“Stand Alone”

Prompt: 5 minutes “Stand Alone”

“Stand Alone”

Stand alone. On your own two feet. See what you can do without any others to stop you, to help you, to harm you, to interfere, to suggest other ways. What does your heart say? What is your heart saying to you? IMG_6132

Stand alone. You already do stand alone. But alone with a living God burning brightly inside your very heart chakra, comforting you, guiding you, suggesting ideas that will catapult you to the Highest Version of Yourself that you can imagine. We just don’t often take the time to listen to that part of ourselves. Yes, I believe the Holy Spirit is a part of each of us, so intertwined with every fiber of our being that we can never not be holy. If we listen.

Stand alone. I used to stand alone and mope inside about being alone. Why doesn’t anyone really understand me? I need them to understand me! I cried tears and sobbed guttural wails as I wrestled with the challenges of growing up, maturing, moving from an insecure teenager to an insecure adult, an insecure wife, mother, neighbor, church member, volunteer, over-achiever. Until it all came crashing down on me in the form of what would morph from one day of a swollen throat, fever, body aches worse than the flu, fatigue that slammed me flat to the surface of my water bed and wouldn’t let me go, into the woman I am now. Twenty-five years I’ve lived inside my body alone, alone in houses full of people who cannot understand this bizarre chronic illness. But now I stand alone – secure in Who I Am.

Sat nam.

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“Coming Out”

Coming Out

Right before Christmas I spontaneously answered an appeal from an organization I’ve been a part of since 1991. They’ve changed their name in an effort to reposition the invisible malady we share. The idea was to spread the work about ME/CFS (Myalgic Encephalomyelitis/Chronic Fatigue Syndrome) by asking ten people to donate twelve dollars each to raise money for much needed research. I made an embarrassing selfie Vimeo video, showing myself in the state I’ve hidden from the world, my town, my friends for twenty-five years. I hate asking people for money, so I tried to downplay the donation aspect while encouraging my friends to “share” the message to help raise awareness of Chronic Fatigue and Fibromyalgia. I took in a deep breath, said a prayer, and clicked the “post” button on Facebook well after midnight, before I lost my nerve.

I have over a thousand “friends” on Facebook, some I’ve never met in person. Many of themfrequently “like” the inspirational quotes I post, photos of my precious granddaughter, humorous jokes, pretty pictures of the beach. The resulting response of silence to my linked video in my Facebook world was palpable, deafening really. What on earth had I done? Had I just “lost” a bunch of “friends?”

Ginny’s Solve ME/CFS 10/$12 Appeal for Hope from Ginny Fleming on Vimeo.

Slowly, a few responses trickled in, applauding my courage. One night I received a private message from a long lost friend, thanking me for my candor, explaining how my video had affected her family. Her son had been diagnosed with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome a couple of years prior, but things had been getting very tense in her household, as her husband just didn’t understand and he had been getting more and more frustrated with their son. She had showed my video to her son, who said my description was “spot on.” She had showed it to her husband and “something clicked” and he finally “got it.” The role of caretaker to those of us with ME/CFS is a lonely and weary one, too. I sighed, finding comfort that I had helped someone. The personal embarrassment was worth it, if I had only helped that one family.

I called my best friend in Tennessee and asked her opinion.

“It was pretty depressing,” she admitted with her familiar chuckle.

“I know, right? But that’s how I really am about 75% of the time.”

“Really? I would’ve guessed about 25%.”

“No, I just don’t answer the phone or talk about it every time I’m so down, even with you. You know me better than anyone and you really thought I felt this way only 25% of the time? Should I delete it?”

“No, but maybe you could do a follow-up video explaining more? And just shoot from the hip, no script, just telling it like you just told me.”

I took her advice and recorded a more upbeat video. I put on make-up and filmed it outside on my deck, sunshine and chirping birds in the background. I got a few more “likes.” I raised a little money. But another friend, one who had lived with similar health challenges for decades as well, told me she liked the first video better — that she felt like I had negated all the wonderful honesty I’d expressed in the first one when I posted the second one.

G’s follow up CFS video from Ginny Fleming on Vimeo.

So I did a third one, this time using YouTube. It was right before Christmas. I held my iPhone out and recorded another selfie with Christmas music in the background. This one was a mix of the two. I got a few more “likes,” more heartfelt donations, and several private messages thanking me for validating similar feelings, for expressing the day to day realities of living with CFS and Fibromyalgia in a way that reached family members who had not been very understanding until seeing my video.

After Christmas, my husband found a “scooter” on sale at a medical supply place and, after 25 years of hiding my pain, painting on a smile for the world, living a mostly housebound life, I took my first spin. I was a nine-year old with a new bicycle! You could not wipe the smile from my face! I felt only joy and exuberance as I felt the wind in my hair as I zipped down the street!

“I hope this doesn’t make you feel … disabled, handicapped.”

“Well, of course it does! But I’m so over it! I’m 55 and I am so over it!”

The first few times I drove my “Go Go,” I stayed on the same two streets I’d walked for years whenever I could get out of the house. But two weeks ago I branched out and took a “walk” (“a scoot”?) beyond the side street on which I’ve lived for fifteen years, but have only seen, I realized, from a car window. As I motored past Wake Forest Elementary, a nostalgic tear slipped out behind my Ray Bans. I recalled the many times I had joined first Caroline, then Hallie, for lunch in that noisy cafeteria. Light and noise and smells had assaulted my sensitive body and I’d smiled my way through the thirty minute experience before I drove home and crashed in the bed, resting up before time to pick them up in the carpool line at 3:20. The sounds of those little elementary school children, their energy, their boisterous joy, the innocent, promising twinkle in their eyes — I am so glad I got to experience them! I am so grateful that I braved the times I sucked it up and went to my daughers’ schools even when I didn’t feel up to it. I almost always paid a dear price later, but no one can take those memories away from me.

Continuing, we turned the corner and then another corner, the Seminary campus on our right. Roosevelt, my little terrier mix, trotted right along with me, both of us learning how to navigate the moving vehicle and the leash, adjusting our speed from “hare” back down to “tortoise” when he galloped and fell behind; stopping abruptly when he found a bush he was determined to sniff, to lift his leg and make his mark while I untangled and readjusted the leash situation. Ideally, I needed him on my left, freeing my right hand to press the lever forward when we were ready to go; to release when we needed to stop suddenly.

“I don’t think this is an all-terrain vehicle, Roosevelt,” I said when we hit a rough parts of the sidewalk, ran over anything larger than a sweet gum ball, navigated turns. Cars sped past us as we made our way down Durham Road, the major 35 mph thoroughfare through our small town. I kept my head down for a few houses, but at some point I got the courage to look up, to smile and nod my head to people whose faces turned to look at me through car windows, rolled up in the chilly winter air.

Near the end of our mile-long scoot, I got my new scooter stuck on uneven pavement and had to exert great effort to help it get over the hump. Then we met with a rather large branch that had fallen on the sidewalk. Ignorantly, I tried to go over it instead of getting off and moving the debris. The plastic basket popped off and I stopped us abruptly. We’d almost rolled over it. We’d almost tipped over. I got off, figured out how to reattach the basket,  and moved the branch. We finally made it back to our street without seeing anyone I knew.

I took out my iPhone and recorded a little of our scoot-walk, capturing Roosevelt’s cute little run beside me. When I posted that on Facebook, I got over 70 “likes” and quite a few comments.

One friend asked to see a picture of the actual scooter. I retrieved the only one I had, the one taken by my husband the first day he had surprised me with the after Christmas gift. I was wearing no make up, no bra, my wild hair unruly around my ear warmer headband. It was not a flattering picture at all. But something inside me said, “What the hell? I’m 55. I already posted that depressing video. Who gives a rip?” So I commented back on that post and attached the awful photo, once again getting over myself and letting real life — my real life — show.

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Nana’s 79th Birthday

October 26, 2014

Nana’s 79th Birthday

         Nana's 79th b'day dinnerI had an insight this morning: Mom “reaching out” from her 79-year old vantage point, longing to share, impart, connect with the subsequent generations of her family. We roll our eyes, take in some things, but hurriedly, slightly irritated at the incessantness of it all. Some stories some of us have heard a hundred times and we glance at our cell phones or a book from the coffee table as we pass the time at her townhouse. But today I stretch out on the couch, mouth closed, eyes shut, listening as she yearns to impart the old stories to her grown grandchildren. Do they remember? Have they already heard? Are they simply on overload after having looked, obligingly, at the many scrapbooks she got out earlier? It doesn’t matter to Nana, who insists on telling it so the grandson-in-law will also know, the son-in-law, before it’s too late. Before she forgets. Before she is relegated to perfunctory visits without substance. Before she fades into … oblivion, or is no more.

IMG_5811Tears come to me now, sitting right behind my eyelids as I pen these thoughts. One day I will miss this vibrant, opinionated, spunky, wise woman. I have been so blessed to be her daughter. I am so blessed to watch her age with vim and vigor. To hear that she walked the waterfront, did her yoga, went to art class, history class, book club, choir, the Democratic community meeting in her small town. She runs circles around me, and has for a while now.

We take her out for a birthday dinner celebration at an upscale restaurant on the water and she orders a filet mignon, as do I. My husband orders a nice bottle of Pinot Grigio and she chuckles, remarking how she happy she is to be content with her little single serving bottles of Sutter Home, one per night. But she quickly balances that with appreciation for this “good wine.” She is a master at social graces.Nana and HQ at Joseph's

She smiles and marvels at the growth of her first great-grandchild, being spoon-fed pureed organic butternut squash in the high chair. The eight month old picks up puffs, pincer style, finding her mouth and squealing with delight. Mom grins and squinches up her nose. “Isn’t she just precious? I can’t get over … “HQ at Joseph's

Happy 79th birthday, Mom. I love you completely. I treasure your stories, your depth, your life. I treasure our connection, your undying support of me and mine, the loving intentions behind your actions, the enthusiastic, lively woman you are and have always been. I’ve walked in your shadow, and I’ve soared while you’ve lifted me up. There is no bond quite like that of a mother and her daughter. Because I’ve been so well-loved, I am able to feel a depth of love for my own that has often made me weep with poignancy, allowed me to coach them through their trials with available attention, to bite my tongue and let them grow on their own when that is called for. Because you have loved so well, you will never really end, Mom. You will live on in the lives of your progeny, even if we forget some of your stories, even if we don’t get to hear them all, even if we don’t get the chance to understand the whole complexity of the life that made you you.C&HQ at Joseph's

Today we celebrate the loving matriarch of our family as she enters her eightieth year of life. I bow in honor. I smile, tears lurking right behind my eyes as I imagine what it must feel like to be turning 79, what it will feel like when I am unable to punch in your phone number and have a nice long chat. If you have fears, claustrophobic gasps from time to time, please know I kind of understand. Know you are not alone. You can share these feelings with me, or let them pass without remark if acknowledging them is too unsettling. Just know I know. As best I can at 54.

Happy, happy birthday, Mom. You are so very loved.4 generations 2 mos

Six Weeks

Six Weeks

In six weeks I’ll be a grandmother and I don’t really know what to think about that. Everyone says, “Congratulations! It’s so much fun being a grandmother! Bet you can’t wait to get your hands on that baby!”

I do love babies. I consider “the nurturing mother” my strongest archetype. Yet for some reason the expectation of this first biological grandchild has me feeling a bit unsettled, and I’m not sure why.

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The Mother’s Journal I kept when my daughters were in utero and growing up.

I love to hold newborns. I do so easily, naturally, swaying back and forth automatically. Whenever I stand up to hold a baby, cradling it in my arms, immediately my weight wants to shift side to side like a metronome. My eyes take in the little one, peering into those innocent eyes, or admiring the sleepily closed, rosy eyelids. I stop momentarily to lift the little bundle to my nose to breathe in that heavenly, sweet new baby smell they lose after a while, when they become bigger children.

And they do grow — so quickly. It seems like yesterday when I held my own babies in my arms, swaying, and sometimes I was just so tired that I longed for a night of uninterrupted sleep.

Sometimes, in the moment, it’s hard. You’re tired and she cries and you don’t know what she needs, what she wants, and she can’t tell you yet, and so you give her everything you’ve got, I mean everything you’ve got, and sometimes she settles down and you sigh with relief and resume the loving, natural, relaxed stance, but sometimes … sometimes it’s just not enough.Image

Like when she’s in middle school and you hate those catty girls she seems to care so much about, who say mean things to your precious one and you want to tell her it doesn’t matter, that in ten years you won’t care, if you even remember at all that they laughed at the new haircut you were so delighted with as you smiled at your reflection in the mirror that very morning before school.  Image

Like when she’s in high school and thinks she’s grown up and doesn’t need to be in by 11pm, no one else has to be in so early, I was only ten minutes late, you can’t ground me for that, oh yes I can, give me your car keys. Now. I hate you, well, I still love you, but we’ll talk about this later, go on to your room. Now.

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God, it’s hard to grow up. It’s hard, sometimes, to be a kid, a teen, a young adult, a parent, a mother, especially a “good” mother, whatever that is, and it changes with each child, with the times, and there are no rule books, there just aren’t. Maybe I’m scared it’ll be hard to be a grandmother, too.

Breathe. Sigh.

It always turns out all right. Perfectly, really, since there is no one “right” way, only choices, then more choices that add up to one’s life — infinite possibilities, and they’re all okay. Really, they’re all okay.

Perhaps it’s best I don’t know what to expect in six weeks. Sure I’ve heard, I’ve read, and mostly it sounds terrific. But will she love me as much as she loves her other grandparents? Will I have the energy to be present in my granddaughter’s life the way I want to be? Health challenges limited and defined so much of how I ended up mothering my own, but we lived under the same roof so at least I got to be with them, reading books in bed, inhaling the Johnson’s baby shampoo smell on their clean toddler heads. Will I have the physical energy to drive to see this new baby, to keep her overnight when her parents go out-of-town or need a break?

It blows my mind to see my little girl all grown up now, round with child, resting her arms on her belly, wondering if she might have “an outie” before her daughter sees the light of day. It amazes me to see her organized home, where decoratively painted and ribboned wooden 3, 6, 9 numerals hang on the rod in the nursery closet, already separating by sizes the matching outfits and dresses others have graciously given them or they’ve already bought from Baby Gap. It touches some part of my heart I cannot name, do not know, when I am shown the inside of the drawers of the dresser/changing table given to them by friends and now filled with freshly washed and folded onesies, teeny tiny socks, soft pima cotton swaddling blankets, hooded bath towels. Was I ever this organized? If so, it was definitely when I was awaiting the birth of my own firstborn, this now-almost-mother who is no longer “mine.” Ahh…maybe this is what threatens my peace in some way — a feeling that this milestone will somehow end a chapter of my own life, when really it should just open up a new one.

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Me with my firstborn.

Now, in my own home, I sway with anticipation, cradling my doggie (my dogs have always consoled me) and I wait, tentatively, for the birth to be behind us, for all to be healthy and well and on the other side of this momentous occasion. How strange to know this new little life will fill all our hearts with more love than we can imagine, stir feelings in me I’ve never known, complete some part of the circle of life I don’t even feel I’m missing. All I know is that my own grown up little girl better be all right. God, may she have a smooth labor and delivery, a healthy baby, and the strength and good health to enjoy the abundance of rewards that come with the blessing of motherhood. Keep her safe, God. Just keep my baby safe.

Behind but Thankful

Ok, so I’m already behind on the NaBloPoMo – who was I kidding thinking I might do the NaNoWriMo?! I still WANT to do both! But now isn’t this just so telling of my personality?! Life to me is like going to Golden Coral – I tend to fill my plate with much more than I can ever consume. Next time, I do the same all over again.

I am so grateful that I still WANT to do things, even though my body sometimes (ok, often, but I’m an optimist) doesn’t cooperate. Dr. Lapp asks me that question when we have our every six month follow-ups for the chronic fatigue syndrome and fibromyalgia that has plagued me for … it will be 24 years on November 25. “Do you still have interest in things?” At least 85% of the time now I can answer that question in the affirmative. Thank God. The other dark, lonely, flat place is no fun at all. Still, in hindsight when I am feeling better, I am grateful for the low days, too. They are part of the contrast, which makes me appreciate so many little simple things at this stage of my life. Today I am grateful that I WANT to do so many things, including writing. I may fall short of my goals, but I am alive, awake, aspiring for more.

I know I must get on with my day, yet my heart is so FULL of gratitude, so I really only have time to make a list:

* I am grateful for my loving husband, with whom I can be myself, graying hair, pooching belly and all. He adores me and we both agree there is no one we would rather be driven crazy by than each other! I respect him, his values, his strength, his even-tempered personality, and especially the way he walks the dog each night, helps in the kitchen more and more, and does all those fine motor kinds of things that elude me – like the efficient and gentle way he got two splinters out of the palm of my right hand yesterday. He’s the best and deserves his own LONG post! But that will have to wait…

* I am grateful for my beautiful home with its newly remodeled kitchen, the gorgeous yard my husband tends with its now red and yellow and falling leaves; the purple, blue, white and yellow pansies he planted for me in containers on the back porch; the cozy, way it feels when I return to it. Last night, after ten days at the beach, I unlocked the back door, juggling bags and my purse and the keys and all and I walked in, trying not to get bruised again by the heavy storm door. I turned on the lights – the new funky pendant lights – and I couldn’t help but smile. It smelled like home. You know that smell. Every home has its own. But this one was ours, and it felt like putting on my favorite faded, stained sweater on a chilly day.

And now the timer has dinged and there is no time to even finish my list. Shocking for me, I know. I must get in the shower so I won’t be late to appointments. I am grateful for the nice hot shower I am about to have. Many people in this world do not have that luxury you know.

Gratitude

November, being the month of Thanksgiving and all, inspires many folks to record a list of things for which they are grateful. Also, November is the lead-in to Advent, when we celebrate the birth of Jesus, the ultimate gift for those of the Christian faith, which tends to also turn our hearts outward toward thinking of others.7a49af57391bbe83cbdf4676168f6a64

My Kundalini yoga teacher, a Sikh, encourages her students to maintain “an attitude of gratitude.” I think the idea of gratefulness for all the many blessings we see on this earth around us can only contribute to our personal happiness and, therefore, ooze out of us and add to the happiness of others with whom we come in contact. In other words, gratitude encourages us “to share the love.” And Lord only knows this world can use all of that we can muster.

Since I am trying to do the NaBloPoMo (National Blog Posting Month), it makes sense to include this practice of naming blessings daily during the month of November. I wrote most of this yesterday, but I didn’t get it posted, so I’ll do two for today!

For November 1st, I hereby record the obvious: I am grateful for Jesus Christ in my life, who taught me there is so much more than meets the eye – that the Spirit realm is where it’s at. When the chips are down, this message always lifts me up. When pain engulfs my body, I hold on, knowing there is something more, much more, to this life than just the physical.

For November 2, I declare my gratitude for my daughters, Caroline and Hallie, who have taught and continue to teach me about love, trust, holding close and letting go. When God entrusted them to my care at their births, something innate and beautiful began to blossom in me. Painting of me, C & HIn some ways I felt so unprepared to be their mother; in other ways instincts that surprised me took over and I just “knew” what to do in various situations. I basically took motherhood one day at a time, sometimes one temper tantrum at a time, for what “worked” with Caroline often did not with Hallie — evidence of the individuality of life! But at the root of it all was and is a kind of natural, unconditional love so big it fills my heart and overflows even now that they are adults making their own ways in this world. I am ever so grateful to have healthy relationships with each of them, and that they share their hearts with me. H on C at beachI am grateful every time I get to talk to them on the phone or get a text message with silly emoticons, or just a check in “just landed back at RDU! Love y’all!”

“Supposed To”

July 9, 2013
Prompt: 15 minutes: “supposed to”

Supposed To

She was supposed to get a lot accomplished today, piles of vacation mail littering the kitchen counter, dirty clothes on the laundry room floor, wilting calla lily plants screaming for water from their old pots, long leaves drooping. She turns the pots occasionally, angling them away from sunny windows so they’ll reach out, stretch outward in another way, filling out, not so lopsided from years of inattention save the weekly dousing when she had too much on her mind to cherish every little moment, every little thing.

Life is supposed to last long, keep on going, the canvas unfurling indefinitely, inviting one to pick up brushes full of color and paint your heart’s desire.

But it doesn’t always go that way now, does it? No, sometimes we get so busy we’re like Little Black Sambo running around the tree so fast, fleeing from the tiger, whipping himself into butter he did, I did, we do.

When you are young, it seems like forever between Christmases, you wanting to fit into your mother’s dyed to match green high-heeled pumps, their chunky heels clomp clomp clomping along the hardwood floor, headed for the kitchen where your mother is fixing you and your stuffed friends a tea party.

all dressed up

all dressed up

As a mother, you make a mental note of your daughter’s living in the moment joy while pretending she is all grown up. You snap a picture of her in the netting skirt atop her size 4T jeans, the old burgundy velvet hat that was your grandma’s, the white kid gloves all the ladies wore back then, back when you’re sure time must have passed more slowly. You take the tiny plastic Strawberry Shortcake plates your daughter brings so trustingly to your care for her own “pea darty.” You place equal numbers on each of Cheerios, pretzel sticks, grapes and cheese, knowing she will eat it all, helping out Big Bird, Sally, Ga Ga and Snowy. Life is supposed to be this good and it really is! It really is!!!

Until some days it’s not, it’s just not.

You analyze and debate inside your head what’s missing, what might be if things were even better. If you could be more of yourself in this marriage, if life is supposed to be this conflicted, this painful, this small. You smile at your children during the day, singing soulful lyrics with Amy Grant, Carole King, Carly Simon, Carly, Carol, Amy CDsas you drive your kids on errands. They learn the words and sing refrains in their little voices, legs kicking, oblivious.

You come to dread 5 pm some days, then weekends, living for Monday mornings, quiet midnight hours when you can fold hot, clean smelling towels fresh from the dryer on the carpet in the hall all by yourself, sometimes weeping. How did it get like this? Surely this is not the way it’s supposed to be, is it? Is it?

That first marriage was supposed to be the only one. They were supposed to live happily ever after. They were supposed to grow old together.

But time can heal old wounds. How nice that finally, they can laugh and break bread together again in their grown daughters’ homes, new partners by their sides, all “one big happy family.” Maybe that’s the way it’s supposed to be — multiple sets of parents and step parents all together toasting graduations and marriages of their grown up children, reminiscing together about the good memories of the days gone by.

“Older”

Prompt: 40 minutes: “Older”
June 17, 2013

Older

Older is a loaded word, a plant growing out of its pot, roots bound together in a clump of experience seeking desperately fresh soil, nutrients, water — that life-giving, liquid oxygen.

Older is not for sissies. No, it takes a bit of bravery, or at least the show of “a stiff upper lip” as my dad would say. “Everything’s super,” he says, when I know he must have aches and pains, feelings of grief and loss somewhere down inside that aging body, now a size small.

Older is watching your parents age, Dad shrinking, Mom getting shorter, rounder. Older is watching myself get rounder, wrinklier, heavier, more tired, less patient inside but more patient in front of youth.

Mom and me at Holden Beach 2011

Mom and me at Holden Beach 2011

Older is the home around me — walls needing paint touch-ups, cobwebs stretching from chair legs to corners, not having moved for months, years.

Older is the dog lying contentedly beside me, an occasional sigh sounding full of resignation perhaps. Or maybe it is just sheer acceptance.

Acceptance. That’s what older requires. Acceptance — of life, people, days gone by, limitations. Really? Or am I just too sleepy this morning to be more upbeat? Maybe older is needing more leisure time to wake up, or maybe it’s having so much leisure time that I don’t “wake up” until the day is well on its way.photo-22

Older is sighing when I don’t feel like making the effort to open my eyes, get out of bed, put the pen down, and go on with my day.

Older is knowing you have surgery in less than four days to remove cancer from your body. Older is looking around the house at the accumulation of a lifetime and just not knowing where to begin to sort it all out. I don’t want those I’ll leave behind to have to do it, yet I’m not ready to burn it, shred it, dispose of it just yet — I might live many more years and wish I could find those notes I took when I was in my 30’s, trying to sort through life. I might want to get inside that young woman’s mind again sometime. Words can take me there.

For now, I think I’ll just close my eyes and rest a bit.

Breast Surgery, Ducks and Pillows

Breast Surgery, Ducks and Pillows

Her warm dark eyes smiled at me through the wispy remains of the anesthesia.

“Hi. My name is Sandy and this pillow was made by some volunteers here for you to take home with you to help with the pain during your recovery.”

pillow from Duke RaleighSandy handed me a black pillow with bright colorful figures on it, about eight by twelve inches and rather light and thin, not stuffed too full.
“You can hold it under your arm, kind of supporting your breast and it should help with the pain,” she explained.

A friend had reminded me of the pillow trick the day before, but I hadn’t looked for the little one I’d used five years ago after my first breast cancer surgery. I tend to block out the negative and only remember the positive. I hadn’t wanted to give thought to how miserable I might be post op, so I hadn’t read up or prepared much this time. Instead, I’d paid bills, wrapped and delivered birthday and graduation gifts and cards, stocked the panty, the refrigerator, the freezer. I’d returned clothing items I’d had sitting around for a while, made phone calls and scheduled appointments, stitched up holes in Roosevelt’s Mr. Bear and Squeeky Chick, and bought fabric for window treatments I had put off for years, keeping busy until the day of the surgery.

“Thanks,” I replied with heartfelt appreciation, looking intentionally into Sandy’s liquid chocolate eyes.

All morning I’d noticed the kindness of the staff at the hospital as they dealt with a gurney that was hard to keep going in a straight line through the corridors, a temperamental mammogram machine, my questioning the wording on the consent form before I signed, wanting to make sure “partial mastectomy” was the same thing as “lumpectomy.” Who knew what was going on in each of their own personal lives? But here they were at work, me just another patient in a string for the day, the week, their career, and they were offering me such individual compassion and attention. How refreshing and reassuring to experience great care despite the fallout of Obamacare swirling all around.

The most difficult hour that day was spent with Dianne and Jennifer in radiology. They ended up taking another ten mammogram images (I’d had 25 the previous week). Because my tumor was vey small and located so close to the chest wall, it was difficult to image.

“Ok, let’s try this,” Jennifer decided. “Stick your butt out like a duck and lean into the machine. I’ll just reposition your breast … I’m really sorry I’ve got to pull on it so, but I’ve got to get as much of your body into the machine as I can.”

At one point the machine malfunctioned, while I was uncomfortably pressed into it.

“What can I do?” Jennifer asked Dianne. “Sometimes if we stop and start over and spin the arm all the way around, it will start working again. Why don’t we try that?”

“Because I don’t want her to have to keep doing this any longer than necessary,” Dianne said as she began turning the tight knob by hand with her own brute force. She made a joke about getting her workout for the day, but kept a smile on her face. “I’m sorry this is so uncomfortable, but we’ve got to get a good image. You’re going to be bruised and sore tomorrow. I’m so sorry.”

“That’s okay, you’re just doing your job. I’ll have to tell you my duck joke later,” I said good-naturedly. “It’s actually a joke my grandmother used to tell.”

“Okay! We like a good joke, but we need you to be still while we try to get these images. I wish we could give you something to take the edge off, but we need you standing and able to follow directions. As soon as we’re done here, you’ll be getting some sedation.”

The two ladies retreated behind the safety screen and snapped another x-ray.

“Yes! We’ve got it!” Ok, don’t move a muscle! Just keep leaning in with all your weight and keep sticking your butt out like a duck. I’ll go get Dr. Campbell.”

Dr. Campbell, a male, came in and introduced himself and described what he would be doing. I would need to stay standing in the awkward position without moving while he injected lidocaine into my breast, then inserted a guide wire, marking the area to be surgically removed. I would need to stay in that position until more mammogram images confirmed the wire was in the right place.

He got down on the floor, literally squatting or lying (I couldn’t tell which from my vantage point), reaching up through the opening in the panel of the machine and started the stinging injections of lidocaine. When my breast was numb, he began inserting the guide wire into my abused left breast.

They lightened the tone for me and for one another, peppering the stale, dark room with casual, upbeat comments. When the doc was finished, they took one last image.

“Perfect!” he pronounced. “That is perfect!”

Dianne and Jennifer came back over to me and released the compression, but kept me still while they covered the wire in gauze and bandaged it to my skin for the surgery. I was glad I wasn’t able to see the wire sticking out of my body.

Before they escorted me back onto the gurney, I told them about the mama and papa ducks and the little baby duck getting lost and how they tried to find their way back home. “So, the father duck stuck his beak under his wing, ruffled around in his feathers, popped his head up and said, ‘My instincts say go north.’ I imitated the duck movements with my own nose bending down near my right armpit, then popping up to deliver the next line of the joke. “The mother duck stuck her beak under her wing, popped her head up, and said, “My instincts say go south.” So the baby duck stuck his head under his wing, then popped his little head up and squeaked, “My end stinks too, but it doesn’t tell me which way to go!”

They laughed as they got me back onto the gurney and began maneuvering me through the doorway. I hoped maybe they would remember it to tell the joke to other ladies poised so uncomfortably in the restricted position — maybe take the edge off another woman’s nervousness in the future.

After my surgery, back in Bed #5, Lois, the tall nurse dressed in dark blue, explained my post op instructions. It was hard to take it all in — the bright lights, tight quarters, people in and out, voices beyond the curtain, still groggy. Lois explained that I couldn’t shower until the next day, needed to wear a bra like the surgical one I found myself in upon coming out of anesthesia, and that Dr. Tolnitch would call with the path report and to set up my follow up appointment in a few days. I had no memory of anyone putting a bra on me (“free” surgical bra, woo hoo! Or maybe it will be an outrageously expensive line item on my hospital bill!). I wondered how in the world someone had managed to accomplish that if I was a limp dishrag. Or maybe I wasn’t. I was glad I couldn’t remember. I’m all for good anesthesia.

I vaguely remembered the large male anesthetist giving me multiple shots in the upper chest on my left side to complete the nerve block. I recalled some nice nurses before that — maybe Sandy, too? — stooping down in front of me as I sat on the side of the gurney, the large man behind me injecting stuff in my upper spine and shoulder area. Later, Michael said they had had some difficulty getting me numb. Thankfully I can’t remember this very clearly. Let’s hear it for sedation!

Back at home, days later, I still cradle the black pillow with its bold cactus, animal, Southwestern hunting motif, positioning the cold gel pack wrapped in a pillowcase between it and myself. I lie back and close my eyes. I see Sandy’s lovely deep brown eyes looking kindly into mine. I’m glad it is done.