I Am My Own Episode of House

For those who don’t know, House is an excellent TV show on Fox, which stars Hugh Laurie as Doctor House, a genius at diagnosing tricky diseases who is also selfish, rude and obnoxious to the point of minor sociopathy. Apart from the fascinating character, devious plot lines and a pithy script, one of the things I admire most on the show is Laurie himself. American audiences may not know (especially given his stellar mid-Atlantic accent) that he is an English actor known primarily on the other side of the pond as a comedian. But I digress.

Every week in the show, House is presented with one or more puzzling cases where the immediate diagnosis is not clear. Over the course of the hour long episode, the patient(s) typically present more and more mystifying symptoms, with his/her/their condition deteriorating until they are close to death, before House has a Eureka moment and pulls the correct diagnosis out of the hat like a rabid bunny.

Let us consider then, the strange case of Patient A, a 38 year old woman in apparently good health with no obvious risk factors. In January of 2006, Patient A is diagnosed with hypothyroidism, which is treated with levothyroxine in standard dosage. All seems well until September 2006 when Patient A suffers a Transient Ischemic Attack and is hospitalized. After undergoing countless tests which all prove normal Patient A is released, but in follow up testing a Trans Esophagal Echo determines the presence of a 5 mm Patent Foramen Ovale (Hole in the Heart). Further testing demonstrates that this PFO is Grade IV and Patient A is told she will probably need to have it closed. Meanwhile Patient A has stopped taking the Birth Control Pill Yasmin and is suffering horrible symptoms from hormonal fluctuations including dizziness, palpitations, restless leg syndrome, insomnia etc. The abrupt cessation of hormones has also led to Patient A experiencing acute abdominal pains during her menstrual cycle. She reports these to her doctor, concerned that the pains might be indicative of endometriosis, the presence of which has been masked by the pill. An ultrasound followed by an MRI in early 2007 determine that Patient A’s left ovary has in fact been entirely taken over by a Dermoid Cyst, which will need to be removed. Surgery is tentatively scheduled for late February.

On February 13th 2007 Patient A finally gets in to see the Cardiologist at Jefferson Hospital. He appears concerned by an anomaly in her charts no one else has picked up on previously, namely an irregularity in the right vertebral artery. He decides she needs conventional angiography to evaluate this before proceding with the PFO closure, and also that the ovarian surgery cannot proceed until more is known, because of the risk of taking Patient A off the blood thinner (standard aspirin, 325mg per day.)

Oops. This particular episode appears to have run over an hour, and no one can find Doctor House to deliver the masterful diagnosis. I guess we’ll have to slap up the “To be continued” sign.

I wonder how Patient A is feeling about all of this. Would anyone like to take a guess?


February Already!

As it’s been over a week since I wrote in my Blog I thought I’d write a quick general update on all the issues in which you, my gentle readers, might have some interest.

It’s been generally agreed that I shouldn’t prioritize poetry over my health, so I’ll begin there. A friend of mine emailed me recently to tell me she’d dreamed about me, and knowing of my recent problems she wanted to check that I was doing okay. I actually bumped into her later in the day at the Fourth Grade Band Concert, and made use of that rather wonderful Mark Twain quote “Reports of my death have been greatly exaggerated.”

There is the small matter of the dermoid cyst that was once my left ovary. My OB-GYN is keen to whip it out but needs to wait for clearance from my neurologist and cardiologist. Surgery gets complex when you need more than one. On my last visit I gave her a print out of “Color Therapy at the OB-GYN’s” from the Best of the Net website and she was quite chuffed, although she did inform me they recently repainted that waiting room and it is now no longer purple. Art is not truth, nor should it be.

I was very excited yesterday to learn that Rattle will publish my poem “Feeling Compassion for Others” in a forthcoming issue. I came across Rattle browsing the net a while back and was very struck by the fact that in the first issue I read, I loved every poem. Believe me, this is rare. I can pick up a copy of APR, for example, and like none of the poems. So I submitted. Four weeks later (the stated likely response time-good huh?) the Editor Tim Green got back to me and said he’d wanted one of my poems (“Alternative Creation Myth,” now revised and sitting somewhere at Agni) but got out-voted, and would I please submit again. Well, poets need very little encouragement in that way, so I sent him four more poems pretty much by return email, noting that they were my best, most recent (MFA) work, and hadn’t been seen anywhere else. Again, four weeks later, voila: an acceptance email. In the mean time I had been most encouraged to learn that Rattle is on Ed Ochester’s list of happening small press journals, so this totally fits in with my New Year’s Resolution of being more ambitious with my submissions. The poem is an interesting one too, but that’s perhaps best left until you have had a chance to read it in print or in the online archives.

I mailed my first packet to the wonderful April Bernard on Wednesday, and am now waiting to get her feedback. I do hope she likes at least some of the 8 poems as I had worked hard on many of them and am quite attached to 2 or 3.

The talented Becky Evans competes tomorrow in the Star Bound Invitational. Gymnastics Mom will try to get the results up here tomorrow night. Meanwhile Girl Scout Mom (a new incarnation) spent two very chilly hours selling cookies outside of Hainesport Shoprite this morning.

And now Ms. Evans, Editor, the Barefoot Muse, needs to go and read some submissions of formal poetry. Is my life sufficiently compartmentalized, do you think?

EEG or Eat Your Heart Out Samantha Morton

I now know why they shaved Samantha’s head when she starred in The Minority Report. It is impossible to look glamorous with electrodes glued to your head if you have hair. (And I wasn’t giving up my hair.) I have to wear these electrodes (17) for 24 hours. My husband’s in Arkansas selling tea to Wal-Mart, and I have to pick the kids up from school and deliver Lorna to Art Class looking like this.

I don’t even really think this test is necessary, as the TEE found a PFO. (TLAs anyone?)

Sigh. Please, please, please can I have some good poetry news today…

There’s a Hole in My……Heart?

As medical procedures go, my Trans Esophageal Echo wasn’t actually that bad. The whole thing took only around two and half hours (including a good twenty minutes trying to fix an IV in my terribly aristocratic veins) and I had the undivided attention of a very cute young doctor and a male nurse. Of course, I did have to suck on a sponge ‘lollipop’ slathered in a numbing goo, which tasted of long dead sea creatures, and then swallow a sensor-tipped tube, but hey, I was away with the fairies by that point.

Here’s the thing though: this test was positive. Apparently I have a Patent Foramen Ovale (PFO), which is the technical term for a particular kind of hole in the heart. PFOs are amazingly common–one in four adults has one, apparently–and in most people they cause no problems. However, about 50% of cases of TIA in ‘young’ people can be linked to the presence of a PFO. Are you following me so far?

The theory is, (Skip this if your eyes are beginning to glaze over,) that tiny clots naturally form in the side of the heart that pumps blood to the lungs, and this is not usually dangerous because they disperse at the lungs. A PFO is a hole between the left and right sides of the heart, which allows such a clot to pass into the side of the heart that pumps blood to the brain. Clot reaches brain; tea mug hits floor; Anna speaks gibberish for ten minutes.

So the good news is that the aspirin I have been taking daily since my TIA should have already noticeably reduced the risk of this happening again. I also have the option of undergoing a fairly new procedure to close the hole without open heart surgery. The technique involves inserting a tiny–hmm, I don’t know the technical term; I’ll call it a ‘thingie’–into an artery at the groin and guiding it into the heart by X-ray whereby it seals the hole.

Decisions, decisions.

In other news, Mezzo Cammin have now chosen two more of my poems to add to the two they had already picked for their December issue. The additional poems will be “Dreaming of Robert Lowell” and “Three for Hope.” Literary Mama have also taken “she would rather change her bones” (a personal favorite of mine) for their December issue.

I’ve nearly finished my October packet and I feel…

Well, let’s just say I feel.

Long Overdue Update About Life, the Universe & Everything

I would appear to have been slacking. Well, actually that isn’t true–I have totally been keeping up with MFA work, The Barefoot Muse and being a half-decent mother. I just haven’t been updating the blog.

  1. Health: Warning. I am a scientist by training, and am fascinated by human biology. If you have no wish to accompany me on a biological tour of my body, skip to 2. right now. Okay then. I have had no further episodes of TIA. However, I believe the steps I made to reduce the risk of TIA have, paradoxically, thrown my body into chemical confusion. Men and OB-GYNs reading this, please do not under-estimate the potential effects of a woman suddenly coming off the Birth Control Pill after a long period of use. Combine this with a sudden reduction in alcohol intake and a pre-existing thyroid condition and I suspect you have a recipe for how I have been feeling these last few weeks. I am constantly tired, even though I am sleeping on average 8 hours a night–way more than I could claim pre-TIA. I have a permanent low-grade headache which occasionally develops into a full-blown migraine. I have a nasty little skin condition called Stage 1 Hidradenitis Suppurativa, which I am not going to link to because the pictures are so disgusting. Google it, if you’re that ghoulish–I haven’t got it that badly. Not surprisingly, I am fighting depression. My neurologist thinks that might be Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. I think I’m just mad that I’ve made these supposed improvements to my lifestyle and I feel like crap.
  2. Future Health: I have to have a Trans-Esophagal-Echo to check out the unlikely possibility that I might have a hole in the heart. I also have to wear a freaking helmet in early November for 24 hours to monitor any unusual brain activity. Let joy be unconfined.
  3. The Dodge Poetry Festival: This was fantastic. You should really check out Rachel’s Blog for a full treatment. I’ll just make a few comments relevant to me personally. I read “Not a Sonnet” in the Open Reading, and a really nice (and cute, too) poet/teacher called Aaren Yeatts Perry asked me if he could use it as teaching material. I think this is because it kind of discusses its own form. I should really put it on my poetry website and link to it–I’ll try and do that later. [Edit: done.] Discussions I had at the festival with another press also led to the idea that my publisher Powerscore Press aka Kendall, will bring out a chapbook of my sonnets in the New Year.
  4. Other Poetry: Absinthe Literary Review finally got back to me to confirm the new issue is going ahead with three of my poems. It’s the Sex & Death issue, so I’m sure you’ll want to read the poems when they’re up, which include “The F**k You Triolet.” I’m speaking on Formal Poetry to a Marlton Poetry Group on Monday, and of course next Friday is the next QND Poetry Reading.

Look, it may not all be much, but it beats lying in hospital with a needle stuck in your arm.

Health & Sanity Update

First of all let me say I have been touched by the many messages and gestures of support I have received since my–what shall we call it?–episode?–of last Monday. I’d like to thank M, G and Keba for the flowers, Twinings and Santuccis for the fruit baskets (Apple, anyone? I have a few…), my hospital visitors R, M and P (P also for the gift and the very welcome homemade lunch she brought me in hospital) and anyone who sent me a kindly email, left a comment here or a message on my answerphone. I feel very loved.

I haven’t had any reoccurrence, although I do have a newfound tendency to question any natural clumsiness or absentmindedness. But let’s face it: after a certain age we all do that thing where we walk into a room for a reason and stand there without the faintest clue what it was. I would say I am slightly clumsier with my left hand now–I dropped a medicine bottle this morning (Lorna has Strep)–but I don’t know if that’s residual weakness or some form of over-compensating.

The lifestyle changes have worked well so far. I immediately stopped taking the pill, which delivered its natural consequences on Thursday. I moved the radio alarm over to my nightstand where I have complete control, and set it five minutes earlier. Now, when it goes off I hit snooze and lie there luxuriating in my really very comfy bed and letting my body acclimatize to the idea of morning chores. I take a 325mg aspirin every day at lunch. And I’ve cut back on the alcohol. I didn’t touch a drop until Friday, when Keba bought a very good bottle of red wine (rather than the white I have a tendency to quaff) and I had one glass. (People who know me are currently reading this with their jaw on the floor, I’m sure.) Yesterday evening I had perhaps 11/2 glasses of the same wine over a period of about 3 hours. Keba was somewhat merry after watching the Ryder Cup in Dunleavy’s all afternoon. (Go, Europe!) Seeing him tipsy when I’m sober reminds me of the times I was pregnant.

So everything is fine, really. I’m even caught up on my MFA packet after spending the best part of Friday working on it. Hopefully next week I’ll be able to return you to the regular round of poetry blogging, with the occasional maternal interjection now gymnastics season is starting.

Thanks, everyone. It is good to be alive and have friends.

All’s Well That Ends…?

I have just spent 36 hours in hospital, my longest in-patient stay since the birth of my first (of two) children.

The story goes like this (and believe me, I know it off by heart now after repeating it to a procession of nurses, doctors, neurologists and friends.)

On Monday morning I got up at the usual time, 6.15, and began doing the usual things. I fed the dog, made myself some tea, made the children’s packed lunches etc. I had my husband’s tea ready to take up (which fixes the time at around 6.40) when I attempted to put my own empty tea mug in the dishwasher.

I say attempted, because the fingers of my left hand inexplicably lost their grip on the handle. I fumbled to regain the grip, and lost it again. I tried a final time, and the mug smashed into pieces on the floor. It was as if my fingers just weren’t working. Clumsy me, I thought, a little weirded out. I swept up the china fragments and put them in the trash, then carried my husband’s tea up the stairs–very carefully and with two hands, as I still felt a bit wobbly: from the shock, I told myself.

My husband was in the shower. I put his tea down on the sink countertop, saying “Here’s your number.” Why did I say that?, I wondered.

Now comes the best bit. I went in to wake the children. I have a well-rehearsed patter that I always reel out for waking my (heavy sleeping) children. “Good morning, Becky/Lorna,” I say “It’s morning time. Time to get up now. It’s a schoolday. Come on now. Morning. Morning.” I couldn’t get out any of it. I couldn’t even say my children’s names. All I could say was “How’s morning?”

My brain was shocked, horrified, even angry with my voice. This wasn’t right! We knew what we were supposed to be saying. “How’s morning?” I repeated pathetically in both rooms, resorting to shoving them gently on the shoulder to get some sort of a response.

They always get two minutes respite (more like five) after the first attempt to wake them, so I walked out of Lorna’s bedroom and tried to get my head together. I started framing sentences in my head before speaking them rather than letting them flow directly from the brain, and by the time I went back again I could talk again, rather carefully, but coherently.

Once I had them settled in front of breakfast I went to the computer and googled ‘stroke’–I’m not stupid. Obviously it wasn’t a huge, paralyse-one-side-of-your-body-for-life event, but neither was it the kind of thing you can laugh off by saying “Oh I shouldn’t have had so much caffeine/alcohol/cheese before bed last night.”

The websites I visited were pretty unanimously in agreement that it should be treated like a medical emergency, so I went and told Keba all about it. We decided to put the kids on the school bus as normal, and then he would drive me to the ER. Once at Virtua Memorial Hospital, they wasted no time, and within half an hour I was in a cubicle, wired up to a heart monitor, being given the first of many blood tests.

I have to say the staff at Virtua Memorial were wonderful. They were efficient, sympathetic, and told me everything they were doing/thinking at every step of the way. I owe particular thanks to the night nurse who hugged me when I was crying in the middle of the night, but I get ahead of myself.

In short order I had an ECG, a CAT scan, a carotid artery ultrasound and various blood tests. Actually the blood tests were the worst because I have very fine veins. My arms are both interesting shades of purple and yellow from the several attempts to put in an IV.

Everything came back normal, but they still decided to admit me for observation. It seems a TIA is often a stroke precursor, and the likelihood is that such a stroke will occur within 48 hours.

Well, of course by this time I was feeling fine, if a little miserable. I was up in the ward by around 2.30. Keba went home to get me some vital supplies: toiletries, my laptop, my MFA books, the usual kind of thing. The neurologist and ward doctor (Stroke Victim Ward) both saw me while he was gone.

Bothe doctors agreed it was a TIA, for which, they admitted, they might never find a reason. However, they immediately stipulated that I should cease taking the Birth Control Pill, which I had been taking for twenty years, and start taking an aspirin a day as a blood thinner. This in turn will require me to cutback on alcohol, as aspirin and booze together can have nasty effects on the stomach lining.

R came to see me after work, and then Keba came by with the kids around 5.30. He’d done a great job playing it down with them, and they were mystified and bored rather than worried. After that I was on my own with James Merrill’s Collected until about 8.20. when my good friend P stopped by.

Well I don’t need to bore you with the play by play account of a night in hospital. I didn’t sleep until the night nurse (who hugged me) gave me Ambien. I was worried I was going to die in the night, you see. She explained something else to me which needs to become a lifestyle modification: most TIAs and strokes occur early morning, when the patient has just got up. See, the body is under minimal stress when asleep, but as soon as we wake, particularly if we throw it into maximum overdrive from the word go as I do, blood pressure shoots up. I remember on Monday morning feeling very groggy when the alarm went off, but nevertheless forcing myself to practically leap out of bed and begin the morning chores.

The next morning they took another gallon of blood, or so it felt like, and I had an MRI. When this came back normal, they decided to let me go. I still need to get the results of the second round of blood tests and schedule an EEG. I have to see the neurologist again in about 3 weeks.

So here I am, back home. I slept ten hours straight last night and feel fine, a bit weak from all the blood taken, probably.

I suspect my life will never be the same again.



Vermont Bugs Go for the Jugular

I’m here in Bennington and it is brilliant as always: only yesterday I met the new Poet Laureate Donald Hall and listened to him give a superb lecture on his personal acquaintance with TS Eliot and a 30 minute reading of old and newer poetry.

I have only one gripe.

I have no fewer than five mosquito bites on my neck. Now, if you know me, you will be aware that I am unfortunately one of those ‘sweet-skinned’ ones the mozzies love to chew on. Also, by virtue I suspect of my upbringing in a mosquito-free country, when I am bitten I frequently come up in horrific weals. At their worst, these eventually mutate into hemispherical pus-filled blisters about a centimeter in diameter. Needless to say I presently resemble someone who has either had a run in with a coven of giant vampires with inadequate oral hygiene, or is the victim of a rather virulent new version of the bubonic plague.

Ah well. Workshop today. Maybe if I wrap a scarf round my neck it will look artistic.

Friday Morning with the Reiki Mistress

Yesterday morning I spent five hours becoming certified as a Reiki Level 1 Practitioner of holistic medicine, which might strike those of you who know me, and my intractable logic beeper, as rather odd.

The background is that I have a friend whose daughter has learning disabilities. Rather frustratingly for said friend, who we’ll call P, no doctor has given a confirmed diagnosis, and the only treatment she is being offered is medication for ADD. Unsurprisingly P has begun to look into alternative medicine, including Reiki, which apparently has a very soothing effect on her daughter.

P wanted to be trained in Reiki so that she could treat her daughter herself, and consequently she set up a session at her house with a Reiki trainer, and invited her friends to join her. Naturally, the more of us who attended, the lower the cost. P is a saint and an angel, and I thought there might be a poem in it (there still may be), so I signed up.

Let’s consider holistic medicine in general for a minute. Back when I had the children, I used a TENS machine for pain relief. This device generates a small electric shock which travels along nerves blocking out pain impulses. When I was in back labor with Becky, the machine was useless, and I ended up (after 14 hours) getting an epidural and various other medical interventions such as an episiotomy. In my regular labor with Lorna, the machine worked miracles: I used no other form of pain relief, and gave birth squatting on the bed with the aid of one midwife. Both children were born healthy and whole. This pretty much sums up my attitude towards holistic medicine: don’t knock it if it works/ don’t rely on it if it doesn’t.

Reiki is basically a healing treatment which involves the laying on of hands. The principle is that by doing so the practitioner is using the energy of the universe to support the patient in initiating their own healing. Like many holistic practices, there is plenty of hokum in the talk; however the acts themselves do have, I believe, potential to help.

Firstly the art is practiced in a state of meditation, something which we do not do enough of in this hyperactive technological era. Any technique which declutters the mind and forces us to concentrate on what our bodies actually need has to have merit. Before practising Reiki, you set your intention to do so by assuming the kanji hand positions and reciting the Reiki Daily prayer, which is as follows:

  • Just for Today, I will not worry.
  • Just for Today, I will not be angry.
  • Just for Today, I will give thanks for my many blessings.
  • Just for Today, I will do my work honestly.
  • Just for Today, I will be kind to every living thing.
  • Just for Today, I will honor parents and elders.

There is nothing disagreeable about any of that now, is there? I decided to add it alongside my other mantra, taken from The Four Agreements:

  • Be impeccable with your word.
  • Don’t make assumptions.
  • Don’t take things personally. (This one is particularly useful when dealing with rejection letters.)
  • Do your best.

Secondly, Reiki involves applying warmth and pressure. I think you’ll find heat packs and pressure wraps are available in CVS alongside the band aids and corn plasters. P and I did our first Reiki as a pair on P’s husband M. When I put my hands in the first body position, across M’s heart, he exclaimed at how warm my hands were. Now I’ve always had warm hands–I’m terrible at making pastry for this very reason. The Reiki trainer said that it is the sign of a natural healer. Hmm. I don’t know about that but I’m sure it helps in Reiki.

Finally, Reiki is an exchange of intimacy, another thing we don’t have enough of in the modern world, outside of sexual intimacy and to a certain degree familial intimacy. I have known P & M for over six years and would count them both among my best friends in the world. But apart from the occasional stiff holiday hug I have NEVER touched these people. As I was “grounding” M (one hand on the knee, and one holding the foot across the arch) it occurred to me that I have never touched a man’s leg so deliberately who I have not gone on to sleep with. If you compare humans to chimps in this matter, it is clear that chimps are much more comfortable with touch than humans are: chimps will often spend a long time grooming other members of the tribe with no sexual motive (Okay they also pull bugs out the fur and eat them, but let’s not go there.) What if, in becoming the isolated touch-phobic beings we are, we have lost something essential to our nature and maybe our mental and physical well-being?

P & M did Reiki on me, and I can’t say that I suddenly felt ‘healed’ or anything mystical. However the experience was profoundly relaxing. So I won’t be giving up my thyroid medication in the misguided belief that Reiki can cure my hypothyroidism, but I shall be trying to incorporate its ideals more into my stress-filled life.

A Poet Without a Voice

For the last week I have been laid rather low by a nasty sore throat. Yes, you heard right, and no, I am not the kind who is usually incapacitated by anything less than a fever of 102o and /or total body pain. However, really, you needed to have this sore throat to believe it.

It started on the right tonsil, where it was unpleasant but manageable. I drank plenty of hot tea with honey, took Dayquil to cope during the day, and wine to knock me out at night, and pretty much did everything I had to. Of course this meant I didn’t do a lot of the things I wanted to do. I missed a night out with my girlfriends, a poetry reading, and all my aerobics classes. But I was doing the kids, the laundry, the groceries and some MFA work.

Then on Wednesday it crossed to the left tonsil: instant hell! At this point I have not actually had solid food since Wednesday lunchtime when I gave up half way through an ill-advised Chicken Wrap. Basically any non liquid substance passing said tonsil caused intense pain.

I woke up on Thursday morning in agony all up the left side of my face: throat, tonsil, tongue, jaw, ear, and I had no voice. Well, not an understandable one anyway. My husband told me I sounded like Dustin Hoffman as “Rainman”; several friends told me I sounded as though I was deaf. Either way, it hurt, and I was hard to understand.

Naturally at this point I went to the Doctor’s. There, I submitted to a “Rapid Strep Test” whcih involved them forcing my swollen tongue down with a wooden spatula, and scraping the left tonsil with what looked suspiciously like a scalpel. I SCREAMED. After the strep test, not surprisingly, the tonsil got worse, my jaw seized up completely, and I couldn’t speak at all for several hours. I didn’t have strep.

So they gave me antibiotics (just in case) and symptom control in the shape of novocaine to gargle with, and recommended extra strength Advil. Things are improving gradually. However my diet for Thursday consisted of 6 scoops of ice cream. Yesterday I ate a yoghurt, a piece of bread and honey with the crusts removed, and 2 scoops of ice cream. I’ve lost about 3 pounds. (This last is not bad!)

At the QND poetry reading last night I invited Donna to read my poems for me, and she did a great job, though it was kind of disappointing to miss out on the last reading of NaPoMo. Still, at least I was there.

Today, I feel a little better, and am about to tackle some crushed branflakes in milk with a chopped banana.

Yes, I’ve written a few poems about it. Ah well. It’s all material, right?