Wednesday, August 29, 2001

I have a dilemma. Sort of a silly dilemma, but a dilemma nonetheless.

I look sort of comical when I get into bed [no, that’s not the dilemma] between compensating for the MS and the asthma and my own difficulty falling asleep. To begin with, I wear those blinders for blocking out the light. I can’t fall asleep unless it is completely dark and the tiniest bit of daylight wakes me right up. So I look like an unlucky pirate.

Then I sleep with no less than six pillows [I know…that sounds like a bit much]. I sleep with one under my knees and one under each of my arms [which makes my hands end up resting crossed on my abdomen a bit]. This is because I ache so much or get so stiff that I need the extra comfort of down pillows. So I now look like an unlucky pirate in a coffin.

And I sleep with my head and shoulders on the other three pillows so that I can breathe better [when I lay flat it feels like I’m trying to suck a lemon through a straw and my chest is caving in every time I take a breath--how’s that for vivid description?], which brings me to my dilemma.

I also sleep with a Breathe Right strip on my nose [the clear ones look less absurd than the “flesh toned” ones] to also help me breathe better. I personally think they are a great boon to the whole sleeping endeavor. They help end that vicious cycle of sleeping with your mouth open--then waking up with a dry throat--then getting a drink of water--then waking up to go to the bathroom--all the while sleeping with your mouth open and creating a perpetual dry throat and a perpetual need to relieve one's self.

However--and here’s my dilemma--I now have this permanent red mark on the bridge of my nose extending to my cheeks that is the spitting image of a Breath Right strip. It stands out all the more for my skin that couldn’t tan if I spent ten years on a beach slathered with lotion and oils.

Now this is not mere vanity talking here. I’m truly a wee bit concerned because that red mark is also sort of shiny because it is--I guess--raw skin. I already cannot quite cover up the red mark with the little make-up I wear.

So, I’m wondering, if I continue to enjoy the wonderful benefits of these strips [I sleep ever so much better wearing one], am I going to end up destroying the top few layers of my skin? Will I end up an old woman with wrinkles galore except for this red, smooth, Breath-Right-strip-shaped depression on my nose and face?

Of course, perhaps that would get me into Guinness. . . Woman with the strange facial marking? Woman who wore a Breath Right strip for the longest period of time? Woman who invented a new form of body tattooing?

Tuesday, August 28, 2001

At the risk of turning away those intrepid readers who’ve logged on to date, I must express my utter joy over last night’s game. The Cowboys actually won! For a few nostalgic moments, I floated back to the time when they were winning Super Bowls and making their mark across the NFL.

Last night I was able to enjoy completed passes, short and long and those grabbed at the edge of field. I saw clutch catches and beautiful leaps. And, oh, actual interception--which, by the way, the Cowboy player wisely forewent the sideways lob for extra yardage that usually ends up (of late) just turning the ball back over to the opposing team. I saw him look to his side and that flash of consideration of further glory pass over his face. Yet he made the better choice. And the defensive Cowboy in the back field who found a surprise Raider fumble bounce right into his arms…well, he just plopped himself down on the field and curled up like a possum protecting his vulnerable underbelly, in this case a ball that 11 Raiders wanted back.

I saw long runs and short runs. I saw converted third downs. I saw multiple first downs in a series. I saw defensive stands. I saw rough and tumble, give-it-all-you’ve-got play.

Oh, the joy of players actually entering the end zone on multiple occasions. Dancing into the end zone. Diving into the end zone. Leaping for that beautiful pass. And for one game, the Cowboys had an effective 1, 2 quarterback, running backs, receivers, defensive line…it all gelled together so very wonderfully.

Were there mistakes still made? Yep. Are there areas of improvement still needed? You bet. Does one preseason game mean the Cowboys have cured their recent ills? Absolutely not.

However, for one evening, I was able to consider the slight, rather hopeful possibility that being a loyal Cowboy fan just might not be so painful this year. Perhaps I will experience more of the thrill of victory rather than the agony of defeat!

Now, if I can only figure out a way to not startle Fancy whenever I leap for joy at a great play or bark at the referee for a lousy call. I’m afraid my cockatiel does not find football as great as I do.

She’s the poorer for it, I believe.

Go Cowboys!

Monday, August 27, 2001

This weekend was one where I gave into MS (thus the lack of recent posts). I watched football Friday night, slept, woke up for golf on Saturday, slept, and then woke up at 1:55pm for golf on Sunday--the grueling battle at Firestone was certainly worth getting out of bed.

Of course, I go from the bed to my green chair. Green chair? Should that mean anything? Ah, yes…it should.

I was in a furniture store with a colleague back when I was teaching college. I was just waiting for her to “have a look around” and sat down in this green chair.

BIG MISTAKE. I bet that store does a brisk business by having it so conveniently placed for visitors to rest a moment on it.

Why all the hoopla? Well, on the outward appearance, this chair has classic lines, seemingly a lovely wing backed, leather armchair with ball and claw feet. It certainly goes well with the mostly family antiques I have in my abode. However, after sitting down, I was shifting my position and discovered that this was a RECLINER! This beautiful, elegant chair turns into arguably the most comfortable reclining chair I have ever sat down in, bar none! It even has two levels of recline--total comfort and risk-of-falling-asleep.

Without much thought for frugality, I plunked down my credit card and asked how soon it could be delivered.

When my mother came to visit for the first time after I acquired my newly found bit of heaven, she sat down and basically never left the chair while we were in the house. Movies, reading, resting…all done in perfect comfort.

When my step-father came to visit a couple of months later, his first question after settling his stuff in the spare bedroom was: “So, where’s the chair?”

Sometimes, I ache so much that tears leak out the corner of my eyes with this MS stuff. At those times, the most comfortable place I can put my frustrated self is in that blessed green chair. I also perch sideways in it--head against one wing back side and legs loped over an arm--while inhaling those foul albuterol vapors or huffing and puffing into my inhalers.

Of course it’s also a great place for watching the Dallas Cowboys lose (I’m a loyal fan) and Tiger Woods & the Lakers win. An all-purpose sort of luxurious haven.

Should I mention that at the time it was delivered, my three-month-old Shiba Inu puppy hopped up on it and bit straight into the middle of the head rest? Perhaps he was defending his home against this green monster invader? To this day, he won’t hop up in it while I’m lounging there.

Little does he know what he is missing.

Thursday, August 23, 2001

The “Duck” fodder?

Well, I taught at a school that was about a mile from my house on the compound. Each day I would swelter my way toward my students and try to think “cool” thoughts.

My students sure enjoyed staring at how red I’d be by the time I arrived for my first class. They kept telling me that I would get used to the heat and that I would even start tanning some. They were quite wrong. All I ever did is burn and I was beet red the last day of class as I was the first day.

My favorite place from which to teach? The spot nearest the lone oscillating fan.

But, ah…, I digress.

I suppose because of how very foolish I was.

You see, I would hear ducks on my walks to and from school and wondered where they could be. I looked EVERYWHERE, trying to follow their call. After about a month of futile searching, I finally asked another missionary.

The laughter was worse than with the coconuts.

I wasn’t hearing ducks. I was hearing bullfrogs.

Wednesday, August 22, 2001

The first night I was in Africa (I lived there for a year as a missionary), I was awakened by the most frightening noise. It sounded as if someone was trying to get into the house! Since the structure was basically cement blocks and slated windows, doing so would not have been very difficult.

Heart thumping, I waited several long minutes before deciding that I had been mistaken. Perhaps it was just a dream, I thought. Laying back down in the sweltering heat, I tried to fall back asleep.

Just before that happened, however, another loud thump broke through the night stillness. Deciding to be proactive, I grabbed a cooking pot for protection (don’t laugh) and ventured outside.

I saw nothing. I heard nothing. Thinking I was just stressed from being a new country and being, well..., a silly female, I headed back inside.

I didn’t really sleep that night. For every once in awhile, another loud thump destroyed my peace of mind and any hopes of sleep. Understandably, I was quite tired and, yes, grumpy the next day. When someone asked why, I replied that someone seemed to being trying to break into my house all night.

Concerned showed in the other missionary's face until I explained why I thought so. That concerned quickly turned into laughter.

I was hearing coconuts fall from the trees.

The whole year I was there, my fear of the “burglar” coconuts was fodder for banter that others enjoyed immensely. [Perhaps tomorrow I will tell of the “duck” fodder I provided as well.]

Anyhow, I was fascinated to discover that the coconuts were large and green and smooth. Where were the small, hairy, brown coconuts I knew? Inside!

I spent five days trying to open a coconut. I was going to be the great adventurer eating my own coconut. I tried rocks and various kitchen items...all to no avail.

Finally, I accepted the proffered services of one of the Liberian children who were always looking for chances to earn money. After agreeing to the going rate, five cents Liberian, I watched this nine-year-old boy whack it on the corner of my stoop and open the outer shell. After pulling off the husk, he whipped out a knife from his pocket and quite skillfully opened the top so I could drink the milk before breaking it apart to eat it. The whole process took mere minutes.

Having paid close attention while he was working, I tried to repeat his motions many times afterwards over the next year. But I must admit that I never managed to open a coconut without paying for the service!

Tuesday, August 21, 2001

Tonight was one of my tutoring nights. I work with two young people, both of them eighteen, exploring their literacy habits and practices. Each time we meet, we eat together and study the writing process, grammar, and literature. I’ve been told what a great thing I am doing for them, but I believe I am the one who gets the greater benefit.

I get to witness the development of their own voices as writers and of their ability to think critically about that which is before them. What a privilege that is to me.

Besides, sometimes I make them listen to my own writing!

Anyway, “Steve” is out of town this week, so “Sarah” and I worked by ourselves and had some “girl time.”

When I was in Dallas earlier this summer, I found these two wonderful products. Both are foot care, one a scrub/exfoliator and one a lotion…peppermint lotion. Each cost just about $2.50. The first time I used them, I lay in bed reading before I went to sleep and kept putting my book down to enjoy the sensation in my feet. They felt so absolutely wonderful. I’m sure someone could tell me why, but for some reason peppermint lotion is MUCH better than regular lotion…on your feet, that is. Anyway, I had told Sarah about the foot stuff, and she wanted to try it tonight.

So, when our tutoring was finished, she sat on my toilet and I on a stool in my rather small bathroom, and I washed her feet for her. She was in a bit of disbelief that I would do that for her. But to me, it was a very small thing to do.

Try washing another person’s feet sometime (better yet, try Freeman’s stuff on her/him). Doing so focuses your attention on that person. Why he/she has calluses where they are. If their first toe is longer or shorter than the big one. Whether they have big feet or small feet or average feet. Where their feet have walked. All sorts of thoughts fleet through your mind. But thoughts about them not you. It is a very selfless act.

Yet, I take pleasure in doing such a thing because I know, first hand, how much I would enjoy the small moment of ministration. It is no real sacrifice on my part. It is just a time when it is not about me at all but about the other person.

And I do tend to think on the One who washed feet a long while ago. What He might have been thinking. Why He did so. What his disciples thought and felt, both then and later when they realized it was a last time for such an act.

Besides, with two chronic, incurable diseases, I need time when I’m not thinking about how poorly I feel or the latest struggle or how very different my life now is from the time I was Dr. So and So teaching college. So washing another’s feet with scrub and lotion is not so weird, is it?

Of course, my bird Fancy (I didn’t name her) rode on my head (it is one of her favorite perches) as I walked Sarah out to her car and to let my dog conduct his evening “business.”

Perhaps I am just a bit peculiar.

Monday, August 20, 2001

I’m sitting here inhaling a foul tasting mist. Voluntarily. Well, perhaps not fully voluntarily.

My bossed walked in the door this afternoon at work and I promptly started coughing and spiraled into an asthma attack. Nonplussed, he asked me, as I puffed away on my inhalers, if I would please write down what I know before I die so that he wouldn’t be left with a mess in my absence. Laughing only makes the attack worse.

So, here I sit with my nebulizer to control the coughing and wheezing that has been escalating all afternoon and evening. I do tend to push it to the limit.

I hate asthma. I hate the utter fear I feel when I cannot breathe. I hate the panic that sets in as an attack begins, knowing full well what is in store for me. I hate the drugs. They taste horrid. My heart races. And I am shaky as a leaf in the fall breezes. Tremulous, not certain if I will fall away from the tree.

I hate the way I am treated by ER people during my frequent stays in those blasted cubicles. I’ve been lectured more times than I can count in last three years about how I should know better.

I developed exercise asthma nearly seven years ago. But that was simple. Don’t run and I’m fine. Run, and I get only half a block before I’m crouched on the pavement sucking desperately at the seemingly empty space around me, wondering where all the air went.

Then three years ago October, I found myself coughing on the way home and thankful that once I finally realized I was in real trouble, I spotted an emergency clinic. I stumbled my way inside only to be grabbed by personnel, scolded for letting an attack get that bad, and have my purse searched for inhalers (a futile exercise that resulted in another lecture on the importance of keeping my inhaler with me at all times). What inhaler?

Even though I have explained countless times that I didn’t grow up with this wretched disease and find the terrain rather difficult to navigate with its unfamiliar landscape, I am still treated as an irresponsible adult.

To be fair, I shall offer that it was one of those ER people, a doctor, who told me a) that he had asthma, had gotten it as an adult, and had attacks that started with coughing [Doctors I’ve seen just don’t seem to know what to do with my coughing fits. My lungs sound good even as the oxygen monitor alarms clangs away. I don’t understand their confusion; the rather obnoxious coughs that wrack my body ought to be a clear signal that my respiratory system is not functioning optimally]; and b) I could be better.

Those were the most beautiful four words I’ve heard in a long, long time. He upped my medicines, added a cough syrup (to be used only in dire straights) that if nothing else will send me off to sleep and away from any asthma worries, and prescribed a home nebulizer.

Hence the mist billowing about my head as I type.

FYI: Nebulized albuterol does not taste any better than inhaled albuterol.

Sunday, August 19, 2001

I spoke with a scholar friend today about my first post. I told him the word I had been searching for while writing about the words "I'm sorry" was veneer. I find I'm sorry is generally used only as a thin veneer to cover a lack of genuine regret.

He was quick to point out that our society needs a certain amount of veneer to function. The small talk we exchange with people throughout our quotidian existance enables us to navigate our encounters with them. We use small talk to begin relationships. We use small talk to make pleasant the time we interact with those with whom we have no real relationship. And we use veneer to keep us from those we do not and should not trust.

I can understand his point. Whenever I am dealing with people in customer service, whether in person or on the phone, I always weave small pleasantries into the conversation. I do this to let them know I understand that they are not some mindless automaton there to serve me, but a person with thoughts and feelings and a life outside of work. However, I also am well aware that by doing so, I usually get better service.

I also use small pleasantries with my encounters with those I dislike. It is a difficult task to remain honest in such exchanges, but I try. [Although, perhaps, hiding my dislike might just be another form of dishonesty.]

So I understand the need for veneer. Yet I still maintain that the words I'm sorry should hold some meaning.

My friend then suggested that perhaps the meaning behind those words could be merely "excuse me." Perhaps I could have expectations for I'm sorry that I should not have. But isn't excuse me another way of expressing regret for something, even if it is merely disturbing a conversation in order to get out of an aisle?

On the drive home, I thought of ne use for I'm sorry that we had left out of our conversation: I'm sorry merely being a filler for when we do not know how to respond or what to say.

I fainted tonight. I awoke to a concerned dog licking the cheek I had scraped on the trunk at the foot of my bed when I fell. Fainting is nothing new. I'm fairly sure it is because I flirted with danger in taking a hot shower. Having Multiple Sclerosis makes heat my enemy. Most often I know when I have crossed that line of safety. Sitting by a fire, having the heat too hight in a car, being in a place with little or no airconditioning are all examples of times when I have to be on guard.

When I begin to become overwhelmed by the heat, I usually have this curious sensation of stepping out of the moment. Everything around me fades as I slowly realize I have become too hot. I become weak and shaky and disoriented. It seems as if I am the only one in the world then because I am the only one having the experience. The ironic part is that moment of clarity when I know what is coming even though what is coming is disorientation.

I am becoming quite adept at masking what is happening within me. Why I do so is fodder for another post. Suffice it to say I am fairly convinced that the majority of those I am around would be more comfortable not knowing what I was struggling with at such a time.

Have I digressed? Probably not. The reason I believe they would rather not know is that when I've told someone that I fainted or that I fell because my brain momentarily forgot to tell my leg to keep working or that I spent two hours trying to remember how to count past nine (for a task at work) or that I forgot the word deposit when trying to communicate with the CFO that I had already been to the bank to put money in a particular account or that I forgot my own name again, or that...I hear those words...I'm sorry.

Necessary veneer, an acceptable filler, or hollow words?

Saturday, August 18, 2001

Why is that very few people (drivers) seem to understand that when the light turns red you are supposed to stop instead of just plowing on through the intersection?
Blank page syndrom. I've talked hours to my students and now those I'm tutoring about this and how to avoid it by practicing "Can't Stop Writing?" This exercise is where for a specific period of time (we usually start with 5 minutes), once you start writing, you cannot lift the pencil or pen from the page until the time period has ended. So, if you cannot think of anything to write, you write that.

I don't know what to write. How much time is left. I think this is stupid. I need to think of something to write.

I've read words such as those quite often. Yet here I am, wondering, what is worthy of enough for a first entry. AWK! If I think that way, I'll never write. Besides, who in the world (literally speaking of course with this venue) is going to read this besides a few friends I am brave enough with to share the web address?


Well, what's on my mind? The words, "I'm sorry." What do they mean? I know what they mean literally, but the way they are tossed around these days, I find them quite hollow.

For example, I called a vendor to repair one of the ice makers at work. The man came while I was away, so I was not able to monitor him (I'm sure maintenance people out there cringe at such a thought). I came back to a $135.00 bill and the written assurance that "the ice maker had been tested and was working properly at this time." Trusting his work, I did not check with the tenants downstairs about the status of the icemaker.

A week later, I had an occaision to be down there and thought to check the icemaker myself. Not a single cube had been made yet. I went to find the paper work, read that he replaced the water valve to the refrigerator, and examined that part. It was the same old valve that had been there since the refrigerator had been installed.

I called the vendor, a bit upset I will admit, and heard those hollow words "I'm sorry." And then, "We'll fix it." What does your being sorry worth? Did you fire the man for cheating us. For coming out here, lying about what he did, and charging us money for the deception? No. Just that you'll send another person out to repair was supposedly had already been repaired.

Never mind the time already spent. Never mind the money already spent. Never mind the continuing ire of a few of our tenants over not having ice with their lunches.

If there was any evidence of genuine remorse and resolve to not repeat the offending or wronging action, then those words might hold some meaning. But nothing. Just empty words to cover over that which they don't really care about.

A silly example? An isolated incident? I find those words flung everywhere.

Last night I was out with my father at Fuddruckers--normally a sublime culinary experience. He ordered his burger medium. It came dripping with blood and almost mooing. He gave it back. They then put it not on the grill but in this machine that turned it rather leather like and quite brown. He gave it back. I came and stood with him at that point. He was given another bloody, rare burger. He gave it back. Finally, he received a nicely pink burger to eat. He was given one appology and then treated in a rather hostile manner for deigning to refuse the bloody and leathery offerings. The last three offering where literally flung at him accross the counter.

The person helping him? The manager. All my father seemed to be was an inconvenience or bother because he insisted on receiving what he ordered in the first place.

I wanted to tongue lash the manager about the way he treated his customers, the ones who literally kept the restaurant in business (and for that man a home over his head and food on his own table), but my cynical heart knew that he would not hear a word I had to say.

Treat people horribly, cause mistakes, harm them, hurt their feelings, abuse their trust. Lie, cheat, steal, kill. No problem. Just mutter a feeble apology and walk away.

But, then again, I have to ask: Do I use those words in the same way? Does my I'm sorry hold any meaning? Only others can answer that one.

I wonder what they would say.

I have to end this entry with a positive note, because one just came to my door. My mailman. Marshall. When he knows I'm home, he brings packages to my door instead of leaving them outside on the floor. He will also get my mail out of those skinny boxes the apartment complex has here and hand it to me. He asks how I am. He listens to my stories. He remembers what we have spoken about before. He shares about his own family. And he is ever so grateful for the cold drinks I keep at the back of the refrigerator for him. I always walk away from our encounters with a smile in my heart from the encounter.

There may be many people out there like the repairman and the manager, but there are also Marshalls out there.