whew...I feel so much better now.

Anyway, after 5 hours, a big dose of sodium medrol and a 1 hour nebulizer treatment I wasn't breathing any better and they wanted to admit me. I begged to be allowed to go home and take it easy. OK I admit the taking it easy part is really hard for me but I'm trying. The thing about hospitals is that, when I was much younger I thought of it as a great place to get attention. At almost 56 I'm afraid they won't let me leave. So I hate going there. It's not very mature and drives my daughter nuts but I'm just flat out terrified to go the ER. I'm open to any ideas that can change my thinking. This is getting to be the equivalent of a fear of airplanes. I've had a stroke so again I'm aware of the importance of time when it comes to dealing with illness by going to the ER. I'm trying to act like a grownup but some days I frankly lose the fight.

A digression: I was watching the evening news and they showed an invention of a very small camper type thing wrapped around a shopping cart. The idea is to provide the homeless with a place they can sleep up off the ground. When they interviewed one guy who uses it he said, and I'm not making this up, "I'm on my way to the American dream now. I've got my first home." I watched his face closely to see if he was being facetious but he clearly wasn't. In this time when we seem to talk of nothing but the thousands going through foreclosure this man gave me pause as well as humbled me. He was so delighted to have his shopping cart home. A little home made out of a shopping cart and it brought him such joy! Think about it.

I'm tired from my digression. Dying is exhausting.

Monday, February 2, 2009

Up At 2AM Again

I'm up watching the Grey's Anatomy I DVR'd. When you're seriously ill watching shows like Grey's Anatomy convinces you that your own illnesses aren't as real or scary. I'm also eating my second bowl of Lucky Charms - mainly because I ran out of Honey Nut Cheerios. I figure these things, short of my breaking down and making mac and cheese from scratch, are the closest I can get to serious comfort foods at this time of day. The pain is back like a runaway freight train. This time its in my left hip-the usual bone or joint pain. I've hauled out every legal painkiller I've got and that's saying something cause I've got alot. From oxycodone to neurontin to methadone to fentanyl . at one tine i figured out had the equivalent of $8,000 worth of pain killers. i knew where to go to sell them but with my luck i knew I'd get busted. Heavy duty painkillers for heavy duty pain. I've got so many diseases its a virtual card game to figure out which one is plaguing me at any given time. This makes it easy for the bad doctors to write me off and the good doctors to feel really bad about me.

Now don't get me wrong. I'm NOT into the self pity thing. Before I became a card carrying member of the disabled, chronically ill squad disabled people used to really annoy me. They were whiny and believed they had some God given right to be compensated for what they'd suffered. It was almost as bad as the expectations of black people and since I'm black you can imagine how well that went over during black history month discussions. Well that karma thing will get you every time. It sure got me. Over the course of 10 years I've gone from using a cane to a manual wheelchair, to a rolling walker to an electric scooter and a few things in- between In my lifetime I have gone from being a teenage welfare mother to being appointed Assistant Welfare Commissioner for my State. It's all been one hell of a journey.