A number of years ago I was in a pretty ugly car accident. It was almost midnight, I was on my way home, and some criminal was leading a high speed chase of at least 30 police vehicles from three different departments (two separate cities and the highway patrol). He ran a red light in a residential area going about 60 miles per hour and slammed into my car, T-bone style. I spun through the intersection, he kept going, cops in pursuit. I found out later that he had stopped a few blocks down the street and tried to escape on foot, only to be caught by an enormous German Shepherd, the crook was taken to the hospital to treat his dog bites, and then to jail, where he languished for weeks. The dog was given a police treat and loaded back into the K9 truck to catch the next criminal. The news reports said the driver was evading police, who were only trying to pull him over for a headlight violation. Uh, that’s not true. The only thing I really remember pre-impact was two headlights coming right at me. But, whatever, I guess it’s good that a) he was caught and b) he miraculously had insurance, not that I knew that for another 6 weeks (because, who calls their insurance agent from  jail), but whatever.

Anyway, as you can imagine, there was quite a bit of damage done to my car (totaled! RIP Daisy, the adorable yellow VW bug!), and to myself. I had pretty severe whiplash, bulging discs in my neck, I felt like my spine was compressing into my chest cavity, my pelvis—which is supposed to be a nice, even, triangle shape—got twisted almost off the base of my spine (yes, really), and my ribs were so far out of place they were literally cutting off circulation down my left arm, which was slowly going numb while I waited for an appointment with a spine specialist.

The day of that accident I was in the best physical shape of my life, I had run 12 miles without stopping, my last long run prior to a half marathon I was signed up for a few weeks later. After the accident, I could hardly walk, and anything more than a block left me in a sobbing heap. I couldn’t sit, sleep, or stand without incredible pain. I spent months packed in ice and going to two (or three) different doctor’s appointments a day, I was in and out of neck traction, trying to prevent my neck from corkscrewing itself into my chest. I lost my job, learned what a jerk my boyfriend was, and–for the first time–about my Dad’s incredible bedside manner.

Fast forward 8 years. I can run again, but haven’t quite made it back to that 12 mile mark. My neck bothers me fairly regularly, but it’s usually something a trip to the physical therapist or chiropractor can fix. I sleep with an orthopedic pillow and often with a wedge under my knees to keep my spine in alignment. My pelvis is…well, it’s a process. Make a “gun” shape with your thumb and pointer finger on both hands, now put your thumbs together and your pointers together, the latter pointing to the floor, palms towards you. See that nice, even triangle? That’s what your pelvis is supposed to look like. Now, take your left hand and rotate it 90 degrees, palm parallel to the floor. That’s what happened to my pelvis. Your pelvis is a joint—granted, one that isn’t supposed to move all that often—in women it is supposed to unhinge a bit for birthing babies. So, I didn’t shatter my pelvis, I just hyper-extended it in a major way. And sometimes, despite YEARS of physical therapy, it slips out of place and needs to be popped back into place. Yes, it’s as painful as it sounds.

That experience aside, post-accident my biggest problems come from my ribs. Ribs are also joints, but again, not ones that are supposed to move very much, just enough to allow you to take a deep breath without anything breaking. During my collision-induced spin I managed to yank my emergency break hard enough to stop myself before I slammed into any other vehicles. But, the combination of the spinning car, spinning body, seat-belt restraint, and sudden, violent stop popped my ribs out (8 of them) and tore and stretched the muscles in my back in unnatural ways. My muscles were no longer strong enough or tight enough to hold my ribs in place, and again, despite years of therapy, my ribs do not stay put. I have anywhere from 3-6 ribs put back in place every time I visit the physical therapist. The ones that are particularly horrible are the ones that are underneath my shoulder blades, they pop out towards my shoulder (not in towards my lungs), so every time I move my arms there is what feels like bone grating against bone. Washing my hair is out of the question, simple tasks like doing the dishes or vacuuming bring me to tears, breathing hurts. I can usually find one position, carefully padded and supported by pillows, that will not hurt, and it is not unheard of for me to spend two full days laying there, not even picking up the remote to advance Netflix to the next episode, I just wait for it to advance itself.

Last Thursday my ribs and back were so out of whack I could not brush my teeth, or comb my hair, or sit up by myself. It was excruciating, perhaps the worst episode I’ve ever experienced, and it pisses me off that the reason they popped out was because I rolled over and slept on my side for a few hours one night. That’s it. Seriously. And, my ribs popped out like comically too-tight shirt buttons after Thanksgiving; my pain was at an 8 of a 10 point scale. And, of course, my physical therapist is 700 miles away at the University of Utah. Of course.  I have a couple of foam rollers that I’ve learned how to use to help nudge my ribs back in place. I tried, I really did. But I couldn’t even get myself in position on the roller without sobbing. I was a complete wreck. Luckily, thanks to a recommendation by Kayla, I got into see a chiropractor who managed to force a few of the worst ribs back to where they were supposed to go. I still have a few out, but I can function like a normal human (showering, brushing my own teeth, etc). I have a follow up appointment tomorrow where I hope he can get these last ones back in place.

You want to know the suckiest part about chronic pain? The chronic part. At least for me, there is no real permanent solution. Short of slicing open my back and fusing every single rib to my spine, there is no way to keep them in place (and, uh, that sounds horrifying in and of itself). This is something I will deal with for the rest of my life. A few weeks of general discomfort followed by a couple of days of horrifying, excruciating pain. Rinse and repeat.

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An adult-sized A+. With sunscreen.

For over a decade I have dutifully gone to the dermatologist at least once a year; I track my moles, their shape and coloring; I carefully note if any new ones show up, even the tiny ones; I wear sunscreen like it’s my damn job. My latest check-up earned me a solid A+, which I’ll admit, made me more than a little proud of myself. My doc was most impressed and legitimately surprised that the top part of my forearm and the underside are the exact same hue, which has a lot less to do with winter than it has to do with my always wearing sunscreen or long sleeves. He was shocked that there was not a single tan line on my back or shoulders, not from last summer, or the one before that, or the one before that. It’s not that my skin can’t take a tan, it’s that I go to extreme lengths to keep it from changing color in any way. In fact, in 15 years I think I’ve only had two or three sunburns, and only one of those was so intense it blistered. I just…I’m really really careful. Always.

Here’s the thing, for me, an A+ is not really an “excellent! superb! you’re a dermatological overachiever!” kind of mark; for me it is essential. Almost 30 years ago the major medical research university here did an enormous study on melanoma and whether or not there was some kind of inherited genetic propensity for the disease. The long and short of it (but really, only the short) is that yes, there is a genetic marker for melanoma and it runs in both my maternal and paternal lines and me and my four siblings all have that marker encoded into our DNA. My oldest brother had an enormous hunk of his back cut out at age 13 because it was teeming with cancerous melanoma, my other brother has had basal cell cut off his face, I’ve had bits of both melanoma and basal cell cut out from head to toe, I have lost track of how many aunts, uncles, and cousins (first cousins, not thrice removed, we’re talking close relationships here) have had the same procedures, two have died from melanoma and one is currently in treatment. So, skin cancer. It’s a big effing deal to me.

So. I have super pale skin*, which is what I naturally came with, but I make sure to keep it that way. I don’t wear shorts, I don’t wear tank tops, I rarely wear a bathing suit and I slather on sunscreen and then a few hours later I do it again. If at all possible, I will be in the shade instead of in the sun.

*Seriously, it’s hard to write about this without coming across as some kind of white supremacist; I am just trying to say that my heaven-sent stock color is 80% albino, and here I am at age 32 and that is still, more or less, the case. And for me, that beached whale-parchment-milk colored-sometimes even a little blueish-white skin is a really, really good thing. If your stock color is pinkish, or yellowish, or tan, or brownish, or blackish, or green or orange or blue orpinkortealorWHATEVERCOLORISFINE!! NO SKIN COLOR IS BETTER OR SUPERIOR THAN ANY OTHER SKIN COLOR!!!


What I was thinking would be a quick, possibly pithy commentary on how pasty and alfredo-like my arms and legs look and how for ONCE I got a gold star for it instead of mockery from the Popular Set has quickly divulged into a freaking mine field of political correctness, attempts not to offend, and generally trying to come across as a good human. My point is that overall the healthiest epidermis is the one that has the least amount of damage, and sun is the primary source of damage of skin cells, so the closer your adult skin is to the relatively less damaged skin of your childhood, the better. The fewer traces of sun discoloration, the better. So, as the summer sun warms everything up (at least for those of us in the Northern Hemisphere), remember to protect your skin cells, mmmkay? Your 50-year old future face will thank you for your efforts, I pinky swear*.

*Pinky is a digit on your hand, not some kind of color judgement. For the love, I quit.

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Ovaries, Menses, and Morphine

Warning, I’m about to get all up in my own lady part business. If you get queasy reading about ovaries or uteruses (uteri?) or blood or pain, you should probably move along today to something else.

Ah, I know, here is a video about a baby elephant playing tag with a dog. Try watching that instead.

For those of you who are still with me, hi, welcome to my lady parts.

Sunday night I had another ovarian cyst rupture. Luckily, I was already at Urgent Care when that happened. I started blacking out from pain; the nurse gave me a shot of morphine and then did an ultrasound to confirm what I already knew: ruptured cyst. Now, I’ve dealt with my fair share of pain over the years—ribs popping out of my spine a half-dozen at a time, multiple times per week; I’ve had ribs so far away from my rib cage that they were cutting off blood circulation in the arteries that run under my collar bone and down my arm. My pelvis was cranked almost 90 degrees from where it should be and my neck and spine at one point were collapsing into my chest cavity. I’ve taken an airbag to the face, had a concussion so severe my brain was actually bleeding into my cranial cavity and pooling under my eye sockets (hello, killer black eyes!). THAT ALL BEING SAID, rupturing cysts are the only thing so far that have sent me in to shock, that have made me throw up from pain and black out just to escape my own body.

This is probably my 7th or 8th ruptured cyst in the last 10 years and it just doesn’t ever get easier. Apparently, about 30 percent of women have cysts on their ovaries, for many women those cysts can be shrunk by taking birth control. Unfortunately, the 3 or 4 types of birth control I’ve tried give me terrible 6 week long periods, soaking through super-absorbent tampons in an hour and losing fist-sized blood clots, then a blissful 1-2 week break followed by another 6 week long period. Seeing my own blood in the toilet almost always gives me a little panic attack, I’m sure this is leftover from the sexual abuse I suffered as an early twenty-something (and resulting non-menstrual blood that filled the toilet), but I have to give myself a little pep talk before I can put in a tampon or stand up so I don’t start hyperventilating. I can’t function having to do that for six weeks at a time my whole life; it’s just not worth it. Once upon a time there were surgical options to have those cysts scraped out, it’s super invasive and very painful, and the problem is that within a few months or a few years the cysts grow back. Big Insurance isn’t really keen on paying for multiple, ineffective surgeries; and most women aren’t all that thrilled with the idea of multiple very invasive surgeries without any real chance of fixing the problem. I have toyed with the idea of an IUD, but apparently my lady parts are super tiny and my doctor is legit concerned that I’m not big enough to get the damn thing in. Yes, IUDs are small, thumb sized, really, but the duck-bill clamp-thingies they have to use to open you up enough to embed it in your uterine wall are…not so small. They are terrifying, actually; for me the duck-bill clamps are far worse than a pap smear or anything else that happens at the OB/GYN’s office. Dah, it makes me hurt just thinking about them.

So. Where does this leave me? I have periods on a somewhat normal schedule, no birth control, bad cramps most of the time, and every 6-18 months I have a cyst rupture, get a shot of morphine take a day off work, and get back to my life. Is it ideal? No, it’s not. But it’s so much better than bleeding for 75% of my life.

Also, can we talk about morphine for a minute? I’ve never tried hard drugs, not even pot, and I’ve never really wanted to. But, oooohmygoodness, if that stuff makes you feel HALF the kind of relaxed happy that morphine does I can absolutely see how people can get addicted. Frankly, I am pretty sure I would get addicted after trying it once. Morphine makes all the hurt go away, and I can feel it coursing through my vein, warming up my arm and shoulder, and when it hits my heart there is this immediate flood of calm and happy that shoots through my whole body. Lawsy, it’s a good thing that I only receive morphine a) under extreme pain and b) administered by a medical professional. If I could get that stuff in a sippy cup I’d be sucking that thing constantly. Sooooo good!

(Yes, part of my love of morphine probably stems from the indescribable pain it immediately takes away. But the other part is the perfectly calm, happy feeling that is so very rare for me to experience. Also, probably exacerbated by the horrible, nauseating, will-I-live-through-this-feeling terror that happens immediately before a morphine shot. See: ruptured cyst.)

On Monday morning, while I was carefully tucked in to bed with a new book, I posted on Facebook about my experience, and the more I think about it the more I would love to see some kind of study. I wonder how men would react to the lovely side effects of having a period. What would happen if all of a sudden their penis started shooting blood for 5-7 days, combined with a penile Charlie horse (cramps)? And what if every doctor and website calmly assured them that this was normal, and even that it was a “beautiful and important part of manhood and fatherhood.” (Ha! Snort.) And what if a few weeks later it happened again, and then again, and again? For thirty-plus years. How would they—the general male populous—handle it? And what if every so often a balloon of blood and goo exploded inside their testicles? No reason, no warning, no cure, just BAM!–paintball to the testes. Do you think Research and Development labs would try a little harder to figure out a better solution? Do you think insurance companies would be more willing to invest in a procedure that eliminated this kind of thing? Do you think pharmacists would be able to distribute morphine to sufferers? (Ok, that last one might be a bit of a stretch…but still, would they?) It is a pretty solid assumption that the heads of medical research labs, insurance agencies, and Big Pharma are mostly men, and if they had this kind of debilitating horror to deal with every month you can bet your ass they would try and find some way to reduce their pain and suffering.

Reason #20,304 why more women should pursue STEM-related fields, why they should seek advanced degrees and pioneer research projects. Go to college, ladies, and stay there until you have that degree!

And in the meantime, I’ll be here with my sippy cup.

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Anchors and Metaphors, Oh My

anchor [ang-ker]
1. any of various devices dropped by a chain, cable, or rope to the bottom of a body of water for preventing or restricting the motion of a vessel or other floating object.
2. any similar device for holding fast or checking motion: an anchor of stones.
3. any of various devices, as a metal tie, for binding one part of a structure to another.
4. a person or thing that can be relied on for support, stability, or security.

What is an anchor? It is a device–typically with hook-like arms that bury themselves in a secure surface to provide a firm hold–that can hold an enormous amount of weight in place, it will stop unauthorized drifting, but still give a little leeway for small movement. An anchor and anchor line are essential to the safety and integrity of a much larger mass. Both are sunk deep into water, debris, earth, and/or ice, and are completely hidden from view at the surface while holding the vessel steady against storms, currents, external forces and other potential instability. In fact, in many ways an anchor is often forgotten until it starts to slip and the once safe and secure cargo starts to lurch and sway.

Let’s talk about the life of an anchor for a minute (yes, this is a metaphor). Anchors have enormous hooks and barbs to secure their load, they often get hurled onto and then dragged across treacherous surfaces while trying to find a point of stability. An anchor carries countless scars, is covered in grime or barnacles, and spends its existence clawing for security in order to exert all its integrity and leverage in order to keep the load steady. An anchor spends every important and worthwhile moment of its life submerged.

Sometimes we are the cargo ship.
Sometimes we are the anchor.

Right now, and for the last several months years, I have been cast in the role of anchor…and I’m tired. I’ve clawed at everything within reach to try to stay steady, I’ve scraped and scrambled to eliminate or redistribute weight, I’ve grimaced during the storms, hoping I can force them to cease and desist by sheer willpower (not possible). I’ve held on with my teeth, when necessary, exerted strength and determination I didn’t know I had, and, in a lot of ways, I’ve had success. But, I’ve also been slowly drowning.

I’ve been sinking for a long time, bumping along a rocky field trying to find something to latch on to, and several weeks ago I hit my lowest point. A few days later I had a massive panic attack in my doctor’s office and my medication that had been an “as needed” fix became a wonderful, wonderful daily lifeline.* I took a few days off work and tried to let go of anything that was dragging me down. I tried to float. I cannot be the anchor anymore, I need to be the ship, one with multiple anchors and lifelines.

Is this scary? Hell yes.

Hell. Yes.

Do I feel like an anchor-failure? In most some ways, yes.

Will I give up completely on being a force of security and stability? No. But I need to make some serious changes if I have any shot of coming out on the other side. And, for right now, that is as much as I can process. I need to be the ship, and I need to (re)identify my anchors.


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*Re: medications. Dude! I had NO IDEA people could sleep for more than 90 minutes at a time! I had no idea they could breathe without having to consciously think about it! I had no clue that nausea and panic were not a normal person’s regular bedfellows…and work-fellows…and gym-fellows…and lunchtime-fellows…and Tuesday-fellows (and marshmallows?). I really wish I had known all of this much, much earlier! Better Living Through Chemistry, man. That should be tattooed on my (out-of-whack) chromosomes.