Saturday, July 26, 2014

Our Biggest Issue

Boris, in his comfy chair
Last weekend, amidst all the turmoil in this world, Boris--our beloved little 18 year old cat--died. We woke up early last Saturday morning, fully expecting to be greeted by Boris's usual "where's my breakfast?" meows, followed by him ignoring our dogs while boldly drinking from their water bowl, and then sauntering over to his comfy brown chair for a nap. Instead, we awoke to find him lethargic, confused, and very weak. Thinking Boris might have suffered a stroke, we immediately took him to the vet. The news wasn't reassuring. Although Boris hadn't had a stroke, he was severely dehydrated; his labwork revealed that he was in renal failure. The vet recommended a trial of intravenous hydration. Feeling this was a reasonable course of action, and knowing that either Boris would respond or he wouldn't, we left Little Buddy in the doctor's capable hands.


Ria's peach pancakes=pure comfort
Funked out and in dire need of some comforting familiarity, Spartacus and I hit Ria's, our usual Saturday morning breakfast spot. In between talking about Boris and guzzling strong coffee, we discussed a conversation I was involved in on Blog Catalog (BC). BC is a worldwide blogging community with an active discussion forum. I've befriended people from all over the world there, several of whom are kindred spirits that I'd love to meet in person someday. I've shared some of the most intimate details of my life on BC, things that most people don't know about me. The topics of discussion are endless. We talk about our blogs, personal lives, culture, nature, religion, politics, philosophy, history, technology, art, poetry, music, pets, travel, food...you name it. Occasionally, the discussions get heated or trolls stop by to visit, but fortunately, the forum moderates itself pretty well. In my three years of involvement on BC, I've learned a tremendous amount about communication, how to talk open-mindedly with other people about complex or emotionally charged issues and perhaps most importantly, how not to take things too personally or myself too seriously.  

Anyhow, back to the discussion. It was centered on the observation that no one on the forum was talking about the current turmoil in the world, namely the bombing of that Malaysian Air passenger plane over the Ukraine or the Israeli-Palestine conflict in Gaza, the question being whether this lack of interest was an isolated phenomenon or reflective of society at large. In other words, were the world's big issues somehow less significant than our personal lives? Shouldn't we be more focused on things bigger than ourselves?

Visiting with Boris
Later that afternoon, we visited Boris at the vet. A tech brought him into the visitation room, swaddled in a wooly green blanket. He didn't seem seem bothered by the IV line above his paw. He meowed in recognition when he saw us, and we took that as a sign he was responding favorably to the hydration. He surprised us by wriggling out of his blanket to explore the room. I took lots of pictures of him and Spartacus. It was a very good 45 minutes. Feeling somewhat reassured, we went out for dinner, both of us thinking Boris would be coming home the next day.

At 7 o'clock the next morning, the vet called. Boris's condition had deteriorated overnight and he was now minimally responsive. He wasn't going to make it. We jumped out of bed and headed over there, hoping that Boris could hang on long enough for us to cuddle him one last time before saying goodbye. 


Anguish and letting go
They brought him out, wrapped in the same green blanket, but this time he looked terrible. Ragged. Worn out. Breathing hard with his mouth wide open. It was awful. Spartacus and I both wept inconsolably. Even though Boris was very old and we knew this day would eventually come, we still weren't prepared for it. What a profound experience it was to cradle this majestic, fiercely independent living creature who'd brought so much joy into our lives as he breathed his last few breaths. Boris lived a good life and died a gentle death. I'm grateful that he didn't suffer through a prolonged, painful illness and that we were able to comfort him in his final moments. 

I'll be honest. The only big issues in my life concern the people (and pets) I know and love. I am much more interested in sharing experiences and connecting with other people than worrying about what's going on in the world. That doesn't mean I deem war and suffering as insignificant or that I lack compassion. It means I understand that the only control I have is over myself and my own actions in life. Kind of like that old TV commercial which went something like, "We don't want to change the world, we just want to change your oil." Being an agent of change isn't about changing other people anyway. We're all constantly changing the world through our own spheres of interaction and influence, just by being here and living life. Nearly all of the problems in the world result from fear generated by people minding other people's business instead of tending to their own. Human behavior hasn't really changed much throughout the millennia. There has always been war, hatred, famine, torture, and poverty. It's just that now there's no escaping the nosy neighbor media. 24/7, it's there in your face, like Gladys Kravitz on steroids. As long as people concern themselves with what everyone else should be doing, instead of focusing on doing what good they can in their own lives, there will be fear and judgment and conflict and injustice.

L-->R: Me, Nick, Jim, & Rory
Monday, the day after Boris died, was my sons' 24th birthday. Back in May, Nick bagged his first wild turkey on a hunting trip with his dad, Jim. This was the first time Nick had hunted since high school, and his birthday wish was for us to have Thanksgiving in July with roast wild turkey and all the trimmings. By us, I mean his twin brother, Rory, Jim and his girlfriend, Glenda, his friends, Chad and Tiberius Funk, Spartacus, and me. Quite a crowd, huh? Coincidentally, Nick's been struggling with a lung infection that hasn't responded to oral antibiotics, pretty typical for someone with cystic fibrosis. So, on Monday, while I was baking birthday cake and roasting his gorgeous 15 pound bird, Nick was at Emory, getting a special catheter placed in his arm for a couple weeks' worth of home intravenous antibiotic therapy. Such is life. That evening, amidst all the turmoil in the world, Nick and Rory celebrated their birthday, surrounded by family and friends whose only goal was to thoroughly enjoy ourselves and each other, our biggest issue being whether or not to have a tiny sliver or a bigass slice of German chocolate cake. 

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Good Hands, Better Feet

Don't even think about going outside, y'all!
It's sweltering here in Hotlanta, one of those oppressively humid late June days where the air, sticky and thick as cooked pudding, bitch-slaps you back inside your nice cool house just for thinking about attempting a daylight 4 mile run. I can't imagine what it was like a hundred years ago, living down here without air conditioning. Alas, air conditioning's become somewhat of a sore subject for Spartacus and me. Sounds like one of those #firstworldproblems, right? Damn straight it is. The woeful story of our air-conditioning albatross began in July of 2011. Back then, we were living in Rome, Georgia, which is another story for another time. Anyhow, our Atlanta house was on the market, and every few weeks, we'd drive down to check on it. Since July 4th was on a Monday that year, and I happened to have the day off, we road-tripped to Atlanta to make sure the house was OK before heading over to Chambodia for some Ethiopian grub.

Feel free to sue me. I've got my MD and an umbrella!
The house looked fine, but it was hot as hell inside. I set the thermostat to 72 degrees to cool it down, figuring that one of the agents who'd recently shown the place must've screwed around with the settings. The system cycled on, but only warm air issued forth from the ducts. Hmmm. Low freon? A busted compressor? I was standing in the master bathroom, gazing out the window into the backyard and wondering "WTF?", when I discovered exactly what the problem was. Some asshole had stolen the AC unit right off its slab! Motherfuckers probably got $50 for the copper tubing inside. So I did what any reasonable person would do. After reporting the theft to the police, I called my insurance company. I mean, that's what insurance is for, isn't it? For six years, I'd had my home and three automobiles insured through Metlife, plus umbrella coverage since I'm one of those "rich" doctors that everyone loves to sue. Clearly, I was a loyal customer. Metlife cut me a check, and within a couple of days, I had a brand new AC unit, clad in an iron cage to prevent it from being stolen again. 

Look, it's the Good Hand of Insurance!
Fast forward two years. New city, new house, same crappy luck. On the same day last August, lightning struck one of our AC units and I lost one of the diamonds from a pair of earrings, both of which were insured with Metlife. Spartacus and I roughed it for a few days, sleeping in the guest bedroom which was cooled by the other equally ancient AC unit. Lightning strikes are considered acts of God and Metlife cheerfully agreed to cover the cost of the damaged AC unit. However, they informed me that my diamond earrings were no longer insured. That's where things got ugly. A little detective work into my plethora of policies revealed that when we moved from Rome back to Atlanta, Metlife dropped the coverage on the earrings without my knowledge or consent. After several weeks of battling it out with the underwriters, Metlife acknowledged they'd made a mistake in dropping that coverage and forwarded me a check for the missing diamond. Everything was good, or so I thought.


Fuck you, Metlife, Nationwide is on our side!
Even though Metlife had come through for me on the air conditioners and the diamond earrings, I couldn't help but feel annoyed that my monthly premiums had skyrocketed so drastically upon moving back to Atlanta. An increase of $200 per month isn't exactly chump change. Aside from the price-gouging, Metlife's customer service totally sucked because they'd outsourced it to somewhere in Asia. Nothing adds to the frustration of dealing with insurance bullshit than trying to converse with someone speaking unintelligible English who can't possibly begin to relate to your situation because they probably don't even have insurance where they live. Unacceptable! Spartacus had his rental property and car insured with Nationwide, so I called them back in April to see what kind of quote they'd give me. For comparable coverage, they were way cheaper than Metlife, plus their customer service was based in the good old US of A. We added my rental property and three autos, along with that all important umbrella coverage, to his existing policy. Nationwide advised me that because of the air-conditioning and lost diamond claims, I'd be better off continuing to insure our primary residence, which happens to be a condo, with Metlife until July 4th. That's when the 2011 AC theft claim would magically disappear. Apparently, if you have more than two claims as a homeowner, you get flagged as a liability, and each claim stays on your record for three years. Given that Nationwide's quote for said property was considerably higher than what I was already paying with Metlife, waiting until July seemed reasonable. I sent Metlife a letter, canceling all my policies except for our condo.  

Would Snoopy approve of this??
Long story short, Metlife was pissed about me canceling those policies. About a month after I'd switched over to Nationwide, they decided to cancel our condo policy, citing the theft, lightning, and mysterious disappearance claims as their reasons for nonrenewal. Since I'd gotten that condo policy quote from Nationwide back in April, I figured we'd suck it up and pay them the higher premium until the theft claim expired in July. We had no clue as to the shitstorm that awaited us. When we tried to add the condo onto our joint policy, Nationwide's underwriters refused because, aside from the three claims I'd previously filed with Metlife--one of which was about to expire--Spartacus had made a telephone inquiry last summer when his rental property was broken into and the refrigerator was stolen. Mind you, he never even filed a claim. But, in the world of insurance, being naïve enough to make a simple inquiry can and will be held against you. Four strikes and we were out. To make matters worse, Wells Fargo, our mortgage company, began hounding us about the impending cancellation, threatening to secure hazard insurance for us at our expense. When I called Wells Fargo to let them know that our property was deemed uninsurable, they gave us their list of insurers. Awesome! At least now we had some options. We breathed sighs of relief, thinking our ordeal was coming to an end.

In other news, Boris finally got his driver's license! 
Welp, no such luck. None of the insurers on their list issued condo policies. Wells Fargo then referred us to the State of Georgia's Underwriting Association to inquire about the FAIR (Fair Access to Insurance Requirements) plan. The lady who answered the phone suggested that we call a few more insurance companies, as the FAIR plan didn't insure condos, either. Metlife's letter was indeed prophetic: we were pretty much fucked. Spartacus and I both got on the horn and started calling every insurance company we could think of. Finally, GEICO agreed to insure our condo through Travelers. Problem solved. Yet the nightmare continued. Now, Nationwide was going to cancel the insurance on my rental property because the address on the umbrella policy didn't match up with our homeowner's policy. "But, we don't have a homeowner's policy with you," I tried to explain, "we only have the two rental properties." At this point, the slop thickened considerably. Nationwide had mistakenly listed Spartacus's rental property as our primary residence, even though he'd been very clear that it was a rental when the policy was intially secured. That's why the addresses weren't matching up with the newer umbrella policy. We also learned that Nationwide won't cover rental properties or give you an umbrella unless they're also insuring your primary residence. Basically, we're being punished for being honest with our insurance company. The umbrella policy's a wash. Guess I'll have to call GEICO for that, since they're the ones insuring our condo. We're still awaiting a decision from Nationwide's underwriters about whether the rental properties can be retained. Sigh. We'd probably have better luck getting our cat, Boris, insured as a driver on one of our cars. LOL. 

Good hands, better feet
This isn't the first post I've written about the scam known as insurance, nor will it be my last. The problem is that the very idea of insurance doesn't jive with the way I live my life: insurance concerns itself with what might-but-probably-won't happen, while I'm all about what IS happening right now. Think about it for a moment. The insurance industry capitalizes on our fears and insecurities, conditioning us to into leading sheltered existences where every move we make is calculated and risk-stratified. Spontaneity simply isn't tolerated. Why, at any time, I could walk out my front door and get hit by a bus! Actually, it's more likely that my car would be stolen, my house broken into, or I'd be held up at gun point as my mailbox was being robbed of its contents. It's summertime in here in the 'hood, and Thug University's in full session. For weeks now, the Kirkwood Neighbors' FB site has been bursting its seams with alarming reports of such shenanigans and tomfoolery, so much so that Spartacus purchased a stun gun for me to take on my evening runs. It's basically a giant 7.5 million volt-powered dildo, a little too obtrusive for a jaunt around the 'hood, plus there's no way it'll fit inside my running belt. In the spirit of compromise, I've started carrying a miniature toy handgun instead. Now, heat stroke's the only thing Spartacus worries about when I'm out running. These Code Pudding days of summer, along with the neighborhood's unruly hooligans, have motivated me to run faster than ever, a pace of 9:17 per mile to be exact. At that speed, I'm confident I could probably outrun an out-of-shape elderly mugger. Knowing that I'm running back to the cool air-conditioned comfort of my house is also a great motivator. And ironically, so is knowing that our older AC unit's probably gonna blow any day now. Tomorrow, we're getting an energy-efficient, white solar-reflective cool roof installed. It should cut down on our summertime energy bills by about 30 percent. Best of all, our HOA has agreed to pay for part of it. Hell, we may not even need our AC anymore! Now that's a risk I'm willing to take.

Related posts:
A Matter of Principle
What Would Hippocrates Do?
The World Seemed Right Again
A Taste of Immortality
The Appointment (a four part short story)
  Part I: The Appointment
  Part II: Amplitude
  Part III: Redemption
  Part IV: Insurance
Nowsurance (My Summer of Living Dangerously)
Fail-Safe (a four part short story)
  Part I: Fail-Safe
  Part II: Detour
  Part III: Marvelously Fresh, Decidedly Vague
  Part IV: From Cupcake Epiphany to the Future Now
About A Boob

Monday, May 19, 2014

Welcome To The Club



So, my Club of the Chronically Busy application got denied.
It's been a minute since I've blogged, hasn't it? Although I'm not a member of the Club of the Chronically Busy--you know, those who spend vast portions of the miniscule amount of free time they want us to think they have, regaling us with incessant updates on their importantly spent time and concurrent unavailability because spontaneity and laziness frighten them so--I actually have been kind of busy. In fact, I've been so busy that I've neglected to pay the annual dues for my highly coveted state and national society of anesthesiologists memberships. Shame on me! Why, with the American Society of Anesthesiologists being bargain-priced at only $665/year, and the Georgia Society of Anesthesiologists a mere $375 annually, how on earth could I pass up such a deal? I've been so enriched by these organizational memberships over the years (not!), how could I have been so careless?

More bitter pills of rejection. Boo hoo. 
Last week, I received this not-so-gently worded reminder from the GSA, admonishing me that since I didn't remit the required dues payment by April 20, 2014, "the delinquent member's membership shall automatically terminate and the Secretary shall notify the ASA of the same." Bunch of tattletales. Whatever. To add insult to injury, the last two lines of the letter read: "Together, the GSA and ASA are successful in representing the professional interests of anesthesiologists. Your support for the GSA is, therefore, appropriate and deserved." Talk about a guilt trip! The real reasons I didn't pay my dues are because a) I'm paying two mortgages and don't happen to have $1k in spare change lying around to pay these exorbitant fees, and 2) I'm aggravated that the ASA now mandates membership in one's state society for annual renewal. In other words, we no longer get to decide whether we want to join at the state level; Big Brother's making that decision for us. Pfffft. Sounds like a racket to me.


Wish I could dip my bruised toe into this cool snowball tree!
So, what exactly has been keeping me so busy lately? Well, for one thing, I've started running. The spring of 2014 here in Georgia has been absolutely amazing, with milder than normal temps and relatively low humidity. I've gotten to where I crave being outdoors as much as possible. I can't think of a better way to accomplish that than taking Simon and Lilly on daily three mile walks, followed by a solo run. With all this walking and running, there are bound to be a few injuries. I've only been running for a couple of weeks, but I'm already up to 4 miles, which I run at a pace of 10 minutes per mile. Even though I bought new running shoes, sized up a half-size to prevent toe-strike trauma, I ended up with a bruised big toenail last night. It doesn't hurt, and it's not bad enough to quit running, but I won't be getting a pedicure anytime soon.

Nobody puts Lilly in a corner, not even Horner's!
Coincidentally with the onset of these super long dog walks, Lilly developed a weird eye condition where her third eyelids suddenly popped up. The vet initially thought it was some sort of parasite-borne inflammatory process. She drew some labwork, but since Lilly wouldn't pee for her, Spartacus and I had to collect a urine sample later that day. A urine sample? From a dog???? I wasn't even sure exactly where her urethra was, much less how we'd obtain a sample. After visually inspecting her hindquarters, we devised a plan in which we'd shove a small shallow container under her junk as soon as she popped a squat. Worked like a charm. When two weeks of topical and oral steroids yielded no improvement, we were referred to a veterinary ophthalmologist. I had no idea that canine subspecialties even existed. After running a few tests, the diagnosis came back as Horner's syndrome. Horner's syndrome occurs when there's damage to the sympathetic nerves supplying the eye and eyelids, causing the eyeball to sink back slightly, reddening of the conjunctival sac, constriction of the pupil, droopiness of the upper eyelid, and in dogs, elevation of the third eyelids. It's usually benign, but can be associated with trauma, cancer, or other systemic disease. She explained that weird stuff like Horner's just happens in dogs sometimes and since Lilly's bloodwork and neurological exams were negative, we'd wait a few weeks to see if the problem resolved. What didn't make sense to me was that Lilly's Horner's was bilateral (occuring on both sides). There had to be an explanation.

Training collar snafu :-(
As soon as I googled canine Horner's syndrome, I figured it out. When I take the dogs on walks, I clip the leashes to their training collars which have rounded prongs situated on either side of the trachea. Lilly's collar is a little too small and fits pretty snugly. Since the sympathetic nerve chains run on either side of the neck, exactly where those prongs would be applying pressure during a walk, I surmised that it was the probably the collar that caused her bilateral Horner's syndrome. Needless to say, we're not using the collars anymore. The only reason I use them is because I'm walking two very large, strong dogs by myself in a dog-centric neighborhood, and other people's dogs aren't as well behaved as Simon and Lilly. They're basically just there to nip potential canine altercations in the bud. Ugh. It could take weeks for her eyes to go back to normal, but I'm confident that they will. Fortunately for me and Lilly, our injuries haven't slowed us down a bit.


English country gardening is punishable by law in Atlanta
Even though I walk and run the same routes every day, the routes themselves are never the same. Here in the KWD (Kirkwood, our historic East Atlanta neighborhood), there are always people and other animals doing interesting things outside, from squirrels making booty calls to movies being filmed right across the street to the lady dressed like Santa's helper, who walks around with a clipboard inspecting telephone poles and preaching expletive-laden sermons to an audience of no one. Not long ago, there was a full-sized goat living inside a house just a few doors down from us. How agrarian is that?! More recently, one of my neighbors became a local celebrity when the City of Atlanta charged him with code violations regarding his yard. Ray McGrath has lived in Kirkwood for 32 years. He teaches botany at a local college and maintains his yard in the style of an English country garden. His colorful, unmanicured garden attracts all manner of birds, butterflies, and bees; it's a natural habitat. Ray's egregious offense prompted the city to fine him $1000, citing him for a "premises covered with high weeds and overgrowth." Ray went to his court hearing and actually pled guilty to having an English country garden, LOL. Luckily, the Kirkwood community got wind of Ray's hearing and bombarded the city solicitor with e-mails on his behalf. When he showed up in court a few weeks later, the judge quickly dismissed his case, and he's been back out tinkering around in his yard ever since.

Yep, that's real blood on that there iron
Last, but not least, I've been busy being a rock and roll mom. My sons' band, BearKnuckle, just released its second EP, "Blood on the Iron". You may be wondering, how did they come up with such a provocative title? Welp, let's just say there was a testosterone-fueled altercation at a party involving lots of booze, two jealous men, an iron, and leave it at that. BearKnuckle's EP release party was last Thursday night, kicking off their tour of the southeast. Boy, am I glad I requested Friday off! I didn't get home from that show till nearly 3 a.m., and though I was hung over from my lack of sleep, I spent the day uploading live videos from the show and grooving on BearKnuckle's awesome performance. I don't know how I managed to do the three mile dog walk and a four mile run that night, but I did it. As Spartacus and I were chilling out that evening, watching a rerun of "Dexter," it occurred to me that I'd promised to make Nick and Rory some homemade Clif energy bars to take on their tour, a tour which they were leaving for in two days. We'd talked about this a month ago, when the boys told me how difficult it is to eat healthy on the road. When they're on tour, Nick always brings trail mix, granola, and dried fruit that he ends up sharing with everyone. On the road, nutritious food is scarce and expensive. Having balanced healthy snacks to munch on in the car is a big help, but trail mix, granola, and dried fruit become a total yawnfest after a few hundred miles. During our conversation, Rory mentioned that he loves Clif bars. We were all like, "Yeah! Clif bars! That's the ticket!" Clif bars are expensive, so I told the boys I'd make some homemade ones. Clif bars are exciting, too. So many flavors! The downside is that they aren't exactly healthy...they're loaded with carbs and processed ingredients. As far as homemade Clif bars go, I got as far as researching recipes before Lilly's crazy eyes distracted me. Upon finding a recipe I liked, I ordered a big bag of puffed quinoa to substitute for the puffed rice cereal it called for, knowing that since quinoa's packed with protein, fiber, iron, and magnesium, it would result in a much better nutrition profile than rice. To sum it up, I was pretty confident I could make better Clif bars myself.

Post-slingin' Spring flinging in Bessie Branham Park
Saturday morning, before Spartacus and I walked across the street to enjoy the sights, sounds, and smells of the annual Kirkwood Spring Fling, I grabbed that big ol' bag of puffed quinoa and started slinging away in the kitchen. The basic recipe called for simple ingredients: rolled oats, puffed rice or quinoa, raw honey, flax seed, dried fruit, nut butter, chopped nuts &/or seeds, vanilla, and cinnamon. Fortunately, I had everything I needed on hand. As usual, I improvised a lot. (I'm one of those people who can never follow a recipe...life on my own terms, y'all!) The original recipe was similar to a no-bake cookie, meaning that the bars needed refrigeration to hold their shape. According to the recipe's author, baking them had resulted in crunchy bricks, not the moist chewy texture of a Clif bar. Since the boys wouldn't have access to a refrigerator on tour, I decided to dehydrate the bars instead, adding chia seeds as an egg substitute to help bind the mixture as well as supplying protein, fiber, omega-3 and -6 fatty acids, and minerals. The first batch I made was chocolate chip. I added bittersweet chocolate chips to the original recipe, used dried raisins and apples for the fruit, and sprouted pumpkin and sunflower seeds for the nuts. For the chocolate brownie version, I got really creative. I had a jar of organic Nutella (cocoa-hazelnut spread), so I used that along with some almond butter, cacao powder, cacao nibs, dried Montmorency cherries, and ground cardamom to produce a satisfyingly deep dark chocolate confection. Since I had lots of dried apple bits left over, I decided to try an apple pie version. I wasn't too pleased with that one until I added some unsweetened organic applesauce and lots of pie spice; the peanut butter was overpowering. Think I'll tweak it next time and use macadamia nut butter instead. It's rich and buttery, but much more neutral than peanut or almond butter. It'll really let the apples shine through.

BearKnuckle Bars!!!
I went all out, packaging the dehydrated bars individually in cellophane with laser-printed labels. As the labels were printing, it dawned on me that I couldn't call them Clif bars because that name's been trademarked. I thought about calling them Kris Bars, but then, it came to me. These were BearKnuckle Bars! Believe it or not, they're so darn good, I'm thinking about marketing them to some of the small businesses in the area. Wish me luck. On Friday, I'll be flying up to Columbus, Ohio for BearKnuckle's Saturday night show on the OSU campus. My younger sister lives there with her husband, and BearKnuckle will be performing in the same show as their son's band, Love Alive. Needless to say, I am super-stoked.

Why I refuse to feed the machine
Last week, I came across this Walt Whitman quote: "Do anything, but let it produce joy." I'd just scribbled it on the chalkboard backplash above my stove when I got that stupid downer of a letter from the GSA. Womp womp womp woooomp *sad trombone*. Sorry, but no, paying $1040 in annual dues to a couple of professional organizations whose services I don't utilize doesn't exactly produce much joy for me. Fuck that shit. I refuse to feed the bureaucracy machine any more than I have to. It's really kind of a no-brainer, especially after getting ass-raped by Uncle Sam....AGAIN! What little extra money I do have nowadays is better spent enjoying lattes on a sunny afternoon at Taproom Coffee, the hip new coffee and craft brew joint down the street, or buying comfy running shoes or helping fund a cool project, like "Just Breathe" by Ian Pettigrew, a Canadian artist afflicted with cystic fibrosis (CF) whose dream it is to photograph adults living with CF. My beautiful sons are on his list of subjects.

Welcome to the club, Kris Landt!!!
I saw some graffiti when I ran past the Big Nerd Ranch last night, the same run during which I injured my big toe. It served to reinforce this joy-producing theme of liberation from imposed obligation I've been grooving on lately. "Do what makes you happy," it read. It's ironic how members of The Club of the Chronically Busy tend to be the unhappiest and least-fulfilled people I know. Makes me wonder who and what they're doing it all for, and glad I'm not one of them. As for the ASA and GSA, they're basically political machines. I've never been interested in politics, and apparently, my unwillingness to shell out large amounts of dough to invest in bureaucracy makes me a delinquent, unappreciative loser in their book. They may represent my profession on a legislative and economic level, but they don't represent me personally as a practicing physician anesthesiologist. Here's the thing. Like Groucho Marx, who famously said he'd "refuse to join any club that would have me as a member," I don't want or need to belong to a club. I'm happiest doing my own thing. If there's a club for that, then sign me up.

BearKnuckle, "Blood on the Iron" EP
Ian Pettigrew, "Just Breathe" project

BearKnuckle, "Soma" from "Blood on the Iron"

Sunday, April 6, 2014

About A Boob

#clownmakeupselfie #selfbreastexam
Forgive me for sounding cynical, but I am SO not getting this whole no-makeup selfie for breast cancer awareness trend on Facebook. In case you're not familiar with it, it's where women post bare-faced (and in some cases looking downright haggard) photos of themselves with the hashtags "cancerawareness" and "nomakeupselfie" as a means of drawing attention to a subject which already receives a sizable amount of public awareness. I mean, seriously, it is a nice gesture, I suppose. But, if the ubiquitous pink ribbons aren't getting women to self-examine their breasts, why on earth would anyone expect a barrage of frightening au naturale mug shots to accomplish what symbolic imagery has failed to do?

People are scared of clowns for a reason. Wearing THAT much makeup is definitely unnatural, concealing what really lies beneath. Unfortunately, these no-makeup selfies come across as clownish and self-congratulatory. Hell, even the breast cancer survivors are pissed! As if masquerading publicly for a minute without makeup could ever pretend to demonstrate real empathy. I mean, if the point of this exercise is raising breast cancer awareness, why not just post a self-breast exam selfie or video instead? Oh, jeez, I forgot, we're not allowed to show our tits in public! LOLZ. (Please note that I am by no means judging the individuals who got sucked into this campaign, only the mass hysteria and collective call to conformity that fueled it).

Mom, breastfeeding me 
My mom was diagnosed with breast cancer twenty years ago at age 60. It was the first time in my life I'd ever seen Mom so sick. For weeks, she was incapacitated. She went through lumpectomy surgery, radiation, and chemo, lost all her hair, and was hospitalized once or twice for a dangerously low white blood cell count which predisposed her to a life-threatening array of normally harmless infections. Several years ago, new tumors were found in both breasts, at which point she decided to undergo bilateral mastectomies instead of more chemo or radiation. Poof! The breasts that nursed me, my sister, and my two little brothers were gone.

Spartacus, his mom, & brother Brian (1964)
Spartacus's mother died from an aggressive, untreatable form of breast cancer when he was only six. Three summers ago, his beloved stepmom died from complications following LVAD (left ventricular assist device...a heart pump) placement for end-stage congestive heart failure she'd incurred as a result of having her mitral valve severely damaged from breast cancer treatment in 2001 with the chemotherapeutic agent, herceptin. And then, there's my cousin who was diagnosed with breast cancer in her twenties. She underwent radiation, bilateral mastectomies, breast reconstruction, and chemo. Both Mom and my cousin are doing great. Clearly, I'm well acquainted with the grim reality of breast cancer.



Strategically placed tomatoes=instant boob lift!
Recently, the value of mammography has come under scrutiny, especially for women younger than 50. For a screening test to be of value, it has to be both sensitive and specific. Sensitivity identifies true positives and specificity identifies true negatives. In the case of mammography, true positives are being diagnosed along with what seems to be an unacceptably high rate of false positives. In other words, breast cancer is being overdiagnosed. Women who really don't have breast cancer risk being treated for it, as do women whose indolent breast cancers wouldn't have harmed them if left untreated. My poor younger sister, who has dense fibrocystic breasts like me, tells me she's had at least 25-30 mammograms since turning 30, along with ultrasounds, a biopsy, and titanium clip placement. Because our breasts are difficult to image, we've both been called back for further imaging after a routine mammographic exam, only to be told it's nothing again and again. Do the benefits really outweigh the risks?

I'm a less-is-more kind of gal. Coming from a 51 year old physician, especially one whose own mother had breast cancer, that may sound odd. It really isn't odd at all. Doctors make pretty lousy patients. The nature of our profession dictates that we're not allowed to be sick...ever. Who'll take care of our patients? When it comes to our own deaths, physicians tend to be minimalists. We know enough about the limitations of modern medicine to know with certainty that we don't want to die the slow, horrible, painful deaths in the ICU so many of our patients unwittingly opt for. I may not know how I'm going to die, but I sure do know how I don't want to live.

The mammography suite: "No Country For Ripe Tomatoes."
But, I digress. Back to the less-is-more thing. Until about a month ago, almost two years had elapsed since my last mammogram. In the meantime, all the media and research hullaballoo surrounding mammography's predictive value gave me pause. It's not a benign procedure and has to be approached with cautious consideration. Because my mom's breast cancer was post-menopausal, my risk for developing it isn't significantly increased. I've never smoked, have always maintained a healthy weight and been physically active, had my children when I was young and breastfed them, blah, blah blah. The idea of being exposed to any amount of radiation isn't very appealing. I'm sure I've already accumulated quite enough after years of working in the operating room with all those X-rays and fluoroscopy. Thank goodness for lead aprons and thyroid shields! And then, there's the simple fact that having my boobs squished between two pieces of hard, cold plastic totally sucks. Theoretically speaking, compressing breast tissue like that could lead to derangements in cellular integrity. So many anxiety-producing what ifs. Too many. And that's not even taking into consideration the stress of having to wait in limbo for a week to ten days to get the results.

Autonomy, self-determination, & mischief
I know my body better than anyone else. I also know what types of intervention I will and won't accept. I'm a believer in the autonomy and self-determination of each individual, as well as in self-advocacy. I don't share the same blind faith in science that many of my colleagues do; in fact, I think the acceptance of scientific facts actually requires more in the way of faith than believing in God does. As Sherlock Holmes astutely observed, "Facts are always convincing; it's the conclusions drawn from facts that are often in error." I guess I'm a bit of a skeptic, especially when it comes to being voluntarily incapacitated or disfigured. Treatment options for cancer are a highly personal thing. I don't view a person who abstains from aggressive treatment as being any less courageous than someone who chooses chemo, radiation, and radical surgery. Everyone has their limits, and I know what mine are. Were I to develop breast cancer, I'd agree to non-disfiguring surgery, but not to chemotherapy or radiation. The thought of having my boobs cut off is just too much. So is the thought of chemo drugs and X-rays indiscriminately rearranging my cellular architecture and DNA. Again, I'm not judging you, so don't judge me.

My anxiety-inducing mammogram report
Back to my most recent mammogram, I'm not sure why I scheduled it in the first place. Based on my self-breast exams, I didn't think it was indicated. My doctor certainly didn't pressure me into it. Whatever. It happened. After the boob squishing, the radiology tech assured me my results I'd received my results in three days. A week passed, and still no results. I assumed no news was good news. If something was abnormal, they would have called me, right? Ten days later, I went to have my new IUD placed. My gyn doc hadn't received the results, either, so she called over to the mammography suite to inquire about them. Here's what the report said: "There is an 8 mm mass with an indistinct margin in the left breast at 5 o'clock middle depth. Impression: Incomplete. Needs additional imaging evaluation." Well, la dee fucking da, let the goddamn needless anxiety sweatfest begin!

Me and Spartacus, deeply engaged in needless worry.
Over the ten days I had to wait to have this additional imaging, I gained about 5 pounds from a stress-eating binge that consisted of Dekalb Farmers Market candy (coconut curry cashews, dark chocolate covered almonds, and macha tea and salted chocolate caramels. Mmm-mm, good!) washed down with plenty of red wine. I felt so fat, disgusting, and horrible that I resorted to wearing scrub pants EVERYWHERE. I decided not to discuss this with anyone but Spartacus, my younger sister, and my closest friends. Until it's an issue, it's a non-issue, right? Not so much. Poor Spartacus. He barely got to know his mom before she died from breast cancer, and now, his crazy wife's personified her left breast into a creature that requests--no demands--headrubs, backscratches, and another $6.99 bottle of Protocolo tempranillo from the Candler Park Market.

Shaman chameleons we are.
I debated about whether or not to tell my children. I didn't want to worry them unnecessarily. Because my son, Nick, is studying ayurveda and happens to be a manager at a natural foods store, I decided to talk to him about what was going on. We talked about adjusting my diet. I already drink a boatload of alkaline organic green juice, laden with wheat grass, celery, dandelion, cilantro, fennel, turmeric, ginger, and lime. But, I drink way too much coffee, which is known to aggravate conditions in the fibrocystic breast. Cutting back on alcohol is easy, but caffeine...whoa! I purchased some tulsi (holy basil) tea and started my caffeine detox. I've been pleasantly surprised at how easy it's been to reduce my caffeine intake to one cup of coffee per day. The tea tastes good and it's also relaxing. My confidence was restored...or so I thought.

Hurry, let's get outta here!!!
Two days ago, I had my long-awaited additional imaging. I went to work as usual, came home early, let the dogs out, grabbed some lunch, and headed over to Piedmont Hospital. The anxiety I felt was almost unbearable. So much ado about a boob. Having been told in advance that this ordeal would take anywhere from 1-3 hours, I wanted to be prepared. I stopped at Arden's Garden and got myself a blueberry-sesame Love Bar and a bottle of pH Solution in case I got hungry or thirsty. This next part's a little embarrassing. As any woman who undergoes mammography knows, you're not supposed to wear deodorant or antiperspirant on the day of your test because it can affect the results, i.e. the aluminum in those products mimics calcifications in breast tissue. Needless to say, by the time I hiked my left arm up to position my naked, defenseless boob onto the X-ray plate, I had a raging case of B.O. At first, I thought it was the technician's breath, but no, it was me! Ugh. As soon as I was released from the spot compression imaging, I went and scrubbed my armpits. The tech informed me that, depending on those results, the radiologist might order an ultrasound. Fifteen minutes later, I was called back for an ultrasound. Being familiar with ultrasonography, I watched as the tech located and measured a radiolucent oval. I recognized it immediately as a fluid-filled cyst. Sure enough, that's all it was. Spartacus had driven through horrible traffic to get to the waiting room, and was visibly relieved when I flashed him the thumbs up. We couldn't get out of there fast enough. His feelings might change when we're billed for the $2000.00 deductible, though. Not only is reassurance anxiety-provoking, it's expensive, too.

One of my father's busty bronzes.
It'll be a looooooong time before I consider having another mammogram. For a minimalist like me, I'm not sure screening tests make a lot of sense. The information they yield isn't the problem, it's what I'd do (or not do) with it. I pretty much live life right here in the moment, and I don't go looking for problems or worries. If it ain't broke, don't fix it. Live and let live. In this day and age of prophylactic double mastectomies that are based solely on genetic testing and probability, despite the fact that with early detection the 5 year survival rate for Stage 0-I breast cancers is 100% while stage II is 93%, it seems that perhaps we've entered into a realm of breast cancer hyperawareness. I don't view my tits as unnecessary or expendable. In fact, I'm quite attached to them. Spartacus enjoys them, too. Bottom line is, I'm not sure I'd want to live without them. Once again, making such decisions is highly personal, whether it's undergoing genetic testing and prophylactic mastectomy because of a strong family history of breast or ovarian cancer, deciding whether or not to have chemo, radiation, or surgery if cancer is found, or submitting to routine mammographic screening in the first place. It's a matter of quality versus quantity of life, and quality is something that defies analysis or explanation. It's strictly a perceptual experience. And being held captive by screening tests and all their what ifs doesn't feel like quality to me. I think I'll just stick with my own intuitive version of health and breast awareness. It hasn't failed me yet.








Sunday, March 16, 2014

The Optimist

Brothers from other mothers (L-->R) Willie, Nick, Chad, Rory
Last week, I had an odd exchange on FB with a friend of a friend, a young guy named Tim in his early 20s. Our mutual friend, Willie, had posted this blurb: "So someone OD'd in the Jack's parking lot yesterday morning .... Again smh I'm about to eat [an] orange and ride my bike on that one." Willie and his brother, Chad, happen to be my sons' best friends. They're my sons from another mother. Willie is the lead singer for their band, BearKnuckle, and Chad works at Jack's. I guess Chad told Willie about the OD. Anyhow, the rest of the conversation went like this:

Brittanie: "OMG!"
Me: "Did the person survive?"
Fred: "Surviving an OD is pretty terrible."
Me: "It's better than being dead, though."
Tim: "If you haven't died then how do you know if anything else is better? And the word better is so subjective."
Me: "Tim, if you think being dead is better than being alive, you've got some serious living to do. Just sayin'."
Tim: "But you've never been dead. Don't try and get philosophical on me. I just asked a question. Geez (reattaching my head after it has been bitten off)."

Tim had a valid point about the word "better" being subjective. Some people believe they're better off dead. And some people consider other people's lives to be a waste. I guess it all depends on your outlook. My outlook is heavily influenced by text messages like this one that I'd just received from my son, Rory, who along with his identical twin brother, Nick, suffers from cystic fibrosis.


For me, motherhood's been tainted by the cruelty of this terrible disease. There's nothing subjective or philosophical about the painful awareness that I am watching my children die or the fear that I may outlive them. There's nothing subjective or philosophical about the helplessness I feel. I can't fix them. I can't make their cystic fibrosis go away.

Rory (L) & his yellow-gowned hospital visitors, Chad & Nick
Rory spent a week in the hospital back in January for a course of intravenous antibiotics, followed by a couple more weeks of home infusion therapy and a burst of steroids to reduce the inflammation raging inside his lungs. His pulmonary functions didn't improve at all. Now, he's going to have a fiberoptic scope shoved down his windpipe to examine deep inside his lung passages, a procedure that requires sedation. Believe it or not, Rory was hoping to go to work after his bronchoscopy. For him and Nick, life goes on. To quote my aphorist-writing friend, Marty Rubin (aka nothingprofound): "Morning will come, it has no choice." Cystic fibrosis is a part of their lives, not the center of their existence. I'm gonna go out on a limb and say that my boys have a pretty good idea of what life-threatening physical decline feels like. Yet, I don't know two people more fully alive than they are.

If death is the end of all experience, then Tim's argument that you'd have to experience being dead to confidently assert that it's better to be alive was pretty lame. And, he was the one getting philosophical, presumptive, and touchy. I knew responding to him any further was a waste of time and energy, but I decided to play along anyway. Yeah, sometimes, I can be an asshole.

Me: "No one's bitten your head off. Why so sensitive?"
Tim: "Can't talk now! Reattaching my head...be back after these messages. Sensitive? I don't give a shit, dude! lol"


Me, Walt Whitman, and Chet the Jet
Ugh. I deplore being called "dude." In my book,  "dude" is about as unisex as the word "broad." It was pretty clear that this guy wasn't up for any sort of meaningful exchange. He seemed...angry. And cynical. But, I was curious and a bit bored. I was waiting to meet up for lunch with Chester, my fellow free spirit, and I had some time to kill, so I continued.


Me: "Have you ever spoken to someone who's had a near-death experience? I have, and though they say death isn't scary, they all agree it's much better to be alive. It's a matter of one's attitude toward dealing with reality. After you reattach your head, consider brushing away that chip on your shoulder :-D"

I'm sure a few eyes are rolling heavenward right about now. Near-death experience? LOL. Well, considering the fact that I give anesthesia for a living, and that general anesthesia is basically a controlled near-death experience, my response isn't so far-fetched.

And yes, I've interviewed a number of patients who've reported near death experiences following traumatic injury or cardiac arrest. One of my former partners, Steve, a middle-aged heavy smoker, had such an experience at work. We had a super stressful call schedule that involved at least 24 full hours of little or no sleep, e.g. once things quieted down in the operating room, you were up all night placing epidurals on labor and delivery.

In anesthesia, we welcome dull moments like having lunch together!
After finishing his 24 hour shift, Steve decided to enjoy a little breakfast with our colleagues in the anesthesia lounge before driving home. A few bites into his sausage biscuit, he developed severe, crushing chest pain. As our colleagues watched in disbelief and horror, Steve collapsed on the sofa, having sustained a massive myocardial infarction. One of the scrub techs, a huge muscle-bound guy, scooped lifeless, clinically dead Steve up into his arms, threw him onto a stretcher, and rushed him into the recovery room for resuscitation, flanked by a number of anesthesiologists, anesthetists, and surgeons.

What Steve told me about that experience still gives me chills. He says he remembers being in the recovery room, standing off to the side, watching our colleagues diligently gathered around a stretcher, frantically giving CPR to someone. He didn't know who they were working on, and no one was paying any attention to him. Despite all the adrenaline-fueled commotion surrounding him, he felt a sense of absolute calm and peace, accompanied by a complete lack of fear. It wasn't religious or spiritual, just a profound sense of well-being. Instantaneously, he was hovering over himself, looking down at himself on that stretcher, and apparently, that's the moment his heart started spontaneously beating again. He then underwent emergent cardiac catheterization and stenting of his occluded coronary artery. He even quit smoking for awhile. After that experience, one thing Steve's sure of is that death no longer frightens him.

Tim: "Chips are great! Who doesn't like dip and chips!! Your not living life. Buddy!!!"
Tim: "And just to be real. If there is another side to our reality, who is to say it is good or bad or any human emotion. Just thinking further than planet earth and all us humans man."
Me: "Well, that's why we have the arts, poetry, philosophy, and practical common sense
:-)"


My new favorite restaurant!
Reality isn't all that complicated. It's less a matter of perception or conceptualization than lived experience and applied common sense.* We're born and we die. What goes up (usually) comes back down. Cut yourself, and you will bleed. Stand in the rain, and you'll get wet. If you drop your glass onto a concrete floor, it will shatter. Those are examples of realityOverthinking it is what makes reality seem so complicated and unbearable.

Lao-tzu wrote: "See the world as your self. Have faith in the way things are. Love the world as your self; then you can care for all things." His writings are imbued with a sense of optimism: "Stop thinking and end your problems...trust your natural responses and everything will fall into place."

My conversation with Tim stopped there. My 21 year old nephew, Evan, "liked" my last comment, and that was pretty much that. Maybe I'll run into Tim someday...he buses tables at one of my favorite neighborhood restaurants. Small world, huh?

My thoughts were with Rory the rest of that day, wishing that I could somehow relieve his burden. But, I don't think either of us spends too much time wishing away his disease. In fact, it's acceptance of it that brings both relief and life-enhancing innovation. The things we can't change don't negate the abundance of what we've got to work with. They give rise to creative solutions. Maybe it's no coincidence that Spartacus and I ended up having dinner Friday night at a joint called "The Optimist."

"Confidence is high!"
I spent the afternoon with Chester, celebrating life in the moment. When Chester was a teenager, he was diagnosed with bone cancer. His doctors actually told him not to plan on starting a family because he wouldn't be around to enjoy them. Chester said, "Fuck it. I'm gonna hitchhike around the country then." He regales me with stories of his pan-American travels, living in hippie communes, picking coffee in Belize, and defying the odds that were prescribed for him. Not only did he survive to father his own children and become a kickass ultimate Frisbee player and bearded wizard of electricity, he's now a grandparent. No wonder Chester's favorite saying is "Confidence is high."



Cat on a hot tin roof. Meow!
After lunch, we walked down to see the magnificent labor of love that he and his brother have been working on for nearly 40 years. It's an amazing cathedral-like structure sitting atop a hill in the Virginia Highland area, built with hand cut marble bricks, intricately designed wooden beamwork and ceilings, and even a round moon door. It was such a beautiful day outside, sunny and warm enough for a T-shirt and flip flops. We ended up spending most of our time on the roof, perched amidst the budding treetops of live oaks and pink tulip magnolias, cracking each other up and talking about life. Here's what we concluded. Both of us have endured some major shitstorms in our lives, stuff that could have left us broken, disillusioned, and cynical. But, we just rolled with it, and now, here we are, chilling out on a rooftop, fully present and drinking it all in with nary a drop of wine between us. No, there ain't no doubt about it. Life. Is. Good.


*A loosely paraphrased summation of a discussion on BlogCatalog by Marty Rubin aka nothingprofound): "Do you think it's possible to live without illusions?"

Sunday, February 9, 2014

Life Over Easy

This photo has all the makings of an omelet...
Eggs. They're pretty much a staple food in most people's refrigerators, always on hand but oft forgotten as you're standing there with the door wide open, muttering to yourself that there's nothing good to eat. For the past several months, I haven't been doing much weekend breakfast cooking. Once Spartacus and I discovered that Ria's Bluebird Cafe, the funky Grant Park diner across the street from Oakland Cemetery where Margaret Mitchell is buried, happens to have the world's most excellent buttermilk pancakes, we've become regulars there nearly every Saturday morning.


Ria's eggnog pancakes with torched marshmallow...mmm!
On the weekends, Ria's does specialty pancakes. Regardless of whether I'm having eggnog flapjacks with toasted house-made marshmallow or strawberry-laced ones topped with Chantilly cream, I always order a single poached egg. Poached eggs are a SUCH a pain in the ass to make at home. I've tried every method known to man, including the addition of vinegar as well as the purchase of silicone egg cups that you submerge in simmering water so the eggs hold their shape without the white spewing out everywhere, but it's just not the same as when the egg is prepared special, just for you. In my book, you just can't beat the simple glamor of a perfectly poached egg, adorned only with salt and pepper. 

Well, this morning was a little different, and I'm really not sure why. Both of us got up pretty early, which means we could have easily beaten the crowd at Ria's, but for some reason, I was motivated to cook. Maybe it's because I had an entire carton of eggs that was about to expire. Usually, I just hard boil eggs that are getting close to their expiration date, but since I also had a chunk of smoked gouda that was on the verge of going moldy, I decided I'd make an omelet. I had spinach, green onions, and grape tomatoes that needed to be used up, too, so into the pan they went. Man oh man, our kitchen smelled so good! As I stood there, flipping the omelet around in my trusty old non-stick pan, I felt strangely reassured. I was thinking to myself, "Nope, I haven't lost it," when it dawned on me egg-xactly where this sudden burst of culinary mania was coming from. 

Me & Julie, celebrating our friendship & 5-7 years of no more periods.
Last week, I went to see a gynecologist for the first time in seven years. The last time I saw one was to have my now-expired Mirena IUD inserted. Here in the US, the Mirena is considered effective for five years, but in France, it's been demonstrated to retain its contraceptive efficacy for closer to seven years. Since I was 44 at the time I had it placed, I pretty much banked on being menopausal by the time it was ready to remove. Back then, I was single. Aside from the fact that I was, uh, quite sexually active, and hated using condoms, I really couldn't stand having menstrual periods interfere with my life. There was nothing quite as sucky as being caught on call with blood-stained panties and no tampons, and don't even get me started on the grossness of sex whilst menstruating. My girlfriend, Julie, told me she loved her Mirena. I mean, what's not to love about no fuss, no muss contraception with the added benefit of no monthly period? I was quickly convinced that the IUD was definitely for me. One afternoon, while I was having lunch in the physicians' lunchroom at work, I bumped into a colleague who happened to be one of the head honchos in Emory's department of gynecology. He's a fatherly figure, a real good egg, and since I'd developed a pretty friendly relationship with him during my GYN rotation as a surgery resident six years before, I felt perfectly comfortable telling him about my situation. He got me into his clinic, and within a week, I had my IUD. (Since then, my well-woman exams and Pap tests have been performed by my internal medicine doc, just because it's easier than scheduling separate appointments).

Pregnant me at my nursing school graduation
When I made this most recent gynecologist appointment, it was basically to find out where I was in my hormonal cycle. I mean, hell, I'm 51. I'd convinced myself that I was in some early stage of menopause, based on the fact that I keep having these horrible acne breakouts on my chin. For me, one pimple constitutes a full on breakout; don't judge. I suppose I'm a little vain, but since I never had zits as a teenager, dealing with them over age 50 is somewhat traumatic. When the subject of my ancient IUD came up, the doc said she'd check my hormone levels, and that we'd go from there. Later that evening, Spartacus and I were joking about how weird it would be to have a baby at our age. Since I work in an infertility clinic, giving anesthesia to women who are having their eggs harvested for in vitro fertilization or cryopreserved for later use, and men who are having their vasectomies reversed or their testes biopsied because of low sperm counts, I am constantly reminded of how difficult it is for some couples to get pregnant. If Nature had a cruel side, it would be definitely be infertility. For me, conception was easy. I got pregnant two months after stopping birth control pills, and at sixteen weeks, we learned I was carrying twins. By the time I was 28-30 weeks along, I was as big as a house! In 1990, pregnant belly photos weren't yet in style, so the only known pregnancy photo of me is the one shown here, taken during my nursing school graduation ceremony. Talk about hormonal! I could never imagine going through that again, which is why I'm very lucky to have had twins. It still amazes me that two people came from one of my eggs.

How can Spartacus sleep at a time like this?
Late Friday afternoon, I got a call from my gynecologist. I wasn't expecting to hear from her so soon after my appointment, and I was momentarily struck with terror that she was delivering really bad news. My life flashed before my eyes. A lump rose in my throat. My heart started having palpitations. The pause between me answering the phone and her telling me she'd reviewed my lab results was immeasurably long. Spartacus was napping on the couch, and there I was, a complete basket case about to learn that I had some sort of gynecologic cancer. I was totally unprepared for what came next. "Kristyna, we're going to need to replace that IUD. You've got some verrrrry young-looking ovaries, and you still need protection. You're not going into menopause any time soon." She sounded so upbeat and happy. Relieved but also in disbelief, I nearly shouted into the phone. "Are you kidding me? I could still get pregnant at this age?!" WTF?! I guess the yolk's on me. All along, I thought I was on the verge of being over Hormone Hill, that this freakin' acne would resolve, and that my body would soon be free of implanted devices. Not so much. 

Me and my huevos
I have to admit, as shocked as I was to hear the egg-ceptional news about my youthful ovaries, I'm secretly a little turned on by it. My libido's raw, as in sunny side up. It's as if I've regained several years of my life. I've always looked and felt younger than my actual age, and maybe these raging hormones have had something to do with that. Who knows, maybe there is power in suggestion? I thought my eggs were poached, but my gonads have kept right on crackin'. No, I haven't lost it. After enjoying my luscious spinach-tomato-smoked gouda omelet, I called myself in some prescription strength acne gel to combat yet another zit that's popped up. (That's one of the few perks of being a doctor). I'm getting a new IUD on Tuesday. As for me and my huevos, we're scrambling to stay as deviled as possible while taking life over easy ;-)