In Sickness

sick coupleThere’s nothing quite so lovely or nearly as romantic as being sick with the one you love. Ahh yes, gazing softly and tenderly across the kleenex-and-blister-pack-strewn room… peering pathetically into one another’s deeply-sunken, dead-grey eyes and affectionately eeking out the phrase: “My dear, will you please pass the Mucinex?”

If you haven’t experienced this blissful coupled journey already, I can promise that someday you will. And on that day you will come to realize that indeed, the honeymoon is over. When you’re too tired to take a shower or work a comb through your hair and you’re incapable of remembering exactly which day last week the sweatshirt and pair of pajama pants you’re currently wearing emerged from the third dresser drawer — it isn’t a pretty sight.

Nor is it for the faint of heart. No Ma’am. You’ve gotta be 100% committed to this $#!*. Because instead of discussing where to meet up with your friends for drinks on Friday night, what new restaurant you might check out on Saturday or a possible weekend road trip… you’re reading aloud to one another absolutely riveting passages from the dosing instructions and possible side-effects portions of various OTC and prescription drug leaflets and packages.

Yes, “The Crud” has hit our home and hit it hard. And based upon my constant perusal of various social media outlets — it has been descending upon many other households as well. Fortunately (for me I suppose) I have not fallen as ill as Lee. Unfortunately (for him) he has really gotten slammed. And I do hope that he will be on the mend soon.

Quite miraculously it has worked out that (over the course of seven days — give or take) when one of us has been really down, the other has seemed a bit stronger. Initially, out of sympathy, this spurs a kind of trading of roles from patient to caregiver. However, this turn of events can oftentimes trigger a wonderfully entertaining and hearty bout of the game of One-Up-Manship that I like to call: “Who’s Sicker?” a.k.a. “Who Should Be The One To Go Out and Retrieve More Medicince and Comfort Food?”

Slinging phrases such as “My head is really pounding” or “My throat is really sore, I sure could use a slushie from Sonic” or “I’m so weak I need to lie down for awhile” or “I’m pretty sure I’m going to hack up a lung if not a kidney here pretty soon” usually helps in determining the game’s winner. Thus far, I have only emerged the victor on one occasion.

Hopefully, our walk through the wilderness of disease and pestilence will come to an end — soon. Until then I guess we’re stuck with each other — in all of our sniffly, stuffy, coughy, achy, short-fused, wild-haired, week-old-pajama glory. Neither one of us has run screaming toward the hills just yet. So the way I see it, that’s either a sign of true love… or we’re just too worn out to make the trip.

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No Fat, No Carbs… No Thanks.

Like a desperate hunter setting out into the wild in search of food, I left the office desperately starving and in search of something tasty and filling. I WANTED a cheddar-roast beef sandwich from Arby’s… greasy and dripping with red ranch sauce. But there was a big deadline on Friday’s horizon and a Smoothie King just across the street from the office, so I decided to give that a try instead.

When I walked in the door I was immediately assaulted by an overwhelmingly giant and colorful menu boasting all kinds of things I could not pronounce, let alone grasp what dietary need they would fulfill. A bright-faced boy looking like he couldn’t possibly be a day over 13 leaned across the counter—beaming at me—and enthusiastically asked what I wanted. I cringed. I had no freaking idea what I wanted.

I suppose I wanted something that tasted good above ALL else and something that would make me STOP wanting the greasy Arby’s cheddar-roast beef sandwich dripping with red ranch sauce. But I couldn’t tell Mr. 12-year old, fresh-faced-health-food peddler that. So instead I asked for his recommendation… Which was, indeed, a colossal mistake.

Here is what he SAID: “Well, the ‘Lean One’ is great because it has protein so it helps keep you full, trims the waistline and contains no fat or carbs.”

But here is what I HEARD: “You are fat.”

Here is what I SAID: “Is it going to taste like a diet drink or like an actual fruit smoothie?”

But here is what I THOUGHT about saying as I envisioned myself wagging my index finger in his face and then proceeding to draw an imaginary circle in the air around my mid-section: “You think I am FAT!?! Listen here, String Bean, I may weigh more than you do on your heaviest day, and I certainly won’t be doing any runway modeling, ever… but I am a HEALTHY weight! You don’t know what’s under here. This is a baggy top. I might have a six-pack under here for all you know!”  (I don’t. But he doesn’t KNOW that.)

So now I am stuck. I’ve asked this zygote’s opinion and he’s pointed out that I am fat and in need of some nutritional intervention so out of sheer shame and compliance I ordered the stupid “Lean One” and hoped for the best.

When he triumphantly handed over the cup, certain that he had done a tremendous service in saving me from myself that day, I noticed that the CUP read: “The Lean One enhances fat loss, promotes lean muscle, helps suppress appetite and promotes a healthy heart.”

Now, I’m sure these features and benefits are important to many, many people. But as earlier stated in this entry… I wanted something that tasted good ABOVE ALL ELSE—nutritional value be damned—and something that would make me STOP wanting the greasy Arby’s cheddar-roast beef sandwich dripping with red ranch sauce.

So here is what I THOUGHT as I shuffled out of the store in my baggy top, bitterly sipping my sad little smoothie that definitely seemed like it cut ALL of the culinary corners when it came to taste: “If this doesn’t satisfy me, I’m scarfing down a bag of Doritos. I knew I should have gone to Arby’s.”

Apparently… It’s All Relative

“Shhh! Your dad is upstairs sleeping. He has one of his really bad headaches again.” My mom would inform my sister and me in an attempt to keep us from disturbing our poor father while he tried to recover from the excruciating pain that occasionally plagued him.

All I knew about his headaches were that they were referred to as “cluster headaches” and they made the whole side of his head and face hurt. He couldn’t even brush his hair without extreme pain.

“You girls leave your mother alone. She came home with another migraine today.” My dad would warn us while my mother rested, writhed in pain or ran to bathroom to throw up again. And we would eat takeout for dinner if she hadn’t already suffered through cooking our meal BEFORE addressing her own needs and collapsing on the bed.

What I knew about her headaches were that they were called “migraines” and they typically made her lose her vision along with whatever she ate that day. Oh yeah… and I decided that between her and my father… adulthood pretty much sucked.

Fast forward to my junior year in high school. I vividly remember sitting in art class and reading a text book. I’m not sure why I wasn’t painting or drawing at the time but that is irrelevent here. As I looked at the grey lines of copy on the page I noticed that entire sections of the page began to disappear into what can only be described as bright, white blind spots. I felt funny and asked to be excused.

Sitting in the office while the secretary called my dad to come and get me — a terrible pain I had never felt before began gripping my forehead like a vise. On the ride home with him, the nausea came. He had to pull over just four houses down from ours as my lunch began to resurface. It was then that I remembered the horrible migraine headaches that my mother and grandmother (as I would later learn) got with some regularity. And it was then that I learned how privileged I too was to be a member of that genetic club. Thank you, mom and grandma… I love you too.

I have since learned to manage the migraines that fortunately only come around two to four times a year. I have a prescription, know some of the “triggers” and warning signs and have thus learned how to keep from losing my lunch or an entire day. I count myself lucky that I am not one of those chronic sufferers who get several in one week.

Fast forward AGAIN to four days ago. While managing an estate sale at Lee’s childhood home I began to feel a burning ache in my inner ear and several “ice pick” stabs to the back of my neck and head. I took my migraine medicine figuring it couldn’t hurt and waited for it to work. And I waited. And I waited some more. Nothing. The untouchable discomfort soon spread to the entire right side of my head and face and by dinner time I had trouble chewing because my jaw and teeth ached as well. And I couldn’t brush my hair without wincing. Thank you, dad.

Four days later of ice packs, towels wrapped tightly around my skull and “chill pills” to help me sleep… the headache (though vastly better) is still with me. Apparently, unlike it’s lesser-of-a-pain-in-the-ass cousin, the migraine… these “clusters” can last for several days. Severe episodes are often treated with visits to the ER and injections of steroids, strong pain killers and other drugs to help the sufferer through. OTC pain medications do NOT work and you wanna know the best part — they don’t KNOW what causes them other than GENETICS! Ha!

So, as much as I love and adore my amazing parents for ALL that they have done and continue to do for me and for EACH of the selfless sacrifices they have made in the name of love… I would also like to say a hearty thank you for the great genes too! I know you had nothing to do with it, really. But if I’d had the choice… I would have much rather inherited my mom’s knack for baking chocolately goodness from scratch… and my dad’s green thumb.

The Most Valuable Thing

I am sitting at the computer in my childhood home. The windows are open and a fresh, cool breeze is lightly brushing my face and neck. The birds are singing and I can hear children’s laughter just outside.

It is definitely springtime and the world is coming to life again.

Recently I have been reminded that life is the most precious of gifts with health and family coming in at a very close second. These are the things which should never be taken for granted.

Sadly, Lee’s mother passed away suddenly yesterday afternoon after a brief illness. We were not prepared for this — though no one ever is. And it has been an in-my-face reminder that life can change in an instant. In the blink of an eye or the brevity of a single breath our lives can be altered eternally and irreparably.

This week as you’re rushing from here to there to take care of this and that and all of the other “things” that we may deem important — take a little bit of time to stop and look around.

As you experience your surroundings—hopefully enjoying the very life and health that has been given to you—say thank you and tell your people just how very much you love and value them.

The Power of a Smile

Smiling from beneath a Taco Bell visor she handed me my change and exclaimed: “Have a great day, honey!” As she always did every day that I appeared at her drive-thru window. I never knew her name, but I knew that she was one of the friendliest people I have ever encountered working at a fast food restaurant.

Several times a week I used to drive to the Taco Bell near my office to get lunch. On most days she would be the one to take my order and money. She looked to be about mid-forties but there was something in her appearance that hinted at the fact that life had not been kind to her. No matter what, each day, she always smiled a wide grin and made a little small talk. It was a welcome change to deal with a pleasant person at a drive-thru window, plus I liked the way that I could always count on her being there, wearing that welcoming smile…

Until one day she wasn’t there.

It must be her day off, I assumed, and went about my business. After the next visit and the next visit and the next, I began to wonder what had happened to her. Did she get let go? Did she quit? Did she simply change shifts? Did she get a better job somewhere? Anything was possible I guess, after all, I knew absolutely nothing about her. Several months went by and finally I just figured that she was gone. And odd as it seems to feel this way about a stranger… I hoped that wherever she was… she was happy.

Then one day she was back at the window, still smiling! I was so happy to see her again that I blurted out: “Hey! It’s you! You’re back! Where have you been!?!” I never gave a thought to the fact that I might be infringing on her privacy by asking such a question. She didn’t seem to mind one bit, she was as kind as ever.

Then I noticed it. Peeking out from the neckline of her purple polo, I could see the jagged edge of an angry red scar. “I had open heart surgery” she said matter-of-factly as she handed me my change. “There has been something wrong with my heart since I was a baby… but they finally fixed it.” And she grinned wider than ever.

We spoke to one another for a few moments. I inquired about her recovery and she explained that it had been a long and difficult one. She had experienced severe complications, gotten an infection and nearly died. I said how happy I was to see her again and that I’d keep her in my thoughts and prayers. She seemed genuinely touched by my words and appeared a little dumbfounded, but still managed to smile anyway.

I drove away thinking about her and how in ALL this time while I was shuffling back and forth to work and going out for lunch and running errands and stressing out and scurrying this way and that… she was battling for her life. I found myself praying for her — this woman whose name I did not know. And it made me stop and consider how much we rush and rush and race through life, so focused on the tasks that lay before us… the items on our To-Do lists… or the things that are troubling us… that we never stop to consider what the strangers whose paths we cross may be going through.

For all we know, the nasty woman in line at the check out counter may just have had her entire world turned upside down. Maybe they lost someone dear to them or lost a job. Maybe they’re battling illness, depression, defeat or heartbreak. Maybe they are lonely and longing for someone to simply look at them and NOTICE them.

For some reason, we’ve become so self-involved that we just don’t get it anymore. We don’t take the time to actually look and SEE one another. We don’t stop and ask someone how they’re doing. How they are REALLY doing. It seems all we really want is for them to just get out of our way. I know I am guilty of this.

Years ago, I read a bumper sticker that said: “Today: Give someone one of your smiles, it may be the only one they receive all day” and that has stayed with me. The woman at the drive-thru, who was so sick that she nearly died, yet always offered me one of HER smiles, gets it. She gets it. And thanks to her maybe I can finally get it too.

Falls the Shadow

“Between the idea and the reality, between the motion and the act, falls the shadow.” — T.S. Eliot.

This is not what I had in mind. At some point in time everyone utters those words. No exceptions. Most of you have already said it. And if you haven’t yet… I promise you will.

Maybe it was the vacation you had planned or the house you always imagined you’d buy. Maybe it was the career you thought would last forever or the spouse who promised to love and cherish you “till death do us part.” Perhaps it is in the visions you had for your children, or even the vision that one day you would have children. It might be the health and well-being you expected from your own body.

Whatever it is for you… there is probably something that didn’t turn out the way you planned. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not always a bad thing. Sometimes amazing blessings and miraculous surprises come our way. And that’s what keeps life interesting.

In T.S. Eliot’s poem “The Hollow Men” there is a line that reads: “Between the idea and the reality, between the motion and the act, falls the shadow.” There is much debate over what the entire poem means. And it means lots of different things to different people. But in that particular line I find it interesting to consider “the shadow” to be that grey area that exists between what we pictured in our minds and what we actually have.

If you’re anything like me, you might struggle with reconciling your dreams with your realities. And we may ask ourselves: How do I learn to be content living inside “the shadow”? I think the best we can do is to look around for the surprises… the tiny gems we never even considered to be of such great value: A neighbor who seems to come through just when you need it most. A co-worker who notices whenever you’re having a rough day and encourages you. A friend who knows everything there possibly is to know about you and loves you anyway. Family members who are your biggest fans and cheer you on even when you fall down.

These are the riches found in secret and unexpected places. We may need to write them down. Put them on the fridge or the bathroom mirror… somewhere we’ll always be reminded of them. This way, perhaps we will never forget that even if life doesn’t turn out to be the treasure chest we were expecting… we need to look closer. We will find that it is still a treasure bursting with sparkling jewels… just lying there… in the shadow.