Saturday, December 22, 2012

the big steam

For some reason I woke up at 7:30 am today and couldn't go back to sleep.  There are a handful of days in any given year when, for me, waking at 7:30 am is cause for suicidal ideation, and this was one of them.

I'm on "winter break" from college.  As the last day of our third semester of nursing school approached, the sane students in my cohort (everyone but me) looked forward to the freedom, festivities, and fun winter break can deliver.  I, on the other hand, was very afraid.  When I woke (at the reasonable hour of 10 am) the day after I took my final exam, I felt lost.  No test to study for, no paper to write.  Nothing but a yawning expanse of free days for nearly a month.  Free time is not my friend during the winter months here in Alaska, at least not in Kenai, where I live when I'm not in school.  I don't have trouble with free time during the summer because I can ride my bicycle at any hour of the day or night (what night?) and when I ride my bicycle I'm in heaven.

Last winter I bought a second hand bike with studded tires so that I could ride during the dark months.  Soon thereafter I learned that there is more to winter riding than studded tires.  There's the 30 minutes it takes to layer on long underwear, fleece pants, wool socks, ski pants, a couple of shirts, air activated heat pads in the toes of my snow boots, leg warmers over the ski pants, jacket, neck warmer, beanie, face warmer, helmet, and gloves.  There's the fact that what from the street looks like a plowed bike path is really a potentially deadly trek through the Himalaya; humping up and down even small piles of snow and globs of ice is a lot more work (and more dangerous) than it would seem.  There's the fact that when one breathes through a face warmer, one's glasses fog up.  Over and over again.  And, stopping to wipe them with a tissue only makes them steam up more.

I looked at the thermometer at 7:40 am knowing that unless I could get some exercise today I'd probably wander out onto an ice floe and drift toward the Bering Sea.  For some reason I also considered, albeit only for a millisecond, flying to Las Vegas and finding some cocaine. Colorful, right?  Know what happens to nurses who get caught with cocaine?  They don't get to be nurses anymore.  Not only that, I don't drink alcohol or use drugs, and I don't like Las Vegas because it's too hot.  I've been terminally bored since I came home, and today was the bore-peak.  The thermometer read -16 F.  I stared at it and a single tear rolled from my right eye.  The sun wasn't going to come up for hours, and even then, would be making only a brief appearance.  I was screwed.  Way too cold to ride.

Once again, my sister Linda talked me back from the edge.  I called her and made my case for rushing out and buying a stationary bike (maybe $250).  Sounded perfectly reasonable to me.  She reminded me that I have a stationary bike at my place in Anchorage and that I'm only home for a couple of weeks. "So?", I thought.  What the hell does she know?  She then suggested that I see if any of the local gyms had day rates.  I sulked.  That would be so much work, calling around to the gyms!  Spending $250 on a piece of exercise equipment sounded a lot easier.

I hung up and called the gym.  $10.30 (I know, weird number) for one day gym usage.  Drove 8 miles to said gym, swapped snow boots, gloves, and full length down coat for gymlike attire and got on the bike.  50 minutes later, soaked with sweat, the world was a very different place, and still is as I write this.  The snow sparkles, the temperature is "brisk", and the big steam that rises from the ocean when the air is -16 is a glorious phenomenon instead of a horrifying reminder of how cold it is outside.

Ah, the joys of whipping up a cocktail of seasonal affective disorder, boredom, and a little bit of plain old cranky.

Only 24 days until school starts again.  Not a moment too soon.

Saturday, November 24, 2012


I watched my sister walk across an icy runway to board the plane that would fly she and her husband to Anchorage for their connecting flight home to Seattle and felt tears well up in my eyes. 

My sister Linda and I spent many years "not getting along".  I was convinced that we were too different to be close - an idea that my mother had planted in my brain - and while my mother was alive the three of us formed a triangle.  Never a good shape for relationships.

We've worked hard on getting to know each other since my mother died.  We've been honest with each other and dismantled old barriers, healing old wounds in the process.  Today I realized how important that work was.  As I watched her walk away, I said to a stranger standing next to me, "I hate to see them leave."

When Linda and Art realized that my husband and I wanted to fly to their house for Thanksgiving but couldn't because of my husband's work schedule, they arranged to fly up to our house.  They arrived on Tuesday, two of four suitcases full of fresh fruits and vegetables (we don't have great produce up here during the winter months).  Art cooked the entire Thanksgiving dinner while Linda and I talked.  The following day he cooked a roast.  I didn't have to make one meal, not one.

On Thanksgiving night we planned to join our cousin Georgia and her family for dessert.  I was in the bathroom checking on my appearance prior to leaving for Georgia's house, and grabbed what I assumed was my purple can of hair spray from under the sink.  I shut my eyes and sprayed around the crown of my head when suddenly I realized that the hairspray was unusually heavy and smelled different in a very bad way.  Opening my eyes, I saw that I had purple foam all over my head.  I had sprayed my hair with Kaboom - a very effective bathroom cleaner.  Turns out Kaboom is also useful if you want to strip color from your hair.  I suspect it is also an easy way to have your hair break off at the roots, however, I managed to dive under a faucet quickly after recognizing my error to prevent that from happening.  We laughed about this on our drive to my cousin's house where I shared it with our extended family.  That lead to a roundtable discussion of "the most embarrassing thing I've ever done".  More laughter.

Last night we watched "Home for the Holidays" and marveled at the dysfunction portrayed by a group of truly fine actors.  We watch it every year that we're together on either Thanksgiving or Christmas.  Our family used to be like that.  Every holiday was ripe with tension, hurt feelings, and fear that someone would upset our mother.  Our holidays aren't like that anymore.

I love my sister.  She's smart and funny and creative.  So am I.  I love her husband, too.  He's smart and loving and humble and he loves to cook and has taught me how a man is supposed to behave.  I am so lucky to have them in my life.  I don't know what I would do without them.  When the hell did that happen?

I hate to see them leave.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Guilty as charged

I work a 12-step program, and one of the concepts to which I've been introduced in meetings is "contempt prior to investigation."  To me, that means thinking I know something that I don't, and finding out later that I was dead wrong.

In an earlier post I waxed on about not liking either my pediatrics or obstetrics classes.  I certainly wasn't looking forward to my clinical rotations in either, and last week I spent my first day in the labor and delivery department of a hospital.  It was a slow day, and the best I could say about it was that I got to sit down a lot, which I like because I inherited my mother's foot structure and my feet hurt when I spend any time on my feet in almost any pair of shoes.

Today I crawled out of bed at 4:45 am and got myself to the hospital for another day on the obstetrics unit.  I wasn't looking forward to it, and resent that I have to get up that early to do anything, much less something I am not particularly fond of doing.

Then I got my hands on a newborn.  She was soft and small and healthy, and absolutely adorable.  She made the sweetest little sounds I've ever heard.  I listened to her little heartbeat and examined her fingers and toes.  Then I did the same with a male newborn.  He was just as precious and heartwarming as the girl had been.

Then I got to see a birth.  Out of the miracle of a woman's body came a tiny bluish-gray human being who almost immediately took his first breath and, over the course of just a few moments, turned a robust pink color.  He curled his little fingers to make little tiny fists, and his cries of protest sounded like music.  We weighed him, measured him, and swaddled him before handing him to his father.

I left that labor/delivery room and couldn't remember where I was for a few minutes.  I found a chair at the nurses' station and stared off into space for a few more minutes.  That was several hours ago, and I'm still stunned.

How could I have been so wrong?  How could I have not known?  I LOVE obstetrics.

Yeah, I could do that.

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Professor J

I'm drawn to tragedies.  Tragedies like 9/11, huge weather events, earthquakes, wars, random mass shootings, and transportation accidents.  When I receive a CNN alert on my phone and know that something really awful has happened, I turn on the tv and watch in horror as the story unfolds.  I don't know why I do that, but I do.  I consider myself a compassionate person and I hate seeing others in distress, so while I'm watching the media coverage I generally wring my hands and cry and repeat a Buddhist chant.  A sane person would read the CNN alert (or not sign up for them to begin with), take a moment to send positive thoughts for those in harm's way, and move on with her day.  Not me.

Usually when one of these horrific things happen somebody mentions the fact that there are counselors/resources available to help the survivors cope in the aftermath.  I had never really thought much about that until today.

My entire nursing class received an email yesterday stating that there was a mandatory meeting scheduled for 1 pm today.  That was all it said: mandatory meeting.  Shortly after we received the email there was much discussion on our class Facebook page.  Nursing school (ours, anyway) is a pretty terrifying experience; it seems as though every instructor is firmly committed to making your life a living hell.  Therefore, our immediate reaction to the email was a unanimous expression of anxiety.  What had we done?  Had we all failed?  Was the university closing?  If the university was closing were we going to have to start over somewhere else?  The prospect of that was simply unthinkable.  Furthermore, how dare they mandate that we show up at the college on what was, for most of us, a day off?

We gathered in the designated spot at the designated time this afternoon.  We were visibly nervous.  At the front of the room stood four of our professors.  They looked very serious, and a little fragile.  There were 45 students in that room, and you could have heard a pin drop.

In a carefully measured tone, one courageous professor gently let us know that another professor, one who had not been well earlier this semester and had been absent for several weeks, had died last week.

We sat, shocked and processing and still silent.  One by one the professors dissolved into tears.  There was a heaviness to the air in that room that I've never felt before.  The heaviness was thick and cold and locked us in our seats.  It was much bigger and more powerful than we were and it held 45 bright, driven, competitive, assertive, strong students in its grasp for maybe ten of the longest seconds in each of our lives.  Then it was gone, and the air became regular old air again.

That's why the survivors of tragedies need to know that they have access to counseling.  Once you have felt that heaviness, I don't think you're ever going to forget it, and you might need to talk about it, because it is deep, profound and infinite.

The woman who died was perhaps in her fifties.  She was tougher than nails on the outside, and soft and caring and human on the inside.  She was a bit controversial, very outspoken, and an incredibly knowledgeable and competent nurse.  She cared deeply for her patients and for her students (although she probably wouldn't have admitted to the latter).  She was one of those people you either really, really liked, or really, really didn't.  She had obvious strengths, and equally obvious weaknesses.

Rest in peace, Helena.  The Facebook page is unusually quiet tonight; you are already missed.

Thursday, November 1, 2012


My sister messaged me on Facebook tonight.  She noted that I have said so little about nursing school recently that she (almost) wondered if I had been going to classes lately.

Oh yes, I've been going.  I've just been hating it. 

It's not just about the subjects I'm taking this semester: pediatrics and obstetrics - but I'll start there.

I like little tiny babies who can't roll over, my friends' kids, and all adolescents.  The babies' heads smell good.  My friends' kids are prepared to like me (probably because their parents have told them that I am old but cool).  Adolescents are flat out fascinating because they're borderline adults and full of intense emotion.  But all that stuff about developmental milestones?  No thanks.  I have absolutely no interest in being able to rattle off at what age (in months, mind you) small people can swallow iron-fortified cereal, stand on one foot, or poop in the toilet.  I realize that some of my fellow students really like pediatrics and I thank God for that, because I just can't stand it.  I got my lowest exam grade ever on my last pediatrics test and I just didn't care.  I studied hard for that exam but I'm just not interested in the subject and I'm not good at it and I don't even care.  My worst nightmare:  the only job I'll be offered when I graduate is as a pediatric nurse.  I'd rather flip burgers.

Obstetrics is a little better.  It really is amazing that most women can grow a human being in their bodies, and even more amazing that they can squeeze that human out into the world through what is an impossibly small orifice.  Most amazing of all is that two cells get together and nine months later most of the time a baby is born with all its organs in the right place and working perfectly.  Still, I've just seen too many vajayjays lately.  I feel as though I'm being stalked by a giant vajayjay -it haunts me during my waking hours, peering at me from my maternity textbook.  The nights are worse.  I wake soaked with sweat from nightmares about being lost in a maze of laboring women who are all screaming for epidurals and I can't find the key to the medication room.  Mind you, I haven't begun my clinical rotation for obstetrics yet.  It's possible that when (if) I witness a birth I'll fall in love with obstetrics, but I doubt it.  Too many vajayjays.

As if that weren't enough, this semester has been chock full of faculty drama and disorganization.  Balls have been dropped, picked up, and dropped again.  Professors have resigned, clinical rotations have been rescheduled, most of the online video lectures don't play, and everyone is grumpy.

Still, there have been moments.  I started an IV on a classmate about a month ago.  That needle slid right into that vein and I felt as though I had just summitted Everest.  I literally felt high for several hours after that.  Sometimes in class a correct answer to an instructor's question will pop out of my mouth and I'll realize that I'm becoming a nurse.  I can look at blood test results now and know what they mean.  Those things rock.

I'm hanging on to thoughts of next semester.  My last semester.  Finally: psychiatric.  Ladies and gentlemen, I could TEACH that class.  Some of my classmates are already positioning themselves to line up behind me like ducklings.  I'm like, "Come to mama.  Mama will tell you all about depression and panic disorders and anxiety disorders and chemical dependency." And Adult Nursing II!  Emergency medicine and intensive care and REAL drama.  Back to livers and spleens and hearts and lungs and brains.

For now, though, I'll go back to writing this absolutely riveting paper I'm writing on teaching six year olds how to brush their teeth.

Friday, October 5, 2012

On second thought...

Another week of pediatric rotation:  this time I was required to volunteer in a school nurse's office (only 4-6 hours required).

I wasn't looking forward to it.

My hearing has just now returned to normal.  It has been five days since I last heard the screamers at the grief camp.  Furthermore, I have come down with a mild head cold.  I'm sure that one of the screamers somehow deposited a clump of viruses on my hand, and that somehow those viruses made it to my mouth.  I ate way too much last weekend - it isn't hard to figure out how my hand transported the little pathogens to a nice warm environment where they could set up camp.  I think I ate a dozen cookies on Saturday alone.  Hand to mouth, hand to mouth...

I had arranged to volunteer at a high school.  My ego is still bruised by the lack of connection I made to the little girls last weekend.  I was envious of a couple of my fellow volunteers - they had supernatural powers as "Kid Whisperers" and those little girls loved them.  Me, I was like a third wheel.  I thought I might be able to better relate to teenagers.  Our text says that teenagers are rebellious, defiant, "finding out who they are", and can dress themselves.  I read that by high school the screaming usually stopped.  Sounded good to me.

The nurse with whom I was supposed to work today had called in sick, but warned the substitute nurse that a student would be there.  The nurse who greeted me when I arrived was perfectly delightful.  She apologized profusely, saying that the nurse who was sick was legendary, and she hoped that I could "make do" with her.

The day was wonderful.  I had planned to bolt at 4 hours and ended up staying nearly six.  Here is some of what I learned.

  • Teenagers develop headaches, stomachaches, and dizziness when they don't want to attend a particular class.  They visit the nurse's office and concoct fascinating stories about questionable ailments, lie down for exactly 45 minutes (the length of that class period) and suddenly feel much better when the bell rings for lunch.
  • Teenagers will come into the nurse's office and complain of exhaustion.  When the school nurse questions them as to potential causes for said exhaustion and they reply that they stayed up late last night playing video games, visiting a significant other, or joyriding, it is the nurse's responsibility to send them right back to class.
  • Some teenagers are hypochondriacs - these are my very favorite because I am an Olympic contender in the sport of Extreme Hypochondria.  I can actually help treat these teenagers because all I have to do is repeat to them what my sister or husband says to me when I am in the throes of an imagined terminal illness state:  "You are going to be all right.  Go eat a cookie."
  • Teenagers do not  suffer from stranger anxiety.  If you are wearing a student nurse badge, they will reveal intimate details of their lives to you 10 seconds after you've met. Because you have never really grown up, you can understand exactly what they're talking about and relate to them.
  • When you're a student nurse volunteering at a high school, NEVER ask the school nurse if there are ever emergencies to which she must respond.  Within 30 minutes there will be an emergency, a really scary serious one, and the paramedics will be called.  This does give you practice in emergency nursing, but your heart rate will not return to normal until long after the person having the medical emergency's does.  The excitement is even greater if the teenager's parent gets there before the paramedics and seeing her child in distress causes HER to nearly have a medical emergency herself.  After the child and mother have been whisked away in an ambulance, the school nurse will tell you that an emergency of that nature happens maybe once per year in a school. (Please note that this adolescent suffered an emergency that was after all not life-threatening, but it sure looked like it might be at first.)
  • School nurses get to sit down some of the time they're at work, thus they don't develop the agonizing foot, calf and back cramps that nurses who race up and down the floor in hospitals during 12 hour shifts do.  In addition, school nurses have time to go to the bathroom during a shift, which is a nice thing.
Teenagers fall into the realm of pediatrics.  Yeah, I could do that.

Sunday, September 30, 2012

sugar and spice

I spent this weekend at a camp for kids. This was an opportunity to earn credit for my clinical round in pediatrics.  I was happy at the thought that I'd be able to avoid six days in the pediatrics unit (which includes rising rather early) at the hospital by volunteering at the camp.

 I am not familiar with kids;  I have none of my own and just haven't ever spent much time with any.  I was asked to babysit for a friend's month old son a number of years ago and did enjoy that experience immensely.  It was easy.  I fed, burped and changed the little guy and put him in the middle of my queen sized bed penned in by pillows (yes, I put him on his back) - then I'd go play games on the internet until he woke up and I'd repeat the process again.  The top of his head smelled so good.

Volunteers for the camp are required to attend two five hour training sessions, which I did.  This Friday through Sunday outdoor experience has been created for children who have lost someone close to them and the activities are carefully structured to help the kids feel safe enough to work through grief.  At the training sessions we were taught how to facilitate each child's expressions of a wide range of emotions.  When I learned that I was assigned to the cabin that would house 10 girls ranging in age from 6 to 9 years, I felt a flutter of uncertainty (I had hoped to be assigned to the teenager cabins, but figured that those making the assignments knew what they were doing.)

I arrived at camp at 4 pm on Friday and left the grounds at 3 pm on Sunday.  Following is some of what I learned.
  • Little girls like to scream.  They like to scream just for the sake of screaming.   They will scream alone, but they prefer to scream with others.  Put ten of them in a 16' X 16' cabin in the woods, and they will scream for hours without becoming the least bit hoarse.  The camp schedule read, "10:30 pm - Camp Sleeps".  Little girls will begin telling "scary stories" at 10:30 pm and scream until adults from other cabins show up at 1:00 am and request (beg, plead) that they stop.
  • Little girls' mood swings make PMS look like a walk in the park, especially when they are grappling with something as serious and tragic as loss.  They are the bravest little souls I have ever encountered and being with them is liked riding a very fast, extreme roller coaster.  Two of my classmates who volunteered with me developed what they thought was a slight case of the stomach flu on Saturday.  I think they had motion sickness.
  • House 9 female nursing students ranging in age from 24 to 60 in a cabin in the woods (maybe 500 feet from the building containing toilets and showers), provide them with rickety bunk  beds and plenty of electrical outlets and you'll soon have pandemic constipation (I mean really, who can do that in a public toilet with screaming girls nipping at their heels?) and previously well-groomed women wearing funky hats to cover unwashed hair because it's just too daunting to consider carrying toiletries, a change of clothes and a flashlight through an extremely early snowfall to a bath house that may or may not still have hot water.  With regards to the electrical outlets: count on ghostly silhouettes created by the lights of smartphones at all hours of the night as the students quietly tap out desperate texts to loved ones - unable to sleep due to the cacophony of snoring and flatulence (remember - we're constipated).
  • It's not a good idea to tease the one nursing student who likes to go to sleep earlier than the rest by waking her several times before everyone else hits the sack.  She will rise before the crack of dawn and wake you up to tell you that you're snoring, then ask to borrow your flashlight so that she can make her way to the bathroom.  You will then be unable to go back to sleep because everyone else is snoring (that's right, it wasn't you in the first place).
  • It is possible to earn a bit of spending money if you tuck antacids, analgesics, and wax earplugs in your backpack before leaving for camp.  Nursing students housed next to screaming girls and snoring peers will pay top dollar for these lifesaving items.  She who remembers to pack a nightlight?  Well, she is forever held in highest esteem
  •  Last, but not least: children are the sweetest of souls, even if they do scream for fun.  Some of them grieve the loss of a parent who drank too much or smoked too much or a sibling who shouldn't have waded so far out into the water.  None of these actions are within their realm of control, but they are left with the overwhelming task of navigating the rapids of fear, anger, guilt and sorrow at an age when they should be treading the earth with wide-eyed innocence and joy in their little hearts.  Today I climbed a ladder to a top bunk in a cabin in the woods and held a child who expressed her grief with such deep sobs that I knew I'd stand on that ladder for as long as it took for her to breathe quietly again-in spite of the fact that my legs grew stiff and shaky and sore.  I did not let go until she pulled back, squared her shoulders, and faced the day with astounding courage.

Scream on, little girls!  Life awaits you, and some of it is wonderful.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Near miss

Four years ago I worked for a large healthcare corporation in California.  A series of bizarre events occurred during my tenure with said company, and I found myself moving from the position of sales and marketing representative to Vice President of Sales and Marketing, complete with a corner office, company vehicle,  and six-figure salary (blah, blah, blah).  The experience I gained was good (in the event I ever want to move into a management position again), but the stress level was high and one of the coping mechanisms I employed to offset that stress was spending money.

Retail therapy is fun.  The rush of pulling into a parking space in front of one's favorite store is magic.  The heart speeds up, as does respiration, and one (one like me, that is) slides effortlessly into "acquisition mode".  I could never get out of the car fast enough.  My autonomic nervous system kicked into "flight or fight" and I was off.  I loved shopping for clothes and shoes, but my favorite store was always Bed, Bath and Beyond.  One can never have too many bath sheets, 1,000 thread count bed sheet sets, comforters, rugs, lamps, bathroom accessories, curtain panels, decorative curtain rods, pillows, throws or candles.

Times change.  Finances change.  Hopefully, coping mechanisms change in response to the finances.

I awoke today knowing that I needed a white long-sleeved stretchy cotton shirt to wear under my scrubs, as my obstetrics clinical rotation begins on Thursday.  I contacted a friend who is in school with me, and she directed me to Old Navy.  There is an Old Navy store about four miles from where I live, but I hadn't been there before.  My friend gave me the address and I found it easily.  Fortunately, I located a shirt for $8.50 and, after making my purchase and heading toward my car, I spotted a Bed, Bath and Beyond at the far end of the parking lot.

My heart rate sped up a bit.  I started my car, put my forehead down against the steering wheel and called upon the gods of reason.  If they answered I couldn't hear them and I drove to the BB&B parking area.  Breathing rapidly, I leapt from my vehicle and strode purposefully through the doors into nirvana.

Colors, sounds, aromas and textures assaulted my senses.  I stood for a moment and absorbed the surge of energy in that store.  It warmed me from my center spreading up the back of my neck to my head and down the backs of my legs.  I was soon bathed in warm pulsing comfort mixed with streaks of excitement.  Glorious.

And, terrifying.

I spun around and headed for the doors.  I had to get into my car and as far away from the store as I could, and fast.  I kept my head down because I didn't want to make eye contact with a helpful store employee or (God forbid) lay eyes on a display containing 1,000 thread count sheets (offered at the sale price of $175 for a queen sized set).

I practically vaulted into my Jeep and peeled out of that parking lot.

My heart rate has since returned to normal.  I called my husband on the drive home and told him what had happened.  He shouted, "YOU CAN'T GO INTO THOSE STORES.  THEY ARE A VERY BAD PLACE FOR YOU!"

Yes, they are.  Score:  BB&B - 0  Alyx - 1

Friday, September 21, 2012

And the gifts just keep on coming...

When my mother died four years ago, I "inherited" her collection of costume jewelry.  I keep it in a big cloth grocery store bag.  Mom liked bright colored  big cheesy necklaces - I know she bought most of her accessories during the 70's and 80's when that type of jewelry was socially acceptable.  She also loved earrings.  She never had her ears pierced and had a large collection of clip-ons.

I wouldn't be caught dead in the majority of what's in that bag.  I mean, when was the last time you saw someone wearing huge red plastic beads with matching earrings?  Still, I've been hanging on to her collection.

I'm going to be participating in a camping weekend for children who are grieving the loss of someone close to them, and one of the scheduled activities will be puppet-making.  While attending a training session for camp volunteers, I was told that donations of fabric, buttons, raffia and other random items that could conceivably be sewn or glued on a puppet were being solicited by Hospice of Anchorage, the organization offering the weekend to grieving kids.

I thought, "Hmm, I must have some stuff at home that I can donate."  I knew that I had raffia and a few remnants of material, but it wasn't until today that I thought about that damn jewelry.

I've been thinking of Mom a lot lately because while training for the camp I've waded through some grief exercises.  Hospice of Anchorage requires that people helping with the weekend experience some of what the kids will experience and I've shed a few tears remembering my mother the past couple of weeks.   Today I went through her jewelry piece by piece, and honest to God I could remember days, gatherings and situations in which she had worn every single item.  Those ugly, chunky necklaces, earrings and bracelets morphed into priceless jewels in my hands as I held them.  Visions popped into my head of my mother before she was sick - when she was still youngish and vibrant and taking yoga classes, entertaining friends at a local country club, and traveling the world while wearing her funky jewelry.

The bag is in my car, ready for my return to Anchorage early next week.  It's a little lighter than it was when I dragged it from my closet this morning because to my surprise I found three necklaces in there that I actually like and might wear.  While I'm volunteering at the camp next weekend, I wonder if I'll watch a child choose a bauble that belonged to my mother and use it to craft a puppet that represents the person that child has lost?

Wouldn't that be wonderful?

Monday, September 10, 2012

dueling da do do do do do da do

I'm back in my little room at the bed and breakfast for the fall semester.

The weather forecasters predicted 110 mph winds on Tuesday night.  Very unusual for this time of year in Anchorage.  The national weather service posted a dubious warning on Tuesday afternoon that alerted everyone who isn't blind to the fact that the leaves are still on the trees, which translated to a greater than normal risk of downed firs, cottonwoods, and birch.

I have a big window in my room and watched in awe on Tuesday night as the numerous trees in the backyard reacted to 130 mph gusts of relentless wind..  Branches tangling and flapping, bending so far that the tops of the trees seemed to touch the ground.  Constant movement.  I could hear the gusts coming even with the window closed; the trees would all sway and bounce in the same direction, returning to some semblance of upright with a violent rebound, only to be buffeted again and again.  The lights began to flicker on and off in my room, and my computer printer would shut down and then make a noisy return to a powered status.  Eventually I turned the thing off.  It sounded tired from all that activity.

I woke on Wednesday morning to a symphony of chainsaws.  No power, no cable (no internet or tv).  The wind was still blowing, but at a perfectly respectable 30-40 mph.  The sun was bright in the sky.  Alaskans were out cleaning up the mess and turning it into fireplace fuel for the fast approaching winter.

We hadn't lost one tree, but almost everyone else had.  They were down everywhere; big ones, small ones.  Some had snapped in half, while some had fallen over with their roots attached.  Big trees lying on the ground with their entire root systems perpendicular to the ground, dirt and leaves and earthworms dangling from them.  Not one person on our street, or any of the other streets near us, had sustained any structural damage to their homes or garages.  The trees just seemed to know how to fall without striking roofs or decks or cars.

The power came back on for us by 10 am on Wednesday, although the cable took another 48 hours.  There are still people here who are without power.

Gotta love Mother Nature.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

waking up after a very, very long sleep

Several weeks ago I called and scheduled today's appointment for my yearly mammogram. 

Last week sometime, I started feeling edgy about the appointment.  I was surprised at the feeling; breast cancer has never been one of the diseases I worry about and I usually breeze through the exam with nothing but the inevitable discomfort that comes from having a fleshy body part pressed flat in a vise for 30 seconds or so.

Today as I drove to the appointment, I examined my edginess.  A dear friend was diagnosed with breast cancer several months ago and has since undergone a double mastectomy and chemotherapy.  I love this woman and have spent more time than usual lately thinking about breast cancer, so I thought that might be the reason for my ripple of fear.

Suddenly, though, I got it.

I have something to lose.  I am living a fascinating, brilliant, challenging, rewarding, exciting life.  In all my 56 years, I cannot recall ever being this happy and fulfilled.  Much of my life has been spent in self imposed misery, most of it, in fact.  No wonder I approached mammograms without a second thought.  I approached most things without a second thought.  I had (or thought I had) little to lose.

Another in a long string of miracles.  Finally, I have something to lose.

Friday, June 15, 2012

Chop those onions a little smaller, will ya?

A couple of months ago my sister called and asked me if I would fly from Alaska to Seattle to take care of my brother in law (her husband) Art after his total knee replacement surgery.  She offered to pay for my flights and pay me a reasonable daily rate for the time I spent at their house.  She explained that Art is "cranky" after he has surgeries.  She knows this as he has had two shoulder surgeries, one thumb surgery, and a total hip replacement in the past several years.  Poor guy has arthritis.  She and Art thought it would be a good idea for me to be there because neither of them wanted her to be in "the line of fire", so to speak.

I have no summer job other than distance tutoring, so I was able to agree to play nurse for Art.  I didn't think too much about it beforehand.  I figured I would be dispensing medications, assisting with physical therapy exercises, providing some company for my sister, and cooking the meals as Art is the primary cook in their household.

Art's surgery was on a Friday morning.  I arrived late on Friday night.  My sister Linda and I spent Saturday and Sunday at the hospital with Art.  We watched him eat heartily, stretch painfully, and walk purposefully.  We witnessed euphoria (too much pain medication), frustration (he had hoped to be discharged Sunday, but was kept until Monday for the sake of safety), and the inevitable pain and lack of bowel cooperation that occurs after just about any surgical procedure.

Art was discharged on Monday just before noon, and we transported him home.  He made it up the stairs to their living area looking like he had been doing it for years.  The guy is very strong.

About fifteen minutes after we got Art home, I understood why my sister had wanted me to be there.

The following 48 hours felt like living hell for all three of us.  We had trouble with effective pain management, Art's lower digestive tract, "crankiness" that was more aptly described as "vicious rage",  ice packs that leaked during the night and soaked their bed, and physical therapy exercises that can only be described as utter torture.  My sister and I felt like we were walking on eggshells, and Art felt like he was walking on hot coals.  All of us had Olympic level mood swings.  Art's were due to the debilitating pain that accompanies recovery from a total knee replacement and ours were due to our inability to predict what words or actions would trigger Art's fury, which was always directed at Linda.  I spent part of my time helping Art, part of my time trying to nurture my sister, and the rest of my time eating chocolate.  Lots and lots of chocolate.

By Wednesday I felt as though it was safe for me to exhale.  Art was an animal with regards to his physical therapy, and making great strides.  He lashed out at Linda only once that day (a vast improvement).  He oversaw everything I cooked, hanging on his walker in the kitchen eyeballing (and correcting) my every move.  And all these years I thought I knew how to make a salad. 

On Thursday, Linda left for a two day trip to Oregon, where her son Russell's girlfriend Amanda was to graduate from nursing school.  All part of the plan.  Art and I accomplished three rounds of physical therapy and three meals with no cross words, and no problems.  We looked forward to Friday's visit from the physical therapist; she had made her initial visit on Tuesday and measured the angles of extension and flexion he could tolerate.  I was certain that she would be impressed with his progress when she came on Friday, and she was.  Art had gained a full twelve degrees of flexion:  he could really bend his foot and calf much further back than he could on Tuesday.  We high-fived each other, after which I retreated to my room to cry for a few minutes.  The patient's progress is a personal victory for the caregiver/coach as well, and I was proud of both of us.

As I write this, I have been in Seattle for one week.  It has been one of the fullest, most trying and most gratifying weeks of my life.  Linda returns tomorrow and I will pass the proverbial torch to her before flying home the following morning.  My relationship with Art has been forever changed: we are closer.  My relationship with Linda has been forever changed:  I have long trusted her, but now I believe that she trusts me, and I have earned it.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Fish Doctor

I took my husband to our doctor today.  Nursing school does things to a person (me) other than educate.  Suddenly it becomes necessary to drag unwilling family members to the doctor for regular visits.  This is the price family pays for the student's future good job and decent income.

I chose this doctor for us a couple of years ago for two reasons: he is the husband of a woman I met at college, and he is a Doctor of Osteopathy (DO).  I've always been partial to DOs.  They've always seemed more approachable, more reasonable, and more concerned with the whole person versus any disease process or condition.

Dr. Rullman was a commercial fisherman here in Alaska until the age of 35 or so.  He and his wife were talking about what they wanted to do with their future around that time, and he told her that he'd always wanted to be a doctor.  She told me that she was completely shocked when he said it.  Being industrious Alaskans, off they went in pursuit of his medical degree.  It took a few years (it always does), but he got into medical school and graduated and there you go.  He's a doctor.  He takes July and August off every year to fish commercially, otherwise he's at the small, comfortable medical office he shares with a couple other providers and the friendliest, most capable staff I've ever encountered.

I accompanied my husband into the exam room today (of course I did).  When Dr. Rullman asked why we were there, I ran down the list of concerns I had written in a memo on my android phone.  My husband sat quietly and took it like a man.  His blood pressure was excellent (former concern).  He was down 15 pounds from his previous visit (good news).  I told Dr. Rullman that I have been afraid to listen to my husband's lungs with my stethoscope (he smoked for many years and my father died of emphysema at the age of 57).  He listened to my husband's lungs, then handed me his stethoscope.  I listened.  Husband needs a chest x-ray because he has what are considered "diminished breath sounds" low in his lungs, but Dr. Rullman isn't worried about it (he probably ordered the x-ray out of caution and because he doesn't want to have to increase MY xanax dose).  I requested blood work as my husband has a history of high cholesterol (the bad kind).  Dr. Rullman described the niacin and fish oil dosages he would recommend if in fact my husband's cholesterol levels are out of kilter.  Then we talked about the test to check for prostate problems.  My husband looked at me like I was crazy when I brought that up.  He has no symptoms whatsoever of any prostate problem, but I am a nursing student and he's getting the damn blood test.

I love our doctor.  I love that he treats us like intelligent human beings and suggests exercise, weight loss, a good diet, fish oil and niacin to maintain our health.  I love that he'll hand me his stethoscope.  I love that the absolutely gorgeous medical assistant who drew my husband's blood today is so skilled that he didn't feel the needle enter his arm.

I also love that nursing school has taught me what to watch for, what to test for at what age, and when to stop worrying.  Not that I actually stop worrying.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Karma of the Traveling Healers

My sister Linda and I took a trip to southern California together, from which I returned yesterday.  We flew down to visit a very close family friend who was celebrating her 92nd birthday on Mother's Day, and to comb through the last of the boxes that were in the attic of my house in California, which my husband and I are trying to sell.

I didn't think much about how the trip might go before I left for the airport on the 8th of May, in particular how my sister and I might get along.  Having just wrapped up my first year of nursing school on May 1st, I was still in post academic shock.

It seemed as though everywhere we went, somebody needed to talk and be heard.  Between the two of us, we have considerable experience in matters of the heart and soul, and we listened to people.  We nurtured, validated and encouraged as different individuals shared their life struggles with one or both of us.  As we moved through our vacation, we were grateful for the opportunity to help others.  Each day it seemed as though a series of assignments had been crafted for us by a Higher Power, and we could easily see which of us had been tapped to accomplish that day's service work.  It was actually mind-blowing.  By the time we were halfway through our trip we joked that we were "Traveling Healers".

We paid a lot forward,  but also received great, weird, unexpected rewards.  We found the grave sites of several relatives (yes, we spent a bit of time in cemeteries as Linda is into unraveling some of the mysteries of our family tree).  We searched for some geocaches (my passion).  We were spontaneous but not extravagant, and somehow we were balanced.  We enthusiastically agreed to support each other in our areas of interest, found that we can share a hotel room comfortably (Linda likes the bed closest to the bathroom, and I like the bed closest to the air conditioner).  We learned how to share the internet, hotel bathrooms, and the costs of travel.

I extended my stay for three days when a dear friend offered to take me to a Los Angeles Lakers game on Friday (Linda and I had planned to fly home on Wednesday).  I took my sister to the airport at 0dark30 on Wednesday and spent several hours finding geocaches  before trading our expensive rental car for a discounted one.  Driving the discount car to Lake Arrowhead to spend two nights in my old neighborhood with a good friend who is always willing to share his home with me, I marveled at my good fortune: a great week with my sister, a Lakers game to look forward to, and unlimited sunshine for another couple of days.

My host wanted to talk.  We spent several hours revisiting troubling old subjects that night, and a bit of time the following day.  I rested and managed to get all that had been in the attic of the old house (all that I wanted to keep, anyway) into the two suitcases I had taken on the trip down.  One of my friend's neighbors informed us that my rental car had a flat.  I had driven over a screw.  That car had 2 miles on it when I picked it up at the airport.  No worries.  I called AAA and a former Iraqi war veteran arrived in a truck to repair the tire.  He shared with me one story of his stint in Special Forces and his words were so dramatic that at one point I wondered if he might be fabricating such a tale.  Then he showed me the huge gunshot wound that had shattered his leg and miraculously healed.  I believed him.  I thanked him, as did my host, who is a veteran of the Viet Nam war.

Friday dawned clear and relatively cool.  I made my way to lunch with two dear friends with whom I had previously worked, then drove to the airport to return the rental car with its repaired tire.  The friend who had invited me to the Lakers game picked me up at the airport.  She drove us to Staples Center in downtown Los Angeles in her husband's luxurious SUV, and we had a wonderful dinner before the game.  My friend needed to talk.  She is grappling with empty nest syndrome and another life issue.  I listened and validated and supported her.  We sat at the game and screamed and cheered and enjoyed ourselves immensely when the Lakers beat the Oklahoma City Thunder.

I'm not a good airline passenger.  I don't like to fly at all and am sorry to say that flying is only one of my irrational fears.  24 hours before my flight was due to leave I checked in online and found, to my delight, that there was an aisle seat available in row 6, the first row behind first class.  I like aisle seats because I feel less helpless sitting in one.  I grabbed that seat for the first leg of my flight and hoped that I could exchange the window seat I had reserved for my second flight for a 1st class upgrade when I arrived at the airport.  My friend dropped me at the airport on Saturday morning and when I checked in I was told that there was indeed one remaining seat in 1st class for the second leg of my trip.  I upgraded for $50, happy at my good fortune.

When I boarded that first flight, there was a gentleman sitting in my seat.  A woman and child were sitting in the two seats next to him.  As I approached him, he asked if I had been assigned that seat, and if I would be willing to trade seats with him so that he could sit with his family on the flight.  I asked him where his assigned seat was, and he pointed to 1st class.  As I settled into my nice wide comfortable seat, I began to speak to my seatmate.  He was a friendly man who revealed that he was an engineer who spent several years early in his career serving as a safety consultant for Trans World Airlines.  As we took off he educated me on the specifics of airline safety.  He told me all about how jet engines work and that flying really is the safest way to travel.  For some reason, I believed him, and enjoyed the flight very much.  I boarded the second plane for the second, longer leg of my journey and learned that my seatmate was a Physician's Assistant.  He, too, was very friendly and we discussed my status in nursing school, supplements that will help my brother in law recover quickly from the total knee replacement he is having in three weeks, and the glories of Alaska for the three and one half hour flight to Anchorage.  When we parted ways, he gave me his card and said that he hoped that we would one day work together.

The last leg of my journey home was of most concern to me.  The flight from Anchorage to Kenai covers only 60 miles, but it is in a small, 9-seat plane and it seems that the route is always windy and therefore turbulent.  I sat waiting for that flight and a woman dressed in a flight attendant's uniform sat next to me.  She had worked the flight that was the second leg of my trip home, and we began talking about her career.  She loves being a flight attendant and assured me that no matter how turbulent our short flight home might be, that we would be safe.  When we climbed into the little plane, a man joined us as a passenger.  The man had been a pilot for 30 years and had flown all over Alaska.  He and the flight attendant struck up a conversation and I listened to them talk about the joy of flying as we bounced and bumped the 60 miles to my home airport.  I felt completely safe in that plane.

I retrieved my luggage and left the airport terminal to see my husband waiting to take me home.  In that moment I marveled at what a lucky woman I am to have a loving husband, a new career on the horizon, a healthy body, and interesting and loving sister, good friends both here and in California, and what can only be considered excellent karma.  The Universe had me in the palm of its hand every moment of that trip, and it rewarded me handsomely on my journey home, just as it has ever single day of my life.

I wrote this post for me and not for anyone else.  There will be days in my future when I cannot see past an exam or other challenge.  I want to be able to read this post on those days and be reminded of the absolute truth that what goes around, comes around.

Friday, May 4, 2012


I was just putzing along today, riding my bike, conversing with the realtor who says he has an offer on our house in California, donating books to the library, and looking forward to a trip with my sister next week when horror struck:  I forgot to acknowledge my cousin's husband's birthday on May 1st.

You might wonder..."your cousin's husband's birthday?".  Certainly somewhat extended family, right?

No.  Not somewhat extended.  Not remotely extended.  Alan (the cousin's husband, whom I fondly call CIL for "Cousin In Law") is a pearl.  Understand that due to varying degrees of dysfunction in my family of origin (and my cousin's), my cousin and  had met only once when we were tiny children before reconnecting when my husband and I moved to Alaska three years ago.  I fell in love with her right away, and with him maybe 15 minutes later.  They welcomed us to their home and their home state with open arms as well as providing my husband with a place to live while he was working in their town and we were still living in ours, 80 miles away.  I don't know what we would have done without them.  We've shared holidays, laughter, health scares, pet losses, campfires, worries and successes, and they are close, close family.  He matters even more to me because I am not easy to take, and he has done such a good job of accepting me, and actually caring for me (one night I ran out of automotive oil in Anchorage - it was dark and cold and I couldn't reach my husband, so I called Alan for advice, which he was happy to give).  Not to mention that he is one of the smartest and funniest people I've ever met, a pleasure to be around, and grills the very best rib eye steak on the planet.

So I forgot his birthday this year.  I've had a card for him for months.  I found it in October and it was perfect, so I hid it someplace safe.  On Tuesday, his birthday, I was taking my final exam for my second semester of nursing school and was entirely focused on that and moving out of my digs in Anchorage to return home.  I'd have remembered if he had his birthday listed on Facebook, but he doesn't, and he shouldn't have to.  I should have remembered.

I will never forget his birthday again.  Kinda like I won't ever forget the answers to the test questions I missed in nursing school.  Mortification will do that for a person.   I'm scheduling an appointment to get a tattoo that will read MAY 1ST and I plan to have it done in red across my forehead.


Monday, April 30, 2012

In this room

I'm packing in preparation for vacating my room at the B&B for the summer.  The exam that will conclude my first year of nursing school takes place on Tuesday, and I leave for home on Wednesday.  I'll return to this room at the end of August to begin my second and final year of nursing school (at least for now - I'll have my AAS degree when I leave this room at this time next year).

In this room I've eaten way too many bags of dark chocolate, popcorn and baked pita chips and not nearly enough broccoli.  I've developed a deep appreciation for the Food Channel here, watched a number of Los Angeles Lakers games, and played silly Facebook games.  I've witnessed record snowfall, spectacular northern lights, and moose from the window in this room.

Most importantly, I've learned in this room.  Learned how to hear heart and breath sounds through a stethoscope, find the pulses in my feet, draw medication into a syringe, wrap a wounded limb, identify a number of diseases, write a proper nursing diagnosis, and craft a decent case study. 

I've learned how to love my husband more deeply here.  I've been away from home for most of the past year and he has not once complained.  He goes to work every day in part to put me through school, takes care of our house and animals, and never, ever whines about having to shoulder keeping the home fires burning alone.

I've learned how desperately I need my sister in my life.  She is the only person on the planet who knows me so well that she can find a way to talk me down from the proverbial ledge no matter how close I am to toppling.  She is my touchstone.

I've learned that my cousin Georgia accepts me exactly as I am and loves me anyway.  I can count on her, and she supports me unconditionally.  Just before I started school she gave me a greeting card and in it wrote, "enjoy every minute".  I look at that card every day and it reminds me that I wanted this, and that instead of bemoaning the workload I must celebrate it.

Last but not least,  I've learned that nothing is more rewarding than pursuing one's passion. 

Thank you, Mom.  I miss you, but I know you're watching me from wherever you are and you're glad I'm spending the money you willed to me on this amazing, exciting, glorious life I'm living in this room.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

For Michelle

You won't read this tonight, and certainly won't have time tomorrow.  You and your daughter will be driving to the outpatient surgery center in Fort Worth early in the morning so that you can check in for your double mastectomy.

It was about five weeks ago that I saw your instant message to me on Facebook.  It read, "I found a lump in my breast".  We spoke on the phone that night and you told me about how you had been sitting on the couch watching television when you found the lump, which you said was about the size of a grape.  You promised that you would make an appointment to see a doctor the following morning.
I remember hanging up and then hanging my head.  It didn't sound good to me.

A week later we spoke again.  You had been to a doctor and had a mammogram.  The doctor told you that he wasn't going to mince words.  He said that he'd been looking at mammograms for a long time and that yours looked like you had cancer.  A biopsy confirmed that diagnosis.  You said, "What the hell?  I have breast cancer."  I said, "Yes, you do."

More testing.  You have the "bad kind" of breast cancer (as if there were a good one), the kind that grows fast and spreads fast.  They saw no signs that the cancer had spread to your lymph nodes, so we crossed our fingers then (they're still crossed).  You met with your surgeon.  She said that a lumpectomy was too conservative and advised you to have a mastectomy - just the one breast.  With your delightful sense of humor you were able to talk about how, after the surgery, you'd still have one of your "girls".  Your boyfriend loves your breasts, you said, and we agreed that he would still have one to admire.

Two weeks ago you told me that you'd decided against breast reconstruction - you don't want additional pain and discomfort.  I told you that I thought I would make the same choice.  We are, after all, seasoned women on the wrong edge of middle age and if our men don't want us with flat chests they need to find other old women to sleep next to.  A couple of nights later, you told me that your surgeon had called to say that she thought a double mastectomy would be your safest route.  I asked you how you felt about that and you told me that you didn't want to spend your days and nights worrying about whether or not your particularly aggressive form of cancer was germinating in a second breast, and had decided to go with the doctor's recommendation.  I believe I would make that same decision.

I can't be in the waiting area tomorrow with your daughter and boyfriend because I am in nursing school in Alaska and you're in Fort Worth, but my spirit will be in that operating room with you when they put you under, and with you in the recovery room when you wake up with your chest bandaged.  The doctors will be testing your lymph nodes before the actual surgery, so with luck we'll finally uncross our fingers when they tell us that they found nothing worrisome in those nodes and that your double mastectomy removed every trace of malignancy.  We'll hug (gently) and then I can tell you what I've wanted to say ever since you first told me that you had found that lump, but have been too afraid of bursting into tears to do so.

You're a beautiful, feminine, smart, wonderful woman.  You wear sparkly shoes and have striking eyes and gorgeous hair.  You're strong and willful and so very, very funny, and I've had some of the greatest laughs of my life with you.  I've cried with you, lived with you and shared secrets with you.  I count you as one of the great blessings in my life.

Tonight after I called to tell you that I love you and that I'll be thinking of you all day tomorrow I got down on my knees (which I do rarely) and I said, "God, I usually don't ask You for things for myself, but tonight I am begging You to let Michelle get through tomorrow with no lymph node involvement, no complications.  Please.  PLEASE."

Friday, February 3, 2012

Paging Noah

Yesterday the seemingly eternal sub-zero cold snap broke here in Anchorage.  As I drove home from class last night , I marveled at the temperature reading my Jeep showed on the dashboard: 38 degrees F.
I entered the B&B, walked down the stairs to my room on the ground floor and heard something unusual.  It sounded like a waterfall.  I thought, "Wow, the warmer temps melted all that snow on the roof...that's some big runoff."  I changed into my jammies and went into the kitchen to grab something to eat.  That water was loud.  I mean really loud.  I walked toward the corner of the living area, from whence the sound was coming, and suddenly I was standing in a puddle of very cold water.  "This isn't good", I thought.  The floors in that room are beautiful glossy hardwood.  Exploring the deck just outside the living area wall I saw no water cascading from anywhere above.  I came back inside and started pushing furniture toward the center of the room and away from the expanding puddle.  Once I had saved several nice pieces, I raced upstairs and called the B&B owner's daughter who lives here in Anchorage (the owner is in Las Vegas - she isn't crazy enough to live here during the winter).  The daughter, Martie, said that she and her husband would be over to assess the situation after they had dinner.

I was really worried about that hardwood floor.  Collecting bath towels from each of the five suites upstairs I began sopping up water.  I got close to the source and noted that it appeared to be coming up from the floor itself.  Very shortly I was out of towels and thought to look in the sauna the owner uses as storage.  There I struck pay dirt.  She had visited J.C. Penney at some point and there were maybe 40 new towels in there.  More sopping.

Martie showed up about an hour later with her husband Steve, who is (thank God) a plumber.  I showed them the pond and piles of soaked towels in the living area.  Steve went to work trying to figure out what in the world was going on while Martie and I continued sopping and mopping.

All kinds of interesting things happen when you live in Alaska.  Last year my husband neglected to "winterize" our motor home and the water that was in the pipes when we parked it in the driveway froze.  When spring came, they broke, and leaked.  It was nasty.  This year the owner of this B&B forgot to shut off the valve that controls an obscure pipe that runs from the bathroom of a second floor suite to the back of the house and ends in a spigot before she left for the winter.  Sometime before I got home last night, the ice that had accumulated in that pipe thawed enough, and the pipe burst.  The valve was open, the water was running - and it was running down the inside of the wall and across the ceiling of the suite on the other side of the living area from my suite.

Steve shut the valve and the water stopped running.  Even so, there were gallons of it soaking the insulation in the ceiling of that other room.  We watched in horror over the span of about three hours as large pregnant looking bubbles formed on the ceiling and walls in there.  We poked at them with knives and water poured out of them, further soaking the carpet.

I've washed and dried all the towels (had to put them on a spin cycle first - they were very heavy).  Six loads.  There are three men from the disaster crew in the other bedroom now, at 1 am (24 hours after the flood).  They have what one of them called a "shop vac on steroids", dropcloths, hatchets and other tools.  They're tearing the ceiling out in there and trying to salvage the carpet.  They seem like very good guys, so I may just go to sleep while they're still here (they'll probably still be here when I wake up, for that matter).

I've spoken with the owner several times today.  Each time she has told me how very glad she is that I am here, and that she can only imagine what would have happened had the pipe broken, say, on a weekend while I was home in Kenai.  The fellow in the other room with the hatchet told me that we'd have had two to three feet of water down here if that pipe had gushed for a couple of days.

When I lived in California, I ran from forest fires.  Now I have survived a flood.  From this point forward, I'll be scanning the horizon waiting for and watching for the locusts.

Monday, January 23, 2012


While I'm in school, I live in a B&B in Anchorage.  It's a gigantic three-story house with a front yard that has been cemented over to create parking spaces, and it's in a very nice residential neighborhood within 3 miles of the college and hospital where I go for clinical rotations.

My room and its private bath are on the bottom floor.  Also on the bottom floor is a large living room and full kitchen that I share with the occupant of the only other bedroom on this floor.  His name is Mark.  He moved to Alaska this past October, having spent the first 27 years of his life living in more temperate climes.  Mark is smart, tall, handsome and pleasant when our paths cross, which isn't often.  I wouldn't even know he lived down here save for the fact that he leaves dirty dishes and crumbs in the kitchen and uses my dishwashing soap and towels. Mark has been here all day (I know this because his car is parked in the driveway), as have I, and I haven't laid eyes on him.  As far as I know he hasn't cooked anything (there is no new mess in the kitchen).

An orthopedic surgeon and his wife live on the second floor during the winter.  They're very pleasant people.  He replaces hips and knees at a nearby hospital and has climbed Everest  She manages the house while the owners spend their winters in exotic places like Africa, France, and Israel.  She is detail oriented and very interested in the lives and habits of the other occupants of the house.  Yesterday she informed me that Mark has not washed his sheets or clothes since he arrived in October, and that his room is full of dirty clothes, trash bags full of trash, and computer gaming equipment.  She says that she believes they'll have to burn his sheets when he moves out (apparently he is using "house sheets" - I brought mine from home because I'm sorely addicted to high thread counts).  I was unaware that she patrolled our rooms while we're gone and wonder what she thinks when she peeks into my room, which is full of books, binders, bags of food items that I'm unwilling to share with Mark, and Angry Bird stuffed animals that my husband has begun buying for me.  I think I'll leave a big pile of plastic dog poop on the floor just inside the door of my room the next time I go home to Kenai.

There are several other transient winter residents living here off and on, and the granddaughter of the owner makes regular appearances with her two small children.  She does her laundry here and uses the internet while she ignores her children who want to follow tenants into their rooms.

We're an odd group.  At least two of us are night owls; I can hear someone wandering around above me until at least 2 am before I fall asleep.  We are mountain climbers, busybodies, computer gamers, bicycle riders, students, surgeons and hoarders.  We are US, Canadian and UK citizens, junk food junkies, gourmet cooks, bridge players, movie buffs, single mothers, married couples, neat freaks and slobs.  Somehow we blend in slightly off-key harmony.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Tilt, earth, tilt!

One of the aspects of living in California that I despised most was the weather.  It was always hot (to me); I am most comfortable when the temp is between 20 degrees and 60 degrees F.  On the days that my steering wheel was too hot to touch I'd wonder if I was in hell.

Fast forward three years and northwest 2,500 miles.  Alaska is a place of extremes, but where I live it hasn't been extremely warm.  Not once.  We're experiencing our third consecutive week of sub-zero temperatures now and even I, the Ice Queen, am growing weary of the cold.

I took my Jeep to the dealer here in Anchorage this morning, as I had a 10:15 am appointment to have the service department tell my why my ride is leaking small amounts of oil (again).  When I arrived, the service department told me that whomever had scheduled me for today must have been hallucinating when he said there was availability.  The harrowed man behind the desk explained to me that when the weather is this cold, everybody's car acts up.  He said, "I have a stack of order forms for people requesting service as far back as December."  He then asked me if it was gushing oil or just dripping.  Gushing=emergency and maybe we can get you in by Tuesday.  Dripping=Lady, bring your car in next Thursday and we'll try to get it done, but plan on spending all day in our waiting area.  We have WiFi.  I thought he was going to cry, so I refrained from complaining about having driven 8 miles to reach the dealer only to find that I had no appointment.

During my winter break from college, I rode my bicycle about five times.  Each time I rode, I discovered another body part that absolutely had to be shielded from sub-zero wind chills.  I am now fully equipped with ski pants with suspenders, a beanie that covers my ears, a face shield with a neck covering, ski goggles, special socks I ordered from Canada, air-activated toe warmers, and the requisite gloves and heavy jacket.  My bike traveled back up to Anchorage with me several days ago, but it's languishing in the garage because it's too cold outside to ride until afternoon, and my classes start at 2pm and run until at least 5pm (it's dark at 5).

The moose residing near my home in Kenai have less to dine on during the winter because their veggies are buried under a couple of feet of snow.  One night early in January I was in my bedroom watching television and heard a commotion on my front porch.  I thought, "Who in the he** is at my door at this time of the night?"  Upon investigation I found a moose standing on the porch trying to reach some bark on our tree.

It's cold.