Maybe It’s Best If I Make It Yuckier

Regular visitors here know that I’m about as far from perfect in my skills and know-how about practically anything in the humanly possible realm as the average Jane, if not farther. In the kitchen, especially, I am prone to go overboard with my inventions and experiments, and sometimes it takes some serious triage, revision, and reparations before I can set out what is a reasonably respectable meal. But you frequent-flyer readers here also know that I am near enough to omnivorousness, not to mention almost perpetually hungry, that my lack of chef skills and culinary brilliance are not entirely a stay to my possibly eating myself into an early grave no matter what it is I’ve concocted. If it smells reasonably pleasant and has an intriguing texture, and it isn’t outright toxic, I might well eat it anyhow.

Which can be problematic, if what I’m concocting isn’t meant to be food.

Photo: Deodorizer Cakes

I may have called them ‘cakes,’ but these trash-deodorizers were not made to look too pretty, since their main ingredients are at least nominally edible: baking soda, coffee grounds, and almond essence. They smell rather good, in fact; but since they still look a little like lumpy bricks of kitty litter, I’m not too worried I’ll just pick one up and start snacking on it.

I try not to use potentially dangerous ingredients when I’m making home remedies for any kind of thing, whether they’re to be ingested or put on a body or not actually intended to come into close contact at all—say, something made to clean windows or fertilize potted plants, take stains out of my clothes or attach objects to art projects. If I’m to use such materials or introduce them into my environment, I don’t want to spend time, money, and energy on any stuff that will make me or anybody else feel unwell or will poison the general environment in the long run.

The super-rich skin emollient I made for treating unusually dry skin—especially on feet, but on hands, elbows, and knees, as well as any abraded or burned, scarred, or irritated skin—last week is an excellent case in point. Wanting it to be clean, safe, and pleasant to ‘wear’ in the long term, since it was intended to stay at work on the skin for hours at a time, I used very pure natural ingredients, and, as it happens, all ones that are safe to ingest as well. I’ve decided perhaps I ought to add at least one ingredient that isn’t edible, because it smells so delicious to me that if I’m not careful I’ll probably consider eating it by the handful out of the jar, and besides being fairly awful for my health (being 100% lovely fats), it’d be a lot of expensive skin care gone in an eyeblink. I think I might be telling you all of this as a safety valve, to keep myself from doing anything quite so foolish and drastic.

But if some total stranger sneaks up and tries to lick my delicious smelling and wonderfully soft elbows, I suppose I couldn’t blame them. I’ll just have to be vigilant, I guess.

Photo: Good Enough to Eat Skin Treatment

So smooth, so rich, so ridiculously delicious smelling! But don’t. Really. Just…don’t.

Good-Enough-to-Eat Skin Treatment

1/4 cup shea butter
1/4 cup beeswax
1/2 cup cocoa butter
1/2 cup coconut oil

Melt these fabulous ingredients together and blend thoroughly. Cool until softly set. Use a small amount on rough or irritated skin, and when possible, protect the treated skin with soft cloth (knit cotton socks, shirt, gloves, etc.) until the emollient is fully absorbed. Repeat as needed. Keeping the treated area covered until this wonderful mixture is absorbed can’t guarantee successful treatment, but it may help to discourage you and others from licking the balm off of your knees before it can have any positive external effects. Internal use is your own problem entirely and may require further intervention than I am prepared to offer.

Photo: Just Say No to Spoons!

Step *away* from the utensils! Put down the spoon! Just say no to eating skin emollients, no matter how swell they smell.

The Princess & the Pee

Hindsight, it’s said, is 20/20. While it may be true that we can see things more clearly in the rear-view mirror of time, that’s no guarantee we’ll understand them better. If it were so, we’d always learn from past mistakes and keep growing wiser. And we all know that’s not what happens, not nearly often enough.

But isn’t it interesting how often we do see the hidden thread that has been connecting the seemingly random dots of our life-experiences, once the larger pattern has begun to emerge and we can step back from the greater perspective of time?

Take my little visit from a kidney stone. (I should probably insert the old Henny Youngman joke addendum here, “please!”) Only after diagnosis and the removal of the laser-vaporized formation via seemingly endless water-drinking and salutary trips to the Throne Room could I look back and say that not only was my fleeting suspicion at the beginning of the same month correct—I did have a kidney stone—but what I never twigged to at all on the occasions a year or two previous was almost certainly, when seen through this new lens, also a set of at least two visitations from the same rotten little culprit. My symptoms were identical in each of those previous instances, and the reason they subsided without further intervention than my body complaining and trying to evict it with sharp, instant-onset, swiftly passing flu-like symptoms was probably merely that the tiny rock got stuck in other locations along its way and couldn’t move around further at the time, each time. I doubt now that I had food poisoning or high-speed flu at all.

Does this in any way change what I would have done? No, not really. Since the mini geological formation presumably had to spend a fair amount of time forming, I had no obvious way of preventing the formation without knowledge that it existed, let alone what caused it. Much to my surprise, I’ve now learned that kidney stones can have more than one cause, not only having a genetic predisposition as one component but potentially also  a variety of compositional materials, so until I get the results of the analysis on my own homemade jewel, I won’t know what is indicated as problematic in my diet or behaviors that could be changed as a preventive measure. And, given that my father and one of my sisters have had the unwelcome distinction of previous kidney stone attacks, I may be at a very slightly elevated risk for recurrence, after all.

No matter; I will do as I’m told by my doctor, however unwillingly if it happens to involve eating less of something I adore or behaving in ways that I find tedious. I’m pretty compliant as a patient, if not in general as a person. (Ask my spouse, said the Stubborn Woman. ‘Nuff said.)

But now that I know I have the capability of attacking myself in this nefarious way, however easily I happened to get through the episode in question, I would be mighty silly not to do something a bit different, going forward. At the least, I will know that what I think or assume to be true about what my body is telling me can still hold surprises. And that if any little pea-sized bit of internal gravel thinks it can hide under the mattress of my middle, I may be coarse and ignorant enough in my casual attitude about many health-related things but I’ll eventually figure out that not is all as it seems. And I will clean house of that little sucker, even if I have to wake up my chauffeur in the middle of the night and evacuate the castle to do it.

So there.Digital illo: The Princes & the Pee

Should I Sing or Whistle?

Photo: Red-winged Blackbird 1

I can neither whistle nor sing as beautifully as a red-winged blackbird, but my heart is willing!

One of the most interesting exercises during my quick hospital pajama party the other day was the opportunity to watch while a cardiologist did an echocardiogram on me. I’ve had one or two in times past, but never when I could see the monitor and watch it in progress, let alone ask the person administering it what I was seeing and hearing, and I found it to be a surprisingly charming entertainment, along with the informative aspects. Primary, of course, in its pleasures was to be told that everything seemed entirely operational and quite healthy. Seeing how each chamber was measured and observing the various valves in action, watching the graphic representation of the individual parts’ particular and distinct  rhythms and patterns coalesce into a wonderful zigzag of electrical cheer while hearing the  live sound—this was all intriguing and encouraging in any number of ways.

But even more than my spirits, the actions and sounds of my heart had me feeling both surrounded by and immersed in song and dance. It was a lovely surprise to someone who has never known anything particular about the heart in the abstract, let alone had any chance to experience my own in action. The thrumming of my pulse changed with every move of the technician’s hand, each valve and artery having its own part of the whole melody, singing at its own pitch and speed. The view of each valve seemed like a tiny pantomime synchronized with the sounds, and some valves looked (from the side) for all the world like pairs of arms waving as the hands clapped in joy, or perhaps like the waving movement of an exuberant conductor coaxing a choir to sing; one overhead view was so like a mouth singing along with my own heartbeat that I thought perhaps I was seeing a surrealist movie of some marvelous conga-accompanied south seas musical number.

Today, a few days of rest and healing down the road from any sort of emergency, I am feeling so much better already that I have a slight sense of being ready to burst into song or dance myself, the larger (and far less graceful) embodiment of these inner workings. I won’t, of course, not least because I’d still tire in about two turns or trills. But when the songs, calls, and whistles of the grackles and cicadas, crickets and our newly ensconced red-tailed hawk neighbor ring through the trees, I am pretty nearly guaranteed to join right in myself. I think I’d forgotten how that felt, for a while.

Photo: Red-winged Blackbird 2

Good health is certainly a heartwarming bright spot in the day!

Short & Sweet

Digital illo from photos: Dark Waters

Waves of sorrow will pass soon enough…

The interlude between uneasy emergency-room visiting and the expected, probably not too fun, Expulsion of a certain little hunk of rock from the Paradise of my innards is a brief one, but it’s amazing how lovely it is to feel pretty good in between times. The stone has kindly opted to not move during this intervening couple of days, and I am grateful! It meant, among other things, that I felt well enough to deal with a heap of post-hospital laundry, tidying up the general wreckage of a house neither of us has been free to visit much in the last week, and just admiring how lovely it is to have an ordinary day. I fully intend to be a poster child for pain-free, speedy resolution to kidney stone fun, but I have to be fair and say that I’ve already had about the shortest and easiest passage through this little form of bedevilment anybody could have. And I am cognizant, more than ever, of how incredibly fortunate I am not to face the chronic or the deepest forms of pain.

Remind me of that when I’m whingeing about my suffering later. Because, being human, and being a pretty unspectacular specimen of the species as it is, I will. I apologize in advance. But I really, truly, and with all of my heart thank everyone who has been so stupendously kind and supportive when I do get all misty-eyed over my supposed sorrows and tribulations, because it’s you who make any and all of it bearable. And keep it, despite my foolish self-centeredness, in perspective.

Joy for the day!

Digital illo from photos: Time to Make Waves

Let the happiness and love wash over us all!

Most Surprises are Good Ones

After extolling the virtues of accepting life’s serendipitous gifts along the quotidian way, I got another big surprise. Ironic, I suppose, that I was surprised. It was, though, of a far less delightful sort: a quick descent into serious physical discomfort, followed by a trip to the hospital. Again. Only the third time in my entire life, yet the second time in less than a month. Not at all ‘life as planned.’

If you’re uncomfortable with reading about illness or medical stuff, skip the rest of this post and know that it’s about my having been sick but still being alive and well enough to write the post! And I’ll see you tomorrow. ‘Bye, now!

Saturday, sometime in the mid-morning, I started feeling less than fabulous. A slight pain around my middle started to come and go in varying waves, accompanied by a host of related symptoms that something unpleasant was lurking inside. From then into Monday evening, the symptoms worsened between shortening periods of calm. I was irritated, as much as anything, that I felt just as lousy as I had at the beginning of this month when I paid that previous visit to the Emergency Room and went home with a flu diagnosis and antibiotics, albeit feeling much better, on my release, for the ER treatment I’d received. It was more than a little irksome to think that I would have a case of gastroenteritis strong enough to make me think I had kidney stones not just once-ever, but twice in one month.

Monday night was kind of ugly. I already felt rotten at bedtime, enough so that I sent my spouse off to our bed by himself and tried to get comfortable enough to sleep elsewhere, since I felt too awful to lie flat. After hours of perching awkwardly this way and that on various pieces of furniture and the floor, alternated with pacing and a multitude of trips to the loo that were neither especially productive nor reassuring, I was no better, a bit worse, and much more anxious. I couldn’t even decide whether the success of those anti-nausea pills I’d been given but not needed after the weeks-ago hospital jaunt was that much of a boon, as (having taken one now) I was glad not to be spitting out my soul in a foul fountain of retching wretchedness, but still felt horridly nauseous. And I was loath to wake my beloved and have him drag me off to the ER again not only because I felt a bit like I was ‘crying wolf’ and just going to get hydrated, mollified, and sent off home again, but more importantly, because the upcoming day was the final day of recall-auditions for my guy’s larger university choir, after an already intense four days of preliminary auditions and the complicated, concentrated consideration of who would come together to make the fittest, most balanced choir out of the 180-some singers who had started the audition process.

All of that agonizing of his, and mine, went out the window by 3:30 yesterday (Tuesday) morning. I just plain felt horrible, and it wasn’t showing any signs of stopping. Fifteen minutes later we were off to the hospital again.

Photo: Are We Having Fun Yet?

Are We Having Fun Yet?

I had the good fortune to be taken in instantly and examined by the night’s ER team in rapid succession. I had virtually identical symptoms to those of my previous visit, so the tests and questions were pretty much as expected. The one benefit, I suppose, of my having waited longer this time was that although I’d had longer to feel bad, I’d also had those brief windows of feeling marginally better, and thinking I’d kicked the bug or it had at least retreated, I’d been able to eat a bit at times and, more importantly, drink fluids, so I wasn’t nearly so dehydrated. The immediate bonus of that being that on ER intake, I did actually have more than a half-teaspoon of fluid in my bladder when asked for a sample.

That ‘donation’ of mine should have been easily more healthy by mere reason of better hydration in the days and hours preceding the visit, but it was concentrated and looked orange. The latter, it emerged, was because it contained a bunch of red blood cells. To my surprise and, I think, to the ER doctor’s. Because everything was generally pointing flu-ward again. He’d generally ruled out appendicitis (yay!) and heart attack (YAY!), but said that this small curiosity was not one to be brushed off casually, so he sent me down the hall for a CT scan. Where, in a couple of pictures that looked comically like those prenatal sonograms with their adorable babies waving in amniotic bliss, my “baby” was a little alien blob, quite egg-like in shape and about the size of a brand-new pencil eraser, perched slightly below my right kidney. My own personal meteorite, staking its territory inside and making me feel kind of nasty and more than a little ticked off at its invasion.

Let me just say that I don’t fault the previous ER doctor in any way for not finding this, although I can’t imagine by any stretch that it took less than a month from start to finish for me to produce a stone of this size. It was already there, and on the move. But because of its size, it seems entirely possible to me that the thing hasn’t wandered as much as typical kidney stones, not having so much room to maneuver, and so has paused at whatever cubbies and intersections it could squeeze into, thus having those in-between times of stillness when my system could temporarily adjust and not keep actively trying to evict it. Still, it would have been nice to uncover the culprit by showing the right symptoms on first try, rather than having to come back for a sequel.

The sequel to this actual diagnosis should have been straightforward enough. Question: is it small enough to ‘go through the pipes’ and leave under its own momentum? Answer: not likely. Safe to guess that passing a pencil eraser through plumbing that narrow would be ugly, if not impossible. Impassable. The doctor’s recommended urologist happened to be ‘in the house’ at the time of my visit, so he was consulted on the spot and tentatively recommended ESWL (extracorporeal shock wave lithotripsy), to be done at his outpatient clinic after a consultation. That consult happened earlier this afternoon. Tomorrow (Thursday) is the procedure. Yay?

Meanwhile, back at the ER, among the many tests administered were those aimed at determining whether I’d had or was having a heart attack, despite the complete lack of chest or arm pain on my part. I’ve read that women’s heart attacks do sometimes present less obviously than men’s, and of course, that anyone can have an anomalous episode of pretty much any ailment. So I wasn’t alarmed. But my heart enzyme levels were just enough higher than expected that the ER doctor decided to monitor them, strictly for insurance and assurance if for no other reason.

That’s when the second-most unexpected element of the whole episode came into effect. He had me admitted to the hospital for overnight observation and re-testing of something almost entirely unrelated to the cause of my hospital visit in the first place. The downside of this was, of course, being put in the hospital. First, and I hope last, time ever. Chances were fair that any elevation of the enzymes might have been attributed to the stress and pain of having a kidney stone, not to mention the concomitant upset of having to go back to the hospital for diagnosis and treatment.

As there was little worry on my part that anything dire was about to be revealed about my heart, and I already felt worlds better for having been ER-treated for my pain, the prospect of my observational stay in the hospital wasn’t frightening. I decided to treat it as a cosmically granted day of education and R&R. So while I don’t recommend hospital visits as either a cool substitute for a community college night course, let alone an even trade for a spa vacation, I found I got a few similar values from it overall.

As the twenty or so professionals who took over my life and well-being for the remainder of my stay were unfailingly kind, patient, and willing to answer any question or explain any mystery, I found them to be highly informative company. As the majority of them were also tremendously gracious and good-humored, they were just plain good company—the sort I’d happily visit with over lunch any old time. Assuming I didn’t require a morphine cocktail just to sit through lunch, on the day. Hospitals being what they are, I wouldn’t necessarily trade the amenities of a designer-decorated seaside spa with its celebrity chef and rose petal-strewn massage chamber for a place where even the sweetest people are wont to wake you every twenty minutes to two hours to stick needles in you, squeeze your arms and feet, ask how often you’ve visited the toilet lately, or—without a trace of sarcasm—ask how you’ve been sleeping. But (hospitals being what they are), I had a fairly peaceful and definitely worthwhile recovery from feeling anxiously, very uncomfortably, unwell.

Now, if I can just get this blasted nephrolith blasted. Delightful as it is to learn all kinds of new and interesting things about my heart through my echocardiogram yesterday, about hospital procedures and history through talking to staff, and about yet more of my million limitations as a frail humanoid creature through the last few days’ adventures. Oh, and I learned why I’ve always been so averse to mathematics: internalizing calculus turned out to be a regrettably vexatious experience for me.

Here’s to ejecting the little pest and returning to my delightfully dull self!Digital illo from CT scan: Extreme Closeup

There’s the *Good* Going Viral and Then There’s the *Bad* Going Viral

As a blogger, an artist, and a writer-type person, it almost goes without saying that a I would find it beneficial, if not outright pleasing, to have my work catch on like wildfire for some (or no) reason. Few people, I’d guess, get into blogging in the hope that no one ever notices them.

Nobody who spends any time on the interwebs, of course, has any excuse for not seeing and understanding that what ‘goes viral‘ is often nasty, lowbrow, and destructive stuff. We all still fall for it, but that’s a failure to accept experience, observation, and logic, not one of lacking evidence: tell me there aren’t a dozen topics, from celebrity rumors to fake medical claims and offers of specious Free Fabulousness galore that are patently impossible. And our collective gullibility, willful or not, leads us to pay attention to such lunacy, even to buy—or buy into—it, until the Likes and Shares, the Tweets and Pins reach critical mass. Fans and friends are lost over this stuff, health and fortunes risked, and even governments stand on the edge of oblivion over it. This is not the pretty side of going viral.

Yesterday I was reminded of the sense of the word “virus” I first knew: bugs. Ugh, bugs. Not insect-type bugs, which in the abstract sense I admire greatly. Germ-type bugs. Which I really, really do not.

Apparently, they don’t like me much either. Yesterday when I went grocery shopping around dinnertime, I was not feeling especially perky, but didn’t think much of it. I was a bit hungry, and attributed my discomfort to having let dinner wait too long. I got home, started having a little pain around my midriff, fixed a quick dinner, felt much more awful all of a sudden, left dinner in the kitchen, and curled up on my bed like a snail.

I won’t go into further details, but by 10 last night I was feeling lousy enough that I asked my dear spouse to call the 24-hour nurse line to see what the person on duty would recommend I do. Go to the Emergency Room, she said. And so I did, with a lot of help from my sweet chauffeur, of course. After the examination, a couple of nice refreshing pints of rehydration, a small whack on the head from a dose of morphine, and a long morning’s sleep, I am intensely glad to say that the flu bug that knocked me for a loop appears to have been the classic 24-hour variety. Viral gastroenteritis sounds so much more interesting and magical than Flu. It can, obviously, still knock me for a loop. This was only my second-ever trip to the ER (my first, for stitches over a tiny hockey-acquired slash on the chin when I was in grade school), and I hope it’s my last-ever, but I am grateful that the personnel there diagnosed and helped me so quickly.Photo: Detritus of Enteritis

And boy, am I glad that I had what looks like a narrow escape from the 3-8 day version that the paperwork tells me is the norm. Going viral sucks. Bugs suck.

That kind, anyhow. I haven’t by any means lost my admiration for insect-sorts of bugs. Real bugs, by definition, are only a smallish portion of the insect population, but since I’m recovering from an illness that I grew up knowing as a Bug when it was really a viral infection, I shall indulge my childhood terminology and leave you with a few pretty pictures of insects that, though they are not bugs, cheer me up whether I’m bug-bedraggled, bugged, or just a bit buggy.Photomontage: Pretty Insects

To My Health!

To all of the world’s citizens who don’t get to enjoy gloriously good health: I am sorry. I am very, sincerely, truly, awfully sorry. I know that I’m incredibly fortunate to have enjoyed a life of mostly stupendous health, with few bumps along that road. I’m just superstitious, or pragmatic, enough to recognize that only a few little atoms or cells, a small dose of good luck and a platoon of guardian angels, or a couple of nanoseconds, separate the deathly ill from the sparklingly healthy among us, and all of this knowledge or intuition makes me all the more pleased with my incredible good fortune.

Photo: Nasal Catarrh

How’s *this* for a compellingly charming and romantic read! Imagine reaching over to the bedside table for a little light bedtime perusal and finding this lovely tome in hand. Among other things, I suspect I’d feel the urge to get right back up and wash my hands, imagining who was previously thumbing through the book!

Once in a while I get a little tickle from the universe to remind me just how lucky I am to be a healthy human. Most of the time, it’s nature and circumstance showing their cockeyed sense of humor by putting jocular hints and signs in front of me as I go along my way. It can be more pointed and poignant, too: those whom I love and hold dear, along with so many who are not connexions of mine, battle poor health and infirmity and imminent death every day around me. This is the painful and stark reality of our mortal condition. None of us remains untouched, unscathed.

Photo: Steam Baths

This vintage sign always amused me when it still hung street-side in Seattle. Now, it lives Underground there, where it’s seen only on history tours of town. Once, it might have signaled (besides the subcultural club scene with which it was once associated) an old-school nod to better health. Me, I hope very much that I will stay on the better health side of the equation for a good long time before I, too, go Underground in my own way. Meanwhile, I’ll be careful to keep my “lower level” steam cleaned. Wink-wink.

But I will remain grateful forever, knowing as I do how near the precipice we all dance and how finite human existence will always be, for the long stretches of grand health I enjoy. If there’s any way for my wishes and hopes, prayers and positive vibes, to reach even one other person on this earth with equally blissful health, I am committed to putting those tendrils of care and hope out toward each and every one as well. And I salute, in great hope, to your excellent health!