Category Archives: social interaction

The time the dentist inspired me to travel

I’m absolutely terrified of the dentist. This is heart racing, jaw-clenching, anxiety-attack level fear. I usually deal with it by simply avoiding the dentist, which has wrecked havoc on my teeth. A few days ago, I cracked the temporary crown I haven’t been brave or wealthy enough to get a permanent on. With my pain levels rising, I finally called the first dentist who was open after work hours. I got lucky. They still use this miraculous substance called nitrous oxide. During my procedure, my brain went a lot of different places. Why does the English language insist we pet our pets? How many times can I use my new unicorn floaty in the lake this summer? How do celebrities keep from getting zits? When am I going to travel again?….

…and BOOM. My intoxicated, euphoric brain had hit upon a serious topic, which I was not in the right mental state for. That thought morphed into vivid memories of me traveling the globe when I was younger and more carefree. My recollections were so strong it was like reliving all the adventures. Then again, I was under the influence of a dissociative anaesthetic, so maybe that’s a bit dramatic.

Before my dentist appointment, I killed time by visiting a local gluten-free bakery for a pastry and coffee. The tables were full, so I braced for a chill and asked if I could share a table with two older women. I was relieved to find they were friendly and very chatty. I soon learned that neither of them is from Seattle. Go figure. Anyway, Rose* was a best friend and caregiver for her aunt Betty*, who was getting up there in years and needed a companion for her complex medical issues. Rose was a former travel agent, back when the profession was lucrative and in-demand. We shared travel stories from around the globe and it felt so good to remember who I used to be. I’ve faced some medical challenges myself and don’t feel as confident in my ability to travel. I told Rose I was worried that I wouldn’t be able to travel like I used to. I loved staying in hostels and immersing myself into different cultures. While I did do activity tours like scuba diving and horseback riding, I liked seeing some less touristy spots too. The logistics involved seemed more overwhelming to me now that I’m not 20 anymore. Rose smiled while Betty chimed in with what I needed to hear. They were getting ready to leave on an international cruise for 30 days. Betty then told me she is a dialysis patient and is able to do this because the ship has its own fully staffed dialysis unit. Rose explained that part of her job used to be navigating these challenges and helping people see the world. The two ladies had been on over 10 cruises together already and just kept coming back. As they were leaving, she told me never to give it up.

I was worried I might grow out of traveling one day. It had been a series of youthful escapades for me in the past. I might have to adjust my expectations, but I can still see the world. I haven’t grown out of my fear of the dentist, so I refuse to give up on traveling!

 

*names have been changed

The time I found my people

I never dated much in college. I was a socially awkward curvy girl with low self-esteem and a chronic case of word vomit. So not much has changed. Throw in the fact that I live within the confines of the Seattle Freeze, and my perpetual single status was inevitable. So I wasn’t prepared when the unexpected happened. I was sitting at the coffeehouse on my college campus when a casual acquaintance I knew through a school club plopped down beside me on the heavily loved couch I was perching on. He didn’t waste much time before asking me if I wanted to go swing dancing with him sometime. I stared blankly at him for a minute while my mind caught up to what was happening. In that time, his nerves got the best of him causing his verbal diarrhea to flare up. He began telling me about the sweater he was wearing, made for him by his grandmother. It had a wolf howling on it and he told me the exact thread count of the sweater. Recognizing the signs of a nervous babbler, I rescued him by saying I wanted to focus on school. I didn’t have the heart to tell him we didn’t really have much in common and I wasn’t interested. We never really hung out after that, but I know he is happily married. He just needed to find his people.

I recently volunteered in the first aid tent at a Renaissance Faire. I got to help people with cuts, heat exhaustion, and even anaphylaxis, all while wearing a corset. It was the most fun I’ve had in a long time. Part of the whole experience was camping on the festival grounds, along with every other vendor and volunteer. The community atmosphere was as refreshing as the Aloe vera I spread over my entire body. There is no Seattle freeze within the Renaissance Faire, just camaraderie and fun with like-minded people. So I let my guard down and allowed myself to just be the amusingly awkward, nerdy person I love to be.

Once the festival ended for the day, the vendors and volunteers gathered for some after-hours fun. I was walking from my tent to the meeting spot when a woman joined me on the path. I instinctively reached for my phone, as most Seattleites do, before remembering I was free to chat. Without even asking her name, I told her about what was in my head. My roommate had found a cat she wanted to adopt after losing her beloved furbaby Thundercloud to old age. She had a lot in common with the 10-year-old rescue cat and wanted to give her a loving home. The only thing standing in the way was the adoption fee. I had decided earlier that day that I would pay it for her. It seemed like it was a relationship that was meant to be. I told all of this to my new nameless friend. By the time I was finished, I expected her to give me a passive-aggressive response and put in her ear buds. But she didn’t! She liked the story and thanked me for sharing it.

So I babbled, just like my coffeehouse friend had. It was about a cat, not a wolf, but close enough. I also have no intention of making a sweater using cat fur (though I know that’s been done). I’ve learned that random, often awkward, chatter is ok when I’m surrounded by my people. Maybe that’s the key to thawing the Seattle freeze?

The time I didn’t breathe Helium

I am naturally an extremely lazy person. Actually I put a lot of effort into planning my day so I can be as efficient as possible with my adulting, and then revert back to a level of inertia that rivals the noble gases. Oddly enough, I can make my voice sound like I inhaled Helium without actually having to buy a balloon. The problem with indulging my slothful nature is that it’s expensive. Good thing I can save money on helium balloons.

This world, or at least in the USA, people have made millions by inventing things to make our lives easier. Too lazy to get out of the car? Use a drive-thru. Too lazy to go to the store? They all deliver now. How about cleaning the house? That’s what a maid service is for. And the list goes on. I will admit that, until recently, I would buy Starbucks every morning, then buy lunch at work, and then sometimes order food for dinner. Its not that I don’t like to cook. I would just rather sit in my recliner and have someone else cook for me. This behavior has improved a little since I realized my credit card was maxed out from my indulgences. I’m far too lazy to get a second job so I need to reign in the spending. This is gonna suck.

I found inspiration in the most random place: my uber driver. I was going to take the light rail from the airport, then bus from downtown to home. I had contracted my first ever ear infection and was battling nausea on the plane ride home. The bumpy, loud, overstimulating bus was just too much for me, so I called an uber from the light rail station. I think fate brought me the wisest uber driver. Originally from the Midwest, his four months in Seattle hadn’t frozen him yet. So we actually had a real conversation. He also seemed a little lonely and we all know how hard it is to make friends in icy Seattle. I soon crowned him king of thrifty. He rents the cheapest apartment he could find in Auburn and commutes up to Bellevue for his job as a server in a sushi restaurant. He uses uber to pick people up on his long commute home, giving his wallet some extra padding. That’s a whole lot of effort, but he plans his life around living beneath his means. He conserves money like I conserve energy. After this uber ride, I started making my own coffee and bringing my lunch to work. This has more to do with my credit card debt than having a life-altering conversation from an uber thrifter, but I still think he deserves some credit. I wish I could thank him but I didn’t get any contact info. And we all know I’m too lazy to call sushi restaurants in Bellevue until I find him. At least my idleness prevents me from being a stalker.

The time a stranger wasn’t my cat

I am a self-proclaimed crazy cat lady. My two cats are my best friends and I love them so much I actually miss them while I’m grocery shopping. Or at work. Or even on a sunny vacation! The last time I had a fuzzy craving I ran over and picked up one of them with such fervor that it took a couple minutes for me to realize I had stepped in wet, slimy, squishy barf. So then I had to choose between setting the cat down again and washing puke off my foot. It wasn’t any easy choice. Then again, I work with bodily fluids on a daily basis so my gross-o-meter wasn’t registering anything amiss.

We have a new intern at work and she has been a wonderful fresh perspective. We were joking around when she asked why someone was on the floor in the hallway. I was half way through telling her people are just quirky from the heat when it dawned on me that I am a medical professional working in a hospital and should probably be concerned. Sure enough, an older woman had parked her arse right in the middle of the hallway. She sat straight up, legs out straight in front of her, and appeared to be eating oatmeal with the grace of a ravenous one-year-old. The bowl was upside down behind her and oatmeal was in her hair, all over her face, and down the front of her pants. If my coworker hadn’t just shot me with a nerf gun I may have figured out sooner that it wasn’t actually oatmeal.

As I approached the woman, the unmistakable putrid smell of vomit finally tickled my nose hairs. It turns out that oatmeal was no in fact in her hair, on her face, and down her pants. There wasn’t even a bowl. That was just a large pile of vomit that looked like a bowl from inside my office. When I kindly asked if she needed any help she told me no and to go away. Something tells me she was a little embarrassed. Too bad it was about to get worse. The door to the elevator located about 10 feet from her opened and a boy somewhere between 6 and 9 years old decided the entire floor needed to know there was “stinky barf” everywhere. One of the doctors who works next door to me came to lend his aid and was swiftly rebuffed as fast as I had been. The sad thing is, she said she wasn’t embarrassed. She just needed go because she was supposed to be translating at a client’s medical appointment in a few minutes and didn’t have time to be sick. She then finished wiping all the vomit off herself, tried to stand up, got dizzy and collapsed backward right into the pile of vomit that I had mistook for a bowl earlier. Thankfully she then reconsidered her plans for the day and accepted our help.

For the record, it turns out she had in fact eaten oatmeal for breakfast. That seemed important to include.

The time I wanted to defend a group with no voice

I have a serious sweet tooth. Ask anyone who knows me. Hell, ask my dentist. You’ll really get the dirt then. I love cakes, cookies, chocolate, ice cream, donuts…the list goes on. As a child, one of my favorite days of the year was Christmas cookie baking day. Because I got to eat raw cookie dough. Then condensed milk. Also lots of frosting. I would be sick half way through the day but I still wanted more. I’m going to talk about something else now, but don’t forget the mental image of me with frosting all over my nauseated face. Unlike the writers of Lost, I will explain this randomness shortly.

I was playing the fish game on my phone while waiting to be called back for a doctor’s appointment when an older woman, carrying a cane instead of using it, sat down next to me. She told me she’d just had hip replacement surgery two weeks before and was already done using her cane. She seemed pretty proud of herself. I figured it was just her feeling good about how quickly she was healing. Well, until she opened her mouth again. “I’m not disabled or anything, don’t worry. I’m healthy and active,” she said. A ripple of irritation spread through my body. Before I could collect my thoughts, she continued by telling me how she only took three of her oxycodone pills after surgery. “Did you know that more people died of opioid overdose last year in the U.S. than in the entire Vietnam War?” she asked. I raised my eyebrows and agreed that it was a tragedy and that opioids can be dangerous. “I just didn’t want to be one of those people,” she said with an air of superiority. If I had thought quickly enough, I would have said, “maybe those people wouldn’t be so numerous if judgmental assholes like you didn’t pretend to care about this issue when in reality you just want to distance yourself from those you deem unworthy.” Instead I seethed internally while she was called back for her check-up. She had hit a nerve.

I decided to see if her information was accurate. According to the CDC, about 130 Americans die daily from opioid overdose. That comes out to about 47,450 Americans per year. The U.S. National Archives list the total death toll for U.S. troops in the Vietnam War at 58,220. Last time I checked, 58,220 is more than 47,450. I was about to shake my head and move on to happier topics when I spotted another statistic. Apparently, the amount of chronic pain patients that misuse their opioid prescriptions is between 21 and 29%. That’s all? Only ¼ of all chronic pain patients misuse their opioids? What about the other ¾ who just want some semblance of a normal life?

After several injuries I consider myself a chronic pain sufferer. I don’t personally use opioids for the type of pain I have, but I’ve met many people who need an opioid medication to have any quality of life. I’m not questioning the seriousness of addiction and overdose, but I think fear of it is creating another epidemic: pain. Imagine lying as still as possible because moving feels like a giant is grinding your bones to make his bread. You get dehydrated because you avoid drinking water because getting up to use the bathroom makes your back spasm uncontrollably. Maybe you don’t eat all day because standing in the kitchen long enough to remove a frozen burrito from the freezer, unwrap it, and microwave it for 2 minutes feels like the Night King is driving his white-walker making stick through your hip. Now imagine arranging your whole life around controlling that pain, from what kind of job you can have (if any at all) to how many episodes of Game of Thrones you can watch before the pain overwhelms your brain and you lose track of the plot. The fight for that iron throne gets pretty complicated, after all. Now imagine being able to take one pill, once or twice per day, and that pain goes from life altering to manageable. I bet that it feels good to have enough of a reprieve to actually go grocery shopping or have coffee with friends. So good, in fact, you might just beg for more relief…and get labeled a drug-seeker. All because ¼ of chronic pain sufferers abuse their pain medicine.

Remember my sweet tooth and lack of control as a child? Well my parents placed limits on sweets and taught me which types of foods I needed to be healthy. I had to eat my veggies and protein multiple times per day and dessert only once. Another juicy tidbit from the CDC: primary care providers prescribe nearly half of all opioids given to chronic pain patients, yet research shows a majority of these physicians feel they don’t have sufficient training in managing opioid prescriptions. Sounds like chronic pain patients don’t have parents to educate them and set appropriate limits. The system is set up to fail. While food is vital to survival, excessive sweets are not. Relief from daily, debilitating pain is just as essential to living. One could argue that an opioid dosage aimed at being a grilled chicken salad is beneficial, so long as the goal isn’t to get the pleasure of dessert with every serving. In order for this to be possible, people like hip-replacement lady would need to broaden their horizons beyond their own reflection and realize the pain patient isn’t to blame. Just some bitter food for thought. Maybe its horseradish. Gross.

 

 

 

 

The time elevators had better health care than U.S. citizens

One recent morning, I arrived at the bottom of the 16-floor medical building I work in to find all four elevators were out of service. Right as my finger was about to press the “up” button, a woman’s voice, dripping with frustration and fatigue, told me the elevators were broken. Right on cue, a nearby man told me that the doors from the stairs require a key card. His heavy breathing told me this fact came right from the source. So I sat on the floor, resigned to the fact that I would be late to work. Building maintenance showed up shortly after to announce the elevators weren’t working (no shit, Sherlock), and the elevator company was on-site working as fast as they could but they didn’t know when the elevators would be restored. With an attitude of accomplishment like they had just solved world hunger, maintenance announced that a staff member would hold each door open so we may all get to our appointments. A young woman with a 3-6 month old baby asleep against her chest looked astonished that maintenance acted as if her 16 floor stair climb were a gift they gave to her. Clucks of disapproval and frustration echoed through the small crowd that had now amassed at the elevators. This irritation escalated when an elderly woman with a cane was told to climb the stairs to her appointment. “Why am I not surprised,” a disgruntled voice mumbled next to me, “It is the American health system.” My smirk of approval broke the Seattle freeze ice and we began to chat.

As it turned out, Eric* recently had a medical emergency in France requiring x-ray’s, blood tests, and an exam at an ER. Even though he wasn’t a French citizen, he was treated better than most appointments he had in the U.S. When it came time for his bill, he braced himself for the damage. The doctor, full of guilt, said she would unfortunately have to bill him $29 USD. After quite a bit of stammering and checking that he heard correctly, a relieved Eric paid his bill and left feeling bewildered.

Toward the end of Eric’s story, elevator car 3 (most creative name ever!), which had been stuck open this whole time, finally closed. I guess it collected enough flies. I’m choosing to believe the subsequent dings it uttered were saying “yum yum.” Then car 3 opened its doors and lit up its lights, signalling it was ready to resume its normal job. Perhaps this snafu had just been a lunch break? The first wave of people, myself included, were packed into the elevator like sardines. Just as my claustrophobia and elevator fear started kicking in, the doors closed. Car 3 then let out a screech like it was attempting to give birth to a baby, stopped, and after what seemed like a year, opened its doors. I shot out of the elevator, as plummeting to my death was not on the agenda.

Once I was safe on the floor of the lobby once again, I decided I should share my experience with medical care abroad with Eric. While scuba diving in Australia, I surfaced in a swarm of jellyfish and was stung at least 6 times in 30 seconds. That was the day I learned I was allergic to that kind of jellyfish venom. The total cost of my emergency treatment was $75. Eric and I agreed that universal healthcare treated people like they matter. Meanwhile, here in the U.S., the elevators were getting faster, more thorough care than humans do.

After half an hour of waiting, I decided to climb the stairs to the 8th floor, despite my hip injury and asthma. I had to stop in the middle and take my inhaler. By the time I reached the 8th floor, my hip had seized up and I was limping. But I made it! I did something hard and didn’t quit. I was there to open the office and hold down the fort until everyone else made it up. I was a hero…..until my coworker stepped off the working elevator about 10 minutes after I got to the 8th floor. In retrospect, I probably wasn’t quite hero material anyway.

 

*Name has been changed.

The time I sounded like Darth Vader

I’ve always wondered why Darth Vader sounds like he has emphysema. I realize he was burned in a fire and everything, but with the technology that was available in the world of Star Wars, I don’t understand why he sounds like a scuba diver who can’t conserve their air. After yesterday, when I went to a consult and training to use my new CPAP, I’m convinced Darth Vader must have just had sleep apnea.

My CPAP instructor, Garth*, had some surprising insight. During his college years, he worked part time at a movie theater in Portland, Oregon. This theater just happened to be playing the longest continuous run of Star Wars in North America, so he knew the movie better than the textbooks he studied while monitoring the projector. After all other US theaters had retired their Star Wars run, people began to travel from all over the country just to visit this theater. One evening, Garth noticed a middle-aged, short, slightly pudgy man trying to remain incognito in the back of the theater. Garth approached him and whispered, “You’re George Lucas, aren’t you?” “Yes,” he said, “but don’t tell anyone.” So Garth then balanced his fan boy dreams with keeping his squeaky, star-struck voice to a whisper. As it turns out, Darth Vader’s helmet acted as a respirator for his severely burned lungs. In the 1970s, the idea of a quiet respirator wasn’t really a priority. A device that could prolong life was already fascinating enough. Despite the advanced technology in Star Wars, the audience still needed to understand the severity of Darth Vader’s condition, and a noisy respirator was the best way to convey this message. Who knew that my visit to a sleep medicine clinic would yield such fascinating insight? This is what happens when the Seattle Freeze melts.

May the 4th be with you all…once the day arrives.

*name has been changed