Saturday, August 30, 2008

A Confession and a Lecture

I am embarrassed to admit that there is one whole category of blogs I steer clear of: blogs by and for people with disabilities and illnesses. I am ashamed of this, because there are countless blogs by people who are suffering mightily with little hope of respite or who are without the means to pay for the drugs which might help them. I justify my callousness by thinking I can do nothing to help. I pray for them daily.

I have spent most of this summer wrestling with my own condition. My kids said I should write about it—not to garner sympathy, because it is just about under control, but as a help to anyone who may meet the same symptoms and not know where to start. The condition is called trigeminal neuralgia and it is easy enough to look up. Early in the summer I noticed short blast of pain while I was eating or cleaning my teeth. By the time my brain realized there was pain involved, it usually stopped. I mentioned it to my doctor who told me to see my dentist. But I wasn’t due for a check up and it mostly went away until a Friday night in early July when I was awakened shortly after I fell asleep by the most astounding pain I had ever felt. It crept up the right side of my face like an un-remitting labor pain. I couldn’t speak: tears were rolling down my face. I didn’t want to go to the ER and I spent four pain-racked nights before I could get to see a dentist. (Note it only attacked me at night: during the days I was perfectly normal.) My dentist banged on all my teeth, but couldn’t trigger an attack. He took x-rays and after muttering “tic douloureux” he personally picked up the phone and made me an appointment with a diagnostic dental surgeon for the next day. A fancier office, words like maxillary surgeon, more pounding on the teeth. “It is not TMJ” was his verdict and he too personally got on the phone to make me an appointment next day with a neurologist, an adorable man called Boris who is the first doctor I have ever met with a sense of humor.

I’m going to make this short: it upsets me to write about it. Boris prescribed a drug called tegretol. It took away the pain, but had horrendous side effects. I threw up, walked like a drunken sailor and all my limbs twitched. Just as I was getting used to the drug, the pain came back, though by no means as harsh. Last week Boris upped the dosage and gave me a slow release form of the drug.

The situation is much better now and I promise not to write about it again. But if anyone reading this ever suffers the same problems, or knows someone who does, here’s a place to start. It tends to afflict women over 50 and almost always on the right side of the face, so I fell right into the demographic. Apparently it sometimes takes years to be diagnosed, but thanks to three wonderful doctors, it only took me four days.

Boris claims that my body will adjust to the medication. I can’t stop sleeping, I suspect my short-term memory is even worse than usual and my hands are quivering badly: typing and writing are an adventure, but I am grateful to be one of one of the fortunate ones. Otherwise I would be writing an agonizing blog that callous people like me wouldn’t read.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

From the Analyst's Couch

I think I need to contact Dr. Phil. Let me explain. The other night I went with Kate and Lucy to see Mamma Mia. Much to my surprise, I loved it. I have certainly never been an Abba fan, but I found myself tapping my toes. And what’s not to love about that fantastic Greek scenery which brought back memories of a trip to Greece in (I think) 1962. But for the first part of the movie I found myself getting anxious. Here’s Donna who is giving a wedding the next day and she is turning somersaults, climbing up a goat house, singing and dancing and generally having a good time, when even I can see that a trip to the hairdresser might make us all feel more comfortable. Well, I admit, she does at one point wield a caulking gun, ineffectively but ultimately with a felicitous result. Now, I have had two daughters marry, and the day before I was checking with the florist, ironing tablecloths and various dresses, feeding guests and generally micro-managing the whole affair. I remember my friend Sally collapsing with laughter once when she read a tip in a woman’s magazine advising the hostess to spend the last minutes before the arrival of guests sitting down and resting. “I’m always cleaning toilets”, she said. Aren’t we all? Well, apparently not Donna, though I do admit she seemed to have a staff of Greeks, but most of them joined in the dancing with abandon.

All this took me back to an earlier Meryl Streep chick flick The Bridges of Madison County, which caused me a similar sense of unease. Francesca has invited Robert to dinner and spent part of the day preparing stuffed peppers. When Robert arrives, it soon becomes apparent that eating is the last thing on their minds and dinner gets cold. Perhaps Dr. Phil could explain why I can remember the menu and why I was upset over the waste of a perfectly good dinner.

On the other hand, if the three lovely men from Mamma Mia or even Clint Eastwood were to show up on my doorstep, maybe my psychological hang-ups would do an about -face. I never liked stuffed peppers much anyway.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Dear NBC

I love the Olympic Games. I wait expectantly for four years. I get goosebumps when I hear your Olympic Anthem.

But I have seen enough beach volleyball to last me to 2012. Thank you.

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

A Tale of Two Trays

Sometime after my mother’s death, my dad came to stay with us. It was summer and we frequently ate outside. He noticed what a job it was for me to lug all the plates, silverware and glasses outside and since he was the kind of man who didn’t like to sit around and who liked to make himself useful, he made us a tray. I don’t know whether he used wood that we had lying around, or whether we bought it, but it wasn’t real good wood. However, by the time he’d varnished it, it looked pretty handsome and it was sturdy. We have, in fact, used it for 30 years. It does, however, have one drawback. I’m sure Daddy measured our doorways, but he failed to allow quite enough room for fingers to pass between the jambs. Ernie claims my dad had it in for him, but I think he was trying to make the tray as big as he could. So maneuvering the tray through doorways has become quite an art in this house.

Elizabeth didn’t fail to notice how useful our tray is, and she asked Ernie if he could make one for her. He rose to the challenge, making this magnificent tray with cherry sides and a black bottom, finished with 5 (five) coats of varnish. My job was to crouch down in the workroom and personally guarantee that the drill was being driven in at exactly the right angle to allow the screws attaching the bottom to the sides to go in perfectly aligned. They did. I hope that Jeff and Elizabeth will still be using this tray in 30 years time.

It’s Ernie’s Birthday Today

It’s going to be impossible for everyone to get together this weekend, so we are celebrating in bits and pieces. The kids got together and bought him the wrought iron table and chairs he coveted for the garden. Now he wants to build another patio to set them on …

Have you noticed how stereotypical birthday cards for men are? Most of them have pictures of golf courses, fish or moose. The occasional one will show a book. I had to make do with three sailing boats.

So, happy birthday, Ernie. Next year will be a big one.

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

A Tale of Two Barometers

The barometer —or rather wireless weather station—on the left hangs in my brother’s hall in his house in Burwell. It is hooked up to a gizmo on his garage (my brother is the technical one in the family) and among other things, it records the number of inches of rain that have fallen and predicts when a tsunami is likely to attack Cambridge, in which case I suppose the little man at the bottom right puts on suitable clothes. He certainly grabs an umbrella, and maybe his wellies too, when it is going to rain. It is very complicated and Brian explained it all to us. I got most of it, but I am a Fahrenheit gal and this thing works in Celsius. I don’t like having to attack the conversion as a math problem, multiplying by 5/9 and adding 32, but the first couple of columns of this help.

The barometer on the right hung in the hall of our house for as long as I can remember. Every time my dad passed it, he gave it a strong tap. I was never entirely sure what that accomplished, but it seemed to tell him if it was going to rain. This, of course, was England and it was always going to rain. But I always associated the barometer with my dad, and when he died it was the only thing I wanted. All was well until I got to the airport, where I was told that I couldn’t take a barometer on board. Even in those pre-9/11 days, mercury was a no-no. When the agent at Heathrow told me that, I did what any mature, middle-aged mother of five would do. I cried. But he was adamant and the best he could do was keep it in storage for my brother to pick up, pack up and send by sea. That was a lot to ask my brother, but I let the agent take it and boarded the plane.

When I got back to Detroit I told the whole story to my dear friend Bill Murphy, who was Pan Am’s marketing manager and who had got me a ticket when I told him that I needed to get to England right away. Bill expressed his sorrow about the barometer, but made no promises.

A few days later there was a knock on my door and a very special delivery. My dad’s barometer. It has hung on our wall ever since. I don’t tap it often, but whenever I look at it I am taken back to a long ago place and time.

Sorry, Alex

Blogger was messed up last night and it wasn’t possible to load photos, so I am one day late posting a photo of Alex and wishing him a happy birthday. Six years old on August 4! It’s been fun to see him several times this year—with the possible exception of the time we saw him play soccer in 97° weather. He’s a husky little chap—but he loves hugs. He’ll be in First grade this year, so I expect you to write me some letters soon, Alex.