Honor and the Changeling

Hello again, dear friends.

Over the last couple of weeks, I’ve been recapping some of the crazy-extreme events of my past year, but there were also some really amazing moments.

To start, an essay I wrote won an Honorable Mention in the Writer’s Digest’s 88th Annual Writing Competition.  In the past, while I haven’t entered every year, each year that I did enter, I submitted a fictional short story.  This time, however, I was pre-occupied with other fiction to stop and write a story that would be limited by how many words I could use.  So, I wrote an essay on the families who had been in the news for being separated at the border.  I used the theme of all the Ancestry and 23-and-Me commercials we see so frequently offering to tell us where our family roots were planted, then did a compare and contrast with the border situation.

While I would have, of course, preferred to place in the top ten “place” winners for the essay category, I’m definitely not complaining about being in the top fifty (forty of whom “win” in name only) category, or the Honorable Mention.  After all, being considered “honorable” is nothing to sneeze at.

But my real proud moment accomplishment of 2019 was participating in my second NaNoWriMo and writing “The Changeling of the Third Reich.”  I first had the idea for this story in February, 2014.  At the time, I was wrapped up in so many other projects, I set this one aside.  It was my favorite story idea to date, and I wanted to give it all the research and attention I knew it would take to make the idea really come to life.

As time marched on, life happened, and the day job happened, and then Gastroparesis, and then Lupus happened, and I lost hope that my great idea would ever come to pass.  In September, Sister Michelle’s sister was placed in hospice for her metastatic triple negative breast cancer, and Michelle and I planned a trip up to see her.  As we planned our trip, we tossed around the idea of stopping in D.C. on our way home to unwind.  While there, we would visit the National Holocaust Museum (which I haven’t seen since 2001, and I highly recommend), and I could research some more of the in-depth parts of my story.

That didn’t happen.  We got the call a few days earlier than we had planned our visit and were told to “get here now!”  There were no flights the rest of the day, so we dropped everything and took off driving.  Susan passed away before we got there, while we were only five states away.  (Damn Cancer.)  I did all the driving and my knee, ankle, and foot blew up from being in the car for so long.  (It’s about a 16-hour drive if you can take it all in one day.)  (Damn Lupus.)  Family stuff happened, I felt like crap, Michelle was distraught, yada, yada, yada, and I just wanted to be home.

In October, Sister Michelle and I decided to take a girl’s day, and we visited the much-closer-to-home Florida Holocaust Museum in St. Pete.  It was very negligible in the way of tangible things to see (compared to the National Holocaust Museum), however, it had one amazing employee who made the visit worthwhile.  He was an older gentleman and from Europe, so he had seen so much of the actual concentration camp sites and other such museums in person, plus because of his age, he remembered a lot of stuff first-hand from when he was a boy.  An added bonus was that he had met so many holocaust survivors while he worked there that he then had their stories to share, too.  The tour was supposed to last an hour, but it was more like two and a half, and he answered every question any of us had, and I actually learned a lot that I was surprised that I didn’t already know.

This visit was exactly the push I needed to declare “The Changeling of the Third Reich” as my NaNoWriMo project. I finished with 81,100 words under my belt and finished the first draft a week later with 93,500 words.

The funny thing was, in waiting so long between the time I originally had the idea and when I wrote the first draft, not only has (of course) my writing become exceedingly better, but I’ve also ventured away from the super dark endings I used to envision, and made it a bit lighter, though still as psychologically thrilling.  Meaning – I’m very glad I was forced to wait to write this so I could do it justice.  Anyhoozle, without further ado, I submit for your approval, the following synopsis:

The year is 1968, and the Vietnam War is in full swing.  Dr. Bridget Castle, a neurosurgeon in Boston, handles the victims of anti-war protests, the casualties of war, and being a woman in a man’s profession with ease.  Her husband, her parents, and her patients all love and respect her, but her tight-knit world is in danger of unraveling when someone from her past shows up and threatens to expose her closest-held secret: That she is a Concentration Camp survivor.

For more than twenty-three years, Bridget has walked in the shoes of a girl killed in the Blitz, blurring the line of when her own identity as a German Jew ended and when she assumed the role of changeling.  If not for her childhood diary to remind her of all she endured, she would be completely successful in taking on the memories of the girl she replaced.  But when a patient from Germany is placed in her care, she finds herself unable to deny her past any longer.

Hold on tight as you travel with Bridget through the twists and turns of this psychological thriller, and watch her claim retribution as the former prisoner now holds the key in THE CHANGELING OF THE THIRD REICH.

Let’s talk:  Have you ever planned something so detailed, you had it mapped out to the letter and then life happened and you had to reconfigure everything on a moment’s notice?  Have you ever visited any holocaust museum?  For the writers, how often do you plan a story and set it in stone, then start writing and take it in a completely different direction?

We Are Family

Happy Throwback Thursday, friends!  One of the projects I mentioned working on prior to my most recent absence from the blogosphere was that I had uncovered some pretty cool genealogical finds within my family, and two in particular that I want to share today.  Now, I fully recognize what a boring subject ancestry can be, especially when you’re talking about someone else’s family, but I think if you’ll stick with me here, you’ll see that it’s worth the read. 

Honestly, when I started looking into my family’s history, I didn’t really have much interest in genealogy at all, but I took on a project following the death of my Grandma (who raised me and was really my mother).  I wanted to do something to honor her which would also help me deal with my grief.  She was really proud of her parents and siblings, so this seemed like the logical choice.  First, I researched and then designed a book that showed both Grandma and Granddaddy’s heritage and how each branch of their families relocated and such until the stars aligned for the two of them to meet.  Most of Grandma’s family started in England and made their way to North Carolina.  Many of Granddaddy’s family originated right here in America since his mother was half-Cherokee, and I picked up their trail in South Carolina.

The cover of the book I made

Grandma and Granddaddy met as teenagers in a small town in North Florida where she was born and had been raised and near the town where he was born and had been raised.  During my lifetime, neither of them seemed to know a whole lot about their own ancestors past the names of their grandparents.  That’s why this first cool thing I’m about to share makes me particularly sad that they aren’t alive anymore for me to show them…

I found numerous documents backing up the trail of where each family had originated and moved further south through the generations… And that’s when one particular document seemed familiar while I was researching her family… Because I had already seen it when I researched his family!  Turns out that Granddaddy’s mother’s father’s father’s father and Grandma’s mother’s father’s father were both residents of a small town in Georgia in the 1830s, and both were Privates in the same regiment under the same Captain in the Indian Wars there!

(Of course, it goes without saying, I don’t like the injustice to the indigenous people, and I don’t even understand it considering Granddaddy’s mother was half-indigenous herself, but how cool is it that their ancestors knew each other!)

(To add to the weird coincidences found throughout history, when I later did research for my next-door neighbor and made her family’s genealogy book, I found documentation where her 3x great grandfather sold land to my 4x great grandfather —  in a city approximately 200 miles from where we both live!)

Finally, growing up, I always knew Grandma – whose maiden name was Milton – was related to John Milton the poet (born in 1608), and we also knew she was not a direct descendant of the poet.  I was able to crack the code and find documentation to show how we’re related – with Grandma being the poet’s first cousin 9 times removed.  (That’s not the cool thing yet.)  Turns out the poet’s paternal grandfather had one son that was the poet’s dad, one son that was Grandma’s 9th great grandfather, and one son that was among those missing in the lost Roanoke Colony.  (Still not the cool thing yet.)

John Milton, the poet

Now, fast forward from 1608 to 1807 when another John Milton was born in Georgia.  This John Milton ended up being the fifth Governor of Florida during most of the Civil War.  (He was a very prejudiced man and killed himself upon learning that the South lost.)  Several sources claim this John Milton was a direct descendant of the poet John Milton, though I’ve also found some conflicting documents that seem to indicate he was actually the 5th great grandson of the brother (that was also Grandma’s direct ancestor) of the poet’s father.  At any rate, I think you can imagine that either way, we’re going back as many as ten generations from Grandma’s children to wherever they and the Governor John Milton’s family meshes together.  (Now we’re finally going to see the other cool thing.)

Which is why it’s so strange that being separated by a few hundred years, a couple of continents, and a few generations, Grandma’s son, my own Uncle David, is the living doppelganger to the aforementioned governor!  What do you think?

The governor is on the left and Uncle David is on the right.  The truth is, if Uncle David wasn’t wearing the hat, his hair and hairline at the time he was that age also looked exactly like the governor’s, but the only other non-hat photos I had of him at that age were of his profile.

(I have to admit, as strange as this is, I can’t take credit for actually discovering it.  Uncle David was up at the Florida State Capitol Building and, while waiting for his wife, stood in the corridor minding his business when some tourists came up to him and wanted to shake his hand.  They told him what a magnificent actor the state had selected in portraying the former governor.  Uncle David was perplexed until he looked over his shoulder and realized he was standing directly in front of a portrait of his cousin the governor.)

Let’s talk:  Do you know of any unrelated people who met long before their descendants also met?  Do you have any family members who look just like another distant family member?  Do you think Uncle David should try to pick up some extra income standing around the State Capitol building portraying the former governor? 

My Skeleton Hurts!

Hello again, dear friends.  When I made my Bloggyville comeback appearance last week, I tried to be upbeat and lighthearted.  It’s never easy leaving a place you love for a while then returning later only to be greeted by a lot of new faces who look right through you because you’re a stranger and not seeing some of the familiar old faces you used to love.  The same is true of taking a lengthy break from the blog as I did.

The fact is, while I often see things that either make me think they will be the subject of my next short story or the subject of my next blog post, the life I was living didn’t allow my body to go much beyond just having the thought to do such tasks.  It’s been quite a roller-coaster ride since I was diagnosed with Lupus in 2016, not to mention the couple of years before that with the host of medical problems I was experiencing and getting no answers from the numerous doctors I saw.

I thought that once I was diagnosed and finally had a name for what ailed me, things would start getting better.  That was not the case.  Keep in mind that I’m also dealing with Gastroparesis caused by my Lupus, so that means I still vomit more days than not, and I’m very limited in what I get to eat and keep.  My family has started saying, “Are you going to eat that meal or just rent it for a while?”  Gastroparesis typically occurs in people with diabetes, and what happens is the food they eat does not digest past the stomach, and since it doesn’t move along as it’s supposed to, it can cause their blood sugar to spike even hours after having eaten their last meal.  In my case, my gut gets so inflamed, the food just sits there until it hurts so bad I have to get rid of it in the only way I know how.  Which is a visit to hug the porcelain god.

I took steroids daily for more than 2 years to try to get everything under control, not to mention chemo for 4 months.  Because of all the poison I was eating in the form of “medicine,” my skin thinned to the point I can see my veins, and just scratching an itch can make me bleed or have a “hickey” that lasts for weeks.  The slightest bump into something can make me get a large, ugly, violet bruise.  All the meds made me lose even more of my already-falling-out hair along with other unpleasant side-effects.

But my body was still in such excruciating pain, I saw no quality of life.

And then my rheumatologist announced she was leaving her practice to move to another city.  Fast forward a few months until I got in to see the new rheumatologist who took her place.  The new doctor’s husband is diabetic and has Gastroparesis.  What this meant for me is that (even though this G.I. affliction was out of her scope of treatment) I finally had a doctor who actually understood at least part of what ailed me.

But worse than tossing my cookies (oh, how I wish I could really have cookies!) 5 or 6 times a week, I just hurt!  Everywhere!  I typically have a pretty high pain tolerance, but this was too much to bear.  I mean, it was like this (and this is factual… not embellished for comic relief):  My 10-pound cat would try to sit on my lap, and I’d scream in agony because it was as if my femurs were being broken in half.  I’d knock on my son’s door to call him to dinner and I’d recoil because it felt as if I’d dislocated every knuckle.  I’d roll over in my sleep and wake up crying out because it was as if my ribs were cracked.  I’d sit on a kitchen chair and grimace because it felt as if my spine and my tailbone had been fractured.  In reality, my problem was this: MY SKELETON HURT!  Every. Single. Bone.  I had no better way to describe it.

My new rheumatologist, because she understood better than most about Gastroparesis, realized that I was losing nutrients during my frequent time on my knees, and as it turned out, my Vitamin D was acutely deficient.  (Your levels are supposed to be between 30 and 100 and are optimal between 40 and 80. Mine was 9!)  And when your Vitamin D is low, you don’t absorb the calcium you also need to help keep your bones healthy and strong.  Turns out that the steroids and chemo I took are known to deplete Vitamin D, the anti-malarial I still take daily to preserve my organs is known to deplete Vitamin D, and my unwilling pastime of barfiness also depletes the Vitamin D. Additionally, I haven’t eaten any of the foods rich in Vitamin D (milk, fish, eggs) in more than a year because they make me puke.  And because of the Lupus, I can’t get out in the sun which is another source of Vitamin D.

(Side note: when I had the iron and B-12 anemia, that caused pain and total exhaustion, but that pain was nothing compared to this.)

So, I was put on a prescription level of D3…  If you take an over-the-counter supplement, you will either take 7,000 or 14,000 IU’s in a week’s time.  I was prescribed 200,000 IU’s a week for the first four months, and now take 100,000 IU’s a week for maintenance.  And I finally feel so much better!  Oh, I do still get the aches and pains from Lupus, but those are nothing compared to the deep bone pain in every bone from the low vitamin supply.

I’m also still dealing with the puking, but at least now when I lose my meal, I don’t feel as if my kneecaps are being bombarded with nun chucks as I kneel to do so.  So, half of my battle is won, and I can’t tell you what a relief it is not to live with that kind or that level of pain in literally every bone in my body.

While my experience has soured me on the current state of America’s healthcare system and the bureaucratic “rules” that go along with it (because no other doctor I saw went out of their way to even recommend a simple, inexpensive blood test that literally could have saved me from months of torture), it also woke me to the idea that there must be an inordinate number of people in third-world countries (and likely even closer to home) who don’t get enough to eat or at least quality nutrition, and they must live as I did every day – with their skeletons hurting.  And that thought hurts my heart.

Let’s chat:  Have you ever experienced a broken or fractured bone?  Have you ever experienced a severe vitamin deficiency?  Did you ever realize that a mere missing vitamin could cause such severe pain?  When you are diagnosed with something out of the ordinary, do your thoughts ever turn to how someone else in the world might be dealing with a similar condition but for a different reason?

 

#LupusAwareness #GastroparesisAwareness

Snakes Alive!

Greetings, friends.  Happy Throwback Thursday!  As promised, I’m back to share another of my life’s crazy adventures that happened during my time away (which, since I’ve been off the grid a while, I guess technically counts as a Throwback).  Do you remember the movie “Snakes on a Plane?”  Well, my story’s title would be better suited as “Snakes in a Drain… and Frogs in a Toilet.”

Sister Michelle, Son Jeremy, and I purchased a house in mid-2017.  It’s a 4/3, so we each have our own bathroom.  It’s a wonderful house in a great neighborhood, but the previous owners didn’t necessarily do all the upkeep required, so we’ve been running into several problems that we’ve had to fix right away with little notice.  That being said, when we encounter another unexpected issue, we just kind of palm smack our foreheads and shrug our shoulders, because from what all we’ve already encountered, we know we shouldn’t be surprised.  When we moved in, one of the first things I did was replace all the weatherstripping around every door because for some reason, they all looked like a dog had teethed on them!

My bedroom and bathroom are an en suite, so they have a door between them and both also have doors that lead outside to the pool.  My rooms were also added on ten years later than the rest of the house was built, so we often find that certain things were constructed differently than the rest of the house.

Now, keep in mind that I live in The Swamp Florida, and in this humid subtropical environment, we have a lot of reptiles, amphibians, and just creepy, scaly, slimy things that are supposed to live outside who often try to get inside.  In my house, I’m the resident lizard / frog / *snake / and other creepy thing catcher, and when we get one of these critters where it doesn’t belong, I usually try to catch the displaced visitor and relocate them back outside.  (*I don’t mind snakes if I know what kind they are, if they are babies, or if they are someone’s pet.  Otherwise, no I don’t go out of my way to catch adult snakes, I turn and run like any other terrified red-blooded lady.  Also, I won’t touch mice or rats unless they’re someone’s pet.)

So, one night, while the rest of the house was asleep, I was up late reading.  When I was ready to get to sleep, I made a last trip to the restroom and as soon as I flipped on the light, I spotted a sizeable (about a third the size of my fist) frog sitting on the toilet seat!  Figuring it squeezed in under the door from the pool area, I tried to catch it, but it kept jumping every time I got close.  I opened the outside door, hoping I could just chase it out, but the little booger jumped into the toilet!  It was late, I was tired, and I didn’t feel like chasing it around any longer, so I murdered flushed it!  I felt bad that things turned out that way, but I figured it would survive and end up somewhere in the sewer where it could find its way to freedom.

The incident all but forgotten, it was about a week later when I was dealing with a particularly painful Lupus flare and I made a late-night trip to the restroom.  If I’ve already been asleep, I don’t usually turn on the light, but I heard a noise, and something told me to flip the switch.  There was another frog perched on the toilet seat, and this one was larger than my comfort zone to catch.  (He was about three-fourths the size of my fist.)  I was exhausted, in pain, and in no mood to break my neck trying to play hero.  I opened the back door and intended to either catch it on the first try or just quickly shoo it outside and get back to bed.  As I went to grab it, he jumped straight into the hole at the bottom of the toilet!  So, with no remorse this time, I flushed it.

The next morning, I realized that there was a pattern going on here that I didn’t particularly care for, so I Googled “frogs coming up out of my toilet” to see if indeed that may have been what happened.  Since I had recently replaced the weatherstripping, I found it hard to believe that two sizable frogs might be able to get inside through my door.  One might be a fluke, but two in a week’s time was had to swallow.  What I found on Google was that my late-night visitors did not likely come up thought my toilet from the sewer, but that they came down through my toilet from the roof!  Yes, apparently, those aluminum pipes that stick out of the roof on most houses have a purpose:  They are gateways for amphibians to get into your house to regulate air pressure in the house’s pipes.  Who knew?  They suggested that I cover the opening with a piece of something called a “hardware cloth” which isn’t a cloth at all, but is a wire mesh thing.  I went out that afternoon and bought some, and now, several months later, I’m just waiting for my son to install it for me.  But I guess just having it on hand did the trick, because after that, no more frogs.

Fast forward a few weeks.  My lawn service did something that broke open a large piece of PVC pipe in my yard, right outside my bathroom window.  They told me right away and said they would be back to fix it later that week.  As promised, they were back within a few days and fixed it as good as new.  No problem.  Or so I thought.

A few more weeks passed, and again, I was dealing with the Lupus flare from hell, so I didn’t feel like even combing my hair, much less playing critter whisperer.  I was using the restroom one evening, when I happened to notice a black hair tie on the floor by the sink.  I knew if I didn’t pick it up, one of my cats would end up trying to eat it.  But I hurt too much to bend over or kneel down.  So, as I washed my hands, I attempted to pick up the hair band with my toe.  And then it moved.  And then I kicked, and the hair tie was flung across the room and started flopping around.    And then I screamed like a little girl.  And then Michelle and Jeremy came running.  And then the hair tie started sidewinding.  And then Michelle and Jeremy screamed.  While in hindsight, I realize it was just a baby black racer snake, at the time, it was not where it belonged, and the shock of the hair tie coming to life and slithering around in my bathroom when I didn’t feel well was too much to handle.  So, without thinking, I bent down, grabbed it, flung it into the toilet, and flushed!

(In retrospect, I think it looks like I probably spend a lot more time in the bathroom than I actually do!)  I didn’t immediately think of the previously open hole in the PVC pipe, but I did reprimand Jeremy for not getting around to putting that hardware cloth up yet (though the large holes in the hardware cloth mesh wouldn’t have likely prevented that small of a snake from coming in anyway).  I figured my newest visitor must have been blown up on the roof by the wind.

All was forgotten until a few days later when I was cleaning the kitchen.  Now, of course we have a dishwasher, but when there aren’t many dishes, I prefer to just hand wash them in the right sink and let them dry in the left sink.  I put away the clean dishes, removed the dish drainer, and scrubbed the sinks.  Then I popped out the left side drain strainer to wash it, and that’s when I noticed another baby snake stuck to it!  I gasped shrieked and tossed it into the right sink where it did this creepy sidewindery thing, and before I could think any calm thoughts, I turned on the water and washed it down the garbage disposal!  And then chopped it up in the disposal for a good 40 seconds.

I felt bad that I overreacted and didn’t try to save it, but by then, I was really starting to get skeeved out by all the vermin attempting to share my home!  I immediately went to Google and identified the snake, and that’s when I learned that black racers lay around 20 eggs at a time.  I realized then that the mama must have found her way into my broken PVC pipe and that I could soon expect about 18 more visitors!

I called my plumber and told him snakes were coming out from my drain, and he said that was pretty much impossible.  Then I explained about the broken PVC pipe and that I figured on seeing 18 more of them, and that’s when he told me my best bet was to get a shotgun or learn how to run fast.  I told him I’m a Democrat, so I don’t do guns, and that with my Lupus being hot, I wasn’t running anywhere quickly.  So, he wished me good luck, and I was on my own again.  I ended up boiling several pots of water and pouring them down each sink and shower drain, then I loaded a heaping amount of vinegar and baking soda down each drain, then, for good measure, I poured a good amount of lye from my soap-making business down each drain.  (I believe I can now win the Cleanest Drains in the Neighborhood Award.)

Thankfully, since then, other than the occasional lizard, salamander, or tree frog that sneaks in through the front door sometimes, we haven’t had any more surprise visitors, though I do expect PETA will be giving me a call soon and revoking my request for membership.

Let’s talk:  What kind of wildlife do you encounter inside your house?  When that happens, do you catch it and take it back outside, kill it immediately with no regrets, or scream and run?  Did you know that the toilet plumbing vents out the roof of your house?

 

#LupusAwareness

I Survived the Medical Medieval Torture Chamber!

Greetings, friends!  Here’s to a (belated) Happy New Year in 2020 and (very belated) hopes that your 2019 was a good one.  I’m afraid I’ve been off the grid a lot longer than I intended.  During my absence from Bloggyville, I’ve been dealing with various aspects of life including more health (Lupus and Gastroparesis) complications, several deaths of various friends and family members, and emergency house repairs (and appliance replacements).  During my time away, besides the day job, I’ve also opened a homemade soap store, written two new manuscripts, created more art for the house, updated some backdoor stuff on my blog, and otherwise kept myself busy with reading and other artsy projects which I’ll elaborate on in a future post.

However, in the interest of not going all over the map in a single post, today I would like to share the details of just one of my recent adventures.  (Those of you who have been with me a while know I have the strangest things happen to me and how I like to “at least get a funny story” out of the ordeal.)  WARNING: If you are reading this in a public area, be on notice that this will likely make you laugh out loud.  (At least it hasn’t failed to make any of my personal audiences snort with amusement, so if you’re not laughing by the time you reach the end, you’re taking it way too seriously.)  [Also, apologies in advance to the men who may find this a little too personal – I know the ladies will completely “get it.”]

Several months ago, I started experiencing a pain under my left arm.  I figured it was a swollen lymph node, and that it would probably go away sooner than later.  By the time I next saw my rheumatologist for my Lupus, it was still sore and had grown in size, so I told my doctor that it felt like a doorknob in my armpit.  (Of course, I meant in reference to size – not an actual doorknob.)  So, you can probably already guess that she sent me for a mammogram.

Meanwhile, my sister, Michelle, was having mammary issues of her own and had to get a breast biopsy.  After my mammogram, they found something suspicious, so I, too, was scheduled for a biopsy.  (It may be a good time to note that Michelle and I go to different medical clinics, so at no time did we have any of the same doctors.)  It was around this same time that I was also dealing with an intense amount of shoulder pain from my Lupus.  I regularly get steroid shots in each shoulder, but I can only get them four times per year, and it was too soon to get new injections.  After Michelle’s biopsy, she came home and told me exactly what to expect:  She said they had her lie on her side with one arm raised over her head.  Then they injected her with a local anesthetic, made a small incision, removed several pieces of tissue, inserted a titanium clip inside to know where the tissue was taken, taped up the incision, then – and here comes the bad part – did another mammogram to make sure the clip was in place.

Ladies, even if you’ve never had a breast biopsy, you’re still probably cringing by now, just imagining the pain of a mammogram following an incision and the digging around inside to collect tissue specimens.  Men, if you don’t believe us, go out to the tool bench, put your junk in a vice, then close it all the way.  Wait!  I forgot the part where before you start, you should raise the vice to about six inches higher than your junk will reach, mount it on the wall, then proceed to insert your junk and close the vice.  That’s how a mammogram works… You have to reach around and hold a handle at the back of the machine that’s about three inches past your fingertips, and then they clamp your puppy in until it’s flatter than a pancake and raise the machine until you’re standing on your tippy-toes, and just when you think it can’t get any worse, they raise the machine once more and tell you to hold your breath while they get the first image.  Then after they get the image, just when you think sweet relief might be in your future, they – while keeping your boob smashed securely – rotate the machine sideways to the point that you think it might just rip your breast from your torso.  And then they do the other side.

So, Michelle’s report that I could look forward to this after the actual procedure didn’t give me much hope that it would be a pleasant experience.  However, the part that actually seemed more excruciating to me was that I would have to lie still with my arm raised over my head for half an hour.  (With my shoulders the way they were, I could barely raise my arms for the time it took to brush my own hair, much less for an extended period like that.)

A few days later, I was all smiles and bravado as I walked into the women’s clinic.  They offered me counselling before-hand, but I declined, feeling fully knowledgeable of what I could expect in my procedure.  I changed into a paper gown and wrapped a sheet around me as I waited to be called to the surgical area.  As I followed the nurse, a door opened and I saw a well-lit room with a comfortable-enough looking bed and a tray of surgical tools.  And then we kept walking.  We passed a couple of more similar rooms and then she escorted me into a large, dark room with a table with a hole in it and some steps leading up to it, that can best be described as some medieval type of torture chamber device.  (Seriously, in retrospect, I would have rather been hit in the head with one of those sticks with the spiky ball at the end of a chain!)  There was a huge scary-looking machine that put out this high-pitched hum, and nothing of comfort in the room except a boring painting of a farm on the wall near the table.

“Okay, climb on up there, and lie on your stomach.  Place your left breast in the hole and raise both arms over your head,” the nurse instructed.

“Wait, what?”  This was not what I had envisioned.

As I climbed up the steps and got situated on the table with my left puppy in the hole, I was instructed to look to the right and place both arms over my head.  So, there I was, staring at my own shoulder and the dumb farm painting and feeling very much like Ol’ Bessie there in the barn being hooked up to a milking machine, when all of a sudden, this clamp thing closed on my free-hanging boob and tightened.  A lot.  And then it tightened some more.  And some more.  And then, I’m not sure, but I think it twisted the darn thing in a complete circle.  Or two.  And that was before any local anesthetic!

And then the nurse raised the table.  By the sheer force of the clamp, my entire upper body was glued to the table.  Seriously.  If I’d have sneezed, I think I would have literally ripped my nipple off.  As the table rose, I felt very much like the unwilling volunteer of a creepy magician’s act.  The stupid farm sank down below my line of vision, and I could see where the wall met the ceiling.  And out of the corner of my eye, I could make out what looked to be a trapezoidal lighted thing that I could only imagine was some sort of FIRE indicator.

“Okay, you’re doing great.  Now, let me go get the doctor,” the nurse said.

You mean the doctor isn’t even here yet?  I was ready to be done, and the doctor was, as it turned out, busy and would be there in a few minutes!   The nurse left again after she told me of the doctor’s delay, and all I could think was: If the building catches on fire, I’m screwed!  Seriously.  I imagined how many different ways things could play out, and in every scenario, I was dead and the medical examiner and his buddies were laughing at the corpse with one extremely long hooter!  By the time I imagined being taxidermized for a freak show and having people line up to take selfies with the Amazing Long Booby Lady, the doctor came into the room.  Of course, it could have been the janitor for all I knew, because I was pinned in place staring at the wall.

At first, no one said a word, and then I felt the machine tighten around my breast, and I think a little of my intestines got twisted up in there, because at that point, I could feel the clamp pinch all the way down to my toes.  Then someone said something.  But not to me.  Turns out there were several men and a couple of women down there hanging around under my aching breast.  I think they were playing jump rope with it or something because they sounded as if they were having a fine time chatting among themselves; meanwhile no one said a word to me about anything that was going on.  The good news was by this time, my sore shoulders were the last thing on my mind.

About 9 hours later, they finished collecting all the samples they needed, and the nurse was left alone with me.  She said as soon as they checked the samples on an x-ray or some other machine, they would be able to unclamp me and let me down.  I was certain it was a little after midnight when she let me down and released my three-foot long breast from its prison, and that’s when I got to see the clock and only 40 minutes had passed.  She had to tape and bandage my poor stretchy, black and blue booby, and then I got to sling it over my shoulder and go get the afore-dreaded mammogram to check for the titanium clip.  Of course, by this time, that mammogram was nothing compared to what I’d just been through, so I didn’t complain.

To conclude, both Sister Michelle and I ended up with negative test results, so it’ll be another few months before either of us have to endure that kind of procedure torture again.  I’m still attempting to convince my sister to go see my doctor next time [insert wicked laugh track here], but she’s getting even with me by goading me to “tell your stretchy-booby story again” each time we encounter someone else who hasn’t yet heard it. (So much for my own modesty.)  At any rate, I’ve got a lot of other (less personal) stories to share, so I’ll (really) be back soon.

Let’s talk:  Have you ever injured your shoulder so that you couldn’t lift your arm?  Have you ever been pinned in one place for more than a half-hour?  Have you ever seen a modern medieval torture device?  (Wait, maybe I don’t want to know the answer to that one.)  

P.S. Even though I am making light of my experience with a life-saving diagnostic, I am not making light of the diagnostic test itself.  I’m fully aware of the seriousness of breast cancer… One of the people I mentioned who was lost in my absence was Sister Michelle’s sister who, after years of fighting, lost her battle to triple negative metastatic breast cancer, leaving a husband, two children, and a family who loved her in its wake.  

 

#StereotacticBreastBiopsy #LupusComplications #Life