Saturday, December 10, 2022

Hot Chocolate Run: Festive and (sort of) fun

Ready to run

First things first, or last things first, the hot chocolate (with marshmallows) was delicious last Sunday at the end of the annual 5K, the Hot Chocolate Run for Safe Passage, in Northampton. The run is festive and fun, but,
not surprisingly, when being made for so many people, the hot chocolate is not always the best. This year, many of us remarked on how good it was. I would have lingered if the people I came with didn't want to leave. 

The event was fun, but the run, not so much. The delayed start time (about 15 minutes) made me stiffen up. I hadn't been training, unless you could call running around a tennis court training. I've been running about once a week, maybe three miles or a little less. Some weeks I didn't run though I jumped around a lot in exercise classes at the Y. Does that count? In the couple of weeks before the run, I made sure to add some hills. I thought it was enough to do it and feel OK. The hills through and around Smith College are tough. Normally I run up but this year I walked. 

 I was part of a team of tennis friends this year – The Ace Capades – and the fast walkers in the group ended up walking more quickly than my very slow run.  I don't have asthma, but I actually started wheezing. The Fun Run, as opposed to the Road Race, is not exactly competitive. Runners pushed strollers. A guy in front of me juggled as he ran. He dropped a ball, stooped to pick it up, and started running again. People wore fun outfits. An instructor from the Y cheered for me as I ran the home stretch. When I saw her in class a couple of days later, I thanked her and told her I hadn't been feeling so great. She said I looked good. That made me feel better, in hindsight. 

Who cares, right? Here's why I cared. My PTSD regarding getting diagnosed with leukemia after a slow race (the Saint Patrick's 10K in Holyoke) clouded my vision. Was I relapsing? My pride at having been a "real" runner was a wee bit damaged. At least if I "only" did a 5K, I didn't have to wheeze. The difficulty breathing lasted a while. One of my teammates who was walking back to the car with me stopped with me. I tried to get some better breaths in. In through the nose, out through the mouth. I perked up a bit. 

6th annual photo with Amy Willard

Did I say I am doing some personal training at the Y? My trainer had done the race with Y members who were doing a "couch to 5k." I texted with her afterwards, when I got home. I think I scared her because I said I didn't feel so great. She wanted to know if I was light headed. I said no, I was just doing a reality check about the late start giving me problems. She said she thought that was normal.

I can do cognitive behavioral therapy on myself. What were the facts? I hadn't trained. I was 13 years "out." (Meaning 13 years after my fourth stem cell transplant, in the highly unlikely to relapse territory.) Speaking of which, I was probably the only one with multiple stem cell transplants doing this. The next day at tennis, when my group was coming on the court, I chatted with a friend who was coming off. I said something about not feeling great in the Hot Chocolate Run, and she said, "At least you were out there. I was at home drinking hot chocolate. "

All that aside, we raised money for a good cause. If you donated, thank you very much!

And there is also the matter of a nice new mug.

Tuesday, November 22, 2022

Bad veterinary hospital, good puppy, and the things people say

Too many choices

Yesterday was the first time I talked in person to my vet after the mess at the Veterinary Emergency and Specialty Hospital, or VESH, in Deerfield, surrounding Maddie's death. It is a great irony that they saved her life when she was hit by a car years earlier and made life so miserable at her passing. I like to think that she didn't know what was going on. She liked everyone and obviously wasn't wondering why people were poking at her and vets were giving her a surgery that she didn't need.

My vet said she and the others aware of the case were greatly disappointed in how they handled it. I said it felt like QVC: "Operators are standing by to take your credit card." (For a down payment on the $5,000 surgery.) I went over with my vet that they had given me half an hour to decide on whether to go ahead with the surgery. I couldn't think straight. She asked if they had given me a good explanation (no, not really), or given me any money back (no) because she thought they should have done it. Well, the explanation was that this was the small window for getting the surgery done by a vet who was available and who specialized in older dogs. But it didn't satisfy my need to know WHY they were pushing it at all. 

Meeting her sister

I asked if I should try now to get some money back, and she said no. It's only been five months though, so maybe I will call or write again. In any case, she said, now you have THIS.

The buried lede is that THIS is my new black Lab puppy, Gracie. She is a bundle of joy and enthusiasm. The enthusiasm extends to pulling up the corners of the rugs and eating the plants and chewing everything in sight. She also, however, sleeps through the night (very important) and stops squirming for long enough to have a good cuddle. She is a very good, gentle dog who loves everyone. 

I looked at rescues, filling out a form asking for my whole life story, but couldn't handle the process and the uncertainty over not knowing what I was getting. I know that a black Lab will be a good dog. (Think Winnie, our huge black Lab who was so gentle with the kids.) Joe thought she looked like a Gracie, so Gracie she is. 

On one of the first nights, I lay down on the den floor like I did with Maddie, and she came over and stretched out next to me. At that moment I knew I had gotten my money's worth. 

I did, however, forget how much WORK puppies are. I have to train her on the gentle leader so that she does not pull me. That is a whole process, starting with feeding her in it and telling her WHAT A GREAT THING it is. Right now she has a kind of slip collar called a Martingale. It is basically a choke collar made of cloth. I try to give it a little yank backwards when she pulls, or I turn my back, but 1) she doesn't care about the yank and 2) it's too frickin cold to stand on the street with my back to a dog...though it does work for a minute or two.

Watching Trump announcement

I signed up for a private lesson with a trainer at Animal Alliances, where we are also doing puppy kindergarten. 

Did someone ask about crate training? She picked up on it pretty quickly, though if I don't pay attention to her signals, out come the paper towels. She loves running after tennis balls (in the house so far) and brings them back to me with a "soft mouth," meaning that if it was a bird, she would not have crushed it. Like Maddie, she does not bark. 

I was going to wait until spring. But I felt so forlorn without a dog. The house seemed so quiet. I have wondered if I am too old for this, but I seem to be surviving OK. I won't have Jim and Jane to help me out, so I am looking at other options. I am very sad about Jane not talking to me and not even telling me why. All I know is that Maddie was with them when she got sick. I did not blame them for anything. Maybe though she feels that I did? I called and left messages. Enough is enough though. I'm the one who lost the dog.

People are funny. As in odd, not ha ha funny. Most everyone has totally understood why I wanted another dog and encouraged me in my search. I'm a true dog person, and this is a dog's house. My neighbor across the street – human to a ginormous black Lab – saw how upset I was when Maddie died. And when she saw me walking puppy (or puppy walking me), she came over and gave me a big hug and said how happy she was for me. One good friend said that a puppy was the cure for the sadness. Others couldn't wait to meet the mystery dog. I wrote and then removed the tale (pun intended ) of an old friend who was very negative and opinionated about me getting a dog. It was very upsetting...but telling the whole story wouldn't make it any better. The kids were on board though, and that counts for a lot.  

I have had moments where I ask, "What have I done?" That's when Gracie is driving me crazy and I feel like my time isn't my own. But she is a fast learner and very smart and playful and a real cutie. And like Maddie, not a barker. We are working it out. I need to find time to write and to exercise. I'm doing pretty well with that. Nothing wrong with a little crate time after she has been fed, watered, exercised, etc.  I'm going to get her into day care but first need to find the energy to fill out yet another long application . 

Tuesday, October 4, 2022

Please don't go down and look in my basement


Rosh Hashanah centerpiece

I put down a deposit on a white Lab mix who reminded me of Maddie. When I went to get the dog at a local rescue, the woman had accidentally given the puppy (6 months old or so) to someone else. I looked at another, older dog, who, when let out to run in the small yard, jumped on me and pushed me backward. I did the mature thing, which was to start crying. I left and said I would come back when more dogs become available.

If  had gotten the dog then, the timing would have been bad, anyway. Due to Yom Kippur,  I'd be out of the house for a good part of the day tomorrow, for going to services, and for dinner and services tonight. 

I'm just starting to look, and as one friend keeps saying, my dog is out there. Still, when the Lab fell through, it was like losing Maddie all over again. There is a school of thought that holds that I should not get another dog, especially not a puppy, because of how it ties you down. And the other school's theory is that I am a dog person, I live alone, and I need a dog. I am in the second camp. One friend put it this way: The cure for losing your dog is to get a puppy.

You would not believe, or maybe you would, the number of questions that you need to answer when applying to adopt a dog. It's like applying for a mortgage, what with references and questions such as, if you don't have a fenced yard, where and for how long will you walk the dog? I've had five dogs in this house and have aways walked these dogs here, there and everywhere. Well, mostly to the lake at Mount Holyoke. I've been told that the questions are to weed out people who are not qualified to have a dog, so, I get it. You don't want to rescue a dog into a worse situation. But there should be an application like the Common Application for college. I thought of copying one application and sending it around but I don't want to offend anyone.

I especially like the question, how many dogs have you had and where are they now? Answer: I've had five in this house, AND THEY ARE ALL IN MY BASEMENT NOW. I GO DOWN THERE AND COMMUNE WITH THEM EVERY NOW AND THEN. Seriously, though, I list them and say they are in dog Heaven.

I had a lovely Rosh Hashanah, with a total of eight people here for dinner. I channeled my Mom to make a centerpiece. I love it when all three kids are together. The others were extended family and partners. We had a round challah, and I asked Ben to do my father's part about why we have it, which is for a year with no sharp edges. The sunsets have been amazing. Here's a photo from the other evening at the Lower Lake.

Next time I buy salvia for my buckets, I better look at how tall they grow. Or maybe it's kind of fun to have them so tall? They are good for cutting and putting into arrangements.

Monday, September 12, 2022

Here, there, and everywhere

With Katie at the Delacorte Theater

 I was half worried about my black-and-blue marks (low platelets?) and half realizing that they were due to 1) being a magnet for wayward tennis balls and a klutz who hits herself with her own racquet, and 2) being of a certain age at which you bruise more easily, and 3) having skin so thin and sensitive that just brushing up against something can cause a colorful bruise. Can you have platelet PTSD? It was a problem for such a long time (in the ER: "she has THREE platelets! ") when I thought I might bleed to death, that it is easy to see how I could be triggered.

But all was well at my most recent appointment, when I was still crying on an off about the dog. I wasn't sure I would make it on time because I had to pull over to cry, and then I got in Boston traffic. I texted Melissa to say I would be late, and she passed the message to Dr. Ho.  When I finally got there, my blood pressure was super high. Then, while I was waiting in the room, magic happened. From out in the hallway, I heard a laugh so infectious (in a positive way) that it should be recorded and replayed for patients wanting a lift. It was my first doctor, Dan DeAngelo. He came to the doorway. We checked in about our kids. I could feel my blood pressure dropping. Then, more magic. Dr. Ho had a resident (or Fellow?) with him and spent so much time with me that I asked if he needed to leave. We talked about what happened with Maddie. He wanted to see photos, and he told me what a good long life I gave her. And no, he didn't need to leave. "We are having a healing session." Great to have a doctor who is interested in healing the whole person.

I have been here, there, and everywhere.

Donna and I went into the US Open
from a different entrance

Back to Shakespeare in the Park with with Katie (fabulous musical version of "As You Like It"),  Indigo Girls in Northampton, US Open tennis in Queens (on the bus again with Donna and other fans), home for a day, then back to NYC on Sunday for a matinee of the wonderful "Into the Woods," and back home the next day, with a stop in Fairfield. 

It was great to be back on the bus and have the traditional brownies on the way back. (When George asked what made my volleys so great at the next clinic, I said it was that it was eating both my brownie and Donna's.) The two of us have a real system now, as compared to the first year when we were clueless. We saw a little bit of's and women's singles, doubles, and practice sessions from prized seats. 

I started driving into NYC in "high pandemic" because I didn't want to get on a train. Some people don't understand why I keep doing it, but I have a system that works, with strategically  placed coffee/bathroom breaks and a spot reserved in a garage so as to pay a reduced fee. I used to pride myself on finding parking, but with all the restaurants out on the sidewalk, it is too hard to do. Now a reserve a spot in a garage. This at least saves some money as compared to driving in and paying the same day.

The house is so quiet without the dog. I still look around for her think to give her a leftover or pet her when she comes into the living room looking for me while I'm doing yoga. But it is getting better. 

Friday, August 19, 2022

Dogs and dog Heaven and a quiet house

Young Maddie at Tailgate

The day that my beloved dog Simon died, my friend Pam, who had gotten Simon with me at a pound near Vassar, was visiting, so it was a bookend. He took his last breath in the back seat of my car after a visit to Dr. Ruder, as in, couldn’t have been ruder, when we took him there after his legs went out from under him in the yard. He was about as old as my big dogs got (11 or 12, until Maddie came along). We had tickets for Tanglewood that night, so we went ahead and went. I sat on the lawn and cried. The next day, still crying, I picked up the phone to hear my mother crying. My Uncle Warren had shot himself. My cousins came. We went to Brattleboro for lunch before a ceremony at the top of a mountain. Then we came back to the house and ate. And I cried some more, for my dog and for my uncle. At some point during those few days, I remember furiously dead-heading snap dragons on my front yard. 

Winnie, the big black Lab, had become as much Jim and Jane’s dog as mine, and they took her when it was time. Misty just fell asleep on the rug near the front door and never woke up. I believe my “baby brother” Sam died at the dog sitter’s. The story goes that at a family gathering, my mother was crying her head off, because he had been her special friend. “What’s wrong?” someone asked. “Sam Gordon died!” someone else said. “Who’s Sam Gordon?” 

“The dog!”

Starting when Maddie turned around 14 or so, she had really slowed down. When I walked her across the street to get to the lake, I was worried that we might get run over. Some people didn’t have the patience for it. (Me to that person: “Then don’t walk the dog with me. I need to do it.”) But the dog people got it. It was worth it to get her to the lake. The years melted off. She was so happy sniffing around. If it was too hot, I walked her after the sun went down. She liked to sit in the ground cover near the door when I watered the plants. She loved walking to the lake with her friends Sue Ellen and Mary Margaret. She liked going “downtown” with her new friend, Rusty. I can’t say that the last year or so wasn’t stressful for me. Coming downstairs to check if she was breathing. The UTIs and in the last month, pneumonia. The dog meds were incredibly expensive, as were the fees for the tests. As I shed pills, she accumulated them.

Favorite toy

She didn’t always greet me at the door like she had done her whole life. But mostly she did. She dissed all her toys except for the long skinny snowman. I sent photos to the kids of her snuggling with it, hooking her paw over it. For some reason, when she turned 14, she started barking. I wrote a story for un upcoming issue of AKC’s Family Dog Magazine about how, with the help of a trainer, I got her to stop.

She was a “difficult child.” I remember writing a blog post, “Does anybody want a dog?” I complained at yoga. Erin, the teacher, said, “You love that dog.” Of course I grew to love her. She helped me recover from cancer. We helped her recover when she was hit by a car, a story that I wrote about for AKC's Family Dog Magazine, which won an award for inspirational feature. 

She wouldn’t stop getting up on the couch, so I put a special blanket in her spot in the corner. Then when she stopped jumping up on the couch, I wished she would do it again. When she couldn’t go upstairs anymore, I got her an extra downstairs bed. First thing in the morning when I came downstairs, I got down on the floor and gave her a body hug. She put her paw over my arm. 

In the past year, as I was weaning off some of my meds, she was adding on. I asked at the vet what happens with a dog like this, and she said that one day, they aren’t able to get up. 

It didn’t happen that way. First, the possible ways that I jinxed it. (Take this with a “grain of salt.”) I hadn’t wanted to put her through going to the groomer, so I hadn’t done it for a while, but her coat had gotten so full of dander that I took her. I kept buying small bags of dog bones because I figured she couldn’t possibly live long enough to go through a big bag. Then I figured that this was silly and got her a big bag. 

She had gone to her home-away-from-home at Jim and Jane’s when we went to Wellfleet for another fun family vacation at Diane and David’s. On Sunday, the day of my return, Jane called and texted to say come back as soon as possible, Maddie was sick. She thought it was another UTI. The next day when I took Maddie to the vet, there was some confusion. The vet who saw her said it was a UTI and to stop her pneumonia meds. The vet who prescribed said meds said it was not a UTI and don’t stop the meds. An ultrasound found something strange, a possible “foreign object” stuck in her digestive tract. They tried to fill her with fluids to flush it out, and when this was not successful, they said to take her to what they call VESH, aka the emergency vet in Deerfield, aka Veterinary Emergency & Specialty Hospital, where they had saved her when she was hit by a car as a puppy. She stayed the night.

Will you get this off of me?

The next day, a surgeon called me to say that she would need surgery to get “it” out. She was so full of gas that they could not see what “it” was, by the way. I had half an hour to decide. I cried. I wasn’t ready to go up to Deerfield to put her down. Maybe I should have, because she was already past her life expectancy. It would cost $5,000, on top of the approximately $3,000 in tests over the past several days. I didn’t even have time to consult with my vet. She was 15.5 years old. Was I really going to put her through surgery? The vet said that after a couple of weeks of recovery, she could be back to where she was. I talked to the kids. They said they knew me well enough to know that I would second guess if I didn’t do it.

They did the surgery. It wasn’t what they thought. In non-medical terms, her colon was messed up. The next morning when I talked to the doctor, he said her colon had twisted, then untwisted, and he had done a resection. The recovery would now be more complicated. More dire though, something bad had caused it. Probably something like cancer. She would need more tests. She was having trouble standing up. If I took her home, she would have at least four weeks of diarrhea. Just as my first thought the day before was that I couldn’t put her down, my thought that day was that I would have to. Jeff came with me

They brought her into a room where we waited. She looked OK. I told her all the friends she would see in Heaven. "You'll see Sam, and Simon, and Winnie, and Misty," I said through the tears. I realized as I write this that I didn't say she would see Charlie, the Golden who attacked me. I guess I can be forgiven.

For the past year or so, when I looked at her lying in a patch of sunlight on the rug, it was like watching Sam on the blue living room rug, in his spot near the window. Was Sam still breathing? Was she? It seemed both like she could die any day and that she would never die. I didn’t put it on Facebook, but by writing on NextDoor that I was looking for ideas on what to do with her beds, it had almost the same effect. (Someone told me, correctly, that I could take them to Dakin, the Humane Society animal shelter in Springfield. I have packed them up and that’s what I’m going to do.) People have been so kind, sending me flowers and cards and feeding me cake. It is so strange to come home to a quiet house. I cried so much that I had to gasp for air. It stops and starts and stops again. She kept me company after the kids left. We have been alone together for a long time. I still think, when the sun starts to go down, that it is time to walk her. 

I found a pet loss support group through the Dakin website. The meeting was helpful. I am keeping busy though not sleeping as well as I usually do. Something about losing a dog makes me want to pull out weeds, or deadhead like I did with Simon. At tennis, George asked why I was playing so well. I said that maybe all the toxins had come out with the crying. Some people say to get another dog right away, some say not to get a “rebound dog,” and some say not to get one at all. I’m pretty sure that I will get a dog, though not right away. For some reason, it feels disloyal to do it too soon. 

Michael Gordon photo/Family Dog Magazine story

Saturday, April 9, 2022

More fun with fingernails, and why injections were not as bad as I feared

 I wouldn't want to say that a bone marrow biopsy can prepare you for anything, but when it comes to pain and discomfort, it's right up there. I tried to keep that in mind when I went to Worcester to get the steroid injections in my fingers a couple of weeks ago. I thought she was going to do it in my cuticles. Somehow that idea was more freaky to me than what the  dermatologist actually did – injections BELOW the cuticle, in the top joint of my finger.

I asked if this was a series, and if she was going to do it in every finger even though not all were involved, i.e. disintegrating. The answer was yes (a month apart) and yes (for now).

To recap, the problem seems to stem from graft vs. host disease of the fingernail.

She's the only dermatologist who has used a freezing spray. It works well. I had read somewhere that doctors use a nerve block first. She said that would be worse than the injection itself. So she sprayed a little on each finger. The injection in each finger was quick. Just one sharp sting in each. They were bleeding, so she bandaged each one. I decided my hands looked like Nadal's when he tapes his fingers. 

Someone had asked if I would have trouble driving, and the answer is no I didn't. I headed over to Margaret and Nick's for dinner. Always nice to integrate a visit with good friends, for good food and good company, into the medical appointments. Or with Diane and David for the same. 

Then the next day to a different dermatologist to look at some spots, with directions to do the usual, treat my hands for five days with a combination of chemo cream, Efudex, and Calcipotriol, which you can do for a shorter time (five days) than just the Efudex. I don't know why I find it so annoying. Well yes, I do. It's a process. One tube has a top that doesn't fit on well, and it oozes all over the place. Put on gloves. Hands sweat. Take them off (the gloves, not the hands) in the middle of the night, without realizing it, along the lines of the days when I slept in rollers and pulled them out in the middle of the night.

Another nail, well, actually half a nail, turned so thin it was like tissue paper. The tissue paper part came off. Well, I helped it off. I hope the steroid injections help the part that is growing in to grow in properly. 

I asked if anyone did this closer to where I live. She said that she and another specialist in Providence are the only ones who do it around here. I don't actually mind. Worcester isn't too far. 

I am more annoyed by the problem on my nose. I wrote about that one here.

But hey, these things are fixable, and a lot of things aren't. 

Saturday, March 19, 2022

Unexpected but predictable nightmares

Morning meds

 I was sure that after my first (very exciting) time back at the movies the other day , I would have nightmares about the difficult topics and tragedies shown in the Oscar-nominated Live Action Shorts, which I saw at the Amherst Cinema. In the Before Times, I enjoyed seeing all of these shorts (three of them, including animated and documentary), and plan to see the other two. I had asked friends who went to the movies if they felt safe, and they said yes, there was nobody there. Sure enough, it was an audience of five, all of whom had to show proof of vaccination and wear a mask. I hope the Amherst Cinema can stay in business. I made a donation according to my means...which is not a lot. 

But my self-conscious is so myopic. I had a nightmare about my pills and my disintegrating fingernails. Or maybe that's just the way the brain works.

I wrote about all the pills I take. The Valtrex is one big horse pill. Once time I choked on it and was alone and thought I was going to die. It was stuck in my throat, and I felt like I couldn't breathe. I live close to the fire station. I don't know what I was thinking, but I ran to the door and thought of running down the street to the fire station. Then suddenly it went down. Now that I have been off prednisone for a while, maybe I can stop it or cut down.

Interestingly (OK in journalism you don't use that word because your words are supposed to be interesting and you shouldn't point it out to the reader but it's my blog), I was just listening to Terry Gross interview a doctor, Dr. Jonathan Reisman, who wrote a book, "The Unseen Body." Each chapter is about a specific body part or body fluid from his perspective as a doctor. He was talking about what he called the "fairly stupid" design of the throat, like so: 

"Specifically, the throat has to take food, drink saliva, other things that we mean to swallow and make sure they go into the one tube, the esophagus, the food tube, which goes down to the stomach. The tube right next to the esophagus, literally millimeters away, is the windpipe, which goes down to the lungs. And every single time something passes through the throat, its most important job is to make sure that that - whatever it is besides air does not go down the windpipe... If you try to talk while swallowing just once or laugh with your mouth full, as we all know, sadly, you know, you can aspirate, choke and die just from one little slip up."

Well, I haven't choked on food, knock wood, but I am always choking on my water or whatever else I'm drinking. For someone who eats ridiculously slowly, I seem to INHALE my water rather quickly. In any case, I dreamt I was choking on a big pill as was the case in real life.

As for my fingernail nightmare, I dreamt that someone looked at the finger without the nail and said, "EEEEUU," or however you would spell the expression of someone saying something is gross.

Back to waking life, another nail is partially off. Someone asked how many are involved, and I counted six. The steroid injections in my cuticles are scheduled for Wednesday in Worcester. I can't exactly say I'm looking forward to it but I am looking forward to getting something done about it.