Saturday, May 7, 2011


I've been feeling sorry for myself for the last couple weeks. I've been stuck here at home, my passport gathering dust in the safe (or mold—seriously—we now keep a bowl of dehumidifying pellets in there with the important documents). The weather SUCKS, verifiably so, and things—just all sorts of THINGS—don't seem to be going my way. For example, as you know, I began a serious, for real, grown-up budget recently. It was pretty exciting to start the process, to figure out where our money goes, to self-satisfiedly pat myself on the back as I don't just buy a book because I happen to like the look of it, and I don't just hand over the VISA (or rattle off the numbers from memory, including security code) for dog treats/chocolate/shoes/a handbag or whatever else strikes my slightest fancy—in other words, I've been feeling that I am quite righteously hiking the moral high ground . . . and yet, it seems that every week or so, for the past couple months, I've received a bill in the mail for around a thousand dollars.
Yes, it's true, some of those bills have been from the Seattle Cancer Care Alliance (my 10% co-insurance payment for my Herceptin infusion every three weeks: about $900.00), and it's the beginning of the year and we have to pay and pay until we reach our out-of-pocket co-insurance maximum (which we are hoping we have—a maximum, that is. It's new insurance and very difficult to understand so we can't be quite sure) . . . but a lot of them have just been bills, and I've felt, petulantly, that I'm actually being punished for trying to rein in the motley and flamboyant Wild Horses of Flagrancy.
I came home after attending a somewhat sobering dinner party last night, though, and realized that the bills I've been receiving (minus, to some degree, the cancer ones, but even those . . .) are all signs of the unimaginably unfair advantage I have in life—taken in a global sense, but even in a national sense—being an upper middle-class American living in the Pacific Northwest. My bills are all, with the exception of the Bs for Boat, from the A-named services of the Affluent. I have had to pay the Accountant. The Attorney. And, because Ian and I are particularly fortunate, the Architect as well. Waaa, waaa, waaa. Tiny violins.
Nevertheless, this gushing outflow has stressed me out a little, not least (as Ian points out) because we are so very well aware of it now.
On top of the financial "woes"—or rather, over, under, around, and interposed between the very molecules of the financial "woes" and every other part of my life—are my health "woes". I don't mean to be flippant with the quotes. I know (I KNOW) that living with my state of health is a constant trial. Usually I don't think much about it; usually I'm perfectly functional if not quite perfectly fine; and/or I'm off in some exotic part of the world where it's easier to deal with the vagaries of day-to-day life (i.e. sub-Saharan Africa) than it is here where the vagaries are endless subtle variations on a theme: Is this new tickle/stumble/lost word/sense of fatigue/pinprick-sized spot/etc. ad infinitum, a sign of my imminent death? But for now I am here, and I have to learn to be here, in the present moment with the vagaries of home, and none of the distraction of curly-headed children asking me for one pen or ladies in kangas trying to sell me live chickens to take with me on the bus.
And, I had been doing quite well here. Happy, feeling more and more confident in my physical health and mental health. Getting above my "predicament" and actively making some plans for here, for home, instead of only reacting. And then, a week ago Thursday, at the end of a day that involved picking up new mastectomy bras, bringing lunch to my grandmother, several hours of infusing in an uncomfortable vinyl chair at the SCCA clinic, and dinner with Mom and Marsh and talk about a building project we were getting ready to do that weekend on Orcas (leaving the next day), I got a migraine. My first in several months. And following quickly on the heels of the opening strains of visual aura came a panic attack—out of the blue, and very scary. As my vision stopped fracturing and came back into focus, everything else around me pulled away, including my own voice. I lay in bed (it was about 9:30pm at this point) almost unable to nerve myself up enough to reach behind me—10 inches away—and take ½ of an anti-anxiety pill. Ian came in and I spoke with him, but my voice seemed to be coming from a thousand years from here. One of my friends said it sounded like a drug trip; the disconnection and surrealness is a little like being dangerously drunk (not that I would have any idea about that, Mom), but much, MUCH scarier. Panic attack; dread attack. Ian lay next to me and held my hand, the dear, reminding me that I had been through these before, and they pass.
And this one did pass, and I got back out of bed and packed my bag, and Friday we drove up to Orcas and over the weekend built the second stage of our little cottage project, and drove back Sunday night, and Monday night I got another migraine, followed closely by another panic attack. This one happened slightly closer to bedtime and so I just took my nightly pill and called it a day, and the experience was less bad than previously.
Witch Doctor Dan had a cancellation Wednesday morning and worked me in and gave me the not really comforting news that he thought these neurological episodes hadn't been psychological like previously, but were instead physiological—namely, my pituitary was displaying signs of damage. This is not particularly surprising news, as Dr Jason warned that the full-brain radiation would have side-effects and after-effects for years to come, but it was . . . draining. The whole several days have been draining. I mean, again and again and again, I thought I was done with this.

And again and again and again, I'm reminded that I am not done with this. That there is only one end to this, because this is my life.
We had dinner last night at the home of a colleague of Ian's. The wife of his workmate, a beautiful girl, excellent chef, funny, bright, well-spoken in her second language, arrived in the United States for high school in 1998, from Transylvania, Romania. She went on to become a concert pianist and then, maybe a couple years after that, was diagnosed with a brain tumor. The only way to treat it was surgery. They did the best they could, but she lost just enough motor skill that she can no longer perform. Then, a couple years ago and completely unrelated, she discovered that she has early stage MS. I didn't ask her age, but starting high school—high
school—in 1998—she can't be much older than 26.

It's true—maybe she wouldn't have survived the brain tumor—already—if she hadn't left Romania. Nevertheless, she did leave, and did survive, and now what she has to look forward to is a lifetime of degeneration. I don't. Maybe I'm not such a poor thing after all.

No comments: