Monday, December 17, 2018

Getting Well

If you’re a follower of this space, and if you are reading this, you probably are, you will have noticed that I haven’t posted much recently. That little respite has come to an end, sports fans. I’ve learned a lot in the last four years, and I’ve decided it’s about time to share some of it with you! Because I’m that kind of public service gal!

But first, some catch up. You probably want to know, where’d Brenda go, and who the hell is Bee?

Now, now. Be patient. I’m going to save the answers to those questions for another post. We’re going to start back in April of 2015, when I was diagnosed with a neurological disorder, a pathology of the meso-limbic dopamine system. This disease is chronic and progressive, and if left untreated, it leads to a really ugly death. I had suspected it for years, and had had a couple of doctors want to take a good look at my symptoms, but I wasn’t interested. I wanted to believe that if it wasn’t diagnosed, it wouldn’t be there or it would go away or I could treat it myself.

But the symptoms got too bad to ignore. Depression. Weight gain. Insomnia. Night sweats, shaky hands, severe back pain. Confusion and memory loss. My eyesight got so bad, I couldn’t read. I lost my singing voice.  I was unable to get through a sentence without stopping two or three times to think of a word. Rapid pulse and tachycardia. Of course, I tried treating it myself, because hey, this is me! I know everything, and if I don’t know it, I’ll Google it! I flirted with different diets and even thyroid medication until finally I wasn’t able to function. I went to my primary doctor, the wonderful Mary Pickett at OHSU, and said, okay, test me. I’ll never forget one of the comments at the bottom of the first page of test results. “Abnormalities at the cellular level.” That got my attention. Maybe this isn’t a do-it-yourself project.

Mary agreed. No, she said, this isn’t something you can self-treat. You need intensive treatment and you need it right now, or make no mistake, it will kill you.

Needless to say, I didn’t want to start any damn intensive treatment. It meant that I had to quit working. I wouldn’t be able to do anything except pay attention to my health. I didn’t have time for this. I resisted for a week. Then I went to donate blood at the Red Cross, and the intake nurse asked about the irregular, rapid pulse. Oh, I said, that’s not anything to worry about. It’s just that I have this disease. She looked intently into my eyes and said, “You need to take care of that. My brother died of that condition yesterday.”

I went home and started making phone calls. Where’s the best place to be treated and who takes my insurance, because we’re looking at many thousands of dollars here? That was a Friday afternoon. By 5:00, I was on a wait list, and on the following Monday morning, I was admitted to a treatment program.

Three doctors. Monitoring blood levels four times a day. Medication. Special diet. A strict exercise and meditation regimen. Three support groups. I thought I would feel better right away, but actually, at first, the treatment made me feel worse. For six weeks, I thought I was going to die or go crazy. That’s not a dramatic statement from a classic soprano, it’s just a fact. Panic attacks, some out of a sound sleep at 4:00 a.m. Crushing chest pain, pretty much twenty-four hours a day. Severe fatigue, unpredictable mood swings, more confusion, more weight gain, worsened irregular heartbeat. The specialist I saw daily said to be patient, that I would get better, it just would take time. I stuck with it, because what else could I do?

My system healed, but slowly. I was discharged from the program after four months, and was able to go back to work full-time five months after that. I was told that after five years, I would stay in remission if I stayed on a management plan for life. 

Four years later, I’m feeling pretty confident. Once I make up my mind to do something, I don’t do it half way. I feel great. My cardiologist says my heart is fine. My eyesight is almost completely back to normal, and I’m singing again. As a matter of fact, I am entirely symptom-free. (My friends will tell you that if not being able to shut up is an indicator, my speech center definitely is back to normal.)

There was one little speed bump. As my brain healed, my personality changed significantly. It was disconcerting to not recognize the contents of my brain, to have to get to know myself all over again. It took a couple of years for me to get comfortable with the new me. My kids told me that they liked the new me just fine, the new me was a much nicer person, but that I was a different person than the one they had always known. My husband at the time had a different take on it, but that’s another story for another day.

I’m one of the lucky ones.  I only had to take four months off from work. I managed to find the doctors, nurses, specialists, medication, and support groups I needed, just in time, and I had insurance that paid most of the expenses. Not everyone does. According to some studies, 80% of the folks who have this illness don’t recover. I’m grateful and my kids are grateful.

And that diagnosis? The pathology of the meso-limbic dopamine system? You never heard of it? There is a colloquial term that’s in standard use. You’ll know that one.

I’m an alcoholic.

Monday, July 25, 2016


Captain Picard says, “Report!” So I will.

I used to report to Ed, back when he was around to be reported to, although I suspect now that he hated getting reported to, but since he and Captain Picard are now fictional actors in my little personal TV show, I will report to y’all instead.

I am out in the garden having a reprise of the 2008 Great Zucchini Flood. Except that I didn’t plant my garden this year, my friend Fonda did, and apparently she liked cucumbers. A lot. As well as summer squash.  And arugula, but I was gone for the first three weeks after it was planted and so by the time I got home and checked out the garden, it had sprouted, shot up, bolted, and gone to seed. I am saving the seed pods for some hypothetical future date when I plant more arugula.

And I’m figuring out soaker hoses!  All by myself! Apparently there are two ends of the hose and one end screws into the other end. Who knew. I am proud. I bought a timer, too, but that will have to wait until tomorrow because all my neurotransmitters are used up for the day.

That’s the garden part of my report. On to e-mail and God.

E-mail wisdom. You’ll like this. I’ve learned that you don’t have to push “send” after you’ve written an e-mail. There’s this little “save” button that it is much, much better to push instead. And then you can find the draft a week later and thank GOD that you didn’t send it.

And I know you want to know this, so I will tell you. I’m having a little trouble with my Higher Power. (This is not as easily fixable as the safety bar on the bumper of my car, because they have autobody shops for that, but oh well.) Before you say to yourself, and I know there’s a good chance that you are, “Oh oh, Brenda has got religion, now she will really be obnoxious,” nobody knows what my H.P. is, including me. I think it has something to do with uncovering my Buddha nature, and the one-ness of the universe, and compassion and forgiveness, and believing that the resources will be available to handle whatever comes next. But I’m not sure, because the next starting point in my life is To Be Determined, mostly by other people. And I really wish I had the kind of Higher Power that some of my friends seem to have, where they are just sure they will be taken care of and they won’t have to worry, because my worrier seems to be stuck on Turbo, except when I remember to breathe.

One of my meditation buddies says to remember that I just have this one breath, this only breath, and that during this one breath, I am okay. Works for him. Sometimes works for me.

And then my wise friend Jayna says that my Higher Power kicks ass. I’m glad she’s sure about that.

She also says that I’m not in control of the wind, or the current, or the tides. But I am in control of whether I take the boat out that day.

She says that there are some streets I shouldn’t drive down, and some holes I don’t have to jump into. I could pay attention to that little (metaphorical) sign, Bridge Out, instead.

The sun is shining, I took the detour, I’m breathing, I am now the proud possessor of thirteen cucumbers, and I can take the boat out today.

And that’s my report.

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Where's Tom Lehrer When You Need Him?

Geek alert: references to Eddie Izzard, 1950s science fiction, the New York Times and Star Trek. But you’ll get the gist even if you don’t get all the references.
Okay, I’m beginning to think that the human race is overdue for another big fuck-off flood.

Oh, that’s right! We’re going to get one! Because the Antarctic ice sheet is melting! I just saw a picture on Google maps – there’s this great inspirational app you can get that shows you what your street will look like once the sea levels rise ten feet, which is pretty much inevitable now, probably within my children and grandchildren’s lifetimes and maybe even mine if I succeed in my wild-assed vegan/vigorous-exercise-scheme to live to be 105. I live a hundred miles from the Pacific Ocean and the water will be up to the floorboards of my house. I did always want to move to Venice and now Venice will move to me, sweet!

Anyway. What’s got Brenda’s knickers in a twist now. 

Let’s start with Harvard professors. You just knew this was coming, didn’t you? Because you undoubtedly saw the NYT article about how Harvard economics professors are now upset about the ACA, known in many circles as “Obamacare.” 

Seems that some Harvard professors, many of whom championed the ACA, are now upset because their very own health plan is changing to require them to pay a deductible ($250 for an individual, $750 for a family) and a co-payment of $20 for a doctor’s visit. Bar the door Nellie! It’s the end of civilization!

To quote from the article, “… the university said it ‘must respond to the national trend of rising health care costs, including some driven by…the Affordable Care Act.'” Because gee! “Harvard faces added costs because of provisions that extend coverage for children up to age 26 [and] offer(s) free preventive services like mammograms and colonoscopies…”

Coverage for children?! Including college students, hum. Now there’s a thought. Tired of that oppressive teaching load of ten to twelve hours a week? (I used to teach public school and find this laughable.) Just make it harder for them to afford health insurance and maybe some of them will go away!

Preventative health care? Nah. Just wait until folks are really sick and they’ll go away too, especially if they’re one of the millions who live in a state where their Republican governor said no thanks to federal subsidies for the ACA just to make the President look bad.

And it’s not just Harvard professors that have it in for kids and anybody who might get cancer. The USA Today’s “liberal” article de jour (the jour in question being January 6, 2015) worried about why wages aren’t increasing. Sure, “Stunning technological advances have eliminated millions of jobs.” And, “…at the same time, rising global competition is pressing wages downward even as it adds new markets for American products.” But the biggest concern is this!

 “This year, Washington will raise roughly $3.3 trillion in taxes, mostly from the young, productive and healthy. And it will spend roughly $3.9 trillion, mostly on benefits for the retired, the unproductive and the unhealthy."

Oh my God! Say it’s not so! Taking care of people who are sick, unemployed, or elderly? Or all three? Jeez!  

So that’s just my little outburst about our societal response to taking care of people who aren’t so good at taking care of themselves, like people who are young, old, poor, or sick. If you are one of those people who agree with the sentiments expressed above, then don’t bother leaving a comment because I don’t want to know you.

But my OTHER crab for the day, and the main reason why I think we might need a big fuck-off flood (watch the first fifteen minutes of Eddie Izzard’s video Glorious if you don’t get this reference, and if you don’t have time, it’s about Noah saying to the ducks to get in the ark because there’s going to be a big fuck-off flood and the ducks say, “What’s the big problem?”), is...

Sorry. I got distracted. What I wanted to express is my deep sorrow about the planetary disaster we are facing. Yes, back to the topic I introduced in the first paragraph. I’m talking about global warming. (You can read my op-ed piece, “Bubble Bubble,” that was kindly aired by about this, if you want all the links to back up my assertion that the reason the back of our seed packets got changed to reflect the WARMING of my very own little GROWING ZONE was…global warming. Or you can go on to the next paragraph where I get a little discouraged and sad.)

According to NASA, ninety-seven percent of the scientists on the planet think that global warming is a fact and is caused by human activities. These really smart, educated, thoughtful people are observing, documenting, and worrying about the catastrophic rate at which our planetary ecology is heating up. I say “catastrophic” because it’s all happening too fast for us to respond to it, as a global society and indeed, as a species. If human beings don’t even seem to know how to deal with taking care of the health needs of the sick, young, old and poor, they certainly don’t know how to deal with a sick planet, except to say, “It’s not my fault!” Which brilliant response didn’t help Han Solo, and it’s not gonna help us.

One of my favorite science fiction stories is Zenna Henderson’s The People: No Different Flesh, about people who must flee their failing planet. Lytha, a teenager who witnesses the destruction of her favorite lake, says, “My poor Home! It’s dying!” That’s how I feel, several days a month. And there’s no Jean-Luc Picard and Geordi and Data orbiting in the Enterprise, folks, sent by a benevolent Federation to save us from our folly. There’s just us, frackin’ and grabbin’ and building pipelines and putting our fingers in our ears going “la la la” or at least “Bill Nye the Science Guy, what a joke! Global warming is all a liberal conspiracy to take away my SUV!”

So I’m feeling a bit like a disappointed Mom today. I want the human race, as a whole, to be smarter. More compassionate. More observant and capable of long-term planning. If the human race were my classroom, I’d be teaching them all critical thinking skills and how to work well in groups right now.

Maybe you’re saying, “That’s not me.” Okay, good for you and good for me. Let’s make sure we’re doing all we can do to make our home a nicer place…reasonably, because hey, we wouldn’t want to be too inconvenienced by our opinions. But maybe we could speak up once in awhile or drive a little less or not complain about how our health insurance premiums went up because some kid now has access to medical care?

Change the attitude a little? Be a little nicer to ourselves as a group? Nicer to our home planet, which if you haven’t noticed is the only one we’ve got?

And that’s my wail for the day. I’m trying to laugh, because I suspect that humor is going to be a survival mechanism for me. Where’s Tom Lehrer when you need him? Now there was a Harvard professor.

Monday, July 7, 2014

Shakespeare Could Have Been a Contender

I love Shakespeare. I really do! Every year I spend a few days watching a bunch of my favorites. I know, it’s geeky, but I watch the whole extended edition of The Lord of the Rings every New Year’s Eve, too.

But this time I started to get irritated. You know, Shakespeare is a pretty good playwright, I think we can all agree. These plays are really good, and they could be outstanding if ol’ Bill had gotten over just a few bad habits. Like, he’ll set up the kind of plot and characters that make you watch through your fingers going, “Nooooo!” You laugh, you cry, big wow finish and then just as you’re about to get up, recycle your program and stretch your legs – because he does go on – nooooo, you’ve got to sit there and listen to a character who’s so boring he sometimes hasn’t even shown up yet explain what it is just happened.

Like in Richard III, (Act V Scene V for those of you who care, but just turn to the last page), Richmond, who the only reason he’s not dead is he’s so boring that Richard didn’t bother to kill him, says they should bury a bunch of important dead guys, go to church, and make nice.  Not a lot of people left to make nice, but they should do it. You’re just now figuring this out? After two and half hours we've got to sit through 41 more lines, ending with “Now civil wounds are stopp’d, peace lives again; That she may long live here, God say amen!” Man. I used to teach middle school.  That sounds like stuff I graded on the weekend. 

Then there’s Macbeth. It’s great. But he has to spoil it all at the end when Malcolm, who the heck is he, ends the play with a party invitation. “So thanks to all at once and to each one, Whom we invite to see us crown’d at Scone.” I mean, scun.  At least now we know how to pronounce the baked breakfast good.

Oh, and Romeo and Juliet! Now there’s a play! He dies due to a lack of cell phone coverage just before she wakes up, she dies just before the emergency responders get there! What a choke-up! Then suddenly here’s this Prince-guy, who we were all horrified Juliet might have to marry because he’s the most boring person in the whole world, with a looooong speech about how sad it all is and how this feud got their kids killed. Yeah okay! We can all get together on that one!

And Hamlet. I really like Hamlet. The character and the movie. I mean the play. But I’ve got problems with it. Like when Gertrude describes Ophelia drowning in the creek. What’s she doing, hiding in the bushes? I mean, she goes into such DEtail. I know she can't exactly call 911, but Jeez, lady, have a heart! Don’t just stand there, DO something! 

I think she wanted to silence Ophelia. I think Ophelia knew something and Gertrude wanted her out of the way. 'Cause I'm sure Gertrude knew about her new husband killing her old husband all the time. And by the way, Polonius knew too. Come on. He KNEW. They’re all guilty.

There should be a prequel. I want to see how the uncle seduces Gertrude. There’s a lot of plot set-up that needs to get unpacked. I mean, I had a whole class in college where we argued for HOURS about what Hamlet was doing and what was really going on. The way it’s written now, it’s too confusing. Someone should do it. Jeez, we’ve been waiting 500 years! That’s worse than waiting for the next season of Sherlock.

But then we get to the end. They’re holding a sword fight in the middle of a party – now there’s a great party game, that beats Cards Against Humanity any day! Both Mom and step-dad get killed, plus that whiner Leartes. And Hamlet too! That’s like Game of Thrones where even your favorite guy dies! But Shakespeare has to spoil it all with Fortinbras. We’ve heard a lot about him, but he’s no dum-dum, he waits to show up until everybody but Horatio’s dead. The play’s over! We’ve been sitting there forever and Horatio’s HAD his great flights of angels line. I mean, whatever you think of Horatio – and he is a bit of an egg-head and a cry-baby – that’s a GREAT line. But no! Fortinbras comes on with a bunch of English ambassadors, I never really got why, has a chat with Horatio, claims Denmark because he’s got some vague memory that it really should have always been his anyway, notices there’s a lot of dead bodies and says this “shows much amiss, Go bid the soldiers shoot.”


Bill, we get it. It’s not like a school essay where you tell ‘em what you’re going to tell ‘em, then you tell ‘em, then you told ‘em what you told ‘em. We GET it. It’s a TRAGEDY.

Anyway. Shakespeare. You got some good stuff there. Cut out the fat and it’ll be a lot better. Just a little friendly writing advice.

Monday, June 23, 2014

Running Lights

This essay was originally published on PRP.FM as a Carp O'Diem, and expressed my worry about the mix on our roadways of people encased in a car and people not so protected by a big metal shell.

"So I was working out at the gym one morning and on TV I see a story about when people are most likely to run red lights. Apparently you’re most likely to run a red light between one to five on a Friday. Well, yeah!

Which brings me to a pet peeve, which is, we get so focused on our next urgent appointment that we don’t see the human beings who get in our way.

One of my favorite movies of all time is Starman, mostly because I love it when Jeff Bridges, the alien who is learning how to drive, says to Karen Allen, “I watched you very carefully. Red light, stop. Green light, go. Yellow light, go very fast.” Luckily, he didn’t know my first husband, who believed that if you’d seen a green light at any time while you were approaching the intersection, well! Drive on through!

And this sounds funny, but actually it’s not, because sometimes there’s someone already in the intersection. Sometimes it’s a pedestrian or a bicyclist who doesn’t have a big metal shell around them. Maybe they’re talking on their cell phone, or taking their time. They might even be breaking a traffic rule. And you might be in a rush yourself or have the sun in your eyes, and then someone gets hurt. And it’s probably not you.

So please.  Give yourself a little bit more time today so that you notice the mother with the stroller who is crossing the street in front of your car.

Green light, go. Red light, stop. It was true in kindergarten and it still is."

Monday, June 2, 2014

Let the Little Children

This Carp O'Diem aired on Portland Radio Project June 9. 

"It sure seems like we get a lot of reports of police mistreatment of the mentally ill or people of color. Now last month we got the news that we have to be vigilant about how officers treat little kids, too.

According to the Portland Mercury and The Oregonian, two police officers handcuffed a nine-year-old girl and took her to an adult holding cell at a police station a week after she had been involved in a fight at a Boys and Girls Club. This was a year ago April.

Both girls had apologized to each other. Staff members told police there hadn’t been any obvious injuries. They sent the girl home and suspended her from the club. Okay. A week later, officers came to her house where she was running through a sprinkler in a swimsuit, questioned her, perp-walked her to the police car and took her away. They didn’t give her time to get dressed and they wouldn’t let her mother come with her.

The girl, who was a TAG student at Rosa Parks, is still recovering emotionally.

The police said they didn’t like her answers when they asked her about the fight. I’ve raised two kids and there’ve been plenty of times when I didn’t like their answers, but hey, they were kids. Besides, there’s this little thing we have here in the U.S. called Miranda rights. If you’re going to be treated like an adult to the extent of being led away in handcuffs, I think you should get the full deal including your civil rights.

According to the police bureau, the officers didn’t violate any policies. By the way, the Citizen Review Committee is now evaluating city and police guidelines that govern taking children into custody.

There are many things that disturb me about this. The fact that it took a year for it to hit the news. The language being used. “They didn’t violate any policies.” She was nine years old. I don’t care if they didn’t break any rules. That doesn’t make it right. The child’s mother thinks the officers were trying to scare and humiliate the girl, when all she needed was a good ‘talking to.’ I agree with her."

Thanks for reading, and share it if you think it's important for other people to read it.

Monday, May 19, 2014

Bubble Bubble, This is Trouble

This "Carp O'Diem" aired on Portland Radio Project on May 19, 2014.  You can go to that website listen to the audio and download and even share it!  

It drew a heavy mail, well, heavy for me anyway, mostly from people who believe global warming is a hoax.  As Neil DeGrasse Tyson said, "The good thing about science is that it's true whether or not you believe in it." 

I'm just reporting what the USDA put in my new growing guide. 

"It was ninety-one degrees here in Portland last Wednesday. Now I feel really like a slacker for not getting my peas in, especially since according to the new USDA’s growing guide, Portland just got bumped from zone 7 to 8, which is warmer. So I could have planted my peas a long time ago. I thought something was up when I heard that we’ve got enough olives growing in the Willamette Valley to warrant an olive oil festival. As a matter of fact, according to the Washington Post, the new growing guide shifted the kinds of plants that need warm weather north all over the country. I must be a curmudgeon, because being able to find Hood strawberries at the farmer’s market three weeks early doesn’t make me happy. I think it’s scary.

Sure, the Midwest is having a long winter – but that’s the difference between weather and global climate change. As a whole, the planet is warming up. Now it’s something you can see. Big chunks of ice melting. Big! Like polar ice caps and Antarctic sheets.

And I’m not irritated about that, because well, how can you be irritated about your home planet turning into Waterworld? And running around screaming doesn’t seem to do any good. I tried that, yesterday.

Time to believe the back of your seed packet. It’s here. It’s happening. And whether or not it’s our fault, it’s time to figure out what to do about it."