Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Specially seasoned, cooked well done

Sometimes it helps me to give funny or offbeat names to the things they do to me – never to the really serious things, of course – but more to procedures at the maintenance level.

For example, I call therapeutic phlebotomy "blood letting," which is what happens when I go every other month to have about a pint of blood removed to reduce the iron overload that resulted from multiple transfusions.

The name game has come to mind because tomorrow I go to Boston for my annual face fry.

The term is actually photodynamic therapy, or PDT, and my dermatologist uses it to treat my face for spots that might turn into cancer. It is definitely better than getting more skin cancers, and by the way  I think I have another squamous cell, this one on the side of my hand, so I will be surprised if she does not biopsy it.

Marinating last year
Here is how the American Cancer Society describes PDT when used to kill cancer cells:

Photodynamic therapy or PDT is a treatment that uses special drugs, called photosensitizing agents, along with light to kill cancer cells. The drugs only work after they have been activated or “turned on” by certain kinds of light. PDT may also be called photoradiation therapyphototherapy, or photochemotherapy.
Depending on the part of the body being treated, the photosensitizing agent is either put into the bloodstream through a vein or put on the skin. Over a certain amount of time the drug is absorbed by the cancer cells. Then light is applied to the area to be treated. The light causes the drug to react with oxygen, which forms a chemical that kills the cells. PDT might also help by destroying the blood vessels that feed the cancer cells and by alerting the immune system to attack the cancer.
The period of time between when the drug is given and when the light is applied is called the drug-to-light interval.

After a nurse covers my face with the chemical, I sit for about an hour and a half, reading a little through the slits in the foil that covers my face. Then the covering comes off and you sit under the light. That part takes less than five minutes, but it hurts more than the worst sunburn you can imagine. Moving a cold air blower around with your hand helps somewhat in each area that you target.

She is also going to do my lips, woo hoo!

Afterwards your skin is red, blotchy and painful. You're supposed to avoid the sun, so this is a good time of year to do it.

In the past I have had to take something for the pain, but I'll see how I feel. I'll be going to Margaret's afterwards, and maybe the good company and good food will take my mind off of it.

 I'll drive back Friday morning, well done.

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Testing and talking, talking and testing

I was injected with radioactive stuff (like that medical term?) at 10 a.m. yesterday and spent the time until 1:30 at the Dam Cafe, where my friend John Stifler, who teaches at UMass, was nice enough to meet me.

We were due for catching up, and he was impressed by this Northampton-like place in Holyoke.

When I went back for the bone scan, the technician said it was routine to do the whole body for a baseline. I said to go ahead but I was afraid, given my history of surprises, that some unexpected places would light up. I don't think they did or else I would have heard about it, but when he did my feet I saw an area on my left foot light up. I'll get the results on Monday.

There is really no such thing as a person being too nice, but I have to say that the technician gave me a headache, talking loudly and nonstop. He told me he is so hyper he doesn't ever need to drink coffee, and it showed. My only escape was when I went into the machine for my body to be scanned and was able to take a quick nap. I like to chat with people who perform these tests, but there are limits.

The test was in Holyoke Medical Center, where I couldn't help but think of Kevin O'Hare, who was public relations director there and music critic for the Republican and also a talented musician in his own right.

He was so much fun to sit across from at the paper, always so cheerful, coming in with a smile. And when I would call the hospital to see if he could find an expert for me to interview, he never failed to thank me for thinking of the hospital (because many times reporters called the larger Baystate Medical Center).

Gone two years ago at 55, a big loss, the best kind of nice.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Something to whine about

My left foot.
I thought I did something to my toe when playing tennis on the hard courts last week, but when the pain migrated to the top of my foot, I realized it was more than that.

My podiatrist had a cancellation yesterday morning, so I went bright and early. He said it is most likely a stress fracture in the left metatarsal.

He gave me a compression boot and, like the last time I had one for a stress fracture in my leg, it worked quickly to ameliorate the pain. To confirm the cause, I need to go to the hospital tomorrow for an injection of dye, followed three hours later by an x-ray and bone scan.

I will probably have to leave the boot on for five to six weeks, which obviously amounts to that same amount of time without exercise. I asked about swimming, and my doctor said not even to do that because of the pressure it would put on my foot. I can basically lift weights and do some core-strengthening exercises, not my favorite activities.

Katie asked me what makes a stress fracture heal, and I said basically wearing the boot and whining.

When I told Diane about it, she said a friend had recently reported suffering from plantar fasciitis, and Diane, a fellow past sufferer, told her all the remedies we had tried. We laughed about the fact that I complained more bitterly about plantar fasciitis than I did about leukemia. A stress fracture can have the same effect.

It is already taking its toll on Maddie. She keeps looking at me expectantly, as though she thinks we're going for a walk. But it's hard to navigate with the boot on.

I have already planned a few play dates for her.

At least one of us will get some exercise.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Three days: tales of my toe and other stories

Saturday: I dreamt that my father had come back and was looking great. He was jumping around, and my mother and I told him to calm down because this was his second chance and he didn't want to get sick and die again.

Sunday: I dreamt that my mother came back and looked beautiful with her dark shiny hair that she was about to put in rollers. We were getting ready to go out, and I asked if I could share her bathroom mirror to put on my makeup because it was better than the mirror in our bathroom. (True, it really was.) Plus, the bathroom that I shared with Diane was filled with towels, and somebody needed to do a wash.

Sometimes when they come back I am comforted, but other times like this I wake up so sad that they are not really back after all.

Today: Dream sadness on top of piercing big toe pain. Close to tears. It hurts so much I can barely walk. Last night, rather than sit in pain, I took an oxycodone. I am not supposed to take ibuprofen or any other anti-inflammatories because they thin your blood. I am not supposed to take Tylenol because it is not good for my liver. I know exactly why I never got addicted to "oxy" even though yes, it does make you feel good briefly. I wake up with a headache and take the Tylenol anyway.

I went to Esselon early to finish writing something and also, true confessions, to have a raspberry oatmeal muffin. I called my podiatrist from outside the door because his office hadn't opened when I left.  (Yes, I have a podiatrist in addition to all the other doctors I see. I went to him years ago for a surgical procedure on an ingrown toenail, shown smiling through the pain in photo at right, recovering from the procedure.)

The first appointment was not until Nov. 17. I said I was really nervous about having an untreated possible infection due to my history, and the receptionist said OK, Thursday then.

A man who overheard this conversation said he had channeled his guru, who left his physical body in 1967 but whose spirit was telling my new "friend" to advise me to go to the nearby Cooley Dickinson clinic on University Drive. He wrote out the directions word by word and then listed five podiatrists who might be able to see me the same day if the clinic doctor intervened.

I decided to soak in Epsom salts tonight instead and call my own podiatrist the next few days to see if there are cancellations.

Next stop was the Jones Library to get a book that we are reading for book club: "Empty Mansions: The Mysterious Life of Huguette Clark."  It was on the lower level on the lowest shelf. I got down on the floor to get the book and was pleased to be able to get into a lunge position and get up from there with no problem. (It's the little things.)

I had seen a sign saying Kindles were available to borrow, so I stopped at the reference desk, where a nice librarian showed me how to use one. I am going to read BJ Novak's short stories just for fun. Believe it or not, it was the first time I ever even touched a Kindle.

The librarian said he had just read in a journal that people absorb way more reading print than on a screen. Like I said, I am going to try the Kindle, but I am not going to get one,  just maybe take one out again the next time I fly.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Annoying little problem

While singing the praises of outdoor tennis yesterday, I forgot to mention that gnats, or some such little thing, were congregating around my face, biting my forehead and every part of my eyes that they could get to.

I kept rubbing my eye, which is the only reason I can think of for the subconjunctival-hemorrhage that the doctor who was kind enough to see me yesterday diagnosed. That sounds more scary than what it actually is: a broken blood vessel in my right eye.

I noticed Thursday night that it did indeed look like a broken blood vessel. When I woke up yesterday, my whole eye was red, leading me to suspect pink eye, although I couldn't think of any place I might have caught it.

My eye stings and burns and would look good for Halloween. But it won't last that long. It should resolve by itself in a few days as long as I don't rub it anymore.

Friday, October 17, 2014

Tennis in the rain, what a glorious feeling

Yesterday might have been the last day for playing outside at the Holyoke Canoe Club, and we came out in full force, eight of us and then six die-hards who played even after it started raining.

We were playing George's made-up game of triples, three against three, which I initially didn't like but which I now understand is good for your doubles game because the balls keep coming, quickly and from unexpected places.

It is a perfect place for tennis: clay courts nestled in the woods, the river nearby, and George's "air-conditioned" court – the one closest to the river – for catching a breeze on hot days. Also, non-competitive, easy on your legs, everyone joking and having fun, complimenting each other, always learning something, sharing a watermelon and exchanging stories-of-the-week during breaks.

So it is hard to say good-bye for the season. We played on for maybe 15 minutes, until the rain that began as a drizzle really started coming down.

Playing tennis in the rain, and also running in the rain, makes you feel like a little kid. Silly, and without any concern except to hold on to your racquet in tennis and navigate the puddles while running.

Yesterday was warm, but next week's forecast calls for rain and cold.

It had to end sometime, but before you know it, George will be talking about putting the courts back together.

You could sing my headline to this song:

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Fun in Minneapolis

We covered a lot of ground over the weekend: walking around (part of) a lake or two, walking along
the Mississippi, eating out, visiting Dinkytown (yes, the area around the University of Minneapolis is
really called that), drinking coffee (me) and tea (Katie) at Caribou coffee and other great spots in sections of Minneapolis that resembled Northampton on a larger scale.

View of the Mississippi from our walk.
We also went to the Gutrhie Theater, almost missing the play ("The Heidi Chronicles") due to getting stuck in traffic during the Zombie Pub Crawl , which, according to the St. Paul Pioneer Press, broke a world record with at least 15,458 people dressed as the undead gathering in one place, an accomplishment entered in the Guinness Book of World Records. What can I say? I never knew I would go to Minneapolis and run into that.

Best of all, of course, was just spending time with Katie.

My home-away-from-home for three nights was another great find on Airbnb (the first one being the bed and breakfast in Seville). It was exactly 1.3 miles from Katie, a hop, skip and a jump, with "my lake" (Lake Harriet) close to me, and Katie's lake
(Lake Calhoun) a short drive from her.

Nice day at Lake Harriet
It is more expensive to fly from Hartford, so I flew from Logan, where Diane was kind enough to pick me up last night. I spent the night in Newton and then drove straight to Northampton this morning so I could get to at least part of class at the Literacy Project. Then, coffee with a friend; then, stopping at Atkins; then, picking up Maddie, then, taking her for a mini-walk...and then, wondering if I should clean out the car and unpack my bag, but saying, "I'll think about that tomorrow."