Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Empty Spaces

I haven't been around in a long spell. Energy has been in short supply and life has been demanding. Next week I'll regale you with stories and even photos of what I've been doing. I meant to do that already, but while I was fiddling my fingers and taking my own sweet time, life jumped up and bonked my chronic head. I have pnuemonia. That's the stuff where you feel like you're drowning only you're standing on dry land. Not fun

So tonight, Halloween, I'm sitting at home in jammies and robe, eagerly awaiting my next breathing treatment. Woo Hoo. Oxygen.

I'm not going to do anything more impressive than writing this blog entry for a few days while I give the high-powered antibiotics time to do their stuff.

Cya next week. Until then, everybody stay well. Wash your hands all the time. Eat green veggies. Sleep as much as you're supposed to. Take your meds.

Cause we who are chronic know that if you do all the things you're supposed to, you won't get sick. Yeah, right. And now I'm going to go watch something vapid on TV and leave you to find your own fairy tales.

Monday, October 15, 2007

This is the Day

Today is Blog Action Day and all us bloggers are writing to encourage environmental action.

Many, maybe most, of us try to live 'greenish' these days. Recycle, share rides, buy green. But I suspect that all our efforts are little more than drops in a very big bucket.

As long as industries spew pollutants into our air, my choice to use pump spray rather an aerosol fabric starch is inconsequential.

As long as farm animals everywhere are being fed loads of antibiotics and growth hormones, shopping at the local farmers market is laudable but hardly meaningful.

We watch little girls (and boys) arrive at puberty at the tender age of 8 or 9 and wonder 'what on earth is causing that?' Universities mount studies. Industry groups mount defenses. The rest of us just get mounted.

I have little faith that we can avert disaster on a planetary scale. (Am I the only person on the planet who actually WATCHED 'Soylent Green'?) But we can try. Success will depend on whether we can grab the attention of corporate interests.

There's only one way to do that: Stop Buying.

No, I'm not kidding. I know you have to eat and your kid needs new sneakers. But think how many purchases you make that you really don't have to. You say Christmas is coming up? I say what better time to whack 'em in the pocketbook than to make a statement that a religious observance of great spiritual depth and solemnity really isn't a great time to fill up our homes with slutty dolls and violent games.

Let's set a starting date and a length of time. If we can make it across the holidays, all the better. And for that period of time, let's see how little we can buy. Eat basics. Wear what you wore last week. Do you really need another DVD? What about the library? I hear that is a big building just filled with books and DVDs and CDs and they let people use those things for free. Try walking to work. Or ride a bus. Your kids drive to school? Park the car for a week or two. They can use the exercise of walking to school.

You see, I really do believe that corporate interests are running our world. I would say for better or for worse, but I can't think of any possible 'better'. We can't vote them out of office. They don't care if we protest in the streets. Honestly, they don't care about anything, the climate included. Global warming? Woo Hoo -- air conditioners will sell like hotcakes!!

What business cares about is money. My money. Your money. If they don't get it, they starve. For one short period of time, let's try starving the beast into awareness. And when we start feeding it again, make sure we get the message across that we want better care taken of our dear Earth.

Who knows -- maybe they'll sit up and pay attention. It's worth a try.

In the meantime, hug a tree, feed a bird, water a flower, give your neighbor a ride. Maybe it'll become a habit.

Peace and Blessings on the Matriarch of us all -- Mother Earth

Saturday, October 13, 2007


When I first realized I had a disease that could destroy my life, and then kill me, I was afraid.

Sleepless nights were spent fretting about what direction my illness would take and whether I would live to be .... whatever. I come from a long line of people who live to be very, very old. I intended to continue that trend for another generation.

After endless doctor visits, tests and consultations the worries waned. My disease became familiar. My condition stabilized mostly. A year went by and then another and although I was in pain all the time, none of my organs were being compromised. Fear slid into a separate compartment of my psyche, more of a dull ache I had to look for than a sharp jab that demanded immediate attention.

The one medical test I never had was an MRI. My insurance doesn't cover it until I've met the annual deductible of approximately $1 million. OK, that's an exaggeration. But the deductible is high enough that I haven't met it in either of the last two years, even with my frequent medical visits.

As a result, nobody has any idea what is going on in my brain. No pun intended. The episodes of vertigo are put off to inner ear inflammation. Cycles of lousy balance -- the same. Or maybe I'm metabolizing meds differently for a while.

But always, in the back of my mind, has been the niggling fear that my growing list of nervous system complaints might be caused by something even worse than what I know I have.

I have a good friend who was told she had lupus and Sjogren's Syndrome years ago and opted never to take treatment. Although she was horribly sick for a period, through the years her worst symptoms eased a bit.

Then a couple months ago her symptoms worsened. She and I shared numb and tingling hands and feet, dizzy spells and weird balance. The symptoms that are eased by my medications went untreated in my friend. She just shrugged it all off.

Until the day she fell down the stairs. Headfirst. Backwards. Reluctantly she started the cycle of testing again. One doctor visit led to another. Last week she got the news: her physician suspects Muscular Sclerosis. An MRI is scheduled to find out for sure. My friend was shaken by the news; her husband is afraid. MS is a nasty disease, one that strikes fear in almost any one's heart.

After all, who in our generation could forget those terrifying television public service ads from the 60s and 70s? Some personality would describe horrid symptoms and then as the screen faded to gray, a solemn voice would intone 'MS, the great crippler of young adults.'

My friend told me she may have MS on the same day my husband brought a newspaper article to me and told me I needed to read it.

'These are your symptoms,' he said. I explained that there is no way to find out whether or not my symptoms are MS without an MRI, and that we just can't afford to pay out of pocket for such a high-end medical test. Those kinds of diagnostics are priced exorbitantly because insurance companies will pay the fees. As a result, people like me who don't have insurance coverage are up a creek with no brain scan.

I know I'm lucky to have the insurance coverage I do. Millions of Americans have no coverage. But I still burn with anger when I think what it will take to manage an MRI, paying in cash. There will be the test, the technician who performs the test, the physician who reads the test and the neurologist who tells me the result. The cost will be in the thousands of dollars. If I have the test.

The good Dr. B says it's not necessary. I'm 90 percent sure he's right. It's that other 10 percent that haunts my mind in the night, and sometimes even in the day. I'm trying not to let it push me around.

Somewhere down the road I think I will have to find out for sure. Because knowing, even the worst, is better than the fear of what might be.

Peace be with you, and may you always be free of fear.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Sweetness and Light

Life is sweet right now

My husband has taken time off work and we are spending days together in that way people do when they've been together a long time. Sometimes we can't get enough closeness and the next bit we find that we're tripping over one another. It's good. That kind of time creates small moments that are wonderful. He finished the gate today while I poop-scooped the yard. We were together and it felt right.

Yesterday we drove all over, looking for places where he can finish hikes into the mountains without climbing through someone's backyard. One day we bought fruit. Another day we went to Leavenworth and bought me a hat.

Life's minutiae is sweet. During these times, pain just is. We both know the pain sits on my shoulder, but we agree unspokenly to ignore the beast. All daily activities are planned around my afternoon nap, which is sacrosanct.

Maybe it's the lingering light of fall days, or the surprise of looking up to see that a single branch of the poplar tree went golden over night. Whatever the reason, these days glow. Asters are blooming in all shades of pinks and purples, the flame bush is in its glory now.

I wonder sometimes if that pathetic little bush that clings to life through spring and summer, finally managing to cover itself with leaves at the end of the season, knows that only the fall display of scarlet leaves saves it from the compost heap?

So I hurt. It's there under everything, on top of everything. But not so horribly today that I feel the need to whimper and rage. The concession is that life is quiet. There will be no late-night drive over the mountains for a movie in Seattle, no staying out in the cold watching the fall sky turning to winter.

Instead, I'm about to go upstairs and make tea for two people. I think we will drink our tea while walking through the garden, one more time, spotting a place that needs more bulbs and a plant that needs dividing and the surprising turn to scarlet of a cranes bill geranium leaf.

Then I'll sleep and maybe dream about the autumnal turning. And breathe in this sweet time while it stays.

Peace and Blessings

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

Sun Worship

Every summer for years I dreaded vacation.

It always started innocently enough. We would pack up the car, strap in the boys and head for someplace cooler than the pits of Phoenix. On arrival we would check into the motel or set up the tent and play for the rest of the day. Evening would come and supper and bedtime for two exhausted, hyped up little boys.

And I would get sick.

Like clockwork it happened, summer after summer. By bedtime on the first day my husband would find himself with two cranky kids and a wife sporting a fever, headache, body pains and maybe even vomiting.

As you can imagine, my little vacation ritual created more than a small amount of stress.

It wasn't until I was labeled chronic that I realized what was happening to me: I have major photo sensitivity. It can happen to anybody. Chemo patients are likely to be photosensitive. Likewise people taking certain medications. I, and a lot of others, are photo sensitive because our immune systems have gone berserk.

This link will take you to a site that explains the skin reaction to the sun that many people suffer. Rashes, itching, peeling skin. It sucks. But some of us don't just have skin reactions. For some of us, exposure to UV rays can trigger an all out immune system response. When our immune systems find no invaders to attack, they become like hyper, sugared-up preschoolers at a birthday party and attack their hosts. In this case, 'hosts' translates as 'organs'.

I was already chronic back then, I just didn't know it. Hindsight is 20-20 and looking back I can see a pattern of physical conditions that some medical person probably should have looked at all together and realized that I was a very sick woman.

Instead, my medical providers usually told me I needed to lower the stress level in my life, perhaps with meditation or yoga.

Yes, that might have been helpful. But a correct diagnosis would have been even better.

As it happened, the good Dr. B was the first medical provider to connect what happened to my skin out in the sun with my physical misery.

Since my early twenties I have known that being outdoors without sunscreen would result in a face full of ugly, painful 'zits.' OK, call me slow on the uptake, but I never connected the face stuff with the fever, hurting, throwing up stuff.

Then a few months after my original diagnosis I found myself in Dr. B's exam room complaining of a nasty flare of symptoms. While poking and prodding, the good doctor pointed at one of the eruptions on my face and said 'What's that?'

'Um, a zit'

'And why do you have it on your face?'

'Because I was out gardening and forgot to put on sunscreen. It always happens.'

'You mean it always happens when you go out in the sun?'

At this point I was beginning to feel very, very stupid. Sure enough, Dr. B confirmed my lack of connectivity with typical terseness:

'That's not a zit. It's a sore. You're photo sensitive'

Oh goody. Another label.

Dr. B. then went on to explain that the condition of my face just might match the condition of my internal bits and pieces and that was probably why I was sitting in his office waiting for a depo-medrol shot and whining about how bad I hurt.

I got the shot and short term relief. I also got a long term medical order to stay out of the sun. Or more accurately, out of UV rays. If I have to be in an exposed place, then I have to wear sunscreen, a hat, long sleeves and long pants. If those clothes could provide UV protection, so much the better.

These days I don't go out in the lovely, sunshiny part of the day. Walks down by the river are of necessity short. Even dressed right I fatigue quickly when I'm out in the sun.

Or at Costco. Or Home Depot. Or any other big box store with high voltage florescent lights.

You see, those lights save energy and provide great visibility. But they also put out UV in big amounts. That's why when you see me at Costco in December I'm wearing a hat. Or when I'm in Target in July I have on long sleeves and long pants and that damned ugly hat I have to wear all the time. My husband has jokingly suggested a burkha. Sigh.

There is no cure for photo sensitivity, just like with most chronic conditions.

I'm not sure what was worse, really, enduring the misery of feeling so sick on summer vacations or just not having summer vacations any more. We don't go to the beach now. Or camping. My husband and I were serious birdwatchers. But birds mostly get out and about in the sun and that's no good for me.

We don't ride our bikes down on the river loop anymore and long walks, even if I feel up to it, are out of the question. My garden, which I cherish with all my heart, has become my husband's gift to me. He now is the one who plants and tends. He makes the garden thrive and hum with life. And he calls it mine.

On fine summer days he'll call me to the door, pushing that ugly hat firmly on my head, making me put on the long sleeved jacket and then pulling me out to the garden to spend a few precious moments. We admire the new blooms, cluck over the clematis that just never has done well, marvel at the abundance of life.

So it is that one summer ritual has replaced another. The old one was hell. The new one is fleeting and sweet. Just like the burst of sweetness from a honeysuckle bloom. Just like the warmth of the sun that beats steady on my back, just for a moment. Life is good.

I have to smile then, because I realize that along with all the other labels in my life, I am chronically blessed.

Peace be with you.