A Love Letter to My Sweetie for Being AWESOME!!!

This is a love letter to my sweetie, my amazing partner Andrew. During this trying time, while working 10-12 hour days, he has also been my full time caregiver. In addition to being loving, compassionate, and kind, he is incredibly inventive. Because of the balance issues caused by my eye surgery, knee immobilization, and crutches, I am not especially coordinated (I see everything in 2 dimensions and as if one eye is under water, so I end up feeling off balance, dizzy, and nauseous most of the time, whether my eye is open or closed.), I can’t do many things for myself at the moment. So Andrew finds solutions to help me be as independent as possible.

He got a lift for the toilet seat so I could save my good knee. He concocted a shower strategy that involved a storage tub, a pillow in a garbage bag, sleeved in a t-shirt that I can, with help, sit on in the bath. Because my favorite way to relax is to take baths (and we tried a strategy the other night that was a little scary), he went to the store and purchased a precisely cut oak plank to sit across the back of the tub so I could more easily and safely lift myself in and out of the water. It was genius.

He helps me get dressed. He brings me what I need to wash my face, brush my teeth, get ready for my day or for bed. He prepares my office chair or the couch (doubling seat cushions so I sit higher and can more easily get up and down) so I don’t have to spend all my time in bed.

He also cooks almost all our meals, from 3 meat tacos to Fattoush salad to hummus, veggies and zatar chips, he regularly makes creative and delicious dishes that feed my soul and my body. He brings me Starbucks beverages, chocolate, and flowers to lift my spirits.

I’m getting more mobile, or at least more used to viewing the world in 2 dimensions. My knee hurts less (a sign that I may have strained or pulled rather than seriously damaging things – fingers crossed). I’ve been able to sleep a bit more. The first two weeks pain woke me (and as a result, Andrew, every 2 hours). Last night I slept 5 hours, then 3 more. Andrew got 7 hours total. Two days in the last week, I got up by myself, washed my face and brushed my teeth.

I have to be honest, I have not always handled this situation with the grace I’d like. I cry regularly. I am bored and sometimes frustrated. But through it all, I am grateful.

Ten years ago Andrew was Stefan’s backup when I broke both my wrists in a dancing accident. I was unable to do anything for 3 months, then had to learn how to use my hands again and rebuild my strength. With love and compassion, Andrew helped care for me. He made me feel safe to need care and support. He nurtured and protected me. Now, 10 years later, Andrew is my full time caregiver as I get through this strange moment. I could not ask for a better, more loving partner. I am grateful for you. I am grateful to you, my love!

Adventures in aging: Part 3 – Seriously?! There’s more?!

Apparently the universe was not done giving me the “slow down” messages with simply a detached retina and sore knee that can’t be assessed, let alone fixed, until after my retina heals. So, … at least eight weeks.

The night of my surgery, I stumbled in the bathroom twice in succession, heard a loud pop both times in my right knee (the sore one), felt excruciating pain, and to cut to the chase, had to be taken to the hospital in an ambulance. I feel oddly embarrassed by this. I think prior to this week I’ve been in the ER only a handful of times in my life, usually for someone else, but only once before in an ambulance.

The 911 response team was wonderful. They immediately gave me IV pain meds that took the edge off. “They won’t stop the pain”, the paramedic said. “They’ll just make you care less.” The EMTs apologized for the fact that they actually had to get me on the gurney and into the ambulance and to the hospital. And all this was going to hurt… A lot… It did.

Ambulance maintenance clearly does not include shocks. I felt every bump along the way. The EMT gave me a little more pain medication in route.

Apparently fentanyl derivatives make me very talkative. The EMT kept asking me questions and I kept answering them. I babbled the whole way. It only occurred to me later that this was a distraction strategy – keeping my mind on something other than the pain. He asked about my career – directing forensics at St. Olaf College immediately after earning my PhD, helping create the precursors to what become the School of Public Health at UNR, serving as the Kansas Health Foundation Distinguished Chair in Strategic Communication and starting the Wichita State University Hunger Awareness Initiative, teaching judges around the world, traveling with my children, my amazing partner Andrew, and on and on. I don’t think I’ve ever told anyone so much of the story of my life in one 20 minute moment. And through it all, I reaffirmed for myself how wonderful my life is except for this weird moment… and, you know, some other weird moments,… but those are different stories. Apparently even when I’m on drugs I recognize how privileged and blessed I am.

We picked the hospital we did because it was in my insurance network and I’d had a very positive experience there earlier in the week when my retina partially detached (see parts 1&2 in this series). Andrew also called in advance to make sure they had people available to address my injuries. They told us they had people on call who could take care of me, if necessary.

We and the hospital staff differed vastly in our understandings of what “care” meant. For us that meant figure out what’s going on with my knee and get a plan to fix it. For them it meant “If it ain’t broke we don’t fix it”, a literal quotation from my attending physician. They did, however give me great IV pain meds, so I was able to relax a bit.

Andrew followed the ambulance in his car. At the hospital the ambulance went in one entrance and the EMTs directed Andrew to park in a nearby lot. “They’ll let you in back as soon as you get in. Don’t worry we’ll take good care of her.” And they did. ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ to the 911 response team. The ER staff were a mixed bag. I asked for Andrew from the time I got into a bed in the ER. They made him wait an hour and a half in the waiting room until they allowed him back with me.

When we got to the hospital Andrew called my daughter Alyssa. I hadn’t been able to reach her. Alyssa came immediately and they let her back with me.

They did a really nifty set of x-rays in the bed. I didn’t have to move my sore knee much or turn my head. It was pretty snappy. I knew that I hadn’t broken anything. I hadn’t actually fallen. So it had to be soft tissue damage. But x-rays are the ER go to.

What I should have remembered from Alyssa’s experience shredding her knee was that emergency rooms, although they tell you they have orthopedic specialists and surgeons on call, don’t call them to the ER except to set bones. When I say I should have remembered that ERs don’t treat soft tissue injuries, what I mean is that 10 years ago when Alyssa destroyed her knee, severing her ACL, MCL, tore meniscus, and severely bruised her knee, they sent her home with no wrap, no brace, and no crutches because her leg wasn’t broken. When we went to the doctor the next day and found out the extent of her injuries, I was livid. I assumed Alyssa’s experience was just bad care. I didn’t realize it was ER practice not to do anything with soft tissue injuries.

With Alyssa’s insistence, they did finally decide to give me pain meds, the sling that I wear from my thigh to my ankle, and a pair of crutches. They then wished me the best of luck in finding a referral as they didn’t have one to give me. Not sure how any of that means orthopedic surgeons on call… or care… But there you go…

Reflections:

1. I’m really not sure what I should have done when I hurt myself that badly at night. The pain was unbearable. I definitely needed some serious pain meds and I am not clear what the alternative to the ER might have been.

2. I need a clear understanding of what services are provided in the ER. Maybe we all do. It’s important to know that they don’t deal with soft tissue injuries, no matter how painful they are. In the words of my attending physician “We treat blood and bones.” Neither were my issue. In the ER, they x-ray. Because the same ER had done CT scans with and without contrast and ultrasounds earlier in the week, I expected more.

3. It’s very important to have an advocate. My daughter made things happen quickly once she arrived.

4. In all situations, assertiveness and perseverance are important in getting your needs met. It was very difficult to get the health providers to come down to my level so I could actually see them. Since having had my retina reattachment surgery earlier that day I could not lift my head nor could I lie anywhere but on my right side, eyes parallel to the floor. I repeatedly asked the same doctor and nurse to sit down so I could see them when they talked to me. That actually helped them stop treating me like I wasn’t really a person and facilitated communication. I’m glad I was assertive about that.

5. It helps to have a professional that you can call for back up support. I am incredibly grateful to one of my ex students who is a well respected doctor and has worked in the Las Vegas medical community. She talked with me on the phone while I was in the ER, clarified my expectations, and helped me strategize.

6. Even though I didn’t get what I hoped for, a diagnosis and a plan for treatment for my knee, I did get what I actually needed in that moment. I got pain medication, a brace, and crutches. That’s a lot to be thankful for.

Adventures in Aging – Part 2: Knee pain, a brace and a walker

I’ve always believed that aging is a mindset, and that attitude keeps us healthy regardless of biological age. This is obviously not the case with serious or chronic illnesses, accidents, etc. but absent those, how we choose to live determines our strength, our vitality, our tenacity, and perseverance. That’s what I believe. I’ve been extremely lucky. Aside from two broken wrists and shattered cartilage under my right knee that have each taken me down for 3 months plus healing time, I view myself as healthy. That view has been challenged a bit this past week.

Not only did I partially detach my left retina, but my knee has gotten progressively worse over the last week. Last month, I held my first in-person workshop at a girl scout camp in southern Illinois. It went incredibly well. But the day before, my logistics partner, who arranged the marketing and location, broke her foot. That meant I tried to keep her from schlepping things throughout the weekend. She didn’t ask me to do this. I just didn’t want her to hurt her foot worse. We had great help from participants, but at first, it was just the two of us in the camp. So, I carried stuff I probably shouldn’t have carried. I didn’t notice much during the workshop, but after I got off the plane back home, I felt a twinge in my right knee. I dealt with it as I always do, a hot bath, Advil, and a slathering of full-specturm CBD roll-on. I was stiff the next morning but decided to walk it out. It seemed to work. The pain was minimal, and I was fully flexible. The next morning it took a little longer to loosen up and there was more pain. This went on… and on… and on until the day I went to the ER for my vision issue. What I had been doing was powering through the pain. As the day went on, that got harder and harder. By the end of my time at the ER for my eye, the doctor (He’d noticed how my gait had changed throughout the day, from smooth to my having a pronounced limp) called for an ultrasound to make sure I didn’t have a blood clot. I didn’t.

That night, walking from the car to the elevator at our condo was excruciating. I told Andrew there was no way I could walk like this the next day to see the surgeon. He assured me I could lean on him. “No. Seriously. I can’t put any weight on it.” He agreed to run out (at 11 pm) and grab me crutches and a knee brace. When he got to Walgreen’s he facetimed me to tell me that they didn’t have crutches after all (He’d called to check in advance.), to let me pick out the brace I wanted, and to show me a walker he had found that he thought would work.

I have to be honest. I burst into tears. A WALKER! Not for the first time, I played with the idea of losing capacity. And I didn’t like it. “I’m sorry. I can’t make that decision”, I said. “I need to get off here before I really start bawling. You do what you think is best.” And I hung up. I am lucky that Andrew is such a patient person. He came home, brought me the knee brace, and helped me put it on. My knee felt immediately better, but I still couldn’t walk on it. “Hey”, he said. “You have hiking poles. Do you know where they are?” “The front closet”, I replied. When he brought those to me, we immediately knew they wouldn’t work as they had sharp metal points on the tips. Bless his heart, he let me say it out loud. “These aren’t going to work either.”, I said. He nodded. “So, just try this”, he said as he brought out the walker. It was cool, collapsible, lightweight with wheels on the front ends. Then he made a joke about me practicing for when I’m 90. “Too soon”, I said and I burst into tears again.

I’ve now been using the walker around the condo for 4 days and on limited trips outside. My knee is feeling better. I’ll have to wait until I’m approved by my PCP to see a doctor about my knee and I’ll definitely wait until after my eye surgery, but in the meantime, I’m using my brace and my walker, and I’m grateful. I’ve become a poster child for the Walgreen’s Space Saver walker. At doctor’s appointment and on the street, people using more traditional walkers stop me and ask me about it. I let them try it out, see how lightweight it is and how easy to collapse.

I know my using a walker is temporary, at least this time. My attitude has again shifted and I view my walker as a tool and my knee pain as slowing me down to protect my eye prior to surgery. I’m also viewing my knee pain as a reminder that I should not be schlepping too much, just as my wrist pain reminded me of that during our recent move. My body is strong and resilient, but she has limits, limits I need to respect.

Adventures in aging – Part 1: A partially detached retina, problems with my PCP, a trip to the ER, and great care at Desert Springs

I won’t lie. This last week has been rough! It challenged how I see myself, how I see, literally, and my self-concept and beliefs about my capacity. The universe decided to remind me that I’m not a kid any more,… or a young adult,… or even middle aged, as more than half my life is definitely behind me. It also reminded me that my body is strong, resilient, and that sometimes things need extra care and support. I need to stay vigilant.

I woke up one morning and immediately started getting things done, like I do. I collected paperwork for my editing partner, Victorine Mbong Shu, negotiated with a local independent bookstore about doing a book event for Writing about Motherhood Honesty in Wichita in November, communicated with coaching clients, forwarded an invoice for a friend, finalized my ballot for the upcoming election, did laundry, made turkey salad for lunch.

As I was working on the computer, I noticed the vision in my left eye was, well,… strange. I seemed to be looking around my left eye. Upon closer attention, I had a big dark semi-circle from my nose halfway through my vision in my left eye. I couldn’t see anything through it. I realized I had been working like this for a while that morning, looking around part of my vision. Our brains are amazing things!

I thought “Oh crap! Ocular migraine!”, so I took some Rizatripton and Advil and continued about my day hoping to stave off the nasty headache I expected. As I made the turkey salad, I noticed that my spot was not resolving. “Hmmm… This is new.”, I thought “Oooo! What if this isn’t a migraine?”

Since I’m new to Las Vegas, I have new insurance, a new primary care provider, who I have yet to meet (changing that), and as it turned out a lot of red tape to sort out. My primary care provider’s receptionist told me that they would have to verify that I was a client with my insurance provider, have their supervisor review my materials, and approve me as a new client prior to meeting with me… And this could take up to a week… Crickets.

My mind was racing. This seems like it might be serious! Stroke, aneurysm, blood clot, retinal detachment all ran through my mind. “I don’t have a week to wait. I think this may be serious”, I said. “I’m sorry. That’s our policy”, she said. I tried to joke; I tried to persuade; I tried to plead; I tried to bargain. “What should I do?”, I asked. “I can’t advise you. You’re not our client”, she replied. I gave up.

I called Humana, my insurance company and asked what I should do. To make a very long story short, they sent me to the ER. Good decision. They sent me to Desert Springs Hospital Medical Center. “Hi, I’m Dr. George”, the doctor said. “Hi, I’m Dr. Deborah”, I replied, joking. We first talked about what kind of doctors we were, our specialties, our training, etc. Through it all, he was assessing my condition. “I think you detached part of your retina”, he said, but I want to be sure. Over the next several hours they ran CT scans, CT scans with contrast, ultrasounds, an EKG, blood tests, etc. They were incredibly thorough. Desert Springs is a teaching hospital, so under strict supervision, there were residents, interns, med students, and nursing students caring for me. I recognize the need for teaching hospitals. Teaching is extremely important and everyone who worked with me was professional and highly skilled.

The tests, confirmed Dr. George’s diagnosis and we headed out for the day with an appointment to see a retina specialist at 7:45 am the next morning. I left feeling very satisfied with my care and more respectful of my body. But she and the universe weren’t done with me yet… (more on that later). Oh, and Dr. George called me the next day to follow up and see how I was doing. I appreciate that kind of care.

The silver streak in this video is the detachment line of my retina. Pretty cool video!

Mom, Competitive Forensics, and a Saturday Surprise at Wright State University

I stood at the front of the room ready to start my speech. Then I paused. “No. No!”, I thought!  “Excuse me, may I have just a minute”, I asked the judges. “I’ll be right back”, I said, rushing from the room without waiting for an answer. I went out in the hall and found her. I grabbed her hand. “Come on”, I said. “Come now. I’m ready to start.” “I don’t want to make you nervous”, she said. “No. It’s OK. I want you to be there.” We hurried back into the room; I walked to the front, took a deep breathe, and started.

I don’t remember the actual question I was supposed to address, but the speech had something to do with Spain. It was my last extemporaneous speech* at my last regular season high school forensics competition, and my mother had driven from Urbana, Ohio to Wright State University in Dayton to surprise me. She wanted to hear me speak.

For four years she had watched me leave on Saturday mornings and some holidays to compete in forensics tournaments around the state and in neighboring states. This was the first time she had come to one of my tournaments. Parents rarely did. No one typically watched these rounds of competition, just the participants and the judges. This was the first opportunity she had to hear me speak. Because it was so unexpected, I was apprehensive at first. I was surprised she was there and honestly thrown a little bit off balance.

I had made the final round of girls extemporaneous speaking**. I was concerned I wouldn’t be able to do my best with her in the room. I might be distracted, unable to concentrate. But as I stood up there to begin my speech, I knew this was an opportunity that wouldn’t come again. I knew I had to let my mother hear me speak. I wanted my mother to hear me speak.

As I began my speech, I smiled at my mom. Then confidently and with clarity I spoke for 5 to 7 minutes on whatever the question was about Spain. I knew my material. I knew the argument I wanted to make. The words flowed out of me easily. I was good. I was satisfied. My mother got to see a reasonable representation of what I had been doing all these Saturdays for all these years. I was so happy she was there.

I went on to win that tournament. My mom got to see that as well. I competed in Little and Big Districts and placed 2nd in the State that year, but in many ways, the most important speech I gave my entire high school career was the one on Spain in front of my mother.

* Extemporaneous speaking involved preparing a 5-7 minute speech with personal research in 30 minutes on a current events related topic, typically around public policy, global issues, or politics.

** There were separate categories for girls and boys in extemporaneous speaking at that time.

Lessons with Grandma #1: Hair washing, potato soup, and a visit to the ER

On Saturday mornings, when I didn’t have high school speech tournaments, I would ride my bike to Grandma’s house, wash her hair, set it in pin curls, dry, and style it. I loved this ritual. It was my time with Grandma and a chance to show her my love.

Her hair was gorgeous, pure white, fine, and soft as kitten fur. She kept it short, only a few inches long, but rolling thin strips into curls and securing each with two bobby pins took a while.  Once every strand was contained, she sat under her bonnet hair dryer; I would check every 10-15 minutes until it was dry. To check, I’d unpin a curl, unroll it to check for moisture, and re-roll it if it was damp. When her hair was dry, I would gently unpin each curl and run my fingers through it. Grandma didn’t have a lot of patience for my playing with her hair, but she did love the freedom of the pins being removed. When all the curls were loose, I would gently brush and style her hair. Sometimes she had me secure it with hairspray. Other times she just kept it free.

On one Saturday, I was moving a little slowly when Grandma called. Mom burst into my room and commanded “Get up. Grandma needs you. Take the car.” Half-awake I replied, “I’m coming. Just a few minutes. All I have to do this morning is wash Grandma’s hair. I’m just a little tired. Mom.” “She needs you now! There’s been an accident. She’s cut herself.” I leapt out of bed and threw clothes on as fast as I could. “Take the car”, mom demanded, throwing the keys to me. I drove the 6 blocks to Grandma’s house as fast as I could. The 3 minutes it took to get there were interminable. I parked along the side of the house, leapt the curb, ran up the steps, and burst through the door. I heard water running in the kitchen sink. “Grandma, I’m here.” When I entered the kitchen, there was blood from the table across the floor to the sink, a lot of blood. Grandma was holding her left hand under the faucet. What looked like an impossible amount of bright red blood flowing into the water stream from the deep gash between her thumb and index finger. “I was cutting a potato and the knife slipped. “Ok” I said. “Let’s wash it out with soap and I’ll get a towel.” “I feel woozy, Grandma said. She looked pale and as if she might faint. I gently washed her hand and quickly packed a clean washcloth against the wound, then wrapped her hand and wrist in a kitchen towel. “Ok. That looks deep. We need to go to the hospital. I think you need stitches. Do you think you can walk?”, I asked. “Yes” she replied weakly. We slowly walked through the house, my arms around her waist, her right arm around my shoulder, her injured hand against her chest. Slowly we moved across the living room, out the door, down the steps, across the street. The walk seemed to take so long, and blood was seeping through the hand towel. I gently helped Grandma into the passenger seat. “Lean back, close your eyes, and just rest”, I said as I sprinted around the car and jumped into the driver’s seat.

Grandma had never learned to drive and she was a skittish passenger (at least with me). I drove carefully to the hospital, less than 5 minutes away, (the beauty of living in such a small town), cooing and soothing Grandma as I drove. I pulled up to the entrance, told Grandma I would be right back, and dashed to the door. Two Sisters of Mercy in mid-calf white habits with short white veils that held their hair back from their foreheads were at the front desk. “Please help me. My Grandma cut her hand and it’s bleeding pretty badly.” One nun grabbed a wheelchair while the other grabbed the phone. We got Grandma out of the car and the nun rolled her straight to an operating room. They got Grandma onto a gurney and a doctor came in immediately. “You should leave, young lady”, he said. “Please let her stay”, Grandma said. “Come over here and hold my other hand”, she demanded firmly. I did. She had bled quite a bit on the drive and the towels were bloody. “Let’s see what we have here”, the doctor said as he unwrapped the towel and washcloth. “You wrapped this well”, he said. “See, it’s starting to clot off a bit, but this is deep and will need stitches. It doesn’t look like she cut anything major, so I’m going to clean this with antiseptic, give her a couple shots to numb the area, then put in several stitches.” Grandma lay with her eyes closed as the doctor flooded the wound with antiseptic. When he picked up what looked like an impossibly large needle, I noticed the room starting to get dark; the light on Grandma’s hand was impossibly bright. I noticed black spots in my peripheral vision. One on the nuns gently put her hands on my shoulders and directed me to a chair. I sat heavily, feeling dizzy. I heard a small crack and smelled a pungent aroma just under my nose. “Smelling salts”, she said quietly in my ear, “You looked a little dizzy. Just put your head down and breathe calmly. This happens. You managed the crisis, now your body is reacting to the shock. Just breathe.”

I didn’t pass out. Grandma got stitches and a white bandage around her hand and wrist with instructions for wound care and rest.

We drove home quietly, content that the crisis was over. I got Grandma into the house and into a chair in the living room, covered her with a blanket, called my mom to let her know what had happened, and cleaned the kitchen.

Grandma told me she had been planning to make potato soup, so I cut the onions and celery she had on the table, and the potatoes she had already peeled and placed in a bowl of water, careful not to cut toward my hand. I even made rivels (flour, eggs, and salt) to boil on top.

I learned a lot in that short morning. I learned I’m good in a crisis; I learned I’m not so good with blood, and maybe most valuable, I learned a healthy respect for vegetables, especially potatoes. I learned to use a cutting board to cut vegetables and never to hold a potato and cut toward my hand. I also learned that with Grandma’s guidance, I make a mean potato soup. We decided to wait to wash her hair until the next day.

My beautiful Grandma Dorothy Catherine Pence (Whalen)

On Fear, Hope, a Bracelet, and Gratitude

Sometimes those who love us see more clearly what we need than we do. Today I write about one of those times. Today I write about fear, hope, and a bracelet that signified both. Today I write about gratitude. This month is the 10-year anniversary of the freak dancing accident that resulted in breaking both of my wrists, triple fracturing my right and double fracturing my left. That accident was in many ways both a blessing and a curse. I learned so much about myself and those I love. I learned that people would be there for me if I needed them. I learned I was safe to be helpless. I learned how to deal with the most excruciating pain I could imagine. I learned to slow down, to be kind to myself, to accept care, to ask for help. I didn’t learn these lessons easily, but I learned them.

Throughout the holiday season, I was working my way through splints, then casts, then braces with increasing levels of physical therapy. For homework, I was playing in a bowl of rice multiple times a day to reduce skin sensitivity and promote flexibility. I was opening and closing wooden clothespins, learning to touch my fingertips to my thumbs, and trying to relearn how to do simple tasks for myself, like feeding myself, brushing my teeth, dressing myself.  

One day, my friend Miche Dreiling brought me a present. It was a small, square box. Inside was a delicate, red bracelet. It was the most terrifying thing I had ever seen. A bracelet! A bracelet? My skin was so sensitive I couldn’t imagine ever being able to wear a bracelet again. Even though this one was so delicate and small, it looked like a torture device to me. I know I looked at Miche confused. “Not for now”, she said. “For later… when you’re healed”. I closed the lid on the box and put the bracelet in a drawer in my hutch. I wondered if I would ever take it out. It became a symbol of fear and hope.

The day I decided I was ready to try to wear it finally came. I was apprehensive as my skin was still so sensitive, but it was time. Andrew helped me put it on. And though I could only wear it for a short time that day, I knew that sometime soon, I would be able to wear it for much longer periods. I knew that I would someday be able to wear all my treasured bracelets and rings whenever and for as long as I wished. That day wasn’t here yet, but it was coming. Today as I reflect 10 years later, I am wearing an iWatch, a wrap bracelet, and 5 rings on my hands. The moment I opened Miche’s gift, I doubted that this day would ever come. Now I don’t think about jewelry anymore. I wear it easily and without pain.  

In all honesty, what at first felt like the most insensitive gift I could imagine became a talisman of hope as I embraced my healing and the belief that I would regain full function and capacity. I am grateful that Miche brought me this talisman of hope. I doubted the wisdom of this gift. In retrospect, it was just the gift I needed. I cherish that bracelet as a reminder that in fear, there can also be hope.

Connection, preemies, and African violets

I’ve been thinking about African violets today. When I was little and just starting to learn about plants, my grandmother told me that African violets thrive best when the leaves of different plants touch one another. I am like an African violet. Touch and connection are critical if I am to thrive.

I’m thinking about connection because of an experience I had this morning. Andrew has a cool brain wave machine to help you relax, sleep, concentrate, or whatever you need to do. It has alpha, gamma, delta, and beta waves depending upon what program you choose. I haven’t been sleeping very well (jet lag) so I was going for relaxation, alpha waves. I’ve only tried the machine three times and each time I’ve had some really interesting insights. I write about today’s insights below.

There are a lot of amazing and wonderful things going on in my life, but I’ve also been feeling a level of angst and distress that I couldn’t explain.

I realized during the session this morning that my distress is about connection. I view connection as the most basic and fundamental of human needs.

I was born two months prematurely and spent the first month of my life in an incubator. I was born in my grandmother‘s home and the doctor, who arrived shortly after my birth, immediately took me away from my mother and rushed me to the hospital. He put my mother to bed for two weeks to recover, because apparently that’s what you did at that time. My aunt, who became my godmother, came to visit my mother shortly after my birth. She came to the hospital to see me as well, once. Because I was in an incubator for the first month of my life, I was not held. I was touched minimally. The belief was that I needed all of my energy and attention to be focused on growth. During that month, I largely grew alone.

My father and his parents met the doctor at the hospital almost immediately upon my arrival there. They could only see me in the incubator across the room.

This reality of separation has led me on a lifelong journey seeking connection. I have not been very successful at achieving that. I am estranged from my biological family for reasons I will not get into here. I do not communicate with my mother or any of my siblings. I thought I had found enduring connection with my husband. I felt that we were soul mates. While we were wonderful together for a long time, that ended as well. We have two children, a son and a daughter. I felt so connected to and needed by these amazing beings. I was their center, I grounded them as they grew. When they were born I wished for both of them to be strong, loving, and independent. They are both exactly that, in their own unique ways, and so much more. I wished for them to be close to one another always, to be able to rely on one another. After all our siblings are often the longest relationships of our lives. My siblings and I were not raised that way. Closeness with my siblings was what I desired, and so, what I wished for my children.

With Covid, and the trajectories of our lives, I have felt my connections with my children weakening. Not our love for one another, but our willingness to reach out to one another both for casual everyday connection, and in time of need. Maybe that’s just a natural part of the growth process. My children are adults with their own lives.

Our weakening connections have been especially hard. I view our connections as part of what makes us strong and able to manage anything that we’re faced with in life. I do not believe that any one person can ever meet all of the needs of another person. I believe that all of our important relationships offer something unique and of value that is irreplaceable. I have often said that the reason I am able to go out big in the world is because I have my people to come home to, figuratively if not literally.

Being locked down through Covid and physically separated from my son and daughter for longer than ever before has been extremely hard on me. I haven’t seen my son in two years. I’ve been fortunate to have seen my daughter several times during this time, but far less than usual. The physical distance is hard.

I am blessed with a wonderful partner, also a preemie, who loves me, understands me, and supports me more fully than anyone ever has. He truly sees me and his desire for connection matches mine. I am fortunate that I have found my home with him. He is my person. He is my heart.

In many cultures around the world the bonds within families, the bonds between parents and children endure and are strong for a lifetime. I wonder why in our culture we push so hard for independence and doing things on your own. That seems unnecessarily difficult to me. I wish that we could recognize the importance and significance of the basic human need for connection. I wish we cherished and nurtured those connections that make life so much fuller and richer.

Maybe I feel this need for connection more strongly than others do because of that first month of going it alone in an incubator. Maybe that’s why I understand the African violet’s need to touch in order to thrive.

Travel Tips from a Woman on a Plane

I’m constantly on the lookout for things that make travel easier. Not having traveled much since BC (before Covid), a lot of my tips and tricks were not in the forefront of my mind as I prepared for my trip to South Africa. Which means, that I forgot almost everything. I was lucky enough to learn some new travel tips as I headed to South Africa.

On my New York to Amsterdam flight, I sat next to a mother and daughter traveling from Florida to Switzerland on holiday. At one point, I returned from walking around my part of the plane to stretch my legs. Due to Covid restrictions, I was only able to walk around my section of the plane. Anyway, when I returned to my seat, the woman sitting next to me had on a gold mask with stars across her forehead under her Covid mask. It startled me because it was unexpected and not how she looked when I left. I noticed her mom was wearing one too. I was intrigued.

So, I asked. She told me it was a moisturizing mask she picked up for a couple bucks at Target before her trip. Easy peasy. It seemed like a great idea. I had forgotten how dry planes are and had just been wishing my lotion wasn’t in my checked luggage.

Little did I know, she wasn’t done. I was witnessing a plane ritual. Next, she broke out a second packet. This one contained what looked like clunky hair dyeing gloves. She unfolded them from the packet and slid her hands into them cinching them around her wrists with a sticky strip. They were also filled with lotion. She and her mom wore their gloves for 10-15 minutes or so, after which they peeled the gloves off, folded them back into the original packet and massaged the rest of the lotion into their hands and arms.

We talked further. I asked her how she came up with these ideas. She said that every time she travels, she engages in this ritual toward the end of long flights. The ritual also included a moisturizing eye mask, which I had somehow missed noticing, and travel socks infused with aloe. Long trips are tiring and hard on our skin, especially on our faces and hands. She said rather than tired and moisture starved, she liked to arrive at her destination refreshed.

Genius!

I typically bring a moisturizing spray for my face, saline solution for my nose, eye drops, and cuticle oil as well as hand lotion when I travel, almost all of which were currently in my checked luggage and out of reach. I’m a little out of practice. What I was observing took my typical self care routine in planes to a whole new level. I loved the idea of turning the end of a long flight into a spa moment.

Ok, so I actually got to try this out. As good fortune would have it, I got off my flight in Amsterdam, and directly across from my gate was a drugstore. Surely they wouldn’t have moisturizing face and hand masks. They had both. As I still had an over 10 hour flight ahead of me to Johannesburg, I decided to splurge and treat myself. I picked up a couple of each for my next flight and my return trip.

For my first try, it was a little messy. About 8 hours into my flight, I washed my face and brushed my teeth, then I put on the face mask, it was the kind that is face shaped and you peel off the backing, place it over your face and massage it a bit to get it to fit smoothly. It was very creamy. I placed my Covid mask on top of it and moved to the hand masks. I should have taken these steps one at a time. Nooby error. The gloves were filled with a soft lotion that warmed comfortably as I wore them. I cinched the gloves around my wrists and leaned back to relax for 20 minutes. Both felt nice, soft, creamy, and pretty refreshing. I was concerned about the possible mess though so I didn’t really relax very well.

After 20 minutes I took off the face mask, folded it up and put it back in the packet. I massaged the rest of the lotion into my face as best I could with clunky gloves on and broke out a new Covid mask. The one I had worn was full of lotion. My face felt really nice. Then I removed the gloves, folded them, and placed them in their original packet. I massaged the lotion into my hands, wrists, lower arms, and elbows. There was a lot of lotion in those gloves! Surprisingly, I didn’t make a huge mess. I did get some lotion in my hair and some strange looks from people sitting near me. But I felt very refreshed after engaging in this ritual.

As we were about to land, the woman sitting next to me asked me to explain what I had done and why. I told her about meeting the mother and daughter on the plane from New York and that on impulse I had picked up the face and hand masks at the drugstore across from our gate in the Amsterdam airport. She was intrigued and indicated that the next time she flies she might try this ritual as well. She liked the idea of feeling energized and refreshed after a long flight. Maybe this will become a trend and rather than being startled by people wearing moisturizing masks and lotion filled gloves on long flights, it will become more familiar. I highly recommend trying it. After 28 hours of travel, it felt great.

My first trip since BC (before Covid) – heading to South Africa!

This is a strange day, my first international trip since BC (before Covid). I am always excited before new adventures. Ok, to be honest, I’m always excited and also a little bit scared of the uncertainty of going to a new place. After 2 full years of the Covid pandemic, I was more balanced between excited and scared this morning. That is, until the rearing blue horse at Denver International Airport came into view.

Suddenly I couldn’t breathe and I felt overwhelmed. My love, Andrew, took my hand as tears filled my eyes and told me what I always tell everyone else, focus on the excitement. My breathing slowed and my eyes cleared. Of course he was right.

I literally could not have a better first international CC (Covid continuing) journey. I am flying to Johannesburg, South Africa to spend a week with the incomparable Victorine Mbong Shu. Together we have co-edited a book called Motherhood Honesty, an anthology that contains stories and poems written by 28 women from Africa, Asia, and the North America, that we will launch on March 8, International Women’s Day.

Making this book a reality has taken just over 40 weeks from call to completion, roughly the time it takes from pregnancy to the birth of a human child – I love the poetry in that!

I am so excited to meet these women who I feel I know so well through the openness and integrity with which they share their experiences of motherhood loss, triumph, failure, success, and choice. I have worked with them as we have edited their stories and now as we prepare for our launch event. I anticipate many hugs, dancing, and a few tears when we meet.

Life is such a glorious adventure and I am dipping my toes back into world exploration with this short, one week trip to South Africa.

Life is to be lived, mindfully, and with care, but also fully and openly. I am grateful to be traveling halfway around the world to a new country for me, to meet women who already feel like family and friends!