Monday, May 30, 2011

Updating "Little Events"

The wrens have decided to tolerate neighbors and are nesting in the next box two down from the tree swallows. Something knocked the bud off the peach. And this morning he remembered how to use a spoon. but he's been spouting non-stop - really, non-stop - nonsense since eating this morning. It's different from sleeping all morning, but I'm not calling it an improvement.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Little Events

The grass suddenly sprung to over 16" tall, after all the rain. Mowing has commenced, slowly, even though it means sacrificing the violets' ability to produce seeds. The daffodils are done, lilacs in full bloom, cherries finished, apples waning, and Paul says there's a single blossom on the peach tree, or rather, bush. Winter a few years ago was hard on it, even with global warming and our new status as a zone 4 climate for plants, so it came up with multiple sticks from the ground, and we've wondered if it would ever produce. The phoebes have hatched in our entryway and the nest box the far end of the garden has a new family of tree swallows growing up in it. Mosquitoes are highly competitive for our blood.

Daddy forgot how to use a spoon this morning. It was his newest usual, flavored oatmeal with fruit added. I found him stabbing the spoon straight down into it, then lifting it straight up into his mouth, just a teensy bit of flavor attached. I took his hand and held it lower so the spoon could scoop up the food, and that lasted for about three spoonfuls. Then he held it vertically again, stabbing and now twirling around like he was eating long-noodle spaghetti, something he's not actually had as long as I've eaten Mom's cooking. She settled for elbow macaroni for everything, whether you called it spaghetti or pasta salad or whatever. I finally settled for using his spoon and feeding him the rest of his breakfast, hoping that by the next time he'd be able to use the spoon properly again.

Lunch needed a fork, and he ate so little of that before going back to sleep that I'm not sure how he handled his fork. Supper is coming up, and he'll be his most alert of the day, having talked with Steve on the phone and then gone out for a scooter ride with Paul. We'll see how it goes.

Saturday, May 28, 2011


It's a good thing Randy warned me about this, although even with the warning, and understanding what's behind it and how common it is, it's getting increasingly hard to cope. After all, I was raised in a very inhibited era. Back then you said things like "darn" and "dang", "phooey" and "fudge", and kept speech topics to those suitable for polite company, including children. I've grown up and changed, of course, but most of those inhibitions still hold.

The anecdote Randy tells to illustrate the concept keeps me giggling, sometimes when little else does. It's set in a nursing home, with the fairly rare elderly gentleman resident. It also involves a rather prim lady, the do-gooder kind who serves others and her own self-esteem by visiting with shut-ins and the sick. Randy claims to be a witness. The aforementioned lady gets motioned to by the elderly gentleman, coaxing her to get closer, closer. Despite Randy's efforts to warn her off, she does, thinking perhaps that he's hard of hearing or just deprived of genteel company. Finally close to him, leaning over his wheelchair, she sees him point at his crotch, and hears, "Hey, honey, I've got seven inches for you!"

I've not heard whether she ever came back, but if she did, she no doubt avoided him again. She wasn't ready for the disinhibited state of many of the elderly. No longer held to the standards of polite conventions, they use words they kept out of polite company, and make suggestions and offer invitations suitable for any respectable brothel worth of its name.

Watching Daddy over the last two years, I've seen the walls falling one by one. There's the lack of modesty regarding bathroom needs. Of course, this is born of necessity, when one makes a mess one is unable to clean up alone. Back when he was still drinking, and over-indulging in the wake of Mom's death, the language barriers started to fall. The person I'd never heard swearing was now using language to make a sailor proud. He was also saying nasty things to one of his aids, including calling her a prostitute. Things got so nasty, I finally confronted him with his behavior. He was still in a state that, when sober, he was capable of shame, and quit drinking by his own will. (After several days of that, we reinforced his will by ridding his apartment of alcohol. Just in case. After all, his memory already was imperfect, even sober, nevermind the near-blackouts caused by drinking.)

Things improved greatly, and stayed that way for a while after moving him in up here with us. However, the last several months have seen quite a change again. Mostly it's at night, or at least started that way. I still try to hush him when he's swearing, and most times he's obedient, for a bit. I tried the what-would-your-mother-think-if-she-heard-that bit a couple times, but it was only effective at first.

A recent ploy has been used in the morning when I get him up for the day. He seems to have reverted to about a six-year-old level when he plays this game, and you can see the conniving in his eyes behind the I'm-so-innocent expression he puts on for it. When I happen to mention either the words "sit" or "shirt", he coyly asks how I spell it. He wants me to know both that he hasn't either said or spelled the word "shit", but just maybe he'll luck out and trick me into doing so. What glee if he succeeded! I mock-scolded him, letting him know I knew his game, by emphatically spelling the word I used, almost pretending I simply thought he was hard of hearing, but conveying in tone the true message. After a few weeks of that, I switched to answering his question with "i-t" or ''t-h-a-t", depending on how he asked his question.

He stopped playing.

I almost miss it.


It's much more fun than fielding his invitations to join him in bed. Lately, he'll invite almost anybody, including his aids, nurses, physical therapist, even his grandsons. Sometimes he'll say they're for company, but many times they'll be much more explicit. My answer is always the same, aiming not to scold him but to put the question to rest. At least for the time being, since he'll repeat it next time, and next time. I simply tell him that his bed is too small for both of us. I can't physically get in it. It's a hospital bed with side rails, just big enough for him and him alone. After a while, he gets the idea. If it's company he's after, he switches to asking if I'll stay in the chair next to his bed all night, but I then remind him that I need sleep since I have to work in the morning.

I'm really glad that the people who care for him all have been trained in what to expect and how to nicely brush off the advances. I'm also glad they all knew him before this all stated. It helps that they respect the man he was, and genuinely came to care for him then. That carries through, helping all of us deal with the changes.

Still Plenty of Stupid

Yup, there's still plenty of stupid out there, even including mine. What do I plead in my defense? Sleep deprivation, having gotten just over three hours the night before? A different routine, what with the detour and trying to stock up on everything so I don't have to go out this whole holiday weekend? Starvation with supper delayed about 5 hours since my last meal? Or... but wait, let's be honest and tell what happened first.

Once home last night, I started loading up with everything I needed to head into the house in just one load, with Paul coming out for the rest of the shopping bags. I was halfway through a new Dana Stabenow book, one of the rare ones not set in Alaska, and didn't want it to wait over three days before finishing. (There are times I have "home" books and "car" books, but this wasn't one of them.) I couldn't find it on the seat where I'd set it about 3:00 o'clock after catching a couple pages between runs. No, it wasn't in my cooler, the logical place if I'd packed it early. (By day's end, more things fit in it than at the start.) I checked under the seat, even opened the door in case it slid down into the pocket of the door or the space between door and seat.


Check everything again. Frustratingly, still nada. I gathered up what I could and stomped off into the house in a snit. Yep, mild-mannered me, in a snit. Imagine! I kept asking myself when I might have left the car unlocked to allow somebody to steal it, but I hadn't. I just didn't know what might have happened to it, and even paperbacks are expensive enough these days that I didn't feel kindly disposed to having to replace it. I let Paul and my dad know why I was upset, and started unpacking what I had brought in. Finally finished with all that, plus putting away the stuff Paul brought in for me, it was finally time for my supper. After 8:00, I'd put off eating because tonight's supper was a Wendy's apple-chicken-pecan salad, and it takes actually sitting down to finish the prep and eat it. Not a meal for driving! But oh, so yummy, and I hadn't treated myself to one for weeks. Opening the bag, there was my missing book, right where I'd apparently thoughtfully packed it for convenience in carrying it into the house after all my other errands were run.

Blaming the detour? Well, the Broadway bridge is out for replacement in Forest Lake, and Wendy's is opposite that bridge from Walmart, my next stop. Not my usual route. Blame the other things on my list? Maybe. But what really sidetracked me last night is my outrage at the stupidity of the Walmart employee who ran the checkout counter I went through.

My basket was already full of heavy things, like bottles of juice for my dad, cottage cheese and meats, and gardening stuff. The last thing on my list was fresh fruits, and there was a deal on blueberries. I carefully selected through the little plastic containers they were in, since often squished or over-ripe fruits show through the bottom of the plastic. The plastic itself is flimsey, not much protection from accidents. I found two I was satisfied with. Any more, and they spoil before they get eaten anyway.

At the checkout, I handed them to her last, asking politely if she'd mind putting them in a separate bag so they wouldn't get squished. She cheerfully obliged. While I was paying with my card, she "helped" by putting everything in my cart for me. I didn't see the blueberries. Where were they? She lifted off one of the heavier bags to show me the blueberries where she'd carefully put them, in their separate bag, on the bottom!

I admit I got quite sarcastic with her at that point: "Oh, that's really helpful." Apparently she didn't catch the tone, because she accepted it as a compliment. I'm not sure she got it even after I added, "Not!" just slightly louder.

So I left, thinking I could possibly feel a bit better for my own stupidities, knowing I'm not alone in them. But I'd rather have the blueberries.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Auction Announcement

Tomorrow we have an auction at the Anoka County Fairgrounds. Noon start if anybody's interested. We always start each auction with the same array of announcements. Hold your bidding cards up: we don't read nose twitches and ear pulls. There's a 10% buyers premium: if you buy something for a dollar it'll actually cost $1.10. We add sales tax unless you have a tax-exempt number on file with us. If you have to pay with a credit card, there's a 3% fee added to cover what the credit card companies charge us. Ask if you need boxes and packing materials. If this is a location where you can store things until you can return with a bigger vehicle, we'll tell you. Or tell you if it's not. We point out concessions, and introduce the staff. We'll list our upcoming schedule as we know it at the time. We invite you to list your goods with us for an upcoming auction.

And then the auction begins.

But tomorrow is a very special day. So expect the following announcement:

Many people believe that today is the day that the world ends. While we at Brown Auctions make no comments about any one particular religious view, we do say the following. If you feel like shopping here like there's no tomorrow, well, we have no problem with that. However, please keep in mind that being raptured is no excuse for skipping paying your bill on the way out!

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

So This Is Coping?

My original title for this post was going to be,"Getting Stupid". Because I was. But that's likely to be too common a title, and I figure there was something else going on, like my life and all the other things in it (ya think?). Anyway, that's my excuse, and I'm sticking to it.

Last week we had a couple days that were rainy off and on. In Minnesota that means headlights on. (If you've now jumped to the logical end, pat yourself on the back and go find something productive to do with all those brains.) It was also a bit of a slow afternoon. I took advantage of the lull to pull over into a parking lot and snooze until I was beeped for my next job. I was tired too, for the above reasons. And I'm a great cat-napper, able to pop in and out of sleep for short periods pretty much at will in the right surroundings.

After facing west for a bit, the sun came out and got uncomfortable. I started the car, moved it a few spaces down, way out in the middle of the lot away from stores, facing east this time. Being too warm, I rolled the windows down.

Snooze again.

When I finally woke, it was 4:30. Wow! Really dead day! I checked my Nextel to make sure it was actually working and I hadn't missed anything. It was. I hadn't. But it was time to account for the water I'd been drinking earlier, so I decided to move the car next to the convenience store with a bathroom, sparing myself a long walk.

Click, click, click, click.

Dead battery. Lights left on, which isn't supposed to be a problem in my car. If you leave them on even after you leave the car, they shut themselves off when you pull out the key.

Oops. I hadn't pulled out the key. Not only that, I'd left the ignition in the "start" position, needed for rolling the windows up and down. With a dead battery, they were stuck in the down position. This meant I couldn't leave the car to walk to the bathroom without risking somebody reaching a hand in and grabbing anything they wanted. I was so-o-o-o stuck here!

I typed to dispatch what was wrong and logged out. Then I called Paul. His cell is off until he gets in the car after work, but 95% of the time he remembers to turn it on. He'd get my message and call for my location and come jump start the car. Unless this was one of those 5% times.

Please please please let it be one of the 95% days!

I turned the key completely off and pulled it out. Sometimes batteries can recover just enough after being drained. I had a book to read while waiting.

And squirming. After about half an hour of that I tried starting the car. It tried to half turn over, and started clicking again. But now there was enough juice to roll up the windows. I could leave!

And once I got back, I had enough juice to roll them down again while I waited for Paul to show up and rescue me. Fortunately, he carries jumper cables. About a three second wait after connecting them, and I was off and running again. Not straight home, of course, since there were errands to run.

There always are.

Monday, May 16, 2011


The early losses were easier to deal with. Can't read? Books on tape. Can't concentrate long enough to finish a book? Switch to WCCO radio. Can't drive? Get someone else or try Metro Mobility. Can't walk? Go with walkers and scooters. Add a lift chair, a special high office chair for at the dining table, a high seat on the toilet, grab bar in the bathroom, and a ramp to the front door. Can't breathe well? Add oxygen and a nebulizer. Can't pee? Get catheters, first one-use, then permanent. Can't cook? Get Meals on Wheels during the week. Wife dies? Move in with daughter and family. Can't take care of own hygiene? Get home health aids. Can't keep warm? Get different clothing and kick up the heat and the number of blankets. Can't swallow properly? Add Thick-It to liquids and change some of the solids.

It sounds like a lot, but they accumulated slowly, and each became another adjustment. Each was just another facet of daily routine. Still are, for that matter. These, in retrospect, are the simple adjustments.

But now cognition is leaving, piecemeal. First it was short-term memory. You'd give an answer to a question and have the question repeated twenty minutes later, then ten, now as little as 5 sometimes. Or a question would be started and lost before it's finished being asked. The wrong words are being applied so it's hard to figure out what he's really trying to say.

The sense of time is now meaningless. At first it was days or seasons or a feel for how much time had passed, say, since Mom died. For a while he'd ask if this was Friday or whichever day, and be mostly right. No longer. He still asks, but can't remember the day before, so it's a complete shot in the dark. Lately he's lost all sense of time of day. He sleeps all day and much of the night, but can't reason that if it's light out it's daytime, or if it's dark it's night. So when he wakes in the middle of the night he mostly knows that he's alone and being ignored. Ten minutes after you visit him, tend his needs, and go back to bed, he's calling again, having forgotten your visit. He doesn't know which meal he's just had, and sometimes even loses the fact that he's had it.

It's often worse just after he wakes up. His dreams are the most vivid part of his life now, and he carries them along into his waking world, trying to solve the problem they presented, or needing to impart some piece of information that came to him that way. It's especially important if he's dreaming WWII again. This morning the problem was he was tired of having to strip the arteries out of chickens. I informed him that he didn't need to worry about those anymore. But what about the turkeys? What turkeys? The ones hanging from the ceiling fan over his head. I informed him there were no turkeys there. How did I know? Because this is my house and I wouldn't allow it!


It doesn't take dreaming/waking to confuse him. Yesterday we'd just gotten back from a scooter ride and were resting when my brother called. Daddy happily filled him in on what a wonderful Christmas we were having, lots of presents and good food. The conversation went from that to fishing opener with no awareness of the hitch in logic.

When he first became aware of his cognition issues, we asked him if he wanted to be corrected so he'd know what was really going on. He said he did, so we've been trying. But lately, there is so much that is senseless, so much that is hopeless, that most of what we see is the hurt and frustration when we tell him it was just a dream, or we don't understand his question. Sometimes he gets angry at us, demanding to leave and go move in with somebody else. If we can, and it's harmless, we have begun to play along with his fantasies.

Take the lottery. About a week ago he had something very important to tell us, "us " being Paul and myself, the only two home at the time. We needed to remember two numbers, 4 and 9, and only in that order. 9 and then 4 was the wrong answer. When asked, we were to give those numbers. By the time he was finished impressing on us the importance of remembering those numbers, they had grown to three numbers, and he decided he needed to write them down for us. We found him a pen and a napkin to write on. He put yet another group of three numbers on it, then decided that a 4th set was the right answer. When he asked us later if we knew the numbers, we assured him he had written them down for us and we saved the napkin. Now, were these numbers to put on a lottery ticket? He'd used the words "lottery" and "worth thousands of dollars" repeatedly. He couldn't believe how stupid we were! No, it was how we were to answer the phone when they called. And by this time he was tired and ready to go to bed, and couldn't stay up any later to be the one to answer the phone. We promised him we would if "they" called, having no clue who "they" were.

We were also absolutely sure, no matter how obsessed he was now with these numbers, that he'd have absolutely no recollection of it in the morning. I remember it now because I needed an extra napkin for him the other day and found this one again in a stack of books on the lamp table and used it. It had served its purpose.

We celebrated his 97th birthday last weekend, a couple days before "the event". The family got together in the back yard for a bonfire and brats picnic followed by birthday cake. By suppertime, he'd nearly forgotten he'd had visitors for lunch, unless reminded. By his actual birthday it had become meaningless. I woke him up telling him how old he now was. "I am?" it came and went about that fast in his mind. He has decided, however, that he's no longer interested in living to 100.

I'm hoping for that as well. About the only thing left for him to lose is his awareness of his losses. Or what's left of it. And yet, every once in a while, there's a glimmer of awareness, of the old John, just enough to remind you of why you're doing what you're doing. And he occasionally knows enough to appreciate your doing it.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Unheard Of

In over 25 years of being a courier, this has never happened to me, nor have I heard of it happening.

It started out as an ordinary enough run for its type. A construction company in the metro area was sending a sealed bid out to a hoped-for job. The timing was great: they called us early in the morning and the bid opening was for three that afternoon. The fact that the drop was in St. Cloud just made the run sweeter without challenging any of my skills as a driver or encouraging me to break any speed limits. There was time for a coffee break, a drop-paperwork-off-at-work break, or even a flat tire break if needed. In fact, I arrived at 11:00 AM.

Here's where it got interesting. The woman at the front desk deferred signing for it, saying she needed to find a different person who'd just walked away. Fair enough: often one individual is assigned keeping track of all bids. But I watched her talk to that woman, who then rushed off to consult with another person out of my view, which wasn't all that ordinary. Fine, I'll just stand and wait here, no prob.... Damn!

Well, at least I'd had a long sit-down on the way up, and likely another on the way back to the cities before my next job.

When she did return, the first thing she said was they were going to have to refuse the bid. I may have looked as surprised as I felt, for she rushed on to inform me that they'd just found out the bid specs were wrong. There was an error in the prevailing wage information. But if I just looked online that afternoon, the correct innformation would be posted along with the new bid date.

Wow! Incompetent much?

After reminding her I was "just the messenger", and would pass that information along to the customer, I got her to at least sign the form along with the word "refused" so I could still get paid. Then I called headquarters. The customer needed to be informed, and given the chance to decide what they wanted me to do with the envelope. I knew I could be trusted to rip the thing up and never let anybody get the information inside, but what company in their right mind would trust a person they only knew by job title and smile? So I was unsurprised when orders came back to return it to the customer.

Cool! A paid out-of-town round trip. I was happy with deadheading back and waiting for my next run, but will never argue with getting paid for it instead. Of course the sending company wasn't thrilled with double the expense for no results. I hope they never again hear, "Oops, gee, sorry, we screwed up but you get to pay." It will be tripple by the time the new bid has to be submitted.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

First We Choke It

Yesterday was my visit with the OB-GYN. I like her on first impression, though I'm a bit amused at her dismissal of the idea that my regular doctor could actually feel my fibroid and make a declaration on its current size. Well, she was the first one to detect it on exam, and the ultrasound years ago confirmed her estimate of size back then. Heck, even I can feel it sometimes while lying relaxed on the bed.

I figured walking in that I was just going to hear that I needed major surgery to remove it, after a confirming ultrasound (set up now for Thursday), another something I can't afford, like knee replacements, and I'd be spending the visit arguing about how long I could live with this thing before Medicare kicks in.

I was pleasantly surprised.

By now everybody of a certain age has likely hear of angioplasty, where they go in through the arteries with a balloon on a "snake" and inflate it to compress plaque and open up a clogged vessel. If you haven't needed it, you know somebody who has. Well, what she plans for me is its counterpart. It's called uterine artery embolization. They - actually somebody who's an interventional radiologist - would go in through the femoral artery and release tiny pellets to clog the small arteries that feed blood to the fibroid. Choked of nutrients and O2, it shrinks.

That's the polite way of saying the tissue dies off. It begs the question of how much how soon, and am I suddenly carrying around a large chunk of necrotic tissue, or is there a way to have it progress slowly so there are no or minimal side effects? At any rate, it shrinks way down and once Medicare kicks in, I can decide whether to have a hysterectomy.

There also is the question of what happens if one or more of those pellets detatches and goes wandering elsewhere.

I've got a referral to have it done, but now I need to research where and with whom, since it's not done at my hospital. I need to find out who does, and see who's covered by my plan. The literature she sent home indicates it's normally an overnight hospital stay, so there's transportation and juggling of schedules as well. And I will have to pay a percentage of the bill.

Even with all that stuff to figure out, I left her office much more optimistic than I walked in.

Saturday, May 7, 2011

A Puzzle

It was just a quick stop at a roadside rest stop, for all the usual reasons. The sign caught my imagination. This rest stop was named "Middle Spunk". I started to wonder: middle as opposed to what? Are there big and little Spunks? Upper and lower spunks? North and south spunks, or east and west spunks?

I'm sure the answer is out there somewhere. If you happen to know it, please let me...

No wait. Don't. It's more fun my way.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Allergies, Then and Now

Another day, another doctor. Sighhhhh... Today was the allergist.

As I grew up, to me allergies meant poison ivy. I'd heard not everybody was allergic to the stuff, but I was just one of the lucky ones. Now I know I'm one of the lucky tens of millions. I learned to avoid the plant while wandering around on the resort, but it seemed to jump out and get me anyway, no matter how careful I was. Turns out the dog roamed around the resort too, and petting her defeated all our other precautions. About the same time we moved into town, I was put on an experimental regimen of poison ivy allergy shots. I thought they worked, still not connecting exposure mechanisms and the odds decreasing with "civilization". Next time I was exposed, it was just as ugly and itchy as ever.

I thought I might be allergic to chocolate, since I was binging on the stuff and breaking out in pimples at the same time. A doctor disabused me of that notion. Just as well, since I'd never give up chocolate willingly. Perhaps a world-wide shortage bordering on extinction of the plants....

My weird reactions to a couple of medications are listed under "allergies" on my chart, but the symptoms don't match any typical allergy reactions. I shrug it off and just assume everybody knows it still means I need to stay away from them and allergy is a handy word used as a shortcut to explain why.

As a result of all these experiences, I spent my first 40 plus years believing I had no allergies. Then I had a "cold" that wouldn't go away, and finally knuckled under to go in and see a doctor. I was informed that I had asthma and needed allergy testing. Asthma? Me? I don't wheeze. I'm not short of breath. OK, yes, I'd been coughing for a couple months, but asthma?

The doctor who did the testing was a bit cocky, absolutely sure I was going to turn out to be allergic to my cats or dogs. I was just annoyed by her assumptions, and felt thoroughly vindicated when the results were completely negative. But my "cold" was still there, so she progressed to the patch test. They glued a patch about 5" x 10" onto the middle of my back between the shoulder blades, told me not to scratch, and come back in a few days. By then I was starting to itch. As soon as she peeled of the patch, she immediately knew I was allergic... to the medical adhesive used to keep the patch in place! It was so bad she had to put the grid template up against my back, blocking out all the in-between spots that were red and swollen, to see what was going on in the little squares where the allergens were. Aha! There was one: nickel. Seems it goes along with being half Scandihoovian. I immediately applied clear nail polish to the metal parts of my watch and eyeglasses where they came in contact with the skin.

But there was much more going on than that. At the time I was breeding tropical fish. One of the best ways to do that is to feed high quality foods. Forget flakes and pellets, and shell out for critters, like bloodworms. Frozen are best, but dried will do as second choice. We were feeding both. You're wondering what bloodworms have to do with a nickel allergy, right? Well, to commercially cultivate them for sale to fish hobbyists, you put them in an environment rich in nutrients and waste, aka sludge, which concentrates such things as heavy metals, including nickel. So the worms are rich in it too. Skin contact with frozen ones produces contact dermatitis, and you're up for a heap of misery if you have the allergy and absently rub the corner of your eye before you get to soap and water. The dries ones are another issue. The crumbs get kicked up into the air, breathed in, and create the neverending "cold". Aka asthma. Since I was the primary family member taking care of the fish at that point, scratch that food source, meaning scratch that hobby.

Later experiences showed that bloodworms in a normal lake or pond environment don't have the nickel concentrated in their environment and I don't need to avoid them. So we can still have goldfish in the backyard ponds. And they'll breed with the changes in temperature, no expensive foods needed.

Some time after all that died down, I started noticing my arm would itch when I'd finished carrying a heavy box, usually braced on my hip with pressure on that arm. Cardboard boxes were the worst, since the edges of the cardboard added abrasiveness to the mix. I decided to mow the front lawn one day (back when I still had knees) and by the time I finished my hands were so swollen and sore I couldn't move them for hours. Something was weird. I was allergic to work!

I didn't have the terminology for whatever was going on then, not even to recognize it as an allergy. But I lucked out. My daughter had married a super fellow who, among his many wonderful attributes, happened to have a mother who had the very same thing. She'd been to her doctor and found out that it was called dermatographism. It's an inappropriate histamine response to pressure or irritation of the skin. Call it hives, because while it's shaped to the offending irritant rather than a cute little circle next to another cute circle next to.... well, it's the same mechanism.

Benadryl didn't help. It was very good however at putting me to sleep behind the wheel. She was taking something better, but I hadn't gone in to my doctor yet to get a prescription, and besides, it was very expensive. Back then I had insurance, but the high deductible made it practically useless. Somebody gave me a Claritin to try at a party, and boy was there a difference! It took over an hour to kick in, but it really did. So I went in and got my own prescription. $83.00! Per month! That hurt almost as much as what it was treating. Lucky me, though, it came off its prescription patent about four months later, and within a year was very affordable in bottles of 60 tablets under a generic label. It's on the shelf with my other must-take-every-day-regardless pills.

How time flies. Today my allergist tells me that was about ten years ago. And the reason I was there today is that it has become less and less effective. I tried calling up my co-mother-in-law to find out what medication she had switched to, and as a result tried Allegra. No difference. I tried that one whose name starts with a Z - the name escapes me - and again, no difference. Both are now off patent, and thus somewhat affordable. But generic Claritin is even more affordable and since the others don't do much, why spend more? I'm back on Claritin. My regular doctor informed my there's something better out there new, still on prescription, so I went in to see if I could score that. That's all I wanted, just score a better pill.

They sent out a questionaire about all kinds of possible environmental allergens, 5 pages worth. I glanced at it, decided it could wait until just before the appointment, and set it aside. A phone call mentioned that I needed to go off the Claritin three days before the appointment. That was two days before, and I'd already had a pill that morning. Nice timing! Of course, going over the form later that night, I found in the not-so-fine print a whole list of medications to discontinue however many days before going in. Oh, yeah, hey, I guess reading it at the time might have been a better idea. But she thought I might be OK anyway, with the stuff out of my system long enough to find out what I react to.

And that's where we started today. I got a prick of histamine under the skin so they could tell if I was reacting. Then they took my blood pressure, weight, all that good stuff. The BP cuff was really tight, being run by a machine. It took pumping up twice to register properly. By the time they removed the cuff, that arm was already beginning to itch. It was spectacular by the time the doctor walked in, while the site of the histamine prick was just a teeny tiny red spot. Very unimpressive. But now I had something else to show the doctor what I was talking about.

His theory is that people with dermatographic uticaria have an underlying allergy. Unlike red eyes and runny noses, we lucky folks get blotchy hives in reaction to pressure or irritation. He wanted to test me on a variety of possible allergens. I figured I might as well humor him, since I wasn't having to pay for it. So my arms were marked with blue lines and dots, and bits of stuff injected just under the skin in a variety of places. The theory is that I'd react to everything at first, but after about 15 minutes, the initial swellings would go away and any that remained would be what I was really allergic to. Sure, why not?

After several minutes, all I was reacting to was... dogs, cats, mice, dust mites, tree pollen, grass pollen, mold.... I was tempted to disbelieve I could possible be allergic to all those things. Maybe I was just still doing my usual puffy thing to all of the sites. Eventually, however, there were about 5 sites with no reaction, and even I could see a difference.

Next came education about how to get the allergens away from me. They were smart enough to realize that the dog and cat are not leaving, but stressed that I should set up a "free zone" where I'd be most clear from everything for the most amount of time. That meant my bedroom. That meant new pillows with covers protecting against dust mites, covers for mattress and box springs, washing bedding - all of it! - in hot water weekly, using the AC instead of windows, washing after pet contact, leaving my clothes outside my room and showering before bed, getting HEPA air filters...

OY! This is only going to be about 80 extra hours of work a week, right? That's so going to happen. But I did go shopping for some of the things that can be dealt with that way: $200.

There's a prescription - what I came for, right? - but for one of the OTC meds I've already tried, only twice a day since once clearly wasn't cutting it: my allergist's words. When I picked it up, the pharmacist cautiously asked me if I realized he'd prescribed twice a day on this pill, because, "We usually don't see that."

I know. I'm special. Lucky me. I itch.

I need to try that for two weeks. If that doesn't work, there'll be the other OTC to try for two weeks as well. Once those both fail, he can then prescribe the "good stuff", the stuff that costs about $100/month, with some hope that my insurance will then cover it since nothing else works. Those are their rules. Of course, I can take the paper prescription he printed out for me and go to a Canadian website he named and get about 100 pills for $50 while I'm waiting for insurance coverage. It seems to be a common problem.

And I can chose allergy shots, now that they know what I react to. We'll discuss that in a month when I go back.

Meanwhile, I've washed most of the blue lines and dots off my arms. The rows of red spots are still there, and there's still some puffiness with the ones I reacted most strongly to. I'll find out in the morning if they actually go away. The only good part of all those prick tests is that none of them ever itched. Not one. Bless them!

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Osama Bin Gotten

I'm only slightly puzzled at the jubilation. After all, this is how people react in theaters once the bad guy is blown away. But this isn't acting. This is real life, or rather, death. But my primary reaction is sadness. It's not that I think it's a bad thing that he's dead. I don't regret Timothy McVay's execution either, though I'm not big on capitol punishment. When someone is responsible for multiple murders, the world is better off without them. And I'm glad that he went down fighting rather than having our guys going in and assassinating him. They had orders to take him alive if possible, but he wanted the "glory" of death over capture. His choice.

But how do you celebrate that kind of death?

Yes, there is relief. It's over. If it meant that Al Quaida was finished, that no more terrorism deaths would occur, that might be worth celebration. But the logical response to his death is an uptick in terrorism, at least for a while. Al Quaida might continue in a much crippled fashion, but it will continue. Lots of guys out there want their seventy-something virgins in paradise.

I entertain myself with thoughts of what, given perfect justice, those virgins might actually be like. Mostly they should be old and wrinkled, feeble, ugly, and totally sex-averse. Better yet if they were his victims, arriving at his bed with faces half blown away, intestines dragging on the floor, limbs missing and stumps oozing, maggots crawling all over, and stench rising and gagging him. Many of his 9/11 victims should arrive in pieces, most of which are dust particles, flying into lungs and eyes. Imagine being in their company for the rest of eternity!

I could call that justice.