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

Flowers for Two

We are neither dead nor quarantined in a sanatorium. But a shared cold makes for a sad household. One impatient patient is perfectly capable of drawing a thin pall of gloom over home and holdings, but when both (or in this case, all) inhabitants of the place feel lousy, the plot, like the creeping crud in one’s lungs, thickens.

I’m sending a little bouquet of flowers, if only the handmade kind I don’t have to have a car to drive to a good florist’s shop to acquire, to both of us. It’s unpleasant enough to be ill, even a little bit, but when the entire family operation shuts down, there’s no one resilient enough to make all of the necessary chicken soup, commiserate and pat everyone’s head with a sympathetic sigh over his or her immeasurable suffering, and keep everything in the home place properly tended.

So we’ll sit around moping, dragging ourselves to do the required things as best we can and retreating afterward to sit among the dishes that still haven’t been put away three days after washing and that pile of papers mounting ever higher on the desk—not in the files—and try to focus mind and energy enough to write that one necessary report, edit that small sheaf of articles, go through that backlog of digital illustration records to find the missing image…and we’ll nod off to sleep again, interrupting ourselves in that only with dispirited bouts of rib-wracking coughing and wheezing and self-pitying snuffles.

I know perfectly well that this will pass, and though it feels interminable in its midst, rather quickly at that. What are a few days of ‘down time’ in one’s whole span of life? But if I have to sit back moodily on my enervated haunches for the while, at least I’ll send myself and my fellow inmate a batch of hand-drawn flowers and all of the well-wishing I can muster in my current state. Here’s to better days ahead!Digital illustration: Flowers for Us

My First Valentine

Long, long ago, in a state far away, there was a small, screaming infant being baptized by her father, a pastor, on the Sunday that fell on this very date, his birthday. I can only assume that my ornery howling was not the most perfect birthday present he’d ever had, but since Dad didn’t toss me in the dustbin either on the occasion or shortly thereafter is testament to a tiny fraction of the loving kindness he showed me then and continued to shower upon me, no matter how fractious I might have been at times, throughout the following years. That sort of tolerance alone is a good reason I’ve been very fond of the fella from the start. I’d say it’s also a good indicator that Dad always tended to have an excellent sense of humor about the silliness of real life.digital illustrationCommemorating that day is likely a good enough sampling all on its own of the man-of-many-parts that is my father, but it’s far from all. His long career as a Lutheran pastor and then bishop was complemented by plenty of stellar adventures as a leader, chairman and member of innumerable committees and boards from university to seminary to hospital and community. He traveled to and worked in dangerous and war-torn places like Honduras and El Salvador and early-1970s Chicago but still managed to come back regularly and be Dad at home to four daughters and help Mom keep the home fires burning while donning his ecumenical-superdude cape for quick service in his myriad day jobs.digital illustrationBetween his understandable popularity with many folk—even, I daresay, thanks to his unpopularity with a small contingent of people who didn’t approve of his frankness or his willingness to stand up for certain causes, a trait of courage and/or foolhardiness I would happily have had him pass to me genetically—and the careful scholarship that underpinned his good-humored to life, he’s always been a major influence on me. You can certainly see why I would consider Dad as fine a first Valentine as anyone could have. Happy Birthday, dear Dad!

Foodie Tuesday: Birthday Dessert (and Boy, Wouldn’t This Taste Great with Some Chocolate Ice Cream!)

He’s a wacky fella, my dad. One of his finest features has always been his excellent and distinctive sense of humor, and there was never any question that having a father who’s delightfully silly is one of the finest advantages a kid could have in her upbringing. No surprise that, with Mom being the sort of hospitality genius that everyone loves and Dad providing much of the comic relief in that hospitable package, our household was always a popular place among the friends and classmates of all of their children. Both were also compassionate and reasonable and practical parents, and I don’t have to tell you what a rarity that is in general, so our home was a kind of hangout-central among the school-kid cognoscenti.

Since today is the anniversary of the birth of that Hardest Working Dad in Showbiz, I am drawn to reminisce on the many years of service that my father has given as the resident chief goofus in our family.photoThat in itself is gift enough, but his life of service has always been so much broader and deeper than mere lightheartedness. As a pastor, as Chairman of the Board of Regents for a university, as bishop, and as president of a hospital board, among many other roles he’s filled in his life’s work, Dad has never taken his labors lightly, even when the best tool he had for doing any or all of these jobs may have most often been the humor he brought to the table. He’s just never been one for sitting around and letting the world rush on around him.

photoI wish I could say that I inherited a tenth of his sense of humor, let alone a hundredth of his ambition and work ethic. Instead, I guess I should thank him once again on his birthday for not only being a dandy dad but also helping to fill the requirements of the universe in these services where I may have left some gaping gaps. So thanks, Dad, from the bottom of my full heart, and may you have not only a very happy birthday but all the warmth and laughter that can be wrung out of many more years. Oh, and cake. And, since you clearly are your father’s son when it comes to all of the characteristics noted above and we all know Grandpa would have felt the cake was best completed with some, have your cake with a couple of sizable scoops of chocolate ice cream.

photo

Okay, this one’s not ice cream, but it’s chocolate dessert and it’s homemade. And it tastes pretty great, if you ask me. (1 ripe avocado, 1 ripe banana, 1 heaping tablespoon of cocoa, 1 teaspoon of vanilla, a pinch of salt, and honey to taste, all blended together until the pudding is smooth.)

Anything Worth Doing is Worth Overdoing

There was a boy . . .photoHe was remarkable, special and fabulous in every way . . . by his own admission. That sounds like a pretty smart-alecky remark from his bratty second daughter, doesn’t it, but you know, he’d be the first to tell you that it simply never occurred to him to doubt himself. Teflon ego? Naive puppy? No, he’s just a pretty cool guy and didn’t see any need to worry about it along the way.

People liked him; he liked them back. One thing leading to another, as they always do, he grew up and became, in various turns, a college graduate, a husband, a father, a seminary graduate, university board chairman, bishop, hospital board chairman, and oh yeah, all those other things. You know: the keynote speaker and community activist constantly playing both conscience and jester to the complacent. The nutty uncle who accidentally fades his snappy burgundy deck shoes to a flashy candy-colored light purple that becomes his infamously funny family trademark and then makes them the coveted trophy passed down from one to the next of all his nieces and nephews as they graduate from high school. The pastor who tells wacky tales from the pulpit that actually explicate complex biblical concepts and help to untangle earthly Issues for everyday humans. The bishop who travels with a phalanx of fellow bishops to act as bodyguard for their danger-exiled brother Bishop of El Salvador in Guatemala and escort him safely for a visit to his people at home. The respected administrator who sees a busy hospital through the building of a whole new hospital campus. The husband who woos his ever-tolerant wife with anniversary gifts of snow tires and garden manure but always remembers a card with an actual romantic note to accompany it. The dad who sends excuse notes involving kidnap by Green Gremlins to the principal’s office after his daughter’s flu absence from school.

My father’s stated policy, from a rather early time in his life, was that Anything Worth Doing is Worth Overdoing, and if it was spoken with a jovial wink, it was and yes, still is pretty much his modus operandi, whatever the endeavor. Underachieving was never an option and half-hearted efforts the same as not trying at all. This insight of his came long before the appearance of the modern day’s sloganeering cheerleaders insistence that one Go Big or Go Home.

photoDad brought along with him from his earliest years that sense of ease with himself and his place in the world and built it into an expansive view of what he could and should do and what the world could be with a little effort. As much as he indulged his playful and witty side (surely one of his most endearing qualities in his every field of action in life) he has always harbored a tender heart as well. Any practical tendencies of his that might be seen as hardheaded or stoic, serving him excellently in his many leadership roles as they did, were at their root driven by a deeper need to look out for others’ best interests and work to keep his own in check. All of this shapes a man who manages to maintain the unusual duality of a highly accomplished Type A leader and the Class Clown, a rare and gem-like formation indeed.

And today is that remarkable, special and fabulous man’s birthday.

photoAs it happens, he’s right, you know: anything worth doing really is worth doing to the nth degree and then just a little bit more. He didn’t get to be this advanced in age and yet still a ridiculously charming kid just barely beneath the gloss of grown-up-ness without having practiced that art well and truly. Happy birthday, Dad!