Saturday

I’m having trouble inventing titles for posts. I have phases of depression wherein I have the delusion that I am not equal to the tasks of reading or writing. This problem proved to be the heart of my undoing as an English major. Imagine that you suddenly believe that you will neither retain or understand the content of a book. Layer upon that sort of unknowing the conviction that your sentences would not pass a middle-school grammar “white glove test.”

Maybe it’s because I’ve entertained the possibility of taking an online class or two in writing or literature. I have no inkling which citation style reigns these days. I’m still attached to the Oxford comma. Math is not the only subject wherein the if-you-don’t-use-you-lose-it principle applies.

Looking at online course listings has provoked all sorts of insecurities. The illiteracy delusion taunts me again. It’s like a body dysmorphic disorder of the mind.

Does anyone else who’s had depression suffer from the I-can’t-read-or-write issue?

This morning I had to take my car for maintenance. I dread doing so because I’m afraid I’ll look stupid when I don’t drive my car to the right garage door, or I’ll get there too early and they’ll expect me to park my car in a manner which would be proof-positive that I’d pass the serpentine test for a CDL. I was lucky my timing was just right this morning. I coasted into the right garage door with the greatest of ease.

I’d rather not have spent the heart of my morning getting my oil (and coolant and brake fluid) changed, but I’ve learned this is something one ought not to delay. Get your car’s oil changed and your teeth cleaned on schedule and you’ll spare yourself all sorts of aggravation. For years I didn’t think I had the time or money to deal with the dentist. This was total hogwash. I put off getting my teeth cleaned for 10 years when it would have cost me nothing out of pocket to get it done. What was the result? One extraction, one root canal, one crown, and 13 fillings. During that decade when I didn’t get my teeth cleaned, I seldom failed to brush my teeth twice a day, and I still had this harvest of decay.

By the way, I am getting my teeth cleaned on Thursday.

After I shelled out an uncomfortable sum to the car dealership for their service, I did a quick photo walk around the Lima Public Library and the adjacent Children’s Garden. I felt like expanding the radius of my walk toward downtown, but I stumbled on an uneven sidewalk. It was a slow-motion tumble. Gravity doubled down on me, and I lost. When I stumble or run into something, I hope that these small accidents make minor adjustments that lessen my nerve pain. I think my sidewalk incident this morning might have been a lucky one, but I wasn’t going to tempt fate by walking further onward.

I will share more of the pictures from that walk in another post. For now, I will reveal the best of the bunch—an image that reminds of why I do what I do.

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Hash Browns and Christie

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This evening I fixed sausage and hashbrowns for dinner, with a token vegetable on the side. Sometimes I need its crispy, greasy saltiness. It’s something in which you can lose yourself, your cares drifting away while its flavor arrests your attention.

Today and yesterday, I needed to lose myself as much as possible. In part, I’ve done this by juggling three different Agatha Christie books, which is entirely possible when reserving e-books through a public library. Several of your awaited titles can become ready for check-out at the same time. When this happens, I don’t trust that I’ll be able to finish all the books I have checked out during the three-week loan period allotted to each title, so I switch between different ones in case life might get in the way of finishing them. So far this I haven’t had to return a book before it’s done and find my place at the end of the line waiting for it to become available again.

So how have I found the time to read more than 60 Agatha Christie books in the past eight months? It helps that I can read the electronic editions on my phone. I’ve increasingly abandoned TV in favor of reading, too. No TV in my house has been turned on in my house in over three weeks.

I’ve turned away from national TV news of any bias. When I was on medical leave last year, I watched James Comey’s live televised admission that the FBI had been investigating the Trump campaign for ties to Russian election interference. At that moment, I felt like a gong banged inside my mind to signal that national news had fallen into the theater of the absurd. Even if the reports were true, the national news media as a whole had jumped the proverbial shark, and I didn’t need the added stress of watching more of it.

I have a subscription to my local newspaper, and I read online news stories. When something “big” happens, I sometimes toggle between the CNN and Fox News homepages to see how differently they’ll spin the same stories. The best is when one has several headlines about the same story and the other has no headline concerning it at all, or just begrudgingly offers some coverage on a belated basis (e.g. Stormy Daniels).

I’ve found greater solace in reading Christie as relentlessly as I can. I’ve even read her books while riding an exercise bike.

With Christie, there’s an interesting thematic unity across her body of work, so switching between stories isn’t as confusing as it could be. Despite this unity, her stories are not boring. Today I’ve been reading a short story of hers called “The Man from the Sea”. It’s one of her Mr. Quin stories. The Harley Quin stories are intriguing because one is left to wonder at times if Mr. Quin is supernatural or merely human. I’m halfway through this particular story, and there’s a raw beauty that spares no feelings. It shares some of the realism of And Then There Were None, wherein the selfish, delusional part of humanity is laid bare against a world sometimes more beautiful than those who live there.

Yesterday I had my second epidural injection. The epidural I had in February was fairly carefree in comparison. This time I was not so lucky. I had a different doctor this time (luck of the draw, I guess), and he vented that he saw little to gain from the treatment. He warned me that I’d likely get a spinal headache because the interval where I needed the injection was so jammed with scar tissue, adjacent hardware, and stenosis that he couldn’t fit the needle in without risk of piercing the dura matter around my spinal cord.

I can’t say I disagreed with his point of view. It’s one of the shitty aspects of health insurance. At times one is expected to follow through with risky “conservative” measures before the next step of treatment is approved. Insurance preapproved an epidural injection that neither this patient wanted nor the doctor wanted to deliver, but nothing else could happen unless it was done.

Within an hour of returning home, I got up and felt as if a bookcase had fallen on my head. I called the clinic to report that the near-inevitable had happened. I was instructed to lie flat and drink as many caffeinated beverages as possible. Thank God I was spared that crushing feeling as long as I didn’t lift my head. Thank God that my spinal headache lasted just three hours.

I also thank my husband for figuring out how I could drink those caffeinated beverages while lying flat (btw, keep the drink beside your couch or bed and drink through a straw with your head turned to the side). I’m also grateful that my sister came over to hear my tale of woe and help with the things I couldn’t do. My daughter was there with questions and hugs as well. When my headache was over, she strolled through the garden with me as the summer sun gave glory to all the blooms not yet shrouded in shade. That garden walk is a memory I will cherish.

To Wish Impossible Things

I don’t have much time for writing this evening. This is the sort of reasoning that drives my dwindling number of blog posts. I don’t know where to begin, and I don’t have the time to start.

If I keep waiting to write until an afternoon yawns wide before me, eventually I’ll cease writing here. This blog will be yet another casuality of attrition.

So I will share this evening’s stream of thought, that I need daydreams about as much as my body needs oxygen. I’ve learned that waking dreams can be crucial in coping with many forms of adversity, especially chronic pain.

The key is to persuade my mind to reflect of pleasing things rather than awful ones. I’ve had persistent nerve pain in my right hip this week, which is a distressing development because my as-known nerve damage is on the left side. The pain strikes like a beacon from the black box of an airplane that’s crashed and refuses to let its wreckage be lost. The volume of its signal is a solid 7 out of 10 while I drive.

It is very tempting indeed to anticipate more of the same suffering in the days to come. However, I’ve found that a daydream of a perfect place is the best tool I have to cope with this nerve pain.

My perfect place isn’t merely some generic place like an idyllic beach. It is impossibly perfect, a forest retreat with city utilities and Wi-Fi that never fails. Here I relax in a cabin that is covered in vines and surrounded with flowers year round. Here I can stop time and have as much time to myself as I need. I might even let a pet or two join me in my repose:


I feel that this place has such a conducive vibe for learning that L’Orange and I could read through spans of the canon of literature with ease. He’d take along my copy of Washington Irving’s short stories that’s been collecting dust and good intentions on my coffee table in real life, and we’d thrill over those pastoral, sometimes spine-tingling tales.

My perfect place would be self-cleaning. It would engage all my of senses.Any food I wanted would appear at my wish. There’s something so comforting to me in imagining a perfectly satisfying meal, which would depend on what combination of salt, fat, or sugar I’m craving at the moment. Or sometimes I imagine something quite wholesome, like garden-fresh tomatoes on top of barley with a brightly flavored dressing.

What seems delightful today would be a small plate of the best fries I ever tasted, which was at a random restaurant in Solvang, California, back in ’94. I ate them at a sidewalk table, and the fries had a stellar crisp-to-fluff ratio with a hint of garlic flavor. The weather was superb for outdoor dining, as it almost never is semirural Ohio. In the perfect place, I’d eat those fries with a bit of fresh dill on top and school cafeteria ketchup for dipping. No ketchup has ever rivaled the high vinegar type of my school days.

And now my time for writing really has dwindled this evening.

Do you have a perfect place you visit in your mind?

By the way, I feel like I am remiss in writing about L’Orange without mentioning his real life sidekick Buddy:

I Choose to Go to the Moon

As I mentioned in today’s garden post, I had an EMG (electromyogram) test this morning. This test was paired with an NCS (nerve conduction study) to measure possible nerve damage in my L4 root nerve. Long story short, I was mildly (and literally) shocked at points along this root nerve, from my feet to my lower back. Then the testing neurologist inserted an acupuncture-sized needle on some of those same points. This needle is equipped to measure the amount of electrical activity of the muscles at rest and contraction.

The speed and degree of electrical conduction can reveal whether a nerve is healthy, pinched, or damaged. During the EMG portion that uses the needles, the sound should be silent when a muscle is at rest. During my test, every point probed along the L4 root nerve produced static both at rest and during contraction. It was like listening to an AM radio in the desert where every station eludes reception.

Onto a small tangent, my husband told me that one of the treasured memories of his youth was tuning in the Wolfman Jack show broadcast from CKLW in Windsor, Ontario. I’m not sure what sort of voodoo he used to make this happen.  This was no easy feat considering that he lived 240 miles south of that city at the time. In my left leg, it’s like the Wolfman Jack, Captain Beefheart, Casey Kasem and similar worthies have taken a permanent vacation.

Today’s electrical studies showed that my L4 root nerve has some permanent damage. The matter of when and how this happened is debatable. The neurologist told me that it is unlikely that last year’s spine surgery caused this damage because I had six good months of recovery afterward. This nerve endured some degree of compression for 10-15 years before the surgery. Now that I am having problems with an adjacent disc compressing this same nerve, the damage is more obvious.

At this time, there is no certain fix for this damage. A second surgery could relieve this pressure, but I would still have a damaged nerve. Another surgery would also present more risk than the first. This revelation makes me wonder if I unknowingly had a pointless first back surgery. Why in the world didn’t anyone order an EMG test before that surgery? How was it possible to get a spine surgery approved by insurance without such a test?

Before that surgery, I mainly had numbness along that nerve. Looking back, my pain before that surgery was much easier to endure than the flare-ups I have now. It’s like that lumbar fusion surgery awakened a beast that rages at the dying of its light whenever I stand in place for more than a few minutes at a time.

Life has ample opportunity for regret. Alas, I can’t time travel back to early 2017 and cancel that surgery. A part of me needs to believe that one is never in the wrong place at the wrong time, that we are exactly where we need to be right here, right now. It is possible that the need for a back surgery could have become urgent eventually. The longer I might have waited for that surgery, the worst the residual damage to the nerve would have been.

It still blows my mind that I lived in oblivion regarding my lumbar degeneration for more than a decade. That was a time when I could let nothing hold me back, and I was better off striving in ignorance. If I had known about this damage, I don’t think I would have even tried to have the life that I have now.

When I think of this oblivion, I recall JFK’s well-known words about the goal of reaching the moon:

We choose to go to the Moon! We choose to go to the Moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard; because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one we intend to win, and the others, too. (found here)

Creating a self-supporting life for my daughter and me has been my moon shot. While I have been married for a couple years now and have a husband who is a great help to me, it was essential to me that I learn to make it on my own. For five years, my daughter and I lived by ourselves, and we were self-supporting. This was no easy feat.

I face mental and physical adversity that could have made this impossible had I stopped long enough to consider it. Here’s what my MMPI results were when I started my personal moon shot:

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That evaluation was courtesy of the Ohio Bureau of Vocational Rehabilitation. I qualified for BVR services, but I did not pursue the plan they created for me because I would run out of welfare benefits before I finished the additional education and training needed to create a career that accommodated my disability well (and Social Security had denied my disability claim because I hadn’t given “unskilled” labor a try (Wtf?)).

So I signed up for an office temp service and prayed that I’d land in a position that could keep a roof over my and my daughter’s head. Thank God it happened! I blindly began the job I have now, thinking it was a steady data entry desk job. When I arrived, I discovered that I’d be walking through a half-million square foot facility to collect much of the data I entered.

No job is perfect and constantly loved (in that way, I suppose jobs are like people), but my job is fairly ideal for me. I never tire of the mystery of finding a pallet that seems to have sprouted legs and left the building. Or why in the world do we have cases that expire on May 36th?

If I had known how damaged my back was, it is possible that I wouldn’t have tried such things. It is true that I continue adjusting to my nerve pain, but at least I know that I am living a life I have proven is not impossible for me.

Below shows how many steps I walked last week:

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Perhaps I am grating cheese to say the following, but I will endure this road, even though I have moments that are harder than I could have imagined they’d be. I still choose to go the moon. I’m loving this metaphor a bit too much, but there are plenty of moon shots ahead of me, even if I have to sit in a chair part of the time to make it there.

Garden, May 23

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I scheduled a day off work today due to an EMG (electromyogram) test scheduled for this morning. The test was only minimally painful, which was a pleasant surprise. One doesn’t expect the sensation of electric shock to be merely inconvenient. The strongest charges did provoke a tiny rush of adrenaline, which I suppose was my body’s way of reminding me that shock is something to avoid.

More on the EMG in a later post . . .

I had some time to take a few photos of the garden. I love the May sunshine, how it offers a warmth that is not yet oppressive. It’s something I long for a bit all year.

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