Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Tishialuk girls are neat and tidy

So, again, apologies some more for the sporadic nature of the updates. Life has been happening, not always smoothly, and I haven't been in the writing space mentally in a while.

When last we met, we were farewelling Doc and wishing him all the best at his new home in Brandywine, where he was going to make a fine lawnmower. When I came to class last week, however, he was still peering out over the door of his stall, inspecting a new arrival with his usual bonhomie. Huh, sez I to the barn staff, quoi le hell? Oh, said they. About that.

There are three sides to every story, yours mine and the truth. Some sort of miscommunication or misunderstanding had occurred, and the owners of the Brandywine Equine Shady Acres or whatever it's called had not understood that (a) Doc is skinny, (b) Doc is in fact quite ill, and (c) it's not so much a retirement situation as a hospice. They just took one look at his increasingly bony frame and pointed out that the neighbors would, with reason, call the ASPCA to report a starving animal. The officers would then probably call for him to be put down, and while that might eventually be the fate of most retired horses, the imminence of Doc's likely end did not appeal.

It's hard to fault the would-be Tooks for the decision, and it's hard to fault the barn for wanting Doc to have time as a pasture creature. They continue to treat him like a king and have accepted that he will stay in the barn until he shows signs of actual discomfort. For the moment, he's eating well, though his body doesn't seem to be nourished by the food. He whickered very loudly when he saw me; I was abashed, since, thinking he would be gone, I was un-pommed, and gave him alfalfa cubes instead. He took them with a look of resignation (and I stocked up on fruit at this weekend's markets).

Manny and I continue to struggle along together, but after our lesson last week he colicked up and tried to roll under his next rider. Another horse had done the same; since both had been vaccinated that morning, one wonders whether their systems might've had one thing too many to deal with. I don't know about Sunny, but Manny cribs like crazy; it might not take much for his GI tract to get hinky.

All is not hooves, however. I finally got over to the local university follow-up program to hear what fun things await the nearly 20-year (this December! party in New Orleans! celebratory Mezze of Destruction for all!) cancer survivor. They'd given me preemptive homework, or maybe it's more fun to think of it as a quest: get a reedonkulous number of tests, including the dreaded mammogram, which on women with small boobs is pretty much pointless torture. But I did it, so I got to spend a few hours at the pediatric cancer center, talking with a social worker, the resident, various nurses, and a sweet medical student who looked about 12 and said that she'd never listened to a peds survivor's story before. And man, mostly the time was spent talking, with brief breaks for a physical exam and basic stats. They wanted a full family history, the cancer story, the pericardial-problems saga, whether I've got PTSD (yes, kind of, but it's not debilitating), and what problems I've encountered with physicians.

In exchange for all my yapping and for a vial of my blood ("I'm bad with sticks and I have a three-strikes rule." "I'm good and I have a one-strike rule"—she wasn't lying, I got a Bugs Bunny bandaid, and although I don't get swoony after needles, they wouldn't let me get up without someone at each elbow), I got the rundown of do's and don'ts. DO keep exercising. DON'T overdo it. DO eat healthy. DON'T do eight shots in half an hour (ah, the joys of a hospital on a college campus), and DO drink only in moderation (fortunately, they cleared continued research for that J Martiniol abstract that IE and I have been preparing, as long as we don't try to rush the speriments). DO go see a pulmonologist; DON'T smoke ever (no fear). DO get flu shots; DON'T get The Hamthrax. And so on.

There wasn't anything terribly surprising in their recommendations or warnings. I know my liver, kidneys, heart, and lungs didn't exactly benefit from the treatment; I know I'm mostly fine. What did come as a bit of a shock was the constant comment that I'm unusual in being this up to date, and that I'm far from the first person who had to work through grief at the realization that cancer never really leaves your life.

Also surprising: how great the peds space was. I was VEXED not to have brought my camera; the firefighter action figure lying on top of the sharps box in the bathroom was a study in composition. Kids are allowed to choose a ceiling tile to paint, so there are flowers and motorcycles and a gold-toothed pirate skull and sailing ships to stare at as you lie on the table. Treatment rooms are decorated as Sesame Street-esque storefronts; I was interviewed in Joe's Barber Shop, which is a black joke and fucking hilarious under the circumstances. A large section of the waiting area is full of child-sized crafts tables, with an arts coordinator in a paint-covered apron helping kids decorate bowls and vases in tempera and glaze. I grumbled about having blood taken and asked jokingly if there were lollipops in the offing; "No," said the nurse calmly, "But there are M&Ms at the desk; take some on your way out." Well before I got to the desk, the social worker poked her head back in: "The catering service drops off bag lunches for patients who've had to be here for a long time. Would you prefer ham and cheese or peanut butter and jelly?"

The biggest difference from what I remembered was the lack of wailing. The social worker, who's been in oncology for more than 20 years, explained that the sedative that did for Michael Jackson is extremely effective—and safe, when used with observation—and is now standard for kids who are getting spinal taps. You used to hear the most blood-curdling heart-breaking howls from children who saw the LP tray; now, they're conked out and don't wake up until everything is over with. As someone who had a hideous experience with her second tap, I say 'BOUT TIME.

Given all this plushy treatment, my plan to spend a day being self-indulgent seemed a bit, er, self-indulgent, but no weakness! I ate my lunch in a park, reading a book about how a catastrophic flooding of the Black Sea may've been the root of the Flood myths in Sumerian and Hebraic culture, then went to Aveda for a spa massage: lotions and scrubbers and more lotion and paraffin and more lotion and Saint Petersburgundy, please. Thence to Le Pain Quotidien for hot chocolate and a croissant, and then off to Firefly for fried things with cheese and a couple of wondrous strange cocktails with a friend, who joined me in eavesdropping on the unsuccessful blind date next to us. "Oh my god, the word Jager should not come up in your first meeting with someone." "Her body language: 'I am not impressed.'" "'But I'll be nice.'" "'But this is a one-time thing.'"

And so to bed.


Anonymous said...

In the namez of science, our research, it must proceed!

Otwise, glad you're gonna be ok, at least until you're not.


Flying Lily said...

Do you like the flood book? I'm always hunting for something sensible about ancient floods, as in teaching classical mythology the question arises why there are so many myths of floods.

Nothing like being in the hands of medicals, as you so well know; such a childish and lonely feeling and yet they are often very good at what they do - like the one-stick rule goddess.

3pennyjane said...

The flood book is the kind of sparkling synthesis of different disciplines that has the potential to reshape some of those fields dramatically. The authors postulate that the flood myths in most Middle Eastern cultures derive from a massive flood of the Black Sea, which was for thousands of years separated from the Med by a land barrier and whose inundation by salt water they think is the root of the Sumerian and Hebraic flood stories. Although they occasionally lean too heavily on the You! Are! THERE! school of trying to make things like deep-sea core sampling interesting (note: it doesn't work that well), they've done an excellent job of putting together data from geology, fossil records, linguistic analyses, and settlement patterns to support the hypothesis that the Black Sea was once a freshwater lake, that its banks were settled by people who would have found the area ideal for developing agriculture, and that some massive event drove populations toward distant regions about 7000 years ago.

I might've found the book hard going on top of a standard reading courseload in college, but if someone had forced me through it I would have felt as though they'd also sawed the top off my cranium and filled it with sparkling pop-rocks. I look forward with tremendous interest to further archaeological work on the Black Sea floor; if the authors are right, there should be well-preserved remains of villages...400 feet under water, in a dangerous hypoxic environment. To answer your question, this is a really good book on the flood myths. There's a National Geographic special about Ryan and Pitman's work; your students might find that an easier entree.

I liked that these medicos are used to dealing with patients who have Very Particular Ideas about how they should be treated. Also I like being plied with candy and cartoon bandaids.