You’re so vein, part deux: What the treatment’s really like

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One almost-healed leg next to one in the post-procedure stocking phase. (Pro tip: if you happen to share my painfully pale Irish skin tone, get the beige support stocking. No need to draw extra attention to your temporarily crazy leg situation, especially during shorts/skirt season.)

To follow up on my last post: last Thursday, I had the varicose veins in my right leg ablated, so I’m just going to tell you a bit about what the procedure is like, and what it involves. (Ablated = shut down. Arteries carry blood from the heart to the legs, while veins with “one-way” valves help the blood defy gravity and travel from the leg back up to the heart. When a valve leaks, the blood pools and enlarges the vein, causing varicose veins. Since the affected vein isn’t functioning properly anyway, the treatment involves using heat to cauterize/close the varicose vein. And that’s one to grow on.)

the more you know psa public service announcement the mo you know

First, after filling out even more paperwork, you’re led to a room with a few lockers, where you remove and lock up your super-valuable pants and pull on a big, stretchy pair of shorts and a robe. But don’t get too excited. It’s not a luxe spa or hotel robe; instead, it’s the fabric version of quilted paper.

2. You’re led into a patient room, where you read the same issue of Popular Science, with Obama on the cover, that you read at your last appointment until a nurse comes in, gives you a black Sharpie to write your initials on the leg they will be working on – to avoid any confusion, I guess?! – and asks you to stand with that leg extended in front of the other. With that same Sharpie, she marks up each varicose vein that they will be ablating on your leg. Which just feels odd.

I’d been through this before with my left leg, two weeks earlier, and because that leg had the lion’s share of visible varicose veins, I’d thought that the right would be a breeze. But then she kept marking. And marking. Crap. This might be slightly less intense then the first time, when they ablated 38 veins, but … not by as much as I’d expected. Shazbot. Continue reading

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You’re so vein: when seeking a medical treatment feels like self-betrayal

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What my inner left thigh looks like. Aging ain’t for sissies, people.

When you’ve kept a specific part of your body hidden for years, it’s terrifying – to say the least – to make arrangements to expose it to a series of strangers, and have that area not only studied from close up, but touched, repeatedly and extensively.

Yet that’s what I did a few weeks ago. I called a medical office that specializes in varicose and spider vein treatment, made a consultation appointment, and said nothing more about it. To anyone. Because I felt ashamed and embarrassed.

Not just about my left leg – the area most plagued by the errant veins – but also because I’ve spent my life thinking that I’m someone who embraces the idea of natural aging. I always wanted to be Helen Mirren, not Cher.

Yet after several years of sheathing myself in leggings, pants, capris, and long flowy skirts, something I couldn’t look away from so easily arose, which is: now when I go running or do yoga, I feel some achiness, some pain in those varicose areas. Plus, I’d seen ads that suggested that health insurance companies usually covered varicose vein treatment, so I thought: “They wouldn’t do that if it was just a cosmetic procedure, right?”

With this in mind, a couple of weeks ago, I did a web search for local options, took a deep breath, called for an appointment. Continue reading

The Layoff Diaries: Nice girls finish last?

piggy-bankWhen I pick up my daughters at the end of the day, it’s not the typical “grab backpacks and firmly herd them out the door” kind of scene.

Because Joe is the family cook – and he won’t be home until after Neve’s pre-school closes at 6, anyway – it frankly makes no difference to me whether the girls want to linger and play with their friends or leave right away. So on most days, I take a seat and play with them, or chat with the young women who are their caregivers, or just spectate.

While doing the latter on a recent evening, Neve and a friend were playing with a plastic toy garage, with curving car ramps, when a younger blond girl approached the table and pulled it toward herself.

Neve yelled, “Hey!” and yanked it back, like a reflex.

I, meanwhile, did the thing you expect mommies to do. I said, “Neve, she shouldn’t have grabbed it from you, but you don’t have to freak out, either. You could just pull it back and say, ‘Excuse me, we were playing with that.’”

But even as I went through the motions of saying these words, I wondered if this is how it starts. If these are the subtle ways that girls are taught that “being nice” is prized over backbone and action. (You might think, “You’d say that to a son, too” – and you’re right, I probably would; but boys aren’t usually groomed in the same way girls are to “not make waves” and to always put others’ needs before their own.)

The timing of this particular parenting question is no accident. Since my layoff happened on January 6 – 33 days ago now – I’ve been accepting free-lance assignments from a number of sources: theater companies, local arts-oriented websites, news organizations, etc. But because I’ve been out of the free-lancing game for nearly 12 years, I found myself immediately staring down my least favorite part of this racket: negotiating a price for my labor. Continue reading

The Layoff Diaries: Down the rabbit-hole

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I’m a lifelong skeptic, so I have great difficulty explaining why, on a fairly consistent basis, I stumble upon things in my reading life that address, in an uncanny way, something I’m experiencing right at that very moment.

For instance, last year, when my father-in-law had a handful of long stints in the hospital, and I was on my own with the girls one night because it looked like he might be facing his final hours, Lily randomly chose (for her reading practice) this Shel Silverstein poem from the collection, “Falling Up”:

Stork Story

You know the stork brings babies,
But did you also know
He comes and gets the older folks
When it’s their time to go?

Zooms right down and scoops them up,
Then flaps back out the door
And flies them to the factory where
They all were made before.

And there their skin is tightened up,
Their muscles all are toned,
Their wrinkles all are ironed out,
They’re given brand-new bones.

Ol’ bent backs are straightened up,
New teeth are added, too,
Tired hearts are all repaired
And made to work like new.

Their memories are all removed
And they’re shrunk down, and then
The stork flies them back down to earth
As newborn babes again.

I’ll confess, I struggled mightily to keep myself from sobbing as Lily read these words aloud. My father-in-law had long been suffering from a rare form of skin cancer, so these images of renewal and release and rebirth worked like a salve on an awful night.

And last night, after dinner (and a couple of games of the kids’ version of Apples to Apples), Lily and Neve made tunnels out of the couch cushions and pillows and asked me to read from the book Joe recently started with them: “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.”

You can see where this is going.

The chapter where Joe had left off reading, “The Rabbit Sends in a Little Bill,” tells what happens when the White Rabbit mistakes Alice for his housemaid; as she tries to carry out his wishes, she takes a swig from a bottle marked “DRINK ME” and grows so big that Rabbit’s house can barely contain her.

Alice, in this moment, thinks to herself, “I almost wish I hadn’t gone down that rabbit-hole – and yet – and yet – it’s rather curious, you know, this sort of life! I do wonder what can have happened to me!”

You and me both, Alice.

For although I may not have bumped into you on my way down the rabbit-hole, we’re both clearly taking up semi-permanent residency in Wonderland, with all the delights and horrors contained therein.

Indeed, that’s what this strange, surreal post-layoff time ultimately boils down to. There’s sheer terror and worry underlying each day; but there’s also a palpable spark of hope for new adventures, too. You feel more alive than you do before, but at the expense of – well, being able to take care of expenses.

Unlike the days and years that came before, you just have absolutely no idea what’s coming up ahead (looking at you, trippy hookah-smoking caterpillar).

And depending on your mood on a given day, that notion will make you either jump up out of bed or burrow ever deeper under the down comforter.

Out of work, out of whack

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(This photo was taken on the last day of operations for the original Ann Arbor News in 2009.)

Last Wednesday morning, I stood in front of my closet and asked Joe, “So what do you wear to get fired?”

The line was kind of funny, in a gallows humor way; but this wasn’t just a joke, and I wasn’t speaking hypothetically.

After receiving a late-in-the-day Tuesday email – containing three clues that blinked like a neon sign, pointing to my imminent layoff – I’d stayed up late, uploading the hundreds of videos and photos (mostly of my daughters) from my work-issued phone, and sending documents and contacts I wanted to keep from my laptop.

It was like living out that “If you were stranded on a desert island” scenario, but with your two most essential gadgets.

We tried to hold to our usual morning routine on Wednesday, getting Lily to the bus stop, and dropping Neve off at preschool; but then I stepped back into our quiet, empty house, left to twiddle my thumbs until nearly noon.

Which led to the next question, “What do you do while waiting to get fired?”

I’d thought a bit about this the night before, while frantically uploading, and I’d decided that this would be the perfect window of time to finish up my year-end wrap-up of local theater highlights and news. I was off the clock, and year-end pieces like this had recently gone the way of the dodo, but I’d wanted to do it, anyway.

It would be my swan song, my parting gift to a theater community that had weathered a pretty tough year; and as it happened, this gift was mutually beneficial, in that I felt grateful for being able to focus on pulling together story under a tight deadline – just like old times – and leaving my nearly 12 years in arts journalism with a story that only I could write. Continue reading

Guest blog post: The Battle for Everything

notskinnyThis post was written by a former colleague, whom I can’t thank enough for sharing this very personal, heartbreaking essay. It touches on some of my deepest fears as a mother, so I appreciate the hard honesty of this piece. I will quietly bear witness to your brokenness, my friend, and I will hope.

It felt like a punch in the gut.

“Sometimes, I wish I had that.”

That was the reaction of a friend on finding out that our daughter has Anorexia. This is a close and dear friend who admittedly has struggled with weight issues, so I took a breath and smiled. But this, dear friend, is why you do NOT wish you had this disorder.

Anorexia kills. It kills a lot. It is, in fact, the deadliest mental disorder in existence. Overall it increases the likelihood of death by nearly six fold, more than Schizophrenia, more than Bipolar Disorder. My daughter was diagnosed when she was 16 so she’s even more at risk. According to Web MD, that makes her 10 times more likely to die early than the general population. The most likely cause: Suicide.

She has the trifecta of bad: Depression, anxiety disorder, and an eating disorder. Imagine a world where you are so anxious you have panic attacks, where you are depressed out of your mind because you are so anxious, and where voices scream in your head. That’s the world of my daughter. Every day we fight a battle for her soul.

Every waking moment we live with the fact that our baby is under a death sentence. Every sharp knife, razor blade and prescription pill in our house is under lock and key. Every morning we get up and check our daughter’s breathing to make sure she didn’t find a way in the night to end her life. We live in terror of the time she spends alone. Continue reading

Eulogy

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The last piece of advice I ever got from my father-in-law, Roger Grekin, came a few weeks ago, when he learned I was training for a half marathon.

“Don’t be afraid to stop along the way, if you need to,” he’d said.

I’m going to apply that advice to this eulogy as well.

But I’d recommend this advice to many of you this week, too. Facing Roger’s sudden absence, many of us have had to find the courage to stop our lives and our work and just absorb the loss, and mourn one of the wisest, gentlest men I’ve ever known. A kind of humble genius who would spontaneously sing tunes from “The Music Man” and “Guys and Dolls,” and pluck out “If I Only Had a Brain” on the piano at nearly every family get-together.

When he spoke of his professional life, Roger stressed the importance of connecting with patients, and carefully listening to them. And it seemed that every committee ever formed around him wanted him to join, precisely because Roger was, in his way, the world’s most humane intellectual machine. At work, and personally, he’d absorb all the information on offer, never losing sight of the forest for the trees, mull it over, and then tell you what he thought. And he was pretty much always right on the money.

The tragic irony of his disease [a rare form of skin cancer] was that Roger was someone who was almost unnervingly at home in his own skin. He was so self-possessed, I think, because he KNEW what a wonderful life he had built for himself. All he wanted was what he already had. He was still utterly smitten with his wife of 50 years, Linda, who made the phrase “his other half” a literal truth. He loved being a father to, and spending time with, Joe, Josh and Emily, and he shamelessly adored and spoiled his 6 granddaughters. He loved spending time with his siblings, and his mom. He loved being a doctor, and being a teacher. He loved his friends. And he loved living in Ann Arbor.

As many of you know, Joe and I dated a long, long time before getting married. (You could probably ask Linda for the exact number of years and months.) But I remember the precise moment when I felt officially initiated, and absorbed, into the Grekin family. Continue reading