peering into 2022

Posted: January 1, 2022 in Uncategorized

Most years I come to this writing process full of thoughts, ideas, and feelings about the coming year. Usually I have done weeks if not months of mental pre-work for sketching out the coming year.

This year is not like that. Having been previously counted as “high capacity” as a worker or leader, I find that all that capacity has been sucked up by getting through nearly two years at the front lines of the pandemic, along with the mental, spiritual, and physical fallout that have continually exacerbated things. I’m in a different place and I’m pretty sure I’m a different person.

But let’s see where we can get to.

spiritual landscape

This year will be my 7th year of listening through the Bible in a year. I had tried many times to read through in a year and had never come even a little close to managing it. In 2016 I paid for the Daily Audio Bible app on my phone (these days it is free, but back then it cost) and I dug in, listening every morning very first thing, either before I even got out of bed, or while I showered and got ready for work.

I did not understand how dramatically that one decision was going to change my life.

Listening through somehow shifted me from seeing it all as “lessons for life” to a lens on very real people living very real lives…and that made it hard. That first year was scary for me as I listened through, finding myself yelling at God, “What am I supposed to do with THAT?!” while I processed stories differently or heard things I didn’t recall ever having heard or read throughout my entire life in church (where I had not only been learning and studying but also quite regularly teaching and/or leading). I had just wanted to do a good thing in reading all the way through with intention, and then I was left wondering if I was even going to count as a Christian anymore by the time I got through the year.

These days it’s becoming popular for some pastors to decry the “trend” of deconstruction, implying that people are jumping on a fad, trying to be cool, etc. I didn’t even know the word “deconstruction” in 2016 when I actually started deconstructing. I wasn’t seeking to upset the applecart of my faith – I didn’t go looking to deconstruct, but rather kind of tripped into it in the process of trying to be as faithful as possible. Along the way, I noticed that some other people seemed to be in the same boat as me, much to my relief, and eventually I have come to believe that there is a great shift happening in the church that will, in the context of history, perhaps one day be shown as just as significant and dramatic as the Protestant Reformation.

For me, deconstruction has looked like:

  • The aforementioned wrestling with scripture. I am still very engaged on a daily basis with the Bible, but my relationship with it and my understanding of it have dramatically changed over the past six years.
  • Slowly and somewhat systematically picking up first the more tangential things and eventually even the most basic elements of my faith for a whole different level of examination, asking myself why I believe what I believe and taking a hard look at what others have believed across the span of the history of the faith, rather than just here in modern day ‘Murica and the evangelical culture of which I no longer count myself a member.
  • Really trying to sort out how much of what I believe is because God says so as evidenced by the Bible actually saying AND meaning it that way, and how much is the modern understanding in my culture that is not really connected to the original intent when written down so very long ago and far away.
  • Sitting with the dissonance, where I don’t understand or have answers, and just trusting that God is taking me on a journey and it’s not my job to know it all…just to be open to learning and changing.

The journey has been painful and frightening, but also interesting and even sometimes satisfying or even exciting. It’s not a journey I want to pull anyone into – the last thing I want to do is pull someone out of a faith context that is working in their lives to be uncomfortable with me. So I have been quiet about it more often than not, and likely will continue to be.

Here’s a thing that has just begun to come to me in the past week or so: from what I understand, Jewish culture has a thing about the number 7, with things happening like debts being canceled, bond servants being set free, and the shmita, which I don’t pretend to understand completely, but includes even giving the land/crops a rest for an entire year. According to the Jewish calendar, we are actually IN a shmita year, which started in September 2021 with Rosh Hashanah, and maybe it’s not a coincidence that my 7th year of deconstruction falls at such a time.

All that to say: it’s been a heck of a journey, and I have reason to believe that 2022 might be an important year for me in the process – hey, maybe I’ll even move on toward more of a reconstruction emphasis rather than deconstruction.

redefining normal

Back in spring 2020, some had the idea that life was gonna be weird for a few weeks and then this whole pandemic thing would blow itself out and we’d return to normal. Here we are nearly two years later, and I’m not the only one dealing with exhaustion, fatigue, PTSD, and anxiety related to this slow-rolling live trauma event.

We’re not going back to “normal,” if there ever even was such a thing. We are changed – the effects of all that has transpired are etched upon us and have recontextualized a whole lot of things. I said to a coworker recently that we’re all missing our “old jobs” because we’ve been functioning as disaster management specialists for nearly two years now.

I begin to have a small hope that while the pandemic insanity is winding up to get louder in the immediate future, this might finally be the year that it eventually starts to peter out. Unless current me is rewriting history unconsciously, which is always a possibility, I held no such delusions that the end of the pandemic was happening in any part of 2020 or 2021.

So I bought a refill for the guts of my planner for 2022, after the planner had been shelved since March 2020 as an Utterly Irrelevant Item – who makes plans when a virus is dictating terms on a day to day basis? I have begun writing in things that won’t change, like birthdays, and things that hopefully won’t change, like vacation and other days off.

In pre-pandemic years, my planner was crammed full with tiny handwriting so all the things could fit in. So far there is still a lot of white space in the 2022 planner, and I have some ideas about things I’d love to start putting in there, but I don’t have the luxury in my life of discounting what voice the pandemic still might have in dictating next steps for the near future. So I’m some funky combination of cautious optimism, stirring ambition, and flinching and twitching as I try to be ready to roll with whatever actually comes next.

the good ol’ homestead

Still, I don’t hesitate to write down the ambitions on the “homestead” front.

  • In my mind is a well-defined plan to build a “penthouse suite” within the Chicken Palace. If not for my knee difficulties, I’d have gotten it done this fall. City codes require a permit for raising chickens where we live, and the number of chickens allowed is determined by the square feet of enclosed sleeping space provided. This means right now, we can’t raise more than our 5 chickens, and honestly, 5 is enough for us. But livestock sustainability requires thinking ahead, and when I get the penthouse suite built, we’ll have enough sleeping space to allow us to consider more chicks (maybe in 2023) so that as the first batch age, others will step up. After all, while the chickens are largely just a fun pet project that gives us joy, we DO love the eggs…and my ongoing concern that democracy looks poised to fail here means I’m all about maintaining a reliable protein source that doesn’t depend on the local grocery store.
  • Our front yard will be filled with plants this summer. I will add fruit bushes, fruit vines, fruit trees. We don’t need grass to mow, we just need space to walk between the plants, and I intend to push us forward hard on that this year.
  • I will keep advancing on the back yard too. I have a plan to reconfigure one of the 10×10 raised beds to make it deeper but also more workable (though I’m aiming to plant earlier than usual this year, so the reworking might be a fall project, rather than a spring one). I want to bring in more perennials that are good for the bees and butterflies. And I really, really want to finally get the lean-to porch added to the garage, but we’ll see…that project has been daunting for years now. I’m also thinking about a bat shelter for the back exterior of the garage, since bats are a good thing to have around for insect control, even though I lose my mind when they get into our house (which thankfully hasn’t happened for several years now). And this year I want to erect a crow feeding station, since crows keep the hawks and foxes away from your chickens…if only I can find a place to put it that works, in our tiny little yard.

body stuff

As I do the work to rehabilitate after having both knees replaced, attention to the condition of this body is at the forefront. My legs won’t get stronger and better without faithful hard work. My hope is to never need another knee replacement again; I can’t count myself as working toward that hope if I don’t get some weight off. The plan for that is intermittent fasting (which is easy for me, and anything that’s not easy is just not going to happen, I’ve come to acknowledge) and reasonable, regular exercise. I won a FitBit at the holiday party at work recently, so I have a great tool for tracking, reminding, etc.

clean basement

When we moved into this house, just like every other move in my life, there were extra boxes that I just didn’t know what to do with, so they got tossed in an unlovely pile in the basement. That was in 2016 and I’ve meant ever since then to do a real organization and cleanout of the basement, but it never happens. Writing it down now to help pull myself into making a realistic plan and working it out.

avoiding overcrowding

Before the pandemic I was years into being maxed out, often meeting myself coming and going, and longing for a different pace on many fronts. A gift of the pandemic has been how it forced me to simplify. It is NOT my intention to pile myself back up to a state of overwhelm whenever we finally get to stop disaster management mode. Whatever is “afterward,” it ain’t gonna match what came before.

signing off

That’s what I’ve got for now, folks. Not a terrible forward look, considering how much less prep I did for this one than the last several years or more. While I notably did not make a “write more” goal, if you know me, you know it is unspoken on the list too.

I’m always interested to hear what YOU are anticipating/planning as well!

2021 summary

Posted: December 31, 2021 in Uncategorized

Well I don’t write much these days (she says, for the umpteenth year in a row) but I never tire of the year-end and new year writing traditions. Let’s take a little time to look at what I aimed for at this time last year, and what really happened.

52 snow days

One of my aims for this year again was to take a weekly sabbath, which was framed in the book that finally persuaded me this was a good idea by comparing it to having “52 snow days per year.” What a delightful analogy…it drew me in a way that no amount of “shoulds” or other reasoning could. 52 days a year with the delicious freedom of a snow day? YES PLEASE!

I won’t say I did it perfectly. Some weekends it felt like there was just stuff that could not wait. But overall I feel good about where that landed. I am now fully persuaded that a weekly day off, being REALLY OFF, not burdened down with things to catch up, is wisdom. I plan to continue the tradition for next year as well.

writing for joy

Well, I failed on this one. I think I wrote like 6 blogs for the whole year, and any other writing I did this year was work. I didn’t even manage to write letters to friends. Not even cards. I do miss writing, but also my life is quite full. I think it’s ALWAYS going to be my aim to write more.

strengthening my body

At this time last year I was in physical therapy to support my terrible knees. I had gotten shots in them, but we rapidly determined that while I could only get the shots every 3 months, they wore off in 7-8 weeks. So I set about the work of losing 35 pounds so I could qualify for total knee replacement surgery, having already done all I could in 2021 to solve the knee problem some other way.

Physical therapy saved me a lot of pain in the meanwhile. I didn’t qualify for surgery until something like May, and then it took until August to get on the surgeon’s schedule for the first knee and October for the second. I took what I had learned in PT and worked it hard, twice per day, with the morning session eventually spanning out into an hour and forty minutes daily because I just kept adding strengthening and stretching exercises. I felt my legs change over time and my confidence grew as well. I am a true believer in PT – grab that opportunity if you get it, and then don’t waste the power of it by failing to do your homework exercises!

These days I’m doing post-surgical PT at home (having used up all the sessions my insurance provided) and it’s harder than it was before surgery, of course.

This time last year I had just purchased a dipping station; I used it a lot this year but I haven’t yet achieved the very specific exercise I want to do. Small, patient steps. I will get there!

yard and garden

It was a weird year for the yard and garden, as my knee difficulties kept me from really digging into the work in my usual ways. We spent the money to have the tree taken down in our front yard after it had done major damage to two cars and destroyed a gate in our back yard during the derecho, so there’s half the front yard now un-shady and just waiting to be planted. I didn’t get it done yet. But we did add two 15 ft x 2 ft raised beds on either side of our front sidewalk, to my delight. And this fall I bought some cool raised bed planters made of tin that we’ll use this spring. This was also the year I finally got my clothesline up, though with the knee stuff I didn’t use it as much as would have otherwise. We also put in a nice swing set with tree house for the grandkids. Over all, the yard continues to slowly come together, and OF COURSE I have a lot of plans for next steps for 2022, but we’re not here to talk about that today, are we?

chickens

We got them! We picked up six chicks at a local farm store in the spring, and I ordered a kit to build a chicken coop and run. As soon as it came, I realized it was too small, so I ordered a second one, planning to connect them together. And then I took another look at a friend’s cool “chicken tunnels” set up and I got ambitious, so I contacted my SuperSon and made my annual “please build me something for Mother’s Day” request, placing the biggest order yet with my hand-drawn design to enclose both coops inside a large run with tons of room for the chickens to run and plenty of high places for them to roost. He’s the best son EVER and he came through, along with his lovely bride. G and I worked with them for one long, exhausting 3-day weekend and then we did the finishing work piecemeal, hiring help for the things we couldn’t manage by ourselves. My hard working daughter helped me put together and paint the two coops, which are tucked securely inside the run. The Chicken Palace is a wonder, hilarious in its hugeness, and our five chickens (yes, alas, Judge Judy died inexplicably one day and on, we don’t know exactly how/why) are quite happy in it.

We are so very “town people vibe” with our chickens. The me who grew up on a farm just laaaaaughs and laughs at how silly we are with these critters. They have toys and get treats. They know their names and can be persuaded to put on a sort of “chicken parade” in the aviary portion of the palace (yes, I said aviary, we are ridiculous) if we open the bathroom window and call them by name. They are FANTASTIC. G is the chicken whisperer who refuses to stop free ranging them when he’s outside, even though it is against the rules per the City code (bothersome to this compliant lady) and even though they tear the crap out of our yard in the short time they are out. I tell him and tell him and he just keeps letting them out. He’s a real freedom fighter and I love him for it.

vacation!

December 2020 was maybe the worst month of my life, so I was down for the count this time last year, having dealt with 23 COVID deaths in that one month alone. We got our first Pfizer vaccine at work in January and that day G and I sat down and mapped out when we’d be at “fully vaccinated” status – that is, two weeks past the second shot – and then we planned a beach vacation to start the very next day. The thing is I have ALWAYS struggled to get through January and February with their lack of sunshine or outdoor time, and I was so beaten up that I needed a reason to keep getting out of bed in the morning. The plan to go to the beach in Destin, Florida was just the right thing – every day we thought about it and talked about it and looked at photos and made packing lists and plans, and it got me through with zero days stuck in the bed too depressed to move and zero need for psychiatric intervention to hold me together. Destin was perfect, though flying during a pandemic was horrible and I won’t be doing that again until the coast is clearer. We loved the time away so much that we instantly reserved a place to do the whole thing again this February. SEVEN WEEKS FROM NOW, BABY!

all things medical

It’s been a heck of a year on the medical front. In January at my annual eye exam, I submitted to an extra part that they said might cost extra but was very valuable, and that exam found a problem that sent me to a retina specialist. He ended up deciding that the stuff in that eye was not (yet) a problem, but there was a retinoschesis wayyyy in the back of my other eyeball that needed to be addressed immediately. Guys, that triggered me HARD. I’ve had eye issues since I was really little – went right into pop bottle glasses in like kindergarten. The idea of maybe losing my vision in one eye triggered my anxiety hard. We needed to do the procedure quick, as we were leaving for that vacation, and our insurance wanted to take their time approving it, so there was a bit of angst and drama before my boss swooped in and saved the day, pushing it all through.

Laser surgery on my eyeball was not a fun experience – you don’t get to sleep through that, you have to sit up in a chair and cooperate by looking this way and that while the machine ensures your eye never closes. The least fun part for me, really, was the thought that it probably wasn’t my last time in the laser surgery chair, since the other eye is just not “yet” in need of addressing. Ah well. The miracles of modern medicine!

In the final quarter of 2020 I’d suffered from (sorry, males, for this information) very severe bleeding that would not quit – I bled for 10 of the last 12 weeks of 2020…and had no time or bandwidth to see a doctor about it, being too wrapped up in pandemic survival. Finally in February I got a gynecologist, since my GP wouldn’t address it when I asked her about it in my January annual physical, and went through tests that found a fibroid. And then found out the hospital where that gynecologist has privileges just wouldn’t take my insurance at all. There were literally months of delay in trying to get that doctor to forward my records to the next doctor I found, and that was all such a mess that we ended up not addressing the fibroid because by then it was nearly knee surgery time, and I was NOT messing up the knee surgery schedule. Happily, the bleeding didn’t return like that in 2021…I might be finally heading into menopause. Who knows. I’m just glad it’s not like that anymore.

Preparing for my two knee surgeries meant getting clearances from all my other doctors, and I didn’t realize until I was taking care of that exactly how big the team of my medical people has grown. Late July and August were CRAZY with appointments and delays and scary things that pushed me mentally off balance:

  • I had some weird thing happen that made me see my gastroenterologist about the possibility that my (known and measured) diverticulosis may have advanced to diverticulitis. I have a couple of coworkers with that problem and the symptoms were a strong match. There was fighting with the insurance about getting the right tests, and then news that it wasn’t diverticulitis, and then my abject hysteria of asking “THEN WHAT IS IT?!” with my doctor seeming to just kind of shrug it off…and then it just…resolved itself. Who knows. It was a lot to deal with just a few weeks before the first knee surgery. So much angst and rage.
  • While undergoing my clearances with my cardiologist, there were irregularities in the first tests that led to more tests, and then irregularities in those that led to even more tests, and the insurance fought us every step of the way with delays so that I didn’t get clearance from this doctor until literally the day before my knee surgery. In the end, despite all the irregularities, apparently my heart is fine. If you wonder how the question of “Do I have a bad heart” impacted my mental health, let’s just say I was a steaming hot mess, disaster, horror show for awhile there.
  • I found a spot on my leg a week or two before knee surgery that looked suspect to me, and since I am a melanoma survivor, I don’t play with that stuff (also, the spot was right there on the surgical knee…if it was cancer, we needed to not be cutting into it, y’know?). There was a struggle to be seen, as my dermatologist and her entire practice were “unavailable for the next month,” per the unhelpful lady on the phone. A coworker put on her “medical advocate” hat like the tigress that she is and got me an appointment…and the spot was nothing. How was my mental health around all that while it was being worked out? See above. HORRIBLE.

So it took everything in me to even DO the first knee surgery, feeling emotionally crippled by all of the above and terrified of what was next. And honestly, I nearly chickened out on the second knee surgery as I felt like I just couldn’t take one more thing and that it might finally leave me permanently emotionally/mentally broken. Happily, a friend who had just had her knees replaced a little while ahead of me helped me find the resolve to go forward with it, and I’m relieved to have it behind me. My knee doctor is for sure my VERY FAVORITE doctor for too many reasons to count here; if you live near me and ever need a knee replaced, let me give you his name and let him use his fancy robot to fix you up. He’s the best.

So yeah, it’s been a difficult year, medically. I’m hoping for a medically boring year in 2022. 🙂

full house

My daughter and our two grandkids moved in with us mid-year as their household came apart. This has been a lifesaver for me, as she took care of me throughout the two knee surgeries with all the medication management and such. I also hit the wall mentally in 2021 thanks in most part to the pandemic, landing at the counselor with a diagnosis of PTSD with underlying general anxiety…and I swear, having them here has been everything for me while working it out. Having my daughter (one of my very best friends) right with me is such a comfort. Having the kids to focus on has given me something to do besides just fall apart. Make a nice Halloween for them…make a nice Thanksgiving for them…make a nice birthday…make a nice Christmas. Take them out to play. Take them for walks. Read to them. Listen to them read. Play with them. It is all a beautiful, hopeful, messy thing and IMHO God’s timing couldn’t be better for landing some of my very favorite humans right upstairs for easy access. I am grateful.

faith

2021 was nearly a whole year without church for me, after 2020 had included no church after the second week in March. This for a lady who centered her world around her faith community. I sat out for a long time, doing just the remote services and trusting that even though things were being done differently (pandemic related) than seemed wise to me, eventually somehow that would all work itself out and I would joyously return to the people I love to worship and serve beside.

In August as I realized how hard my mental health was crashing, I knew I had to find a way to get back into a community of worship, and it couldn’t wait for the pandemic to pass. So G and I worked together and made the painful decision to move to a church where I could live with the pandemic protocols. Happily for me, that is the church where my parents and sister’s family worship – a place where I know the people and the ways and feel welcomed every time. They were doing the things I needed them to be doing about safety, so we tried them out in late August (so G could try them on for size) and then made it official. I still couldn’t get to church much due to the surgeries and being unable to drive or ride in a car for months, but when we went, we landed there. They have embraced us and I have to say, anticipating really plugging in there this year is a bright spot of hope on my horizon for 2022 – I even bought a new study Bible because they have adult Sunday School classes and good GOLLY I love those. I miss my peeps at the church we left – I love them with all my heart. I am so, so very grateful for how warmly we are folded in where we have landed. And seeing my family every Sunday – that’s icing on the cake!

pandemic

If you ever want to set me off, talk like we are living post-pandemic. Good golly, people. WE ARE STILL IN IT. Working in the senior health care field, it has been kind of everything for two years, and the last couple of weeks have been wild as we watch omicron washing in. I see signs of hope that maybe the thing is wearing itself out, but there’s plenty of mess between here and the end of it, I think. I am grateful to be of one accord with my coworkers and family about where we are and what we need to do. I am grateful it can’t possibly last forever. And I’m grateful that we will do what we have to do, one moment at a time, and struggle on through. I’m also frustrated and tired and angry (my daily walks to exercise my knees at the local mall send me into a rage every single time as I see people flaunting the safety rules) and I’m working full time with my counselor to let go of the negative emotion that is so abundant in me on this topic. Back in August after my knee surgery, one of the nurses literally watched my blood pressure spike precariously when we started talking about COVID denialism, and that is still so real in me. I want to be reasonable, but it’s hard to define what is reasonable when the stakes are life or death for vulnerable people. I suppose that’s enough to say on that topic.

So that’s the short notes from 2021! I’ll be back tomorrow to ponder 2022!!

I am not a great neighbor – not like my coworker who is best buds with his neighbors and has a team t-shirt with them for the times when they help each other out with yard cleanup. I don’t know all their names – really, I know almost none. I try to be the kind of neighbor who’s not a pain about noise, mess, or parking, but my ideal for what I’d like to be as a neighbor is whole worlds above the reality of how I actually do it.

I mostly blame that on my experiences in the first few years , back in the early 90s, of my licensed daycare home business. Before I put in enough time to establish a fantastic client base, I did time learning the hard way that if I didn’t have good boundaries, people would take advantage of me, make unreasonable requests of me, sit too long in my house talking and not leaving when I had stuff to do, get in my business, and there was even the one lady who tried to mess with my marriage and gaslight me all at the same time. What I took from that passage, among other things, was a firm belief that since I couldn’t know in advance how toxic my neighbors might be, the best policy was always to smile, wave, maybe say hi…and keeeeep on moving. I have failed to unlearn this lesson so far.

Neighbors were not the reason we bought our house – honestly, we had no idea who the neighbors might be when we were signing on the many lines. We bought it because it was 5 minutes from work, it was cute, it had a 400 square foot finished attic that would make it possible for us to entertain overnight guests despite the house being only 800 square feet, it had enough yard for gardening, and we knew we could covert the second bedroom to a laundry room (first-floor laundry was a non-negotiable for me). It never even crossed my mind to wonder who the neighbors might be.

This past August marked the beginning of our sixth year here; in that time, we’ve paid enough attention to notice several of the houses on our street sell, and to observe that some seem to be rentals. While my lovely, outgoing, sociable husband has learned a few names and had more conversations than I have, despite my annual fantasies of passing out Christmas cookies or having a cookout for those on our street, my “familiarity with neighbors” status has remained largely unchanged. This is not something I’m proud of. It is what it is. Not even all my futzing around in our yard has led to any bonding with the neighbors, though we do have occasional very brief and friendly exchanges (and then I get moving).

Nonetheless I’ve done SOME observing over the years, and then my two recent knee surgeries have necessitated endless laps up and down the sidewalk in front of our house and around the block, which has meant a few more brief, friendly interactions while in motion. Guys: I LOVE MY NEIGHBORHOOD. I give you: my street.

  • The older white lady who lives alone in the huge house she raised her family in. She has fabulous flowers and an attentive family, along with a busy social schedule that sends her out regularly in her cute little car. When we got chickens, she connected me with her family member who teaches a “backyard chickens” course at a local community college.
  • The interracial couple with the cute kid who is always learning from his dad about lawn care – a lot of work goes into that green grass. They have a yappy dog and a cute puppy that is learning to be nice and quiet.
  • The black family with the adorable little girl who has off-the-chain birthday parties (can you say BOUNCE HOUSE?!) with the lively social life.
  • What appears to be an immigrant (refugee, maybe?) family with a passel of gorgeous kids. They appear to hold worship or prayer services in their yard sometimes on Sundays.
  • The older white lady (it might be a couple, not sure) with the cooooooolest yard EVER – so many plants, flowers, tress, bushes, bird houses, bug houses…I never pass up the opportunity if she’s outside when I walk by to tell her how happy her yard makes me.
  • The white lady (I think it’s a couple not sure) with the ever-changing front yard. She is out there EVERY DAY in good weather, tidying and rearranging the yard furniture and decorations, and they have whole pool parties right there in the front yard.
  • The young white couple who are NOT about yard work, with the baby that seems to have brought about the necessity of swapping 1 of their 2 super-hot vehicles for a white minivan. They have a dog (maybe 2) that likes to bark and scratch their front window when anyone is visible, but I’ve only experienced that as an “inside” dog.
  • The very friendly black mom of a couple of boys – I don’t know her well of course, but my every impression is this lady could teach me some things about having one’s act together.
  • The white lady (appear to be a couple) who has had a terrible car accident years ago with ensuing multiple surgeries – she checks in with me EVERY SINGLE TIME she sees me walking as she’s walking her little dog.
  • The folks (no idea how many or what they look like) with the rainbow flag and cool decorations for all the holidays.
  • The black family with the prayer warrior who stopped me so she could touch my knees and pray after I saw her worshipping in her car with the music all the way up . They have an adorable pit-type dog with the grumpiest face EVER that I’ve never heard make a sound.
  • What looks like 2 or 3 young BIPOC roommates – they came over once to ask about some of my yard stuff and were very friendly. One of them is always out on the front porch on the phone, no matter when I walk by.
  • The interracial couple with the cute kid who seems to be in sports. They play the most amazing music late at night, and have a fondness for late night parties. They have 2 small dogs who like to make “we will kill you” noises any time they perceive others’ existence, but the fence they put up has helped with the murder noise (and the party noise).

There are a few others that aren’t as cool or are too unknown to me to make a difference one way or another.

  • Three houses where I just don’t know who is there at all (though I suspect one of these houses holds the person who, when we had our old crappy truck Bertha Sue, used to leave mean notes telling us to move her under her windshield wipers and then eventually called the city in to issue a ticket for not moving it every 3 days, a rule we had no way of knowing existed of course). Two of these houses also have dogs that like to make murder noise if they spot me.
  • Two houses of older white people with meticulous yards and a clear deep passion for stripes in the mown and richly fertilized grass.
  • A house that used to be an older lady who couldn’t keep up, but now seems to be a young white tattooed white guy who has had a few police visits.
  • The house with the white couple who “lost their cat” recently and were wandering the neighborhood yelling for it not long after midnight…since then, G and I have noticed on our 4 AM walks that the “she” half of the couple maybe suffers from addiction or mental health issues and needs to yell a lot of incoherent nonsense in the pre-sunrise hour while the “h” half e smokes on the front porch.
  • The house we call “the stoner house” with a collection of white millennials and their cute pit type dog that provide a “show” we’d maybe rather not see most of the time.

It has been a nice surprise, discovering the diversity of our street. I’ve been glad for my time on my knee exercise hikes to get to know it a little better., and glad that even with the non-as-cool ones, it’s a pretty peaceful place to live.

I’d still like to be a better neighbor (but not the creepy or annoying kind that shows up to talk to much and hang out too long).

Though my first total knee replacement surgery went swimmingly, and my doctor and physical therapy team were pleased as punch about my progress, I still struggled to follow through with the second one nine weeks later. Shortly after my first surgery, the nurse had called offering to grant my expressed wish, made repeatedly over the summer, that we move my second surgery to sooner – two weeks ahead of the October 20 date. I was in a lot of pain when they called, and had no courage to suppose I would be up for earlier surgery. I declined the offer.

In those final two weeks, I struggled DAILY with the question of whether I had the courage to do the second. Despite all the good results, my first leg was still swelling rapidly pretty much every time I sat in a chair…making a return to work difficult. Furthermore, despite having been very careful with the pain medications, I ended up going through opioid withdrawal for five miserable, nearly sleepless, sweating, skin-crawling, twitching nights…and my attitude tanked during and after that. Everything bothered me. I was tired and cranky and anxious and knew I couldn’t risk a second round of opioids…which made me fear what the pain picture might look the second time around. Not to mention, the thought of having “2 bum legs” sometimes left a little lump of panic in my throat.

Some days I talked myself off the wall. Other days I relied on others to get me there. Less than a week before the scheduled date, I reached out to a friend who is a little further down the road than I am, and though I had definitely decided to cancel for now, she helped me get back to willingness to proceed.

Guys: IT WENT SO VERY WELL!!

I mean, I expected my time at the surgery center to be flawless, since it was last time, and they came through once again.

But, better than that, I have less pain than the first time around (here at 11 days post-surgery that still holds, at least).

I’m sleeping better than last time around.

I know how to do the physical therapy stuff better, and feel like the second leg is advancing more rapidly.

I don’t know if the first leg is really doing better since surgery or if it just seems so in comparison to the more fresh pain of the second, but whatever the reason, I do appreciate the effect.

It’s not all perfection. BOTH legs want to swell if I try to sit in a chair. Almost instantly. But I’m doing the work and it will take as long as it takes – a magic number nobody here on earth knows.

Meanwhile, my mobility is good. I am not having the panic attacks from having “two bum legs” that I feared might come. While I’m still using the walker for outdoors, I graduated to the cane for indoors at therapy last week – they tested me for that after learning that I have been forgetting the walker for the short trips to the bathroom sometimes.

Tonight’s victory was that I managed to pass out Trick or Treat candy for more than an hour before I had to retreat to the recliner and the ice machine. IT WAS A HOOT.

I still have a journey ahead of me. But I am so, so glad I didn’t let the fear and fatigue win the day. It takes a full year to recover fully from knee surgery; by doing them so close together, I’ve theoretically limited the period of this discomfort to 14 months, rather than stretching it out to potentially two years, had I elected to put off the second one.

A few years ago, my right knee started doing a funny thing. I’d be walking, and out of the blue, in one step it would feel like two of the bones in my knee shifted together and out of place in a “this is all wrong” kind of way. It hurt, but it didn’t feel like a crisis. Each time it happened, I just stopped for a minute and recalibrated, and generally there was nothing more to it. It was infrequent, and I was aware that “over 50” means new territory for general operations of the human body, per common lore. This went on for…six months, maybe?

Then one day the shift was different. The pain was piercing…debilitating. When I’d hit that unanticipated wrong step, it would leave me standing on the other leg, sometimes weeping, sometimes shrieking, but utterly unable to move. My husband G had to rescue me on many occasions, sort of dragging me to the nearest place for sitting down.

A coworker recommended seeing a chiropractor. Hers had told her that the body first whispers a message when something is wrong, and eventually shouts. Clearly my knee was shouting. Another coworker lined me up with her chiro, and I saw him something like 3 times a week for awhile until the situation stabilized. The combination of regular adjustments and starting each day doing a few exercises he had given me was enough for that season.

All was well. Then the pandemic hit.

Working at a Continuing Care Retirement Community (think nursing home + rehab + assisted living + independent living apartments for seniors) meant we never got even a moment to pretend the pandemic was anything but deadly serious business. What it meant for me personally was shifting from working a very manageable 40-hour week to something more all-consuming – for a number of months, basically I worked all my waking hours at a frenetic pace and under great pressure, then came home and cried in the shower and fell into bed, where I couldn’t sleep.

I rarely got out of my chair at work during those months. It just felt like there wasn’t time. The phone never stopped ringing. The virtual meetings with infection control specialists and regulatory folks were multiple times per week – sometimes literally daily. Everything was so important, so urgent. No time for getting up to stretch. I ate lunch (and supper) at my keyboard, working through. Weekends often found me still working. Any thought of “self care” seemed like silliness – there was too much at stake for too many people. I put my head down and focused on the work, praying the virus would pass quickly, though from the beginning I had enough access to information to never once believe it would be brief.

There was a series of health challenges for me. A probable case of COVID (though it was the first month of the pandemic in our community and I couldn’t get a test to verify it). A bout of pancreatitis the week after that, and an emergency gallbladder removal.

And then my knee started acting up again.

I saw that chiropractor some more. I saw the functional medicine practitioner who had fixed the pinched nerves in my elbow a few years back, hoping he could work his magic similarly on my knee – he was working on me about 3 times a week for a while there. The gallbladder surgeon had issued me a stunning number of muscle relaxers in the spring, which I had saved – I took those and Tylenol around the clock for the knee pain.

Nothing helped.

How much did it hurt, you ask? A few notes from roughly this time last year…

I couldn’t drive a car for more than 5 minutes, and even that sent me into tears. I couldn’t even ride as a passenger in a car for more than a few minutes – holding my knee at that angle reduced me to shouting with pain. Even getting into the car was often tricky – I’d find myself literally picking that leg up with both hands to drag it into the car, unable to lift it any other way.

When I had to use steps, going up meant leading with the other leg. Going down meant literally backing down the steps, as there was no forward option that didn’t shoot my pain levels past any reasonable threshold.

Sleeping at night was fraught. Sometimes I’d get my body all positioned just so and manage to start sleeping, and then my body would make just the tiniest shift, and poor G would be awakened by my hysteria from the knife of pain shooting through my knee. For awhile I was able to sleep sitting propped up with my knee carefully cushioned; G voluntarily moved to the bed in the spare room to give me space and avoid potentially bumping the knee. But then that sitting-up position stopped working. My solution after that was to stand beside my bed, resting just the top half of me on a pile of pillows on the bed. This allowed me to get at least some sleep.

Getting dressed was a minefield – the act of pulling up socks, hose, or pants could at any given moment push the knee into a position that would leave me sobbing.

Finally the functional medicine guy and I came to an agreement – though I was terrified at the idea of shots in my knees or knee surgery, we were out of options. He told me to see a back doctor first, as he thought the source was there. A coworker hooked me up with a very-next-day appointment with someone she knew (talk about saving the day!)…and he quickly identified one part of the problem – a spondylolisthesis, which is a vertebrae out of place in the lower back. The tech looking at my back x-rays and MRI results asked, “Do you have one leg that is a lot weaker than the other?” and I was astonished. Well, YES I DID, but I had been telling myself I was “just being hysterical” and imagining that the leg was weaker because of how much pain I was experiencing. Nope. The vertebrae was the answer for that, and the chiropractor helped me address it.

Still, the back doctor said, the problem was primarily NOT my back. He referred me to a knee doctor in the same practice. I will say his name here, because the man is my hero – Dr. John Hoffman at Orthopaedic Specialists in Davenport, Iowa. I first met with him in (I think) November of last year.

The first appointment includes x-rays of the knees. The tech stood me in front of the x-ray machine and told me to bend into a squat position, and she marveled at the noise she could hear my knees making from across the room. Then she saw the images and made a specific noise that has now become familiar to me, sucking her breath in a kind of horrified way. That is the sound literally every medical person who has seen those x-rays has made since then. That was the first that I started to believe maybe I wasn’t just “being a huge baby” about the pain in my knees…the first that I started working on shutting down the suck it up, buttercup narrative in my head on that topic.

The deal with my knees is that the kneecaps are wayyyyy off center – they kind of right along the outside edge, and had grown quite the bone spurs from operating in that position.

We started with shots in my knees. If you are having knee trouble and are afraid of the shots, please let me speak directly to you about this: DON’T BE AFRAID. I was just terrified…and then they were really not a big deal at all. I mean…it’s a shot, and I hate shots. But I expected horrifying pain, and it was pretty minor (the guy who did the first shot for me explained that there is plenty of room inside, so you don’t get the level of pressure pain for knee shots that you have for, say, shoulders). And it started helping almost immediately. If you are suffering, go get the shots. It’s not traumatic, and it IS helpful.

The other thing my doctor did was send me to physical therapy. Thankfully, we have a team that does that where I work, so it was close and convenient to my schedule, I worked with the therapy team in November and December; all that stretching and strengthening worked wonders.

Unfortunately for me, my knees are enough of a mess that the shots didn’t last long enough, even with the physical therapy factored in. My doctor will do them every 3 months, but I only get about 7 weeks or so out of them before the pain starts ramping up again.

My doctor has a weight limit for qualifying for knee surgery, and I was above that limit. He encouraged me – get that weight lost, and let’s get your surgeries scheduled. I have to say here – I’ve had some helpful weight conversations with medical folks over the years, and some very unhelpful ones. One thing I admire so much about Dr. Hoffman is that he was able to address the issue without offending me. He spoke to me as one person to another, not condescending. He was oriented toward solutions and let me know what has worked best for others in my situation, in his experience (low carb diet). I never felt judged – no hints that I’m unintelligent, or lazy, or greedy. A nurse that I was telling about this later said she knows him and that wasn’t just a feeling I had – he just doesn’t judge. BE LIKE THAT, WORLD. Be like that. It was a breath of fresh air.

I did try the low-carb thing – several versions of it, actually. I just couldn’t get there. I’ve been saying for years that I’d rather be fat than do keto (still my absolute stance)…but I couldn’t even manage other tries like Whole 30, paleo, etc. When you don’t have a gallbladder, digesting all the fat one is to ingest for low-carb is…uncomfortable, to put it mildly. Revulsion around the food I’m trying to eat is not a good plan for me. Eventually in prayer I was reminded that intermittent fasting had been effective for me in the past; I switched back to that and was able to meet the threshold Dr. Hoffman required.

I finally qualified in the spring, and then there was the matter of waiting my turn, as my doctor is really booked up. Meanwhile I had never stopped doing the physical therapy exercises – in fact I had kept adding to them, and by last month I was doing nearly two hours of exercises before I got out of bed every morning. I was never tempted to skip a day, as the exercises were keeping me mobile – besides, they felt great to do and I was watching my legs change as I did the work.

So, I had my right knee replaced on August 19th.

Getting ready for knee surgery is basically a part-time job in itself. There were tests and clearances from my other doctors. Dr. Hoffman uses the Mako robot to assist on surgery, so I had to get a CT scan done of my knee, which was used to plan the operation down to the finest details, based on my actual leg and not just some standard “this is how we do it for everyone” protocol. There are supplements to start and dates to discontinue all meds and supplements ahead of surgery. There’s a whole “bowel protocol” that starts before surgery, because there are so many pain meds afterward that a person could just kind of never poop again – I literally have a full one-page document on what to take and when to take it, before and after surgery, for that issue.

Guys, I was SO SCARED of this surgery. How you know you need a surgery like this is that despite the terror, the pain you are looking to escape still motivates you to move forward!

Here was a happy surprise for me: the knee surgery itself had exactly zero bad or frightening elements to it. I can’t speak for how all doctors do this, but mine had wrapped me around with information and support for literally weeks in advance, and at the surgery center I kind of felt like they wrapped me in bubble wrap to get me through. The pain medication management was flawless (and I would also say creatively done). The gentle encouragement and the thorough communication about every tiny little thing was incredible.

On the way out the door, they used an ultrasound needle to supplement all that other pain management stuff, injecting some kind of “blocker” into my thigh that let me keep mobility but protected me from the worst of the pain for a few more days.

Before I left the surgical center, they sent a physical therapist in to teach me how to navigate steps (literally at 7 AM the day after surgery) and assign me some exercises to do at home.

The doctor’s office went out of their way to make sure I understood I have full permission to call and talk to the nurse as much as needed (which I have done). The surgical center had a nurse call me several times the first week to monitor my progress and answer any questions.

The hard part has been at home, doing the real work of regaining mobility. There’s a foreign object in my leg that has to be integrated with all my muscles and tendons and such so they can work together. That means faithfully doing all the PT exercises at home, getting up and walking around A LOT (first with a walker, then with a cane, and before I hit the 3-week mark I was already able to walk on flat, hard surfaces without a cane).

I’m not gonna lie – the PT exercises at home have made me shout (a lot) and on a few occasions they have brought me to tears. A week after surgery I started working with my PT team at work, and they have been AMAZING at helping me work on extension, flexion, and strengthening. Every session is hugely encouraging (and for awhile they were also quite exhausting, but not so much now).

Even though the “working on it afterward” part is hard, here’s the simple truth – the pain is not worse than what I was experiencing at this time last year…but THIS pain is carrying me AWAY from pain, while that old pain was just promising more of same.

If you need knee surgery, don’t be afraid. I’m a huge baby and I did it – and I’m not even afraid about doing the second one now (scheduled for Oct 20). Wellll…I’m dreading the “recovery at home” part a bit, but I know the things to do and I know how very rapidly the improvement happens as I do the work – so I can push through and do it.

My biggest challenge right now is the swelling. If I sit in a chair, my leg blows up like a balloon and takes a lot of icing, elevating, and massage to get it back down. They tell me time will cure that, and recently a coworker told me that kicked in for her around 3 1/2 to 4 weeks in…so if I happen to operate on her timeline, I’m within a few days of great improvement with the swelling.

Don’t be afraid. And if you’re local to the Quad Cities, my vote is: USE MY DOCTOR. He’s a rock star – so thorough, so careful, such a good communicator. I’m sure there are other good ones out there, but mine…I think he’s the best!

thoughts on 39%

Posted: April 16, 2021 in Uncategorized
Tags: , ,

A friend told me recently she had read that we need to cut each other and ourselves some slack, because at this point in the pandemic, we are all operating at about 39% of the capacity we had pre-pandemic. It resonated with me in the moment, though I said it’s probably more like the people not working close to the COVID mess are at 75% and those of us who are are at 12%.

I’ve been thinking about it ever since.

39%. What a rich, luxurious number that sounds like to me right now! I’d love to have 39% of my capacity! I can’t begin to guess how long ago I sunk below that marker, but my hunch is it’s been awhile.

Today the end of most every work day finds me full of rage or next to tears, not at my coworkers or the residents, but just at the never-ending nightmare of navigating the impact of the pandemic on how we do business.

Lately I catch myself working at my desk and just plaintively praying without noticing to God, “Please just make it stop. PLEASE.” Or “I don’t want to do this anymore.”

I make errors, great and small, all the time…and then just kind of watch myself in dumb, numb horror when I process what I’ve done.

I have to process information in small bits – large chunks leave me with NO IDEA what was at the beginning or the middle.

I’ve been accidentally running traffic lights.

I hear myself ranting, “I HATE YOU SO MUCH” (often with swears inserted) at my computer when it hesitates or some other inanimate object does not perform to my expectations. I caught myself recently slamming my hands against the desk at the end of a day when our computer system had been glitchy since morning.

Too often I sit and stare at work I need to be doing, lost as to where to start. Too confuzzled to build sentences.

“I can’t even” and “I hate everything” are phrases that float across my conscience…sometimes daily.

I said to a coworker the other day…I love my workplace, I love our residents, I love my coworkers…and it gets harder every day to keep showing up and doing the thing. I have NO IDEA how people in our industry that don’t work at amazing places with fantastic coworkers are managing. I would have quit by now. Also, I WANT MY JOB BACK. It has been buried in the COVID mess for more than a year now, and I MISS IT. I don’t want to do COVID things anymore.

The rules of COVID have changed so much, so often, so quickly that I don’t even know what they are these days without pulling out my notes and studying them. This brain can only save so many changes and that capacity was awhile ago.

I’m tired of talking about COVID but my mouth steers there most of the time. It has been the dominating force for 13 months and I struggle to turn it off. And I’m tired of the sound of me ranting about it.

I listened to a podcast this morning that was about COVID fatigue for parents, who have their own separate set of challenges that I cannot even IMAGINE. This reminds me that I was arrogant to imply that only those of us who work close to COVID are on our knees right now. I listened to people sharing and I wondered…how do they keep doing it?

Home is my respite in this great big mess. My husband who makes me laugh every day and is a world class snuggler is there. My arch nemesis the cat lives there, and we continue to enjoy reviling each other and throwing one another shade. Our baby chicks are there in the basement, and my project in the garage to build their coop is coming along. It’s nearly time to plant the raised bed gardens, and my mom is giving us some perennials to add to our landscaping. We got the big tree down in our front yard, which opens that whole area up for a whole new design, that I’ve spent many hours contemplating. Home is my joy and my retreat, and it gets harder and harder to leave it.

What I know is that I am not special in having fallen into a morass over this pandemic that never ends. We are all going through this trauma together, and often I wonder what we’ll be remembering about it and how we’ll be evaluating how we came through in 5, 10, or 20 years.

39%. I didn’t write this to ask for pity or sympathy. For sure I am not looking for advice. No need to comment reassuring words. I guess I just came to say: we can’t know what percent anyone else is at right now – we can’t even know what the high and low numbers are for their range of capacity, here in month 13 of the nightmare.

We always needed to cut one another slack, make allowances, give grace, and assume good intentions. In a world where “reduced capacity” is surely the norm for the time being, our opportunity abounds to be reasonable, compassionate people who can give others who are struggling a pass.

Since I need it so badly these days, I’m keenly aware of my debt to myself, God and others…to offer it early and often.

It’s the best way forward.

2021: marking down the aims

Posted: January 2, 2021 in Uncategorized

Yesterday I only managed to write my annual end-of-year blog by sheer stubbornness. Happily, today I approach the writing of my beginning-of-year blog with more enthusiasm than that. Could be that I just worked the rust out of the gears by doing the thing, or it could be an infusion of positive energy I got yesterday from working on a project for work that, as Marie Kondo likes to say, “sparked joy” in me – something creative, something positive, something that wasn’t about telling bad news or setting unwelcome boundaries. Either way, I’ll take it!

To be honest, I approach the notion of trying to forecast ANYTHING for 2021 with no small amount of trepidation. Part of me is the kid under her blanket, eyes scrunched shut, whispering the desperate prayer please no more, please no more, please no more. But I’m a midwesterner, and so one thing I understand is seasons. I’m looking toward the next season, insisting that IT WILL COME.

So here’s what I’ve got in mind.

52 Snow Days, Redux

Last year I announced my intention to aim at “52 snow days” for the year, a phrase taken from a wonderful book that helped me get a vision for the gift of Sabbath. After a lifetime of utter disinterest in Sabbath rest, I found myself wildly excited about the concept after considering it from the perspective of delight that comes with a snow day.

It was very, very hard at first. I’ve become so oriented to productivity that it was almost painful to not just do a few little chores on my resting day. I had to talk myself down off the wall over and over.

Once the pandemic kicked in, I understood how perfect the timing had been in my learning the discipline of Sabbath. My workdays got very long and more stressful than they’d ever been. I counted on my Sabbath to be the one day I could lay it all down and just rest with a clear conscience. I was so wound up and so stressed during the week that I couldn’t sleep much at night, so my day off was the day to finally let it all down enough for deep sleep.

Before COVID, I had developed all kind of tricks and hacks to get my housekeeping and shopping stuff done ahead of the Sabbath, so I could rest in a tidy home. Once I transitioned to working most of my waking hours a whole lot of the time, that was not the case. My amazing husband really carried the workload at home six days a week this year, and one day a week I could do all my “fussy lady” stuff that is more on my radar than his. What this meant was I had to learn to just rest in the mess sometimes, and while I had mad skillz for that when I was raising kids at home, it was just…really HARD. But cranky perfectionism is a character flaw, not a strength, so I pushed into it and I’m glad I did.

Later in the pandemic, when testing got really cranked up and running hard, taking a day entirely of became impossible. With weekly and then semi-weekly testing happening, a report-results-within-24-hours demand meant stopping to do the reporting when it came, even on my Sabbath. What I did on those days was just try really hard to do only the minimum required, and then put it back down until another day.

When I started out aiming at 52 “snow days,” I thought it to be utterly unrealistic, but worth aiming at so that I could get the most possible Sabbaths squeezed in. I am pleasantly surprised to have come closer than I dreamed I might. I recommend the practice, and I intend to go for it again – 52 “snow days” in 2021!!

Writing for Joy

I love writing. If you had told me before 2020 that my job would transition to a huge part of it being writing something on most days of the week that I would then go on to record what I’d written and share it with hundreds of people…well, I’d have said that sounds like so much fun! That’s some of what I did this year, but it turns out when much of what you’re sharing is hard news, even adding everything helpful, educational or inspirational that I could think of didn’t really turn it into a *fun* exercise. I did come to see it as ministry, as every week people stopped me in the halls or called me on the phone or zipped an email over to me to thank me for how I’d done it, and I could hear in their words that it was helping them. But…fun? Not so much.

I’d really like to get back to writing for joy this year and not just for utility. My life is so results-driven right now that I’m not going hang that weight on this one by saying, “I will write x number of times per week.” Where’s the joy in that anyway? But I’m pointing my intention toward that goal.

Strengthening My Body

Doing physical therapy for my knee has reminded me how beautifully the human body responds to a little consistent effort. When use of my knee without wanting to scream returned to me, it got me so excited that I purchased a dipping station and am having a ball discovering all the ways I can use it with my elastic bands and balance ball and the new set of leg weights I also picked up to work on strengthening my body. I’m still weak and awkward in my efforts, but I don’t mind looking like an idiot in the privacy of my own home. I think I’ve latched onto this so much because it’s a thing I can control in a time when so much is beyond my control, but it’s good, so I don’t care. I’m excited to see what I can accomplish in the coming year with it.

Yard & Garden Goodness

The tree in our front yard has to come down – if we wait, it’s likely to fall on someone/something. We got the finances in order on it and in theory we have someone hired, though this year’s derecho set them back hard on their schedule and my biweekly pesty texts didn’t move us up on their priority list. I am hopeful that they’ll get it down by early spring. Then: OH BOY DO I HAVE PLANS. The front yard will be a whole lot of edible landscaping, once that shade-maker and all its unruly roots get out of my way. Every year I also make advances on my long-term plan to turn the back yard into an overcrowded wonderland of vegetation with a winding walking patch, and good golly I hope to take another big chunk out of those plans, come spring (it’s on the reasons I need to strengthen this body – there’s a lot of shovel time in my future!) And I’ve been scheming to put a lean-to shelter kind of thing on the side of our garage for us to sit under and do really ambitious things like watch the plants grow and the squirrels play, or maybe read books. I took pictures and mental notes this year when my parents built a structure like what I want beside their RV at the campground, and I suspect this might be the year that structure moves from fantasy to reality in our yard.

Bawk, Bawk, Baaawwwk!

Chickens. Our city does allow us to raise up to 6 laying hens (no roosters) if we meet some requirements. I have been reluctant to get chickens, because I know what raccoons and coyotes like to do to them, and I can’t countenance to idea of my husband’s broken heart if that would happen. But some friends of ours have a FANTASTIC chicken structure that looks pretty secure from predators, so I think we can maybe build a sufficient fortress. So if we can get our neighbors to okay us for it, we are getting chickens this spring so we can have our own home-grown eggs. THIS will be an adventure and I might have giggled while I typed it.

Hopes, Not Goals

The other things on my list are things I want to happen in 2021, but they are utterly dependent on how the pandemic plays out. We purchased flight tickets last spring for that summer course I ended up doing remotely; Southwest is holding my funds to be used later. I hope and pray that the situation will evolve enough that I’ll feel comfortable with flying somewhere before the deadline runs out on that. Maybe it will be for another training, or maybe it will be to visit my brother and his kids out in Arizona, or maybe we’ll do some other unexpected thing. I just hope we get there before the funds run out.

And I want to get back to in-person time with my loved ones. Sitting at a table with my parents, my kids, and others who don’t live in my house. REAL HUGS. Snuggles with the grandkids. Attending church in person, even. Honestly I feel very skeptical about the timeline on this, since so much depends on the willingness of all of us to do all the things we have to do to get there – the track record is pretty dismal thus far. Some folks I trust think it will start improving in the spring…I think we’ll be lucky if we get there by year’s end. I hope I’m just being a pessimist and can say this time next year how wrong I was about it.

Word for the Year: WAIT

Some years I struggle about what my word for the year will be, but 2021 is an easy one: WAIT. The aim is to wait with patience, joy, and hope for things to unfold and bring us up out of the morass of the coronavirus and the political nightmare scene that has been the last 4 years. There’s action and purpose in the waiting – it’s not just a passive stillness with expectation for magic to fall upon us. WAIT. It’s the theme for me, for sure.

2020 sign-off

Posted: January 1, 2021 in Uncategorized

Here we are, with 2020 behind us…I like to think of it as cold and dead in the grave. It will be a reference point for the rest of our lives, won’t it?

I hardly wrote at all this year. The pandemic swallowed my energy, my attention, my time, my will to reach in and find the words for the page. To be real here: while this annual year-end/New Year writing process is usually something I look forward to and relish like the most delicious of treats, this morning I had to MAKE myself start. That might sound like nothing, but it’s a pretty harsh measure of what the year has taken out of me.

It is wisdom, though, to stop and note the good gifts along the way – to pile up standing stones to remind myself, when I pass this way again, that there WERE good gifts. So! For my own self, and for anyone who feels like coming along for the ride…here we go!

People Time

As I did this process last year, I measured my time and priority spent on the people I love, and found it wanting. I resolved to be more intentional in spending real time with them, not just thinking fond thoughts of them while letting the daily grind suck up all my bandwidth. I got right down to business, my phone in one hand and my schedule in the other, messaging people to set up times to meet.

Almost all of it was shared meals, where it was either just me or us as a couple meeting people at restaurants, going to their homes, or even occasionally inviting them into our tiny little house that is not set up well for entertaining with its narrow kitchen and no dining room at all. While I know people who regularly do get-togethers, it has not been my/our pattern, and so I think many were surprised when I appeared in their text messages with specific dates in hand, looking to nail down dates. Surprised but delighted.

We kind of broke the bank that first ten weeks of the year, with just the expense of all those meals out or carryout to take with us to homes. We didn’t care – it felt like a priority that needed our focused attention and resources, and honestly it was a delight. There were days that the meetings took up two or even all three meals of the day. While we weren’t able to get to everyone we’d have liked to, we saw people we love but hadn’t sat down with in literally years. It was DELICIOUS, and my intention was to try to run quarterly rounds of this practice, and to hell with the budget. It was a people priority and everything about that felt good and right.

It wasn’t until the pandemic hit and we had to retreat into our own home and workplace for the rest of the year, eschewing almost all in-person contact with others, that I fully understood what an incredible gift we had been given with all that “face time” with friends and family. I really feel like the Lord saw our long isolation period coming (with still no idea when it might end, as the new year kicks off) and gave us a gift in the prompting to make that priority at the top of the year, while it was still available to us. More than once I have wept in gratitude as I’ve pondered that.

Streeeeetch

The spring also held an unanticipated gift in a job that I applied for with all my very best efforts (having not wanted to leave my current job really AT ALL) and did not get. I already wrote about that here, so I won’t go on about it, other than to say: the confidence that process instilled in me was a life-changer, and it came literally just in the nick of time, as I’d need that confidence to navigate all the pandemic stuff at work. I am grateful beyond words for my boss – this was just one more time that a challenge from him has been transformational in my life.

Poverty Coach

One of the things I was wildly excited about at the end of 2019 was my summer trip to Portland, Oregon for a week-long pair of trainings to become a Beegle Institute Poverty Coach. I was looking forward to the “vacation” part of the trip with my husband, but the two courses were a thing that just shouted to me as soon as I knew about it. I could envision ways to use it at work as a culture-builder and I COULD NOT WAIT to get at it, and thankfully my boss got right on board when I asked, not hesitating to approve the training for me. By late April I knew I was not going to be able to travel like that; the Beegle Institute did a fantastic flex and created an online option for those of us who needed to, you know, actually follow the recommendations for pandemic controls. So in July I spent a week at my computer in my bedroom, trying to bond over Zoom with my classmates and soaking up everything I could learn.

I’m frustrated about the timing for all of that, because I’ve not had the bandwidth to use even a little bit of what I learned yet in any kind of instructional or inspirational way. I completed the two courses and I have all the material, so hopefully when the dust settles, I can pick it up again and put it to good use.

The Hard Flex

The arrival of COVID-19 changed my job completely. Right before the pandemic hit, I had just begun to really push into new areas of my job and I was HAVING A BALL, excited to see how far I could go. As the coronavirus swept in, everything else fell in its wake. (I work in the senior healthcare field, which is among the most impacted by this nightmare.) Most everything had to be pushed aside so I could give my time, attention, and energy to helping our organization absorb the impact and protect our people. This year, most of what I ended up doing at work settled around 3 things:

  • Working with regulatory agencies, risk managers, and community partners to understand the virus and the ever-changing guidance around managing through it.
  • Making sure we hit all the marks for reporting to federal, state, and local agencies regarding our testing and other COVID-related protocols.
  • Keeping a running record of our status and daily decision-making process, and reporting that out to our team members, families, and residents. This includes almost daily written and verbal formalized communication to hundreds of people, but also taking the individual phone calls, which mostly involves saying “no” to requests that people really want a “yes” answer on – a hard demand for a lady who likes to give happy answers.

It’s a lot to absorb, and it’s a challenge to communicate, though I don’t do it alone – the value of teamwork has been more apparent to me this year than ever before.

The thing is, though: I am doing it. I am being given the grace each day to show up and give it everything I’ve got, and even though I’ve spent more time than ever this year at my desk praying desperately under my breath I don’t want to do this anymore about the pandemic, I’ve pushed through. I’ve cried, but I haven’t quit. I’ve lost sleep, but I’ve still gotten up every morning to try again. I am longing terribly for my “old job,” my “real job,” but for this passage, I’m doing what has to be done and I’m not folding.

So that’s all super-sucky – I’m not going to try to sugar coat it – but also I am deeply grateful to have discovered how deep is the well of resources that God will supply in me and for me when the chips are down.

Overcoming

A couple of years back, I had trouble with my right knee; I saw a chiropractor for awhile and got it back in order. Painful but not that big a deal. This past summer it started acting up again; I waited, reluctant to see either my chiropractor or my integrated functional medicine guy as it was easy to predict (rightly) that they would both be what I call “Iowa cowboys,” much too cool for the wearing of masks to protect other human beings. When the pain got so bad I couldn’t drive, couldn’t sit, and couldn’t sleep, I did a few visits to each of them in my full PPE and covered in prayer, just desperate to make it stop…the risk of the exposure to them was feeling like way too high a price and it also wasn’t fixing my knee. A coworker got me in to see her friend, who happens to be a spine specialist, and he got me into someone else in his practice, who is a knee specialist. What we found was 2 things: a spondylolisthesis (if you google it, it’s easy to understand what that is) in my lower spine was causing the entire leg to be very weak (like…the weight of my comforter on that leg would pin me down and vault me into a panic state), and not just one but BOTH of my kneecaps are at a level of deterioration that makes everyone who sees the x-rays of them make involuntary horrified noises.

Shots in my knees happened, and physical therapy was prescribed as well, which has been incredible for the knee part of the problem. I also found a new chiropractor who is willing to follow the science and wear the mask; she’s got things back in order regarding the spondylolisthesis and the bonus is that she works on the tension in my neck from all the long hours at the office. With all of this, it looks like I’m dodging knee replacement surgery for now.

When I started physical therapy, they put me on the mat table and I literally could not lift my leg up from a lying-down position without assistance. The team has helped me fight through that and these days I have a whole series of exercises I’m doing twice daily with leg weights and elastic bands. It got me so amped up in reminding me what it’s like to start at nothing and gain exponentially through pure stubborn daily effort that I bought myself a “dipping station” for home, to give me more options for strengthening my body, and I’ve been communing with it daily.

The other thing my knee doctor prescribed was weight loss, and then he talked me through that in an absolutely non-condescending fashion that gave me a way forward. I’m working on some stuff, but to be honest, y’all: I don’t want to talk about my weight. I’m tired of the notion that my weight is a good conversation topic for others – even with the most supportive of intentions. I’m working on what I’m working on, and it’s really nobody’s business but mine and my doctor’s. Let’s NOT talk about it, okay? That’s where I am at this point in my journey.

Still, big picture – the overcoming of this pain problem has been a real journey, and I am deeply grateful for every person and every resource that has been helping me navigate.

Broken

The end of 2020 left me broken from the fallout of the pandemic. I won’t ennumerate the level of pain and loss that December brought, at the end of what had already been one of the hardest years of my life. I’m not in a good place right now. It’s hard to get out of bed. I’m tired and frustrated and angry beyond words. I’m looking for a way to be forgiving on some fronts and right now I don’t see the way, at all. Everything feels big and inevitable and inexorable. My heart wants to harden and gives me reasons to shut people out, and the only resistance I can offer it at this time is to keep insisting not yet, not yet…I can decide this later when the worst of the trauma has passed, but not yet.

So where is the gratitude in that? It’s here: I’ve been to hard places before that felt like the end of everything. What I know is that if I keep holding my life, my heart, my thoughts…my everything up to God, a time and place will come when I’m ready for healing. Right now I’m not. Right now I’m all sadness and rage and helplessness. But I know I won’t stay here forever. So I keep lifting up my wordless prayer, my everything held on the open palm of my hand and lifted up to the God who loves me, and I rest in certainty that though I’m not enough for it all, God is. This too shall pass. <– It ain’t scripture, but it infuses me with hope, nevertheless.

We will rejoice again one day.

Oh boy, have I got a fun story for you today.  This is about an episode from my life – actually, a fairly recent one (its conclusion occurred just as the pandemic was breaking in early March.)  An amazing experience that kind of came sneaking up on me – one I wasn’t looking for or expecting at all.

Your story isn’t always only YOUR story – such was the case here – and so until everything was done and dusted, fully realized…it was not yet my story to tell.  Sometimes it’s even wise to ask another’s permission before telling what seems to be just your own story – this was one of those as well.  I asked and got a blessing.  Enough time has passed.  It’s finally time to tell a “how cool is God” story.

One day at work (earlier this year) I found out that the Executive Director of a really great local organization that helps people in need had decided to retire.  I’m familiar with these folks because at work, we partner with them to provide meals to seniors across our county…and also because years ago when I was a single mom, they helped me pay my power bill during harsh winters in a big house with drafty windows.  I had a phone conversation with the soon-to-depart Director, and then my boss and I talked about it when he came back from a meeting.  Just part of the information flow.

My office is right outside my boss’s office – we talk back and forth throughout our days.  Late that afternoon, as I was wrapping things up to go home, he tossed off a comment from the next room.  “Karen, you should consider applying for that job.”

I laughed.  “I’M NOT LOOKING FOR A JOB.”  What a goofball.  I shook my head as I worked.

He kept talking.  “No, I’m serious.  You should apply.  You’d be one of the top candidates, if you did so.”

“It happens that I LOVE MY JOB,” I retorted.  “I don’t really have any plans to go anywhere.”  Besides, this was DIRECTOR job.  I’m an ASSISTANT.  Obviously.  I just kept working to organize my desk before leaving.

“I’d support you in your application.  You could put me down for a reference.  You really should at least pray about applying.”

I plopped my papers down on my desk with a gasp and huffed into his office, gesticulating wildly.  “WHAT are you DOING?!” I demanded.  “It has been my plan that this is the last place I ever work.  WHAT ARE YOU DOING?!”

He was calm and steady, smiling as he enumerated for me the reasons why I’d be good at the job, the reasons why I’d love the job, the reasons why I’d be a strong contender.  He said that he would be derelict in his duty to me if he didn’t encourage me to do this thing, knowing how qualified I was to do it.

He stayed calm, meanwhile MY heart was pounding.  I was fighting to not hyperventilate.

The thing is, I love my job.  I OWN my job at this point – I shape it every day, and have been doing that so much over the years that we just rewrote my job description and title last fall to something quite different than where I had started.  I love my schedule, which I get to create.  I love my coworkers.  I love our residents.  I work for the best boss I’ve ever known or even seen anyone else have.

The thing is, I HATE being new at a job.  The learning curve is so long and so darn uncomfortable.  It’s so humbling.  It’s so unfamiliar.  My plan has been to never be new at a job again.  It has seemed like a great plan.

My boss had acknowledged aloud that if I were to leave, my absence would create a challenge.  I’ve customized my job so thoroughly at this point that it would be hard to find a person ready to step into it – I do pieces of this and bits of that, and the pieces and bits aren’t all that related to one another.  Thinking of leaving my coworkers in the lurch was a painful thought.

The thing is, though…I couldn’t just disregard his suggestion.  My boss has been a source of encouragement, growth, inspiration, and spiritual wisdom for going on ten years now.

He has invited/challenged me to do many things I haven”t felt like I could do…and it turned out I could do them…and do them well….and enjoy doing them.

When I was living in Chicago with a plan to never leave, it was my boss who asked me to pray about coming back to work for him…and even though I didn’t want to, I prayed, and then followed God’s lead to come back, and it has been the right thing for me.  A choice I haven’t regretted…one that has reaped great rewards.

When Gary and I hadn’t been married all that long, it was my boss who challenged me to pray about us becoming homeowners.  Can I just say…neither Gary nor I had any plan to EVER become homeowners.  We had lists of reasons not to do so.  I prayed about it ONLY with great reluctance and ONLY because my boss said the Lord prompted him to speak with me about it…and then Gary and I followed God’s lead and here we are, homeowners…and glad we made that decision.

I can’t just blow off a suggestion from my boss.  His counsel has shaped my life in too many ways that are way too good for that.

So I was a wreck when I went home that night.  I nearly cried in the car.  I nearly hyperventilated when I told Gary about the suggestion.  I hollered my boss’s name like some kind of swear word.  I yelled when I talked about it on the phone with my daughter.  I had a meeting at church that night…I stayed after to have my pastor pray for me, because the possibility seemed real that I wouldn’t be able to sleep for the rest of the week, with all the thoughts-and-feelings splooshing around in me.  She prayed that I would find peace, which sounded impossible.

But then I DID sleep…eventually.  And I woke up with clarity and peace:  all I had to do was apply and trust God.  The door would not open unless I was supposed to walk through it.  It was crazy, how fast that peace landed…the space of one night’s sleep!  Unheard of, where it comes to me and big-deal stuff.

My boss was casual when he got into the office the next morning.  “Did you send over your resume yet?” he asked as he put his coat away.  When I said that I hadn’t, but had decided to give it a try, he was enthusiastic.

Over the days that followed, he was the kind of mentor/coach people could only dream of having.  I did my research on the organization and he sat with me, helping me comb through information and fine-tune my questions and observations.  When the call came to schedule my interview, he told me to go buy a suit appropriate for the job I was trying to get (I promise you I wouldn’t have been able to give myself permission to spend that kind of money without that counsel).  The night before the interview, he even coached me through what to eat for breakfast for peak performance.

In the end, while I did get to interview, someone else got the job.  The joyous part of the wait between the interview and the job was the freedom I felt in it – there was no possible bad outcome.  If I didn’t get it, I got to stay at the best job I’ve ever had and keep all the great things that come with that.  If I got it, I got to move into an incredible new opportunity to lead a team doing stuff that lights a fire in my belly…complete with a six-figure salary.

The person who got the job….oh GOOD GOLLY, people,.  It is someone I admire beyond all description.  It is someone I count as a local hero…someone who will make his mark on the world in a way that history will celebrate one day.  Someone who, when he speaks, I just want the whole room to HUSH so I can soak in his every word.  When I heard who got the job, I literally broke out into spontaneous applause.  Though I had written the interview committee a thank-you note after meeting with them, hearing who who they managed to hire made me want to go find them and give high-fives all around.

So…no bad feeling there!  🙂

So what was the point of that whole adventure?  There may well be more to learn along the way, but what I know now is this:  it was life-changing for me.  While my boss has always been deliberate in giving me frequent praise in front of many witnesses, and while he has honored me in what he has entrusted me to accomplish on the job, finding out that he found me qualified to step into that position…WOW.  He believes I could run an organization with a $12 million budget and way over 100 employees.  He believes I could do the community building work, and manage all the interacting-with-government-agencies stuff.  He believes I could hold my own with a board.  And HE DOES THESE THINGS at his own job, so he’s not just some silly person who thinks I could do it because they don’t understand what would be asked of me.

That’s life-changing.  That’s a confidence boost at a whole other level.  My role on the leadership team at work is fun and fulfilling, but at least part of me has always measured myself as “the littlest one in the room,” where it comes to that team.  The only non-director.  No person has communicated that dimunition to me – it’s just a voice that has always been in my head.  This experience has BANISHED that voice and its estimation and has put away any noise inside of me that used to say I should sit down and be quiet because I have less to offer than the others.

And here’s the thing:  it happened just in the nick of time.  I had my interview, and then the pandemic hit before I could even find out if I was hired.  At work we went from business as usual to a whole new world in what felt like the blink of an eye.  There were weeks of 13 hour workdays, often followed by crying in the shower and sleepless nights.  (One of those days included coming home to open the piece of mail that let me know I hadn’t gotten the job, and honestly, I was relieved at that point as I couldn’t imagine taking on directorship of ANYTHING with the coronavirus here to impact every single decision for God only knows how long to come.)

What I knew instantly as the pandemic began to unfold was that my boss’s challenge to me to apply for that job and the whole process that followed…they were EXACTLY what I needed to give me the confidence to navigate this crisis.  Filled with new confidence in my ability and feeling the 100% backup of my boss having my back, I was able to move into roles and duties that I’m not sure I would’ve handled well otherwise.

My boss is amazing, and God is good, and  I LOVE THE ADVENTURE that is walking with the Lord, who always knows how to set me up just right for the next thing awaiting me on the road.

It’s a story too good not to tell.  We should do that when God works in mysterious and beautiful ways – we should TELL.  Often, loudly, in detail, without shame.  We should tell.

May my story awaken you to see where God is working in and around YOUR world, as well.

 

A week ago Friday, I was ready to celebrate.  I’d been back to work for a whole week after two weeks at home in my bedroom in quarantine with a virus for which I was unable to get tested, due to lack of fever, but which matched a whole lot of symptoms for the current trendiest virus around. I was still pretty fatigued most days, but I had made it through a full 5 days of work at the office – woo hoo!  I texted G to ask if we could celebrate with pizza from our favorite local place – our first food-not-made-by-my-own-hands since the pandemic hit.  We enjoyed it on the couch with bottles of rootbeer and something on Netflix.  It was a nice night.

Saturday morning the weather was gorgeous.  A little windy, but overall too nice to not get out in it.  I went out to futz around in the back yard with my raised beds, relishing the sunshine and fresh air, even though I had to zip my hoodie all the way up and tie the hood on tight against the wind.  Time out in the yard is at the top of my list for activities that refresh and renew me.  I was breathing it in joyously.

Then in the late morning:  pain.  It felt like my body had gone into acid-producing overdrive.  I changed positions, over and over.  Made bathroom stops.  Drank water.  I’ve been struggling with GERD for a couple of years now but have been able to control it with just diet and no meds for the better part of a year.  Once in awhile I lose my mind and eat something I shouldn’t; sometimes I pay for it, sometimes I don’t.  Generally some shots of Maalox and very good behavior clear it up within a few hours.  No reason to panic.  I was mad at myself for eating the pizza – I KNOW that can be a trigger, as it has been before..but not ALWAYS.  I lectured myself about the need to stop pushing the envelope as the pain increased radically and its sometimes–partner, a little thing I call “acid diarrhea,” joined the party.  I was incapacitated for the remainder of the day.

Sunday it was not better.  I moved around, trying to find a position less painful.  Standing leaned over my bed.  Standing with my elbows on the kitchen sink.  Standing bent over in the hot shower.  Nothing helped.  I was mostly not eating, but I remembered that if I get “too hungry” that can produce acid as much as eating too much does, so a couple of times I tried small portions of bland food.  It sent me into bouts of literally writhing in pain every time.

Monday I stayed home from work as it was still awful.  I was starting to worry – usually a GERD attack is done within 8 hours for me.  And it felt like an acid firehose was just spraying continuously in my entire abdomen, back, shoulders, chest.  I had been off Omeprazole for something like a year; I got it out and started taking it again, hoping it might shut off the firehose.  That night as I sat in tears, G begged me to go to the emergency room.  But the voice in my head was still letting me know that I brought this on myself with that pizza, it’s my fault, and I just need to suck it up.  So I put him off by promising to see my gastro doctor the next day…and if he couldn’t get me in, THEN I’d go go the ER.  I ate nothing on Monday, and by 5 PM that day I couldn’t even swallow water anymore.  I kept checking my temperature – no fever.  So….no infection…right?

Tuesday morning I woke up scared, filled with certainty:  SOMETHING IS WRONG.  I called the on-call number for my gastro, hoping to speak with someone before office hours.  I left a sobbing message.  The doctor called back in about an hour, asked a few questions, and then said he would check my chart when he got to work and his nurse would call me.

She did call.  Your chart says you haven’t been taking the Omeprazole.  Doctor says take two twice a day and call us on Thursday if you’re not feeling better.  I had no margin left for niceness.  I protested vehemently, listing symptoms and trying to describe the severity, and asking pointed questions.  Her words and tone left me hearing “You did this to yourself by not taking your meds.”  Maybe that’s not what she meant, but it’s what I heard…and I wasn’t having it.  Finally I asked, “Since I can’t swallow water, what does the doctor suggest for dehydration between now and Thursday?”  She left the phone for a moment and returned to say I should go to the ER.

Getting admitted to the ER during COVID-19 protocols is weird.  G had to drop me at the front door and leave.  They put me in a room with the door closed and it felt like I got way fewer visits from nurses than usual, which I guess makes sense.  This is NOT a complaint – the nurses and the nurse practitioner who cared for me were amazing.  Everyone listened.  No one acted like I was being a hypochondriac, which was good, because I was worrying that might be the case.  Even before they did labs, the nurse practitioner agreed, based on my verbal report of symptoms, that something was wrong and needed to be addressed.

The very first thing they did was give me a “gastric cocktail,” which I understood to be something like Maalox with pain killer in it – to relax my esophagus.  That helped suprisingly much, suprisingly quickly.

They asked for urine, which I wasn’t sure I could offer, not having water for so long.  When I managed, it looked like tea (I share this not to be gross but because it turns out to be an important clue!)

Blood labs were fun as always to draw, because I’m “hard to stick.”  The nurse compassionately brought the ultrasound when I told her, and didn’t even try to first dig around in my arm half a dozen times.  She is my hero for that!

When the nurse practitioner returned, she was blown away by my lab numbers – liver and pancreas, to be specific.  Something is wrong.  Let’s do a CT scan.

But then the CT scan wasn’t as much help as they had hoped.  Let’s do an ultrasound.  This all played out over the course of an entire day.

At the end of the day, a surgeon came in to speak with me.  They were pretty sure I had passed a gallstone (“the little ones can cause the most pain,” he said) and that this had thrown me into acute pancreatitis.

They could take my gallbladder out…maybe.  It would depend on pain level – it is sometimes considered elective surgery, and those aren’t allowed during COVID-19 protocols.  I’m not gonna lie – terror kind of shot through me in that moment.  The idea that I might need a surgery and someone might get to decide I didn’t need it “yet”?

But that was all moot for now – the pancreatitis was really bad.  Can’t do surgery with that happening, as it risks complications.  So…IF I wanted the gallbladder out and IF the pain was still enough to justify that after the pancreas calmed down…then I could have it.  Surgery might come Wednesday, or might have to wait as late as Friday, depending on what my body decided to do overnight.  Meanwhile, nothing but ice chips for me, to keep me surgery-ready.  They took me from the ER at the end of the day and gave me a room, carefully fitting my legs with velcro sleeves that supplied massage to reduce the possibility of blood clots while I lay there like a helpless turtle on my back.

My mouth was so dry, but I soon learned I had to calculate payoff.  If I stayed absolutely still and put nothing in my mouth, my pain stayed down between 7 and 8.  If I let an ice chip melt in my mouth, that pain shot up to 9 or 10.  I spent the night balancing the need vs. the pain.

The morning’s news was good – the pancreatitis had calmed enough to make surgery possible at noon.  I just want to say right here – everyone was AMAZING.  The doctor, the nurses, all the techs…everyone was so helpful and solicitous.  They were so concerned about the hardship of having no visitor to comfort me.

I hate waking up from surgery.  I had trouble waking up.  And the pain was worse than when I’d gotten to the hospital.  And I was nauseous.  And it felt like I couldn’t breathe.  All of that was making me feel panicky, so I was working extra hard in the blur of post-anasthesia haze to coach myself down off the panic.  I told every person who asked:  it hurts really bad.  I’m nauseous.  I feel like I can’t breathe.

Back in my room, the nurse came to discuss pain relief options.  I went for the big daddy – morphine.  I remembered about it that it doesn’t stop the pain at all, it just stops me caring about it.  That would be good enough.  As she put it in my IV tube, I felt it burning in my arm.  I gritted my teeth – ALL shots burn when they go into me, I’m just very sensitive that way, so I was trying not to be a whiner.  Then she did a “flush” syringe and that too burned like fire going into my arm.  She finally noticed me sucking my breath in and stopped instantly.  “Does that hurt?  IT’S NOT SUPPOSED TO HURT!”  I was apologetic – I’m sorry I’m so sensitive.  It always hurts.  But she was adamant – it shouldn’t hurt, going into the IV tube.  She called in another nurse and they looked at my arm with dismay – that’s when I saw the bubble there.  The IV needle had “infiltrated” and all that stuff went into my muscle, not my vein.  She was devastated, noting that she couldn’t give me more morphine because technically it was in my body.

The nurse let me know that the doctor had filled out my paperwork to go home, which was what we had agreed to ahead of surgery, though he had noted that morning when we spoke that I could stay the night if I wanted.  I work in healthcare, so I know that getting out of the hospital quicker is smarter for the most part, so we had made the plan.  But the pain.  The first time they got me up for the bathroom, it left me sobbing.  I let the nurse know:  I am not going home tonight.  I just can’t do it.  She looked unsure about that but left it alone.

Later the nurse returned to ask:  WHY didn’t I want to go home?  I explained:  too much pain.  My bed is too high and my toilet too low at home; I can’t manage either right now.  There are 3 steps up into my house; I can’t do that right now.  I couldn’t even tolerate riding in the wheelchair to the door or the carseat to home right now.  I just can’t.  I can’t.  Too much pain.  Her eyes said I was being hysterical and needed to knock it off.  Maybe I was.  It was a lot of pain.

She pushed back on my plan to stay.  This was just my first time up.  Pain meds would help.  I’d be okay to go home.  And since the doc had written orders, it might be that I’d have to pay out of pocket if I stayed after midnight.  I was incredulous.  “Are you telling me I have to tell my  husband to come get me by midnight?”  She wouldn’t speak to it directly.  She just kept telling me that the pain meds were going to help and I’d be fine to go home.  I told her through tears that I probably wouldn’t have a choice – I’d just have to pay out of pocket, because going home was not an option.  She left the room.

Guys, I FELL APART.  I couldn’t stop crying.  She left and was gone a long time, and I was frantic.  I called my husband, I messaged my pastors, and I texted my boss, but I couldn’t stop crying through any of it.  My boss was quick to respond by fighting for me.  He called and gave me the words to say, and I called the nurse in and said them.  Her whole aspect changed then.  She was still trying to be firm, still letting me know, “I’ll have to speak with the doctor,” but suddenly it felt like something had shifted.  She came back in awhile and said simply that the doctor had consented to me spending the night.

Later she came and gave me a different pain med (I can’t remember the name but it starts with D and is a serious thing).  It did help with the pain, but it also left me feeling again like I couldn’t breathe very well.  Every time I would start to fall asleep, I’d suddenly jerk awake, sucking in air like I had stopped breathing.  I gotta make note of that one and tell docs that I can’t have it after surgery.  They put an oxygen mask on me and then my numbers did better after that, but it felt scary.

But a night of rest helped, even with the bad breathing.  I was able to come home the next morning.  I have thought a thousand times since then about how bad this would be right now if I were a single person without backup.  I have G, and as backup for that I have my sister who is a called-by-God CNA, and as backup after that I have adult children.  So someone would catch me.  But I have thought and thought about how awful this would be if I didn’t have that.  I’ve been utterly helpless.  I couldn’t get into our bed without major assistance from G until this morning.  When I arrived home, when I would sit down, I couldn’t even put my own legs up – G had to do it.  I couldn’t manage getting out of the shower and drying off without him until this morning.  He’s still blow-drying my hair, because I can’t.

He has helped me remember to do my breathing treatments (10 breaths per hour with a little device I of course despise).  He has massaged my calves, since the velcro massage thing didn’t come home with me.  He has helped me be accountable to getting up and moving around regularly to preserve my mobility.  Friends and family have brought food, and he has faithfully gotten my plate ready every time, brought me cup after cup of hot water, helped me track my pain meds.

Tomorrow we need to send him back to work, but I am ready.  But really I’m only ready because of all the work he has done to help me in the recovery process.

It’s still so much pain.  They talk about how the laparoscopic surgery is so much less pain than the old kind and I’m sure that’s true, but it’s still SO MUCH PAIN.  I have to wonder if staying in the middle of the attack for 4 days instead of getting help right away is part of why there is still so much pain.  I think I might be recovering better/sooner if I had been quicker to ask for help.

That’s really the lesson I’m taking from this:  be quicker to ask for help.  I can now see in retrospect that a whole bunch of what I’ve been attributing to “occasional GERD attacks” in these last couple of years was probably actually the passing of gallstones.  I am SO EXCITED that this might mean I won’t have any more of the half-dozen or so episodes I’ve had in the last year, always in the middle of the night, of pain that has left me standing bent over in the shower, sobbing – I think those were all gallstones, not GERD.  I should have been asking the doctors more questions and not just trying to be a good, non-complaining patient.

Today was the first I’ve been strong enough to sit at the computer to write it down.  This is way too long and way too personal to think anyone is going to read it all the way through…UNLESS someone sees something familiar and wants to keep reading.  I write it down here mostly to help myself remember, but also for anyone else who is stumbling through, tolerating way more hardship then you should be, because you don’t want to be a whiner.  We gotta ask more questions, yo.  We just have to.