In 2009 I had the opportunity to spend both quality and quantity time with my mother while she recovered from surgery. Her recovery took about eight seconds—for which I’m very thankful—but then I got snowed in at her house.
Here’s a photo of her bedquarters. [Get it?? Like headquarters?? Oh, I crack me up.]
From this command center she was able to direct and supervise all activities. Like me clearing two feet of snow off my car.
Spending this much time in her home was illuminating because I hadn’t lived with my mother since about 1982. Also because for about that same amount of time, I’ve been the oldest person I’ve lived with.
My mother has taught me many valuable lessons over the years, like these gems.
• Don’t giggle and fidget in church, but if you can’t help yourself, scoot over near another family so as not to shame us.
• Red wine vinegar is not the same as red wine.
• When arriving home after a long car trip, no one uses the bathroom until the car is unpacked.
• If you pay a kid a quarter for every tick they find on themselves after camping, they’re likelier to inspect their nooks and crannies more diligently. Plus, they’ll also check the dog.
As you can see, she’s a wise and wonderful woman.
And that weekend she taught me something else … how to be 78 years old. She’s actually ten years older now, but has grown weary of teaching me things. If I want to know how to be 88 years old, I’ll just do these things with more verve and gusto.
If you, too, would like to know how to act 78 years old, this will get you started.
Get up at 4 a.m., make a pot of coffee and read for three hours. Then go back to bed, making it seem like you get up early AND sleep late simultaneously.
Upon waking, immediately turn on the TV and make a full pot of coffee.
Eat constantly, but only tiny dabs of this or that.
Coffee, coffee and more coffee.
Watch TV but only for about 90 seconds at a time because everything reminds you of a story … or something you need to remember … or a question you’ve been wondering about for several years. Glance wistfully at your computer, knowing all answers live there, but also knowing said answers prefer to hide from you.
Turn the coffeepot off.
Two minutes later, brew a cup of tea.
Make sure you are—and this appears to be of the utmost importance—make sure you are AT ALL TIMES within three feet of a box of Kleenex. If you think you’ll breach that perimeter, pluck a couple and shove them into your pocket or your sleeve or between two buttons on your shirt.
If you don’t bathe by noon, just take a “PTA Bath” reminding yourself that the mailman doesn’t care how you look. [Hint: The A stands for armpits, but the P and the T are not words an elderly woman with a proper upbringing should say. Except to her daughter. Who will crack up and tell all her friends what a hoot it is when old ladies lose their inhibitions.]
Even though you’ve cooked two-and-a-half million chickens for Sunday dinner in the last 50+ years, confess you never really liked to eat fried chicken. This makes your daughter feel guilty. Especially after she buys fried chicken to stock the fridge during your recovery.
When recovering from surgery, eschew stairs, Scrabble and salt. But not sherry.
We’re having a kinda-sorta Snow Day today in Colorado.
I say “kinda-sorta” because even though all around town everything is closed, our local school district remained open…not even on a delayed schedule! I do feel for the school officials because they have to make the call to cancel school by 4:30 a.m. and this storm was fairly puny then. It is, however, still snowing. And whether they cancel or not, half the people are mad at them.
Now, I haven’t had kids in school for ten years or so, so this really doesn’t affect me. In fact, since I work at home, Snow Days should really just be a blip on my radar, a quaint phrase that doesn’t apply to me, much like no shirt no service, or you must be this tall to ride, or speed limit signs.
Nothing is different from my regular days, except my husband is home.
He’s been well-trained, though, and knows that even if I’m staring off into nothingness, or completing the crossword puzzle, or sitting with my eyes closed, perhaps snoring delicately, I am “writing” and not to be disturbed.
But even though my job today isn’t affected one bit by a snowstorm, I remain unmotivated to do what I should be doing.
As I write this, it’s 1:16pm. I’m supposed to be in the home stretch of editing my forthcoming book EIGHT WEEKS TO A COMPLETE NOVEL, but I am not.You know what I’ve done today?
Here’s a partial list….
Took an extra 45 minutes and finished a book I’m reading for my book club three weeks from now.
Googled whether it’s possible to roast a whole chicken in the crockpot. It is.
Googled recipes for roasting a whole chicken in the crockpot. But Becky, you say, that’s not wasted time if you need to eat dinner tonight. Ah, but you don’t realize I’d already done this research several days ago. I knew it could be done, but continued reading recipes long after I’d already decided what I was going to do, poultry-wise.
Created an elaborate spice rub for said chicken.
Fought with said chicken to convince it to release the giblets.
After an embarrassingly long time, realized it was just the neck and it remained stubbornly attached, much like my own neck. I only hope nobody comes along with a pair of kitchen shears and whacks my neck from my body.
Washed my hands approximately 7,000 times.
Wrangled the chicken into the crockpot to rest on a bed of onions which I will turn into a rich, brown gravy when the chicken rests après roasting.
Washed my hands another 7,000 times.
Googled how to turn a bed of onions and pan drippings into a rich, brown gravy.
Within a three-minute period, stared at my manuscript, excited to see I was just a few pages from the end; realized I hadn’t actually written that section; checked to see what was going on in Facebookland.
Chatted with Becky’s Book Buddies about our most and least favorite Halloween candy.
Contemplated why there’s been no mention of candy corn over at Becky’s Book Buddies.
Bothered my kids via text, my siblings via email, and my financial planner by phone.
Swooned over an unexpected email from a participant in my EIGHT WEEKS TO A COMPLETE NOVEL workshop who said, and I quote, “Thank you so much for the workshop. You offered a ton of information, and because of your classy humor, it all made sense to me. You have inspired me to get serious about my writing, and I’m looking forward to reading your new book.”
Puzzled over the phrase “classy humor” and tried to suss out whatever sarcasm might be lurking there.
Ate twice. Once with gusto, once with ennui.
Plucked a long gray hair from my chin.
Marveled at its length while I searched for a ruler.
Investigated world records for chin hair.
Decided people need to know all of this.
So tell me, dear reader … what do you do on Snow Days? If you’ve never had one, what do you think you’d do?
Choose your winner in the 1 and 2 face-off and type the number in the red box.
Do the same for 3 and 4 all the way through 15 and 16
Then choose your winner in the next round of face-offs until you end up with your final choice in the WINNER square
Email Becky@BeckyClarkBooks.com. Attach your saved bracket with all the squares filled in. Put “March Murder Madness” in the subject line.
The official winning brackets will be determined randomly
Fine, Becky, but what might I win??
If you’re one of the first three entries emailed that match the winning individual brackets, you will receive a coveted fab and funny BeckyClarkBooks pen!
If you are the first entry emailed that matches ALL the brackets, you are the Grand Prize Winner! You will receive two coveted fab and funny BeckyClarkBooks pens AND a copy of FOUL PLAY ON WORDS!
In the event nobody matches ALL the brackets, the Grand Prize will go to the first entry emailed with the most matching brackets.
So, get those brackets filled out and emailed PRONTO! The time stamp on my receipt of your email could determine whether you win or lose.
Contest runs March 16, 2019 to March 23, 2019. Winners will be notified soon after that at the email you used for entry.
Here’s the metaphorical small print … contest is open to U.S. residents only, 21 years or older. This is just a fun way to interact with my readers and offer some small tokens of my esteem. Regardless of how you heard about it, this contest is in no way affiliated with WordPress, Facebook, Twitter, or any other platform. It’s just me being me.
In the event you can’t make the PDF work, print it out, fill it out by hand, take a photo of it and email the photo back to me. (And don’t even consider contacting me with technical questions, because I won’t be able to answer them. The only advice I’d have for you is to go eat some chocolate then try again, however many times feels right.)
Musicals make me swoon with joy at the dance numbers. Those flying feet, the percussion, the precision. I wanted to do it so bad.
As a kid, though, I don’t remember even asking if I could take lessons. Maybe I didn’t even realize that was a thing. Maybe I knew there was no money for that. Or maybe I was afraid to find out I was no good at it and would never be another Shirley Temple.
But I’m old now, and have my own money and a car to get myself to lessons. I also try to do things that scare me these days.
As the Ghost of Christmas Present says to Ebenezer Scrooge, “There is never enough time to do or say all the things that we would wish. The thing is to try to do as much as you can in the time that you have. Remember, time is short, and suddenly, you’re not here anymore.”
In early summer of 2016, I was at a party and a friend of mine mentioned that she had been taking beginning tap lessons at our local arts center. I perked up immediately. The more she talked, and the more I drank, the more eager I became.
I bought some black lace-up taps shoes and registered for the next 6-week session. I wasn’t very good and the class wasn’t really a start-at-the-beginning kinda thing. The same people (mostly middle-aged women like me) just kept signing up and so the instructor just moved ’em all along and tried to drag the rest of us newbies with them.
The few sessions I took were hella fun, though, and I learned lots of basic steps. We did some routines that I could mostly follow along with, as long as I stood in the back where I could see someone who could actually remember all the steps. After a time, I even managed a passable time step!
But in the autumn, I started having weird pains in my back, which, long story short, turned out to be that pesky tumor in my spine. I went under the knife almost exactly two years ago today.
Cut to ”” I can say that because I watch movies ”” a couple of weeks ago. I’m still feeling the effects of surgery, which mainly manifests as numbness in my left leg. I thought it would be gone by now (heck, I thought it would be gone about ten minutes after surgery because I’m delusional like that!), but it’s not. So I thought, “Screw it. That ghost is right. Time IS short.”
The arts center still offers adult tap lessons, but they are at a completely inconvenient time for me, so I started searching for online resources. Lo and behold, I found one!
For the cost of two sessions at the arts center, I bought this online tutorial package. I can do the lessons in my basement whenever it works for me and go back over the stuff I find difficult.
There’s also a Facebook group for the subscribers of the class and it’s inspiring and encouraging to see the videos they post, and to hear their stories.
So far, I’ve only been doing the warm-up, which I can alllllmost do ”” *shakes fist at paradiddles* ”” and the first lesson, which was a breeze up until the end. And then the delightfully optimistic Aussie instructor told me to go faster. Which is hilarious. Partly because I’m not that graceful, partly because my numb foot doesn’t always do what I say, and partly because my balance is iffy sometimes.
But guess what? I’m tapping! And it’s fun. Maybe there will be videos of my progress, yanno, when I progress!
What have you always wanted to do? What’s stopping you? Can you tap dance? Any tips to help me speed up?
I read an article a while back by a guy whose wife went on a business trip, leaving him home alone with his teenager. Since it was summer vacation, he decided to make a list of Six Movies All Parents Should Watch With Their Teens, “essential viewing because of their cultural and historical relevance.”
My husband and I tried to make our kids culturally literate in all aspects of their lives. They’ve had all the cool music seep into their subconscious ”” on vinyl, no less ”” Sinatra, Queen, Boston, Earth Wind and Fire, Tom Lehrer, Billie Holiday, Pat Benatar, Green Day, and The Beatles, to mention just a few renowned troubadours held in the highest esteem in BeckyLand. They learned how to swing dance. They’ve seen as many Broadway shows in person as we could afford to attend, and the rest on DVD and video. They’ve eaten all kinds of food from when they were tiny. They’ve read widely and deeply in many genres. We traveled with them as often as we could. We watched with them the popular TV shows of the day, which was, admittedly, much easier in the 1990s and 2000s when there were fewer channels.
I will say, the day they laughed at the second or third layer joke in The Simpsons was a proud day for me. Not ashamed to say I wiped a wee tear.
So here is the list that guy proposed:
All the President’s Men
To Kill A Mockingbird
RBG (the new biopic about Ruth Bader Ginsburg which I haven’t see yet)
I don’t necessarily disagree with any of those, and his covers the historical portion of cultural literacy a bit better than mine, but here’s my list:
The Princess Bride
True Grit (John Wayne version)
Sleepless in Seattle
The King & I … or 1776 …. or The Sound of Music … or Camelot
Stand By Me … or The Sandlot
So, what would be on your list? Keep in mind we’re talking about young teenagers becoming culturally literate here. (Which is why I had to leave off one of my all-time faves, Shawn of the Dead. Such great, gory zombie fun! But probably not for tykes.)
Mostly I hang out with other writers or people who absolutely don’t care that I’m a writer. (I’m looking at you, Dad.) But occasionally I find myself in the company of someone who thinks I am simply fantastic for no other reason than there are books published with my name on them.
It inflates my ego more than a summer supply of beach toys.
But that doesn’t last long, for I know the truth about my “glamorous writer’s life.”
For instance, I know that sometimes I must hand-deliver a sandwich bag full of dog poo to the vet’s office.
And that is not a glamorous dog I own, either. Trust me.
Today marks one year since my spinal surgery. You remember, that day they sliced through the fascia in my upper back, hand-cranked my muscles out of the way, chipped away part of my spine, scooped out that benign meningioma, then whispered to my nerves an admonition to behave.
Remember? No? Honestly, me neither. But I’ve been re-reading all the notes I took before and after surgery, the texts I sent myself in the middle of the night in the hospital so I wouldn’t forget anything, the Facebook posts charting my phenomenal victories. “Two laps around the kitchen in my walker … woohoo!”
I was fastidious about keeping notes because one, that’s how I roll, and two, because when I found out I had this tumor and needed surgery, I searched ”” and I mean SEARCHED ”” for first-person accounts. But there were none to be had. So I knew, if I survived, I’d have to write one.
There are some interesting passages in my notes.
“You can do a lot of things with words, but describing pain isn’t one of them. Shooting, stabbing, aching, throbbing, twinging, cramping, seering … none of these describe anything happening to me.”
“When that pain roars back it’s like a bullet train. Fast and directly at me. Feels quite personal. Like a betrayal.”
“I can absolutely see people just giving up. Pain is hard. Moving is hard. Everything is hard. Here [in the hospital] they just do stuff for you. Or they don’t and you realize you just don’t care.”
This fascinates me because I honestly don’t remember much pain.
“My neurosurgeon came in to check on me [the next day], and was very pleased with himself. Said I was fully cured. I disagreed with him just the teensiest bit.”
“These texts to myself don’t make any noise. Once in awhile, though, it makes my “sending” noise and I wonder who I just told all my poop info to.”
This is hilarious in retrospect because I had obviously been cogent enough to turn the sound on and off, but I acted like it was a highly unusual rift in the Universe.
Mostly my middle-of-the-night texts were perfectly lucid. And then there was this one: “I hope I don’t have to muster all the persistence/hope/etc. I’d prefer it to be thrust upon me.”
And, yes, I was on drugs …. “Your leg pain brought to you this morning by Sleeping Too Long On Your Left Hip. Side effects include cursing, saying bad words, expletives, and grandiloquent language. Treatment includes pancakes and finger weapons. Pew-pew-pew.”
When people ask how I am these days, I tell them the truth. Still numb across my upper back, my right underarm, my lady bits, and my left leg. My balance is weird, so it always looks like I’m walking just the teensiest bit drunk. Still some things I can’t do ”” walk barefoot, run without looking like a walrus on the beach, jump, or hurry for any reason.
But that’s about it. Can’t really complain, considering all the slicing, cranking, chipping, and scooping. Unfortunately, my recovery after 12 months isn’t vastly different from my recovery after 2 months. Except I’m less cranky today. And I still can’t clip my toenails very easily.
The difference between 2 months and 12 months is clearly one of acceptance. I’ve lost perspective after all this time about how I really am, versus how much I’ve simply adapted to my limitations.
But I continue to surprise myself. I still work with my personal trainer. Last night she had me do single-leg squats with my foot behind me on a chair. Neither one of us thought I could do it. For the first set, I glommed onto her for balance while getting myself sorted. For the second set, I glommed onto her and then she gave me 15-pound weights to hold and walked across the room. For the third set, she stayed across the room. Afterward she said, “You couldn’t do that before your surgery.”
So, yes, acceptance and attitude. But I would like to find an ending for this tale of sound and fury so I can start crafting my memoir. I was thinking about signing up for the Colfax Half-Marathon, but am so relieved I came to my senses. Running like a walrus on a beach for two blocks of a 13-mile race is a lousy ending to a memoir. Worse if I actually croaked while doing it, which is the likely scenario.
Then I was thinking that the ending would be when I went to soap up my armpit and it magically felt like an actual armpit, but that doesn’t seem like it’s going to happen any time soon. Or perhaps ever.
And then I was thinking, maybe the ending will be when I can tap dance. But I wasn’t really doing that particularly well before the surgery.
So now, I don’t know. How do you think I should end my story about an ordeal that hasn’t technically ended?
It’s been eight weeks since my surgery. I’m cranky and I have a litany of woes. For example, taking a shower hurts my skin. My knee buckles randomly and unexpectedly. My balance sucks. I’m still numb in my entire left leg, my right underarm, across my upper back and in my lady bits. (It dawned on me yesterday that list comprises half my stupid body.) I don’t know if I should be doing something I’m not, or stop doing something I am. I have very little core strength. And yesterday I realized I could rest my finger in the indentation of my incision and feel the upward splay of my back on either side. It feels like the Sydney Opera House back there.
Shall I go on?
I feel weak, flabby, confused, frustrated, and pissed off. And I’m tired of feeling weak, flabby, confused, frustrated, and pissed off.
But before anyone gets twitchy with the platitudes, yes, I know how lucky I am. I can drive. I can type. I can walk, talk, squawk, doubletalk, and jaywalk around the clock while I listen to Johann-freakin-Bach, but I can’t clip my toenails.
And, yes, I know it’s only been two months “and these things take time” so I should have patience. But I don’t. Not one thing has changed in the last couple of weeks. Except maybe my optimism.
So if you feel the urge to remind me that I’m lucky or that I should just be patient, well … don’t. Just don’t. It’s not helpful and makes me go all spider monkey. And if you do, I will be forced to creep through the cover of darkness and stab you repeatedly in that well-meaning place where your wisdom, compassion, and common sense resides. Repeatedly.
And I simply don’t have the energy.
Instead, tell me, you know, something else. And while you’re considering your comment, please enjoy these exquisite demotivational posters from Despair.com that seem appropriate today.
Maybe “easy” isn’t quite the right word, but now I can boast that I have a leaf guy, a doggie dermatologist, AND a neurosurgeon on speed dial.
I’ve been whining for several months about a pain I’ve been having in my upper back. It started as a knot under my right shoulder blade. I assumed it hung around so long because nobody could reach it ”” not me or my trainer, chiropractor, or massage therapist. Eventually it moved from there, but still we couldn’t pinpoint exactly, nor treat it effectively.
I wasn’t particularly worried. The pain stabbed me early in the morning, but always let me sleep. Worst pain was when I had to blow my nose. Luckily that only happened once or twice a day. Exercising didn’t hurt, and if I set my timer to remember to move around every hour or so, I was fine. A couple of ibuprofins did the trick to alleviate most of the pain. And I didn’t even need to do that every day.
But clearly, something was wrong, since it was hanging around. I went to my doctor who said it sounded like some nerve damage, maybe a pinched nerve. By then the pain would occasionally shoot around my right side, under my arm. We set up appointments for lab work, an ultrasound to check my gallbladder, and an MRI.
Labs and ultrasound completely normal. My MRI was scheduled for 6pm on Friday, January 6, 2017.
Halfway through the MRI a radiologist and nurse magically appeared and they and the technician started acting differently. Their cryptic “noncommunication” spoke louder than any words.
I got home, knowing something was wrong. Before I left the imaging department, they gave me a CD with the MRI on it. My husband and I plugged it into the laptop. Nothing jumped out at us. No neon-colored blob with flashing arrows and aa-oog-ah horns like I expected based on the technician’s cryptic warning to call my doctor before noon on Monday if I hadn’t heard from anyone.
Within a couple of hours ”” 9pm on a Friday night ”” a doctor called. She scared the shit outta me by telling me I had a 2.3cm mass pushing on my spine, “probably a benign meningioma” but it “can’t wait until Monday.”
She said she’d talk to the neurosurgeon on call and report back. She called me 30 minutes later, less frantic now. The neuro will call me on Monday to schedule surgery. Because I was walking and talking fine, and not in serious pain, the impressive size of the mass is less worrisome. I could have been growing this thing for years. Apparently, I’m only “urgent” and not “emergent.” Pfft.
I checked my calendar. I have stuff to do In January, not the least of which was going to see the Tony award-winning “Fun Home” at the theatre, something I’ve been looking forward to for two years!
On Monday, January 9, I spoke with the neurosurgeon’s nurse who answered my immediate questions and set up an appointment for Friday 13th (which she assured me was the luckiest day).
She said after that appointment they’d schedule surgery within 2 weeks. We discussed the fact that they’re not worried about delaying like that, so I decided I wouldn’t either.
I felt much more calm after talking to her, finally feeling brave enough to google “spinal meningioma.”
Turns out I’m not such a special snowflake after all. Read this and this.
All week I’ve been back and forth in my head about whether I’ll be able to get to the theatre on Sunday the 15th. (Tomorrow for those of you keeping score.) The doctor who called the night of my MRI told me that I need to call 911 if I have “tingling, weakness, numbness, or loss of bladder/bowel control.” But that last one is kind of a no-brainer, don’t you think?
However, all week long, little by little, like an incoming North Sea tide, I’ve had a creeping numbness spreading over me. I didn’t call 911 ”” surprise ”” because I knew I was seeing the neurosurgeon at 1:00 on Friday the 13th. Besides, I’ve been told that’s the luckiest day. It’s not a numbness that renders me paralyzed or anything. More like I’ve had novocaine shots all around my torso down my legs to my toes. To see me walk, you might not know I’m doing it a bit goofy, planting my feet very methodically and a bit wider than normal. But just like an inflamed taste bud on your tongue, it seems like it’s a thousand times worse than it really is.
But I still packed my hospital Go Bag with all the important stuff ”” books, Kindle, charger, pens and notebook, comfy clothes for when I’m discharged. I was sure when the neurosurgeon saw me and I described my numbness he’d scramble his staff like so many fighter jets and I’d be whisked across the street to the hospital.
But you know what he said?
“Yeah, your spine’s not working so good right now.”
Kinda love him.
He’s calm and very, very patient. He answered all my questions and told me how many of these operations he’s done before. I told him I wished that number was higher. He deadpanned, “I do other stuff too, you know.”
He told me to go to the theatre on Sunday. So I will. And I’ll enjoy every minute.
I’ll spare you all the gory details of the surgery, although I want to remember to ask somebody to take photos for me. Suffice it to say, this tumor is in my upper back, filling the space in my spinal cord between T2 and T3. It’s pushing the nerve way off to the side. He’ll go in, snip it out, then smooth everything back where it goes, all over the course of three hours. Remarkable, eh?
Surgery isn’t technically scheduled yet but I suspect it’ll be late next week. I’ll be in the hospital about 4 days, depending on my pain (again, ay caramba!), but no bed rest afterward. Up and at ”˜em, with restrictions like no lifting, no exercise other than walking, and such. Follow ups at 3 and 6 weeks.
I’m writing this on Saturday afternoon January 13th and I’m beginning to find the humor in most every part of this situation.
For instance, in the shower this morning I was irked that the water wasn’t getting hot enough and kept nudging it up. Then I remembered. “Oh yeah. I’m numb.”
They gave me some special soap to use before I come for my surgery. Because apparently, my homemade lard-and-dill pickle shower gel suddenly isn’t good enough.
They told me I’d be able to do light housework. I told them they were wrong.
They told me it might take up to three weeks for the anesthesia to clear from my system and that until it does, I might find I get weepy or angry for no reason. I caught my husband’s eye and said, “See? It’s been the anesthesia all these years.”
I’ll be here all week, folks. Don’t forget to tip your waitress.
And I got to make one of my favorite stupid jokes. I asked the doctor if I’d be able to play the piano after my surgery. He said of course I could. “Great! Because I couldn’t before.”
He laughed and all was right with the world.
It’s been suggested that Nala can be my service dog while I recover. But in her befuddlement that I was trying to nap the other day ”” something she’s never seen before ”” she literally jumped on the bed and sat on my head.
I’m thinking her talents are better used elsewhere. Not sure where. Just elsewhere.
While this is major surgery ”” very delicate and very scary ”” I don’t really have a choice about it. As with all experiences, I’ll blog and write about it because that’s how I process and remember information. I’ll post updates here and on Facebook. I’ll also keep trying to find the humor in my situation. Mainly by encouraging my surgeon to do this …