Why not...

My last of twenty-seven years in the secondary classroom, my baby just now in college, a government and economy looking like something out of Duck Soup, a pituitary tumor, chronic migraines... Hell, why not write a blog?

(My students are now gone. I'm now a civilian and really no longer a "lame duck." I hope the readers of Mama Duck will come to my new blog for some new writing and new directions. My new blog is at: Writing Isle to Isle.)

Friday, September 30, 2011

Bank of America, I can no longer be your bankcard bag bride

Bank of America, as of today I’m quitting you. It’s going to be tough. I know that within the next several weeks when I attempt to shift our several accounts from you to our teachers’ credit union and reconfigure automatic payments and deposits to a benevolent system, I’ll no doubt go through convenience withdrawals. I can foresee this difficult period so tedious and stressful, in fact, that at some point in the next week I’ll be tearfully exhausted at the end of a long workday, and cuss so loudly at a customer service menu that the dog will flee from the room. Even so, Bank of America, I know I have hit bottom. I can no longer be you groveling bankcard bag bride. I will follow, as millions have, twelve steps to make this change in my life.

1.     First, I admit that I am powerless over you, Bank of America, except as a tiny, infinitesimal consumer. The fact that you want $5 a month from regular people while last year you spent $4 million in lobbying alone tells me that my society and government have become unmanageable. Bank of America Lobbying Expenditures 2012 By the way, the $60 I’ll be saving next year I plan to send to Elizabeth Warren’s Senate campaign. I trust you’re not funding her campaign since you’ve already pumped $19,750 into her opponent’s race this year alone. Scott Brown's Corporate Donations 2012 And of course that doesn’t include any of the front group money you spend anonymously as a result of Citizens United. It’s not much, but the small check will make me feel much better.
2.     I have come to believe that a power greater than ourselves can restore us to sanity. It’s called collective action. And the more of us that pull the needle, and collectively stand together to say we did it, the better. I’m posting this on my blog and I’m sending this to all my friends. Don’t worry. I’m no prom queen, but I do have enough like-minded friends who’ll send it to their friends, and they will then send it to their friends. And, some of those friends have friends who are some damn good looking middle-aged prom queens, so watch out.
3.     I’ve made a decision to turn our money over to the care of a credit union—sort of banking Gods. For what it’s worth, the way I understand banking Gods were like what I grew up with in my small town in Western Montana. Those banks, and the people who ran them, were much like George Bailey and his savings and loan. If you want to see that kind of God, watch this: Move Your Money
4.     I’ve made a searching and fearless moral inventory of myself. Here’s what I’ve found: I have only two reasons to continue to bank at Bank of America. First, up to now I’ve been just too lazy to switch accounts; second, the women in our local branch are absolutely lovely and helpful and just like the rest of us. They’re part of the 99%. Corporate heads have made stupid decisions, and it’s these poor women who have to absorb all the anger. I know the corporate policy is not their fault. Regardless, I must remove their company’s needle from my arm.
5.     I am admitting to the credit union staff when I go there to move our accounts that I have simply been too lazy (and busy) to switch accounts until now even though I have always called myself a progressive. I am admitting to all of the readers that I am more often than not inconsistent.
6.     I’m entirely ready to have the credit union remove the defects of my character. Unfortunately, I think they don’t offer that service. I’m hoping they’ll do basic electronic funds transfers.
7.     Steps seven through eleven—sorry, I’m too agnostic to even ponder a parallel.
12. I trust once I break free from my pusher, once I get all of these fiscal fuss-items fussed with, I’ll feel righteously indignant. One might even call it a spiritual awakening. I’ll post a message in the future to other Bank of America junkies to let you know how it’s going.

The good news, though, is that there’s help. Call it a sponsor. Here’s a website I found in my darkest hours. http://moveyourmoneyproject.org/about

***This post is in no way intended to denigrate those who use 12 Step programs to battle addiction. I honor all who use any means possible to find their way out of that dark and disabling disease. We’re all really traveling through life one day at a time.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Wish I could put this up in my classroom...

Quick follow up...Carrie Nation and Phyllis Schlafly Have Left the Building

Guess I'll have to smoke a turd in hell. When I returned home today, my endocrinologist had left a message on my machine telling me the good news. My prolactin levels are way down. That means the Cabergoline is working on the tumor. That also means I was wrong about him calling me back. And, it means that the bar room girls in my head have a lot more possibility of fun in future weeks.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Anguish, expertise, and the girls in my head

I’m exhausted tonight. I spent all weekend in the throes of a violent migraine attack, which I was unable to break with any of my usual abortive medicines—DHE, anti-nausea drugs, and strong pain medication. On Sunday my husband finally had to take me to emergent care here in our rural community, for the only thing that works when I get to this stage are a shot of Phenergen and a shot of Demerol.  There are plenty of physicians who won’t use this combination to abort migraines. Some rely, instead on triptans, NSAIDs, and anti-nausea drugs. For most migraines, those abortive drugs may be the best options. But I’ve been having emergency migraines for over twenty years now. I’ve had nearly every combination tried on me, and I know what does and does not work on my gone-too-far migraines.

When my husband called our clinic’s emergency number Sunday morning, the doctor on call first said he was sorry but he did not use Demerol (or even have any) and I’d have to go into the city to an emergency room. An emergency room! Oh, Christ, I thought. I got on the phone and pleaded with him. “Look, if you send me to an emergency room, they’ll treat me like some junkie or addict. This is always how we handle it here at the clinic—it’s the only thing that works.” I tried through a fog of pain to explain my medical history and my migraine patterns. I would stop in the middle of my explanation and hand the phone off to my husband when I had to vomit.  The doctor on the other end of the phone listened patiently to my garbled combination of anguish and expertise. Then he offered hope. It might be possible, he said, to get Demerol from the pharmacy. He’d see what he could do and call us back. When he called back, I was curled on the bathroom floor on a towel. My husband happily reported to me that the doctor had the pharmacy meet him, open up early, give him the Demerol, and said he would meet us in his office. I was grateful, so grateful, although I continued to dry heave in my stainless steel mixing bowl I cradled as we filled out paperwork in his office. The shots worked. I slept and when I awoke, the pain had subsided.

Such is life in a small town. He was a doctor who took the time to listen to the patient’s expertise. I knew a great deal about what did and did not work for me. In the end, he trusted that and went the extra mile to ease my suffering. I cannot begin to thank him enough.

In contrast to my doctor experience on Sunday, I’m afraid I need to start shopping for a new endocrinologist. Yesterday I had a scheduled appointment with my endocrinologist whom I’ve been seeing since 2003 when I was first diagnosed with a pituitary adenoma. He’s at a major university research hospital, and that was where in 2005 I underwent what is called transsphenoidal neurosurgery to remove that tumor. I’m lucky to live near such expertise—not to mention to have health insurance that covers my care there. 

Sometimes I wonder if I’m trying to be the good student at the front of the class with this guy. I go to my appointments well studied and informed. I always have specific
questions for him—about medication, hormone levels, the location of the tumor on my pituitary, and specific treatment options. Several years back he told me I needed to lose fifteen pounds. I went back six months later twenty pounds lighter and have kept it off. I feel like I’m constantly trying to read him for cues. What is it he really wants me to do? I’m never sure. He’s good and in high demand and never seems to really remember who I am when I go into his office.

This summer I went back for tests to find out if the tumor had grown back—I was pretty sure it had since I could barely drag my ass through a day, was getting more headaches, and had the libido of Sheldon Cooper on The Big Bang Theory. After the blood tests and MRI, I waited nearly three weeks for the results. I called and attempted to get a hold of him for the results. Then, I tried to get a hold of his staff. I had no luck. Finally, I took a sneakier route and had my general practitioner call for me to get the results. Within a couple days he had the news, and it wasn’t good. Sure enough, the prolactin levels were up and the MRI showed alien growth. Shit!

The endocrinologist put me on Cabergoline, a dopamine receptor agonist, which helps in shutting down the production of prolactin. That, in turn, if it works, should help reduce the growth of my tumor. Yesterday I was to get blood tests to see if the Cabergoline was in fact working. I knew it would take a week at least to get the results, but knowing his track record on getting back to me, I asked him how would I be able to find out about the results. “Well, you can’t, really,” he stammered. “It’s really hard to. Unless they’re really high, we’ll probably not call you.”

“But I want to know what the results are regardless,” I countered. “Can’t I call your nurse? I want to know if the numbers are down or the same or up. Whatever they are.” He listened sympathetically but then said that he had work in four clinics, research, and unless there was a life or death situation, he simply didn’t get on the phone. I told him I understood that but still expected to get my records in some way. “There must be a way through the office,” I pressed.

When I left, I felt triaged out of the office. I kept thinking of all the other hormonal variables I’d like to discuss with an endocrinologist right now. Hell, I have a veritable Montana cowboy bar full of hormonal characters on the verge of a bar fight in my head and body. I am, like most pituitary patients, struggling with hormonal upheavals.

Take Estrogen for example. She’s the big ruffled babe with the pink cowboy hat, who in the past pretty much ran this place. She would ride in on a hot lathered mare from my long-since gone ovaries, flounce into the bar, and add charm and allure to the place. Now it seems she rarely comes to the bar, and if she does, she limps in from an Eldercare van.

And then there’s mercurial Progesterone who used to hang out with Estrogen. The two were quite a pair when we were all younger. Since the ovary ranch closed down, I haven’t seen her much. Not that I’ve really missed her. One minute she brought health and well being, giving sturdiness to the place. The next minute I’d turn around and she was busy pissing everyone off or depressing the hell out of everyone with her morose stories. I know she’s important, but she still scares the hell out of me.

Enter Testosterone—A lot of people think she’s too masculine, but this tavern-jacket, truck-driving bitch walks into the bar and demands that one bar stool. God help the patron who has it. I tell you, the girl’s got moxie and sex drive. I’m depleted right now and feel like I could hang out with her. We’d drink some beers, sit and cuss and ogle those bale-buckin’ guys in their Wranglers and 501s.

And then the hormone I’ve got too much of is prolactin. And Prolactin is like a cross between Carrie Nation and Phyllis Schlafly.  She’s a moralistic prude that thinks sex is only for procreation. When she walks into the bar both bottles and spirits are going to get broken. She’s convinced that the only drink worth drinking is milk, so she pushes that, even when you don’t want to produce it anymore.

I’m never sure what’s going to happen between Dopamine and Serotonin. Dopamine is putting quarters in the jukebox and grabbing up friends, dragging them to the dance floor, and spinning to the music in wild abandon. Serotonin is running behind her trying to calm everyone down, reminding people to use condoms and common sense.

It used to be that this little bar room in my head kept a tenuous peace. Now, it’s always chaos, and I know that the tumor has a lot to do with it. Guess it’s time to find an endocrinologist who’s better acquainted with all the girls in my head.

(The idea to anthropomorphize the various hormones and neurotransmitters came to me after reading Sandy Hotchkiss's article "Hormones and Sexuality" in the book It Is All in Your Head: The Pituitary Patient Resource Guide. Hotchkiss explains the role various hormones play in our sexuality as actors on a stage. Being originally from Montana, I borrowed her idea in this piece, and went in a new direction with some particular to my situation. Her explanations in "Hormones and Sexuality" have helped clarify for me the confusing cast of hormonal characters that affect our libidos.)

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Making Lemonade out of Lemonade

I awoke Sunday morning with the usual migraine. My dear husband coaxed me with the usual cup of coffee he’d made, topped off with soymilk. It’s my first line of defense against the morning migraines I awake with. I had on the Sunday talk shows—Fareed Zakaria attempting to get “experts” to talk cogently about unemployment and Palestine. Why did he think Elliot Abrams (that God damn criminal) would be a cogent voice? The gray weather offered as little hope for sun as the talking heads did for a two-state solution. 

When the phone rang, I thought it would be my husband, already at school, copying materials for the teaching week ahead. But instead, it was my daughter. Her broken voice told me she had hit the bottom of several long coping weeks in her new college setting. “I’m so sorry,” she sobbed. “What? Honey, tell me what’s wrong.” I held my breath. “Last night I knocked lemonade over on my laptop…I’m so sorry.” She cried and cried. By baby was clearly seeing this one act as a final straw on her crippled four-week old collegiate camel. I didn’t want her to see it as a harbinger of what could be. I tried to console her. “It’s just a material possession, honey. It can be replaced. Did you lose a paper or assignment?” No, she answered; those had been saved on the university server. I told her that it was simply a problem to be solved and that I’d call her back after I found the Mac store in her area.

But when I hung up the phone, I knew I was going to drive the typical five-hour drive to help her. She’d have no way to get to a store to get the computer fixed. But more importantly, she needed emotional support.

Her dad got home and I told him what was going on. I was in whirlwind mode by then. I’d left two messages at the Mac store in her city to find out about getting the computer fixed. It would close at 6:00 pm. It was 11:00 am. And I needed to catch a 12:10 ferry. I didn’t know if I could get there in time, and I’d have to get a sub for teaching on Monday. Details, clothes thrown unfolded in a bag, my medications, my computer…”But, honey, how’s your head?” he asked. “You’ve still got a headache, don’t you?” he asked. “I can go,” he offered.

I lied and said that it was better. It wasn’t, but there wasn’t anything that would have stopped me from getting to her.  I’ve stopped and barfed when driving with a migraine before. Some of the more heartless passersby swoosh by and honk or throw a thumbs-up. Maybe they think I’m drunk. Who knows? Compassion seems to have drained from this country like industrial jobs. Maybe compassion is locked in a hot factory in Saipan.

My dear husband got me packed up in his new truck with fresh drinks, a connector for my IPod and checked the oil. He knew better than to try to stop me. He’s lived with me for twenty years now. He’s had too much fun in his youth to get sainthood, and he refers to himself as a recovering Catholic, but living with me all these years should qualify him for a nomination list somewhere.

After getting off the ferry, I plied myself with a Starbucks and two Excedrin Migraine and hit the freeway. I had Dixie Chicks albums set on my IPod. The four of us, Natalie, Emily, Martie, and me burned the fast lane. We burned it for three and a half hours. At first, I cried at their words:

“As you wander through this troubled world
In search of all things beautiful
You can close your eyes when you're miles away
And hear my voice like a serenade”—Lullaby

But as the caffeine started to constrict the blood vessels on the right side of my head, I felt less sick, and I started to harmonize with them.

“I hope, for more love, more joy and laughter
I hope, we'll have more than we'll ever need
I hope, we'll have more happy ever after
I hope, we can all live more fearlessly
And we can lose all the pain and misery
I hope, I hope” –I Hope

Through the songs and the miles, I knew the trip was not just for my daughter. It was also for me. I have missed her, missed seeing how she twists her hair up when she’s getting prepared to do a task. I have missed hearing her commentaries in the evening about school politics. I’ve missed the voice she uses when she lavishes attention on her cat. But mostly, I realized that it has been a long time since she really needed me. After all, she’s a self-assured, bright, intelligent young woman. She’s adept at so many things. She has a large circle of friends, and she has, in the past years, as is appropriate, turned to those friends for emotional support. She has had, what I have always encouraged her to have, a sisterhood.

Accidents happen. Computers get fried by glasses of lemonade. But that one midnight disaster that seemed like one more insurmountable sticky hurdle in a gauntlet she’d been running for weeks, provided us both a lovely connection and “girl night.” We solved the problem, laughed, hugged, and found courage in saying goodbye the next day. It was well worth the cost of a new MacBook Pro.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Feathers Everywhere

I’ll admit there were moments in this past year when I could hardly wait for the August date when we would deliver our daughter to her college dorm. As with all separating teens, even in fairly functional families, there are struggles. Slammed doors. Words spewed that are regretted as soon as they’ve erupted. But leaving this 17 year old standing on a warm and lovely western college campus, all three of us wiping our eyes, tore some breast feathers from me. It will take time for them to grow back. I spent all of the first Sunday apart from her going through old pictures of our small family in different phases of our lives. The living room and kitchen counter lay strewn with photos I used to make her a family album. I let the mess linger being in no hurry to neaten our nest. Feathers everywhere.

Her transition is a bit painful. The roommate match is less than ideal and opportunities for change don't seem to be in the school's philosophy. She calls us in the evening, sometimes buoyed by a workout or funny story to tell, but the fact that she's calling us tells me that she's not happy. How hard it all is to let go and let our children be adults with all of the adult lessons, including episodes of loneliness. But I have faith in who she is and know she'll swim through this. That I'm learning to swim again is something I try to keep hidden from my voice when I talk to her.