Relative Values

As I am off to Bennington for my residency tomorrow this could be my last entry for a while so I want to touch on a few things.

Firstly a note about yesterday evening, when I gave a combined formal poetry lecture and reading to the good folks of the Fanwood Arts Society up in Northern NJ. This event was organized by the excellent Adele Kenny and I was pleased by the attendance on a rather thundery night. The honorarium was $50 and I sold 4 chapbooks, which you might think made it a profitable evening financially as well as spiritually.

Not so. I had to hire an adult babysitter for the girls. She arrived at 5.45 and stayed until 10.45 so I paid her $60, and of course there’s gas, and those chapbooks cost me $2.50 each.

Of course it’s not about the money. We all do it for love, and I’m not short a bob or two, but isn’t it ironic that I am less valuable as a poet than as a babysitter (a job, let’s not forget, that I personally do daily for neither recognition nor money.)

On a similar theme, a word about the ridiculous behavior of Health Insurers. As I am going away for ten days tomorrow, I went yesterday to request a refill on my Levothyroxine prescription because I only have about a week’s supply left. I never wait for the pills if I can avoid it, because it takes forever, so I told them I’d pick it up today.

When I got back to the house there was a message on my answerphone from the pharmacy telling me they were unable to process my refill because the Insurance Company wouldn’t pay for it until June 13th.

Hang on a sec, I thought. June 13th was the next day, and anyway, I had said I wouldn’t be picking up the pills until June 13th. So their miserliness cost CVS the phone call and me the time/gas of an extra trip to the pharmacy to put the refill request in again this morning, with the net result that I got the pills on exactly the same day. Someone needed to apply some common sense on that one I think.

Finally, a word about my childcare arrangements for this residency. Probably the most expensive childcare arrangement I’ve yet made, actually. Becky is going to the International Gymnastics Camp in Pennsylvania for two weeks starting Sunday at a cost of $1400. Bless her! She doesn’t seem at all fazed at the prospect of two weeks away from the family, new coaches, bunk life or even doing her own laundry. Lorna has the much less frightening (and cheaper!) choice of going to her best friend Carley’s for the days Keba will be unable to take off.

So, to all my Bennington friends, I can’t wait to see you. Thank goodness the wine is cheap…

Things to Do While Wearing a Holter Monitor

This is my second 24 hour Holter Monitor experience. The first occurred way back in January 2006, around the time my thyroid issues were diagnosed, back when I still thought I would live forever.

Anyway if I ever get around to writing that book I’m sure my Blog will provide useful notes, so I thought on this occasion I’d write about this test in more detail.

I have seven electrodes taped to my torso. Three form a triangle on my upper chest above my breasts. One is on my left breast and two on the rib cage beneath and around it. The final one is on my right side. Wires from these plug into a joiner, which hangs at my upper thigh. The single thick cable from the joiner leads into a device a little larger than a standard iPod. This sits in a black canvas pouch held by a strap which passes diagonally across my body, much like I would carry a shoulder bag in a well known mugging zone.

Obviously this device records my heartbeat on a removable chip. If I experience any irregularities I am supposed to press a button on the unit which will help them zero in on the part of the recording to examine. Nothing so far.

I can’t get the device wet, and the loose tee shirt (no bra) I am wearing does not fully cover the mess of wires or the black pouch. So, I won’t be making many trips out today. (Of course, I have to do the gymnastics run later.)

So what can you do while wearing a Holter Monitor? Laundry, drink tea, whine and write. That pretty much sums it up.

Why You Should Watch Channel 6 Action News on Monday at 11

Because I’ll be on it, in a nutshell.

Basically, a while ago I was chatting with my friend P and she was telling me a long saga of woes about her problems with Sears. Things had gotten so bad that eventually she lodged a complaint with Channel 6 Action News Consumer Hotline.

Hmm. I thought. Perhaps they would be interested in hearing about my health problems and suspicions that Yasmin is the root cause. So I did the same.

Now, I don’t believe they ever got back to P about Sears, but about a month ago a very nice reporter called me and we had a long chat. She said she needed to follow up independently and would get back to me.

A week later she called again. Apparently she had found another young woman (32) in the Philadelphia area who had died of a stroke after being on Yasmin, and she wanted to run with the story.

So the following week she turned up at my house (Yes, in the Action News van) with a cameraman and interviewed me. It was a fascinating experience. They shot most of the footage of me sitting at my kitchen table, but then they wanted to get some additional footage for voiceover: me taking my daily aspirin, me making a cup of tea, me reading to the kids, the kids playing with the dog, and the family group photo we had taken before Christmas. (yes, even Keba isn’t safe!)

They asked me not to blog it until they had started running the trailers for it, which apparently began last night. So I didn’t, but now I am.

I may sound terrible (I hate my voice in recordings normally) and look like an earnest frumpy housewife, but I don’t care. Women need to be warned that they should think more about the hormones they elect to put in their bodies, and no one else seemed prepared to tell them.

So I did.

Ah Well, at Least it’s a Pleasant E.R…

I spent five hours in the E.R. last night.

Let’s back up a bit. It might be helpful to read this entry followed by this entry and finally this entry if you haven’t been following the strange case of my deteriorating health quite as closely as, for some reason, I have been.

The only thing I need add, which I coyly hadn’t mentioned assuming it was irrelevant, is that when I had my ovarian surgery I figured I’d get a tubal ligation. After all, the doctor was in there anyway, and I’m definitely done reproducing at this point. (I love my daughters, but Becky is just two years off babysitting age, and then the world of poetry opens up to me just a little bit more.)

So the recovery from surgery had been going pretty well, and then a couple of weeks ago I started getting significantly increased heart palpitations. Now I’m used to my heart murmur–it goes with the PFO, doncha know? But these palpitations were different: stronger, longer, and much more frequent.

I considered the possible causes, and the first thing that occurred to me was that my thyroid hormone was out of whack. After all, it is my opinion that the evil birth control drug from hell, otherwise known as Yasmin, was responsible for tipping my thyroid into hypothyroidism in the first place. Stands to reason that now I am no longer taking it, the synthetic hormone levothyroxine might be over-compensating, and I might have tipped into hyperthyroidism, for which one of the symptoms is palpitations. So I got a blood test and made an appointment (this coming Wednesday) to see my doctor about the results.

Then last Saturday I started the period from hell. I’ll spare you the gory details out of consideration for my male readers. But think the River of Blood from the Seventh Circle of Dante’s Inferno, and you can’t go far wrong. I had my OB-GYN follow up appointment on Wednesday, and she said that unfortunately increased flow was normal following a tubal ligation. When I did my own research, I discovered another little advertised complication was heart palpitations. Funny you should say that…

On Wednesday night I had a twenty-five minute episode of palpitations with chest pain, which panicked the hell out of me. I called Keba, and he talked me down from going to the ER, telling me instead to go for a walk and see if the pain got worse or went away. It went away.

But yesterday afternoon while I was driving the kids to gymnastics the same thing happened. I could only drive by putting one hand on the steering wheel and holding the seatbelt off my chest. This is not normal. I dropped Becky, took Lorna to a friend’s and had that friend drive me to the ER.

The ER was of course totally backed up, and by the time we arrived the pains had subsided, so we waited for some 21/2 hours. Eventually they got me into a room, hooked me up to the heart rate monitor, did an EKG, a chest X-ray and took blood.

Clearly they took me very seriously given my medical history. The really nice (and yes, good-looking–where do they get these guys?) doctor was fascinated by it in fact. However the tests showed nothing fundamentally wrong with my heart.

Theory A: Thyroid imbalance–> Increased Palpitations –> Heart Muscle Fatigue –> Chest Pain

Theory B: Increased Blood Clotting –> More clots passing PFO –> Chest Pain

Theory C (My own): Female Hormone Imbalance Post Surgery –> Heart Palpitations (see theory A)

Anyway, I need to get a Holter Monitor test (again!) and pursue the thyroid imbalance theory following up with my regular doctor next week. The female hormone imbalance theory (Post Tubal Ligation Syndrome) does not of course have much credibility with the medical establishment.

Sigh. Thanks again to all the Virtua Memorial Staff, and my good friends Maureen and Gail who kept the kids etc. etc.

I am planning to write a non-fiction book on all my health experiences once I have graduated from Bennington, (assuming no one is rushing to hire me as a teacher of formal poetry, ha!) I am interested in hearing from any woman who has had similar experiences following taking Yasmin. Contact me.

It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like…National Poetry Month

I decided I wouldn’t even attempt to write a poem a day this month, given my health issues. Oh, I’m fine, by the way, and today I’m even back in my regular (read: tight) jeans. Thanks to everyone for the usual messages and tokens of support: DF, the cold cuts were fantastic; Twinings, a girl will never run out of fruit while you’re around; RB, you are an angel for coming by and cooking the kids dinner; and of course my husband, without you nothing would be possible.

Back to National Poetry Month (and now you know I’m feeling better!) Tonight I will be at my first poetry reading of the month, a Quick & Dirty Poets Extravaganza featuring the big Irishman himself, Dan Maguire. If you are in the Mt. Holly area do come along to the Daily Grind at 7 pm. I’ll be reading a couple of newish poems, and I may even bring the color photo of my cystic ovary. How can you miss that?

On Sunday I will be attending a very civilized Afternoon Literary Salon celebrating the Paterson Literary Review and featuring Maria Mazziotti Gillan. As a local contributor I have been invited to read the poem they published in Issue #35, “English Grandmothers.” I’m still not meant to drive far so I’m dragging Keba along to chauffeur, which means not just poetry but bonus couple time.

Next week RB and I are heading to Bryn Mawr on Thursday to see the brilliant Yusef Komunyakaa, which I’m really looking forward to, and the following week I’m hoping to get to the Burlington County Poets Reading, featuring Daniel Abdal-Hayy Moore.

A few days ago I was bemoaning the state of metrical poetry with Major Jackson and, I’m not quite sure how this happened, but he challenged me to write a blank verse epic. So I did, if you can call five pages an epic. As with all my best work, it’s probably completely unpublishable, but he liked it. And guess what?

Last night I really did dream in Iambic Pentameter.

Home, Minus One Ovary

Today was D-Day for the first half of my necessary surgery, the ovary removal. I should mention that since Sunday I have been bridging my blood thinning regimen by injecting Lovinox twice daily instead of taking Aspirin. Although this wasn’t my dream scenario it actually worked out okay. I got a fairly major bruise the first time I did it, but after that I appeared to get the hang of it.

Anyway today I went into the Ambulatory Surgical Center at 11 am and was released about an hour ago. Everything went smoothly as far as I know. My novel descent into general anesthesia was accompanied by me instructing the OR staff on the correct way to make tea! I have a lovely (not) picture of the cystic ovary. The pains on waking were pretty intense but hey, that’s why they invented Percoset.

Now I am propped up in bed with an ice pack on my belly being nursed by my wonderful daughters while my similarly wonderful husband heads to CVS for my pain med prescriptions.

The relief is palpable, and I have Chocolate Hob Nobs too!

Notices & News

I have been very busy lately, and I am sure many people are thrilled to hear that I have mostly caught up with the backlog in Barefoot Muse submissions. However I should probably let you know about a few events that are happening this week.

Tomorrow night I’m a featured reader at Arlene Bernstein’s Spring Equinox Poetry Celebration. This will begin at 7 p.m. at Belmont Hills Library in Bala Cynwyd. (Why do so many places around Philadelphia have Welsh names?) You can read more about the Friends of Poetry series on Arlene’s Website.

On Friday the Quick & Dirty Poets will host a launch party for Issue #3 of our poetry journal, Up & Under. This will be at the Daily Grind coffee shop in Mount Holly, also beginning at 7 p.m.

I had two poems accepted by the Mad Poets’ Review, which is really cool because I love going to their issue release party in the Fall. I also got my contributor’s copy of the Lyric, and Modern Metrics are planning to schedule me a reading in September/October.

Oh, and my surgery is scheduled for April 5th. Well, it couldn’t all be good news now, could it?

I Am My Own Episode of House Part Two

I’m starting to think I need my own spin-off series.

I went back to see my cardiologist at Jefferson today, and discovered there were a few complications of which I hadn’t been aware. The key one to note is that in October 2006 the FDA rescinded their endorsement of PFO closure using trans-catheter devices, on the grounds that there had been insufficient medical trials.

Strangely enough, they have had difficulty enrolling patients in these trials. The patients seem to think that they should get a choice as to whether they have their PFOs closed or simply trust to blood-thinner medication. Strangely enough, so do I. The procedure is already recommended in Europe. I’m not sure it’s sensible to attempt to perform a trial when there is a belief that one of the therapies under assessment offers significantly more protection than the other. It is still possible to get trans-catheter closure using devices ‘off-label’ provided one gets (of course!) clearance from one’s insurance company or pays oneself. My cardiologist is going to Washington this coming Friday to argue the point with the FDA.

So where does this leave me? Well my cardiologist was keen to close the PFO before the ovary removal, but wanted me to make my OB-GYN aware that this would necessitate delaying the ovary removal for 6 months. Now I have had enough of being treated like a go-between by these disinterested professionals. After all, I would not ask my cardiologist to take notes on a lecture about prosody by Donald Hall and paraphrase them for Stephen Dunn. So I asked him respectfully if he would mind contacting my OB-GYN directly and having a discussion with her about the priorities. Who would expect it to be the poet whose common sense prevails? In that discussion they agreed I should get the ovary taken care of first, which means I needn’t worry about the FDA just yet, and indeed, their somewhat insular stance may be taken care of by the time I need to make that decision.

So, the only slight complication with this is that I am not allowed to stop taking blood-thinning medication before the ovarian surgery. However, there is an alternative treatment in the form of a self-administered injection I can perform for the few days leading up to the surgery. (Oh joy! Because I just love needles…) This will confer the same benefits as aspirin on a daily basis but will not remain in my system to interfere with healing after surgery.

NOW how does Patient A feel about this? Actually not too bad. At least we have a way forward and some degree of consensus between my medical professionals. Although, House? Are you around? Got any thoughts?