Friday, October 30, 2009

If you told me you were drowning...

Twice in my adult life I have come close to dying. Or at least twice that I am aware of. Who knows how many close calls and near misses we have in our daily lives that we never even know about. But anyway...twice as an adult.

The odd thing about them is they both happened in October. Just a few years apart as well. The first time I didn't realize how close I was until it was over. I had run to the grocery store and when I grabbed the cart there was a bee on the handle. I put my thumb down square on the poor guy and he responded in a completely bee like manner by stinging me. The stinger went into the joint of the thumb on my right hand. Hurt like a big dog, but I am not allergic to bees so I wasn't overly worried about it. Scraped the stinger out with a credit card, washed my hands and finished shopping. Went home, showed my owie to Brent and put some antibiotic cream on it and that was that.

My thumb hurt a little all week but nothing too much. Saturday morning (it was right around Halloween) I woke up and discovered the meaning of "sticks out like a sore thumb." My thumb was swollen and hot and I couldn't bend it or pull it into my palm so it stuck straight out to the side of my hand. I put a cold compress on it and took some Advil to try and reduce the inflammation. By Sunday morning it wasn't any better so I went to Urgent Care. By that point I was running a slight fever as well as my thumb being warm and red. After a quick examination and another washing of the thumb I got one shot of antibiotics into my arm and another into my rear end. The needle they used on my tush was (I think, going by how it felt) the size of a drinking straw! Ouch! Then I was told to go straight into my doctor's office the next morning for a follow-up.

By the next day the swelling was gone and only a little redness remained, but being a good patient (and having told Brent I was supposed to follow-up with my doctor so he made sure I did) I went in to see my primary care physician. The Urgent Care had already faxed over the records from my Sunday visit so the Nurse Practitioner (we lived in C.S. for almost 3 years and think we saw the actual doctor once) reviewed the records, took my temperature again and casually let me know if I had waited one more day to come into the doctor the blood poisoning would have spread to the point it most likely would have killed me. Ummm, what? Seems that either the bee had some dirt on his stinger or I had some dirt on my thumb and when he stung me he buried that nastiness right in my thumb joint where it festered all week and then started to spread.

The first shot I had received in Urgent Care was a fast acting antibiotic that basically got the top end bugs that were spreading, the second one was the gold standard of wide spectrum antibiotics that wipes out everything. I was dumbfounded, they hadn't said anything like that in the Urgent Care, they had just given me the shots and stressed that I go to my primary care doc. But I took it in stride when the Nurse told me and I got my follow up care instructions and left. When I went out into the parking lot I called Brent from my cell. And broke out into hysterics. Full on ugly cry, uncontrollable shaking. Delayed panic attack. Once I got it under control I made sure to go over all of the paperwork she had given me and I kept an eye on my hand for any changes over the next few days.

But everything was fine from that point on. Took about 5 years for most of the nerve damage to the thumb to heal, seems the poison in my system broke down the pathways and though nerves do grow back, they do it at a VERY slow rate. I have one patch that is still semi-numb but most of the feeling came back. Took about the same amount of time for me to not have a panic attack every time I would see a bee. I have a picture from Halloween that year, I am standing next to another woman in my office and we are both in costume, and it amazes me to think at that point in time there was a poison running through my body that could have killed me and I felt perfectly fine.

The second time I knew it was happening and even thought to myself, well this is it. We were in Hawaii combining a business trip for me with a vacation for the family mixed in. Our last full day there I went down to the beach for one more dip in the ocean. I love the ocean. I love the vastness of it. I love to sit on the shore and look out at the waves as they crash in on the shore. I love to be in the water. One of my favorite things about living in San Diego was the easy access to the ocean all summer long. The water in Oregon never really warms up enough for swimming so I tried to get in the ocean at least once a day the entire time we were in Hawaii. Christopher preferred the pool and so Brent would stay with him while I went swimming. This day wasn't any different.

There were probably 25 people in the ocean along the stretch of beach by our hotel. There was a group with a bunch of little ones towards what would be the middle stretch of beach as you looked down from the hotel and they were having a hard time controlling their wave boards. Since I wasn't boogie boarding and would rather not risk getting smacked in the head with one of their boards while wave jumping I decided that going to the right of them would be a good idea. I spent some time jumping the waves and enjoying my last stretch in the water.

Then it was time to come back in. And I couldn't. While jumping the waves and swimming I had been carried out farther than I had intended and my feet were unable to touch the ocean floor anymore. I was swimming and not going anywhere. Just swimming and swimming and staying in the same place. I did the things you are supposed to do, swim parallel to the shore, use your strongest stroke, which for me is actually the back stroke, everything you are supposed to do and I wasn't breaking free of the rip tide I was caught in and I was getting exhausted.

Scott, a friend of mine(also a client) had come down to the beach to set up beach chairs for him and his wife to have a nice drink by the ocean before the final night festivities. He saw me in the ocean and waved hello. I waved back, but not in a friendly how's it going wave, but a Help! wave. I shouted "I NEED HELP!" and to this day he isn't exactly sure that he heard me over the crash of the waves, or just could see from how I wasn't moving right that I was in trouble. He dived into the ocean and came to help.

The problem we soon discovered is that to get to me, he had to break through the edge of the whirlpool I was stuck in. So as I was stuck inside and wearing out fast, he was stuck outside and soon doing the same. The next part of the story is choppy in my memory. Like an old film reel that was poorly edited. Scott remembers parts and I remember parts and they don't always match. Eventually Scott grabbed my arm and pulled me through the edge of the whirl pool area towards him, which was deeper into the ocean. At that point we were both exhausted. I can remember telling myself not to panic and grab him, and I really remember not doing it, though he swears I almost choked him. We were still caught on the trailing edge of the pool and I could feel it trying to pull us back towards the center. And we were both too tired to swim hard away from it. Right at that point I thought...this is it. This is how I am going to die. In the ocean. I thought of Brent and Christopher up at the pool not more than a football field away from me, but completely unaware of what was happening. I thought about Scott's family and hoped that if he let go of me he would have the strength get back to the shore.

While I was getting ready to give up, Scott was still figuring out how to get us out of the mess we were in. He came up with sinking to swim. He dropped down to the ocean floor and would stand there and throw me forward. Then come back up, get a breath and pull himself forward to where I was, holding onto my legs the whole time. Then back down to the ocean floor, toss me back up, pull forward. He did this all the way up to the beach. I had to tell him we were in inches of water and he could let go before he stopped. We got back up on to the shore and looked back out at the ocean, you could see the area I had been trapped in. It wasn't very big, but the water was just swirling around and around. It looked really superficial, like if you threw a rock into it it would break up. Hard to imagine how strong it really was just by looking at it.

While we were catching our breath and freaking out Scott noticed that the daughter of one of the other franchisees and her friend were stuck on the edge of the pool. He went crashing right back into the ocean and pulled them out as well. They weren't as far in so it wasn't as hard of a swim, but they were stuck in the rocky shore area so he came out of that encounter scraped and bloody.

Imagine Laura's surprise when she came down to the beach for her relaxing evening drink to find me doubled over on a lawn chair gasping for breath too weak to walk and Scott walking up the beach soaked and bleeding. When I was able to catch my breath and my legs stopped feeling like jello I went to the pool to see Brent and Christopher and tell them what happened. Brent took Scott and Laura a couple of Coronas on the beach. I joked that it seemed a good trade, my life for a couple of beers. I also know I went into shock somewhere in that time period and spent, as best I can guess the next two days there. I kept replaying everything over and over in my head.

That night at the final night dinner everyone had heard bits and pieces of the story and wanted to hear details. I don't know how many times I told the pieces I could remember. I told everyone the important part of the story was that I would never win another argument in a co-op meeting again. Scott held the ultimate trump card. "Yeah, well, I saved your life" Argument over. One of the wives who is sweeter than she is bright told me she was glad I hadn't died because it would have really put a damper on the meeting! Well, yes, I was glad they were all spared that as well!

When we all got back to Oregon Scott and I had coffee and told each other our stories and tried to piece the whole series together. There are still chunks missing for both of us. We have no idea how long it all took. Like I said, it's much like an old film reel that was poorly edited. Everything jumps around. My biggest regret is that I didn't go back out into the ocean the next morning before we left Hawaii. I hate that my last day in the ocean wasn't a peaceful one.

I will always be grateful that Scott didn't even hesitate for a second before coming out to save me, and impressed that as exhausted as he was he didn't hesitate to go in again after two more people. Every year on the anniversary of that date I call, text or email him and just say thanks. There are not words to really capture the gratitude I feel and the debt I owe him. When people ask how you know who your friends are I can say, I know, on October 25, 2005 he proved it.

Thanks, Scott.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Dogs and cats living together...

Today a friend of mine got bad news about the health of her beloved pet. He has renal cancer and they are not sure how much longer he has. She is, of course, heartbroken. As she told a group of us about her cat the reaction was immediate. We all felt so horrible for her and so helpless to do anything to make her feel better, and then we all remembered our similar experiences. Anytime I hear someone say, oh it's just a dog or it's just a cat I know that person has never had pets.

Growing up I had dogs and cats and birds and fish. Mitzi the Witzy Spitzi who was so smart she would whisper if you told her "Shhh, Daddy's sleeping." Sunshine the black fuzzy mutt who inspired a vet to tell us that dogs are like people, some are bright and some are well...not. Chris the Siamese cat who loved my dad the most (he is NOT a cat person), Jeremy a giant tiger cat who would come running when he heard my voice even after I moved out of the house. Petey who was a boy parakeet for the first 5 years of his life, then the blue band on his beak faded out and he started laying eggs. And more fish than we could have ever named. There were a few others but these were the core group of the menagerie I grew up with.

After Brent and I got married and moved away the first pet we bought together was a ferret. Redd Ferret, her parents were Bartles and Jaymes and Red was the newest flavor. Trust me this was very amusing in 1987! We had Redd for a few years until Brent was transferred to California. It's against the law to own a ferret in California so we had the option of sneaking her into the state and risking her being destroyed if she was ever found, or finding her a new home in Idaho before we moved. Loading her and her boxes and boxes of toys and supplies into a station wagon with a very happy 12 year old boy and an indulgent mom who really had no idea what she was getting into I held it together until they pulled away from the curb, then I stood in the yard and cried until Brent gently steered me back inside the house.

We didn't get another pet for a few years. We were moving too much and Brent was gone a lot. And then we had Christopher so we were too busy to think about adding a pet. But eventually we got Samson. Samson was the world's coolest cat. Not just my opinion, but everyone who met him agreed. He was a dog trapped in a cat's body. Extraordinarily social. Would play fetch. Come when he was called. Always wanted to be where the action was. He was also (to the vet's best guess) about half Maine Coon. Twenty pounds of Grey Tiger Striped Cat. Head the size of a soft ball. When he really wanted your attention he would take a running start at you and tackle you. Twenty pound wrecking ball to the back of the legs!

When Samson was about two years old he had a stretch where he started vomiting constantly. He couldn't keep any food or water down at all. The vet was able to give him some medication that stopped it but it was a rough week of him getting sicker and sicker and sicker. About a year later it started again. We had moved to Colorado Springs and it was the 4th of July. He spent a day in the vet's office, then to the emergency vet hospital. They couldn't get him to stop this time. He couldn't keep anything down and they couldn't figure out why. We had x-rays done, and blood work and day after day in the hospital. Then they called me to let me know he was getting better and that I would be able to bring him home that afternoon. I was so thrilled! Brent and I were working in the garden waiting to hear back that we could come get him when the vet called again. Something had changed and we needed to get there right away as he wasn't going to make it much longer. He had gotten so weak that one by one his internal organs were failing.

We got to the vet in time and we were sent back to see him. To this day I am not sure if that was a good thing or a bad thing. He was in a lot of pain and was terrified. When he saw us he started crying loudly. I still hear that cry in my head and it's been eight years since this happened. The vet gave us the option of staying in the room while they euthanized him. I couldn't do it. I said my goodbyes, pet him one last time and sobbed in the waiting room until it was all over. They performed an autopsy on him and discovered he had been born with multiple birth defects and we were just lucky we had him for a long as we did.

A month later to stop me from crying all the damn time we got George and Gracie from the pound. I called them the Replacements. Two to fill the space of one. And it's true, nothing helps grief like a kitten. It was too hard to be sad when you had two goofy balls of fluff tearing around the house. But it was a temporary fix and the grieving for Samson is still going on to this day. He was a part of the family and I still miss him and feel a little cheated that we only had him for a few years.

Today my thoughts are with my lovely friend. I hope she and her kitty have a peaceful weekend together and they find a way to keep him comfortable and as healthy as possible for a long time yet to come. And when the time comes to let him go, cherish the time you had with him and all that he has added to your life. Much love to you.


Friday, October 23, 2009

The moment.

Weddings, birthdays, anniversary parties, graduation ceremonies. People love their ceremonies to mark an important moment. But most of the time you don't feel any different after it has passed. How many times on your birthday do people ask you if you "feel" older? Like you woke up that morning and BAM! difference. The change isn't in a moment, it's gradual over time. I feel older now. I don't feel as old as I am, but I feel older than I was. But it didn't happen on my birthday.

Marriage is another one. Do you "feel" married? Ummm...well...not sure there is some magical "This is what is feels like to be married" that is bestowed on you when you say your vows. Especially since it feels different to each person. And that's what the first year of marriage is all about, figuring out what it means to the two of you. Eventually you realize that you make decisions based on we and not on I and you notice that you "feel" married.

But there are moments that happen that change everything. That you know from this point forward it's all different. And these moments are different for everyone. The phone call in the middle of the night, the plus sign on the stick, the car running the red light. There are moments that as they happen we are completely changed from that point forward. Life as we knew it is over. Could be better or it could be worse, but it is different.

Brent and I planned for Christopher, he wasn't a surprise or an oops baby (like both Brent and I were) he was planned and prepped for. I KNEW I was pregnant before I ever peed on that stick. I actually waited a couple extra days to test because we were going to Disneyland and I wanted to ride all the rides. I knew the health risks were for women farther along than I would have been, he was pretty darn protected being the size of a pin head inside my womb at that time. But I still knew if I had taken the test and KNEW knew I was pregnant I wouldn't ride the rides. So I waited. Great logic right? So anyway, when I did take the test and it was positive it wasn't much of a surprise. I didn't "feel" changed. And for the next few months though my body sure changed I still didn't really feel any different mentally.

Then we brought him home from the hospital. I remember sitting on the couch holding him and panic setting in. We lived in Idaho and all of our family was in New Mexico. I can remember thinking, "Why did they let me bring him home? I don't know how to take care of him at all!" That was the moment for me that I became a parent. That was the moment of realizing that everything had changed. From that point forward I was a MOM and I was RESPONSIBLE for someone else's every need. And it was terrifying. Now I can't even remember what it feels like not to be someone's mom. It's just part of who I am.

Yesterday afternoon I was witness to the moment before that moment for a family. I was driving to meet a friend for coffee and saw a car parked on the side of the road. First one Marine in Full Dress got out of the car, then the second. I got a glimpse of their faces as I drove by, two older Marines, both very solemn, one wearing the collar of the clergy. This is the stuff of nightmares for military families. Two serviceman in Full Dress knocking at your door means your person isn't coming home. As I drove past them and they started their walk to the houses I thought, "This is where your life changes."

When I met my friend the first thing he asked was what was wrong. I just couldn't hold back the tears. And of course as I told him he welled up as well. Right down the street from us at that moment a family was learning the worst. That moment for them will forever change their lives. The next few days will be a blur to them as they take care of the vast amount of arrangements that need to be handled. If their experience is like ours, the military will step in as much as possible to help them through everything. And one foot in front of the other, one day, one week, one month at a time they will get through it. But that moment, that moment of opening the door and seeing those two Marines (who have the hardest job in the military in my opinion) that moment is the one they will remember the most.

Peace to them.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Writers write.

I am sure this is going to come as a huge surprise and shock to all of you but I dreamed of being a writer when I was younger. I think most people who are avid readers entertain the idea at one point or another. I bought a lot of books on what it takes to be a writer. (Stephen King On Writing is brilliant by the way) Two things stuck with me from the time period where I was sure I was going to be a writer. One is my father-in-law telling me that just because you can read doesn't mean you can write. The other is a line in one of the writing books I read that put it quite plainly. Writers write.

The author expounded on that sentence, that if you are a writer you HAVE to write. It's almost a compulsion. I have the honor of being friends with a few people who are very talented and gifted writers. Poets, musicians, short stories and novels, and it's true. Writers write. You give them an idea, or a jumping off point and they will weave a story out of it. (check out Snippets by Shay a blog I follow for an example) I thought for a long time that because I am not compelled to put pen to paper at all hours of the day that I must not be a "writer". But the other day as I was folding laundry and my mind was going a hundred miles a minute as is its wont, I realized that I am constantly "writing". I am just lousy at sitting down and putting it into a form that others can see.

When C was little he would climb in bed with Brent and I on Saturday and Sunday mornings and I would tell him stories while Brent tried to sleep in. Fourteen years later we still have jokes about those stories. "I am pretty sure he was shot", trust me to C and I that is comedy gold! When I was a teenager I would tell stories to my youth group as we were traveling on the bus. When I first started at the agency I wove a story out of the salad and baby corn that started my friendships with the front office staff.

My father was and is a storyteller. He can lead you down the path of what happened to him on the way home from work and you don't realize until the very last second that it was all an elaborate setup for a joke. He also has always been a firm believer that you should never let the facts get in the way of a good story. I have borrowed liberally from him in my style. I had a girlfriend tell me once, "I love when you tell about what happened when we did something because I am always much wittier and funnier than I remember being." I am not opposed to a quick rewrite and edit on the fly. If I had a good line during the conversation I will often "give" it someone else in the retelling. If it was actually said and it would be funnier if someone else said it, then I don't have a problem moving the dialog around for a better story. And that is the conclusion that I think I have come to. Writers write. But Storytellers, well we just like to tell stories.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Cleaning out the closet

So today I spent a few hours getting rid of clothes that don't fit anymore. You know it's amazing the things you find when you are cleaning things out. And it's amazing the reaction you can have to them.

As I was trying on a gold blouse that still hung in the closet with the tags on it I heard the following in my head..."Well the outfit is okay, but can we put a bag over her face?" Time to clean out more than one closet...

Just over 5 years ago I lost quite a bit of weight on Atkins (which as you all know I gained right back as soon as I decided I love bread more than being a size 8!) any the end of that weight loss stretch I had a big meeting in Las Vegas. It was a national AKFCF meeting and there was going to be a formal dinner and dance to end the meeting. I spent a semi-panicked Saturday trying to find something appropriate to wear. It came down to two outfits. One was a black satin dress with thin little spaghetti straps and the other was a gold satin halter style top that was cut down to there in the front and had a back that was just high enough to cover my tattoo but that was all. It was much more va-va-voom than I would normally wear but this was Vegas and I had lost all of that weight so I was feeling a little daring. Brent thought I should go for it and wear the gold but I wasn't sure, so I had him take a picture of me in each outfit and sent them via email to my girlfriends for opinions.

Monday at work one of the ladies I worked with and I were talking about the outfits and she said, forward me the pictures and I will give you my opinion and so I did and didn't think about it again. So when I got back from Vegas I did my normal back to work routine and cleaned out the work email spam filter. One of the emails was my forwarded email of the outfits, thinking that it was a reply to me about the outfits from the person I forwarded it to I opened it to read what she had to say to me. Imagine my surprise to see a long thread of comments from not only other women in the office but a woman I had never even met. Now at this point I should have closed the email, but I didn't. I read every last word in there. And let me tell you, things don't get caught in a spam filter if they are all lovely pleasant words.

About halfway through the chain was a comment from the woman I had never even met, "Well the outfit is okay, but can we put a bag over her face?" Right after reading this the woman I had originally forwarded the pictures to came into work. She asked how my trip was and what I had chosen to wear. As I was trying to reconcile what I now knew and her butter wouldn't melt in her mouth demeanor I found myself bursting out into tears. I apologized (if you can believe it)and then spent the rest of the day in shock. This was the first realization for me that work was much worse than I had thought, you have read the progression in other blogs, but this was the start.

So fast forward 5 years and this morning I put that top on and that hateful thing popped right back into my head. So I started to wonder what other things are in there that just need to get out? One thing came right to mind...

I love to sing, love it. If you have ever ridden in a car with me you know I will sing to anything I know the words to. Between my Freshman and Sophomore years in high school my on again off again boyfriend convinced me to try out for show choir. I met with the director and he said if I made it through auditions and would take choir as a regular class then I was in. So I was looking at a schedule that would have Entertainers, Choir and Drama plus academics. Kind of an ideal thing for a kid that just wanted to be on stage. Well, sitting in the little orientation section during what would have been the week of auditions the doubt started in. I could hear my sister's voice in my head..."You sound like a dead cow." that was her normal response when I would sing. Which doesn't even make sense when you think about it. A dying cow? Sure, but a dead one? And then listening to everyone else singing I started thinking, there is no way I can do this. I don't have the talent for this. And I let the doubt win. I let her voice drown mine out. I made an excuse about not wanting to be to school at 7, but it was fear and doubt that did me in.

I don't have a lot of regrets, but those are two areas that if I could have a do over I sure would. I would have tried out, and succeeded or failed on the tryout and as far as work goes, you know it ended up okay in the end but if I could have a do over I think I would have commented on the email and replied to all letting them know that I had seen what they said and how it hurt.

I hung that gold shirt back up in the closet this morning. Maybe someday I will be brave enough to wear it in public (it fits again and I can still eat bread!) but for now it hangs there as a reminder not to let someone else's voice usurp my own. Clean out that closet.