Tuesday, December 22, 2015


A little sigh of relief.

Today was the first day of my winter break.  I was out from 11am to 6pm, so it wasn't a lazing-around-the-house kind of day, but it was still a good one.

Last week did me in.  I had developed a cold the week before, and that just didn't help.  It wasn't bad at first, but by the middle of last week, my voice was shot, and it  still isn't right.

Most of that is on me.  I was supposed to finish up my paper over the weekend  and it just didn't happen.  Too much Christmas, family, school stuff happening.  Too much feeling overwhelmed by all of it this year.  Too much feeling this huge emptiness where Mom should be.

Which is not to say things didn't get done.  For example, I found and printed the photos to put into the photo frame ornaments I bought for my siblings.  I did some Christmas shopping.  And food shopping.  And laundry.  And cooking...  I really should not go to the farmer's market if I am not on vacation.

Things got done but not the paper, which was due on Wednesday.  I stayed up incredibly late several nights running getitng it together.  It was supposed to be only 15 pages with at least 10 references but it just got out of hand. (22 pages [not counting the title page and abstract, mind you], 4 pages of references) I should explain, this is not just "a paper," it's the literature review for my non-thesis project.  Having never done a literature review before, I was cheerfully naive about what they entailed before taking this last course.  The entire purpose of said course was to teach how to read and write a literature review, and then to help us write them for our theses or non-thesis projects.  My non-thesis project is kind of a monster, and so the lit review is, too.

Anyway, on Tuesday I realized it wasn't going to be done on Wednesday and begged for an extension, which of course my professor gave me.  I finished it about 1AM Thursday night (early Friday morning) or maybe even later.   Of course I still had to work every day.  I think Monday-Thursday I got about 12 hours of sleep total.  It was not good, and it made me even sicker.

But, I wrote an awesome paper which my professor called "excellent" and she said that I am very close to being done with it, which is pretty huge.  She's totally amazing because she graded it by Saturday, which was about a 24-hour turn-around.   Plus I have an A for the class which is affirming.  I worked very hard over an incredibly difficult period but managed to stay on top of everything.  (This sounds stupid but I'm writing it anyway --) I think my Mom would be proud of me for going on with it, even though I could've dropped when things went sideways early in the fall.

So, school's out until January, grad class is over, kids are done with recitals and piano for 2 weeks.  Christmas shopping is done (unless I decide to get that one last thing for the boys), and some of it is even wrapped.  The fridge is stuffed with food and I don't have to go out again if I don't want to...

Except tomorrow morning, when we're seeing Star Wars: TFA at the odd hour of 10AM.  I'm spoiler-free and looking forward to it.  I'm working on resting and recovering.

Right, back to today's massive outing; a good part of that was an appointment with Dr. O, whom I have not seen in quite a while.  First off, the cold has morphed into a disgusting infection (confirmed when he scoped me), so I'm on anitbiotics plus Mucinex to keep the mucus thin and draining.  (That should help my voice.)  I went chiefly about my right ear tinnitus and the weird pain I get from under my jaw line where those glands are swollen.  I thought they felt weird and so did he, so he's sending me for an ultrasound and possible FNA if it's something suspicious.  He thinks the tinnitus is a vascular side effect of the nodes, which makes sense to me.  Oh, and he confirmed that the lumpy-throat feeling is because of my reflux, it's got my esophagus irritated again. I suppose I should not be eating sriracha potato chips if I'm having reflux.  I'll do as best I can to get the reflux settled but over the holidays it's really hard to stick to a good diet.  Lately I've been living chiefly on Starbucks soy milk peppermint mochas and various Christmas candy given to me by my students.

Astoundingly generous, they were, this year.  Of course I still have nearly 200, so that partly explains the huge haul of stuff I got.

After Star Wars, perhaps I will grade some of those (many, many) papers?  I tell myself I'll have hours in the car to & from California (Disneyland!) that can be used for that, but I don't want to have it hanging over my head.  All the cards and presents have been sent, all the shopping is done, now I can just sit home, relax, and get some grading done... after DD and I finish watching Avatar: The Last Airbender.  We only have a half-dozen or so episodes to go, and we are thoroughly enjoying the fantastic characters, beautiful art direction, and occasional silliness, but best of all, the most coherent magical world-building of any story we (collectively) know.  Tolkien's magic is impenetrable, Harry Potter's is secret (which, as much as I love it all,  is stupid), and everyone else's is just ... weak, or perhaps opaque or just too incompletely revealed to be as engaging.  At least, that's what we decided in our conversation this evening!

Tuesday, December 08, 2015

odd day

It seems I only pop in to write when I'm at my wit's end, these days, these months.  Too much to do and not enough time to do it in.

All that is still true.  On the plus side of things: DD's Shakespeare performance was terrific, and both kids played well in their holiday recital last weekend.  My professor liked the first half of my paper very much, so that means I only have about 8 pages or so to write, and I have another whole week to do that, along with putting together my presentation.  The new Christmas tree is so different from the old one that it still surprises me, but it is really beautiful, and DD Christmas'd up the whole house again, which is just lovely.

On the working-on-it side of things, DS2's inadequate school skills and general dodginess landed him in trouble for the last time, so now his computer's downstairs in the family room and I grill him about everything coming due and stay on him about doing it.  I managed to avoid having the same failed expectations conversation for twenty-first time by simply deciding not to have it.  I gave him a 2-week shot at managing his own affairs, and he didn't.  Whether he can't or just won't is immaterial. If he wants to stay at his current school, he has to do the work.  There is no point in keeping him there if he's not even going to try. He doesn't want to switch schools, though.  He admitted his own school "could be good if only...' if only what? "...if I tried."  We'll see.

Today's personal drama started yesterday after school, when I got drafted to attend a meeting.  Then this morning I had to report the directives from that meeting to my peers.  All of that's OK except our admin hasn't been her usual positive self lately, and after being harangued not to be "lazy," (we all were group-chastised)  I knew I had to tread carefully.  And I thought I did!  But I didn't, and there's no point recounting the dialog, because that's not the point.

Here's what happened: with about 30 minutes left in my prep hour, I realized I needed literally 2 pages of one version of my midterm exam because there was a problem with the copies.  So I went up to the office and made my two copies, and then got called into the admin's office.  I really did not want to talk to her because I was confused by the discussion at the morning meeting and still thinking about everything and trying to figure out what exactly we are supposed to be doing now and how that works with our mission, which we generally adhere to pretty well.  So I tried to say, could we do this later?  But I was told no, and then things got very weird.

There was the back-and-forth about the meeting stuff, and I just flat out disagree with her judgment -  I did not see the point of raising a junior high specific question in a meeting that had already run over an hour, when I was literally the only person at the table who was interested in the answer.  We kept talking past each other, but it got to the point where I expressed how overwhelmed I am following the death of my mother.  Of course, tears at this point, not sobbing, just leaking eyes and not wanting to talk anymore, but having, of course, to talk more.  I say, quite clearly that nearly 200 students is overwhelming, and that's when it got bizarre.  My admin said, If you want 30 students in a class, find another school.

It's still echoing around in my head now, more than 13 hours later.

Well.  At the time, I was shocked but I stood up and said, "I will," and turned to go.  She called me back and wouldn't let me go, and told me what a great teacher I am, blah blah blah.

All of this was just so upsetting.  She kept me 10 minutes past the bell -- my students were waiting out in the hall because I had locked my door before I left my room -- my midterm exams were all laid out, getting ready for tomorrow, and I didn't want anyone walking in and finding them.

I'm finally released from this trying encounter and of course still very upset, when I'm told to have a great day, and I respond with, "Oh...."  I had just been crying and talking about how overwhelmed I feel, and now I have to go back to my students and I'm told I will have a great day and I have to choose my attitude blah blah blah.

I am a professional.  I got my shit together on the walk back to my classroom and not one student had any idea I had just been crying in the principal's office and basically told to find another job. And I got through the rest of the day, too, somehow.   My co-workers are as flummoxed about this morning's meeting as I was, and of course wanted to know where I was when I was so late for third period class.

What a mess! I don't think it's a good idea to make a decision when you're under a lot of stress, and I am under a tremendous amount of stress right now.  But I think applying at another school or two isn't the worst idea in the world.  I don't know if my feelings will change but for some time I have been thinking that teaching 190-something students is too many, even if I'm not in grad school.  I don't want to teach that many students, and if I have to go to another school to achieve that, that's what I'm going to have to do.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

it's all too much

The first batch of my students' science fair papers, the research part, came in last Friday.  The dozen or so I've looked at so far are wretched, and I don't want to read any more, but there's nothing to be done for it.  I just need to get over my resentment and do it.  This year, however, I have resolved: no comments, just a  score.  They had an opportunity to get comments from me earlier in the year, so it's too late now.  Besides, the vast majority just don't care.

I'm so burned out. I always seem to have at least one commitment too many.  I dropped teaching RE and thought that would free me up enough, but no.  This year I'm only taking one grad class, but I'm also implementing my portfolio project, so it's more like one-and-a-half.  Then of course is the kicker: I'm teaching 197 students.  When I saw the enrollment numbers at the beginning of the year, I thought, "It will drop off."  But it didn't.  The district is giving us a "class size stipend" and it's not small, but at this point, I don't want the money.  I want the time!

If science fair were part of the regular curriculum it would be OK, I wouldn't mind grading the nearly 200 papers.  But it's in addition to the regular curriculum, and that's what's killing me.

Of course I'm still reeling from Mom's death, expected as it was.  Every day there's something that brings back the idea that she's gone.  I suppose it will get easier but it's still hard right now. I just feel like I haven't had any time to process, and God only knows when I'll get it.

Last weekend we went up to the DBG to see the Bruce Munroe exhibit, Sonoran Light.  It was spectacular, and a lovely break.  How I wish I could do that kind of thing more often!

Last but not least:

I just realized it has been 10 years since my last treatment.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015


I'm so thankful for this holiday.

I was so far behind in my grad school work that I despaired of ever catching up.   I started clearing the deck over the weekend when I put together my reference list, but it wasn't until last night when I hammered out my updates to my annotated bibliography that I finally felt "unstuck."

Sometimes, there's work to be done, but for whatever reason, I get hung up and can't do it.  This past month and a half, there have been a lot of reasons, some to do with my brain just giving up, some with the kids needing my time, some to do with absolutely necessary teaching work coming first.  I did despair from time to time that I wouldn't come unstuck in time to actually do the work, and then what?

But today, with the luxury of a day off, I completed two smaller assignments and one rather substantial one, a big chunk of my final paper.

It helped that I was able to work in pieces.  I brought my laptop with me to the kids' orthodontist appointment, and I even worked while we waited for our table for brunch at Snooze.  Then when we got home I put the beef stew on... and got back to work.

It really helped the writing that I had printed my articles and highlighted my quotes.  The thing that surprised me was how a narrative suggested itself more or less organically from the articles themselves.  I really like it, it felt easy to write. It makes sense to me, there's a progression to it.  I hope my professor agrees!

I have no expectations as to when she'll be able to grade all of these assignments of mine.  When you turn in stuff late, you're at the mercy of the instructor, so she'll get to it when she gets to it.  I can be patient.

In spite of having that weight lifted, I'm still struggling with my acid reflux, which I suspect is caused by a return of the mild gastroparesis I had several years ago.  I did a blog crawl and found my old posts and was surprised to read that treating my cervical radiculitis cleared it up -- specifically when I was taking a therapeutic dose of ibuprofen, but also doing my neck physical therapy.  I think it is not a coincidence that my stomach started acting up after about two weeks (maybe three) of slacking on my exercises, as in, not doing them at all.  My exercise set is not very long but it's enough to keep me limber, so I'm back to trying to be consistent with that.  And I'm back to doing my neck exercises at least twice a day, in case there's nerve impingement that's causing the problem.

We'll see how it goes.  I'll continue eating smaller meals and abstaining from alcohol until I'm back to 100%.  I hope I can fix this myself.

Tuesday, November 03, 2015

up, down, up, down

More like a seesaw than a roller coaster, and for that, I'm grateful.

I'm still mostly better, except when I'm not, and it's difficult because I can't really tell when I'm going to be not-better.  Tiny things hit way harder than they should because I have no emotional resilience at all.

For example, I was inordinately happy to see that peppermint mochas are back at Starbucks, and had one today.  And I was really happy today through my first five periods even though 4th period was so rowdy I sent them out in the hall to settle themselves down before lecture.  (It worked.)  Mostly, things are working.  Then 6th period were their typical selves, and 7th period was herding squirrels, and in that space of about an hour and a half, I just felt myself sinking lower and lower.

Now I'm up late pulling together material for my lit review (it's supposed to be micro-sized but I've pulled like 7 articles so I don't know if that's going to be possible) for the first part of my final paper. I've got a narrative constructing itself in the back of my head, I just hope I have time to write it and make DD's birthday pie tomorrow.

I've thought about crying a few times today.  I'm sad because I wanted DS1 to stay for dinner last night but it was too late and DH took him back to his campus even though I specifically asked him to stay.  He was so mean about it! He agreed to stay but with such venom that I told him to go, there was no point in him staying if he was going to be angry.  I don't know what call he had to be so mean to me, and it was still stinging this morning.  Then this evening DH inexplicably made a phone call in the middle of a conversation -- I was mid-sentence as he began to dial, with nary a "Just a sec, I have to make this call," excuse.  I just felt like nothing.  

I told him he was rude and he apologized and gave me a hug.  He hadn't realized it had even happened, which tells me he wasn't even listening to what I was saying.  He admitted to being thoughtless, but that's not really helpful.  "Yes, I know you're talking so I'll just tune you out and do whatever..." I'm sure it happens all the time, just this time he forgot and made the phone call while he was ignoring me.

See, this is what I mean about emotional resilience.  I'm more or less looking for trouble and finding fault but these were two legit examples of me being trampled, and it hurts.

Up too late, exhausted tomorrow: not a good combination when you're as emotional as I am right now.  Ah, well -- onward.  It's not as if I have a choice.

Monday, October 26, 2015

mostly better, except...

There's always that "except", right?  Acid reflux is killing me and I'm not sure why.  I'm just trying to manage it with diet and D-limonene and wait it out.  I hate having that lump-in-the-throat feeling, but I know exactly what it is, and I have to be very careful what I eat until I'm over it.  On the plus side, I'm down to only one, maybe two hot flashes a day, a substantial improvement over (what felt like) near-continuous flashes over the past few months.  It was so odd to go from being one of those always-cold people to an always-hot person.  It helped when I was in Massachusetts but made life more miserable here in AZ.

Emotionally, I'm beginning to feel the weight of these past four months starting to lift.  I feel a bit guilty about feeling better, but I'm also too relieved to waste any energy on guilt.  Mom suffered so, it is good that she isn't in pain any more.  I feel OK most of the time, until suddenly I don't.  Yesterday in church I just completely lost it at one point.  I had no tissues so I had to wipe my eyes with my scarf.  It only lasted a few minutes, and a particular hymn triggered it (and probably always will).  I felt surprisingly all right afterwards, too.  It was like a little thunderstorm blew through and left me refreshed in its wake. I didn't realize how much I was holding in, because I just feel... normal, really.

Last week was a crazy week at school because I did the mineral identification lab with my 7th graders.  There are ~125 of them spread over 4 classes.  These are the largest classes I've attempted this with.  Most students did well on the identification, but a significant chunk (once again) resisted thinking and bailed on answering the three "Explain" questions I asked.  Sadly for them, that will have a significant impact on their lab grades.

It was also crazy because we've officially kicked off the science fair.  The more I learn the more opposed to this process I am, but here I go again.  I'm hoping that my master's project will make things go more smoothly, and overall, the proposals are 1) in -- the vast majority of students completed one and 2) relatively OK, which saves time on the grading.

I'm taking more family time, too.  First quarter grades came in and DS2 did OK but nowhere near to the level of his ability (or so we think, it's impossible to tell sometimes).   That led to several hours-long conversations about what he wants and what he feels and how he is going to manage going forward.  I want to let him do things on his own but at this point I don't think he knows how to organize, or plan, or execute a plan, at least not very well. There were bright spots but overall it's the same story of not living up to his potential.  Sadly, too, he professed frustration with all the "stupid people" he's surrounded by, so I had to set him straight on that one: every person is of the same value and deserving of respect. Every.One. 

Yesterday I went to the farmer's market before I did the grocery shopping.  I really shouldn't.  I shouldn't shop on Saturday mornings when it's gorgeous out and everything looks amazing because then I end up cooking all weekend and now I haven't put in any of my grades (they'll make it in, eventually.)  I roasted approximately 3,042 vegetables to make one medium-sized container of ratatouille.  I made up an entire box of TJ's pumpkin pancakes (spectacular, and gluten free!), and I still have to put away the chili that has been simmering since dinner (burgers & hot dogs on the grill - the rest of the package of ground beef went into the chili.)  See, I don't know where I'm going to put it because the fridge is packed right now.

Not a bad problem to have, I know.

Ah well.  Grades will have to wait until tomorrow, or whenever.   At least most of the stuff is actually graded already, it's just a matter of putting them into the gradebook.

Monday, October 19, 2015

slightly less sad, still tired

I am so exhausted when I get home every afternoon I almost always take an inadvertent (unintentional) nap before dinner.  Consequently, I'm able to be up past 11PM when I should be in bed.

Part of that exhaustion is just having too many emotions to deal with at one time, and part of it is having so much work to do.  I'm mid-way through my minerals unit with the 7th graders, and we're doing hands-on stuff every day.  They love it, but I have to be very organized, and this year, I'm just not.  We're managing anyway.  I have scaled the 8th grader's diffusion studies way back this year.  We did a little lab observing what happens to carrots over night, but I'm skipping the shelled egg osmosis demo.  I just don't want to deal with the hassles.

I don't even want to talk about my grad school work -- I'm about 2 weeks behind there.  I hope to get caught up in November when we have a couple of weeks off.  I think that should be possible.

Physically I feel OK except by this time I'm feeling like a truck hit me; I'm not moving around enough.  My eye is still giving me a lot of trouble, even with more regular use of better eye drops.  I do hope it gets better.  And most recently I think my reflux is back, I'm having trouble swallowing and my throat hurts.  I think I have to give up my strained yogurt along with coffee to really straighten things out.

One more week to hear about my tumor marker.   I would really like this testing cycle to be over.

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

sad & tired

Inexplicably, a lyric from Jesus Christ Superstar is floating through my brain, from the Agony in the Garden song: "Then, I was inspired.  Now, I'm sad and tired.  After all, I tried for three years, seems like 30..."

I think it make sense on some levels.  We - me, my own family, my siblings and their families - have been witnesses to my mother's gradual decline over the past five years, and then of course her precipitous fall over the past three months.  Seems like 30...

That constant worry is a part of us, and unraveling it and letting it go is going to take some time.

I took today off from school.  Monday and Tuesday I kept it together, but barely.  I ended up staying past 6PM yesterday getting my sub plans and materials in place, just so I could have a day, today, to rest and recover.

But now at 8PM I feel as sad and tired as ever.  I slept in until 10:30 this morning, and that surely helped.  I accomplished many small tasks and had a nice lunch out with DD.  I attended my NAU class and faked my way through the discussions of the three long readings, which I had merely skimmed, but I was fortunately able to contribute to some of the other discussions.  My professor understands and has told me to take all the time I need, but I just feel everything simultaneously piling up while time slips away.

My to-do list is outrageously long, and I have no idea when I'll be caught up, if ever.  I had planned on doing a bunch of stuff over break which basically didn't happen.  I'm so thankful for whatever strength of character I had that made me grade those papers, because sitting here at home, I don't think I'd ever get to them, undermining the entire purpose of my project.  (That being: actionable and timely feedback.)

I'm sort of neglecting my own little family right now -- the kids are on fall break so they don't really need me.  They seem content with whatever dinner I manage to pull out of the freezer.  I'm prioritizing my teaching work -- lesson planning and materials, etc -- which means grad school stuff comes last. And sleep last of all, but I really have to cut that out.  Even having slept till 10:30 this morning I still feel like I haven't slept in a week.

Two more days till the weekend.  We'll see how it goes.

Tuesday, October 13, 2015


Mom's funeral was on Saturday.  We flew out Thursday and arrived at her house late, but not so late that everyone was in bed, and ended up staying up too late even though we were all very tired.  Three of my four brothers were there, and the cousins from Louisiana were good company for my kids.  Friday we were up early to bank errands and then I spent hours and hours sorting through Mom's jewelry.

When you are 88 years old and rarely get rid of anything, you accumulate a lot of stuff.  Plus, Mom had a habit of just stuffing things here and there, not necessarily where anyone would expect to find them.  So I went through both closets in her room (hers & Dad's), and both dressers (hers & Dad's) and found innumerable interesting and somewhat valuable things; 7 boxes of mint proof sets.  Seven tins of coins, including a whole tin of wheat pennies and another of silver dimes and nickels.  An enormous box of first day issue stamps.  And so much jewelry!  Her personal taste was very modern as evidenced in the pieces she bought (or commissioned) for herself.  Then there were all the more conventional pieces that others had given her, plus countless pieces of costume stuff that merely fun, or sometimes just odd.  I took a break mid-day to have lunch at Bleu with the family, just to get out of the house.  We ended up staying up very late again, because there was so much to talk about with each other.  It rained most of the day.

Saturday was clear and cold in that way travel writers always call "brisk", cool but not too cold.  The service was lovely.  I cried so many times. Every time I saw another old friend, the tears just came so easily.  I accomplished my reading without crying.  It was a very good reading, Wisdom 3:1-9:
The souls of the righteous are in the hand of God, no torment shall touch them. They seemed, in the view of the foolish, to be dead; and their passing away was thought an affliction and their going forth from us, utter destruction. But they are in peace. For if to others, indeed, they seem punished, yet is their hope full of immortality; Chastised a little, they shall be greatly blessed, because God tried them and found them worthy of himself. As gold in the furnace, he proved them, and as sacrificial offerings he took them to himself. In the time of their judgment they shall shine and dart about as sparks through stubble;They shall judge nations and rule over peoples, and the LORD shall be their King forever.  Those who trust in him shall understand truth, and the faithful shall abide with him in love: Because grace and mercy are with his holy ones, and his care is with the elect.
We walked from the church to the grave site, taking turns carrying the beautiful blue urn of Mom's ashes.  The service there was simple and lovely, too.  Then we all walked back to the church for a reception in their basement hall, where we had held Dad's.  My sister had handled all the catering and everything was lovely.  So many people!

When we got home, my siblings and I retired to the downstairs kitchen for our meeting.  We worked well together deciding many things.  For all the high emotions these past few months, the weekend was remarkably smooth.

Stayed up way too late again on Saturday night, playing poker (with Mom's pennies!) and talking with the kids.  Two hours of sleep later, I was up again, and we were on the road to the airport.  We were a bit tight, time-wise, but made it, and the flight was smooth, easy.  I slept for the first three hours and finished my grading during the rest of it.  It was the last thing I wanted to do, but I did it.

Then Sunday -- no nap, too much to do to get ready for school on Monday.  Then Monday, stayed up late again, because I got nothing done over break.  But I decided then to take Wednesday off, so of course I had to stay late again today to prepare everything for the substitute.  But that's OK, because tomorrow I can sleep in and hopefully unwind a little.  I could feel myself getting ready to snap a few times over the past couple of days.

I need to sleep.  I need to get used to the idea of Mom being gone, even though she has been sort of, mostly, gone for weeks now -- really since I took her to the hospital in June.  But this is different.  No matter what the brain knows, the way I knew Mom wasn't going to get better, the heart hopes. Having to let go of my heart's hope is not easy.

Wednesday, October 07, 2015

all clear & paradoxically feeling worse

My two CT scans (chest, and head & neck) were unremarkable.  That is to say, the same exact anomalies seen last year are still present in the same places but they are exactly the same size so there's nothing to worry about, cancer-wise.  At least until my thyroglobulin numbers come back in from California, which won't be until the end of the month.  Anyway, I have a clean bill of health and the doctor reminded me to take the endomethacin he prescribed for the inflammation I have in my collar bone joints.  I can't remember whether I took it before and if I did, what happened, but I'll give it a shot.  Inflammation of a basically immobile joint is not the type of thing that responds well to physical therapy.

Now that's over with, and on the eve of heading back East for Mom's funeral services, I'm feeling entirely overwhelmed.  I've been pushing everything off for days and now I don't have anything more pressing to think about.

In other news, I was hit in the eye by a water-filled balloon (not a "regular" water balloon of the type that breaks if you look at it wrong) last Wednesday, and my eye has been killing me ever since.  I went to the eye doctor yesterday and she basically said that the generic eye drops I was using were useless and gave me some Systane, which is helping a lot, but she said it's going to be sore for a while even though there is no sign of anything seriously wrong.  It's just traumatized.

I felt pretty good about being caught up on my schoolwork, but then realized I'd skipped a chapter and a written assignment for tonight's class, but that's probably OK because I did present my literature review work-in-progress which everyone was impressed with.  Eh.  If I weren't going through so much right now I'd have more done and feel better about it, but I can't change the way things are.  I'm just so swamped now -- lots of reading for next week, plus I still have to read my students' research paragraphs... and there's no time.

Monday, October 05, 2015

two down, one to go

My whole body scan was negative.  Completely clear, which was very nice after last year's "blip" and the continuous annoying pain I'm having in my collar bone (and now, up under my right ear).  Apparently, whatever is going on, it's not thyroid-cancer-y enough to show up on the WBS even after nearly three weeks of the low iodine diet.

Last week was so horrible I'm amazed I survived it.  Mom's death was the worst of it, but I had commitments, both personal and professional, that I had to keep.  Driving up to the hospital in Phoenix 4 out of 5 days was just exhausting, especially as most of the trips were in the after school, and therefore rush hour, time frame. But Thursday, my day off from the hospital, was parent-teacher conferences, from 8AM to 6PM and I barely had time to breathe.  We had an hour for lunch from noon to one, and really needed it.  The one good thing I can say is, the day flew by, and no one came in with a grievance.  I managed.

Yesterday I caught up on grading and lesson planning while doing my colonoscopy prep.  Ten years has done a lot of good in the colonoscopy world, as the prep last time literally made me sick and I was completely miserable.  This year's prep was much more manageable, and although I did have to use the bathroom sometimes every 10 minutes, I didn't have the horrible abdominal pains I had last time.   This morning my procedure was scheduled for 6:30am and DH was driving me home by 7:15.  Everything in there is completely healthy, no issues at all.  Once home,  I slept until 11, and then spent some time cleaning and a whole huge chunk of time pulling photos for a memory board for my mother's services on Saturday.

So now that's done, I have tomorrow clear to catch up on my grad school work.  I have several articles to read and I have to start mapping my literature review.  I have already done preliminary research and have a ton of articles to go through.  It would be better to take my time going through it, but I'm scheduled to present my work-in-progress on Wednesday, and I don't want to put it off.

And I can't actually plan on doing any productive work on Wednesday, since I'll be up at Banner M. D. Anderson for bloodwork, CT scans, and then an appointment with my head and neck cancer guy there to see what he thinks is going on.  Maybe this thing in my collarbone/shoulder is just scar tissue, and maybe the problem in my right neck is just muscle spasms or a reactive node... see, I can come up with plausible explanations for just about anything.  Still, I'd like that pain to stop.  I'm really, really hoping it's not a recurrence that needs action, and I'm vaguely, minimally encouraged by the negative WBS.  WBS are not the best for picking up residual cancer in lymph nodes, as my surgeon at MDA in Houston demonstrated.  Well.  By this time on Wednesday, I'll know.

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

mixed up day

Waking up at 3AM and not being able to get back to sleep put a haze of exhaustion over the morning.  I puttered around in the kitchen packing up pumpkin gingerbread (I used quinoa and tapioca flours, plus almond meal - a cup of each, and subbed honey for half of the molasses. Why do I always run out of molasses?!) and  I made a simple glaze using the coconut milk/coconut cream mixture I've been using in my coffee, and it was delicious.

But by then I really needed to hustle so I wouldn't be late for work.  I actually stood still for about a minute deciding whether or not to shower, and finally went with "yes".  I had the time, although it was really annoying because I was itchy for about a half an hour afterwards.  I've laid off my supplements during the LID but now I'm seeing that they actually do help me with all my weird and awkward physical conditions, like being itchy when I get out of the shower.

I had a district meeting scheduled for all morning to discuss this year's science fair, and I was late to that because I was talking to one of my sisters.  The district lead found me on the phone and I told her I had to take the call, and why, and she was completely understanding about it.  Everyone was very kind when I showed up 20 minutes late.  I really appreciated that.

After the meeting I was so exhausted I went straight to my admin and asked to go home so I could sleep, and mercifully, I did -- I slept through the two alarms I'd set to go off at 2, and woke up at 2:25.  I would've slept all afternoon if not for my second Thyrogen shot.  I managed to get to the hospital at 3:15, so not too late, and the nurse who gave me my injection was super about the whole thing.  He had lost his Mom to lung cancer back in January, so he had been through the hospice route also.  One of the most awesome things he said was, "Not to make this about me..." He really did know exactly what it's like: the sadness mixed with relief.

And also craziness.  There was some inter-sibling disagreement over the best time for Mom's funeral to be held, but it was scheduled for October 10, so we'll be heading back there.  I've emailed everyone but there are still a few calls I should make.  Maybe tomorrow I'll have the energy.

I spent the afternoon watching mindless fluff on the television and doing some desultory web surfing, but finally got inspired to do my APA assignment homework about 10PM.  Ridiculous, but it's done which is something because I didn't want to do anything.

Now it's off to bed where I expect I will sleep like a rock, again.   Tomorrow is not an instructional day, thank God, but I'm not up much for playing with the students, either.  We'll see how it goes.   I get my tiny dose of radioactive iodine tomorrow, in preparation for my scan Friday.  I wish there was an easier way to do this.  Stretching it out over five days and having to drive all the way into Phoenix every day is killer - I've put more than 200 miles on the car in just two days!  I'd like to scoff, but I can't -- this is what must be done.

I do have a sense that I'm hurtling faster towards some horrible news regarding my cancer. I spoke very briefly to my Mom yesterday, my sister held the phone to her hear so she could hear me.  I'll see you soon is the thought that popped into my head, then, and it's still there. Of course I'm sad and exhausted, so that could explain it, or maybe it's just wishful thinking, or maybe it's just an odd thought.  I do not think the dead share our perception of time, anyway.  Who's to say what "soon" really means?

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

3AM phone calls are never good

The thing is, I was awake anyway, so I picked up the phone on the first ring.

It was my older sister.  Mom died peacefully just after 6AM Eastern time.  She slipped away when all four of my siblings had dropped off to sleep after being up with her all night.  It is just like her to do that.

I've been processing this information for two hours now.  I feel oddly detached, but I actually think that's pretty common, so not odd.  Of course it could just be the Thyrogen shot that's making me feel weird.

I know I'm sad, but I don't feel like crying.  I'm sure I will eventually, but crying is a tremendously difficult physical process for me, like hiccups (which are also very painful for me) but a hundred times worse.  Crying never makes me feel better, so I don't.  I mean, my eyes leak from time to time when I get choked up about something (I'm quite sentimental sometimes), but the sobbing, chest-heaving kind of crying is really quite horrible for me.

What I'm expecting is, I'll be fine until some random thing pushes me over an edge and then I'll lose it for a bit.  There's a 100% chance that someone's expression of sympathy will be that random thing.

It is not a bad thing to say that Mom's death comes as a relief.  She was suffering so much, and to lose her sight at the end was probably not the worst thing she had to endure physically but mentally was such a blow.  Now she is at peace, with Dad and all her family that have gone before her.

And it's not just a relief for her, but for all of us, too.  That sounds bad!  It shouldn't.  These weeks have been very hard on my brothers and sisters, watching her deteriorate and trying to keep her comfortable.  I feel I can never thank them enough for the time and care they gave to Mom over this time.   We have all be drawn closer together through these events.

I hope we can stay that way. Trying to imagine our family without Mom is impossible.  We'll see how it goes.

Sunday, September 27, 2015

kidney failure is not an easy death

When my mother first went into hospice (July, about 10 weeks ago), I did a lot of research about what to expect. More than one website said that it was an "easy" death, with gradual organ failure leading to a peaceful death.

It didn't sound lovely, but it sounded tolerable.  Like, that wouldn't be too hard to bear.  And that's how it was, for a while.

Yesterday, Mom asked my brother, "What's wrong with your face?"  It was a complete sentence, an entire thought, a rare thing these days.  He told her, I was just crying.  But today she told my sister she couldn't see, and my sister says her eyes are filming over.   She says my father said exactly the same thing to her, What's wrong with your face? when he was dying.

She won't take food or water or medicine, now.  They're giving her liquid morphine drops from time to time, and she sleeps.  She cried out, "Help! Help!"  just twice, today.  Usually it's a lot more.  Just a couple of weeks ago, she could still have a conversation, but sometimes she prayed in Polish, and she called out for her sister May, who has been gone more than 40 years.

The mental breakdown is sad, and it's especially sad that her sight has failed, since it was the one thing she had left.  She loved looking out the window at the woods in her backyard, so I sent bird feeders to attach to her windows, to bring the birds closer to her.  But now she can't even see them anymore.

The lie, though, was about the physical breakdown, and maybe it's just because my mother has so many degenerative conditions that it has not been a gentle descent.  Horrible, painful things: wounds that won't heal; bowels that impact; scratching and scratching at itches that won't stop; wanting to get up and move, but not being able to sit up, much less get out of bed.

We are all grateful she can sleep, in the hope that she is not in pain.

Saturday, September 26, 2015

unraveling around the edges

By the end of this week, I could feel myself coming apart.  My two classes after lunch are always more boisterous than the morning classes. but this week, they just seemed crazy, and I had to really struggle with myself to take the effort to bring them under control.

My biggest issue is one class where I have two very disruptive students, who insist on doing nothing, or bothering other students, or often, both.  I'm still looking for a sweet spot, the perfect technique of redirecting them that actually gets them back on task without the entire class screeching to halt while I do it. My redirects fall on death ears, anyway.  Very frustruating.

I started this post some time last weekend, but it still more or less applies.  I'm heading into my last week of LID, and physically I just feel off.  I've been staying up late so I can stay more or less caught up with grading and grad school homework, so I'm constantly exhausted.

I have two more days of school before fall break, but I won't actually be around for a good part of it, because I have to leave early on Monday and Tuesday to go up to Phoenix for my Thyrogen shots.  Tuesday morning I'll be in a meeting to plan this year's science fair, which is of course the topic I've been more or less obsessed with, since I'm doing my non-thesis project on implementing it as a portfolio.  (It's going OK for most students, but I'm still not reaching everyone.)

Mom's decline continues.  She rarely speaks in sentences anymore, and her mobility is severely limited.  She can't hold a cup anymore, or feed herself.  Writing this out I can feel a weight on my heart.  She is suffering, and I pray for peace for her, and for all of us. The time is getting shorter, now.

I ping-pong between thinking of Mom and my own health issues.   I would love my scan to be clean but I'll be shocked if it is, since the pain in my collar bone is nearly constant, and I have a new hard node just under my jawbone that's causing that new odd pain.  Pain is an unreliable indicator, but it is a worry.

At least I'm eating well.  Since I have to eat what I cook, I'm cooking a lot. I do consider making guacamole to be cooking, especially as I've modified the Chipotle recipe and I'm practically living off it.

I-have-all-this-stuff-in-the-house Guacamole
(Chipotle's recipe with substitutions for the onion, jalepeno, and cilantro)
2 ripe avocados
1/4 tsp + kosher salt
juice of 1 lime
1 shallot, diced fine
cayenne pepper to taste
~1 tablespoon parsley (rehydrated dried)

It's the lime, I think, that makes it so divine.

(But I've also made carnitas, and roasted onions, and a beautiful chicken cacciatore, and chili, and awesome chicken breasts with lemon, garlic, and rosemary, and ratatouille.  We seem to be eating a lot of chicken, but no one's complaining.  I even managed to make quite excellent gravy twice, once for chicken, and once for turkey -- roasting over aromatics makes all the difference.)

Thursday, September 10, 2015

not sleeping

I fell asleep on the couch at some point... maybe 10-ish? And woke up at 2, and I'm still up.  I tried to get back to sleep, but I just don't feel good.  My stomach is roiling (although better now that I had a couple of ginger mints) and my eyes feel cruddy and my brain is going a hundred miles an hour.  I could really use some sleep but I think I'm getting to the point (...depression...) where I'm just not doing the right thing.

Example: I had a perfectly good dinner of leftover steak and ratatouille and then some cornbread.  I really wasn't hungry at all, but I finished off a bag of potato chips. That sounds horrible but is not as bad as it was yesterday, if only because there were far fewer chips left in the bag today.  Then I had some of DD's cheese puffs, just because they were sitting there.   Another example: I had my 2 glasses of wine, but then had an elderflower spritz, just because. (I'm beginning to suspect that elderflower liqueur does not agree with me, but it is delicious.  I feel like I'm hungover but I don't think I had enough alcohol to cause that!)

It's funny how I mix up emotional feelings and physical feelings sometimes.  Like when I've had a physical lump in my throat it felt exactly like wanting to cry.  But now I have this feeling like something is squeezing my heart, but it's not a physical feeling at all, it's just how I experience sadness.  I swing back and forth between thinking it's good I have so much to do, it keeps me busy, and thinking I'm crazy for trying to do all this - master's class, master's project, teaching almost 200 students - at the same time that I have so much going on in my personal life.  DS1 is in college, and DD and DS2 are at a very challenging high school and are pursuing piano at advanced levels.  DH wrenched his back a few weeks ago and is still not back to 100%.  The pain by my collarbone almost never goes away now -- but doing my neck physical therapy exercises 4x/day finally seems to be giving me some relief from the neck muscle issues.

And overshadowing all that, of course, is Mom in hospice, and my brothers and sisters caring for her, while I am here, useless to them.

Now I'm mad at myself (again) because I've been up for 3 hours and have nothing to show for it. At least my next two days at school are light on instruction, so I should be able to manage on the little sleep I did get.

Monday, September 07, 2015


This week, I scheduled ten different medical appointments for myself.  In three weeks, I'm having another Thyrogen-stimulated whole body scan, and after that I'm getting a CT.  But before that, I'm having that red spot on my arm checked out.  It looks like a bug bite, but it has looked like a bug bite since July and hasn't changed a bit.  My ex's mother had small basal carcinoma in exactly the same place, so I'm a little worried that the same thing is going on there.  With any luck, it will be nothing. 

I can't be so complacent about the rest of the appointments.  I'll be amazed if they don't find anything, really.  I just hope they don't want to give me a treatment dose, because I don't want to miss the other tests I have coming up (the colonoscopy I've been putting off for years, and the above-mentioned CT scan.)  The maybe-muscle pain in my neck still kicks in from time to time.  It is so frustrating to exercise and stretch faithfully for months on end and not make any progress.  I think eventually I shouldn't need to do these exercises, right?  It should heal? Apparently not.

Since the mysterious nosebleed I've definitely had more front-of-the-head congestion.  It's behind but below my eyes, very weird.  Of course I haven't been to see my ENT because he has no appointments available and I don't have time to drive up to 44th & Camelback even if he did. So I'm just pretending everything is OK there, too.

Since this is a three-day weekend, I have given myself way too much time off.  I've finished my reading for Wednesday's class, but I still have to put together my presentation.  I've updated my lesson plans, materials, and website for this week's teaching, but I haven't even looked at my grading.  I would feel worse about that if I had other assignments coming in soon, but the next batch of grading won't be collected until this coming Friday, so some of the pressure is off. 

Yesterday I took the kids to brunch at Snooze(delightful), and we cruised the farmer's market in Gilbert while we waited for our table.  It was definitely a first because they encouraged me to buy vegetables to make ratatouille, which I did for supper last night.  I roasted all the vegetables separately and then combined them at the end with garlic, thyme, and rosemary (the last from our yard).  It was a spectacular success, and roasting them was so much easier than sauteing them all.

I spoke to Mom for the briefest exchange today.  She slept all day and didn't really want to talk but let me tell her I love her.  She sleeps through most days now, but occasionally is more wakeful.  She is hardly eating or drinking anything.  I saw a photo of Mom this week and she looked puffy to me, so I asked my sister what she thought and she said, yes, she is retaining fluids.  This is expected, part of the process.  My sister and I had a morbid conversation wherein we both hope that Mom hangs on until, for my sister, she gets back from her upcoming trip, and for me, until all my tests are done -- I can't bear the thought of having to reschedule them all.  But both of us know we will do what we have to do.  We must be content with knowing that Mom is comfortable and at home.  She says she is not having any pain and she is able to sleep, and those are good things.  Last weekend her breathing was very irregular but then it evened out again, so we're seeing the process advance like the tide -- waves coming in and going out, and the overall water level underneath changing almost imperceptibly, day by day.  

One more week before I'm back on the low iodine diet.  Sounds like a good excuse to go for sushi.

Sunday, August 30, 2015


We have been home for five weeks and in that time started school and moved DS1 up to his campus.  It doesn't seem like enough time to establish a routine, but we getting there.  This last week was odd, not having him around, but we're getting used to it.

Mom seems fairly stable this week.  Issues that were plaguing her last week seem to have resolved. Specifically, she had huge bruises up and down her arms from scratching too hard, but the diligence of my siblings in keeping her from scratching and putting lotion on her have helped enormously.  I talk to her every day, and some days we even can have a conversation.  Yesterday was not one of those days.  She couldn't hear a word I said, even though I was literally shouting into the phone.  It's hard.  One of my brothers told me how, from week to week, he notices little things, like she's having a harder time finding the right word (like saying"red berries" instead of cherry tomatoes).  And one of my sisters told me how, for a very short time, Mom seemed like a completely different (and very aggressive) person.  It's all expected but that doesn't make it any easier.

I still don't know what I'm doing for my own diagnostics this fall.  Just yesterday and continuing today I have what I think is muscle pain under my right ear.  (I just put a heat pack on it and it felt good, but as soon as I took off the heat, the pain came back.)  I have been doing my physical therapy stretches religiously, but the tension in my right neck never seems to resolve.  This new pain is different from just the usual muscle tension, which only hurts when I turn my head the wrong way.  This hurts all the time, enough to distract me.

On Wednesday I left school to go pick up the kids, thinking that my grad class was starting that day. (It didn't, that's this week.)  I was texting DD to be please be ready when I felt what I can only describe as a little "pop!" and then felt drainage down the back of my throat.  It tasted a little salty, and I thought, is that mucus, or it it blood? Question answered when blood started dripping from my nose.  Fortunately there is a new ER literally two blocks away from my school, so I pulled in there. The waiting room was empty, so they took my right away.  The doctor gave me a nasal spray that has a vasal constrictor in it, and eventually the bleeding stopped.  He thinks a small blood vessel broke. (My blood pressure was slightly higher than it usually is, but nothing to be alarmed about.)   And he wants me to see my ENT, but my ENT was on vacation last week and the earliest I can get to see him is September 20. I did not book the appointment, mainly because I don't want to have to deal with this.

Still, every time I go out into the heat I worry about it happening again.  My car was super hot that day, and I wonder if that had anything to do with it.  So far it has been OK, I just want it to stay that way.

I'm mostly dug out from the huge amount of grading I had to do.  Now I just have to get my file system set up and all the papers I've collected (not that many, really), filed.  Of course both 7th and 8th grades are having another test this week, so just as I clear the deck of grading, a new pile will arrive!  Oh, and I have 25 pages of reading to do before Wednesday, but I think I should be able to manage that.

Had dinner with all the kids at a nice Italian place last night after mass.  It was great having everyone together again, but the time went way too quickly!

14, 16, 18. 

Sunday, August 16, 2015

nuclear family

We're down to four, at least during the semester.

DS1's check-in time was 7:30-8AM, so we got up ungodly early, loaded up the van, and took him to Glendale.  The process was extremely well-organized and staffed by an abundance (perhaps an over-abundance) of enthusiastic young people, there to help with directions, advice, and general good will. I spent a great deal of time patching his backpack, which he has had since first or second grade and won't give up.  He may not have brought a stuffed animal, but he has his security backpack!

He didn't bring much past the necessities, since we're so close.  Thought he'd take the time to figure out what he really wants and then we'll (he'll) get it.  His roommate, a nice guy from San Diego, was the opposite, so their respective ends of the room could not look less alike.  DS1 doesn't even have a hanger in his closet because all the clothes he brought are the folded, in-the-drawer kind.  (DH was surprised by the idea that he would go to class in gym shorts.  "When did college students become slobs?"  He doesn't realize that high school students will go to school in pajamas if they're allowed.  Gym shorts are actually clothing meant to be worn outside the bedroom, so they're OK.)

It's very strange having my boy not here and not just out at a friend's, but really not-here, as in, I don't know when I'm going to see him again.  I'd like to talk to him but I don't want to be a pest.  Eventually I will get over that and send a text telling him I'd like to catch up on how things are going... that would probably be OK.

Mom's condition continues to deteriorate.  School, grad school, upcoming medical tests are all just background noise right now.  I'm managing.

Saturday, August 15, 2015

everything looks different from here

We arrived home from Massachusetts just three weeks ago.  It's the weirdest thing, this feeling that everything is completely different while at the same time feeling exactly the same.

Teaching is going spectacularly, unexpectedly well, although this week I have a huge amount of grading to do, and I'm behind in getting my file system set up.  I have nearly 200 students (!!!) this year, and consequently I'm not cutting anyone any slack.  Fortunately the 7th grade cohort is really outstanding -- they just completed their first lab and were very well behaved.  I do have to read their lab worksheets and grade them to know how well they did, but I have the feeling they did they well.

It's odd to have some energy left at the end of the day.  I'd be happier if I hadn't come down with a cold last weekend, but taking quercetin seems to be helping me recover faster than usual.  It's nearly gone and it hasn't even been a week a yet.

Back in Massachusetts, Mom's condition is deteriorating.  I call every day but we only talk for a few minutes.  I try to tell her about what's going on here, but I don't know how much she can hear.  She never tells me how she's really feeling.  Texts from my siblings tell (and show) the bruises she has from scratching herself and the breakdown of her systems, and I hear about the pain that started yesterday and took far too long to get under control.  There is literally nothing I can do.  I call, I text.  I talk on the phone.  I'm not there and I want to be, but that's the way it has to be for now.

DS1 is going to college in about 5 hours.  We'll load up the van and drive him up to the west campus and help him move in and, I suppose, leave.  I'm going to miss him so.  I don't know if I'm worried about him or not.  I think he'll be OK, but he is a bit absent-minded-professor-y.  He will find his own way, though, I know it.  In a last-ditch fit of nostalgia, I took the three kids to Barnes & Noble after school today. It felt right, all driving over together and getting a snack in the cafe.  It made for a nice low-key send-off, because neither sibling will be around when we leave early Saturday morning.

My shoulder has been giving me trouble on and off (using the mousepad on this laptop for any length of time is sure to trigger pain), but it is much better since I've been consistent with the physical therapy exercises, and it's not disturbing my sleep anymore.  So I'm more or less nonchalant about scheduling my followup testing (I did do the vision field test - all clear!).  Dr S, the surgeon at our local MD Anderson wants me to do a CT, but Dr. B my endo wants me to have a whole body scan.  I talked to Dr. S's assistant and asked her if the doctors could confer and she said no, it would have to be my call.  This did not sit well with me.  I even called and talked to the BC/BS nurse on-call about it, who told me I should talk to Dr B and see, because if the WBS is positive, wouldn't she order a CT anyway?   This situation was nagging at me until today when I had a chance to talk to Y at the hospital, and she looked at my chart and said they recommended PET/CT followup, not a whole body scan, but she would have the nuc med doctor review my chart and decide what I should have for followup, and then discuss it with Dr B.  I'm glad that conversation is taking place at the doctor level and not with me, because I really don't feel qualified to make this decision.

I'm in no hurry to get treatment anyway.  I need the Mom situation to resolve (lovely euphemism there) and I'm teaching and I'm working on my Master's degree.  I'm sort of flying by the seat of my pants on the non-thesis project, but that's OK because I'll spend next semester writing it up after it has actually been implemented. I had a phone meeting with my adviser at NAU and we tentatively planned for me to graduate at the end of next summer.  If all goes reasonably well, it should be doable.

I'm aware that this is an extraordinary time, kind of a bubble.  Many things that would have me fretting in the past are eliciting little more than a shrug and the acknowledgement that they'll get done eventually.  So far no one seems to even notice that anything is different, even though I feel about one-tenth as engaged in planning and preparation as I normally am.  Since it's my third year, I'm confident that I can do this job and I'm not (yet) having any problems moving the students through the curriculum.  I have about another week and a half before my NAU class starts up, and it is only one class, a literature review.  It's on Wednesday, which remains piano lesson night, so the schedule will be easier this semester since only one evening a week will be weird. Except I just remembered that I have staff meetings every other Wednesday so I will have to plan for that or else I'll be late for class every other week!  That's a perfect example of how my thinking is, these days.  Obvious problems are not so obvious to me.

I still need to plan my research/stewardship project to finish my summer course...

In these past few weeks I have seen how much having a drink or two helps me feel, not exactly better, just... less compressed at the end of the day.  I can see how it could become a habit, and then a problem.  Just the fact that I'm thinking about it in these terms helps reassure me that won't happen, but it's not something I can be complacent about, especially given how much I like a good bourbon.

Friday, July 17, 2015

home, finally

Crazy week -- I had my "teachers on the estuary" class at Waquoit Bay, and it was awesome.  But that meant that I was in class from 9am - 5pm Monday-Wednesday (well, Monday had a 10am start), and until 3pm Thursday.  It was awesome that the class was just up at the research reserve, which is literally a 3 minute drive from Mom's house, but being occupied for 8 hours each day meant that my time to visit Mom was limited to the evenings.

So after school I'd visit with her for a couple of hours, and then have a late dinner with the kids.  We have necessarily been doing a lot of eating out: British Beer Company at Falmouth Heights is great for dinner, because we can park in the Heights Beach parking lot.  On Tuesday, Bastille Day, we had a fabulous dinner at Bleu in Mashpee.  Wednesday the kids settled for pizza from Pizza 1 Subs 2, but that's not exactly settling.  

Wednesday, I called the nursing center to speak to the nurse practitioner to hear how Mom's re-evaluation went, and learned that they were set to discharge her on Thursday!  When we met with the hospice representative, the date was set -- that was not clear to me, and necessitated a flurry of phone calls and furniture moving and what-not, but I managed to get everything straightened out.   Very late that night my brother and his family arrived from Louisiana, and that helped because they were here to receive delivery of the hospital bed and wheel chair on Thursday morning.  

One of my Boston-based brothers came down with his wife Thursday morning and oversaw the discharge process, which was awesome because I got to attend my last day of class (only a half-hour late because of phone calls and logistics). The hospice sent the intake nurse to look over Mom and treat anything (like bandaging her heel), and they sent her home with her current medications.  Today her nurse manager will be by and we will discuss which medications to continue and which to drop.  Yesterday her blood pressure was the rather alarming 110/104, even on 2 different blood pressure medications.  Now I understand her headaches!

Mom enjoyed eating a big cream-filled donut from Dunkin' when she first got home, and later she enjoyed having crab rangoon from her favorite Chinese restaurant.  She had more calories yesterday than she had had in the previous three days, and she was obviously happy to be home.  She stayed in her wheelchair until about 7:45pm when she was falling asleep, so we moved her into the bed, and she has been sleeping ever since - 12 hours now, with a bit of wakefulness about 11pm when I gave her her night medication.  The hospice sent a variable-pressure bed which inflates and deflates to help prevent pressure sores.

I'm a bit at a loss as to how we're going to manage -- my brother helped me get Mom onto the commode, and then to transfer her from the wheelchair to the bed.  She has some strength now but that will fail quickly.  She hasn't attempted walking since Monday, and her knees would not hold.  Toileting if only one person is here to help will not work, and I do not know how some of my siblings will feel about changing her incontinence briefs.  The hospice intake nurse said home health aides are scheduled for 3 times a week for an hour each time, but that will be for bathing.  I'm not sure how often skilled nursing will be assigned; we'll find out today when her nurse manager comes by. 

In the meantime, the kids are very much enjoying being together again, and last night we all played cards together for hours.  Mom is sleeping in the living room but did not mind the commotion, most likely because she couldn't hear it. Yesterday, she seemed better, but I think that was the psychological effect of coming home and having everyone here.  We'll have to take it day by day.   

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

roller coaster

Mom was dreadfully sick over the weekend, with near continuous nausea and various pains.  She ate about 10 bites of food total over Saturday and Sunday.  Yesterday was a little better, and today better still - she ate about half a cup of cottage cheese and some fruit cocktail at supper, and it was the most I'd seen her eat in days.  But she couldn't walk yesterday, her knees kept giving out, and she says they didn't ask her to walk in p.t. today.  It's hard to know whether or not to trust her memory -- sometimes she's spot on, other times she's mixing up the days or just forgetting things entirely.  Her somewhat confused state has become the new normal and is not as disturbing to me now, but I do miss my old sharp Mom.

Her refrain, especially when she's feeling, as she says, "Lousy," is "I can't understand how I ended up in this place," so I remind her about not being able to walk and going to the hospital.  But I think she remembers the talk we had before she went to the hospital, and this whole month in rehab was really not supposed to happen.  But here we are, and at least these last couple of days have seemed better -- or at least she has put on a good front when I've visited in the evenings.

I suspect she is rallying because my brother is coming in from LA with his family late Wednesday.  I can't imagine that this upward trend is going to last.

I'm up very late because I took about a 2 hour nap while the kids watched Jaws after a spectacular Bastille Day dinner at Bleu in Mashpee.  So I'm not that tired, and I'm stressed, and I don't want to go to bed.

This wouldn't be a problem except that I have class in the morning at 9AM.  My first two days have been wonderful.  One of the best things is getting to spend time with other science teachers.  Professional development sessions during the school year are just too short, and my NAU classes are great but free discussion time is necessarily limited.  It's awesome spending time with so many other people with similar interests and issues.

I can't even list all the things I've learned about -- even how to canoe, even though I did not paddle, I would like to try if we go out again.  I find myself afraid of physical challenges much more than I used to be, and I don't know if it's because I'm chronically sleep-deprived, stressed because of Mom, or just getting older so I can't mask the fears I've always felt as well as I could, but I don't like it!

Anyway, I've got more sun in the past 2 days than I have in years.  At this rate I'll be going back to AZ with an actual tan, along with a stack of work that I have no idea when I'm going to be able to clear.  I'm stalled on my science project work but I'm hoping to get some of it done next week, because the week after -- it's back to AZ, and back to school!

Tuesday, July 07, 2015

on the way

The rest of our time in Connecticut passed as wonderfully as those first few days.  We went to Mystic - 10 years after our first trip there!  And we saw the patriotic concert and fireworks at Talcott Mountain, with over 10,000 other people enjoying the spectacular weather.  Saturday we lazed about most of the day, went to Mass, and headed to the Cape in the early evening.

That turned out to be a fantastic choice, since we had zero traffic, and crossing the Bourne Bridge we saw a string of fireworks displays strung out along the coast.

Sunday I took the family to visit Mom at the rehab, and they played a little concert for her on the grand piano in the dining room. My sister came for her usual Sunday visit, too.  Mom loved it.  She seemed well, and enjoyed the time we sat outside with her, admiring the flowers.

Monday was not as good a day.  She told me she felt like crying all the time, and when I asked her why, she said it was because she felt sick to her stomach. Her head aches, too.  The nurse practitioner was in, and said she was starting an antibiotic for a UTI.  I asked for medicine for the nausea, and they wrote her a new prescription.

Today was Mom's care meeting.  My two sisters came down, and the boys called in on a conference call.  Mom has made some progress but she is approaching the limit imposed by her many medical conditions.  The clear outcome of the meeting is that while Mom can recognize that she needs help, she cannot identify what to do to get it. She is not capable of making decisions for herself.

So all of us, her seven children, have to decide for her.  Her GFR (kidney function) is down to 10.  Her nausea and lack of appetite are consistent with kidney failure, and the anti-nausea meds don't work consistently.  Off the steroids, her femoral nerve pain has returned.

The next step is to have a meeting with a provider of hospice services to determine what must be done, and I'll request that tomorrow.  

I went to see Mom again this evening, and she was shivering in her bed.  I helped her into her fleece jacket and that seemed to help, and then I propped her leg up on a pillow.  She was cozy and as comfortable as I could make her, but she had a very difficult day.  I still just want her to be comfortable, pain-free, and well cared for.  We're getting there.

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

CT with the family

Saturday DH flew in with the kids.  They came into Logan, and I decided the easiest way for us to connect was for me to take the bus from the Cape directly to the airport.  Various siblings offered to drive me, but that would've involved them driving to pick me up & then up to the airport, which just seemed like too much to me.

It all would've worked out fine if the bus hadn't died at South Station.  They said another bus would be along in in 5 minutes, but I know what those "5 minutes" become, so I got on the Silver Line to the airport -- which involved about a 10-minute walk through the maze that is South Station to get to the bus.  The family's flight arrived about a half-hour early, so they were already at the airport.  Then there was a fair amount of back and forth over where to connect, but I finally met them at the rental car depot, and from there we dealt with the maze that is Logan airport's central parking and finally, finally located the chapel where we attended a really lovely Mass.

And then we drove to Connecticut.  We stopped for dinner and by the time we finished it was raining, and DH drove the whole miserable way, for which I was very grateful.

Since then the weather has been gorgeous.  Sunday was saw a local production of Hair, and my poor mother-in-law is still scandalized by the nudity and I think somewhat perplexed as to why we are not. The kids were unfazed.  At this point in their young lives, they've seen it all, and the nudity wasn't aggressive or prolonged, although it was quite complete, as the entire cast strips down.  It was a great production, with phenomenal singing.  I enjoyed it and the opportunity it gave us to talk with the kids about the whole hippie lifestyle, which is not appealing to them.  DD is somewhat drawn to the hippie aesthetic -- the look, not the philosophy -- as am I, but you can borrow from the style without having to buy in to the philosophy.  I do it all the time.

Yesterday we hiked Talcott Mountain, as we do every year.  But this year DD and I took the blue trail down instead of the yellow trail, and it was a much more interesting and challenging hike.  The yellow trail is basically a walk up (and down) a long, sometimes steep hill.  The blue trail puts you into the woods and over the huge rocks.  Both are gorgeous but the blue trail had the advantage of being empty except for us.  The yellow trail had the advantage of leading us to a tiny bright orange salamander, which made my day -- this is the first time I've seen one in the wild anywhere in New England, something I had thought I would never do.

Today we had an exceptional tour of the Mark Twain house, led by a friend of my mother-in-law.  He was entertaining and so knowledgeable, and he gave us peaks at several rooms that aren't usually on the tour.  We were very late for our lunch reservation so we'll have to go back so I can get this:

This cat was the starting point for the bedtime stories Clemens told his daughters, and I would love to get a framed print of it.    Lunch was at The Pond House, and while the service was somewhat desultory and the soda completely flat, the food was outstanding and made up for whatever deficiencies came before it.  I had the grilled and chilled peach salad which was perfectly balanced and delicious.

After lunch we wandered around the gardens of Elizabeth Park, enjoying the absolutely perfect weather.

Meanwhile, back in Massachusetts, Mom is in rehab and on a nebulizer because she's having trouble breathing now and then.  She is compliant during her physical therapy sessions but then gets back into bed immediately and stays there for the rest of the day.  She doesn't want to do anything.  I don't think she has the energy to be bored. She tells me she's not having any pain, she just feels "kind of numb."  It's very sad.  She won't even go out in the wheelchair to see the beautiful flowers they have on the grounds.

panorama of Elizabeth Park's annual garden

Thursday, June 25, 2015

next step, baby steps

So Mom went into rehab Monday afternoon.  My initial impression was "This place is so depressing!"

True, but so limited.  Mom shares a room with a pleasant woman who was hit by an ambulance(!), but she's sharing a room!  I said to myself.

She's in the bed by the door, with just enough space between the bed and the wall for a chair.  There's a television mounted on the wall up near the ceiling, above an expanse of blank white wall, on which I taped up big color prints of photos of her birthday flowers, because staring at a blank wall is depressing, I said. Out loud.  And she really misses her flowers, because she does.

Everyone -- every single person -- has been kind and professional. She has physical therapy and occupational therapy and gets washed and dressed and fed.  She is cared for much better than she allowed us to care for her at home.

That's still surprising me: what she allows.  At the hospital Mom became confused and disoriented, sometimes thinking she was at home to the point of arguing about it. (hospital delirium) The delirium has continued at rehab, but she is still on the steroids and will be until July 3.  We are all hoping that she recovers once she's fully off the steroids, but I'm worried that she won't.

Still, she has walked more in the past 2 days than she had in the previous week, but she has lost so much function through inactivity.  She developed pressure blisters on her heels and now they've popped, and with her bad circulation they represent a huge infection risk.  Plus lying in bed for most of the day (everything leaves her exhausted) puts her at risk for pneumonia.

Her nephrologist sent along her lab results, noting that her kidney function is at 12%.  Dialysis is recommended when it hits 15%, but she absolutely will not consider it.  It might make her feel better, but with the arthritis, diabetes, kidney disease, neuropathy, spinal stenosis and degenerative disc disease, it's doubtful whether anything really can make her feel better at this point.

Mom's compliance at this point is creepy, knowing how strongly she felt about doing any of this before she went to the hospital.  She's playing - being - the good girl and doing a fine job of at least going through the motions.  Her level of fitness is so low that even going through the motions will improve her capabilities, at least at first.

The staff at the rehab center have a policy of 2 weeks of observations before recommending a care plan to the family, so they can really see how the patient is responding to nursing and therapy.  By that point Mom will be off the steroids, so we'll have a much better idea of what she's capable of in the longer term.  In the meantime, we just have to take it day by day.

Monday, June 22, 2015

same universe, different pocket

Thursday we found out that the source of Mom's pain is not her PAD. The vascular surgeon ruled it out following a leg study which showed her ankle pulses are nearly normal. Why he didn't refer us to the emergency room for help at that point is beyond me, but he did say he would put a call in to Mom's primary care doctor.  My brother left Thursday night to get back to his family.

Friday morning, hearing nothing from Mom's doctor, I realized that I could not continue to safely care for her myself.  That started a round of discussions where we went back and forth between the ideas of hospital or hospice.  She decided, after much pressure from a couple of my siblings, to come to the hospital.

I had researched her leg pain and symptoms - knees buckling when she walked - and am pretty convinced it's femoral neuropathy.  The only question is, what was causing the nerve impingement?  She has spinal stenosis and type II diabetes.  It could be a bone spur, it could be a blood clot, it could be diabetic neuropathy (which we know she has already, in her legs and feet.)  I finally got a call from the doctor who advised me to call 911 to have an ambulance bring her to the hospital, and life has been even more strange ever since.

I'm still wanting only 2 things for my mother: good care and as little suffering as possible.  Friday was horrible as she was subjected to six hours of testing.  They gave her large doses of dilaudid but that did not touch her pain, which was nerve-related.  Multiple x-rays, ultrasound, and CT scan - they had actually ordered an MRI because her pacemaker was not in their records, even though I had told them about it when we came in.

People have been super for the most part here, but the troubling thing is, they still don't now what's causing the pain.  They put her on IV steroids Friday night and for the last two days she has looked the best I've seen her.  Being pain-free can do that for a person -- and since her kidneys are so compromised, she basically can't take any pain meds except Tylenol, which she says doesn't do anything.  So she has been on zero pain medication for months, and I'm sure the relief from pain was wonderful for her.

They ruled out fractures and blood clots, but can't see any other nerve impingement.  They're happy that the steroid worked, but today they transitioned her off the IV steroid to an oral steroid and she was in so much pain this morning that she had to double up on her oxycodone, and even then it took 45 minutes for it to kick in so she wasn't wincing, gasping, or shrieking every 30 seconds.

The physical therapist is supposed to see her today and evaluate her.  I am sure they will recommend rehab and a strengthening program, and I'm equally sure that it will just be more torture for her.  The hospital atmosphere here is very nurturing, but in the rehab they expect you to do for yourself.  She will not be comfortable, and she will not be home.  And when she gets home, she will just go back to sitting all day and very quickly lose any gains she may make.

On Saturday I was with her while she was eating her dinner and I noticed her breathing had become very labored.  I called the nurse who checked her vitals, and Mom's blood pressure was so elevated they put a nitroglycerin patch on her chest.  She had been on an IV, and they had pushed so much fluid she was heading into congestive heart failure.  She has been off the IV ever since, but then we run back into the issue of dehydration.

Mom's other problem was that she hadn't moved her bowels since last Saturday, but she was finally able to evacuate everything that had accumulated.  Many of us were thinking that mass could have been adding to the nerve compression, but that was on Saturday and today's pain says otherwise.

At least, because she's spending most of the day with her legs up, the swelling in them has basically disappeared.  The skin still shows the signs of PAD and her toe is still necrotic, but the legs are not swollen, hard, and hot the way they used to be.  It surprises me that Mom is still having so much pain because they look so much better, but the pain is obviously unrelated to the swelling.

Looking back on all this I don't know why I didn't just take Mom to emergency on Monday when she first couldn't walk.  It would've made sense, but at the time I just figured it was a progression of her PAD.  When we learned it wasn't, that pushed me to call for help.  In retrospect, I should've called for help immediately, but then there was the fact that Mom didn't want me to.   I feel like this whole process has been horribly accomplished so far, and we are not even close to being done.

Physical therapy is here now evaluating her fitness, and it's clear that her mobility and strength are very compromised.  And now the nurse practitioner has come in to say they are moving Mom to rehab this afternoon!  All of this is happening very quickly.

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

in the pocket universe

So, I'm at Mom's, but everything is completely weird.  I left the kids home and flew in last week on Monday, and Mom was slow but still getting around.  Her 88th birthday was Saturday, but she insisted she wasn't going to have a party.  So we said, that's OK, we'll have the party for you.

My oldest sister and youngest brother were here on Saturday with their respective others, but the big to-do was Sunday, when my oldest brother and all his children and their spouses and children came down, along with my other local brother and his family, and my other sister and her two daughters and their children.  Babies everywhere!

It was a really lovely day, very low stress.  I cleaned the house and the front yard up a bit, and made sure the grill's gas tank wasn't empty, and I baked mini cheesecakes and brownies, totally low stress prep.   Everyone else coordinated and brought food, and one nephew cheerfully manned the grill.  And when it was over, they packed up all their leftovers, because they have huge families and here it's just Mom and me, and Mom doesn't each much, and I don't eat wheat (which leaves out a surprising number of food items.)

And all that was lovely, and Mom was doing OK.   She has peripheral arterial disease and her legs are swollen.  She sometimes needed help getting up, but she could still get around using her walker.

All that changed on Monday morning, when Mom could barely make it from her bedroom to the dining room table.  I listened as she came so slowly down the hall, and I knew there was something wrong.  That short trip is the last time she walked.

The pain in her leg is much, much worse.  So much worse that she doesn't argue about taking her pain medication anymore.  So much worse that she pretty much doesn't argue about anything anymore - including the incontinence products she's using now, which are thankfully much more effective than those she was using.  But bathroom trips were exhausting until my sister told me we had a commode downstairs, which is a Godsend.

I don't know how I handled Monday, and on Tuesday when my brother called to tell me he couldn't make it, I described in detail this situation and the fact that I am so completely out of my depth here. So, God bless him, he came anyway, and it's so good to have another pair of eyes (and especially arms) here to help me figure this out.  There is so point in thinking she's going to get better, because she's not.  Thank God for my brother, though, since he figured out how we could get Mom to her blood test this afternoon -- wheelchair and stairs are a tough combination, but between the two of us, Mom didn't even get bumped a little.

I'm trying to keep Mom comfortable, well fed, and pain free, but I do feel like I could do everything better if I had a clue how.  I'm not sleeping very well.  My whole life feels wrong and weird, except now that the not-walking, extreme pain situation is ending Day 3, I'm actually kind of used to it, but I don't want to be.   My brain keeps rejecting what's happening while at the same time I'm trying to do what she needs me to do.

... Stupidly, I'm still trying to accomplish all the tasks I laid out for myself for these 3 weeks, before I even left home and when I had no idea I'd become a caretaker rather than a companion.  I need to plan my school project, and I have actually started it.  Then there's the landscape overhaul:  weed and mulch the front beds, clean out the side yard (jungle), clean up the back perimeter.  Some of that may have to wait until after the tree guys come, which should be before I had off to CT.  I'm working on house-clearing projects, too, and managed to clean out both freezers, so no more freezer burnt anything.  Huzzah! We're also getting windows replaced and the garage door in the summer kitchen removed and replaced with a sliding glass door, and having the window guy here necessitate straightening up more than I really wanted to, but I did it anyway.  I'm just bummed I won't be able to see that when it goes in, because everything is being custom built and it won't be installed until August.

Last but not least, I'm counting a victory against the scourge of spiders that has been plaguing us for years: Miss Muffet's Revenge, a spider killer and repellent.  Friday I vacuumed walls and ceilings, on spider patrol.  I sprayed all around the outside of the house and then the downstairs on Saturday.  Usually, we could vacuum on Friday and spiders would be back in residence, at least in the bathrooms, by Saturday evening, but so far the bathrooms (along with the rest of the house!) are spider-free and that's amazing.  It's supposed to last up to 12 months indoors. Oh, if only that were true! Here's hoping for a relatively spider-less summer.

Friday, May 08, 2015

beginnings of endings

I'm up ridiculously late, again, because I (again) fell asleep on the couch for a while, so now I'm not that tired...

Tonight was DS1's senior dinner.  It was 3 hours of listening to the faculty read a very personal speech about each of the graduating seniors, all 78 of them, and it was lovely.  The faculty member who spoke about DS1 was one I had never heard of before his thesis defense, but it was obvious that she knew him well.  She was witty and warm and everything you want someone to be when they're talking about your son.

My son, who tomorrow has his college orientation.  Who two weeks from today will graduate from high school, and about 2 months from now will move out, at least during the term.

Things are rapidly drawing to a close, but it doesn't feel real.  My technology sabotaged me viciously over the past couple of weeks: my laptop died, it's battery no longer charging.  I prayed that it was either the battery or the adapter, so I ordered new ones, but neither did the trick. (Still have to return those...)  Since my end-of-term projects were due in both my classes, I didn't have time to deal with laptop shopping, so I just picked up DS1's old Toshiba, which has a surprisngly awesome keyboard but is seriously underpowered and has a super annoying overly-sensitive touchpad.

When my laptop died part 1 of my final project went with it (it was a work in progress, and Carbonite hadn't had a chance to back it up yet).  So I recreated it, and went on to part 2... thank God I printed out the lesson map before I uploaded it, because somehow instead of uploading my copy to my Google drive, I downloaded the blank template over  my copy... and then I went a little crazy and spent hours trying to recover it, when I should have just typed it in again (I am an idiot).

I never did recover it.  I ended up re-doing most of it at school the next day ( a test day for my 7th graders gave me good opportunities); that was Tuesday, so by about 4PM Tuesday I had parts 1 & 2 done, but they weren't due until Thursday.  Part three was due Tuesday at midnight... I had most of it done by then, but some pieces were a wee bit later.  I don't think that will be disqualifying...

So yesterday I did the last little smidgeon of part 1 (samples of anticipated student work) and uploaded that, and so I'm done!  But it feels anti-climactic because all I did was upload some (OK, a lot) of files.  I didn't talk to anyone or get to have a real good bye or anything like that.  The relief hasn't actually hit me yet.

DS2 finished up the track season with substantial improvements in all his events, and one of the coaches lobbied him hard to return to the team next year, but he's cautious about managing high school, which I think is wise.  His 8th grade commencement is the night before DS1's graduation, and my own students' commencement is the night before that. DD has more or less neatly recovered from leaving classical piano study to moving into jazz and composition, and she'll be playing her own composition in the graduation recital which is the day after  DS1's graduation.   I'm getting used to having that overwhelmed feeling more and more lately.  My own children are growing up so fast (such a cliche, but it's true!) I simultaneously want to slow things down a little and speed them up so I can be on summer break...

Health-wise: better, but the new rheumatologist took a look at my labs and declared I don't have RA.  So why do my hands swell overnight then? Whatever.  I'm officially out of the flare, I'm convinced it's because I started exercising again even though it was literally the last thing on Earth I wanted to do.  I did a Google search on reversing degenerative disc disease and I found this guy's website.  I have spent a lot more than $20 and a lot more time in doctor's offices figuring out what to do, so I ponied up the cash and I bought Rebuild Your Neck almost immediately after I wrote that last post.

I've been doing the exercises faithfully (although somewhat less faithfully now that my neck feels so much better) and it's nothing short of a miracle.  I know exactly why I got into this situation, too:  too much time with head craned towards the laptop (all those school projects, and grading!), plus the damage that my surgeries have done to the musculature on the right side of my head and neck.  They still bother me, but it's slowly improving as I continue to exercise, and the neck pain itself is over except for the occasional twinge, and I haven't had a headache in weeks.  Plus, I'm not taking any meds.  I've started on turmeric  and ginger (separately) for inflammation, and they don't seem to be doing much, although the ginger helps my digestion.

The only remnant of a flare I was having was my right middle finger, which would be nearly twice its usually size in the morning -- odd.  The doctor was talking about injections or a short course of prednisone (ick) when I asked if I could just wrap it or something.  That gave him the idea to just write me a prescriptions for Voltaren gel, which has worked really well.  I mean, I used some on Tuesday night and haven't needed it since, although it's feeling a little creaky right now.

I'm exhausted, though -- late nights every day this week, between school work done, lost, and re-done, and now feeling emotional after DS1's dinner and that nap!  Tomorrow is a non-instructional school day, so it will be easy to get through, and then plenty of sleep this weekend - should be heavenly.