Make a daily wish… May 21, 2008
One of mine came true today…I was invited to read one of my essays on NPR! Listen at Weekend America archived programming here:
A Winter Meditation March 23, 2008
This was written on leap day. I might add that it is still very cold for a Kansas Easter, about 30 degrees with wind chill.
When I let the dogs out this morning, I heard a bird singing in the near-darkness. My heart leapt with joy at this first sound of spring. It’s still only late February, really, but it’s the first noise to break the still, steely grip that has been this terrible winter.
When I was a girl, we had deep snows on occasion, deep enough for Dad to tie the sled to the back of the pick-up and pull us through the fields. Looking back, the potential for tragedy was enormous, but at the time, nothing could be more exhilarating than flying over those fields at 20 mph. We had deep cold, and temperatures low enough that our breath was visible inside our unheated bedrooms, low enough so that ferny, lacy frost appeared on the inside of the windows, and a thin veneer of ice lay in the toilet bowl on particular mornings. We had ice storms: county-glazing tree-bending ice storms, often enough that my sister and I found our old Dodge Coronet in the ditch at least once a season, left behind for some passing farmer to pull out while we trudged on toward school, awaiting the neighbor that would surely drive by and pick us up. We lost power a lot, once for 10 days, so that we had to live in the kitchen with the gas oven to warm us and a kerosene lantern to read by. It was very “Laura Ingalls Wilder.”
Since I have become an adult, however, the winters here in Kansas have, by and large, been quite mild. An occasional snow before Christmas, but usually just cold and gray, with some scattered snow in January or February, deep enough to sled—if you were lucky—with a plastic toboggan, but runner sleds like our old Flyer were out of the question. One Christmas, as a poke at Jack Frost, who had apparently gone North for good, our Christmas photo pictured our daughter, then 2, all geared up and lying belly down, laughing, on her old Flyer sled. It was a vivid contrast to the green grass in our sunny backyard.
There have been occasional big snows, dangerous ice storms, and sustained cold snaps, but usually interspersed with multiple days over 45 or 50, sometimes higher, when we could all take a breather, shuck off our coats, and feel the sun on our faces. These brief respites were like manna to folks like me, who tend to take a serious nosedive when it becomes cold and gray. In fact, I’m sitting in front of my lightboxes right now, one on either side of my computer. I think they may have been what pulled me through the winter, ultimately, kept me from spiritual starvation this winter. In Wilder-speak, they’re the equivalent to an extra bag of potatoes in the root cellar during this month of the Hungry Moon, or a side of beef found buried in sawdust way at the back of the icehouse.
My desperation and hunger grew this winter, as we plunged into the deep cold round about Thanksgiving. My lower back started to spasm as if in protest, and continued to do so for a month, as the weather grew worse and snow and ice covered the ground. Calls from my parents, getting older and more frail, were daily and distressing in mid-December, during a huge storm that took out most of their trees and their power for 9 days. Roads were so treacherous and my back so tenuous that I couldn’t get to them, and we all had to rely on the good neighbors around them to help with wood, the generator, gas, and food.
My daughter moved home with her dog a couple of days after my birthday, in late December, and I confess, I felt every day of that year older as we attempted to cram another household into our modest bi-level. Back to 4 in the house, but now four adults—and two dogs—who had to come to a new agreement of living. The dogs fought, the sky snowed, and I sat in front of my lightboxes, praying for deliverance.
January brought more snow and cold, along with colds and sinus infections throughout the household. Physical therapy for my back was painful and I lived in mortal fear of falling on the ice and further injuring myself. Nearly every diversion I had planned for myself that month was cancelled due to weather conditions. Cabin fever set in, and I could relate to the Pioneer woman of Kansas who was found dead by her own hand one winter with a note next to her, “Can’t stand the wind anymore.”
February came, the month that to most is the shortest, but to those of us who are winter-intolerant, it is almost always the longest. Along with it came two colds, a severe nosebleed that landed me in the ER, and influenza. Here I am now, on February 29th, battered and beaten by winter with its cruel extra day, almost despairing of spring ever returning. And then like a benediction, that bird opened its throat and sang. And I knew that this ordeal was nearly over. I marveled at the audacity of the little bird. Arriving back in Kansas from points south in the still-deep chill of February, awakening before the sun, it sang its brave song. It could not know if another bird would be here waiting, head cocked, to answer. But still it sang, a song of hope for both of us; and a ray of light penetrated my heart.
Et tu, Flu? March 13, 2008
Ohhhh, I am so sick of the flu. I have been diagnosing people with flu for about 6 weeks. Every time I think it’s over, another new case shows up. Not to mention that the vacation that my husband and I were supposed to take in February (optimistic fools!) was spent in bed coughing, racked by fever and chills. I continued to cough for 3 more weeks, despite early treatment with an anti-flu drug.
We Americans are just not cut out for this. We like our illnesses like we like our hamburgers–fast and exactly how we expected them. A few lucky souls will get over the flu fairly quickly, on their own. But most people are coming in angry—at me—that they are still ill after 3 or 4 weeks.
In many cases, their flu symptoms were atypical, so they were either mistakenly offered an antibiotic by their health care provider or they absolutely browbeat the clinician into giving them one. Without the correct, non-antibiotic anti-flu medicine, the symptoms can drag on for weeks. So after 2-3 days on the antibiotic pills, horror of horrors, they are NOT better. Then the rage really kicks in, fueled by unmanageable schedules, thwarted plans for spring break getaways, and unreasonable leave policies that either a)keep them at the desk while they infect their coworkers b)cost them vacation time because they are sick or c) result in unpaid leave, a stressor in itself.
The office waiting room is packed with miserable, irritable, coughing folks who have, by and large, grown up in a time when many illnesses are preventable or easily and quickly treated. They believe the 5-day antibiotic they got on day 3 of their viral cold cured them (most colds go away in about 7-10 days anyway, with or without treatment) Antibiotics are seen as a panacea, and honestly, who hasn’t experienced the miracle that 24 hours on antibiotics can effect on that bladder infection or strep throat?
This is what they expect from us, and this is what we cannot deliver. The vaccine was minimally effective this year, and the extra-long winter in our region is making things worse. We’ve learned recently that the influenza virus is a wily little bugger that comes complete with its own little winter coat. http://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/99228.php
The older patients, the ones who lived through flu epidemics of the past, are more philosophic. They nod when I show them the quickflu test vial, with its magically appearing pink lines—a line above the blue control line means Influenza A, a line below means B. Resigned to “wearing it out,” they accept my cough syrups and anti-inflammatories and go home to drink lots of liquids and rest. They know that only time will cure this thing, and they’re glad of our care and monitoring. Some of them remember that many people used to die from the flu–some still do, though in lesser numbers. This year, with this batch of flu, we have seen more post-flu pneumonia, more of those patients going on ventilators, and more deaths than usual. Despite all this, most people will eventually recover their energy and stop coughing.
It’s the younger folks who are bewildered, the ones who can’t figure out how to carve out time to be sick, that find fault with us for not returning them instantly to the rat-race that is their lives. They are not philosophic at all, merely impatient, and slow down very little during the flu, which in turn prolongs their symptoms. Most of our world moves at a hectic, ever-quickening pace, and we are used to putting our heads down and lengthening our stride to cope. Confronting an entity such as influenza that demands our time and energy, that insists that we slow down and take time to recover naturally causes a lot of psychic discomfort. It is this discomfort that is spilling over in my exam rooms.
The flu—and once you’ve had real influenza, you realize all of those other little illnesses you used to call “the flu” were but shadows of the real thing—WILL have its way with you. Remember, it had its way with perhaps 100 million people worldwide in 1918. We are fortunate to be a more heavily armed adversary in 2008. Influenza exists. You’ve got it. So stop being angry, take your medicine, crawl in bed and rest. In all likelihood, you’ll be feeling better soon.
Super Tuesday February 7, 2008
I didn’t make it to the caucus on Super Tuesday, and to be honest, it was probably a good decision. We had record turnouts in Lawrence, KS, and people stood in line in the freezing drizzle for up to 90 minutes. Then they were packed in, shoulder to shoulder, in the midst of cold and flu season. I have been sick most of the winter, and I just couldn’t face it. I’m sorry I missed the excitement, but Obama won so overwhelmingly in KS that my vote wasn’t missed. I lay at home, snug in bed, hemmed in by 2 dogs, and switched back and forth between CNN and MSNBC. Every time CNN started fiddling with their new toy, the “point and touch zoom board,” I flipped, and every time Chris Matthews opened his mouth on MSNBC, I flipped back.
It was an interesting night, and since John Edwards dropped out of the race, I have vacillated between Hillary and Obama, finally deciding on Obama because of Hillary’s support for the war. It was great to see him racking up states, as I believe he can bring about change. At the same time, I was also very proud to see Hillary winning her share. I realize that Obama’s campaign is as much of a first as Hillary’s, but he’s still a male, and in my book therefore still has the edge. As a woman, witness to misogyny and sexism on a frequent basis, I was worried that America still wasn’t ready, still resisted the idea of a woman in charge of our country, despite the existence, past and current, of multiple female heads-of-state around the globe. But apparently, many of us have come a long way baby, and Hillary is a truly viable option. I will absolutely support her if she is the nominee, and frankly, I hope she and Barack end up on the same ticket.
I know, of course, that these results are based on my party only. The Republicans, those lovers of the barefoot and pregnant homemaker, don’t seem at all ready for a woman in the White House, although if Condi Rice–perish the thought!–were in the running, how fast would they change their tune? Hmmm, and could she get oral contraceptives on her government health plan?
By the way, that thought–Rice for President–is the best argument I can think of against anyone who would tell me it’s my duty as a woman to support a candidate simply based on gender.
My evening ended with an email from Barack, who, it seems, understands the personal, best-friends tactic incredibly well.
“Karen,” it said, and here I paraphrase: “we’ve won in Kansas, thanks to you. Michelle and I couldn’t be happier.” It was signed simply, “Barack.” I’m used to getting emails from my congressman that routinely tell me why he doesn’t give a shit about what I think, and end “God Bless You?” (I’m serious). Barack’s personal missive was a breath of fresh air.
So I snuggled down with the doggies, and nodded off to sleep in a land where new possibilities exist–the possibility of a black president, the possibility of a woman president–and I was content.
I saw a commercial last night for Jenny Craig with Queen Latifah as their newest spokesmodel. I felt sad because she has always been completely HOT, unapologetic about her size, and a great role model for women.
Whether she has health issues, or just wants to be a different size, it is her absolute right to lose weight. I am bothered by the mixed-message aspect, though (multiple size-positive “I’m happy with my weight” articles coupled with the sudden announcement, “I’m a diet spokeperson”). I know this is probably not fair to her, but I felt she was one of the most visible holders of the “famous, full-figured, and f**k you!” banner. I would just really, really like to see a couple famous people stay happy and above a size 12–you know, to represent “the rest of us.” Selfish, maybe, but let’s face it: I get more of a kick out of adoring someone who looks like me. Adoring someone that I could never in a million years resemble smacks slightly of self-loathing.
I also wonder if Jenny Craig put the full-court press on her, or if she was even considering weight loss ’til they came knocking…after all, it behooves the diet industry to eradicate any and all women who are considered beautiful and who are comfortable with themselves and are above a size 14-16. The dearth of real-sized women keeps the rest of us anxious and eager to spend money to achieve thinness. As a health care provider, I am aware of the problems obesity can cause, but I am also acutely aware of the body image issues that plague most women in our society, both women who are large and women who are not obese by any measure. These very issues are exploited by advertisers to drive a multi- billion-dollar diet and fashion industry. So while I love Queen Latifah and feel she has a perfect right to her actions, I’m sad to know we’ll be seeing “less of her.”