Thursday, December 22, 2011

Ho ho halleluja!

My mother made Christmas a stellar event when my sister and I were young.  She purchased and/or made numerous gifts for us (and kept track of every cent she spent in order to be "fair"), decorated the house, cooked a delicious meal and made the day very, very special.  Rarely did anyone get drunk (unless it was me), and I don't remember even one nasty fight occurring on a December 25th.

If I shut my eyes today and follow my memory back to, say, Christmas of 1975, I feel warm, cozy, loved, safe, and happy.  I look around the memory room and see my father in his recliner (with a beer), my mother in the kitchen (with a gin and tonic), my sister and her first husband (they were trying to get pregnant and I can hear her squeal with glee upon opening a box containing a check that would pay for one infertility treatment), my first husband (whom I subsequently divorced about a year before he died desperately young at 23 years of age) and the family poodle, Trinka, preparing to beg at the table.  Trinka did love her turkey.  As a matter of fact, that year she managed to climb onto the kitchen counter after dinner and before the dishes were done to pick at the turkey carcass.

I remember this because that one year we happened to tape record "The Opening".  The opening was the lengthy process of  each person receiving one gift taken from under the tree while everyone else watched, and it was always fun. I could hear the Christmas carols playing in the background.  I had that tape and listened to it a number of times as an adult before losing it somewhere during the depths of my alcoholism (not surprising as I actually misplaced a clothes washer and dryer during the same period of time - I honestly cannot remember where those appliances went during one of my frequent moves).

Somewhere in my thirties it came to me that once I left home I was disappointed every Christmas.  My father was dead, my mother was involved with a man I despised, I had been married several times, had no children, my sister lived far away, and what was left of my family of origin rarely got together for Christmas.  When we did, Mom was difficult to deal with, her partner was a raging asshole and had to be the center of attention, and I was drunk or stoned (and disappointed).

Somewhere in my early forties I began exploring Buddhism.  I was sober by then and searching for a place where I fit spiritually.  I was also married to a man who doesn't remember birthdays or anniversaries (he just doesn't) and likes to hold on to his money (which is probably a good thing because I seem incapable of holding on to mine).  I always have a Christmas tree, though, because I love the lights and  inherited some gruesome family ornaments that remind me of Christmas of 1975.

This year, my husband was asked to play Santa at Walmart, where he works.  Walmart is a pretty big deal here in the town of Kenai, Alaska, and I try to be supportive of him in his workplace because he has always been supportive of me in mine.  On the Santa day, I actually put on some makeup, tried to tame my hair a bit, and donned a red scarf before grabbing my camera and making the icy drive to Walmart.  I got there shortly after the Santa event had begun and started taking photos.

As I watched my husband interact with children (he has perfect Santa facial hair - that bushy white beard that I'm always nagging at him to trim) I found myself smiling.  I took photo after photo.  The cute little Native Alaskan kids, the cute little black and white and Asian kids, the kids who cried, the kids who had to be coaxed, the kids who handed Santa crumpled, carefully (and illegibly) written gift lists.  Those kids looked at him like he was really Santa.  My heart warmed and warmed until it felt like I had Christmas music playing in the background, my mother in the kitchen, my father in his recliner, my sister, a turkey in the oven, Trinka begging for treats, and a big Christmas tree loaded with gifts around me.

This year, my husband gave me the best Christmas gift I have ever received, and one I could not have imagined possible.  Thank you to my dearest, long-bearded, thrifty, stubborn, funny, smart, supportive, genuine, honest, quirky husband Santa.  You returned to me the joy of Christmas.

Monday, December 12, 2011

A bundle of miracles

I took my last exam of my first semester of nursing school today.  I didn't do as well as I had hoped and ended up with a course average of 90.6%, which in this program is a "B".  I spent a few minutes mourning the loss of my straight "A" average, ate a bowl of ice cream, and started thinking.

Wake up, Nurse Ratched!  You're a recovering alcoholic/addict and drank/smoked/used drugs from age 14 to 38.  How many brain cells do you suppose you destroyed while you were out there having a "great time"?  It's a miracle you have any left at all - and you are disappointed that you had enough to learn 90.6% of the enormous amount of information presented in your first semester of nursing school.

You're 56.  This is an asset when it comes to life experience, however, let's be real here and admit that you don't have the stamina of a 30 year old anymore and frankly, those 40 or so extra pounds you're carrying around aren't helping any in the energy department either.  It's a miracle that you were able to keep up with your younger peers and rise at 5 am to attend clinicals (not to mention hustle up and down the halls of the hospital).

Hey, remember that couldn't hear anything through a stethoscope three months ago.  Today you identified specific abnormal lung sounds and a heart murmur in the simulation lab and a couple of weeks ago in clinical rotation you heard what emphysema sounds like in a human being.

Now let's talk about the husband.  He's working full time (because you asked him to) and bringing home the health insurance too (because you asked him to) while you go to school.  He takes care of the house and your four cats while you live half-time in Anchorage and never complains that you're gone too much.

You know you were afraid that you'd get the clinical setting and be afraid of "blood and guts".  You were sure you wanted to be a psychiatric nurse (partially because you're a bit nuts yourself) and were very worried about barfing when you saw open wounds.  Turns out you love open wounds....seeing the healing process and the way the body works to fix itself.  That day you got to see a skin graft was the best day of your life.

So you didn't get an "A".  Look at all you got instead.  A bundle of miracles.

Friday, December 2, 2011

So far

Today was the best day of my life.

None of my wedding days (there have been five), my 10th sobriety birthday (a very big deal), the day I realized that I had truly been a good daughter to my dying mother,  the day I left California after 35 years of wanting to leave California,  the day (night) I first saw the aurora borealis, the day I saw Michelangelo's David at the Accademia Galleria in Florence or the day I heard that I had been admitted to the nursing program are any longer in the running for the best day of my life, because it was today.

I spent six hours with my patient today.  In those six hours I used skills I've learned during my first semester to listen to his heart and lungs, assess his neurological status, and take his vital signs.  These are important skills to be sure, but they were only a portion of what I used today to help my patient.  I drew on 17 years of sobriety to understand, accept and support his concerns regarding how alcohol use contributed to the terrible burns he suffered, nearly ended his life, and landed him in the hospital.   I used the strength I've found by changing careers in my mid fifties to reassure him that he too can find a new professional path now that his extensive injuries dictate that he no longer earn his living by manual labor.  I used my laptop to show him that he really can use a computer - he had confided that he was worried about finding an office job because he has always been afraid of computers (we spent an hour on the basics in his hospital room).

I helped him, but he helped me more.  Although I have always wanted to be a nurse, a small part of me was very very worried that I would recoil at the sight of human mutilation.  That "blood and guts" might make me dizzy and weak and nauseated.  That when push came to shove I would run away.  That didn't happen.  Instead I examined with fascination third degree burns.  I saw deep tissue damage.  And because the gods were smiling upon me, I got to see a three day old skin graft.  It was a miraculous thing, the way that skin harvested from one part of his body was growing on another, and I told his surgeon that it was the most beautiful thing I have ever seen (that really made the surgeon smile).

When I left the hospital today to drive home I wept a bit.  I wept for my good fortune - in having the opportunity to live my lifelong dream of becoming a nurse (thank you Mom), for my patient who has taking a long hard look at his life and is choosing change and personal growth instead of despair, for the surgeon who is a skilled artist and can move living skin from one place to another, for my sister who talks me down from the ledge, my husband who works to support us while I am in school, for my sponsor who has stuck with me through thick and thin, for my cousin who has become such a wonderful blessing in my life, for the college friends and educators who have encouraged me to continue when I have struggled.

I was born to do this, and today was the best day of my life.  So far, anyway.  I know there will be more.  And that is the greatest gift of all.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

The light at the end of the enema

Tomorrow afternoon I will be asked to administer either an enema or a tube feeding to one of the plastic mannikins in our skills lab, and that will be the last "hands on" test of the semester.  Two weeks from today I will take my final written exam, dust myself off, and leave the first semester of nursing school behind me.

Tonight after class I drove to an unfamiliar corner of Anchorage to look at a "snow bike" a man named Doug had posted for sale on craigslist.  I've been riding my bike indoors on a "trainer" since the first snow fell, but that doesn't quite cut it for me.  I'm like a dog riding in a car with the window rolled down.  I want that wind blowing in my face and bugs in my teeth.  Having found myself green with envy whenever I saw a hardy Anchorage resident pedaling through the snow and ice I started trying to figure out a way to get a bike with studded tires and join the group of lunatics who ride bicycles outdoors during Alaskan winters.

It was really dark out there tonight (and this afternoon and morning, for that matter) and few lights were lit while I searched for Doug's address.  I shuffled through snow and knocked on the garage door at the right address.  It opened and one of Doug's employees motioned in the direction of a small room off the garage. There it was.  It was sturdy and studded and powerful looking.  I rolled it outside and rode it up and down a snowpacked street.  The tires crunched through that snow, the wind was in my face and I felt the warm, syrupy flow of the only healthy addiction I've ever experienced return.

Can I afford it?  Define "afford" for me.  I'm paying for nursing school and not working, so do I have extra money lying around?  No.  That said, how can you put a price on rolling down a bike path in Alaska in the dead of winter, the hood of your coat covering your helmet, Thinsulate gloved hands gripping the handlebars, blowing by trees covered with ice and remembering that you lived in the sweltering heat of southern California for 35 years dreaming of a climate more to your liking?  How can you say no to exercise that fills you with excitement?  I can't.

So, I bought it.  I have my alarm set for sunrise (no sacrifice - that'll be about 10 am tomorrow) and I'll suit up and hop aboard my wicked snow bike and take a frosty ride to celebrate the light at the end of the enema.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Two weeks out

When I started nursing school, I counted "weeks in".  As in, "I'm three weeks in!".  Now I am "two weeks out".  This first semester is almost over.  BNS (before nursing school) I was told that I would learn a great deal about myself as I made my way through the four semesters required of any poor soul whose sights are set on an Associate's Degree in Nursing.

Here's what I've learned so far.
  1. Fairness counts to me.  Very much.   We just took our third exam yesterday and it contained numerous questions that were just plain unfair.  Either our instructors had told us that we wouldn't be tested on that information, or it was "taught" by an instructor who informed us that class would be short on that day because she wanted to get home in time to take her children trick or treating, or it just wasn't covered either in class or our book.  I got a 79.8 on that exam (which destroyed my chances of getting an A in the course) and most of my fellow students did worse than I did.  None of us are happy about that exam.  It wasn't fair.
  2. I have a massive ego.  Why was that A so important to me?  I try to justify that burning desire by explaining that the airline I use to get back and forth from home to classes gives me a 25% discount on airfare for a 4.0 GPA and only a 15% discount for a 3.8 (which is about what I'll have after this class), but as my sister pointed out, that represents approximately $6 per flight.  Who but an egomaniac whips themselves into a frenzy over $6?
  3. I was born to be a nurse.  I love staring at wounds and dead tissue and think bowel sounds are absolutely fascinating.  The smell of poop doesn't make me gag.  I can find the good in every patient with whom I interact - even the really cranky ones.  And, when I come in contact with a nurse (a real one, not a student) who doesn't put patient care first I find myself wanting to take her "out back" and show her "what for".
  4. I'm really, truly NOT a morning person.  Our clinical experience in the hospital starts bright and early (0630) every Thursday and when the alarm goes off at 5 am I've gotten maybe 4 hours of sleep.  I just can't nod off at 9 pm.  My clinical hours for next semester will be from 2:30 through 8:30 pm on Wednesdays and Thursdays.  Ahhh.
A few more tidbits:
  • One can never have too many individually sealed alcohol wipes;
  • It is easier to learn to use a stethoscope if you don't have too much wax in your ears;
  • First semester nursing students should buy scrub pants with elastic waists (ice cream is an excellent coping mechanism) and
  • If your instructor is having a bad day, chances are that you will too.
Happy Thanksgiving to all.  What am I grateful for?  I'M TWO WEEKS OUT!

Saturday, October 29, 2011

E ticket

My cousin's husband calls the small planes that fly the 60 miles between Anchorage and Kenai the "vomit comets".  Most of the flight is over the flat land on the Kenai Peninsula, but the 20 miles southwest of Anchorage are over water:  Cook Inlet as it curves to become "Turnagain Arm". 

It takes 30 minutes in the air on a 10-seater to get from point A to point B.  The drive, however, is 150 miles and takes 3 hours IF you obey the speed limit.  The highway winds through mountainous terrain and there are miles and miles of nothing but spectacular scenery.   I'm making a round trip once per week for school.   The drive was wonderful as summer wound down - I got to watch fall in all its glory along the route.  Now the leaves are gone and winter has arrived in the form of snow through the passes.

I won't drive that road in the dark.  I am afraid of hitting a moose, careening on black ice, and getting caught in a whiteout.  There are stretches with no cell phone coverage up there.  I'm too old for that s$x*(.  The sun is setting earlier and earlier these days, with our shortest day (December 21st) fast approaching.  On that day we will have no more than six hours of twilighty daylight.

I took my first flight home about 10 days ago.  I was nervous - I'm always nervous about plane travel, but this was my first trip on a plane that small.  At the airport in Anchorage I started a conversation with a young woman in the ladies' room near my boarding gate.  She said, "MAN that was a bumpy flight".  I asked her where she had flown in from and she replied that she had come from Kenai.

I took a tranquilizer.

The flight was not too bad.  It was bumpy in stretches, but I was sufficiently medicated and just glad to be home when we landed.

The day of my return flight I noted with smug satisfaction that the winds were calm.  No tranquilizer for me - I was "experienced" by then and had class later that day.  The first 15 minutes of the flight were smooth as glass.  Then, we flew out over the inlet.

I won't say all hell broke loose, because that would be an exaggeration.  I will say that it got very bumpy.  The up-down-sideways stuff.   I figured I could handle anything for the 10 remaining minutes of the flight, but noted that we weren't heading straight for Anchorage.  We bumped and twisted and bounced north of the usual route and flew over some mud flats, making two huge circles.  I could see Anchorage off to my left, and from a number of different angles as the plane tipped and jerked I longingly eyed the runway.  The seat belts on these planes are very strong and very restrictive.  One strap crosses from back to front at an angle over your shoulder, and another crosses you at the waist.  I wear mine fairly tight, and I needed it.

After what seemed like days, we made our approach to Anchorage and landed.  I smiled at the pilot and made a reference to the winds as I left the plane;  she looked at me and said, "Oh, was it bumpy?"

That afternoon NOAA posted a high wind warning for the Anchorage area.  85 mile per hour winds.

"Oh, was it bumpy?"  Yeah, it was bumpy.  Like, way bumpy. 

Just part of living the dream in Alaska.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

The list

I've never been much of a list maker.  My life has been more of a "fly by the seat of your pants" experience, and I'm beginning to realize that if I'm going to make a good nurse, some change may be required on my part.

I'm building a list. The list consists of mistakes I've made in lab class and involve the dummies (lifelike mannikins) we use for training.  It is my wholehearted wish that I do not make these same mistakes when I am allowed to reposition, catheterize, drive needles into or provide bedpans for real people.

Today we were tested on our ability to administer medications - both the oral and inject-able kind.   You'd think that giving the oral kind would be pretty much pop one out of the bottle and hand it to the patient, but instead it is an incredibly complex process including things like checking for contraindications, cross checking the medication with the patient's medication administration record at least three times, educating the patient regarding what the drug does and knowing when, as the nurse, to wear gloves, wash hands, or call the doctor.  Medications to be injected include the same activities, however, they are further complicated by choosing needle and syringe size, figuring out which anatomical site to jab, and learning all the tricks by which nurses avoid needle sticks (and therefore avoid bloodborne diseases nobody wants).  The next time you get a flu shot, look at the person who is about to skewer you and realize that he or she is using about 7,000 snippets of information in order to administer that vaccine.

I got through most of my skill checkoff today and felt pretty good about things.  As a matter of fact, I was taking a last look at my plastic patient when I realized in horror that even though I had carried my new stethoscope into the room with me just in case my instructor wanted me to administer a particular heart medication, I had failed to use it.  I was not supposed to administer the medication if the patient's heart rate was less than 60 beats per minute and I had absolutely no earthly idea if that was the case because I had skipped that crucial step.  My eyes grew wide and I gasped while I advised my instructor that I had made a terrible mistake.  She already knew it, of course.  I said, "Is there an antidote?".  Very stupid question.  This patient is in no danger from this drug because she is plastic and therefore unable to swallow the pill in the first place.  I felt awful. 

My instructor passed me on the skill because I realized my mistake before leaving the patient's bedside, but she cautioned me to pay closer attention.  I left the college and drove to a grocery store where for the first time in my life I bought one of those gizmos they advertise on late night tv: some kind of magical chopper thing.  I felt as though I had failed the exercise, even though I had passed, and retail therapy usually works for me.

I still feel like crying.  If that had been a real patient I could have caused her complications.  This nursing thing is serious, serious business and tonight a tiny part of me is questioning whether or not I have what it takes.

One more for the list.  And tomorrow is another day.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

sweaty palms

This afternoon I am being tested on my ability to maintain a sterile environment when changing a wound dressing or inserting a catheter.  My patient will be one of the plastic mannikins we use in our state of the art health sciences lab. These skill check experiences are nerve wracking.  I'm a high anxiety sort of person anyway.  Add something like dealing with a plastic vajayjay (as in inserting a plastic tube, no less) while the critical eyes of my instructor watch  my every move and I am sweaty-palmed.

It's hard to don sterile gloves with sweaty palms.  Frankly, I think it's hard to don sterile gloves with dry palms.  You can only touch the gloves HERE when putting on the first, and HERE when you are putting on the second.  And once they're on, you can't touch anything that isn't sterile or they're contaminated and you have to start all over again with increasingly sweaty palms.

I'm forever searching my mind for ways of making these checkoff events less stressful.  This morning I had the bright idea that I'd pretend my plastic patient is my mother; then realized that I'd probably yell at the dummy or call it "Mom" in the middle of the exercise. 

What's the worst that can happen?  I won't pass the checkoff (been there, done that) and will have to repeat it at a later date (been there, done that) and will pass it then.  Life is short.  Don't sweat the small stuff, Alyx.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Little effort - gigantic gift

I'm growing to like a number of people in my nursing classes even though we've only been in session for four weeks.  One or two I'm already growing to love.

My lab partner is an Alaska Native woman who served in Iraq for 14 months.  She was a medic.  Her descriptions of the chaos, lack of equipment, horrific wounds, loss of life, gold in "The Palace" and squalor nearly everywhere else in Baghdad are mind-numbing, and sometimes I'll ask her a question she can't really answer.  Usually a question relating to how she copes with those memories..  She's in nursing school so that she can work with veterans stateside, and remains an Army Reservist.

We exchanged phone numbers after the first week of class.

Yesterday afternoon I got a call from her.  She had been riding her motorcycle on the closest thing that Alaska has to a freeway and ran out of gas on an overpass.  She said that she had already called all the cab companies and, being new in town, didn't know who else to call.  Nobody had stopped to help her.  The lovely woman who owns the B&B I live in during the week advised me that she had a full gas can in the basement, and that I should take it with me to rescue my friend.

I found her easily; a small woman dressed in black leathers sitting on a motorcycle with hazards flashing on a freeway overpass.  I pulled over, turned on my hazards, and handed her the gas can.  Her hand was shaking as she filled the motorcycle's gas tank with a couple of gallons of gas.  I returned the can to my Jeep and went back over to her.  She was still shaking.  She threw her arms around me and thanked me over and over again, tears streaming down her face.  She said, "I didn't know who else to call.  Thank you so, so much for coming to rescue me."

I replied, "You have gone much further than this for me.  To the extent that I am able, I will always have your back."

I can't remember ever receiving a greater gift than the chance to help in a small way this woman, my friend the veteran.  God bless her, and all who serve.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Birthdays and bedpans

Yesterday was my birthday.  It was also another dreaded "skills checkoff" day in nursing lab class.

I spoke with my sister Linda via Facebook in the morning.  We share the birthday and are seven years apart.  I told her that I wished I could be anywhere but where I was (waiting to take a skills checkoff test) and she reminded me that last year's birthday found me wishing I could be in nursing school in Anchorage for my birthday this year. She suffers from seasonal affective disorder, as I do, and we discussed using light boxes and vitamin D as we mutually mourned the passing of summer.

I donned my ugly green scrubs and drove to class feeling as though there was a dark cloud of failure hovering around me.  After all, I failed on my first checkoff last week and had to repeat it. 

They don't tell you which skill they're going to test you on; there are three to four skills possible and you pick one scenario/skill by choosing an index card that is lying face down on the table. I felt relatively confident regarding my ability to perform each skill because this week I had practiced (duh!), but hoped that I would draw applying a figure 8 bandage, because I practiced that the most and actually became somewhat proficient at it.

When my name was called I entered the lab and my professor said, "Oh no, it's you."  She was kidding.  I think. This is the professor who suggested that I might want to call my doctor and have him increase the dosage of my depression and anxiety medications last week. 

I drew a card.  I was to assist "Mr. Smith" (one of the heavy plastic dummies lying on a hospital bed in the lab) with his impending bowel movement.  As if that wasn't enough, he had taken a laxative the night before and had to go "right away".  Where was my birthday god?  My figure 8 bandage birthday god?

I sweated and heaved and donned gloves and talked to the goddamn dummy.  I hated Mr. Smith with a burning passion, but I didn't let him know.  My instructor watched and made appropriate comments, although she had looked at me quizzically when I had begun to put on a protective gown before approaching Mr. Smith with the bedpan.  "Why do you need a gown for this, Alyx?" "Because when I take a laxative at night there is bound to be an explosive result in the morning", I replied.

I passed the skill checkoff.  I was sweaty and shaking when I was done, while Mr. Smith just lay there in his plastic state.  He didn't thank me, and didn't join in when my classmates sang happy birthday to me a few minutes later.

Happy birthday, indeed.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Blind hog aka Nursing School Week 3

I passed my first clinical checkoff on Friday (after failing it on Wednesday).  My professor showed me some tricks (after assuring me that she was going to pass me on the exercise) and when she did, suddenly several pieces of the puzzle fell into place for me.  Even a blind hog finds an acorn every once in a while.

I'm learning new things every day.  And not just about nursing skills.  I noted this past week, while riding my bike along several of the wonderful trails in Anchorage, that I could smell dog poop everywhere.  I pass several people walking a variety of canines every time I ride, but figured that hordes of wild dogs must stampede in from the wild and poop like crazy every night for the aroma to be that strong.  I mentioned this theory to a fellow resident at my bed and breakfast and he laughed until tears streamed down his face.  Evidently Anchorage smells like dog poop only in the fall when wild bush cranberries are fermenting.  I'm betting wild bush cranberry wine isn't much in demand.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

It's the safety, stupid

Today I donned scrubs for the first time since starting nursing school and showed up for my first experience with "skills checkoff".  "Skills" have scared me for two weeks now; first I couldn't hear my heartbeat using a stethoscope, and for some reason making a bed without grabbing the sheets by two corners and snapping them in the air to figure out which is the long way and which is the short way has me completely baffled.  We can't do that in nursing lab because the snapping stirs up dust particles that might just harbor deadly bacteria.  I'm a good snapper and am having a hard time learning how to "fan fold" sheets and make a bed the right way.

I knew I would be asked to either help a patient from a chair to the bed, help a patient walk down a hallway, or help somebody roll over in bed (reposition) for today's skill checkoff exercise.  I did all those things when my mother was in a nursing home.  No big deal, right?

Last week I realized that I've spent my entire professional career using my mind and not my body.  Terrifying.

Body mechanics (helping somebody move around without straining my back), not snapping sheets, and remembering all the ways that human joints move (assisting a bedbound patient with "range of motion"exercises) are not my long suit (yet) and I entered the lab today sure that I would fail the skills checkoff exercise.

I began sweating when my name was called.  Having been asked to transfer a patient from chair to bed (the "patient" being my lab partner) I shuffled in to make all the right moves.  I know I did very well with the chatting part.  I did well with the body mechanics.  What I neglected to do, however, was to confirm the patient's identity by checking her wristband AND return the bed to the lowest position once I had her tucked in.  My professor looked at me and said, "Did you forget anything?"  I stared at her and thought, "Well, obviously you screwed this up, you idiot.  What did you forget?"  After asking me two more times what I might have forgotten (she was really trying to pass me on the activity) she showed me what I should have done.

So, I failed my first skills check.  I'll have the opportunity to redo it on Friday.  I'm trying to look on the bright side:  never ever will I do anything to a patient without checking his or her wristband, and every bed I encounter in my nursing career will be as close to the floor as possible before I leave a room.  There will be no unidentified patients falling out of tall beds on my watch.

A little humility is good for a person.  I spent two hours with my stethoscope tonight (trying to hear the lub-dub I'll need to track in order to successfully determine someone's blood pressure for next week's skill check) and then I ate a large bowl of vanilla ice cream with chocolate chips thrown in for good measure.

Good thing those scrubs have elastic waistbands.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

I remember

I remember seeing the towers fall as I watched on my television.  Hopeless, horrified.  I remember driving to my job at the American Red Cross that morning and seeing the blank looks on the faces of my coworkers.  I remember the skies being silent;  all planes were grounded.  As the day crawled by, I remember citizens calling our Red Cross office wanting to know what they could do to help.

I remember feeling angry.  I remember the awe I felt when I learned that a plane full of heroes averted an additional attack on Washington, D.C.  I remember the children who came into our office with coffee cans full of change to donate to the disaster effort.

I remember the last time I had dinner at Windows on the World restaurant at the top of the World Trade Center.  It was partly cloudy that evening, and as I looked out the window next to my table a cloud rolled by.  We were in the middle of it, like you are in a plane.  Cotton candy.  Up so high.

I remember visiting Washington, D.C. in October of 2001 while attending a high school reunion.  I stood not far from the spot where a shrine had been built to recognize those who were lost when the plane crashed into the Pentagon.  Photos, flowers, notes piled high.  In the distance, the wounded Pentagon itself.

I remember my high school boyfriend at that reunion.  He was a Navy Captain then.  He looked at me with tears in his eyes and said, "We didn't know or we would have stopped them."  He cried, and I hugged him.  I said, "You did the best that you could.  There are some things we cannot control."

I remember visiting New York City in 2006 and seeing the altered skyline for the first time I felt as though I had been slapped in the face.  When I stood at Ground Zero I remember feeling chills as though I had a fever.  I felt nauseated and confused and empty.

Earlier this year when CNN reported that Osama bin Laden had been apprehended I felt a hot, raging, primitive streak of something rush through me.  I don't know what it was, but I hope I never feel it again.  It was so powerful that it terrified me.

Those of you who died, I remember you.  I remember those of you surviving their loss.  Those of you who saw the buildings fall and still cannot sleep at night - I remember.  Those of you who have fought and sacrificed since then to keep us safe - I remember you.  Those of you who fought before, who served before, I remember you too.  You built something for us that is so precious that others want to take it away. 

Like it was yesterday.  I remember.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Fairy dust

Sometimes gifts and blessings fall from the sky and settle around me.  I'm always surprised, even though this has happened many times before.  On occasion, they are gifts that I've wished for.  Usually, however, they are unexpected - wonderful items that I didn't know I wanted or needed.

Yesterday I had lunch with my cousin's daughter here in Anchorage where I attend college.  Not only was it a relief and joy to sit and dine with someone I know (who happens to be smart, funny, and very interesting), but she offered to let me park my car in her driveway on the weekends I choose to fly home instead of making the three hour drive in the dark and ice.  She and her family live just minutes from the airport.  When I take her up on her offer, I won't have to pay for airport parking or take two public bus routes to get to the airport from a place where I can leave my parked car and not have to pay.

You can't buy fairy dust.  It's priceless.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Nursing School Week One: The Locker

For the first time in (good Lord) 38 years I have a school locker.  The UAA School of Nursing issued me locker # 229 and a combination lock to secure it.  I had to ask someone much younger than I am to show me how to use the lock, and as I write this I can't remember how to open it. Twice around to the right, once around to the left, then what?  Oh, hell.

I had one distinct meltdown last week in the parking lot of a grocery store during a pouring rainstorm, and fortunately my sister Linda was available to talk me down from the edge.  It's a great gift to have someone who knows you inside and out and is still willing to talk to you.  She knows exactly what to say, and she said it.  After that I was ok.

One of our first lab sessions consisted of learning how to use a stethoscope.  We were instructed to listen to our own heartbeats.  They are supposed to make a "lub-dub" sound.   I couldn't hear mine.  Just couldn't hear it.  I knew it was beating because I was alert and oriented, but all I got was silence.  I approached my professor and explained.  She sat with me and used a stethoscope with two sets of earpieces, placed the diaphragm (the cold round part the doctor puts on your chest) on her chest, and said, "Now, you can hear that, can't you?"  I couldn't.  I said, "Oh God, after all this studying and working to be accepted into this program I'm going to find out that I'm deaf and can't be a nurse."  She said, "Alyx, if you were deaf we would not be able to have this conversation."  She suggested I try practicing (listening) in a quiet place over the weekend.  I have, and now I can hear my heartbeat.  I have also used ear drops and a wax removal system three times in the past three days in hopes that I'll never miss a heartbeat again.  My ears are not amused.

I now know how to give a bed bath, don protective gear for situations in which I'm treating someone who is either immune compromised or has something I don't want to catch, and brush somebody else's teeth.  I also know everything there is to know about handwashing.  I suspect that this aspect of nursing will speak to my obsessive-compulsive tendencies.  Wash before, wash during, wash after, then wash again for good measure.  My professor used a phrase (several times) that is etched upon my consciousness forever:

"If it's wet and it's not yours, wash your hands."

Yummy, huh?

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Defying Gravity

I bought a new bicycle three months ago.  When I was choosing between two models, I told the salesman that I wanted to "go fast", and he sold me a bike that I've been riding (obsessively, just like I do everything else) since then.  Although I am by no means a "cyclist" proper, I talk to people about biking now.  Everybody.  Most of them ask, "Have you ridden "The Loop yet?"  Until today, I had to say no.

"The loop" is a route that takes a rider across the Kenai River up one side between Kenai and Soldotna, and then across it again down the other side.  Without shortcuts, it's 24 or 26 miles, depending upon who you're talking to.

 By the first of July my goal was to ride the loop before I left for college in Anchorage on the 29th of August.  I was riding 12 miles or so per biking session by then.  By the end of July I had ridden a round trip of one leg of the loop (19.2 miles), including three gnarly hills each way.  Gasping for breath and sure that my heart was going to pop out of my chest, I might add.  I continued "training" for the goal.  I could see muscles bulging in my thighs and calves, and my rides ranged between 11 and 20 miles, several days per week (whenever weather permitted).  By two weeks ago I was sure that I could handle the 24 or 26 miles and the three gnarly hills, but was afraid to ride the first leg of the loop: a three mile stretch of busy highway with no bike path - just a bike lane along the shoulder.  That leg crosses the "flats" that flank the Kenai River, and is close to the mouth where the river feeds into Cook Inlet.  I had been told it's "always blowing" there and was reluctant to take the plunge, so to speak.

I am a goal seeking old woman.  Today (the 28th of August) dawned sunny and still.  I strapped on my (new) helmet, (new) biking gloves, charged my iPod and made sure I had plenty of water.  Here's what I found.

Had I been too afraid to ride the first leg, I'd have missed this view (that peak in the background is Mount Redoubt, an active volcano that's part of the peninsula that eventually becomes the Aleutian Islands):

Without riding that leg, I would have missed the llamas at the ranch.  I love those llamas and it was wonderful seeing them close to the fence that divides their domain from the bike path.

I'd have missed smiling and nodding at other cycling individuals, couples and families I passed along the way.

I'd have missed this view of the Kenai River as it slices through the town of Soldotna:

I'd have missed running into (not literally) my former Chemistry professor (a truly admirable and brilliant man who also has a sense of humor) as he made his way along the loop in the other direction.  He had been one of the people who asked me if I had ridden the loop a couple of months ago.  He had also given me pointers as to how to tackle the first leg.  It was delightful to see him, and he "high fived" me when he heard that today was my first attack on the route.

Most importantly, I'd have missed achieving a goal had I allowed my fear to stop me.

My butt is still numb and my legs are a little wobbly, but MAN do I feel good.  Not only that, I promised myself that I would have ice cream tonight if I burned off enough calories by riding 22 (according to my odometer) today, and I'm looking forward to that.

Screw fear.

What would you do if you weren't afraid to try?

Friday, August 26, 2011


Three years ago tonight I was with my husband in a hotel room in San Bernardino, California.  My sister and her husband were staying in the room next to ours.   The four of us and my nephew Russell had just said a final goodbye to my mother who died on August 26, 2008 at 5:26 pm.

My mother's death had been expected, still, when I saw her shortly after she drew her last breath I was overwhelmed with the finality of it all.  She had been the central figure in my life in spite of the fact that I had five husbands while she was living.  Orphaned by the time she was 18, she spent her life searching for security; she married my father who provided her with financial stability, and she settled on having me as her emotional support, her "brick".  Her touchstone, so to speak.  This was an unhealthy burden to place upon a child, but she didn't know that.  Having had no training in parenting, she did what seemed right to her, and my childhood was sacrificed in the process.  She did the best she could with what she had.

I'm no saint.  I was a wild teenager and adult, and terrified the family with my reckless lifestyle and drug abuse.  Even so, save for periods of time during which my mother and I "weren't speaking", I was her "best friend".  We fought and traveled together and shared holidays.  We spoke nearly every day on the phone.  In her eighties she moved from the coast to a house we bought in the mountains, where she lived with my husband and me for 18 very difficult months.  It's hard having two strong women in one household.

When it counted the most, I was there for her.  The last two years of her life were very difficult for both of us, and for my sister.  My mother's decline was painfully obvious, and she made repeated trips to emergency rooms, finally settling in a nursing home.  I worked for the company that owned the nursing home and knew the staff well.  They gave her good care in spite of her refusal to do anything at all for herself.

It was always all about her.

Three years ago tonight, she set me free.  I moved thousands of miles away from the hot, crowded, stressful place in which she had chosen to live and began to live my own life for the first time.

This morning I drove to a neighboring town for a haircut.  I walked into the salon and the woman who cuts my hair advised me that she was running late as she was working with an old woman who wanted a perm.  I saw the old woman with her thinning gray hair and watched as she carefully moved from a wheelchair to the beauty parlor chair.  At one point the woman turned to look at me and I saw my mother's face.  The woman smiled at me and tried to speak.  She had difficulty expressing her thoughts; I suspect she was recovering from a stroke.  I felt tiny tingles move up my back and down my arms when I looked at her.  Later this afternoon I rode my bicycle for 20 miles in the late summer Alaska sun, and I saw my mother again, in the sky.  When I see her these days, she is usually the sun peeking through clouds.  I can see her, and feel her, and she is beautiful.  She is smiling at me, cheering me on.  She tells me that she approves of my decision to go to nursing school at the age of 55, that she is glad that I am eating better, and that I'm exercising.  She tells me that she loves me.

She also tells me that she doesn't understand why I left California and moved to this "godforsaken" place.  It is then that I laugh and say to her, "My life, my choices."

It's my turn.  And Mom, I miss you.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Breakfast of Champions

When we moved into this rental last spring I found the raspberry plant burial ground my landlord had told me was on the property.  On the west border of our backyard is a weathered, falling-down fence, at the base of which were knobs of raspberry plant roots that had been repeatedly mowed to the ground.  I love raspberries and decided that I was going to cultivate those knobs.  By August of 2010 I had weeded and fertilized and watched as 10 to 12 hearty canes, some up to 6 feet in height, enjoyed the Alaskan summer sun and flourished.  I'm not a farmer and didn't know that raspberry plants don't flower and produce fruit their first year, and when my cousin's husband gently advised me that I wouldn't see fruit until this summer I was gravely disappointed.

Back then I was still taking the college prerequisites I needed to apply to a nursing program (worrying about that) and trying to find a job to keep me occupied during my second long dark Alaskan winter (worrying about that).

Winter came and with it snow that at times completely concealed my raspberry patch.  I found a job and completed my prerequisites and applied to the nursing program, to which I was accepted.  Spring came relatively early this year and shortly after the last patch of snow disappeared, tiny leaves appeared on last year's raspberry canes.  I watered, fertilized, and weeded, and within a short period of time (thanks to those long Alaskan summer days) the canes were bushy and green.  One day I was examining my crop and noted that there were what looked like tiny flowers opening on the plants.  I rushed into the house and asked my husband to look at them and tell me what they were.  He told me that they were blooms, and that those blooms would produce fruit.  He's not a farmer, either, but he laughed at me when I looked surprised.  "You mean they make flowers first?", I asked.  That made him laugh even harder.  I grew up in condos and have never paid attention to yards; in fact I mowed a lawn for the first time just weeks ago.  How was I supposed to know?

After the flowers came tiny green raspberry-shaped objects.  I waited.  The sun shone and rain came.

For two consecutive mornings in a row I have eaten raspberries for breakfast.  They are ruby red and sweet and delicious not only because raspberries are empirically delicious, but because I nurtured them a little and allowed them to grow. 

What once were withered knobs are now healthy plants bearing rich fruit.  Kinda like me.  What once was a worn out alcoholic woman is a mid-middle aged nursing student embarking on longest-sought, most exciting journey of her life.  As the rock group Queen put it:

"We are the champions, my friends.  And we'll keep on fighting 'til the end...we are the champions of the world."

Just me and my little old raspberry bushes.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Running with the sockeye salmon

We live less than two miles from the Kenai River in Alaska.  This river is world famous for its runs of king, red (sockeye), silver and pink salmon.  Three years ago we were living in California, and I brought my husband up to the Kenai peninsula hoping that I would be able to convince him that we should move here when my mother, who lived in California, died.  That summer we spent three days staying in a bed and breakfast on the Kenai river, and one overcast and chilly June afternoon my husband landed a 41 inch king salmon.  I took a photo of him as he held that salmon high, his thumb hooked through its lower jaw, and knew in my heart that the fish gods had smiled upon us.  Shortly afterward, he agreed that we could move to Alaska.  My mother died two months later after a long and peaceful decline, and nine months later, we moved.

Our first summer as Alaskan residents was uneventful as far as fishing went.  We were living 80 miles south of Kenai, and my husband spent some time fishing for silver salmon in a nearby river,  but he didn't catch any.  Salmon aren't hungry by the time they enter their home rivers; they're hell bent on finding the precise spot of their birth and spawning, after which they die.  My husband Virgil was used to fishing for hungry trout and spent hours trying to taunt a silver salmon into biting his hook, to no avail.

We moved to Kenai after nine months in Alaska.  Virgil eagerly anticipated the salmon runs of 2010, however, circumstances including his new job and a less than stellar run of red salmon prevented him from hooking a sockeye.  The silver salmon run later in the summer, and after many, many hours of trying he did catch one and brought it home.  Yes, we ate it, and it was delicious.

People in this part of the world start talking about salmon in June, when the "early run" of king salmon are due in the river.  We heard snippets of conversation regarding a slow, small run of kings.  No big deal.  Then we began waiting for the reds, which return to the rivers of their birth in July.  Virgil reads a private anglers report page daily in July.  Everyone is interested in the red runs, and fortunately there are a number of people devoted to predicting the size, numbers, and arrival time of these fish.  The Alaska Department of Fish and Game controls everything fish related; certain numbers of fish must be allowed to make the long swim upriver so that they can spawn and produce the next generation of red salmon and the commercial fishermen (and women) must be able to make a living as well, so there are strict laws governing the days, hours, and number of fish available to be caught by sport fisherpeople.  In addition, Alaska residents are allowed to participate in an activity called "dipnetting" so that they may stock up on food for the winter.  Dipnetting, in a nutshell, is the process of standing in the cold water at the mouth of the river dragging a huge net on the end of a long pole and hoping that salmon swim into it, or sitting in a boat further up the river holding that same big net underwater and hoping that fish swim into it.

Dipnetting "opened" six days ago because enough salmon had made it upriver to spawn.  That was a Friday.  By Saturday morning, the private angler report was announcing in bright yellow letters that the red salmon run was going to be big based on reports from the spotters in Cook Inlet, the tongue of ocean that feeds the Kenai River.  By Saturday afternoon the first wave of fish had arrived, and it was big.  Really big.  The private angler report stated that "a wall of fish" was moving up the inlet.

By Sunday, Kenai (9,000 residents) had burgeoned in size.  Motor homes were everywhere.  The sand at the mouth of the river was covered with tents, four wheel drive vehicles, campfires, and people in rubber chest waders dragging dipnets.  The font on the angler report website had increased in size, and the webmaster was using all caps. 'THIS IS A HUGE RUN OF RED SALMON".

By Monday it appeared that everyone in Alaska had called in sick and driven to Kenai.  The local WalMart was selling coolers, dipnets, fishing tackle, groceries, and ice faster than the skeleton crew (most of the employees had already called in sick) could restock the shelves.  The store manager was mopping floors and restocking ice.

The salmon kept coming.

Virgil and my cousin-in-law, Alan, went to the mouth of the river to dipnet on Tuesday morning (at the crack of dawn).  It was so crowded that they had to wait in a long line to get into the water.  Once in the water they found that the current was strong and the commercial fishing boats moving in and out of the river were creating wakes that hit them at chest height causing cold water to pour inside their rubber chest waders.  They gave up on dipnetting and decided to drive upriver to fish with rods and reels.

Remember, the salmon aren't hungry.  They're sights are set on spawning and they don't stop to eat.  They push forward relentlessly.  The only way to catch a red salmon in that frame of mind is to drop a hook at precisely the right spot so that the salmon bites at it essentially to push it out of the way.  Fishing for reds with a pole is an art, and it is called "flipping".  It's fast, it's furious, and it's a process that takes practice.  Virgil has never fished this way before.  He is a master at catching trout (they're hungry) but brand spanking new at fishing for reds.  Alan caught his limit of three reds in about an hour, after which he waited for three hours while Virgil hooked and lost fish after fish and lost his footing at one point, after which he was soaked to the skin.  Finally, Virgil managed to get a salmon to shore, and the guys called it a day.

My husband considers himself a good fisherman, and he was not a happy man when he returned home with that one fish.  I made a big deal out of it and took photos of him holding the packaged fish before gently placing it in the freezer.  Virgil had a bad day.  He was cranky, dejected, and tired.  Alan called him late in the afternoon and told him that a friend had offered to take them both dipnetting from a boat on Wednesday, and he perked up a little after agreeing to go.

And the fish kept coming.

The guys set off on Wednesday shortly after I left for work.  Virgil had promised to text message me at about noon to let me know how things were going, but I didn't hear from him.  My cousin, who was also at work, text messaged me at about 1pm and asked if I had heard from them.  We waited.  At 2:30pm my phone beeped.  "Alan and I got 15 fish each".  I shrieked.  My boss told me to go home and help clean fish.  I showed up at my cousin's house in very old, stained clothing, carrying my camera.

These were big fish.  They were silver and shiny and regal even with their dead, glazed eyes staring into nothingness.  Alan and Virgil were filleting them, one after another.  Under those glistening silver fish skins was ruby red, firm flesh.  They were absolutely stunning, healthy, hearty, voluptuous creatures.  I was assigned the task of washing and drying the fillets, then cutting them in half for packaging.  I carried a big plastic bin of fillets from the cleaning area to the kitchen and began working.  As I washed each fillet, I said ,"thank you", out loud.  Several times I recited a Buddhist chant as I worked.  It was an honor to handle those fillets.  They were perfect, nutritious jewels and I revered them.  I returned to the cleaning area to fill the bin with fillets three more times, carrying my heavy treasure back to the kitchen.

We packaged those fillets with care, using a machine that heat sealed plastic bags of fish.  I brought home 13 bags of fish for our freezer.  Each fillet, each bag, will easily feed four people.  Alan kept 17 bags at his house, as he will be smoking those fillets for us after carefully preparing them for the smoking process.

I took the smallest fillet, wrapped it with aluminum foil, and baked it at 350 degrees for 20 minutes at 7 pm this evening.  Virgil and I ate it together.  I wept a bit as I devoured the tender, flaky, moist, scarlet meat, appreciating the exquisite flavor of salmon fresh from the river.  I smiled as I realized that tonight I will not need to take a fish oil supplement, because I have eaten salmon today and it contains those healthy oils that are so beneficial to the human body.

I am a lucky woman.  I have run with the sockeye salmon.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Summer bummer

I can go very bad places in my head when my mind is not occupied.  I know this, and thus I registered for College Algebra via an online course this summer.  The class started on May 16th.  I started on April 22nd.  The class ends on July 24th.  I completed it by the 6th.  Today is the 9th.  I have completed the three math tests required of me to begin nursing school on the 29th of August and have already begun to study one of the several books also required for the nursing program.

I'd like to believe that someday I'll be balanced and serene enough to spend time in that mythical place they call "retirement", but I suspect that will not be the case.  My brain is active (hyperactive) and is serving me well in the late-in-life course of study I have chosen.  For that I am grateful.  However, it is not my friend when I allow it to idle.  I've lived on the dark side for most of my life; apparently that is my default setting.  There are worse things than cramming information into one's gray matter until the moment of death, but it does sound like a bit of an effort.

It's not that it's impossible for my mind to be settled and mellow; I have studied and practiced meditation and have been sporadically successful at achieving states of "emptiness" for admittedly brief spans of time, but it takes a gigantic amount of effort for me to meditate.  The right place, incense, the right sort of pillow on which to sit, silence, making sure that my eyes are positioned correctly, that my back is straight, and that my hands are in the relaxed curve they are supposed to form.

My hope is that I will make an excellent nurse.  The body is old, but the mind is still working.  What a relief it will be to focus that mental energy on helping others.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Not Knowing

I was raised by a difficult woman and an absent father.  He deserves credit for being a great provider of food, shelter, clothing and the portion of my psyche that loves to carry a portable GPS receiver into woodsy areas in search of geocaches.  She deserves credit for teaching me how to be a good hostess, a fine conversationalist, and an expert manipulator.  She managed to take me hostage at an early age and sell me on the idea that my purpose on this earth was to take care of her until she died, and I did. Kudos, Mom.

I didn't know I was unhappy when she was alive.  I knew I was depressed (because antidepressants made living "better") and stressed (big job, difficult declining mother, long commute), but I had a good life.  Big house, big money, nice cars, frequent vacations, lots of shoes, comfortably large circle of friends.  Everything a girl could wish for, right?

Before my mother died, I was certain that I would disappear when she did.  My identity was seamlessly soldered to hers (retrospectively - that was my choice, but is it really a choice when you can perceive no other option?) and I was terrified at the thought of losing her and myself.

She has been dead for more than two years now.  I have not disappeared.  In fact, I have begun to live a life that has my name stamped on it.  I knew what steps to take to find this life.  They were intuitive.  I didn't have to wrestle with what was right or wrong for me, worry about what she might think about my choices,  or push through much fear to reach this path.  What I did was reject the vast majority of the elements of my existence when she was alive.  I allowed my heart to speak and I followed its direction.

It's impossible to describe happiness to someone who isn't.  I wasn't.  Now, I am.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Axe Murderer

On Monday I awoke at the ungodly hour of 6:15 am to the truly worn out tune of my cell phone alarm.  It is spring break and I shouldn't have had to go to work at the college, but I did.  Just that one day, fortunately.  I usually get up at 6:30 am on the days I have to work, but one of the fellows I work with doesn't drive and wanted a ride to work so I got up 15 minutes early so that I could pick him up and still arrive at work on time.  I won't go into how much it irritates me that even though I call him five minutes before I pull into the parking lot of his apartment building he makes me wait at least five minutes before he "rushes" down to get into the car.  Five minutes during which I mutter to myself about his audacity, thoughtlessness and sense of entitlement while my Jeep burns gasoline (which is now a whopping $4.11 per gallon here on the Kenai Peninsula).  I suspect that those five minutes would be better spent considering how I might deal with my people pleasing codependency issues and tell Chris that I won't give him rides to work anymore unless he is standing inside the hallway to his apartment building when I arrive and in the car within one minute.  He doesn't give me a dime for these rides.  Gee, I guess I went into how much it irritates me that Chris consistently makes me wait for him after all.

Monday was my first workday post "springing forward" to daylight savings time.  Daylight savings time is a ridiculous practice in Alaska.  We spend all winter driving to work in the dark, and right about the time it's blissfully light at 7:30 am we roll the clocks forward and it's dark when we're driving to work again.  Monday it was dark and cold and icy on the road, and frankly I wasn't too happy to be working that day.  Chris is one of those incredibly happy morning people, and he was chatting away as we drove.  I was not amused.

We stopped at the light on Bridge Access Road (long, cold, icy, dark two lane road that crosses over the Kenai River) waiting to turn left onto K Beach Road (long, cold, dark, icy two lane road that leads to the college).  For once, Chris was silent.  Then, we heard a "knock knock knock".  Exactly the sound that a neighbor would make when coming over to borrow a cup of sugar.  Very unusual to hear it when sitting in a car.  Chris and I looked at each other briefly and then I looked out the driver's side window.

A man was standing very close to my window waving a hatchet at me.  In the dark.  On a rather remote road while I waited at a red light.

I spend a lot of time worrying about things.  I worry about plane crashes, having a heart attack, not getting good enough grades, my cats getting sick and dying, and a vast number of other things that don't happen (or haven't happened yet).  I had appendicitis two years ago and refused to believe the Emergency Room physician when he told me what was wrong with me because I had never worried about that particular ailment and figured that I couldn't have it if I hadn't fretted over it previously.  Another thing that I hadn't ever worried about was being brutally murdered by a man wielding a hatchet while I waited at a stop light on a dark road in Alaska.

The man started shouting at me and waving the hatchet more vigorously.  I couldn't hear him and thought, "I should roll down the window so that I can hear this fellow."  Then I thought, "Are you out of your mind?  He's going to kill you."  After that, "He has a hatchet.  If he's going to kill you, he can do it by driving the hatchet through this window."  The man shouted louder.  He screamed, "This hatchet was hanging off your rear bumper!"

My husband had spent a good part of Sunday afternoon trying to clear our driveway of the solid six inches of ice that had built up over six months of snowfall.  For some reason he had opted to hack at it with a hatchet.  I remembered watching his efforts from the living room window and wondering what kind of idiot uses a hatchet to clear ice from a driveway.

I opened the window and profusely thanked the man with the hatchet, who had jumped from his car when he stopped behind me at the light and left his coat in his car.  He was shivering.  He smiled kindly and raced back to his car as the light turned green.

Chris laughed the rest of the way to the college.

When I told the story to several people at work, after recovering from a bout of hysterical laughter, each responded that the man with the hatchet wouldn't have scared me as much had I carried a handgun in my car.  This is Alaska, after all.  They all carry handguns.  I'm not ready for a handgun because sometimes my husband irritates me so much (as in when he leaves a hatchet hanging from the rear bumper of my car) that I fear I may shoot him one day when he pushes me over the edge by leaving dirty dishes in the sink, dirty underwear on the bathroom floor, or once again forgets my birthday. I doubt that I have the strength to chop him up with a hatchet, so I'll be keeping it in my car.  Just in case.