Archive for the ‘Body’ Category

Fold. Cut. Unfold.

March 13, 2015


I’ve been home from the hospital one week now, recuperating post-surgery. It’s going well.  Each day I’m a little more limber. A little less uncomfortable. A little less tired. One day it’s a big deal to walk around the house. Two days later, I take a short walk outside. Two days after that, I drive the car.


My first day home, I took scissors and paper, and made paper dolls. There was a familiar pleasure in folding the paper, cutting out a dancing lady who would turn into a string of dancing ladies, and opening the paper to see how they came out. The answer is not well.

As soon as I saw my mediocre result, I folded another piece of paper and started over. This time, I cut out abstract squiggles and straight lines with no particular pattern in mind. When I unfolded the sheet, the result was a happy surprise.


I have made one abstract cut-out each day since. When each is done, I can’t help assessing it – too many straight lines, too many squiggles, too much positive space, too much negative. And I can’t help trying for a better outcome the next day.

Mostly, though, I try to let my hands take the lead, and to keep my brain from getting in the way. It’s a soothing ritual. Fold. Cut. Unfold. Acknowledge.

My body is healing, incorporating my surgeon’s cuts into a new normal. I only understand a tiny part of the complex process involved. But I don’t have to know more. My job, mostly, is to keep out of my body’s way, and to acknowledge the progress as each day unfolds.


Nursing My Diagnosis

May 9, 2013


“Are you writing this down?” my mother used to say, when I described something strange and irksome that had happened to me. My husband has since picked up the chorus. And when another writer tells me about some disagreeable experience, I have been known to say, “It’s all material.”

I have been using this line on myself a lot lately, since I received the surprise of my bizarre diagnosis. It’s been a lot to deal with, physically and emotionally. But it also offers a lot of material.

For example, phlebotomists and nurses. I have been spending a lot of time with both, the phlebotomists as they draw relatively small amounts of my blood for lab tests, and the nurses as they draw a pint each week—standard treatment for my condition. Because I want to distract myself from those unpleasant needles, I like to talk during these procedures. And because as a writer I’m always eager to poke my nose in other people’s business, I mine these moments for whatever slices of human drama or character-defining details I’m able to extract. Because who knows when I might be able to use them?

So far, I have filed away:

–The nurse who claims, as she’s sticking me for my very first blood drawing, that she’s afraid of needles.

–The nurse whose husband complains that she spends too much on the novelty cakes she bakes for her friends’ celebrations.

–The two nurses at the office where they put in my PICC Line. One at my head and one at my feet, they roll my gurney to the operating room, a route that takes us down narrow hallways, around tight corners and through just-wide-enough doors. Throughout the journey, they gossip as if I’m not there—only, because I am, they talk around all the actual content.

“I’m not surprised she didn’t come back,” says the nurse at my head.

“Yeah? How come?” asks the nurse at my feet.

“Because remember what happened?”

“Oh, yeah.”



“Sounds like a great story,” I pipe up from my prone position. “Wish I could hear the details.”

I’m not trying to scold them; I really do want to hear more. But they shut up.

–The nurse who comes to my home to change the dressing on my PICC line, dropping by on Saturday afternoon, between one son’s karate class and another son’s violin lesson. She’s a slight, sweet-faced woman, who talks to me tenderly and handles my wounded arm as gently as anyone has ever handled any part of me.

When I tell her that my condition is interfering with my running, she says, “You should take up kickboxing. I love it.”

“What do you love about it?” I ask.

“It’s a perfect workout,” she says. “Cardio and strength-training combined. Plus you get to hit people and you don’t get in trouble.”

–The phlebotomist in Boston who plays Gospel music and never cracks a smile. When I ask her to spare my big veins for my next blood-letting, she says, “If you’re doing this for the long-term they’ll probably put in a port, anyway.”

–The phlebotomist in Providence who smiles constantly. When I ask her to spare my big veins for my next blood-letting, she nods sympathetically.

“I’ll just use a butterfly,” she says.

As the tube fills, she says she likes the way my purple cardigan looks with my yellow t-shirt. “I wouldn’t have thought of putting those colors together, but it works!” she says. “I’m always wearing purple with green. My husband says they don’t go, but I like them.”

“They’re Mardi Gras colors,” I tell her. “It’s your inner party girl coming out.”

–The highly competent nurse who has been drawing a pint of my blood each week for the last three weeks, and who I hope will draw all my pints forevermore. She is kind, careful, competent, and so relentlessly serious that I feel compelled to make wisecracks, and chalk up a personal victory each time she cracks a smile.

“That’s where my garden attacked me,” I tell her as we survey my inner arms on my third visit.

Her face lights up. “You garden?” she asks. “Flowers or vegetables?”

I tell her about my salad greens and radishes, and she talks about her raised beds, her kale that wintered over, the volunteer arugula that sprouts in her compost, her favorite heirloom tomatoes, and this year’s asparagus.

“The first time I saw asparagus growing I thought it was a joke,” I say. “It’s like a kid’s drawing of how vegetables grow.”

“I know,” she says, laughing. “Right?”

Running on Weird

April 26, 2012

Weirdly, I find myself running. I say Weirdly, because I’ve never been that kind of person. I don’t have time to go into all the reasons, so you’ll just have to believe me. It’s weird.

Oh, I’ve tried running before. I would huff around the block once or twice, get tired, and tell myself I wasn’t cut out for that kind of torture. Or my left foot would get tense. How could I possibly run with a tense left foot? And so on.

And then I started to put on a little weight. Not a lot, but enough to notice that my favorite clothes were no longer comfortable. I checked my Body Mass Index, and came out a hair over healthy. Just a hair, but I could see where things were heading.

My Mom was heavy, and she only lived to 71. Her medical problems included a host of issues that have been correlated with being overweight. That scares me.

Around this time, I had just gotten my first smartphone. I found a cool app that monitors your eating. Having to answer to your phone every time you carve yourself another slice of pie turns out to be hugely motivating. With my phone as my conscience, I started losing weight.

The first pounds dropped as easily as getting undressed and leaving your clothes in a heap at the foot of the bed. But then I hit a plateau.

I had been going to the gym four or five times a week for years, a holdover from the time in Vermont when my doctor ordered me to lose weight. But I couldn’t remember the last time I had actually worked up a sweat there. (Mostly, I enjoyed the guilty pleasure of watching morning TV; we don’t own a set, so I have to get in fix in somewhere.) I’m not stupid, so I knew that getting past my plateau would require ramping up my workout. But the prospect seemed so…tiring.

Then one Sunday morning we couldn’t reach our daughter on the phone. When we finally did get a hold of her, she confessed that she had been secretly running a half-marathon. Why secret? You’ll have to ask her. The point is, I took the news as a challenge. If my kid could do it, damn it, so could I.  Not a half-marathon, mind you. That would be ridiculous. But some kind of running.

I started slow – walk a little, run a little. Sometimes I went outside, but mostly I did it at the gym, relying on the trusty treadmill to measure the miles and control the incline (that is, keep it flat).

The last pounds dropped off. I reached my target weight, and celebrated by buying some new clothes – a couple of pairs of pants that actually fit, a pretty dress that shows off my newly bitchin’ bod, and some pricey running tights to replace the cotton yoga pants that absorb my sweat, and then feel like crap.

To justify my official costume, I started running like a maniac. Still sticking to the treadmill, I quickly upped my mileage from 1 mile to 1.5 to 2 to 2.5 to 2.75. The day I hit 2.75 miles, I felt wonderful all over. Except for my left calf, which was bruised and swollen and painful and hot to the touch. I freaked out and called my doctor, sure I was about to die from a blood clot. (It would be poetic justice for the very thing I was doing to buy a longer life to be what cut my life short. Too bad I wouldn’t be around to write about it.)

Turned out, though, that I was fine. I had just overdone it. My doctor, who has never ever discussed life style or preventative health or anything like that, insisted that as long as I could, I should definitely keep running.

Facebook friends offered advice. Another friend left an offering on my front porch: two books about running. With my bad calf iced and elevated, I read, and realized what I’d done wrong. I had increased my mileage too quickly, and hadn’t given myself time to rest. There was a weird breathing pattern I should use – inhaling for three footsteps and exhaling for two, so the same leg doesn’t receive all the extra force that comes  with exhaling. The book also gushed about the joys of running outside in such glowing tones, I felt envious.

So yesterday I tried it. I walked David to his bus, and then I took off, up Broad to Pawtuxet Park, where I looped around on the grass to check out the sparkling water. Then I headed over to Fort and out to the end of Seaview, where every yard has a flowering tree, and the tulips are at their peak.

By now, about a mile and a half into my run, I had the strangest sensation. I was no longer thinking about my legs. They just were doing their own job, while my mind and I were going along for the ride. It was like being on a bike. And not pedaling very hard. Then I realized something else. My breath had fallen into the rhythm the book recommended. Three in, two out. I wasn’t even doing it on purpose.

At the end of Seaview I paused to admire the harbor and do some stretches. I didn’t feel the particularly tight, but it seemed like a good idea. Then I started home.

My route took my past Stillhouse Cove, which ends in an uphill slope to our street. I remembered some more advice from the book: keep you pace constant; when you’re going uphill, just take smaller steps. I hardly noticed the hill.

I wasn’t ready to stop yet, so I decided to run past the house a few blocks, and then turn around and walk back home. Give myself time to cool down. Walking back, I felt exhilarated. I did a few more stretches on the porch, then went inside, drank a tall glass of water, put my legs up, and calculated my route. I had run 2.63 miles, 0.6 miles longer than I had planned.

Call me weird, but I’m sold.