Thursday, September 27, 2007

One step forward. Then, you know.

Puppy Problems
"Oh." I said as I rolled over and heard thunder. Tempted to snuggle in and sleep through the stormy morning, I realized Chienne was already very concerned. I lifted my head and she scurried up to rest on the pillows next to my head while I tried to soothe her. Then she went to the bathtub to hide.

"Hey, pretty girl." I told her when I sat on the edge of the tub. "You need to go outside for me. Please?" After much coaxing, she followed hesitantly as I moved out through the garage and to the front yard.

"Yay!" I congratulated her after she finished. "Such a good, brave girl!" She seemed pleased and followed me happily back inside. I went to get coffee and returned to frown at my precious pup.

"That's OK. You're still a good girl." I told her softly, wrinkling my nose at the small pile of vomit on the floor. I patted her and went to get paper towels and a plastic bag.

Then I saw a bigger mess in the hall.

Here, ducky, ducky...
I unlocked the office, flipped on the light and woke the computer. I took a breath and paged Dr. Icing. I haven't read that paper in about a month. It wouldn't kill me to throw it away, but it would hurt.

"So I can still submit it?" I confirmed after he spoke for a moment. I sighed with relief and agreed that he'd call me after he was out of surgery to discuss a few changes to my document.

Several hours later, we went over many, many, many changes in my "ready-to-submit" manuscript. Then he asked for another copy and tracked changes on it. Many changes. So I'm spending the evening fixing figures and reading text on a paper I thought was done. Which is better than trashing it, of course. But a blow to my "look what a good writer I'm becoming!" ego.

Greater than 92%
"Oooh, wraps." I cooed mentally at seeing the trays set up in the back of the room. I picked out a small turkey and a small roast beef, grabbed a can of soda and sat down. I soon went to fetch more napkins when my mostly-frozen soda exploded all over me, the table and floor.

"At least I was wearing black." I said, embarrassed, and began to mop up the mess.

"There are three people speaking." Joe said several minutes later. He named the two men, then frowned in thought. I was sitting one seat away from him, Dawn between us. I had earlier asked him how he was feeling since he'd recently been sick.

"I'm about 92%." He said and I thought that was about how much I disliked him. I rolled my eyes when he couldn't remember I was the third speaker - far too many scheduled for his stupid lunch meeting. He continued to talk about how weird it was he couldn't remember.

"It's me." I offered and he blinked at me for a moment, then laughed very loudly. I looked away from him until he was quiet.

"It's impressive, actually." I said to Dawn, facing Joe as he took his turn at looking away. "Did you know I was invisible to Joe? Like a superhero."

But I hate him more than 92%. Every time I see him, I find something else I abhor. I know this makes me a bad person, but I really don't care.

I'm aggressive. And persistent. I feel badly about it.
I mentioned I'd been snippy in an email with the no-credit project. Drug Person wrote again today with a spreadsheet she had done to track progress. She asked me to view it and let her know what was missing.

I got angry.

I opened it, muttering all the while about how she wouldn't even do her own job, and glanced over it while looking at the records we sent her last month. The document wasn't even up to date.

To: Drug Person
From: Angry Katie

Is this an old version? I don't see any of the work we sent last time - enclosed with the note from VIMD that requested I be an author on future papers - reflected on the document.


Then I muttered some more. I was alone in the office so it was less weird than it could have been. But I have taken every opportunity to remind Drug Person that I'm not being given anything for doing this work. Which is unfair and ridiculous and only the hope that VIMD will win out over Drug Person keeps me trying because I want that authorship so badly!

So I've been borderline obnoxious because there's only so much I can tolerate. The last email today from Drug Person advised patience. But assured me that I would be a co-author on any eventual papers.

So why does it disappoint me that it was such a hard battle to win? That I behaved in a way that brings me shame and it actually worked. Being abrupt and rude, refusing to work unless it was at my convenience, demanding what I wanted - it was effective. And I fear those things make me too uncomfortable to do longterm.

Purely sad
"You'll have to pick a new favorite." Friend said as I petted the prettiest of her cats. I had loved the one that's now gone. She was very small and incredibly smart. She would stay with me when I visited Friend, finding a spot on the back of the couch or sometimes on my chest when I would lie down. She would stare at me like she knew everything there was to know. And she would curl up with me and offer comfort when I desperately needed it.

I loved her. She was my favorite. And I miss her - very, very much. It's hard to lose someone important and this cat was quite important.

Since I was sad, I called home on my drive back to my house. Mom is sick now. She thinks the bladder infection - her latest of a seemingly endless stream - is causing problems. So she's been throwing up all day. Which worries me a good deal. I see my doctor tomorrow to ask why I don't ever seem to feel very well. I need to get the oil in my car changed. Walk the dog. Fix those figures. Try to focus on all three papers I have in mind.

But I told Chienne that she could throw up whenever she wants. She's important. And while it's difficult to see the bright side when I feel like I've taken some hits today, I'm ending the day much as I started it. A warm dog is sleeping at my side. So there's hope that tomorrow will be better. And maybe today wasn't as bad as it could have been. One step forward is, perhaps, better than no steps at all.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Herding Ducks

When Friend was writing her now-submitted paper, she spoke of how her ducks weren't all in a row and the days she spent chasing the winged creatures around the pond. I found myself muttering about the darn ducks today as I attempted to write my current paper.

It's an altogether satisfying experience for me now. I'm not aiming very high, though the journals I have in mind have rejected me before. And I'm not nearly so intimidated by the process as I was in grad school. I've read a lot more. I write a lot better. Somehow the information flows and I can put paragraphs together. I see figures in my head. I rather like the feeling.

But my work involves piecing things together. And I decided to identify a single duck and chase it determinedly until I capture the little sucker and create a figure, write the methods, then put together my results/discussion paragraphs. (Bless journals that combine the sections.) I caught a single one yesterday. Then I spent today chasing another. But this duck isn't as pretty as I'd like. And while I can speculate on why his feathered body looks different than I expected, I don't even know how to get the data that would prove my point. So he keeps slipping out of the row despite my best efforts to contain him.

So I moved on to another one this evening. An easy one - located close to the row, pretty slow, very obvious. Which is a balm for my poor ego. The longer I think about this paper, the better the flow and the more giddy I get.

Before I get too self-congratulatory, I am to page Dr. Icing tomorrow to discuss the ready-to-submit paper. It's also quite good and all the other co-authors (save Dr. Icing and the Penguin) have said lovely things about it. But I'm very concerned that I'll be told to cease and desist even though I believe this work is considerably different than what Penguin is using. I think.

It will, however, crush my meager will to work if those ducks - so neatly lined and wrapped up in a pdf file ready for peer review - are scattered by a mentor who has done very little for my work here. Perhaps you should brace yourself for some whining.

(The picture isn't really relevant. I just was going through Chicago photos and I rather liked this one. It does have water, I guess. And ducks like water. So... I don't know.)

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Well, yes, but...

That doll has problems.
"Cheer Bear says," I raised the pitch of my voice and bounced the floppy, pink bear on the bed as I spoke to Little One last weekend, "that it's not nice to hit. Care Bears like to hug and dance and sing! Not hit!" I proceeded to pick up Share Bear and have the two stuffed toys dance around the bed to the song emanating from Blue's Clues on TV. "No hitting, just dancing! No hitting, just dancing!" The two bears and I turned to face my little niece and the tiny figurine she held. She frowned at us for a moment, then shook her head.

"I'm going to have to hit you now." She said before her little doll whacked at poor Cheer Bear. In that moment, she reminded me ever so strongly of Friend with her bemusement at the overly cute and rejection of whatever sweet advice I had to give that I laughed until my sides hurt. Then I moved the bears behind my back to protect them from further attacks. So while she placed the pastel animals in a sack to bring over, they were slapped around by this twit of a doll.

"Why is she so mean?" I asked. "And what is she doing now?"

"Taking off her clothes." She answered. "Because all her friends do it too." She replied when I inquired over the reason for disrobing the doll.

"So she likes to hit and takes off her clothes because of peer pressure?" I clarified. "Would she consider going to therapy?"

"She has to go shopping." Little One replied, moving the doll with painted-on lingerie to a tiny car and scooting it along the bed. "To Walmart."

"Fair enough." I said.

Oh, no. I'm injured.
My ankle - after all this time - is better. It still hurts and some reading online assures me I should have immobilized the sucker all this time. But the brace hurt! So now I must suffer an ankle that appears to have healed just a tiny bit wrong. But I can walk! And it's only a bit sore when I first stand up!

However, my constant favoring of my right ankle has resulted in rebellion by the left knee. I think it crackled when I was walking down stairs yesterday. Now it hurts. But I do think it's getting a bit better too. I believe I will eventually heal.

Oh! And I got bills from the visit to the ER. $1500 for supplies (x-rays, gigantic boot, general visit) and another $400 for the actual doctor fees. I payed $112.90, which is perfectly fine, but goodness, medical bills are expensive. Mom's knees are nearly $100K (she paid $1250 and is at her maximum out of pocket) and Uncle's back currently stands at $90K. Wow. Really.

Home vs. Home
I miss my mommy. She's doing well but she misses me too. Her legs are very sore now and she's bruising easily since she takes all these blood thinners. I'm tremendously grateful that I was able to spend so much time with her though.

I do, however, enjoy certain parts of my house. My lovely shower with the water pressure and all my soaps. The dog door that keeps me from getting up to let out the dog. My water - I like the taste better for some reason.

The quiet is nice, but strange. I like control over the TV volume. But I miss hearing people moving about the house. There's room enough for Chienne behind my knees and Sprout perched on a corner of the bed. But I can't roll over and listen for noises down the hall that indicate Mom requires company or help. So I have mixed feelings.

Problems. Then more problems.
I'm writing a paper and have several ideas for the discussion (which is helpfully mapped out. Friend spoke convincingly about writing the paper before all the data is in so she could guide her thinking. I must have believed her because I'm drafting the document to decide what's important enough to actually analyze.) that required figures and tables. I thought I'd get through at least 2 today. At least. I just made it through one. And my p value isn't significant and I need another figure for talks I might give. The black and white one that will go in the paper submission isn't appropriate for my pretty slides.

Henry took my work, thanked me, then asked for more slides. Any bets on whether I'll get any credit in his talk? I bet no.

Carrie is writing a paper that I did some work on some time back. Which is great - she's very busy and I'm glad she got to it. But I'm not sure my results fit and they're not doing what I expected and I had to drag stuff off storage to the laptop and it wouldn't all fit so I had to do it in sections and while I think it's right, I'm not sure it's useful. So I'm frustrated. Not with Carrie or her colleagues - they're actually lovely - but with the situation in general. Despite years of experience, I still can't solve some problems and understand some concepts well enough. Discouraging, that.

It is, however, good to make progress.

Blogs
After being away and struggling to settle in here, I'm not as motivated as I could be to write. I hope that drive comes back. I also hope I find some energy to make some necessary changes to part 2 of my book. There are a few folks who have been kind enough to read it. I hope they remain nice enough to finish it and give me more comments when I finally rewrite certain parts of the end. I'm just mentally blah.

Others, luckily, have good stuff to say. PonderingFool put together a wonderful Postdoc Carnival. I'm riveted by Alethea's updates on publishing in the big name journals. Having known no one who did so, a glimpse behind the curtain is fascinating for me. Especially since my impression is that she has a strong paper. I keep thinking I'll comment on Chris's post on gender, but I tell stories when I make points and I don't know exactly how to articulate how I feel about this issue. But I do think about it and I am profoundly bothered by it sometimes. It also makes me tired and sad, which leaves me silent. Which strikes me as less than ideal. I know there was more that I read and liked. But now I can't remember. Phooey.

And now I have to go make one more figure before I can move on to the next problem.

Monday, September 24, 2007

The Formation of Anger

“I know you think I’m awful.” Carrie said years ago after removing a sucker from her mouth to honk and scold a driver who cut her off on our way back from lunch. Full of yummy Mexican food and not eager to return to our office with the excellent view, I looked at her with wide eyes. “It’ll happen to you too.” She decided, then guided her car toward the parking near campus.

At the time - as I first started grad school - I wondered if she was right and decided she certainly wasn’t. “I used to be nice too.” She insisted. “Grad school turned me into a bitch.”

It seemed so unnecessary to me though. Yes, the driver made a mistake, but was it really worth it to correct him so noisily? Why make people feel badly when it wasn’t necessary? She was sort of mean sometimes.

I, however, am obedient and sweet. Not at all like Carrie. Or so I thought until the trip back to my house yesterday found me honking and scowling (there may have also been a finger involved) at this jackass who wouldn’t let me merge. I failed to acknowledge it at the time, but I realized this morning that I’m not just angry in the car.

“I don’t hope she has a nice day.” I muttered after Mom smiled at the woman who made us wait at the post office before finally deigning to sell a book of stamps last week.

“Do you hear that woman yelling for help?” I asked a nurse at the station before Mom came down from recovery. When she scowled at me, I scowled right back. “I just think you should do your job.” I sneered, unable to resist the jab.

I wrote a comment for PsycGirl yesterday and realized it was painfully true. If I don’t get credit for doing something, count me out. A project just to learn? No. Editing just to help out a student? I think not. Moving up my talk because one of the professors has a conflict? Not anymore. The same attitude I clucked over in Carrie has encompassed me just as she predicted.

I’m tired, I think. Of getting the emails to volunteer for a conference and seeing the recipient list made exclusively of women. Of watching a herd of people follow an important professor back from lunch and noting they’re all men. Of having people ignore my email. Of the constant expectation to politely help and smile when I get nothing from the experience. Of not getting my rightful place on an author list. Of being rejected from journals until Boss rewrites my work.

I’m unhappy, I know. I was ill much of the time at home. I don’t like stress and conflict. “I love having Katie home.” Mom would tell any number of friends. “She takes care of me. [Dad] helps, of course, but he expects me to make decisions. Katie takes over and I can just relax while she figures things out.” And it’s true. I research online and write to Charlie to ask medical questions in his area. I make lists of questions - some of which I found in my bag this morning when I arrived at the office. I note schedules and medications and appointments. I cook dinner and clean and organize without being asked. I don’t expect thanks for those things. I love my parents and know they would take care of me again whenever I needed them.
The balance is off at work. Not with many people, of course. Residents and assistant professors and other postdocs promptly return my emails and edit my manuscripts. As we all try to claw our way up, it’s worthwhile to help collaborators since those publications bear your name as well. Yet once someone reaches a certain point, the lack of interest is maddening. SPB - despite 3 emails - won’t get back to me about funding more patients. The bowing and scraping was, apparently, for naught. I can’t decide whether to bug his secretary or get Quiet Mentor to step in. I’m leaning toward the former, but am already writing the paper as a case study if I can’t do more work on it.

Dr. Icing has also put me off for over 2 months. The paper is actually ready to submit - uploaded and proofed and everything - but I feel wrong about pushing the final button without meeting with him first. Yet I’m frustrated with his inability to set a meeting time or just read the sucker and make notes on it.

When someone from the drug company wrote about Project A, I swore. I had problems and - since I receive neither money or credit - asked the employee who receives both money and credit to solve it. She bounced it back to me instead. Then wrote to ask if I was done yet. So I replied and sent email before I talked myself out of it. I had not done anything, I replied, as I’d not had time. This was a side project and since she assured me I wouldn’t be author, nor was I receiving payment for my services, it was understandable that it slipped far down the priority list. I’d get to it when I could and if that was a problem, I suggested she handle it herself.

I never thought I’d do such a thing - send an email that was at best borderline rude. I also don’t feel the slightest bit badly about it. I’m becoming sort of hateful in certain situations, which strikes me as sad but inevitable. This environment makes some of us vicious. And unhappy people are dangerous - I don't mind if I take others down with me.

Yet when I was walking to get water this morning, weaving through halls I hadn’t seen in 3 weeks, I smiled at Boss when he exited a conference room.

“Hi.” I said and he smiled, shifted his legal pad to the other arm, and wrapped one around my shoulders and squeezed.

“How are you?” He asked, looking sincere and concerned as he listened to my answer. He spoke not a word about my being gone for so long, didn’t ask about my taking vacation days or the meetings I’d pushed back while I was away. He simply nodded then told me he was glad I returned.

When he asked a favor, I spent the day putting slides together for Henry. Boss wants an upcoming talk to go well for the man who has been less than kind to me, so I will work on it. Henry has very little data on which to speak, so he can use mine. Boss is generous with me, so I can return the favor when asked.

But it’s probably one of those things that - once Henry fails to acknowledge me in a talk composed of all my stuff - will eventually piss me off. And I’m starting to wonder if I can live with this person I’m becoming.

Friday, September 21, 2007

The Manipulation of the Knees

“Dammit.” Said Dad yesterday morning. Fearing some calamity on the day we were to have Mom’s knees pushed and pulled to tear scar tissue, I opened my eyes and listened. He soon opened the door to the toy room where Mom sleeps with all of Little One’s books and toys and assorted items.

“You can’t throw Kleenex boxes in the little garbage can!” He complained bitterly. “It makes it fall over!”

That statement led to a less than charitable series of thoughts where I wondered what kind of ass decides to make life even more miserable on a trying day. And over something so trivial and stupid! I maligned his character (silently, of course) while I brushed my teeth and wandered to the living room. He soon started on more problems with the house - “It’s a good thing she doesn’t stay home all the time,” he said, shaking his head at the mildly cluttered living room. “She sure doesn’t clean while she’s here.”

“I’m going to another room.” I told him snippily, not at all sympathetic to complaints of my dear mother who would soon be admitted to our downtown healthcare facility.

Now I would never be so foolish - after a lesson such as that one - to begin to list the number of things that irritated/offended/made me swear at the hospital over the last two days. I will say there were many.

I will say that Mom did beautifully. She stays confused as she recovers from the anesthesia, but she’s very sweet and obedient throughout. She learns people’s names and rarely asks for anything. A wonderful woman, my mother. I adore her. So I would pop up from my pallet on the floor each time anyone came to talk to her, repeating their requests or advice until she understood and acquiesced. She would offer kisses and tell me she loved me as I would hold the non-IV-bearing hand until she soon drifted off to a drugged sleep again.

Her knees are now able to go straighter and bend more, the surgeon assuring me the scar tissue rent with a loud sound. “Everyone in the room heard it.” He said, sounding quite satisfied with himself. “It was one of the easier procedures I’ve done and I think it went very well.”

This is the time where I become hypocritical because I do not think it went very well. It was only as I was drifting off to sleep when Brother came to pick me up this morning (Apparently going over 24 hours without sleep is enough to steal any remnant of youth I have left and turn me into a shaky, doddering old woman who is queasy, achy and crampy. It was awful. So Dad returned to the hospital and Brother came to fetch me, then dropped me off at home to cuddle and nap with my puppy.) that I realized I had mimicked Dad. I had lists of arguably small complaints that had consumed much of my attention while waiting. While I did pray some, I am ashamed to admit I noticed and tsked over hospital flaws a great deal more.

I was going to detail my problems with the waiting (8 hours before the procedure) and rude staff (several people were incompetent or stupid or blatantly mean) or lack of information (if there's a color-coded surgery board, someone should change the colors when new things happen! Otherwise, it's just pretty and useless). But it’s better to remember the nurse coming in sometime around 2 and Mom blinking her eyes open and lifting her hand to rub at the oxygen tube they insisted stay on her nose. The nurse asked how she was and Mom nodded and smiled sweetly.

“I’m fine.” She said softly, already drifting back to sleep. “How are you?”

As I seem to continue to crave sleep, though I wander down the hall to peek in on Mom who is also resting comfortably, I’ll just say we appear to be fine. And I hope you’re all doing well too.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Tedium

I spent a couple hours this afternoon to mindlessly watch television and add references to EndNote. It's pleasant enough and a way to pass the time until we're due at the hospital tomorrow (10:30 - her procedure will likely start sometime after 1). I type words into FirstSearch and export my references as Friend told me to do and slowly build a library for this paper I'm going to sneak in.

We basically waited today. I slept very well last night, and woke before Mom this morning. I played with data and wrote a bit. I was deep inside my head and rather enjoyed being there with all the thoughts and plans. I pondered what advice I would offer for the upcoming carnival and decided that "find a job where you can basically take a month off for ankle/travel/family issues." was likely less than appropriate. I'll keep thinking on it.

I put boneless ribs (delightful! Delicious without gnawing meat off a bone!) in the crockpot this morning, then Mom and I relaxed. She read while I worked, then we both napped. We ran a couple of errands this afternoon before returning home to finish dinner preparations. Dad got home, grilled the ribs, then we cleaned up. Mom just left us in the living room watching Headline News so she could finish her book. Dad's reading Hot Rod and I'm writing for my blog. It's very peaceful and quiet (apart from the painfully loud TV volume - I think Dad is going deaf.) So we're all waiting. And preparing for a stressful day at the hospital, which we hope will be quick and easy and successful, but will nonetheless leave us all nervous and exhausted.

In the meantime, home is calling. Cousin and her family went last weekend to check on my house. Jay mowed the lawn. Cousin and Little Cousin got the mail and watered plants. I've moved multiple appointments multiple times. I've apologized to several people at work for pushing back meetings. I miss home in some sense, but feel no great pull to return. I think the mental separation that occurs when I prepare to leave a place has started to occur. The tug that makes me long for my bed and the cooler temperature on the thermostat and the dog door that keeps Chienne from waking me at all hours. I miss not arguing with Dad about things I know are false but he doggedly argues are true. I like being able to think of Mom as healthy and happy when I don't walk down the hall and see evidence to the contrary. But I'm not anxious to leave.

Yet I return on Sunday. When Mom makes appointments for next week, I realize I'll have to call to receive updates. I'm praying this all goes well and that she found some comfort from my being around this week. Because it's coming to an end soon. But it was nice to have a restful day as we head into this last hurdle.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Placement of the Filter

From the hospital waiting room:
We tremble when we’re nervous. Through all of this, Mom hasn’t cried in front of anyone - we simply don’t do that. But the shakiness affects her, leaving her signature looking wobbly and wrong when I glance at papers before tucking them in my bag. I filled out the privacy forms yesterday afternoon and held her hand in mine this morning to lend support.

I find myself completely alone, save the receptionist, in the cath lab waiting room. It’s decorated in greens and purples and there is classical music with ocean sounds playing. Out the window, I can see the tallest buildings in the skyline, still lit as they sky is still pink with the blushes of dawn.

“I wonder when it gets light out.” I asked Mom as we stared out into the darkness not long ago. She asked me if I could be ready in 10 minutes at 5:07 this morning. I dressed and brushed my teeth, pulled my hair in a ponytail and we made the drive in silence.

“I don’t know.” She offered to my observation after a moment of looking out the waiting room window. “I thought it would be light already.”

We arrived and parked, catching a ride on a nifty little cart at the entrance that took us to admitting. We then wove our way to the sub-basement levels that being built on a hill offers a structure and found ourselves in this room. It’s pleasant. And, after hearing the only other occupants say they’ve been coming here for 16 years before departing to sit with their person in the back exam rooms, I realized I must have been here seven years ago to sit while Dad’s angioplasty was done.

It was dark then too. Evening had deepened to night and I think it was early morning when Rachel drove me back to the apartment. I recall speaking to Elle when I arrived, then going to the shower to cry and cry.

This is much more civilized, I think. Neatly planned and politely executed. The people seem friendly and cheerful on this Tuesday morning. I sipped some free coffee without thinking about it, wondering too late if it was wise to dispel the sleepy haze that surrounded me thus far. I didn’t sleep well last night and struggled with a headache, but I feel OK this morning. Not overly nervous. Only mildly ill.

“I have dollar bills in my wallet.” Mom said as I stared ahead of me at the black machine offering Cold Drinks in white letters. There is a blue snowflake in the O of Cold.

“I have some too.” I said. “My wallet is in here somewhere.”

She packed a few items in the gray bag I carried in DC. It has a small tear in the front, which I suppose is reasonable since I bought it when I was interviewing for grad school. That was not long after Dad had his heart attack. She remembered to tuck my lip gloss in a pocket after seeing it on a coffee table. I also have her glasses and wallet and both of our phones.

“Can you tuck my laptop in its case?” I asked as I took Chienne outside to potty before we left. I returned and was handed my bag even as I took the collar off my sleepy dog. We like to be early, though the years I’ve worked on the fringes of the medical field should have taught me it’s unwise to arrive too far before your scheduled appointment. Yet the time has allowed me to read the scrolling words that ‘Your favorite coffee beverage is now available in a 14 oz size.’ I also know that, from top to bottom, the Cold Drinks machine has Pepsi, Diet Pepsi, Diet Pepsi again, Mountain Dew, root beer, Aquafina, Coke, Diet Coke, Sprite and Diet Coke again. There is a water tucked in my bag - my parents said I drank too much soda last night when I was sick once again. Perhaps they’re right.

As we sat in the exam room yesterday, talking to the young man with impressive enough credentials who will, in 10 minutes time, begin inserting a spider-looking filter into my mother’s vein, Mom asked questions to which I knew the answers. I’d previously grilled his PA and was satisfied enough with his answers. If something goes wrong, he’ll fix it himself - he’s a vascular surgeon. There is a possibility of bleeding, yes, but the half life of the stinging Lovenox shots is 12 hours. So if she skips her mornings shot - which she did - she should be fine. The clots will break up on their own. No, she shouldn’t need the filter were it not for the damn knee manipulations. (I inserted the swear word - the PA didn’t curse.) He could damage the vena cava, but she’d never seen that happen.

I looked down at the list I scrawled on the back of a drug questionnaire and nodded. I don’t know what the right answer is. I worry that she’d get better care if I took her home with me. I feel I must balance Dad’s “let the experts decide what to do” confidence in our local doctors with some sort of skeptic expression. Doctors don’t impress me much anymore. Then again, I don’t know how to insert this filter myself.

“What if these clots break loose?” Mom asked. I didn’t make a face, though I wanted to.

“The medication keeps them from getting bigger.” The doctor said slowly and gently. I bristled that he might think us stupid, but tried to relax. “It doesn’t break them up. Your body will do that on its own most of the time.”

I wanted to remind Dad that I’d said the exact same thing, but I resisted that impulse too. But Vascular Surgeon answered the questions as they were answered online. So we moved on.

At five minutes to seven, the happy nurse came to fetch me and I went to sit with Mom in the busy room in back. There was only a single man in one of the many beds that were separated by curtains in some busy pattern. I sat for only a few minutes before the nurse - not the cheerful man but a blonde woman - came to wheel Mom away.

“So I’ll put you on the bed, then he’ll be here in 10 minutes.” Nurse said as we began to move. “You follow me.” She said to me. “I’ll take you around this way. So,” she turned back to Mom. “He’ll be here in 10 minutes and that’s how long it takes me to get you all set up and situated! Wish her well.” She instructed me.

I hurried forward, pressed a kiss to her cheek, told her I loved her and would see her soon, then blinked back tears as I saw she was crying just the smallest amount. “You’ll be fine. I’ll see you soon.” I repeated.

“Well, hello!” Two women approached having waved at Mom as she passed. “You don’t remember us.” One said, but I didn’t give her my attention until the doors of Lab 4 closed behind Mom and Nurse. The women were both mothers of girls I knew in high school. I engaged in distracted conversation with both of them, offering one of them my business card (since I carried this bag to DC, I had some with me) when she noted she was writing a paper on some of my research. I tried to attend to their updates on their children. One has four children, the other is planning her second wedding.

“I’m not married.” I said, glancing back at the door. “Will someone let me know when she’s done? This isn’t supposed to take long, right?”

They went back to work, and I walked slowly toward the waiting room again, reclaiming my chair that reclines and has a footrest. A crowd of people had congregated in my absence, and I believe they all belong to a tiny girl. She was wandering toward the rest room when I proceeded toward the waiting room.

“I’m scared, Mommy.” She told the woman at her side.

“It is scary.” Her mother agreed as she tugged the child around the corner and into a bathroom. “But they’re going to fix you up today, then you’ll be all better.”

I’m glad we came early though - the quiet darkness seems more appropriate to the occasion than the bustle and noise that currently encompasses the waiting room as people move to get their favorite coffee drinks or make a selection from something cold (with a snowflake in the O). I continue to watch the clock in the corner of my laptop screen. This should be over soon, I keep thinking. Perhaps she’s almost done. In 10 minutes, I’ll start to worry. Someone should get me soon.

From home:
At 7:45, a girl came to the door to call my name. I hurried after her, having put my laptop away so as to be ready to spring into action. The small girl's name was Ashley. I believe this to be true even though she responded to the nurse calling her with a firm, "No!" Her parents went to the back with her and I hope she does very well today. Poor thing.

“Is everything OK?” I asked as I followed a different nurse back to the room with all curtains and beds.

“Sure. She did fine.” She said and I saw Vascular Surgeon when I walked in the room, still dressed in his lead jacket. I took the paper he handed me and glanced at it before craning my neck to see around the edge of the curtain. Mom looked fine, so I gave him my attention.

“For your Christmas card.” He smiled and I nodded impatiently. “That’s the filter and this is the vein.” He explained, tracing the edges with his finger when I couldn’t figure out where the boundaries were. All I could really see was the spine from the x-ray. “She did just fine and we’ll see her again on Monday.”

I asked a couple of questions about medications, shook his hand again and thanked him, then moved to hold Mom’s hand.

“He was late.” She told me. “It only took 10 minutes, but I was in that room waiting for a long time. He didn’t get to the hospital until 7:30 and my appointment was at 7.” I nodded and squeezed the hand I held.

“Doctors are often late.” I explained while she frowned in disapproval. We’re habitually early in my family - waiting is hard. But wait we did while her vitals were checked a couple of times. I talked to Dad, then Brother, then Aunt. The nurse - as it neared 8:15 - took out her IV and allowed her to dress. I helped, removing clothing from the plastic bag under her bed and holding it for her to put on. I smoothed her hair and told her she could take off the sticky lead thingies when we got home. I then asked for a wheelchair so we could make the hike to the garage.

We stopped for breakfast on our way home, both of us eating just a bit before stopping at the store. There are fresh tomatoes from the fence garden and Mom likes them with cottage cheese. I then drove home - honking once at the idiot in the left lane who was going too slow while he talked on his cell phone.

“Your horn is magical!” I told Mom happily when he sped up to get out of my way. “I can’t believe that worked!”

“Congratulations.” She told me, beginning to blink sleepily. We came inside and sat in the living room.

“It’s good to be home.” She sighed, then asked what I was going to do today. She nodded when I told her my meager plans, then wandered down to her room, closing the door so she could nap in peace.

We’re home. It went well. One procedure down. One more to go. Now I think I'll nap too.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Vascular Surgeon Says

"So you'll check in at the hospital tomorrow morning at 6. We'll do the procedure at 7 and you should be on your way home by 8:30."

Mom and I are both rather ill with stress. Dad is going to work tomorrow, so I'll be at the hospital on my own. It should be a quick and relatively easy procedure to place the filter.

I'm praying that it goes well. I'm not consciously worried, but I am feeling sick. I'm already ready for this week to be over.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Happy Birthday Party

We arrived over an hour early for the party. Little One and Brother came out the front door as we pulled in the driveway.

"Did you bring my cake?" She called as she made her way down the front steps. "And my candles?"

"Yes, we did." I smiled at her as I handed the cake to Brother and he bent to show her. "Happy Birthday Party!" I grinned since she turned three last week. I gave Brother a look when she didn't smile back. He shrugged.

Mom sat on one of the steps with Smallest One while Brother's Wife went to run an errand. Little One took a seat on one of the higher steps as she waited for her mother and guests to arrive for her event. She didn't want to play with the Care Bear I brought, so it smiled brightly next to her, still in the Dora bag I used for transport.

Little One did perk up once her mom got home. Her daycare provider came with her family to drop off gifts, then Brother's in-laws and friends began to arrive.

"I need to wash my hands." Little One said insistently.

"You're fine." Brother told her, trying to get drinks for everyone.

"I'll go with you." I said, reaching down to take the tiny extremity she declared too dirty to endure. We climbed the stairs to the bathroom and I boosted her up so she could lather and rinse and dry. But we had accidentally dampened the ends of her sweatshirt sleeves so we had to find a new one of those. Obviously.

"The both have movies." She said of the 2 Care Bears I gave her. Someone had placed them in her room and I asked where she got the big, blue bear behind the two new additions to the bear family.

"He's their Dad." She told me. And when I asked about his name, she replied, "Trophy on his belly Bear." Swamped with affection for the creature, I cuddled her for a moment before finding a suitable sweatshirt before we rejoined the party. I held her hand as we walked slowly down the stairs from the deck.

"Look who's here." I said softly as we turned the corner. I didn't recognize everyone myself, and blinked in surprise as my niece wrapped her arms around my leg as she hid behind me. "Little One? Are you OK?" As I tried to see her little face, she released me and reached up to be held. I eagerly scooped her up, wiped at a bit of orange powder around her mouth from the cheese curl and moved my head so she could hide her face in my neck.

"There's Smallest One." I told her, keeping our distance from the crowd.

"I want to swing." She said so I moved toward her swingset and tucked her into the blue swing, per her instructions. "You'll push me now." She said and I obediently moved behind her while she chattered at me. We talked about swings and Smallest One, daycare and her dog ("She's a drama queen." I'm told), all the while pushing her away from me and into the shade, then watching her move toward me and into the sunshine again. We spent a long time away from everyone, talking and swinging and enjoying the sunshine. I felt rather special, honestly, spending time alone with the birthday girl.

We later joined the crowd, having decided it was time for cake. She blew out her candles and accepted our singing gracefully.

"Go at it! With your hands!" Her mom cried after the candles were blown out. Mom, Dad, Brother and I turned to her at once with identical frowns.

"You only do that on first birthdays." Dad said disapprovingly.

"We can cut her a piece." Mom offered, still frowning.

"I'll get a knife." Brother said after shaking his head, moving toward the kitchen. I, knowing better, didn't speak. Little One waited patiently until the first piece was placed in front of her, then picked up her plastic fork and began to daintily scoop up icing. The four of us looked on proudly.

We moved outside to open presents. Brother's Mother-in-Law wanted to so that she could offer the free desk she'd obtained. I disapproved once again because Mom struggles with stairs. But we moved back to the patio while Little One clapped with glee and glanced at each item before moving on to the next. She's really very sweet, I thought, as she talks quickly about each gift then throws thank yous over her shoulder.

I glanced down at Smallest One as she rested in her carseat, frowning when she looked too scrunched. She opened her eyes rarely, squeaking a bit more often, but never crying.

"Little One?" I called a few minutes later when presents were abandoned for bubbles. "May I have hugs and kisses?"

"Yes." She nodded after thinking for just a moment. She wrapped tiny arms around my neck and pursed her lips so I could kiss them.

"I love you." I told her, meaning it with all my heart and wishing everything wonderful for her.

"Love you too." She said, turning back to pick up her bubble wand.

It was, I think, an absolutely lovely afternoon. I hadn't planned to be there, given that I should have been home long ago, but I'm grateful I was able to attend. I had a wonderful time.

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Sunny, but cool. Aging and youth.

I remember when the red tractor was Dad’s. The new ones always go to him for some reason, leaving Mom with the older of the two lawnmowers we keep around. They have since bought a green one and the red one is relegated to the female mowing helper. I decided I would offer to help today since Mom’s feeling a bit off and the vibrations bother her knees. Plus, I love this weather. It’s in the lower 60s and beautifully sunny.

I bounced around on the red tractor in the extra lot on the right half of my parents 2.5 acre property. Some of my lines were squiggly - perhaps I wanted to hit that giant mushroom head on to hear the sound it made as it was sliced into pieces. Sometimes I was trying to make my way gracefully around the 5 trees on that side of the yard, though I always ended up ducking low and batting at branches that attempted to thwap me in the head. But I slowly made my way around circles with decreasing radii as the grass was clipped short in the yard.

Dad, meanwhile, raced around the lot filled with property. I was not to mow too close to his new garage so as not to mar the siding. I waved my hand at him and told him he could take care of all the little nooks created by the house, trees, fenced yard and garages. He did, meandering from his course a few times to catch spaces I missed in the ditch or close to our property line.

I was trying to help near the end, having finished with my section of yard, and glanced up to find that Dad was blocking my path. I frowned, then shook my head, turning my mower around and rumbling back toward the shed while the hood clanged gently against the body of the tractor when I’d hit a particularly impressive bump. I glanced over my shoulder to find Dad carefully mowing around a baby pine tree he and Little One put in the ground. Brother and I each planted one - they came free from school - near the front of the yard when we were young. I’m still impressed that they’ve grown so large over the years. But the tree Little One put in was small and Dad was protecting it from me as he carefully trimmed the grass around it.

I took a walk past those three trees this morning, offering a comment to my dog that she should be slow and gentle - as she was yesterday morning when we went - so as to not knock me down. It’s very cool here - we closed up the house to sleep last night, but I went without a sweatshirt this morning. The sunshine was bright and warm and the breeze was crisp and clean. It was lovely and quiet, even at 11:00.

We went to a cruise-in last night at Dad’s request. I didn’t feel well, nor did Mom, but we piled in the 1976 black pickup truck and drove to get dinner, then proceeded to park in a lot and sit. And sit. And sit some more.

“Danny doesn’t look good.” I offered of the man who visited yesterday afternoon. “He seems very slow.”

“He had a stroke.” Dad reminded me. “He can’t work anymore. Doesn’t remember much - I’m surprised he was able to find our house.”

I nodded and considered that it was sad that so many people have aged so dramatically while I’ve been in school. We drove home a few minutes later - Dad didn’t see anyone with whom he wanted to socialize. I sighed with gratitude at being allowed an escape from a restaurant parking lot for the evening. I dislike cruise-ins.

“How are you?” I asked a neighbor a couple of days ago after updating her on Mom’s upcoming treatments.

“Still alive.” She sighed then repeated her offer to come sit with Mom anytime. Neighbor's cancer - after many years - has returned and she doesn’t look well. I used to see her walking out to get her mail and paper. Now she drives the short distance out her drive and across the street. She once called for her cats after they’d been out all night. I don’t think there are any pets left now. The neighbor across the street died a month ago - I remember drinking lemonade on her back patio when I was little. The couple who lives next to the now-empty house is divorcing.

“I need my knee replaced, but now I’m afraid.” Mom’s friend offered on our way to lunch on Thursday. “My back has problems and I have bladder infections a couple times a year. Oh, and IBS - that’s awful too.” I shook my head in sympathy.

“How is my uncle?” I asked Aunt when we talked yesterday. I had been cleaning the bathroom and was panting a bit from scrubbing the bathtub.

“He says his back feels sick." Aunt says. "It depends on the day, but I think the surgery helped. He should be feeling better soon."

It’s a bit depressing.

Yet Little One’s third birthday party is tomorrow. Mom ordered a Dora cake just yesterday that we’ll pick up on the way. She called this morning to confirm her dessert and “three candles!” would arrive as scheduled. Mom handed the phone over to Dad after talking with her granddaughter for several minutes.

“She kept saying ‘I love you.’” Mom smiled. “Over and over and over.”

“I love you.” Dad said and I turned to look at him. “I love you too.” He said again. “I love you. I love you. I love you!” I could hear giggles emerge from the cell phone whose volume is always far too loud and smiled with my parents.

I’m worried about the coming week. I feel mildly guilty for asking Cousin to look in on my house, but I hadn’t expected to be gone this long. I’m concerned about Friend. I have a few things going on at work that I wish I could do.

But Jill scanned a document for me so I was able to get a paper uploaded to Good Journal that Often Rejects Me. I sent the pdf to Boss and Dr. Icing and after their approval, I can submit it. I have ideas for other work I can get done from here, though this break isn’t likely to help my career. That’s OK though - choices have consequences.

It’s a beautiful day today. I picked tomatoes from Mom’s garden after I finished mowing. I’m planning to nap soon. There’s a hummingbird that visits a flower right outside the front door sometimes. There are these lovely little flowers around the light post out front. It’s not all misery here. But I do think we have our share lately.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Multiple Choice

Please select the worst moment of today from the following choices.

  1. 1:10PM. I find myself, despite all efforts not to do so, violently throwing up in my parents' bathroom. A migraine started when I was at lunch with Mom and some of her friends. I made it home, took two Excedrin and felt myself get warmer and warmer. I hate the act of vomitting, but I did so regardless. One of those things that's beyond my control. And I don't think I'll have Quiznos salad again, which is a shame since I used to enjoy them.
  2. 3:32AM. Dad gently says my name and asks me to go sit with Mom. I push my glasses on my nose and walk gently down the hall after telling him to have a good day at work. She wept for nearly 30 minutes - the fear and pain and worry wearing her down. I soothed as best I could, being physically present until I coaxed her into taking a Darvocet. Then we both slept.
  3. All darn day. Missing the nurse's call three times to find out if it was OK to take pain meds when she was suffering so. Her surgeon told her only to take one before therapy. I say that if she's that miserable, it's OK to take something to help. I plan to win this one, but need to wait until tomorrow.
  4. 10:20AM. Actually talking to the family doctor - I neither like nor trust him - and realizing that he's as useless as I've always thought. No good suggestions or anything other than complete confidence in local doctors. I'm starting to consider bringing Mom home with me to current institution for care.

Please select the true statement from the following choices.

  1. I am receiving no pressure to return to work from Boss. He will include Mom in his prayers and would like to be updated on her progress and my plans.
  2. My ankle is considerably better. It's still a bit tight, but appears to have assumed a mostly normal shape. I can walk slowly, but with an almost imperceptible limp.
  3. Mom replied to a nurse's question over whether she was pleased she had her knees done with an incredulous look and an "absolutely not."
  4. I'm pleased Mom has good friends who are interested, caring and distracting. Had I not been miserably ill during the meal, I would have enjoyed the women even more.
  5. Dad's doing very well with being comforting and gentle with her. He sat with her this morning before getting me. He gives her injections in her tummy (apparently Lovenox stings like crazy) and is really doing well with all of this. I'm pleased with him.
  6. Tylenol PM does cure my migraines. I was able to keep it down then I slept for an hour and woke up feeling shaky, but OK.
  7. All of the above.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Not a good day

Therapy was this morning at 8:30. Mom's appointment with her knee surgeon was to follow at 9:30. At 2PM, she turned to look at me in our third waiting room at the hospital and - with wide, fearful eyes - said, "That want to put a filter in my heart."

Her knees aren't going straight when she tries to walk. They stay bent at around 20 degrees and this isn't good. And while it isn't common, doctors are familiar with the problem and this one cited some combination of scar tissue and arthritis and insisted that she go back to the hospital for manipulation. Basically, they drug her and force her knees to bend and straighten.

"It's best if you can actually feel and hear the scar tissue tear." Her surgeon said as I looked upon him as if he were a specter of evil.

We waited some more and Mom was resolved to have the procedure - growing tired of the constant ache and inability to walk smoothly - though she was clearly worried.

"Tomorrow." She sighed. "I didn't know they'd do it so soon."

I patted her hand and rearranged my schedule in my head. I would cancel my ankle appointment, move my meeting with Dr. Icing and let Friend know I wouldn't be home until later next week. It would be fine. I can't take her weeping as she slumps over her legs at night. Something has to give. I supposed it might as well be scar tissue.

We were soon off to the hospital for tests. The first would check her legs for clots - DVT is a concern for post-surgical patients and her surgeon didn't want to loosen one and cause a pulmonary embolism during his manipulation. My head started to ache as I sat in the outer waiting room, wondering what could take so long to check two legs for clots.

"Katie?" The tech who disppeared with Mom awhile ago returned to fetch me and I followed her down the hall.

"They found something." Mom said when I sat next to her. "We have to wait while they talk to my surgeon, then they'll talk to us."

We sat in silence, alone in a different waiting room, for long minutes. After about 20 of them, I called the number suggested on the telephone located in the room. I politely asked them to update us on what was going on. We were waiting on the surgeon, they explained. After the radiologist talked to him, he would talk to us, then we could leave.

About 20 minutes later, said radiologist entered the room and explained that there two clots in her left calf. He stretched his thumb as far as it would go from his index finger and estimated the size of the smallest one. The larger, he said, was about twice as big. We peppered him with questions. He answered none and said the surgeon should be calling us from his office.

I called him, used my sharply impatient voice when the message woman got snippy with me, and became more polite when the nurse answered the phone with some sympathy for our day and this news. I handed the phone to Mom when the surgeon finally answered.

"I have to have injections again to thin my blood, then I see someone about putting a filter in my heart so when the clots get loose, they won't do damage."

"How?" I asked, blinking in surprise. This was all supposed to be very standard stuff. Nothing invasive at all - just forcing the knees to bend and stretch.

"I guess they cut me open." She said, hand on her chest.

We moved out to the lab waiting room so she could have blood taken before we departed.

"Maybe my time here is almost up." She said quietly and I shushed her. Then her name was called and she left me alone in the waiting room, clutching my laptop to my chest and gulping back tears as I begged God not to take my mommy.

"You're not dying." I said sensibly as we held hands on the walk through the parking deck to the car. "They wouldn't let you leave the hospital if you were going to leave for Heaven at any given second. The radiologist didn't seem concerned. If you're not meeting the heart guy until Monday afternoon, he's obviously not freaking out. You're going to be OK. This sucks - a lot, actually. But you're going to be fine."

I drove us home, my ankle hugely swollen from all the walking without my brace. We picked up the prescription for the injections, Mom talked to Brother and Dad and Aunt. Then I got here and did some research.

The filter - should she decide to get one - doesn't go in her heart. I think it goes in a vein in her abdomen. And they won't cut her open - they'll go in through her groin. Not good - I'm still worried and staying put at home until we know more - but she does not appear to be on her way from this world. She's scared and tired. I'm more sleepy than terrified at this point. But it's beyond me to leave when things are so unsettled here.

But - for tonight - we're all drowsy as we eat homemade soup and crispy crackers. Dad's in his recliner, manning the remote and Mom's nearly asleep on the couch. I just came in from the back patio as I spoke with Friend.

While the ending is a bit better than the middle, I'm still calling this one a sucky day.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Query Letter

In my continuing quest to appear as delusional as possible, I have decided to work on my query letter to agents and publishers with regard to that novel I wrote. It's not edited. Or really ready to send out. But when websites say I need a short description of the work that might make someone interested in seeing it, well, I felt compelled to write one. This is also the point where I start looking for a few more people to read what I've written and offer criticism and ideas.

Plus, I need help on my query letter. Please. Thank you. (What would make you want to read my book? Or is there nothing at all I could do to convince you?)

Poppy read romance novels. She had shelves and boxes and bags full of books describing love and passion, fluttered over the arrival of new characters and conflicts and scenes describing the undressing and exploration of new relationships. Having been well-versed in the general recipe for a good story, she wished for one of her own. It was simple to discard men thrown at her by friends or chance - they didn’t elicit the right feelings. So while she was disappointed from the hours spent searching and meeting the wrong men, Poppy was ever aware that the right one was coming.

Acknowledging that her life was more textbook then fiction - one would have to order her story online, she groused, since graduate study in the biomedical sciences, wonderful friends and sporadic dates that rarely ended in anything more than an awkward handshake didn’t attract a large enough audience to be stocked on bookshelves in any of the shops she frequented - she set about scripting her own novel. Writing a blog wasn’t, in retrospect, the smartest decision for a lifelong student. But words were irresistible and if reading them wasn’t effective, perhaps writing them would be.

Her plan - to write a journal online and attract her one true love - worked even faster than she hoped. Stewart visited her site and read multiple times each day, slowly started to leave perfect comments offering encouragement and sympathy and, at long last, flirtation.

“You,” Poppy said out loud, staring at her laptop and the dialogue that finally arrived from the right man, “shall be my hero.”

Stewart played the role well. It takes some time to reading romance novels, perhaps venturing into erotic fiction a bit, to realize that heroes are not so much tall, dark, handsome. They must, however, be compelling. Stewart could be older than was ideal, as brooding as he was charming, and as sharp as he was brilliant, yet Poppy doted on him. He wasn’t yet divorced from his adulterous wife, but a friend had advised Poppy to wait for someone with emotional baggage so that her own experience was more appealing. Guidance that seemed absurd at the time now seemed prophetic.

Addressing the need for conflict, Poppy threw in a bit of angst over her appearance. Stewart eased her worries with just the right words. She added a bit of uncharacteristic jealousy of his relationships with previous students from his English and Drama classes. He didn’t do such a good job of soothing, but she decided to ignore it regardless. She had her hero and refused to be swayed from her story. Instead, she searched for panties that puddled perfectly on the floor when removed by the right man. She laughed over miserable dates with the full expectation that they are located firmly in the past as she raced toward happiness with this new man. She pouted over a friend in an abusive relationship and sighed over her mentor as the older woman took steps to become a single parent. Love is out there! She told them passionately. It’s just a matter of waiting and planning for it!

Meeting Stewart in person convinced her she was right. Her trembling hope met his charismatic confidence and the pair meshed to create wonderful kisses and just-right touches. If she had to push a bit to share the bed in her guest room with him, or jump at his tentative invitation to join him at the beach in California, she would simply highlight the good parts of both trips and gloss over any unpleasantness. If Stewart began to ignore her for months on end when her life began to unravel, she vowed to wait for her happy ending, patient even when she railed against his disinterest and the cruelty of life in taking away those she loved.

Poppy didn’t get a romance novel.

Instead, she has a story of hope and love that twists into a plotline that describes plans gone awry. This is a book she’d be unlikely to read as the moments of sadness and miserable realizations are not all neatly tied up while she falls asleep in her lover’s arms. There are no wedding plans and sparse protestations of love. Yet through friends, a faithful canine companion and, eventually, anti-depressants, there is some realization that while life isn’t fair and doesn’t adhere to even the best laid plans, there is some happiness to be found.

It’s just that sometimes one must look on a different shelf.
In other publication news, I'm finally meeting with Dr. Icing, et al., on Friday to discuss my nearly-ready-for-submission paper. I'm currently writing one - and doing extensive lit searches - on the project I presented in DC. If I can get that one done, I think I'll call the post-doc good. It's not what I wanted, but I think I can make my peace with it.

I applied for a job yesterday and another today - both in industry. It seems that they're looking for people who do what I do. It's just a matter of having the right CV at the right time. I'm not sure I'm anything other than close. But we shall see.

A Blog Around the Clock lists submissions for Open Laboratory 2008. After the surprisingly strong response - via comments and email - for my post, Indefensible, I threw it into the mix. But I wanted to note that if anyone had written something they felt deserved consideration, there's still lots of time before the December deadline. That post has more details if you find it of interest.

Home, still.

So great is my longing for home that I somehow miss it even while I’m here. I rolled over and snuggled back into dreams when Dad rose before 4 and left for work. I limped down the hall a couple hours later, hoping that medial muscle will eventually loosen and allow me to walk normally. When Chienne waited patiently at the back doors, I went to open them and allowed the last sounds of crickets and the first chirps of birds inside along with the cold air of a Midwestern morning. I opened a few windows and doors so I could experience these mornings I miss so dearly.

The bus will soon rumble down the street. I boarded at 7:19 every morning for my first three years of high school. It was a long ride - nearly 40 minutes - that I often used to review for tests or stare out the window weaving daydreams. I find it much easier to wake now than I did then.

The peace soon shattered when Chienne needed out to bark at a dog, Sprout knocked down stools in his attempt to flee and Mom moved out of the bedroom with gentle questions over what the cat was doing. We now sit - the four of us - in the living room while I soak in the cold and Mom uses an afghan as protection against it.

She cried again last night, the pain seeming worse at night and the hope of its easing dying away. It’s constant, she said of the ache that has stretched to encompass her entire lower body. She walks and wishes she was sitting. Sits and wishes she was lying down. Rests on the couch and cries because nothing will work to make the pain stop. I held her hand and rubbed her legs and tried to soothe, all the while feeling useless. She’s lost 30 pounds since the surgery and though she tries to eat, she consumes little before pushing her plate toward Dad.

We cleaned and organized on Sunday, moving clutter to its proper place and trying to return the house to its former sense of order. We sit and talk, though I pause in my stories when she winces in pain, seeking a position that doesn’t tug at angry muscles. We hobble along together when we go out, both of us watching the other carefully so nobody trips and falls.

I’m not ready to go home yet. I was to leave today, but I find myself unable to do so. Rain was forecast for most of the drive, so I decided to postpone it - just until tomorrow. But it’s clear and lovely here and I’m still in pajamas, typing away while Mom has some cereal and the animals wander from door to door, listening to the creatures outside. There’s nothing pressing for me there, I think of work. I’m writing and revising papers here, so it’s not as if I’m completely neglecting my responsibilities. Plus, I so rarely make it home. Mom hates it when I leave. Just one more day.

Unfortunately, my uselessness extends even in my absence. Poor, dear Friend is struggling a bit with moving and work and her regal felines settling into their newest abode. Rocket Scientist, I believe she calls the smallest of the quartet, isn’t eating and is growing alarmingly small. I love that particular cat a lot, finding her the most loyal and gentle, having enjoyed the gentle pressure of her weight on my chest when I lie on Friend’s couch and rest a sore ankle or hurt feelings or aching head. I picked her up from the vet after she had tooth issues and wish I was home for a few hours today to help with these additional vet visits that I’m sure will stress both the cat and Friend. I could sit and pet her, or wait for various appointments that are keeping Friend from the lab - sitting is what I do, after all. But I am sitting several hours away and the guilty feeling nags at me while I’m here.

We saw Brother, et al. last night. Little One scampered around the table, stealing people’s noses and eating them. When we asked how we would smell, she would blow a puff of air and hand the nose back to its owner. When it came to Smallest One, asleep in her carrier, Little One would gently touch the tip of her tiny nose, but never tried to steal it. She stares into the carrier with this expression of awed joy - I hope the sisters will be good friends as Smallest One opens eyes that are deep, dark blue (and turning brown, I think!) a bit more often.

I held her for a few minutes after we finished dinner. I examined her tiny features, asked her if the slightly flaky skin on her little hands was normal for babies. I told her it would likely clear up on its own, then decided to discuss napping as it is apparently a favored hobby for both of us.

Little One offered hugs and kisses once Smallest One was handed back to her father and tucked securely in her carrier for the dash through the rain and a short ride to her house.

I currently sit in Dad’s recliner, Mom and I both on our laptops in the living room, next to the dollhouse my Grandpa built that holds 9 plastic Care Bears in the attic. Dad feels it unnecessary to learn their names. “Here’s Heart on His Belly Bear.” He said upon finding Tenderheart under a chair. “Rainbow on His Belly Bear is supervising.” He said, moving the legs into a stable position and putting the pink Cheer Bear on a piece of furniture to overlook the others. There’s Cupcake on His Belly Bear, Clover on His Belly Bear, Sunshine on His Belly Bear. Oh, and Thundercloud. “That’s his Indian name.” Dad explained after proclaiming Grumpy Bear his favorite.

I find I’m torn as to my favorite - not knowing whether I should be staying or going. For today, I will be home. With my mom. Tomorrow I’ll drive back to my life. And hope that the job will offer some interview so a day’s drive won’t separate my home from hers.

Sunday, September 09, 2007

Non-deliverable

The word we were looking for was "non-deliverable." That's right. Non-deliverable. That's what I remembered - and I even said it out loud to Friend, I think - but it didn't make sense.

Wikipedia tells me it's a project management term describing "a tangible or intangible object produced as a result of project execution." Therefore, research - in this particular job - is a non-deliverable.

Non-deliverable.

It seems my sense of victory would be sweeter.

As an update of sorts, I am still at home where it is by turns very loud (Dad's home and watching TV) or lovely and peaceful (Dad's gone and the TV is off). We bought a new washer (Dad didn't fix the old one) and had some lunch. My ankle still hurts, but if I focus really hard, I can almost walk properly. I'm writing a paper that is unlikely to be accepted - the data isn't quite there, I don't think. But I want a spot in this particular journal and the timing is right. So we'll see how it goes, I suppose. Otherwise, I plan to return to my house on Tuesday, I think. I'm very pleased that trip is over. I look forward to the day when I can say the same of my ankle injury.

But I have a word that I really do think was right. Non-deliverable.

Saturday, September 08, 2007

Dr. GiganticBoot Goes to Washington

The problem with the meeting, I've decided, was ego. The people in charge were too interested in appearing important - showing up late, shaking hands, making sure everyone knew how smart and special they were - to actually organize and work in order to plan and execute a conference. It was slapped together and haphazard, yet I've never seen so many beautiful suits in one room. People would come and go, not necessarily because the program was awful. In fact, the speaker list was rather impressive. But most of the men were too brilliant to pare down their remarks to 15 minutes. Therefore, in nearly double their allotted time, they were able to say basically nothing except how important this meeting was and how ground-breaking they found their own work.

After I napped yesterday afternoon, I tucked the necessary items in my camera case and set off to Union Station in order to catch a trolley that would show me the city at night. I procured souvenirs for my nieces and wandered the lovely building snapping pictures as other people shopped and ate until my ankle - strapped securely in it's giant brace - protested. Then I waited until it was time to depart for the tour.

I shall preface these remarks by saying that I love America. While I have been deeply saddened and, I'll admit, embarrassed about some of our decisions throughout history and into the present day, I'm very American and rather enjoy being so. Grandpa fought in WWII and Dad was drafted and served in Vietnam. I pray for our troops each night. We're patriotic, though not rabidly so.

Yet I felt - as I toured DC - much as I did when I first looked upon the strip in Vegas. That is to say that my pragmatic Midwestern head got all confused, looked around at the huge structures all lit up and frowned. While Vegas is clearly over-the-top neon in the desert and Washington was elegant history in New England, I still didn't get it. I kept wondering how much these things cost to build and wondered why the hell someone put them there.

"Did they tell you why the crime rate is so high?" Dad asked at lunch after he, Mom and Little One picked me up at the airport this afternoon.

"No." I said of my tour, then paused. "I will say this though. If I were poor - didn't have enough to eat or air conditioning in the summer and heat in the winter, enough clothing, a good job, hope for the future, it would piss me off to look at all those monuments and memorials. I just don't understand putting all those resources into something that I couldn't even identify before taking the $30 tour. I didn't know the White House from the Capitol Building offhand! There was a roundy-topped building that I never would have guessed was the Jefferson Memorial. And when we stopped at the Lincoln Memorial, I was too tired to climb the stairs, but I don't think there's anything in there! It's a big, huge, gorgeous building with a giant statue inside. So I asked my tour buddy about it. And she said she thought the Gettysburg Address was carved on one of the walls. And I wanted to ask what the point was - what that money could have done for regular people with regular lives."

"Like the handles on the Longaberger Basket building." Mom said with a smile.

"I guess." I conceded and ducked my head. "It just seemed excessive to me. A big 'look how important we are and were and will be!' And when someone is that impressed with himself, I immediately decide he's not worthy of much of my attention at all."

Yet I dutifully took pictures that turned out to be unimpressive and blurry. I was tremendously glad when the tour was over and I was able to remove the brace and ice my poor ankle. As I consider it more, there are some things that strike me as important. Museums, learning environments, historical archives. I don't begrudge people their stories and memories of loved ones lost in wars. The only powerful moment I spent last night was staring at the Vietnam Memorial. It was lit gently from a few lights evenly placed in the brick walk.

I aimed my camera toward it and allowed the flash to illuminate the names I wasn't able to read in the meager light. I stepped closer to list a few in a soft whisper, wondering if they - like Dad - had gone because they had to do so. If they regretted the lives they took. What kinds of plans they had when they returned home. What became of the people they were fighting for and against. I noticed the smudges on the black surface and recognized them as fingerprints. Perhaps people had touched names they knew or, like me, gently rested a finger against one at random in some gesture of sorrow or respect.

The distinction is clear for me. Some memorials felt right. Others elicited the opposite response. I think getting credit for good work is important. Yet too much credit - or the drive for accolades - seems counter-productive to the job you've set out to do.

"Think of all that money." Dad said when he clicked through the pictures I downloaded to my laptop. "Electricity to light them up at night, staff to secure and maintain them, water for the plants, then people to weed and mow." He paused, continued to click and handed my laptop back with a frown. "Maybe I'd be pissed off too."

Neither of us is naive enough to think that the crime rate in DC would drop dramatically if the Washington Monument were a bit smaller or the Lincoln Statue a bit less impressive. Nor am I saying all of that history and architecture is unimportant or inappropriate. But I think money and power and ego were all tied together in a web that left me more disturbed than proud. It was not unlike the feeling I got when the president of that society shook my hand before my talk, then raced out of the room before I took the podium.

The goals - whether we're talking national policy or conference objectives - were worthy and I'm more than willing to throw my support behind them. Yet we sometimes get lost when putting them into play. And this - like much of my miserable trip to what really did seem a lovely city - leaves me disappointed.

Friday, September 07, 2007

Talk, check.

I recall carefully placing my boot on the single step that led to the stage. I remember reaching to adjust the microphone and feeling grateful the chair opened my presentation on his laptop. Then, less than 15 minutes later, it was over. I have some recollection of making eye contact with various people in the sparse audience. I think I spoke quickly since we were running nearly an hour behind after starting - once again - very late this morning. But I think I said what I wanted to say - the benefit of memorization is that my consciousness is focused on words I've rehearsed and the nervous parts of me get forgotten in the focus. So I guess it was fine. I know it is over.

I couldn't sit through more talks though. So I returned to my room to order lunch - I've never had so much room service in my life. It's just that giving senior people 15 minute time slots is murder on your schedule. These guys talk. And talk and talk and talk. And when nobody can be bothered to open the morning session, it just gets out of control. So I express my displeasure with the whole situation by being absent. I shall nap and fight my headache and perhaps muster a bit of energy to sightsee. It's disappointing. But I will survive.

Things are going better at home. Mom sounded OK, though tired. Little One wanted to come over again, so she's spending the day with Mom. Brother is now very ill, but his wife refuses to do anything at all. She couldn't even walk down 3 stairs to unlock the door for Mom this morning. Nor can she heat up food for herself during the day - she simply waits until Brother returns from work so he can wait on her. Twit. That's disappointing too.

Other than random complaints though, all appears to be well. I do hope I make it back to DC under better circumstances. The city seems worthy than more of wrinkly-nosed memories.

Thursday, September 06, 2007

I applaud only out of obligation.

When I hobbled downstairs to check in last night, finding the conference rooms with no problem, I was told to return at "half past seven" this morning. I slept well, though the sirens woke me often. But I would roll into a different pile of pillows and snuggle myself back to sleep.

I looked at the clock around 6:30 and slowly got ready. Wearing my pretty flowered skirt and pretty pink top, I made my way down to the conference area and got my badge. I then remembered to ask about posters and the same woman told me to go ahead and put it up. So back to my room I went, wincing at the boot as it tugged on my ankle even as it stabilized it. I got back downstairs with my poster, then asked for a program so I'd know where to place it.

"Wherever." The registration woman said in her lyrical accent, and I frowned. Perhaps I hadn't made myself clear.

"Are there numbers? So the posters know where to go?" I asked. She shook her head and waved her hand toward the boards. I picked one at random and put my poster - which is really lovely - up with six thumbtacks. I had been concerned when my poster and talk had been scheduled at the exact same time. Now that the posters had no order, I was befuddled.

Yet I grabbed some coffee and searched fruitlessly for water, then hobbled toward the large room that would house the talks. I brightened when I saw pitchers of water at each table draped in white cloth. There were tiny candies in shiny wrappers on a small plate between the two halves of each surface. I selected a seat near the door - no reason to walk farther than necessary - and sat. I poured some water, sipped my coffee and found there was free wireless in the room. Things were looking up.

"Do you have a program?" The man in front of me asked at 8:20. I glanced up from my laptop and shook my head.

"I think they're not ready yet." I told him. "But we were supposed to start at 8." We talked for a few moments before I remembered the copy of the schedule I'd been emailed. I handed over the laptop, wincing when I recalled my book was on the desktop as well as my talk and some papers I'd been reading.

When it neared 9, the president of this society again got on stage, fiddled with his laptop and read the welcome letter that he put on the screen. He apologized for the late start, but continued to read - word for word - what we could see displayed. I don't like it when people read to me. I grew vaguely bothered.

When he invited the first speakers to join him at the front, he started his presentation but his laptop refused to sync with the projector. I scowled with irritation as more time was wasted as they attempted - and failed - to fix that problem. The speaker who had been absent arrived and tried to help. So the first two speakers rushed through slides and showed their notes pages since Vista stubbornly refused to display the slideshows. The problem is that they could have just skipped their talks completely. A) 15 minutes is never adequate time to get through 45 slides. Don't be a moron. and B) If you're just going to flip through everything, noting we're late and you don't have time, just save us the trouble and keep the presentation closed. Honestly.

We took an unscheduled break to fix that problem, then returned for more talks. They went reasonably well and programs were handed out shortly before 10. FedEx had arrived, I thought, and flipped through the document that contained no mention of posters and no abstracts for talks.

Speakers finally gave up on Vista and started carting their laptops with them to the podium. This normally bugs me, but it was considerably faster than trying to coax information from the Windows OS.

But between a ruined schedule, speakers failing to show up or giving talks that had to have been written for a different purpose, I'm decidedly unimpressed. Also, when you shorten breaks and urge people to quickly return to the meeting room, it seems you would screw over your exhibitors. That's not great either. But I felt OK that my ankle and head hurt and I left early to nap.

My talk is ready and my remarks are mostly memorized. I'll practice a couple more times, then call it good. Though I could have joined the ranks of other speakers and skipped this altogether, I think. Disappointing. As is the fact that I have yet to leave the hotel. I've never tried to travel while injured and it sucks. A lot. Perhaps my mood is derived from that in addition to Mom not feeling well at home, Little One continuing to be sick and Chienne not being particularly sympathetic to either condition.

But at least room service is good! And I get to go home on Saturday morning.

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Travel log

3:30AM
Hear Dad waking to go to work. Chienne is very excited. She soon joins me in the tiny bed in ToyRoom2. Mom sleeps behind closed doors in ToyRoom1.

3:45AM
Mom wakes and emerges. Chienne is very excited. Yell at dog to leave Mom alone. Decide to get up.

3:46AM
Evaluate health status as I head down the hall. Airport nervousness is not bad - I get quite freaked out sometimes, so this level of anxiety is fine. Head hurts. Badly. Ankle is OK, but not pleased about being drug around the country in a brace.

4:05AM
Dressed, packed, basically ready. Have taken 2 Advil, waited 15 minutes, then took an Excedrin. Not feeling well at all. Decide throat hurts and I am likely starting with some kind of evil virus as well.

4:20AM
Leave house with Mom so she can drop me at the terminal. Drive to airport.

4:51AM
Check in with American. Expect sympathy for ankle - receive none. Start to miss the South a bit. But I am granted permission to board early and we actually have a ramp thingie to connect with the plane. I often have to climb steps and may do so in Chicago anyway. Nice flight attendant does ask if I'd like a wheelchair in Chicago. I decline, hoping for a ride on one of those cool cart things. Acknowledge I'll likely walk and she says I'm connecting from G to H, I think. Since those are close alphabetically, I decide to hope they'll also be reasonable in terms of distance.

4:58AM
Join the quickly growing line to clear security. The sign says they'll return at 5AM and are now closed. Watch the various security people through the glass doors. Finally receive sympathy for my ankle! From a Southern woman standing in front of me in line. Midwestern people - in my experience and being one of them - aren't mean. They're just not so effusive as my friends in the South.

5:02AM
I am treated to my first ever set of shouted instructions from the TSA guy. Liquids in baggie. Computers out of bags. No breaking the rules! Start to shuffle forward but abruptly stop as a woman digs in her bag. "Have your IDs out and ready!" TSA guy calls to the group then sighs at the woman who wasn't ready.

5:07AM
This is a small airport, so the lines aren't long. I reach the TSA guy, he writes on my boarding pass, then I tentatively ask if I need to remove my brace. He glances around his podium, gives a quick expression of mild sympathy, then nods.

5:08AM
I make it through security without incident after removing my laptop, placing my poster tube on the table, tucking my left shoe on my bag and removing the bulky boot.

5:09AM
Hobble to chair to replace boot. It hurts already. But the head is better.

5:13AM
Open laptop to update internet on my progress. I wish I wasn't traveling today.

6:05AM
Am allowed to preboard and find my seat near the rear of the plane. I undo a couple of straps and sigh as the pressure is relieved on my sore ankle.

6:20AM
The sky is tinged pink as the sun rises. There is a flat blanket of clouds just below the plane with sparse puffs rising just a bit higher. The flight is smooth and quiet and short.

7:00AM
I'm landing at O'Hare when many of you are still sleeping. I scowl at this thought.

7:05AM
The plane clears and I wait patiently before securing my boot, retrieving my poster and hobbling off.

7:20AM
Realize that while G and H are alphabetically close, O'Hare must be ignorant of this fact. Keep hobbling.

7:45AM
OK, it hurts. And I'm moving very slowly. Stop to look at books.

7:55AM
My whole leg aches, I didn't find a single thing I was willing to read and I decide to move faster to see if that works.

7:55 and 10 seconds AM
That didn't work well at all. Scowl and return to turtle-pace. Watch people stream past me.

8:00AM
Have to dodge someone who is coming toward me and decides to go to my right side. Decide he looks sort of British and forgive him for not going left as I expected. I like British people.

8:05AM
Decide to look at books again since I realize I will not be wandering around sightseeing as was my plan. Feel moderately disappointed about this but forget about it as my ankle throbs insistently. Find no books. Buy People magazine. Buy bagel and soda to ease stomach troubles from pain pills.

8:15AM
Sit down at gate, then hop up to preboard again. Turtle-pace means I don't wait very long.

8:20AM
Wave off the apology of the woman with a toddler who sits in front of me. Little Sophie was very cute and did - I thought - quite well on the plane.

8:50AM
Take off on time. Enjoy a very pleasant flight since I don't mind children's songs being sung around me.

9:10AM
Finish People magazine - tuck into pocket in front of me for the next flyer.

9:15AM
Feel grateful for the empty middle seat as I contort myself to release the giant boot completely. Sigh with relief.

10:25AM/11:25AM (Time change!)
Land. Wait for plane to clear as I secure my boot and retrieve my poster again. Sigh and hobble toward baggage claim.

11:32AM
Realize it's taking a long time to get to baggage claim. Arrive and note the bags are already there.

11:33AM
Pick up my suitcase, realize my friendly white ribbon is missing, check the tag to be sure it's mine. Hobble off with carry-on, poster tube and suitcase in tow. I'm backtracking to find the taxis.

11:40AM
Finally make my way to the line and carefully step off the curb and into the car. Fasten seatbelt.

11:43AM
Glance around at the big monument and ponder whether the big dome with the figure on top is the White House or some congressional building.

11:43 and seconds AM:
See that Pennsylvania Ave. is heading toward said building and call it the White House. I think.

11:44AM
Acknowledge - after pausing to grimace in pain - that I probably shouldn't be an American.

11:50AM
Arrive at hotel. Hobble toward door. Beg for early check in saying "I fell down stairs." It sounds better than "I tripped and missed a step."

11:51AM
Feel smug and grateful as they find me a room. Decide I want a bed, pillows for my ankle and a shower. Then room service.

11:55AM
Take needs-remodeled elevator and trudge down the hall to my room. Wrinkle my nose at the temperature and look for the thermostat.

11:56AM
Still looking. Starting to sweat.

11:57AM
If I were a temperature control, where would I be?

11:58AM
Nearly rip off the front of the item that looks most like an air conditioner in the room. Fail.

11:59AM
Call front desk in defeat. Flip open part of the vent as instructed, turn air on high, go wash face. Note Bath and Body Works products in bathroom. Approve.

12:05PM
Sigh with relief as the room cools. Unpack my few outfits and many pajamas. Apparently I think the hotel will be like home and I will spend much of my time in sleepy clothes. Decide I'm probably right.

12:10PM
Can't get anyone to answer at room service. Frown because now I want crab cakes and they have them and nobody will bring me one.

12:15PM
Realize I have no idea where to register or what to do. Check websites and realize the conference is downstairs (good news) and should begin tomorrow morning (also OK). Resolve that I will head down tonight and see if anyone is around. If I'm not napping.

12:40PM
Call room service again. Order food. Eagerly await food.

12:42PM
Realize there is a searing pain in the top of my foot. Hope that means it is still healing, but make a note to see someone when I return home.

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Abnormally concise

I published that without saying anything - I'm not that concise.

I drove and made it home with moderate pain. The ankle is OK, but the muscles in my legs protested the stretches.

Walking is difficult. I hobble and it hurts. This means the gigantic boot will - against my fervent hopes - be traveling with me.

Mom just went to bed after crying. I hate that her knees still bother her so much. I'm growing to hate her surgeon.

I met Smallest One. She is small. And sleepy. And absolutely perfect.

Little One is sick, but getting better. We joined them for dinner and I cuddled and talked and played and wondered if I really want kids or not. Seems like a lot of work on a day where I was achy and tired and wanted to rest.

My flight is at 6:15 tomorrow morning. So now I must sleep.

Oh, and my word ceased to become important to me, though I still have no idea what it is. Nice when that works out, yes?