Category Archives: health

my physical and mental health and that of others

Blog Action Day 2013

Today is Blog Action Day, and its theme is “human rights”.

I’m going to be honest here: I know next to nothing about human rights, except that I have enjoyed them my entire life and hope to continue doing so. Seriously, I had to look up “human rights” on Wikipedia because I was unsure what that exactly entailed. As I am not an uneducated, uncaring person, my lack of knowledge about humanity implies a sad, sad state of mind regarding how United States citizens, generally speaking, view rights within our own country and throughout the world.

I’m not asking anyone to educate me. (Education is no one else’s job but mine.) Except that I, like many other people living in the United States, also don’t have the energy or time to educate myself about things that are outside the scope of my own life. I realize I’m admitting to some serious selfishness here, but what else can I do but start where I am and move forward? I can’t (truthfully) say that I care about people in other countries without actually caring about them, and that’s not going to happen as long as they’re just numbers on a page to me.

I don’t even know where I’m going with this, actually. Maybe it’s an effort to start moving in the “I care about humans” direction? I barely have the energy to care about myself, and I can only take one day at a time at this point, but I wanted to say something to at least acknowledge the goal of equitable human rights for all humans. I’m all for that. I want us to have basic rights and freedoms, and not just if we can afford them.

I’m sorry I’m not more committed.

I do not like surprises: a true story

My sister is a participant in GISHWHES, and in the last couple of nights, she’s been excitedly telling our family which items from the July 2013 list she’s “found” (that is, those she’s been able to complete) and with which she needs help.

One of the items is “beefcake”: take a picture of three generations in a family sitting down to dinner to eat beefcake… literally. My sister signed us up for this, obviously, because right now we have three generations of family living under one roof. Fortunately, she was nice enough to warn us about volunteering us, and she even went so far as to ask for a specific day we’d all be available so that she could photograph us on our schedule, roughly speaking. Here’s how that conversation went a day or two ago.

Sister: So, when are you all available?
Me: I have Wednesdays and Sundays off.
Mom: Friday is best for me, but I could probably do Saturday morning, too.
Grandma: When I’m awake.
Dad: Uh… Ask your mother.
Sister (to me): Could you do Saturday morning?
Me (looking at work schedule): Yeah, but make sure it’s really in the morning.
Sister (to everyone): Is Saturday morning okay with everyone? I’ll work out the logistics.
Everyone (except Dad): Sure, fine.
Dad: Uh… yeah, whatever.

Okay, so that’s all fine. GISHWHES is stupid, but at least it’s fun, harmless stupid. Fast forward to today. I’ve worked a full eight-and-a-half-hour shift—on my feet 95% of the time—and I’m just hopping into the shower after a rather quick, bland dinner. My hand is literally on the shower door handle, pulling it open when my sister knocks on the bathroom door.

She asks something through the door, but the shower is already on and I can barely hear anything.

“What?” I ask.

She repeats the question, which I still don’t understand.

“What?” I ask again.

She repeats the question louder, and I catch something like “…when they get here?” but I’m still not sure what she’s talking about.

I close the shower door and crack open the bathroom door, poking my head out so that I can hear her better. “What?” I ask a third time.

“Are you coming down for the beefcake photo? [My friends] aren’t here yet, but when they get here, we’ll need three generations in the picture, like we talked about.”

I frown. “It’s a good thing they’re not here yet; I’m naked.” She makes a face, but since I don’t have my glasses on, so I can’t see her facial expression for context.

“When you get out of the shower, then.”

“Uh… isn’t that thing on Saturday?”

She looks at me, and I can tell even without my glasses that she’s losing her patience. “No, [my friend who baked the cake] couldn’t do it on Saturday because she works super early, so it’s tonight. The dumpster pool party is on Saturday.”

I wasn’t invited to the dumpster pool party, another of the items on the GISHWHES list, but that’s fine because dumpsters are gross and I have enough interaction with them at work to never think twice about saying “no” to having a pool party in one.

“So, are you coming down?” she asks.

“No.”

“What? Why not?” Now she’s irritated.

“Because I’m not prepared. I planned for Saturday.”

“What?” she asks, incredulous. “It will probably take ten minutes or less of your time.”

“I planned for Saturday,” I repeat calmly, not really able to explain why, just that I’m not at all prepared for any time tonight much less right now.

“You’re not coming down?”

“No.”

“Is that just because you don’t want to help me out?”

“What? No. I just… I have other stuff to do tonight.”

“It won’t take that long.”

“I’m going to take a shower and put on my pajamas,” I tell her. “Can I do this in my pajamas?”

“No, I want it to be a formal, dressed up thing.”

I snort. “That‘s not going to happen.”

“You have ‘stuff to do’ in your pajamas?” she asks, incredulous again.

“Yes. I have to apply for jobs and, y’know, sleep, eventually.”

Sister narrows her eyes, obviously not believing me, and then she throws up her hands and says, “Fine,” as if I’m completely a lost cause and it’s like I’m a horse she’s leading to water but remains unable to make me drink.

I frown. She turns away. I close the bathroom door, open the shower door again—the shower’s been running during our entire “discussion”—and step in.

As I shampoo my hair, I think to myself, “But I prepared for Saturday.” I sigh. Sister’s definitely angry with me, but she’s known me more than a quarter century. How can she still not remember that I don’t like surprises?

Headache of a different kind

I’m pretty sure I have an abscessed tooth. I’m calling the dentist tomorrow morning and will hopefully be going into the office to have it checked out. I’ve had near-constant jaw pain since last Saturday. Everything except work is basically on hold until I can have this infection treated.

In the meantime, check out my archives and let me know if you find anything interesting.

The Difference between CTS and Tendinitis

On Wednesday, May 1, my therapist cancelled both my private session and group session, so I saved money! Yay. ‘Cept I didn’t actually get to do any therapy, so… Boo.

But then I went to work on Thursday and at around 6 PM my lower right arm started really hurting. With my palm down on the counter, I could feel the swelling in the lower left part of the top of my arm, situated just above my wrist. The wrist itself didn’t hurt, and I could move my hand in a circle motion back and forth, but when ever I tried to use my thumb to grip, turn a page, pick up equipment, or anything related to having opposable thumbs, my entire arm gave way to a sharp pain that went from the tip of my thumb all the way to my shoulder blade. After a while of abusing my ability to ignore the pain (at least ignore it enough to do my job, which requires the use of both hands), my arm began to hurt even while at rest: a dull, broad ache focused in my lower arm, where it had begun swelling.

I figured it was something like food poisoning—not like food poisoning, exactly, but that it would heal itself within 24 hours if I rested and didn’t do anything extra stupid during that time—so when I got off work, I went home and worked around the pain gingerly, complaining to my mother about possibly having pulled a muscle or pinching a nerve or something but hopefully having it feel better in the morning. The next morning, the pain hadn’t lessened any, so I took some OTC medicine for headaches and pain (a combination of Tylenol—that is, acetaminophen—aspirin, and caffeine)… and then I hauled ass to work. And I was in pain the entire day. I even complained about the pain, which I’m not used to doing with people not closely related to me. I had a full up shift: eight hours of walking, lifting, and acting genially toward customers… and by my last break time, I was practically in tears.

I called my mother, a registered nurse, and asked what I should do. She didn’t know, but erred on the side of “If it’s really that bad, go to urgent care.” I finished out my work day (finally) and sat in my boiling car in the sun and called the Kaiser Permanente nursing/medical questions hotline to ask what I should do. After chatting with three separate people—a connecting agent, a registered nurse (not my mother, though she’d have given me the same advice), and a young man who made an appointment with the urgent care doctor for me for later that day—I managed to get an appointment with a doctor at the Sunset Blvd. urgent care clinic. My primary physician with Kaiser is in Glendale, and the appointment guy wanted to send me there, which would’ve been fine with me, but they’d closed for the day, and I just wanted to see a doctor before the pain got any worse.

So, I was set up with an appointment for 4:20 at the Kaiser urgent care facility on Sunset Blvd. I drove home in pain, explained to my dad what I’d be doing, took a shower, and started out the door. My father stopped me, saying, “The 2 Freeway is closed.”

What?”

“There’s a brush fire; the police have closed the 2 Freeway South at the 134 interchange.”

Well, shit. No way I’d get to my appointment on time then. I live at the intersection of the 210 and 2 Freeways, and I normally, I’d drive down the 2 all the way to Alvarado Street, through Silver Lake, and onto Sunset Blvd. The 2/134 interchange is on the 2 between me and Alvarado, so taking that freeway was out. My dad and I strategized for a few moments, and I decided to take the 210 East all the way down to the 710 and then to the 110 South. A roundabout way to get to Sunset, but at least at that moment it was possible, unlike my regular route.

I arrived at the urgent care facility on the corner of Sunset and Edgemont twenty minutes late. After parking on the street, I headed inside, signed in at one of the main desks, and paid the $30 copay. The receptionist who checked me in told me that the doctors were running late, too, so I shouldn’t worry about missing my appointment, especially because I’d made one ahead of time. (“Ahead of time”, I guess, being just over an hour, but I suppose that’s neither here nor there.)

I waited. I waited more. I listened to a man trying to get out of paying for a prescription arguing with another receptionist. I half-watched the progress of the workers fighting the brush fire on the TV that was across the room. I half-listened to the two women nearby speaking to each other relatively quietly in Spanish or Portuguese. Holding my right arm up in a lackluster attempt to keep the swelling down, I waited for one of the nurses or attendants to call my name.

“Vee-ah-nah Doon-can?” I sighed. I can count the number of times on one time that anyone has correctly pronounced my name the first time. I stood up.

“I’m coming. Give me a second,” I called to the woman standing at the door. I hefted my bag gently over my hurt arm and walked past the two Spanish/Portuguese women, being careful not to step on any feet.

“How are you, ma’am?” the woman asked, leading me down the hall into a tiny room with a computer console, a weight scale (that showed weight in Imperial units, of course), and a blood pressure cuff and machine.

“What’s the problem?” she asked, bringing up my chart on the computer. I explained the situation, showed her my swollen arm, and showed my other arm for comparison. She nodded, made a few notes in my chart, and asked me to step onto the scale. She noted my weight (to my silent shame, I’d gained almost twenty pounds since the last time I’d been weighed at Kaiser in March 2012), and then sat me down again to take my blood pressure on my good arm. So, even though I was overweight (especially compared to the last time I was weighed), my blood pressure reading was 115/59, which is to say, really good.

“On a scale of zero to ten—zero being no pain at all, and ten being the worst pain you can imagine—how much pain are you in right now?” she asked, motioning toward my swollen arm and then to a pain scale chart pinned to the wall across from my seat. Ah, the one-to-ten question. How completely unhelpful the doctors’ pain charts are. I thought about it for a minute. What was the worst pain I could imagine? Compared to what I could imagine, this pain was negligible.

“Uh… four?” I said, my voice turning up at the end of the statement like a question. She looked at me. I stumbled over my next words. “Well, what’s the worst pain you can imagine?” I asked defensively.

She turned back to the computer monitor. “How about if the scale was relative to the pain you’ve already experienced?” she clarified, sounding slightly irritated.

I was silent for a minute more, studying my swollen arm, before answering. “I guess… seven or eight, then.”

She made an “ah” shape with her mouth and made some more notes in my chart. Then, she led me to another, slightly larger room to wait for the doctor. “The doctor will be with you in a minute.”

I waited. I read the “You cannot kill viruses with antibiotics!” posters on the wall across the room. There were three of four different versions, all warning against super-viruses and why patients should not take antibiotics except under specific circumstances, none of which include having the flu or a head cold.

Darien and SerenaFinally, the doctor arrived. He was a bald man shorter than me in Darien’s clothes (see also: “Meatball head”, Serena, and the Moon Kingdom). I was a little surprised he wasn’t wearing a white lab coat, but I suppose there’s no rule that says that anyone (doctors or otherwise) have to wear lab coats, so. Of course, he said…

“So what’s the problem?”

I made an irritated movement toward my right arm with my left hand. “My arm hurts. I don’t know why. I don’t think anything is broken, but I can’t work with only one hand. Fix it.”

He gave me a Well, let me just see for myself look, pulled on some blue plastic gloves and took my arm to inspect it. Turning it this way and that, he asked periodically, “Does that hurt? Does it hurt when I move it this way?”

I nodded or shook my head, as appropriate, and finally he pulled off the gloves, made some notes in my electronic chart, and asked, “Do you remember hitting your arm at all? Physical trauma often causes swelling.”

“No, I don’t think so,” I replied. “I’ve hit my hands and arms at work before, though, so I suppose it’s possible.”

“I’m going to send you for a few x-rays just to be sure.” He explained how to get to the x-ray laboratory (across the street on the corner in the basement) and sent me on my way. I followed his directions and found myself paying a copay for every single x-ray that was to be taken (five in all: three of my forearm and two of my wrist). I gulped at the total cost, frowning because I knew nothing was broken or fractured. (So much for saving any money. /sigh)

Then, I was in a room in the basement of the building alone with the x-ray technician. I couldn’t breathe. Alone with another woman I could’ve handled relatively well, but this man was larger than me, and he was touching me. It wasn’t anything inappropriate, I kept telling myself, since he had to adjust my arm for a good x-ray; he was completely genial and professional. Nevertheless, my heart rate spiked, my tongue seemed like it had turned to lead in my mouth, and my throat closed up, making it difficult to breathe. The room shrunk around me and I barely heard anything the technician was saying because I was focusing so hard on not just flipping out right there in the chair.

As soon as he was done and had added the x-rays to my electronic chart (they got back to my doctor before I did), I was out the door and up the stairs. I sat with my head between my legs on the curb outside the building, the blood rushing to my head, until I could think straight again and I wasn’t in danger of bolting on the spot.

I’m sure I drew some stares, but acting a bit strange wasn’t all that out of place in the three-block radius from where I stood—two separate hospital complexes and two separate new-age church buildings (including the main Scientology branch in Los Angeles) made it so that odd people were actually more the norm than average people. When I managed to stand again, I crossed the street slowly and headed back to the urgent care office.

I was led to a second room, where the doctor returned to diagnose the pain in my arm. “Your bones look fine,” he said, and I nodded. “It seems like you’ve got tendinitis.”

“Tendinitis?” I repeated, turning the word into a question.

“It’s like Carpal Tunnel Syndrome, but it can happen anywhere in your body, not just in your wrist.”

According to Yahoo!:

The difference between tendinitis and Carpal Tunnel Syndrome is indicated primarily by the location of the pain in your wrist. If the pain or numbness occurs in the palms and inner side of your wrist, then you are experiencing Carpal Tunnel Syndrome. If the pain is primarily in the top of your wrist, then it is probably tendinitis.

“Ah, I see,” I said. “So what’s the treatment? I’m not used to being below par, so to speak, so I’m a terrible patient.”

The doctor’s lips quirked into a half-grin. “I’ve seen better patients,” he agreed. “But trust me, ma’am: I’ve also seen worse.”

He cleared his throat and continued. “Aggressive icing—I’d say four times a day for ten to twenty minutes each time—will bring down the swelling. I’m going to give you two prescriptions: one for naproxen, which should help with the swelling; and one for Tylenol 3, which you should take as needed for pain.

“I’m putting you on medical work leave until next Wednesday. Ask one of the nurses at the desk for a wrist brace before you leave, okay?” he asked. I nodded. “Do you have any questions?” I shook my head. “All right, then I hope I don’t see you back here any time soon.” I nodded again, and then he was gone.

I trudged up to the nurses’ desk and requested a brace, which was provided to me in short order. I trudged over to the pharmacy (across the street catty-corner), handed over more money, and picked up the prescriptions he’d written for me. Finally, I trudged back to my car (at least I hadn’t also had to pay for parking, I decided later), got in and pulled the door closed, put my head on the steering wheel, and cried.

It was difficult driving with the brace, but without it it was near impossible. I set my jaw and managed to make it to my best friend’s graduation ceremony (which had been in my evening plans all along, and which I had thought I might not make because I was sitting in urgent care being a whiny patient), where I watched him walk across the stage and accept his Associate of Arts Degree. I tried to stay for the whole ceremony, but there were too many people there, I was already shocked from dealing with so many people at the hospital, and everything was just so loud that I ended up bolting back to my car shortly after my best friend returned to his seat.

I went home. I had to talk to my parents about what had happened, even though the last thing I really wanted to do was do more talking. My mother was concerned, of course, but she agreed that I’d done the right thing and wasn’t it also great that I managed to see my best friend walk at his graduation, too? Yes, of course it was. Things started getting blurry, and I went up stairs and closed the door to my room.

My cat, sitting on my bed, looked at me like, “What are you doing here?” like she always does, and I couldn’t help but laugh. I flopped face first down onto my bed, buried my face in my pillow, and screamed.

“Omg no more food for liiiiiiife”—@veduncan

Or: Yes, I have control issues.

(title from my May 17th tweet)—I have this ongoing love/hate relationship with food. Basically, I love food, and when I eat it I hate it. It’s not like that exactly, but… well, let me explain.

Every time I look at food, sit down at the table for dinner, or take my empty plate to the sink to be washed, I feel fat and hate myself. I’m not thin like I was in high school, and I didn’t realize until recently how much that I bought into the “you’re only pretty and worthwhile if you’re thin” paradigm that women have to struggle with every day.

I’m very particular about putting some things into my body; but what and/or how much seems pretty arbitrary on the outset. For example, I’d gleefully eat an entire bag of Cheetos Puffs and yet would never take a single sip of a daiquiri or margarita, despite the former being logically, arguably more damaging to my health than the latter. I rarely drink coffee or espresso drinks, but I love Dr. Pepper and root beer (except for Barq’s brand, but that’s a different story). I also like black teas—Earl Grey and vanilla chai being two readily accessible favorites—so I know it’s not about the caffeine or lack thereof. I don’t eat meat (except by accident once in a while) but I’ve eaten nothing but those mini powdered doughnuts, the kind found at 7/11 and gas stations, for days on end.

I sometimes claim it’s a health thing, but really it’s my controlling what goes into my body… and what doesn’t… and subtly, possibly somewhat subconsciously poking it in the figurative eyes of the people around me. Except I’m not very good at that, either. I’m overweight. It would be one thing, I suppose, if I was irritating and looked good, but mostly I’m just irritating. I have more belly fat than is really seemly. I have curves in the wrong places. I don’t have any extenuating health conditions, so it really is because I eat too much and exercise too little.

This kind of control over “my stuff” extends beyond food, though I admit it’s most obvious when I eat nothing all day and then scarf down three old fashioned glazed doughnuts in a row at 9 PM. It’s supremely difficult for me to talk on the phone, but texting is just fine. My best friend says I drive like a grandma, but I guess I think in terms of that old saying among pilots that my father told me once when I asked him about the one time his father flew under a bridge in a tiny twin engine and was grounded for a long while: “There are old pilots, and there are bold pilots, but there are no old, bold pilots.” At least, that’s what I tell my best friend about why I drive the way I drive.

Really, I guess, it’s a combination of two primary things. First, it’s more efficient to coast up an off ramp and stop at the red light at the end with a light tap on the brakes than it is to speed up the ramp at 65 miles per hour and then have to suddenly stop short at the end just like everyone else. I know drivers behind me are often irritated by such behavior, but honestly, I’ve been trying to give myself permission to just be okay with pissing off more people more often for myself without being completely apologetic about it, and driving is a relatively safe way to go about asserting myself, albeit rather passive-aggressively. Second, and partially related to the first, I have obsessive-compulsive disorder, the unique aspects of which cause me to imagine turning the wheel violently and flipping the vehicle or driving straight off a bridge into a gulf below. I haven’t done what I’ve imagined, but I’m deathly afraid of it, not to mention the distraction from my driving of just “seeing” (in my mind’s eye) said in the first place.

But, I digress. Food. That is, specifically, my relationship to it… which is to say, unhealthy. Here’s the thing. I don’t cook. I’m not a chef of any kind. Which isn’t to say I can’t make decent, non-burned food, but I just… don’t. Maybe it’s a subconscious reaction to patriarchy; I wouldn’t be surprised. I just know that I like eating food while putting in as little effort as possible making it. That means that I’ll take a piece of bread from the breadbox or refrigerator with the intent of making toast with jam or honey and instead will eat the bread unadorned, as is, because I don’t want to go to the effort to put it in the toaster and wait for it to toast. It’s funny in a sad way, but I’m not joking. If I could get away with eating MREs and protein bars with an occasional family dinner, I would.

For me, food is a bane. It’s necessary for life; I can’t just up and quit like a smoker could with cigarettes, or wean myself off of it, or anything like that. Plus, in the culture in which I live, mealtimes are also social times, and not eating at those times is likely to be looked down upon, or at least looked strangely upon. I can make excuses (“I ate earlier” or “I’ll eat when I get home”) but even if they’re accepted, it’s still awkward and often other people want to share their food with me. It’s not like I’m bulimic—have you ever thrown up for any reason? It’s not exactly fun or tasty. It is, in a word, gross. (Not to mention it rots your teeth.)

And I’m not exactly anorexic, either. It’s not that I don’t eat—I eat plenty—it’s just that I eat the wrong things because my desire to not waste my time on something that’s not important to me (that is, food) almost always overpowers my ideally eating healthy, correctly-proportioned meals. And I don’t have any set mealtimes, either, since my job requires that I be available to work anytime between 4 AM and 10 PM six days of the week. I work better with a rigid, self-disciplined schedule (another part of OCD, and possibly related to my post-traumtic stress), and my life just doesn’t allow for that at the moment. And who knows; it may never allow for me to have as much control over “my stuff” as I really want.

I will happily eat food prepared for me, but even thinking about that raises my hackles; I don’t want to depend on anyone without properly giving something in return (though my actions often conflict with this ideal). Going out for a meal is fine, since I pay for it with money and I try to tip well because I know first hand how crappy working in the food service industry really is. And (bonus!) I don’t have to clean up afterwards. But if my (metaphorical) partner makes me dinner, how do I even the scale? Should I even be “keeping score”? I will feel obligated to him or her, and I hate that feeling more than almost anything else in the world. Maybe the answer isn’t to not be obligated to someone, but to not feel said obligation, whether it actually exists or not.

I heard once in a radio advertisement for Lexus (a brand of car in the United States), “The ultimate expression of power is control.” And the more I delve into my own weirdness (food, driving, alcohol, talking on the phone), the more I come to realize that it’s really about control. That is to say, I don’t feel like I have any. I don’t really know when this started becoming, you know, an issue, but it was probably sometime in high school, if not before. Seeing as I’m well on my way to age 30, I can say that having “control issues” is more trouble than it’s worth more often than not.

Okay, so now that I’ve rambled about food, driving, and having a thing about not talking on the phone, it turns out that that‘s what this essay is really about: control, and my lack thereof. Telling myself I can only control my own actions and no one else’s only helps so much since it means I start to obsess and obsess. One way I control something is to avoid it completely. I drive as little as is feasibly possible. I won’t talk on the phone for more than a couple of minutes at a time only once twice or three times per week. I don’t drink alcohol, take any medications for anything other than their intended purpose, or do any illegal and/or nefarious drugs. And, in that last set of “things I don’t do”, (*super extra unpopular opinion time!*) I actually honestly look down upon people who do do them.

I don’t go to bars; I have no desire to mingle and meet people over cocktails and other drinks. I think that alcohol as a “social lubricant” is self-medicating the symptoms, not the cause. The cause—that is, the problem—is that people feel awkward and unable to speak plainly with each other… and sometimes we’re not even sure that’s what we want (the “thrill of the chase” and all that nonsense). The symptom is needing to “loosen up” in order to chat up the pretty lady or cute guy (or whatever kind of person floats your boat) sitting at the other end of the counter. If you need a “social lubricant” like alcohol to talk to me, then I doubt I want to hear what you have to say anyway. I understand that people drink for a variety of reasons, including be able to forget what shitty lives they’ve had. And yes, I realize many people actually have had shitty lives, but let me be as honest as plain as I can be here.

I don’t care why anyone drinks. I don’t care what kind it is. Alcohol is alcohol, and it is a social evil. I have never seen it do any good in any situation and have witnessed and experienced it do irreparable damage in many. The psychological wounds I retain from one man who was under the influence of alcohol one night during my senior year in college will be with me until the day I die. I have trust issues. I don’t like anyone touching me. I need to be in control.

I’m working on it, but it’s a slow, painful, expensive process. I’ve rambled enough for one essay, I think, and I still have no answers. I still love food just as much as I hate it. I’ll still avoid preparing it and will still happily eat it if someone else prepares it for me. I’ll still forget the last time I had something to eat and then scarf down a whole package of goldfish crackers and three Hershey’s chocolate bars right before I crash for the night. It’s about control, and fighting the power it has over me when I can recognize its debilitating effects on me.