Monday, February 25, 2013

You Never Know, Does One?

A sunny day at the KVI beach It is the season of Lent in the Christian church, a time of reflection, penitence, and self-denial, one object of these practices being humility. I have mentioned before that my definition of humility is to have a clear, true perception of yourself, which does not mean self-bashing or delusions of grandeur, but rather an objective view of who you are. I think it’s impossible to be objective about yourself when you’re looking from inside your own head, but where else can you stand? It’s worth the effort to try. If you’re lying to yourself about who you are, whether you’re lying about being more than you are or less than you are, you’re lying. Living a lie makes nonsense of your life, so clear your head as well as you can, and see what you can see. One good way to clear your head is to take a walk. Yesterday was sunny, one of those early false spring days, and Marley the dog and I went down to the KVI beach for a walk. The sun was hot on my back and the wind was cold in my face as we went. Marley ecstatically sniffed practically every blade of grass, and left her own mite of communication in a spot which I now think of as Poop Central for dogs on KVI beach. When I walk on the beach I am looking for where I would run in the event of a large earthquake and tsunami. If this makes me neurotic and paranoid, so be it. This paranoia is based on my knowledge that these things have happened here in the past, and could happen again. I took the Vashon 101 class a few years ago in which one of the lecturers took glee in telling us that when the Seattle Fault lets go, we will have about four minutes before the tsunami hits Vashon. So now when I walk on the beach, hobbling along on my arthritic joints and assisted by my walking stick (thank you, Becky), I am calculating: how far could I go in four minutes? Is that a trail up the bluff there in the salal? Would my worn-out knees allow me to get up to safety in a hurry? Should I stand there and kiss the world good-bye and watch the wave come to take me? Then I tell myself that while there will be an earthquake, the likelihood of it happening right this minute is slim. I’ve been walking on these beaches for over 40 years now. So far so good. I go back to limping along, picking up rocks that catch my eye, as well as things people have left behind. Yesterday’s haul: twenty white pebbles for my garden cairn, one pair of plaid sleep pants (size XL), and a pink plastic clothes pin. In 1966 I lived in Alameda (another island) and commuted to San Francisco on the AC Transit. Every day on the way home as we crossed the Bay Bridge, I would worry. What if there was an earthquake? What if the bridge collapsed? Mind you, I’d lived near the San Andreas Fault all my life, and had experienced many quakes, though no really large ones at that time. The large earthquake came later, in February, 1971, in Los Angeles. It gave me respect for earthquakes and what they can do. I moved up here in 1973, thinking that I was getting away from earthquakes. That’s how ignorant I was at the time. But getting back to my story… On October 17, 1989, at 5:04 p.m., the Loma Prieta earthquake struck. The San Andreas Fault shifted in the Santa Cruz Mountains, and guess what? A section of the Bay Bridge collapsed. One woman died when her car plummeted into the gap. All other vehicles were turned around and sent back to San Francisco. Meanwhile, in Oakland, the double-decker Cyprus freeway, which had been part of my daily commute in 1966, collapsed on itself, and 42 people died. I had never worried about that freeway collapsing, only the Bay Bridge. In retrospect, I’d say my paranoia was at least partially not paranoia, but the worst that happened when the earthquake hit was not something I had foreseen, or worried about. That’s the thing about worry and paranoia – you are preparing to defend yourself from what you imagine, and you might have it all, or partially, wrong. You never know. There was no earthquake while I was at the beach yesterday. The dog and I made it back to the car fine. I took some snapshots of the sunny scene so I could look at them on days like today, when the overcast is high and white and unbroken. Is my head clearer for yesterday’s walk? I find that head clearing needs to be done every day for best results. The dog likes to clear her head, too, so we’ll go out walking again today. I wish you a blessed Lent, if Christianity is your spiritual practice, and a clear head regardless of your spiritual practice.

After a Mammogram

There is a joke that if the genders took turns having babies – if the woman had the first, the man had the second, and the woman had the third, there would never be any fourth babies. I thought about that this morning as I drove home from having a mammogram. If men had to put their secondary sexual characteristics between a couple of flat plates and have them squeezed flat while being told that compression is necessary for a good reading, they’d get busy and invent a better way to take a look at the inner man. As it is, men don’t get compressed in this fashion and women are encouraged to get a mammogram every year or two. I encourage any women inventors and researchers to get busy on inventing a better way to look at the inner woman. Getting machine-mangled while the technician calls me “honey” and “dear” and pushes me this way and that, telling me to turn my feet this way and my arm that way and my chin a third way, is not my idea of a great way to spend the morning, but I went and did it out of a sense of duty, and oh yeah, because I had a lumpectomy a couple of years ago and it’s good to keep an eye on these things. I was told I’d hear from my doctor in ten days or so, and I can wait. When I was younger I would panic at the thought of having cancer, and rightly so – I was too young to die. Now – well, let me tell you a story. I was online one night when an ad from Swedish Hospital popped up encouraging me to take a quiz to see what my greatest health threat might be. I figured I knew already – I’m fat. I’ve been told to lose weight and get my cholesterol down for years. So I took their quiz, and according to Swedish – and they claim they know – my biggest health risk is my age. It’s not the fat, the cholesterol, the angina, the lurking type II diabetes, the lingering effects of injuries, the lung congestion, the fatigue, all the conditions I worry about which I wonder, “Which one is the bullet with my name on it?” No, my greatest threat now is that I’m old. That’s the bullet. We used to say that people died of old age, and no one thought much about it. Now the cause of death is detected and people die of pneumonia or its effects, or myocardial infarction, or renal failure, or complications of cancer or its treatment, or whatever. There’s usually a name for what finally gets you. Saying that we lived it up until we were used up is not a medical label. Too bad. We used to have a sense that a person went when it was their time. Now it’s that one medical condition that could not be cured and took you down like a cheetah leaping on a wheezing gazelle. We’ve lost the big picture. Ah, well. It’s easy to think about such things when coming home from a diagnostic test. I was told I’d hear from my doctor in ten days or so. Until then I live in the limbo of unknowing – didja find anything? Or not? I want to hear what the result has usually been over time: I’m fine, and I can go on my yippy-skippy way and not think about it for another year or two. Unfortunately, the last time I had this test, three years ago, there was something found, and that led to surgery and a recovery that seemed to take a long, long time. It was tedious, friends. A person gets tired of waiting rooms and magazines full of helpful advice on how to be healthy, all left lying around for perusal by people who wouldn’t be there if they were healthy. I think it’s the smiling models in these magazines that annoy me the most. Have you noticed how the people in drug ads are always grinning like they won the lottery? “I have cancer/heart disease/erectile dysfunction/bipolar disorder but I couldn’t be any barking happier because I am using this drug!” Aah, that’s enough out of me for one day. I have ten days to live in ignorance, and I plan to enjoy those ten days. If the results are negative, hallelujah. If they’re not, we’ll cross that bridge when we come to it. Either way I’m going to keep sitting out on the kitchen porch in the morning, drinking my coffee and listening to the birds sing. And that’s the truth. Post Script: I have been called and asked to come in for further images, on the side which had surgery three years ago. So I'll be going in for that this week. Stay tuned, but I'm really hoping that will be the end of it.

Saturday, February 2, 2013

Dogs, Dialysis, and Deep Valleys

A dog with dense molecules About 4:30 this morning my husband and I were lying there petting the dog and talking about our random sleep schedules. He is hooked up to his dialysis machine at night, and it makes various beeps and boops, with accompanying blinking lights, so he tends to be awake often during the night. I read in bed, and sometimes am awake until after two, depending on how gripping the narrative is, or how insomniac I am. I hear him waking, fiddling with the dialysis machine, and drifting back to sleep. Sometimes the machine wakes me up, too, and we have these early morning conversations. We were discussing whether our sleep has become so off and on because of our age, our medications, his machine, the dog, or, our best guess, all of these things. Rick and I have one of those foam mattresses that are all the thing these days. I bought it at the discount store a few years ago. It is probably the most comfortable mattress we’ve ever had. No hard pressure points for arthritic limbs and joints, and it practically hugs you and says, “There, there, baby, you get your rest,” when you lie down on it. Ah, we sigh, and snuggle in, and the dog snuggles in next to us. There are downsides to this cuddly mattress. The dog tends to slide in my direction during the night. Some nights I wake up clinging to the edge of the mattress. Garrison Keillor used to do ads for the “Deep Valley” bed, an old mattress with a sag in the middle that rolled the occupants of the bed toward each other. The foam mattress does not have a deep valley, but it does dip where you and the dog lie on it. Nature abhors a vacuum, and a dog abhors leaving you any space in bed. I know the truth of this when I wake up in the wee hours being pushed over the edge by the impressive bulk of our affectionate pit bull. She looked so small the day we met her. After living with an 85-pound Doberman-Pit Bull and a 60-pound Collabrador, Marley looked downright petite. We soon learned that she has what my husband calls “dense molecules.” Marley may not look very big, but she is a chunk of muscle, and when she hops up on the bed and lies down it’s a lot like sharing the space with a sack of wet cement. There is another problem with a soft mattress. After a while your back protests at the lack of support and you can develop muscle cramps and spasms. So sometimes I nap on the floor. A few hours on a flat hard surface and my back is much happier. I think the reason for this is that the human body slept on the ground or the floor, without much padding, for centuries. We’re not designed for soft and comfy. We’re designed for hard and unyielding. When I lie on the floor, I note in passing, the dog does not join me. She stays up on the nice soft couch. I think of the mattress ads I’ve seen, with a body, usually an attractive, height-weight proportional female silhouette, lying on a mattress. The illustration points out how the mattress shapes itself to the contours of the human body, going up at the waist and down at the hip and shoulder, a perfect fit for every physical idiosyncrasy. There is never a dog in these ads.
Listen up: we are not made for beds that shape themselves to us. We are made to sleep on the floor or the ground, with the dogs cuddled up next to us so we supply each other body heat, perhaps next to a fire that stays lit all night if we’re lucky. That’s my theory. I heard when I was young, “Old people don’t need as much sleep.” Well, phooey. I think we need as much sleep, but we don’t get it, at least in one stretch. When my mom was in her later years, she was always dozing off in her chair while watching TV. I understand that now. If you get eight hours of sleep in a row, do not have medical machines keeping you alive, and don’t have a dog pushing you off the bed, you have none of these complaints. Congratulations. I’m happy for you. But I don’t want to hear about it.