September 11, 2014

tempus fugit

We're wrapping up the third week of school, the first full week. Only three weeks, though it feels as though I've lived three months during that time.

On the second day of school, my physical therapist found a "burn" on my leg. I didn't have time to get it checked out right then, though, because I received a call from the middle school that my son was vomiting and wanted to come home. One thing led to another, and he ended up in emergency surgery for testicular torsion. (Look that up if you have sons; be prepared to act fast!)

While my son recovered from surgery, I examined my "burn" only to discover a bullseye rash. Yup, so I'm now on antibiotics for possible Lyme Disease. (I'll know in a week whether I actually contracted Lyme.)

I received word that a friend had passed away. And last night I prepared dinner for the family of a friend who just had heart valve replacement surgery.

I said goodbye to my dear cat Becca, but now have two tiny kittens in my life. I couldn't remain pet-less for long.

This morning I took a reflective walk. As I passed the home of my younger son's classmate whose paralyzed mother died this summer, I thought about how I can walk. I thought about how I am alive. I passed the home of my older son's classmate, whose cancer came back this summer. I can't even imagine.

Passing yet another house -- this belonging to one of Those Women Who Like to Judge -- I was reminded that "important" things are sometimes fleeting: she and I have had very little contact for many years. It used to be that dread would fill me when I saw her. But now, I wouldn't care. And so, I think about the current Arrogant Thorn in my Side, and realize that five years from now, she will matter zero percent. Zero.

As today happens to be 9/11, of course I thought of the enormity of everything that happened that day. I wrote much of my 9/11 story out in 2011. Last year, we took the boys to New York. For my oldest, it was a chance to visit his birthplace. For my youngest, it was a brand new city to check off his travel list. (Of course, the first time I went to NYC, I went to the top of the World Trade Center to gaze down on life below.)

Life is certainly funny. There are so many horrific things going on in the public realm right now, and many stressful or unexpected things happening in my social circles. But there are also some tremendous positives. I'm absolutely thrilled with both my sons' various teachers this year, and I've enjoyed seeing my younger son's strides in gymnastics. I've heard stories that touch my heart, and have been relieved when "close calls" turn out just fine.

I enjoy actual roller coasters at amusement parks, but I admit that life's roller coasters recently have exhausted me. But, I'm thankful that for the most part things are looking up, even though so much has happened in such little time of late.

August 20, 2014

The Final Selfie with my Cat

Goodbye, sweet kittyThis is my final selfie (or maybe an "us-ie") with my cat, Becca. I'm smiling because although I'm saying "goodbye," I'm also telling her exactly why she was such a kick-ass cat. I'm thanking her for over 16 years of love. I'm recognizing that she was uncharacteristically tender with me post spinal-surgery, knowing that I wasn't up to her usual exuberant jumps on my lap or shoulder. I whisper that she's been the best cat ever, because she was. She hated pretty much everyone, but she loved me. I'm smiling because I want her last moments with me to be happy.

I got her from a hockey teammate in Boston in 1998. There were six kittens from which to choose. The other kitties had various gashes on them. It didn't occur to me until later that by choosing the non-injured cat, I was choosing the fighter. And -oh heavens!- was she a fighter. (Apt, given that she came from a hockey family, yes?)

She moved with me to New York (two apartments), then to four different places in California. The only beings on this earth who have lived longer with me under the same roof have been my parents. (Yes, I lived 16+ years with Becca, but only 14 years under the same roof as my brother.) I've known Becca longer than I've known my kids. When my husband and I started dating, Becca was already my family.

When her health declined rapidly, the vet explained how ordinarily a cat with her astronomically-horrific kidney function would be completely comatose. But, she's always been a fighter. She fought very, very hard, but it was time for her to rest.

I will miss her. But she had one hell of an awesome life.

August 14, 2014

Speak Up!

When I go places with my parents, inevitably one of them has a complaint: whether a food order is slightly incorrect, or there is some sort of perceived safety issue in a venue. It isn't that they are negative people --they really aren't-- but rather that they want mistakes corrected.

They speak up.

I often cower a bit, OMG Dad don't... because I know it is impossible to be perfect. But, I also know I take things personally. Still, with the Golden Rule and all, I figure other people probably also take things personally, so I seldom criticize. (And, if I do so, it is with the most understanding, polite way I possibly can.) Yeah, I'm a wimp.

I don't want to make waves.

And yet, my mom always says, "If you don't open your mouth, then you open your purse." (True, not everything is a financial error - but if you ordered a cheeseburger without ketchup and are given one with, then that mistake has changed your enjoyment of lunch - unless you are assertive and send it back. But... then I'll feel guilty because I had to be "that person" and so that affects my enjoyment even more in some ways, but I digress...)

This morning I was treated rudely.

Afterwards, I couldn't hold back the tears. I was genuinely hurt. And angry.

I backed down from escalating the situation in person --because it was in public after all-- but upon reflection, decided I'd file an official complaint.

--

About fifteen years ago, I filed an official complaint against a nurse who was rude. He dismissed my concerns, and didn't listen to the symptoms I was reporting. Ultimately, I ended up in a non-plan ER (I was out of state, so had no choice) because I had a severe infection that the nurse had not caught, despite my expressed worries to him earlier.

I filled out a grievance form.

The plan wrote back with the nurse's statement, all of which were lies. The wording of the rebuttal was condescending. "The patient is confused."

I wrote back to defend myself.

They never responded.

From a legal standpoint, I get it. They didn't want to "apologize" in any way, because it could open them up to malpractice.

And yet, I just wanted them to know that this particular staff member had missed the boat by a mile and should probably be aware that sometimes patient's "hunches" should be taken seriously. (In this particular case, I had severe pain and tightness in areas of post-surgical incisions. It was clear to me that there was an infection under the skin. BUT, because I didn't present with an overall body fever, the nurse dismissed the possibility of infection.)

Not all patients are going to have 100% of their symptoms "checked off" on any given condition. (In fact, that's why I'm still running around trying to figure out what's behind the original pain I complained about years ago.)

I already know that my body doesn't necessarily respond the way the "typical female" body reacts. But, the nurse many years ago simply didn't believe me. No fever = no infection in his mind. But in reality, I had a massive infection in several parts of my body.

Speaking up didn't help me in that case. I was just told to shut up, because I was "confused."

--

Today, a medical receptionist treated me as though I were stupid. I had walked the "wrong" way to check in for my appointment.

I had been to that particular department before many times, and every single time my appointment was at "Station C." Therefore, when she pointed towards "Station C," it made sense, and so I walked that direction.

Instead, she was pointing towards a basket on the other side of the wall to check in at "Station B."

When I realized my error, I laughed in good humor and remarked by way of explanation, "Oh! I've always had appointments at Station C!"

She immediately pursed her lips and narrowed her eyes as she announced, "NO. Mary Jones, Physical Therapist has NEVER been at Station C. She has ALWAYS been at Station B!"

But I had never had an appointment with Mary Jones, Physical Therapist. How would I know what Station she is?

Rather, all my appointments were with a different provider.

In Station C.

The receptionist was rolling her eyes and speaking to me very slowly, "PUT YOUR PAPER HERE AT STATION B."

I was so shocked at her condescension that I didn't speak up.

I just put my slip in the box and sat down, fuming.

But, I've filled out an official grievance form to complain about her behavior, just in case. Will I get any benefit from this? No, not really. But, if this receptionist thinks before she speaks, perhaps another patient will be spared her negative attitude.

That's why I've decided to speak up, even though it is out of character for me.

August 13, 2014

Suicide, Part II

I wrote a bit about suicide the other day.

But I realize I have more to say.

Yes, I linked up my posts on two former classmates who have died via suicide. (Plus I remember now that the younger brother of one of my friends took his own life, too.) And I mentioned that a friend's father died. I love (in a tragic, heart-breakingly poetic-but-accurate aspect) the way she puts it: "[He] set his soul free from his body." Indeed, that is what suicide is: freedom from unmanageable, unbearable pain. (But, for anyone reading this who finds that notion romantic: it is final. There is no going back. Please reach out for assistance, if you can. You ARE valuable, so tip off a friend or family member to get help for you.) My friend's father had tried many different treatments to no avail. Again, my friend's words, since she explains it perfectly: "His brain chemistry simply would not let him live." But he tried. He fought. He did everything "right."

So, yes. I mentioned a few personal connections to suicide.

But I didn't mention some people who are alive but who came very close to not being alive:

There is a friend who tried to set herself on fire, but her husband found her just in time. (She was ultimately assisted with electroshock therapy, a treatment that people find "barbaric," and yet it can be absolutely life-saving. Ask me about it and I'll explain more. Alas, for my friend's dad, the ECT did not work. But, for this friend, it was the answer.)

And there is another friend who paused during our collegiate career to spend time in observation at a psychiatric hospital. (I am extremely proud of her for then returning to college and graduating!) She had some periods of great success, and then other times of great struggle. She disappeared after attending my wedding, but unexpectedly resurfaced five years later. (It was an amazing moment: she phoned me to say she was in the area! She visited my home and met my kids. How magical!) She promised she wouldn't disappear again, but I haven't heard from her in eight years. I sent a holiday card to her parents' home for many years in a row, but with no answer. In a way, no answer was good, because I feared that I'd receive a note back with terrible news. (If you are out there, please come back - I miss you!)

Last night, I learned of another friend who had apparently come close to suicide. But, I didn't know it at the time. She only revealed her story as an anecdote to highlight how important the right support is in helping someone suffering from depression.

I imagine I have other friends who have experienced depression or who have come close to taking their own lives. But, because such things are very private, I do not know.

There are many cultures and religious belief systems that simply don't accept suicide. (And then there are some for which suicide is actually an integral part.) Interestingly, some of these same organizations had negative thoughts about other illnesses "back in the day." (Which makes me hopeful that depression --and other illnesses that happen to affect behavior/mood/mind-- will eventually lose its stigma too.)

I remember my grandmother tearfully asking me if my grandfather had done something to "cause" his Parkinson's. She told me she had been taught that a condition like that was a result of a "weak mind." But he went to church, and I fed him well, and he's a good man, isn't he? My grandmother had been a nurse, but when I went to medical school long after she retired, she trusted me to tell her about advances in the way various conditions were being treated. She was relieved to hear about the very physical condition in the brain that just happens to cause Parkinson's. Not a "weak" mind, at all. My grandfather could not have "willed" himself from not having it.

Just as people cannot "will" themselves away from depression or thoughts of suicide.

There is so much that yet has to be learned about "mental" illnesses. It is all so very complex. Research is made even more difficult because of the stigma attached to these conditions.

Please be understanding of others. You don't know what's happening inside them, and they are likely too scared to tell you.

August 12, 2014

Goodbye Camp G! (But Hello Summer Quest!)

My email box is filled with school registration details for my two sons: one set from elementary school, one set from middle school. Amazingly, next year those both ramp up to middle school and high school, since both are in their final years of their respective schools. Everything is going so fast: it is amazing that summer is nearly gone.

And next summer, neither of my boys will be eligible for Camp Galileo.

Water Day at Camp Galileo 2014

I'm shocked at how quickly our time with Camp G passed. It has without a doubt been an enormous part of my kids' elementary summer experience. My oldest was in Camp G for a single magical year (and at Summer Quest for three years) and this summer, my youngest officially graduated from Camp Galileo after four years as a Camp G kid.

The good news is that he has Galileo Summer Quest to look forward to next year!

Still, I admit having a very hard time holding back tears during the Closing Ceremony this year as my son received his official graduation sweatshirt. As he's worn both his Camp G T-shirt and the sweatshirt (on cold mornings!) he's spread the Galileo Innovation gospel.

Galileo Innovation Camp Graduation 2014

Just yesterday, a friend of mine who is a science teacher remarked on how important it is for kids to understand innovation, creation, and collaboration. For those familiar with the Galileo Innovation Approach, these concepts are familiar! As my friend explained the type of instruction (and free-reign for exploration and problem-solving) she provides her kids, I couldn't help gleefully telling her about Galileo Innovation Camps. She happens to have a toddler son, so I wonder if she will consider Camp G for him when he is old enough? I have many friends with younger kids, and of course I will encourage them to attend Camp G. So even though my boys are no longer eligible, I'll still sing their praises!

Galileo_Logo.jpgI have been so impressed with the way Galileo encourages its campers to think and to really wonder about how to accomplish a challenge. I adore that mistakes are not feared, but instead encouraged as a learning tool. There is no shame in getting something wrong, especially if it helps hone in on how to accomplish a better solution.

One afternoon I was doing my usual adult trying-to-accomplish-everything routine as I waltzed into camp to pick up my son. Of course, we'd then be off to get a snack, then go to gymnastics, then dinner, then.... I had lots on my plate, with no room for error. As I sped-walked towards my son's area, I overhead a conversation.

Behind me, I heard another mother apologizing for something. Immediately, the Camp G counselor quipped, "Don't be sorry; be silly!" I allowed myself pause. After all, the staff at Camp G is always so jovial and fearless. Conversely, we moms are ALWAYS apologizing for things, even circumstances out of our control.

So much of what Camp G teaches the kids about innovation coming through mistakes, being proud of one's efforts, and taking constructive criticism gracefully are so very important for us adults. We frequently take ourselves way too seriously. That particular afternoon was during a tough day for me, so the concept of choosing "silly" rather than "sorry" was very welcome. (I love that Camp G can "teach" us adults, too!)

Along that vein, although the various art and science projects are educational in nature, Camp G is at its heart about fun. There are rubber chickens, enthusiastic songs, silly dances, and spirited group cheers. Camp is of course a place to just be oneself, and to "let loose." It is summer break, after all!

Here is a less-than-two-minute video of some of the action at Closing Ceremony to give just a taste of the Camp G experience. I love the controlled chaos: the jubilation and freedom to just be!

Even though our experience with Galileo Innovation Camps is over for the summer, it won't be over forever. My son anticipates majoring in Chefology next year at Galileo Summer Quest. We wonder which sorts of dishes will be on the menu?

We'll see you again in 2015, Galileo!

--
I've written about Camp Galileo and Galileo Summer Quest several times:
- posts of mine from a Spectrum of Reviews about Galileo Innovation Camps
- posts of mine from The Karianna Spectrum about Galileo Innovation Camps

Disclaimer: Galileo provided my son one week of camp in exchange for my publicity of their program. Back in 2011 I had already paid for Camp G before they approached me, so it was a natural fit. Since then, I've paid for additional weeks of camp on my own dime, since I'm such a fan of the program! 

August 11, 2014

Suicide

Today I had lunch with a friend whose father died via suicide. Our conversation spanned other topics, but I didn't know that my thoughts would turn to suicide tonight.

The last time I saw her --when we were both 17-- I didn't know much about suicide.

But since then, I've seen it happen again and again.

When I learned of Robin Williams' suicide this evening, my heart broke. I felt sick for the precious, talented, tormented actor and his family. I was still on a high from enjoying lunch when I heard the tragic news, so of course thought of my friend. I realized how she likely has strong feelings this evening as many people are discussing suicide prevention, depression, and other illnesses that carry an unwanted and unhelpful stigma.

Right after I officially selected which college I would attend, I did what most kids do, and read up on the various goings-on at the place that would soon be both my home and school. It turned out one of the students was in Dead Poet's Society - cool! How fun to go to a school with a real actor! Of course, Robin Williams stars in said movie, and said movie includes a suicide. While also reading about my new school, I learned a student had recently committed suicide. Nearly a year later, I heard her name repeated again and again by the brothers and sisters of the co-ed literary society that I pledged, since she had been a member.

My sophomore year in college, I participated in a group independent study project. Our topic was suicide. Of course, people's reactions to this were shock: was I simply morbidly curious? (To be fair, I had just completed a course on cemeteries, so I can understand some of the quizzical looks.) The reactions I received highlighted exactly why suicidology is so important. People were very uncomfortable when I explained what I was studying. I learned a tremendous amount about prevention, intervention, and postvention. (Most people don't "get" postvention: the family deserves plenty of support after any death, but particularly as suicide carries such a stigma.)

That year I presented at the American Association of Suicidology's convention. (I bet you didn't know such a group exists! And yet, "The American Cancer Society", "Leukemia & Lymphoma Society," and "National Parkison Foundation" all sound very familiar and normal, as do other organizations supporting various illnesses.) It was my very first professional scientific convention.

(Then later that night, I met a handsome guy unexpectedly in a rather funny chain of events. But shortly thereafter made a fool of myself, so that relationship fizzled.)

Of course, learning about suicide from an academic perspective is much different than having any personal experience with it. But, that came, too.

You know that "perfect" girl who is bubbly, intelligent and popular? The one who "has it all?" Well, apparently, she didn't, as I learned 10 years after we graduated from college. I also recently learned of another classmate's death. Although I cannot confirm it was a suicide, the obit has those non-confirming terms that are sadly trying to mask stigma.

(I understand that cancer used to carry a similar stigma: but these days it is an "acceptable" label. Perhaps suicide will soon also become something seen as a tragic illness rather than "selfish" or "shameful?" And then there are inappropriate jokes, making light of the notion of a dramatic girl harming herself for attention.)

Tonight my mind is half stuck on what an amazing person Robin Williams was - and how that loss is so deep. And it is half stuck on anger that getting successful treatment is so difficult for things deemed "mental" in nature.

I'm furious that while I had a bout of post-partum depression, the counselor seemed disinterested when I answered "no," to "Do you want to kill yourself." I was no longer worth his time, but what if I were lying? He explained that I was therefore "fine." And, he further told me that the stress I was exhibiting indicated that I'm "not cut out to be a stay-at-home mother."

And I hate that the impetus is always on the suffering person to "get help." It is difficult to jump through hoops to get medical attention for mental illness. It is much easier to be seen for a cut lip or strep throat. But mental health services involves a series of screening phone calls. The people most in need of help are the least likely to obtain it. They will not be motivated enough to pick up the phone! They cannot ask for help from family or friends because they do not want to be a burden. It takes too much effort to find assistance, and it doesn't seem worth it. This is part of the whole profile of depression - it is like asking someone with a broken foot to "just get up and run a marathon, dammit, because then your foot will heal!" You cannot just snap out of it, and -- because of your symptoms -- it is difficult to reach out for help.

I'm angry when I see people call suicide "selfish" or if they wonder why people "just" don't go get help. It truly isn't that simple. People cannot "will" away depression. And the depression itself creates a barrier to finding possible help.

But even people who have access to the best medical care won't necessarily be cured of depression. That's the rub. Mental illness is an illness. Brain chemistry is very complex. (And, I should know: I have a Masters of Medicine in Neuroscience. And... one of my favorite subjects was neuropharmacology. This stuff is interesting from a research perspective but devastatingly complex from a clinical perspective. There is so much to learn, and a great margin of error.)

People who commit suicide suffered from an illness.

That illness is not easily cured, especially not given the barriers to care and stigma that surrounds suicide.

If someone commits suicide, they are not a failure. They had an illness that turned out to be fatal. Perhaps they did seek medical treatment, but perhaps the treatment didn't work. Do we blame people with malignant cancer if they die for not fighting hard enough?

It is "nice" that people are at least thinking about the effects of suicide because of Robin Williams tonight. But I hope that they will really stop and think about it rather than just brushing it off as some sort of selfish act.

--

More thoughts on suicide

--

August 6, 2014

Marsha's Clients are Jerks

When I get a phone call, typically the person introduces him/herself and pauses: "Hi Kari, this is Michael!" I can then say, "Oh, hi Michael. How are you?"

When I get a phone call for Marsha, the caller inevitably launches right into some crazy long-winded speech, without even identifying himself, because based on the speech's fabulous content it would be obvious who he is. (And yeah, it is always a him): "Yeah, Marsha, hun, so the numbers showed that we need to be much more aggressive about the satisfaction of my big ego because I really enjoy hearing myself talk at seven in the morning when of course you are available to take my call..."

This morning I was sitting back in my bed, reading various articles linked off Facebook. Of note, a feel-good customer service story and a sexism at work scenario list.

The phone rang from an unknown number, before traditional business hours.

Of course it was for Marsha. Guess they are expecting exceptional customer service, since it was too early to be phoning anyone in my book.

I tried to interrupt as soon as he said, "Hey Marsha, Hon..." but he rolled right over me. It took me a couple more, "EXCUSE ME!" in which I had to raise my voice a bit to finally get "heard" that Marsha has a different area code.

And people wonder why women appear to be too "aggressive?" (pushy, bitchy) It is because we aren't heard if we speak in a normal voice. This guy had something to say, and wasn't going to stop talking until he had spouted out his whole speech.

But he had the wrong number.

July 28, 2014

Innocent until...

We recently refinanced our house.

As people who have been through the process of buying or refinancing a home know, there are frequently many hoops to jump through, sometimes very inconvenient hoops.

During one of those hoops, I had a financial person tell me something I knew not to be true. It was his way of "reassuring" me. Don't worry little lady. But, so as not to "ruin" our changes for the refi, I didn't tell him he was wrong.

Flash-forward to this weekend, when everything was supposed to be fine. But instead, I'm receiving collections calls every couple hours. After being a sterling customer and consumer for a company for 18 years, I'm now one of those deadbeat people because of one tiny delay in the refi process.

It is all a misunderstanding. I've done no wrong.

But how quickly the company has decided that I'm not to be trusted, that they need to harass me with phone calls.

I was their customer for 18 years. EIGHTEEN YEARS.

What happened to innocent until proven guilty?

About a decade ago, I had a similar experience. I went from being treated respectfully as someone with value, to being considered someone untrustworthy, all in a blink of an eye, and all because of something outside of my control.

People will treat you based on the lens through which they see you.

Most of the time, I have privilege. I know I do.

And so when I am suddenly assumed to be someone attempting to deceive when I am not, I get a tiny taste of what it may feel like to be an object of prejudice.

The rules are different for different people.

July 20, 2014

I Cut My Hair Off

Yeah, so I made a major change at the beginning of this month: the day before Independence Day; how appropriate.

Before and After: Long to Short Hair Makeover | The Karianna SpectrumI didn't post a dramatic, teasing, heading-to-the-salon "before" photo in real-time, or snap a pic of a mountainous pile of hair or anything like that. I posted a quick "before/after" comparison thing (with photos I took mere hours apart) just for fun on Instagram (at left) and then changed my profile pic on social media without any commentary, just to see what people would say.

I showed up to an Independence Day parade the evening of July 3rd to march with my son's gymnastics training center, and it not surprisingly took a long time for my fellow gym parents to recognize me. (They recognized my son, then looked toward the adult he was with and figured out it was me.)

I emailed my parents that night and attached a photo, because otherwise there is no way they'd find me in the 4th of July parade the next morning.

It has been sort of fun being "anonymous" until people figure out who I am. After all, one of my prime identifying features was my long blonde hair.

I knew people would be surprised. That was a given.

But I was more surprised by who noticed and their reactions.

Continue reading "I Cut My Hair Off" »

Yin and Yang

My family spent five days at a beach house last week.

It was an amazing time: sitting in a beautiful house overlooking the beach, exploring tidepools, dodging waves, walking on pretty trails, biking around the quiet neighborhood, eating bread from a delicious local bakery, and playing various sports in the yard.

I wasn't 100% "off duty" on work. I never am. But, doing work while overlooking the ocean is vastly different than the usual. I had a wonderful time with my family; and my family had an amazing time, too.

Sea Ranch Vacation - and then an interesting ride home

The drive back was through windy roads that allowed gorgeous views of the Pacific. After awhile, though, my son mentioned he was feeling a bit carsick. He had some gum, then spit that out and tried to take a little nap. Soon thereafter, he was awake and quite dizzy.

I pulled out a plastic bag. "You need this?" He shook his head as I put it toward him. He was repelled by the bag, so I stuffed it in front of my seat.

And that is when a brown slime suddenly exploded all over my hand, shoe, purse, and jeans. I immediately shoved the plastic bag in my son's hands.

"Oh no, he upchucked," I told my husband to inform him of the situation.

In response, my older son spewed his own stomach contents all over the front windshield.

My husband quickly pulled off on a turnabout. I screamed, thinking that he was driving the car off a cliff. (The road was steep and windy, after all.)

I opened my door, and started losing my lunch, too. But thankfully, I was doing it on rock and sand rather than in the car.

I started to laugh. Wholly inappropriate, but my family made for such a sad sight that I couldn't help it.

We got cleaned up (thank goodness for wet wipes, beach towels, and change of clothing readily available!) and were on our way.

A few minutes later, I heard a thump. I looked behind me and saw the hatchback was still securely closed.

An hour or so later, my older son started digging around the front seat area. "Huh, where's the Kindle?"

WHERE IS THE KINDLE?

Yeah, that's right. He vomited on the Kindle, so in our mad "clean up the car" routine, the Kindle was put on top of the car.

Alas, it went thump, splat, and shatter all over the freeway.

Guess we were supposed to be device-free just a tad longer...

Karianna on Twitter  Karianna on Pinterest  Karianna on G+


email karianna



Powered by
Movable Type 4.38