Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Hallmark Hangover

I might have to give up watching Hallmark movies.

It’s okay. It’s a recent addiction so I probably won’t need to stay in rehab for very long.
I have a TV compulsion, which I blame on my Baby Boomer label. That, and a childhood spent in a trailer park devoid of climbing trees. When your yard measures eight feet by forty and is covered with a concrete slab, trees are out of the question.

Sure, we played kickball outside, but with all the cars parked up and down the street it was more like a game of Dodgeball With Buicks. So I watched TV a lot and memorized the entire schedule of TV Guide.
There weren’t many kids in our retiree neighborhood, either, but through the magic of television I became bosom buddies with Gilligan, Jeannie, and The Rifleman.  Wow, did we ever have good times together. If life got boring or lonely, the answer was to go watch TV—it was a harmless little diversion.
I learned how to read, too. How else would I have been able to memorize the TV Guide? I still love the smell of libraries and bookstores, which is why Kindle will never take over the world—paperbacks don’t need to be recharged. So when all three TV channels ran bowling shows or the evening news, I could always go solve crimes with Nancy Drew. Or dream of romance in musty castles (devoid of vampires), and cheer on the boldness of Anne of Green Gables who, it turns out, really is a kindred spirit.
I read books that make me smile and watch movies that make me laugh. I don’t do scary or disturbing, no matter how many Oscar nominations tag along. Life is frightening and unpredictable enough—TV and books are escapes from reality.
But not long after I got married, I gave up paper romances for good. Not only were they becoming R rated, but they always ended at the same place—and they lived happily ever after.  How can a real man and woman in a real marriage compete with romances that end at the beginning? I found myself wishing my husband would sweep me off my feet every night instead of propping his up after work and falling asleep in his chair. And I was never satisfied with the body God gave me, wishing instead that I had tiny feet and delicate ankles and a petite frame like the heroines of even Christian novels.
Living vicariously through the lives of vaporous characters is a two-edged sword.

I know we can be inspired and educated and encouraged when we read or watch people overcome challenges through books or movies. But there is also a seed of discontent that waits to be sown when we compare our everyday lives with the fiction found on three hundred pages recounting an entire life or in a concise, two hour movie.
Which is why I need to join a Hallmark Movies Anonymous group. Now that Santa has flown home for the season complete with several Mrs. Clauses for all of his sons, Hallmark’s attention has turned to its spring bridal runway of happily ever after movies.  And that’s a recipe for romantic disaster for an oldly-wed like me.

If the most important day of a woman’s life is the first one she spends married, what kind of future does that predict for the new Mr. and Mrs.?
Marrying the man of your dreams doesn’t end all the drama that threatened to keep you from reaching the altar. Life is drama—marriage is just a part of it. I want Hallmark to turn out a movie that starts after the honeymoon and gives me hope for the days when I fall into a chair before my man can sweep me off my pudgy feet.
A wedding is not the destination—it’s the vehicle.
Hmm . . . maybe the networks could be talked into bringing back My Mother The Car.

Now that was a classic.

Sunday, January 26, 2014

. . . and a Happy New Year!

It seemed like such a simple thing ~ get a referral, get blood tests, get some hormones. Get a clue.
I had to wait two more weeks before the pharmacist had an opening in her schedule. Sadly, I focused on Christmas. The advent calendar on the wall no longer reminded me of the coming birth of the Christ Child. Instead, it represented T minus seventeen days until the Cavalry arrived with my hormones.
I know this sounds overly dramatic to some of you.

If you’re a man reading this, you’ve probably had it up to here with hormone excuses.  But I’ve done some research on all this stuff and it’s serious business. Think about this—there are more than fifty hormones in the human body, all delicately balanced upon each other like a row of dominos. Take out one of them—something small and insignificant, like estrogen for example—and the whole house of cards comes toppling down. 
Probably on top of you.
Think about that, Jack, the next time you want to drag your menopausal Jill up the hill to fetch a stupid pail of water. Go get it yourself.
Finally, it was the Thursday before Christmas. My doctor’s office faxed the paperwork over to the pharmacist, including every single test ever performed on me—in duplicate.  The only thing missing was the results from the fasting blood draw. Remember? The test that delayed everything three more days?
I have no words.
“I can help you,” the pharmacist said in the voice of an angel sent from God. “We can make you feel better.” I knew I sat in the presence of royalty—or maybe Wonder Woman.
“You need estrogen and progesterone and testosterone and thyroid support and iodine,” she concluded.  “And we can have it all for you tomorrow. All we need is your doctor’s approval.”
It was like somebody sucked all the air out of my happiness balloon. Instantly I began to fast and pray.
“But it’s my body!” I panicked, knowing she had no idea what she was up against.  “Why does my doctor need to approve anything?” I whined.
She was sure there would be no delays. “We just need a little fax.”
She lost a couple of admiration points right then. Maybe I was mistaken about her being Wonder Woman. Maybe she was more like Superman’s Lois Lane—sincere, but terribly na├»ve. Because saying that all I needed was ‘a little fax’ from my doctor was like saying the federal deficit just needs a little loan. She seemed confident, though, and since it finally felt like someone had listened to me, I hung on to her assurance like a tandem skydiver—terrified of falling, but letting her control the ripcord.
That afternoon I called to see if the pharmacist was in possession of my miracle.
“No,” she replied.
I hate it when I’m right.
“Maybe you should contact your doctor to hurry things along,” she suggested.  Sure. “Hurry” wasn’t exactly in their vocabulary, but I called anyway. In a hurry.
“We’re still waiting for the doctor to approve it,” I was told.  “It’ll probably be ready tomorrow,” she fibbed.
The next afternoon I called my pharmacist.
“We have everything waiting here for you except the faxed approval,” she said.  “I called your doctor’s office this morning, but I still haven’t heard anything.  Why don’t you see if you can light a fire under them?”
I was pretty sure they were fireproof.
You know what comes next.  I called, the doctor had left for the day, didn’t sign anything, and wouldn’t be back until the day after Christmas. A week from now. 
Merry Christmas to me.
I no longer believe in Santa Claus. Or medical science. Or even superheroes. And, I decided, that’s the last time I go skydiving.
Thursday morning, December 26th, six weeks since I began asking for the impossible, I told my husband I was tired of being nice. I was tired of making phone calls. I was tired of being patient.  It was time to pull out some battle fatigues, storm the office, and liberate my captive prescription.
I put on lip gloss and climbed into our SUV.
Not a nurse was in sight when I entered the waiting room. I didn’t even take a chair but stood in the corner, waiting to pounce on the first walking stethoscope who came through the door. A pregnant woman in her eighth month of bladder pressure sat across the room. Sizing up my body language, she made it clear she’d been there first and gave me the stink eye. I was courageous, but I wasn’t stupid.

I waited my turn.
“Just a minute,” said the next nurse when I described my mission, and she disappeared around the corner. Soon a cheerful woman in a business suit came through the door and introduced herself to me as the office manager.
“You’re just the person I need to talk to,” I said.
She escorted me to the reception desk and I began to explain why I was there. We were interrupted by the nurse, scanning her computer.
“I was just checking your records,” she began.  “I see you were here last April and we ordered some blood work for you. Did you follow up on that?”
And that’s the moment I lost my salvation. And my patience. And my composure. But mostly my salvation.
“Okay,” I began, knowing my face and throat had suddenly flushed ten shades of mad. “I’ve been at this for over a month with this office.” I started at the beginning, and had just reached the part where they ruined my Christmas when the office manager held up her hand and said,
“I faxed the prescription to your pharmacist this morning.”
“You did? The doctor signed it?” I asked incredulously.  “Well, I could kiss your feet!” And then I skipped out of the building, light as a feather, virtually floating on air! And landed with a thud at the edge of the parking lot.
Call it premonition. Disbelief. Woman’s intuition. Or just plain old experience.  But I dialed the pharmacist right on the spot to make sure she really had the signed prescription on her hot little fax. She didn’t. It was nowhere in sight. She called her other office to see if it had been misdirected, but they’d never even heard of me.
I straightened my shoulders, put on more lip gloss, and went back in the building. Walking into the obscure nurses station—with no invitation and making no eye contact with any more pregnant women—I found the office manager. Who located the elusive, autographed documents and made photocopies so I could hand carry them thirty miles across town to my best friend, the compounding pharmacist.
The door did not hit my behind on the way out.
An hour later, I texted my longsuffering husband that, after six long weeks of negotiations, I was in possession of the liberated bag of hormones and on my way home.
“That was fast,” he joked.  “Were there any survivors at your doctor’s office?” 
It's been a month since I re-introduced my body to the hormones it used to manufacture on its own. I love them so much that if it was them or chocolate, Starbucks would have to close its doors forever. I owe my doctor a debt of gratitude for introducing me to my new best friend, the Compounding Pharmacist even though I think it's time she hired adults to run her office and sent everyone else back to high school.

And I'm voting Wonder Woman for president.
So Christmas came late at our house, but it snuck in a happy new year when it did.  I guess, the lesson here is anything worth having is worth waiting for, right?

Saturday, January 25, 2014

All I Want For Christmas . . .

“All I want for Christmas is my hormones,” I whined to my husband last month.
“Yeah,” I’m sure he said. "That’s all I want for Christmas, too.”  I may be estrogen deprived, but I have superior hearing.

And fairly good aim.
You might recall that I misplaced some important body parts last summer while snoozing in an operating room. My doctor was reassuring, though, and promised me I was better off without those defective organs. She said the hormones I was missing could be bought at the corner pharmacy for a fairly small amount of money.
She’s such a comedian.
After a couple of trial runs with one-size-fits-all estrogen, I realized that I am not, nor ever will be, an All. I am a Unique. But you can’t buy hormones for Uniques from Walgreens. No sirree. Instead, you have to make an appointment with a different kind of professional. Somebody most people, including medical folks, have never heard of. Someone called . . . a Compounding Pharmacist.
I have never felt more like a hippy.
It doesn’t matter, I was desperate. We were desperate. Look, you can’t just wipe out the complex program God built into a woman’s body—casually referred to as a reproductive system—and then throw a little estrogen at her and tell her to get on with her life.
She’ll take you out with a bazooka.
And here’s a little known fact, even by comedian doctors: woman cannot live by estrogen alone.  Telling her she can is like expecting a car to go from zero to eighty in ten seconds flat, just because you put in a new battery. If it’s out of oil and gas, too, you’re not getting that Chevy out of the garage any time soon.
I didn’t know this before my surgery. Now I know enough to write a book. Or at least a tiny little pamphlet.
Fortunately for me, my doctor told me she’d be happy to send me to a compounding pharmacist, and to let her know when I was ready. A couple of weeks later, my husband told me I was ready. He’s so intuitive.
I called my doctor’s office in mid November, hoping to have a brand new bag of hormones in my possession by the next week. Seven days. Remember that. Not since Titanic’s passengers were to told to "sit back and enjoy their trip" have expectations been so submarined.
“What pharmacy would you like to use?” the young nurse asked. I didn’t know I had a choice. The staff my doctor employs is sweet as can be, but I’m convinced every single one of them graduated from high school last week. I have makeup older than they are. And not one of them knew any more about compounding pharmacies than I did. So I got a name, called the doctor’s office back with the information, and spoke to a completely different nurse.
“Just a minute,” she interrupted. “Why do you need blood work for a pharmacist? Are they drawing your blood?”
I didn’t know who was drawing my blood. I just wanted somebody to do it and then give me a can of hormones. Was that too much to ask?
“Let me talk to the doctor,” she said, and put me on hold.  When she returned she said I couldn’t go to the pharmacist I’d found. The one they asked me to locate. The one I’d already spoken with. Instead, my doctor preferred I use someone of her choice. Seems like they could have told me that in the first place.
I could read the illegible handwriting on the wall.
So I contacted the new pharmacist, got a long list of necessary blood work, and was referred back to my doctor. Here’s where I get confused—why was I the liaison between these two professionals?  It took forty-eight hours just to get through all those phone calls. At that rate, all hopes of my husband ever having a balanced wife again were—well, actually he’s never had one.
I called my doctor’s office again.
“Please, please,” I begged the new confused nurse, who—big surprise—had never heard of a compounding pharmacist. "Just let me come in and give you some of my blood so I can go buy hormones!” 

It was kind of creepy. I didn’t know if saying that made me feel more like a vampire or a drug addict.
“Well, the doctor has to write your blood work order,” she stalled.  “Give us forty-eight hours and, when we have it, we’ll call you.”  
Now, don’t get me wrong. I adore my doctor. I respect her judgment. I even like the way she painted the walls in the waiting room. But how is it possible that nine out of her ten nurses—who know how to take blood pressure and give injections—can’t remember a simple promise to call a desperate woman the minute her blood tests are ordered?
Four days later I played another round of Nurse Roulette and called to see if the order had materialized.
“Oh, yeah,” I was told. “It’s here waiting for you.”
Waiting for me. Like I was holding them up. I drove over to the doctor’s office right away since they said the phlebotomist was still there. But when I arrived ten minutes later, I was told she finished early and had just left.
“But you told me to come right over!” I exclaimed, tears filling my eyes and spilling onto the paperwork the nurse held hostage in her hands. “And here I am!  Call her back! Stop her car! Give me the needle—I can probably find a vein!”
I think I scared them a little.
The next thing I knew, I was being ushered to a back room—far away from the terrified patients in the lobby—and suddenly a woman wearing a paisley coat and sunglasses set her purse down on the examining table and tied a giant rubber band around my arm.

She didn’t look very happy.
She sucked out almost all the blood the pharmacist wanted. Then she said I’d have to come back the next week for one more blood draw—something about fasting first. Yet another little detail they could have mentioned before they yanked her out of the car she left running in the parking lot.
It was now Friday, a week before Thanksgiving, and ten days since Inexperience waved a white flag and surrendered to Red Tape.  The phlebotomist and I struck a bargain—I’d come back in three days, and she could go home to drink a glass of wine and forget all about her crummy job.
“We’ll give you a call when the results are in,” the young nurse said cheerfully before shoving me out the door. I’ll bet, I thought sarcastically, and headed home to punch a frozen turkey. At least it couldn’t press charges.
I had a peaceful Thanksgiving, as well as a peaceful Black Friday, uninterrupted by a single pesky telephone call. It’s exactly what I should have wanted for the holidays.  Finally, on Monday, two and a half weeks into the search for my very own personal hormone supply, I called Nurse Number Seven. Who found my blood work from last April, as well as last June, but was clueless about my recent blood draw.
And that is why normal, everyday Americans come up with conspiracy theories. Because there’s absolutely no reason on God’s green earth for all that confusion except this—the FDA has dispatched counterintelligence determined to sabotage my freedom of pharmaceutical choice.
That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.
I sighed. Heavily. I think I even sobbed a little. Seemingly out of nowhere, my file suddenly appeared and the nurse spoke these five beautiful words –
“Your blood work is in.”  Then she hesitated. “And you want me to send it to . . . a pharmacist?”
Honest to Pete.  You can’t make this stuff up.

Tomorrow ~ And A Happy New Year

Photo courtesy of paparutzi's photostream @

Saturday, January 11, 2014

Life Sentence

“Making the decision to have a child is momentous. It is to decide forever to have your heart go walking around outside your body.”   ~Elizabeth Stone

“Mo is better!” the words shouted out on Facebook tonight.  What a relief. Our little granddaughter, Moira, eighteen hundred miles too far away for Chief and YaYa hugs, came through that nasty virus with a smile on her face and exhausted parents on the sofa.

She has no idea what she put everyone through.
“Great doctoring, mom and dad,” I congratulated in the comment box. They’re the unsung heroes, aren’t they? Yesterday my son texted me, “We’re trying to give her food and keep her hydrated.” She was sick for a week. I’m pretty sure that means her parents haven’t slept for a week. And last week Mo’s daddy was sick, and big sister, Tully, was sick, and Mo’s mommy was the doctor on call.
They never tell you about months like this when they all show up with presents at your baby shower. They’re not allowed. No one would ever have babies if they told you the truth.  Hallmark would go out of business if, instead of pretty pastel Welcome Sweet Baby cards, they sold, Your Party Is Over cards.
I feel for all you parents out there, in over your heads in the trenches.  I really do. With what’s left of my mid-life, hormonal brain, I remember teething and shots and breastfeeding and temper tantrums and growing pains and sibling rivalry and. . no, that’s it. I can’t remember anything else. I probably dealt with teenage rebellion, but teenagers are the reason parents become vegetables like me, and the statute of limitations is up on those years.

It’s not polite to sue your children for emotional abuse anyway. It’s best to stay in denial and pretend they were never teenagers.
Besides, somebody said grandchildren are the sweetest revenge. If you play your cards right, your grandbabies will always think you’re as awesome as Santa Claus. It almost makes up for your kids thinking you were mean and clueless for twenty years straight. What really makes up for that is knowing that now they understand.

And they understand even better when they’re up all night and you’re sound asleep at home with Grandpa.
Still, that doesn’t make it any easier when your grandbaby is sick and all you can do is send text messages asking how she’s doing. And pray. At bedtime. When you’re trying to fall asleep. And stop worrying. Because you live too far away to help. When you’re trying to fall asleep. At night. With Grandpa snoring next to you. Sound asleep. Like you want to be.

So . . . watching your kids raise kids doesn't mean you're done worrying about your kids. Now you worry about them worrying about their kids. And you never do get to retire. There’s no revenge in this. My heart is still on the hook.
I’m still a parent after all.