Sunday, March 31, 2013

The World Seemed Right Again

     Have you ever had that kind of week where the days seem to run together and you just don't know where the time's gone? It's been one of those weeks for me. Even though I slept well every night, I woke up feeling like I was still dreaming, discombobulated and forgetful. Stress'll do that to a person. 

     A couple of weeks ago, we switched health insurance providers from Cigna to Humana, and learned that because Humana considers one of my sons' cystic fibrosis medications a "high technology" drug, it's been assigned to Tier IV status with a 25% out-of-pocket co-insurance requirement. How exactly does
Health insurance: the stuff of nightmares....
that translate into lettuce? Well, for the past two years, we've paid $25/month for this medication, and now, it's over $1200/person/month. It's nothing less than pharmaceutical bureaucracy. Even with co-pay assistance from the drug manufacturer, the out-of-pocket expense is still $600/person/month. There is nothing high tech about the drug itself; it's aztreonam, an old antibiotic. Apparently, it's the drug's delivery system that's the costly culprit. When the initial prescription for this medication is filled, the pharmacy dispenses a little air compressor with a fancy nebulizer, all of which are reusable. I fail to see how a one-time allocation of technology warrants such a high co-payment on subsequent doses of this medication. So, now I've found myself embroiled in an aggressive appeals process with Humana. I am requesting that a) they lower this drug, for which there is no suitable lower-priced substitute, to a less costly tier or b) they waive the redonkulous 25% cash deductible. Believe me, I'm pretty damn confident that one way or another, I will prevail. I don't do "No" very well.

     Against this background of utter frustration over how big pharma and insurance providers are permitted to play such games with people's lives, I found out last Monday that one of my colleagues, an anesthetist with whom I frequently work, lost her 52 year old husband to lymphoma earlier that morning. Just a few months ago, he was a healthy guy, working as a scrub tech at a local hospital. Over the summer, he started experiencing vague symptoms, such as fatigue and shortness of breath, accompanied by dramatic weight loss. His condition deteriorated rapidly and progressively, rendering him unable to work. My friend described him as a proud and private man who had difficulty accepting help from others, even his own wife. Things got so bad that he could hardly perform self-care activities. Despite multiple lab studies and a radiologic workup that revealed fluid around his heart, his docs weren't able to pinpoint a disease. Shortly after the Christmas holidays, he saw a cardiothoracic surgeon who initially thought it might be cardiac cancer. Surgical biopsies finally revealed lymphoma. 

Double rainbow on a stormy day
A couple of weeks ago, he underwent his first round of chemotherapy. He was already so weak and debilitated that the chemo wiped out his bone marrow, prompting a hospital admission for platelet transfusions. He went into the hospital Tuesday before last. My friend continued working, in between hospital visits and taking care of their young daughter, and I could tell she was physically and emotionally exhausted. Her spirits were good, though, and I think having the normalcy of work was therapeutic for her. On Friday of that week, she was talking to us about buying her husband some new slip-on house shoes that would accommodate his swollen feet, and was hopeful that he might get to come home on Saturday or Sunday. Early Monday morning, he died in his hospital room.

My mom/realtor and me
 Later that same afternoon, I received an e-mail from my mother, who also happens to be my realtor. I've had my house on the market since November, and although it "shows very well" according to the feedback we've received, we've had no offers. Last year, I rented it, but I am tired of being a landlord. Aside from the fact that I didn't profit at all from having renters, it's a liability I just don't want any longer. I'm tired of paying two mortgages. How is it that the banks got government bailouts out a few years ago, yet we homeowners who watched helplessly as our home values plummeted didn't receive a compensatory reduction in mortgages owed?  I feel screwed. Honestly, I'm seriously considering either a short-sale or just letting the damn thing go into foreclosure. Yeah, it'll screw up my credit for awhile, but at least I'll be free of this red brick albatross. 

Mi casa, the one I just can't seem to sell
Anyway, Mom's e-mail included a comment from a realtor who'd shown the house earlier that day. It read as follows: "The painted wallpaper was a turn-off." First of all, there is no wallpaper in my house, much less painted wallpaper. Thinking that maybe they'd mistaken another house for mine, Mom e-mailed to agent to confirm that my house has no wallpaper. The agent responded: "Yes, it was this home.  There were several bubbles in the wall. It was most noticeable in the hallway near the bedrooms and bath. Wallpaper just seemed the logical explanation." Ah. What a strange juxtaposition...the untimely death of someone so young in contrast to the inanity of people focused on such a minor imperfection.

Cheese makes everything better
     I went grocery shopping to take my mind off of everything for a little while. As I was perusing the cheese aisle, I received an alarming text message from my dear friend, whom I'll refer to in this post as "A" for anonymity's sake. Several weeks back, he and his partner, "B", cruised the Caribbean, and got engaged in St. Bart's. During an afternoon hike, A slipped and fell, tearing several ligaments in his left ankle. Those of you who've read my blog long enough knows that A is an anesthesiologist like me. I'll be the first to say that physicians make terrible patients. We know too much, we self-diagnose, and we don't follow instructions.

     Needless to say, upon returning home, A saw an orthopaedic surgeon who determined that his injury had a good chance of healing spontaneously without surgical intervention. She put him in an aircast, followed by a hard cast, and advised him to stay out of work for two weeks. Well, doctors aren't allowed to be sick...EVER. Even though he's on faculty at a large academic institution, he's been required to use vacation time because there are no provisions for sick leave. After two weeks and removal of the hard cast, he was permitted to return to work conditionally, with the understanding that he wouldn't work more than 10 hours per day. 
"A", clearly less than thrilled with the wheelchair
A's first day back at work was last Monday. Instead of being deployed to the intensive care unit where he serves an an attending physician, he got put in the operating room. Navigating the hallways and tight corners of an OR on a knee scooter, especially when you're given rooms on opposite ends instead of adjacent to one another, ain't easy. Sure enough, he was knocked off the scooter not once, but twice. Even before being knocked off the scooter, he started experiencing excruciating pain behind his left knee. Like any anesthesiologist would do, he placed an ultrasound probe behind his knee and discovered four DVTs (deep vein thromobses or blood clots that occur commonly following prolonged immobility of a lower extremity), in one of his calf muscles. My foray into Kroger's international world of cheeses was interrupted by his frantic text message: "OMG, I am back at work and started having severe pain behind my knee. Put an ultrasound probe behind it and have diagnosed four DVTs. What next?" Long story short, poor A is on blood thinning shots twice a day for a few weeks. When he told his sister about all of this, her response was, "This is God's way to telling you to slow down." Maybe she's right. 
Cold beer on a Friday afternoon :-)

     By Friday, I was really out of sorts, feeling depleted from my never-ending battle with health insurance, deeply saddened over my friend's loss, and worrying about A, who's shown no signs of slowing down. Spartacus texted me that he was getting off work early for Good Friday. Having him home so early in the day is a rare treat. "We should have lunch together when I get home from work," I texted back. "I'll be home around 1:00." We were running behind schedule at work, so when I finally got home at 2 o'clock, we moseyed down to our neighborhood pizza joint, sat outside in the warm sunshine, and enjoyed a couple of chocolate stouts and calzones. Man, that beer tasted good. 

     Although we were deeply engrossed in a conversation about polygamy, I couldn't help but notice that our twenty-something year old waitress was paying lots of attention to Spartacus.  "Oh, you like the Boulevard Long Strange Tripel, huh? That's my favorite! Can I get you another one? How about a glass of water?" I may as well have been invisible. Yes, it was that obvious. It's funny...the older men get, they attract women less than half their age, while women forty and up get the old geezers. "I think our waitress has a little crush on you," I said to him, after she went in to fetch us another beer. He paused, looking sheepish behind his Ray-Ban aviators. In a tone of semi-disbelief, he replied, "Yeah, I kinda noticed that."
Me and my old man
Actually, it's kind of a turn on to realize that other women find my husband, whom I jokingly refer to as "The Silver Fox," so attractive. I'm the one who gets to take him home. After having a good laugh about it, we came home, threw our leftovers into the fridge and our clothes onto the floor, and had ourselves a bit of afternoon delight. I can't say with certainty that the earth moved. What I do know is that somewhere between being lost in each other's bodies and the sweet sleep that visited us afterwards, the world seemed right again. 


Sunday, March 24, 2013


A chapter on cough from my Dad's medical textbook, circa 1950
The other day at work, I had an elderly patient with a terrible chronic cough, the frequency and audible intensity of which was exponentially worsened after having an endoscope put down his throat for an entirely unrelated set of symptoms. When I inquired about this cough during his pre-op assessment, he replied, "It's normal for me." In other words, that unrelenting cough was his baseline, the end result of 50 years of heavy cigarette smoking, even though he'd quit tobacco over twenty years ago. 

A puff of this'll do ya!
     "Did you use your inhalers this morning?" I asked hopefully. He nodded affirmatively, and I was glad to hear that he'd brought both of them along with him. "Take a couple of extra puffs of this one," I said, handing him a red albuterol* inhaler. "We're gonna stir things up, looking down your throat with our camera, and you're probably going to cough a lot while you're waking up. This'll help calm your airway down."

     The anesthetic for his three minute EGD** was uneventful, and he tolerated the procedure well. However, as I'd predicted, his post-endoscopy course was complicated by coughing  that came in paroxysmal volleys, bombarding the recovery room's airspace with decibel-shattering blasts, drowning out ambient conversation, beeping monitors, and even the telephone. His nurse shook her head. "How can she live with that?" she wondered aloud, observing as his wife sat quietly at his bedside, seemingly indifferent to the hacking clamor. "I don't know," I responded, lying through my teeth.

Rory using his vibrating lung-cleaning vest (2003).
I know that cough, inside and out, just like any other CF (cystic fibrosis) parent does. The hacking, the wheezing, the choking, and the god-awful air hunger are all painfully familiar sounds that eventually become part of the background. It's a sanity-preserving adaptation that evolves out of our own helplessness and irrational sense of guilt, from clinging to tenuous baselines and dreams of a cure, wishing
An incomplete sampling of routine CF medications.
it were us suffering instead of our children, wondering what "normal" feels like while trying to recall worry-free yesterdays before the cough. What was once inconceivable quickly becomes ordinary. It almost seems odd to us that other peoples' kids don't have to swallow 3-9 pancreatic enzyme capsules before every snack and meal or have their chests beat on three or four times a day to help clean out their infected lungs.

Yes, coughing certainly can precipitate crazy. The first symptom of schizophrenia experienced by a friend of my sons' father was a cough. George had enlisted in the Navy after high school, and at some point during his early twenties was stationed on a submarine, training to become a SEAL. Out of nowhere, he started hearing a cough. It was random at first, a low-pitched cough that sounded like someone trying to clear his throat. No one else could hear it. That auditory hallucination, a simple cough, heralded his descent into madness. 

Nick giving himself a nebulizer treatment (2003)
     I remember all too well a comment I overheard as a medical student, made by a somewhat callous and inept pediatric surgeon who described the lungs of patients with cystic fibrosis as "bags of pus." To his credit, he didn't know I had identical twin boys with CF. I've never quite gotten over the mental imagery his comment evoked. Nick and Rory were about nine years old at that time, and health-wise, they were doing quite well. For people with CF, health is measured by how much they're coughing; it's an inversely proportional relationship. Even though the boys weren't coughing a lot back then, it crushed me to hear a physician speak so disparagingly about their disease, even though I knew their condition would progressively deteriorate with each passing year.

Rory and Nick, looking & feeling good, December 2012
Not all coughs are pathological causes for concern. Just as new parents learn to distinguish an infant's cries of pain from those of hunger, boredom, or discomfort, I can hear a cough and discern whether it's worrisome or benign, based on intuition and an experiential qualitative comparison of wavelengths. Similar to Liam Neeson's character in "Taken," I too have developed "a very particular set of skills...acquired over a very long career."

     I've also learned that Fate is impartial, not unfair. I don't believe in a God who doesn't give us more than we can handle, but I do have faith in the way things are. In that faith lies the balance between hope and fear, the stoutheartedness which drives me to support and encourage my sons no matter what, to continue playing my hand instead of folding, to roll with the punches, to keep on keepin' on even when the going gets rough. I accept flux, not the status quo. Problems only seem insurmountable to those who are inflexible, and baselines are neither rigid nor absolute. Like the concept of normal, they're really just a reference point.

Liam Neeson's epic "very particular set of skills" scene from "Taken."

*albuterol: a bronchodilating inhaled medication which promotes opening of small air passages in the lungs.
**EGD: esophagogastroduodenoscopy. A procedure which uses a small tubular camera to examine the esophagus, stomach, and first part of the small intestine.

What Is Cystic Fibrosis?
About Cystic Fibrosis




Sunday, March 17, 2013

From Cupcake Epiphany to The Future Now

Part IV of Fail-Safe

As if packing for Frisco's October micro-climates wasn't challenging enough, she couldn't get Brad out of her mind. They'd moved forward fast. After getting back home from the coffee shop the other night, there'd been a flurry of "Hey, that was  fun, let's do it again soon" messages between them on, prompting an exchange of real e-mail addresses and a plan to get together Saturday evening for Lebanese food. Friday's OR call hadn't been too shabby, so she treated herself to a killer workout, followed by a much needed mani-pedi. 

He's just too perfect...what's the catch?
Surprised at her own excitement, which probably stemmed from the fact that she hadn't been able to find a thing wrong with him yet, she dolled herself up, threw caution to the wind, and headed over to the restaurant, on time this time with time to spare. The rest of the night was a blur. Dinner, dessert, and coffee segued seamlessly into hanging out at her place, sitting face-to-face on her comfy brown couch listening to Nobody and the Mystic Chords of Memory and The Clientele, adequately lubricated by unoaked chardonnay. Any lingering inhibition dissolved when he asked her, "Is it all right if I kiss you?" Like white on rice, they were all over each other. Early the next morning, Julie texted to see how the date went: 

     "Hot" didn't begin to do this guy justice; he was visual confectionery. Looks-wise, he was a cross between Daniel Craig, Lance Armstrong, and Spartacus: muscular, slim, finely chiseled
with gentle steely-blue eyes, and an absolutely awe-inspiring
Eat your hearts out, Charlton Heston & Russell Crowe!
gladiator six-pack to boot. She had no idea a 46 year old man could look like that. According to him, she was easy on the eyes as well, disclosing his reason for following her into the coffee shop the first night they met as "I was checking 
out the view from behind." They were like two kids in The Candy Store of Mutual Admiration, but the attraction was far from purely physical. If anything, their connection was metaphysical, transcendent, esoteric

"Moms these days! Ours is 45, going on 16!"
Long story short, the next five evenings were spent together, ending Friday morning with a wild makeout session in a church parking lot, then sneaking into her bedroom like a couple of teenagers after her own sixteen year old boys were fast asleep. "I'll see ya when
you get back," he promised as he headed off late to work. "How about I pick you up from the airport Sunday night?" Her heart skipped a beat. "Really? You'd do that for me?" Here he was, offering to pick her up after a week of frolicking about San Francisco with her closest friends which, unbeknownst to him, happened to include a Bohemian fuckbuddy. What a mess. With "Torn Between Two Lovers" reverberating on an endless subconscious loop, she kissed him hard. "Sure, why not?" she replied, trying to sound casual. "I'll e-mail you my flight info. See you Sunday." She finished packing, caught a MARTA train to the airport that afternoon, and landed at SFO four uneventful hours later with just enough time to check into the hotel before meeting up with Allen.

Allen, wondering, "What are we going to do with this one?"
Fast forward one week to late Thursday night. For the most part, San Francisco had been a total blast, a whirlwind of meetings, sightseeing, gastronomic adventures, long bayside walks, and random intimate conversations between old friends. Allen had taken her out for seafood on Fishermans Wharf her first evening there. Clearly amused by her epic man troubles, which admittedly were somewhat comical in nature, he listened patiently as she attempted to justify having her cake and eating it, too. "You're burning the candle at both ends, sweetheart," he cautioned. "Why play with fire?" As far as he was concerned, she needed to woman up and make a choice. 

     Julie, Bryan, and California Boy were arriving Saturday morning, and they were all having dinner together later that night. California Boy was flying in from LAX for a quick overnight stay. He'd fly back to LA Sunday afternoon, and would return by car early Friday morning for next weekend's trip to Napa. Seeing him again was weird, and being with him was even weirder, detached and impersonal. It just didn't feel right. She was relieved when 
The Fab Four (L to R, Bryan, Julie, Allen, & Yours Truly)
he left, especially after the Ritz-Carlton incident. No sooner had they met up with her friends for a swanky lounge pre-dinner drink than he started ordering $50 glasses of Dominus cabernet. On her tab. Unbelievable! The next few evenings were spent wining and dining in various hotspots with Allen, Bryan, and Julie, from Thai in Russian Hill to shi shi dessert in the Castro district. Julie flew back to Iowa on Wednesday because of work obligations. 

We finally made it to the!!!
Thursday was set aside for getting to know Bryan. Breakfast with him and Allen that morning was followed by a leisurely 10 mile walk from the Financial District through Haight-Ashbury, all the way to Golden Gate Park. By the time they reached the ocean, their feet and legs were so tired that they took a taxi back to their hotels. The evening ended with dinner, a showing of Beach Blanket Babylon at Club Fugazi, and contraband cupcakes. She and Bryan had been craving something sweet, so he brought along a half dozen Mission Minis to enjoy during the show, but because the club didn't allow outside food, these were confiscated by the coat check girl who promised to return them unharmed.

After the show, they piled into a tiny hybrid taxi, sitting on each other's laps, giggling as they gobbled teeny tiny cupcakes with crumbs flying everywhere, barely noticing the stomach-turning hilly ride back to their hotels. Out of the blue, Brad called, just to say hi. Oddly enough, while she was chatting with him, California Boy beeped in and left a voicemail. Allen and Bryan were leaving for their Napa cruise at the crack of dawn the next morning, so once they reached her hotel, it was time to call it a night. "There's one Mission Mini left; we want you to have it!" they'd insisted. That was an offer she couldn't refuse. She kissed them goodbye, then went up to her room to listen to the message. 

Basically, California Boy was calling to say his car broke down, and though he'd try to get it fixed first thing in the morning, he might not be able to make it until Saturday, if at all. Oh. My. God!!!!!!! Cupcake...stat! He suggested that she either wait for him in the lobby after checking out of her room, or catching a bus by herself out to the spa in Calistoga where they had reservations. Seriously? The obvious solution would have been for him to rent a car, and since that wasn't even mentioned, she wondered if he was just trying to back out. Like an unsolicited bitch slap, the truth hit her between furious nibbles of cupcake. At the wet-ass hour of 11 p.m., the whole sordid situation crystallized into the indisputable reality she knew she'd been avoiding: she was wasting her time with him. Maybe this cupcake epiphany was her call to action.

"There's been just a slight change of plans..."
Seeing as how it was already close to midnight on the west coast, it was too late to call anyone back east. She booked a nonstop flight to Atlanta that was departing around lunchtime, and cancelled her reservations at the Golden Haven Spa and Resort. In less than twelve hours, she'd be on her way home. Before she went to bed, she sent out e-mails to her sons, Julie, and Allen to let them know she'd be heading home early. She debated about whether or not to contact Brad...what if he had plans for Friday night? I'll text him in the morning; the worst he can say is "Sorry, I'm busy."

     Sleep was an afterthought; her mind was racing. California Boy was going to be furious with her for e-mailing such an abrupt change of plans instead of calling him, but she was even more certain that her newly-tapped revelation mojo wouldn't survive one of their demoralizing confrontations. Direct communication just wasn't worth the risk. Yeah, the way she handled it was pretty sucky, but she rationalized that he was getting a taste of his own medicine. At 5:30 a.m. PST, she texted Brad. 
     Sure enough, when she stepped off the elevator headed toward baggage claim, there he was. She spotted him first, the 
Lost in The Candy Store of Mutual Admiration...
initial recognition hastening her pace as she darted skillfully amongst the throng of slow-as-molasses slothwalkers with her neck craned, willing him to lock eyes with her. Ten eternal seconds later, he saw her too. Mutually focused on converging, they approached each other intently, negotiating the crowd as if they were the only two people in that terminal. "How was your trip?" he asked, automatically reaching for the handle of her carry-on bag. His eyes were kind. "Here, let me get that for you." They collected her luggage from the carousel, then ventured outside to his car. It felt good to be home. She's still not sure whether it was Brad's genteel demeanor or Georgia's balmy October night air that thawed the freezer-burn her heart acquired in San Francisco. Maybe it was a little bit of both. As they drove off together into Atlanta's nocturnal sparkle, a couple of clairvoyant rogue stars within that auspicious celestial canopy aligned precisely, welcoming them into the future now.
La Fin ou Le D├ębut?




Saturday, March 9, 2013

Marvelously Fresh, Decidely Vague

Part III of Fail-Safe

Kickboxer Guy was also a golf champ (3rd from left)
     He was almost standing at attention: arms extended forward, one hand clasped over the other, legs rigid with knees locked, and feet hip width apart. It reminded her of the way high school athletes posed for their yearbook photos, concealing their rough and tumble little boy playfulness with aggressive stances and serious expressions. Introductions seemed superfluous; they'd recognized each other immediately. Pleasantly disarmed by his wholesome all-American vibe, she thrust out her right hand for a perfunctory first-meeting shake. "Hey, Brad. Nice to meet ya. How long you been sitting here?" Taking a slug of coffee, he rearranged the small pile of notepads and trade journals scattered on the table to make room for her. "Thirty minutes or so," he replied in a distinctly non-Southern accent. "I got here early to avoid the traffic. How 'bout I get you a cup of coffee?" 

What? We're out of coffee? Hold that putt...I'll be right back!
     "Uh, that's OK. I'll get it myself," she said, noticing that they both had tattooed left forearms. What a strange coincidence... Nope, she didn't want to feel the least bit indebted, especially not over something as essential to her health and well-being as battery acid. Her fondness for coffee had become a running joke between Allen and Julie after a visit to Iowa in which she discovered Julie didn't have a coffee maker. Quelle horreur!  That near-freakout prompted the two of them to assemble the following rules for her future romantic interests:
Allen & Julie, status post devising "The Rules"

  1. Proceed with caution until she's had her first cup of coffee.
  2. Never let her get hungry.      
  3. Dark chocolate isn't just a food group; it's instant diplomacy.      
"HotPants" (age 15, 2nd from left) was no 98-lb weakling!
She turned, heading toward the cafe's entrance, encouraged by what she'd seen so far. "Be right back." Despite what she considered a vast wealth of experience appreciating the opposite sex, this was the first "real" athlete she'd encountered, someone who actually played ball instead of armchair quarterbacking. She made her way to the counter, only to find him two steps behind her. This was a little awkward. Thinking she'd somehow been rude for not offering to fetch him a second cup, she fumbled with her wallet apologetically. "Here, let me pay for yours." He politely refused. There they stood, in the quiet discomfort of strangers who'd just met but hadn't quite crossed the threshold of familiarity that's prerequisite in buying each other coffee. Once their separate orders were filled, they returned to the patio together. From then on, it was smooth sailing. 

"What if?...."
     Before she knew it, it was ten o'clock, and they were the only people left sitting outside. They'd spent the last two and a half hours in a little world of their own, drinking in the marvelously fresh promise of new acquaintance, studying each other's faces, hearts and minds set aglow with each newly revealed morsel of compatibility, leaving them imagining "what if?" The more she learned about him, the less she knew about herself. Possibility is a real game-changer; it reworks one's perspective, casting new light on opportunity, sometimes rewriting emotional history, just to give intimacy a fighting chance. In two short hours, they'd managed to fill in most of the blanks, their conversation drifting casually from one topic to another. They chatted about their uniquely placed tattoos, her divorce, his brothers, her kids, their work, her upcoming trip to San Francisco, Zen Buddhism, the Tao Te Ching, and Alan Watts, but mostly, they talked about growing up and life as they now knew it.

     He was born in Ypsilanti, Michigan, the youngest of four brothers who were always the best of friends. When he was six, his mom died of breast cancer. She was only 43.  Oddly enough, his oldest brother, Jeff, also died at the age of 43, presumably from too much booze and Valium. Even though his family moved to Alabama, and later to Pennsylvania, he still considered Michigan his home. In 1984, a year after graduating from
The Brothers Crowe, circa 1969
Shippensburg State University with a degree in business administration, he left the east coast to join his brother, Greg, in San Francisco. Jeff and his other brother, Brian, both lived in Orange County, and at various points during his eight years in California, Brad lived with them, too. Information technology was just taking off back then, and he landed a job in computer networking. For four months in 1990, he lived and worked in Japan. Around that same time, Brian and Greg moved to Atlanta. Brad followed suit after returning from Japan. Jeff never made it back east, though; he died in 1994. For the past fifteen years, Brad had worked as a network analyst for Intercontinental Hotel Group. He'd never been married, and seemed to be a bona fide bachelor. Two years ago, he
and his girlfriend of eight years broke up after she issued a commitment ultimatum. He loved her, but it depressed him to think "is that all there is?" Now, his online dating membership was about to expire. After his recent disastrous encounter with a big German gal named Helga--whose profile photo had to have been at least twenty years old--he was thinking of letting it lapse for good. 

     "Wow, it's really getting late," they chorused in unison while glancing at their watches. Suddenly, she felt broody. "Yeah, I'm on call tomorrow," she said, lamenting both the inconvenience of her crazy work schedule and the fact that the evening was coming to an end. She hadn't expected to like this guy at all. It was more than unsettling; her mind was totally blown. Flooded by images of 
Goofus and Gallant, she couldn't help but compare California Boy's inept closet narcissism with Kickboxer Guy's quiet humility. Privately, she wished she weren't going out of town next week. Just a few moments before, they'd shared their most intimate secrets, and now, they were back to being strangers. Decidedly vague about details such as where they'd parked their cars and whether their immediate futures favored a second meeting, they clumsily shook hands and parted ways, each of them nagged by the feeling of something that was left unsaid. 

Part I: Fail-Safe
Part II: Detour   
Part IV: From Cupcake Epiphany to The Future Now     


Sunday, March 3, 2013


Part II of Fail-Safe

As usual, she was running late. Time wasn't of the essence to her; it was more of a buzz-kill, a hindrance to spontaneity. Maybe I should cancel. Deliberately unhurried, she checked to make sure there was nothing stuck between her teeth, erasing the post-workout shine from her face with a swipe of translucent powder once she'd secured her twisted-up ponytail with a plastic tortoise-patterned clip. Yeah, she was going there. Nothing says "I'm not interested in making an impression" on a first date quite like showing up in a banana clip, an old T-shirt, and worn out jeans. 

 Hippie freakness notwithstanding, California Boy was into appearances, although he desperately pretended not to be. Flicking off the bathroom light, she recalled one of her visits to L.A. where he'd insisted upon picking out all her clothes before a Sparklehorse concert at the Fonda Theater. She'd mistaken this ploy, designed to ensure their swift passage beyond the fashion-police door guards of the trendy new Hollywood dance club he intended to hit after the show, for a gesture of affection. Another ostentatious detour. 

The concert let out around 11:30 pm, and she was ready to call it a night. Sleep deprivation, at least the kind acquired from an exhausting divorce and one too many interminable nights of operating room call, didn't magically resolve itself with a few measly days of vacation. A club? Now? In the middle of the night? You've gotta be kidding me! Bed was calling, but instead she found herself waved inside the thumping, grinding bowels of a seizure-inducing dubstep inferno, adrift in ambient hipsters, watered-down chocolate martinis, and simmering neglect.

Hmm...could these mini-sombreros double as OR scrub hats?
Her girlfriend, Julie, with whom she'd survived anesthesia residency, hadn't met him in person yet. She'd be flying into San Francisco from Iowa for the convention next week. Despite a detailed, and perhaps even TMI awareness of their unconventional liaison, Julie remained supportive. Divorced, financially independent, and as intelligent as she was attractive, she was one woman who never hesitated to cut her losses early. She didn't cry over spilled milk (or anything else that remotely resembled it). Julie knew about Kickboxer Guy, too, and clandestinely, her money was on him. "He's hot!" she'd remarked upon seeing his profile pic. "What's not to love about a handsome, athletic, corn-fed boy from Michigan?"

Allen, in one of his "I'm not amused" moments.
On the other hand, Allen, her faculty office mate and partner in crime, had already met California Boy at a cookout she'd hosted that summer. He was less than thrilled. "Sweetheart, he's taking advantage of you," Allen's refined Charleston drawl warned lovingly as her pulled her away from the grill. "He treats you like crap. I've never met anyone so self-centered. You deserve better!" Allen was probably her biggest fan. He'd encouraged her to start dating again after her separation, helping her tweak her online profile. "No, no, no, honey! Your body type isn't 'about average'-click click click--it's 'fit and trim.' Average means you're five to ten pounds overweight! What are we gonna do with you? By the way, we're going shopping this afternoon for some clothes that actually complement your frame. Say bye-bye to those baggy cargo pants and ill-fitting tops!" He was arriving at the conference early, where she'd be meeting his lawyer boyfriend, Bryan, for the first time. She and B, as Bryan was affectionately known, had been corresponding by e-mail, and he'd already won her over. She couldn't wait to meet him in the flesh. Oddly enough, Allen was later revealed to be an occult conspirator in Julie's Kickboxer Guy cheerleading effort. 

Should I stay or should I go?
Procrastinating only detours time as long as there's time to spare. It was well past dark-thirty, and Kickboxer Guy was probably waiting at the coffee shop. It's now or never. Sliding into her Birkenstocks, she collected her purse and armed the burglar alarm, driving off into the touch and go of that perilous First Encounter wilderness, making sure to park her car as far away from their meeting place as possible in case things went south. She spotted him immediately, sitting at a table outside, coffee in hand. Casually cautious, she approached the patio, at once captivated and perplexed by his easy smile. Was it trepidation...or relief?

Part I: Fail-Safe
Part III: Marvelously Fresh, Decidedly Vague Part IV: From Cupcake Epiphany to The Future Now