Thursday, March 27, 2008

The Second Close Call

I had a bizarre time last Friday (Good Friday!). DH and I stayed in our room late and had a little date since he had the day off and the boys are certainly now old enough to pour their own darn cereal and figure out how to amuse themselves and get going on homework. We came downstairs at lunchtime. DH made himself a lunch and after I cleaned up a little I made myself a little saucer with some leftovers of Irish potatoes/cabbage and a small piece of corned beef, which I heated in the microwave. You must know about me that I do not eat beef at all except some years on the occasion of St. Paddy's. I had one bite of potato, and then a tiny bite of corned beef. And it must have been the toughest morsel of corned beef in Christendom. I chewed, and chewed, and chewed, and chewed some more. But at some point that bad boy of shoe leather had to go down. Eventually I swallowed it, but it hadn't become any less tough for all the work.
And then . . . NOTHING. It went past my swallow-point, but no further. It just stuck right there in my craw. I could breathe fine, but then when I tried to swallow anything else (including, ahem, to be indelicate, my own natural saliva) I could not. I had to spit it out. I had this happen more than a year ago with a little bite of dry chicken, but after a couple of hours it resolved itself and somehow went down. This time I waited a couple hours and nothing changed. I tried to make myself throw up, but couldn't get my stomach to do anything, just my throat. I tried the following liquids with no success, just a complete 360 degree return: water, cranberry juice, coffee, seltzer (the seltzer was the WORST; thanks, DH, for your brilliant suggestion). DH kept saying, "Just gulp down a huge amount of water all at once and it will go away!" Nope. When I did that I spewed all over the kitchen. I hacked and barfed all day an no evil corned beef nugget emerged.

Finally I told DH I needed to go to the emergency room; I just could not stand it anymore and it wasn't going away on its own. DH made me drive myself to the hospital! (I believe this had something to do with NCAA basketball.) I had to take a Cool-Whip tub to spit in. (See! Jeff Foxworthy take note: recycled Cool-Whip tubs are truly useful for something other than yer family salad bowls!) Let me tell you it was all kinds of fun having to sit in the waiting room spitting up in front of a bunch of weirdo complete strangers, one of whom was so impaired he kept insisting my coat belonged to him. The rest of them were all watching basketball on the waiting room TV.

Eventually the very kind triage nurse put me in an ER bed and no one else did anything for a long, long time. People would come in and ask me what the hell that tub was and look at me like I was fresh in from the looney bin.

Lucky me, I got head doctor Vinnie Goombah and his merrie band of med students, who treated me like a retarded bag lady. (Not fair! The real, truly antique nut cases were in the beds moaning on either side of me!) I tried using my charm and sense of humor, and the med students laughed but Vinnie was too dumb to understand that I was joking around with him. This guy did not even use correct grammar, and he is a head doctor! ("If dis thing DON'T go down, we might hafta do a procee-juah on ya.") He sounded like one of the Three Stooges. He was also very insulting, telling me I should CHEW MY FOOD and JUST HOW BIG WAS THIS PIECE OF MEAT and WHY DID I TRY TO BITE OFF THE WHOLE COW AT ONCE. I was furious because I had not done those things and indeed I DO NOT EVEN EAT BEEF so why was he giving me a hard time? Oh, and a couple of times I guess he thought it was clever to make comic faces at me by thumbing his nose when others weren't looking. Right back at ya, Vinnie Goombah.

They decided to give me an IV push of something called glugagon, which relaxes the smooth muscle of the esophagus. The theory is that the blob will either go down or come back out. Well bless the heart of the guy who did the extensive venipuncture. He was good as gold. Not two minutes after the glucagon, I had the World's Biggest, Most Exhausting Barf, and he knew it was coming, and he held the bucket and patted me and got me a washcloth. Then we had to wait for twenty minutes or so. The stupid muscle spasms in my swallower did subside quite a bit, but it wasn't really over and I kept up an Olympic burpathon and feeling as though the muscles were still spazzing.

Finally, the miracle moment came when I was able to take not just one tiny sip of the mini-Coke Vinnie's minions left with me, but five sips. Then I had 1/4 cup of water, and it all stayed down. The throat was very tired, but apparently functional again.

Then a cute and patient Indian girl doctor came in, saying, "I knew you were the person I was looking for because I saw your throw-up bin!" She was the GI specialist and said they had decided to do a procedure called endoscopy, in which they knock you out, hold you on your left side, shove a cable with a camera in it down your throat, and look around for what's wrong, displaying your most private innards on a computer screen where everyone can see. Then, when they find the sticking goo, they take an instrument and shove the offending matter down. NICE.
Okay. So they promised me I would NOT REMEMBER ANYTHING because of the sedation. Ha! I remember every minute of it. Anesthesia and I do not get along and never have. What they really need is either a crazy a$$ hypnotist or a really huge cast-iron skillet to hit me over the head with. I remember having my wisdom teeth out at age 14; I also clearly remember having major abdominal surgery, when I also remember the nurses not having anyplace to put me after the pre-op "sedation" had supposedly kicked in. Therefore they put me in a basement supply closet (conveniently adjacent to the operating room) while I was STILL LUCID AND TALKING.

Anyhoo, they get me prepped and a couple of them are saying, "Are you on blood-pressure medication?" And I said, "What?" (If anything, I've always had low blood pressure; it only goes up during the stress and exhaustion of an asthma attack.) So they tell me it is going through the roof. Huh? Then they tried a cuff that fit better, and still, through the roof and I'd better tell my doctor that I need to go on blood-pressure medication fast. Despite the fact that I have BP checked as part of my normal doctor visits every two or three months, and they've never said anything about it being high. Great, that's just the kind of news I need when I'm choking to death already. I explained that I had been continuously barfing my guts out for hours, and felt as though my eyes were going to pop out. All that work came with a whopping-bad headache, too.

Furthermore, the guy who's setting me up and telling me tsk tsk about my BP feels compelled to tell me how, if this is my first time there for choking, it will not be my last time; I'll be back and we'll get to know each other real well. Then he tells me this story about a very old man who comes in almost every week because he is too lazy to put in his dentures and he bites food off whole and can't chew; he just swallows it. NICE! Like I need to know the details of Mr. Anti-Denture Man. I tell setup guy that I promise to keep my teeth in for future eating, since they are all mine and still pretty well attached. He doesn't laugh.

Finally they give me the "sedative" and I'm lying there loudly saying over and over every few minutes, "I'm still here!" so that they will know I am not knocked out and please God I want to make sure I'm fully knocked out before they start sticking things down my gullet. (All I can think of to take my mind off worry is the "sedagive!" line in Mel Brooks' "Young Frankenstein," one of my favorite movies.) Then this complete PYGMY ZOMBIE of a doctor who hasn't shaved in three days steps inside the curtain, looks straight at me with an absolutely serious white stone face without ever blinking his eyes, and says, "It's very important to CHEW YOUR FOOD," as if he expected me to sit up straight and salute him. And just in case Mr. Personality had not made his point, he said it again, exactly like a robot. Well by then I was really damn hopping mad (and the sedation was not sedating, which made me scared AND mad), and if it weren't for the fact that they had me tied to the bed with tubing and devices and beeping apparatus, and surrounded with people and another device strapped to my mouth, I would have clawed his face off. That was his entire input into the situation, and then he walked away. If I hadn't had a jaw-positioning thingy in my mouth I would have shouted, "It's very important that you GET YOUR BALLS CUT OFF so that you cannot procreate!" I was so appalled that I made a big face of complete outrage at him as he turned and walked, and one of the med students saw me and turned around and cracked up in the corner.

Just a warning to the cheery and effervescent Dr. Anderson: I know your name and I have the hospital discharge "customer care suggestion sheet" right here in my hot little hand and a Forever stamp to mail it with!

Then they started the shoving. And DO I remember it. Can I get a witness! It does not feel good to have large long foreign electronic objects shoved down into your very personal tummy. Or to have people standing behind you repeatedly pushing you onto your shoulder to keep you in position.

Anyway by 2:00 a.m. they had called DH to pick me up and I was good to go. Oh, yeah--we had to leave my car overnight because I wasn't allowed to drive under the influence of the [non] sedative. But I haven't been able to eat anything very solid all week--my throat still hurts from the probe and the prospect of food is just too traumatic. Water, smoothies, bananas, soup, quiche, cottage cheese and mashed taters are my friends and will not betray me!

So . . . I have never been so thankful for liter bottles of cold water before (I now keep one in my hand always). Or for cranberry juice and coffee. Yum. Not so much the seltzer. And I'm pretty thankful that I didn't die on Good Friday and not resurrect on Sunday.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Monday, Monday

For almost two weeks, I've avoided discussing today's topic. I had to give it time to fade a bit. For some time I could not even permit myself to think about it; such is the mind's capacity for emotional self-preservation.

The best thing I can say is that this is the story of how being a dilatory wretch might have saved my life.

On Monday, March 3, completely against my usual habits, I ventured out of the house in the early afternoon to visit the ATM at our closest neighborhood branch. (I very rarely use cash and therefore almost never go to an ATM.) The bank's only a couple of blocks away and is very small and friendly place. There's never a line of more than three customers. If a fourth comes in, that person is quickly helped by someone at the desk.

Before I left the house, I heard a brief unsubstantiated announcement on the local late-morning news that a bank in our little town supposedly had been robbed and that a state-police chase was underway. This was just background noise as I was sipping my coffee and reading e-mail. I didn't listen to it at all. There'd been a long string of bank robberies in towns around ours, but we are quite the exclusive little town, and our bank chain has never been the target. It was fairly surprising to hear that one of our town's banks had been hit. There aren't too many here, but I couldn't really imagine that ours was the one. Odds were slim to ludicrous. It's just too dinky, and there'd be so little payoff for the robber!

I got to the parking lot and headed toward the door. A woman customer was following right behind me. I got to the ATM just as the woman came into the vestibule and attempted to open the main door into the bank. I heard her jerk the door and discover that it was locked. She muttered an oath. I looked through the doors just as she swore, and saw some man in a fancy suit jump up behind the entry desk, come out in front of the desk and smile. (Completely wrong for this location. There's never a guy in a suit there. Never. ) My eyes opened wide, and instead of pretending everything was business as usual, I frowned at the man stupidly, obviously, and protractedly. The disgruntled woman immediately left as I was snatching the receipt from the ATM. As soon as I realized the doors were locked during regular business hours and some weird suit was manning the door, I knew that it was MY bank that had been robbed! I needed to swear an oath myself at that moment, not because of irritation about inconvenience like the woman behind me, but because, Thought #1: I realized I was at a crime scene immediately after something bad had happened!

Not wanting to call any attention to myself by running willy-nilly outta there, I turned and strolled swiftly to my conveniently close car on the shortest path possible. On the way to the car, I noticed some guy to my right at the edge of the alley next to the bank building with a tripod and a huge camera. I mean huge. I don't even know how he carried it in two hands. Thought #2: This guy is obviously not a surveyor. To my left, a white van with some kind of media logo showed up and parked across from my car. Non-surveyor guy kept moving around to get better images. I gunned my car out of there and straight to the grocery store across the street.

I sat in the grocery parking lot and watched the camera guy and van. Local media for sure. After hyperventilating for a few minutes, I calmed down and went into the market. Then I thanked my lucky stars for the fact that I am a lazy butt! Think. If I were an industrious, efficient person about completing chores and errands, I might have gone to the bank two hours earlier, when the nutcase was in there robbing it, in which case I might have become a frigging hostage or cross-fire fodder.

During the couple of days following the crime, the news came out that the suspect was 24 years old and a resident of this town (shocking--we don't have reprobates in this perfect little town! We only import them from the surrouding suburbs!). He had a warrant for arrest, was out on parole for robbing a woman at knifepoint two years ago, and had allegedly raped a woman over the weekend and stolen her car, the vehicle that was used in the bank robbery. State police said the guy did not use any weapon in the bank robbery, but after a multiple-town car chase during which he disabled the car he was driving by crashing and abandoning it in the local city, he fled on foot and threatened police with a knife. Ignoring all admonishment to release the weapon and comply with requests, he was eventually shot and died at the very-nearby hospital.

Damn, I'm so glad I'm lazy and keep a strange schedule! Being a punctual early bird could have gotten me killed.

Monday, Monday . . . can't trust that day! Monday, Monday, sometimes it just turns out that wa-a-a-a-y-y-y!

On the late-night news, the footage and photos showed up. For about a second and a half of footage, there I was in my tatty winter coat of a certain color and heavy boots, waddling from the parking space toward the bank door. I could tell it was me because of the hair. Of all the days to have my Mr. DeMille moment. Then I really wanted to swear.

Ah, well. Better that than knifed or worse!

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Pantry of Shame

I'm afraid the terrifying time is coming when I will soon step over the line and become my mom. I have dreaded and fended off this day all my life, but this weekend I saw it loom in all its unmistakably horrid clarity.

Years ago, when I was a kid still living in my parents' home, I remember my mom doing the grocery shopping bright and early on Saturday mornings. She did this because she worked during the week and used to scream about all the "non-working idiots" who would show up at the grocery store just after 5:00 on weekdays.

"They have all day to go there," she'd scowl. "Why do they bring all their tired, snot-nosed brats and go at the same time as the hordes of people on their way home from work? There should be restricted hours reserved only for working people." Not a bad idea. And during years when I've been a stay-at-home mom, I've always remembered that issue and gone to the store during hours when I would not infringe on harried and hurried wage earners. Conversely, during the years when I've busted my butt at work without kids or have busted my butt at work AND been a mom, I have certainly noticed exactly the shopping behavior that peeved my mother. She gave up on the after-work routine, and instead went when the store opened on Saturday. This nearly guaranteed that she was one of only a handful of people in the store, and she'd be back before 8:30 a.m., when she would then drag me out to haul in and put away the goods.

As I got older, sometimes my otherwise clueless dad would help. Mine was a dad whose domains were the garage and the vegetable garden. He needed to do nothing more than point his finger at a garden plot and prize-winning tomatoes would spring fully formed from the ground. Blindfolded, he could assemble a whole car or a hi-fi from random parts with no instructions. But ask him to do anything in the house and he was a bumbling Eeyore.

An indelible crack in our idyllic (hah! I make myself laugh so hard) family life appeared one morning when BOTH Dad and I carried in the groceries and started putting them away. I was working on the can cupboard and dry-goods cabinets. Mom was rushing out to her helmet-head, solid-resin-lacquering hair appointment. My dad was sitting on the kitchen floor stuffing things into the side-by-side refrigerator/freezer (I hate those things and will never have one. Maybe this is why). As Mom headed for the door, he yelled, "[Name!] I am about to put a pound of butter in the freezer but cannot find a place to put it. I notice that you already have no fewer than FIVE pounds of butter taking up room in this freezer along with four cartons of orange juice concentrate and five boxes of peas and carrots. Why do you insist on buying the same items every week when we already have five of everything?"

This might not seem at all profligate to people with many mouths to feed, but we were a family of three. Like me, my parents were only children, but they had grown up during the Depression. My Dad's family were much better off than my Mom's. His parents had been able to build their own house, and my dad started making money at after-school real jobs when he was 12. By the time he was 14, he had his own multiple cars and raced them illegally on some hills above LA with all his pals, a la a much-earlier "American Graffiti."

In contrast, my mom's father died in a head-on car wreck on Pacific Coast Highway (Rt. 1) when Mom was barely of school age. Her mother was a wild artist who refused to follow any straight-and-narrow path (except morally), and was always doing bizarre jobs that barely kept them afloat. One day she would write a letter to Great-grandma telling her she wanted nothing more than to be a milliner and design fabulous hats. The next day she would take a temp job as a court stenographer or work in a railroad office. They were basically poor, proper Baptist southern girls who lived in barrios on what were then the beach-rich "outskirts" of Los Angeles.

Mom told me many stories of how Grandmother would leave her in the morning before school with some change and a note telling her what to get at the grocer for dinner. They didn't have enough money to keep food in the house; they bought their goods day by day. Since they lived by the beach, it was often fish that Mom found the cheapest food. Until she died, she was the WORST fish cook ever. I think she was an intentionally pathetic fish cook. She had had her fill of it, and she had washed her hands of it. (I on the other hand could cook and eat three whole pounds of catfish or anything else and not even bat an eye, I love it so.)

But I soooooo digress! The point is that my mother had a deep-seated fear of never having enough food in the house, because most of her life she never did have enough. She told me stories of how she actually gloated that she had shoes to wear to school when the migrant-worker kids did not. Of course, as a child, I could not really imagine what this felt like. I always had two pairs of school shoes, one pair of church shoes, and tennies. But I saw evidence of want in the kitchen. I do remember as a tiny child when my mother panicked about the Bay of Pigs crisis. She freaked out and I was just a teeny preschooler and started wailing because she was wailing. We did not have a basement or a "bomb shelter" [how pathetically misguided were those?], but we sure enough had enough canned goods to feed the whole neighborhood. What good this might have done after nuclear holocaust, I cannot imagine.

We had a can cupboard that most people would call a "pantry." It started out as a simple broom closet, but my dad put shelves in it. It was floor to ceiling and narrow, but fairly deep. There was never a moment in my childhood when that cupboard was not so jam-packed with stuff that the contents wouldn't leap out at you when you opened the door. Sometimes it would open itself and items volunteered themselves. At an early age I was already trained to catch whatever flew out, having learned the hard way that it was really bad if what fell on your flip-flopped foot was a glass jar.

In my years of restocking the cupboard with new goods, I constantly would have to rearrange things so it would all continue to fit. There were certain cans that became personally legendary to me, sort of like favorite old Christmas tree ornaments. I'd dig around one month and find some ancient loganberries or pumpkin (why did we need those? I don't know! She did not bake pies). Then I'd shuffle the cans and not see them again until six months later. Rediscovering them was almost like running across an old friend or a treasured photograph. I'm pretty sure we harbored more cans of corned-beef hash than three supermarkets put together. This, however, my dad would not complain about because he loved it for breakfast.

Then there was the day when I opened the door, and something had burst over every surface in the entire cupboard. And guess whose job it was to clean it up?

I don't remember exactly what it was, but I believe it was a way-old (and sometimes things in there were over 12 years old!) can of fruit in heavy syrup. I recall the stubborn stickiness, and how I had to wash all the other cans on the shelves, and how the mess mercilessly required more and more wiping.

It was then that I secretly started culling cans. In school I was very interested in biology, especially bacteriology. Among other things, I was freaked out by the idea of botulism. (Hah, now we intentionally inject people with it!) And once I'd heard of botulism, I looked at that can cupboard in a whole new light. That cupboard suddenly looked like an EVERYTHING MUST GO sale.

Flash forward to the present. This weekend, disgusted by the lack of tidiness control I have in all rooms but the kitchen and master bath/bedroom, I started some spring cleaning in the kitchen. I had noticed that with all my winter hoarding, I could never find what I wanted from the kitchen shelves without basically removing everything, pulling out what I wanted and starting over. Furthermore, I hate it when the shelves are dusty or sticky or oil has seeped from the bottoms of bottles and left goo on the shelves. The plan of attack was to take everything out, arrange it by category the way it originally was, wipe down the shelves, and put it all back in memorized order where I could instantly find it.

To my horror, when it all came out into the clear light of day, I discovered I had already nearly become my mother.

Exhibit #1: Beans, Anyone?

This is only a partial expose. Not all of the beans are even out of the cabinet yet! Inventory: Great northern, Pink, Cannellini, Garbanzo, Black, Pinto, Blackey peas, Navy, Small white, Vegetarian baked. Not shown: Roman, Green pigeon, Light kidney, Dark kidney.

Not surprisingly, I used just a few of these to make a huge pot of chili that could feed us for nine days. Fortunately, my neighbors have gone away for a couple of days, so I'm going to put a big container in their fridge. A walk-by chili-ing. The rest, after three days, I'll freeze. Also, note to self: Invest in Goya Foods and get back some of the investment.

Exhibit #2 from the Den of Iniquity: You Say To-mah-to

Inventory: Peeled imported. Crushed organic. Crushed not organic. Sauce, sauce, sauce! Paste, domestic and imported.

Exhibit #2B: Oh, yeah, Beans, Beans, They're Good for Your Heart!
In my mother-in-law's antique mason jars:

Blue jar: Receptacle waiting for the Unknown Beans. Turtle. Red lentils and split green peas. Green lentils. Flageolet. Roasted soy. Mung.

Exhibit #2C: Wait, Did I Say "Beans"?

Oh, yeah, some others. Pea. Mung.

Exhibit #4: Pasta much?

We could feed the whole marathon: Orzo. Gemelli. Farfalle. Spaghetti, thin and regular. Pounds and pounds of cappellini. Linguine. Manischewitz fine yolk-free. Manischewitz fine regular egg. Cavatappi. Medium shells. Wide egg noodles. Homestyle egg noodles. (Even my window frogs can't stand it if I bring more on.)

Exhibit #5: Let's Go to The Movies!

Exhibit #6: What's for Breakfast, Jemmie?

Ooooh, ayyye! And toss me an oatcake with the porridge, Jemmie! (Oops, I'm marginalizing the Irish side.) Long-cooking regular. John McCann's Irish steel cut. These are just the jarred ones. There's another whole huge drum full of regular in the cabinet.

Exhibit #7: Tea for Two, or Three, or Seventy-five

Tazo Zen, loose and in bags. Tazo China Green Tips. Celestial Seasonings: Mandarin Orange Spice and Red Zinger. Edinburgh Scottish Breakfast loose. Bigelow: Cozy Chamomile and Lemon Lift. Traditional Medicinals Smooth Move (a fine laxative--note frog's position). Mighty Leaf Organic Earl Grey. Herbal chest remedy (in plastic bags--it's not what it looks like!). I'm not going to count the cocoa mix.
It's clearly an embarrassment of riches. But at least I've learned I'm better organized in the kitchen than my mother (honestly, who knew!) And to my credit, I buy stuff a few times a year at Sam's Club and BJ's. And we have more members in our family than in my family of origin.

The refrigerator is clean and reorganized every weekend, so we have a clear conscience and need not go there. The teeny freezer compartment, however, is maybe jammed from floor to ceiling and not so fun. Unorganizable on any day, it cascades whenever the door opens.

Next Confession: I didn't talk about the other half of the pantry (oils, juice, vinegars, Chinese stuff). Nor did I begin to delve into the cavernous condiment cabinet, but ALL of the condiments are regularly used, fully justified, and our whole family loves every bit of what's in it. So there.

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

Good Video

Speaks for itself. I would laugh harder if I thought it were not just too true.