Colonoscopies: How Full Of It Are You

Colonoscopies. Everyone who loves one raise your hand, so I can identify who I’m suspicious of. Don’t give me that Happy Anesthesia nappie excuse.

My partner just had one; the man drinks his two cups of battery acid and, at most, says, “that kinda sucked.” He craps once or twice, goes to bed, repeats, and that’s it. He always gets a gold star for being squeaky clean.

I resent him.

There’s a tremendous amount of drama involved, with my all-too-frequent colonoscopies. I have Neuroendocrine Cancer, origin my GI tract, or what’s left of it. Among other things, it means I have chronic diarrhea and can eat very little. And I have to have a lot of colonoscopies. You’d think clearing me out would be no problem; I can usually re-deliver a salad within minutes, intact.

But No.

I have a deeply seated physical aversion to the prep formula. I’d comply in a heartbeat if I could; down it in one fierce gulp with my nose pinched closed, like you-know-who.

Just the smell of it in the room sends me reeling, like arboretum visitors while the Corpse Flower is blooming. The best desciption I’ve heard of the taste: old-fashioned cough medicine, the powder used to dust extra-sour candy, and a teen’s used sweatsock. I heave a little, thinking about it.

I do barf it up — after just enough of it has kicked in to make me also beyond-slightly shit myself. I gamely try again. And again. By now the dogs won’t come near me, for fear of being blamed by association. I know I have to have this damn test done, no matter what. I press on until, after about 3 days of the whole routine, I finally “run clear”.

Somehow…between that event, and the few hours later when I’m told to roll on my side and count backwards from 10 (I never appreciate that aptitude test), I have mysteriously produced More Crap. I wake to a doctor I wouldn’t offend for the world, feeling shamed by the announcement he once again had to “get the wire brush” to see anything. I don’t let family go in the bathroom after me, as a courtesy. Yet I regularly bomb this poor man.

This same Doc is who recently probed my partner. After watching them gloat over his pink-n-pretty photographic results, I hung my head and finally asked (while I wasn’t too sedated to sincerely care) why on earth someone with even a short colon has such trouble cleansing for a colonoscopy, despite valiant effort and intent.

“Some of us are just more full of it than others”, he smiled.

Can’t argue that.

(May this tale of shits-n-giggles help improve your life.)

Just Another Panic Attack

The tsunami of sorrow. A moniker given to that period of time, after harrowing news suddenly sucks your life’s beach surreally bare of any landmark, including surf…and when the reality of it comes rushing back, in a 12 foot swell, so violently you can only pray to survive.

My personal tsunami usually hits right as I wake; that vague state of shifting consciousness and awareness. As dreams dissipate and reality congeals, I’m hit, tumbled, finally spit ashore with sand ground up every orifice, and I finally recognize my wave, as I watch it retreat again for the moment: a completely unexpected cancer diagnosis that changed my life in one minute.

 

 

 

 

 

 

My 300 Sons

Children are exponential. For every child you give birth to, there will be at least a dozen friends in his or her wake at any given time. They flock, like birds. And, for some reason, they always came to roost at my house.

I wasn’t completely unhappy with this. One of my parenting credos has long been “keep it at home”. If y’all are smoking cigarettes out my bathroom window, I at least know you’re not driving around bashing mailboxes with baseball bats.

But, especially with three boys, things could get a tad chaotic. Three boys is one thing. Three boys times all of their buddies becomes unfair odds, against one parental unit. And it started early. I once bought my boys “tinkle targets”: little squares of biodegradable paper imprinted with targets that you floated in the toilet bowl, inspiring them to urinate accurately into it rather than aiming at just anything that happened to catch their attention while they had their penis in their hands.

That backfired, when I discovered every lad within fourteen apartment complexes had been invited to my bathroom for a mass attack on the tinkle targets. Under high enthusiasm, everything had become a target. Everything was saturated in urine, including the kids. The targets remained intact, floating merrily away. The urchins were chased off, with the admonition they tell their mothers whatever story they wanted, about being soaked from head to toe in pee, as long as it contained no mention of  having been at my house.

Chauffeuring was my side profession for many years — until the kids got their own licenses, and my side profession became having panic attacks after curfew. I’d stack them in the SUV like cordwood, stuff the sports gear on top, and slam the back hatch as fast as possible so no one spilled out before it latched. There were usually a few muffled shrieks over pinched body parts, but the pressure of being packed so tightly together typically staunched any bleeding.

Driving everyone home was even more of a chore, somehow. One by one, I’d slow to 25mph and methodically eject each kid in front of their home. Once, just as I’d taken a huge sigh of relief that I might make it home myself before daybreak, I heard a plaintive voice pipe up from the depths of the back seat: “where are you taking me?” Max. Max had somehow missed his cue to tuck and roll from the car when we neared his neighborhood. And had waited until we’d crossed town, again, before mentioning a thing about believing he’d been taken hostage after a soccer game. Hell, I don’t know who’s in the car, I just drive the route. I told Max I’d compromise and drive him halfway back home. He could practice dribbling his soccer ball along the side of the road, while walking the rest of the way. Win-win. I feel his mother’s lawsuit was highly over-reactive.

Sleepovers. One time we had fifteen, or maybe it was 800, kids over, to eat like locusts and otherwise wreak havoc until 4am. One of them hacked into an R-rated cable TV channel, a fact I didn’t notice for a good half hour because — now I know why — everyone was being so quiet I took a break from spying on them.

By the time the story had been relayed by one extra-delicate child to his mother, and from there at lightning speed through every cell phone tower in existence (The Mother Network; it’s a powerful thing), it went something like this: the sleepover host’s mom had tied them all to chairs, pried their eyes open with toothpicks, turned on a show featuring “bewbs”, and forced them all to watch it for hours on end, even as they begged to watch Barney instead. Actually, I’d never even heard their pleas for Barney because, after I tied them all up, I’d left the house entirely to go get drunk at a bar in the next county. (I may have been a tippler at the time, but everyone knew it was ludicrous to think I’d pay cover at any bar.) The little remote-hacker was experienced beyond his years in C.Y.A. as well, I give him that.

Then there was the time I had to explain to an irate mother why I’d “allowed” her child to walk all the way home, in his pajamas, at 2am, barefoot, along a highway (settle down, it wasn’t an interstate or anything). How was I supposed to know the kid would get homesick and, having heard I’d only force him to watch porn, would skip telling me he wanted Mommy and simply walk out my door and blow town in the dead of night. Of course I would’ve given him a ride. As long as he knew to jump when I slowed to 25.

There was the kid who couldn’t sleep without a fan on, dangerously close to his face. The one who always had to have the top bunk, even though we all knew it was his destiny to just stupidly roll out of it in the middle of the night and land on a metal Tonka truck. The one who believed the closet had Mothra living inside and kept me up all night about it. Kids who wouldn’t eat anything white because it would “kill them”, and kids who had true food allergies but wouldn’t tell me until after they’d eaten a peanut and their throats had swollen closed due to anaphylaxis.

Nothing, however, compared to the overnight of New Year‘s Eve, 1999. Since my social life consists of detaining telemarketers for companionship, I ended up the designated sitter, while all normal adults went out to party like it was….never mind.

They weren’t all normal adults. One definitely wasn’t. Normal people do not tell their 10 year olds that the world truly may come to a horrific end at 12:00:01 am on Jan 1st, 2000 — and then dump them with a sitter, who has no idea the child believes he has just seen his mother for the last time and will soon be seeing Jesus. The ball dropped, and, unfortunately, a few celebratory bottle rockets sizzled off in the neighborhood. This Armageddonish display caused the kid to immediately and simultaneously cross himself, wet himself, vomit and pass out in a fetal position under the coffee table. Convinced he was having a seizure, I only injured him further by sitting on his chest and trying to grab his tongue with kitchen tongs. Yet another child scarred for life, by his experiences in my home.

Despite all the chaos at the time, I knew I’d miss it one day. And I do. Some of the many buddies came from even odder households than ours (ones where you weren’t allowed to stand for hours in front of the open fridge, like it was playing Coming Attraction trailers), and ended up basically living with us throughout adolescence. I run into them now, heads taller than I, some even with a mate and baby in tow, and I have to catch my breath as I hug them hello. It just isn’t possible, that life cycles so rapidly.

And, of course, if my children and their friends are aging, so am I. Into the frightening sets of digits, not the celebratory ones. But there is something about it all that makes me feel rather venerable, and privileged, to have been around long enough to watch it unfold.

But I’m not babysitting for grandkids and their friends. Especially not on New Year’s Eve. Nostradamus’s predictions get no less dire, as we plug along through the years.

Body Image: The Mess in The Mirror

Cancer is no beauty pageant. There’s nothing inherently “pretty” about incisions, lesions, ports or drains. Nothing sexy about accessorizing with a walker and toilet riser. It’s even tough not to pull a party foul, when suffering from diarrhea and vomiting.

I call myself Frankenbelly. After 3 major surgeries so far, one that required two surgeons playing tag team for 12 hours, it ain’t what it used to be. None of me is. I’ve always been a thin woman, by genetics; certainly not buff, but at least my ass came up the stairs at the same time as the rest of my body. Things are just different, now. I’ve finally stopped looking behind me when I peer in the mirror, startled by whatever stranger must have snuck into the room.

Nope. This is it. Me. The new “me”. A roadmap of scars and scabs where organs have been plucked out; flabalanches included. A good portion of my intestine is missing and, as the rest of it unhappily adjusts, I’m mortified by the incredible noises produced. I keep the dog nearby and blame her.

It’s weak, now. My body. Hopping out of bed was never my forte, but these days it involves a great deal of groaning, positioning, and usually finally a call for help. (I’ve gone supine and I can’t get up!) My partner thinks his full name is, “Seamus I Can’t Reach That.”

The changes brought about by gravity as we age can be difficult enough. Waking up one day, it seems, to find yourself in a body that you barely recognize or understand can be absolutely horrifying. Most of us identify very closely with our external appearance — as do those who know us. It startles everyone. Folks who love us try to disguise their own shock: “It’ll get better, just a little excess fluid.” Others, less adept at social niceties, recoil with, “Holy Mother of all things Holy, you look…you look…good…really…”

The truth is your body will never again be as it was. It’s yet another thing to be Accepted, on the cancer journey. It takes time, and patience with yourself, but: if you can let go of What Was, you may find that What Now is actually well worth celebrating.

Lock the bathroom door. Look at yourself. Head to toe, buck naked. I know; it seems a form of torture. Have a cry if you need to.

Now look again. With all the unconditional love and confidence you can muster. And yes, with a certain amount of resignation.

Your body is a Hero. Think of all it’s been through, that others can’t even fathom. It’s not letting you down; it’s fighting with every ounce it has to support you, just as it has every day of your life. It just has more to handle now. It may complain about it, but it’s trying. Every bit of it tells the tale of what you’ve conquered. Yours is no weenie body. It’s made of pure grit and determination. The pressure has created a diamond.

Some thoughts to help your beautiful inner, and new outer, self get along…

  1. Don’t delude yourself into trying to wear your old jeans, unzipped. Mine spontaneously dropped to the floor of a crowded elevator that way. While Commando, because underpants also bugged my incisions. While things are tender, invest in a few “stretchies”: my wardrobe consists of a black pull-on skirt; a few pair of leggings, I don’t care if they’re in style or not; slip-on shoes that don’t require bending over, and comfy T’s. It all accommodates the fact that my new body has a habit of changing, daily.
  2. Hair Loss. Mine has been mild so far. I cannot speak about how to embrace it fully. I volunteered in a wig shop that assists cancer patients. I have never seen more dignity, humor…and grief, as women entered a world so foreign to most. It holds huge impact on body image and morale as a whole. The women I’ve spoken to who seem to manage it best were honest with themselves about their needs; some felt best in a wig, others a scarf, others yet went bald ‘n beautiful. I’d be grateful to hear from more patients who are dealing with it, and how.
  3. Exercise. Check with your physician. But whatever you’re allowed to do — do it. Then call me and remind me to. As onerous as it may seem, if you even just take a daily walk your body will reward you for it. Teamwork. Don’t forget your needed Vitamin D is best absorbed via 15 minutes of direct sunlight a day. Unless you’re on antibiotics.
  4. Positive affirmation. It works. If you tell yourself every day you’re a hideous heifer, you’ll surely feel that way. Even if you don’t quite yet believe it, replace negative thoughts with positive ones. I am a Survivor, I am Glorious (you are!)
  5. Set small, realistic goals to improve your self-image. Treat yourself to a pedicure; everyone feels better with their talons painted. If you can’t get out, have a hairdresser come to your home. Wear lipstick. On your eyebrows, if it suits you. If you can’t manage a full shower, Pits-n-Puss will do. Just one little thing can help.
  6. I’ve seen mastectomy patients elaborately tattoo their scars and proudly expose them. That may not be your style, but the point is you really are allowed to celebrate and even heartily display your “imperfections”. It’s hard for people not to smile, when I at least wear my hot pink “F*ck Cancer” socks. If you feel like sporting a bikini, you go, girl (or for the guys, perhaps a Speedo). Give new meaning to the term “let it all hang out”. Kinda like this:

    frankenbelly
    “I’ll show you mine if you show me yours” 😉

None of this is expected to lift your spirits on a particularly bad day. You may find a Support Group helps. Whether it’s a tribe of friends you met at chemo, or a formal organization, sharing experiences with others who understand can be incredibly healing. Bring your fabulous body to one. I’ll be posting a list of some nationally available groups; ask your doc about ones local to you.

It is of course possible, even normal, to become seriously depressed over body image, especially with the added stress of extended illness. If you find yourself in that space, please call your physician or hotline immediately for referral to professional help. Most cancer facilities also offer Behavior Health services.

In the meantime, try to remember that your Body is not your new enemy. It’s the same temple that’s carried you through many joys as well as disappointments. Mine has created 3 children, who now are creating more of their own. I find that incredible. It’s earned some “slack”.

I try to Celebrate The Belly. Celebrate whatever you have as well!

 

 

 

 

Caregiving (featured in Huffington Post)

Coby Budridge, 56, cared for her mother, 82, for two-and-a-half years. 

COBY BUDRIDGE
Coby Budridge’s mother.

By Coby Budridge

“It’s totally unlike me to nominate myself for any accolade. But I learned while caring for my mother, for two-and-a-half years, by myself, that I am in fact an awesomely strong, caring, loving and capable woman. And I’d like to share my story.

I can’t tell you how many times I said, ‘I can’t do this’… and yet somehow I did.

I ‘had’ to. My only sibling was estranged from mom and me. Dad was long gone. She begged me to stay with her at home, to keep her home, to never let ‘them’ take her away. I made that promise.

Sleepless nights, when she was restless and in pain. The immense physical effort. The impossible schedule of constant appointments and errands and advocating. The lectures. The encouraging. The mental exhaustion. The awkwardness of bathing and toileting your own mom. The steady divesting myself of all personal opportunity ― school, job, savings, relationships. My own health declining.

I can’t do this.

The loneliness. After a fall, a parade of nurses and therapists would come through, but never stayed. Just rapid-fired a bunch of directions at me and left. ‘Call us, any time’… rarely an answer. The fear. Sleeping in bed with her, towards the end, watching her simply exist. No one to listen, with me, or to me.

I can’t do this.

She stopped eating, because she’d given up. She was dreaming vividly of dad now, and he was telling her he’d ‘race her home.’ 90 lbs. 80 lbs. 70 lbs. The horror of seeing her so gaunt, almost inhuman. Wondering if she was dead or resting. Arguing with insurance companies and reps and social workers, anyone, for the kind of care that she needed, that I was somehow supposed to provide.

I can’t do this.

The day hospice finally came, and roughly loaded her on a gurney as she cried and railed at me that I was ‘putting her away’ ― and ‘they’ did. They took her away. From home. From me. From the house that had become a tomb.

I can’t do this.

That last afternoon, in a sparsely furnished hospital room, watching, intently, as her breath slowed from belly to chest to barely any movement at the throat. She didn’t blink for the last 90 minutes before she died. Not once. And looked so terrified, by whatever she saw. No nurses. I found drops, to put in her eyes. I tried to close them; they wouldn’t stay. The two, deep, agonal breaths, and then it stopping altogether. Nurses now filtering in, checking for pulses. None.

I can’t do this.

That was two months ago. I just recently stopped waking during the night believing I need to check on her. The feelings are still all there, though ― the frustration, the guilt, the fear, the sadness, the sense of failure, the unconditional love, the resentment, the anxiety ― the I Can’t Do This, that defined me for the past two-plus years that felt like my entire lifetime.

But I did do it. The last year required 24/7 care. There was a visiting nurse aide once every two weeks, which is when I’d go out to get a moment to myself, even if it was just to sit in the car and have a good cry.

I kept my promise, as best I could. At the end, I let ‘them’ get her. One of the last things she told me was how angry she was at me. That still rings in my ears, as the flurry of post mortem activities now occupies me: sorting through her belongings. Arranging cremation and burial. Estate matters. Family feuds.

I did do it. And I will do now, what it feels like I can’t: Redefine myself. Grieve. Heal. Make new plans. Rebuild from the ground up, at age 56. Believe and have faith that all will be OK again, somehow, some day.

I can do it.

After this experience ― I don’t believe there’s much I Can’t Do, anymore.

And during National Family Caregivers  Month, I salute, with my overworked but blessed heart and soul, every other caregiver who knows exactly how it all feels ― and I remind them, You Can Do It. My hand is in yours.”

Ode to Loss

Losing everything.

It means different things to different people — what constitutes losing everything — but the end result is all the same. You wake up one day and your entire world has been “lost”; twisted into such a surreal new landscape that you don’t recognize it any more. You’ve been stripped bare of every thing, every person, every issue that you thought defined your life, and your role in it.

It hurts. It’s terrifying. It’s enough to make you curl into a fetal position and suck your thumb.

But it is a “gift”, in a very backasswards way. Because when you suddenly lose “everything”, you discover what’s left — what cannot be taken from you. The things you can never “lose”. Anything that has survived the conflagration is what’s “yours”, forever. You might never have known what those things are, had you not been forced to.

As you survey the rubble and start picking up the tiny pieces of what’s truly left of you, you begin to realize that those tiny pieces are all that ever mattered to begin with. And, as those tiny pieces come together, you see that there’s much more to you, and your world, to be grateful for than you thought.

On Being A Rolling Stone

I spend a lot of time worrying about weird things. For example, where I will be buried. Coming from a military family, I have no definitive hometown, with generational roots. My parents both earned the honor of being ensconced at Arlington National Cemetery; as a dependent, I’m only allowed to park my car there. I’m kind of offended by the whole thing.

I wouldn’t want to be posthumously carted to my grave in a horse-drawn cassion anyway. My father went that route, and I can tell you there’s little dignified about the tradition. The family is expected to walk behind, often for miles — which is all well and good, until you understand that walking for miles behind a large group of crapping, slobbering horses isn’t the smartest thing to do.

I have a lot of ex-husbands, but I doubt any of them want to spend eternity by my side, seeing as none of them can stand to be in the same room with me while alive. I hear there’s a plot in Bumfuk, Egypt, that someone in the family won in a raffle or something, but I bet no one will be willing to pay the airfare to ship my corpse there. And I’m in such bad shape already, by the time I croak no one will be able to pawn me off on science. I’ll end up just like I worry I will: someone will sprinkle lime on me, hide me under a log in some national park somewhere, and that will be that.

People ask me why do I care; I’ll be dead. That’s such an insulting question. You’re supposed to care. That I am dead, for one thing, and where I’m buried, so you can bring me flowers every Sunday and tell me how much you miss me. Jerk. And don’t think I won’t know, if out of sight is indeed out of mind. If bereaved loved ones don’t appear regularly to pay homage at my graveside, I will take it upon myself to go visit them. After a few bouts of waking in the middle of the night to find me floating over their beds and whispering “Rounduuup…”, perhaps they will at least be more inclined to go weed my plot.

As well as deliver small tokens of affection, like stuffed animals, and balloons, and other things dead people can’t use. I also want a really grandiose headstone. I understand they can be expensive but — what do I care, I’ll be dead. Just something that elaborates on my life’s achievements. Which actually may leave a lot of blank space, so further embellishment with several large cherubs may be in order. Add a lengthy and profound quote, that I never heard of while alive. I’ve never been religious, but be sure to include several crosses, Stars of David, likenesses of Buddha, and anything else that may come in handy, in case I should have been.

A catered memorial service would be a nice gesture as well. People may actually show up, if free food’s involved. No open casket. I don’t need the peanut gallery peering at my dead body, saying rude things like, “she’s never looked better”. No dropping random items in there with me, either; not unless the truth is you can take it with you. In which case I want cash. And since I also worry about weird things like being buried alive, maybe do include one of those bells on a string that I can ring if I suddenly come to. No cremation; I’m not real comfortable with the ashes and dust option, either. Embalm me so well you can still sit me at the dinner table during holidays. Just be sure not to put me in that dress I borrowed from my sister and swore I gave back.

Music. Lots of it. But canned — not someone’s castrato nephew singing stuff that makes everyone else there wish they were dead, too. A flash mob; video of guests dancing in unison in the aisles, to post on YouTube. Those are cool. But no slide shows, of me bathing in the sink, going to the prom, getting my first apartment….my entire life will already have recently flashed before my eyes, why belabor things. Do not force people to stand at a podium trying to make up embarrassing anecdotes to remember me by. I’m dead; I’ve been forgiven. Let the story about how I got drunk and ruined my cousin’s $500,000 wedding finally rest, along with me.

All told, I actually would be fine with being stuffed in a plastic bag and set by the curb. But I would appreciate one last wish. I want my plastic bag loaded into a hearse — and driven all around the city, followed by a 50 car caravan going 8mph that all traffic has to pull over for.

Maybe this is why I not only worry about where I’ll be buried, but where I’ll go afterwards.

My 300 Sons

Children are exponential. For every child you give birth to, there will be at least a dozen friends in his or her wake at any given time. They flock, like birds. And, for some reason, they always came to roost at my house.

I wasn’t completely unhappy with this. One of my parenting credos has long been “keep it at home”. If y’all are smoking cigarettes out my bathroom window, I at least know you’re not driving around bashing mailboxes with baseball bats.

But, especially with three boys, things could get a tad chaotic. Three boys is one thing. Three boys times all of their buddies becomes unfair odds, against one parental unit. And it started early. I once bought my boys “tinkle targets”: little squares of biodegradable paper imprinted with targets that you floated in the toilet bowl, inspiring them to urinate accurately into it rather than aiming at just anything that happened to catch their attention while they had their penis in their hands.

That backfired, when I discovered every lad within fourteen apartment complexes had been invited to my bathroom for a mass attack on the tinkle targets. Under high enthusiasm, everything had become a target. Everything was saturated in urine, including the kids. The targets remained intact, floating merrily away. The urchins were chased off, with the admonition they tell their mothers whatever story they wanted, about being soaked from head to toe in pee, as long as it contained no mention of  having been at my house.

Chauffeuring was my side profession for many years — until the kids got their own licenses, and my side profession became having panic attacks after curfew. I’d stack them in the SUV like cordwood, stuff the sports gear on top, and slam the back hatch as fast as possible so no one spilled out before it latched. There were usually a few muffled shrieks over pinched body parts, but the pressure of being packed so tightly together typically staunched any bleeding.

Driving everyone home was even more of a chore, somehow. One by one, I’d slow to 25mph and methodically eject each kid in front of their home. Once, just as I’d taken a huge sigh of relief that I might make it home myself before daybreak, I heard a plaintive voice pipe up from the depths of the back seat: “where are you taking me?” Max. Max had somehow missed his cue to tuck and roll from the car when we neared his neighborhood. And had waited until we’d crossed town, again, before mentioning a thing about believing he’d been taken hostage after a soccer game. Hell, I don’t know who’s in the car, I just drive the route. I told Max I’d compromise and drive him halfway back home. He could practice dribbling his soccer ball along the side of the road, while walking the rest of the way. Win-win. I feel his mother’s lawsuit was highly over-reactive.

Sleepovers. One time we had fifteen, or maybe it was 800, kids over, to eat like locusts and otherwise wreak havoc until 4am. One of them hacked into an R-rated cable TV channel, a fact I didn’t notice for a good half hour because — now I know why — everyone was being so quiet I took a break from spying on them.

By the time the story had been relayed by one extra-delicate child to his mother, and from there at lightning speed through every cell phone tower in existence (The Mother Network; it’s a powerful thing), it went something like this: the sleepover host’s mom had tied them all to chairs, pried their eyes open with toothpicks, turned on a show featuring “bewbs”, and forced them all to watch it for hours on end, even as they begged to watch Barney instead. Actually, I’d never even heard their pleas for Barney because, after I tied them all up, I’d left the house entirely to go get drunk at a bar in the next county. (I may have been a tippler at the time, but everyone knew it was ludicrous to think I’d pay cover at any bar.) The little remote-hacker was experienced beyond his years in C.Y.A. as well, I give him that.

Then there was the time I had to explain to an irate mother why I’d “allowed” her child to walk all the way home, in his pajamas, at 2am, barefoot, along a highway (settle down, it wasn’t an interstate or anything). How was I supposed to know the kid would get homesick and, having heard I’d only force him to watch porn, would skip telling me he wanted Mommy and simply walk out my door and blow town in the dead of night. Of course I would’ve given him a ride. As long as he knew to jump when I slowed to 25.

There was the kid who couldn’t sleep without a fan on, dangerously close to his face. The one who always had to have the top bunk, even though we all knew it was his destiny to just stupidly roll out of it in the middle of the night and land on a metal Tonka truck. The one who believed the closet had Mothra living inside and kept me up all night about it. Kids who wouldn’t eat anything white because it would “kill them”, and kids who had true food allergies but wouldn’t tell me until after they’d eaten a peanut and their throats had swollen closed due to anaphylaxis.

Nothing, however, compared to the overnight of New Year‘s Eve, 1999. Since my social life consists of detaining telemarketers for companionship, I ended up the designated sitter, while all normal adults went out to party like it was….never mind.

They weren’t all normal adults. One definitely wasn’t. Normal people do not tell their 10 year olds that the world truly may come to a horrific end at 12:00:01 am on Jan 1st, 2000 — and then dump them with a sitter, who has no idea the child believes he has just seen his mother for the last time and will soon be seeing Jesus. The ball dropped, and, unfortunately, a few celebratory bottle rockets sizzled off in the neighborhood. This Armageddonish display caused the kid to immediately and simultaneously cross himself, wet himself, vomit and pass out in a fetal position under the coffee table. Convinced he was having a seizure, I only injured him further by sitting on his chest and trying to grab his tongue with kitchen tongs. Yet another child scarred for life, by his experiences in my home.

Despite all the chaos at the time, I knew I’d miss it one day. And I do. Some of the many buddies came from even odder households than ours (ones where you weren’t allowed to stand for hours in front of the open fridge, like it was playing Coming Attraction trailers), and ended up basically living with us throughout adolescence. I run into them now, heads taller than I, some even with a mate and baby in tow, and I have to catch my breath as I hug them hello. It just isn’t possible, that life cycles so rapidly.

And, of course, if my children and their friends are aging, so am I. Into the frightening sets of digits, not the celebratory ones. But there is something about it all that makes me feel rather venerable, and privileged, to have been around long enough to watch it unfold.

But I’m not babysitting for grandkids and their friends. Especially not on New Year’s Eve. Nostradamus’s predictions get no less dire, as we plug along through the years.

Seven To Ten Days

I dislike Doctor’s Office Visits.

I dislike any event that I’ll be turned away from, but still billed for, if I’m 10 minutes late. Yet if I do arrive on time, it’s a given that I’ll wait for hours, uncompensated, before the show begins.

This issue was magnified for me when I was diagnosed with Neuroendocrine cancer. It meant, among other things…lots of Doctor’s Office Visits. DOV’s.

Some doctor’s offices resemble a MOMA exhibit; others at most curate a collection of vintage magazines. Other than that, very little about DOV protocol seems to vary. All Receptionists pretend a glass wall makes them invisible. No matter how empty the place is, the guy with the productive cough will sit right next to you. His phone will blare the La Macarena tune multiple times, as he conducts spirited conversations. There’s not a single clock in sight; there is no need to monitor Eternity.

You’ve entered The Waiting Room Zone.

This is where, of course, you Wait. Until everyone who arrived long after you has been seen. You wait, until they’ve had time to deliver babies in a back room somewhere. You wait, until so much time has elapsed those babies are grown and now sitting next to you, waiting for school physicals. Then your name will be called. And since my name is unusual, the nurse will bastardize it so badly I won’t know she means me and I will miss my turn.

After finally dying of what ailed me, being reincarnated, and living long enough to contract it again, I’ll be led to a scale. Being weighed is a meditative exercise for me; I require a moment, to envision myself as mere wisp of air. Instead, I’ll be put through a vigorous set of step aerobics, as the nurse has me climb on, and off, and on, and, oops, off, the scale while she figures out how to operate the damn thing. Sometimes I’m told to pee in a cup, but not what to do with it afterwards, so I leave it on the bathroom sink and run away.

I’ll be led to a room, with “Exam” written on the door. This is actually just another level of Waiting purgatory. A nurse will ask me a slew of judgmental lifestyle questions, take my vitals, note my blood pressure is unusually high, and inquire if I’ve been under recent duress. Yes, if you count being required to rapidly leap on and off of a scale like a jockey preparing for the Kentucky Derby. Or, if “La Macarena Earworm” is an actual medical condition. Then she will bald-faced lie to me that “Doctor will be right in” and vanish like a Vegas magician. Having forgotten  my 1987 copy of “Nauti Angler”, I will entertain myself for the next eon by reading posters illustrating what one’s stool should look like and trying to reassemble a 3D plastic model of the female reproductive system.

By the time the doctor raps authoritatively on the door (I stifle an urge to holler, “No Solicitors!”), I’ve added Plain Aging to my list of concerns. He’ll make me prove I can inhale/exhale until I hyperventilate, whack me in the kneecaps, pull quarters from behind my ears, then stare into a laptop as if it’s a crystal ball. He may not even be an actual doctor, for all I know. I’ve gotten so old (while waiting in doctors’ offices), to me they all appear about my sons’ ages. FYI I would not trust my sons to run my bathwater, much less direct my healthcare.

I’ll get prescriptions — they increase in number, as medications to counteract the side effects of others are added. Finally, just as I’m about to submit a change of address listing the doctor’s office as mine, I will be funneled out to the Billing Desk. Similar to how the only exit from a zoo is via the gift shop.

Medical test report protocol is also cruel and unusual. Don’t call us, we’ll call you. In 7 to 10 days, but only if something important shows up. Look. It’s all important, to me. Do you mean 7 to 10 business days, or just day days, before you forget to call. How about I just plan to start calling you before I even make it to my car.

I also resent homework. Since I see no point in even learning to pronounce “sphygnomometer” much less buy one, just to possibly be told in 7-10 days that I’m dying anyway, I’m to monitor my blood pressure in one of those public chairs with the built-in, germ-infested cuff. They are supposed to be foolproof, but whenever this fool tries, the deathcuff just keeps madly inflating until I scream for a clerk to come to my immediate aid. Only to be condescendingly told that no one’s arm has ever truly exploded in one.

I’ve thrown several pity parties for myself, over DOV’s and more. Recently, I was gifted with a new perspective.

A young girl was wheelchaired in to The Waiting Room. Her skin was so pale it held a bluish cast, like thin porcelain. She sat quietly, tiny hands knitted together in her lap. I tried to imagine how many DOV’s, how much Waiting, and more, she’d been through. I was griping about my time being “wasted”. This child’s time, so briefly allowed her to simply be a child, was far more precious.  My perceived inconveniences, sour impatience, and fierce resistance to my own situation suddenly felt tremendously misplaced. As I watched her be wheeled to a room (ahead of us all) I felt a deep blush of humility.

When the doctor finally arrived for my appointment this time, he was visibly shaken. He apologized for the delay; he shared with me that he’d had to deliver very difficult news to another patient and arrange a hospital transport. I wondered who it was. I hoped it wasn’t the young girl. I wished it was No One.

I may have waited a long time — but I got to go home.

Nothing in this world can be immutably planned. Even things that seem to lend themselves well to scheduling, like DOV’s, easily derail. Certainly, the most important events in life are rarely predictable.  That’s half the supposed fun of babies. And, one day, it may be my passing, that makes a Doctor extra late for Office Visits.

Waiting. The involuntary Time Out, during which we struggle to allow ourselves to simply become more present. To consider all that’s actually happening, in the spaces between the minutes we count and covet. I will always consider the porcelain girl, before claiming any true imposition on my time.

And if I consider it time wasted…that’s on me.