Wednesday, October 27, 2010

I Can't Take You Anywhere

Recently both of my kids were gone for the evening at a sleepover birthday party, so that left the husband and me all alone. The house was so quiet, nobody was screaming, nothing was being broken, nobody was needed to plunge a toilet. It was so tranquil. Anyway, my husband and I were sitting all alone in our quiet house and he looked over at me and said in a husky voice, “The kids are gone and I shaved my back, wanna go out?” So we dressed for dinner and selected a restaurant that did not offer crayons, a drive thru, or nuggets of any kind and prepared ourselves for a romantic night on the town.

Since it was a spur of the moment decision, and we didn’t have a reservation, we weren’t sure that we would be able to get in at a nice restaurant. But, as luck would have it, the hostess found a table for us right away. It was the teeny-tiny one located right in the middle of the dining room that nobody ever wants. You know, the one right in the middle of the high traffic area and about the size of a TV tray, only more wobbly? Oh well, beggars can’t be choosers, and middle-aged couples with one night of freedom will pretty much take anything.

As we sat at our table and looked over the menu we began to wonder if the wait-staff had forgotten about us. My husband tapped the tines on his fork as I felt my crows feet deepen. We looked around trying to make eye contact with anyone carrying a serving tray. Eventually our waiter could not take our death stare any longer and came over and took our drink order and promised to “be right back.” I have found that most waiters are liars, and this one was no exception. To me, “right back” means he will return in 3-5 minutes, however, in the waiter’s handbook it is defined this way: “We are going to serve everyone else in the place, let them eat and pay, and then, if we have nothing else to do, we might come back and take your order, but that is a big maybe.”

In time, a long time, our waiter did return. It might have had something to do with me sticking out my foot and tripping him as he went by, but I can’t say for sure. Anyway, he did bring us our cocktails and let us order our appetizer and meal, but I was doubtful we would ever see either.

“Do you think they are getting any bites?” My husband asked.
“Well, you did order the Salmon and that means they have to go fish for it.”
“Don’t blame me. You are the one who just had to order the pasta and sausage. First they have to grind the flour, find some sheep gut for casing and kill a pig. Seriously, whose meal do you think will take longer to make?”

The table next to us was eating a delicious looking meal and it was hard to keep from staring. My husband said, “I am so hungry.”
I said, “Me too, all I had was a single grape and some macaroni that one of the kids didn’t finish at lunch.”

Then my husband leaned in close, looked at me with love in his eyes and said, “Ok, here is the plan. I will create a diversion; you steal both plates and the bread basket. Oh, and if you can, grab the giant pepper grinder, I love those things.”

I think the couple whose food we were thinking of stealing heard us because the gentleman at the table fashioned his cloth napkin into a noose and dangled it above his plate. Thank goodness the waiter came by with our cheese platter or things might have gotten a bit dicey.

Now, about the cheese platter, my husband isn’t a big fan of cheese. He is mostly afraid of cheese that isn’t bright orange and doesn’t come wrapped in cellophane or squirting out of a pressurized can, but it was date night, so he let me order the appetizer. I helped out by refusing to tell him what any of the cheeses were--I didn’t think gagging and choking sounds would be appropriate at a fancy restaurant. He was a real sport, and was actually enjoying himself until he took a big bit of what he thought was cream cheese, and with his mouth full of bread and dairy said, “I think I taste goat.”
I said, “No you don’t.”
“Yes, I do. I know what cow tastes like and this isn’t it.”
“Could you please just swallow it and stop talking with your mouth full?”
“Fine. But I want to know what kind of cheese that is?”
After he swallowed I said, “goat.”

Before my husband could accuse me of trying to poison him, our salads arrived. Nothing happened during the salad portion of the meal except that the table next to us got new residents, one of them was a cackler. The cackler was a woman who laughed so loud it was like a car accident, all screeching and broken glass. My husband leaned over again, “Ok, new plan. I create a diversion and you smack her in the face with your salad plate. Be sure to hit her really hard, you don’t want to just stun her; you need to knock her unconscious. And don’t forget the pepper grinder this time.”

I was about to question why he always gets the easy part of his plans when our entrées were delivered. We even got our own bread basket full of day old croutons.

“Hey you wanna break bread with me?”
“Ha ha, very funny.”
“No really, it is hard as a rock. I think the roof of my mouth is bleeding.”

Finally, it was time to hunt for our waiter so that we could pay. We were going to order dessert but the kids were only going to be gone for one night and we didn’t bring our toothbrushes. After we had settled the bill and were on our way to the car I asked my husband what time it was.

“Only nine o’clock. Wow, it only took three hours.”
“I know. It felt like it took much longer.”
“You’re telling me. It feels like midnight.”

My husband belched sausage.

“Are you thinking what I am thinking?”
“That you need some antacid?”
“Yes, and . . . ?”
“That the night is young?”
“Yep, and if we hurry home we can be in bed and asleep before nine-thirty!”
“Well, let’s get a move on then, there is a pillow at home with my name on it!”
“Race you to the car!”
“You are so romantic!”

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

It Is Not a Tumor

I once had a small bump in my mouth and had convinced myself that 1.) I had never seen it before and 2.) It was cancerous. I agonized over it for weeks before finally making an appointment with my dentist. He examined my mouth, scraped, cleaned, x-rayed, but made no mention of my bump. Was he blind? Was he just gonna let me die a slow agonizing death? So I asked him, “What is with this bump?”

“Oh that, that is just a calcium buildup. If it continues to get bigger we can schedule oral surgery and grind it out of your mouth. But, it is nothing serious.”

I almost passed out. If you have to slice me open, and grind something out of me, it is serious. I don’t believe in “nothing serious.” I come from a long line of hypochondriacs—it is the pretend disease that is sweeping the nation—everything is serious.

I blame my hypochondria (among other things) on my parents. They were not fussy about medical care. We went to the doctor once every decade whether we needed it or not. My dad was an EMT and a Mensa candidate, in his mind that was the same thing as board-certified-licensed physician. My mother was not the nursing type; she was more like the receptionist in the billing department. Her contribution to our health care was forcing us to eat oatmeal once a week and putting a hand on our forehead to see if we had a fever.

To stay home from school in my formative years required a fever, vomiting and some type of internal bleeding. If you didn’t hit the trifecta you had to go to school, come home and do your chores, and homework, before you were allowed to collapse. Bleeding was not allowed unless it was an absolute necessity and you had to hold the hemorrhaging appendage over a drain. Now, sometimes, if my parents were in a good mood, a broken bone could sub for say, a ruptured spleen, but you had to have proof that it was broken, like a protruding bone or a leg that went at a 90 degree angle toward your stomach.

Now, I am not criticizing my parents, I am just saying, this type of upbringing breeds hypochondriacs. All that “toughen up” stuff and “stiff upper lip” business is only for people who think they will live a long, happy life. I was certain I would die by scorpion bite or rabid rodent by the time I was 14. A girl can dream can’t she?

Anyway, long-story-short, I lived . . . sort of. What I mean is, I tried to get on with life, (such as it was) although I was constantly in fear that every paper-cut would result in a flesh-eating bacteria or, at the very least, a staph infection that would require the removal of limbs. It is hard to be peppy when you are waiting for the other shoe to drop, and by other shoe, I mean one that is infested with antibiotic resistant bacteria.

Part of the reason I married my husband is that, he too, came from a long line of hypochondriacs and he had an arsenal of home remedies that I had never heard of before. Our romance was a blur of tinctures, mustard plasters and poultices. Aaaaah, those were the days. Then several years into the marriage, it dawned on us that we both might make it into middle-age, we became hopeful like we had never been before. But then, the unthinkable happened, we had kids.

Worrying about your own health is nothing compared to the panic you feel for your own children. Parenting books on raising a healthy child were like a drug. It became my mission to raise my little babies free of disease and blood-borne illness as much as possible. But those little buggers were against me from the start. My oldest once found a raisin on the floor of aisle six at the grocery store and ate it before I could stop him. I almost had a heart attack right there in frozen foods.

I tried to safeguard the children from future potentially deadly situations but those dang kids made it into a game. “Look Mom, no hands.” “Mommy, look how high I am.” “Hey Mom, no teeth.”

That is when I began taking anti-anxiety medication and calling my doctor more regularly.

“Doctor, do you think this mole looks cancerous?”
“No, I think it looks like a piece of orange chicken from P.F. Chang’s.”

“Doctor, I am so tired. I just don’t have a lot of energy.”
“You need more exercise.”
“I have tried that, but when I start to exercise I get all out of breath and start to sweat. I think there is something wrong with me.”
“Well, at least we agree on something.”

“Doctor I am sorry to call so late but I had to call your office, the hospital and your receptionist first just to get this number, the other number you gave me was disconnected.”

Books became too slow for diagnosing symptoms and finding rare diseases. I had to turn to the internet, WebMd became my friend. They had photos of rashes, blisters, hairy moles and a thorough guide on diagnosing head injuries, irregular heart rhythms and irritable bowels. It was a godsend! (And just a side note: Doctors love it when you diagnose yourself, it makes their day go so much more smoothly.) However, the more I learned the more distant my husband became. When I diagnosed myself with E.D. that was the last straw--he snapped, and gave up his hyper vigilance. He had some excuse about “he didn’t have time to be paranoid, blah, blah, blah . . .” He was completely destroying the foundation of our relationship. Paranoia is what our love was built on.

I couldn’t wrap my head around it, it was like surrender. I thought it might have been the projectile vomiting, the explosive diarrhea, the chicken pox, the repeated fishing out of small objects in orifices—that wore him down. You know, when the kids were sick for real. Whatever it was, with his love of hypochondria over, he began to pressure me into “leaving the kids alone.” But I wouldn’t budge, “No one is gonna die on my watch!”

I turned to my siblings for comfort. One sister introduced me to some new herbal curatives. This particular sister was always consulting a nature-path and getting advice from “healing artists.” She also started carrying around a mason jar filled with fluid.

I asked her, “What is that?”
“It is a mixture of Honey, vinegar, and lemon juice. I call it huniger.”
“What is it for?”
“Digestion, allergies, arthritis, headaches. Basically, everything.”
“Why do you carry it in a glass jar, why not a plastic water bottle?”
“I don’t want chemicals leeching into my body from the plastic, but you can if you want to. I mean, it is your funeral, but whatever.”
“Ok, let me try some.”

It looked like urine and tasted about the same, but my sister swore that it was a cure-all.

Tooth decay? Huniger.
Flatulence? Huniger.
Gangrene? Huniger.
Stab yourself in the eye with a pencil? Huniger.

I became a huniger fanatic. Once I left my mason jar on the counter with the lid off. When I came back there was a fly floating in it. I screamed when I almost drank the fly but my children laughed.

“We were wondering if you would notice,” the little demons said maniacally.
“You put that fly in there?” I accused the little hellions.
“It was just a joke mom. Besides that stuff stinks.”

That is when I realized, the disease I was fighting was not mythical, not made up, I didn’t need to have hypochondria; I had a real illness. It is the pathological organism known as children. They were trying to kill me.

My mother said, “At some point children go from passively trying to kill you, to actively trying to off you. As evidence I submit to you: teenage drivers. I rest my case.”

This knowledge changed my life. I am now free of the burden of hypochondria. Yes, folks the pendulum has swung the other way, I am now my mother.

“Mom, I have a stomachache.”
“No fever. No vomit. No blood. Go to school and stop trying to destroy me.”
“But Mom, I feel sick.”
“Me too. That is what 25 hours of back-labor without an epidural but WITH forceps will do to ya.”
“But Mom . . .”
“And don’t come home until the last bell rings. Mommy needs a nap.”