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Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Bad Werewolf: One Week Later

Some people have told me that I look like I was bitten by a vampire; I responded that it was actually a werewolf.  The cut on my neck is all puffy--despite religious pre-operative washing with 4% Chlorhexidine Gluconate and another SIX moist towelettes of the same stuff at the hospital (Man, did I itch! That stuff probably took off eight layers of skin!), I still managed to contract a mild infection, and the gash produced some bloody pus when I squeezed it last night (it felt better after I did--I've got a huge Bandaid and antibiotic ointment on it now).  Other than that, my recovery has been swift, with little discomfort.

I stayed last Monday night over at Leah and Aaron's, washing at night and in the morning with the CHG solution and then taxiing with Leah to the Inova Fairfax Hospital in the pre-dawn hours for the surgery.  Friends go with friends to medical procedures!  I got pretty shaky lying there in the prep room waiting for surgery, and I was so glad she was there to calm me down.  The staff was all very nice, efficient and pleasant, and the only thing that was really uncomfortable was having the medical tech shove the IV into my dehydrated hand vein.  I went off to unconsciousness without a problem, and woke up in the recovery room with a sore throat and raging thirst, but no collar, because with the little metal disk implanted in my neck along with the cadaver bone, it's no longer necessary to be in the old medieval device.  They had ice chips handy, and while I was chomping down on those they wheeled in a man who'd just donated a kidney to his wife.  They have two little girls, I heard the nursing staff say.  Wow.  Awesome dude.

They schlepped me up to a room in the Spine Center soon thereafter and I tottered to the toilet with the help of a nurse and was then presented with an enormous sippy cup full of ice water for me to slurp on. Leah told me that my surgeon had talked to her and had been happy with the operation, and he actually showed up by my bedside soon thereafter and told me he wanted me to be doing normal activities, moving my neck as much as possible, going to the gym, etc.  Leah had to leave at noon, and Susan and little Theo came in to spend the afternoon with me.  Therapy pets are fine, but it's really nice having a therapy baby to cuddle when you are in postoperative pain!  Susan and Theo were leaving when Mary showed up to retrieve me at suppertime.  By that point, I was ready and able to go home, as my surgeon had promised me (I'd thought he was just being blithely optimistic).

Mary took me back to Rockville, and I went directly to bed.  I pretty much stayed there for two days, watching DramaFever on my iPhone and eating ice cream, with one brief foray outside to sit in the sunshine.  I took some minimal pain meds every four to six hours, felt weak and mildly sore, but certainly not miserable, and practiced getting safely to and from the bathroom.  The bandage came off my neck at midnight on Wednesday and I immediately took a hot shower, and felt way better.  My hosts took me out for dinner at the local Silver Diner on Thursday night, and Saturday afternoon Mary's husband and little Faith drove me back to my apartment, where Susan, Steven and Theo brought my mother just half an hour later.

Mums is here until Friday.  I showed off my battle scar at church Sunday morning and at trivia yesterday night.  I've put five listings on eBay and updated my USAjobs resume, as number-crunching for my taxes was horrifying.  Sequestration or not, I need a "real" job with benefits ASAP.  I love this area, but it's murderously expensive--last year, I spent more than $2500 on gasoline alone, and $17,000 on just rent and electricity.  Medical expenses (in those pre-herniated disc days) were $3000 (heaven and Assurant Health Insurance Company only know how bad they'll be this year--thank God I shelled out for a policy!).  Cobbling together all of my little income sources, I may actually have made $30,000 in 2012 (I have yet to total them all; right now I'm looking at about $26,000), but with an estimated $5000+ in federal and state taxes, and tithing, I had left less than $5000 to live on after the aforementioned required outlays.  Close to the bone, close to the bone.  No way to save for a prospective retirement, or the looming necessity of a new car, certainly.  Maybe I should put a Paypal donation button on my blog sidebar...

Friday, March 15, 2013

Age, Gelt, Neck Surgery & A New Haircut

Grey curls fell one after another onto the black nylon cloth covering me from neck to knees as the little Thai man applied a pair of clippers to the back of my neck.  I was appalled at how profoundly silver my undercoat had become—was this all coming from my head, or was someone playing a practical joke on me by sprinkling hair from some old lady over my shoulder into my lap?  Perhaps age sneaks up on everybody like this—one day they are fresh out of college, looking forward to buying furniture for their first apartment, and the next they are faced with the prospect of total hip replacement and the quandary of which grandchild will be available to drive them to the weekly Bingo game.  Myself, I am facing neck surgery on Tuesday and having no relatives handy am relying on friends to drive me to the hospital early that morning (the procedure is scheduled for 7:45) and then fetch me away afterwards.  Leah and her husband are taking me to the OR, and once I am stitched back up and in a neck brace Mary and little Faith are whisking me to Rockville to stay in their first-floor guest bedroom. 

I told the surgeon he’d better not sneeze while rooting around in my neck—he was briskly honking into a Kleenex when I went back to the examining room this morning.  He laughed and assured me he wouldn’t.  I saw the neurosurgeon for a second opinion yesterday.  She looked over my MRI images and ran some basic function tests and told me that not only did I need one level fused, she’d recommend going ahead and fusing two.  So I rescheduled the postponed surgery, got the preoperative blood work redone this afternoon, and then went out and had eleven inches cut from my hair, and the remainder shaped into a shroom-like bob.  Given that I won’t be able to wash my hair after surgery for several days, I wanted something low-maintenance.  And light—my sister had speculated that my neck problems might have been exacerbated by the fact that for most of my life I had very long, heavy hair.  Too, I was starting to look sort of scraggly, skanky even, with my (shorter) longer hair: greying wisps flying out all over, and thinning at the ends.  Getting a chin-length cut was my concession to the fact of middle age and middling health.  I feel much bouncier already, and responses of friends and family to my new look have been entirely positive.

I got a horrifyingly large bill from the Virginia Hospital Center for my Valentine’s Day MRI—over $3500, after the insurance-negotiated discount.  I am going to see if I can get some financial help with this, as paying that would wipe out my whole several years of savings in one go, not to mention the other, smaller bills that are coming due to the urgent care clinic, the pre-op center, the orthopedic surgeon, the neurosurgeon and the hospital (never mind the anesthesiologist and other people involved in the surgery)!  I had decided on a $5000 deductible for my health insurance a couple of years ago because I knew I was basically healthy, poor (so I couldn’t afford to pay much more out of pocket for the premium), and if something happened to me it would probably be catastrophic and then $5000 would be the least of my payment worries (I was betting on a car accident).  Well, I didn’t figure on being mildly disabled for no external reason, out of work for three weeks at a stretch, still having the usual living expenses of rent and groceries and electricity and life in addition to the challenge of coming up with $5000 in cash for the medical expenses.  It’s a challenge. 

The little hairs at the back of my neck where it was shaved are itching. It feels like horsehair upholstery.

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Latest Entertainment & Composition

There are a lot of fellow Kdrama addicts out there, and we all share some common characteristics, as described recently on the DramaFever blog.  My Korean vocabulary has developed to about two dozen words, and sooner or later I'll sit down and learn the Hangul alphabet (it's simple; like the Cyrillic alphabet, you just need to spend a couple of hours committing the sounds and shapes to memory, and then you can accurately sound out anything written down--unlike English, words are spelled like they are pronounced).  The best series I've recently completed, however, is from Taiwan: In Time With You. There is no way that I'm ever tackling Mandarin, though! As I can't hear the difference between "pin" and "pen" in English, a four-tone language where "pin" can mean "pinkish", "spelling", "frequency", "to betroth", or "stripper" (just to name a few), depending on intonation is way beyond my abilities!

I've discovered a historical mystery series that, thus far, has made me a devoted reader: James R. Benn's Billy Boyle World War II series.  Benn is a retired librarian and obvious World War II history buff, and his attention to accurate real-world detail in the construction of good, interesting adventure stories makes me happy.  In my own WWII-related literary publication efforts, I sent off an email on Monday to a local editor who was recommended to me by a professor at Georgetown with whom I chatted at last month's Phi Alpha Theta chapter anniversary banquet.  He and his wife have published several books through New Academia, a press here in DC, and have been pleased.  She hasn't  acknowledged that she received the email, so I will wait another week or so and then re-try.

While I was in Rhode Island, I showed my niece my drafts of my children's stories.  She was immediately inspired to write her own, and carefully composed it on my computer, using 16-point AR HERMANN font.  It ended up being 213 words, all slowly typed by Rita herself ("hunt and peck" method), who asked me how to spell only a couple of words.  I also explained the accurate use of quotation marks, and she inserted those where necessary.  I was thoroughly impressed.  I don't know that I would have had the wherewithal when I was her age to write a tale like that, of that length and clarity, much less type it meanwhile.  I sent a copy to Mums, S Dawg and my other siblings.

The last night I was there, Rita had insomnia and came out to talk to me (I was curled up on the couch, reading).  "Sometimes I feel like a bicycle that's been left in the garage all winter by itself," she told me. "I am lonely and I don't have anyone to talk to.  Everyone is asleep and I am in my room at the end of the hall." Poor little girl. [Wow, such a poignant illustration of solitude!] I told her I understood.  I wish she had a cell phone so we could talk, though neither she nor her brother have yet to show any interest in talking on the phone, unlike my honorary nephews, who seem more than willing.  Her typing is a little slow as yet to accommodate online communication, and besides she doesn't have an email address.  I have mulled the idea of snail-mail, but her mother is awful about making sure that her letters are sent promptly, and so short of sending her a stack of pre-addressed and stamped envelopes (a possibility, I suppose), that's a dead end.  A little girl who loves books as much as she does, who is able to express her emotional depth at her age (I felt the same way--anyone who says children can't be truly depressed was a clueless child) needs some means, some opportunity, to write.  And given that I am the "mother ship", and she is my clone, I must do what I can to facilitate this.

Saturday, March 09, 2013

Oy, Ow!

I went back to work on Monday.  I just got too stir-crazy sitting at home, and the orthopedist told me that lifting hadn't caused my neck problems and wouldn't exacerbate them, so I figured I might as well try to earn some coin while waiting for my neurologist appointment, particularly as I had to beseech the deacons for my rent money this month (being out of work for three weeks finally did what various earlier brushes with penury hadn't succeeded in doing--pushing me totally into the red), and have no desire to do the same for April.  My philosophy was, if I was going to be in pain and reduced dexterity anyway, I might as well be being useful as I was able at the time. 

The discomfort and debilitation has definitely gotten worse. I am much reconciled to the idea of surgery, even a week away from the second opinion I am seeking from the neuro lady, whom I fully expect to confirm her colleague's advice.  Meanwhile, I am repeatedly reminded how relatively good I have it; how light and momentary is my present affliction.  My bosses sister, who had two breast cancer surgeries in the last month, was diagnosed two weeks ago with endometrial cancer, in what they thought was the first stage.  On Wednesday, during the surgery to deal with that, they discovered that the cancer had already spread to other organs. The poor woman has been in intensive care ever since she woke from the anesthesia.  My boss is spending every evening at the hospital, and we've a sale this weekend.

A girlfriend of mine is going to pass my resume along to her husband's company, to consider me for a technical writing position. I can't afford to be an independent contractor anymore.  I plan to spend Sunday afternoon napping and then assembling all the paperwork to do my 2012 taxes--I need to get that squared away before I go under the knife.  I dearly hope that I won't owe any additional amount besides the quarterly estimated taxes I've already paid!