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Tuesday, February 28, 2006

I’m on track

There are a lot of questions coming now; over coffee, over lunch, on walk, in email, at chance meetings: Are you excited? Are you afraid?

No. Mostly when I think about it, which I don’t have to, very much – tickets bought
all packed – my feeling is one of O.K., I’m on track.

I take a great interest in my health these days, because I need to pass a thallium stress test next Monday. Doctors used to freak when they saw my EKG, and warn me off eggs and sports. I don’t want any of that between here and the operation, so I have been hiking, stairclimbing, and even running – something I have not done in over a decade – for the last two months. I’m down about 14 pounds from my Thanksgiving fiasco, but not enough. I wanted to weigh 170 in Miami, but that proved unrealistic. It will be about 180. Even so, the machinery is running better. It can do 20 flights of steps without a rest, and then sprint for two more. I’m as ready for the test as I will ever be.

The other concern is the ease with which people here in the Willamette Valley share illnesses – especially university students. They hand you a bit of scratch paper with a call number on it, and BOOM! You come down with any one of sixty-five rhinoviruses, all known locally as “the crud” and all presenting a range of flu-like and bronchial symptoms. One such nameless disease went through here a few years ago, with all of the symptoms of whooping cough. It actually killed people. Mine lasted sixty days.

So I simply fail to take the paper or the ID card, or whatever, and, through what I hope is friendly but firm body language, get them to drop it on the counter.

Ordinarily I walk patrons to a public terminal to train them on lookups, but currently I simply demo it from the service desk, turning the monitor for them to see. This one keyboard and mouse I know I can keep clean.

If I were to catch anything, of course, the surgeon would kindly reschedule. But I would have difficulty getting money back from the airline. And there would go the summer, which I’m trying to protect from all this. I have not properly vacationed in decades.

Meanwhile, a co-worker, looking over my shoulder, saw on my calendar the notations off estrogen and, two weeks farther on, off spiro.

"How’s that going? Not having the meds, I mean?"

Not so good.

Of course, I was warned about that. One friend said that, for her, that was absolutely the worst part of the operation. And she described psychological horrors such as no woman would want to go through.

I’m not doing that badly, but it’s not exactly salad days, either. I will tell you what I can.

My world has gone grey. Its palette of a thousand colors seems to have shrunk down to ten. The same, though of course there doesn’t seem to be much in English that can describe it, is happening to my skin. I cannot feel beauty
as when one touches silk – with my accustomed sensitivity.

I feel, though the people around me deny it, that I’m becoming ugly. It’s that face from three years ago, the one on which I had so resolutely turned my back, only older. I now know that it takes six months on six milligrams/day of estrogen, with 200 of spironolactone, to build the face I want, and one week, off estrogen, to lose it. This happened when I was very ill, last August, and here it is again. And, yes, it does feel a bit like dying.

More surprising, because I have not heard of this from others, is the discovery that I am having problems controlling my voice, postures, gestures, and manner of walking. One would think these were, in a sense, superfluities, based in acting skills alone acquired for safety reasons
a necessary part of passing, not something connected directly to hormones.

Apparently, one would be wrong.

So I have all this to live with, but it does not seem so burdensome, nor so depressing, as I have been told. There is an end in view, and it is only fourteen days away. I would have put up with much, much more.

I'm not, as I was told I would be, depressed or terrified. I am only a little sad. I can do this, as any woman does mourning: one day at a time.

One takes refuge in small things: rise, build the fire, make a small breakfast, read for a bit, wash up, make up, dress up, drive. Work. Make small talk. Get in the exercise whenever the opportunity presents itself, in company with friends, or alone. Make and keep appointments. Keep drinking fluids. Drive home, stopping, perhaps, for gas, with an extra dollar for the attendant who is taking on all that wind and rain for you, for minimum wage. Take 1000 mg. Vitamin C, morning and evening. Arnica Montana, four, sublingually, four times a day. No vitamin E. Read. Listen to good music. Fuss over which socks to bring (I like the ones with the bright chili peppers – they’re more her kind of thing, but I find them cheery and warm when convalescing). Read.

Watch the birds at the bird feeder.

Take a friend for a long walk.

Read. At present I’m reading The Happy Isles by Paul Theroux. During the journey I plan to read all the Mary Poppins books.

Beloved asked for, and to her surprise got, a small combo-drive television for the bedroom. She’s taken to it, in spite of the fuss she made, and watches CDs of Mr. Bean, the Dick Van Dyke Show, Lucy, Northern Exposure. She got me a Buster Keaton set, including The General, which I greatly appreciate, but have not yet opened.

I find that, when the shows are on in the late evening, and I hear her healthy laughter ringing through the house, that I’m glad for her but don’t wish to watch, and cannot easily fall asleep under the flickering imagery and laugh tracks – even with my good ear buried in the pillow and another pillow draped over my head. So I go to my own room, and run a small space heater there, and read travel books until I’m sleepy. Turning off the heater and the lamp, I’m plunged into near-total darkness, the starlight from outside having been absorbed by the thick Oregon cloud cover and the immense rains. I feel my way though the house, imagining I’m Helen Keller, and slip beneath the blankets on my side of the bed.

Beloved, still only half asleep, stirs somewhere deep in the mountain of quilts and comforters on her side of the bed. Her hand seeks me through the cold and the blackness.

She finds my lips with her index finger, and I bless it with a little kiss.


-- risa b

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