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 just find that What Now Is 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. Go ahead and 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 lump, bump and even missing part 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:

    “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!






Self Advocacy

batThe only person who truly knows your body, better than even any lover, is you. Remember that. It may save your life.

My entire adult existence, I have reliably weighed 115 pounds. 135, when pregnant. So it was disturbing, when I ballooned to 145 in a matter of two weeks. I realized things were very wrong when I tried to put on my standard Little Black Dress to attend a wedding, and had to be cut out of it before I suffocated. My belly looked like old drunken Uncle Bob’s, with ascites.

I’d mentioned it many times to my physician, along with a year’s litany of other odd complaints. Menopause, I was told. Older, sedentary, maybe even depressed. Who wouldn’t be, after outgrowing their only LBD.

After a while, the yawn at the other end of the nursing line became audible any time I called with yet another “WTH”. It was The Whiner, again. I persisted, even specifically asking two days before departure if a woman who’s abdomen made noises like an overripe melon when you thumped it should board a plane for a cross country trip. No problem; maybe my discomfort was stress-induced. Go have a good time.

Thank God my appendix waited to rupture until we’d landed. There’s little worse than inconveniencing a planeload of crabby passengers with something like a major medical emergency.

While a surgeon in Seattle manhandled my appendix, he found a tumor in it. Goblet Cell Carcinoid. Aggressive, rare, no cure. The fact that my appendix ruptured meant the tumor had “seeded”. Littered my belly with microscopic cancer cells just looking for a place to set up house.

Had that rupture not happened — had anyone listened, as I presented with classic if obscure symptoms of appendiceal distress — caught it, before I shat myself internally — my prognosis might be vastly different than it is now. Had the appendix and it’s lethal hitchhiker been removed intact, that may have been the end of my experience with cancer.

As it stands, I apparently face a prematurely shortened life span that may be spent chasing rogue cells all around my body. From liver to pancreas to bones to brain to heart to lungs, no telling.

The PCP who blithely ignored me has never since looked me straight in the eye. Do I “blame” her for my cancer? Believe she should have known how bad things really were? No. But I know, and so does she, that had she should never have neglected to truly listen to a woman who said Something Is Very Wrong. Repeatedly.

And that I shouldn’t have allowed it. A regret I’ll forever harbor. I don’t want it to happen to anyone else. I’ve spent a lot of energy since, making sure I’m Heard. I’ve met with huge resistance at times, but I refuse to be intimidated by it.

Be your own best Advocate. I can tell you it’s much easier to live with being a Pest than living with being a cancer patient.

  1. Keep a log of symptoms. Patterns often show up, helping define things. And it shows you’re serious.
  2. Bring a list of questions. Don’t leave until each one has been checked off. Most physicians won’t tell you they only “allow” two issues per visit. Ask, as the visit begins, how much time you’ll have. Make it clear you’ll be back the next day, if need be, to continue.
  3. Read your labs and test reports. Even as a layperson, you may find some astonishing errors or need for clarification.
  4. Expect the courtesy of a response about labs and tests. Ask how long it will take. Call, if you don’t hear back. It could be very important.
  5. Ask to review your doctor’s office visit notes. These aren’t usually included in your standard medical file, and you may be quite surprised by what you find there. One bit of miscommunication can follow you from appointment to appointment like a bad smell. You have the right to request amendment.
  6. Know your patient rights and responsibilities as a whole. Most are standard; some vary by clinic. Do not sign anything without reading it. Seriously.
  7. If you’re chronically ill or recently post-op, know and heed The Red Flags. A fever, diarrhea, vomiting, acute pain, difficulty breathing — what may seem an inconvenience to others can be quite serious. If you’re able, contact the Doc On Call before heading to the Emergency Room. They may be able abort the need, or expedite your intake so you can avoid long lines of folks who waited a month to report their nagging cough. If your immune system is compromised, you shouldn’t be hanging out in hospital lobbies. One of the nastiest hotbeds of infection around.
  8. Find out in advance who to contact with concerns, especially if you’re being admitted. There’s a lot of talk about patient support but very little actual transparency about it. The last thing you need is being transferred to the voicemail of someone who’s on vacation till Doomsday while a CNA tells you you only get Tylenol after a bowel resection. Patient Advocate, Nurse Navigator, Patient Experience Coordinator, Clinic Director, Pain Management Clinic, IV Tech Dept — find their numbers — test to see if they’re answered — even meet these people, before you need them. Make friends with them.
  9. Subtle gestures can be empowering, when communication falters. An example: if you are a “hard stick” (it’s impossible to IV me) ask in advance for an IV tech. Ask again when you arrive, as they’ll have ignored you. When they still say “I do this all day every day, stop complaining” — Fold Your Arms. Not defiantly; definitively. I notice when staff makes an effort to gently touch my hand, while making a point. When I want their full attention, I do the same. Body language speaks loudest, at times.
  10. Most of all, never question your instincts. You may be emotional, overwhelmed, confused, scared. You may need more time and help than usual, to absorb everything being thrown at you. That’s OK. It does not equal diminished intelligence. Don’t let anyone make you feel otherwise. You’re the wisest person in the world, when it comes to knowing your needs.

Don’t let “I Told You So” become a chapter of your story. You are, and always will be, your own best Advocate. Put yourself to work!

It Ain’t Over Till It’s Over

It’s been a long year. Mom finally passed, despite all effort to get her to stay. She was tired. Done. I had no choice but to respect her decision. Her physician considered listing “Stubborn” as cause of death; in truth there was little clinically wrong with her. She simply went “NPO” — refusing food and finally even liquids until the inevitable occurred.

I was beyond exhausted. Had wondered if Mom would outlive me, at times. It seemed a good idea to do something for Me. My partner, Jim, and I would fly to Seattle to see my children and grandbabies, two of whom we’d yet to even meet. I planned, and over-planned, for what would surely be a trip to remember. I remember it, all right.

Two days into the visit, I was blissfully strolling babies through the Zoo. By the time we hit the Zebra exhibit, the dull ache I’d felt in my belly since before leaving home had blossomed into full distress. I made it through dinner that night at my son’s by pushing food around on my plate and left early, claiming road fatigue. By 3am Jim had called 911.

I remember little about this part, but distinctly recall a Face looming at me through the dense fog of my misery. It was telling me I couldn’t be scanned — because I was pregnant. I heard a nurse being called, to attend to Jim at that point. I’m 57 years old and everyone who knows me will tell you I have been through menopause. I was quite vocal about it. And I’d felt so crummy for so long my love life consisted only of empty Saturday night promises. I was not pregnant. I argued this fact with The Face until finally reminding it — no mama, no baby. Scan me, dammit.

They did. And found not a cherubic babe but a necrotic mess. My appendix had ruptured, epically. My temp was 105; they were packing me in ice as they finally careened to the OR. My understanding is I was very lucky to survive.

Survive I did. In fact I became a bit of a roadside attraction. A steady stream of staff made up excuses to come by; word had gotten around about the amazing 57 year old pregnant woman who flew all the way to Seattle just to crap herself internally.

On Day Two a doctor arrived and tossed a piece of paper on my bed. A pathology report. I asked him what it meant. It means, he said, you have cancer. A very rare form. Goblet cell carcinoid. The originating tumor was found in the appendix. Good luck getting home, and finding treatment. And he left.

I flopped back on my plastic pillows and exhaled. Rare cancer. Bummer. Good thing he wasn’t talking about me.

That denial lasted until Jim returned with his 112th coffee of the day. I told him what the doc had meant to tell some poor other sap and asked how the weather was. I had no idea at first, why he started to shake so much he had to put his cup down.

Our 5 day Grandbabycation turned into a 14 day saga that changed life forever. I’ve since been relieved of many more internal body parts, had a heart attack post-op, still feel like I need a wheelbarrow to carry my belly in and am totally confused about what I’m facing.

I thought I’d “earned” some peace by now.

At least I’m not pregnant.




Caregiving (featured in Huffington Post)

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

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, as long as I get one last wish. Instead of a horse-drawn cassion, 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. If rigor mortis can facilitate arranging me so I’m flipping a bird out the back window, even better. That, I can rest peacefully with.

(Your) Help (Not) Wanted

After fifteen years of marriage (this time around, anyway) it’s once again been determined that I am unfit for ongoing companionship. In other words, I’m divorcing again.

This means many things, to a beyond-middle-aged woman with no assets, skills, ambition or employment. The primary word there seems to be: employment.

The key word, actually, is money — but one must, from what I hear, be employed, to access money. Especially if one is no longer going to be married to a wealthy but insufferably irascible bastard. If nothing else, it requires a considerable amount of money to hire a cutthroat attorney to relieve the irascible bastard you are divorcing of all his assets and income.

Employment used to be no problem for me. I held up to three jobs at a time, one for each child I was raising alone, after prior divorce. I had no fear then; I was young, lithe and still had all my brain cells. I’d walk in to ask about one job, schmooze the interviewer, and walk out with a position several pay grades higher than the one I’d applied for. Piece of cake.

This was, however, back in the era when sea creatures were first sprouting legs and slithering onto land masses. When you were allowed to actually interact with potential employers, in “meatspace”, while job-hunting. Nowadays, you cannot apply for a job, anywhere, without submitting your application online. To float around on the internet with the zillions of others that have been submitted in the same anonymous manner.

This modern protocol puts me at a distinct disadvantage, for a number of reasons. The primary one being I have no resume of note, after fifteen years of being a “homemaker“. No matter how many fancy words and fonts you use, it’s very difficult to make “homemaker” appear to be anything other than what it is: having become a complacent dumbass who didn’t expect to find herself pounding the pavement, seeking a job, when she’s of an age to be in Florida, retiring.

Who knows where your application even ends up, once submitted online. I picture a warehouse full of increasingly self-aware computers, whizzing through thousands of online apps per second and immediately culling any not listing impressive corporate coups. And stopping to laugh, when they come to mine. Any surviving applications then hit an assembly line, to pass under the optical sensors of some Human Resources robot. That laughs extra hard, if mine has slipped through somehow.

This crippling of my aptitude for in-person schmoozing is a serious issue; even though I am now a victim of gravity and not that appealing to even the human eye, I am still gregarious and adept enough at fibbing that if I can just get to meat/meet someone involved in the hiring process, my chances for being considered as even a dishwasher rise from none to slim, at least. Just give me one chance, to do my Hire Me tapdance, in front of one human being, before sending me the generic Employment Application Email Of Death: “we have received your application; it will be politely stored for 6 months before we laugh again and then delete it.”

In order to increase my appeal as a potential employee, I have looked into furthering my education. I can take courses online or on campus, receive anything from a certificate to a PhD., participate in internships and work study programs — as long as I have several thousand for tuition. How one obtains thousands for training for employment, without employment income, remains one of those Catch 22‘s. Especially since my demographic status ousts me from any niche for financial aid: Caucasian, under 65, over 21, no passel of small children on my hip, no disabled adults in diapers under my care. I believe I qualify as a “displaced homemaker” — which apparently only means that when I’m dunked in water, an amount equal to my mass spills out of the tub.

I even applied at the local quickie-mart, where the only skills required seem to be knowing how to decipher little picture icons on a cash register touch screen, which looks a lot easier than the old-fashioned kind that required you to be familiar with alphabetical and numerical keys. Also, you must have the ability to authoritatively bellow, “Pump Three, if you drive off without paying you will be pursued” over a loudspeaker. The shift I applied for was a night-shift, so I was also asked what I might do if a large drunk tried to accost me. That’s right up my alley, I was raised by a large drunk. It doesn’t matter how big they are; all you do is throw a can of beer in the opposite direction of where you plan to run, and you’re fine.

I was relieved beyond measure when I was handed a paper application, and a stub of a pencil, even (I haven’t seen a wooden pencil since I first gave up my Abe Lincoln-style shovel and chalk) to scribble my answers in with. They weren’t even interested in a resume. Since this is the same quickie-mart where I buy all my cigarettes, everyone there is even quite familiar with me, as the woman who smokes way too much. This felt like a shoo-in.

My paper app was perused and I was told the job was mine — as long as the manager at HQ approved their recommendation. Then I was told that the one and only way the manager at HQ could even possibly acknowledge my app, much less approve it, was to (point silently to a kiosk in a corner, housing a computer created specifically for…online applications). Yes, I had to apply online, still. But it was just a formality, so that Manager could officially click “Hired”, the minute my application became “real”. She would call and make sure he did so, as soon as The Formality was accomplished.

I repeated my application process, online. Only this time, extra questions were included. Math questions. I hate math, math hates me, I thought that’s why there are little picture icons on the register instead of numerical keys. I cheated and calculated answers on the wall, with my pencil stub. I also waded through a slew of suspicious questions, such as, “do you believe groups or individuals make better decisions?” (neither; no one but myself makes any valid decisions) and, “do you take any pride at all in your appearance?” (not since 1986, but that should count for something).

Elated when I finally finished this dreaded ordeal, I triumphantly hit “Send”. Only to have an ominous message flash across the monitor: “ERROR — SEE CLERK”.

The kiosk’s specialized employment application computer was “down”. Not to worry; come back tomorrow and repeat the process. For formality’s sake.

I came back every tomorrow for a week; the all-important application computer was still down. Which meant my application still as yet Did Not Exist — nor did my potential job offer.

Which is why I want to know how I still ended up receiving the Email of Doom: “Thank you for your recent application…”

Somehow, even via a downed computer, I had managed to submit yet another unremarkable online application into the ethered masses, for the robot’s jaded amusement and dismissal. Even the quikie-mart clerks were bumfuzzled. My paper version was still sitting right where it belonged — under someone’s coffee mug, as a coaster.

They say all things happen for a reason. Maybe working is like dating and defecating — never wise to do it close to home. Maybe I’d have (somehow, accidentally) gotten the job, it wouldn’t have worked out — and I’d have ended up having to drive to a whole other quickie-mart from then on, to buy my cigarettes.

Which I may have to anyway, once word gets out that I am the only person in the world who can get declined for a job — without ever even applying for it.

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 inspiring targets that you floated in the toilet bowl, to encourage 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. In the ensuing enthusiasm, everything became a target. Everything was saturated in urine, including the kids. The targets remained intact, floating merrily away. The urchins were all 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.

Chauffering 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 ’em in the SUV like cordwood, stuff the sports gear on top, and slam the back lid 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 stanched 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 the 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 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 when 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 drinker at the time, but everyone knew it was ludicrous that I’d pay cover at any damn bar.) The little remote-hacker was experienced beyond his years, in C.Y.A. as well, I give him that. More lawsuits….

Then there was the time I had to explain to an irate mother how I’d “allowed” her child to walk all the way home, in his pajamas, at 2am, barefoot, along a busy 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, he’d skip telling me he wanted Mommy and simply walk out my door and skip town in the dead of night, period. Of course I would’ve given him a ride. As long as he knows to jump when I slow to 25.

There was the kid who couldn’t sleep without a fan on, dangerously close to his face; and the one who always had to have the top bunk, even though we all knew it was just his destiny to stupidly roll out of it in the middle of the night, land on a Tonka truck, and require his own trip to the ER. The one who thought the closet had Idi Amin hidden in it 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 they’d eaten a peanut and their throat 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 on the phone 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 (or at least ones where you weren’t allowed to stand for hours in front of the open fridge, like it was reeling off Coming Attractions 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 ain’t babysitting for the 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 going to the doctor. Mostly because I have no insurance and I’d rather pay money to eat, than to wait around all day just to get whapped in the kneecap.

However, I recently found the matter outside of my realm of decision-making. In other words, I felt so crappy I had to go to the doctor.

The usual, once there. Marvel over the fact that someone very skilled must have to be hired, to locate such obscure magazines. Try not to act visibly disgusted when the jerk with the wet cough sits right next to you, despite the whole rest of the place being empty. And wait. This is why it’s called a waiting room. You wait.

Until everyone else in the waiting room’s name has been called, and they have delivered babies in the back room, and enough more time has elapsed that they’re now bringing the children back through the front door to be seen for sports physicals. Once the sports physicals are over, then your name will be called. And since my name is unusual, the nurse will bastardize it so badly I don’t know she’s calling me, and I will miss my turn.

After finally dying of what ailed me, being reincarnated, and living long enough to again reach the point of my unresolved distress, I will finally be properly paged and led to a scale. I always take my coat off and think like a cloud, when weighed. But first I’ll be led through a series of step aerobics on the scale, as the newbie nurse has me climb on, and off, and on, and, oops, off, while she figures out how to operate the thing. An alien probe will be stuck in my ear for no apparent reason. And I will be led to…

….Waiting Room Number Two. It says Exam Room on the door, but my experience is that I spend much more time waiting there than being examined. A nurse does promptly feel my pulse and ask me a slew of insultingly personal questions that she ignores the answers to, but then she’s gone and I’m left forever again with my copy of “Angler’s Buddy”.

By the time the doctor raps once on the door (I always want to yell, “oh, just a minute!”) and breezes in, I’ve added Plain Aging to my list of concerns. He makes me prove I can inhale, whacks my knee in the exact way I hate, pulls quarters from behind my ears, or whatever it is he’s doing back there, and then has a lengthy conversation with his laptop. The guy knows too much about me, all told — I don’t know a thing, on the other hand, about him. He may not even be a doctor, for all I know. Hell, he looks like Ferris Bueller. I’ve gotten so old, while waiting in rooms, that all doctors look like my sons to me. And I would not trust my sons to help me run water, much less determine my health.

I get handed a few prescriptions — they increase in number, over the years, and start listing all kinds of side effects, especially in “my age group”. Like sudden death. And that’s usually it.

This time, though, I got a bit more attention. I could have developed and recovered from cancer while waiting to be seen (*This was written before I received my Diagnosis in 2017), but when the doctor reviewed my vitals, he actually spoke to me instead of his laptop. For one thing, my blood pressure was at a level usually reserved for people who are seeing bright light and dead grandmas while having a stroke. I was asked if I’d been doing pushups, and then suddenly also been scared shitless, while in the waiting room — anything, to warrant walking in as a human volcano. But no, at most I’d been slightly annoyed, by the lady who let her cell phone ring the La Macarena tune over and over and over.

Doc yanked my lower eyelids down, and grimaced. Blood was taken. I have the veins of a neonate, which is frustrating for everyone involved. I warn the nurses; they poo-poo me. Can’t be that bad, we know what we’re doing. Twenty minutes later, the nurse is still digging through my arm with a bayonet, sweating and cursing almost as much as I am. It’s just the way it’s always been.

Medical test report protocol is cruel, too. You’re told: don’t call us; we’ll call you, in 7 to 10 days, but only if something important shows up. Look. We feel like hell, you just relieved us of 18 specially color-coded tubes of blood for some reason, surely, and we don’t feel like sitting at home wondering if it takes 7-10 business days, or just days days, for you to forget to call and tell us we should have died yesterday. I plan to start calling you before I make it to my car. Get used to it.

For some reason, I do feel guilty if I try to tell the doc about more than one or two worries per visit. Maybe it’s because he keeps looking at his watch while I speak. I appreciate his discovering my high blood pressure, as well as whatever terminal diseases my labwork will reveal. Since I see no point in buying a sphygnomometer if I’m dying anyway, I’ve been told to monitor my BP in one of those public chairs with a built-in, germ-infested cuff. Which are supposed to be fool-proof, but actually never know when to stop madly inflating, so you have to scream mightily for a clerk to come to your immediate aid. Or at least I did, the last time I tried one. Only to be snottily told that no one’s arm has ever truly exploded in one.

I did learn I am on the verge of a stroke. Hit the drugstore chair and call the doctor’s office in the morning. For 7 – 10 days.

It will all have resolved itself, by the time I wait for my next appointment.