Monday, February 28, 2005

Pilgrim's withered wreath of flowers

I read a lot. If it is possible for reading to be an addiction, then you could probably call me a reading addict.

If I like it, I read it again. Maybe several times. There are a few special books I have read so often that they have become old and treasured friends.

Alice in Wonderland was the first special book; and I read it for the first time when I was in the first grade. I found it mysterious and delightful from my very first reading...and I'd guess I've read it in excess of a hundred times. I like it that much.

A line from one of the poems, though, suddenly took shape some time during my preteen years, after I had read Pilgrim's Progress:

"A childish memory take, and with a gentle hand,
lay it where childhood dreams are twined in Memory's mystic band;
like Pilgrim's withered wreath of flowers, plucked in a faroff land."

Those lines always make me think that each lovely childhood memory is a talisman against the difficult choices and situations we all have to face as adults. And it helps, helps a lot, to know that I have that at my back; those lovely memories and joys that will always be there, my inner strength, always there, always strong.

Oh where, oh where have my path slides gone...

I've spent my morning trying to figure out what happened to the pathlogy slides I ordered a month ago, among other things. Did you know that you can get slides of biopsies YEARS after the surgery is actually done? You just have to wonder what all you'd find in those pathology freezers. Or, on second thought, maybe it's best not to know.

Working for a university is like second grade. Some departments work well with others...some want to be the star, and they'll play with you as long as it's THEIR way...some beg you to play, but then lose interest as soon as you show up...some are bullies...some are victims...and some are very, very good at hide and seek.

It doesn't help that departments can be split up across campus. Sure, the Chair and the research faculty are in that building...but the rest of the faculty is over in that other building, where they see patients...oh, and wait, there's a few faculty who are officed in the hospital...

Records? Of course, they're electronic stuff for THIS cutting edge university! So if the patient needed anesthesia, there's one part of the chart over there...and the surgeon, that's another part of the chart over there...and there's the gastroenterologist, so that's another part of the chart over there...and the cardiologist, another part of the chart over there...and the cancer center, another part of the chart over there...makes me think of the Scarecrow when the flying monkeys got to him...

And never, ever does there seem to be a complete chart which has ALL the patient's records, despite the fact that all the care was done here on campus!

I love it when students complain about how awful it is just to get enrolled. They have NO idea...what they deal with once or twice a semester, I work with every day. To those of us who have been here awhile, it's just another example of The University Way.

Sunday, February 27, 2005

This is an example of the tile I bought. Posted by Hello

Saturday, February 26, 2005

Boys' Night In

There is nothing quite like 15 year old geeky boys. They talk constantly, eat like a plague of locusts, and can play video games for endless hours.

The latest obsession is the "who beats who" game.

This started about 3 months ago, when they stayed up all night alternating drawing pictures of the ultimate end of the universe, only to have it topped by the next kid.

Currently, this is manifested by one scraggly bearded gangly teen yelling out two random names...and then, as quickly as possible, another one proclaiming the winner. Then they argue about it until another pairing occurs to them.

So far today...

"Elvis vs. Mr. T" Elvis wins by a narrow margin, due to the fact he was in the military.

"Elvis vs. Godzilla" Surprisingly enough, Elvis wins this round too, mainly because the Elvis supporter distracts the Godzillaphile with a Girl Scout Thin Mint cookie.

"Nixon vs. Attila the Hun" Attila wins when they decide he was probably trickier than Tricky Dick.

"Attila the Hun vs. Napoleon" Attila again -- apparently Napoleon is wimpy in comparison.

"Mr. T vs. Arnold Scharzenegger" He may be the Governator, but he lost this round -- Mr. T is just much, much cooler.

"Mr. T vs. Gary Coleman" Mr. T was looking pretty good until Gary Coleman was allowed to bring in Elvis to help (no one is really sure how that happened).

"The Supreme Court vs. a rhino" The rhino wins...the telling point? "Republicans and Democrats working together? ARE YOU KIDDING?"

I don't recall 15-year-old boys being nearly this much fun (or talking anywhere close to this much) when I was a 15-year-old girl.

More later -- I have to go on another cookie run before the natives get restless.

Thursday, February 24, 2005

Tumor Board

Our university department hosts a Tumor Board.

Before I ever attended one, I had all kinds of strange ideas about what it was exactly that they did. "Tumor" and "Board" -- the possibilities could be scripted by Robin Cook or Dean Koontz. Alas, the reality is much tamer.

The group is composed of the department docs, their residents and fellows, a radiology doc, a pathology doc, a lab guy, a couple of random people I haven't figured out, and me -- we all meet to discuss particularly difficult or unusual cases of cancer in their patients.

It's one of those "two heads are better than one" approaches, only in this case it's about 20 heads. And a few of us don't have a clue. Sometimes more than a few of us, if the residents are tired.

Anyway, the patients come in one at a time, are introduced to the group, and the patient's doc points out where the cancer is. Then all the students get to palpate (that's the medical term for "squeeze", pretty much) the tumor. If it's really tricky, every single one of the docs will line up to feel it (which always strikes me as funny).

Then the patient is ushered out, and all the docs look at any films from radiology (sometimes there are dozens of films -- this can take awhile if they decide to argue about it). If a biopsy's been done, they may look at slides of that.

It's pretty cool for the patient, usually; they really feel like their case is getting plenty of attention -- which, of course, is true. And sometimes the patient's course of treatment will be changed after this mass consultation; but usually it's more of a learning experience for the residents and fellows.

Anyway, today there were no patients to present. So the discussion turned to a particular type of recurrent cancer which has a very low remission rate -- 12.5% -- after surgery and treatment whichalmost always ends in death on a respirator with a feeding tube.

I have to admit that I was shocked -- and pleased -- when our department head stated that it was probably better to provide palliative care for most of these patients than to give them such pain and suffering. So often medicine seems to be a "beat death at any cost" mentality, instead of "how can we give this patient the most out of what s/he's got left?" mentality. And in the end, shouldn't it be the patient that is the winner, not Death or the MD?

You can't get there from here

Somehow I thought buying tile would be like buying anything give the people your money and they give you your tile. Maybe they even deliver your tile if you give them enough money. Unfortunately, this was not the case.

After looking at scores of tile merchants (who knew there were so MANY?), I finally find the perfect tile -- they keep it in stock (because I have to have a lot of it eventually, and can't afford it all at once)'s sufficiently hard to withstand dogs and teenagers (did you know there are grades of hardness?) goes with the existing natural rock that's already part of my house which would be just awful to try to pull's spotty so you won't notice the dog hair and dirt (much)...and it's just beige yet natural-looking enough that I can still paint my walls blue or green or yellow or even pink.

Turns out the Perfect Tile is located in a showroom which is wholesale only. As a noncontractor type person (although I DID argue for self-contractor status since I'm doing the work), they wouldn't sell it to me.

Instead, I had to drive across town to one of their outlets to pay for it. They had NO tile samples or grout color samples (don't you love the word "grout"? It sounds like some kind of Italian food, like gnocchi), so I had to drive back across town to get the color codes for the tile and grout I wanted -- of course, I could not simply call from the, I had to drive back across town so I could pay the exact same wholesale price that the showroom charges.

So, I give them my money...and they tell me that I can pick up my tile FROM THE SHOWROOM...

I suppose it's a good thing I don't have anger issues. :D

Tuesday, February 22, 2005

Wisconsin Mongeese

Geeky 15 year olds are soooo much fun.

Gavin's current lifeplans include becoming the first Communist first clue: "Mom, what rhymes with proletariat?"

His theory is that Communism should make a comeback any day now, only this time it'll be cool because it's nostalgic and retro. (I can just imagine Lenin spinning fast enough to supply the entire city of Moscow with free electric power).

Maybe Red Rap will supplant that gangsta stuff.

He and his cousin, Marti, plan to have a hit single right away, break up, and then get back together in 10 years with another hit single. And then go on tour for the rest of their lives. Wisconsin Mongeese? That's the name of their group.

Not a bad plan when you consider that when he was 5, Gavin wanted to grow up to be a frog, live in my backyard, and eat bugs.

Thursday, February 17, 2005

Quick! Before the Mystery Bills Hit!

According to the IRS website, my income tax refund is scheduled to be deposited tomorrow.

So I'm going to have to make my tile decision pretty quickly because any windfall is usually accompanied by at least one mystery bill.

Mystery bills are those bills you didn't expect. Sometimes it's as small as a new tire after you've run over a nail. Sometimes it's something big, like the furnace quits in the dead of winter. I'll cross my fingers and hope for small...and besides, the furnace was my mystery bill last year.

Wednesday, February 16, 2005


Since I didn't explain the IRB (rhymes with "herb") in that last post...

The IRB (Institutional Review Board) is the watchdog group that meets to discuss research studies, comprised mostly of health professionals and a few members from the community at large (surprisingly, these range from realtors to ministers).

Although their meetings are open to the public, I have to confess that I have no desire to go...not because I am afraid it would be boring...but because I'd rather imagine them as some arcane and mysterious group whose members wear robes and chant words of power over the endless offerings of paper.

One of my friends, who does psychiatry research (more on that some other time), today had to submit 12 (TWELVE) copies of each of these: a 297 page protocol, a 14 page consent form, the 4 page submission form, the 2 pages which comprise hospital requisition forms A and B, and the 1 page grant routing form. That is 3,816 pieces of paper, for a 4 hour meeting which will cover probably 10 other protocols.

Now, I know at least one person who sits on the board (but who cleverly throws everyone off by being not only normal but nice -- and he really expects us to believe he is a surgeon? HA) and I KNOW he has no time to look over the protocols in advance, because he is scheduled so tightly he literally runs from one hospital to the other, never has time to eat, and has a BMI of 11 (ok, so that's an exaggeration, but probably not by much).

Among other functions, the theory is that the group examines the protocol and makes sure it presents no ethical dilemma; also that any potential risk is outweighed by any potential benefit.

The IRB also examines the consent form to make sure that the risks are clearly defined and not downplayed and that benefits are not presented in such glowing terms that people expect miracles. They have to make sure that no coercive or even persuasive language is included...just the facts, ma'am.

Now add into those 10 new protocols the fact that they have to review ongoing protocols every can probably add at least 10-20 of those into the meeting (some of these studies go on for years, after all)...and the fact that any study that deals with cancer or radiation (if you're really unlucky it has both) has to have been reviewed by those departments which generates another report or two...and if the study is also being done at the VA, you can add another 20 pieces of paper...and we never, ever get any of it back.

See? Magic is the only way they can possibly get it done. I can see them raising their hands to the sky while burning the stacks of paper...summoning the Research Gods to guide their oracular decisions to give to us, their faithful supplicants.

Tuesday, February 15, 2005

Life Lesson #1242

Don't go to the grocery store when you're craving chocolate.


Old photo of me...but it's my fave. Morbid, maybe, but it's the one I want for my obit photo in the (hopefully) far distant future... Posted by Hello

My 20 year list

A lovely man from my past called me a few days ago to sympathize with me on the death of my father.

At one time we thought about getting married, but his children hated me and he didn't like my kids much either...and 6 spoiled teenagers would have been too, too much. I could never figure out how we'd all fit in his house.

On top of that, there was the money issue. He's a successful surgeon, makes somewhere around a million a year, is a country club member, lives in a gated estate, shops at Harold's, owns a boat, and complains frequently how poor he is and how he has to cut back his spending.

And here I am, about as far from the country club set you can get, buy my clothes at thrift stores (except the scrubs, and then I like bright ones), drive a disposable car (ie, if it breaks or I wreck it, I buy another one for $2000), rarely eat out, and pinch pennies till they scream. And I don't even LIKE Harold's.

It made me very uncomfortable, the money thing.

I do miss him, though, and was glad to hear from him. He's a funny guy, works long hours and is very good at what he does. He's also a very gentle person, very tentative, and reluctant to say what he needs or wants. Very shy. He's also energetic, impatient, and very, very anxious.

In some ways we were a very good fit. He was able to slow down a little when we were together and I think he drew on my philosophy of life to gain a little serenity in his own. And I had more energy and oh, how I loved traveling with him.

When he called, he mentioned that he'd started his own Ten Year List...and then thanked me for it. I guess in a way, that was a gift from me to him.

A Ten Year List holds all those things you want to get done but don't have time right now. These are projects too big or too unimportant to go on your daily or weekly list. Kirk had always pushed himself to get everything done RIGHT NOW...and it was no wonder he was so anxious all the time. So if he's able to put some of his worries off onto a Ten Year List, then he's made a change for the better.

And, you may ask, what happens if you get to the end of ten years, and you haven't completed your list? It rolls onto the Twenty Year List, of course!

Monday, February 14, 2005

Pixie the wonderdog. Posted by Hello

My Valentine's Gift

I love Shakespeare. My favorite play is Macbeth.

So I'm standing at the stove cooking noodles for mac n cheese (not that Kraft stuff, the real deal), which has bubbled alarmingly close to the top of the pot...and my son walks up. Here's the conversation:

Gavin (in quavering falsetto): Double, double, toil and trouble, fire burn and cauldron bubble!

Me (in old lady voice, followed by evil cackle): When shall we three meet again?

Gavin quirks his eyebrow at me: Mom, there's no one here but you and me.

Then we both look down at Pixie the wonderdog, who is gazing up at us with that you-never-feed-me-I'm-starving look.

Gavin: We are one SUCKY coven.

Took me by surprise, since we're Lutheran. At least I got a big laugh for Valentine's Day. How about you?

Valentine's Root Canal

OK, it was not MY root canal. But it was my kid's, so in that case I really would have rather had it myself. Sort of.

He was in pain all weekend. The dentist agreed to see him this morning. I hadn't thought it would be anything quite so big (or expensive, sigh, I am so glad I am getting a refund this year).

Gavin, however, thought it was OK. The dentist gave him the happy gas and then plenty of numbing shots (he says he can't feel anything on the lower half of his face).

Afterwards, Gav was drooling so much that I thought it best not to send him back to school (drooling through physics, calculus and English is probably not going to win any friends in high school, and Gavin is not your run-of-the-mill kid anyway, even among the "different" kids). Now he's ready to have a root canal every day if it means he misses school.

Speaking of his English class, the teacher has decided that Gavin is the King of Debate for 4th block. So he has a tiara and a scepter (which sounds suspiciously like a magic wand) to wear during debates in class. I would have thought this would have embarrassed him but he thinks it's utterly cool (apparently he is the first male to win the honor, so the tiara has never previously been called into question).

This seems odd to me because he is very shy and says little. The only exception is if you can get him on a which case he is not only very good at expressing himself, but also very funny.

Anyway, that's my Valentine's Day. No romance, no flowers, and I have to make dinner (unless Gavin makes Hamburger Helper before I get home -- maybe making dinner isn't so bad...).

Sunday, February 13, 2005

Mom and Dad at Alex's wedding, October 2004. Aren't they cute? Posted by Hello

Saturday, February 12, 2005

Now why haven't I been sleeping?

Night shift tonight, 11-7 on my second job. Nothing quite like psychiatric nursing at have to be up for anything but mostly nothing happens. At least I have kids tonight -- the powers-that-be keep the units so cold that even if the kids wake up they just snuggle farther under their blankets. Adults, on the other hand, want to stay up all night.

But silly me -- got up early and haven't been able to sleep at all today, which means it's going to be tough to stay up all night. Too much on my mind, I guess.

Valentine's Day is so close. Mom's really fragile; Dad's only been gone two weeks so this is really tough for her. I can't believe that my brother Steve is taking her to church tomorrow for the third week in a row...he's always been so anti-religion that this is very surprising. I guess he has a heart after all -- 20 years ago, even 10 years go, I would have bet good money that he didn't.

Even though it's awful that Dad is gone -- I can't help feeling envious. There'll never be 51 years of a happy marriage for me...heck, I'd take any amount of a happy marriage I can get. Unfortunately for me, that guy I used to be married to didn't feel that way. And it's awfully hard to find someone compatible AND capable of commitment in your 40s and 50s. At least here, it's hard.

Anne and I are trying to talk her into coming and staying with us a bit; although with my floors torn up (preparatory to tile...what a job that's going to be!) and evil dog Wiley marking everything and very little cleaning done (just can't get it together), I would think she'd find this MORE depressing. But she always has liked being able to organize her children.

I can't WAIT until my income tax refund comes in so I can buy the tile and get started!

Friday, February 11, 2005

Where are the snows of yesteryear?

Sometimes the way words sound are very soothing. I remember seeing a TV program when I was young; a program where Groucho Marx was the host (the one with the duck). On this particular program, the bit of information I gathered was that "cellar door" were the most pleasing sounds in English, and Groucho actually had a lady on the program whose name was Cellar Door (I can't imagine what her parents were thinking!).

Anyway, one of the most pleasing sounding poems I've ever read is in French: Les dames du temps jadis. It just flows so beautifully, in a melancholy and sonorous sort of way, rippling like water in a dream. Villon may have been a very bad man but I wish he would have written more poetry.

Some other words which are fun or pleasing to say:



onomatopoiea (I THINK that's how it's spelled)



and the last few lines of Edgar Allen Poe's Annabel Lee:

"And neither the angels in heaven above
nor the demons down under the sea
shall ever dissever my soul from the soul
of the beautiful Annabel Lee"


Today is actually a pretty good day. Went to lunch with Bev & Amy (former coworkers). Alex called, made a 90 on a pharmacology test she hadn't studied for (not only that, but had talked to her seatmate while the prof explained how to do conversions). And Mom went out with Meals on Wheels, first time for her to do that without Dad. And my sister bought a painting on ebay -- I have brought her over to the dark side...bwaaahaaahaa!

Wednesday, February 09, 2005


My brother and sister and I are all working on keeping Mom's spirits up as much as possible. When my little brother, Marty, died 30 years ago, we really thought she'd grieve herself to death. Since the 3 of us who are left are all adults now, at least we feel we are not powerless where Mom's moods are concerned. She seems to appreciate the calls and visits (while we were all frequent callers and visitors before, we've tripled or quadrupled the time we are spending with her, as best we can around work & kids).

She's never been one to talk about her emotions, which makes everything more difficult (she didn't get into the habit of saying "I love you" until I started telling her that everytime I saw her as a young adult -- at least that seems to come easily now...but it was really hard the first few times I said it, because it was simply NEVER said in our house...felt, yes, but never stated).

And you know what? I really, really hate it when people I don't like feel a need to discuss my bereavement with me, want to know how I am feeling, and want to touch me. Euwwww. Just makes me mad...which, admittedly, is sometimes preferable to feeling sad.

I did sleep better last night -- Ambien is a great drug. If only I hadn't had to get up an hour earlier so my kid could make up a physics lab...sigh...can't wait for the weekend when I can laze in bed a bit; but I'm working 11-7 Saturday night so that will probably mess my sleep up again.

Well, this SOUNDS depressing but I'm actually having a pretty good day. The sun is shining, the work is going well, a friend invited me to lunch, and a meeting got cancelled. Yep, pretty darn good!

Monday, February 07, 2005

I miss him

My dad died a week ago. It's too hard to talk about him without crying, so I thought I'd write instead.

If your dad was like mine, it's awful when he's gone. The one man in my life who always thought I was beautiful, intelligent, and who could be leaned on as much as I needed; the man who would never voluntarily abandon me. Such a sweet man, too; he loved mom to distraction, gave her anything she wanted (which she then would take back to the store because "we can't afford it" but was always pleased nonetheless at his extravagances).

His one flaw was that he could outnag anyone, but in such a gentle way you couldn't really get mad. During a difficult period in my life (after my divorce), the kids and I moved 7 times in 5 years. Dad (and Mom) helped with each move, even though they couldn't do a lot of lifting. Dad "supervised" in addition to helping Mom pack. One of the moves was to a slightly roomier townhouse a half block away; he must have told the kids a dozen times or more to "Ride the bikes down to your new place!" To this day, the kids and I both say "Ride the bikes down" when one of us has repeated something a few too many times.

Dad was a little guy, but he had a huge heart. He played high school football in the 30s, and despite his 5'7", 119 lb. frame, he and his team took state that year (apparently he could run like the wind). He jumped into the war right out of high school, and was on the Enterprise for the duration through some of the worst battles; after figuring out that seaman first class on deck wasn't what he wanted to be doing (he was still having nightmares and flashbacks about a fellow sailor who walked into a plane's propeller, among other things, even in his last year of life) he became a petty officer and assisted the captain on the bridge. His cousin, Terence, was on a destroyer accompanying the Enterprise, and they often managed to have conversations via signalmen.

He looked like a movie star in his pictures wonder Mom fell for him, even though they didn't like each other on their first date (a blind date; Mom's roommate was dating Dad's roommate).