19 November 2017

pre-Thanksgivinging

I like Thanksgiving a lot. It might be my favorite holiday. No presents to buy, no decorating to do, just lots of delicious food. This year, though, J. and I are getting on a plane on Thanksgiving morning to go scuba diving in the Philippines. 

I've known that we would miss Thanksgiving for many months, ever since January when I got all excited about scuba diving and started looking at the best dive spots in the world and then checking kayak for flights costs to those spots. Fiji was $1000, which seemed pretty good. But Manila was $630 if we left on Thanksgiving Day, so we bought flights without stopping to think about it. 

I'm excited about this trip. I have a whole new regulator/dive computer/octopus set, thanks to J. thinking ahead on my birthday and a quick trip to my favorite dive shop. (My own! My very own regulator and dive computer!) We have eight dives scheduled, including my first two night dives. (I also bought a dive light at the dive shop.) The island looks stunning. 

I also started feeling a little sad about not getting to have Thanksgiving dinner. Wherefore the pies?

So I managed to talk J. into having a pie and game night last night. He also wanted mashed potatoes, so we made those. And corn pudding and burgers and brats. Because what says Thanksgiving like burgers and brats? 

We invited people over, and we did the cooking and baking, and we ate the delicious things. And now we have leftovers until we get on the plane. I just had a veggie burger with a side of mashed potatoes and corn pudding. 

I'd call that winning Thanksgiving.

08 November 2017

nerves

My neck has been hurting for a year. Sometimes a little better, sometimes a little worse. It’s mostly uncomfortable to sit, slightly less uncomfortable to stand or lie down. 

I blamed it on the bed and the pillow, but I changed both of those (the pillow multiple times). I blamed it on climbing, but I got belay glasses so that I don’t have to look up when my climbing partner is up on the wall. I blamed it on the drive, but I thought this bigger car would be better for my body than the little one was, not worse.

I went on vacation and nothing changed. I went to the chiropractor and nothing changed. I got massages every month and nothing changed.

Last week I was climbing with a group of women, and one of them, who practices Chinese medicine, mentioned that she does both Chinese medicine and physical therapy for her back.

A lightbulb went off. 

There are professionals covered by insurance whose job it is to make pain like this go away. 

I had my first PT appointment this morning. I dutifully wrote down all the things about my wrist surgeries and my ulnar nerve problems and my shoulder catching. 

The PT moved my arm and had me move my head and measured all sorts of things. At one point, she had me sit straight, hands on my lap, and she ran her fingers down my arms.

“Can you feel one more than the other?” she asked.

“I think your right hand is actually colder than the left,” I said. 

She switched her hands. 

Nope. I just can’t feel what’s happening to my right arm as much as I can what’s happening to my left.

So that’s weird. 

It turns out that those same nerves - the median and ulnar nerves - that have long bugged me in my hand have now decided to bug me in my neck. I’ve cricked them up somehow. Nerve problems seem to be my thing.

Now I have a bunch of exercises and things to do. And my $100 pillow just arrived (ordered before the appointment). I’m hoping there is hope on the horizon.


But also, I’m still going climbing tonight. 

30 October 2017

totality

I will admit that I was a little anxious about whether we were going to find a place to watch the eclipse. This is because the entirety of our plan was "drive into the zone, preferable somewhere remote."

Only we don't live somewhere remote, and the stories of the projected traffic struck fear into the heart of a person who commutes 2+ hours a day. The idea of more time in the car, stuck in traffic, made me feel slightly ill. I tried to talk the rest of the team into leaving earlier or making a more concrete plan, but everyone else thought it would be fine.

Sunday afternoon, we packed up the Subaru with tents and all the camping gear, and off we set.

Just inside the national forest, we stopped at a ranger station, where they gave us a map with the non-reservable sites highlighted, and then we just guessed. We picked a campground and drove.

When we drove into the campground we'd chosen, there were empty spots. There was even, upon inspection, a big, quiet spot down a little trail next to the creek, with two tables and space for multiple tents. We couldn't even hear our nearest neighbors. 

The guys took the tiny hatchet that I gave J. for his birthday and used it to hack at a fallen tree to break off pieces for firewood, and then JT took the hatchet from them and crouched down, holding it in both hands, and chipped away until she broke off a piece. 

In the morning, we lounged about making breakfast. There were eggs on the stove.

Jeff put on the eclipse glasses just to see how they worked, and suddenly said, "It's already happening!" 

We turned off the eggs, scrambled around for chairs and the rest of the eclipse glasses, and looked up.

There was a bite out of the sun. 

We all sat for the next forty five minutes, looking up, enthralled. 

When the sun disappeared through the glasses, we all tentatively took them off, and then we couldn't help ourselves. We whooped and shouted. We laughed. 

"The world is divided into two kinds of people," JT said, after the light had returned. "People who have seen totality, and people who haven't."

"Totality or bust."

We're already planning for Mexico in 2024.


19 August 2017

what happened when we went camping:

What happened when we went camping: 

(Not all camping. Just this particular camping.) 

We forgot the dog. It's not our dog, but J. was supposed to dog sit for some neighbors and the days got mixed up. We were already out of network and 90 minutes out of town in crazy Friday afternoon traffic when he saw the text asking if they could drop the dog off Saturday morning. He sent a response on the wifi at the ranger station, but we didn’t know until later whether they would be able to find someone else.

We forgot the rain fly for the tent. The weekend before, a tree dripped sap on it camping out at B.’s parents’ house, so we left it out to clean it, and there it stayed, uncleaned, during a busy week and while we packed everything for this weekend. I thought of it soon after we left the ranger station, and J. and E. and I speculated on whether this would mean sleeping in the car or curled up on the floor of E. and B.’s tent. 

Fortunately, when we got to the camp site, we found that B. had packed a 9’x9’ tarp that E. picked up once on sale at rei, and when tied just so over the tent, it blocked all the rain and gave a beautiful view of the lake. It was more exposed to wind, but the wind didn’t get that bad in the trees. 

We forgot to fill the car up with gas. This we also remembered around the ranger station, having passed many, many gas stations between Gone West and the depths of the woods. We were headed two hours up into the mountains, with the nearest gas station 30 miles away on dirt roads. It was risky.

We planned to drive back out through State City so we could stop at the nearest gas station (adding an hour to the drive), but when we hit the intersection on the way home, the car said we had 70 miles of gas left, and the sign said we had 47 miles to the first town on the direct route back to Gone West, so we chanced it and headed straight toward home. B. and E. followed us in case we ran out of gas.

It turns out that when a Subaru says 70 miles of gas left after driving 30 miles of dirt road, it still has many miles of lovely paved road left in it, especially when that lovely paved road is mostly downhill. The gauge still said it had 70 miles to go after the 47 mile drive. 

And then, to top off the weekend, B. stepped in a hole that turned out to be a rusting culvert and it gouged a 2-3 inch long gash in his leg, about half an inch deep. I tried to wash it out, and someone who works as a medical assistant in an orthopedist's office (and, more importantly, is a mom of teenagers) came from a neighboring campsite came to look at it, and the consensus was that we needed a real doctor, not butterfly bandages and tap water. 

The nearest urgent care was 2.5 hours away in State City, and it was closed. The nearest emergency room was 2 hours away.

Math problem: if you leave your campsite at 6 pm to drive to an emergency room 2 hours away, and it takes 3.5 hours to be seen and cleaned and stitched at the emergency room and you still need to fill up on gas and snacks because no one has eaten dinner, and it takes 2 hours to drive back, what time will you get back to your campsite?

The answer is 2:12 am. 

Meanwhile, sitting in the waiting room in a little country hospital, we read about what happened in Charlottesville. 

There are actual Nazis marching unashamed in our streets, making KKK and Nazi salutes, and the president of this country can’t bring himself to denounce them. He says there are “two sides.”

Let’s be clear: what happened in Charlottesville is not the fault of people who oppose Nazis and the KKK. There are not two equally justified sides. There is one side that espouses hatred, and that is one side that opposes hatred based on race, gender, or religion. 

Pick your side.




03 June 2017

stories

When I first started commuting to State City every day, people kept saying, "Oh, are you going to listen to audiobooks?" And of course I was not going to listen to audiobooks, because I am a visual person, people, a visual person, and I read books, not listen to them. 

I listened to music, and then when I found that gave me too much time to think about how other people on the road were driving, I switched to NPR, and then there was a terrible, horrible, no-good, very bad election, and I couldn't listen to NPR anymore because the news made me furious (so many awful things being done to so many people), and I went back to music.

One day, on a drive back from Central Ski Town that devolved into a blizzard up on the mountain, J. put on an audiobook. I was driving, wearing my glasses, and the starbursts I saw through the glasses whenever a car passed driving the other way nearly blinded me through the driving snow. 

But in the background was this story playing through the speakers. I got caught up in the story as I drove, and it let my kinesthetic brain focus on the road while my auditory brain listened to the words.*

The book was so good.

I promptly listened to all the books J. owned on aud!ble, and when I ran out of those, I had him buy some more, and when I ran out of those, I downloaded the library app and started borrowing audiobooks from them. I tried podcasts somewhere in between, but they didn't draw me into a story in the same way.

Turns out stories are exactly what I needed to take my mind off the hour of commuting in the morning and evening. Don't get me wrong, I still have a little bit of brain left over to notice how inefficient it is when everyone drives in the two left lanes and the right lane sits empty, but I don't have the brain space to get so frustrated by it. My stress level has decreased dramatically. I almost don't mind the commute.

I guess it helps that I finally got a car with bluet00th that will start right up with the audiobook when I get in the car. Without bluet00th, this would be impossible. I'd be in my old ways of propping the phone up on the speedometer and trying to turn it up loud enough to be heard over the road noise when I needed to listen to something on my phone. Or headphones, I guess. That's awkward while driving.

(Side note: now that I have a car with a push button start, I am flummoxed by other people's cars. What is this key of which you speak? I reach automatically to push the button and turn the car off, and there is no button. How does this even work? 20 years of muscle memory, gone in just a few months.)


* I took an adult learning class once, and they taught us that if you are, like me, primarily a visual learner, second a kinesthetic learner, and least an auditory learner, you probably need to do something kinesthetic while listening, in order to process the information. 

12 May 2017

lasik, part 2

At the surgeon's office the morning after my lasik, I still had my dark mask on. I could see through it, but it scared me a little that I would hurt my eyes if I left them open, so I would look at the world and then close my eyes again.

Then I went into the exam room and they told me to take my mask off, and then they turned on the lights. 

So much for protecting my eyes. 

When I went back out into the waiting room, J. told me that the woman who had surgery right before me the day before and the appointment right before me that morning had a problem with the flap. Her person left her there so that they could fix the flap.

Me? I was fine. Not even an itch in my eyes. 

It was a beautiful sunny day, and I walked out into the sunshine without sunglasses. I wasn't supposed to spend much time looking at screens, so I didn't go to work. Instead, I walked to the tea place. I wore sunglasses out of an abundance of caution, but my eyes didn't hurt.

I was supposed to sleep in the dark mask for a week so that I did not accidentally rub my eye or stab myself in the eye during the night (a legitimate concern, since I stabbed myself in the eye with my finger while turning over just this week), and that worked for a few days, but as time went on, I found myself ripping it off sometime during the night. In the morning, it would be under the pillow, or on the floor next to the bed. I was, apparently, getting less cautious about my eyes.

I was also supposed to wait at least a week before climbing (chalk dust is everywhere). I made it six days, but it was cool. I just took tears with me and used them when someone above me knocked chalk dust down into my eyes, instead of rubbing my eyes and dislodging the flap.

Two weeks after surgery, back at the surgeon's office, after reading the 20/10 line, I asked her if the flap was ok. (I was a little paranoid about the flap.)

"You wouldn't be seeing 20/10 if there was a problem with the flap," she said dryly. 

What we've discovered, J. and I, by comparing our experiences, is that lasik seems to exacerbate whatever sensitivities your eyes have. J. is still, 10 years later, more bothered by light than I am. I am a little more light sensitive than before, but my real issue is air blowing at my eyes. This has always bothered me, but now I can't stand the air blowing through the vents in my car or standing by my coworker's desk when the little space heater is on.

I now wear sunglasses in the car, even in the dark rain clouds, to block the blowing air (the vents are off and closed and pointed down but some gets through), and I wear layers in my office so that I don't have to turn on the space heater.

It's worth it. It's so worth it. 

I can SEE.

The strangest thing, after 21 years of taking my contacts every night, is going to sleep without taking my vision out of my eyes. I am still using tears at night, and allergy eye drops, so I'm using that ritual to convince my eyes that it really is okay not to take anything out of my eyes before I sleep. It's weird, though. It's really weird. 

It's also the best money I've ever spent.

18 April 2017

lasik, part one

I wasn't sure until the morning of surgery that I really was going to get lasik, because at my pre-op appointment two days before, I tested as needing an entire diopter of correction less than I had needed in October. 

It seems that some people with myopia will accept just about as much correction as they can get, and I am one of them. 

You know when they keep switching the lenses in front of your eyes and asking if 1 or 2 is better, or 3 or 4? Some of us nearsighted people will keep saying that a stronger prescription is better, even after we can see 20/20 with a weaker one. This is because, the doctor explained to me, the stronger prescription makes the shapes darker, and we mistake the darker shape for a clearer shape. 

So I brought in my contacts and glasses prescriptions from the last ten or 12 years, digging them all out of my wee little filing cabinet, and the doctor re-tested my eyes herself the morning of surgery, rather than having her assistant do it. "It's valuable information for me to know if something is darker or lighter, even if it isn't clearer," she said, "so just tell me what you see." 

I kept making her go back and forth, leaving each one for longer than usual, to make sure the prescription we came up with was exactly right. Lasik is a permanent change, after all, and if you do too much correction for nearsightedness, you might need reading glasses sooner. 

We settled on the same diopters as my contact lenses have been for a decade, and the middle of the astigmatism correction I've had. My astigmatism correction has, shall we say, fluctuated. Probably because, "which is better, 1 or 2? 3 or 4? 5 or 6?" always goes so very fast, and it feels like there should be a right answer, even through there isn't. There is only what is right for your eyes. So I've had a bunch of different astigmatism corrections - my glasses and contacts were not the same, even though they came out of the same eye exam - and they've all worked.

J. and I walked up the hill to the main hospital cafeteria and got some fish and chips. We took some photos on the deck overlooking the city, commemorating my last few hours in glasses.

After I checked in and paid crazy quantities of money ("your card isn't working," the lady said, but I looked at the machine and said, "It's a connection problem, not my card," and it eventually went through fine), I took the valium they had given me and went to the bathroom one more time. There were people in the lobby waiting for all kinds of eye surgery. A mother and grandmother waited for news of a child.

They called me back right at 1:45, and explained all the post-op procedures, which I promptly forgot. 

For every other surgery I've had, I've been half-asleep, even if I was talking. I can't remember any of them except a snippet of the wisdom teeth removal. But for this one, I was awake. You have to be awake so you can direct your eyeball. I remember it all.

This is where you should look away if eye surgery makes you squeamish.

.
.
.

The surgery takes place in two parts.

First, in a room with a big laser, they numb your eyes and put betadine in them. "I bet that would sting if my eyes weren't numb," I said, as the brown washed over my vision.

They cover one eye and move your chair so the other is directly under the machine. A round piece lowers onto your eye and suctions the middle up. Everything goes dark, but you try to look at a light. The laser does something that you can't really decipher, and when the machine moves, everything looks like you are looking through a foggy glass. 

What's just happened is that a laser has made a bunch of little air bubbles in your cornea (pulses of one quadrillionth of a second!), creating a flap at the front of your eye.

The second eye, the left, hurt more than the right. I felt like someone was pushing through my eye into my sinuses. Instant sinus headache. But that was the only real pain of the whole thing.

When both eyes had been air-bubbled, they had me stand up and walk into the other room, looking through the fog.

I lay down on a padded bench, and the assistant moved the knee rest under my knees. 

They put more numbing drops into my right eye and wedged it open with a little eye speculum. I looked up at a diffuse green light that pulsed. I could see the doctor working on my eye with a little tool that looked like what the dental hygienist uses to scrape your teeth, sharp on one end and folded like a spatula on the other, only the surgeon was gently lifting the flap that the first laser created. 

I had to look up at the green light, which sometimes disappeared for an instant and then came back red, and then green again. Red lights moved around the edges. I could smell burning eye. It only took 15 or 30 seconds before it was done, and the surgeon was patting down the flap, smoothing it into place and tamping down the edges. 

The longest part of the whole thing was waiting for the flap to re-adhere, it seemed. Finally they took out the eye speculum and let me blink, then re-checked with a bright white light to make sure it was smooth.

The surgeon and the assistants kept telling me how calm I was, which surprised me, because they seemed surprised, but who would flinch while someone has a sharp tool and/or a laser near their eye for surgery purposes? That would end badly.

Between eyes, I asked if they had any blankets. It was so cold in the room that I was struggling not to visibly shiver. I had even expected that and worn a warm fleece jacket, but it wasn't enough. Fortunately, they had pre-warmed blankets, and the second eye was much more pleasant just because I wasn't so cold.

After the second eye, they put a flexible sunglasses material mask on my face, rubber band around my head, handed me a stack of papers, and walked me out to J. 

It was 2:15. 

I tried to keep my eyes mostly closed, but I snuck peeks. At the first stoplight, I braved opening my eyes a little, and I could already see better than before the surgery.

When we got to the house, I deliberately walked into a telephone pole on video for posterity, and then I took a vic0din and went to sleep.

They had warned me that some people feel a sensation like red pepper in their eye after surgery. I was one of those people. By the time I got home, my eyes were burning. The vic0din fixed it, though, and it was gone by bedtime when the second vic0din wore off. 

Sometime after I went to sleep, I woke up and sat up, wondering what time it was. The alarm clock was across the bed, and I looked over at it and read the time perfectly clearly. It was 4:36. I never could read it from there before.

I tried not to get too excited, but I woke up in the middle of the night, since the pain pills had worn off and I'd been sleeping off and on since 3 pm, and laid in the dark with my dark mask still on, looking at the tree branches outside the window, silhouetted against the street light, and smiling to myself. I couldn't see those tree branches before.

The next morning, my vision was 20/15.