Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Not a hernia.

I had a hernia.  It was an annoying little bugger that managed to make me gasp occasionally and often felt like there was a runners cramp in my side.  Being the type of person that I am, I researched it a bit, read a little too much information, and became quite frightened that it had managed to somehow strangulate itself and a slow painful death was imminent.  I went to the ER when I first found that curious little bump and the doctor didn't seem too concerned and told me to schedule with a surgeon to have it repaired.  I explained the odd sensations that I'd had, and told him it just didn't feel right, but he was unimpressed and sent me away.   The surgeon's office was equally unimpressed with my concerns and I managed to get an appointment 3 months away.  So I waited.  I waited when it hurt.  I waited when my insides felt like they were coming outside.  I waited when I suddenly got terrible heartburn from eating bland food.  I waited when I was scared that the little hernia was rapidly becoming more then a minor annoyance.  I waited until my surgeons appointment was only 2 weeks away and I found myself angry enough to go back to the ER and tell them that I just couldn't wait anymore.

The ER doc came into my cramped little room and told me that my hernia wasn't strangulated according to the CT scan.  My relief was short lived as he added that there was a "large mass" located behind the hernia on my scan.  Mass.  What a terrible word to hear.  He told my hubby and I that it might just be a lot of blood that got left behind from my year old hysterectomy.   I could deal with that.  Old blood seemed a nasty thing to have pooled inside, but they could just suck it out with a big needle or something and I'd have my life back (after a quick hernia surgery).

It wasn't blood.   The ever powerful scan readers working behind some Oz like curtain and making decisions about  who lives, who suffers and who dies, had decided that I should suffer a bit.  My mass was solid.  My mass was large, about the size of a big Florida Grapefruit (why fruit?  Grapefruits are ruined forever now), and my mass was a mystery.  I had been admitted to the hospital by this point, and spent 2 days in a strange dilaudid induced haze.  I slept for a minute or two in between bouts of vomiting from the darkest headache I had ever known.  Eventually the staff realized I was having a bad reaction to the pain meds and switched to clean and simple morphine.   I could push the button to morphine heaven every 10 minutes and spent hours watching the clock, waiting.

I had my first ambulance ride when it was decided that a surgical specialty not available at the first hospital would be needed. No lights or sirens,  I watched the cars behind us as the EMT gave me a dose of some pain medicine and then told me I was "crashing".  I saw the monitor reflecting my blood pressure flashing and going lower and lower as the EMT gave me additional fluids to compensate, and I continued to watch the cars driving by and wondered if this would be how I died,  quietly watching cars in the back of an ambulance.   I stabilized and was rushed to the next hospital, once again in a morphine timed haze, I barely touched the surface of the questions I wanted answers to, or the things I wanted to say to my husband and my kids.  Morphine takes away the what ifs and made my world a 10 minute spin.

I'd been hospitalized for 4 days when they decided to do a CT guided biopsy.  I wasn't sure what I expected but I know I didn't think I would be laying on my stomach in the CT scanner with a giant biopsy needle pushed through my lower left back.  It was scary, and it was painful, but I think the pain was worse because I had looked at the biopsy gun the Doctor was using.   I had to wait in the CT while the 5 biopsy samples were sent to the lab to make sure they were viable, which took about 20 minutes.  Thankfully they were good samples and I got sent back to my hospital room with the morphine drip to wait for the results.  The Doctor seemed to be leaning towards  GIST - Gastrointestinal Stromal Tumor, at this point.  Turned out it wasn't a GIST, it was a new monster I got to add to my dictionary, a Desmoid Tumor.

Desmoids are rare, 1 or 2 in a million kind of rare.  I never even get the lousy $3 wins on the powerball and the odds are much more likely for that then this....this invader that was taking up a pretty large part of my middle abdomen.   Surgery was planned, I was still on my 10 minute morphine spins, and then I was rolling down the hall and fell asleep.  About 11 hours later I awoke, barely, and apparently I spent the next 4 days in and out of consciousness.  I've been told, with giggles now that it is all over and I'm "recovering", that every time I awoke, I would look at my hubby, Jeremy, the poor tired out man, and say "What happened?  Do I have cancer?" and he started by answering carefully, detailing little things about the operation, and statistics about desmoid tumors, all while holding my hand and trying to comfort me.  I would fall back into a momentary peaceful slumber, then reawaken with a start and ASK THE SAME DAMN QUESTION....over and over again.  My daughters Zoe and Becca said it became somewhat comical, and Jeremy's answers became more and more clipped, a short version, the amnesiac version, his frustration only balanced by his fears.  After 12 (or was it 13, I really don't know) days in the hospital, I got to go home.  I have Frankenstein scars in every which way across my tummy, and I could only sleep in a recliner for the first week because laying flat on a bed was too painful.

I am recovering.  I am learning a new kind of strength with baby steps.  I am starting a fight with an enemy that hides for weeks, months, years, (sometimes, a whole lifetime....I am really hoping for this option!), and then it rears it's ugly tumor head and can grow at astonishing rates.  They think it took my tumor one year to go from nothing to the size of a grapefruit.  In one year!  My surgeon told me if it returns, it will be inoperable.  You see the nasty thing about these Desmoids is they come back in the same, scarred, vulnerable spot, again and again.  My "spot" is where the surgeon had to take out 12 inches of my small bowel and weave around my arteries.  So, if the monster returns I am going to have to fight it within.

I cry a few times a day.  Over silly things.  I think it's more a reaction from all of the pain medications and the anesthesia than anything else.   I was clicking through the available Amazon movies list the other night, looking for a distraction, and started crying when I saw "God is not dead" as a movie title.  The tears are brief and I try to make sure I'm not feeling sorry for myself, the good Lord knows I'd rather not waste any time on self pity.  I'm going to focus on my faith.  I'm going to focus on my family.  I'm going to focus on my fight.

Monday, January 13, 2014


Photo by Amanda
I always try to find a title, and then start writing.  I sit and stare at the blank page, and feel overwhelmed at the possibility of what I could fill it with and then try to conjure a concise title that collects all of that possibility into a few words.  Or, sometimes, just a word.
Today.  I typed Loss.  What a word that is.  Forlorn looking on the empty white space.  The hiss of a future with pain as it lingers on your lips.  Loss.

I've been pretty fortunate in my life.  Loss was a word used in terms of a game, or a small misplaced item, occasionally my pride and sometimes I used it in reference to my mind, but I never felt the sting of it's bite until 2 years ago when I saw the footprints of loss in the eyes of my daughter, Alee.  My happy-go-lucky-world-is-my-oyster little girl lost a dear friend, Dawn, and in turn I felt the loss of my sweet daughters smile.  The loss of her quick laughter, her bright eyes reflecting an adventure was the tragedy to me, I hadn't know her friend, only knew of her, and felt the sorrow of a story I'd only heard and not lived.   My daughter had suffered more than anything I can imagine, for I've lived that fortunate life, and something dark grabbed the light that made my beautiful daughter whole, and she was left feeling something I didn't know.  Loss.

I drove from Minneapolis to Kansas City during a blizzard because I thought I could fix things.  The 7 hour drive took me 16, including a forced stop at a rest area when they closed down the highway because the blizzard was too dangerous to continue driving.  My daughter didn't answer her phone that night.  I laid in a cold car under the orange sodium glow of a street light, snow swirling around the windows as it piled around the car, and I prayed that somehow my daughter would have the strength to keep her faith and find that light that made her whole.

When I arrived in Kansas city, I found my sweet little girl curled up in bed at her friend Amanda's apartment, red eyed and holding a miniature pig that tried to bite me as soon as I walked in.  Laughter can cure so many things, but sometimes the loss is too deep.  We had coffee.  Alee and I.  Alee, Amanda and I. Coffee with friends, coffee outside, coffee inside.  Coffee with crepes, coffee with more friends.  Finally we could laugh a little and I knew I could go home.  I couldn't fix anything at all except a tiny little piece of my heart that held fear, so I just held my daughter tightly for a moment and took a deep breath and prayed for her wings to take hold in this dark place that I didn't know.  Loss.

That girl of mine has a wandering soul, and decided to leave the dark behind and travel to somewhere brighter.  She called me up and said "I'm heading west momma.  Something in my heart wants to be by the ocean and to climb some mountains."  "Then go west sweetheart." I replied.  Well, truth be told it included warnings and discussion of car repairs and tires and all of those things that moms say when their kids wander beyond their reach.  So she did.  She found new friends that helped her cover the hurt just a little.  She was distanced from the tragedy, and she started to smile again.  I worried but no longer suffered sleepless nights because my sense of loss had diminished, my Alee got the twinkle back into her eyes.

A year after her great Western adventure started Alee and I both got a dreaded phone call that her childhood friend, Amanda, had attempted suicide and was in the hospital.  We both started making frantic arrangements to get to Kansas City.  Beautiful Amanda, who had lived with us off and on during her teen years, who called me mamma Morton and knew she could walk in to our house without ever knocking, whom I had nursed when she was sick, held when she cried, and spent many hours on our front deck laughing with a big cup of coffee and eating some strange wholesome baked vegan concoction, yes, dear sweet Amanda died, while another "foster mom" held the cell phone to her ear and I said goodbye.

This is where I started to question faith.  I doubted God.  Not just his wisdom, but his existence.  I doubted salvation.  I doubted everything I'd ever been taught to believe.  And in the blink of an eye and a whisper, I felt it.  Loss.

It's been almost a year now.  I've lost 2 things this time.  My daughters quick smile has vanished again, but I know that it's there, just waiting for that sense of safety to reappear.  I know she will be ok, she is busy finding a new sense of normal in this crazy mixed up world.  I have also lost Amanda.  I have her clay tea mug sitting in the cupboard, and I think of her every morning when I grab my coffee mug to start a new day.  It has stopped hurting to see it sitting there.  I am now to a place where I understand that she is free from burdens I can't understand because she carried a loss bigger than I will ever know inside of her.  It sorrows me greatly to know that instead of sharing that loss in life where we could have divided and conquered the burden, she has shared an irreparable form of it in death, and now all who loved her carry its weight.  Loss.

I'm working on my doubt.  I think I'd fully turned my back on God for a while.   Belief  is wrapped up in so many things and the walls I had built around my heart are open when sometimes my mind is not, and other times my mind is willing but my heart is not.  They seem to coincide more often now, and I think that is a good sign.  In the quiet moments, in the darkness I have come to know, even just for a moment, I feel the warmth of faith.  Faith is the greatest thing to lose, I have learned.
We miss you Amanda.  We found joy, even in the darkness.

Friday, July 26, 2013

Day 1 of the Morton Road Trip Adventure. Leaving home.

I haven't been anywhere for a while, and I certainly haven't packed my 2 weeks worth of personal belongings into the trunk of a car and hit the road for a very long time.  Once upon a time, when I was someone I barely remember, I loaded a tiny orange Ford Fiesta, the odometer  bespoke of 300,000 miles worth of endeavors before I got behind the wheel. with every item my newly married self owned.  My new husband and I drove from Minnesota to Arizona that sun baked August.  That trip introduced me to my America.  We sat in a traffic jam in the middle of of a sheer rock wall in Utah, listening to the Joshua Tree on cassette and contemplating a glorious future.  We saw families packed into station wagons and it seemed romantic that someday, in the too distant to really imagine it future, it could be us.  I swear I saw the face of God in a sunrise across the barren desert backdrop, and felt nothing but bliss in that little Fiesta that we push started almost 2000 miles to find our new home.  
We took the short route back home to Minnesota  less them a month later.  Who moves to Arizona in August but young fools in love with the idea of a desert? 
 I was pregnant within the year and our first anniversay was spent sleeping in a military sleeping bag on the floor of a cockroach infested apartment that was walking distance to the gates of the army base in Colorado.  I found God's Country about the same time that I lost faith in most everything.  I found myself again in the blue eyes of a baby that I had when I was but a babe myself.  
It is 25 years later, and I am packing my bags to go and visit that beautiful blue eyed girl that is off on her own adventure now, but still humbles my heart when I look into her eyes and remember what once was. 

Sunday, February 24, 2013


After months of gray dormancy I am ready to feel alive again.  We've done little things here and there on the house.  More maintenance than creation.  I've grown so accustomed to it's little idiosyncrasies that I hardly notice the things that used to annoy me.  I think that the blanket of snow that slowly piled and covered us into a bitter cold silence also begins a slow maliciousless suffocation of my creative energy, my wishes, and just as spring hovers upon emergence, I wonder if I can possibly make it out with anything left at all.  Then, the sunshine, the hint of green, a gentle spring rain all remind me of the dreams I'd buried under winter coats and heating bills.  It is coming, I can see it in the sky, the way the clouds roll across the Wisconsin forests to the river and the plains.  I can't wait until it gets here again, my flighty mistress, Summertime.

Saturday, January 5, 2013

I keep the patio door open when I am in the hotel room.  The warm floral scented air reminds me that I am not where I am from, and the honking, bird calls, and occasional sirens remind me that a vast city lays just beyond the canopy of luxury I am fortunate enough to be surrounded by.
Yesterday, I asked a hotel driver about going to the City market, also known as Krishna Raja Market.  I'd read it was a great place to get a feel of the local culture, and also a spot to find great trinkets to bring home. The driver raised his eye brows as he did the Indian head nod/bob that indicates they hear and understand what you are saying, but not that they agree.  (The head bob is very contagious and I'm trying to stop Jeremy from doing it because I keep thinking he is agree with something and then realize he is quickly assimilating and may soon be wearing a Dhoti...ah, but I digress and that IS a whole different story).  "You will not want to be there." he said.  "It is a very dirty place, you will get Malaria."  he added.  Malaria?  Hmmm.  Of course, I was even more curious about it at that point, and so far as my basic medical understanding of Malaria goes, it's mosquito born and I am taking those Malaria pills everyday for a reason.  Might as well put it to use, right?
I called the corporate driver, and his only response, as usual, was "Yes ma'am." and we headed off into the heavy traffic.  I usually enjoy the traffic in front of the hotel gates.  Buses filled to capicity, motorbikes whizzing by with an entire family on board.  Noise and hustle and a slight element of danger seems to be my happy place.  Today, I was surprised to hear a knock on my window.  I turned to find a little boy, maybe 7 years old, making a gesture of hunger towards his mouth.  He probably saw my heart drop and my eyes tear up as he held up his left arm, twisted with scars, and he pulled back his shiny silver shirt sleeve to expose more wrinkled ragged skin.  Then I heard a knock on the other window.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Tuesday Morning Ramblings.  9/25/2012

Today, I'm taking a break and relaxing.  My feet and ankles have been quite swollen and I knew I'd have to take a diuretic eventually, and today must be the day. I guess I'm lucky that it  is one of very few side effects I've been forced to live with after the surgeries.   It was good to take a morning nap after eating beyond sating at the world food breakfast buffet at the hotel.  It is an amazing spread, made even more incredible by the fact that a simple hint of desire for anything beyond what is available will send a waiter to the kitchen to hunt down almost anything.  Jeremy says that a young busboy has taken a liking to me, and waits on my beck and call as soon as we arrive.  I don't think it's much more then I've treated him like an equal human being and enjoy talking to him.  He has finished his first year of hotel management training, and is very fortunate to work at the Leela Palace Hotel.  He reminds me a lot of one of a very motivated young man I know in the states who is working hard to overcome life circumstance in a way that most Americans never have to, I would expect this kind of determination is much more common here in India then in the US.  So, he brings me Masala tea that he brews for me each morning, and asks about things that I've forgotten I've even mentioned from days before.  Jeremy smiles the whole time as he sips his black coffee (he is never offered the Masala tea) and is happy that in this patriarchal society, where the doors are opened, head nods are made, and distinguish is poured upon his American male head, I have found a bit of acknowledgment.  
Commercial Street, Bangalore

This is a country of contrasts.  The walls of the Leela are covered in flowing vines, Jasmine and Orchids grow in the crevices and the intoxicating smells almost cover the catch in your throat that the air pollution creates.  There are ornamental iron gates that swing open, inviting guests into the lap of luxury which can only be reached after a thorough security inspection done by armed guards and body scanners.  There are many important people that stay at this hotel, and security is top notch, but that also means there are government officials that drive by the crippled woman on the street, clothes so tread bare they are almost obscene, her bony hand held into the air at the sounds of a passer by, eye's blue hazed over by blindness.  The fleet of hotel BMW's, always at the ready, juxtaposed within site of the Jersey cow sticking it's head between the iron bars of the hotel surround,  foraging through an overflowing trash can, it's teats almost dragging on the ground with burden.  Within a block of this extravagant hotel there are lines of tarp covered shanties, coated in red dust, paths lined with trash that has blown and accumulated in glittered rows of plastic that goats nibble on as you drive by.

  I am white, so I am different, I am stared at, frowned upon, and I am the sweet manna of the hawkers who follow me around every corner. "Ma'am, Ma'am!" is called after me as coconuts or wire baskets or old booklets are put before me for a "good deal, only 100 rupees for you" and the price gets better and voices become more desperate as I walk away.  I tip extravagantly, much to Jeremy's chagrin. "It is an insult" he tells me, for that is what he has read, but I don't see any signs of an insult in the eyes of the cleaning staff that I've given a few dollars to, or the street vendor I tell to keep the change.  The average income in India hovers around $750 USD per year.  Obviously, those living in cardboard tarp shacks are likely making much less then that.  I took the hotel (yes the BMW and the only luxury cars I have seen during my stay) car and driver out adventuring yesterday, and as I do with everyone I meet, I asked a lot of questions and he seemed to really enjoy playing tour guide for an afternoon.  Apparently, most of the people he drives are stuffy foreign business men who don't care that he has a wife, a 4 year old son and an 18 month old daughter.  They don't know that he used to drive a tour bus, 15 hours a day for 20 days at a time, and often only saw his wife 1 day a month.  They also don't know that he pays 5000rp per month for his 2 bedroom flat, which is the equivalent of $100 US dollars, and although it is hard to live somewhere so expensive, he considers himself very lucky.  I tip based upon what I would pay in the US.  I figure that if I am willing to give a five dollar tip to some hard working college student in the US, why would I give any less to someone here who could use it even more?  Maybe don't mention that to Jeremy though.  He raises his eyes over the newspaper at dinner often enough as I talk of my daily adventures.  I'm already planning some more for tomorrow!

India Arrival

I'm going to try and keep a journal of my travels while in India.  Funny how sometimes finding home can take you so very far away.  I promise I will eventually fix the typos and grammatical errors but wanted to post it as it was, jumbled mind aside.  Love from India!

First Night in India

I arrived in  Bangalore during the wee morning hours of a warm late September Saturday.  The humidity and warmth surrounded my like a soft baby blanket as I exited the plane and followed the exhausted mass of fellow travelers to the arrivals area.  I hoped someone in the group knew what they were doing because I was too tired after traveling for over 20 hours to even pay attention to the signs.  My legs slowly came to life as my carry-on bumped along behind me, leaving a trail of rumbles along the metal planked halls as I took a deep breath of (fresh?) air and felt utter and complete relief at finally being on the ground and tried to ignore the nagging reminder that in 16 days I would be making the long trek home again.

The smell?  Curry, and cardamom, jet fuel and dirt, all blended into an exotic and intoxicating scent of excitement.  I was here.  I was in India.   Somewhere just outside the odd arrangement of aisles and tunnels and glassed in halls, Jeremy was waiting for me to finally arrive.  I had no problems going through arrivals, and although I was about 12 minutes worried about the lack of my (many times missing before) luggage, it finally spilled out onto the belt and I grabbed it to pull it through the customs clearance before I could hustle outside.  It was almost 2am, the sky had the orange glow of a city that never sleeps and from the cacophony of sounds I heard just beyond my site, it was indeed a city of constant activity.  

I went through one set of glass doors and was immediately set upon by a gaggle of younger Indian men, "Ride?  "You need a ride?"  "What hotel?" "Cheapest rate!"   "Ma'am?  MA'AM!?" "I have a nice car, you will like it."  The English mixed Indian babble fused into a confusing sense of urgency as I looked for Jeremy and didn't see him anywhere.  I walked by the men, and it did seem to be all men, everywhere, still trying to catch my attention, offering to take my bag, pulling out cell phones and holding them in front of me "Here, use my phone to call if you need." as I tried to pull my useless cell phone out of my purse and figure out what to do if Jeremy really wasn't here somehow.  I walked past the drivers, each holding a name card, and wondered if maybe Jeremy hadn't been able to come because he was stuck on a call and he had sent the driver instead.  My name was no where.  I tried to look very blond and American, in case one of the drivers was on the lookout for me(and somehow it wasn't apparent enough), but no one called out my name as I wandered by.  I walked towards the loud sounds of cars honking and the direction everyone seemed to be going, and arrived at a street scene of mass chaos.  The original drivers persuasive techniques were nothing compared to this.  Cabs lined up in a single lane 3 cars deep in a pattern tighter then a jigsaw puzzle and blocks long, some parked, some honking, lights flashing, voices in every language I'd ever dreamed of busying chatting, greeting, yelling, sirens in the distance, jets taking off overhead, exhaust catching in the back of my dry throat so that I was barely able to say "No, I have a driver" to the cabby's that started following me around.  Still no sign of Jeremy, I wondered if there was another street, another exit, another place that I had somehow missed.  I wandered out from the protection of the police men that were wandering around with rifles strapped across their backs to a canopy in the middle of the street so I was able to look into the large parking area.  No Jeremy.  I switched my phone off of airplane mode, and turned on international service, something I'd hoped to avoid because it was $2.50 a minute and God only knows how much for data.  I was tired, and kept laughing out loud at how very absurd everything seemed.

  I felt like Alice in wonderland as I looked at my phone and realized it was pretty useless because Jeremy wouldn't have his cell on anyway.  I sent a message to his office email, just in case, and the cabby's all seemed quite fascinated that I had no idea where my driver was.  I finally made the mistake of saying my hotel was the Leela because then they were even more vehement that I needed their personal services, they could give me tours "no charge".  Ah, I'd read about these tactics and nicely said no.  I decided I would walk back to the building, and find safe haven until Jeremy managed to come.  I did worry that there could have been an accident, but knew if his office had extraction services planned and available, they would probably figure out how to pick me up if anything happened.  I went through the line of cabby's, then the line of drivers, and made one last trip down the row looking for my name when Jeremy walked up behind me and said "hey".