Wednesday, May 10, 2017

My Left Foot

I'm not a boy scout, but I've borrowed their motto, "be prepared," and have made it my own. My car has a Ziploc bag tucked under the floor mat in case of an upset stomach. I keep a pen with duct tape wrapped around it in my purse. And lately, I've been practicing driving using my left foot. I refuse to be one of those people who's driven to work every day while a break or a sprain heals. I want to be prepared. 

It's funny how "left-footing it" can make an experienced driver feel like a newbie. My left-footed stops are stuttery and my starts both crawl and lurch. When a policeman merged in front of me, my right foot ached to take over, but my left insisted it could do it.

My left foot isn't starting entirely from scratch. For years, before I was old enough to drive, my dad let me slide up next to him on the bench seat of our Rambler station wagon to practice. From the near middle of the car, I guided the steering wheel and later punched at the pedals until I perfected my skills. Crossing a snowy, crusted wake during a highway lane change was much easier with Dad smushed against the car door beside me. I was so used to steering from the middle of the car that I could  have gotten a job as a rural mail carrier. When I finally turned 16 and took my rightful place in the driver's seat, I had trouble figuring out where I was on the road.

My left foot remembers a lot of what it learned 40 years ago and is coming along nicely. Every day my stops are easier, and my starts are smoother. I'm happy. I've got my duct tape, my Ziploc bag, and a prepared left foot that is ready to drive me wherever I want to go.

Sunday, November 20, 2016

Ann Baumgardner, MD

I'm not a classically trained doctor. The initials MD after my name actually stand for Mystery Diagnosis. It's a TV show I watch where medical conundrums are revealed and resolved symptom-by-symptom. It feels a lot like going on rounds with your attending, as you hear patients' medical histories unfold. I know what rounds are like, because in addition to my 10 years of Mystery Diagnosis, I'm also training with world-famous surgeons on Grey's Anatomy - another medical TV show. There are eleven seasons of Grey's that I'm speed-watching to try to finish before the next class of residents take their boards. When I think of all the hours spent in surgery and the time away from my family, I can sometimes resent my calling. But - oh the rewards when bumps bulge and rashes rage, and I am the first to diagnose my officemate's ganglion cyst.

I was home with a stomach bug, watching Grey's Anatomy. I had to fast forward through any mention of food, but had no trouble removing spleens, finding blood clots and re-sectioning colons. After a full day of surgery, I was unable to fall asleep and checked out my niece's Instagram. She had posted a photo of what looked like mesenteric ischemia with massive abdominal adhesions where the bowel stickily grew onto itself. I wondered, "Why would my niece be posting pictures of mesenteric ischemia on her Instagram?" I found my glasses and read her caption "Just made a fresh batch of Rice Krispy treats. Yum!!" My stomach churned. I had to look away.

Saturday, December 14, 2013


Even though I'm 50, I'm like a 3-year-old, always wanting to do things "all by myself!" I'm defiant, independent and impatient. 

I rail when the minister tells us to bow our heads, so I look up, out and sideways rather than dip my chin. Instead of asking for help with a too-tight lid, I vice-grip the pickle jar between my legs, and use a strap wrench to turn the top. I  even lotion my own back by rubbing up against a shower tile I've strategically squirted with moisturizer to hit that itchy spot just under my left chicken wing.

Last night, after 3 weeks of waiting for someone to help me carry up the recliner, I couldn't wait any longer. I went to the basement, turned the chair upside down and laced my leather belt around the metal underbelly; now I had a good strong handle. With my elbow looped in the circle of the belt, I dragged that dumb chair to the bottom of the steps. Regrouping for a minute, I assumed a sumo wrestler pose and a gave a hearty grunt to gather my strength. Then I rolled that chair end over end up each cluster of stairs until I was at the top step where I had a rug waiting. Gliding on top of the carpet, the chair slid effortlessly across the hardwood floor as if it were polished ice. 

With the recliner positioned in front of the TV, I sat down, popped out the signature footrest and enjoyed my evening  with a steaming mug of hot water. I watched a show about Alaskan homesteaders who do absolutely everything for themselves. This 3-year-old was very proud of herself indeed!

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Breaking the Poncho Barrier

I wore a sweater poncho to work. It was a big step for me. I practiced wearing it around the house, trying to feel normal in it. A sweater poncho touches that same "fashion nerve" as wearing a hat. It takes guts to do in public, and it feels sort of glamour shot-ish. 

Two people complimented me on the sweater poncho, but I wasn't sure if they meant it or if that's simply what one says when an elephant walks into the room. 

Later in the day I started to hit my stride with the poncho. The window by my desk didn't suck the heat out of me the way it used to on non poncho days. It was like wearing a blanket. I felt so "Clint Eastwood" when I threw the front poncho panel over my shoulder, so I wouldn't get pulled into the office copy machine. I could almost hear "The Good, the Bad and the Ugly's" haunting theme song whistling past me as I walked cowboy style down the halls. 

It wasn't long until I saw more ponchos making their way to the office from the back of their owners' closets. I'd broken the poncho barrier. It made my day.

Mon Dieu

I took French in high school but didn't keep up with it in college. I never had a reason to use it aside from my husband's occasional scrabble question, "What's a four-letter French word for cat?"

With no one to converse with en francais, I decided I'd keep up my language skills by praying in French. In the early years I had a very rich vocabulary and had much parlez with God. But now 30 years later with my shriveled French lexicon, my prayers speak of amourmerci, and a lot of mon Dieu. I guess this reduction in vocabulary makes me a more mature Christian. Instead of asking for lots of things, I speak of love, say thank you a lot and my God, my God. C'est magnifique!

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Pharmacy Pick-Up

I  stepped up to the outdoor pharmacy window at our Kroger grocery store to pick up my prescriptions. The system outside was not equipped with one of those keypads where you swipe your Kroger Rewards card or type your phone number in to receive your purchase credits. 

The pharmacy technician was a young woman in her early 20's and appeared to be new at the job. We had a little friendly cashier-to-customer banter where I told her I had a daughter in college, and she told me she was taking classes at UC. 

We were at that moment where my technician was beginning to ring up my bill. All of a sudden, I realized I had no keypad outside to enter my phone number for my Rewards points. I interrupted her saying, "Wait! Do you want my phone number?" Seeing the stricken look on her face, I instantly realized how she had interpreted my request. Wide-eyed-and-horrified, she drew back in disgust and said, "No!" 

I quickly responded with, "No. No. No. It's not like that. You need my phone number for the Kroger Rewards credit." 

I'm 30 years older than she is, am straight, and have been happily married for 25 years, but I can't help feeling a little bit rejected by the whole thing. I thought I was at least kinda cute.

Friday, September 13, 2013

Camp Damp

I’ve spent a lifetime camping across the United States with my parents and sister, and I married a man who loves to camp. I’ve taken showers with spiders and have expertly dried off while standing on top of my shoes. I’ve blown out my hair with the wall mounted hand dryer. I’ve used earplugs to drown out the nighttime swells of katydids and the campers next door who keep breaking out into song and laughter. I have my ways of adjusting to all the major and minor inconveniences of camping, but camp damp is too much for me. It’s all I can think about. Camp damp!

I made up this phrase during our most recent 3-day camping weekend with my sister and brother-in-law. It’s this pervasive “cold sweat” that dews all over everything, soggying up all forms of paper and fabric. Camp damp! I repeated the phrase all weekend like a Polly who wanted a cracker. It’s the only part of camping I cannot abide.
My sister tells me I just need to embrace it and forget about it, but I can’t. Every 10 minutes I’m standing by the fire again to rotisserate and re-dry all my wet places. Nighttime is the worst. The sleeping bag’s once silky lining is now a wet skin. I’ve tried wrapping my sleeping bag in a plastic tablecloth hoping to seal in some freshness, but it too succumbs to camp damp.

I came home from this past weekend determined to solve this problem. I went to the computer to look up hydrophobic materials that naturally do not absorb water, and I found it - polyethylene terephthalate.  It comes in various thicknesses and goes by the common name of polar fleece. My solution to camp damp. On my next camping trip, I’m simply going to swaddle in fleece. The only problem is that it’s terribly flammable, so my days of rotating on the spit are over.