This blog contains 1000 posts. Posting to Blogger with such a large archive has become unwieldy. Also, your blogista, who is sewing a kesa, is not writing much at present. She has ceased adding new posts. Still-active links are here.

Saturday, September 24, 2005

Through the night, softly

I have been helping my two youngest (twenty-two and twenty, if you must know) to move into their new quarters, not far from where I work, and going to meetings, and am exhausted. last month at this time, I was in very bad shape, and the doctor said things would not be back to normal for six weeks. Based on when he said that, I have four weeks to go.

So I sleep a lot.

At work, I go off and sleep for half an hour on a couch in the staff lounge (with the boss's encouragement, of course).

At home, I fall asleep around six or seven and wake up around ten, do some email, and try to go back to sleep, which can take until one o'clock in the morning.

This may be a goofy way to recuperate, but it seems unavoidable. I just drop off, in a chair or wherever, and when I come around it feels like it's been forty-eight hours, and I have trouble getting up onto my feet.

I'm also running into things and have nasty-looking bruises hither and yon.

Then there are the dreams. I'm having lots of them, in sepia or Technicolor; I wonder if it is a residual from the infection, which did reach toward the brain at one point.

I only remember one. In it, I was visiting an Army barracks (!!!), and the sleeping area was not bunks but raised platforms, as in Inuit houses or in a Zendo, where everyone slept side-by-side. I was berthed next to a tall (and wide), radiantly charismatic sergeant, who talked to me through the night, softly, about his life and times, leaning on his elbow. I lay on my back with my head turned toward him, and felt this tingling all through my body, expectation and happiness mixed, with a seasoning of dread. He leaned toward me --

No, I don't know. I woke up, okay???

:::

I went to the counselor and he says it is time to find the second counselor for the surgery letter. Yippee!

Back out on the street, still beaming, I was accosted by a driver who was eight blocks out of place, looking for directions (a lady of course -- a guy would just circle around right? -- but enough stereotyping).

"Ma'am ... can you help me?"

I could! I love conversations like that.

:::

This morning I was stressed because I had to drop off a carload of stuff for PFLAG's entry in the Eugene Celebration parade, then go to work (it's Saturday -- shortage of student workers at the beginning of the school year).

And the first patron was an older gent who needed to see some maps, which is ordinarily a little more reference than I feel up to right now.

But his request was easily filled, and then he stayed to chat ... and he turned out to be really interesting.

He lived in Alaska for awhile, and his house there, which he built, was damaged by an earthquake. He left the military in the sixties, and has pursued his own way ever since.

His own way, it turned out, was large format nature and portrait photography, as well as oils and pastels.

"What I like to do, is get a commission to do a portrait, and I spend some time letting them get to know me, so that they feel safe and supported to be themselves for the shoot -- so that it's for them, not for others.

"Sometimes I will do a photograph of water running over round stones, or the light just so in a tree, and make a poster of it, and just put it up in public somewhere and sort of watch to see when it disappears. I like to think that has made someone's day."

We compared notes on post-and-beam housing construction techniques, which I have also used, and springhouse construction and maintenance. A half hour well spent.

-- risa b

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

The little zipper bag

Fall is, as they say, drawing on apace, and the orb-weaver spiders have moved into the tomato patch.

I'm at war with the mirror, lately, because the hospital stay robbed me of a good half of the gains I made on two years' HRT. The icon at upper right is about as good as my looks ever got. I'm a bit of a tired harridan right now, and not at all cheerful about it.

This is forcing me to work hard at the makeup.

Beloved, of course, uses none at all, nor do many of my friends. I, on the other hand, curl up and die when I discover I've left the little zipper bag at home.

It adds an extra half hour to my morning to mess with this stuff, but the results lead me to believe I can face the day, and that's reason enough to pursue this art.

Whenever I played at gender crossing, I would dash on a bit of lipstick, too red, and that feeling of being able to, say, leave lipstick on a glass, along with wearing the blouse, skirt, and shoes, seemed to fill a need -- as I've said before, more a yearning than getting a buzz. It was easily wiped off, and my secret world was fairly secure.

Now that I'm safely installed in womanhood, I have the opposite set of problems -- how to keep the lip color, etc. -- and so, I'm beginning to discover a complex and mysterious world, full of pitfalls because the merchants of beauty promise so much and deliver so little. If, like me, you're on a fairly strict budget, you won't find out what's really good, perhaps, but you can do a lot with a little if you try.

When I rise, the first order of business is HRT. The little blue pill isn't swallowed but held beneath the tongue until, like a tiny lozenge, it fades away. The taste is pleasant to me. I check the night's disasters in the mirror, then wash briefly -- too much soap adds to the trouble -- and towel off briskly, then apply, then and there, a fairly liberal mask, almost, of lanolin. This is allowed to soak in, while I run hot water and get out the razor. It's a pricey brand but nothing else I have tried works as well so far. And I have to have a good razor.

In spite of 18 months of electrology, I'm shaving quite a bit. Most of the hair visible most of the time, on my chin, cheeks and neck, is white, because my operator is going after all the black hairs first. A girl with a white beard can be kind of weird looking, though, so I apply a tiny bit of gel, with hot water, and take the "trees" off at "ground" level. Afterwards I clean and dry the razor, using the blowdryer if necessary. This gets me many more shaves.

This will last all day, but if I'm going somewhere in the evening and can't come back to the house, I have another razor with me for emergency touch-ups. That pink soap in the dispenser in the ladies' room will do for this. I'm shy, so I do this in the disabled access stall if there is one, which often has its own mirror.

Electro Day is Friday, and I tend to avoid meeting new people or going to power lunches on Friday with a day-old grizzle all over my chin.

After the shave, I may use a second layer of lanolin. Excess I rub into my arms and hands.

My next move is to even out the tone of my face a bit by going after age spots and other blemishes with concealer. This comes in a tube like lipstick, and works best if it's tapped lightly against the blotch rather than rubbed across it. This has to match one's overall skin tone well, and if you tan you might consider getting one color for summer and one for winter. If you can afford it, get your color matching done by a cosmetologist or at least a really experienced saleslady. I do my own -- but it's work. I'm getting by reasonably well on one tube of Medium.

Next, apply a thin coating of foundation but only where required. I'm using an inexpensive but, for me, effective product. Its name stretches the truth a bit, but I have seen worse. I work around and on the nose, under the eyes, along the cheek bones where I have sun damage, and a few age spots. Oh, and the chin. What I'm doing is taking out red and brown zones to get the same pink all over that I have in the better places. This, too, is not smeared on but patted into place, using a fluttering motion of the fingers.

Now I reach for lipliner, a major tool for me. I've run out of my better stuff, and have the only thing I could get on short notice. I've been unhappy with almost everything I've tried from this company, notably nail polish, but the lipliner is ... acceptable. The idea is to draw the mouth you want, adding more bow on the upper lip, for a fuller mouth that is a bit "closer" to your nose. I fill in toward the real lips until it's all blended.

Instead of lipstick, currently I'm using their lipcolor, again because it was what I could get, and, again, it works reasonably well. My color seems to be between pink and coral, and different every day.

My eye shadow, which I do next, is a good brand. As in costly. Anything less slides off before morning break.

Everyone seems to think you need foam wedges or little foam brushes to work with eye shadow, but I don't know -- I dip my middle finger in the shadow and once -- twice -- on each upper eyelid, and it looks just right to me. If I have to take some off, I may use a cotton swab with a hint of lanolin on it, which is great for cleaning up mascara from lower eyelids, too.

I may use a grey eyeliner above the lashes on my lower eyelids. The brand I have on hand is okay, but it seems a bit hard-surfaced. I've learned that you can fix that by putting it in the microwave for three or four seconds. [Warning -- more seconds than that and it will explode all over the inside of the oven!]

The blush from the compact is the only one I have ever tried. I use the brush, a generous size, that came with the compact, and make a softly blended triangle from below each ear to a point about halfway across the cheekbone toward my nose. It's a good color for me. One of my students gave me this kit --- with Night and Day lotions and mascara -- for my birthday because her mom is a company rep, and they consulted together from a photo of me and the mom did a good job, I think.

The mascara is either brown or black and, different strokes ... I do the lower lashes first. just downwards from above, then the uppers first from above and then below, sweeping outwards. The effect is very pleasing and it can be powerful -- the difference sometimes between being "read" or "clocked" and not read, in a crunch.

Hot weather is hard on all this, as it's not exactly premium. You can help it a bit by "setting" your face with a decent finishing powder. I'm using an old favorite, still made after all these years. I like their perfume too, even though it marks me as an oldtimer, but we have a sensitive sniffer at work so I don't wear any. But the lightly scented powder apparently passes. The powder puff that comes with these things is absolutely unmanageable for me, so I splurged on a really nice powder brush. The bristles are extra fine and wispy, and fan out about three-and-a-half inches. I take the puff, tap it on the inside of the lid to dislodge enough powder, and then whisk it up with the brush, as when one stirs Japanese green tea. Now there is a light dusting of the powder all across the brush. This I whisk onto my face pretty evenly everywhere, including my lips. If the result looks a little too dull, there's a tube of coral lipstick in the compact, with a little bit of gloss, that matches lipcolor well enough and can highlight it a little.

Done!

Oh, and if I've worn curlers all night, I take them out now, shake down my hair, brush it lightly and I'm off to get dressed, put in earrings and the like.

Hair care for me is not fancy -- yet. I shampoo twice a week and rinse every other day with conditioner -- don't get the shampoo with conditioner in it, except maybe in a tiny bottle for travel -- brush forward, blow dry until almost dry, and flip back.

Late! And I forgot breakfast -- again! I grab a can of "nutirional drink"on the way out the door. It's not ladylike to drink this stuff and drive, but at least my face is done.

It must be working, because I've taken a friend from the library to lunch, who offered, "The rest of us drag in, in our sweatshirts, with bags under our eyes, and you always dress sharp and look great. How do you do it?"

Ah, music to a girl's ears ... I know I don't look quite "great," but there seems to be no substitute, in this department, for effort. Hopefully it's paying off.

-- risa b

Friday, September 09, 2005

Trannier than thou

As the world starts getting a little tougher, and a little tougher, people seem to be practicing up on their skills in deciding who will be left behind.

I have been aware all along that there is bigotry towards transpeople, though I have seldom encountered it myself, except from endocrinologists who "don't do that kind of work," and that not all of this comes from straight people. Occasionally I run across examples of "LGB" that would rather not have "T" but that, too, has been rare in my experience.

No, what I've seen the most of, sad to say, is a syndrome I've heard called "Trannier than thou."

It crops up a lot on bulletin boards and listservs, which are rife with shouting matches between people who have never met in person. I sometimes sigh and resign from one, only to have it crop up on another. After about the twentieth back-and-forth venomous message on this topic I tend to hit the eject button.

The categories for exclusion are numerous. Some younger post-operative transsexuals disdain, or are even angry with, older transitioners for having stayed in their birth gender for half a century, enjoying the benefits of being "straight," such as marriage, children, perhaps even a career, and then, when most of the barriers to a sudden change have weakened, ta-daaaa!

Forgetting that when the older people were young, it was a time when everything was harder to achieve: finding a sympathetic and experienced counselor and doctor, access to hormones, and a good surgeon. And the prospect of no longer being able to find work was much higher. Many (myself included) went years not knowing what a transsexual was! So we tried to get by on being transvestites, and hating it, partly because many of us didn't get the buzz from it that true transvestites seem to -- just an eternal inexpressible yearning.

Older transpeople, in turn, seem to disdain the younger ones -- "too political" -- "too idealistic" -- and shake their heads over the unfathomable, to them, rise of the genderqueers.

Some post-ops assume a role of "graduate" transsexuals and act patronizingly toward pre-op "undergrads."

Many transpeople, post- and pre-op alike, disdain transvestites and cross-dressers, assuming that cross-dressing can be reduced to the acting out of masturbatory fantasies. There is some truth to what's worrying them, which is that the straight public, and especially puritanical bigots, will confuse them with "those people," and resist their efforts to gain equal access to restrooms or other "sex" segregated facilities. But by attempting to distance themselves from CDs, they're (we're) being reactive, not proactive. It amounts to "hey, I'm not them, discriminate against them, not me."

Not good.

The technical term for all this is internalized transphobia.

That's getting close to the point that's on my mind, but while we're here, let's drag a few more prejudices out of the closet.

All of the above tend to unite in disdain for one of the oldest groups in the gender-variant world, the drag queens (drag kings seem to be astonishingly exempt -- perhaps much of the lesbian community holds "woman born woman" as primary, regardless of how a born woman dresses or acts, or why).

There was a time when being a queen was about all that was open for a born male to "transition" to. A fiercely loyal and insular community, much reviled (and much desired), built up around female impersonation, continuing as a culture today that has considerable depth and vitality.

Drag queens have discovered an ancient safe zone, and exploited it to the hilt for needed self-expression and a means to social status among their peers, as well as some shelter from the disapproval and sometimes violent reactions of the outside world.

The stage, which evolved from the village dancing grounds of prehistory, was and still is, like those dancing grounds, a sacred space. Actors, dancers and singers are separated from the audience by silent assent to an unspoken contract like that between the priest and congregation in a church -- that the audience will be transported, for a time, beyond the boundaries of everyday life, adding a richness to their experience otherwise unattainable. In exchange for which, the performers obtain a certain immunity from harm, and perhaps even income.

In general, the formula has worked better than any available alternatives for over a century; hence the extent of this culture. But danger remains high.

There's a sense of pent-up energy unleashed in drag shows, the surface of which is joi-de-vivre, the undertow of which is tragedy and sadness. Most, though not all, queens are gay males. Many have self-esteem issues, dating back to family rejection, and their performance milieu is rife with access to alcohol, other harsh drugs, and men with STDs or dangerous agendas. Many have lost friends to one or more of these. There's a wisdom, acquired through excess exposure to humanity's darker impulses, that many queens have, especially as they grow older, but it's not always on display -- there is a wariness here that often comes across as hatefulness:

Can I trust you? Probably not. Please go away.

Many drag performances embody complex aspects of distrust, despair, and ironic social commentary that comes across to outsiders as misogyny. While some performers undoubtedly cross this line, I would only note that idealists make a poor audience for satire and should perhaps not frequent drag clubs.

At the bottom of all this presumed hierarchy are prostitutes, porn models, and porn actresses, many of them the most disdained of all: she-males. And the most-most disdained: transwomen and she-males in the sex trades who are women of color.

A she-male, as a rule, is a born male who uses silicone instead of hormone replacement therapy for feminization. They also may use facial feminization therapy and electrolysis or laser, and their public presentation is very convincing. But they avoid hormones.

This is frequently for the purpose of allowing themselves to be exploited for their ability to maintain an erection, which is very important to a wide constituency of mostly "heterosexual" males who are in denial about their sexual orientation. "It's not gay if you can pretend it's a girl." She-male porn and escort industries amount to a billion-plus-dollar trade.

There are many transfolk who find that, just as they are hated, and opportunities for housing and employment are denied them, they are also desired -- and sex work represents, sometimes, the only income they feel they can realistically access, frequently rationalized as just 'til I get my operation." But it is put off, often as the result of easy access to debilitatingly addictive drugs which become attractive in this stressful setting.

Some actually manage to fund their sexual reassigment operations and even their educations in this way, escaping back into the hetero mainstream with little or no former history, which is known as "going stealth." If no one knows you were born the other gender, this is called "deep stealth," but especially under the Bush administration' open hostility to transpeople and Homeland Security's obsession with tracking identity changes, this is becoming more difficult over time. I have a few friends who have pulled this off. They all tell me the odds were long, and that they feel fortunate not to have acquired AIDS, or long, rape-infested jail time, or a junkie's tombstone.

Heterosexual society tends to lump all gender-variant people into a single category associated with an obsession (their own, really) with "deviant" sex. They may feel justified in this assumption if they can point to queens, CDs, pre-ops and she-males, especially those working in the sex trade, and somehow extrapolate from these to some idea of "sexual predators."

The strange thing, and it's what's on my mind today, is that the LGBTQI community at large tends to take the same view or to be sadly fearful of advocating for the rights of gender-variant people, sometimes drawing one line or another one through the trans "hierarchy," but seldom accepting all.

When the first Pride parades marking the anniversary of the Stonewall Rebellion was inaugurated, queens and transpeople were denied participation. The organizers did not relent until twenty years of parades had marched by.

Yet witnesses say it was the late Sylvia Rivera, for whom the Sylvia Rivera Law Project has been named, who threw the first bottle. And was followed up by the other queens, many of whom were pre-op transsexuals with little chance of becoming post-op, along with some of their fans and patrons.

The Stonewall Inn was a drag scene, and it was largely the queens that hit the "enough" button and changed gay history. This was conveniently ignored for decades, because it is convenient to ignore embarrassing people whose presence may make one's work of becoming respectable (in the eyes of oppressors) more difficult.

The reaction among the gay and lesbian communities to transgender people in general and to queens and she-males has ranged as widely as that of the hetero community; from acceptance and empathy to discrimination and outright bigotry, sometimes more, sometimes less, and, I feel, the cycle is tied to that of hetero society's attitude toward all LGBT people.

When the witch-hunting against gays and lesbians heats up, some gays and lesbians seem to be inclined to ditch those may appear to be a liability. The argument that is offered, usually, is that the bad guys will punish us for having these people with us. But sometimes there is more than just this fear at work.

At the time of the first serious backlash against the Gay Liberation Movement, in the Seventies, Janice Raymond, a separatist lesbian theorist, wrote The Transsexual Empire: The Making of the She-Male. (1979). It's still in print, and taught in women's studies programs.

Raymond's theory, to which she brooks no rebuttals, is that the vast imperialistic patriarchy, not satisfied with the hitherto available forms of rape such as domination, and exploitation, came up with transsexualism (no discussion of female-to-males) as a new way to invade and colonize women's space. This theory represents MTFs as a kind of penis-of-the-patriarchy in the form of a man whose penis has been cut off, as camouflage.

While Raymond's view perhaps represents the extreme, even those who may accept MTF transsexuals sometimes try to make distinctions between acceptable and unacceptable born-male gender-variant people on the basis of the presence or absence, or scheduled absence, of a penis. Make the sacrifice, or I'm not with you is the unspoken message.

Yet many of those thus shut out may have had hopes, but will never come up with the many thousands of dollars to transition. And if they would rather keep their penis, why disqualify them from the LGBT umbrella, under which 3 out of the four initials happily fall because of sexual preference, including gay men and bisexual males?

Meanwhile, the grim statistics show where the real sacrifices are being made.

Every November, the trans community, with a significant number of LGBQI friends and other allies, hold a vigil called Day of Remembrance.

This is held to honor the memory of those known to have been killed for gender variance, with records going back only as far as 1997. (suicides are not listed; they are nearly impossible to track. The families do not list bigotry as the cause of death, and the deceased are typically buried under their birth name and pronoun.)

Those killed for gender variance in this time, well over 300 in number, almost universally follow a specific pattern:

1. No visible means of support.

2. A person of color.

3. Pre-operative transsexual, transvestite, queen, or she-male. I.E., there was a penis present.

I'm not in much danger from this kind of death because I'm middle class, white, and on track for an operation, as well as not much attracted to meeting nervous guys in dark bars.

But I do go to Day of Remembrance.

The unhappiness that led these victims to variance in gender expression seems to me closely akin to the unhappiness that led me to "change" my gender identity.

They are members of my tribe; my people.

For this reason, though I participate in LGBTQI activism, I am careful to support organizations that refuse to exclude, or act ashamed of, my people.

A shining example is PFLAG: Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays.

PFLAG made a historic policy decision not to cut legislative deals that, otherwise progressive, leave out transgender people:

Inclusion in Legislation

Long experience has shown that it is exceedingly difficult to broaden the scope of civil rights legislation to expand the protections provided for additional classes of persons, such as transgender, once those laws are in place. This means that any proposed legislation, however progressive and desirable, which does not include all the classes of persons in our mission statement and for whom we advocate will result in the exclusion of those persons from the benefits of such legislation for years to come, if not permanently.
The Board of Directors of Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays has, therefore, adopted the following policy:
PFLAG can only support legislation that provides explicit inclusion of all who are included in our mission statement.
(Adopted by the PFLAG Board of Directors on September 27, 2002 and revised on October 18, 2003.)
All who are included in our mission statement; thus:
PFLAG promotes the health and well-being of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered persons, their families and friends through: support, to cope with an adverse society; education, to enlighten an ill-informed public; and advocacy, to end discrimination and to secure equal civil rights. Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays provides opportunity for dialogue about sexual orientation and gender identity, and acts to create a society that is healthy and respectful of human diversity.
Intersex people, who labor under the same or similar prejudices, have been specified as well.

The choice of the word "transgendered" was deliberate; it means that transsexuals are not to be the only people who fall under the policy's mandate. Those who identify as trans (and self-identification, as opposed to definition by others, is key to all respect for diversity) are included; PFLAG is there for all of my people.

This is why I am honored to be a member of PFLAG.

It's also why I am suspicious of separatist movements. I can empathize with the desire to get away from those who appear to me to be oppressors; or to those whose presence may lead to my being mischaracterized; but if I am the one drawing the line, by defining others I will inevitably commit the very bigotry I seek to avoid.

I believe that separatism, "us versus them," inevitably leads to hierarchism, and hierarchism to oppression.

In the end, whatever one's noble goals:

There is no substitute for solidarity.

-- risa b

Thursday, September 08, 2005

Rebuilding

"These things happen," said Beloved. "You'll just have to rebuild."

I snuffled a little on her shoulder, then she was off to work.

Mirror, my enemy, let's get a good look.

Yes ... all the fat pockets the HRT had deposited to give me that nice face on my driver's license have melted -- and big black hairs have sprouted everywhere. The hospital stay has wiped out maybe 4, 5 month's improvement. It's practically square one.

I can't dodge work today, even though the powerful antibiotics have me in blinders, short of breath, evil taste in mouth, and what feels like heart palpitations ... big meeting ...

So I put a face cream all over everything, let it soak in, then unpack a brand new set of Venus blades to shave, practically skinning my upper lip, then cover with the heaviest foundation I've ever put on. Up close, this won't be pretty, but from ten feet away it hides a lot. Mascara, eye shadow, lip liner, lip color, and blush to finish. Brush hair, special attention to bangs. Add a really busty bra underneath the sun dress. Silly, but it helps with the convincing presentation.

Yah, I can go to work, but just barely.

Now if I only weren't full up to here with meds.

The infection is down, but not out -- after 3 weeks of penicillin and other antibiotics round the clock. I think we are entering a new era with strep and staph.

I've been working half days, then hiding in my bed all afternoon and through the night. Don't feel like writing, going out to the garden, cooking, or much of anything. Just lie there in a torpor.

I'm a little upset with the hospital; such wonderful nurses, but the doctors kinda interfered with my med routine when they saw my liver profile. This is the catch-22 for older transitioners. The Benjamin Standards are designed to prevent the Big Mistake (and reduce the chances of doctors being sued), which I suspect is mostly about never being able to have kids again or other relatively "young" issues.

Those of us who show up in a counselor's office at the age of 55 or whatever are already done with most of the life stuff they're thinking of saving us for. We've had the marriage, the kids, got grandkids, had a career, maybe, are heading for retirement and relative freedom. If we were going to make a contribution while masquerading as our birth gender (a full time job in itself) we will have done it by now. And we've had decades in which to sort out for ourselves the things that matter to us. All this should be taken into account because, as old-timers, we shouldn't be doing drugs that can damage our livers. So, for us, the Real Life Test with its year of waiting represents a health danger that could be greatly reduced by having access to an earlier SRS appointment.

Right now I need 5 mg/day of estradiol and 200 mg/day of spironolactone to preserve my presentation and my sanity. After SRS I would only 1 mg of estradiol.

With the number of people in my family that have had heart attacks, and the EKG that I have, with its skips, murmurs and whistles, that's an issue. Not to mention the liver ...

At work, I was just gaga today; you could probably get me to sign a contract for the Brooklyn Bridge. Hope I didn't do too much damage! Most of the patrons want directions to other parts of the library, and that's easy enough; but sitting through a meeting with the sound of the computer projector fan droning in my head was a bit much.

Now, alone in the house, I'm even more dangerous. Everyone here tends to have favorite snacky things, and I have no food-prep energy and a junk-food hunger that has no ethics and to which I have no resistance. I prowl the kitchen and the pantry, seeking what I might devour, carting everything off to my bed to consume while "reading" or "surfing." I awoke once yesterday with a sandwich in my hand, raised half an hour earlier for a bite; thank goodness I didn't manage to!

Yes, time to rebuild, sleep, exercise (some day!), eat sensibly (hah!), finish out the antibiotics, drink lots of water, and try not to run everybody crazy with my whining.

Fortunately, there's lots to do -- PFLAG board retreat -- Equality Network meeting -- Lane Gender Task Force meeting -- Imperial Court of the Emerald Empire meeting --Springfield School Board meeting -- all in the space of three days, with a granddaughter coming to visit.

Nothing like giving yourself an unrealistic schedule and then getting sick.

Oh, ok, I'm whining here too.

So ...

The blackberries are finally ripe, along with the tomatoes.

Geese are honking through.

The corn has tasseled out, and the pumpkins are ripening.

Some good sunsets.

Most of the wood has been put up, and I didn't have to do any of it.

I think I'll go look for a good book.

:::

The phone has jolted me awake all afternoon.

"Mrs. Bear, we know we can count on you for $100 right now ..."

Another time, please. Medical bills first.

"How about $50, Mrs. Bear?"

Do I need to get rude?

"Ok, sorry, Mrs. Bear. Here's our website in case ..."

Oy.

I'm almost asleep when it hits me -- they're reading me right. At least I didn't lose my voice in there.

Pleasant dreams, dears.

-- risa b

Saturday, September 03, 2005

Wait for me

I am home, after ten days in the hospital.

Already my memories of the place are fading. They wake you at all hours for medications and blood draws, so the days are not distinct from one another and one is no longer certain who said or did what.

Somehow I did track visitors. I had fifty-one, not including repeat offenders. [grin] I brought home some nice plants, cards, a teddy bear, and a little laughing buddha (Ho-Tei). My "big sister" brought him to me, just as the gurney came to take me to the OR, and I managed to rub his tummy for luck before I rolled away.


Nurses are fabulous people. For relatively low pay, considering the professional preparation they've had to do, they dedicate their lives to your well-being. One wonders if they've been trained to jump in front of buses to save you. They have that glowing pride that firefighters have, of willingly facing danger in the line of duty, that duty being to help others.

The medical schools train them a lot, but there are gaps. They don't, for example, know much about transpeople.

"May I ask a .. um ... personal question?"

Teachable.

Patients are anything but patient, and nurses have to deal with a lot of grumps. Hospital time, my dears, is our golden opportunity. Show a little interest in what the nurses, CNAs and housekeepers do, and in them personally, and thank them for every little thing, right down to the twentieth blood draw. They'll warm up to you. They'll ask about your kids, your work, and you. Now you are a human being, and, by extension, others like you are human too. This may affect their vote the next time they are asked to deny you your civil rights for being born different.

I lost my bowels, so to speak, and had to ask for bed changes. The nurses could have left it to the CNAs, but I never saw anyone pull rank. I would get out of bed, IV and all, and help stretch the sheets across the mattress. Two girls making the bed, chatting.

One of them was new. Her preceptor turned her loose to relocate my IV and she spent a long time setting up for it.

"It's OK," I told her. "Practice on me, because I'm in a good place right now and if we miss we'll just try again." She got it right, after much deep breathing and centering down, and we proudly showed off her handiwork to the older RN. I asked her to sign her work and she did. We became great buddies.

Another one had an even harder time. Her preceptor was a sterner sort and hung close, watching, and as a result the younger nurse missed a vein. They had to switch places. I looked up into the young one's face as the older one worked, and realized she was getting faint.

"Breathe," I said. "There's really not that much going on, and she's not hurting me. It just looks scary."

"I always had trouble with this. In school we had do to each other and I was paired up with another fainty girl. We didn't do very well."

"All I had was the oranges," remarked the RN. "And I've never had an IV done on me." She popped the applicator into the right place in seconds, withdrew the sharp, and was taping me before she finished the remark. The LPN's hands shook and she gripped my blanket a bit. I hoped the RN wasn't watching her.

"A vein is just like a little rubber hose that's been dipped in oil," I lectured. "Put the applicator at just a little bit steeper angle than you expect, then go to a shallower angle right after it penetrates. You can feel resistance all the way around if you roll it a bit, but nothing in the middle; that's how you'll know you're in the right place."

"How do you know this stuff?" asked the RN.

"I worked in a primate center in Atlanta. I was an OR tech. I had to keep the chimps sleepy."

"What did you have?"

"Sernylan in the IV and a syringe of Nembutal in case she woke up."

"Sernylan?"

"Discontinued on people in the 60s. Used on animals till '78. It caused nightmares. You'd know it as angel dust -- phencyclidine."

"It sounds mean."

"It was. I got out of there."

They packed up their gear.

"Thank you. You're full of surprises," offered the RN.

Maybe so.

"Thank you both. That was very nicely done." And to the LPN, sotto voce, who lingered just long enough to hear it alone: "you're going to be fine."

"And how do you know that?"

"Because I can tell that you care."

:::

The doctor would come, peel my mask off, and back the packing out of the wound a bit. He had left a big safety pin dangling from the end of the gauze, which was his handle for this work, and I became known as "the girl with the safety pin in her neck." He would hum to himself, and slowly he warmed up to my little jokes and would converse a bit.

I told one of the nurses I found him distant but improving, and surprisingly sweet and childlike on closer inspection. I opined that his mother must have had a time with him. She grinned.

Under persistent questioning, he looked up the lab report and finally, after six days, could give me a name for my stalker.

"I actually had never heard of it myself. It's relatively rare. The bad news is it's kind of nasty. The good news is it responds to everything. If you had been able to hold down the pills, we could have let you go days ago."

What had hit me was streptococcus milleri group, a family of commensals that lives in your body all the time and only attacks you when you're unusually vulnerable, such as under job-related stress and such. It's fond of forming abscesses, most often in the dental area (I was hit in the salivary glands), but possible anywhere -- such as lungs or brain. It spreads fast ... deadly if untreated. Occasionally they do lose someone. So I guess it was life-threatening.

:::

They kept me so long because I kept throwing up oral meds and had to have an IV. After the first few days, the IVs only took half an hour at a time and so they would disconnect me and I could roam the halls at will. Nurses, housekeepers and volunteers in other areas became familiar with the sight of the mousy creature darting about the corridors, dodging gurneys and flocks of doctors. They would compliment my chili-pepper socks and ask how I was doing. I would praise their peers in Third Main, Unit Two.

Patients on the other hand were very private and would avert their eyes as I went by. I only got to know one of them the whole time.

One of the nights, I passed several visitors standing in the corridor outside a room about six doors down from mine. A medium-young woman in a Jackie Kennedy sort of smooth coiffure stood demurely pecking at the corners of her eyes with a small handkerchief, while a couple of conservatively dressed men consoled her. From the corner of my eye, as I went past, I could see that seven or eight chairs had been brought in, and people were sitting in them. On the bed an impossibly frail figure reposed, very emaciated, very still -- and making a peculiar wheezing sound. A death watch was in progress.

The next morning the room was closed off, and none of these people were anywhere about. On the door there was a sign to the effect that it was not to be used until thoroughly cleaned.

Someone had just died, in closer proximity to me than anyone else has ever done.

I wanted to spend a little time alone, thinking about all these things, but it was not to be. Everyone seemed to have my phone number or sought out my room. The nurses could tell I was being run a bit ragged, but I hate to turn anyone away -- so many years I had not had friends. Now I have them, and they bring me joy. So I promised myself a little alone time at home.

Beloved, knowing that the swarm was on, took to calling ahead so that I could chase people away and give her some quality time. It was beginning to be a little unnerving to her, the silence in the house, the lack of a coffee companion in the mornings. She would come and sit on the side of the bed, in the dark, as I lay half-awake and dreamy-eyed, just to hold my hand.

Finally, on Thursday, they turned me out. Beloved made three trips to the car with plants, stuffed animals, laptops, and clothing. I was rolled out in triumph and found myself bedazzled and confused by the sunshine. All the way home I stared at the supposedly familiar as if at scenes in a foreign country.

Beloved built a nest for me in the living room, centered on a recliner with a night table and a reading lamp. I snuggled into the blankets, and she handed me the new teddy bear. I smiled at her.

"This is Ted."

"Hello, Ted. You have an unusual name."

Well, the French Lop bunny has a fancier one, if you like."

"Which is?"

"Eli. For Eli Whitney."

"Nh?"

"Because he has mass-produced ears."

With that, I turned over, and slept for twelve hours.

:::

This morning I got a call from someone whose voice I did not immediately remember, wanting to talk with me about my medical records. I acted cagey until I understood who it was -- Dr. Harold Reed, my SRS surgeon-to-be. In person!! Angel with a Bronx accent. It was my intake interview -- the paperwork must have arrived from my doctor's office.

First, I explained, as best I could, my recent illness and its similarity to a near-fatal episode in the early nineties. Then we talked family history, medical history, mental health history, counselors, and current medications. It was clear Dr. Reed was taking his notes longhand, and for some reason I found this charming. He's very gentlemanly in the New York manner; undoubtedly fits in very well in Miami.

After we hung up I got up from my sickbed and danced a jig all the way round the house, singing. "Nah, nah, ne nah nah hunh! Nah, nah, ne nah nah hunh! Chah-chi-chah pooka-pooka pah hah, picki wicki wah hah boo!" and the like. Then stepped out into the yard and ate five plums, three tomatoes, a handful of snow peas and an ear of corn, raw.

A flock of geese streaked by, low, talking softly among themselves.

Goin' south, girls? Goin' south! Wait for me there, 'k?

-- risa b

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