Archive for June, 2012

PERILS AND PEARLS

Honey and I have collected more material for the blog since moving to Maryland. The following may remind you of Coleridge’s “Ancient Mariner” who stopped passersby to listen to his tale of woe. But mine has a happier ending.

About a month before we left Long Island, my son walked Honey and noticed drops of blood when she peed. I took her to our wonderful vet, Dr. Barry Buchalter, who diagnosed a urinary infection, prescribed an antibiotic, and she seemed cured. My nephew Sean later told me his beloved dog had died of the same problem, not found in time. I shivered — that could have been Honey.

Soon after we settled in Maryland, she occasionally began leaving  wet spots on the pale beige carpeting, hanging her head sadly as I sighed and groaned. I thought she was anxious in our new home, but she was telling me she was ill again. She’d always insisted on peeing only on grass — a test of my love in rain or snow as she pulled me to a green patch. I sprayed the evidence with pet stain remover which left wider, darker circles. Her new vet said she now had a vaginal infection.  Poor, sweet Honey — who’d never had a romantic encounter.  More antibiotics and she was her ladylike, continent self again.

Like the irritating grain of sand which the oyster covers with a pearl, here’s more evidence of the phenomenon, though more practical than poetic. Honey and I are now treading softly on new carpet, a warm, rusty shade called Autumn Harvest. Except for the unsightly marks, I wouldn’t have recovered the floor.  Bland and neutral doesn’t suit us anyway.

Next episode. One morning while showering I felt a hard lump on my upper right arm.  I’d had some pain there, but kept shopping, unpacking, hanging pictures and moving furniture around. I never ignore a lump since one turned out to be breast cancer 33 years ago — not a “harmless milk lump.” Frightened, I called my son and took his advice to drive right to the Upper Chesapeaque Medical Center emergency room, crying on the way.

Signing in, I was delighted to hear my name called soon — only for brief triage. Then I waited five hours. I wasn’t bleeding, choking or raving — but the room wasn’t crowded and others arriving later were called before me. I read a book I’d brought — had been warned of long waits — and talked to people nearby. My self-pity evaporated when a couple told me they’d recently lost a four-year-old granddaughter to cancer. His mother had died of breast cancer a few years ago. His brother’s cancer had now spread to his brain. They’d gone to his father’s funeral a few weeks ago.

The good news: The husband’s pancreatic cancer had been in remission for over five years — a rare cure for the disease that consumed my husband. The man and wife never lost their faith in God and were grateful for many blessings, including finding each other after unhappy first marriages. Of course I shared some of my story. We even laughed a little together. The wife was there for a problem not mentioned, and the husband said it was easier to come to an emergency room than to the V.A. — a sad comment from a war veteran.

Finally called to a cubicle, I saw two young physician assistants and at last a doctor — right out of Central Casting.  Wearing blue scrubs, tall, dark, handsome, laid-back — cool in every sense of the word.  He said he was a hand-arm surgeon, examined my arm, asked questions, and did a sonogram. I asked if he’d ever seen a lump like mine and he shrugged “I’ve seen all kinds.” He ordered blood work to be followed by an M.R.I. As he ambled out I asked his back: “Do you think it could be malignant?” Unturn- ing, he answered: “I wouldn’t lose any sleep over it!” Though I did, but not as much as I might have if he hadn’t been so flippant. If I were in danger he wouldn’t be that casual, would he?

Two days later I slid into an M.R.I. machine. In a narrow tunnel, with earplugs to soften pounding jack-hammer sounds, arms at sides, nose and other itching parts unrelieved, I prayed, offering up the ordeal for a good prognosis. After what seemed a long time, a technician moved me out, injected something into my left arm, and re-slid me into the tunnel for the rest of a full-body scan. I’d get the results in two days, he said.

After a week I called Dr. Cool’s office. The secretary couldn’t give the report — only the doctor could, and he wasn’t avail- able. She called later that day, said they still didn’t know what the growth was, but “It will have to come out.”  It was already smaller, I said, less painful — and I wanted to discuss it with family. My son called, too, and she told him torn ligaments needed repair!?

Later, I realized I’d unsuccessfully tried to hang my Beatty grandparents’ very heavy mirror just before the soreness began. My mom had given it to me — both of us remembering family reflected on it over many years. Apparently my exertions had caused a hematoma, similar to the one on my leg after I fell into the railroad gap. It soon dissolved — and the mirror’s still waiting to be hung. My son had offered to hang it, but he’s been busy building a backyard fence, finishing his basement ceiling, and getting their baby’s room ready. I teased him about nest-building. My grandson is due any day now.

When Medicare and New York State’s Empire Plan sent statements, I was astonished at what I would have owed without that coverage. Our health system is a disaster with constantly rising costs and millions unable to afford or refused health insurance because of pre-existing conditions. Yet Conservatives are contemptuous of President Obama’s Affordable Care Act which addresses and makes improvements. One meaning of conserve is to keep, guard, maintain and preserve. Their vaunted concern with fiscal responsibility, balancing the budget, and the deficit is mostly a cover for their desire to keep what’s theirs and not share any with others. IGM (I’ve Got Mine) really means YOYO (You’re On Your Own).

Not long after, I noticed an irritated red spot on my right leg which seemed to pop up overnight. I needed a new primary care physician here, and knew it’d be difficult to replace Dr. Ihor Magun, my long-time expert, caring, family physician on Long Island. I’d seen ads from the Bala Family Medical Practice, made an appointment, filled out a confusing, computerized questionnaire, and waited two hours while other patients came and went — from infants to the elderly. “You took too long entering your data,” was the explanation.

At last I saw a physician’s assistant who read my history, asked questions, felt the lump, took blood pressure, blood, urine, and listened to my heart — leaving and returning several times. She stuck a needle in the raised bump, trying to drain it, but pronounced it too hard. She gave me an antibiotic prescription for the “infection,” and now would do an echocardiagram “since you have a significant heart murmur,” and a bone density test “considering your age.” I’d been there four hours since noon, was hungry and frazzled, so declined the offer. Never got near Dr. Bala, but think I spotted him bustling about in a white jacket. I threw away the prescription.

Soon after, I drove to Long Island for a Memorial Mass in Garden City. My cousin Jack and his wife had lived there many years, and Fern had died in Florida. A sad gathering — but moving to see many relatives and friends comfortimg Jack and his family. I missed the luncheon later, instead kept an appointment with Dr. Magun concerning the heart murmur and leg irritation. He told me I’d had a slight murmur for some time — nothing to worry about — sent me for an echocardiagram which confirmed this, and advised me to see a dermotologist at home.

When I did, she took one look at my leg, said I had a squamous cell carcinoma, immediately excised and stitched it. I was relieved when her office called to say it hadn’t gone deeper. I’m seeing her again in June — need to see a dermatologist regularly after a melonoma several years ago on my thigh. And have had several pre-cancerous things sprayed off. I call them my barnacles — have probably been moored too long in the harbor. And who knew back in the day that fair-skinned Celtic types shouldn’t frolic for hours on the beach or sunbathe basted with baby oil laced with iodine?

Now for some pearls. I bought a ticket on-line for “A Skull in Connemara” playing at Baltimore’s Centerstage Theatre. Parking the car took longer than expected, I was a few minutes late, and waited in the lounge while watching on screen, sipping a glass of wine until an usher showed me to a side section, saying I could find my seat at intermission. No such seat number. I reported the problem, and enjoyed the rest of the play from the second row center — reserved for volunteer ushers who earn free seats. Am considering joining them.

I needed my passport for a Maryland drivers’s license — my New York license wasn’t accepted I.D. here, and I hadn’t received a utility bill yet — but it was locked in a metal box and the key was lost in the move. I Googled a locksmith who had moved elsewhere, hailed a man walking by, and told him my problem. He worked at Buontempo Bros. restaurant around the corner, he said, and offered to help, returning with a metal cutter and crowbar. Getting into my back seat, he prodded and cut, opening the box. I thanked him profusely and slipped $5.00 into his shirt pocket. It turned out that Renato owned the restaurant. When I ate there later on, he greeted me with a big smile and hug. And my portion of salad, veal, and spaghetti was enormous.

One more. On December 4th, the day after my 80th birthday, I woke up with a pain in my rear, though I don’t recall partying to excess. Never knew there were muscles there, specifically the gluteus group. My brother Bill and his wife Cynthia treated me to brunch that morning and I limped when I walked. The pain increased over the next two weeks, though I treated myself with a heating pad. Went to see Dr. Kevin Snyder, my new primary care physician, highly recommended by Renato, a long-time patient. Dr. Snyder examined me, suggested Ibuprophen, and referred me to a Physical Therapist. I got lost on the way there several days later, too late for treatment, and made another appointment. But I then followed the P.T.’s advice to apply ice instead of heat.

I had to cancel plans to meet friends to see a play at the Irish Repertory Theatre in Manhattan and have dinner after. Then I wasn’t able to fly to Pennsylvania for Christmas with my daughter-in-law’s family. But I wasn’t lonely, knowing I could have been with loved ones. I woke up Christmas morning with the pain almost gone, went to a joyful Mass at St. Margaret’s Church, enjoyed a chicken dinner at home with Honey, listened to Christmas carols, toasted the day with egg nog. My son and daughter-in-law came bearing gifts on December 26th. And a few days later, my niece Christine and her family, who live in south Maryland, surprised me with their presence, more presents, hot chocolate, brownies, hugs, kisses, and laughter.

I’ve got to mention some adventures and people I’ve met in my meanderings around town and countryside: The colorful Celtic Festival where I bought a shamrock-bedecked tea pot, enjoyed bagpipers and Irish dancing; Broom’s Bloom Dairy where Honey and I sat in a rocking chair on the porch while I licked a chocolate cone and admired the corn fields; eating lunches on the patio at the Open Door Cafe where Nick, the young waiter, brought Honey water and her usual burger; sidewalk meals at the New York Deli where Eric made Honey’s and my food taste even better; getting my Saturn tuned up at G & M Automotive where I looked forward to bantering with George and Ken; Father Mike’s 40th Anniversary and Father Dave’s First Mass at St. Margaret’s Church, followed by plentiful refreshments and sociability; being treated with TLC by Holly and Charlotte of Charlotte’s Hair Line, where I was expertly fitted for bras and a breast prosthesis (my current one taped with bandaids).

I can’t leave out my condo neighbors: another Charlotte, Monty, Joy and Don, Joan and Bill, Dolores and Chuck and Marcia. Every one has survived/is surviving physical and other challenges. One has a growing aneurism in her upper abdomen, but surgery ruled out because of her weak heart; another has debilitating back pain, but surgical relief not possible because of his cardiac condition; a couple with diabetis has had bouts of pneumonia; a woman divorced because of her husband’s alcoholism; another’s daughter killed by her fiance. However, we “rub each other’s shoulder blades,” and are content we’re still here.

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