Fear, Grace and Silver Linings in the Age of a Pandemic

I wanted to write a piece on having grace in this pandemic, but I’m literally the last person who should do that. I’ve lost track of how many times I’ve said, “I hate everyone” in the last month. Grace seems to be the one quality that eludes me. I’m swimming in the feelings of anger, betrayal, superiority and self righteousness. Those emotions have, over the last week, settled into their base components of fear, grief, disappointment and despair. At the bottom of it all, I am so sad. Sadness is my least favorite emotion. I never know quite what to do with sadness, but I feel compelled to sit with it for the moment. I feel like sadness may be the one emotion that can propel me in the right direction.

I am going to try to steer clear of politicizing this or fall into the trap of trying to debunk the myriad of conspiracy theories we’ve all seen on social media and YouTube. Greater minds than mine have offered analysis to those theories and if you don’t believe them, I can’t imagine anything I say will make a difference. However, I would like to introduce a presupposition for the rest of this blog. It’s simply that COVID is an actual disease, and that it is contagious and has a higher mortality rate than the flu. I know people are still debating the later part of that statement, because we don’t have our arms around how many people actually have been infected with COVID. But that problem is hardly unique to COVID. We never have a real number of people infected with the flu each year either. So hopefully we can at least agree on that. Additionally, context is important to perspective, and I’d like to give you a little insight into why I feel and believe the way I do. 

When I was 29 years old I contracted viral meningitis. I was in the best shape of my life. I was single and childless and I worked out like it was my second job. I was rocking. I was pretty sure nothing could knock me down, and then one day I got a headache that didn’t go away. The headache spread into a backache and I quickly found myself overcome with fatigue. Within days, I was having lapses in memory and trouble with word finding. The pain was like nothing I’d experienced. I would be on percocet round the clock for the next three months. I remember my brother talking to me and I kept asking him to repeat himself. Although I knew he was speaking English, I could not understand what he was saying. I cried in my neurologists office and asked if I’d be stupid forever. He assured me I would not be, but that it would be a long road. I couldn’t work full time again for almost three months. My first day back I remember trying to put things in alphabetical order seemed like a monumental and exhausting task. It was devastating and humbling and it was the first time I realized how quickly things can be taken from you. It was the first time I realized that you can only mind over matter until your mind doesn’t matter, and your body betrays you. 

I became a hospice nurse in 1999. I’ve spent the better part of the last two decades watching people die. I have a short list of diagnoses I don’t want to die of. I have a shorter list of diagnoses that might make me see suicide as a viable alternative to the disease process in front of me. COVID does not fall into the later, but it does fall into the former. When it is severe it is devastating. You know of the respiratory issues. We are learning about the associated hyper coagulation leading to strokes and blood clots in the lungs and extremities. Just as people begin to feel they are recovering their own immune system goes into hyper-drive between day 7 and day 10, leading to a number of inflammatory processes that are life altering if not deadly. People have ended up in burn units, because their skin seems to inflame and unravel off them. People have lost limbs. People have gone into multi system organ failure and end up on dialysis. People are on the vent for days, weeks, months. Multiple hospital systems have the same shared data that 30% of COVID patients that enter the ICU never leave. Those that do are not going home back to life as it was. They are looking at months or years of rehab and are likely forever altered. They will not be the same. Their family will not be the same.

Luckily, in most of the United States we have not exceeded our capacity to care for them. If we do, bedside providers and administrative staff will be tasked with navigating how to decide who receives the resources and who doesn’t. It’s a bio-ethical nightmare. The moral distress of those choices will never leave the healthcare workers involved. We will carry it with us always. Already healthcare systems are preparing for this. Policies and practice are being developed for when we may have to take someone who is benefiting from artificial ventilation off the vent, because the guy in the next bed has a better chance. It will be battlefield triage. It will be necessary and it will be reasonable, but it will be an avoidable death. In my mind it will never be right.  The time to do what is right will have passed us by then. You may find comfort knowing that you have a clean health history and you are young and strong, but it’s not that simple. If you are a police officer shot in the line of duty or a firefighter who falls off a roof and you need a vent, but the COVID patient next to you has a better chance, you will not get the vent. I think people fail to realize there won’t only be a shortage of resources for those unfortunate enough to have severe COVID. There will be a shortage for everyone. Trauma patients, cancer patients, postpartum moms who hemorrhage, everyone will lack resources. It will come down to who has the best chance of good outcome. We are not moral police and you don’t want us to be, that is a slippery slope for healthcare. We treat the drunk driver and their victim the same. If you need heroic medicine your chance of getting it relies on who is in the bed next to you. 

In the beginning it truly did feel like we were all in this together. I think it’s obvious to everyone that is no longer the case. There seems to be two factions with variations within them, but for the most part there are the Skywalkers and Yodas. I keep thinking of that scene in Empire Strikes Back where Luke wants to go save his friends and prepares to leave even as Yoda tells him he is not ready. Luke say’s “I am not afraid”. To which Yoda replies “You will be”. 

As a member of the Yoda faction let me be clear I hope to God I am wrong. I have never wanted to be wrong so badly in my life. I hope this is an overreaction. I hope it’s never as bad as I fear it could become. However in the face of nearly 100,000 deaths in four months and a skyrocketing unemployment rate I feel there is much to fear, for all of us. 

The paradox of these factions is that moving forward with the supposition that there really is little to fear in relaxing infection control measures, and we have a catastrophic outcome with an overloaded healthcare system and rolling shutdowns. Those who preached sustained early shutdown will claim they were right. Alternatively the supposition that there is much to fear, and acting on that notion by sustained masking and social distancing will likely lead to the health system not being overwhelmed, and there will be no second wave that shuts us down again. Those who believe it was all an overreaction can claim that they were right all along. Sometimes we become victims of our own success. I hope that those of us who error on the side of paranoia suffer that fate. 

Fear

Fear. We hate it. It’s weak. Losers are motivated by fear. It’s completely un-American. Or is it? Fear is instinctual. Fear keeps you alive. Fear keeps you from making some bad fucking decisions in life. I am admittedly terrified by COVID. I am so frightened for those who have already been affected either in health or economics. I am fearful that I or a loved one may suffer the same fate. Unless you’re delusional this is not a “buck up camper” moment. It’s been proposed by a particular news station that now is the time for courage. We should be brave and get back out there. I never understood how painfully dismissive it is to hear things like “it will be OK” or “don’t be afraid” until things weren’t OK and I had good reason to be afraid. Such easy words are most often spoken by someone who either has an agenda, lacks empathy, or has never known loss. They are the words of someone who leads from behind. It’s not necessarily from bad intentions. I know that. The intention is to push you forward, and keep you from getting stuck in fear. But when you put it in such simplistic terms you lead from behind, and no one is ever really following the person who leads from behind. So, when you are not afraid but your friend is. Please ask them why they are afraid. They may have very good reasons to fear. Then, if it isn’t already obvious how you can ease the fear, ask how you can help. It’s likely there is something you can do. That is how you lead from the front. 

I realize some people still see no reason to fear in this pandemic. Some people think it’s politically motivated and perhaps a hoax. I suspect they are the most afraid of all of us, or they wouldn’t resort to that level of denial and magical thinking. I’m not knocking it. I wish that is where I was right now. I have utilized both coping mechanisms as a respite in times when I needed an escape. If you are one of those people, I don’t blame you, but I’ve got nothing for you. I wish you were right, but all evidence points to the contrary. 

Grace

Grace has been so hard for me. I hate that grace eludes me, because I am so grateful for the grace others have given me. I try to pride myself on being liberal with grace when it comes to others. As we grow we see life through all of our experiences. It filters our perceptions, and when we are healthy we view others from a high place with no obstructions. We can pull in all of our experiences and knowledge to view those around us. When we are in crisis, it’s as if we fall into a hole or narrow canyon and our view is obstructed. We can only see others through that narrow view and sometimes that view does not include grace. 

I am in that hole. I see the person and their offensive action and I see nothing else. When people advertise on social media that they are not wearing masks and are not social distancing, from my hole I translate it into a very personal “Fuck you, I don’t give a shit if my actions kill your husband. This is convenient for me, I think public health is stupid, and I do what I want.” I realize that I am the last thing on their mind when they do this. They certainly have no intention of putting Garry at risk. Some of these people have gone above and beyond to show love and support for us through Garry’s cancer, but now all I see is a person who seems to have forgotten that there are people like Garry out there, and I feel betrayed. As a wife, as a mother and as a nurse, I feel betrayed. It’s not reasonable. These are not people we are even going to see for probably months, and I love them. I respect them. I’m closely related to some of them. But I am so hurt by them because I’m so in the thick of it, and I feel forgotten. I feel like my plight has been abandoned.  

My New Years resolution was to rest. I didn’t want to be challenged or take on anything new. I am battle weary from cancer and grad school. I am so tired. I’m broken and altered and in many ways lost. But then COVID happened, and I feel I must battle on. I’m not even sure what or who I’m swinging at. I want to get out of the pandemic with relationships intact, and it’s really hard. So what do I do? Well, I started by going off social media. I’m not in a place to receive other people well. I’m doing all of us a favor by not looking. I’m not sure I am presenting well either (maybe not the best time to write a blog, but hey, I’m not on social media, so no one will ever read this). I also changed my voters registration. Sorry Dad, please don’t come back and haunt me but I’m officially unaffiliated. My previous political party hadn’t aligned with my faith or values for a long time. It actually feels amazing to be free of that yoke. I’m social distancing for real. I’m not just physical distancing. I’m really distancing myself, because I’m tender right now. I don’t trust myself to not cause hurt, and I don’t trust myself to not get hurt. It won’t last. I’m an extrovert and I love too many of you to not reengage sooner than later. But for the moment it feels safer. If my adulthood has taught me anything it’s that I crave safety above all else. I don’t function well if I don’t feel safe. I guess that even if I can’t find grace now, I’m doing my best to be able to salvage it in the near future. 

Silver Linings

When Garry got sick our lives hung on one word. Time. Would we ever have enough time. Time with each other time for him and our son. Time became the most precious commodity in our lives, and there was never enough. I told our son the other day, “I think we will all look back on this time with great fondness”. He looked at me like I had just grown an extra head and said, “I don’t think I will”. He’s ten and misses his friends, but I’m sure when he is grown he will think of it differently. This time is a gift. I don’t want to miss it because I’m angry and frightened. That would be tragically regrettable. 

Aside from time I have learned to lean on my husband again. I think when he got sick, I stopped. Survival told me I needed to be fully self sufficient sooner than later, because at any point I was one bad scan and weeks away from being a widow. So, I stopped letting myself need him, and I didn’t know how to reverse that once he got well. Then COVID showed up and handed me my very first existential crisis (good God I hope it’s my last). COVID dropped me and Garry caught me. The man is an oak. He always has been. He’s beyond fair. He’s so reasonable it’s irritating. He grounds me, and for some inexplicable reason he adores me. The English language lacks the words to explain how good it feels to lean on him again. I feel safe. It’s a beautiful silver lining. 

Who Is Setting Your Horizon Line

Recently I was nominated for a caregivers retreat with No Barriers. The No Barriers tagline is “What’s within you is stronger than what’s in your way”.  The retreat itself was amazing, but even more impactful was the story of it’s co founder Erik Weihenmayer. As a toddler his family learned Erik had a diagnosis that ensured he would become blind as a teenager. Erik learned to wrestle, a sport he could do with low vision. It was on the wrestling mat that Erik learned his mother had been killed in a car accident. Within a year he lost what was left of his sight and was plunged into darkness. 

Erik learned to climb. You can feel and climb a rock face without seeing it. Rock climbing lead to mountain climbing and on May 25, 2001 he became the first blind man to summit Everest. In 2014 Erik and fellow blind kayaker, Lonnie Bedwell, paddled the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon, and that is where my life first intersected with Erik’s although at a distance. 

My husband is a paddler. He can paddle a kayak but his love is rafting. The rafting community is funny to an outsider. There is a unique camaraderie to it, and all paddlers are pretty sure they are doing God’s work. There was a time when I would have argued that point, but I no longer disagree. There is no cathedral like a canyon. There is no finer incense than pine, sunblock and wet neoprene.  Water has always been symbolic for new life and redemption. Rivers are the arteries of God. 

A fellow paddler and friend of my husband’s was one of Lonnie’s guides down the Grand Canyon. His name is Chris Drew. He is a bit of a pure soul and really hard not to like. I don’t know him well, but I’ve always walked away feeling better for knowing him at all. It was my husband, Garry, that put together the No Barriers/ Chris Drew connection when I was on the trip. He told me Chris has been on the support team for the Grand Canyon trip Erik and Lonnie did. There was a documentary about the trip and he hoped Chris would be in it. We planned to watch it when I came home. The movie is called “The Weight of Water”. 

I returned home and life was busy. It was several weeks before we sat down to watch The Weight of Water. We had hoped for a glimpse or two of our friend Chris, but he was actually featured somewhat prominently. When Erik would paddle down the river he wore a headset in his helmet and another kayaker would guide him verbally through rapids. The guide would tell Erik what strokes to take and when. Lonnie’s system was a little more archaic. Chris would paddle ahead of him all the while calling “Lonnie, Lonnie, Lonnie” and Lonnie would deftly paddle towards the voice calling his name. 

From the very first time my husband took me out on a river he has been determined to teach me to read water. I have learned to read water although I am hopeless on an oar-frame. I do quite well on a paddle board or ducky. Now Garry is teaching our son to read water. He will point down river and say, “do you see that horizon line”. He will show him what to avoid and the best line to take. How to tell where the rocks are and where you may get into trouble. I can’t imagine going down a river blind. I would have to have great faith in the one who set my horizon line. 

Knowing what little I know about water and watching the dance of Chris leading Lonnie down the Grand left me asking myself “Who set’s my horizon line when I can’t see? Who’s voice do I follow? Who is calling my name?”.  

When Garry was sick he told almost no one at his crossfit gym. Even most of the coaches had no idea how sick he was. He would falter and they would tell him to keep going. He wanted them to set his horizon line according to what a healthy man could do. They did, and he followed. I am so grateful for the people who unwittingly set his horizon line for him. I am grateful for the voices that called his name and he was able to follow. He’s always been really smart about that sort of thing. He has always had a lot of discernment. I have not. 

I’m a bit of a sucker. My friend Laury and I joke about how we love everyone and two drinks in we also believe everything. I can think of many times that I have followed the wrong voice into potential ruin. I have trusted the wrong person to set my horizon line in a place that either wouldn’t challenge me or would potentially drown me. Then there is the voice that leads you to the rapid and falls silent halfway through. Worse still is the voice that calls you to them and then plunges you under water to save themselves. 

Who is setting my horizon line? Along with the bad I have amazing people set my line. They’ve given me grace and permission I wouldn’t give myself. They’ve seen my capabilities beyond what I believed and showed me how to accomplish things I didn’t know I could do. I’ve had people paddle upstream and pull me out of the water when I couldn’t reach my horizon line. Who do I trust to set my horizon line?

But maybe the more important question is who’s horizon line am I setting? What kind of job am I doing for them? It’s a big responsibility and sometimes we are doing it without even knowing.  You can change someone’s life with a timely word or a hug. 

I hope when I am setting a horizon line for someone else, I hope I am very much like Chris Drew. I hope when someone needs me they know they can make it through the dark by following a strong rhythmic consistent voice calling their name.

Walking With Laura

I wrote this about a month ago but waited to post it until Laura and John were ready. They have had many hard choices and hard conversations in the past month. They celebrated what is very likely their last Christmas and New Years together. Please surround them with love as the days and weeks ahead will be beautiful and tragic. If you pray, add them to your list. 

I knew about Laura long before I met her, and I was determined not to like her. It was petty and childish, but that is what chick jealousy looks like. I had worked for a small community based hospice from 2000-2006 and then left to work in aesthetics and plastic surgery. I needed a break from the deep dive of end of life care, so I found the shallowest pool medicine had to offer. Sometime after I left hospice, Laura started there and became friends with my former co-workers. I could see her posts on their facebook pages and her sense of humor and relationship with them. It was a relationship I missed having. I felt replaced, and I was jealous. 

Five years later I returned to hospice care and Laura was still there. She and I both worked in the admissions department, and as I got to know her, I couldn’t help but love her. Laura is beautiful inside and outside. There is something unworldly about her. Picture a real life Snow White. She has the grace and humility of a Disney Princess, but a silent strength that should not be overlooked. She is equal parts tough and delicate. I’m certain that she wakes up in the morning singing while cartoon birds and mice help her get ready for her day. Laura is fair, and good, and kind. She’s also funny and at moments crass and irreverent. Her laugh sounds like the combination of a bubbling brook and songbird. Laura and I are not a dynamic duo though. We are two parts of a trio that is completed by our friend Ana. If Laura is Snow White, Ana and I are her two faithful Dwarves, Bitchy and Snarky.  My only real concern about Laura is that she considers me one of her best friends, and it makes me question her judgement. She’s so amazing I actually look at her and think “why does this incredible person love me?”

No one in our trio works in hospice anymore. End of life care is wonderful and rewarding, but at times you need to step away or you’ll find yourself giving from an empty cup. We stay in touch by the occasional happy hour or more often meeting to walk along the river that winds through the north end of town. Ana was the one who picked our walking spot, and every few weeks we meet there for an hour. We walk at the pace of Ana’s two year old. We watch out for bull snakes in the summer, and just try to stay warm in the winter. None of us are good at small talk and nothing is off limits. We ask each other hard questions and challenge each other when we disagree, but with the understanding and profound respect of old friends. Steel sharpens steel. These women keep me sharp and humble. They are good medicine. 

We have a lot in common. We are all wives and mothers. All of us had complications with either fertility or pregnancy. We’ve all faced varying degrees of uncertainty in our marriages. For me it was Garry’s cancer. Ana’s husband is an immigrant and a muslem. Laura’s husband, John, has CF (cystic fibrosis). When I met Laura she and John were dating. Laura always had a giant bouquet on her desk from John. Garry has never been overt in his affections (he has other gifts), and I was always a little jealous of how John showered Laura with romantic gestures. 

If you are not familiar with cystic fibrosis, it is genetic and life limiting. The average life expectancy is 37 years old. Laura got married with the full knowledge that she would be a young widow. This was years before Garry had cancer and I remember wondering if I would have made the same choice to marry someone I would not grow old with. Would I let love win, or fear win? Laura let love win, and in doing so wrote herself a beautiful love story. A few years after their wedding they brought a perfect little boy into that story, and the man who was lucky to be alive became a father. I remember when they started contemplating children, my son was a toddler and I told her “if Garry died, our son would be my greatest comfort”.  I know I’m making it all sound like sunshine and roses, and it’s not. Marriage and family are hard work in the best of circumstances. Health issues do not make anything smoother. But still, the beauty of their choice to marry and have a child are not negated by the pain and the work it takes to manage a marriage like that. Life for Laura has not been easy, the road she chose is not comfortable, but she almost never complains. She understands the cost of mortal love more than most. She bares it with deep elegance and strength. 

When Garry got sick Laura and I had offices that shared a wall. The day Garry called to tell me he had melanoma. Laura was on the other side of that wall and heard me scream. When I came back to work a week later it was her office that I wanted to sit in. It was her knowledge and understanding that I needed most. It was her arms that I needed around me. It was her eyes I needed to look into and know she understood. She had seen the monster too, and she knew what I was going through. It’s a horrible club to be in, but it was comforting to know someone who had navigated it before me. 

There were differences between us. Laura did not have the rug pulled out from under her. She had only ever known John as sick. The other difference was that Garry could live. That was never going to be the case for John. Even if they had a magic cure for CF John had been through two lung transplants and would eventually need a kidney transplant. He had been on immunosuppressants his whole life. All of these things are hard on the body and increase your risk for secondary diseases and death. There was hope for Garry and I, but not for Laura and John. Yet Laura was always controlled and refined. My style is a little less controlled and quite unrefined. Laura was everything I wanted to be as Garry’s wife, and I’m afraid I fall quite short. 

John has always been in and out of the hospital, any infection is potentially catastrophic for him. He can not safely be vaccinated and depends on herd immunity. When Laura was quite pregnant John got sick and had to be hospitalized. She looked at me with those giant blue eyes pleadingly and said, “Please not now. He can’t die now. ” He didn’t, but at that moment I was struck with what she lives with daily, with the burden she carries, and how well she bears it. 

Being the spouse of someone with a potentially life limiting illness is really hard. We are swimming in studies that show how detrimental it is on a caregivers health. It’s incredibly isolating. Laura said she often felt invisible. When Garry was sick I remember feeling like I wasn’t invisible, but I was utterly inconsequential. It’s our cultural norm that the caregiver/spouse/significant-other is sidelined until they are widowed. Then and only then does their story and experience matter. So having someone who could relate and be present in the loneliness was like sunshine and air. Laura was a lifeline for me, and I can only hope that I am and will be a lifeline for her. 

As I write this, John’s health is declining. He is running out of options. They are moving towards Christmas with a loss of so many things, certainty, control. Hope is always present, but it evolves. You learn to hope for different things. You hope for peace and a good night’s sleep. You hope for decreased pain, and fear, and anxiety.  A few weeks ago she said “There is nothing left but love, and it’s that love that has made all the hard things worth it. I’m so glad I stayed and did the hard work”.

I’ve been walking with Laura for a long time. I am honored and humbled that she allows me to  walk with her through this next phase of life, and into the mystery that lies beyond for her. I will grieve with her. I will ache for her loss and her sons loss. I will route for them both as they find joy again, and I will learn a great many lessons from her. She has always been my teacher. 

I love you Laura. You knew you could do this the day you walked down the aisle. You are good at hard things. I know it hurts, but life will be awesome again. You will make it awesome again. 

Under-Boob for Christmas

I’ve been chipping away at this one for the last four months, but it’s been a secret until now. It was fun to write and more fun to experience. I hope you have a wonderful Christmas full of all your hearts desires.

A Bonkers Idea Turns Into a Viable Plan

My husband is impossible to buy gifts for. He’s super picky. He researches everything before he makes any major purchase, and I’m pretty sure everything I’ve bought him has been accepted with a little disappointment. Long ago, I resorted to telling him to buy whatever he wants and that is his birthday gift. This is a system that works well for us. The drawback is that I never get to surprise him. 

I have a midsummer birthday and he has a late summer birthday. It just so happens that my birthday was spent in Costa Rica this year. It was the birthday to beat all birthdays. I’ve had cool birthdays in cool places including, Yellowstone, Hawaii, and Scotland, but Costa Rica takes the cake. We spent the day in Tortuguero National Park touring the canals by boat and then after dark we were able to watch a sea turtle lay eggs on the beach. It was amazing. We were all up in her business. I literally could have been her obstetrician. I can identify two other times in my life that I have been in awe. The first was when I saw Micheal Angelo’s David, and the second was when I watched open heart surgery as a nursing student. I’m not sure I was in full fledged awe while watching what can best be described as gooey wet ping pong balls dropping from a turtles nether region, but it was close. 

I got it in my head that Garry should have an equally cool birthday. I’m not sure how I expected to accomplish this with his birthday being on a Monday, and two weeks into the school year. Needless to say, it was a dud. I made tacos and gave him the red “you are special today” plate, but other than that it was pretty unremarkable. I didn’t even have a gift for him. My son and I have a running joke that we are going to get him a unicorn-pug. They don’t exist and he wouldn’t want one if they did, so that’s not happening either. I did buy him some Lululemon men’s $30 underwear about a week after his birthday, but that was because it was the only thing I could think of that he’d never buy himself. I figured I’d make it up to him at Christmas, but how….

It started like all my major life choices, as a joke. I met some friends for a walk by the river, and joked about doing boudoir photos for Garry. They both said I should. The next day I text my photographer friend, Raine, who is a genius and one of the few people I trust to make me look good on film. She was all about it. It is truly amazing how excited and helpful people get when you tell them you are going to take mostly naked pictures of yourself. I decided I didn’t want the typical roll around a bed in lingerie, either. Garry has seen that countless times. I decided to do something different. Something a little more, well, Garry. I also didn’t want to do anything half assed. Boudoir photos deserve your whole ass. My two best options were the CrossFit gym and the river. Nothing says Garry more than those two places. 

Our town has an ordinance prohibiting women from being topless in public unless they are breastfeeding. Luckily, the ordinance was met with an oppositional movement lovingly called “Free the Nipple”. Thanks to the free the nipple people there is a judicial injunction on the ordinance. I am currently free to bare my nipples in public as it is arguably my constitutional right to do so. This makes choosing a spot in the river a lot less stressful, as I don’t need to worry about being arrested for public indecency. The only real issue is scheduling them sooner than later, because I don’t want to be topless in the snow. Luckily, Raine has an opening in her schedule mid September, and the forecast looks balmy. 

Next is CrossFit. Obviously, I have to ask permission and have a coach let me in and lock up when we are done. I also needed a time when they were closed aka Sundays. Raine could accommodate the timing, but I still needed permission. Our gym is owned by a super cool dude with a super cool wife and they both would probably be fine with me using the gym for this purpose. In fact, they have told me more than once that they would do anything for Garry, but I suspect this isn’t exactly what they had in mind. Before I had the chance to ask the owner, I ended up having a beer with Lo, the manager.  I told her what I was planning and asked to use the gym, quickly adding that I would pay her. She said “yes” to the gym and “no” to payment. I told her she is welcome to stay and watch/coach my photo shoot too. She was all in and had some very good suggestions about wall-balls in stilettos. 

At this point I’m feeling pretty locked and loaded with a few important exceptions, the wardrobe and hair and makeup. The wardrobe will remain a secret for Garry’s eyes only. Let’s just say I committed the theme and I’m pretty proud of what I came up with. Hair and makeup are another story. There are two days in a girl’s life that she really should have someone else do her hair and makeup. The first is her wedding. The second is when she opts for midlife-crisis-nearly-nude pictures. I can get by doing my own makeup, but it doesn’t take a genius to figure out I don’t do hair. My hair has turned into a special kind of beast over the last few years. I used to have super easy wash and go Marsha Brady hair. Now I have crazy mind of its own Bret Michael’s hair. I’m too busy/lazy to do anything new with it, so I still put all the effort into it that I did my wash and go Marsha Brady hair. The result is messy hair that is totally unacceptable for what I have planned, but that’s OK because I know a girl with mad skills.  She’s that immaculate girl that you actually DO ask to do your wedding hair and makeup. She’s also down for anything. When I emailed her to see if she could help me, I got a rapid, enthusiastic “yes, I can make you look like a porn star”. She even offered to do it at her house which was a necessity given the secrecy of our mission. Done and Done. 

Pulling It Off and Second Thoughts

My brother has always said I can’t keep a secret, especially when it’s my own secret. I tell everyone everything. I’m even more hopeless if I think its funny or clever or it makes me look stupid. Check, Check and Check. Christmas is still a long four and a half months away. Plus I have to be able to pull this off. The pictures haven’t even been taken yet. What I needed was a viable lie. It has to be plausible and not completely a lie. I’m much better at deceit when the lie involves some truth. I told Garry I was having a girls day with my friends Laura and Ana. I knew we’d be gone for a giant chunk of the day and evening, so I said we were hiking and getting dinner. This was a crappy lie, because I have never gone hiking with friends. My friends and I might go on a walk in town, but we don’t hike. We take pleasant strolls and follow them with wine. It didn’t matter, because he bought it. I invited Laura and Ana to be my audience during pictures. They were more than welcome to sit there drink wine and make fun of me. I also had my friend Crystal coming, so it really was turning into a girls day. 

Next I had to figure out how to get my PFD (personal flotation device or life vest), a raft paddle, lingerie, hooker shoes and some other unmentionables out of the house without it looking weird or obvious. I hatched a plan to start smuggling things in small batches to Crystal who would bring them to the photo shoot. The paddle was the only thing that made me nervous. Garry notices everything. I figured he would totally notice a missing paddle. I’m pretty sure this will need to wait until the day of the shoot, or I need to find another conspirator and borrow a paddle from them. There is literally no reason I would take a single raft paddle anywhere. ever. So without a backup story, I had no choice but to use stealth. 

For those of you who have lost track, I’m the girl with Bret Michael’s hair who can’t keep a secret and guess what? I am utterly lacking in stealth. I can’t even walk quietly. My walk has been called angry and powerful. It has been compared to a herd of large animals, but never anything stealthy. In other words, I came in like a wrecking ball. I’m also generally oblivious to things I should be aware of. For instance, I’m not entirely sure where Garry keeps the raft paddles. I think they are in the garage but I am not certain.  This is a little embarrassing because they are bright green, there’s probably eight of them, and I may or may not walk by them every day. BUT they could also be in the shed or storage room or our bedroom for that matter. I’m actually that oblivious. I still haven’t figured this one out, but I’m determined to pose in a river with a paddle, and not much else. Luckily, we are planning on sunset and the lighting will be kind to my aging body. It’s also Fall and low water so my chances of getting foot trapped and drowning are next to nil. Wouldn’t that be an embarrassing headline? 

My friend Katrina inadvertently reminded me that I’m forty-six and maybe documenting my body is not the best life choice. In her defense, she has no idea what I am doing. Honestly if I told her she would be a giant fan and probably supply me with food and drink to keep me fortified while I document my middle aged body. Katrina joined a gym and paid for a weight loss challenge. She was also giving her Facebook friends a play by play of her successes and failures along the way.  What I love about Katrina is she, like myself, does not believe TMI is a thing. She will give you ALL the information, and she is happy to listen to all your information. She is raw and shameless and utterly incapable of guile. I adore her. I had already planned and booked my boudoir shoot and suggested (without telling her I was doing one) that she should do the same when she meets her weight loss goal. She responded by telling me that she had done nudes as a wedding present to her husband, and has no plans to document her body again. Katrina is at least ten years younger than me, and I think she was early twenties when she got married. She might have even been nineteen. That was the first time it hit me that I’m forty-six, and maybe this isn’t a great idea. I also realized that I had three weeks to go-time, and I might want to get my body camera ready. 

I’m fitter than I’ve been in years. I do CrossFit three days a week, swim three days a week, and walk or catch a yoga class when I can. I am officially one norovirus away from my ideal body weight. I decided I should throw in a weekly bone-broth fast-day up until the shoot. This is something I don’t particularly enjoy. I’m not a giant pot roast person, but I become obsessed with thoughts of pot roast when I’m fasting. I think about nachos and bacon and all the salty crunchy fried things. I do, however, sleep hard and feel better when I’ve fasted. The day after a fast I usually give birth to a 4-5 lbs bloat baby and that feels pretty damn good. As I write this, I am five days from boudoir day and have three fasts under my belt. My middle is looking skinny, but I have two new problems. First I think Garry suspects I’m developing an eating disorder, and second my boobs are getting the rock-in-a-sock look. Face-palm. I did not want to lose weight off my boobs!! I want nice full boobs for this thing. I have five days to plump the boobs, but still keep the middle little.

Jackie, the girl who is doing my hair and makeup is also a bit of an amateur photographer and she told me she would only shoot boudoir pictures at this point. I pressed her on this and she said everyone wants their family pictures to be natural with no touch ups, but they also want them perfect. She said with boudoir photos they want them perfect, but don’t care if they are natural. In fact, women want you to Photoshop the hell out of them. It was in that moment that I realized my salvation in the form of Photoshop. Therein lies my hypocrisy. I have betrayed my gender. I do not ever want to contribute to unrealistic expectations for a woman’s body, but for the love of all that is holy Raine, you better Photoshop the crap out of me! 

The Shoot

I cleverly hid most of my props and wardrobe at my friend Crystals house and had my alibis set up. Garry and I use find a friend on our Iphones and can track each others location, so I had to turn mine off so it would look like my location was not available and I was not at the gym. I picked up Crystal and my gear and headed to Jackie’s for hair and makeup. Jackie worked her magic and gave me bouncy curls, flawless skin, smoky eyes and giant fake lashes to boot. We also killed a bottle of champagne while we were there. 

We got to the gym and Lo and Raine were already setting up. We opened the big garage doors for the best natural light. On a Sunday there isn’t a lot if any traffic on either side of the building, so we weren’t too worried about unexpected visitors. There is, however, a bus that runs behind the gym. It goes by pretty quickly and I don’t think they can see what is happening in the gym. I threw on outfit number one, Lo set up some rings and made a couple spot-on recommendations for poses while adding that it was terrible form and not to do it in a regular work out. Raine started shooting and I was super comfortable. I was having more fun than I really should have. I had so much fun, I started to consider there might be something wrong with me. I did a lot of dangerous things in stilettos. At one point I was hanging from a pull up bar wearing almost nothing when the bus that travels behind the building went by. Crystal and I still joke that someone probably took that bus back and forth for the whole shoot. Crystal also has nightmares where I fall off the pull up bar and break my ankle, and she wakes up with the snap of my bones ringing in her ears. 

The thing I hadn’t counted on was Lo’s hidden talent as an art director. I had only expected her to let us in and close up when we were done, but she was amazingly creative and every idea she had was genius. My favorite moment of the day was when Lo exclaimed, “wait we have chains in the shed”. Crystal, Raine and I said “bring on the chains” in chorus. They were huge and rusty and perfect. Total money shot.

The river was next. We missed Lo almost immediately. The girl has mad skills. However, the light was perfect, the weather was perfect. Raine is no stranger to giving direction and I’m willing to try anything. We only had to hide once when a biker came by, otherwise it was pretty private. I rolled around in the water for a while and got a few unfortunate mosquito bites, but overall it was a remarkable success. We wrapped up. I gave Raine a hug goodbye, and Crystal and I smoothed out the details of the story for Garry. 

I got home snuck the props back to their proper places and even managed to get a load of laundry in to clean the river algae out of my lingerie. I pulled it off. Garry has BS meter like no other, and I was amazed, but pretty confident I’d pulled it off. The next morning I got in my car only to discover a single stiletto on my passenger floor, fake eyelashes stuck to the console, and a wet thong in the passenger seat. How would I even begin to explain that? Thank goodness he wasn’t going anywhere with me. 

The Photos

A couple weeks later I got the link to see the photos. I’m so happy. Happy I swim. Happy I do CrossFit. Happy I fasted, and happy I chose the locations I did. The lighting was kind, my photographer was amazing, but more than anything I felt sexy and it showed. I have never liked my butt, hips or legs, but they were on point, sometimes even my best feature. I think every woman should do this. Get beautiful photos of yourself. Just do it. 

Becoming a mom is a hit to a woman’s perception of her body. Pregnancy, childbirth and breastfeeding all feel very utilitarian. I remember going from thinking of myself as a sexual being to decidedly feeling so unsexy that the thought of being sexy again was laughable. Feeling sexy and sensual did come back. Slowly. Getting in shape and buying new clothes as my body proportions changed helped. My husband’s reaction to my narrowing waistline was nice. Mostly, I like living in a tighter body. I feel better. I catch myself in the mirror and am sometimes pleasantly surprised by what I see. More importantly, my son gets to see a strong, athletic, healthy mom. The money we spend on fitness in this family is almost like having a second mortgage. Every penny is worth it. It’s no longer about investing in long term health. It’s about investing in today’s health. We are drawing on that investment with every breath my husband takes. You don’t have to workout with the goal of doing CrossFit boudoir, but you do need to move because it’s what your body needs. It’s what your mind needs. It’s what your soul needs. 

I think I’m typical of most women when it comes to pictures. On first blush we hate pictures of ourselves, but often like them after some time goes by. When Raine sent me the completed pictures. I loved them instantly. Obviously I had some favorites. I couldn’t say how much editing she had to do, but my legs and butt looked pretty rocking for an older gal. As I’ve mentioned I never thought much of my legs, and my butt has seen better days.  Of course I found plenty of flaws because that’s what we do to ourselves. The corners of my mouth turn down more than they used to. My skin is not as tight as it once was. My jaw line not as firm. I could go on and on. But it’s silly to do that. They are beautiful and very much me in elements of life that Garry loves. I honestly can’t wait to give these to my husband. 

Mommy/Daddy Christmas Date

My son had a sleepover the second weekend in December. I decided this was the perfect time for Garry and I to exchange gifts, as Christmas morning might get pretty awkward with Daddy looking at Mommy’s semi-nudes. We dropped our son off and went to Old Town for dinner and drinks. The Christmas lights were up, the cocktails were yummy and Garry held my hand everywhere we went. We decided to head home early, exchange gifts and watch a movie. 

I handed Garry the gift box. As he opened it he looked at me suspiciously and said, “I have a feeling I’m about to have a lot of questions”. When he opened the book it’s a single picture of me in the river, spread across two pages. He laughed and for a second, my heart dropped. But it wasn’t that kind of laugh. It was the kind of laugh that comes from getting something unexpected and wonderfully delightful. It’s nice to know that after all these years he thinks mommy’s still got it. It’s nice to know I think so too. I don’t think he was in awe and it wasn’t like watching an endangered species lay eggs, but he loves it and I love him for that. Maybe I’ll try to make volume 2 when I turn 60. 

Does Trick or Treating Lead to Devil Worship? (a case study of me)

My son loves to hear stories about his parents childhood. I grew up somewhat less conventionally than my husband, because I went to christian school, and was largely sheltered from the life most of my peers experienced. My social life was pretty exclusive to school and youth group. I knew very few kids that weren’t similar to me in faith, ethnicity and so on. My life was full of restrictions. My parents closely monitored behavior, diet, wardrobe etc. My mom has always tried to dress me as if I’m the pastor’s wife on Little House on the Prairie. To this day she loves to buy me puritanical nightgowns as a gift. I relish modeling them for my husband. I give him a come hither look while being swallowed by a Victorian neckline and yards of linen and lace. He usually takes one look at me and says “Your mom clearly doesn’t want us to have sex” and walks away. 

These restrictions were also applied to our holidays. Christianity or the perception of it was in the driver’s seat. But it wasn’t always that way. When they got married, my parents loosely identified as Christian or even agnostic in my dad’s case.  I was a couple years old before my parents would consider themselves born again. The shift on how this new embrace of faith would affect my childhood happened gradually. From my viewpoint as their child, it represented a slow erosion of freedom and fun. 

I went to public school and was allowed to trick or treat up through second grade. During that time I counted myself one of the normal kids in the neighborhood. As a normal kid I had the right to pity/judge the family of 7 down the block who went to christian school and weren’t allowed to trick or treat. I had the benefit of being saved by faith, but we weren’t social pariahs like those other kids. Yet.

Sometime during the summer between second and third grade we became “that family”. I remember being at the breakfast table and hearing my older brother cry and yell. I thought he was hurt, but it turned out my mom had just told him we’d gotten into christian school. I guess I’d been vaguely aware we were on a waiting list, but hadn’t cared that much. At the time I wasn’t concerned. My mom let me know the third and fourth grade classes were so big that year that they added a third and fourth grade combination class,  and I would be in that class. My only thought was of one room school houses I’d read about, and I was certain I’d be happy there.  

I started having second thoughts when we learned they did not celebrate Halloween at my new school. Instead we were allowed to dress up as Pilgrims and Native Americans the week of Thanksgiving and have a special music program for parents. This was starting to seem pretty crappy. I should have seen it coming. The year I was in second grade my parents threw us for a loop when they suddenly decided they’d let us trick or treat under the condition that we say “happy Halloween” instead of “trick or treat”. I remember asking “why?” and being unsatisfied with the answer I received. It was something about Halloween having a history in the occult and devil worship… I’ve always been skeptical and didn’t see what that had to do with today’s rituals.  Halloween night I stood my ground and said “trick or treat”. My brother said “happy Halloween” and kept whispering to me to get with the program or they’d take trick or treating away forever. I did not believe him. Our parents were strict, but they weren’t insane.  

As the next Halloween approached, I could tell my parents were building up to a disappointing announcement. They didn’t engage on requests to shop for costumes and would say things like “aren’t you getting too old to trick or treat.” To which we would respond “no way”. Everyone knows you are not too old to trick or treat until seventh grade and we had some solid years in front of us. Eventually they broke it to us that this year we would go to the “hallelujah party” at church instead of trick or treating. They insisted there would be costumes and candy at this party. We really weren’t given an option about it so I tried to keep an open mind. 

We did not get a lot of candy growing up. My mom would buy us carob from the health food store instead of chocolate. Albeit, we were forever finding empty peanut m&m wrappers in her purse. ADHD was not a diagnosis when we were growing up. They used the term hyperactivity, and my mom was convinced my brother had it. She was also convinced she could treat him by not allowing him (or me by default) to have artificial flavoring or colorings. One Halloween she actually went around to all our neighbors and gave them packs of peanuts and raisins to give to us. It didn’t take my brother long to figure out the treachery. He insisted on doing extra blocks and going to strangers houses to make up for it. My brother found all kinds of ways to get candy. He always had money and even when we were in preschool he would take me to the ice cream truck when it got out of site from our house. He’d buy something for him and a bomb-pop for me. My silence was for sale and it was cheap. Halloween was a respite from our sugar deprived lives, and this swing to religious based celebrations was only going to be tolerated if candy was involved. Sadly, I don’t remember any candy at these church parties. 

The greater issue for me was the costumes. I loved to dress up. I still do. It’s fun to be and look like something else. I was super girly and wanted to be any variety of ballerina-princess out there. Needless to say it was a giant disappointment to learn that costumes had to be based on Bible characters. My mom quickly convinced me to be Mary the first year we went. I ended up being one of a hundred girls wearing bed sheets and carrying a baby doll. The following year I was in fourth grade and desperate to be an individual. The Bible is loaded with hookers, and my parents vetoed anyone who would fall under that umbrella. My mom tried to convince me to be Lot’s wife who turned into a pillar of salt. I didn’t want to be a pillar of salt. I wanted to do the dance of the seven veils. 

I settled on a character that I still believe is the coolest person in the Bible (sorry Jesus). I decided I would be Jael. Jael was a heroine in the book of Judges. In her story, the military leader of an army attacking Israel came to her tent to hide. She brought him in, made him a drink, and gave him a place to rest. Once he fell asleep she drove a tent stake through his skull. I could be Jael. She wasn’t a hooker, she was completely badass, and no one else would be her. I think I almost had my dads permission, but was ultimately shut down secondary to the violence level. Out of desperation and spite I decided to be Noah’s ark. As in the actual boat. I made a poorly designed cardboard Noah’s ark that hung over my shoulders like a clapboard sign. It was huge and miserable. Every time I turned around I’d knock at least three kids over. That was the last time I can remember dressing up as a child. 

I don’t think we went to the Hallelujah party after the second year. It was too awful, and we decided it would be better to at least hand out candy at home. My mom, by this time, had fully embraced the notion that Halloween was the devils work and she was single-handedly going to take it back for Jesus (sorry Jesus). She bought little evangelical brochures on how to give your life to Christ and made us hand them out with the candy. She had cute cartoon one’s for the little kids, and hell-fire and brimstone one’s for the older kids. We would vet them at the door to decide if they got “love of Christ” or “damnation” with their Snickers. My brother and I did everything we could to beat my parents to the door. We’d chuck candy at the neighbor kids and scream at them to “run”, before my mom embarrassed us by evangelizing their Halloween buckets. 

My mom found a way around our interference through the Jack o Lanterns. We had a long cement staircase leading to our front door. There was plenty of room to carve scripture into the pumpkins lining our stairs. One year she carved the full text of John 3:16 into about 15 Jack o Lanterns. There was a single pumpkin with the word “whosoever” carved in it. The problem was people didn’t know if they were supposed to start reading at the bottom of the staircase or the top. No one understood it. I don’t think anyone was saved, but we did wake up to our shredded evangelical brochures and pentagrams drawn in chalk all over the driveway. 

Then there was the year my brother revolted by turning his room into a haunted house. He made Kleenex ghosts and had fake spiders and spiderwebs everywhere. The crowning piece was a rubber snake he tied on a string and hung from the ceiling just over his pillow. The day after Halloween we woke to a horrible smell in the house, and my brothers decorations were all taken down. I asked my parents what happened. My mom said she was going to bed and looked in on her son sleeping soundly with a snake slowly spinning over his head, and couldn’t take it. She took down all the ghosts and spiders and finally the snake. 

“Where’s my snake?” my brother asked.  

My dad sighed and lowered his newspaper. “Your snake is now that horrible smell.” 

“You burned my snake in the fireplace?” 

“Yes, your mother burned your snake” my father replied. “We are lucky we didn’t die from toxic fumes last night, but at least we are safe from the devil”. He raised the newspaper. 

My mother didn’t say anything but maintained a look of sheepish pride. 

My brother and I avoided Halloween after this. We lost the battle to make it any fun, and were simply bidding our time until we could celebrate as adults. From the time I was 19 to the time I got pregnant at age 36. I dressed up every Halloween usually as something slutty. It could be a nursery rhyme character or an action hero, but you can bet it was slutty. My brother and I would start planning our new costumes on November 1st for the following year. We loved Halloween. I once told my dad it was their fault, and that they should have let us trick or treat and get it out of our systems. He agreed. My mom stands firm that she did the right thing. I think she turns the light off and pretends she’s not home on Halloween these days. She’s given up on the mission field of trick or treaters. 

My brother and I have our own sons now, and they pick their costumes and trick or treat every year. I don’t really dress up, because Halloween is more about the little ones, and I thoroughly enjoy watching my son. Last year he considered not trick or treating because he would have to skip swim practice. I shut that down fast. I told him, “You are 8 years old. This is one night of the year. You can swim anytime!” Besides mommy isn’t halfway done living vicariously through you. I do look forward to a day when he is a little older and doing his own thing. On that day, his dad and I can go to a grown up party or a bar. We’ll be the creepy senior citizens dressed like fools, and have to Uber home. BUT we wont be worshiping the devil.

My lack of church attendance and constant criticism of the christian church may lead people to think I’m a prolific backslider. I’m not. I consider myself a woman of deep faith. I am unwavering in my commitment to the Father, Son and Holy Ghost. Life has altered my faith and how I manifest it. However, it’s not a faith that can be lessened by silly things like Halloween and trick or treats, because that’s not real faith in the first place.

Space Aliens and Your Pelvic Floor

This is a follow up to Not Smelling Like R. Kelly’s Sheets. So if you haven’t read it, go back into my archives and enjoy, or be horrified. The choice is yours. 

In April I started physical therapy for my pelvic floor. I made my appointment. The receptionist asked for my email to send me a “packet” that I would need to read and complete before I arrived. It was 16 pages. It included a detailed bladder function diary, and details about what to expect. There were multiple references to vaginal and/or rectal sensors (AKA alien rectal probes) for biofeedback and electrical stimulation. I decided I should stop reading or I’d cancel the appointment. I figured this would be invasive, but had not considered the potential for probes of any kind.

I tried to keep an open mind. I’ve had a baby and all sorts of modesty and respectability go out the window in that experience. I’m not particularly shy anyway. It would be fine. Clinical and fine. My physical therapist was bubbly and chatty and very passionate about the pelvic floor. She had just returned from a conference on the subject and loved to educate her clients. She also informed me she tried not to use probes (not an alien in disguise). Thank the sweet baby Jesus.

She took a brief history of my life and lifestyle. Focusing on the late in life baby, 18 months of breastfeeding, my activity level, and being a homecare nurse for most of my career. Then she looked at me sternly and said, “You have to stop power peeing”. I’d never heard the term, but I knew exactly what it meant and I had no idea how to stop. It’s the way I pee. Is there another way to pee? Apparently there is. You’re not supposed to use your muscles to shove the urine out of your body as fast as possible. You’re actually supposed to sit there, relax and let gravity do its trick. Who knew?

In a nutshell, I have a chronically overworked pelvic floor. She likened it to lifting a fork to my mouth with the same effort I’d use to curl a 25 lbs weight. Tension to task. It makes sense. My pelvic floor is locked up. I need to relax my vagina.

She would apply tension to my pelvic floor muscles (use your imagination) and I was supposed to relax them and then tense them for five seconds. I couldn’t do either without a lot of focus and coaching. When I tried to contract the muscle I could only hold it for 2-3 seconds. It’s like I have a level of constant tension that makes me already fatigued and unable to increase that tension. My pelvic floor is a hot mess. 

This woman was the most enthusiastic vagina expert I’d ever met. She gave me article after article and recommendation after recommendation for my tissue health and hormone balance. I actually bought a product she recommended called V-magic, and all of the affected parties in my house found it pleasant. She was a wealth of information and seemed to delight in the many ways I was a textbook case of jacked up pelvic muscles. 

  1.  I started ballet when I was three and have been in some type of athletic activity most of my life. She would laugh and say “this is why I like to stay fluffy” and pat her voluminous lower abdomen. “All that muscle tension is bad for you”.
  2. I’m a woman. We are perpetually sucking in our stomachs to impress stupid boys, who quite frankly are plenty excited by an ounce of flesh. I don’t know why we try so hard.
  3. I had a baby and breastfed for 18 months. The hormone swings of pregnancy followed by breast feeding relax some important muscles, and it makes you feel like all your organs are going to fall out through your pelvis. Naturally you lock up a little to decrease that horrible sensation. Apparently I never stopped. 
  4. I had a second pregnancy and had to end it because the baby implanted in my Fallopian tube and not my uterus. This is a sudden death scenario for all parties, unless it’s discovered in time. Our baby didn’t stand a chance, but I would survive if we ended the pregnancy. It was either that or bleed to death, so the choice was pretty obvious. However,  the hormone swings of being pregnant to suddenly not being pregnant did a number on my tendons and ligaments. They loosened for pregnancy and then had to tighten right back up. All of this action threw off my pelvic floor, once again. 
  5. I’m a nurse. To be clear, I’m a homecare nurse. Ask any nurse or teacher and they will tell you they don’t pee. So not only am I in a profession dedicated to bladder retention, I upped my game by working out of my car. I don’t like to pee in patients homes, so I look for gas stations, churches, relatives homes on my route and so on. If I had a patient in Redfeather or by the Wyoming border, forget about it. I can hold my bladder like Hercules and I release it the same way. I’m a power pee-er. All very bad things. 

It’s pretty deflating to find out that you don’t pee right. It makes you wonder what else you think you’ve had figured out since toddlerhood and are completely jacking up. I probably don’t walk right either and am systematically disintegrating my joints every step I take. Evolution at its finest. #weaklink

I think I saw her weekly for 6 weeks. She gave me homework and asked if my husband would be willing to help. I laughed and said he’d be delighted. She said you’d be surprised how many men are uncomfortable helping their wives do these exercises. That baffled me. Who are these men??? My husband is not big on PDA. If you see us in public you’ll think he finds me completely unattractive. Don’t let him fool you, when we are alone he expects to be treated like my personal stripper pole. 

I was doing pretty well for a while, but then summer came and vacations and other distractions. I kind of ignored all I’d learned and drifted back to my locked up pelvic ways. Muscle memory is a bitch. It hit home a few weeks ago at CrossFit when we did something in the warm up and I felt the drip I hadn’t felt in months. “Damn it, I deserve that” was all I could think. I told Garry I needed to get back to my exercises. He was elated. 

Sadly, it was probably a bit too little too late, because within a week I had horrible hamstring and calf pain. This pain eventually worsened from soreness to nerve pain, numbness and tingling from hip to foot. I also developed a limp and felt as if my muscles weren’t firing right.  This is when it sucks to be a nurse. We get the slightest odd sensation, and we will find a terminal illness to go with it. We are amazing players in this mind game of terror. I was pretty sure it was sciatica, but I was also considering a deep vein thrombosis, multiple sclerosis, Lou Gehrig’s disease, and a brain tumor.

Life has taught me that early intervention is key. I went from mild to aggressive treatment in a matter of days. Acupuncture didn’t fix it on Monday. Urgent care’s muscle relaxers and anti-inflammatories didn’t fix it on Tuesday. By Thursday it was clear I was getting worse and not better. So I limped my poor broken ass to the emergency department. The PA who saw me was clear I wasn’t dying. I did have a bulging or slipped disk and needed a higher dose of steroids followed by physical therapy. He said I could swim, but no bending, twisting or lifting more than 30lbs for two months. I took that to mean no CrossFit. 

At this point we were two weeks into the CrossFit open, and surprisingly I was bummed I wouldn’t finish. It’s surprising because I didn’t ever want to be in the damn open. I didn’t sign up for it. So, it was a mystery when I received an email welcoming me into the CrossFit open. The open is the annual ritual of separating the men from the boys, so to speak. It’s composed of a series of 5 particularly grueling workouts over a five week period. You get to log these workouts for the world. They have the prescribed workout and a scaled workout option.  I don’t need the open to show me or the world how I rate, but other athletes think it’s fun, my husband is one of them. He thought it would be even more fun to do it together. He’s romantic like that. I did a great deal of bitching, and even cried while making dinner one night. “You don’t know how much I scale things already! I can’t do the open scaled workouts, I know I can’t.” I knew I’d suck at the open. Sciatica should have been a welcome reprieve, but I really hate not finishing something I started even if I’d make a lousy showing. 

At my first PT appointment the therapist started right in on how strengthening my pelvic floor will be my ticket to recovery and maintaining good spine health. Damn it! The pelvic floor again! She didn’t make any mention of probes, but did give me some hints and exercises to relax and strengthen the muscles (no probes needed). 

Currently, I’m on day four of my steroid burst and I’m feeling a little violent. One more day and I’m off them. I’m trying to mitigate becoming a danger to self and others for the next 48 hours. I’m planning on swimming tomorrow and I’ll bring up the stationary bike next time I see the physical therapist. My limp is lessened, although still present. 

When push comes to shove, I’m shallow-vain-girl. It’s important to me that I age well. I know CrossFit is great for my muscle mass and bone density. It promotes mobility and balance and all the other wonderful things. More importantly, I love the way I look. All the things that weren’t so high and tight are getting higher and tighter. In the next two months I’m terrified my boobs will sag. I was going to put my membership on hold, but in discussions with the manager we agreed to let it ride. I used to work with her at a rehab hospital and I trust her with my spine (and boobs). They have worked with injuries more significant than mine. It is surprisingly possible to scale a workout more than I already do. My one claim to fame might be that I can scale the shit out of any workout. Like.no.other. 

I’m going to get past the acute part of this injury and live a life dedicated to my pelvic floor health. My grandmother lived to age 105, so I really do need to be kinder to my body parts. If you have my genetics and are looking down the barrel of a long life. You should probably do all you can to ensure prolonged quality of life or that long life is going to suck ass. Unless you are one of the fortunate individuals to experience alien abduction complete with rectal probing. I am now convinced that these benevolent space creatures are deeply concerned for our pelvic health and maintenance. If I have learned anything this year its that a functional pelvic floor appears to be central to species survival, or at least mine.

Moving Day

I wrote this a while ago and have sat on it for a lot of reasons. Number 1 the way I cope and the way Garry copes are very different. He wants privacy and I need to share everything. It’s a tricky balance between me feeling muzzled and isolated to him feeling exposed. But also, because I’m not very proud of myself for this one. I’m sad and a little ashamed. However a dear male friend of mine recently told me that he has always loved and respected my vulnerability. He encouraged me to never stop practicing vulnerability. Also, I started this blog for two reasons. It’s cathartic for me, but I also hope to give voice to things other people are experiencing. I had a really hard time finding resources that were relatable when Garry got sick. They all seemed very sterile and PC. Not my style. Life with cancer is a lot uglier than that. I’m uglier than that.

We’ve all experienced a moment when someone’s words force you to look at who you are. It’s as if they made you look in a mirror. Sometimes you like what you see and sometimes you don’t, but I’m getting ahead of myself. Let me back up a little.

Recently, I diagnosed Garry and myself with post cancer stress disorder. Granted it’s not a real diagnosis and diagnosing is outside of my scope of practice.  BUT the fact remains that we both freak out about things that never would have bothered us before. You know about my risk aversion. I am terrified of anyone I love or even myself getting hurt. Garry’s stress is more psychological and insidious, and I haven’t always alleviated it. In many ways I’ve compounded it.

When Garry was diagnosed I remember having the surreal thought of “So, this is what will make me a widow”. Slowly but surely I psychologically moved into what I call “the widows waiting room”. I knew I might be able to leave the widows waiting room by the same door I entered, but I also knew I was likely to have to pass through the other door, the door that leads to widowhood. I became obsessed with widows in my life. I watched them like a stalker. I wanted to know how they stayed strong, what got them through, and more importantly how were their kids coping? I obsessed on them and I made my peace with becoming one of them. What I saw was encouraging. These women were so strong and brave and kept putting one foot in front of the other, for their children if not themselves. It gave me comfort that I could walk that road too, if I had to. But Garry didn’t die. The cancer died. He’s here today with no evidence of disease, and I’m still living in a widow’s waiting room. I’m scared to move out. I’m not sure I know how, and I don’t really remember what life was like outside of this room.

Garry has been well for the better part of the last year, and I have very consciously decided to stay in the widows waiting room. I thought I could stay here and no one would notice, except maybe my closest friends. I know it’s counter intuitive. I know it seems like a place I should run from at the first sign of an opening, but it’s not that simple. Being plucked from my happy normal life and dropped in the widow’s waiting room was more painful than I can explain, but I’ve gotten used to being here. I’ve gotten used to pondering and preparing for all the bad things. I’m afraid to leave, because what if I have to come back? In my mind it made more sense to stay than to face the pain of leaving only to be forced back months or years from now. Staying in this room, in this psychological place, was purely for my protection. It was my way of buffering a potential fall. It is a way to anesthetize my life.

Kate Bowler, author of Everything Happens for a Reason and Other Lies I’ve Loved, writes about the realization that her cancer was the most painful thing that happened to those she loved the most. She goes so far as to say that she is the worst thing that’s ever happened to them. No one thinks that when they look at a sick loved one, but the sick person feels responsible for the pain they cause however out of their control it is. Cancer gives everything an edge. Even love and joy will cut you, because you know they may not last. Loving a person with a life limiting illness hurts, and it probably hurts them even more to love you back. You are potentially saying goodbye to them. They are potentially saying goodbye to everyone, even their children.

It is normal to start grieving someone before they die. It’s called early bereavement. There are counselors who specialize in this. I’d be lying if I said I hadn’t started grieving Garry’s potential death years ago. I probably started grieving him almost as soon as we had a diagnosis. It hurts. It will wreck you. When you suffer from a prolonged pain, physical or mental, you will eventually find ways to numb it. For me it was tasks. I stayed busy. I planned and worked towards making life easier if BD and I were to become a family of two. It numbed the pain. It was progress and motion and it gave me a sense of control. I got used to this life. I found other ways to cope that included distancing myself emotionally from Garry, and it became my normal, semi-comfortable life. I didn’t do it on purpose or plan it, but I did distance myself from him.

I’ve been in countless people’s homes throughout the end stage disease and dying process. It’s really common for people to disengage as they near death. I always assumed it was to help them leave this world. Disengagement was a means of softening the forever goodbye. Without intending to or even realizing it, I was disengaging for my own self-preservation. When Garry got well, I didn’t know how to let those coping mechanisms go. I didn’t want to. I felt like this continued state of being would protect me and keep me safe knowing the potential for the cancer to return. I had this illusion that I could secretly stay in the widow’s waiting room and Garry wouldn’t notice.

A few weeks ago we ran into a friend who is a breast cancer survivor. Like Garry, she is currently doing well and has no evidence of disease.  They started chatting about their current state and treatments or lack thereof. The conversation then shifted to how their marriages have evolved in the face of cancer.  They both acknowledged their awareness that their spouses were preparing for their death, and acknowledged that as painful as it was watching us plan a life without them, we needed to do that.  Then she said that thing. That thing that made me cringe, and feel so small, and ugly, and sad. She said, “Okay, so it looks like I’m going to be here, so you can come back to me now”. Garry didn’t say anything verbally but his body language showed absolute alignment and understanding with her statement. None of this was directed at me. It was a conversation between the two of them, and I was mostly standing to the side. It was, however, a bitch slap I needed and deserved. I know that was not her intention. She is very kind and thoughtful and I have a great deal of respect for her, and I think that is why her words carried weight with me. 

I’ve sat with that for the last two weeks. I’ve tried to justify staying in the widows waiting room, because “what if”. I even wrote his Oncologist and let her know where I am at emotionally. I asked if I’m being pessimistic/crazy. I told her, I’m stuck and I don’t know how to move on. She wrote me back within hours because she’s a brilliant physician and an even better human. She told me I wasn’t pessimistic, and that the cancer could come back, but then she gave me all the reasons to have hope. I can’t really explain how, but she kind of opened the door for me. It was probably a door that only she could open.

For the first time I started asking myself if I’d regret staying in the widow’s waiting room. It wasn’t about safety for me anymore. It was about regret, and I would regret staying here. I would regret it profoundly.  I don’t care if Garry has months or decades left. I don’t want to spend them in here anymore. I want to go home. It’s moving day. I need to pack my shit and go home. All of me, with nothing held back. I can take the hit of bad news down the road. I’m well-conditioned to take that hit, but I may not have to, and time in the widows waiting room with a healthy husband waiting for me is wasted time. I don’t want an anesthetized life. I don’t want a life of regret. I want a life of deep connection with the man I chose, and would choose again.