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Life Happens, But You Can’t Always See It Well

Saturday, August 11, 2018, 21:44 EDT Leave a comment

Yes, I know. Every time I post after a long absence, I promise to stick around. The trouble is that I’m always thinking, I’ll post as soon as I have more time. As if that ever works. Anyhoo, here I am, for now. The future is uncertain for us all.

What’s been going on in the Den world? Or more appropriately, what hasn’t been going on? I need at least a few posts to even begin to answer that question, but the most recent development, a mere nine days ago, was cataract surgery. Frankly, I’m horrified that I developed cataracts at my not-so-advanced age (50-something). Many moons ago, my ophthalmologist (now retired) told me that if I were lucky, I’d develop cataracts young. His reasoning was that my vision was so terrible that I should want to get lens implants that would also correct my nearsightedness, which by last January required and eyeglasses prescription of -14.5 OD, -15.0 OS to allow me to sort of see.

When I first got glasses at age 6, I had to wear them all the time from the get-go, which means I probably should have gotten them sooner, but if bad vision is what you’re used to, how do you know to complain? In high school, I moved on to contact lenses, which I’ve worn without incident until the last few years when my eyes started getting dry in the evenings. Another ocular symptom of aging, apparently.

The truth is that my vision hasn’t been correctable to 20/20 in decades, but eye surgery was never something to which I aspired. My eyes may suck, I reasoned, but they’re the only eyes I have and every surgery carries risks and did you just say they have to cut into my eyeball? Nope, I’m not going there.

That was before my driving was adversely affected by the cloudiness and refractory properties (read: triple vision) my particular cataracts were causing. (Don’t get me wrong, I continued driving, but only in familiar areas and I was extra careful lest I get into an accident that would obviously be my fault.) So yes, I did a complete 180° on the topic and looked far and wide for a surgeon who could do the job ASAP. In May, I found one, and due to circumstances I won’t go into now, I got in to see him in ten days and got scheduled for my first surgery less than three months later. Evidently, being unable to see is sufficient motivation to put my fear aside and go under the knife. (If you’re curious what cataract surgery look like, watch this, unless watching someone’s eyeball be cut into freaks you out.)

To say I was nervous is the understatement of the year. I had to be at the hospital at 7:30 for 9:30 surgery, and at about 8:45, the anesthesiologist, Dr. Richmond, came in to go over my surgical history and medications and all that. I told him I wanted to go to sleep, be oblivious for the 15 minutes it takes to vacuum out the old, cloudy lens from my left eye and put a shiny new artificial one in its place, wake up, and go home. So when he told me that wasn’t possible because I had to be at least aware enough to respond to the surgeon’s instructions (“Look right, look left, look straight ahead,” or whatever), I was not pleased. But I can bargain with the best of them, and I made him a proposition. (No, not that kind of proposition. Get your mind out of the gutter.) I proposed that if at any point I were too conscious to be comfortable, I would tell him, and that would be his cue to give me sufficiently more sedative drugs to render me only as conscious as absolutely necessary and not a bit more. He agreed.

So what was the surgery like? I can’t tell you, because Dr. Richmond, whom I now call Dr. Feelgood, is the BEST ANESTHESIOLOGIST EVER. All I remember is about five seconds during which the surgeon, Dr. Luna, said, “Den Mother,” (OK, he used my actual name, but you get the point), “I need you to look straight at the light,” at which point I looked straight at the light. And that’s all I remember. Thinking back on it, I should have been scared shitless, having seen Poltergeist AND read enough about near-death experiences to know that “Go into the light” is usually not a good thing if you’re not quite ready to join either the dead or the undead. But I was too stoned to be worried, because Dr. Feelgood.

When I awoke, my eye hurt like a mofo. All my friends and relatives who’ve had cataract surgery, not to mention the surgeon himself, told me I’d feel not really pain but just discomfort, like the sensation of something in my eye that didn’t belong there. The sensation I felt was indeed like something was in my eye, but that something was a fork that stabbed my eye every time I blinked. Turns out I have “very sensitive eyes,” which is the highly technical term the surgeon used. To prevent the fork-stabbing sensation, he made a pressure patch for my eye that kept the eyelid closed (as opposed to the regular rigid patch they normally give you to keep you from accidentally poking yourself in said eye). By the next day when the patch came off, I felt pretty good, and it’s been all uphill since.

Did I mention that I CAN SEE?????? Well, out of one eye, anyway. Monday I’ll get the date for my right eye. I’m hoping for As Soon As Humanly Possible, as it’s slightly disorienting to have 20/20 vision in one eye and about 20/60 (with a contact lens) in the other. Also, I’d like to have it done before I go to Hawaii in September (a subject for another post). Until then, it’s enough to know that I can actually get to 20/20.

In the course of this whole ordeal, by the way, I learned that there is an actual medical term for what I always called “really bad vision”: bilateral pathologic myopia. Basically, it means that I am severely nearsighted in both eyes, caused (I never knew this part either) by an elongation of my eyeball. Myopia (nearsightedness) is caused by a slightly misshapen eyeball, but pathologic myopia is caused by a more severely misshapen eyeball, less like a basketball than like a rugby ball. That also makes me more susceptible to retinal tears and detachments because the retina is abnormally stretched, though the surgeon I saw at the Massachusetts Eye and Ear Infirmary for a second opinion told me my retinas looked a lot better than he expected. I also have something called bilateral posterior vitreal detachment, which is actually fairly common as we age; it’s what causes “floaters,” those little squiggly things that appear to move across your field of vision when you blink. I’ve had floaters for a while and have pretty much gotten used to them.

All of which is a long way of saying that I couldn’t see very well two weeks ago but now I can, if only out of one eye, and I am most thankful to God, modern medicine, and Dr. Luna. And, of course, Dr. Feelgood.

Categories: health/safety

Why Screaming about “Rape Culture” Makes Women Less Safe

Wednesday, June 8, 2016, 13:34 EDT 1 comment

One of my Facebook friends posted today about the case of the Stanford University student who was convicted of rape and got a ridiculously short sentence. The rapist’s father complained he shouldn’t get anything because he was actually a great person, except for that little rape thing that only lasted for 20 minutes. To my friend, this case proves that “rape culture is real and it’s present and if you refuse to acknowledge it, you’re perpetuating it.”

Her view isn’t uncommon. But it’s actually dangerous to women.

When I was a kid, parents taught their children to take care of themselves by not putting themselves in unsafe situations. They weren’t telling us that it would be our fault if something happened to us, they were telling us that they didn’t want something to happen to us. Be careful on the monkey bars. Don’t talk to strangers. If you’re home alone and you get a phone call, tell the caller that your parents can’t come to the phone, not that they aren’t there. It was advice intended to keep us safe from bad people.

Today’s parents give similar advice for 21st century situations, such as not posting personal information on the internet that might help predators find you. Now as then, such instruction is given because we live in a world where people do things they shouldn’t. We can’t convince them all to stop, so we make it harder for them to do those things to us and those we love. People who are more careful are less likely to be hurt by bad people.

Now imagine for a minute that a group of parents got together and decided that they weren’t going to teach their kids how to stay safe. Instead, they were going to insist that kids should be able to go online and give unknown individuals their full names, addresses, phone numbers, and youth soccer game schedules. Oh, and if you try to tell those parents that they are putting their children at risk, they protest that you’re blaming the victim and their kids shouldn’t have to be careful and if you think they should, you’re part of the problem.

Most of us, I hope, would call them out for stupidity, if not negligence. Yet we accept such attitudes from people who invoke “rape culture” as a reason for why women shouldn’t be encouraged to avoid situations that make them vulnerable to being raped.

I posted this reply to my friend:

I disagree that “rape culture” exists. There are many more thefts in this country than rapes, yet it isn’t because of “theft culture.” There are lots of homicides, but it isn’t because of “murder culture.” Same with reckless driving, kidnapping, drug dealing, and child abuse. The very fact that we have laws against these things, and that people go to jail for them (even though the sentences are sometimes lighter than we think they should be) is proof that there is no “culture,” except among the criminals.

After my house was burglarized, I didn’t defiantly refuse to lock my doors and complain that we need to teach people not to steal. I installed better locks. I wasn’t blaming myself for becoming a victim, I just took some simple steps to minimize the chance that it would happen again. That made more sense to me than waiting for the coming of an imaginary utopia in which unicorns roam freely and nobody does anything wrong.

Do you lock your doors? Not leave your pocketbook lying open at a bar while you go to the rest room? Look both ways before you cross the street? That doesn’t mean you’re perpetuating “[insert crime here] culture.” It means you’re using common sense to protect yourself from thieves and dangerous drivers. Please, please, please, use the same common sense to protect yourself from rapists.

I can only hope she takes my advice.

Public School Stupidity, School Nurse Stupidity, or Both?

Friday, June 15, 2012, 11:41 EDT Leave a comment

Two recent stories raise the question. Today I read about a local incident of a teacher’s aide pulling out a student’s tooth:

Sabrina Grant of Framingham, Mass. says her autistic son Chris Quirk went to school last week with a loose tooth. Around lunchtime, she got an email from the aide at Woodrow Wilson Elementary, explaining that Chris had been playing with the tooth and she had pulled it out…

But Grant says when her son got off the bus after school, she realized the wrong tooth had been pulled.

“I noticed that the loose tooth that was in his mouth was still in his mouth,” she told CBS Boston. “And a molar behind his loose tooth [is what] they had pulled out. They pulled the wrong tooth.”

Compare that to another incident of another student at another school whose nurse refused the student his inhaler during an asthma attack:

A school nurse in Florida is being accused of denying a student his inhaler during an asthma attack because she couldn’t locate his parental consent form.

Michael Rudi, the student at the center of the scandal, and his mother, Su, joined Fox and Friends to tell their story.

As he was struggling to breath, Michael [Rudi] said he also had to fight to get help. He claims that at one point the nurse even closed the office door on him. Michael said, “I put my head to that window once I got to that door, and she was just sitting there smiling at me. She had a grin on her face, and I kept jiggling the door, begging for help. I got to the point where I couldn’t even jiggle the door knob.”

Su Rudi said that when she was notified that her son was having trouble breathing, she called the nurse and asked her to give Michael his medicine. When the nurse refused, Su asked her to call 911, but the nurse said, “No, I don’t have to.”

So while Michael Rudi was suffering an acute medical attack, officials at his school refused to allow him to use a medication that was prescribed for him for that purpose by a licensed physician and which he was legally allowed to use. But Chris Quirk, who was suffering from no medical malady, underwent an unnecessary and painful dental procedure performed by a school employee who was not licensed to practice dentistry.

Prosecutors should charge both school employees with child abuse (and, in the Quirk case, assault and the illegal practice of dentistry). The children’s parents should sue the schools—and refuse to settle out of court—in order to deter similar behavior elsewhere. And state legislatures across the country should enact laws prohibiting schools from preventing student use of legal medications prescribed for them and nullifying stupid “zero tolerance” policies that criminalize legitimate medical self-treatment on school grounds.

A Warning from a Dying Friend

Thursday, May 24, 2012, 15:28 EDT Leave a comment

My heart is heavy today after learning that one of my old friends is going into hospice and has days or weeks to live. I met Jake in college via Linda, one of my classmates in the architecture program who began dating him that year and just never stopped. They got married on a Tuesday in 1989, Independence Day, the irony of which Jake enjoyed. Linda wore a beautiful formal wedding gown and veil that was remarkable mostly because it was pale pink, and Jake spiced up his tuxedo with a psychedelic bow tie. They proceeded to have two children before moving from New Hampshire to the island of Bonaire, in the Netherlands Antilles, where they lived until coming to Boston a year ago for treatment of Jake’s metastatic melanoma.

This weekend, I will have what will likely be my final visit with my friend. As I process my memories of our friendship and my thoughts about his impending death—maybe I’ll blog about those another time, maybe I won’t—I also want to say something about his particular kind of cancer.

Jake’s story is a warning about the importance of skin cancer awareness. He was diagnosed in March 2011 with amelanotic melanoma, a particularly tricky skin cancer because it might not look like what dangerous skin cancers are supposed to look like. Jake’s didn’t. Melanoma is usually characterized, the experts say, by the ABCD rule:

Melanoma vs. normal moles

Melanomas are on the left; non-cancerous moles are on the right. Image from the American Melanoma Foundation. Click to view larger.

A for Asymmetry
One half is different than the other half.

B for Border Irregularity
The edges are notched, uneven, or blurred.

C for Color
The color is uneven. Shades of brown, tan, and black are present.

D for Diameter
Diameter is greater than 6 millimeters.

Other Warning Signs:
• The appearance of a new bump or nodule
• Color spreads into surrounding skin
• redness or swelling beyond the mole
• pain
• tenderness
• itching
• bleeding
• oozing
• scaly appearance

Jake's moleCompare all that with Jake’s melanoma lesion, seen on the image at left (taken from Jake’s blog). It was symmetrical, had smooth and even boundaries, was the same color as the normal surrounding flesh, was smaller than 6mm, and showed none of the other warning signs. Except that it grew noticeably and quickly, taking less than two months to exceed the 6mm size. Had it been in a less visible place than the front of his thigh, he probably wouldn’t have noticed it at all.

In his particular circumstances, Jake did all the right things. All his life, he was careful in the sun, using sunscreen and appropriate clothing to protect his fair skin.  Upon noticing the growing mole, he went to a doctor for a biopsy. Based on the biopsy results, the surrounding tissue and nearby lymph nodes were excised and biopsied. Despite having done everything he was supposed to, Jake learned that the cancer was in the lymph nodes. That was 14 months ago, and it’s been downhill since then.

Thus my warning, provided by Jake’s situation, about the importance of actively monitoring your skin for any visible changes. For the areas you can’t see, ask your partner or your friend to do it. It could save your life.

But Den Mother, you might be thinking, what kind of a warning is this? This guy went by the book, but he’s still going to die, so what’s the point? The point is that even though he had rotten luck, he and his family don’t have to wonder if things might have been different if he had been more diligent. And if he had been luckier, if the cancer hadn’t spread to that first lymph node before he got to the doctor, his diligence might have saved his life.

Not every skin cancer is as dangerous as melanoma. Most are superficial and non-invasive. There is no disadvantage to getting something checked that turns out to be no big deal. But if it’s something more, you don’t want to deprive yourself of every available chance to beat it.

For more information about melanoma, visit the American Melanoma Foundation or melanoma survivor Shonda Shilling’s SHADE Foundation. The National Council on Skin Cancer Prevention has informatin about awareness and prevention of skin cancers generally.

Categories: health/safety

Every Parent’s Nightmare

Thursday, April 26, 2012, 07:59 EDT Leave a comment

I kept the following diary on my BlackBerry a week ago last Sunday. For reasons that should quickly become obvious to the reader, it took until now for me to decide to post it..

6:58am — The phone wakes me up. “Hello Muddah, Hello Faddah,” the ringtone I assigned to my parents, who know I’m not an early riser. This isn’t good.

I’m groggy when I answer, and the laryngitis I have from a vicious week-long cold isn’t helping me sound better. It’s the Den Mother’s Father calling. As we exchange perfunctory greetings, he sounds fine. He always sounds fine, even now as he tells me that my son is at the hospital after cutting his wrists in a suicide attempt.

Read more…

Categories: family, health/safety, life

My Annual Tryst with the Ophthalmologist

Thursday, February 16, 2012, 15:00 EST 1 comment

I started wearing glasses when I was six years old. Judging from how bad my eyes were even with that first prescription—I had to wear them all the time from the get-go—I probably needed them before that. Over the next year, my vision deteriorated so rapidly that the ophthalmologist, an entertaining gentleman named Dr. Guilette who wore a small eyeball tie pin, gave a standing order with his office staff to give me an immediate appointment whenever my mother called saying I was having trouble seeing again. Sometimes I went only 3-4 months between prescription changes. The optician gave my parents a frequent shopper discount decades before anyone else had the idea.

Within just a couple of years, I was wearing what were not so charitably called “coke bottles,” thick lenses that revealed to all the world just how myopic I was. After Dr. Guilette died, I started with a new doctor who fitted me with contact lenses during my sophomore year in high school, thus freeing me from the burden of wearing glasses during every waking hour. But optics technology was also advancing with the advent of high-index lenses that dramatically reduced the thickness of eyeglass lenses for more severe vision problems.

As an adult, I saw the rate of deterioration of my myopia slow down to the point that two years ago, for the first time in my life, my prescription didn’t change from the previous year. Last year, one eye had actually improved ever so slightly, though it got worse again this year. And for the third consecutive year, my most recent prescription includes correction for a small degree of presbyopia. But as has always been the case, my biggest problem is nearsightness.

How bad is my vision, anyway? If you understand how to read an eyeglass prescription, you’ll get the answer from my most recent prescription:

My eyeglass prescription

For those to whom that means nothing, let me explain. I have no idea what “INT” or the numbers under it mean, but I’m told that the meanings of the other numbers, from left to right, are:

  • SPHERE — correction for hyperopia (farsightedness) or myopia (nearsightedness). Positive numbers indicate hyperopia, negative numbers indicate myopia.
  • CYL and AXIS — correction for astigmatism (distortion of the lens, i.e. the lens is shaped like a rugby ball instead of a basketball). Cylinder indicates the amount of distortion and axis indicates the direction of the distortion.
  • ADD — correction for presbyopia (inability to focus close-up). The presence of this number indicates that it’s a prescription for bifocals.

My prescription means that I have severe myopia (this site would classify it as pathologic myopia), mild to moderate astigmatism, and very mild presbyopia. I know only one person who is almost as nearsighted as I am, though I know that even more severe cases do exist. But it’s too severe to be corrected by laser surgery such as lasik, so I’m stuck with what nature gave me. The ophthalmologist said that if I’m lucky, I’ll get cataracts at a young age because the lens replacement surgery that is done for cataracts will also correct the myopia.

In the meantime, I’ll keep on keeping on with glasses and contact lenses, and I won’t complain because at least my visual deficiencies are correctable. Besides, if my eyes were suddenly perfect, I’d really miss the annual date with the ophthalmologist.

Categories: health/safety

Worst Night of Sleep I’ve Ever Had

Friday, February 3, 2012, 10:20 EST 3 comments

InsomniaI had my sleep study last night, and it was an unmitigated disaster.

First, let me point out the things that were fine. The bed was comfortable, the temperature in the room was appropriate, the noise level was normal for nighttime, and the various wires attached to various parts of my anatomy were much less bothersome than I thought they’d be. The technician was very accommodating and did everything she could to make my experience pleasant. I was able to watch TV, reading in bed, and pick my own lights-out time. If I needed anything, all I had to do was say it and the technician would hear me via the intercom and respond immediately.

When I arrived, I discovered I was to have a split-night study. For the first 2-3 hours, the technician monitors my sleep to determine if I experiences multiple episodes of sleep apnea. If I do, she awakens me and hooks me up to a CPAP for the rest of the night. If I don’t have sleep apnea, she lets me sleep for the duration of the night.

The problems began when the technician told me she would like to get an hour of readings with me on my back. I told her I can’t sleep on my back. I’m a side sleeper and always have been. She said I didn’t have to be asleep. Unfortunately, I was tired, so I wanted to be asleep. There are few things more frustrating than being tired and unable to go to sleep, whether because of insomnia, noise, or discomfort. By the time I decided I’d had enough, I had become physically tense, which for me impedes falling asleep.

It snowballed from there. The longer I lay awake, the more anxious I became. The more anxious I was, the harder it was for me to fall asleep. Lather, rinse, repeat. I tried reading, singing songs in my head, picturing myself on the beach, imagining relaxing with LOML, even playing a game on my phone briefly. Nothing worked. And the whole time, I was aware of the time ticking away. When I did sleep, it was so light that the slightest disturbance roused me, anything from the fan for the ventilation system switching on to my own soft snoring. When the technician came to get me up at 5:50, just the sound of the doorknob turning did it.

While it seemed that I tossed and turned all night, apparently I did have episodes of broken sleep, including one brief episode or REM sleep. I don’t know if I had any apnea. I was so discouraged that I didn’t ask many questions. After my doctor gets the report, she might suggest another try.

In the meantime, I’m beat.

Categories: health/safety, life

Polysomnography

Monday, January 30, 2012, 07:27 EST Leave a comment

noun /ˌpɒlisɒmˈnɒgrəfi/ : the technique or process of using a polygraph to make a continuous record during sleep of multiple physiological variables (as breathing, heart rate, and muscle activity) : how the Den Mother will spend a night this week

Ever since I can remember, it has taken me longer than normal to fall asleep. I was probably a teenager or young adult before I found out that most people fall asleep only 5-10 minutes after they turn off the light at night. With me, it was more like a 30-45 minutes. Not knowing any better, I was never bothered by it. Once I fell asleep, I slept well and awoke feeling rested. If I slept poorly, it was usually because I was sick. Even when I had nightmares as a child, I slept fine once my mother calmed me down. As I have aged, I have experienced episodes of insomnia, but I’ve been able to identify and eliminate the causes. A couple bouts with clinical depression over the last 15 years have been accompanied by hypersomnia, but when the depressive symptoms subsided, so did the hypersomnia. Until recently.

Sleeping at workI realized last year that I was feeling less rested despite sleeping more. It snuck up on me slowly, but by the time I had my annual physical last November, it had become enough of an issue that I raised it with my doctor. Between me, my primary care physician, and my psychiatrist, we ruled out a recurrent depressive episode. With the exception of perhaps one trip to the bathroom in the middle of the night, I don’t have trouble staying asleep. But no matter how long I have slept, I always awaken feeling like I should sleep more. I’m always tired. On especially bad days, it’s a challenge not to put my head down on my desk and doze off, like the teacher used to try to get us to do in kindergarten and first grade after lunch but we never wanted to. (I’m reminded of comedienne Paula Poundstone‘s assertion that “the definition of adulthood is that you want to sleep.”)

Obstructive sleep apneaMy doctor suspected obstructive sleep apnea, a condition wherein face and neck muscles put pressure on the airway during sleep, disrupting normal breathing. She explained that some people with sleep apnea learn they have it when their sleep partners observe pauses in breathing and, sometimes, loud bursts of snoring when breathing resumes. Since I sleep alone, there’s been no one to observe whether or not it happens to me. But other symptoms might suggest it does, including “[d]aytime sleepiness, fatigue, frequent naps, headaches, irritability, insomnia, and poor memory and attention … as a result of insufficient sleep.” Let’s see — daytime sleepiness, check! Fatigue, check! Headaches, double-check! Irritability, check!, although I’ve been attributing that to perimenopause. Poor memory and attention, check! As I said, I don’t have insomnia, nor do I actually take frequent naps, but I would if I could. When I do lie down for a nap on a weekend afternoon, I have no trouble sleeping for two hours or more.

The point is that the problem is getting in the way of my work and my life. So in an effort to find the cause, I’m checking into a sleep lab one night this week for a polysomnogram (PSG for short), an overnight battery of tests to monitor what happens to my breathing, heart rhythm, brain activity, eye movements, blood oxygen level, and muscle movements while I sleep. According to the literature provided by the sleep lab:

[T]he sleep technologist will place a number of non-painful sensors (also called electrodes) on your head, chest area and legs. The areas where the sensors will be attached are cleaned and the electrodes are attached with special gels, paste, gauze, and tape… Elastic belts with sensors will be placed around your chest and abdomen. Airflow sensors will be placed under your nose and a finger clip will be applied to monitor your oxygen levels. All of the sensors will be connected to a small portable box that transmits signals to the sleep monitoring and recording equipment that is in a nearby control room.

Sleep studyIn other words, I’m going to have little sensors all over myself, sort of like this picture except that I have much less gray hair. While that might feel a bit strange—the only medical monitoring device I’ve ever been hooked up to is a fetal monitor when I was in labor—what really creeps me out is the idea of being watched all night. I suppose it’s nothing the lab staff haven’t seen before. I just hope I don’t talk in my sleep or, if I do, that I don’t say anything embarrassing.

The product of the entire experience will be a report describing and a set of graphs showing what happened while I slept, like this one that shows a minute during which the patient stopped breathing (look at how the eighth line from the top flattens out for a stretch):

Polysomnography

CPAPPresuming the tests confirm a diagnosis of sleep apnea, the treatment is something called a Continuous Positive Airway Pressure machine (CPAP for short), a device that blows air into the airway to prevent it from closing. Attractive, no? Apparently there are a number of different styles of apparatus, some of which I hope look a little less like Borg appendages. I’m having a hard time imagining how anyone could sleep with such a device, but one of my-workers whose husband has used a CPAP machine since having a heart attack a few years ago says he adjusted to it very easily. She insists the hum of the machine is not bothersome. Most importantly, her husband sleeps better than ever and wakes up feeling great.

Oh, how wonderful that would be, awakening to feel refreshed and ready to start the day. I think of the things I could do and accomplish when I’m no longer tired all the time. Sure, the machine might be a bit awkward in the unlikely event that I ever have a sleep partner again, but if it means increased energy, I think I can live with it.

Categories: health/safety

I’m So Dizzy, My Head Is Spinning

Monday, December 19, 2011, 17:20 EST Leave a comment

If you are now singing to yourself, “Like a whirlpool, it never ends,” then good for you for proving that you have a great memory for bad pop songs of the late ’60s. For that, Tommy Roe thanks you.

But, as Arlo Guthrie has often said, that’s not what I came here to talk about. Ooohhh, Den Mother, you are probably thinking, two obscure song references in the first two paragraphs of one post? You are SO cool. For that, I thank you.

What the title means is that I am on day 5 of an attack of vertigo. “Attack” is probably too strong a word, since the symptoms aren’t constant and can be more or less kept at bay by simply staying upright and not tipping my head too much in any direction. But it’s significant enough that I haven’t felt comfortable driving.

If you’ve never had vertigo, here’s the best way I can describe it: Remember when you were a kid and you used to spin around and around for as long as you could, and when you stopped, it felt like the world was still spinning around you and it was hard to focus your eyes on anything and you kept falling down? That’s what severe vertigo is like. I am fortunate that I don’t get nausea with it. And this time, it isn’t severe.

My first experience with vertigo was a few years ago, and it took several hours to improve even slightly and a few days to subside entirely. I awoke one morning, opened my eyes, and marveled that the room was spinning. (No, alcohol was not involved.) When the spinning hadn’t stopped after five minutes, I tried to get up and walk to the bathroom because, you know, I hadn’t peed in eight hours and some things just can’t wait. I made it out of the bedroom, through the living room and kitchen, and into the bathroom, listing rightward the entire way, only because there were furniture, cabinets, and door casings along the way that I could hold onto. I somehow managed to take a shower, get dressed, and make my way down the stairs of my apartment building and into the waiting car of my father, who was kind enough to drive me to the doctor. She prescribed meclizine, which seemed not to do much, although others have pointed out that the attack might have lasted longer without it. Whatever. I was just grateful when it improved enough that I could read a book or watch TV.

My current episode has been less severe and more intermittent. I rode the bus today because I wasn’t confident that the highway wouldn’t begin undulating while I was on it. When I get home, a new meclizine prescription will be waiting because I finally called my doctor this afternoon, if only to get my family off my back.

I also went online and found some exercises that have been shown to help alleviate the symptoms of vertigo. I’ll be trying them out this evening, in the privacy of my home, where no one else will be able to see my contortions.

Once I am rid of these annoying symptoms, I can focus on more important things, like getting that stupid song out of my head.

Categories: health/safety

Taking the Spontaneity out of Halloween

Friday, November 4, 2011, 12:08 EDT Leave a comment

Jack-o-LanternWhen last weekend’s nor’easter blew through New England, it took down more than just trees and power lines. In many communities, it also took down trick-or-treating. Local officials, concerned that children might stumble upon live wires and other hazards that remained on Monday and beyond, asked parents to defer the customary outdoor activity. I guess it isn’t enough to let the adults use their common sense. Many cities and towns suggested an alternate day, a sort of make-up date for Halloween, so at least they didn’t prohibit it outright.

My town will have trick-or-treating tonight, which will probably end up being better because it isn’t a school night. I was prepared on Monday evening with candy, just in case any rogue kids happened by, but none did, even though conditions in my part of town were fine. No harm done, though; my bowl of candy (KitKats and Smarties, two of my favorites) sits at the ready on a shelf in my front entryway.

I have no idea how many or few costumed children to expect, but I feel certain it will be nothing compared to the numbers that would set out each year in my youth. Until I was 12, we lived in a development that was tailor-made for trick-or-treating: small lots meant many houses in a small area, streets were laid out to minimize through traffic, and limited access and egress streets minimized the risk of kids wandering off. Parents from other neighborhoods would load up their stations wagons with their children and their friends and drop them off, picking them up a couple of hours later with pillow cases heavy with candy. Residents knew to have plenty on hand, and in exchange they saw all ages of children in every imaginable costume. Nobody got hurt because there was safety in numbers.

The practice now is more cautious: go only to the houses of people you know, because there are crazy maniacs out there whose goal in life is to hurt you. It’s hardly matters that the horror stories about poisoned candy and razor blades in apples have been exponentially overblown or are outright false; in the United States, fatal shark attacks are more common than sickness or injuries caused by tampered-with Halloween candy. It’s like the removal of monkey bars from school playgrounds: to protect children from an infinitesimal threat, we’ve taken away much of the fun.

I’ll do my part to make it up to the cherubs who appear on my doorstep by giving them extra candy—and then hoping that they won’t be so uptight when they have kids of their own.

Categories: health/safety, holidays