Tuesday, March 12, 2019

50 By 50

I turned 49 on Sunday. For the first time. Honestly. 

It came and went with all the pomp and circumstance a single mom would expect - errands, laundry, cooking, cleaning . . . 

Anyway, I figure since I'll be 50 Forty-Nine Part 2: Electric Boogaloo next year, I should probably have an idea of what I want to do when I grow up. I mean, I've always been a procrastinator, but even I have to admit that it's a bit ridiculous to be nearly 50 years old and unhappy with yourself. To that end, I came up with a bucket list of sorts. Or well, notsomuch a bucket per se. It's really more of a small measuring cup. Still . . .

I will lose 50 pounds by the time I'm 50. That's a pound a week. Completely achievable, if not challenging. Note I wrote that "I will lose 50 pounds", not "I want to lose 50 pounds." Because I have wanted to for pretty much all of my adult life. Clearly, wanting and doing are two entirely different things.

I'm extraordinarily unhappy with my appearance. I would go so far as to say I hate the way I look. I saw a picture of myself taken at the Support Person of the Year banquet and I cried. I legitimately cried. I mean, I know I'm fat, but seeing it right there on paper absolutely disgusted me. I have lost the same 10 pounds a hundred times in my life. I'm done.

I will write 50 blog posts by the time I'm 50. It's a far cry from the 324 posts I wrote in 2008, but it's more than the 5 I wrote in 2016.

I like the school and the kids where I work. I like my job. I'm not passionate about it though. And I detest the commute. Like many of us, I don't get up and think - I can't wait to get to work! I miss writing. Nothing makes me happier than getting comments from people saying that something I wrote made them think, or made them laugh, or let them know they aren't alone. I want to write. So, I'll start with a few blog posts.

I will do 12 random acts of kindness. Because - why not?

I will go on 12 dates. Unless the first one turns out to be with a psycho who tries to make a suit of my skin. Or he chews with his mouth open. Or he doesn't laugh. Hmmm, maybe I need to rethink this one. Maybe I should adopt 12 cats instead . . .

Tuesday, March 5, 2019

Sicking, Vampires, And Auspicious Write-Ups

I recently attended a mind-numbing training. The whole time I was sitting there listening to the presenter drone on, the only thought that filled my head was - What am I doing with my life? Why am I not at home writing? I should be writing, not sitting here critiquing this presenter's inability to speak and use any semblance of proper grammar in her power point.

When I got home, I picked up my laptop and pulled up my blog. The blog that used to have 100,000 readers daily. The blog that I used to update almost daily. The blog that sits there, mostly untouched these days. That blog. And I remembered how fulfilling it was to receive comments from my readers saying that my writing had made them think, or had helped them to realize they aren't alone, or had simply made them laugh. So I read through some recent comments. Here, because I want to share the pure unadulterated pleasure and joy with you, are those comments.

Are you tired of being human, having talented brain turning to a vampire in a good posture in ten minutes, Do you want to have power and influence over others, To be charming and desirable, To have wealth, health, without delaying in a good human posture and becoming an immortal? If yes, these your chance. Its a world of vampire where life get easier,We have made so many persons vampires and have turned them rich, You will assured long life and prosperity, You shall be made to be very sensitive to mental alertness, Stronger and also very fast, You will not be restricted to walking at night only even at the very middle of broad day light you will be made to walk, This is an opportunity to have the human vampire virus to perform in a good posture. If you are interested contact us

Oh boy, do I ever! I want to have power and influence over others and be made to walk in broad daylight! Where do I sign up? (Shhh, don't tell Sam and Dean Winchester.)

WHAT A GREAT MIRACLE THAT I HAVE EVER SEE IN MY LIFE. My names are Robert Mary I’m a citizen of United Kingdom, My younger sister was Sicking of breast cancer and her name is Robert Jane, I and my family have taking her to all kind of hospital in UK still yet no good result. I decided to go to the internet and search for cancer cure so that was how I find a lady called Sarah peter she was testifies to the world about the goodness of a herbal man who has the root and half to cure all kind of disease and the herbal email was there. So I decided to contact the herbal man for my younger sister help to cure her breast cancer. I contacted him and told him my problem he told me that I should not worry that my sister cancer will be cure, he told me that there is a medicine that he is going to give me that I will cook it and give it to my sister to drink for one week, so I ask how can I receive the cure that I am in UK, he told me That I will pay for the delivery service. 

Yes, yes, I just read an article in the New England Journal of Medicine how a random Internet herbal man had discovered the cure to help people who are sicking of cancer.

This blog was... how do I say it? Relevant!! This paragraph is really a nice one it helps new net people, who are wishing for blogging. 

Your comment is . . . how do I say it? Inane!

Its not my first time to pay a visit this web site, i am visiting this site dailly and take nice data from here all the time. 

Well that is my goal after all - giving nice data to all the people!

you are truly a just right webmaster. The website loading pace is incredible. It seems that you're doing any unique trick. In addition, The contents are masterpiece. you've done a excellent task on this subject! 

Do you hear that, world? I'm a just right webmaster. I don't think there's anywhere to go from there. My dreams are fulfilled.

What i do not understood is if truth be told how you are now not really much more well-preferred than you may be now. You're so intelligent. You understand therefore considerably relating to this topic, produced me in my view consider it from so many various angles. Its like men and women aren't fascinated unless it is something to accomplish with Lady gaga! Your personal stuffs outstanding. All the time take care of it up! 

What I do not understand, if truth be told, is pretty much anything you just wrote. Not a stinkin' word.

Thank you for the auspicious writeup. It in fact was a amusement account it. Look advanced to far added agreeable from you! By the way, how can we communicate?  

I'm sorry, but I don't think we actually can communicate. You know, seeing as how I don't speak whatever language that is.

At this moment I am going to do my breakfast, afterward having my breakfast coming yet again to read more news. 

At this moment I am going to rethink my entire life. Afterward, I will pour a large glass of wine and watch some Netflix.

Friday, March 1, 2019

Hell is a Group Chat

Image by JESHOOTS-com on Pixabay
Remember back in the 70s when you had cheer practice? No? That's right! Because there was none of this putting your kids in sports and other activities that take all your time and money! We were thrown out of the house after school and we ran around the neighborhood playing until mom rang the dinner bell, signaling us to come running home. 

Then in the 90s and early 2000s when my oldest kids were young, we put them in some sports. You know how I knew what time their practices were? The coach told us at the beginning of the season. Practices are Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays from 6:00 - 7:30. I didn't get reminders every day. I knew when practice was and I brought my kids at the appointed time. Like magic.

Then came the smart phone and people turned into idiots.

Case in point -  I, along with about 25 other parents, was added to a group text for Brooklyn's cheer team. Now this could be a handy tool for communicating. It could be if the other people involved employed any sort of texting etiquette, or you know, common sense. It could go like this:

COACH:  Remember practice tonight 630 to 8

The end. That's it. Everyone in the text group would receive ONE text reminder just in case one went stupid and forgot that practice is Tuesday and Thursday from 6:30 - 8:00 just like it has been for the past 2 months.

But that's not how it works. That is literally never how it works. Instead, our phones (namely MY phone!) get a dozen pings with very, very important messages that everyone needs to know like this:

COACH:  Remember practice tonight 630 to 8

CRIP (Clueless Rude Inconsiderate Parent):  Jada will not be able to make it she pulled her groin muscle and can barely walk straight. See you Tuesday

CRIP:  Ok we'll be there

CRIP:  Kayla won't be there she has strep throat

CRIP:  Thanks

CRIP:  Kayla won't be there tonight.

CRIP: I'll have to try and get Kay a ride cause Kayla was Kayleigh's ride today. Husband is working nights now and I have 3 of the 4 needing to be placed

CRIP:  places


CRIP:  Hailee won't be there tonight

CRIP:  Hailee will be back next week

CRIP:  Bella will be there at 6:30


And here's me . . .


There is NO NEED to respond to a text that simply provides information, especially when there are 25 other people whose phones will ping with that text. If a coach reminds you there's practice, you don't not need to replay "Okay" or "Thanks" or anything else. Just show up to practice.

There is also NO NEED to tell everyone in the group chat that your husband is working, or your kid can't make it to practice, or that your kid has a groin injury. Tell the coach. She's the ONLY one who needs to know this.

Technology has just made people stupid. Twenty years ago, you would not have picked up the phone and gone down the roster to call 25 people and tell them, "Hi Anne, my daughter pulled her groin. She won't be at practice. I just thought you'd like to know." "Hi Meg, my daughter pulled her groin. She won't be at practice. I just thought you'd like to know." "Hi Mary, my daughter pulled her groin. She won't be at practice. I just thought you'd like to know." And on and on and on . . . So why do people do it now with texts? Why? Truly, I'm asking because I really don't understand this phenomenon. I cannot possibly be the only one who doesn't like her phone going off every few seconds with everyone's nonsense while she's at work.

I'm convinced that hell is a group chat. A group chat that you. can. NEVER. EVER. leave.


Tuesday, November 13, 2018

The Bird That's Mocking Me

photo: Creative Commons
For the last couple weeks, there has been a completely demented confused bird outside my window who apparently thinks nighttime is for singing. At 3:00 in the morning, this bird wakes me up with his incessant chirping. As one might imagine, being awoken in the middle of the night puts me in a foul mood. I lie awake concocting sleep-deprived, and slightly maniacal, scenarios of death and destruction to this bird.




via Gfycat

Last night, determined to figure out what kind of devil bird has been waking me up, I spent a ridiculous amount of time on the National Audubon Society site, listening to bird songs and comparing them to the cacophony that interrupts my dreams every night. I listened to, and quickly discarded dozens of bird calls until I happened upon a mockingbird.
"Ah ha!" I shouted to my computer! "I found the culprit! It's a Northern Mockingbird!" 

The Northern Mockingbird's scientific name is mimus polyglottos which means Bird That Sounds Like a Car Alarm. Don't believe me? I found this recording. To get the full effect, I recommend you wait until you're so tired you can't keep your eyes open, then pop in your ear buds, lie down, and enjoy the sound that could only come from a concert featuring car alarms, chainsaws, and Nickelback nature's goodness in the Mockingbird's gentle lullaby as you drift off in peaceful slumber.

Go ahead and listen to it. Then imagine hearing it every. single. night. FOR HOURS! I completely understand why Zooey Deschanel (Failure to Launch) was disappointed that the book To Kill a Mockingbird wasn't a how-to manual!

Apparently, the Northern Mockingbird is the state bird of Florida. (Maybe if more people knew this, fewer people would move here and it wouldn't take me 45 minutes to get to work in traffic! But that's a rant for another day.) And it's protected under the Federal Migratory Bird Treaty Act so you can't just shoot the thing. Not that I would. But well, I wouldn't judge anyone who wanted to.

All this research on Mockingbirds made me start thinking about that song. Hush little baby, don't say a word. Papa's gonna buy you a Mockingbird. (Why? WHY? Why would anyone ever do anything so cruel to a defenseless little baby?) And if that Mockingbird won't sing (Be VERY thankful!), Papa's gonna buy you a diamond ring. (How 'bout we just skip right ahead to the diamonds, huh?) This song makes NO sense.

Anyway, there are a myriad of ideas on how to deal with these birds that have just surpassed seagulls in my personal list of annoying animals. Get a fake owl, get a fake snake, spray them with water, light off firecrackers . . . Here's the thing though - we have real owls and real snakes around here. No need for fake ones. And I really can't see myself doing anything mean to a bird. Oh, who am I kidding? The real reason I wouldn't grab the Super-Soaker or bottle rockets is because that would mean I'd have to get out of bed in the middle of the night and that's just not happening. Laziness always wins out over annoyance. So for now, I guess I'll just set my phone on my nightstand and have it play rain or ocean sounds all night to help drown out the squawking. But if you hear of someone in central Florida arrested for trying to cut down a tree in her apartment complex at 4:00AM, there's a chance it might be me. Stand by with bail money.

Sunday, November 11, 2018

The Hand Wavers, The Doughnuts, And The Amens: My Search For A Church

When I lived in Illinois, I attended the same church for nearly 40 years. As a kid, I remember getting smiley face stickers in my Bible for memorizing scripture. I went to confirmation classes and youth group. I have fond memories of going on several mission trips to Missouri, Michigan, and even Canada with the youth group. (Well, I have fond memories of most of those trips, but I had mono when we went to Canada so I mostly have memories of sleeping and feeling like crap there) and I remember staying up all night at lock-ins as a teenager. I taught Sunday school to the grandkids of the people who taught me Sunday school. I was a big part of the drama group at my church, acting in and directing several worship dramas.I enjoyed helping with Vacation Bible School every summer. I joined several Bible study groups (between you and me, it was mostly because they provided free babysitting and that meant I didn't have to deal with my kids for a whole hour once a week.) I think I entertained the retired people in my group by likening every bit of scripture we studied to a recent Veggie Tales episode I'd seen with my kids. "This is just like the time Junior Asparagus was scared of the Frankenstein celery . . ." I painted crafts to be sold at our holiday bazaar and I joined the ladies who knit and crocheted prayer shawls although I think I only completed one shawl ever, and it quite possibly fell apart the first time it was washed. But I tried. I knew everyone at my church, and they knew me. Even if they didn't really know me, they at least knew of me as that lady with all the kids who sometimes shows up to church without realizing one of her kids isn't wearing shoes. In my defense, at least I never forgot any of my ki . . . Oh wait. Nevermind. Umm, in my defense, I had a whole litter of kids! Cut me some slack!

When I moved to Florida over 7 years ago, one of the tasks at the very top of my list was to find a new church home. But that's hard to do when you compare every church you visit to the one you left back home. I still haven't found a church home down here in Florida, but admittedly, I haven't gotten involved and I've never given any of them enough time to grow on me. I've also been caught up in whether I personally liked the worship service, if the people seemed friendly and welcoming, if the church was close to home, if there was adequate parking, if the church had some funky smell to it, if they sang songs I liked, if the sanctuary was pretty and had stained glass windows depicting scenes of Jesus's life, and of course, if they served good coffee or just that nasty powdered creamer stuff. What I failed to ask myself is if I could serve and grow at that particular church. I know if I had just stuck with one church and kept returning, joining a small group, making an effort, I would have a church home today. 

Still, I visit different churches now and then, thinking I'll get serious about finding a new church home. But it's awkward! And I've gone to church my whole life! I can't imagine how uncomfortable it could be for someone new to the whole church-going experience. Trying out new churches is just plain awkward. And it's especially strange if you try new denominations and/or new areas. This is what I've gathered from attending a variety of churches here in the south.

1.     Ya'll are hand wavers. Every church I've gone to down here, especially the Baptist churches, like to raise their hands in worship and every single time I see it, it reminds me of this Tim Hawkins video and cracks me up. 

The congregation sways, eyes closed, so moved by the experience that they must stretch their arms heavenward. I stand there, blundering my way through the lyrics quietly to myself lest another human hear me. If it's an especially rousing song, I may sway a bit. (Actually I just shift my weight from foot to foot a time or two, but it might be construed as swaying by some.) Try as I might, I cannot bring myself to lift my arms in praise. I tried it once. I felt like I was anticipating a volleyball to come my way. #Awkward

2.     Another big difference is that the worship service where I grew up was an hour long. One hour. Sixty minutes. And heaven forbid they ever ran over time by even a few seconds because someone would be on the receiving end of some hefty complaints! Sunday school was for kids and it ran simultaneously with the worship service for adults. Down here, on-the-other-hand, the worship service alone is at least an hour and then Sunday school/Bible study is for everyone and it's another hour or more. At some churches, it's an all-day extravaganza.

3.     People (again, I've noticed it predominately with those Southern Baptists, but the first time I visited a particular United Methodist Church here, I heard a sermon against the evils of divorce also) think I'm the devil because I'm divorced. At church today, there was a card to fill out if you'd like more information about the church, would like to submit a prayer request, or wanted to get more information about volunteer opportunities. The card had the following options: single, married, widowed. Divorced was not an option. Although I wanted information about volunteering for a program, I didn't know what box to check because I don't think I count as "single." I thought about writing in divorced, but decided that might be antagonistic. Also, I wasn't entirely sure they'd let me back in if they knew I was gasp divorced. I ended up shoving the blank card in my purse and leaving.

4.     Down here, as far as I can tell, churches are rated based on the quality of coffee and doughnuts provided after worship service.

5.     I don't think this is specific to any geographic location or any particular denomination, but some churches are just friendlier than others. However, there's a fine line between being friendly and welcoming, and just plain freaking the snot out of newcomers by hugging them, following them to their seats, and talking their ears off about people they don't know and things taking place in church that they've never heard of.

6.     A lot of the churches I've visited down here are big on random Amens! throughout the worship service. Now, I'm no stranger to the rote repetition of phrases in worship. If I hear, "Peace be with you," the words, "and also with you," will leave my lips of their own accord without fail. If I see an offering, I will sing the doxology whether it's actually being played or not. But I do not understand the seemingly random chorus of amens that reverberate off the walls of the church at various times throughout the service.

7.     Finally, I've noticed that it's a universal truth of any church, in any denomination, in any part of the country that people get ticked when you, a newcomer, sit in "their pew."

Sunday, October 7, 2018

Dawn: Making Dentists in Central Florida Hate me Since 2011

My dentist stopped taking my insurance at the beginning of this year. I can't prove it, but I suspect the whole team got together to brainstorm ways to get rid of me as their patient.
"Maybe we could get caller ID and every time Dawn calls, we'll just answer the phone, 'Good afternoon, Mario's Pizza, what can I get you?'"
"Good, good, but what if she calls from work or some other number we don't recognize?"
"How about we tell her that we're booked for the next 8 months when she calls?"
"No good. She'll get an appointment eventually even if she has to wait 8 months."

"I know! Let's stop taking her insurance!"
"Yes! That's it! 

So my wonderful HMO which pays for nothing but cleanings, assigned me a new dentist. I was due for a cleaning in June, but finally made an appointment in October. Granted, I didn't actually proactively make an appointment for a cleaning. It was a cracked tooth that prompted me to make the appointment, but still, I think it counts. Especially for someone who abhors the dentist!

So I walk in and see all their festive Halloween decorations. Because the best way to calm anxiety and make patients feel at ease is by draping webs across the seats in the waiting room and perching spiders over their shoulders.

I sign in and take a seat away on a spiderless chair, and glance to my right. I see this.

It's an urn. An urn filled with the ashes of the last patient to die here. Comforting.

I start filling out the paperwork while trying to forget about the spiders, the urn of ashes, and the torture that lies ahead. Then I got to this page of the paperwork . . .

WHEN an individual DIES! What the crap am I signing???? Ohmygosh! Commence hyperventilating! Those really ARE the ashes of past patients! I was just kind of joking before, but at this point I'm ready to make a beeline for the door!

The hygienist appears in the doorway and calls my name. "Dawn?"

I look around at the other people in the waiting room and offer up my spot. "Would anyone like to go ahead of me? Really. I don't mind." They've already seen me taking pictures of the paperwork and the decor, so this pretty much solidifies their notion that I'm unbalanced.

As the hygienist leads me to a room, she remarks, "You really have anxiety, don't you?"

"Whatever gave you that idea?" I try to force some nonchalance into my voice as my eyes furtively dart around and my breathing takes on "code blue" quality.

She spoke to me in the manner you would to a scared and injured wild animal. "It's okay," she purred. "I'm just going to take some xrays. No one is going to do anything today. Just relax." She continued in calm and soothing tones, "Do you tend to gag during xrays?" 

"One hundred percent of the time," I confirmed.

"Okay, I'm going to give you some numbing medication. It's the stuff we use to numb your gums before giving you a shot." She handed me a Q-tip with a glob of the gel on the end. "Just suck on it like a lollipop then swallow so it coats your throat. This will help calm that gagging reflex."

I had my doubts, but did as she instructed. And let me tell you - this was the first time in my life I didn't gag during xrays. I hugged the woman and informed her of her new BFF status.

She lead me to another room where I awaited the dentist while my anxiety kicked up a notch. 

The dentist came in, shook my hand and introduced himself, "I'm Dr. Potter. Potter as in Harry." He scored a point right there. He'd score another 20,000,000,000 points if he could point a wand at my tooth and magically fix it. 

"How are you doing?" he asked.

"Well, I'd rather be at home. Or at work. Or in a pit of venomous snakes."

He took a look at the broken tooth. "Can you just fill it and let me go on my way?"

"No, a filling is not an option."

"Come on. Just slap a little Play Dough in there and we'll call it a day," I helpfully suggested.

To his credit, he laughed a little, gaining him another point. Because really, the most important quality in a dentist is not where he went to school, his certifications, or his ability; it's whether or not he laughs at my jokes. (I don't trust people who don't laugh.)

"You have two options," he stated. He indicated my xray and explained, "This tooth already had a root canal, but you never got a crown on it. This temporary fix was never meant to last. 

"Yeah, I couldn't afford a crown. I suggested a small tiara instead, but unfortunately my old dentist didn't offer that option."

He continued, "See this dark part here?" He pointed to the xray. "That's a sign of infection at the root. This tooth would have to be retreated with another root canal. Then you would need a crown on it. But honestly, this tooth is so compromised that I can't promise it will work or last very long. Your other option is to have it pulled and have an implant placed there. It's entirely up to you what you want to do. We work for you."

"Okay, okay, I see . . . Orrrrr, we could just leave it alone and over time it will slowly erode away with tiny pieces chipping off and eventually the whole tooth will be gone. Voila!"

Judging by his face, he didn't feel that was a feasible option. 

"Could I just get it pulled and have 2 empty spaces back there?"

"Well, your other teeth, towards the front of your mouth aren't designed for chewing like your molars are. You'd end up putting too much strain on them and then you'll start having problems with those teeth breaking."

"Okay, what would you tell your sister to do if this was her?"

"If you were my sister, I'd tell her to have the tooth pulled and get an implant," he stated without hesitation. 

"Great. I always talk about moving back to Chicago, but they'll never let me back in the state if I'm missing that many teeth. In fact, Florida may even kick me out. I'm going to have to go live in Alabama." (No offense to Floridians, Alabamians, or toothless people because I am one of you, my brethren.) They recommended I have a consultation with the oral surgeon on staff at this facility. As I checked out and made an appointment for the consultation, the receptionist assured me, "Oh you'll like this doctor."

"Oh, I'm sure if I saw him in Publix, I'd be all, 'Hey Doctor! How're you doin'? How's the sailboat I bought you?'" Then again, he probably won't stick his hands in my mouth while we're at Publix. Here, on the other hand . . " I trailed off.

So I met with him. He talked over my head in medical terminology, said phrases like cut your gum and bone graft. He didn't answer me when I asked him to explain the process or if I would be out for the procedure because there is NO WAY ON EARTH I can handle that while awake. He seemed exasperated by my questions and called over Dr. Potter to deal with me. Then the oral surgeon outright lied and said, "It doesn't hurt." I swung my head around to look at Dr. Potter with a get a load of this guy expression. "I'm looking at the oral surgeon, but I'm seeing Orin Scrivello dancing around in Little Shop of Horrors," I confided in Dr. Potter who laughed. The oral surgeon looked at me blankly. He left the room right after that.

Dr. Potter stayed and patiently took the time to answer my questions and explain things. 

"So he wants to cut my gum and put bone in it? Where does this bone come from?" I asked while images of the urn in the waiting room flashed through my mind.

"It's cadaver bone." he answered like it was no big deal; like he was simply commenting on the weather. When I said I'd have to drink a bottle, er um, a glass of wine before coming in, he said, "What you do before your appointment is your own business."

After meeting the oral surgeon, I can safely say that I don't like him and even if I saw him at Publix, I'd quickly turn away and feign an exorbitant amount of interest in the nutritional label on the bag of frozen peas I'm holding while half inside the freezer door. "Ohhh look at that. The ingredients in this bag of peas is just peas. That's all. Isn't that interesting, ishegoneyet?"

Before I left I was given a breakdown of how much it would cost to get the broken tooth pulled and two implants. 

Seeing as how the total is literally half my yearly salary, I'm going to go with Plan C - do nothing at all until my tooth starts hurting at which point I'll knock it out myself with an ice skate à la Tom Hanks, and then go on the smoothie diet for the rest of my life. I need to lose weight anyway. Win win! Or or, it IS October afterall - I can find a pair of plastic vampire teeth and be all set!

I took Lexi there a couple days later for her appointment. The hygienist saw me and exclaimed, "I remember you!" Then, "Your daughter is a much better patient than you are."

Lexi looked at me, eyebrows raised.

I shrugged and muttered, "I guess I shouldn't have bitten her hand when she tried to put the bib on."

Lexi looked horrified. "You BIT her?!" she spit out.

"No! I didn't BITE her! I was kidding! You believed that?!"

"Yes, yes I did. Because it sounds like something you'd do at the dentist, Mom."

"I'm saving that for the next time."  ;)

Dawn: making dentists in central Florida hate me since 2011.

Sunday, September 30, 2018

28 Reasons

photo:  CC Shaw Air Force Base
Everyone knows that October is Breast Cancer Awareness month. Everyone knows someone who has been affected by breast cancer. Everyone knows what those pink t-shirts, socks, and ribbons represent.   However, how many people know that October is also Domestic Violence Awareness month?

I used to work with a teacher who had scars on her arms. When she wore a shirt that didn’t come up to her neck, a scar was visible on her chest. I had always assumed she’d been in a car accident until we had a conversation one day and she shared the story behind her scars.

For Domestic Violence Awareness month, I asked my friend if I could share her story with my readers. She was eager to share her tale in the hopes it might help one of the many women trying to escape domestic violence and their children who are unwittingly caught up in it. In fact, she not only granted me permission, but thanked me for helping her to get the word out, saying that people need to know it could happen to anyone.

Here's her story.

*Names have been changed for protection.

Maria meets Joe

Maria began her story by indicating the prominent scars on her chest, head, and arms, saying, "I have 28 reasons which are proof that God loves me." Those 28 reasons are 28 gruesome stab wounds inflicted by her husband who left her to die after his brutal attack in 2015.

At the time she was living in Puerto Rico with her young daughter, Isabella when she found Joe on an online dating site. Maria is an educated woman. She's a teacher and a businesswoman who owned her own daycare business when the two met in July of 2013. She had recently broken up with Isabella's dad and wasn't searching for a serious relationship, but she had never liked being alone and was looking for companionship. The two started talking on the phone and felt like they had chemistry. "He seemed like a very loving dad and was family oriented, " Maria recalls. They went to a movie on their first date then took a romantic stroll in historic Old San Juan. In the months that followed, he slowly began coming over and hanging out with Maria and her daughter, usually bringing his son along as well. "I loved the fact that he was a 'man.' He was willing to step in as a father figure to Isabella, he was protective, and he made me feel desirable. He was so amazing with Isabella that you would never be able to tell that he wasn't her biological father." The couple moved in together that fall.

Things Begin to Change

About six months into their relationship, Maria discovered Joe had a drinking problem. He disappeared for the weekend without a word of his whereabouts. When he returned, he was apologetic, promising not to do it again, but it soon became a pattern. Every couple weeks, he'd disappear for several days on a drinking binge.

Over the months, it became increasingly apparent that Joe was controlling. He wouldn't let Maria walk out of the apartment if he didn't like the way she was dressed. He would take her car so she couldn't leave. He stalked Isabella's father, irrationally convinced that he and Maria were still in a relationship. Over time, she found herself losing control of the relationship and her finances. He slowly separated her from her family, controlled her every move, constantly checked her phone, and showed up where she worked to make sure she was there. "I recall one time when he called to ask me where I was. I told him I was buying coffee at McDonald's across the street from the school where I worked. He said, 'I know,' and as I looked across the street, he was passing by in his car." But Joe had never laid a finger on her so Maria never put a name to his actions; she didn't consider it abuse.

Eight months after meeting, Maria filed what would be the first of many orders of protection. Despite the fact that he'd never physically touched her, his words and actions were starting to scare her. Still, she stayed in the relationship. "I know what people think. I know how they judge, saying things like, 'Why didn't she just leave?' But unless they've been in a situation like this, they don't know. Any time I talked about ending it, he'd threaten me. He not only intimidated me, but he threatened to hurt my family. I feared for my family's safety. I was too scared to leave." And that's the reason so many women endure abuse. As scary as the relationship may be, it's even scarier to think of what might happen if they ended it.

He promised to get help for his drinking, and the couple started attending AA and Al Anon meetings. Maria agreed to marry him in December, 2014, believing that would help the situation. He was finally getting help going to AA and she thought he was changing.

Unfortunately, after they were married, things rapidly went downhill. The controlling behavior didn't improve, in fact, he insisted they have children together and made doctor appointments for Maria, forcing her to go through fertility treatments. Joe disappeared for days at a time, and would return obviously under the influence of drugs and alcohol. Then Maria learned a chilling truth about Joe's family. His twin brother had been abusive as well. When his wife tried to leave, he killed her and then committed suicide in front of their young children.

In the fall of 2015, Joe returned to the apartment after stealing money from her daycare business and going on a weekend bender. Maria packed his belongings and changed the lock on the gate that covered the entrance to the apartment. 

"I knew when he came back, he was going to be mad about the fact I was kicking him out. He was 100% financially dependent on me. Whenever he got mad he would threaten me, saying stuff like, ' Don't you dare call the cops because they will not always be there to protect you,' 'You'll see what happens if I have to sleep in my car,' and other things like that. I had seen what he was capable of doing when he was mad and he scared me. But I couldn't keep going like this."

In fact, Maria was so scared upon his return that she hid in a closet and called his sister with whom she had a close relationship.  "I could hear him outside the apartment, trying to get in. I was talking to his sister while I was in the closet waiting for him to leave." He didn't go. Once his sister got out of work she and her husband came to the apartment to escort Maria out. Joe looked like he had been possessed by the devil, Maria recalls. "He even knelt and swore I would pay for this. Both his sister and her husband had to stand between us because he had this face that made me think he could really kill me. I felt like he had stolen my confidence and my backbone so I had to rely on his sister and his mom to help deal with him regularly.

He was arrested that night, but threatened Maria that if he had to stay in jail even one day that he'd hunt her and her whole family down as soon as he got out. Knowing he wouldn't be kept in jail for long, fearing what he might be capable of doing when he was released, and believing she had no other choice, Maria gave his mother $500 to bail him out. But this was the last straw. She knew she had to find some way to leave.

Trying to Get Out

Maria packed up his belongings, and the day after Thanksgiving he came to get them, but he didn't leave peacefully. He refused to give her his keys to the apartment, finally relenting and saying he would trade them for her wedding ring which she gave him. As soon as he left, Maria called her mom and told her she needed to take Isabella someplace where Joe wouldn't find her. She knew he was mad and predicted he'd be back. Her biggest concern was making sure her daughter was safe.

On Saturday, Joe called her, asking where she was. She told him she was getting her car inspected at a gas station. He showed up there and stayed, following her when she left to run errands. "He actually behaved that day and we were able to talk. I tried to appease him and told him we didn't have to get divorced, but we needed to separate and he needed to get help. I just kept trying to keep it friendly. I was scared of what he might do so I was wanted to make sure he didn't get mad. I thought if I could keep him calm, he would leave.

He stayed that night in her apartment because he insisted he didn't have anyplace to sleep. "It's an awful feeling to be stuck in a situation like this. On the one hand, I was scared to have him around. Yet, on the other hand, I think I was even more scared to think of what he might do if I made him leave." Thankfully, the night was uneventful and in the morning, he left. Maria breathed a sigh of relief, but at the same time something in the back of her head made her nervous that she hadn't seen the last of him.

For the first time in their relationship, Maria was determined to end it. After looking up information about domestic violence support groups and deciding that she wanted to join the church again, Maria got a call from her mom that Saturday night. "I remember telling her that if something happens, she needs to take care of Isabella. She warned me to be careful and said she didn't want to get a phone call and have to come see me in a body bag." It was a premonition that would prove to be a little too accurate.

"Sunday morning I awoke early, about 4:00am, and decided to clean. I cleaned my apartment like I had never cleaned before. It was as if I was trying to clean his smell and presence out of it." When her kitchen was spotless, the counter tops devoid of all dishes and utensils, she got ready to do some laundry. "I lived on the 10th floor of an apartment building, and we didn't have a washer or dryer in the apartment. I left my apartment door open while I went to the laundry room. While I was taking the clothes across the hall, I saw his car out of the sliding doors on the balcony. I called him to see if he was out there in his car. When he answered, I could tell he was drunk." Maria quickly walked back to her apartment. He was already there. In her apartment. And he looked like he was on drugs.

He told her he needed sleep as he couldn't drive, and asked if he could stay. She told him he needed to leave. He started snooping around her apartment, searching as if she was hiding something. At this point, prompted by a gut feeling, Maria turned the ringer off her phone and discreetly tucked it behind a picture frame. "I knew then and there that I had to make a choice. I either take him back and continue the cycle, or stand my ground and fight to get my life back. I was preparing myself for that confrontation. I knew there was a probability I would have to fight for my freedom. Looking back, I believe God was there giving me courage and strength. 

Joe asked Maria to go out to breakfast with him. She declined. He asked if he could make a quesadilla and she finally acquiesced, just wanting to keep him calm and hoping he'd leave after he ate. When he finished the quesadilla he'd made, she once again told him he needed to leave. He pleaded with her for a cup of coffee. When she walked into the kitchen and poured him a cup, he followed her, asking her about her plans for the day.

The Unthinkable Happens

She didn't get the chance to answer. A blinding pain crashed through her skull as Joe took the hot skillet he'd used to make the quesadilla and bashed her across the head. From behind, he wrapped his hands around her throat and choked her. She couldn't breathe. As the corners of her vision darkened, she went limp and fell to the floor. He grabbed a serrated knife from the counter. Maria remembers thinking, "The counters had been completely clear, I know because I had thoroughly cleaned the kitchen that morning. He'd purposely gotten out that knife and had left it where he could easily grab it. In this moment I knew he was going to kill me." He pointed the knife at her as she pleaded with him not kill her. In tears, she promised to stay with him. 

She eyed the door to her apartment which was located in the kitchen. Desperate to get away from her attacker, she reached out with her left hand and frantically grasped the handle. He slashed out with the knife, stabbing her in the forearm. She reached for the knife, trying to wrench it from him, but the serrated blade tore through her flesh, slicing through muscle and tendon. He continued to attack, relentlessly stabbing her chest, arms, head, face, back, and neck.

She recalls two thoughts going through her head at that time. "I'm never going to see my daughter again, and I'm going to burn in hell because my relationship with Jesus wasn't right back then."

And Joe wasn't done with her. He dragged her from the kitchen to the hallway, screaming at her to go inside her bedroom. She resisted which fueled his anger. He punched her in the face then swung a heavy toaster oven, connecting with her head. He continued punching, smashing his fist into her already bleeding and battered body again and again. "I remember pleading with him to please stop as I briefly lost consciousness, slumping to the floor." He threw her on her daughter's bed; she lay there playing dead.

When she heard him leave, she summoned the strength to get up. Her purse and keys were gone. His car was still in the parking lot, but she saw her SUV pulling away. "I remembered that I had my iPhone hidden behind a picture frame, and stumbled my way to the other room to get it. My brain was spinning and I couldn't remember my passcode to unlock it so I tried unlocking it with my fingerprint, but my hands were covered in blood so the phone didn't register my fingerprint. I remember licking my thumb, trying to clear away enough blood to unlock my phone."

She dialed 911, and told the operator she'd been stabbed multiple times and was scared her husband was going to go get a gun so he could come back and kill her. For extra security, these apartments had metal gates across the doors that could be locked and opened from the outside. When Joe left, he had closed the gate and locked it so she couldn't get out of her apartment. She slowly dragged a chair over to her door and wedged it under the door knob all while talking to the operator and waiting for the the paramedics to arrive. Maria muses, "I know that chair wouldn't have actually stopped him, but I wasn't thinking clearly at the time."

She told the operator that she couldn't breathe and was really cold. She would later learn that the stab wound in her chest had caused her lung to collapse. "I was so scared I was going to die right there before the ambulance got to me. I live 10 minutes away from the fire station, but it took them 30 minutes to get to me," she recalls. 

The 911 operator informed her that the paramedics had arrived, but they weren't sure which apartment was hers as the doors didn't have numbers on them. Maria couldn't open the locked door and she couldn't get enough breath to scream. She summed what strength she had and tried to bang on her apartment door to alert the emergency responders to her location.

The emergency workers were finally able to cut the lock and get into her apartment. The next few minutes were a blur of activity and questions as they worked to ascertain the extent of Maria's injuries, and get a picture of her husband and vehicle so they could find him.

She recalls, "They kept saying that they needed to see the wound on my chest, but I told them, 'No, if I take my hand off it, I'll die.' A police officer put pressure on that wound with his own bare hand. My neighbor, who was my grandma's friend, came over and I remember asking her if I was going to die. She just told me that I needed to pray."

On the way to the hospital, they were able to get ahold of Maria's father. He asked if she was going to be okay. She answered, "I don't know." She talked to her mother, told her she loved her, and again asked her to hide Isabella. 

By the time Maria arrived at the hospital, she was cold and vomiting blood. She was covered in bruises and stab wounds. She had been so brutally attacked, they did a rape kit on her. As the doctors huddled around, stitching the many stab wounds on her arms, head, neck, and chest, she asked her grandmother's friend again, "Am I going to die?" The neighbor gently responded that it was up to God's will. Maria remembered, "She encouraged me to ask for forgiveness, and she stayed by my side praying with me and singing hymns. 

Looking back, Maria remembers that time. "As I was praying with my grandma's friend and having the uncertainty if I was going to live through this, I remembered these two Bible verses:

Psalm 23:4 Even when I walk through the darkest valley, I will not be afraid, for you are close beside me. Your rod and your staff protect and comfort me.

1 Peter 5:8-9 Be self-controlled and alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. Resist him, standing firm in the faith, because you know that the family of believers throughout the world is undergoing the same kind of sufferings.

I just kept thinking, I'm not done yet. I have a daughter to raise. I can't die yet."

Maria's father showed up at the hospital. Upon seeing his daughter lying there, beaten and bleeding, he broke down sobbing. "My heart broke; I had never seen him cry before," Maria recollected. Her father was ushered out of the room and Maria was quickly turned on her side so doctors could insert a chest tube for her collapsed lung. Soon after, she was wheeled to the operating room.

The Aftermath

Maria survived her multiple injuries and was released from the hospital a week later while Joe was still at large with a 1.5 million dollar fixed bond. It would take several more chapters to adequately describe the living hell Maria went through over the next several months. The short version is that Joe was finally found, arrested, tried, and sentenced to 15 years in jail. But this story isn't about him. 

It's about an educated business owner from a good family. A mom. A teacher. A woman like you. Or me. An educated business owner, mom, and teacher from a good family who got caught in the debilitating cycle of domestic violence. A woman with physical scars over much of her body. A woman with emotional scars that extend even deeper still. A woman who, to this day, has an anxiety attack when she's in a kitchen with another person. But a woman who is strong. Stronger than the violence thrust upon her. A woman who is brave enough to tell her story in the hopes of helping someone else. A survivor. A woman who, despite the brutal attack by someone she loved, has faith that God can use even the most horrific circumstances for good. This is her story.

"That man destroyed the strong, independent, and resilient woman I was raised to be. However, I am in a healing journey just like many women all over the world. I am slowly regaining my self worth and my sense of identity. Now I can look at myself in the mirror and not feel ashamed of all the scars. They are a reminder that domestic violence is something that can happen to anybody, but it can be stopped. You will face many defeats in your life, but never let yourself be defeated - Maya Angelou. I refuse to be defeated!"


*  Florida Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-500-1119
*  List of centers in Florida Florida Coaliton Against Domestic Violence
Harbor House of Central Florida  407-886-2856

Wings (Women in Need Growing Stronger)  847-221-5680

*  The National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-7233 (SAFE)
*  List of national resources: National Coalition Against Domestic Violence

Wednesday, July 18, 2018

Five Years, Ten Doctors, Countless Appointments and Tests: The Diagnosis Is POTS

My middle daughter, Lexi has gotten migraines for as long as I can remember. I think they started back when she was in 6th or 7th grade. They've gotten progressively worse over the years in frequency, duration, and intensity. As a sophomore, she missed so much school that I finally withdrew her so she could finish out the year by taking online virtual classes. It's heart-breaking seeing someone you love suffer especially when there's nothing you can do to help her. Sure, I've taken her to a plethora of doctors. She's had a barrage of tests. We've tried several different medications to both help prevent and to treat her headaches. But it's not only the headaches that have plagued her.

As a freshman in high school, she passed out during PE a few times. After the 3rd time, I made an appointment for her with the pediatrician to make sure there wasn't anything serious wrong and it was just the exercise in the intense Florida heat that had caused the fainting. The pediatrician sent us to a cardiologist to rule out any dangerous heart conditions that might have lead to the syncope. After an EKG and an echocardiogram, the doctor determined that nothing was wrong with Lexi's heart and the fainting was likely due to overheating and dehydration. Her recommendation was for Lexi to drink 2 liters of water a day, and to increase her salt intake by drinking Gatorade and snacking on salty foods like pretzels in order to increase her blood volume and therefore help prevent more episodes of fainting.

Because of the migraines, Lexi was seeing a neurologist who ordered an EEG and an MRI of Lexi's brain to make sure nothing scary was causing the headaches. The EEG was normal, and the MRI was basically normal other than a finding of an enlarged pineal gland. The neurologist admitted she didn't really know what that meant, and referred us to an endocrinologist.

The endocrinologist basically looked at us like we were crazy for seeing her, and told us that an enlarged pineal gland didn't mean anything and they dealt with diabetes and actual problems, and we should just leave. Thanks to the neurologist for wasting our time and money there.

Meanwhile, Lexi was still having frequent migraines. On one (of many) trips to the ER for medication to help stop a migraine that had lasted for 3 days with no relief from any of the prescriptions she had on hand, the doctor commented that Lexi was markedly anemic. He suggested taking an iron supplement and consulting with a hematologist right away. We did. After considerable bloodwork, the hematologist diagnosed her with iron deficiency anemia likely due to her heavy and frequent periods, and referred her to a pediatric gynecologist.

The gynecologist suggested getting an IUD placed to help with the anemia. The doctor also theorized that this treatment could help decrease the frequency of Lexi's migraines. So Lexi agreed, despite how uncomfortable she was with the whole idea. Honestly, at this point I think she would've smeared peanut butter on her head and danced with snakes around a fire if there was even the slightest chance it would make her feel better.

As all of this is going on, Lexi started dealing with depression. I suppose it's hard to stay positive when you lose 2-3 days a week because you can't get up and function. It's pretty easy to get down when you deal with a chronic condition that makes you feel like garbage more often than not. So we added a psychiatrist and some antidepressant medication to the mix.

one of Lexi's SFX creations
My daughter who had a bunch of friends, enjoyed going out and doing things, and was a cheerleader, had a hard time getting out of bed and functioning some days. Cheer made her dizzy and gave her headaches. She missed practice and games. She missed school. She missed life. She was in a kind of pain you can't see. That's when she really started practicing her SFX makeup. Instead of cutting herself to somehow show the pain she was feeling, she turned to makeup as an outlet, creating gruesome and painful-looking designs. Plus, she was able to utilize her artistic talent in an activity she could do while sitting or lying on her floor; one that didn't make her heart pound or her head spin.

The neurologist Lexi was seeing for her migraines had come up with a concoction of meds that had significantly cut down on the frequency and duration of the headaches. Lexi still got them, but instead of weekly, they were now maybe twice a month. Having a debilitating headache for 2-3 days twice a month still stinks, but it's better than losing 3 days every week to headache pain.

Then one day, the summer before her junior year, Lexi and I were running errands. She saw a Big Red Bus and asked to stop so she could donate blood for the first time. When the technician assessed her, Lexi's heart rate was over 100 (you must have a heart rate under 100 in order to donate) so she was deferred. Lexi tried to donate blood two more times over the following months and both times she was deferred because her heart rate was too high. The last time, the technician informed her that her heart rate was 154. "A young, fit girl like you shouldn't have a heart rate of 154. No one should have a resting heart rate of 154. You really need to get that checked out."

So we went back to the cardiologist we'd seen a couple years prior. She did another EKG and then the doctor had the nurse take a set of blood pressure and heart rate readings while Lexi was lying down, sitting up, and finally standing. Her heart rate went from 80 to 144 when she stood up. Upon those findings, the doctor ordered another echocardiogram which didn't show any abnormalities. She also equipped Lexi with a Holter monitor which Lexi wore for 24 hours to monitor her heart rate.

A few days later, the doctor called us and seemed surprised at the Holtor monitor's results. There were some curious findings that prompted her to refer us to an electrophysiologist. So we met with an electrophysiologist who explained his suspicion that Lexi had an arrhythmia based on the Holter monitor findings. He proclaimed that she would probably require an ablation to fix it, but in the meantime, he put her on beta blockers to help with her tachycardia.

The beta blockers instantly gave her a migraine which continued nonstop for several days until we ended back in the ER (after a year with no ER trips for headaches) to get some relief. We met with the neurologist who confirmed our suspicions that the beta blockers could worsen migraines so I stopped giving them to her. The electrophysiologist argued that beta blockers helped migraines, and we were wrong. Let's see here. Lexi hasn't had to go to the ER in a year. The day she starts a new medication, she develops a migraine that doesn't gone away in a week despite all the recovery meds she's taken. Yep, clearly I'm wrong. I mean, what do I know, right? I'm not the one with the MD after my name.

The electrophysiologist ordered an exercise stress test with pulmonary function. It was normal. He had Lexi wear an event heart monitor for 30 days, and it recorded over 150 incidences where her heart rate went abnormally high. The electrophysiologist who originally talked about an ablation because he thought Lexi had an arrhythmia changed his mind and said she doesn't have an arrhythmia after all. He insisted her heart was fine and suggested her high heart rate was all in her head. 

"But I thought the monitor picked up a bunch of abnormal heartbeats," I asked, confused.
"Yes, but it's probably anxiety causing it."
"Nope. She doesn't have anxiety."
"She should just exercise more. She's out of shape."
"Nope. She's thin, fit, healthy, and  she's been in sports her whole life."
"Her heart itself is fine. You should take her to a psychiatrist."

Her legs turn a mottled purple when she stands up. Her heart races. she has palpitations and chest pain. She gets dizzy and sometimes passes out. She has chronic headaches. She missed 41 days of school this year. FORTY-ONE days. That's 8 weeks. A quarter of the school year. Yep, all in her head.

Even though I knew it wasn't "all in her head," there was a little part of me that began to doubt. Could it just be anxiety? She never sleeps well at night. Could it be anxiety causing all of this? She doesn't seem like an anxious person.

After another trip to the ER because Lexi's heart rate shot up to  213 while roller skating, we got a referral to another cardiologist; this time one at Nemours. We met with him, went through her medical history once more.  I ended with this: :We have seen a pediatrician, a cardiologist, a neurologist, a psychiatrist, a hematologist, an endocrinologist, a gynecologist, and an electrophysiologist. It has now been several years of searching for an answer and some relief. And her diagnosis currently stands as - it's probably in her head.

This new cardiologist answered, "It's not in her head. There is no it's in her head here. We'll figure it out."

He did a tilt table test (they monitored Lexi's heart rate and blood pressure and how it changed when she was maneuvered from lying down to an almost completely upright position.) Based on this one, noninvasive, simple test, he was able to give her a diagnosis - POTS (Postural Orthostatic Tachycardia Syndrome.)

Finally, there's a definitive answer! An answer that should not have taken years to obtain! This is why you shouldn't automatically take someone's word, even if that someone has a medical degree. No doctor knows your kid as well as you do. If you feel that something is wrong, keep searching until you find someone who will listen and do what it takes to get an answer.

Now that we have a diagnosis, we can move on to searching for a cause or underlying problems, and treating her symptoms.

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