Green Thumb, meet Red Finger

a few radish sprouts growing

I feel so proud. After a week of building (I drilled two screws in) and seeding (I was deemed competent to seed, after intensive instruction) our vegetable garden, I am thrilled to report our radishes have sprouted. I can’t wait to eat the vegetables of my labour.

I’d hoped to continue to be involved in our burgeoning garden, but a medical complication has arisen: the last joint of my right ring finger is swollen, red, and hot enough to brand you, and even the lightest pressure on it brings excruciating pain. That O I just typed? It hurt like the dickens. So did each L and every period. I considered writing this post as one run-on sentence, but I didn’t have the gumption.

In yet another case of forgetting what I should know by now, I’ve been ignoring increasing pain in this finger over the last few days. The pain is at its worst in the middle of the night, and has woken me from a deep sleep four nights in a row. “What could that be?” I asked my oblivious self. Eureka! It’s gout.

I’ve never experienced full-blown gout in a finger before, although it was numbness in this finger that led to my new gout-busting regimen (recall those unsplittable pills). I didn’t realize how much I used my right ring finger–ah, to be a leftie–until it caused me jarring pain to do so. Brushing my teeth, washing the dishes, anything that involves holding, my ailing finger wants to jump in and help out. I squander considerable mental effort to stop myself from using this finger.

People usually experience gout pain in major lower-body joints, characteristically in the ball of the foot. Imagine searing pain with every step you take, your foot so swollen that your shoes don’t fit. In the past, my feet have usually taken turns being gouty, although sometimes they want the simultaneous privilege of paining me.

So when I finally realized what was happening, rather than jump on the medication bandwagon, I let it escalate for a while longer. What kind of baby uses liver-toxic medication for pain at the end of a finger? This kind of baby. Now that I’ve started self-medicating, I hope the attack will pass soon.

There are several ways I could view this turn of events. I could focus on how painful gout is and how miserable it makes me, misery that is only compounded by the lack of sleep. (The pain is worse at night.) That attitude isn’t helpful, is it? Or I could be hopeful that the new gout-busting medication I’m on, those other unsplittable pills, is working. I knew those pills would make things worse before it made them better. I’ve decided to make this my first gouty step toward eliminating my gout forever.

I’m anticipating one more collateral benefit: for now, I must delegate all gardening and other household tasks, including dish-washing, to J. (Not just pressure but heat exacerbates the swelling, compounding the pain.) J. may especially resent the extensive garden thinning required when she realizes how much I have overseeded. Oh well, she’ll get over it, as will I.

Things I should know by now, but sometimes forget

Handicapped door button

I’ve been going to have my blood taken on a regular basis for 17 years now. After all that practice, you’d think I’d know all there was to know about the process. This is what I know to do following the procedure:

  1. Put pressure on spot where the needle left a wee hole for at least a few minutes to promote clotting and minimize bruising.
  2. Anything that interferes with clotting makes this pressure all the more critical. Consider factors such as being on blood thinners (that was me once) or being low in platelets (that is me now).
  3. Any heavy lifting soon after the procedure, like holding the absurdly heavy lab door open for the person behind me as I exit, is contraindicated because it could interfere with clotting.
  4. Wearing a white shirt to the procedure is just plain dumb in light of my propensity to bleed.
  5. If any of these procedures aren’t followed, I may end up with blood stains on my clothing and/or a bruise.

Can you tell where this story is headed? Do I still get to tell you what happened this morning when I went to the lab to have my blood taken? It started off well. The needle prick was painless. I placed pressure on my wound following the needle withdrawal and, upon inspection prior to bandaging the spot, I appeared to be clotting well. Then I got up, put my jacket back on, walked through the waiting room, and pushed the heavy outside door open with the same arm that had just been taped up, first allowing the woman behind me through.

As I got outside, I felt a strange wetness on the same arm of my blood draw. “What might that be?” I thought curiously. “Why is my arm feeling increasingly drenched as I walk toward the car?” No lightbulb yet.

I’m sure you know exactly why my arm was wet. I too should have known, but it was fairly early in the morning and all my cylinders were not yet firing. I stood by my car, the unexplained wetness spreading down my arm, at which point the blood made its way beyond my jacket to my exposed hand. I have felt this wetness many times before, yet the physical sensation was not enough to jog my memory; I needed visual proof before accepting that I’d need to do a load of wash that day (or two, because I was wearing a white t-shirt).

With my evidence firmly in hand, I returned to the lab, using the handicapped button to open those heavy doors. I marched straight to the desk to seek help from the phlebotomist. My bloody hand proved sufficient evidence for her rally her troops to clean me up forthwith before I spread my gift of life all over the lab.

Oh well. What’s another load of laundry? Easy for me to say since J. does the laundry. She worries I’ll fall down the basement stairs. The ways I can be a danger to myself are infinite. Oh, and I bruise easily. Let me show you my arm….

Musings on avocado toast

Avocados have gotten a bum rap of late on two fronts. In case you missed it, an Australian real-estate mogul had the gall to assert that the younger generations cannot afford to buy their own homes because they are wasting their money on frivolous items like $19 avocado toast. Needless to say, the social-media backlash was fierce.

Don’t tell me you’ve missed the trendy toast movement altogether. FYI, it’s not all melted margarine slathered on highly processed white bread anymore. The toast I’m speaking of has fancy toppings, including but not limited to avocados, smushed on thick slices of organic sourdough toast. You can order it in restaurants with a variety of additional toppings, at unfathomable prices.

I’ve read about the toast movement but I’ve never gone out to a restaurant in search of avocado toast because I don’t eat out, remember? Since I was placed on a sodium-restricted diet in 2004, I have largely been restricted to reading about the hot new restaurants in town on the internet. Sometimes I salivate at the pictures, but God would punish me if I deigned to consume their wares. Did I mention how much weight I gained on my last vacation, despite my only eating only one pain au chocolate over two weeks? No? Well, let’s keep it that way.

The mogul’s lame argument was countered by a respected business writer at the Globe and Mail. Said writer noted that young people would need to consume over 33 slices of overpriced avocado toast daily to spend the $180,000+ dollars Toronto house prices have risen over the past year alone. Anyone consuming that much avocado toast has a bigger problem than covering her house payments. I suspect a binge eating disorder, but I’d need more information to make a definitive diagnosis.

If these house-less restaurant-going kids decide, instead, to make avocado toast at home in order to save a few dollars, they need to be aware of the second strike against the poor avocado: the potential dangers of avocado-pit removal. According to recent medical reports, a phenomenon dubbed avocado hand is showing up increasingly in ERs everywhere. The injury results from a missed stab at the avocado pit, where the knife slips off and pierces the palm of the hand. These cuts can be deep, and may therefore result in serious infection. A local emerg doc noted that his hospital sees approximately one case of avocado hand weekly.

Thankfully we have socialized medicine in Canada, so that your ER visit will not cost the you anything except your pride. Rest assured the ER docs will view you as one of those earthy millennial types who needed a healthy snack following hot yoga to sustain you through the afternoon.

I’m not that person–I prefer to keep my yoga sweat to myself–yet I confess that I too like avocado toast. I often slather half an avocado on my morning toast, sometimes topping it with an also-trendy poached egg. It’s a surprisingly filling meal. But I’m too cheap to pay $15 for all this rigamarole at a restaurant. I’ll pit my own avocado, thank you very much, very carefully, and pray for no deep-tissue injury since I’m infection prone. Already I’ve cost the health system much more than my share.

Picture of avocado on toast topped with poached egg and herbs

The dangers of dependence: a tale of two doctors

A tree that is unbending is easily broken

Did I happen to mention that my beloved Dr. Family will be heading off on maternity leave in August? The gall of that fantastic physician to place her family ahead of her patients, placing her family ahead of her patients. I was diagnosed with leukemia during her first maternity leave. Who knows what will happen this time she leaves?

I don’t talk about Dr. Family much because she is, in some ways, a peripheral member of my care team. By necessity, I spend more time with my specialists than with her. She has always diligently reviewed my file before I do visit, though. She is an astute diagnostician and has cared for me well over the years I have known her. She has arranged for excellent coverage during her two prior leaves.

Her upcoming departure for baby #3 happens to coincide with Dr. Blood’s leaving for her year-long sabbatical. That’s a lot of change at one time for a change-averse gal like me. Thus I considered becoming completely overwhelmed when I first saw Dr. Family’s baby bump, but I’d recently reached my fretting threshold over Dr. Blood.

That’s how I decided to approach to Dr. Family’s leave differently. I recalled my shutting my practice temporarily–unlike me, my clients had no opportunity to ready themselves for my departure–and how, unsurprisingly, my clients survived without me. I’d expect no less of them.

As a clinician, I am always walking a tightrope between assuring my clients they can rely on me when they are distressed and encouraging them not to become overly reliant on my support. From the outset, we discuss those supports available to clients outside the occasional hour that we meet. I’d never want a client to think he needed to talk to me and only me in a crisis because that would set him up to be overly dependent on my care.

I’ve always known I’m not the only psychologist in town. Other highly competent clinicians jumped in when I got sick because they had to. I redirected clients that asked; others muddled through in their own way. Some clients may have ditched therapy altogether to see how they’d do without a therapist’s support. I trust they managed well.

Those who transferred to someone new may have had to share their story from the beginning, which is certainly harder than returning to someone who knows them. Nonetheless, unexpected change like this can be good for clients. I may have missed something or focussed excessively on one domain when they could have used a different kind of support. I realize my former clients may have found a therapist who was better suited to care for them. Sometimes a client reaches an endpoint with a psychologist and a new perspective is beneficial.

If my clients can survive or even thrive without me, maybe I can do the same with my new physicians. I’d hate to become a needy patient, and I trust both my physicians will find solid interim replacements. Who knows? Maybe the change will give my flexibility muscle a good workout. I may even learn that there’s more than one doctor in the world who can keep me alive. That would be reassuring.

Two women walk into a home improvement store….

Picture of yellow and black drill

Sounds like the first line of a joke, doesn’t it? Well, it isn’t. Or maybe it is, if you’re thinking of klutzy me. J. is less injury prone and better with a drill. I am wisely relegated to a supporting role on home improvement tasks, e.g., “Honey, a beer/iced tea/lunch would be nice.”

We went to the store to buy planks for raised garden beds. According to J.’s careful calculations, we had room for two 12 x 3 foot beds. What we hadn’t considered was how we’d get those 12-foot planks home my little black car. Remember the car I said I’d never eat in and forever park at the far end of every parking lot to prevent door dents? I know, sounds a touch unrealistic.

The helpful and eager young employee–let’s call him McDreamer–believed we could somehow get those long planks home in my teeny car, so he and J. attempted to manoeuvre them while I watched in fascination. (I bruise easily, remember?) All was going well until McDreamer decided to move the planks a bit farther up the dashboard, at the expense of the windshield. Once he realized what had happened, McDreamer was so upset he bolted off in tears to seek help.

How would a normal person respond in this situation? J., ever the normal one, uttered the F-word several times. I am not normal, however, so my instantaneous response was to flash back through my many job disasters over the years and feel McDreamer’s pain.

I clearly recall the first time I really messed up at a so-called job. Early in my babysitting career, which was quite busy and lucrative, I somehow forgot a booking altogether. I remember feeling so ashamed by my error, and my shame was compounded by the parents’ rage. Needless to say, this family never asked me back.

Since then, I can think of critical moments with clients that I haven’t handled well and wished I could revisit. I addressed these mishaps with the client if I had the opportunity, but sometimes, because of circumstances, I did not. Unfinished business is unsettling.

In case you’re wondering, no, I did not immediately put on my psychologist hat and offer McDreamer my services. We’ve recently reviewed the prohibitions against ambulance chasing, and, in this case, I was the one in the ambulance. Rather, McDreamer appropriately sought help from an older and wiser employee, who explained that 12-foot planks could not safely be transported by a 6-foot-long vehicle. The store manager then magically appeared and offered to pay to replace the windshield. She was lovely and gracious, including with McDreamer, so everyone breathed a sigh of relief.

J. returned to the store the next day with a revised plan. If we built 6-foot rather than 12-foot boxes, the shorter planks would fit easily in our friend’s van. Since McDreamer had not been fired, he gladly helped us out. Even without my professional help, he seemed to have fully overcome the prior day’s trauma. The shorter planks were loaded in and nobody got hurt.

Even my car has learned an important lesson about knowing her limits. I doubt she’ll ever try that again. Or at least not under my watch.

Increasing my blog’s readership, one visitor at a time

It was a record week with two real live clients. For whatever reason, my second client found the session helpful and decided to rebook. At this rate, I may actually have a bit of income to declare at year end. Do you think her rebooking had anything to do with the despairing look on my face as the session neared its end? Or my begging? I thought so too.

I commended this client for making contact since we hadn’t seen each other for some time. I can’t imagine calling my therapist not knowing if she’d died since we’d last met. Kudos to her for taking the risk. I believe she could see, once she arrived, that my death is not imminent, or at least doesn’t seem to be so.

On a much triter note, I’d love my writing to find a larger audience. All writers would, wouldn’t they? Sometimes my narcissistic side wonders why my blog hasn’t garnered more attention over time. Is it my abrasively opinionated stance? My biting humour? How about my many random syntax errors? You’re probably wondering whether I’ll ever learn to stop my participles from dangling.

Despite my ongoing efforts to keep you entertained–“Enough already,” you say, “I wouldn’t have committed to this blog if I knew we’d be forging a long-term relationship”–I haven’t yet garnered any publishing contracts, I’ve had no requests for guest articles in esteemed newspapers, no talk-show appearances, not even any invitations to relocate to L.A. Perhaps my fame will follow my death, just like that of Bach or van Gogh.

It would probably help if I used social media to broaden my reading audience, but, because I don’t live with a teenager, I’m at a loss. I’ve taken a more primitive approach to expanding readership instead: I awkwardly tell people about the blog and ask them to take a look.

Sadness doll

Can you see the resemblance?

Take, for example, Mr. Platelet at the Calgary Blood Services clinic, the regular platelet donor who likened me to Little Miss Sunshine a few weeks back rather than my soulmate, Sadness, from Inside Out. You know Sadness, who’s forever trying to bring Joy down. (As a side note, notwithstanding the pale blue facial tone, I bear a striking resemblance to Sadness, even when I’m happy. The higher-than-average BMI, the frumpy sweater, the glasses, and the eyes that are always wide open. Hey, maybe that’s why Sadness is always sad. She’s tired all the time!)

I caught up with Mr. Platelet–would “Little Mr. Sunshine” be a better moniker?–this past Monday when I was volunteering and, while he was quietly eating his soup, I told him how touched I was by his kind words last time he was in. And then I clumsily directed him to the recent blog post where he’d played a starring role. In yet another act of kindness, he gamely read the post while consuming his soup. And just like that, I increased my readership that day. Poor fellow probably didn’t know what hit him. Even my clients would say I’ve never been known for my delicate touch.

No wonder my blog readership is increasing at a snail’s pace. Should I reconsider the social media approach? It’s less intrusive. Now I just need a teenager….

Social media icons (twitter, Pinterest, youtube

Give him an inch, he goes a mile.

I have two real-live clients this week. Two hours to be a bona fide psychologist. Two people who I have the potential to help (or harm, if I mess up). That’s a lot of responsibility.

Sometimes I’m well aware that my clients are doing all the work. They know what they need to do, they just need the occasional reminder. Take one of my recent clients, who came in for help with anxiety. He was going to be late for this week’s session, so he emailed earlier that day to inform me. What a brilliant solution, I thought: this way, I’d know he’d be late, and I wouldn’t fret about it. Also, he wouldn’t be stressed by his delay.

I was struck by this client’s problem solving in this situation. He anticipated something that might cause him anxiety and preempted it altogether. When he arrived, I commended him for dealing with his tardiness proactively. Many times over the course of our contact, this client has shown me that he will act to reduce his stress rather than raising it through avoidance. Way to go, buddy.

As an anxious person myself, I often forget to apply the same principles in my own life. I’ll put off the letter I need to write or the phone call I need to make if I’m nervous about what to say. If I am going to be late for an appointment, I am more likely to become stressed than to notify the person who will be waiting for me. I may avoid situations that cause me anxiety, even though I’m well aware I’ll feel better as soon as I act. I have to make a conscious effort not to do things that cause me to worry more.

My years of personal experience have taught me that overcoming anxiety is hard work. It takes awareness and vigilance and, for people like me, even a bit of therapy. I may deal with my stress more effectively than I used to when I was younger, yet I am not anxiety free. My goal is to ensure my worries do not interfere with my living my life fully. I have the same goal for my worry-prone clients.

At the end of the session, I asked this client whether he wanted to rebook. I had the feeling he’d say no, since he’d come so far with such little help from me, and he was effectively applying so much of what he’d learned. He chose not to set another appointment. (Insert sad-face emoji here.) We left the door open, as I always do.

Then, as he was leaving, he gave me the dreaded termination talk. I know this talk well. He said, “Thanks for being my cheering section.” I responded, “You’ve given me a lot to cheer about.” It’s a variation on the you’ve-helped-me-so-much theme. (Let’s assume, for the sake of argument, that this is true.) Expressing gratitude this way seems easier than saying, “I no longer need your help.” This fellow certainly doesn’t, or at least not right now.  And so another one bites the dust, but in a good way.

Good bye emoji--hand waving

 

Splitting hairs over splitting pills

In Friday’s post, I suggested today’s story would fall under the “Believe It or Not” category. You might prefer to place it in the “Too Much Boring Detail” category, but that’s how we differ. I will temper the mind-numbing detail if you’ll pretend to be captivated by my story.

Immediately following our trip, I had planned to start on my new gout-busting medication. The drug was curiously not at the pharmacy when I visited, however. I was under the mistaken impression that my doctor had called the prescription in, when in fact the paperwork was in my dedicated pharmacy drawer, which is perpetually overflowing with pill bottles and granny pill cases and prescriptions and blood-work requisitions.

Upon realizing my error, I returned to the pharmacy, prescription in hand (Visit #2). Rarely do I wait for drugs–I don’t like to rush the professionals–but I was eager to start on these pills, so wait I did. Within 15 minutes, I headed home, pills in hand.

The prescription said I was to take one half pill daily, possibly increasing to full pills depending on the outcome of blood work. Sounds pretty straight forward, doesn’t it? I thought so, until I opened the bottle. This is what I saw:

Green pill, egg shaped, shown on both sidesHow does one split a pill this shape, with a rock-hard coating and no dividing line? Beats me. So I headed back to the pharmacy, pills in hand (Visit #3), and said, “Ms. Druggie, how exactly do you expect me to split these ridiculous tablets?” Ms. D. said she had not looked at the pills before handing me the prescription and had no idea how anyone would split them. She willingly agreed to do so for me.

Have I written before about my pill-splitting refusal? If a pill needs to be split, I expect the pharmacist to do it for me. That pharmacy has made many thousands of dollars from me alone over the years. (Pity the pharmacist having to deal with a patient like me.) I believe that splitting my pills is the least a pharmacist can do to thank me for her secure employment.

pill splitter with split pills insideMany a pharmacist has tried to dissuade me from my entitled stance, however. One showed me how easy it is to split by hand the one pill I’ve long taken that is unavailable in my needed dose. Another suggested I buy a pill splitter to make the job easier. Easier for me or easier for you, dear pharmacist? Need I remind you I have no room for a pill splitter in my pharmacy drawer? Oh, yeah, and petit point and teeny weeny origami are not in my wheelhouse. Neither is pill splitting.

No, dear pharmacist, I don’t have the time or patience to split my own pills. I’m busy picking them up from two pharmacies, sorting them into two different daily pill cases, and remembering to take them on schedule. I deserve to have a life the rest of the time, don’t I?

Ms. D. graciously took the challenge on, decimating seven pills in the process and stopping before she destroyed any more. So much for her high-tech pharmacy-grade pill splitter.

Did I mention that was Visit 4? How could I possibly find time for pill splitting? My headstone will read: “She died splitting her pills.”

If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all.

Young girl holding lips closed, as if zipping lips

I am returning to the fold after the longest hiatus I’ve taken since initiating the blog. I’ll skip asking whether you missed me because I don’t want to know. I missed writing, but I didn’t have anything to say, so I didn’t say anything at all. I look back on all my grasping-at-straws posts with shame.

We are now back from vacation. Let’s say the trip was not Facebook worthy, even though I lack a Facebook account. I had no beautiful pictures or inspiring moments to share, and, failing those, no great insights or lessons learned. I was too busy trying to keep dry and warm amidst the torrential rain, the pounding sleet, and the gale-force winds.

We travelled into a disaster zone, a bracingly cold and unpleasant spring in la belle province. While we wandered the streets of Old Town, fearing that our umbrella would do a Mary Poppins at any moment, flooding displaced two thousand residents from their homes. There’s something discordant about enjoying the splendours of the area knowing so many people were being profoundly affected.

Maybe that wasn’t it at all. Maybe it was not having Grover, who stars in so many of my vacation pictures, with me. But he would have been so scared by the wind and the rain and the sleet and the snow (yes, there was snow, in May), and he doesn’t own a raincoat to protect his blue fur from the elements. It’s best I left him at home.

We needn’t factor in the exhaustion of trying to think and speak in French. Let’s just say that, beyond understanding French menus, food labels, and public signs, I failed abysmally at speaking and oral understanding. I am in awe of people relocating from foreign lands who master our language.

No, my silence was mostly due to utter exhaustion, I’m afraid. Usually, the excitement of exploring a new place keeps me awake and alert. (That, and the hyperstimulating morning coffee.) When I go away, I leave fatigue, and leukemia, and all those worries I usually carry around with me, at home and pretend I’m healthy for the duration. I crash once I return home. But this time, for whatever reason, fatigue insisted on joining us.

Baby screaming (shot of head only)In fact, I was so exhausted that, to stop my falling asleep on the way to the airport, we moved up our return flight by a few hours. A nap on the plane, and I’d be fine, I figured. I was all ready, earplugs in hand, and then the screaming started. No, not mine, that of the baby one row back. She started wailing before take off and kept it up past landing, with only a few short breaks. I kept telling myself, “I’m sure I was that child” so as to keep myself calm. By flight’s end, my exhaustion gave way to giddiness, which, thankfully, the harried mother could not hear over her screeching daughter.

And so, dear readers, now that that baby and I have parted ways, I am catching up on my sleep. I will be back to regular posting soon. Stay tuned for a “Believe It or Not” story about my day with my pharmacist. It’s truly ah (awe? ugh?) inspiring.

Bonjour les enfants!

Chateau Frontenac lit up at night

I write to you from la belle province. Oh, did I neglect to tell you I was heading off on vacation for a week? I must have, since I didn’t know myself. I packed so quickly and unexpectedly, I forgot to bring Grover along to star in my pictures. It hasn’t been the same without him, but I thought maybe I should travel without my stuffie.  It’s a small step toward adulthood.

French is a breeze. (Just joking.) I have mastered many of the words that are identical in French and English. For example, last night, watching the hockey game in French was quite a challenge–I have no idea what’s happening on the ice without the commentary–although I did consistently recognize the players’ names.

I’ve flown across the country and, despite my high-school French, I can barely understand anything anyone is saying. Quel surprise! J. is terribly disappointed in me. She was hoping I’d be her capable translator this trip, but thus far I have failed miserably. I’d have considerably more success if we could carry out our conversations in writing. I have decided that speaking a language I have not used in many years is nothing like riding a bike. I imagine I sound like a two year old with a language disability.

I ensured I learned the most important word before I left home. Turns out that “pardon” means “I’m sorry” or” Excuse me.” I know, I’m trying intently not to apologize so much, but I only made that promise when I was speaking in English. I feel like I have a lot more to apologize for here. I must apologize for not understanding what people are saying for me, for not understanding the rules of pedestrians on sidewalks, and many other things that separate us.

I have reached my quota of English conversation for today. It is a beautiful here and our itinerary is fierce, so I must get off my derriere and reenter this brave new world. Au revoir les adultes!