Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Play List Because I'm Wide Awake Again

classic performance by Fun

I'm wakeful again already, which is not a good sign. Today is likely to be a very long day for me even though I'm free at around 4:00. I usually study independently very late on Tuesday evenings, then go to bed and sleep late. My first study group typically starts at around 10:00. My second study group is at around 2:00. Then I study over dinner with Matthew's group at 6:00. By 10:00 I'm ready to either do what I want or go to bed. Usually it's "do what I want"  rather than "go to bed."

Today I'll probably take a quick shower and wash my hair after class. I'll shower rather than bathe because I don't want to risk a Whitney Houston fate. I'll dry my hair, eat enough to keep from losing any of the weight I've been able to put on,  and be in bed by 6:00 at the latest. 

This will probably allow me to be awake by 6:00 a.m. at the very latest even though i'm not normally an early riser, as i can only sleep for so long. I'll get in a solid three-and-a-half hours of independent study before studying with the first study group. that's not as long as I usually study independently, but for this particular Tuesday/Wednesday study block, it will have to suffice, i need sleep even more than I need studying today. Many if not most students prioritize in that order most of the time, but for me, it's an unusual occurrence. i usually study at all costs, but i recognize that I'm getting to the point that if I don't catch up on sleep, I'll get sick. Furthermore, I bought textbooks early and got a little bit ahead over break, plus sat in last quarter at about this point on a few of this section's lectures, so I have a bit of a jump-start.

Since I don't have anything particularly intelligent to share, I'll give you my current top ten play list.  it changes roughly weekly.  this is what I'm listening to this week.  I may come back and post videos later.

#1 Animals:    by Maroon 5

#2 Scales and Arpeggios: from Aristocats 
(one of the few Disney songs I actually like)

#3 Penguin's Lament: as performed by John Ondrasik (written by children's composer Sandra Boynton)

#4 Stay with Me: by Sam Smith

#5  Good Riddance: by Green Day (one of Claire's favorites)

#6 We Are Young: by  Fun (Jared's and my song; for some reason i'm thinking about jared a lot lately, probably just because he's not here; when I'm at home or anywhere else other than here, I think about "Raoul" or my former running partner)

#7 Crossroads: by Don McLean (Lesser-known classic by the king of Depressing Songs [Janice Ian is probably the Queen]).

#8 Carolina in My Mind: by James Taylor (It's another moldy oldie, yet nothing by James Taylor ever gets truly moldy. Incidentally, I hate it when people try to sound like James Taylor.  It's OK if someone imitates his guitar technique, which is most unique and recognizable, but his voice, equally unique and recognizable, is his and his alone. Only James Taylor, his brother Livingston, his son Ben, and maybe any other siblings he has actually sound like him. other people who try simply come across as a poser and as pathetic.)

#9 House at Pooh Corner: by Loggins & Messina (It never gets old to me.)

#10 Landslide: by either Stevie Nicks or Fleetwood Mack;( I can't keep straight which songs of her are solo and what's technically by the group. she has a godawful voice, but the song kills it.)

#11 Sheets of Egyptian Cotton: by Jesse Spencer from the movie Uptown Girls; (It's actually kind of a dumb song, but it's been stuck in my head lately so I've been listening to it.)

#12: You Can Call Me Al: by Paul Simon; (I actually like the video with Chevy Chase more than the song itself, but the song is good as well.)

#13 When I was Your Man: by Bruno Mars (Almost anything by Bruno Mars is good.)

#14 Hey Jude: by The Beatles (Something by the Beatles will always be on my current play list.)

#15 Mother's Little Helper: by The Rolling Stones (Even though i'm not a mother, I can sort of relate right now. I'd like a little chemical help to regulate my states of sleepiness and wakefulness at the wrong times, though I'm not going to get it in any form stronger than Tylenol PM and 5-hour energy drinks.)

The videos will be here until someone takes them down due to copyright infringement or some other pesky technicality. I'm growing drowsy may be able to get in another eighty minutes of sleep.

The Many Banes of My Existence by Alexis: Trouble Staying Awake, but I'll Beat the Fatigue

The Many Banes of My Existence by Alexis: Trouble Staying Awake, but I'll Beat the Fatigue: It has been difficult to get back into the studying mode. I just stopped for the night, but I don't think I studied as efficiently...

Trouble Staying Awake, but I'll Beat the Fatigue

It has been difficult to get back into the studying mode. I just stopped for the night, but I don't think I studied as efficiently as I am accustomed. we'll surely have a quiz tomorrow in my cardiology-pulmonary medicine  class. I hope I'm adequately prepared.

I'd love to write about Matthew now, but the alarm clock will ring at 8:00 a.m. no matter how late I stay up. 8:00 a.m. seems late to many people, but when I've been studying until almost 2:00 a.m., it equals six hours of sleep, which are only marginally enough for me,

Today (or actually yesterday) I had a tough time staying awake in class. My foot throbbed. I found an extra chair and elevated the foot. I didn't take any pain meds because I was already fighting sleep as it was. I suspect at least one professor was offended.

If I can just manage to not stink up the joint on tomorrows quiz as well as to stay awake in class, I'll have a day to catch up on both studying and sleep.

The professors tend to pile things on so heavily at the beginning of a quarter that it's impossible for me to pull ahead and get all the reading done for the entire quarter. within a week or two they usually let up, though. Then I'll do my massive over-study so that i can coast to some degree, though there's never totally any coasting in medical school. If a professor thinks you're coasting, he or she just throws tougher questions and cases at you.  It's as though a person is penalized for being prepared. The only answer, as far as I can discern, is to fly under the radar but to answer questions correctly and to kick butt on exams. Otherwise, don't let anyone know what you know. It's not exaxctly playing dumb; it's more a matter of keeping as low a profile as possible, which also helps peers to dislike a person with less intensity.

I continually remind myself that I'm living what some people would consider a dream, though at times it seems more like a nightmare to me.

Former running partner with physician and surgeon parents from India has been sitting near me. I wonder if his parents believe in arranged marriages.

Monday, March 30, 2015

Nothing Profound (not that there ordinarily is): Just an Update

I'm back at my condo, as I have class in the morning, but I cannot sleep. My brother and I have gotten into the habit of driving back at night to avoid traffic on the shorter trips where we share a car. We're both somewhat night owls, and we both stay awake to ensure whoever is driving remains awake, but I started to get a bit drowsy, so I did what I very rarely do, which is to consume a five-hour energy drink. Those things work too well on me. Perhaps I should drink just half of it next time.  

I seldom use energy drinks, as I've heard they can be bad for a person's kidneys. I should ask one of my professors just how bad they are. In any event, i only consume them when not doing so would be worse for my health, as in when I'm driving or helping another driver to remain awake.

My brother drove the total distance tonight. Usually we trade off on driving, switching somewhere not too far from Paso Robles, but with my cast, driving long distances isn't comfortable. Matthew likes driving more than i do, anyway.

We have a short academic eek, as we have study day on Wednesday, then have a long weekend for Easter, as in no class on Friday or Monday. We'll leave as soon as traffic lets up a bit on Thursday evening -- maybe 7:30 or 8:00 p.m. We're not expecting traffic to be especially bad going the direction we're going on Monday, so we'll leave home at 5:00 or so. Any major traffic should have dissipate by the time we hit the usual trouble spots.

I'd like to say that courses are getting a bit more interesting, but that won't really happen until next year. We're focusing heavily on cardiovascular and pulmonary systems and diseases. These areas are fundamental to everything we do later on, and lay the cornerstones for what we'll learn later.  It gets a bit dry to study the same thing for so long, but it's critical. Practice of Medicine III is a bit more intense than it was the prior two quarters. I hope we get the same Berkeley rep actors. it's so much fun to play games with their minds.

We're expected to do lunch seminars on various  topics at least twice a week. This is a bit of a bummer, as lunch was a good time to go over notes. I have to do that at the end of class while the professor is still talking yet try not to be obvious in doing it or to miss anything important in the final things that are discussed.

This isn't my style, but i think I'll order it for my brother.

It's nice that both this week and next week are four-day weeks, not even counting having Wednesdays off to study. 
My dad tells me to enjoy it, because things were much rougher back in the day. I don't know that I totally believe him. I believe that internships and residencies were much harder before certain mandatory reforms were instituted because exhausted interns and residents were killing off patients like flies, but as far as med school goes, i suspect it's much the same as it has always been.

I wish I had something exciting to report or had the clarity of mine to write another tribute post, but that must wait until later. i'm awake but my mind isn't clear. i might end up extolling the virtues of Sirhan Sirhan or Osama bin Laden, and we cannot have that.

I think i'm finally getting sleepy. Good night! 

I won't get this for my brother because it would give him bad ideas.

Friday, March 27, 2015

The Many Banes of My Existence by Alexis: Rosary Madness

The Many Banes of My Existence by Alexis: Rosary Madness: As we are surrouned by  March Madness, let us Consider a bit of Rosary Madness .                                                        ...

Rosary Madness

As we are surrouned by  March Madness, let us Consider a bit of Rosary Madness .                                                        

Holy Rosary, Batman!

This post  may  come across both as somewhat irreverent and certainly hypocritical coming from a person who just lost one of her dearest friends and went through all the Catholic ceremonies and liturgies on her behalf. I certainly don't wish to mock the newly departed nor the family and close friends of the  deceased. My fingers, however, feel as though they are going to fall off my hands. I'm barely able to type.

I just played [a toy] piano for a Portuguese Rosary for a relative of a relative. Claire was a relative of a relative of a relative, but her situation was much more personal to me, and it seemed much more tragic. This situation is not less tragic because I happen not to know the person for whom the Rosary was held, but rather because the man was in his mid nineties, had lived a wonderful life, and was, by all accounts, ready to move on. Judging be the number of people attending the ceremony tonight, I would assume there are many people who will miss the man, but everyone was relatively upbeat throughout the Rosary. I anticipate that the mood at the funeral mass tomorrow will be not necessarily chipper, but far from the gloom and doom of Claire's service. 

I know Claire's parents would have liked a more light-hearted memorial for Claire, and we all tried, but in the end we just couldn't pull it off for them. I hope that maybe on Claire's next birthday many of us who are close to her can gather with her parents and siblings and truly celebrate Claire's life. It's not like her parents or any of  us will be over her death in half a year, but even just that bit of an increment of time might give all of us the strength of spirit  to dwell on her life and the things that she accomplished instead of functioning the best we could in a state of total shell shock.

Anyhow, my newly-formed opinion is that one cannot say that he or she has truly lived unless he or she has attended a major Azores Portuguese-American Rosary. I can only surmise that the Rosaries held in the  Azores are every bit as intense if not more so. This one, as Azores-Portuguese Rosaries do more often than not, began with a viewing of the body, which was supposed to start at 6:00.  My aunt, who is an actual by-marriage relative of the deceased, asked me at the last minute to play for the ceremony. She was going to pay for my plane ticket to the nearest airport to her  town almost midway between Fresno and Modesto but up in the foothills just a bit. After the recent Lufthansa tragedy, however, I'm not crazy about the idea of hopping on an airplane just yet. People who fly frequently (Knotty, Judge Alex, and my dad come to mind quickly), you are in my prayers that you have sane pilots and otherwise safe flights. I suspect the Lufthansa thing has us all shaken up more than just a bit. I thought about taking Am-Trak, but with my luck, I'd end up with a rogue terrorist or garden-variety lunatic train engineer who deliberately derailed the train. Anyway, I told my aunt that even with the discomfort of a broken foot, compounded by some roadwork on the 99 that prolonged my trip, I would much rather drive.

It was a last-minute thing, as two other musicians backed out of the gig with not much notice. My aunt wouldn't otherwise have asked me to give up a substantial part of my relatively short break to play for this event. She insisted on paying me. I was going to try not to take anything but gas money from her, but after the ordeal of the rosary, I'm inclined to keep what was probably over-payment by most standards. I earned every cent.

I arrived at the church at 5:15, not looking all that fresh after the six-hour drive, but I would be in the choir loft, so my appearance wasn't much of a concern. The church is a small country Catholic church with a barely functioning organ.
My aunt had set up a 72-key electronic keyboard in the loft. I consider such instruments to be toys, but it was supposedly the best that could be done. Had I known, I would have brought my own digital piano, but it's too late for that now. i'll have to play  the same lovely instrument tomorrow, and the music will probably once again sound like the aural equivalent of cow poop, but I'm told the funeral will involve much less playing on my part.

So I arrived at 5:15, thinking I was quite early for a 6:00 viewing, to be followed by a 6:30 recitation of the Rosary, to be followed by another viewing. I was told that my involvement would be between the hours of maybe 5:40 and 7:20 or so.  Whoever came up with that time interval was thinking most wishfully. When I arrived at 5:15, the funeral director told me that since mourners were already arriving, the viewing had already begun, and I should start playing immediately. 

I had brought two hymnals, not so much because I needed them for playing but just as back-up in case I went brain-fogged and couldn't think of anything to play. All I really needed the hymnals  for -- a Catholic one and a mainline Protestant one -- was to use the indexes as a playlist. I didn't need to look at the actual music. I thought two complete hymnals, plus a fairly large repertoire of memorized music, would be more than sufficient. I hadn't counted on the magnitude of the Rosary, which would have been roughly an 8.9 on the Richter scale. 

I played virtually every hymn in the Catholic hymnal except for the holiday and special occasion hymns (each one at least twice through, with variations and key changes) in the time before the Rosary, which was supposed to have started at 6:30 but didn't actually kick off until 6:50. I got a bit of a break during the recitation of the Rosary. The lady who led the recitation spoke as though she was on meth or had a massive case of hyperthyroidism, causing her to recite at breakneck speed. The congregation did its best to keep up with her. She got us through the entire rosary in 20 minutes.

Then every single person in attendance had to wait in his or her seat, spot on the wall, or place in the standing room in the back for his or her turn to again file past the body even of he or she had already done so, and also to greet all fourteen members of the deceased's immediate family, to hug all of the relatives who self-identified as immediate family. My Uncle Ralph, the deceased's nephew, who sat in the choir loft with me, said the classification of whom would be immediate  family from all the other various and sundry relatives appeared to be almost random; one guy who was a second cousin placed himself in the group, while a grandson exempted himself. Thank God someone exempted himself or I'd still be there playing. It seemed that each person in the reception and viewing line had to have an intimate conversation with each member of the funeral party, and i had to come up with something to play all the while.

There were reportedly almost five  hundred people outside in addition to the roughly three hundred (I'm estimating; it's a small church, but they were packed in like canned sardines) in the sanctuary and entryway, and another twenty-five in the loft with me. fire Marshall Bill would not have been a happy camper had he been aware of the conditions. The people outside on in the very back presumably had the option of not going through the conga line to get to the body and the family, though most of them seemed not to have opted out and to have made the trek. The people seated in the sanctuary and plastered along the walls were stuck. It seems to be an Azores Portuguese custom that one must remain seated to avoid a major breach of protocol until the crowd from the back and outside has filed through. I'm sure some of those people would have preferred not to have waited the extra two hours  it took to file the outside and SRO-in-the-back (the wall-plastered people had to wait their turns just as the pew seaters did;  people just squeezed past them) crowd through the reception line before the inside people even began to be invited out of their seats to join the procession. It took another hour and twenty-five minutes to filter the in-house crowd through the line. 

If you did the math, you know that I played for an hour and thirty-five minutes before the rosary, and then for three hours and twenty-five minutes after the recitation. At about an hour into the post-Rosary postlude,  I was beginning to conclude that my part of the program was over and was preparing to wrap things up, assuming no one could possibly want to hear any more of my so-called music on the muzak-like electronic keyboard. At that point, a funeral parlor employee showed up. He held an envelope in front of my face with my name on it. He asked,  "Is this you?" pointing to my name on the envelope. I quietly answered yes. He then asked, "You're not going to just disappear if I hand it to you now." I assured him that I would play for the duration. 

So I played on and on at the toy keyboard  for the next two hours and twenty-five minutes. I had exhausted the remotely acceptable possibilities from the Protestant hymnal. I had played the Ave Marias (3 versions) the Panis Angelicuses (Panis Angelici ? [Idon't know which is the correct plural form] three versions) Pie Jesu, and all tho other Catholic  standard funeral fare. I had played every classical piece that I knew that was remotely funereal or even sufficiently reverent-sounding. I snuck in a couple disguised showtunes. i played the BYU alma mater, hoping that no one who had attended BYU was present, as well as the University of califronia Alma Mater, the alma maters of my own high school and of two other high schools, and the one from the University of Ohio. I though about Cornell's alma mater, but it seemed to blatantly obvious.  I stuck in a few uniquely Mormon hymns, assuming no one would recognize them. I was deciding what  disguised pop tunes would be  my next selections, and was preparig to go into Leonard Cohen's hallelujah" when a funeral company employee appeared and said things were wrapping up and I could finally stop.

It was good that I was allowed to stp when I was, because i was beginning to wonder if I would survive much longer, and was speculating that there might soon be two dead bodies in the room. If I had died from excessive cheep keyboard playing of funeral fare, Would the prayers uttered on behalf of the deceased  have extended to cover me as well since I would have been in the room so shortly before my death, thus saving my family the trouble and expense for holding a separate Rosary for me?  I understand that it would not have been appropriate for me to piggy-back myself into the guy's actual funeral mass, but maybe I would have been adequately covered by his Rosary.

It ended up being a moot point, since playing the cheap keyboard for a total of five hours didn't actually kill me. Nonetheless, a cheap keyboard is more difficult to play, period, much less to play well (a virtual impossibility). It was on an unstable stand, which meant that in addition to playing the notes, my fingers had to simultaneously hold the keyboard in place. it's no wonder that my fingers are literally feeling pain tonight. My foot's sore from both the immobility of driving, the awkward positioning of it while playing the keyboard (which had no damper pedal, incidentally, making the fingering all the more precarious)  and the discomfort from putting too much weight on it today. 

I'm taking a Norco and going to bed in order to be ready for tomorrow morning's funeral, which I've been assured will be much faster and easier for me than was tonight's ordeal, although I'm still having to play the pretend-piano with only seventy-six keys and no damper pedal. I will drive home immediately afterward, as I like to spend as much of my vacation time as possible with my Godchild. He is incredibly cute, and he seems to remember me. He's almost five months old and getting ready to crawl. I'd give him ten days or so before he has the right leg/left hand and vice versa operation down and will be propelling himself across distances in an efficient manner. It's hard to believe that in another three months or so he'll be a big brother. 

I wish everyone a good night, and I also wish you the once-in-a-lifetime (for me, anyway; some of these folks who surrounded me tonight do this sort of thing on almost a regular basis) opportunity of attending a true Azores-American Portuguese Rosary, hopefully for a person advanced in age who was ready to move along. It's an experience not quite like any other, and one that a person must actually live through in order to really believe it.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Chapter Two in the Series: Dad

I'd like to post an actual picture of my dad, but one of the agreements when I started this blog was that I could say what I want under a cloak of relative anonymity, at least in part so that my parents wouldn't have to be embarrassed by what I wrote. Instead, i'll post pictures of the two celebrities my acquaintances have said my dad resembles.
My friends at the looney bin thought my dad looked like Wilson from House, MD.

Most of my school friends though he looked like a young Steve Guttenberg. For the record, I don't think he looks all that much like either one.

For once, I shall not totally flake out and will complete at least a second post in my most recent so-called series. Since my mother was the subject of the first installment, it seems logical enough that my father should receive my second tribute. He is  most deserving of any honor I could possibly bestow upon him, and could have been declared a co-numero uno except that I did not want to fail to give either parent his or her due respect by not giving each his or her own segment.

As I've said at other times in this blog, my dad's were the first human hands to touch me. He was not the obstetrician of record, but as an MD, he was allowed and accepted the invitation to actively participate in the Caesarean section delivery. He told me a couple of years ago that he considered declining that invitation. Obstetrics is not his specialty, though he had to perform emergency Caesareans during his internship, but he felt that after the unsuccessful delivery of my older brothers almost two years earlier (they were born too early to survive), just standing around watching made him more nervous than actively participating. My Aunt Ilianna came into the O.R. to be my mom's official support person, so my dad was free to function in a medical capacity. The OBGYN gave him the honor of removing the first twin, which turned out to be me.

The first twins were delivered early because of placenta abruptae  -- one of the twins' placentas prematurely separated from the uterine wall, which would have killed my mom and both babies very quickly without the emergency C-section.. It was known at the time that it was really too early for either of the babies to have much of a  chance of survival, much less of survival with any probable decent quality of life. The decision was made prior to delivery by both of my parents because, at under 24 weeks and not especially large even  considering their gestational age, not to take  any extreme measures to prolong their lives.

When my dad removed me from my mom's uterus, I was tiny
(two pounds, two ounces, my hospital birth certificate says, though my mom remembers being told I was two pounds, four ounces). I've shared this before also, but as my dad handed me to the  neonatologist, my dad said to the specialist, "Take any measures you have to with this one." The same neonatologist had been present when my mother gave birth the previous time. 

The neonatologist responded to my dad, "We won't even need 'em, John. She's little, but she's strong" as I screamed in the O.R. while being weighed, measured, and assessed. They briefly showed me to my mother, who apparently looked at me with considerable trepidation. I did not look like a strong baby to her. Next, they took out my brother Matthew, who, at a robust  six pounds, nine ounces, was either just over or nearly three times my weight, depending upon whether one relies upon the birth certificate or my mother's memory for the data.

Because my mom had just undergone major surgery to have us, she wasn't able to spend  much time those first few days in the NICU, where I was being kept because of my small size even though I was relatively healthy.  My dad spent enough time with my mom to be supportive, but spent most of the rest of his time  with me. I was given some oxygen through a tube in my nose but otherwise needed no major interventions. 

Because of my relative strength as an infant of low birth weight, I wasn't required to remain inside an incubator constantly, and my dad was allowed to take me out and hold me frequently. He apparently spent hours at a time and several nights with me. I required frequent small feedings, most of which were given to me by my dad. Some sort of bonding bordering on imprinting probably occurred during that time. I may have been confused as an infant as to whom my actual mother was. When I was eventually released from the hospital roughly four weeks later, I didn't respond well to my mom's attempts to soothe me, so I usually screamed most of the day until my dad got home. He would then feed me and I'd go right to sleep. 

I remained a daddy's girl to some degree until some time between my twelfth and thirteenth birthdays, when something hit me that hits a lot of girls at similar ages. I decided that, for the most part, both of my parents were placed on the Earth for the sole purpose of making my life a living hell. Open disrespect was not tolerated, but if my parents liked a TV program, I didn't like it. If everyone else wanted to go to one restaurant, I wanted another one. If my dad told me I looked nice in a particular outfit in the morning before school, I would immediately go upstairs and change into something else.

I'm not sure what the issue was. I can't really even  blame hormones because I was very delayed as far as the physical maturation process went, though it was as if  I was hormonal. My dad's shrink friend said it's not uncommon for physically delayed females to go through many of the same emotional stages as their chronologically typical peers even without the hormonal influences. Whatever it was, I recognize now that I was a very tough child to parent. My dad's analogy was that it was as though he and my mom had put a sweet little girl to bed one night, and the next morning, instead of that sweet little girl, a feral cat crawled out of the bed.

My dad got the worst of my outrageous contrariness. I'm not sure why. In part, as a clinical and educational psychologist, my mom may have been able to step back a bit and look at things more objectively and to take things a bit less personally. Additionally, her siblings say she went through the same phase when she was also hormonally delayed, so she could perhaps relate to some degree.  It's also conceivable that I fought harder with my dad because I trusted him not to hate me for taking things out on him. I may have known the bond was strong enough that I could not have pushed him away no matter how hard I tried.  

In fairness to me, my dad's behavior was embarrassing even to Matthew occasionally. Dad would say and do things that our friends thought were funny, and maybe Matthew and I might have found them funny if it had been someone else's parent saying  or doing them, but for us, it was humiliating.

One example is that my dad decided to re-grow his mustache. He had a mustache early in his adulthood, but got rid of it as they became somewhat passe. So he decided one day that he was going to let his mustache grow in again. He looked like a freaking brown-haired Captain Kangaroo. Even my mom thought he  looked ridiculous -- so ridiculous, in fact, that she decided to attempt to shave the mustache off when he was sleeping. He woke up midway in the process of her shaving it off.  One side - I'm pretty sure it was the left -- was gone, but the right side was still there in all of its Captain-Kangaroo-ish glory.

Any man might have been angry, as it should have been his right to re-grow his mustache, however stupid it made him look. When a person's spouse shaves off half his mustache, however, he needs to recognize that he's lost that battle, though maybe not the war as a whole. If necessary, he should shave the rest off and start over, making it clear to the offending party that some sort of retaliation might occur if his mustache re-growth were tampered with in the future.

Predictably, my dad could not be expected to handle any such situation as a normal person would. He kept the half mustache for I'm not sure how long, but it was at least a week. He continued to shave the shaved side, but let the hairy side continue to grow. He went to work that way. He attended one of my brother's baseball games with the half-mustache. I deliberately didn't invite any of my friends over because I was embarrassed, but they all heard about it and showed up at various times uninvited just to see it for themselves.  Most people just stared at him and didn't even ask what his problem was. When my Uncle Steve asked him why the hell he was going around looking like a complete moron, he answered, "Ask Erin [my mom]. She must like the way it looks, so I'm keeping it this way just for her."  

I'm not sure whether his common sense eventually prevailed or if my mother held out on him, so to speak, but he finally shaved the remaining half of the mustache off. We haven't seen any significant facial hair growth on him since. My worry is that if he was doing stuff like that in his forties, what is his behavior going to be like when he hits sixty-five and goes senile on us? I continually reminded him at the time that Matthew and I would probably be the ones to eventually choose his retirement home, so he should consider that when committing future acts of atrocity.

One thing that greatly bothered me as a teen was that nearly all of  my friends thought my dad was extremely good-looking. The people who were in the residential care facility where I was treated thought he looked like Dr. Wilson from House, MD.  Most of my friends from school thought he looked more like Steve Guttenberg in his younger years. I made a rule that no friend could comment on my dad's supposed good looks at my house. One time one of my friends broke that rule during a sleepover, and I made her call her parents to get a ride home at 3:00 a.m. One of her parents called mine the next day, and there was a certain amount of hell to pay, but a rule is a rule, and I would have done the same thing had it happened again.  

One major battle my dad and I had was when I was almost fifteen. It was autumn, and the upcoming flu season was expected to be an especially harsh one. My dad wanted me to get a flu shot. I don't like injections, though I'm now mature enough to recognize that sometimes they are the lesser of the evils and sometimes they're necessary. I never would have argued even at  that age against vaccines for truly dangerous illnesses (i.e. tetanus, diphtheria, pertussis, meningitis, etc.) but I felt that with an illness as relatively benign as influenza type-whatever, it should be my decision whether to be immunized or to take my chances with the flu itself.  

My dad and I argued about this for a couple of weeks, until he final took matters into his own hands. He quietly crept into my room at 5:15 or so one morning, pulled my sleeve up while I was sleeping, swabbed my arm with an alcohol wipe, and gave me the damned flu injection.  My screams were so loud that the next door neighbor came running to our house, cell phone in hand, prepared to call 9-1-1 if necessary.

The ironic thing is that I ended up getting a nasty case of the flu that turned into pneumonia less than a week later. I liked to say at the time that the shot caused my flu, but most likely I was either  in a weakened state from something when I got the injection or the flu virus germs had already started to invade my body, or the shot simply hadn't had time to work before I was exposed to the flu germs. I know now from my immunology class that the timing wasn't right for the shot to have actually caused me to get the flu. Symptoms would have appeared within seventy-two hours if it was going to happen. The injection  did in all likelihood make me sicker because of the timing of my illness, but it didn't actually cause me to get the flu. I still won't stipulate to that where my dad is concerned, though. Sometimes one must stand her ground.

While I do believe that we, his family, are my dad's number one priority, he is most definitely obsessed with his work in leukemia and lymphoma research. Sometimes he'll be having a conversation with someone and will think of something and abruptly walk away and go to his computer, then get his cell phone and text one of his underlings. Or sometimes he'll actually get into his car and drive to the nearest hospital with which he is affiliated. His research is conducted at several hospitals throughout the state. He's a bit like House. In terms of personality, I'd say he's a cross between House and the Dr. James Harvey character - Kat's father - from Casper, the movie. He probably also has a touch of the TV character Monk's quirkiness about him. Both of my parents are bona fide OCD cases -- I come by it quite naturally -- but my dad is by far the more impacted of the two of them.

Dad is probably the most intelligent person I'll ever know, though he sometimes hides his intelligence extremely well. He swears like a truck driver, and has done so since my brother and I were considered old enough to understand that just because Daddy used a particular word did not make it OK for us to say the same thing, which was around the age of five. My mom told us anytime we heard a new word from Daddy, we needed to run it by her before adding it to our own vocabularies. Now that we're all adults, when no one is around who would be offended by it, we all curse like drunken sailors, though no one can hold a candle to my dad in terms of just how naturally the dirty words flow from his tongue.  Furthermore, he's fluent in Spanish and French [French was his first language], and speaks Italian and Portuguese passably well, which means he swears fluently in at least five languages. My brother's friends and mine think he's the funniest person on the face of the Earth and love to come over to our house just for the comic relief. We're no longer quite so easily embarrassed by his words and actions.

My dad is generous to a fault, particularly when it comes to his extended family. He's paid for the educations of at least ten of his sisters' children.  His parents converted to Mormonism when he was around thirteen, and six of his seven sisters are devoutly practicing Mormons who have more kids than they can realistically afford to support if they're going to also give more than ten per cent of their gross incomes to the church and send all their sons on two-year missions for the church. 

My paternal grandfather is something of a jerk.  My dad is very kind to his mother.  He would love to move her out of Utah, or at least away from my grandfather, but my grandmother refuses to leave. My grandfather is a high-ranking official in his church, and marital separations are not viewed lightly. My dad says at the first sign of physical abuse, my grandmother will be dragged out of there kicking and screaming if necessary, but so far there's been no sign of that. She's probably spry enough to get away from the doddering old bastard, anyway. (I acknowledge my blatant my disrespect toward my grandfather, but he slapped my face hard when I was tiny and kicked me in the shin when I was seventeen, so I do not have a high opinion of him.)

My dad has always come to my defense when I needed him. The time CPS caseworkers insisted on looking at my nude bottom because a creepy girl at school peeked in the restroom stall and saw weird bruises I had on my bottom from sitting on Mardi Gras beads I had stolen from my brother all the way from Las Vegas almost to Fresno, he let me stay home from school for the day and allowed me to rent a movie and have pizza for lunch. Once when I was eighteen and working on a paper that was so difficult that I got into the liquor cabinet to help stimulate sufficiently bizarre thoughts to complete the paper, he was initially angry with me, but when he heard the topic of the paper, he understood sat up with me most of the night, helping me to think of enough nonsense to put into the  paper.  When my overly curly hair really got to me, he took me to have it chemically straightened. When I had the compound tibia -fibula fracture, he sat up a work station in my hospital room and was there almost twenty-four hours a day for the duration of my hospital stay.  He's gone out of his way for me more than most parents would for their children, and some of those times were during my really obnoxious phase.

There have been times when my father hasn't been the perfect parent, but considering how difficult a child I was to raise, I think I have to cut him slack for any  of the times he came up short. I don't believe any other  father in the world would have gone out of his way to be loving and kind in so many ways to a child who was  so strong-willed and so often deliberately rebellious.  If I could have anything in the world I wanted, I would have my dad and my mom stay just as they are and never grow old and live forever.

Sunday, March 22, 2015

My Mommy: first part in what may be a tribute series unless I get tired of it

Note: I cannot post a picture of my actual mother here, so I am instead posting pictures of various TV moms I used to imagine as replacements for my own mother.

This character  might have been the perfect mother.. She played Deborah Barone on Everybody Loves Raymond.. If she was wigged out about how weird Raymond Barone's family was, she would have totally gone catatonic over my father's family, and would have been so grateful that I was turning out to be nothing like them that she would practically have worshiped the ground on which I walked. whatever excess energy she had left over after complaining about my father's family would have been expended in complaining about how little my father did to help her around the house even though she was a full-time stay-at-home mom. She would have had no time to worry about me.

This TV mom, from Growing Pains was practically perfect in every way. Her only liability was that  her character was married to a shrink. Having a simple MD for a father makes life difficult enough, But a bona fide psychiatrist? No way. At that rate I might just have moved in with Dr. Jeff, AKA Chairman Mao, and his family.
This TV mom, from 7th Heaven, along with her pastor husband,  were so preoccupied with premarital sex, drugs,, and vandalism that most of the insignificant mischief into which I might have gotten would have flown under the radar.  The pastor's kid thing would not have bothered me all that much because I spent so much time in church anyway as a kid because I was a church musician. I will declare on a stack of Bibles, Books, of Mormon, Korans, Torahs, writings of L. Ron Hubbard, or whatever, that the dad on this show gave me a serious case of the willies long before the negative publicity came out.

This TV mom, from Gilmore Girls, seemed extremely cool and liberal to the extent that it often seemed as though her daughter was the one actually in charge. She came with the added benefit of no spouse, which would have equaled one fewer parent.
Sometimes . . .not often enough,
We reflect upon the good things,
And our thoughts always center around those we love.
And I think about those people
Who mean so much to me,
And for so many years have made us so very happy
And I count the times I have forgotten
To say thank you
And just how much I love you.

Those are lyrics from an old and obscure song off an equally old and obscure Carpenters' album. I didn't even know it was an actual song. I thought it was just some filler that someone at BYU had made up.  It had no meter to speak of, and the notes of the tune, if you would even call it a tune, rambled all over the place and made no sense at all, musically speaking. 

My dad completed his undergrad work at BYU, and [to make his mother happy] did a single year with their musical variety troupe, The Young Ambassadors, which was basically BYU's answer to The Grinning Americans or Up with People or one of the ubiquitous groups of smiling, singing, poorly-choreographed dancing young people who would change the world with their uplifting messages delivered through song. This was one of their songs. My dad was able to convince his mother that he could finish his undergrad work, due in part to a heavy load of high school AP courses, in three years if he dropped both the school's tennis team and The Young Ambassadors.  He was able to get by with just a one-year sentence in a zone somewhere between purgatory and hell, as he describes his time with The Young Ambassadors.

In any other family, if the song had been sung at all, it probably would have been sung with some degree of sincerity. Of course such was not the case with my family. My dad, who was the only one who actually knew all the lyrics because the rest of us made conscious effort not to learn them (I had to look them up just now to include them here) would sing them in his most faux sweet voice (dulce voce, musically speaking) when relations between one family member or another were contentious for one reason or another, which was probably about one-quarter of the time as a rough estimate. 

I'm using the lyrics to the infamous-in-my-family-though- unknown-to-the-saner-segment-of-the-world's-population  song in an almost sincere way to introduce another of my notorious series. My series are notorious for the most part only in the sense that I tend to start them and then never go past episode one or two. I'll try to do better with this one.

I've been awake for over an hour. No one else in the house has been awake, so I didn't want to disturb anyone, yet I didn't want to lie awake in bed doing nothing. I took the extra blanket off the foot of my bed and slipped across the hallway with my laptop  to Claire's old room. It's not quite the same feeling as being in Claire's room in the  house across the backyard from my old house,  where we spent so many hours and so many nights. Still, it's the same quilt covering the bed, and the same furniture. I did spend one weekend here at this house with Claire, so I spent a couple of nights in this room. 

It's not an eerie feeling. There's nothing creepy to me about being in the room of a friend I just lost. I know her parents don't mind my being in here, as they offered me the option of sleeping here when I first arrived on Thursday night. At that time I told them I'd be more comfortable sleeping in Claire's little sister Laurel's extra bed.  Now that I'm awake and the rest of the house is asleep, though, it feels right to take advantage of the extra space. i'm using the extra blanket to stay warm so I won't cause the bedding to need to be changed when I'm only going to be here a couple of hours at the most.

Claire's death, and  additionally in part, my brother's update following my surgery in which he wrote kind things about me, made me more conscious of the importance of saying the things one might say at a funeral while the person whom you are eulogizing is actually around to hear and appreciate them. Perhaps even if they're dead they hear them, but perhaps not. Some people claim to know one way or another for certain, but I'm skeptical of such claims, including the dead-and-came-back-to-life- experience memories. I'm not skeptical of life after death, nor am I totally convinced of it. I just flat out don't have any idea.

Anyway, I'm digressing. My point is that if we have something nice to say about someone, we should say it to them before it's too late. I intend to do just that.

My mom gets number one billing because she gave me life. I suspect it was with trepidation that she chose to conceive again after losing premature twins at almost 24 weeks [I think]. Then when she found out for certain that she was carrying twins again (she wasn't very surprised because she has painful ovulation and said she felt it twice in that cycle), I heard that she went into full-blown panic mode. She was on bed rest for the final month of the pregnancy.
She and the doctors were walking a tightrope in a way. My brother was ready to come out much earlier than I was. 

The OBGYN was reasonably convinced that the pregnancy was a case of superfetation, in which a woman who is already pregnant ovulates in a later month and conceives again. The doctor thought this accounted for the difference in our sizes. My mother, on the other hand, was convinced that it was not superfetation. She says she's felt it every time she's ovulated since she started ovulating at the rather late age of eighteen. She's fifty now and still ovulating, and she still feels it every time she ovulates. Many months it's multiple ovulation, but her tubes are tied, so she doesn't have to worry about twins or any other babies joining our family. My parents may be Catholic, but they're also practical.

Anyhow, the doctors wanted to try to keep the babies in utero long enough for me to have a fighting chance but not so long that it was too long for Matthew. I know that the final decision was that a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush, and they weren't going to sacrifice the baby who was likely to be healthy for one who might make it. When we were born, Matthew was six pounds, nine ounces, and as healthy as a newborn could be. I believe his apgar scores were perfect. I was, at two pounds, two ounces, a bit bigger than had been anticipated, and had surprisingly strong lungs for my size. I breathed unassisted from the beginning. They supplemented my breathing with an oxygen tube in my nose as a precaution, but it was purely precautionary. Though I looked like an outer space creature as a six-year-old might draw it, my survival was never in doubt.

Because I looked so fragile compared to my brother, looking at me was a bit scary to my mom. I reminded her much more of her babies who didn't make it than of her healthy baby  boy. She really didn't believe that I would survive until her older sister brought and showed her a picture of her as a newborn. She, too, was a twin, and was the smaller twin. She had weighed three pounds exactly, and the picture of her in her incubator looked remarkably like I looked in my little isolette. At that point she began to believe I might survive.

It was hard for my mom to care for two babies, especially because I mostly cried all the time no matter what she did, and I didn't like to eat. She had made the decision to breastfeed Matthew because she didn't have the milk for both of us and he could latch on, when  I couldn't. She spent hours each day trying to force formula down me and keep me from throwing it up. Sometimes after she had fed, burped,  and changed me and I was still screaming, she just put me back in my crib because there seemed to be nothing she could do that would make a difference.

When my dad got home from work, he would take over, and he had a bit more success. He was the oldest of ten children and had more experience with babies than my mom had. She had nieces and nephews, but she said she never paid all that much attention to them until they were old enough to talk.

Eventually my parents found a formula that worked well enough to keep me alive at least, even though I hovered between the first and second percentiles on the growth charts.  I know it was very hard work to take care of a baby who didn't want to eat or sleep and usually cried even when she was held, but my parents didn't give up.  

My dad told me recently that they weren't exactly expecting me to have cognitive deficits, but with my low birth weight and rough start in life, it wouldn't have come as a total shock to them. So it was a surprise when I spoke very early. My parents cannot reach consensus as to how early it was. My dad says I was five month old when I made my famous first utterance: ""No SMA!" in response to my mother reaching for the canister of powdered SMA brand formula. (My parents received a lot of free samples so that they could try multiple brands to see if one brand worked better than others.) My mom says I was more like seven months. Either way, it was early by any standards for a baby to speak. 

The two  of them agree that I had my first tantrum through most of the night when a well-meaning relative gave me a sip of Coke when I was eleven-and-a-half months old. I liked it and wanted more. I screamed, "Coke!" while I alternated trying to shake the rails of my crib and kicking my little feet against the mattress and the foot-board of the crib. Both of them agree it was the longest night of their lives. My mom said she was sorely tempted to open a can of Coke and give me a sip, but she knew as an educational psychologist and as a person with at least a little bit of common sense that giving in would produce more powerful tantrums in the future, and that they needed to let me scream it out. For the record, I don't think I got my next taste of soda pop of any kind until I was at least four years old. To this day, I would live exclusively on the stuff if it were possible to do so and still remain healthy.

Staying home with babies and toddlers was not really my mother's idea of paradise, but she knew that if she wanted her children to be raised as she wanted us to be, either she or my dad needed to be at home with us, and at that point, my dad was the only one bringing in a six-figure paycheck. My mom is very smart, and at times it must have seemed mind-numbing to her to sit on the floor for hours playing with tinker toys, or duplos, or little train tracks, or various Fisher-Price Toys, but she did it anyway, and managed not to act bored as she was playing with us. She says now that she was so grateful that we survived that playing with boring toys and  pretending she was having fun was the very least she could do.  She tells us now that caring for babies and toddlers wasn't really her calling in life, but she faked it very well. She came into her area of strength somewhere around the time we hit second grade, and did well throughout the remainder of our years as minors.

My mom's siblings like to comment on how much like her I am. I think it's less true than it  was when I was very small, and that I have probably as many of my dad's quirks as hers now, but when I was little, I was apparently a virtual clone of her. Because of our similarities, we butted heads a lot when I was small, and she found my brother much easier and more pleasant to deal with. I learned to avoid her as much as possible except for the times she was playing on the floor with us. This once led to a near-tragedy.

It was the day after our third  birthday, if I remember correctly, and I was wearing a pink corduroy overall outfit that my aunt had sent me for my birthday. My mom and I had quarreled that morning because she had wanted me to save the outfit to wear later that evening to a function we were to attend. I promised her I would stay clean all day. She got tired of listening to my complaining and let me wear the new outfit. 

Later that morning, I broke a glass in the kitchen. I was terrified that she would go ballistic, so I tried to shove the pieces of glass as far into the trash can as I could get them. In doing so, I  cut my wrist and my left radial artery. Blood spattered everywhere, including on my new overalls that I had promised not to get dirty. 

I called for Matthew to help me. He grabbed a roll of paper towels to wipe my arm, but more blood kept appearing. He went into the pantry and got a six pack of paper towels, then took me into the family room and sat me on his lap on the rocker/recliner. He brought the kitchen waste basket with him.  He soaked one handful of paper towels after another and had gone through four rolls of paper towels when my mother wandered into the room and saw two bloody three-year-olds, a bloody chair, and a waste basket filled with bloody paper towels.

I still remember the sound of the scream my mother let out when she first saw us. She grabbed the cordless phone and dialed 9-1-1 as she was trying to determine the source of the blood. We were both such a bloody mess that she initially had not idea who or what body part was injured. while the ambulance was en route, she found the cut and applied direct pressure until the ambulance arrived. I don''t think I remember Matthew being in the ambulance with us, so I think a neighbor must have seen the commotion and must have cleaned him up and taken care of him.

I don't remember a lot about the hospital visit. I remember there being much difficulty in getting the IV into any of my veins because they had to use a large enough needle to deliver blood through. I don't think I fought them as they tried to insert the IV.  I was probably too weak to put up any kid of fight.  I do remember that the vein they finally accessed was a peripheral vein in my foot, and that it was an anesthesiologist who was able to successfully insert it.

I may have been sedated throughout the transfusion and stitching process; I remember none of it. I apparently received blood from my mom, my dad, and my Uncle Steve, who was attending the medical school affiliated with the hospital at which I was treated and was paged and rushed to the E.R.  We all have type A +. My mom did not weigh even close to the 110 pounds that blood banks require for donation, but when a relative's life is on the line, some rules don't apply. Still, one nurse questioned my mom's fitness to donate. My Uncle Steve told me much later that my mom screamed at the nurse, "Take my damned blood before I grab the needle and stick it in my vein myself!"

I do remember spending the night in the hospital with both of my parents that night. My Uncle Steve and his fiancee took care of Matthew. Relatives from all over the state came to visit me, all bringing presents. In my memories, the experience was far from traumatic. I doubt my mother could say the same.

When I got home, the recliner in which Matthew and I had been sitting had been replaced with a new one. I suppose it was beyond repair.  My mom threw out the clothes that Matthew and I had been wearing. A nurse suggested that the blood could probably be soaked out of my overalls if they put them in water right them. My mom said she never wanted to see either me or my brother wearing those outfits we were wearing again because it would bring flashbacks of seeing her blood-soaked toddlers.

In fairness to my mother, she might have snapped at me for having broken the glass, but she certainly would not have gone ballistic. And she absolutely would have been more concerned about a child with a severed artery than about a broken glass. It was just my three-year-old reasoning that led me to behave the way I did.

Also in fairness to my mom, she at that point had undiagnosed Graves' Disease, and her thyroid was running at about one hundred miles an hour. People who are hyperthyroid and untreated tend to be manic to some degree. In the olden days, they used to lock such people up in asylums for the insane. So most of my mother's overreactions to my behavior should probably be attributed to extreme hypothyroidism. It was soon diagnosed and treated.  

A couple of years after dealing with Graves' Disease and mild thyroid eye disease, my mother was diagnosed with leukemia. She eventually beat that, as well, in part due to a bone marrow transplant from me, which is documented here. That's documented in greater detail here. http://babylexus94.blogspot.com/

Once my brother and I reached school age, my mother went back to work. First she was a school psychologist. Later she was a director of special education and psychological services. Then she was an assistant superintendent over areas including student welfare, social services, psychological services, special education, and specially funded programs.

The last job was too much for one person to handle. She ended up quitting when. a couple of months after the attack,  a job superior suggested to her that her job status was at risk if my family were to pursue legal action against the school district for my attack in the restroom early in my senior year. When the person made the veiled threat, she went directly to her office and typed a letter of resignation -- effective immediately -- made copies for the superintendent and all the board members, and told the job superior who had made the threat, "Alexis has two parents. I cannot unilaterally make the decision not to request compensation from the school district.  I don't know if legal action will be taken or not, but you'd best remember that I was employed here and was covered by your insurance when the accident occurred. It will serve you well to make damned sure the insurance company covers as much of the costs as possible, because whatever your insurance or my husband's doesn't cover, you will pay." Her coworkers helped her to pack her belongings, and she was out of there in less than an hour.

To me as a child, it always seemed that both my parents took the school's side on the relatively rare occasions when I had a conflict with school personnel, For the most part that was true, and it probably was as it should have been. 
on the other hand, when mean Mrs. Moore, my fifth grade teacher, went too far in being mean to me, she switched me to a different school because the principal wasn't amenable to moving me to another class. When Mr. Ryzak (not his real name, but very close) in my chemistry class complained to my parents that I was not raising my hand and answering questions in class, she listened to my side of the story, which was that the other kids picked on me if I answered every question. She suggested to him that his teaching might not be all that effective if I was the only student in the class who was able to answer his questions. 
She suggested  that he should direct a maximum of four questions to me each day so that i would not need to raise my hand, and that I would answer those questions to the best of my ability, but that his lectures did not need to be limited to a question and answer session between himself and me.

When I either ruined or saved the Christmas pageant at my parochial school by playing "American Pie" while the adults in charge cleaned one of the wise men's barf off the stage, she was not there because she was on her way back from Los Angeles for a cancer check-up.   When she heard about the nun who was the principal making me write out pages of "mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa" for my role in the debacle, and of my aunt's response of starting a phone tree that resulted in the nun principal being transferred to some convent in Nowheresville, Arizona, she laughed hysterically.

Every night that I've spent in a hospital, either she, my dad, or an aunt or uncle has been there with me. I've spent lots of nights in hospitals, so that's many nights she has attempted to sleep in uncomfortable recliners.

My mom is now an associate professor of music at a University of California campus. She teaches piano, voice, and Theory I and II. It pays far more and is a much less demanding job than her previous one. She's more suited to her present job  as well. My mom is too talented a person for her time to be wasted arguing with parents whose combined incomes exceed two-hundred-thousand dollars over whether or not their four-year-old non-potty-trained, non-autistic, non-intellectually deficient, non-medically fragile or otherwise diagnosed child should have baby wipes provided by the taxpayers while said child attends district-provided preschool. The diapers, which are practically Depends at the kid's age and size, are already being paid for by the district. seriously, if Pampers and Huggies and Luvs cater to the current population of parents who are waiting longer and longer to potty train their children and with children being fatter on average, whoever makes Depends and other adult diapers will be in serious trouble, because I think the kiddy products -- even in the larger sizes -- are cheaper. Why pay more for Depends or Tena when Huggies fit you just as well if not better? (Those stupid Tena twist commercials alone are sufficient reason not to buy Tena products.)

My mother has had a good life, but not by any means an easy one. She lost her own mother to lung cancer when she was fifteen. She lost premature twins. She fought Graves' Disease and leukemia (more than fourteen years cancer-free!). She continues to struggle with kidney stones. Still, she's managed to be present for my brother and me the times we've most needed her. I used to watch various TV shows and try to decide which TV mom I would choose to replace my mother. I now realize that my own mother is worth more than a hundred Maggie Seavers, Lorelai Gilmores, Annie Camdens, Elyse Keatons, Deborah Barones (though my mom bears a bit of a physical resemblance to Patricia Heaton), or even Marilyn Milians. God, in His or Her infinite wisdom, knew what He or She was doing when I was sent to my mom.