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Friday, August 28, 2009

Like Cinderella

  When I am recovering from being very sick, I am sometimes lucky enough to have short, beautiful reprieves from my symptoms. The breaks always occur in the evenings, and they don't usually last more than three hours. I suppose it could be some sort of change in temperature that my body goes through after the sun sets, or a shift in my body's daily energy cycles. It doesn't matter whether or not I've eaten, though being hydrated helps.

At 7 or 8 at night, without any change of medicines, all of my symptoms - fever, aching, congestion, coughing, hazy thinking - dramatically subside. Resting all day pays off, and I feel light, very alive, and sensitive to everything that my illness had dulled in me - colors seem so bright, the air feels heavy enough to push at, sounds seem to resonate more. It feels as if my fairy godmother came to spruce me for the ball, but also gave me a shot or two of whiskey and some strangely tinted glasses.

I've been exhausted, headachy, and coughing all day between naps, and I likely will be coughing again around 1 a.m. But right now, the world, the City, everything around me is just humming with beautiful intensity, and I'm happy to be here. Thanks, fairy godmother!


posted by Arlene (Beth)10:00 PM

Tuesday, June 03, 2008


Time with my Mom.

central valley landscapeLast Tuesday night I boarded the Amtrak train out to Modesto, to visit my mother for several days while she was recovering from her big surgery. (As I'd mentioned earlier, she had some large granulosa cell tumors removed from her ovaries, along with her reproductive system.)

I went out to visit her and help her around the house as soon as she would accept the help, which was Tuesday night. I know how difficult it is to recover from surgery, and figured she could use some company, some home cooked meals, and some help around the house.


I had expected to spend most of my time reading while my mother slept. However, she had quickly decided that the Vicodin didn't do much for her aside from make her delirious and give her nightmares, and so she was awake but very weak. She told me that she had worked up the energy to eat up to one canned peach at a time, but otherwise she had dozed.

I had my father take me grocery shopping at the local supermarket (which had once been a big deal, as it was the town's FIRST supermarket, and still has just one rival after about a decade), and then set to work on inspiring my mother's appetite.

Over my Tuesday through Saturday visit, I prepared:

-Tibetan noodle soup: a warmth-spreading concoction of ginger, garlic, spinach, tomato, potato, egg noodles, and spices
-potato, kale, and garlic soup: exactly what you think, blended just enough to have a thick potato smoothness, with chunks of potato and kale to make it interesting texturally
-whole wheat spaghetti with tomato sauce (this was intended for my dinner, rather than hers, but she managed to eat a bit of it anyway)
-broccoli with garlic over rice stick with a bit of soy sauce: simple, easy to eat
-a moist and saucy stir fry of garlic, ginger, tomato, spinach, and rice stick with soy sauce: the delicate rice noodles are so easy to eat, and feel very light even as they absorb the other flavors.

I was thrilled that Mom was able to move from having a single canned peach to having an entire bowl of noodle soup at a time. Her energy came back, and her color improved. I made large pots of each soup, and divided them into several small containers in her refrigerator: when she wanted a snack or got up in the middle of the night, it was very easy for her to serve herself up another small bowl. I also bought a nice sourdough loaf, which she was able to eat with butter as a side dish to most small meals I served her.

I tried not to eat very much during my visit, since I stayed indoors with her nearly all day. I'm not accustomed to going without exercise, and so cutting back on food seemed like a wise choice.

sunset sky, near Escalon, CAThere isn't too much to do when you're taking care of someone who is recuperating and needs lots of rest. During the day I would cook, wash dishes, and chat with her between her naps.

We spent some time making fun of old issues of Martha Stewart Living and Food and Wine which a friend of hers had left there, both of which were completely unhinged from reality as my mother and I know it. It is odd how publications like that could take things that are fundamentally wholesome - keeping a clean house, making handmade gifts, serving tasty food - and corrupt them so completely. These basic pleasures are turned into something quite different, something concerned with status, price, and purchased forms of legitimacy. Buy this specific color and brand of paint, arrange these specific designer/custom/expensive flowers/vases/artifacts, eat this imported foodstuff along with these other specialties that you should spend improbable periods of time preparing...

No one should spend weeks of their lives accessorizing their napkins for specific holiday meals, okay? It is not healthy. It is not proportionate. It is a sort of obsessive-compulsive brand of materialism that has no place in a well-adjusted life. Please.

Also, F&W was almost entirely about pairing wines with the flesh of the dead. (Zombies, take note!)

It was also interesting that, in both magazines, the world beyond the U.S. merely exists as a source of decorative elements for home entertaining, rather than as a place where real people live with their families and have normal aspirations for long, healthy lives with their loved ones. Other countries were referenced as sources of inspiration, color palettes, and wine. But that's it: no one is home there aside from winemakers and people who sew pretty scarves.


When my mother had more energy, we sorted through boxes of loose photographs that my mother had amassed and wanted to have in better order. About half were test prints from my father's darkroom experiments of the 1970s, and the rest were family photos, which we reviewed (especially with regard to hairstyles) with great hilarity. (One of the benefits of this project was that I have more material for my biographical photo essay. As I approach 40, I am assembling a set of photos representing me in each year, one per year. This project helped me cover the years 1968 - 1976. Sadly, my mother has stored nearly all of the family photo albums in some inaccessible, unspecified place, and so I could not complete the project during my visit.)

There were quite a few photos that my father had taken and printed in his darkroom that I had never seen before. Photos of the apartment that I was conceived in, and of the apartment down the hall where I was first taken home from the hospital. These photos inspired stories from my mother about the Madam and her prostitutes who lived in the apartment building, and who worked the fancy hotels downtown. My mother told me stories about the doctors who delivered me during my mother's 24 hour labor, including the doctor who had survived the Japanese internment, and told my mother her story while they waited for me to be born.


oak trees near Stanislaus River, Riverbank, CAI spent my nights listening to trains rumbling past, since the same train tracks I arrived on pass by just 30 yards or so from her house, directly across the street from her home. The train traffic is mostly freight, which allowed me to wake up repeatedly during the night, attempting to differentiate between passing freight trains (common) and earthquakes (less so), which became easier after the first night.

The only real exercise I got during my visit came from a few floor exercises I did to stretch my back, and from walking my mother's three dogs. All of her dogs were eager for walks, though my mother had insisted they were fine since they could play in the yard. I decided to walk each of them, even though it was hot out. They all appreciated it, though my mother's 72-pound pit bull managed to yank me off a steep slope and drag me briefly through loose gravel before the leash came off my wrist as I tried not to bounce any more.

I was also able to refresh my memory about how much dogs drool and pee. That was an added benefit.


My parents joked about keeping me chained up in the house so that I could continue to cook and clean for them, but I pointed out that Steven would come rescue me if only to have me cook for him, and so they dropped that idea. :-)

My mother gave me tons of credit for all of the improvements she made while I was there, but I was really just happy to have been able to help out for a few days. It was much more satisfying for me to be there, cooking, cleaning, and chatting, than it was for me to sit at work, worrying about how her recovery was going. So I think it was good for both of us.


posted by Arlene (Beth)10:05 PM

Friday, May 23, 2008


My mother's surgery went well!

The tumors were granulosa cell tumors (associated with her ovaries), and there are no spreading cancers. I am SO relieved!

I'll head out to stay with her for a few days next week while she recovers from the surgery. (If I take up mobile phone blogging, you'll know because of the random extra spaces in the text.)


posted by Arlene (Beth)6:58 AM

Monday, March 10, 2008


As of 5:30 this evening, I can hear symmetrically through both ears.

This is a totally terrifying preview of old age. I mean, getting excited about hearing? Yikes.

Anyway, that ear still has fluid in it, and so things like walking and breathing are still internally noisy. But it's the closest to "normal" I've been since February 28th. Physically, I mean.


posted by Arlene (Beth)9:06 PM

Friday, March 07, 2008


I can smell and taste again! Yippee!

I also nearly look human. My health is heading in the correct, desirable direction.


posted by Arlene (Beth)10:01 PM

Monday, March 03, 2008


O Infirmity! The hot new musical that's taking my peer group by storm!

I learned today that there IS such a thing as being too ill even to photoblog. Yes. It is true. Holding up a tiny phone camera can be too much of a distraction from trying to breathe. How gloriously pathetic. (Pathetique? Would that look cooler?)

Wednesday and Thursday I began to have a few allergy symptoms. Even though I figured out a few years back that I do periodically suffer seasonal allergies, I haven't entirely mastered the concept of it. If my most allergic friend begins to complain of his suffering, this sometimes inspires to find a bottle of my inexpensive, immeasurably mild homeopathic allergy remedy and get in the habit of taking it, so that its preventative affect gradually makes me forget that I have allergies of any kind, and then I become foolish and unprepared.

It's a great plan. It works!

This year, the symptoms came on so abruptly, I mused aloud that I was having an allergic reaction to the pizza I was eating. (This seemed dimly possible, since I had been off dairy for many days, but not very likely.) My office colleagues expressed sympathy for my red nose and constant use of tissue. But then I e-mailed my most allergic friend to ask if his allergies had started, and he promptly replied that he was already medicated, but that everyone else he knew was miserable. ('Miserable' also sounds cooler if you pretend you are French while pronouncing it.) My most allergic friend is using a drug called "Zyrtec," which works for him in 20 minutes. Since my benign homeopathic stuff takes two or three days to really level me out, I figured that, in the interests of being able to complete sentences in public without a handkerchief covering my face, I would buy some of this second-generation antihistamine and take it immediately.

You remember my tale of what happened when I took Claritin, right? Claritin is one of those great second-generation antihistamines. It makes me think I am going to die. My lungs fill up, my body evacuates all substances that are not integrally connected through multiple routes, I get a headache that drives me mad... Zyrtec is a completely different drug. But it's also new and fancy. So I had a moment's pause, and nearly called my mother to see if any of my relatives had experienced anything undesirable with the medication. But I was impatient to drop the hanky. I took one 24-hour capsule at 7 p.m. on Thursday night.

Within two hours, my head felt as if it had been filled with liquid rubber under pressure; every passage felt filled, sealed, and swollen. I developed a painful, unproductive cough. A headache was born.

I called my retired nurse mother, and she did some research for me. My side effects weren't on the official list, but it turned out that my uncle (who experiences Claritin as I do) had tried this out and had an adverse reaction. The drug had found to be specifically compatible with Sudafed, and so I was permitted to take some of that to balance out my new found sinus solidity.

It only helped a little. I had to stay home from work the next day. And dammit, it really is a 24-hour time release drug, because I didn't recover until 7 p.m. Friday night.

That was great: I really, really, really wanted to see a colleague's band perform that night, and was bound and determined to paint myself up to look human and go. And that plan went well - I had a great time, and only had to re-Spackle my nose once during the four hour outing.

What wasn't great: all that time my head was filled with rubber, it was hosting new and alien life. By Saturday, I had a sinus infection, an ear infection, and bronchitis. By Sunday evening, watching DVDs on the couch, I couldn't hear what was going on without cranking the volume. And all weekend, I could neither smell nor taste anything I ate.

I foolishly tried to go to work today, but wound up spending the afternoon at UCSF. I am now on an antibiotic (which does not sound cooler in faux French, in my opinion; though the antibiotic name itself, Azithromycin, would be a good name for a Swedish metal band), a powerful anti-coughing pill, a pain killer (for the earaches), and an albuterol inhaler, like the little ones asthmatics carry around. Yes, when my health tanks, it tanks gloriously.


My mother had a rough December, health-wise, just as I did. As she lay in misery day after day, she wondered, 'Is this what old age is like? Constant sickness and fatigue? Is this what I have to look forward to more of?"

Steven independently asked the same questions last night, while fending off his own, whooping-style cough.

Such unhappy questions! I don't know why my health has been so resoundingly crappy this winter, but I'm hoping it is just a year of macho germs, and not a sign of a long, continuous decline that will haunt my remaining years on earth. The fact that I am bleeding from the nose as I type this, and have been for several days, is an anomaly. I do not intend to make this a habit. I swear.


Aside: My view of food changes dramatically in the absence of any perceptible flavor. I can detect sweetness or acidity, perhaps an edge of heat, but... barely. All food is texture for me at the moment. I have never experienced this before, and now I'm in my fourth day of it...


posted by Arlene (Beth)8:48 PM

Monday, August 06, 2007


The brace is off! The brace is off!

My arm is free again!

I had another x-ray and an exam today, and my doctor declared my range of motion excellent. I'm allowed to stop wearing the brace (though he joked I should put it on if I plan to spend time in mosh pits; I pointed out that it is so bulky, I'd likely to be injured by it slamming into me), and to lift light weights.

I have a physical therapy appointment next week.

Free! Free!


posted by Arlene (Beth)10:00 PM

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