photo by Sheri Dixon

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Hurricane? Meh. Coyote??? RUN!!!!

I guess in a city the size of Houston, it's considered a very good day if the most newsworthy story is a coyote in the suburbs.

If so, the other day must have been the day all the criminals went to the beach, everyone drove carefully and no one played with matches, because the lead story was attached to a photo of a coyote trotting down a suburban sidewalk.

Not carrying the lifeless body of a tiny fluffy pet in its jaws.

Not part of a huge marauding pack leaving a trail of beer cans and cigarette butts in their wake.

Not staggering along covered in mange with foam spewing from it's mouth.

Not chasing down a small terrified child on a tricycle.

Just a beautifully coated, bright eyed, calm coyote minding his own business and not even jaywalking while traveling from point A to point B.

There followed an interview with a local biologist explaining to the maybe 2 or 3 adults on the planet who are unaware that when people bulldoze useless blocks of trees and weeds and build row upon row of houses separated by sterile empty lawns, what's actually happening is that something called "wildlife habitat" is being destroyed, and this wildlife has to either adapt or move on.

Or go extinct. There's always that option open to them.

Coyotes have proven themselves to be extremely adaptable- a short Google search of "Coyotes in Houston" brought up pages of sightings, including

(although they were definately NOT 100ft from his house- I can guarantee him if they were it would've been A LOT louder)


(and in that one I question the wisdom of having multiple fenced "pet deer" in what amounts to a city neighborhood- not even a suburb. Our friend lives in Bellaire, and you can just about reach from end to end of his yard with your arms outstretched.)

Also one from an exterminating company that warned in big, red, block letters not to jog even during the day in Memorial Park with your small dog, or it would get ambushed and yanked out of your loving embrace by the wily predators. Memorial Park is big, and full of other stuff coyotes eat like possums, raccoons, bunny rabbits and well-filled trash receptacles.

My favorite part of the segment was the woman who actually snapped the cell phone photo of the Monster- she was obviously and sincerely worried almost to distraction, and incredulously stated to the camera lens "We've been here ten years. When we moved down here they warned us about hurricanes, but no one said anything about COYOTES".

Comparing an unpredictable storm of enormous proportions capable of destroying everything and everyone in its path and causing years of despair in its aftermath to a furry critter who is, no doubt, an opportunist, but who mainly wants to be left alone seems...silly.

But I think people feel more in power if they can turn on the weather channel and track the storm, see the storm, know what (sort of) it's going to do and where it's (kind of) going to land. Even if they can't STOP it from happening, there's warning in a hurricane, time to prepare, time to evacuate.

Even tornadoes are huge, obvious things that give at least a fraction of warning before carrying off your home and landing you in Oz.

But COYOTES- good gawd- you could just open your garage door and POW- right in front of you.

The lack of a Coyote-Tracker channel gives them the element of surprise, and that's creepy to many people- people who have worked hard to eliminate the constant surprise that Mother Nature gives us.

While I routinely lose at least 2/3 of my chickens to coyotes or their feathered counterparts, hawks, I still thrill at the sight of them, still go outside to stand on the deck or porch to hear their singing in the woods not 50 ft from our house late on moon-drenched nights or during the day if they answer back to the freight train passing 1/4 mile away.

And one large one with a distinct reddish tone to his coat supervises the goings-on out on our new place (yet to be built on and moved to) from the edge of the forest.

I guess the difference is that we cherish those little Mother Nature Surprises, and look for them with anticipation instead of dread. Our place(s) purposely look wild and unkempt to both welcome the denizens of nature and repel anyone who fears them.


Coyotes and deer- the largest of the adaptive critters- are "in town" almost everywhere, but mostly unseen- a tribute to their adaptability and testament to their desire to be left alone. I've worked night shifts most of my life and have seen coyotes and deer in the center of a town of 80,000, a deer along the interstate highway that circumnavigates Chicago, and deer galore outside Houston- one side of the interstate lined with teeming noisy gaudily lit strip malls and the other side a narrow strip of grass backed by a corridor of trees that backdrop a calmly grazing herd. (I'll take that side, thank you).

I think part of the process of growing up needs to include respect for other species we share the planet with- and learning to act/react with the proper combination of delight, horror, grab the camera or the poison dependent on the true nature of the Nature encountered.

One of my daughter's friends actually moved out of her apartment until the mouse she spied was evicted.

This is a young adult woman who works on Capitol Hill and takes the Metro at all hours of the day or night.

Hurricane season is upon us here in the South and we've been hammered quite a bit by that particular weather event the last few years.

I think we need to worry about and prepare for THAT, and not make a such a big deal about a fleeting glimpse of Wily Coyote.

He was probably just working out HIS evacuation route...

Monday, April 26, 2010

"Houston Doctor Exposes Gaping Hole Where Soul Should Be- Film at Eleven"

Here. I'll let you read it for yourself-

Awful. Just awful. My heart completely breaks for that poor woman and her family, who will never ever fully recover from this.

About the only thing that could possibly make the whole thing even more heinous than it already is would be the arrogant, ignorant stupidity of Dr. Joseph Salinas- the pompous bastard who issued a blanket condemnation of home births in general and stopped just shy of saying that any woman who chooses home birth pretty much deserves to lose all her limbs.

Our son was born at home, with a midwife, without incident. I can pretty much guarantee to my readers that the mother in the story above keeps a cleaner house than I do. I can also guaranDAMNtee that any and every hospital in this town or any other is chock full of all sorts of nasty bacteria.

My first two children were born in a hospital- home birth being against the law in Wisconsin- but my Obstetrician insisted he was all for home birth- that the hospital was the worst possible place to be giving birth because they're all FULL OF GERMS.

Because here's the thing. Giving birth is NOT a disease process. It's actually something that (brace yourself) women were built to do. From our perky little breasts to our comely shapely hips, women were NOT designed exclusively to aspire to be the cover of Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issues- we were designed to grow and deliver more humans.

And most of the time, most of the women can do that without the intervention of Dr. Joseph Salinas- something I'm sure will put a gigantic dent in his...ego.

The FACT is that this one woman contracted a nasty strep somewhere- possibly not even birth-related. The FACT is that many thousands of people contract, suffer, recover (some) and die (alot) the same type of germs IN THE HOSPITAL every year, something Dr. Salinas conveniently forgot to mention in his giddiness to make damn sure he frightened into flocking under his manly, protective wings to have their babies.

I don't know why Katy didn't go right to the doctor when she started hurting- and it really doesn't matter with this type of germ, it was gonna 'get' her regardless of the time frame, even in-hospital contracted Strep A isn't a "take this pill and that'll do ya", scenario- but her husband's blog shows some glimpses as to the Maybe Why's.

They are both self employed, and lacked adequate (if any) health insurance- possibly one reason to opt for home birth as well, although I'm of the school that believes that home is the best place to take care of this natural event. The FACT is that a home birth including excellent pre-natal and post-natal care costs less than 10% of a hospital birth, and you get to stay in your own bed.

That Houston's KHOU took a heartbreaking story and twisted it for Dr. Salinas' agenda is news reporting at its very shoddiest- and thank goodness the viewers are agreeing in overwhelming numbers.

It'd be lovely to see the news station step up and do some REAL reporting and community good and cover
-the ways this family can be helped through this horror via donations
-the actual facts regarding safety of home birth vs. hospital birth, both here in the US and elsewhere in the world (something that will not make our system look very good)
-education on what to look for re: signs of Strep A, since it's freakin' EVERYWHERE and you can get it from any cut or puncture
-how sorry it is that a mother even had to consider the expense of going in for 'traditional' medical care till she was really in pain, and really in jeopardy.

And that's the thing.

This is so NOT a home birth vs. hospital birth thing, this is a health care availability in America thing, and that point was cleverly not even brought up.

I'm not holding my breath for any of the above- the medical corporations and insurance companies and Defenders of the System are all too powerful- so much better to blame the experienced midwife, blame the loving mother, blame the victim.

Katy's husband started a blog, and there are links to help the family. I'd consider it a personal favor if ya'll could donate what you can.

Because what our family is going through right now is easy compared to what they will face forever.

Friday, April 23, 2010

"Fish Out Of Water Desires Rental Lungs and Feet"

I'm a Leo.

The feline fire sign.

But I'm not an inside cat by any stretch of the imagination. I prefer outside to indoors unless it's below about 50 degrees- then you'll find me curled up by the fireplace. I'm a fire sign- I crave warmth.

Even wildly mis-planted in Wisconsin for my first 35 years, my preference was always to be outside as long as the above temperature requirement was met, and even then, during the long winters (which last from October 1st thru May up yonder) I'd make a break for the outdoor world frantically every month or so when a flash of Nature would lure me out into it where I'd breathe deeply- the icy air filling my dusty lungs- I can't take a full breath inside.

There are 8 hours or so every fall that hold the perfect autumn hues in a grasp of perfection- not the sunny blue-skied days of magazine layouts, but one day with heavy charcoal clouds pressing down on the woods and the lowering sun infusing and drenching each leaf with glowing vibrancy- denying the reality of the next days' withering, browning, brittle descent into quietly composting anonymity.

The aftermath of a midnight snow storm- the full moon seemingly within reach and so brilliant the stars fall out of the sky and lie twinkling at your feet- each snowflake reflecting a faraway sun in the deep of an earthly night.

Early spring, when the rain falls before the air is warm, encasing everything in a transparent glistening frozen cocoon- tree, twig, budding leaf and flower- all surprised and often broken by the very substance they need to live finally come after a long winter, but just that much too soon. Timing is everything.

So even in Wisconsin (Native American for "Land of the Three Day Summer") my natural environment was Outside.

I preferred camping to shopping, hiking to TV watching, a day at the out-of-the-way nature preserve to the stuffifying interior of the school building.

Even as a grown-up, gainful employment to me needed, if not actual exposure to Outside, at the very least I required to be where I could see it- to know if it were morning or evening by the sky instead of the timeclock, if it were sunny or raining by sight and not the weather channel.

Working for a flower shop as an all-around gal, I was out delivering arrangements one day and one bright bouquet went to a medical transcription office (in the days before home computers, that's what they did). I walked into the windowless, music-free office filled wall to wall with women wearing headsets and concentrating on their work- the only sound was the ticking of keys. I felt panicked, strangled, it was suddenly very difficult to breathe as I realized that this was their life- 8 hours a day, 5 days a week and I thought horrifyingly

"This is hell".

Finally not being able to ignore that little voice screaming "MIGRATE SOUTH" any longer, I found what I was looking for- East Texas, filled with forests, water, hills, and the lazy luxury of tremendously long wildflower-filled springs and crazy quilt colored autumns with just a smidgen of "wow- hot" or "kinda chilly" dividing them.

Now my Outside Spirit is in its element- even when inside, our windows are generally wide open- our house merely a roof and a few walls giving the illusion of shelter, and even when too cold, it's not deadly frostbite cold, just mildly annoying for a few days.


This last few years have seen many times that I've been forced Inside- more than just inside an office building or behind a desk, I've been bent, folded, spindled and crammed into the very un-natural element of a very large city.

Now, I honestly can't say I've hated every minute of it.

I've hated the REASON we're here- just one of a huge herd of Cancer Families making weary frightened pilgrimages to lay our loved ones on the altar of medicine- leaving sacrificial parts and pieces behind.

But as granola munchin' tree huggin' nature lovin' as I am, I've always appreciated the things only large urban areas can offer- museums, theater, music, culture both high falutin' and local, and have always thoroughly enjoyed my excursions into large metropolitan areas from Chicago to Miami, from Los Angeles to Washington DC.

My terms, my choice, my call as to when to escape back to the quiet and peace of the forest- cherishing and grateful for what I've been able to experience in the urban jungle, and so thankful I don't have to live there.

We're currently on our 18th day of a 6 day trip to Houston.

My husband lies in ICU- the very epitome of "ravaged and wasted" after a string of events only the devil himself could put so cleverly together. He's fighting for life, for his wife, for his son- and in tiny steps is climbing out inch by torturous inch back to his family.

And while I feel enormous guilt at every moment not spent at his side, I also know that I need to be 'out here' for his son, that both our son and I need something other than the suffocating surroundings of the hospital, that even while our hearts break at the knowledge that Ward's trapped there, in that bed, inside his faltering body, we know that when he wakes fully up he'll not be angry about the hours we spent away from his bedside, but all those we did.

So we go. And do. And see. And every experience we try to engrave on our memories to share with him- make plans to do again- with him.

Being an Outside animal trapped in an Inside world, I can only tolerate the hospital for a few hours at a time- then I must flee literally if only for 10 minutes, and I stop at the cafe for something to drink or a snack and maneuver through the interior maze, out the door, between cars and buses and taxicabs and ambulances to the tiny garden planted artfully and hopefully betwixt the hospital and the busy street and I sit face lifted towards the sun- shoes kicked off, eyes closed, breathing slowly if not deeply for the smog and the exhaust fumes. Before heading back inside I bury my nose for one deep breath stolen from the heart of a rose- not my favorite flower, but as close to heaven as I can get right here, right now.

My family has been forced to adapt to this environment- and while gleaning and benefiting from the many offerings afforded by it we are not thriving.

We all three of us look to the day we can turn in our rented lungs and feet, and dive joyfully (if exhausted) back into our beloved Pineywoods, leaving only a slight and quickly fading ripple on the surface of Houston- to a time when we will again only emerge by choice, and not be forced out by circumstance.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Good News- Business In America Is Stronger Than Ever

Now, don't get too excited. That doesn't mean that more people are working, or paying bills or not packing their stuff to move out of foreclosed-upon homes.

All THAT stuff has nothing to do with business, except as a measure of how successful the businesses actually are.

As stated before on a piece dedicated to the health insurance companies (and they deserve it- being a stellar example of marvelous financial acumen), if we think back to Econ 101 in high school, we'll remember that a business' job is to make money for the owner(s).

It's that simple, and one reason I felt justified to skip out on most of that class and instead head for the nature preserve to sit in the sunshine and listen to the birds and the frogs in Root River.

But now, years later, I'm thinking "What's the matter with people? Why don't they get it? I know most of the rest of the class stayed put in school and most of those went on to college while I opted to have babies and milk goats. What on earth makes people believe that any of those mortgage companies, banks, insurance companies and the like are anything BUT businesses?"

Well, the obvious reason is TV.

Thanks to clever marketing, all the above businesses spend millions of dollars on TV commercials that show happy people whose lives are made even happier with the assistance of some big corporation. Or- worse to the point of despicable- the commercials show people in distress who are gently plucked from the maws of disaster by one of these companies.

Here's the thing.

These fairy tale advertisements are generally bracketed with very real news stories of foreclosures, bankruptcies, denials- a trail of financial tears for faux-middle class Americans, who attain such status on wings fashioned of plastic and other credit sleights of hand.

Personal story- we've got a home equity loan. No first mortgage per se, since we had a paid for home before all our medical mess started up. I've never been more than 10 days late on a payment, and if I'm going to be late, I call them so it's notated on the account. When the financial institutions got their bailouts, our loan company sent us a letter telling us we were eligible to re-write our loan at a lower interest rate due to our good payment history.

I called and told them we didn't want to re-write (because the fees to do that would've eaten up any savings it would've afforded- see definition of "business" above) but asked if there was anything we could do temporarily with all the latest medical expenses. They gave us a 1 year lowered payment- no penalties, which helped.

Quick on the tail of that, our home owners' insurance company suddenly took a keen interest in canceling our policy. We've never submitted a claim. Never been late in paying. But in the last year, they've sent out multiple photographers to try to find reasons to cancel us (ONE cracked shingle on the edge of the 8 year old non-leaking roof, no railing on stairs to a door that doesn't even open, etc.) They've never done that before, and we've been in our home for 15 years.

All I can think of is that by changing to a 'temporary payment plan', our file was red-flagged as a foreclosure risk (even though we've never had a late payment) and they are trying to dump us before we, I dunno, burn the place down to get insurance money instead of being evicted.

The banks are not lending- we've had no luck getting a mere $50,000 loan to build our desired very simple smaller home with 2 adults on Social Security/VA Disability and myself on the job for 15 years and being paid SALARY, and nary a late payment between the three of us.

But in Tyler TX, our nearest closest "big" city, I can point out at least 6 new bank branches being built in just the tiny section we frequent. Guess we know what they're doing with THEIR bailout money...

Back to Econ 101.

The health insurance companies are doing a bang-up job. They are taking in more premiums than paying out in claims. That to do that they must deny people the care they need for increasingly more obscure and morally obscene reasons is just a casualty of doing business.

The home insurance companies are being fiscally astute in anticipating possible problems. The fact that if they drop my home owners' insurance my house loan will come due in full and immediately, making it a self-fulfilling prophecy is not their problem and they hold me in no personal dislike, but that's just a casualty of doing business.

That Tyler Texas currently has an official unemployment rate of 10% even though the real unemployment probably stands closer to 20% is unfortunate, but the industries are 'consolidating resources' to stay in the black. That it looks alot like firings, layoffs and forced early retirements is just a casualty of doing business.

Businesses are not our friends. They are not "with us for the Journey".

We've let the shiny pretty catch-phrases and images on the TV overshadow what our boring old parents and grandparents told us, which was, in effect "If you don't have it, don't spend it". With the exceptions of homes and autos, which were till recent years financed by locally owned banks and credit unions, that's what they did.

We DON'T Deserve a Break Today. Having the newest clothes, toys, gadgets, cars, furniture, houses and what have you does NOT make us happier, better or even truly Upper Middle Class.

Time to hunker down, pay shit off, and concentrate on being human again instead of working so desperately hard to attain and maintain an image.

And an aside to those who are rabidly, frothing at the mouth screaming to keep private businesses in charge of America- to let the Capitalist Way of Life determine our future and not the Socialist Agenda they think is afoot by our nefarious current administration?

You'll have plenty of time to rethink that position while standing in the unemployment line next to your shopping cart full of what's left of your possessions.

And if you think that could never happen to you, personally?

Ya. Good luck with that.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Giving Up the Illusion of Control

I'm an ornery ol' cuss.

Oh, I know on the outside I look pretty harmless- a half century old hippie chick with long graying hair, smile lines around my bi-focaled eyes, and gravity obviously luring my "pointier parts" back into Mother Earth. My wardrobe's from Goodwill, I am loathe to wear anything but flip flops, I spend no money on makeup, manicures or haircuts, and wear jewelry I've made out of natural stones plus a few cherished but simple pieces.

Not a very formidable front.

But on the inside I've always held that Sicilian Mama belief that most things in the world flat can't run without me at the helm. No one can cook like I can. No one can clean the house like I can. No one can pay the bills, organize our son's schooling, run my place of employment and the home farm like I can.

Without me supervising, my entire family would be wandering around outside, unfed, unbathed, probably pants-less.

If anyone offers to help with any of the above, my answer has always been "No thanks- I'll take care of it".

And I did, for a very long time.

And I still do, mostly.

But something happened about 4 years ago. My husband's health needs made it impossible for merely me to take care of everything. We were required to spend large amounts of time away from home, and that took me away from the helm, the rudder, the gist of the matters and left me relying on...other people.

This rankled. Alot. For I still thought I could handle everything alone.

But much as I wanted to- there was no way to feed and care for the farm while I was 200 miles away from it. Friends and neighbors stepped in and even though they did not do everything exactly as I did, nothing died. In fact, a few things they did differently were so sensible, I smacked myself upside the head in wonder that I'd been doing them otherwise for years.

And much as I wanted to- there was no way to be at my place of employment at the same time I was at the hospital with my husband. So I learned to delegate, and found that my employees were not only willing to help, they were happy to help out and take on additional duties for the duration. And the business did not go to hell in a handbasket.

And even when we ARE home, I've learned that my family consists of intelligent, innovative humans who have both complex thought processes AND opposable thumbs and that they are capable of helping out on the home front.

The boys cooking dinner with the help of Mrs. Stouffer's every so often will not kill us.

Boys who dust AROUND knick knacks instead of lifting them and dusting under them do not cause a rift in the time-space continuum.

My husband can, and does, teach our son with a patience and imagination I could never achieve.

They can even (mostly) remember to wear pants outside of the house.

The most difficult thing of all had to do with money.

Alot of our friends and family live far away and cannot come give actual, physical, haul the hay collect the eggs scrub the toilets help. But they want so badly to ease our pain, our hurt, our difficulties that they send their love in the form of cash.

This bothered me more than anything else, this sending of money. It smacked of neediness, of helplessness, of weakness.

So I'd refuse politely but firmly, sending money back to the gifter while simultaneously worrying about how to pay for the next medical disaster.


One of my friends lost patience with my bullheadedness.

She railed at me in frustration- demanding me to put myself in their shoes, to reverse the roles. "What would YOU do? If any one of us needed anything you'd be there to help in a heartbeat, and if you couldn't come personally- YOU'D SEND MONEY and be offended if it were returned".

She told me that by not allowing my friends to help us, I was doing THEM a great dis-service, denying them the only option open to them to ease my family's distress, our worry, our hardship.

I learned to say "Thank you" graciously and sincerely.

When asked what we need, I've learned to answer honestly with our current concerns instead of saying "Nothing, we're fine", when we so clearly are not.

Oh, don't get me wrong. I'm still a nit-picky eagle-eyed terror on medical staff and am daily an unreasonable harpy to my family.

But I've learned now that I don't have to shoulder the entire load the entire time the entire way- that the only one who even expected that of me

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Homeless and Hopeless in Hermann Park

Houston Texas has a huge homeless population. Not surprising since it's the 4th largest city in the US, and it's blessed with being in a very mild climate.

You see them everywhere, if you pay attention.

Under overpasses cardboard walls crumple in on meager possessions that only look like refuse to most of the rest of us.

Tucked into empty lots, backed into doorways, people lost from within and invisible from without wile away the days that all must run together in a never-ending procession of nightmare and surprise.

We noticed the Houston Homeless on our very first trip there. Those first years' pilgrimages to the cancer hospital included our little dog who would go to Doggy Daycare while we were otherwise occupied, and Doggy Daycare was past the hospitals, past Hermann Park, and just past the Museum District.

That first morning we were stopped at a stoplight in front of a church. Not Sunday morning, yet the entire yard was filled with a queue of humanity quietly silently awaiting entrance. It's a soup kitchen.

Where the Homeless go during the day I'm not sure, but one winter evening we were retrieving our little dog just after dark, and though the parents and children, bikers and joggers had long left Hermann Park, the Homeless had appeared like Ghost Moths- hovering lightly and and almost luminously in their nocturnal perches.

I was so preoccupied with my husband's health, I didn't give much thought to the Homeless of Hermann Park till we were faced with an Incident.

Illness has taken a great financial toll on our family- we no longer have a credit card, and very little cash. I try to bring as much extra cash as I can, "just in case", and this particular trip I had brought 7 days' worth of cash for what was supposed to be a 4 day trip. My husband contracted MRSA in hospital and we were there 10 days, not 4. Not 7. Ten.

Now, the hospital allows patients to cash a personal check a day for up to $50.

Our hotel room was $65 per day.

I was able to cobble together enough to survive, stay in the hotel, eat, and coast home on gas fumes, but that little episode gave me pause and I couldn't help but wonder

How many of the Hermann Park Homeless have family members in one of the many hospitals of the Hospital District? We came perilously close to "camping" in our auto that last few nights. What if I'd been OUT out of money, not just ALMOST out of money? What if my husband had been delayed by MONTHS instead of days?

In the last 8 years we've been with insurance, without insurance, and on medicare. Ward's been employed and unemployed. We've had medical trips when we've had money and medical trips when I've literally felt like I've gone begging for funds.

But the one thing that's been lurking at the back of my mind- behind the weedy shrubberies and crouched next to an old shopping cart- is the knowledge that like so many people who are "one paycheck away from eviction", without our safety net of family and friends, we'd be truly and honestly "one medical procedure away from living in Hermann Park".

What happens when the money runs out before the medical emergency is fixed? We're currently here 2 weeks and with no foreseeable date to go home- ground to a halt by a snowballing hairball of unexpected complications. We thought we'd be here 5 days- 7 at the most. We've got options, and support, and more love than a family can absorb without overflowing, and we're OK. We can weather this storm under roof and with full tummies.

But what if we didn't have those options, support and love?

What if we didn't have a computer that linked us with people around the world who care about us? What if I'd been working several jobs to keep ahead of disaster while caring for a family and ill husband and didn't have the time, energy or heart to make and keep friends who we could fall back on?

What if we were truly alone, as so many families are in our fragmented society?

I refuse to leave Ward here, trapped helpless and afraid in a hospital bed. If I had to, I'd live on a park bench to be with him every day.

How many of the Hermann Park Homeless are doing just that- is that why they seem to disappear during the day? Are they next to the bed of a loved one- holding a hand- reassuring them that everything is alright although it's anything but?

The Hospital District in Houston is the largest in the WORLD- just this cluster of hospitals employs 65,000 people- every one of those hundred or so waiting in the soup line could slip into any one of those great maws of medical care and be totally not noticed in the crowds.

And how many have left the hospital for the last time- mechanically leaving the empty shell of the worn out patient- going through the motions of walking, navigating hallways and crosswalks on automatic pilot- their bodies weighted to the earth while their sanity frantically flutters after the soul of the one just lost- up, up and gone- not caring what happens now to their own broken-hearted shell.

I wonder about these things.

But I'm mortally afraid to know the truth.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Spare Me the Drama, Mama- I Crave Some Mundane

I vividly remember our most recent family hug.

It was Sunday night, four days ago now.

Much like any other of a million family hugs- Ward, standing tall and strong, myself wrapped in his left arm, his son wrapped in his right- the three of us twined into a human pretzel held together with comfort, love, and familiarity.

We were only slightly inconvenienced by the IV's and drains attached to Ward, and the IV stand didn't get in our way at all.

It was a good hug. Nay, a great hug- filled with relief and exhaustion and joy all mingled together. Ward was absolutely and completely light-at-the-end-of-the-tunnel into healing after a very rocky week following what was supposed to be a pretty routine, albeit extensive surgery.

Alec and I left the hospital feeling good, Ward went to bed feeling good- we all anticipated Ward's release from the hospital by Wednesday at the latest.

Wednesday. Yesterday.

I'd fallen asleep fitfully- I'd caught a bug in hospital after a week of worry and sleeplessness and eating sparsely and horribly- and was just then feeling the full effects- dizziness, nausea- when the phone brought me suddenly, adrenalin-ly, sickeningly awake at 1am.

Ward needed emergency surgery immediately. In the middle of the night. But they assured me it would be a quick fix and he'd be back in his room by lunchtime Monday.

It didn't work that way and he's now lying in ICU attached to a ventilator and in congestive heart failure.

And I wonder whatever happened to "normal".

I asked my son yesterday if he could even, in his ten year existence, remember a time when our family life didn't consist of hospitals, operations, recovery, repeat. And though he made light of thinking it over, he was serious when he said "No. Not really".

I'm trying to come to terms with our new reality- not our beloved old knock-around house at the edge of Brownsboro TX (pop. 756)- chickens in the yard, turkeys on the porch, drifting off to sleep to the chorus of millions of spring peepers down by the pond, but this hotel room in the middle of Houston (4th largest city in the US of A)- the non-stop cacophony of helicopters and ambulances rushing to the hospital district glowing just a few blocks away.

And as crushing as living here with no set ending, no date we can circle on the calendar, is- we refuse to leave without Ward. He's here. We're here. They tell us it's going to be a "very very long haul" but that's fine as long as we're all here and all together.

I've known Ward for 16 years and we've been a couple almost 15. This is not my first go-around on the relationship/marriage train, but this is the only time I can honestly say there's never been one minute- one second- that I've ever thought "Hmmmm- this just isn't working out".

Ward's the best friend I've ever had, the best father I could ever imagine for Alec, and truly the Love of My Life. And even though I'm surly, argumentative and difficult, for some reason he feels the same way about me.

But while other couples- even those who still love each other deeply- stagnate and flounder a bit under the day to day child raising and working and bill paying, wishing for some excitement to knock the dust off of their routines, we crave the opposite-

Quiet. Normal. Boring. Stay-at-home Life.

I know, from tuning into every morsel of his being wrapped up, trussed up, invaded and hooked to machines that surround him carnivorously, that he can hear me. I hold his hand, and talk to him, and at sensible times there are signs- the twitch of his hand in mine, the raising of an eyebrow, the flicker of an eyelid, the rising or lowering of his blood pressure all tell me he's fighting as hard as he can- that no one wants to go home more than he does.

So we wait. And I keep him company, holding his hand and reading aloud to him in an almost insane caricature of normalcy. I pretend not to notice the nurses and others coming in and going about their medical business- the business of keeping my husband alive till his body is strong enough to once again keep itself alive.

And outside the hospital walls, I meet other people who complain petulantly about the irritating habits of spouses, or the boredom of their jobs, or the tiring mind-numbing chores inherent in the raising and training of children and they look at me like we're all in the same secret club and ask "Yanno what I mean?"

I think of what I wouldn't give right now to find beard hairs in the bathroom sink, or a collection of half empty soda cans abandoned around the house, or even to simply be at home in our own bed- together.

And I can't even feign thinking about it before answering, "No. Not really".

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

When Just Being Thicker Than Water is No Damn Good At All

"Blood is thicker than water".

I never did know what the hell that was supposed to mean. I mean, first of all- duh.
Second of all, so what?

I've found that in a pinch, when push comes to shove, when your back's against the wall and when the shit hits the fan, merely being "thicker than water" doesn't cut the mustard. You need a rope, good and strong.

And in actual practice, most of those that could be defined as "thicker than water" have been about as useful as tits on a bull.

My folks have helped us out as they could- so they're excluded.

Ward's mom was an angel.

But by and large, when we've really needed help- and unfortunately that's been a frequent event- it's been our friends who've rushed forward to catch us, to hold us, to steady us and keep us from going over the edge.

So years ago, we stopped depending on our blood relatives, and started forming our "real" families of people we knew would be there for us.

That's not unusual. Alot of people do that. What is unusual, is that instead of banding together with others just like us, our "real" family is an amazing combobulation of religions, genders, nationalities, races, orientations, ages, and political scope. I credit the interwebs with allowing us to meet such a glorious lot, although my innate oddness would've ensured that our manufactured immediate family would not resemble our neighbors' at all.

Right now, my husband and his wife and son are in the most distress we've ever been in. He's in ICU at a huge cancer hospital and on a ventilator- not breathing on his own and in possible congestive heart failure.

Our home and farm are being cared for indefinitely by a huge bear of a man from Montana who's moved into our home and family- we've turned him into an old chicken herding hippie, and he's Friend to Ward, Uncle to Alec, and he has me packing a purse pistol named Thelma.

The friend our son thinks of as his brother drove down for the weekend and took Alec to NASA and a grand tour of the seedier parts of Houston.

My friend of over 30 years who lives in the Dallas area drove down after church to spend Sunday afternoon and evening with Alec.

Our friends who live in Houston are there always- on call- to take any or all of us out for distraction or into their home for comfort.

My home school moms are coming here tomorrow to be here for us.

Alec has had offers literally from around the country by people who want to take him into their homes- protect him, love him, support him while I deal with the mundane horrors of the cancer hospital.

Alec, Ward and I have faced 8 years of this mess together and together we'll face this go-round. Together. We're not leaving here without my husband and Alec's daddy.

People call me and email me and message me from around the world. We're being prayed for, candles lit, energies and jujus sent, and all gods and spirits called for strength for my family.

Friends we've met, hugged in real life, and those we haven't, from sea to shining sea, both new and one I've known for 35 years are there at the touch of a mouse, or the tapping out of a phone number.

We feel the love as a shawl around our shoulders- warm and sheltering.

Our friends ARE our Family- better than some sticky ooze that's claim to fame is being "thicker than water", our friends are our rope- and we cling tightly to them while being beaten down by the storms of illness. Over and over and over again.

They are stalwart. And true. And without them we'd have drowned long ago.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Hey Dr. Rice- Why Are You Such An Asshole?

It was rush hour in Tyler Texas- not New York City by any stretch of the imagination, but Tyler boasts a respectable almost 80,000 people and the Loop between 5 and 6:30pm is pretty well-traveled.

I was stopped at an intersection with a traffic signal along with say, 50 or 60 other autos, when I saw in the rear-view mirror a small, spotless and sleek sports-type car weaving in and out, jockeying to be in the front when the light turned green. As the car lurched impatiently forward past me, I saw the Vanity Plate- Dr Rice.


You drive like a completely insensitive selfish asshole and your car has your NAME on it? That adds like, a million points to your asshole score.

The sad thing is, we've become an increasingly UNcivilization.

Used to be, if we were engaged in conversation with someone, or at work- perhaps waiting on a customer, or watching a movie in a public theater, that one thing would be the most important thing to us at that moment. We would've been appalled if suddenly someone else had just popped into whatever we were doing and started talking about something completely different. How often were we told as children, and told OUR children "Don't interrupt. It's very rude".

And yet, that's what happens all the time now. Cell phones are everywhere, going off like so many buzzers, alarms, annoying snippets of popular or classical music, fracturing any semblance of whatever was supposed to be going on in the first place.

When did we all become so important that we have to be connected to everyone at all times and whoever is physically around us be damned?

Little horrible secret- we're not.

We're all suffering from grotesquely bloated egos, and truth be told, are damaging the most important relationships around us every day with carelessness.

Do I have a cell phone? You betcha. It is, in fact, my work phone- bought and paid for by my employer because as manager, I'm to be available to the workplace 8a-8p/7/365.

But here's the thing.

When it rings, if I'm otherwise occupied (and I often am), I hit 'mute', glance at the number and decide if it's urgent or let it go to voicemail. If I feel I must answer it, I excuse myself and leave the room- nothing is quite as thoughtless as someone yakkin' it up on their phones within earshot of everyone around them- essentially rendering them inconsequential and unimportant.

When did we become such a nation of sociopaths?

This afternoon, leaving the hospital, we were waiting for the elevator in the parking garage. My son and myself, a young adult woman, and an older couple- the husband using a cane. The elevator arrived, and the young woman stepped in first and pushed the button for her floor as the older couple moved slowly towards the door- only a few steps- we'd all been standing right in front of the elevator.

The doors closed and the elevator was gone.

When the next one arrived, my son and I entered first, and my 10 year old son- without being asked to- pushed and held the "open door" button till the older couple was on board. When we got off on our floor, he asked me incredulously "Didn't that lady SEE that they were old and needed a minute to get on??? Why didn't she hold the door open?"

I don't know.

I can't tell him why a grown woman would do that.

Maybe she was in a hurry. Maybe she was distracted with the worry over whatever relative she has in the hospital. Or maybe she's related to Dr. Rice.

I moderate an online forum, and every so often we get 'trolls'- those lovely people who live to annoy other people and push their buttons, frothing up and igniting entire cyber-populations. Here's what I can't understand- behind the anonymous curtain of the interwebs you can be anyone you want to be- you can be rich, good looking, brilliant, philanthropic, dynamic, and generally outstanding.

Why would you purposely CHOOSE to be an asshole?

Which brings us back to Dr. Rice. Like the lady in the elevator, I don't know if Dr. Rice was hurrying to some emergency surgery, or just late for cocktails with a colleague at the club. If the former was the case, I apologize for misconstruing your behavior, and I hope you got there in time.

If the latter is true, it concerns me not a little that you think you deserve to be at the front of the line by virtue of your social status.

It bothers me quite alot that this attitude may very well seep into how you treat your patients.

We're none of us all that important that we are given permission to discount those around us. We must put the civil bits back into civilization, or risk losing the humanity parts of being human.

Monday, April 5, 2010

When Even the Queen of the Universe Can't Fix It

It's now 11:27pm, and I've been up since 4am.

At 4am, my family got up, showered, and headed to MDAnderson Cancer Center for our 6am check in time for my husband's most recent surgery.

For eight years- over half the time we've been together, and for most of our son's life, my husband has been fighting with cancer and the after effects of that plus heart disease and diabetes.

We've had mostly good medical staff, some outstandingly brilliant medical staff, and just a few dismally inept medical staff, and I've learned something vitally important in all this-
medical staff are human.
They have many patients and must attend to technical important things like dosages, reactions, and proper protocol. There's not much time left in their day to consider that every body they tend is also a husband, mother, child, grandparent.

Patients are more than organisms in need of healing- they are cherished members of family circles.

In what continues to be touted as the best health care nation in the world, every patient needs, not as in "This sure would be nice", but as in "If the patient does not have this he/she may die", to have a patient advocate who is not afraid to ask questions, not afraid to speak up if something seems 'off', and who is Family- because no one cares for each patient as passionately as a family member.

Tonight, by chance, on our way out the door I happened to overhear the nurse say she had been given orders to administer Tylenol to my husband for pain. He's in the beginning stages of liver disease and should NOT take Tylenol. Ever. That was confirmed by bloodwork taken here, at this hospital, truly one of the best in the world, less than 4 days ago. I alerted the post-op nurse of this and she changed his medication instructions accordingly. If I hadn't been there, my already weak and compromised husband would've been given a whoppin' dose of the very medication that has wreaked havoc on his liver.

But I digress...

My darling was wheeled out of pre-op at 8am- headed for his third total grafting in less than 4 years. In between blood clots in his heart and having to go on insulin for his diabetes, today they did a total new graft on the area where they removed cancer (three times)- only one graft was done post-cancer- these last two have failed due to healing issues.

That area is up on his head- where his right eye used to be. It's been microsurgeried, enucleated, radiated, re-surgeried, and now grafted three times.

They've taken donor tissue (muscle and vessels)from his neck all three grafts, from his forearm once, his side under his other arm once,and this time from the leg that wasn't already harvested for veins they needed for his open heart surgery almost 15 years ago, and skin grafts now 4 times.

And every time he goes in with resignation I cannot believe and bravery I cannot fathom.

He keeps on not for himself- this is a man who never asks for anything, ever, but for us- his wife and his son- and we spend the entire time he's asleep, and in recovery, and till he's healed willing the medical staff to take care of him and willing him to be strong.

This time he was in surgery from about 9am till about 4pm, and had a more difficult time with recovery than the other times- he wasn't moved to a regular room till after 10pm. We're relieved that he didn't need to go to ICU even though he needed a transfusion for bleeding during surgery.

Many many people- family and friends of all of today's surgical patients- crowded the surgical waiting room today- starting all at 6am. By noon, about half of them were gone, and by 4 most of the rest were gone. Only a few of us were left then- the ones whose precious family members were undergoing 'extensive procedures'. He was one of the last out of the recovery room.

I'm exhausted. Our son is exhausted. I know my husband is exhausted.
We all just want to go home now, be a normal family and do normal stuff.

But we haven't had that careless scenario for a very long time.

The spectre of illness hangs heavy over our heads and it makes me crazy with worry, with frustration, with white hot anger at this curse on a man who deserves it less than any human I've ever met.

So we're here- ripped up by our roots from our beloved Pineywoods and thrust face-first into downtown Houston for the duration and many many re-checks to follow- in the last 4 years we've gone no longer than 4 months without a trip down here for one appointment or another.

As I'm typing, I just now told my son to close up his computer and try to get to sleep- he was playing a computer game with almost frenetic intensity after spending 15 hours cooped up in a cancer hospital. His computer was not fully closed before his eyes were and he's already sound asleep.

I'm headed to bed as soon as I make myself some tea, or maybe cocoa- I've spent all day trying to think of something to write here- something clever, or thoughtful, or important.

But in the end, this is it- what our family has learned at the expense of a 'normal' life- when even the Queen of the Universe can't fix whatever's wrong the only thing left is to love each other with a little more fervor, cherish each minute you can reach out and touch a loved one, be patient, and kind, and selfless.

Petty arguments and disagreements are time-stealers and we're all alotted a finite amount of minutes- grudges and revenge are abominations.

Tomorrow begins another round of recovery for my husband- closing my eyes all I can see are his poor ravaged features and opening my eyes I gaze on my sleeping 10 year old boy who's seen much more physical horror than most adults.

And yet they both look to me for strength- when the truth is my strength is a reflection of their character.

Love each other. Be strong for each other. Cherish each other.
I am the Queen of the Universe and I so decree.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Westward Ho! a.k.a. Romancing the (Grave)stone

I'm a proud member of a Homesteading Forum. The term "homesteading" loosely encompasses people in many different phases and incarnations- Those who are learning, or want to learn, how to become rural, those who are rural and dabble in agricultural pursuits, and those who make farming a livelihood.

To all of us, subsistence farming is a preferred way of life. Our main common thread is that we are devoted to being able to feed and shelter our families with as little dependence on outside sources as possible.

Knowing how to grow things, either plants or animals, and then turn them into food for the table both eaten fresh and preserved for later use, is paramount.

Having our homes set up to run well and comfortably even if the electric goes out gives us security and peace of mind.

Unlike alot of Homesteading Forums, though, ours is pretty laid back as far as membership requirements.

While a large number of forums are those who are mainly Survivalists aspiring to be hermits , or Fundamental Christians looking to escape from the evils of the secular world, or GlennBeckian Conservatives who are sure the whole shebang is headed for Hell in a Handbasket, we're pretty much a group of ol' hippie-types- Peace, Love, RockNRoll, pass the granola please.

As such, our group includes members of all the other types of homesteaders, and for the most part, we all try to see each others' points of view, get along pretty well and the name-calling and compost-slinging is kept to a minimum.

One of the only things that puts a hitch in my giddyup is when someone says

"I was born 100 years too late. I'd much rather have been a pioneer".


While I live in a 100+ year old house that's filled with antiques (other than us longhaired ol' geezers) and we own, use and love all manner of "old fashioned" things, I for one am pretty grateful I'm living now, in the futuristic 21st century.

If I had been born 100 years ago, I most likely would've died from one of the many bouts of toncilitis I had as a child. If I had survived to adulthood-

-the father of my older two children would've died at 35 from the heart failure he suffered

-my daughter would've died of the appendicitis she had at age 6

-my older son would've died from the severe colic he had as a newborn

-I would've had very little chance of traveling from Wisconsin to Texas where I met my current husband, who probably would've had very little chance of traveling from a different part of Wisconsin to Texas

-our son probably would've died from one of the many ear infections he had as a little critter. At the very least he'd be stone cold deaf from them.

-my husband would be dead of the cancer he was diagnosed with 8 years ago. Actually, he probably would've died of the heart attack he had right after we met (no, I did NOT cause it...)

-many people we love, and some we are proud to call "family" would've been completely unknown to us since we met them via the interwebs.

People who lived 100 years ago had a rough slog of it- never-ending work, little or no pay, precious bits of leisure time- a true hard-scrabble existence that makes my worst day look like a literal walk in the park.

Men could expect to live to about 45, if they were lucky.
Women could look forward to giving birth to many children but raising just a few, if they were lucky. Dying in childbirth was a very common way to exit this life.
Children- I don't even want to go there.

I'm grateful I live in a time where I have the CHOICE to live a "simple" life- although doing and cooking and living from scratch doesn't look simple to alot of people.

If I'm sick I can microwave dinner from the freezer, if it's raining I can toss laundry into the dryer instead of hanging it, and if I'm too tired to build a fire I can crank up the thermostat.

The point is, I CAN care for my family, and keep them safe thanks to a wondrous combination of old traditional ways and newfangled inventions.

Why on earth would I wish the drudgery and danger of a pioneer existence on people I love?

So while I'm happy and eager to LEARN pioneer ways, I'm pretty sure that if I could hop into a time machine and meet up with a real pioneer woman, showed her the way we live now and then told her "But I'd really prefer to live in YOUR time", she'd smack me upside the head, steal my time machine and leave me in 100 year old dust.

Because the pioneers may have been alot of things, but stupid they weren't.