Friday, December 15, 2017

the microbes and me

My life as a stay-at-home mother has pretty much come to an end. My beloved Iris uber Alles left home early at 16 (she insists this had nothing to do with her mother) and is currently living in Berlin, of all places, studying abroad.  Tiny Amazing Lola is no longer tiny and while still amazing, is not very interactive, spending most of her free time in her room with the door firmly shut, texting other teens. I am not much needed in the home, apart from feeding and cleaning up after the pets.

However, this past fall I discovered a new passion: microbiology.  Microbiology was my dreaded last prerequisite, dreaded because it was legendarily demanding, but it turned out to be spellbinding. "I love the pathogens," I confided artlessly to anyone who'd listen.  I felt angst when I had to put my plates of Staphylococcus epidermidis that I had lovingly cultured into the autoclave bin. 

I saw microbiology wherever I went. "The dog is wagging her tail exactly in the manner of a bacteria with a flagella," I observed. Gathering steam, I added, "Did you know that a protozoan with a flagella moves its flagella in an entirely different way?" 

But it was so riveting only for me.

On our family text chat, one of the children posted that she'd spiked a fever. "Did you know fevers can be caused by the death of Gram negative bacteria??" I typed back.  "They release an endotoxin when they die that causes a fever. Type 'More' to subscribe to Basic Microbiology Facts.'" She did not, in the event, type "More."  Driving in the car one day with a teenaged child, I asked if she'd read a piece I'd forwarded about viroids of the sea: viruses living in seawater who prey upon other aquatic viruses. She rolled her eyes and patiently explained. "You know how you're not interested in everything I'm interested in? Well, I can't come along with you on this microbiology thing."

Like all good things, microbiology came to an end, leaving us with a hard-earned A on my transcript and some fresh stains on the Sober Husband's lab coat, which I borrowed for the class.  Still the memories linger. A friend mentioned that she'd been up in the night vomiting with presumed food poisoning, but her husband had eaten the same things and was fine. I suggested that she'd picked up a norovirus, also known as "the Winter Vomiting Virus." "Type 'More' to subscribe to Basic Microbiology Facts," I added. 

Thursday, June 02, 2016

your long-overdue update

This poor old blog has fallen into deep neglect, and the reason is chiefly that my darlings Iris uber Alles and Lola have turned into highly private teenagers. It's difficult to write a dark, witty mommy blog when your dark, witty children don't want to be discussed in public. I've opted to let the blog suffer, rather than dealing a mortal blow to the tricky parent-child relationship.

But! The blog has come up recently a few times, and evidently it's not forgotten by others. I'm in physical therapy for a pesky knee injury, and during a session, my physical therapist asked me, "Do you blog?" Somehow she had found this blog and recognized its voice as that of her foulmouthed, chubby client. And one of my friends sent me a note the other day on Facebook, laughing because one of her friends, who doesn't even know me, had posted on Facebook about my blog. And one of Lola's friends asked several times, but then gave up, if I were still writing.

If I could create a new spin for this blog, I could move it into a new era. I was thinking of making it about my reading, but the world is so overpopulated with book blogs. I could make it more about myself, but I was never the most dynamic character around here.

In any event, for the loyal followers, herewith an update.

The increasingly dynamic Iris uber Alles has decided to leave high school two years early and is moving to the East Coast to attend college. Her parents are coping with this and extremely proud. She will be pursuing a degree in environmental studies, an excellent choice.

The ever-complicated Lola developed an obsession with the delightful game, Undertale, which has been described as "raising difficult, Kantian questions about our obligations and personal morality.. .But on an artistic level, Undertale places itself next to works like As I Lay Dying and Die Ehe der Maria Braun in terms of its ability to make us contemplate the dilemma-ridden moral choices that we have to make as human beings."

The Sober Husband is ever industrious, enjoying his current job at the height of Silicon Valley, where he endures such hardships as the one he shared last night at dinner: "The chocolate knob is broken on the FroYo machine by my desk." We jeered. I pointed out that he could walk to one in a different area, but he noted that he could muddle through by using the "mix" knob for a combination of vanilla and chocolate and then attempting to eat only the chocolate part.  Cry for him, please. Also, he's developed some kind of hero worship of Henry Kissinger, and sharp words were exchanged over a recent article in Foreign Affairs which he felt offered a moral framework wherein Henry K. was just a delightful, wonderful fellow who always did the best possible thing but which I found evidence for my assertion that no, Henry Kissinger remains a war criminal who dodged prosecution.

And as for me, contemplating an empty nest, I'm taking baby steps towards a new career working hands on with animals. I'm taking a night class in biology at a nearby college, and I'm still doing a wildlife rehab volunteer gig. More strangely, I've become a doting dog owner. My darling Kreecher, an aging Chinese Crested, foiled an attempted break-in at our home and is a constant comfort to her owner. My former obsession with working out has been foiled by a horrible knee injury I incurred at the gym (ironically my gym habits led to me becoming out of shape!). I limp now and have spent a fortune on physical therapy. But we managed to get me to Amsterdam, where I limped around the 500 year celebration of Hieronymous Bosch. So don't cry for me. Save your tears for the Silicon Valley engineers who must endure the loss of their chocolate soft serve.

Friday, December 11, 2015

what price should we charge

Sophomore Iris was hard at work on her homework when she made a rather random observation to her father that in some places in the world, people charge suitors a goat for the hand of their daughter.  "Would you want a goat for me?"

The Sober Husband started opining about dowries and how we should get a dowry for Iris, and ever pedantic, I couldn't let that stand.  "A dowry is when you don't value women, and you have to pay people to take your daughters.  Iris is talking about bride price.  Bride price is when you value women, and people have to pay to marry them."

Iris challenged me if I would require a goat to marry her off.

"What kind of goat?  I like goats."  Pause.  "I think I would want two goats for Iris."


"I want a goat."

The Sober Husband pointed out that we could require a goat in exchange for Lola's hand as well.  A goat-rich future loomed ahead of us.

Thursday, December 03, 2015

the sparkling social life of the semi-hermitic

The Sober Husband and I have become homebodies.  After all, when you have a comfortable home with pleasant company, it doesn't always make sense to venture out into the larger world.  But lately I have resolved to gear my social life back up, get out more, etc..   And, weirdly enough, this weekend we have been invited to a number of parties, so it would seem a good time to act on this resolve.  Two are in Oakland on the same day, so it would work to stop by both of them, and coincidentally I had a hair appointment already set for the day, so it will even be a good hair day.

But the resolve is crumbling already.  One of the parties is a holiday gathering for volunteers of a certain large organization, and there are a few requirements.  The guests are supposed to bring a gift to donate to charity, their own cup to drink out of, high end homemade cookies for a potluck, and little trinkets to give to the other guests.  I RSVPed yes and was all set to go, and then I read this list of requirements, and my reaction was that they have gone too far.  What exactly are they giving me?  If I have to bake (and the call was to show off your cooking chops with really fabulous, fancy, amazing cookies), and I have to bring a gift for charity, and I have to bring little bits of sparkly crap for the other guests AND my own cup, what is the point?  I could stay at home with my cup and drink my own alcohol without having to cross the Bay Bridge.  Not to mention that there's a theme you're supposed to dress for.  True, it's optional, but encouraged, and that makes yet another requirement.

It reminded me of a similar party I didn't attend, where I was supposed to bring food, pay $25 to cover the hostess's expenses, and to prepare a ten minute speech about my passion for my work.  There is just so much you can ask from me under the guise of inviting me to a party.  Even leaving aside the speech (and I think it's best to leave it far, far aside), you are not going to see me both bringing food and paying. That brings together the worst features of a potluck and an unhosted event thrown by a reluctant host.  

The other prospective party this weekend refreshingly did not set any requirements for the guests.  But today the host of the second party posted a note about the food, after realizing that the entrees are all shellfish.  If you are a meateater but don't eat shellfish, you're encouraged to speak up so another entree can be ordered for you but if you're a vegetarian,  there will be a few vegetable side dishes you'll be asked to share with the meateaters so don't ask.  I realize I am insanely touchy about my vegetarianness, but I am also allergic to bivalves (not shrimp or lobster, though).  This presents me with a dilemma.  Should I feel free to speak up and ask for an entree, since I have a legitimate medical reason not to eat what was ordered, or should I remain silent as an undesirable vegetarian who doesn't merit an entree?  In the end I am not going to trust any of that food, since the restaurant notes that pretty much everything is cross-contaminated with shellfish and because the restaurant seems to have no concept of vegetarianism.  And also in the end, the host is someone I like a lot, and I don't want to be a bother, so there is no way I would ask for anything special.   It's just so much easier to stay home, where I don't have to worry about clam contamination or feeling like a freak because I'm a vegetarian. 

On the other hand, there's one more party.  There is no dress code.  There are no requirements that we bring cups, gifts, fancy baked goods, or anything.  Since there's no dinner served, there are no issues with food. And, unbelievably enough, it's within walking distance of our home, and held by someone we love.   I see no way out of it.  Even Thoreau held occasional dinner parties when he was living at Walden, and even a crabby curmudgeon like the Drunken Housewife occasionally inflicts her company upon kind party-givers. 

Sunday, September 27, 2015

a practical mindset

So I have been a vegetarian since I was a senior in college, waaaay back in the eighties, and the children have always been vegetarians.  Back when they were infants, I negotiated with the Sober Husband that we would raise them as vegetarians until they were old enough to decide for themselves, and they decided for themselves that they are passionate about vegetarianism.  They have never intentionally eaten meat and can be quite judgmental.  I am not the alpha vegetarian in my home; my slips with seafood are quite sternly viewed (I have never eaten birds or mammals willingly, but I have had my moments of cheating with a lobster or crab).

The Sober Husband never wanted to be a vegetarian and was quite cranky over my vegetarianism.  I remember a vicious fight where he complained how much my being a vegetarian impacted him and how it was a blight on his life.  I thought that was rich coming from a man who lived off tortilla chips and ramen when I met him, but my viewpoint was ignored.  But as the years went by and the children's viewpoints hardened, he became more compliant.  He now often says he is a vegetarian.

However, today he was busted.  I got an email receipt telling me he'd bought a turkey croissant at a cafe.  When he got home, I tipped him off that he'd been busted.  He played dumb at first but then copped to it.  "It was the only savory thing they had."

I gave him a hard time.  "You ate a dead bird.  Would you eat the fat bird?", I said, referring to his Amazon parrot.

"If it died," he said practically.

Friday, September 25, 2015

dancing the limbo

So I had a mammogram recently, the first one I'd had in a long time.  I had intended to have one a couple of years ago, but I ran into problems trying to get one.  First we had insurance that viewed it as optional, and I couldn't afford to get one.  Then we got new, fancier insurance, but I ran into a procedural wall.  When I asked my then physician to order me one, she stared at me blankly and said, "You can do that on the website."  When I went home and tried to order one via my healthcare provider's website, I failed.  I am a reasonably intelligent person who has been using the internet since the internet was a baby, but I could not find any way to request a mammogram on that website.  When I asked the person at the desk at my next appointment, they were likewise dismissive and flat out refused to help me.  Yes, a grownup, a grownup with a graduate degree at that, should not be so easily thwarted, but I had a lot of other things going on at the time and this procedural barrier stopped me from getting a mammogram.

So what with one thing and another and my not thinking I was at high risk, I didn't get one.  And then a few years went by, and I saw a different doctor, who finally didn't seem to think it was my job to go out in the world and make someone give me a mammogram but who sent an order through the ether to a breast clinic to give me one.  I went, had the procedure done, and went home with an air of having taken care of business.

Next I got a call at 5:05 p.m. on a Friday from the hospital who had done the mammogram, asking me in urgent tones to return their call.  I did promptly, but they didn't call me back but instead closed up shop for the weekend at 6:00 p.m.  "Who does that?" I fumed.  "Who calls someone after five on a Friday and ruins their weekend?"  Anyone I told I was worried told me I was being ridiculous and stupid both, as no way on earth would anyone call someone about a bad mammogram and leave a cryptic message after five on a Friday.  What an idiot the DH is, hahaha so very stupid.

With no support whatsoever I got through the weekend rather gracelessly.  On Monday the hospital called me again and let me know that there was a problem with my mammogram and I needed to come back as soon as possible.  The very next day I returned for a diagnostic mammogram, and the tech showed me that there is an 11 millimeter growth in my left breast.  "It could be a lymph node," she said optimistically.  "Have you been sick?"

"I did have a really awful respiratory infection, " I said.  

"That's it, then!" she said perkily.

But then I stopped and thought.  It felt like just yesterday, but... "It was really in July," I said.  "I was sick in July."  The radiation tech didn't have a good way to spin this, and her cheer wound down.

After the diagnostic mammogram results were sent to some mystical doctor off-site, I was sent for an ultrasound.  These images were also sent off-site to the Oz-like being, who said that I needed to go for a fine tissue biopsy.

Here is where I ran into trouble.  The first vacancy was for two weeks away.  The person at the clinic doing the schedule visibly freaked out and asked me to wait, and she scurried off.  I could hear her in the next room urgently asking for something to be done to get me in sooner.  This did not add to my confidence level.  But nothing evidently could be done.

At this point I became stressed... and the stress continues and continues.  If I act like I have cancer, I am being a drama queen.  If I act like I don't have cancer, I'm in denial.  It's a no win situation.  And no one is helping.  Absolutely everyone I talk to about this seems to think I am an idiot for not getting the biopsy done sooner.  Never mind that the only way I could get it done sooner would be if I could change my growth and move it up near the surface, where it could be reached without ultrasound (the actual growth is waaaaay back by my ribcage and will supposedly take approximately one and a half hours, with me under sedation, for a physician to reach with ultrasound to let them know what the hell they are doing).  A friend tipped me off that I have access to a fancy sounding "health care concierge" thanks to the Sober Husband's glamorous new job, and I was relieved and excited... but the health care concierge got back to me in a couple of days to tell me that there was no possibility of a fine needle biopsy anywhere near San Francisco on less than two weeks notice.  

 "If it were me," someone said to me approximately nine times today, "I would get the biopsy done sooner."  Well, if it were you, bitch, you'd soon realize that like King Canute you cannot order the tides to go out and you cannot order a radiologist to do your bidding.  Perhaps if I hacked off large amounts of my torso myself I could get this done sooner, but if I want it done by someone skilled, I am going to be waiting two weeks.

Meanwhile there is not a lot of support at home.  "Be nice to me; I may have cancer," I said to a rather crabby family member.  This family member tossed their hair and said snappily, "You told me not to worry."  

Postscript:  After an agonizing biopsy, it turns out that I have a benign tumor.  Yay!  Benign!

Thursday, August 13, 2015

shingles vaccine from hell!!

I am strongly pro-vaccine.  It's delightful that children aren't stuck in iron lungs nowadays.  I remember having the mumps and am glad my kids didn't have to suffer that way.  My grandmother died of cervical cancer, and I'm happy my daughters can get a vaccine that will dramatically decrease their chances of getting that cancer.  Etc.., etc.. But now I have met the shingles vaccine, and it has kicked my ass.

The other day I had a physical, with a new-to-me doctor.  The main takeaway was that your DH is officially an old.  I turned fifty, and I have arthritis in my knees.  It is time for me to get a colonoscopy.  And I was subjected to a shingles vaccine.

I was happy to get the shingles vaccine, as one of  my colleagues at my volunteer job had a debilitating case of the shingles and was ill for a month.  She went through hell, and that was fresh in my mind.

But the morning after the shingles vaccine, I woke up with my arm swollen, discolored, and itchy.  It was very dramatic looking, a huge, dark red circle protruding from my arm.  I went ahead and left for my volunteer shift, working in a wildlife rehab clinic.  About an hour into my shift I began to feel lightheaded and faint.  I took a break and went to the break room, where I hydrated myself and ate a bunch of peanut brittle on the excuse that raising my blood sugar might help.  Once my blood was surely fizzing with sugar, I went back to work.  I felt like I was going to faint.  My colleagues said I was flushed.  I went and sat outside in the shade, and before I knew it, an hour had passed by.  I went back inside.  Although everyone urged me to go home, I didn't want to make Iris uber Alles leave early, as it was her last weekday volunteer shift before school started.  Eventually we left, and I drove cautiously.

At home I took to my bed.  My arm worsened.  I began feeling violent stabbing pains, and flu symptoms were starting.  Dr. Google was inconclusive.  It seemed like I was having a worse reaction than normal, but since my breathing was okay, it seemed safe.  But I was miserable.  If I stood up, I felt dizzy and faint, so I avoided that.  I emailed my doctor.  I whined.

The next day I woke up with a pounding headache, but the pain had subsided in my arm.  It was still swollen, sore, and discolored, but it mainly only hurt if it were touched.  My doctor wrote back saying that the dizziness was enough of a concern that I should have gone to the E.R.

My love for vaccines has been tested.  I love all but this one.  The sad part is that this vaccine is only good for five years, so it isn't going to be that long before the time to get it again rolls around.