Friday, September 19, 2014

Blood Simple

(First published around 2001. Just as true now, especially this morning.)

I dread my annual physical exam at the OB/GYN's office. And no, it's not for the reasons you're probably thinking. I have a great doctor -- in addition to her capability as a physician, she's friendly, intelligent, compassionate and has a great sense of humor -- so one part of the physical goes just fine. No, I hate having my annual because, since I'm overweight, my doctor is fastidious about checking my cholesterol and blood glucose levels. That means that each time I have an annual, I go through the jolly rigamarole of a blood draw. (Cue ominous music.)

Let's put this simply: when it comes to drawing blood, I am a turnip. I've seen enough failed attempts now to know that there are no accessible veins in the crook of my arm, and no matter how optimistic a treasure hunter you are or how much you're willing to persist in looking, YOU WILL NOT FIND THEM. In point of fact I have developed a minor phobia regarding blood draws, because they usually take a while and there's always at least one unsuccessful attempt.
Much good THIS thing's ever done me.
You'd think that since I take the time to point out this fact to each new doctor or physician's assistant, it would no longer be a problem. You would be wrong. Just once I would like to have a physician or PA who LISTENS when I say it's hard to get blood out of my veins, instead of taking it as a personal challenge. A few years ago I had a doctor who, confident of her own mastery in bloodletting, poked me four separate times before finally admitting defeat and sending me across town to a clinic. I looked like an incompetent junkie, and had prize-winning bruises for weeks.

This morning I dealt with a perky blonde PA, whom we shall call Sally in order to protect the guilty party. Sally was cheery at far too early an hour, which was one strike against her as far as I was concerned. (As an unrepentant night person, I'm usually barely cogent before 9 a.m.; any alertness I may have exhibited at my 8:30 appointment was fueled by sheer adrenalin.) She also had a loud, forced laugh. Oh, the joy.

Sally ushered me into an exam room, where all the usual paraphernalia was prepped and ready. I gave her the usual spiel about how I have a difficult time giving blood, and her eyes lit up. Bad sign #1.

"Oh, hon, I worked in a clinic for years," she said eagerly. "We took people right off the street, and we could get blood out of anybody." Bad sign #2.

I sighed inwardly and prepared to become a pincushion.

We tried all the standard little tricks: tourniquet, drop arm below heart level, pump fist, palpate for vein. Lather, rinse, repeat. Nothing worked. Oh, she could feel the vein just fine; it was somewhere in there, under the skin. But when she dug the needle in and began merrily probing into my left arm, "ay, there's the wonder of the thing! Macavity's not there!"

Undaunted and determined, Sally strapped up my right arm and repeated the process. Probe, wiggle, slide. Nothing. At this point, the combination of 12-hour fast, mobile needle in my arm, and sudden lack of oxygen all began to get to me, and I warned Sally that I was about to faint. She tartly reminded me to breathe. It was then that I suggested (if I hadn't been close to passing out, I would have demanded) going downstairs to the blood draw lab, where they have a phlebotomist on call.

Happily for me, Sally accepted defeat at this point, and I stumbled downstairs. The phlebotomist took one look at my punctured arms, picked up a butterfly needle kit and hit a vein on the first try. Her secret: she picked a clearly visible vein on the back of my hand. It did hurt a bit, but at least it was over quickly.

At the moment, I'm still nursing my wounds. However, on Monday I think I'll call my doctor and have a note put in my file: "For blood draw, send to phlebotomist." Maybe that'll do the trick, but I won't hold my breath.

For one thing, I might pass out.

(It's even worse now that I'm a diabetic, because I have to get blood draws on a regular basis. After this morning's merry adventure, I've got punctures on both my hands to no avail -- close, but no cigar, nurse! They're sending me over to LabCorp, but I'll go when I'm good and ready. And healed up.)

Monday, September 15, 2014

Family Home Evening activity: pumpkin lanterns!

(Mom is here visiting! Fun!)

Halloween approaches apace. And our very own cut-rate Martha Stewart, aka Miss V, has been preparing for her favorite holiday since mid-July or so. She was at the dollar store with me the other day when she saw these little orange glass lanterns -- the kind that hold tealights -- with fluted sides. Instantly V saw them as crafting gems in the rough, and she knew what we were going to do on Monday night.

So today, after a quick trip to Dollar Tree to pick them up and another quick trip to Ben Franklin to score some sticky-backed black vinyl, we had a Family Home Evening crafting activity.

Here are the results:

Pumpkin lanterns!

We already had a big bag of IKEA tealights in the pantry, so we added a light to each one and then lit them with a long noodle (it's easier and less finger-burning to set fire to lengthy pasta than to try to reach down into one of these things with a short kitchen match).

L to R: Mom's lantern, Captain Midnight's lantern

L to R: my lantern, Miss V's lantern

Don't you like the way they shed sunburst rays in every direction? I'm thinking about stringing them on thin wires and hanging them outside for Halloween, assuming it isn't too windy on Halloween night.

Friday, September 12, 2014

Keenan Arthur Galloway

When we first moved to Washington, Captain Midnight and I lived in a little rectangular tract house in the Renton highlands that we semi-affectionately called the Blue Shoebox. It was built during World War II, had crappy baseboard heating and a wood stove, no insulation, a tiny kitchen that seemed tacked on as an afterthought, and a leaking roof in an area where it rains some 9 months of the year. We spent a lot of time wiping the walls with bleach solution to stave off mildew, and didn't spend much time getting to know our neighbors. The sense of isolation was almost tangible.

Then we were introduced to the Galloway family, who became our first real friends in Renton. At the time, Garon and Dawn were a young married couple with a little boy named Keenan. I got to know Dawn by coming over to visit and help with Keenan's everyday health care. Keenan had been born with a number of serious health issues -- club feet, hydrocephalus, ataxic cerebral palsy -- and a congenital diaphragmatic hernia (essentially, a hole in his diaphragm) which had caused his digestive tract to float up into his chest cavity, hampering the development of his heart and lungs. So many doctors told Dawn her son would not live to see his first birthday, but she was determined to find a doctor who believed in Keenan's ability to survive and thrive as much as she and Garon did. And somehow, thanks to their care and Keenan's own determination to live, he kept befuddling the doctors who predicted his early death.

Keenan did a lot of things no one expected him to do. Not only did he live to see his first birthday, he just kept on living to see the birth of his five younger siblings, various milestones in school including high school graduation, participation in track and field events as part of the Special Olympics, and (unfortunately) necessary adventures in and out of the hospital for corrective surgeries and medical emergencies.

Because his lung capacity was never great enough, Keenan was mostly nonverbal, but he figured out ways to make himself understood. He used his body language to respond to verbal comments. He learned signs. He had a sound board. He used social media. More to the point, he often expressed himself through his sense of humor and his big, glorious toothy grin.

When he was a toddler, I used to call it his "lion grin" because his spiky hair and pronounced little canines reminded me of a lion.

(Funnily enough, Keenan adored musicals, including "The Lion King," and the Galloways went to see it when it came to the Paramount in Seattle.) Keenan radiated a sense of happiness and positivity, even on days when he didn't feel well. His infectious grin and the spirit behind it touched pretty much everyone who knew him.

And because he'd already lived so long, I don't think anyone really expected him to die.

Every night before bed, Keenan would come into his parents' room and sign "good night" to them. The night before he died, he went in three different times to tell them good night. Garon is convinced, and I agree, that Keenan had a premonition he would not be seeing them the next morning.

Keenan died on September 8, in his sleep. He was 19 years old.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Bullet Journal! *pew pew*

I know it will shock to pieces anyone who has ever seen the state of my computer desk, but I have a little trouble getting organized. To date my attempts at organization include memorizing my to-do lists (*BZZZT* WRONG!), writing them down on small pieces of paper (and promptly losing them), looking askance at Franklin Planners and the like, and steadfastly refusing to get a mobile device. I need something highly configurable to my own needs, something small enough to be portable and big enough not to get lost, something that will still work when the power goes out, something that doesn't have to rely on my own very ephemeral short-term memory.

I think I've found it.


Costs as much (or as little) as you choose, highly customizable, keeps track of all the bits and pieces of everyday errands, even has space for doodling and scribing down story ideas. And it doesn't plug into anything or have a battery life. Thank you, Ryder Carroll!

I've only been using my particular cheapie bullet journal (a quad-rule paper composition book) for a few days, but I'm liking it a lot. And I am successfully Getting Stuff Done, which is a huge boost.

Friday, September 05, 2014

Efficacy

ef·fi·ca·cy noun \ˈe-fi-kə-sē\

: the power to produce a desired result or effect
--Merriam-Webster online dictionary
If you've been reading this blog a long time (as in "for years now"), you may remember the general request made for prayer on behalf of Devin Munk, who at the time was 14 and in the direst medical trouble after a hiking accident.

Perhaps you might be interested in a follow-up. Devin is now 20 years old, an alumnus of the Nerd Brigade, properly addressed as Elder Munk, and serving as an LDS missionary in Ogden, Utah. On September 1 he posted the following to Facebook:
6 years ago today my life ended. Literally, the earth came out from under my feet and took me over the edge. A 100 foot free-fall, 17 or so broken, but mostly shattered bones, internal lacerations, paralysis from the waist down and so on. I was not dead but life as I knew it was over. The doctors predicted death, or at least severe crippling (amputation of my legs, permanent paralysis below the waist and possibly other things.) However, my father, Steve Munk, administered to me a priesthood blessing, through the priesthood of God that he holds as a worthy member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. As directed by the Holy Ghost he commanded my body, in the name of Jesus Christ, to be healed. I am not dead, I am not paralyzed, I have both of my feet, I can walk for hours every day and you cannot even tell by looking at me that I have ever been injured in my life.

The recovery took half the time the doctors predicted, or less, for almost everything mending. This time was a blessing, in retrospect, because though it was faster than predicted it still took months to get out of the hospital bed and years to feel normal. It was a blessing because I learned how important the gospel of Jesus Christ was to me. Before it was important in my life and to my family, but now it was real. My angel mother, KayLyn Munk, despite her distress and exhaustion, would read to me, upon my request, from the Book of Mormon: Another Testament of Jesus Christ. It brought me peace and comfort, lying there in agonizing pain in the hospital. The Spirit testified then to me of the reality of our Savior, Jesus Christ and His sacrifice and suffering for our sins. Contemplating this, in context of the pain I was then experiencing, I turned my head to my mom, and asked her, "how did He do it, how did Christ do it?" But I know that He did!

Because of Him I am healed. Because of Him, though my life ended, it started anew. Because of Him I can be forgiven of my sins and mistakes and every day become a better person. Because of Him I am happy, and can be eternally so as I enter back into His presence, and into the presence of our Father after this life. I so testify in the name of Jesus Christ, amen.
In this life, you are free to believe in anything you choose, or to believe in nothing at all. You can believe in the goodness of God, in the power of science, in the whimsy of flying spaghetti monsters and invisible pink unicorns. You can believe only in yourself. Or you can just believe you'll have another drink. It's your call.

As for me, I believe that Devin was healed by the power and inspiration of God, as a response to his faith, his family's faith, and the many, many prayers that were made on his behalf. I believe each of us has a specific job to do on this earth, and that Devin's broken body responded so well to treatment -- and his physicians were inspired to perform to the best of their abilities -- in part because he still has a critical role to play. For those watching carefully, time may reveal the nature of that role.

Is Devin scarred from the experience? Yes, absolutely. Is he completely healed of his injuries? No. But he is a visible manifestation of miraculous healing, he has a powerful testimony of what faith and prayer can do, both to save lives and to save souls, and he's not afraid to share it. And that's part of what he's doing on his mission.

I believe that faith and prayers are both efficacious. Go back and read the definition of efficacy again carefully before you scoff; these acts do not always have the power to produce an expected result, but they have the power to produce a desired result. Very often I've seen prayers answered in an unexpected way, and these unexpected-but-still-desired answers produced results far superior to what people had originally asked for. (Besides, what do we expect God to be? Some kind of celestial vending machine? Honestly.)

Monday, September 01, 2014

The liar

For most of my adult life, I've lived with the liar.

As far as I can remember, the liar first entered my life when I was eight or nine, proceeded to become my inseparable companion in junior high, continued to keep tabs on me in high school, and volunteered to be my full-time roommate for several years of college. Since then it's been something of an on-again, off-again relationship -- mostly off-again, thank heavens, because liars are hard to live with.

But then, that's sort of the point. The liar wants me to stop living.

It took me a while to realize that the liar was there. See, liars aren't visible to the naked eye, and they don't have voices of their own, so they learn to use yours. They watch and listen. They discover your faults, your bad habits, your secret horrors, the things you hope no one ever finds out about you. They wait for the right moment. And they strike.

It doesn't feel like an attack. In fact, unless you've trained yourself to recognize how the liar operates, it might feel like you're alone with your own natural thoughts. But these thoughts are dark and disordered: You are worthless. You are useless. You are evil. You deserved to be hurt. You are broken, and will never be right again. You are a waste of space, time and money. Nothing will ever get better than it is right now. You are stuck in an endless loop of despair, and the only way out is oblivion. The best thing you could do would be to remove yourself from the picture. Over and over again, the liar whispers into your ear, its voice a perfect simulation of your own so that you'll pay attention, its words a stream of thick black poison, urging you to swallow them and die.

At times I've made the liar go away with medicine. Counseling provided a good antidote to the poisonous thoughts when I was in high school. Exercise sometimes helped chase it off, as did any creative act. And faith has given me the rock to which I cling, the belief that every human being has inherent, infinite worth. But in all cases, when the liar starts whispering things to me, I've found it extremely useful to externalize it, give it a physical form. Sometimes it's a particular mean girl from junior high, her hair and clothes still reeking from her smoke break in the girls' bathroom. Sometimes it's the college guy who callously broke my heart and crunched the shards under his foot. Sometimes it's the man who abused me when I was a child. It doesn't really matter what face I give it, as long as I make it look like a cruel, supercilious douchebag and recognize that it's trying to kill me. Because the minute I externalize the liar, give it a face I recognize as dangerous, and see its actions for what they are -- then I can fight it.

I can turn and tell it off. I can refuse to let it dictate its lies to me. I can tell it that it doesn't get to be in charge of my life -- not how I choose to live it, and sure as hell not how it's going to end.

Depression lies. It wants you to believe you're worthless. It wants to suck the joy from your life. It constantly seeks to make you believe that the world would be a better place without you.

Kick it square in the nads.

Saturday, August 30, 2014

A ditty

(Apologies in advance to Iggy Azalea)

I do laundry
You already know
I'm folding T-shirts
That say "Neo-Tokyo"

I do laundry
Hot, warm or cold
A touch of Clorox
Gets out mo-oo-oo-old