And so it goes into a new year, living a lie

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The year 2014 was one for the record books: Turned 50, got married and helped channel my new mother-in-law into the afterlife, or the abyss, or the whatever comes next, all in the span of seven days. What a week that was, I thought not much was going to top it.

Then, I got the word that my only hope for mobility would be spare metal and plastic parts. I lived through the first, and, if I can dream, only, major surgery of my life. I’m now limping around, albeit a healthier limp, on a full, manmade hip replacement. Let’s hope this version of the Depuy implant comes without complications, recalls and lawsuits.

So, into another year I go. Decades wiser (in theory), a bit more worn out, with the X-ray to prove it, and an old married lady.

But the real reason to write is to give up the grift. I’m living a scam life and need to come clean. (Perhaps apropos my faux life, I’m typing this post fueled by a whole crab lying in my belly with ginger snaps and a California Madera at my elbow. Like me, the Madera is like a Madeira, but since I’m not in Portugal, it ain’t the real deal.)

I’m coming clean. I’m less disabled now, when I’m California state-certified disabled, then I was before.

For a couple, maybe few years, I’ve been limping and in pain. A year ago July, I fell in a hotel tub and thought as I lay on the tile floor, “I hope my death is swift, as I don’t want my coworkers to watch an ambulance pull my bruised and naked self through the lobby.” I caught my breath, grabbed the counter and limped my way to bed.

Once an X-ray proved I was fucked up worse than just being out of shape, I occasionally used a walking stick. Mostly, I just pressed on, loping from side to side pretending I was Ratso Rizzo.

Incidentally, while limping and calling myself Ratso, only one friend got the joke. Of course, I muttered it through a tubercular, husking breath, like Dustin Hoffman.

I got used to my lope and my pain.

Now, I’m walking with a cane, because the surgeon and the physical therapist say “why not?” I can park in blue spaces and as long as I want at meters.

And, it’s all a fucking scam.

I’m supposed to exercise. My hip is superior to the arthritic, worn version it replaced. Quite arguably, this manufactured hip is better than the one that I’ve been sporting since birth. Stronger and better formed.

So me and my new hip are getting more sympathy and concern than I’ve ever experienced.

Juggling a glass of wine and a walking stick at the company holiday party gave me the glow of Tiny Tim on Christmas Day. I basked in care and well wishes. The sincere statements of concern and offers of chairs and assistance and encouragement came fast and furiously.

At the restaurant that fed me crab, an observant colleague stopped the hostess who had said she would seat us on the second floor to ensure I could navigate the stairs. At our local bar and grill the servers and the bartender cleared a space at a low table adjacent to the bar so I didn’t have to hop a bar stool.

Walking stick in hand, I cry out for kindness.

(Except for at malls. Apparently shopping puts people in a mood to pull dick moves to swerve around me and check me out of the way. I wanted to punch the guy who didn’t pull his toddler away from my cane, which the tike had just tried to rip out of my hands. By way of non-apology he explained his rugrat liked to grab things.)

But I’m fine, I’m finer than I was when the medical community had yet to label me as not fine.

I’m cheerily congratulated for standing upright on a titanium stick that is doubtless stronger than my old bones. I appreciate the gestures, and parking right in front of where I need to go is fucking sweet.

As you see me walking, know that my doctor wants me to bend, stretch and exercise more. But I won’t mind if you save me a comfy seat.

Handi-abled

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The man formerly known as M., who I now can legally call my husband, has found a silver lining in my post-surgery frailty. He’s positively giddy with the notion of my getting a handicapped parking placard for my car.

Turns out, per the Kaiser Permanente Medical Center, the place that hacked out my bones and replaced them with man-made parts, I’m eligible for this little post-surgery perk until March of 2015. Wait, come to think of it, my bones were also manmade, assuming I am of the homo sapiens crew. Made by my human parents.

Anyway, I guess I’m not the woman I used to be.

Actually, October was quite the month in terms of my losing body parts. I also had my first tooth extraction — a wisdom tooth that had broken. Let the record show, up in until the year of 2014, I was in tact. Pristine. OK, not pristine but in possession of all of my components.

Ironically, the picture above was taken almost a year ago to the day — 11/13/2013. The subject matter was also largely painted by me. I took over from a coworker to obsessively ensure all of the space was filled in and the white wasn’t tinged blue or the blue white. We were volunteers painting the parking lot of a shelter.

And, one year later, I could park in that space. Almost. When I get my placard.

I’m not actually that interested in getting one. I am interested in parking however the hell I want. Of course. The best part is that meters become endless. The never-ending pasta bowl of staying however the hell long you want with the fist to the gods and meter maids who require quarters or checking your telephone app in time. I impetuously will tilt my head back and laugh at the freedom.

For the metered parking, I will rejoice. I may even do a surreptitious happy dance. It will be the dance internal, lest I don’t look needy enough, however.

The actual blue spaces, I may not ever touch those. I think karma dictates that I leave them alone for the people who cannot walk or are permanently up the handicap placard needing creek.

Plus, they scare me. For irrational feelings of superstitious dread, I fear them. The jinx potential is too high. You are inviting the universe for a good old smiting.

The rational fear is of do-gooding, well-meaning folk. Years ago I worked with an accountant with a bum heart named John. Since we were only in our 30s, if I remember right, he had received a heart transplant at a young age. His heart was now indeed many, many years his heart, so he had to have been young. (John’s prognosis, sadly, and it came true, was that he would not actually ever be old. But in the few years I knew him, he was using his borrowed time and even met the woman he would marry.)

He happily drove for any group getaway from the office. Not only did his meds keep him alive, they kept him from drinking, so he was the greatest of getaway drivers.

His meds also made him particularly hirsute. Thankfully, that’s not a side effect of a hip transplant.

The director of the office, John’s and my boss’s boss, not only enjoyed the occasional day drink (as well as the occasional day slap and tickle, but that’s another story), he also liked pizza from the source. The source to him was deep in the jungles of Boston’s North End.

If you are reading this from Massachusetts, no description of labyrinthian, narrow cobble-stoned streets are in order. For the rest, it’s roadwork straight out of the Revolutionary War without a lot of updates since the 1700s.

Parking is not to be had easily in the tiny and densely packed neighborhood. You could circle around Hanover and Prince and Union and other streets whose names I forget for days without a meter or legal space to be found. And woe be unto you, if you were to ever, ever, ever consider moving a lawn chair from a shoveled out spot in the dead of winter snow.

John’s service to pizza was incalculable, even by an accountant of his own caliber. We piled into his four-door, and he could smoothly go where no mere parking mortals could go.

But, it wasn’t all rainbow colored puppies living on liver-flavored lollipops.

John’s reason for the handicap plates was solidly internal. He had no outward sign of the transplant unless he walked around shirtless exposing railroad tracked scars all over his chest.

Without cane, crutches, chair, walker, a begging bowl or any of the acoutrement that signal “handicap,” he was a hairy dude stepping out of a well-parked sedan. More than once he was accosted on the street and assumed to be a well-bodied person illicitly borrowing their parents or grandparents or other unfortunate person’s car.

I think people have a clear mental picture of what handicapped is supposed to look like. They want their gimps gimpy, their limpers limpy, someone they can look at and create a sad narrative.

An accountant running errands before work, heart transplant or no, is too normal. He was shaken one morning by a presumably well-intentioned woman, and an accusation that escalated into a shouting match.

How much are you required to say, I wonder.

I think months from now, if I dangle the placard above my dashboard through March, I’ll find out. I can see myself in the streets of San Francisco, and it may not end well. I still have enough of Boston in me to imagine my future self telling someone to go fuck themselves, while debating whether or not to let them know my hip is not my own.

Changes, I guess

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In one of those crazy things that the planet drops on you so your tiny lizard prain can see magic and say “Ah ha. Meaning!” our yard is alive with multiple generations of Gulf Fritillary butterflies. They feast and live and die and transform on the passionflower plant.

Climbing a fence between our neighbors and us, the flowers have bloomed outside our bedroom since we moved here.

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Until this summer, they lived and bloomed relatively unmolested by the insect world apart from an occasional bee.

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Pow. Somewhere the word went out to a gadflying Gulf Fritillary, and she told two friends and like a hot night club, our yard was put on the map. They have been partying it up for months. If you give the lifecycle a month or so, we have grandparents, maybe great-grandparents, fathers, mothers, children, cousins and eggs for the next generation.

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It’s a cosmic hustle for someone lying back with metal and bone filling in for bone and tissue. I’ve swapped one pain for a new pain, and unremarkably it’s all a mind fuck of trying to decide if I made the right move. Does a caterpillar know when it sticks its bottom feet on a leaf, curls up and swaddles itself in silk to form a crusty brown shell what happens next?

Here’s what I know. Day by day I was ground down by pain that the medical establishment assures me was irreversible and severe osteoarthritis. Through genes or some injury I never knew or remembered or more likely some accident at birth, my left hip wore itself to a wingeing, painful state.

It was gradual enough that for a while I figured I had pulled a muscle or otherwise strained my disobedient body. Then, I figured that I was just an out of shape mess. A little weight loss and a lot of exercise and I’d at least be able to sit, stand or walk without twinging.

And then the pronounced limping started. It didn’t stop.

Exercising was brutally painful. But with the help of a stoic streak forged with the fire of a childhood where crying was weakness and shaking it off was sound medical advice, I perservered. Oh, and of course, over the counter pain and inflammation killers, mostly my favorite vitamin naproxen, flowed in my blood stream second only to natural-born cells.

The long and the short of it — it sucked. Livable, but not optimal. I think the day I just spontaneously tripped on air or a sunbeam and dropped in a heap on the floor of my boss’s office scared me the most.

The future meant only one thing. It would be complaining and lessening my sphere of travel to footsteps. It would be my mother. My whole life she had sore feet and legs and breathed sighs of resignation. The diagnosis, which may have come only through an obstetrician, the only doctor I know that she ever visited, was one word “arthritis.”

My back was X-rayed, and the arthritis word arose again. Degenerative arthritis of two discs in my, I now learned, curved spine.

Resigned I was, too, like my mother. But I exercised more. I lost some weight, I followed exercises outlined by a physical therapist. I played softball only ever making it to first base on an error and then calling in a runner to my place.

If my mother I would become… If my future was to be pain and grimacing with a simple stroll, I’d push it hard and convince myself I could muscle through anything. I had to dig deep and keep on moving.

But I was moving less and less. I managed to walk for distances when I could not allow myself to sit. The funeral parade of my mother-in-law was a slow and deliberate slog in tropical humid heat. My new family arrayed behind us, worrying my every footfall and my pale skin getting beaten down in the midday sun.

Cumulatively, even as I pushed, I could feel my world getting smaller as my achievable distances became shorter.

What had been day-to-day discomfort, became months, then years and growing pain. Doctors told me to keep losing weight and keep exercising.

I began to learn that the language of pain is a foreign tongue. I couldn’t find the right description to impress an array of MDs that there was something more.

Here’s where I’ll toss out a brief tangent on a soapbox — I am certain that the deck is stacked against women when it comes to health. Every doctor’s visit seemed to turn to conversations about snacking and fat and health risks.

Yeah, I get that. Although, I’ve been built like a fireplug for pretty much as long as I can remember. Solid, junk in the trunk, low to the ground and a 36C bra since an incredibly early puberty. Healthy and active and curvaceous.

I never really vary wildly from about the same weight, my cholesterol and sugar are fine and blood pressure normal to low. Apart from the creep of middle age, I couldn’t convince anyone that what was happening — falling more frequently, getting up, sitting down, sleeping, moving, walking with pain — was getting worse and not the least bit normal.

My conviction of pain sucking worse for women is based on not being taken seriously. Every time I described my pain I guess it didn’t sound dire enough.

I wanted to punch the very young nurse practitioner, visited ONLY to take a PAP smear, who went off on hidden calories, bad diets and how obesity makes you uncoordinated. She accused me of drinking sugared soda and eating fast food based on nothing, and certainly not based on the vagina she was hired to swab.

Another doctor, visited when I fell in a hotel shower and weeks later ached in spasm-y pain, talked only about my age and asked about signs of pre-menopause. Pain and advancing age were inextricably linked and both incurable, I gathered.

Statistically, and rather than my linking one place, just Google this fact — Women have more cases of osteoarthritis and ultimately get more hips and knees replaced. But, men, they get their hips and knees replaced YOUNGER. If you’re an 80-year-old women and having trouble tooling around the assisted living complex, boom, you can get a new hip in the time that they recharge your Rascal scooter.

Substitute in a penis and balls, and you’re rocking that new hip or knee in your 50s or 60s. You can become an upright middle-aged man ready to chase a mobile lifestyle again.

Due for a physical, I figured I’d give it another whirl to try to convince a stranger that I wasn’t just another fat, old lady whining.

I read the online bio of a Russian woman that instead of an MD was a DO, a doctor of osteopathic medicine. When I showed up in her exam room, she had me hop off the table and walk around the little room. It was a first.

Other doctors looked at my height, weight, age and asked questions as I sat on the exam table in socks and paper gown. They moved my leg for me, asked more questions, tapping answers into a computer screen.

This doctor walked alongside me and looked from the front, back and sides.

For the first time, someone mentioned my hip. Given my not ancient age, this doctor assumed hip bursitis and after years of complaints I had an order for a new X-ray. After the X-ray, she canceled the follow up appointment that would have happened with bursitis and sent me straight to a surgeon.

I wish I had a before and after set of X-rays or even just the X-rays that the surgeon and I went over together. It was a study of black and gray. My left hip looked cavernous next to my right with space between the bones joining up and no cartilage in sight. An ugly, dark space.

I didn’t deliberate long. The surgeon was so certain that I probably was born with a misshapen structure, he didn’t suggest surgery, he only asked when.

This could turn out to be my chrysalis, my future in another form. For as long as I can remember long walks have meant sore legs and feet in a way that other people tell me doesn’t happen to them.

Maybe I have a new fix. I’m learning how to walk again. I was a late walker in my baby years. I am relearning what I maybe didn’t quite get right at like 2 or 3 years old.

At 50 I might creep into a new phase.

And now I’m not myself anymore

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If it wasn’t some kind of movie plot and a deranged madman implant a stick or a snake or a robotic, futuristic control device that will have me goose stepping in locked formation, I’m now standing on something like the photo above. I took the bandages and tape off, and I have a serpentine gash puckering the cellulite in my thigh more than the usual pucker. Hard to say what’s in there.

I seem to be recovering OK. I had hopes that I would be one of the patients the surgeon chattered about who veritably waltzed out of the recovery room. But, I can’t fuckingdance, so no surprise that wasn’t me.

I did leave the hospital with all it’s sterile movie set tubes and monitors the second I could. One night of care taking and I was done.

My favorite part of the hospital was the intravenous drip of narcotics that would ooze more pain-killing goodness at the press of a button. I was watching the second hand wind down in 10 minute intervals when the device would reward me with a boost. Life should have such delivery systems on the daily.

But, alas, I discovered all of that sweet, sweet opiate had a price. My stomach felt like shit with saltine crackers and ginger ale being my only joy. And, that shit will bind up your colon like it’s never been blocked before.

More on that scatological burst in a second, but a side note on why I left the hospital with great haste.

Hospitals are for sick people. I think perhaps the best time to stay. would be in full on coma. Anything short of persistent vegetative state, and it is fucking annoying.

There are a thousand cliches and previously tread remarks. But, why the fuck why must it be 24-hour poking? Can’t they schedule the blood-drawing guy and the drug-dispensing and the ice pack change and the nutritionist to hit you up roughly around the same time? And why does anything have to happen pre-dawn?

I would have rather have died in my sleep, I think, then to be woken out of it to have every tube and whatnot checked whenever sleep did come.

Even though the nurse dithered nervously as to whether I was truly ready and whether I could take care of myself and whether I was really, really sure, when the physical therapist gave me the green light on going the bathroom alone, freedom was mine.

So, the bathroom is what gave me freedom, and it is the bathroom that will likely preclude me from developing an unhealthy bond with the bottle of Norco by my side.

Don’t get me wrong. Hydrocodone, she is a good friend at 3 a.m. when there is no pose or state of mind that will bring comfort. She swaddles you in the numbing goodness that tells the nerves that pain is not of you, not today.

Come the morning, though, the wonderful mistress who gave you comfort and relief has walked away with your wallet and your guts. Left behind is a growing pit of constipation that prunes, softeners and laxatives cannot conquer alone. They each must join a pitched battle for days on end.

I’ll take this away from the image of my personal pooing.

I am obsessed about constipation as a constant side effect of using opiates. Basically, for me it’s a different face on everything perceptively cool about drugs, drug culture, creativity and drug-induced muses.

Rock and roll heroes like Janis Joplin and Joey Ramone couldn’t shit. The notion of all of that soul and pouring out of emotion and capturing their respective raw movements in society and considering that price leaves me even more in awe.

I am a simple simple woman. If I am not comfortable in some basic, bestial ways, I cannot think let alone create. My soul is base. I like good plumbing too much to truly ever be a rebel.

Meanwhile, in 2014, we are all one connected by the internet. So, I could Google my obsession.

Through the computer age, I discovered bluelight.org. There is a whole world out there of people sharing the good, bad, funny, safe and crazy about the whole pharmacology of drugs. And holy shit, as it were, many are out there sharing forums of my own short-term obsession.

The next wave of futuristic drugs will be gentler on your stomach.