Monday, July 26, 2004

Oh, Canada...

Perhaps that should be "Ow! Canada!" My legs feel like I've been hiking for three straight days. Wait a minute...

I leave here tomorrow. So far I've hiked up a mountain and a half, soaked my feet in a very cold river and my body in very hot springs, eaten Alberta beef and drunk the local beer, and had interesting talks on neurology and computing with high-tech artist types.

Quick highlights:
The view from the top of Tunnel Mountain after Joey and Magda and I hiked it after a huge lunch my first day here.

The feeling that Myocardial Infarction Was Imminent during that hike. (4,600 feet is a bit different, oxygen-wise, than sea level.) Joey tried to distract me by asking questions about how, exactly, the body manufactures red blood cells.

Seeing a deer trying to cadge a treat from a diner at the outdoor cafe at the Centre.

The sound of Bow Falls and the feel of the Bow River on very hot, very achy feet. Going in more than ankle-deep means you really feel the current.

The Grumpy Texan Scale for hikes: A score of 1 means it's flat, shady, and free of mosquitoes, with a bar 200 metres away. A score of 10 means it's the hike that Joey and Magda and I took the second day I was here--at the end of that one, I was gasping and sobbing for breath, saying, "Guys, I am NOT HAVING FUN!"

Helping Joey buy hiking boots. "Don't you have anything more...fashionable?"

Jhave mentioning casually that the Northern Lights two nights ago weren't as good as they normally are. (I missed them, dammit.)

The discovery that a size 10 in Canada is larger than a size 10 in the States.  Given that Tommy's Pub in downtown Banff has the best onion rings I have ever eaten (skip the elk burger, but definitely get the onion rings), this is a good thing.

Vincent's birthday drink last night, when Joey, Magda, Sue, Jhave, Vincent and I all sat on the roof of Lloyd and drank various adult beverages. At one point I tipped my head straight back and decided that they grow more stars here than they do anywhere else I've ever been.

If it weren't for the cat...

I would be here for another week. It's that good. So far this vacation has had everything: good food, cool nights, interesting conversations with attractive people, and great shopping (Christmas is pretty much done now). Joey and Magda and I are a two-thirds Polish Three Stooges: when we arrived at the halfway point at Tunnel Mountain, they looked out over the cliffs and river and Joey said, "Oh! It's so beautiful I will kill myself!" That is apparently some sort of Polish Inside Cultural Joke.

I have to decide today if I need another piece of luggage to haul home all the presents I bought. At some point, I'll go into Banff, but for now it's time for another cup of coffee.

Thursday, July 22, 2004

Up, up and away!

Goin' to Canada today. I'll see you happy people in about a week.

Sunday, July 18, 2004

Saturday, July 17, 2004

See Canada Next...

My arrival in Canada, the first time I visited, was inauspicious. I got
there with US$20 in my pocket and a backpack on my back to find the
woman who was supposed to meet me...not there.

After wandering for an hour or so through the airport in Toronto,
wondering what the hell I was going to do, I heard an overhead page
calling my name. When I went to the ticket counter I was confronted
with two guys in coveralls and wool caps who offered to take me to the
hospital. Turns out the woman who was supposed to pick me up had
wrecked her car just short of the airport, and these guys had stopped
to help. They were working and so had to hurry, but they figured that
the hospital wasn't too far out of their way.

So I went with them. Their names were Chris and Pete. Strangely, I
remember that and very little about the hospital. I certainly remember
what they drove: a refrigerated container truck hauling fish. I sat on
a milk crate between the bucket seats in the front and breathed fish
fumes the entire way to Guelph, or wherever the hell the hospital was.

The trip improved, I suppose, but just barely.

So this time I'm heading to Banff, Alberta. There's a wealth of
information on Banff all over the Web--everything except how to
pronounce the name without sounding like an idiot. Pal Joey, who
invited me, promises aboriginal dances and spa days and hiking and
caves and fine dining. "There's not a lot of shopping, though" she
said, as though shopping were something I'd want to be doing in a town
with caves and hot springs and ptarmigans. And elk and bears,
apparently. Erp.

I arrive at oh-dark-thirty p.m. and have an hour's wait before I have
to catch the Airporter in to town. It's a two-hour drive, so I'll get
there sometime just after midnight. If I miss that one, I *think*
there's another shuttle that leaves later, but I'm unsure. I may have
to see what sort of overnight accomodations Calgary International can

Or just look for a fish truck.

Friday, July 16, 2004

A very productive day off...

Man A. and I woke up about six, dozed for a bit, then got up and had coffee and laid around for a bit. It's too hot to do much else. Walking outside feels as though you're stepping into a blood-temperature sauna.

Then I went off to Planned Parenthood for the annual Twiddly Bits Exam.

The phrase I never, *ever* want to hear again, coming out of *anybody's* mouth, is the one that came from the NP who did my exam: "I'm really pretty aggressive when it comes to Pap smears."

Once I'd escaped there, I went grocery shopping. I then came home and made broccoli-rice casserole--the white-trash kind with Cheez Whiz and canned cream of mushroom soup and Minute Rice. I'm capable of making quite a nice one with real ingredients, but once in a while I'm in the mood for a good old-fashioned Methodist supper casserole.

Then off for a haircut, then to buy two pairs of shorts and a bag to take to Canada next week. My duffel bag was too large and my backpack too small, so I went looking for the perfect five-days-in-Banff bag--and found it, at 50% off.

I now have everything I need for this trip: sunscreen, two pairs of shorts, a pair of hiking boots, a pair of sandals, a crushable schwanky dress, some t-shirts, and a swimsuit. Anything else would be overkill.

Now it's two-thirty. I've drunk five pint glasses of water, a pint of limeade, several small cups of water at the hair salon, and a Pale Ale. I've sweated out everything I've drunk, I think. Just keeping up with hydration in this weather is a full-time job.

So it's time for a nap. I won't be drinking water, but at least I won't be sweating.

Thursday, July 15, 2004

...and this is why I love my outlaws...

The Erstwhile Hub has some of the best family in the world. His stepmother is a marvelous woman. His dad is the cerebral, hard-working type who can use a chainsaw without cutting off his fingers and design and build an aesthetically-pleasing and solid structure. His aunt and her partner are wonderful women.

This is why I called my ex-step-mother-in-law just now and spent an hour on the phone with her. My Outlaw Mam is one of those steel-ribbed, totally-no-bullshit women that this state grows now and then. I can let my accent come out with her like I can with nobody else. "I" turns into "Aaaahhh" and I use phrases like "bless his heart" that would make my Yankee parents cringe.

"My word!" she exclaimed when she answered the phone. "I have my toothbrush in my mouth--hang on a second."

Although it came out as "Maaaah worrrrrd! Igh hab mah toodbrdgh ib by boughth--hadgh ob a schlecogngh."

I told her quite frankly that the reason I hadn't called is that I had wanted the Erstwhile Hub/New Lover dyad to have a chance with them, without comparisons. After all, these people were my primary relationships for my adult life; it's only fair that she and Ex-FIL get to know them without my butting in.

And here's where she is *so cool*: She said *nothing* about them.

Not to me, not at all. She could've ripped on the both of them; I know that they've visited since The Debacle. She could've been gossipy and mean. She told me once that she liked me much better than she liked The Erstwhile Hub...but she was fair. And just. And refrained from commenting on them both.

This is why I love Mam. She's a better person, hands-down, than I am. She keeps her mouth shut even if it pains her. If there's something she has to say, she says it once and goes on.

That's something to aspire to.

Odds and Ends

Thirty-six hours at work in a row will make even the most gifted person nutso.

I'm not the most gifted person. Therefore I am absolutely exhausted and crazy at the moment.

I did, though, have four of the best patients *ever* yesterday: a back surgery, an implanted intrathecal pain pump, a brain tumor (benign), and a pituitary tumor (benign, but we didn't get all of it).

The back surgery patient reminded me of my ex-step-mother-in-law (the sane ex-MIL, that is). She and her husband and I just clicked immediately. When I found out that she'd had to put her beloved poodle down the day before she came in for surgery, I sent her a card and a flower from the gift shop. We can do that for free for patients who need it.

Her husband had a joke foot in a pants-leg that you could stick under the covers, in a drawer with the foot part hanging out, or (as I did) under your lab coat so only the foot hung out in view. We had a good time scaring the hell out of the residents with that foot.

The implanted pain pump patient was in his eighties, sharp as a tack, still living independently, and a generally fascinating man. He's what my dad will be in twenty years, God willing. He told me stories about being a cargo plane pilot in India in World War II, flying missions into Burma and China.

The benign brain tumor patient was my age with a wonderful family. She and her sisters and I sang songs in five-part harmony before she went to surgery.

The pit tumor patient was very young--20--and really scared, but I liked her immediately. She and I spent a lot of time talking about what her surgery meant and why her body was reacting the way it did and so on.

All in all, an emotionally exhausting but satisfying day.

Sunday, July 11, 2004

Size matters

We have two people in this week who have major cranial defects. These are doctor-created cranial defects, and thus are better than the alternative. The alternative is having your cranium infected with nasty bugs or having your brain swell to the point that it squooshes up against the inside of your skull and dies.

When I say "major", I mean major. As in half of the top of your head is gone.

Bone flaps out bother me. The small ones I can handle without any problem, but the big ones still give me pause. There's just something about talking to someone who's perfectly rational and normal and happy but whose head slopes away into nothingness just west of midline that squicks me out.

I never realized until I started seeing this on a regular basis how much space there is between your brain and your skull. I always thought that the brain was packed in there, nice and neat, like a suitcase packed by someone more talented and patient than I. For the most part, that's true--there's not so much space there that you could swing a cat. But the difference between perception of "not a lot of space" and the reality is huge.

The reason having half your head gone is disturbing on an aesthetic level is that most of the stuff that shapes our skulls is on the outside of the bone. Think about the top of your head for a minute: you think of hair and bone, right? You've forgotten about all the muscles in your scalp, all the tendons and ligaments that connect this to that, all the padding that goes on top of your brain-case. If you take that away, you end up with somebody who looks fine in profile (from one side, anyhow) and who looks like a scooped-out melon from the front.

Plus, you can see the pulse of the brain through the skin. Yes, the brain pulses. It doesn't just sit there in your skull humming popular songs to itself; it has arteries and great big ol' veins that feed and drain it. Cut a hole in the skull to take a look at the brain and the whole thing is pulsing quietly away. I'm sure that sometimes it's humming popular songs in time to the pulse, but I can't hear them from the outside. Take the protective bone away, though, and the whole shooting match becomes quite clear: this lump of cholesterol and nerves is jammin' away inside your skull.

Speaking of major defects

We have one orthopedic surgeon who's quite fond of narcotics. For his patients, that is, not personally. The people he operates on get a scheduled list of huge doses of things like OxyContin and Lortab. This makes them, since they're usually older and not equipped to handle drugs like that, prone to going nuts.

I had one of his patients yesterday. The previous day she'd been fine, if a little focused on her bowels. Yesterday, though, she was confused and impulsive, trying to get out of bed and wander down the hallway. After a number of phone calls and various tests, we discovered that she didn't have a pulmonary embolism, didn't have blood clots in her brain, and was probably suffering from narcotic overload.

Which is a comforting thought--stop the narcotics, and eventually you'll stop the problem--but meanwhile, I had to keep running hither and yon to keep her from hurting herself.

With confused patients I can usually take anything in stride. This woman yesterday, though, had me longing for a drug I could abuse. For some strange reason, she frustrated me no end. I was at the point of losing my temper with her, though what was happening wasn't her fault at all.

That makes you feel bad. I don't expect to like every patient I have simply because they're sick, but I still feel bad when one of them makes me want to scream.

Plus, there's the worry that they won't ever get better. Most of 'em do, of course, but you still wonder.

Tomorrow I start a three-day run. Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday is generally the hardest thirty-six hour stretch at work, given that we have surgeries galore on those days. I am not looking forward to this at all. I do, however, have four days off in a row just after this run, so I can look forward to *that* instead.

Wednesday, July 07, 2004

At work, even when I'm not at work.

As virtuous men pass mildly away,
And whisper to their souls to go,
Whilst some of their sad friends do say,
"Now his breath goes," and some say, "No."

Manny died last week. Manny was one of those guys you saw everywhere and knew well enough to shoot tequila with, even if you didn't ever have dinner with him.

He was short and had very long hair. After three shots of tequila a couple of Hallowe'ens ago, I told him he was the second long-haired Mexican I'd fallen instantly in love with in my life. He laughed and laughed at that.

He drummed. He was on *fire*. And he sang and boogied and generally made parties more fun and boring nights at the bar interesting.

Wouldn't you know he had a brain tumor. It killed him eventually, the way glios always do. He was 45.

Tuesday, July 06, 2004

Yeah, well, fuck you too.

I've been on one of the receiving ends of some rather nasty commentary today.

A friend of mine is trying to leave her husband.

Unfortunately for her, the husband in question is a control freak who's torn her down bit by bit over the years until she lacks the spine to get the hell out. He says she's too fat, not fertile enough, stupid (rocket scientist, anyone? I ask you), not perfect enough, whatever.

He's an arrogant bastard. If ever I get the opportunity to meet him, I'll happily push his teeth out the back of his head.

Apparently, some mutual buddies of ours see my advice, and others' advice to Friend Who's Trying To Leave, as "shrill." As in, "you're self-appointed experts, so shut up and just sit there." Thank God I'm not the only one that the Perfect Crew has bitched at today.

I'll show you shrill.

Shrill is the feeling you get when you've turned yourself into an acrobat trying to make another person happy and he still fucks around on you.

Shrill is the noise you make when you finally discover that no, you're not a mean person or a bad person and yes, people actually do like you for yourself.

Shrill is the sound of your own voice when you hear the person on whom you've built your life suggesting that it might be nice to turn your twosome into a threesome.

I take that last one back. Shrill is the sound your car tires should be making as you leave that sorry ratbastard.

This is not an apology

I have a great idea for anybody who thinks I'm too "shrill": *You* come home sick from work to find your husband and your best friend of 16 years just out of the sack. *You* move out of your house in four days--or better, do what I did: Have your husband be so anxious to be rid of you that he moves you out.

You spend an immense amount of energy and time trying to make somebody else happy, just to watch it crumble in the face of something new and different.

I will lay you even money that you couldn't do it. I would happily lay you double-to-nothing that you couldn't come out of it as well as I have.

And you know what made it possible?

The memory of all the shrill voices of my friends. They screamed at me for years that The Erstwhile Husband was a jerk, not treating me right, taking advantage. They wondered out loud, shrill-ly, why I was putting up with the passive-aggressive bullshit he laid out. It was those echoes that made me tough enough to leave.

When somebody you love is being hurt by someone not fit to black their boots, you must be shrill.

At the end of the day

When it's all said and done, I'm not bitter about what happened. I am extremely bitter, though, about people who discount the passion that fondness for one person can make a group of people exhibit. I'm quite jaded about the folks who sit back when they know somebody's being hurt and abused and say, "Oh, well, it'll all happen as it's supposed to; just let it ride."

Sometimes you need an intervention.

And, had this not already been an extremely weird and unpleasant day, I'd be staging one right now. Me and my anodized pink practice bat.

Saturday, July 03, 2004



"My husband needs help scooting up in bed" the woman said.

Her husband had just walked 75 feet without help, two days after very minor surgery.

But I went into the room anyhow. Sure enough, he was lying in bed, all six feet two inches of his college-football-player self, with his feet pressed against the footboard.

"I need to move up in bed." he said.

I replied, "Then I suggest you get out of bed, take two steps toward the head of the bed, sit down on the edge of the bed, and lie down again."

"But I've been moving myself *all day*!" he protested.

"Tough," I said. "No way in blazes am I going to lift you in that bed. You're a foot taller than I am, a hundred pounds heavier, five years younger, and in good shape. You'll have to do it yourself."

Later he complained that I had embarrassed him in front of his friends. "Son," I said, "you're lucky I wasn't trying to embarrass you. Weren't you ashamed to have to ask me to do something you knew damn well you could do yourself?"


Merging onto the highway on the way home from work, I got behind one of those people you just know are going to be trouble.

Sure enough, she merged on to a six-lane, busy highway at 35 mph.

She then proceeded to cross two lanes (with signal; I'll give her that) at 40 mph.

This in an area where traffic in the slow lane routinely moves at 60.

I lost sight of her as I strained my poor car's engine to get out of her way.

Even Later

Getting *off* the highway to come home, I almost died.

The exit that I take is short and uphill. At the end of the uphill bit, there's a quick swing to the left, a double white line (DO NOT CROSS DOUBLE WHITE LINE), and then a stoplight about a hundred yards downhill.

The person in front of me stopped. Dead. Just on the other side of the hill. Apparently they don't have merge lanes on service roads in Tennessee. That's the only reason I could think of as to why Mister Tennessee Plates On The Minivan Man would simply...stop. In a lane of traffic where everybody's coming off the highway like bats out of hell.

Which left my ass hanging out behind his, vulnerable to the next lifted Dodge pickemup that barreled over the hill. I beeped, quickly and politely, to remind him that he needed to get out of the way, and that it was possible to do so without CROSSING DOUBLE WHITE LINE.

Oy. He did, thank God, get out of the way. And I got home alive, just barely.