Addled.

Living Inside the Migraine. 

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It starts with a missing letter in the instruction manual.

The ends of words start to evaporate.

The harder I look at them the more they disappear.

There’s no pain, though, so I’m hoping that perhaps this is something else. Even as I hope I know that I am kidding myself.

 

I am at a friend’s house, installing his new printer. It’s a simple task, but he is older, a self-professed technophobe. What’s remarkable is that he even has a computer.

Something isn’t working right though. Everything’s plugged in but it won’t print, it only wants to send a fax.  The manual, in three languages, has some trouble shooting tips.

Make sure the printer is plugged in.

Make sure the cables are secure.

The harder I try to read the manual, the more the words slip away.

 

The very first migraine I ever experienced was an ocular migraine– an ophthalmic deficit. There was no pain, but it scared the living daylights out of me. That’s not what this is, though. Oh, that’s part of it. But I know that more is coming.

Online, a number for tech support is found– of course, it’s not in the manual. The questions are automated. I answer them. Finally, I have a conversation with someone in the Philipines. A man, a woman, I can’t tell. They are very kind though I am sure they must think I am an idiot. They ask for the serial number.

I try to read the serial number, folding myself over the printer. Is that a D or a zero? It must be close enough. “Thank you so much,” the voice says.

A few minutes later I can’t remember the word “serial.”

The words are slipping away faster and faster.

The technician takes control of the computer by remote. A few settings are adjusted and the printer is working. At least I think it is working. It’s not a Mac, I’m not familiar with the platform, I can’t think of the words I need to use to explain this.

A man arrives, a friend of the friend. I know him, I can’t think of his name. I know his name. It’s not a matter of not remembering, it’s just the name won’t come back to me.

“Hello! How are you!” I offer heartily.  Because we are polite, we make the best of it. They are talking about the Westminster Dog Show. This is a topic I know very well, but I can’t follow their conversation. The sentences seem fragmented and nonsensical.

“Are you coming with us to dinner?” the friend asks.

Only the truth is left.

“I’m in a migraine, I’m so regretful. No, I’m sorry.” My face is pink with embarrassment.

“Oh no,” my friend says “I caused it.”

“No, no” I say, smiling, shaking my head. Frightened.

 

The triggers are cumulative.  Eating. Not eating. Not enough sleep. Nitrates. Stress. Pollen. Hormones. Barometric pressure. Light. The smell of diesel fuel. How they piled up this time isn’t obvious, but even it was obvious, I can’t put anything together in any kind of order. It doesn’t matter why.

They are in another room, I think. I put on my coat and gloves, find my keys, call out my goodbyes. At least I think I did. I hope I did.

The curb is awash in slush. It’s dark out. It’s a bit like being drunk, but there’s no buzz. Just clumsy.  From a stop light, I call my husband.

It’s a struggle to speak.

“It’s a migraine. Coming—  ”

The word “home” escapes me.

“House,” I say.

“Where are you?”

I think hard. I know where I am. I can’t find the name —

“Wa—something.”

“Wayne?”

“Yes.”

I am afraid I won’t be able to navigate the car into the garage, but I don’t know how to convey that. I can’t remember what a garage is called. My brain keeps tripping on “garden” and “gadget”. Those aren’t right. I try.

“I’ll bring car to the . . . porch. Will you park?”

“Of course. I’ll look for you.”

I drive methodically, but it is instinct that leads me home. There is some pain now, someone inside my head with a small hammer.

I wonder if I should go to the hospital instead.  I know that I am out of migraine meds, I’ve been out of migraine meds for months. It’s taken me 5 months to get an appointment with the neurologist, March 4.

But I will go to the hospital if I.

If I.

If I what?

If I think this is a stroke.

If I think this is a stroke I will go to the hospital.

I curl my tongue, roll it to form a tube. Inventory left and right feet, hands, shoulders. It feels like the left side of my mouth is drooping, but when I check my reflection at a stoplight, it looks fine.

Frown lines, I hadn’t noticed those.

The streets are full of rutted snow. The usual U-turn in front of the house won’t be possible. I drive around the block. Where are the flashers?

He meets me on the sidewalk, a kiss.  Our son is waiting for me, he says.

Half-an-hour ago I was fine.

The door opens and there’s my kid, smiling. “Are you okay?”

I shrug, nod.

The word is there, let me find it.

“Headache.”

In the kitchen, I break some Irish soda bread, and butter it generously. I am suddenly starving.

Did I eat today? Yogurt, blueberries, granola.

My son is explaining something. The words cascade over me like water.

“Wait. I can’t. I’m sorry. I can’t do more than three or four words.”

My husband comes in the kitchen door, stomping the snow from his feet.

“Do you want some eggs?”, he asks taking off his coat.  “You could use some protein.”

I nod. When he asks how many I don’t answer. I’m not ignoring him. I’m just so addled.

On the sofa, I sit with the buttered Irish bread. On the television, they are honoring Bob Simon on 60 Minutes. When Morley Safer talks about him, I wipe the tears from my face.

The eggs come, I eat them, measuring each bite. Focus on that one thing. The color, the texture, the warmth. A mean imitation of being drunk– everything swims around you, except a single thing you can concentrate on. In the old days, it might be the ice in the bottom of the glass. The cocktail napkin folded into abstract origami. Your lover’s mouth.

Now it is scrambled eggs.

On the sofa I doze sitting up. In half-sleep I hear Bob Simon’s voice and it confuses me. He’s dead. Oh, right. They’re covering his stories.  Srebrenica. The Lost Boys. He’s delighted to return Rafael Nadal’s serve. Naked children swimming, the Moken.

I can’t keep my eyes open. They’re playing cellos made from recycled garbage. “Mongolian horsehead fiddles”, I think, knowing as I think it that I’m wrong. Wrong continent.

When I awake, half an hour later, it’s all over. My head feels tender, like it’s been bruised on the inside somehow. But my words come back to me, lined up in order, ready to serve.  This struggle is finished, this one is done. I go into the kitchen to make a cup of tea.

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Lame

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I am the Queen of the Sensible Shoe. From the time I was a little girl in patent leather Stride Rites, to this very day, I have chosen flat shoes. Well, there was that period in 1975, when I was thirteen and traded some of my most precious possessions to the daughter of a family friend for her David Bowie style platform-soled shoes, but that was just a passing phase.

Even in those days you would mostly find me in Earth shoes (remember those?) and yes, Mother, in retrospect I agree that they were the ugliest shoes ever. And unlike my somewhat more glamorous stepsister, I wasn’t drawn to three-inch stilettos either. Mind you, Hannah was blessed with beautiful feet, like those that grace the paintings of William-Adolphe Bougeureau. I don’t have beautiful feet. I have very serviceable feet that look crudely sculpted and  stuck on the end of Very Sturdy Legs. 

Even if I could walk in them, I would look absurd in sexy shoes.

This is not to say that I have a closet full of Old Maine Trotters. Indeed, my husband is amazed at the variety of shoes I have acquired. Stegmann clogs. Doc Martens of many varieties, including the pair pictured– a birthday present to myself when I turned 51. Penny loafers. Riding boots. Sperry Top Siders. Fisherman sandals. Merrell barefoot running shoes. (More on those in a minute) And Mary Janes of every description by half a dozen of my favorite shoe makers and usually in black.

Last year, when I took up the Rehabilitation and Remodeling of Myself, I did a lot of research on running shoes. I have always found big, over-padded  athletic footwear (in white) uncomfortable in every way; not fun to wear and besides, they made me self-conscious. I was curious about the move towards “barefoot running” and I found a pair of Merrell shoes that were designed for the task– not the freaky looking ones with separate toes, just nice slender lightweight athletic shoes with a zipper. In black, of course.

I loved those shoes. They were incredibly comfortable. I wore them all summer long. And then one day when I took them off, my feet were really sore. It had been an active day, with a hike and a brief run at the end of it– and I just thought I’d overdone it. The next day my left foot was intensely painful. It was actually my neurologist who told me that I’d probably strained my Achille’s tendon after I nearly leapt off the table during a routine neurological reflex exam. She recommended RICE: rest, ice, compression, elevation.

It was really aggravating to be sidelined when I’d been making such good progress, and as soon as I was able the old shoes were back on and I was at it again. I was still having some pain in my feet, but I figured it was just a little tendonitis, nothing to get too concerned about.

I started to notice a pattern. In the morning, when I got up, I could hardly stand. After I’d been working at my desk for a while, it would be excruciating to walk into the kitchen for another cup of coffee. This was not tendonitis. This was the dreaded Plantar Fasciitis, where the fascia that runs the length of your foot becomes inflamed which mostly manifests itself as heel pain, but also general foot swelling, which would explain why some of my favorite sensible shoes no longer fit.

Strangely, the longer you walk, the more it eases off. But if you’ve been on your feet a lot, and then you stop, or sit down, or go to bed– as we all must do– God help you when you try to get back on your feet the next time. It seems so unfair. I mean, I know that my sensible shoes have helped me escape bunions, corns, Haglund’s deformity, hammertoes and sciatica– but I never expected to end up lame anyway.

My weight has a lot to do with it. My serial monogamy for shoes– when I find a pair I really love I tend to wear them exclusively until they are totally worn out. Showing dogs– which involves lots of standing and running on concrete floors. The spectre of menopause. It is mostly my left foot that is affected, and it was my left foot that had the Achille’s tendon issues. And it was my left foot that sustained numerous hairline fractures when a big hunter mare stood on it 35 years ago.

Though the prognosis is nearly  always that it takes more than a year to recover from Plantar Fasciitis, there are exercises to do, and shoes to wear and inserts, orthotics and padding to consider. This is when I really miss having health insurance, because perhaps it would be nice to have a little guidance in these matters. But free clinics aren’t interested in your sore feet and orthopedic specialists just aren’t in the budget right now.

So, I soldier on doing what I can. After all, I need these feet to carry me through another 40 years of treasure hunting, puppy training, making photographs, dancing in the kitchen and visiting zoos, museums, slums, waterfronts, burial mounds and crime scenes. I don’t have time to be lame.

One, two, buckle my shoe.

 

 

Sounding the Depth

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Is this the bottom? It feels like the bottom. Not the bottom of the stairs, with a clear path to get up and climb forward. Not the bottom of the ocean, its many fathoms, full of light and life and music. No, this is more like the bottom of deep well.

I do not feel sorry for myself.

How could I feel sorry for myself? I see around me people who are suffering more than I am. Not just “people” like amorphous children starving in far-off nations, no I mean real people. They’re dealing with terrible losses, or life-threatening illness, real crises. Not this kind of selfish malaise that keeps me from getting out of bed.

Or going to bed.

I started out nine months ago, chipper and whatnot, ready to get myself together. It went well for awhile. I stumbled, often, but I got back up again. I came to terms with living in a much reduced circumstance. I clipped coupons. I stopped going out for lunch. I figured out thirty-five ways to cook potatoes.

And then I stopped writing. And started arm-wrestling demons. I know what depression is. I did my five-years-with-a-therapist stint in college. One of the great reliefs of leaving the artistic community in New England is that I discovered that the rest of the world does not assume you have a therapist.

I could probably use a therapist now, but I can’t afford it. Hell, I can’t afford to go to lunch.

I’ve been sick since my birthday, January 16. Most of the time since then I’ve spent in bed. Yesterday, I went to the grocery store with my husband chiming in my ear about how we can’t afford anything. I bought it anyway, spending a hundred dollars on groceries that are supposed to last us until March 1st. They won’t. When we got home I was so exhausted I had to lie down. Later, I found a slip of paper on the counter where he had worked out  how much milk we would need, how much dog food, how much gasoline. He doesn’t understand how much that inspires my despair.

There is so little  joy in my life and that makes me cranky. Even the things I used to love ring hollow. When I’m cranky I alienate people and then I feel lonely and unloved and more cranky.

We’ve been waiting for our old dog to die. For months we’ve thought he was on death’s door. But not yet. And just as well, because we can’t afford that either. It may be a race to the pearly gates between my old coonhound and my grandmother. Don’t be offended, she’s eager for her heavenly reward and I don’t begrudge her that. I’d like to go and see her, but I have to measure the cost of gasoline against all the other financial considerations.

It’s exhausting, this constant weighing of importance.

So I sit, here, at the bottom of the well and look up and think it’s really not worth bothering, trying to climb out. I feel like just when my hands reach the warm grass, someone will step on them.

Retrieving the Pink

(This piece is two years old now. But the message is still the same. ~ L. ) 

 

The Marketing of Breast Cancer in America

 

One bright blue Saturday morning this October, on my way home from an assignment, I made a left turn into a throng of pink, and came to a stop. On the previous blocks I had seen a few groups of people, two or three or five, dressed in pink caps, or pink t-shirts. I hadn’t thought much of it.  It’s October after all, Breast Cancer Awareness month, there’s a lot of pink about.  But here on the long stretch of Monument Avenue, the pink undulates like a vast sea before me. Muttering to myself about how poorly the Dayton media alerts us to these things, I settle in to wait.

Pink sneakers, pink wigs, pink bandanas, pink balloons. A number of women carry pink long-stemmed roses. One scowling ginger-haired boy is bedecked with a pink plastic lei. There are dogs wearing pink dresses, and men in pink sweatshirts proclaiming “Real Men Wear Pink.” (I also saw the somewhat crass “Don’t let cancer steal second base.”) Pink jackets, pink sweaters, pink feather boas.

“Pink, it’s my new obsession,” I thought, hearing the Aerosmith song in my head.  “Pink, it’s not even a question.”  But this army of pink from the blush of a petal to the violence of fuschia, this has nothing to do with that. This, this is all about one of the most successful sales campaigns of all time: the marketing of breast cancer.

Rare is the person who hasn’t contributed in at least some small way to raising money for breast cancer awareness. We’ve bought yogurt with pink lids. We’ve bought the t-shirt. We’ve bought a pink bucket of fried chicken. A few weeks ago I made my profile photo pink on a social networking site, because being one of the half a million people that did so would increase a Canadian telecommunications company’s donation to the Susan G. Komen Foundation for the Cure to $200,000.

Breast cancer is such an easy cause to support. We think of breast cancer and we think of mothers, wives, grandmothers, sisters, daughters who might be (or are, or were) afflicted with this scourge. In truth men get breast cancer too. In 2005, 1700 men in America were diagnosed and given that the breast cancer survival rates are about equal among the sexes, more than 300 men died. Breast cancer is free of those pesky lifestyle questions that tend to dog causes like AIDS and lung cancer. People ask you and you give. The amount we’ve given collectively and as taxpayers is staggering.

One question nags at me as I thread my way through the pink. What about the other cancers?  My father died of laryngeal cancer. Is there a color for that? (The answer is: not really.) What about lung cancer victims? What about people suffering from colon cancer? Or leukemia? Or cancer of the pancreas? Where is their march, where are the yogurts and sneakers and blenders I can buy to support fundraising for them? When I got home I did some reading.

Cancer of all types accounts for about half a million deaths a year in the United States. That’s considerably less than the number of people who die from heart disease (616,067 the last time the Center for Disease Control counted.) The American Heart Association has seized their own month (February) and color (red) but it is has failed to saturate popular culture in quite the same way. When we see a red t-shirt or hat, we might be more apt to think “Red Sox” or “Ohio State;” but when we see pink garb, we see breast cancer.

Every year 205,000 people are diagnosed with breast cancer and 40,000 will die.  That’s a mortality rate of about 19 percent.  And if someone you love, or you yourself is one of those people, well that’s at least one too many. Consider for a moment some of these other deaths: colon cancer will claim 48,000 (with a mortality rate of 45 percent). 57,000 women will die from genital system cancers, of which ovarian cancer is the most pernicious, claiming 76 percent of those diagnosed. 77 percent of the 17,000 people diagnosed with a brain tumor will leave us this year. The 30,000 people that die from pancreatic cancer represent 98 percent of those diagnosed. Even with a poster boy like Patrick Swayze, the most deadly cancer there is cannot get the traction that the breast cancer industry enjoys.

The cancer that claims the most Americans every year is, hands down, lung cancer.  Although there are fewer lung cancer diagnoses than breast cancer diagnoses, there are four times the number of dead; 160,000 people annually. A hundred and sixty thousand people! That’s the population of my fair city. Every year.

Among the interminable list of those we’ve lost to lung cancer are Walt Disney, Nat King Cole, Steve McQueen, Johnny Carson, Yul Brynner, Humphrey Bogart, Edward R. Murrow, Sammy Davis Jr., Duke Ellington, George Harrison, Louie Armstrong, Ed Sullivan, Lucille Ball, Count Basie , Spencer Tracy, Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, Harry Reasoner, Peter Jennings. And my old friend Bobby Block’s marvelous wife, Donna. And my dear friend Noelle’s beloved father, Dan Sullivan, who succumbed to lung cancer secondary to Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma.

Noelle’s father (like Dana Reeve, 44 and Andy Kauffman, 35) was one of the 17,000 people who die from lung cancer every year in this country who never, ever smoked.  Where is their parade? Where can I buy a colored ribbon magnet for my car?

Other prominent causes of death in the U.S. include stroke (135,000) respiratory illnesses (like emphysema and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, 128,000) Alzheimer’s disease (75,000) diabetes (71,000) and the flu (53,000) none of which enjoys the kind of media attention and generous funding that breast cancer does.

The National Cancer Institute is one of the eleven agencies of the National Institutes for Health, a division of the US Department of Health and Human Services.  The N.I.H. allocates approximately 2.5 billion dollars a year towards research for the treatment of heart disease. The N.C.I. funds six billion dollars a year towards cancer research. So, even though twenty percent more Americans die of heart disease, it gets less than half the funding cancer does.

In a 2008 piece for the New York Times, Tamara Parker Pope delineated the amounts that NCI spent “per diagnosis” and “per death” in the most prevalent cancers. Prostate cancer got one of the smallest amounts per diagnosis, a mere $1318. But because the prognosis of prostate cancer is generally not fatal, the amount is a whopping $11,298 per death.  Colon cancer research gets $2361 per diagnosis, or $4,566 per death. Pancreatic cancer, reflecting its sad death-sentence nature, gets $2297 per diagnosis, which works out to $2200 per death. Lung cancer (remember 160,000 deaths a year) gets the worst funding of all– $1,518 per diagnosis, $1,630 per death.

And breast cancer? Breast cancer’s allocation is $2596 per diagnosis, or $13,452 per death.  The total amount of funding NCI provides to finding effective treatment of lung cancer is $261 million dollars a year. The total amount they provide for finding effective treatment of breast cancer is $538 million dollars.

This is not the money from the pink sneakers or the walk-a-thons or “DVDs for the Cure.” This is money collected from taxpayers to be allocated by the federal government. Given that this is government funding, it might be reasonable to suppose that it be allocated in accordance with the number of people afflicted by type of cancer. It’s not. Perhaps it is allocated by the deadliness of the particular cancer?  Nope. It’s allocated on the basis of the strongest lobbying efforts. There’s something morally wrong with that.

Then there’s the money from all the other sources, the “pink” money. The money from the Canadian telephone company, from the sales of pink Snuggies, pink Barbies, pink golf clubs, pink m & ms, tickets on Delta’s pink Boeing 747.

The revenue stream for the Susan G. Komen Foundation for the Cure in 2009 was $298,685,007.  (Or about $7,467 per death.) Since 1982 they have funneled tens of billions (that’s with a “b”) into breast cancer research and awareness. Do they have any answers yet? The sad truth is no. Though the Centers for Disease Control reports a one percent downturn in both cancer diagnosis and deaths across the board, there has not been any significant improvement made in the area of breast health.

Though many people know the name “Susan G. Komen,” (and have supported the organization, either intentionally or unwittingly), most couldn’t tell you who she is or was.

Diagnosed with breast cancer in 1977 at the age of 33, Susan Komen died three years later. Her younger sister, Nancy Goodman Brinker launched the foundation in her sister’s memory in 1982. On the 25th anniversary of the organization, the name was changed to “Susan G. Komen Foundation for the Cure,” and adopted the explicit (and utterly unattainable) mission to “end breast cancer forever.”  Such a pie-in-the-sky goal would seem to indicate a basic lack of understanding of the mechanism of any cancer.  They might as well express a desire to farm unicorns.

But their supposedly naïve expressed goal to “end breast cancer forever” is actually something far more cynical. They know that there will be no “ending breast cancer forever.” By hoisting such a lofty and impossible goal they can go on raising money forever, and they want to because as it turns out the commercialization of breast cancer research is very big business.

It used to be that October shopping meant autumnal colors, or orange and black for Halloween. Not any more. Take a look down the cosmetics aisle of any drugstore and what do you see? Pink. There are pink tennis balls (promising 15 cents per can donation to “a breast cancer research organization.”). There are Lean Cuisine boxes sporting a printed pink ribbon. (There’s actually no donation associated with these at all. But there’s a notice on the box directing you to the Lean Cuisine website, where you can buy a pink Lean Cuisine lunch tote, and five dollars of that price goes to Susan G. Komen.) There are pink treadmills, pink appliances, NFL players in pink cleats, pink stationery, even fishing guides on the Madison river in a pink driftboat. Pink pink pink pink.

“Don’t get me started about the “pink” money,” my friend Kelinda wrote. “I left the cancer center to work in mental health . . . night and day difference in funding.”

A woman commenting on a story in the Boston Globe about the pink phenomenon wrote: “The pink ribbon is one thing, but pink everything is way, way too much. My mother survived with breast cancer for 12 years and if I thought for one minute that a pink blender would have helped her cause I would have gone out in a heartbeat and bought one. But it doesn’t help the patient, only the corporation.”

There’s the rub. Corporations are making a lot of money off of breast cancer, and as a woman in a Toronto Globe and Mail said “It’s the commercialization of my disease.” Breast cancer research groups and activists have coined the term “pinkwashing” to apply to corporations that they feel are trying to boost their own image through breast cancer fundraising, even though they manufacture products that may (or may not) contribute to the incidence of breast cancer. Considered “pinkwashing” are BMW’s one-dollar-donation-per-test-drive  (because cars contribute to air pollution) the pink branding of many cosmetic companies (because wearing makeup can be harmful to your health) and Kentucky Fried Chicken’s pink bucket campaign, in which Yum! Brands donated fifty cents per pink bucket.

The chief objection to the KFC fundraising seemed to center on the concern that eating fried chicken isn’t healthy, and that given the location of many KFC restaurants in low-income areas that Yum! Brands was promoting unhealthy eating on the back of breast cancer awareness. (Gee, maybe they should have been raising money for heart disease. That seems like a more direct link.)

However, it is important to note that through this campaign Yum! Brands made atwo million dollar donation to Susan G. Komen for the Cure. (And they sold about sixty million dollars worth of chicken in the process.) Talk of “pinkwashing” or not, Susan G. Komen Foundation lent their name to the promotion and they took the money, so they are as culpable as the businesses with whom they climb into bed.

Last Christmas I unwrapped a pink Cuisinart hand mixer, and my heart sank.  I wanted the mixer, it wasn’t that. (I have a Kitchen-Aid stand mixer, but sometimes (like whipping cream) that’s more mixer than you need.) The Cuisinart is an excellent mixer. I absolutely hated the fact that it was pink. Even before I’d looked into how much money is funneled into breast cancer research, even when I only suspected that companies were probably making an obscene amount of money on these special pink items, they felt exploitive to me. (Cuisinart gives three percent of the purchase price to Susan G. Komen, so about two bucks for my mixer.)

I looked at that mixer in my hands and I thought about how breast cancer gets so much attention and the other cancers so little. I wondered what it would feel like to have breast cancer and see so many people making so much money off of it, and I put the mixer away deep in the back of the cupboard.

Then one day I had cause to use it, and as I was fitting the beaters, I thought about how breast cancer activism and marketing has stolen pink from us. I’ve had some great pink things. A favorite pair of lace-up leather boots, pink-striped pajamas, pink lipstick, pink peonies, pink socks, a pink mohair sweater.

Pink used to make us think flamingos and bubble gum and cotton candy.  Pink should be ballet slippers and Peter Seller’s panther, pink ladies and strawberry ice cream.  That’s when I decided that my pink mixer would be the pink of pink cadillacs, of baby hats, a froth of tutu, Memphis’ Pink Palace.

We can be “tickled pink,” or “in the pink.” Let us all be pinkos and let none of us get pink slips. We can grow pinks and eat at Pink’s Hot Dog stand, listen to Pink Floyd and sleep on pink sheets. (Or get our stock quotes from them.) There is summertime, with pink watermelon, your dog’s pink tongue, her pink collar.  There are pink collar jobs, usually held by women.

And there’s the pink triangle. The Nazis made homosexual prisoners in concentration camps wear pink triangle badges. 15,000 pink-triangle wearing men were annihilated during the Holocaust. In the 1970s, the pink triangle was reclaimed by gay activists and re-invented as a symbol of gay pride. (As a side note, the Nazis had a wide variety of colored triangles: red for political prisoners and liberals, green for criminals, blue for foreigners, purple for Jehovah’s witnesses, black for gypsies, the mentally-ill, alcoholics, pacifists, and lesbians and yellow for Jews.)

The American Cancer Society has an official roster of colors for the various cancers, some are a little thoughtless: yellow for bladder cancer, black for melanoma, gray for brain cancer. Lung cancer doesn’t have a color, just “clear.” Clear t-shirts? No wonder they’re not marching. And pink for breast cancer.

Except that we don’t have to go along. Fight to reclaim pink, all the Crayola colors from Carnation  Pink (1949) to Ultra Pink and Shocking Pink (1972) Tickle Me Pink (1993) Pink Flamingo, Piggy Pink and Pink Sherbet (1998).  Don’t let your daughters grow up to think that pink means fear and fighting and chemotherapy. Sing of Little Pink Houses and dream of pink elephants.  Tell your kids to turn down the P!nk CD. You can be pink with embarrassment with talk of pink canoes and pink sausages.

Give directly to charities that are important to you. Donate to heart disease research. Make a gift to fight specific cancers. Give to your local animal shelter. Spend your money to end domestic violence. Breast cancer research has already had more than its fair share of our collective wealth.  We’ve been conditioned: we see pink, we think breast cancer. It doesn’t have to be so. Reclaim pink in your own life. Stop feeding the pink pig. Stop buying. Put an end to marketing of breast cancer “awareness,” end the exploitation. Cancer can’t be cured through shopping.

The Doctor is Out.

1930s hanging sign from the collection at the Glenbow Museum

You’d think that having grown up with a doctor in the house that I’d be inclined to visit doctors more often. But I don’t have health insurance anymore, so it’s somewhat impractical for me to spend much time seeking medical advice. But even when I did have excellent health insurance coverage I didn’t go to doctors then much either. My regular family physician in Montana was a bit of an alarmist, and once wanted to send me by care flight to the cardiologist because I felt “funny.” He also suggested that I had leprosy when it was really just poison ivy, but that was a joke I think.

I do have a doctor here: a neurologist I like very much. Her first visit lasted for two hours and cost $250. I see her four times a year at $85 a pop, after which she sends me away with enough samples of migraine medication to last me ’till next time. It’s good value. She’d like me to have an MRI and maybe a few other tests, especially after a few little episodes last spring that seem a little too much like transient ischemic attacks, or “mini-strokes,” which aren’t strokes at all, I don’t know why people insist on calling them that.

But I don’t have health insurance and I haven’t gotten around to calling every MRI provider in the region to see who will give me a good deal. I will, I just haven’t gotten to it yet. She’s the only doctor I see, and that’s the only prescription I have, so you don’t have to do much math to see that my medical costs are under $500 a year.

God help us if something serious happens to me.

I’m not a good candidate for health insurance and I’m hoping that the healthcare reform act may ease that. For a long time, I couldn’t find anyone who would insure me. Then I found that I could get insurance through a high-risk pool. (I fell on my head 34 years ago.) For $800 a month. And an enormous deductible I’d never meet.  So I go on hoping that my lifetime of general good health will continue.

When I was out with a friend the other night, she and I were talking about this. She suggested that if I had health insurance, that I’d see doctors more often, right?  Like the dermatologist?

Ouch. I have rosacea, but I’d never see a dermatologist for it. I can’t stand dermatologists, I think they’re the closest things to charlatans in the medical field. There’s no cure for rosacea. They have found that doxycycline works quite well, but they market it as “Oracea” and charge an arm and leg for a routine antibiotic that’s available for little or nothing. “Oracea” symbolizes to me everything that is wrong with the American Medical system.

No, even if I was well-insured, I wouldn’t be at the doctor’s unless I was too sick to do anything else. Which, I realize, is different from how other people view medicine. We knew this couple, trapped together in a rather awful marriage who each used “illness” as a means of getting emotional support from their partner that was otherwise unavailable.

I’d never seen people who went to the doctor as much as this pair.  They were consumers of medical services. She didn’t just take probiotics to put her gut in order, she went for dozens of invasive and complicated tests that revealed she had IBS and should take  probiotics to put her gut in order. He’s had more rotator cuff surgeries than ten men. A week didn’t pass when one or both of them didn’t have an appointment with the internist, the ophthalmologist, the chiropractor, the podiatrist, the dentist, the gastroenterologist, the orthopaedist, or the cardiologist. Oh, and the therapist.

I have sympathy for them, truly, but this strikes me as a misuse of medicine. They don’t take their car to the mechanic every week, or their dog that frequently to the vet. I don’t think that they’re anymore afraid of dying than any of the rest of us are. I think they’re just lonely. Think about it: the doctor really wants to know how you are. If you’re not as you should be, the doctor expresses concern, and seeks a means to heal you. That could get to be heady stuff.

When I was in college, everyone had a therapist. (This was Boston, which is also part of that.) It wasn’t until I moved to Montana that I realized that it wasn’t that we all needed therapy (though maybe we did) — it was that we were all narcissists and wanted to spend 50 minutes a week talking unabashedly about ourselves and our real or imagined neuroses.

I’m sorry that single payer health care reform didn’t take hold here. It is a simple means to provide health care for a population– and we already have the mechanics for it in Medicare. (If you’re gearing up to write me a comment about the ills of socialized medicine, let me stop you from wasting your time. I’ve been an occasional patient in socialized health care systems since I was 10 years old, and can find no fault with them that doesn’t exist in our system. I have seen them from the point of view of both patient and doctor. I know it works, that’s why the rest of the civilized world uses it.) But a uniquely American problem with that kind of system would be what to do about the “medical consumers,” those people who seek out doctors not just for health care, but for entertainment.

I don’t know what the answer is. I hope I don’t end up paying more to be insured than I pay for health care, but I probably will. Perhaps there will be peace of mind in knowing that if I had to deal with something really bad, we won’t lose our house to pay for it. In the meantime, I’ll go on taking my probiotic, and eating stuff that makes me feel good and trying to get a little more exercise; whatever it takes to keep me upright.

….

Target today 71. Steps. 2392

Breakfast: scrambled eggs with a little cheese and a tortilla. Lunch: yogurt with granola Dinner: home-made shrimp tacos with avocado, crema, cilantro. 

This is Not Goodbye.

 

This is not goodbye. I’m not quitting. It’s not even “I’ll be back in a little while.” It’s more like “Excuse me for a minute while I go to take a pee.”

Yesterday’s post– about it being time for recess– was met with questions, assumptions, howls of protest, and many queries, public and private. Hey, kids, you made me feel all warm and fuzzy, thank you.

I am not quitting.

In fact, yesterday’s post was to assuage concerns that my lackadaisical approach did not mean that I was going to quietly drop off the face of the blogosphere. I realize I have not  been as focused on the diet and exercise facets, and I know that I have written that I’m not sure exactly how I’m going to continue this.

But honey, if you want to be, you’re definitely along for the ride.

Here are a few examples of the conundrums that stare at me like a flock of blinking sheep under the bed. I set out to lose 80 pounds. I’ve lost 25. But really, I think I’d rather lose 100 pounds. If we all go through this together and arrive at 80 pounds, will I want to start over for twenty more?

What if it takes longer than Twelve Moons– a year? Does that matter? Should I change the blog’s name then to Twelve More Moons? Can I make the writing more interesting? Can I make the exercise more interesting? I’m sick of the whole step thing, I tell you. When people tell me, oh so blase, that they walk an average of 10,000 steps a day it sets my BS alarm off. 10,000 steps a day is a lot.

If you have a job where you sit in a chair most of the day– unless you are going to incredible efforts outside of work, you’re not logging five miles a day. You’re just not. (Nurses, teachers, some retail folks, people in agriculture, letter carriers– yeah, I can see that you are walking that many and more– but even when that’s the case, so many of you are still so plump– so what gives?) Sex burns more calories than walking 10,000 steps and it’s more efficient but that only really works if you and your partner are awake at the same time.

There is still all that other stuff: the Y, cycling, the pool, showing dogs, etc. And I will get to that, but along the way, I am going to have to do a more reasonable job with time management. There’s an ad on television lately with supposed Olympic athletes saying things like “I haven’t watched TV since last summer” and “That great book everyone’s talking about? I haven’t read it.”  “A day off? I don’t remember the last time I took a morning off.” Maybe I need to take a leaf from that.

I need to tell the story I need to tell. I need to improve my health and fitness. I need to take better care of my responsibilities to my household: husband, son, dogs, the house itself. That horribly long to-do list from last week is not much shorter, but I have lined through a few things.

So, I’m not going anywhere. There may not be one of these every day, but there will be a post more days than not. Until I figure out exactly how I’m going to re-shape the program to capture my interest again, I won’t be reporting on the target numbers, steps taken, or what I’ve had to eat. Not because I’m cheating– the changes I’ve made in those areas have stuck– I eat better, I feel better, I am more fit– those are lifestyle changes and I feel good about them. I’m not reporting those things because until I figure out the path to meet the goal, there is nothing to report.

See you tomorrow.

Hang out with all the boys . . .

I finally made it to the Y today. At the membership desk they really pressed me to apply for a reduced cost membership, so now I have to wait for their decision on the same, but in a few days, I should be good to go, bar code in hand. In the meantime, I had a tour.

The downtown Dayton YMCA was purpose built alongside the river in 1927. Like most YMCAs, it no longer offers hotel service, and that part of the enormous building has been transformed into apartments and condominiums. Through its sister organization, the YWCA, the Y does offer shelter in Dayton for homeless women at another facility and many YMCAs around the country are leaders in transitional and homeless sheltering. And there are actually a few Ys around the country that still offer regular hotel-style lodging, in Chicago and New York, for about a hundred bucks a night.

But not Dayton. In Dayton, the Y’s amenities are limited to weight room, cardio room, yoga classes, aerobics, Pilates, spinning, indoor running track, two indoor gyms with basketball, whirlpool, sauna, steam rooms, pool and racquetball courts. What is particularly wonderful about the downtown Y is that most of the facility still bears the hallmarks of  its original art-nouveau design. Beautiful tiles around the pool, fantastic ceiling moldings, absolute classic old gymnasiums. Parts of this YMCA could be a movie set for a great athletic epic from the thirties: The Hazel Leona Walker Story, or something.

It pleases me to say that when we were there at 5 p.m. on a Monday afternoon, that the Y was hopping. People were streaming in after work to get in a few laps, or reps, or whathaveyou. I asked what the quietest time of the day is (mornings) and I expect that’s when we’ll go. The members of the Y are skinny, fat, tall, short, black, white, old, young, fit and not fit and run the gamut from lovely to less so. I’m sure I can find my place along that spectrum somewhere. There’s even a bike rack where I can park my bike.

In other news, I had a migraine today, the first in months. I managed to knock it down with Relpax, but that left me feeling a bit flat for most of the day. I am wondering if it was not a direct result of my slide into the slough of despond. Have to watch that.

The other thing is this: on a public forum about the Chick-Fil-A controversy, a youngish woman, quite plump, and quite southern, delivered an extensive screed on the Bible and how stupid we all were to boycott Chick-Fil-A; you know the usual spew of prejudice and hate.

I felt compelled to respond to her and wrote “. . . and from the looks of your photograph, you might want to miss a few trips to Chick-Fil-A.” I didn’t post it. I didn’t post anything finally, but I was horrified that I too had fallen into that awful behavior of saying mean things to people because they’re fat.

If she’d been physically ugly or had a big nose (neither is the case) I would never had said anything about those aspects of her appearance. But because she was overweight, I was right there about to utter a phrase I knew would hurt her the most. Yes, she’s a hateful shrew, but I don’t have to sink to her level. I am most relieved that I caught myself before I said something that really would have made me ashamed.

Hit the ground running this morning and forgot to weigh, so no target number still.  Steps: 6168. Breakfast: yogurt with granola, two hard-boiled eggs. Lunch: green salad with chicken and avocado, feta cheese. Half a chocolate croissant. Dinner: three scrambled eggs, two cups of watermelon.  With the Olympics: half a cup of frozen yogurt.