New Year’s Evolutions

NEW YEAR
Instead of making New Year’s resolutions for 2014 I’m going to do “mini evolutions.”  Each month I’m going to either adopt a habit that I would like to make permanent, remove something from my life that needs removing, or simply test myself with challenges to see if I can do it.  So here goes:
January: NO SPENDING.  Unless I need it to live, I can’t buy it.
February: GIVE SOMETHING AWAY EVERY DAY.  This could be stuff from my closet, food to the food bank, $5 every day to a different charity, or simply an honest compliment.
March: FLOSS.  42 years old I still haven’t made this a habit.
April: WRITE EVERY DAY.
May: NO ELECTRONICS IN BED.  No checking the phone before getting out of bed in the morning, no playing Candy Crush until 3am, no endless browsing.  Kindle is allowed.
June: WALK, SWIM OR YOGA EVERY DAY.
July: NO PACKAGED FOOD.  No food that comes in boxes or bags unless it has only one ingredient (like frozen veggies).
August: PHONE CLEANSE.  This is going to be very hard, and will take some planning ahead, but I’d like to spend this month breaking up with my phone.  I will use it for calls, texts and for driving directions, but other than that it will stay out of my hand.
September: NO BUYING ANYTHING MADE IN CHINA.
October: TEA, NOT COFFEE. I love coffee so much that every once in a while I give it up just to make sure I can.
November: MEDITATE DAILY.
December: NO NEGATIVITY. Practice gratitude and positivity and cut back on complaining, criticizing, judging and doubt.

 

The 100 Item Wardrobe Challenge (Part II)

Screen Shot 2013-09-30 at 3.23.03 PM(Here is Part I of the 100 Item Wardrobe Challenge)

I recently made the decision to pare down my wardrobe to 100 items.  It seemed like a reasonable goal; 100 is enough that I could have endless mix-n-match combos, but few enough that my closet would never feel jammed full.  This goal is part of a general commitment I’m making to reduce the volume of my possessions and get rid of the things I don’t want, need or use.

Unfortunately, Phase I of the 100 Item Wardrobe Challenge has been a dismal failure so far.  Our cross-country move was the inciting incident to get rid of clutter and clothes and logically I should have used the move as a time to get rid of stuff BEFORE relocating, but that didn’t happen.  Instead I tried to do it as I unpacked — my plan had been to only put away the clothes that I love, and to not even bother unpacking the ones that I don’t.  Those would go straight to the donation center…or so I figured.

As I unpacked, I attempted to use these three rules:
1. Get rid of it if it doesn’t fit, I don’t wear it, or it’s damaged
2. Pick a color palette so that everything goes with everything
3. Replace cheap clothes with classic, high quality pieces that you can wear again and again

Somehow, despite doing my best to follow those rules, I still have something like 400 articles left!  By the end of a few days of unpacking, my closet was a jammed and jumbled mess:
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Sorry for bad photos.  We desperately need to get some lights in our bedroom.

I have been thinking about how much money this closet represents; how much I have spent on clothes over the years.  If I added it all up, it’s close to down-payment-on-a-car dollars.  Not because I buy expensive stuff, but because there is so damn much of it.

Money is one of the reasons I find it hard to get rid of things.  I see an item of clothing and I think about how much it cost, and then I start to rationalize that it would be a “waste” to get rid of it.  Luckily, I think I have to found a way to get over this mindset.

It goes something like this: I have a high-risk job, and have had many close calls while working.  In essence, I get compensated financially for managing to do my job and survive dangerous environments.  I tend to buy clothes when I get home from a job, as a reward to myself.  Therefore, I am risking my life for clothes.  And not even good clothes!  I am risking my life for the sake of cheap, socially irresponsible, disposable clothes, like the ones from H&M, Forever 21, Old Navy, Target, etc.  I’m a total impulse buyer, and “fast fashion” is my weakness.

tshirt

This is reason enough to reconsider my spending habits.

Out with fast fashion, in with slow style.

Slow fashion, slow home, slow food, slow everything!  Here is a great explanation of what “slow fashion” is.

I clearly need to try a different plan of attack for the next round.  I have decided to take a step back and think a bit about what my actual style is and to take a good hard look at the clothes that I’m holding on to because I want them to look good on me, versus the ones that actually look good AND fit my own style / shape.

I know I’m probably never going to wear that weird one-piece Lena Dunham-esque sparrow-printed onesie or the high-waisted shorts that I bought at Forever 21.  And I’m never going to wear that lady executive business suit that I’ve been hanging on to either.  I’ve haven’t worn a suit since I left the PR business 10 years ago…I’m probably not going to start wearing it now.

The blog You Look Fab has a really great overview on how to dress for your particular shape — the author really breaks it down into specifics.  Here is her advice for the hourglass shape.  I also realized that the “one color palette” does not work for me.  I like colors and patterns too much.  So, like any good procrastinator, I took to Pinterest to get organized before tackling my closet again.

If I had to sum up my style, it would include the same colors and hues worn by Joan on Mad Men…

joan

In today’s world she would be wearing an iPhone around her neck instead.

Combined with a love of cheerful patterns…florals, stripes, polka dots…
ModelKarma Floral Fashion_0

I love mixing textures — cashmere with leather, silk with denim, etc.

1002 cashmere

This lady is unreasonably long but I love the cashmere sweater and the leather skirt.

I like fitted clothes, v-necks, backless details, lace.

Things I don’t like: any pattern that’s also a brand (Burberry plaid), obnoxious logos, paisley (ew, amoebas), empire waist, short-waisted clothes (I have a long torso), pastels, button down shirts, or scratchy sweaters.

My failure on Round 1 was due to two main factors.  1) I simply don’t want to stick with one color palette.  Yes, that would be easy since everything would go with everything, but I know that I would get bored quickly.  2) replacing items with high-quality pieces would be nice but I’m not in a position to do that right now.

I started a Pinterest board which you can see here with my “dream list” of what my 100 items would be, making sure that (almost) everything fits into the style and colors that I like.  Then I posted a blank sheet of paper in my closet — this is where I’ll list the items that I’d like to slowly add in to make up my 100.  The thinking is that if I get rid of the stuff I don’t want, I can make room (literally and figuratively) for the things I DO want.  So there will be no impulse buying because every item will be something that I have carefully considered.

With all of this in mind, my new rules for the next round are:
1. Only keep the clothes that are colors and styles that look good on me
2. I can keep a few items that are “good enough” but that I would like to replace eventually.  Example: I have a green sweater from Old Navy.  It’s okay, but nothing great.  I’d rather have a beautiful soft forest green cashmere sweater, but I can’t afford that right now.  I can keep Old Crappy but add “dream sweater” to the wish list.
3. Dressy “occasion” dresses, coats / jackets and workout clothes don’t count towards the 100 items
4. Most important for this next round: ask myself “could someone benefit more from this X than I do?” and if answer is YES, then it goes away

With these rules in mind, I’m heading back into my closet for the next round…

Screen Shot 2013-09-30 at 3.23.03 PM

The 100 Item Wardrobe Challenge (Part I)

Screen Shot 2013-09-30 at 3.23.03 PM

There was a time in my life when everything I owned could fit into my car.  I lived that way for a long time.  Then I started traveling, and paradoxically that seemed to go hand in hand with accumulating.  I didn’t think much about it and I was pretty happy with all my lovely things until we decided to relocate from Los Angeles to Atlanta.

This is not my closet. Source: Apartment Therapy

This is not my closet.
Source: Apartment Therapy

By the time my husband and I moved in to our new home, I had more or less forgotten how much actual stuff we owned, because there had been a three month delay in between the packing in LA and the unpacking here in Atlanta.  To summarize: I lived in LA almost 20 years, most of them as a single gal in a tiny little rent controlled apartment in Santa Monica.  Then I met my husband and we moved in to a bungalow together after a few weeks of dating. Three years later — in May of 2013 — we got married.

What a magical day that was.

What a magical day that was.

Okay, that’s more like it.

That same month, we moved out of our home and packed the car to drive across the country to Atlanta.  But owing to a few roadblocks, we ended up delaying the move and had to spend the next three months depending upon the kindness of strangers (well, family) and living out of one suitcase before we finally made it to Atlanta.  Finally, on September 1, we moved in to our new home in Inman Park.

We also got a Porch Dog and named her Magnolia Blossom.

We also got a Porch Dog and named her Magnolia Blossom.

 

A close-up view of Magnolia.  She is missing a lot of teeth and her tongue tends to fall out while she's sleeping.

A close-up view of Magnolia. She is missing a lot of teeth and her tongue tends to fall out while she’s sleeping.

A week later a truck dropped off two pods, crammed full of our worldly possessions.  I had thought I’d throw open the doors and be overwhelmed with joy to see all the comforts of home that I had been missing.  Instead, I felt completely suffocated. As we started unpacking and carting everything in to the house, suffocation turned into a rising panic.  I started to stress out about where everything would go and how it would all fit into our house.  I had thought that after months of living out of my stinky duffel bag and using other people’s kitchens, beds, sofas, and even workout clothes I would be happy to have my own stuff around me again.  Instead, I felt queasy.

It could be worse.

It could be worse.

Many years ago I went to Africa for an extended period of time to film a movie on Mt. Kilimanjaro.  At some point during the months that we were slogging up and down the mountain, I started to fantasize about two things: a hot shower and peanut M&M’s.  I thought about them all the time and during the nights that I was freezing, barfy or miserable I would think how great it would be to have them.  Finally, we wrapped the project, everyone went back to a hotel in Arusha, Tanzania, and I got to take a hot shower.  It was, of course, heavenly.  But after about 10 or 15 minutes of standing under the hot water and scrubbing red dirt and mud out of every pore and shaving off my fur, there wasn’t much else to do.  I got out, toweled off, and went out to a boozy celebratory dinner.  So that was that. The next day I flew back to Amsterdam and then Boston, and when I finally touched down in Logan Airport I bought peanut M&M’s and ate them in the cab on the way to my apartment in Charlestown.  They tasted exactly as I remembered.  That burst of chocolate and the crunch of the peanut was like a little miracle.  The first M&M was incredible.  The second one was also delicious.  By the third, I was used to them again.  After about 15 M&M’s, I was sick of them but I soldiered on, doggedly eating one after another until I finished the bag.  I’m no quitter.  In fact, that same determination and stamina had helped get me to the top of the mountain despite the fact that at several points during Climb #3 I was actually puking and shitting simultaneously.  Sorry!  It’s true.  I was gross.  Anyway, the point is that I had spent months dreaming about two things that were actually incredibly mundane.  Far more mundane than camping at 18,000′ or climbing a blue, Coloseum-sized glacier at the top of a mountain.

Yawn.

Yawn.

But of course, that’s how it works: happiness is fleeting and no matter how incredible your present situation is there is always something else to want.  It was a good lesson for me, as I have learned to focus on where I am (be it hellish, spectacular or a little of both) rather than what my “reward” will be when I get through it.

Which brings me back to the mountain of stuff on the bed.

IMG_3653

This suitcase contains 43 pairs of jeans and weighs 50lbs.

By the time we were packing up our home in Cali, I was recovering from a shoulder surgery and preparing for a back surgery.  I packed in the way one would if one could not bend, lift or twist — I simply had my husband pull out each drawer and upend it into a box.  And although I tried to sort and discard, I was not as vigilant as I could be.

Seriously.  I don't even wear baseball hats!

Seriously. I don’t even wear baseball hats!

And that’s how we ended up with a stultifying amount of baseball hats, and this mess (the “socks n stuff” drawer):

So here I sit, surrounded by boxes and boxes and boxes of clothes, shoes, boots, hats, scarves, jewelry, jeggings, leggings, Lululemon booty pants, sweaters, wraps, dresses, sweatshirts, old rock concert T-shirts, socks and underwear.  I refuse to put it all away.  I know for a fact that I don’t need it, because I have lived this long without most of it.  I want to start fresh in our new home feeling free and light and ready for a new adventure here.

And so, I decided to once and for all do away with what has been dragging me down.

Who lives like this?  Not me.  Not yet.

Who lives like this? Not me. Not yet.
Source: Mode D’Amour

When it comes to de-cluttering your life and your wardrobe, most people have the same advice.  There are tons of great tutorials online and many inspiring stories.  I know, because right after I decided to whittle my wardrobe down to 100 items, I procrastinated for about a week and nothing but read other people’s blogs instead of unpacking.  The Nif En L’Air is a gorgeous blog and the writer takes an analytical approach to her own successes and failures at honing her wardrobe.  And there’s more inspiration here and here.

Most of the advice falls under the same basic principles:
1. Get rid of it if it doesn’t fit, you don’t wear it, or it’s damaged
2. Pick your color palette so that everything goes with everything
3. Buy classic, high quality pieces that you can wear again and again

That’s great advice, but I struggle with #2.  I don’t want a wardrobe that is all gray, red and black.  Or all pastels.  I love deep jewel tones and unusual clothes.  I would get monumentally bored wearing the same “classic LBD” every day and only changing out the scarf or the jewelry.

See…my ability to rationalize anything is my second greatest skill, after my dogged determination.

I decided the only way I could make the 100 ITEM WARDROBE CHALLENGE work would be if I changed the rules a little bit to make sense to me…

Coming up next: new city, new style, new rules…

My Baking Addiction

It started with a plumble (plum crumble).  Then pineapple-nectarine upside down cake.  Then it was a fig-plum tart and fig cake.  The fig tree in this yard produces so many figs that for about a week the squirrels and I looked like this:
possum-over-eats

Even with the gorging, I was throwing away about 10 figs a day.  What a travesty!
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I absolutely love fruit trees.  My dream home will have lemon, lime, orange, tangerine, fig, peach, avocado and apple trees.
Lemonmania!

Just add it to the list of when-I-grow-up.

Speaking of backyard fruit, I whipped up the Orange Creamsicle Cake and then moved on to cookies.  I found a new love.  Caramel Chocolate Chip Cookies…oh Lord.  I made two batches of these, tweaking the recipe slightly, and ended up with perfection.  The key is to beat the butter and sugar for almost 6–7 minutes until it is super fluffy before adding in the eggs.  The resulting cookies are chewy and delicious with hunks of caramel and chocolate all mixed up together in a circle of wonder.

Salted-Caramel-Chocolate-Chip-Cookies3

Recipe and photo via www.twopeasandtheirpod.com

See, the problem is that I am recovering from back surgery and all I’m allowed to do is lie down or stand up.  Sitting, driving, sports, work, travel and driving are all out of the picture for now.  I can’t watch any more TV as my brain has already atrophied into a pile of oatmeal.  I’m just floating through life like a tubby seal.

AND I’m recovering at my sister’s house and she has a huge, beautiful kitchen.  Since sitting, driving, sports, work, travel, driving, etc are all out of the picture, I figured I’d keep myself occupied by cooking.   Then it was on to sugar cookies, using Martha’s recipe.  I wanted to make the kind of big, sugary cookies that you get at a bakery.  I made half a batch and then slightly modified them to make giant Snickerdoodles.  Grab a cookie, a good book, a glass of milk and I’m in heaven on the back porch.

Chocolate cake from scratch with peanut butter frosting

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Image and recipe via Smitten Kitchen

I tried to make a marshmallow whip to inject in the cupcakes and make a sort of Hostess devil dog thing but the cake ended up absorbing the fluffy filling.  These will require another round of testing.

SONY DSC

Image and recipe via Jelly Toast Blog

Salted caramel biscotti.  I loved this, even though I did something wrong with the recipe.  I used some flour from the cabinet (this is not my house, so some of the unmarked items are a mystery) that turned out to be really peppery.  Weirdly, it ended up making them even better…salty and sweet and peppery and chewy and crumbly at the same time.  I could never replicate them even if I tried.

As long as I’m stuck here under doctor’s orders, the baking frenzy continues.  It’s been really fun cooking for a house full of people and I’m making the most of it!  Once I am well enough to travel and PCA and I finally make our cross-country move, I’m going to have to slow my roll a little as this kind of sugar overload cannot be sustained for long.  But oh what fun it’s been…

What should I make today?

Recipe credits list:
Plumble (my own recipe)
Pineapple-Nectarine Upside Down Cake (my own recipe)
Fig-Plum Tart (my own recipe)
Orange Creamsicle Cake — via Kat’s Sweet Somethings (with my modifications here)
Caramel Chocolate Chip Cookies — via Two Peas And Their Pod
Sugar Cookies — via Martha Stewart
Chocolate Cake with Peanut Butter Frosting — via Smitten Kitchen
Salted Caramel Biscotti — via jellytoastblog

Books With One Letter Missing

Came across this post today on Visual News.  So brilliant!  Books with one letter missing

Books-Covers-with-One-Letter-Missing-5

 

Books-Covers-with-One-Letter-Missing-3 Books-Covers-with-One-Letter-Missing-2 Books-Covers-with-One-Letter-Missing-4

These two are my favorites:
Books-Covers-with-One-Letter-Missing-6

Books-Covers-with-One-Letter-Missing-9
Books-Covers-with-One-Letter-Missing-11I
Things like this make me wish I was good at Photoshop.  I would stay up all night re-doing the covers!
A Wrinkle in Tim: An aging home improvement TV star time travels to look younger.
Fifty Shads of Grey: An explicit and erotic thriller about the sex lives of herring.
Madame Ovary: A Provincial doctor is cuckolded by his wife’s reproductive organs.

And so on…

 

Microdiscectomy – Two Weeks Overview

back

I hit the two week mark this week.  It is truly incredible how much things have changed in just the past week.  At this point following my shoulder surgery, I could not even walk until the end of the block without turning gray and needing to sit down.  Even though back surgery is scarier than shoulder surgery (again, it’s your spine…gaaaaack), I think the recovery portion has been less painful.  Although the stakes are higher — nerve damage, paralysis, permanently living with a poo bag — there is less cutting and moving of actual muscles and tendons and thus the recovery seems easier.

Here’s my journal from the first day and the first week following my microdiscectomy at L4/L5.  And here I am after two weeks:

Day Eight (July 9)
Celebrated one week today!  My mom came over to visit and I felt pretty good.  Tired and weak, but basically good.

Day Nine (July 10)
My back is still sore where the incision is, but I’ve been able to start doing some things gradually myself, like washing my hair in the shower, using the bathroom, and getting my upper half dressed.  The bottom half is still dependent on PCA.  I try not to think too much about my foot and my toes, except for doing exercises with the resistance bands every day and trying to push my big toe up and down against PCA’s hand.  I’m so glad he’s here to help with everything and mostly to keep me positive because the numbness is scary.  Doing this surgery at such an “in flux” time of our lives (no jobs, in the process of moving across the country, no home and no stability) has been a real challenge for both of us.  We don’t talk much about Atlanta because it still seems pretty far away and we’ll have to wait for doctor’s clearance before I travel.

Update: went in to see the doctor for a follow-up appointment.  My surgeon was out of town so I saw someone else in his practice.  It’s a bit vague on who this guy actually was — orthopedic specialist? — he wasn’t a surgeon and he didn’t seem super knowledgable about the surgery itself.  When I told him I had no feeling in my foot, he said, “fantastic!” in kind of an absent-minded, autopilot kind of way.  It was weird.  He did say that the numbness can be normal and that the feeling SHOULD come back.  I want to believe him but it’s hard.  Especially because he said, “sweeeeeet” when PCA told him he was a helicopter pilot.  I just don’t really want my doctor to say, “sweeeeeeet” when I’m already freaked out.  PCA was amazing because he very clearly expressed how disappointed we both were in the complete and total lack of pre-surgery or discharge instructions, and the fact that the surgeon just disappeared after the surgery when I had many, many questions.  And the fact that the nurse gave us conflicting instructions.  Like don’t ice.  Who is ever told “don’t ice” after SURGERY?  So the doctor listened and said he would relay.  I wish I could learn to speak like PCA does. He never gets emotional or angry (or cries those awful “I feel sorry for myself” tears that I do during confrontations like this).  He just makes his point effectively, and moves on.  He even manages to make small talk afterwards, thereby diminishing all the awkwardness in the room.

The other good news is that the stoner doc said I can fly in about two weeks.  So we can make our plans for Atlanta!

Day Ten (July 11)
The kids came over today.  They are all hopped up on summer, and giddy about an upcoming trip to Magic Mountain this weekend.  We looked at all the rides on YouTube and they are SO excited.  I wish I could go too!!!!  It’s supposed to be 99 degrees at the park though, so I guess I’ll just lie here appreciating the cool breeze in this room.

Day Eleven (July 12)
Amazing news today!!!!!  All of the sudden, I could feel the carpet beneath my toes.  Prior to this I had no feeling at all and could not tell where the floor was or what I was standing on.  It felt like I had a wooden block on the end of my foot.  Today, I could feel that I was standing on carpet.  Then I went outside and could feel grit on the warm pavement.  It’s fantastic and gives me such hope that it will just keep coming back!

Day Twelve (July 15)
Sleeping much better.  I still take either half an Ambien or half a pain pill.  I nap whenever I feel like it — a luxury that I am sure I will look back upon fondly when I’m back to working full-time.  Hopefully my future employer will understand that every day around 4pm I need to take off all my clothes, climb under a blanket and zzzzzzzzzzzz…

Day Thirteen (July 14)
Viva la France!  Ou est le bibliotheque?  Ah, Gerard Depardieu.  Foux du fafa!  Bastille Day!   I still feel like my foot is wrapped in cotton but it’s getting stronger.  I have no pain in my back at all.  Amazing!  I’m noticing how much easier it is to stand up straight.  I was so crooked — like a sideways “S” — before the surgery.  I could not roll over in bed without indescribable pain.  Stretching, sitting, driving, walking and all daily activities were out of the question for over a month.  So for me, the way I feel now is incredible.  I baked an Orange Creamsicle Cake.  I wanted to make something using just the ingredients in the house.  It took all day (there were a lot of breaks) but it was delish!

Day Fourteen (July 15)
The successes just keep on coming.  Of course, my description of success is all relative…but still.  I feel like the Tiger Woods of back surgery.  Just breaking records left and right in my own little world.  So today I walked up and down a flight of stairs.  This is a huge deal because it has actually been very difficult to navigate stairs, especially walking down.  Either I have to plant my numb foot on the stair below, which feels extremely unsteady, or I step down with my good foot and it feels like I’m going to pitch forward and tumble.  But with PCA’s help, and clinging to the bannister, I managed it.  The reward was taking a shower in my sister’s bathroom — she has a huge walk-in shower with two jets and even a little bench in the shower itself.  I could have stayed in there all day!  I still can’t bend to shave my legs.  Oh how I wish I had been able to get them waxed before surgery but driving was out of the question.  I also walked for about 30 minutes today, very slowly and on flat ground.  PCA and I strolled around the neighborhood just chatting.

Day Fifteen (July 16)
Two weeks today!  What has changed since last week: I can feel the floor and tell what texture I’m stepping on.  I can lift my toes off the floor and walk on my heels across the room.  I can walk up and down stairs; it’s not easy yet but I can do it.  I can shower by myself and use the bathroom (and reach to flush the toilet).  I no longer use the walker or the cane.  I seem to have a bit more feeling across the top of my foot.  I can wiggle my toes, although they still feel stiff and weird.  I can walk up and down small hills.  I am just generally moving around more, standing up straighter, and able to do more before I get tired.  I can sleep through the night (with help from either a sleeping pill or a guided meditation before bed).  I can do a low squat to pick up something off the floor, if I keep my back straight.  I can sit for short amounts of time — about 30 minutes, tops.  I can stand for long periods of time.  Today I baked cookies AND cupcakes!  PCA says my scar looks good and it’s healing.

We took a 1-mile walk today along the bluffs today with limoncello vodka spritzers to celebrate the two-week mark.

I feel really good, all things considering.  I hope I can make this much progress over the next week too!  And I need to remember that I’m still in the super danger zone for re-herniating.  It would be horrible and out of the question to have to go through this all again, so I am going to be super extremely wrapped-in-bubble-wrap careful with myself.   I really hope that the surgeon allows me to get in the pool at the 3-week mark, as that is probably something I’m looking forward to most.  I just want to do slow walking laps around the shallow pool and build up to very gentle swimming.  It will be a bit disconcerting to expose my Beluga body to the general public but oh how I want to be in the water these days…

When life hands you oranges…make Creamsicle Cake

Right outside my window is a small slice of blue sky and an orange tree that is so filled with fruit that the branches barely move in the breeze.  About every five minutes or so an orange falls on the ground with a satisfying “thwock” that sounds just like a fly ball being caught in a mitt.  A red hummingbird feeder hangs from the branches of the tree and all day long two hummingbirds (named Fig and Newton) stage turf wars.  Beyond their haven is a lovely Black Mission fig tree that is also a battleground; it is the site of the war of attrition that I’m waging with a neighborhood squirrel over the ripening figs.  This view is what I see from my bed, where I have been laid up for twelve days now recovering from back surgery.
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I spend almost 20 hours a day in this bed, flat on my back and wearing a back brace, so it’s a view that I know well.  Luckily, there is plenty outside to keep my eyes and my mind occupied and today I started thinking about making an orange dessert.

Why doesn’t anyone make orange pie?  It seems like it would be delicious…a nice orange meringue or an orange peach combo on a flaky crust.

Anyway, I came across a recipe for Orange Creamsicle Cake and it seemed the perfect thing to make on a hot summer day.  Between the long cooking times, cooling periods of the cake and my many breaks, this became an all-day project.  More ambulatory folks could make it in a mere 2 hours.
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I used to LOVE Orange Creamsicles and orange sherbet when I was a kid.  Our mom used to bring home cartons of orange sherbet and pineapple ice cream.  When you opened the carton — those old-school box style ones with the flaps that got all messy and never closed right — the ice cream was in perfect squares.

Screen Shot 2013-07-15 at 6.11.13 PM

 

I think our brand was the generic version from Safeway or Angelo’s or one of those other 1980′s Massachusetts grocery stores.

Anyway, on to the dreamy creamsicle cake.

I decided to adapt a recipe I found online on Kat’s Sweet Somethings.  Her original recipe is here, but I was missing cake flour and orange extract and since I can’t drive yet I have no way to get to the store.  I figured I’d work with what I have.  I also wanted to add extra orange flavor, so I soaked the cake in an orange-honey mixture to make the layers moist and flavorful.

It turned out really great.  The cake was dense and heavy with an intense orange flavor, and a fluffy, light frosting.  It tasted just like a creamsicle and the vanilla-orange combination was perfect.  Here is the recipe I used:

Orange Creamsicle Cake

  • 2 sticks unsalted butter, softened
  • zest of four large oranges
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 6 eggs
  • 3 cups cake flour (I didn’t have cake flour so I used the conversion of 3 cups minus 6 tablespoons of all purpose flour)
  • 1 tbsp baking powder
  • 3/4 tsp salt
  • 1/2 cup sour cream
  • 1 cup fresh orange juice (with 1/4 cup reserved for soaking)
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 1/4 cup honey
  • 3-4 gingersnap cookies (optional, for decoration)

1. Grease two 8″ cake pans and line the bottoms with parchment paper.  Pre-heat oven to 300 degrees
2. Using the paddle attachment on your stand mixer, beat the butter with the orange zest until fluffy.
3. In a separate bowl, combine the flour, baking powder and salt and whisk together until mixed.
4. Add the sugar to the butter mixture in small batches, mixing thoroughly before adding the next batch and scraping down the sides.
5. Add the eggs one at a time to the butter-sugar mixture, making sure each egg is incorporated before adding the next one and scraping down the sides as you go.  Add the vanilla to the butter-sugar-egg mixture.
6.  Add 1/3 of the flour mixture to the wet ingredients and mix until just combined.  Then add half of the sour cream and half of the orange juice and mix until combined.  Add another 1/3 of the flour mixture, followed by the remainder of the sour cream and orange juice, finishing with the remainder of the flour mixture.  Be careful not to mix too long.
7. Pour batter into pans evenly and bake for about 60 minutes or until cake pulls away from the sides of the pan.  Allow cake to cook completely.
8. Optional: Mix together honey and remainder of orange juice until honey is dissolved.  Poke a few holes in the top of the cooled cakes and pour the orange juice-honey mixture over them.  This makes the cake dense and adds even more flavor, but I imagine it would be just as good without it.  If you do decide to add the syrupy mixture, place the cakes in the fridge for at least an hour to allow it to soak in fully.

Meanwhile, make the Fluffy Whipped Cream Cream Cheese Frosting (recipe below).  I opted for a plain cream cheese frosting rather than adding any orange flavor to it as it seemed a bit too over the top.

9. I figured I’d make this a four layer cake, using this method to cut the cakes with a long serrated knife.  The cakes will be sticky if you’ve soaked them with the honey-orange syrup.
10. Assemble your layers and frost with the icing.  Top with crushed ginger snaps.

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Fluffy Whipped Cream Cream Cheese Frosting
1 1/5 cups heavy whipping cream
8 oz cream cheese
1 1/4 cups powdered sugar
1 tsp vanilla
pinch of salt

Chill your beaters and bowl, if possible.  Beat the whipped cream until it forms soft peaks.  In separate bowl, beat the cream cheese until fluffy, then add in the vanilla, salt and sugar.  Continue beating until creamy, then fold in the whipped cream.

Microdiscectomy – Week One Overview

It’s been almost two weeks since my microdiscectomy surgery, which took place on July 2, 2013.  Here’s how it’s gone so far:

Day One (July 2)
My complete Day One journal is here.  Day One sucked.

Day Two (July 3)
I got a fairly good night’s sleep, all things considered.  The back brace that I’m wearing is large and bulky — much stiffer than the one I wore following my 2005 microdiscectomy.  I’m taking Celebrex for the inflammation and Oxycodone for the pain.  I still can’t feel my foot or leg at all.  PCA dragged a paperclip across my foot and I can feel the pressure of it but can’t tell what he’s using; I can’t tell whether it’s sharp or dull.  My sister borrowed my mom’s walker and I’ve been using that to get around.  It’s really hard to get up and down the single stair that leads to the guest room and I have to put my arm around PCA if I want to navigate it.  Using the bathroom is a challenge, as is most everything else.  I am moving like a robot, trying to keep my body perfectly straight and only move arms and legs.  It freaks me out that I can’t lift my toes, wiggle them, or move my big toe.  Makes me scared that if it doesn’t come back I’ll have problems driving since I can’t feel the gas pedal.  Trying hard not to panic about that.  Meditating helps, even if just for 20 minutes at a time.  I usually fall asleep to the thought of my body healing itself better without my worrying about it.  I’m not hungry but I’m trying to eat chicken broth and crackers with the pills.  The surgeon called today and said it was good that I could lift my toes even a fraction of an inch.  He also said to ice, which was (of course) the opposite of what the clueless nurse instructed.  He said he expects the numbness to improve a lot in the next week.

Day Three (4th of July)
So weird reading everyone’s Facebook feeds: BBQ’s and beach trips and summer stuff and fireworks.  I feel so removed from everything and so out of it.  We took such a big right hand turn with the surgery and haven’t gotten back on the path of our normal life and all the social fun stuff that goes with it.  My sister brought her kids over for a short visit and I LOVED seeing them, all hopped up on summer fun.  Pain-wise I feel pretty good.  I never really let it get ahead of me before taking a pill.  The surgeon had said the anesthesia and morphine would wear off today and I’d feel it more and he’s right.  But it’s nothing compared to my shoulder surgery and frankly I’m surprised at how little it hurts.  To be honest, I never really liked fireworks anyway.

Day 4 (July 5)
Sleeping last night was tough as my leg is aching like crazy.  It’s a deep, throbbing ache that nothing seems to help.  Can really feel the pain in my back today too.  I feel like I’ve been hit in the back with a baseball bat.  My whole body feels really bruised and sore.  But, I feel slightly stronger.  I feel great actually, and every once in a while I get hit by a wave of euphoria that the surgery is OVER and now all I have to do is get better.  PCA has been making videos of me walking and I shuffle a lot less.  It seems easier to pick up my leg, although it’s still weird because I have to watch my foot for every step since I can’t tell where the floor is.  I did 3 circuits around the kitchen island with the walker today and it wiped me out.  Amazing how your whole body puts all its resources towards healing and there’s not much left over for anything else physical.  I sleep whenever I want to, dropping off a few times a day.  I feel like I’m getting stronger and am a lot more optimistic today.  I refuse to wallow.  PCA cleaned the whole backyard, brought the dead garden back from the brink (we are living with my sister, who has a black thumb) and has been doing so much around the house.  He has to help me with everything.  The grabber is a Godsend but it’s still much faster when he helps me get dressed, put on socks, get stuff from fridge, refill water glass, etc.  I move so slow and am really limited.  Took my first shower today!  We got the whole bathroom wet.

Day 5 (July 6)
It’s the little things.  I have one water glass that I use for rinsing and one water glass that I spit into after brushing my teeth because I can’t lean in to get water from the faucet and if I just spit it out it would splash everywhere.  Lying in bed I have the pillows propped up to be about 15 degrees and a pillow under my knees.  I’ve started trying to sleep on my side and I actually use a pull buoy (for swimming) between my knees as it’s easier than a pillow and it’s the exact same shape.    Plus it keeps me inspired for getting back into the pool.  The incision hurts today.  I try to get up about once an hour as I can’t lie down for that long without hurting.  Nothing is comfortable for long but it still can’t compare to pre-surgery, when I could not lie, stand, sit or crawl without crying.  I’ve stopped taking the pain meds at night because it reacts with the Ambien and I end up waking up after 4 hours with my heart racing and can’t get back to sleep.  I’ve decided to try taking pain meds during the day, then half a pain pill about 45 minutes before bed, then the Ambien after that.

Day 6 (July 7)
Finally went for a short walk today, about 5 minutes up and down the street.  Walking down the driveway was tough as it’s a small hill and with my wonky leg I feel like I’m going to pitch forward all the time.  PCA is there to support me.  All in all it was a success.  I haven’t tried sitting yet except for about 5 minutes at a time.

Day 7 (July 8)
Today I could lift my toes about half an inch, which was an amazing feeling.  One week tomorrow.  As far as recoveries go, I have it pretty good with this breezy room, huge flat screen TV, beautiful garden, and my husband here to help.  There’s even a dog and everyone knows there’s nothing like a furry friend to help make you feel better.  I cooked spaghetti sauce tonight; it was an all-day project and I took a lot of breaks.  Nighttime is tough because I’m just not tired after a full day of doing nothing.  My muscles are screaming out for activity.  I’m restless and bored and want to get on with it.  I am truly amazed at how little it hurts and it’s really hard not to want to do more and more.  I’m terrified of re-herniating and going through this whole nightmare again, so I won’t take any chances.

All in all, I have to say that after one week I feel pretty good.  I’m deeply scared of having permanent numbness in my foot and leg, but the surgeon has assured me that he sees no reason why it won’t come back.  He says I have a narrow spinal canal, but that he was careful with the L4/L5 nerve.  Unfortunately, I went down this road once already and I have a hard time believing what the surgeon says.  I heard those same words 8 years ago and the feeling never came back.  However, the difference this time is that I have seen some improvements in the past week (whereas last surgery I saw no improvement from the day I woke up from surgery until the present, in terms of nerve damage).  I feel as though my leg is getting stronger, the stair is easier to navigate, and either I’m getting more used to the numbness and have more confidence in where to place my foot or it is getting a little better.  It seems like I have a bit more feeling across the top of my foot.  Still nothing in my toes, heel, calf or the side of my leg.  Hopefully we will see some changes in the week ahead.

Things that have helped me:

  • Fresh mint (it helps with the nausea from the meds)
  • Guided Meditations, especially those dealing with pain, healing, sleeping and recovery
  • Grabber thing, so I don’t have to bend, reach or twist
  • Relocating everything to waist height prior to the surgery
  • Handheld shower nozzle
  • Slip-on tennies
  • Lightweight nightgowns as it’s easiest to just put on one item and be done with it
  • Distractions — Netflix, HBO, computer games, blogs, organizing photos (dream on)
  • Back surgery forums such as Spine Health and Healthboards. A lot of them are scary horror stories but it’s also nice to see how other people with the same issues are doing
  • Socks with nonslip pads on the bottom since my numb foot is always cold
  • Reusable gel ice pack (I used this when I had shoulder surgery and am reusing it now by lying it flat on the bed).  It’s expensive but worth it.
  • Visitors, the kind who don’t care if you’re wearing nothing but a nightgown and a Deenie back brace

Celestial noses

Yesterday I shared a recovery room with an 18 year old girl who had gotten a nose job and a boob job for her high school graduation present.  I had just finished getting an operation on my spine, and we were put in the same sweltering room. 

She was less than three feet away on the other side of the curtain, hacking and moaning and making weird strangled cow noises.  Her mom was by her side, murmuring and telling her to take deep breaths.  After one particularly bad episode of angry mooing and bed thrashing by the girl, the mother said, “No pain, no gain, right sweetie?  Just think how pretty you are going to look!” Now I am not a mom, but her words gave my fuzzy brain pause.  Is this just a California thing — giving your young daughter the gift of a new face and body?  I find it unsettling, mainly because at that age I was positively radiant with ignorance.  I had absolutely no idea of who I was or what I wanted do with my life, and certainly no sense of what I was capable of.

I don’t know many teenage girls who have their self-esteem all sorted out by the time they graduate high school.  I DO know that If my mom had let me, I too would have gotten a nose job at 16.  I hated my nose when I was growing up!  Kids on the bus used to make fun of it because it was so pointy.  The nerdier ones said it looked like an isosceles triangle.

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(I see your point)

Somehow I made it through junior high and high school and out of my small town and around the world.  The more I traveled, the more I started to like my nose.

Italy was a revelation!

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(Where my girls at?)

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(So pointy yet so noble)

I truly believe that travel is the single best gift you could give any kid, including teenagers.  It opens your eyes to other definitions of beauty, and it gives you a sense of perspective that you can’t get any other way.  It forms your character when you are young, and then keeps you young when you are old.  Plus, isn’t Italy the best??  All that food and art and wine and sex and passeggiata-ing.  For all I know, maybe sharp noses are the reason that Italians make such excellent wine.

It’s a little weird that these thoughts are at the forefront of my mind the day after getting surgery, but I guess it’s just my brain wandering around while my feet can’t.  

Along with a lifelong love of travel, I inherited a bad back and this nose from my dad.  So I’m perfectly happy getting the back fixed and having my pointy nose lead the way to the next adventure.image

 

Microdiscectomy Journal: Week One / Day One

First off, I’ll stay away from the “why me?” questions, as I went through that hell a few months ago with shoulder surgery and I don’t feel like going to the dark place again.  Suffice it to say that another surgery — and a second spine surgery at that — was not what I wanted to happen two weeks after getting married and in the middle of a cross-country move.  But, it happened, I did it, and now I’m recovering.  So I thought it might be helpful to write a little bit about the microdiscectomy, if only to track my own progress.

Day One
I went to the surgery center (The Beverly Hills Penthouse Surgery Center, to be exact) knowing more or less what to expect.  I had a microdiscectomy done in 2005 on L5/S1 and this time I was going in for a microdiscectomy on L4/5.  A microdiscectomy is where your disc has ruptured or herniated and the surgeon moves aside your muscles and nerves in order to get to the disc and “shave off” the part that might be pressing on a nerve and causing pain.  It really fucking freaks me out to think about someone in there manipulating my spine, so I won’t write more about the actual procedure because gaaaaaackkkk.  Typically they won’t do this surgery until you’ve tried all conservative methods and/or you have started to lose feeling in one of your legs.  That’s a sign that the bulge is pressing on a nerve and potentially causing permanent damage.  For all the millions and millions of people who suffer from back pain, it is still not so easy to pinpoint exactly what is causing specific pain and therefore surgeons are reluctant to operate because there’s no guarantee that you will wake up with the pain gone.  My neurosurgeon explained it to me that there are 30 moving parts in the lower back and any one of them could be responsible back pain.

I arrived at the surgery center at 6:30am.  Weirdly, I had worked in the building before — producing the series “30 Days” with a production company called Actual Reality.  My episode had been about a mom who binge drinks for 30 days straight.  So it was a little weird to be in the same building but now be wearing a backless gown.  The nurse made me put on compression socks, took my vitals, and made inane small talk about reality shows (“are they really real??”) with me and PCA until the surgeon came in.  More inane small talk (“feeling steady today?” “Hope there are no earthquakes, ha ha!”).  When I get nervous I do this high-pitched cackle that makes me sound like a moron.

In the weeks leading up to the surgery I had been listening to a guided meditation to help healing before and after surgery, and it had really assisted in keeping my pre-surgery fear and anxiety under control.  Meditation was not something I had pursued consistently before, but this series was simply wonderful.  I’m a believer.  As I was waiting I kept reciting some of the affirmations and trying to stay calm and positive by imagining my family and loved ones giving me support.  Soon enough it was time and I said goodbye to PCA.  It would have been sadder if I could see his face but I had to take my contacts out for the surgery and they had already removed my glasses.  I remember being wheeled into the icy OR and seeing my surgeon-blur.  For some reason we chatted for a minute about the Dyson fan (the one with no blades).  I made some absolutely stupid joke about those fans being made for surgeons since there was no chance a hand could get cut off by the blades and his hands were worth more than most (CACKLE CACKLE CACKLE) then I fell asleep.  One wonderful woozy part was that I felt my Aunt Susie’s presence near me.  She had just passed away a week before the surgery after many, many health battles which decimated her body but never broke her spirit.  She was the strongest woman I’ve ever known and I felt certain that she was with me.

I woke up in the recovery room and couldn’t feel my right leg.  At all.  I started crying.  People kept coming in and out and I kept telling them that I couldn’t feel my toes or my leg.  The surgeon came in and ran a little spiky thing across my foot but I couldn’t feel it.  I could see PCA’s face — he looked very worried.  The surgeon said that it was “alarming” and left the room.  I think I dozed.  I remember crying a lot.  This was my worst fear, as I had ended up with nerve damage from my 2005 surgery and I had hoped not to have any more.

My throat hurt a lot and it tasted like I had swallowed a helium balloon, with that powdery rubbery flavor.  I felt really lucid but in retrospect I was high as a kite.  My back didn’t hurt at all, but I felt stiff and uncomfortable in the bed and it was raised to an almost-sitting position.  The nurse did not seem to have a clue at all.  She kept telling me the surgeon was going to come back to see me because of my “complications.”  We couldn’t get a straight answer from anyone.

Then they wheeled in a plastic surgery patient next to me.  She was an 18-year-old girl who was getting a boob job and a nose job: a graduation present from her mom.  Oh, LA…there are some things I just won’t miss.

I wanted to leave.  I was miserable and completely believed that I had just made the worst mistake of my life.  The surgeon called from his car phone.  He wasn’t coming back. PCA asked him if my numbness and complications were normal and he said they were not typical.  I got really upset and wanted him to talk to me face to face.  He said that he saw no reason why I shouldn’t get feeling back in my leg but his response meant nothing to me.  I was in full panic mode by then.  My sister was there and she was worried too and I just generally felt awful and mad and worried and dramatic and like a difficult patient that everyone was either ignoring or patting on the head.

PCA and the nurse helped me to the bathroom.  This was probably only an hour or two after waking up.  I could not walk as my right leg kept buckling.  I couldn’t feel the floor and so I didn’t know where it was — it was really scary.  I spent the next few hours alternating between freaking out and pro-actively diagnosing myself online using my iPhone, then mapping out my recovery strategy.  There is really nothing worse than an incapacitated producer.  I kicked everyone out of the room so I could feel even sorrier for myself.  It was not my finest hour, mentally.  There was wallowing.  Eventually the nurse fitted me with a back brace and helped me get dressed in sweats and a camisole top with a zip-up hoodie over it.

Finally, around 4:30pm I was discharged.  The nurse wheeled me to the car and it was a  challenge to get in.  We had placed a trash bag on the seat so that I could slide on it easily to pivot without twisting, and a pillow to put behind my spine, and we had the seat reclined back as far as it would go.  PCA drove us home and I made him stop at Jerry’s Deli for chicken broth.  We got home, made it up the driveway with me leaning on him and hobbling along, and he helped me into bed.

Someone had posted on Facebook about a documentary on HBO called “Miss You Can Do It,” and it followed a beauty pageant that had been founded by a woman who has cerebral palsy.  The pageant was for girls with disabilities and suffice it to say I cried through the whole entire movie.  I truly do not think there were more than 3 minutes out of 90 where I wasn’t sobbing. I was lying on my back and tears were just running unchecked into the pillow.  It was a wonderful documentary and such shot of perspective right when I needed it.  Yes, I was scared but I had come through the surgery safely and had to focus on that.

I had come home with prescriptions for Oxycodone, Ambien, and an anti-inflammatory.  I took the Oxy every four hours on the dot, trying to stay ahead of the pain.  I didn’t sleep much the first night because I can’t sleep on my back and my leg felt so weird and foreign — like I had a wooden leg — that I couldn’t drop off comfortably.  I think I slept in two three-hour segments and that got me through the night.  I woke up feeling pretty good and with only minimal pain, but my leg and toes felt the same.  The first thing I saw was the orange tree outside my window and the hummingbird feeder.  I had made it through Day One.

The Rollercoaster

“Life has many ways of testing a person’s will, either by having nothing happen at all or having everything happen at once.”                                                                   — Paulo Coelho

Talk about a crazy month.

I married the love of my life in a magical ceremony, surrounded by the people we love most in the world…

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We adopted two chickens from Luckenbach, Texas (that’s them in the Shiner Bock beer box)…

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My shiny new husband and I went on a glorious mini honeymoon in Northern California…

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Then we moved out of our house, packed everything into pods, and saddled up to relocate to Atlanta for a fresh start…

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…only to find out a few days before the move that I need back surgery!

Always in my life things have come in waves, and long ago I got used to the ebb and flow of good and bad, but this particular wave has knocked me over and I’m still fighting to catch my breath.

We were in the midst of packing up the house when we got the test results back from an MRI I had done back in April showing a herniation in L4, nerve compression, stenosis, as well as a creeping arthritis and small tear in L3.  During the moving-out process, I had become increasingly incapacitated and spent most of the weekend lying on the floor on a yoga mat moaning while Chris, my brother-in-law and another heroic friend did the heavy lifting.  New tenants were moving in, and staying one more month in our home wasn’t an option.  We had to scramble to put together a Plan B.  The back pain got so bad so fast that it soon became impossible for me to stand up straight, sit, walk or even lie down for more than 20 minutes.  I looked in the mirror one morning and I looked like a sideways S.  Flying (or driving) across the country was no longer an option.

So…instead of spending our glorious newly-wedded bliss reveling in a new city, we said a said goodbye and began playing a waiting game.  Chris drove across the country solo in order to be in Atlanta for work, and I stayed in Los Angeles to meet with spine surgeons and get second opinions.  I had a back surgery done in 2005 — my friends and family know that it was the single toughest thing I have ever gone through due to some devastating complications.  It is hard to believe that I will need to get through it again but I will.

Compounding the whole messy situation is the fact that we don’t know yet whether the back injury is related to the boat accidents from last year, or if it is a problem that would have happened on its own, or if the accidents exacerbated a problem that was already there.  And because the disc is torn and has herniated, there is the risk of long-term nerve damage if it’s not taken care of quickly.  There is no “quickly” in the Wonderful World of Workers’ Comp*…so I have been seeing my own doctors rather than wait.

This could so easily turn into a rant but I won’t let it.  A few months ago, the thought of another surgery following so soon on top of that mindfuck of a shoulder surgery would have sent me into a tailspin.  Now, however, I would give anything for the pain to stop so that I can resume a vertical life.  The only thing I can compare this back pain to is one of those white-hot toothaches, the kind that leave you sobbing and begging and staggering around the streets in search of a dentist who can help.  I’d have to ask women who have had kids or men who have been kicked in the beanbags whether those are worse or better experiences on the “I want to die just so it will stop” pain management scale.

Tomorrow morning I’m getting an epidural steroid injection.  That’s the final step of the “conservative” treatment, and the two surgeons I have consulted so far have told me that they don’t expect it will stop the pain itself but it will be a valuable diagnostic tool for surgery.  So, onward and upward.  I’ll leave you with this inspirational quote on top of a stock photo which I have always despised.  Screaming and enjoying the ride are not mutually exclusive!

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* Coming up next: a post on how to navigate Workers’ Comp if you have been injured during a production.  I have learned so much in my past six months and I am hoping that I can shed some insight to others in the same boat…er…situation.

Heli crash: trying to understand

There has been a lot of talk about safety in reality television lately, for the saddest of reasons: five people have died within the past two weeks while filming Discovery Channel projects.  Yesterday the NTSB released its preliminary findings regarding the fatal helicopter crash on February 10, 2013 which killed the pilot, camera operator and talent.

The report is eye-opening but still leaves a lot of questions unanswered.

It sounds like there were efforts made to minimize the risk of an exceptionally dangerous shoot.  The pilot scouted the area and conferred with the director prior to filming, which is good.  He held a safety briefing.  Also good.

But two big pieces of information jumped out at me:

1) The pilot requested lights put in at the landing zone.  He was aware that he would be flying into a pitch-black area and would have no sense of where the ground is.  He also knew that there was a dangerous plateau that he would have to navigate.

2) There was an LED panel light mounted on the windshield behind a GoPro camera.

As anyone who has ever driven at night on a dark country road can attest, the minute a light is turned on inside the car your night vision disappears.  A panel light would have thrown light in all directions in the cockpit and would have diminished what little ability he had to see the ground.

Somebody made a very bad decision, but who?

Ultimately, it is up to the pilot to let the director know that it is not safe to fly under those circumstances.  And it’s certainly up to the pilot to refuse to fly with a light in his face.  But we should also be asking whose decision it was to set up this ridiculous shot in the first place.  Why would such chances have been taken for a scene which would have essentially amounted to 15 seconds of mediocre footage for a cable television program?  And I would love to know how long that pilot had been on the controls by the time the final scene was to be filmed.

The pilot picked up the aircraft at 4:45pm, which means he would have been on site about 4pm to hold the briefing and prepare to fly.  The crash occurred at 3:30am — almost 12 hours in to his shift and very close to the end of his duty day.  Sketchy, but still legal within FAA standards.  He got a catnap in and so hopefully he was rested.

My conclusion, based on my own experience and from discussing the circumstances with PCA (as a helicopter pilot who has been asked in the past to participate in dangerous filming) is that the pilot crashed shortly after ascent because he was not able to gauge where the ground was.  He was navigating a dark area between two lit sources and lost perspective.  Whether the light panel played a part in the crash is yet to be determined.

The NTSB has retained the video equipment and so there is the sickening possibility that the GoPro was rolling when the accident happened.  I never want to see that footage.  But, like so many other crew members, I want to understand how this happened so that I can make sure it doesn’t happen again.

Just two weeks after the helicopter crash, another director / camera operator and his pilot were killed while filming a Discovery Channel Canada project.  The circumstances surrounding the crash are still vague, but one thing is certain.  It’s time to start holding networks and production companies accountable to overall safety and standards practices.

We — those who are on the front lines climbing into helicopters, boats, cars to get the footage — need to know that we are being considered and protected on these shoots.

Shoulder surgery – 6 weeks later

They say 45 days is the magic number.  I have laid here like a Christmas ham for the past six weeks yet there has been a frenzy of activity going on in my shoulder.  It’s amazing that whatever the surgery — back, leg, arm, shoulder, brain — it’s always six weeks until you really turn the corner on your recovery.  The human body is so predictable and efficient in this way.  If it can make a whole new liver every six weeks, and an entirely new stomach lining every five days, then it can certainly make some real progress on a centralized trauma wound when all systems are focused on healing.  Cells spewing out chemicals to get everything going, other cells replicating themselves to replace the damaged ones, the immune system ramping up to squash infection, tiny little fibers sprouting up to reattach the torn ligaments to the bone, collagen collecting near the wound to build up the scar tissue — a surgery marshals all the body’s resources in order to heal itself.  When I think of how much is going on at my surgery site it’s really not surprising that I still have to take breaks when I walk up a flight of stairs.  

It was really tough to go from being so physically active to this slug-like existence, but I have found that reading and learning about how it all works has been comforting during the more frustrating times.  Apparently there is 100% turnover of the atoms that make up your body every five years.  That means that you are literally not the same person you were just a few years ago.  And we have 60,000 thoughts a day, yet 90% of them are the same thoughts we had yesterday.  So even as our body gets constant upgrades, our thoughts tend to go around and around like a hamster wheel.  I know mine do.  ”What would we look like without noses?” pops up pretty frequently.

I also think it’s crazy that we are all made up of 65% water.  Which means that when PCA says “I love you,” what he really loves most about me is water.  And babies are 80% water!  So weird. 

Okay, enough about our bodies and ourselves.

Last night we hosted our Christmas party and it was wonderful!  We hadn’t planned on doing it, with PCA out of town and me being of feeble body and spirit, but we rallied and it turned out to be one of those magical evenings where everything goes smoothly and you laugh all night and reminisce all the next day.  I love our friends because they don’t care that I’m rocking a fetid sling and bad hair (still can’t reach my arm up to style it) or that we served ham, biscuits from a can and Peeps.  PCA made chocolate peppermint martinis, my sister brought homemade marshmallows for the hot chocolate bar, my adorable nephews showed up in Christmas sweaters and flashing Rudolph noses, and although we had every intention of stopping early we ended up going until 1:30am!  I LOVE when parties have a good ebb and flow and last night was one of those.  PCA has to go back to work for a 20-day stint out of town the day after Christmas, and so we both felt very lucky to have the time to catch up with old friends, new friends, neighbors and family.

PCA is working so hard these days to pick up the slack.  The surgeon has said it will be about a year until I can go back to work.  Which I am reeling from.  Speaking of thoughts going round and round, what does this mean?  What will I do?  I always had this vision in my mind of a time when I would happily say goodbye to my career with no regrets in order to try something new.  I find myself wondering if that time has come, and whether I could ever make my peace with having that decision made for my by someone else’s actions and negligence.

I started physical therapy and have had two sessions so far.  PT has been great for understanding why it could be upwards of a year out of work.  The therapist told me that I had enough work done in my shoulder for 5 people, because all of the tears were so serious.  I can’t lift my arm more than a millimeter at a time and all the exercises we do are passive range of motion — meaning the therapist flings my arm around and yells at me to relax while he does it and I grit my teeth and concentrate on not screaming.  He asked me to make a muscle with my bicep and I couldn’t!  Where did it go in such a short time?  I love physical therapy though.  It’s the good hurt.  It is forward progress and it feels like someone is in it with me for the long haul.  It’s hard for me not to push it and my therapist keeps telling me to slow down.  He’ll say “do five reps” of one baby exercise or another, and when his back is turned I quickly do 10 or 15 reps.  I can’t help it.  I just want to get better quickly.  It’s very hard to not feel in competition with the person I used to be before the accident.

Most days now I don’t think about the long term and I try to focus on the small successes. I can mostly dress myself now, and tie my own shoes.  I can drive short distances if it’s a route I know and I can avoid the freeways.  I can almost sleep through the night.  I can cook, as long as I have a sous chef there to help me lift a pot off the stove or chop an onion.  All of these seem like small miracles and I’m so grateful for them.

One last anecdote.  About 20 years ago there was an experiment conducted on mice at the National Institute of Health.  A scientist, the Head of Molecular Biology, injected the mice with a chemical that stimulated and enhanced their immune systems.  He had them smell camphor at the same time.  After a while, just the smell of the camphor would stimulate their immune systems without the use of the chemical.  Then he took some other mice and he injected a different chemical that destroyed their immune systems, and he had those mice also smell camphor at the same time.  And so he ended up with two groups of mice: one group that could smell camphor and stimulate the immune system, and one that could smell the same camphor and destroy the immune system.  Which is so crazy, because it means that it is the brain that is deciding whether to heal or destroy itself based upon external and arbitrary factors.  It says so much about the mind-body connection when it comes to getting better.

Four weeks tomorrow

One month down…eleven to go!  These past four weeks have been an eternity and I’m glad to be crossing this milestone.  I wish I could say it’s been easy so far but it has not.  I have had pain like I’ve never experienced and moments of complete despair.  There were days where I literally sat motionless for 23.5 out of 24 hours and other days that just passed in a haze of pain medication and Netflix.  Those were the dark days.

Now, at four weeks, I am still so far away from recovery, but things are getting better every day.  There are some scary developments, like being completely unable to move my arm out in front of me — not because it hurts too much, but because it is not responding to what my brain tells it to do.  It just hangs there.  I can move it in other directions and so I know that it is not a case of the muscle atrophying.  It just feels like whatever muscle was needed to lift it slightly is now gone.  In order to type, I have to pick up my arm and rest my hands on the keyboard.  Once I do that, I can type (with my arm pressed in to my side).  I have no idea if this is normal but I’ll be asking my surgeon when I see him on Wednesday.  Until then, my orders from PCA are to stay positive and not freak out.

I had wanted to write more frequently so that I could keep track of my little victories.  I would love to say that life got in the way, but I don’t have much of one.  I’ll try to make the best of it now.

I made a lot of progress between weeks two and three.  We went to Vegas for Thanksgiving, and PCA hooked up the ice machine in the car so that I could ice the whole way there.  Then we spent most of the time relaxing in the hotel room.  Occasionally I would put on the sling and stroll around the casino, but it sometimes got stressful because there are so many people who don’t look where they are going and I was constantly bobbing and weaving trying to avoid a collision.

We had big plans of going out to dinner and a show — PCA had planned the whole thing, including a Pretty Woman-esque day of shopping for something to wear since I only brought elastic-waist sweatpants and slip on shoes.  Unfortunately, after a few hours of shopping, my shoulder was throbbing and it soon became clear that we had been overdoing it.  I think that was the night that I took a few Percocet and watched a intensely detailed documentary on PBS about David Geffen instead.  

I have no regrets.  It was wonderful to be with my family, and also to be out and about socializing.  We even found a craps machine I could play since I couldn’t throw dice at the table.  It was the first time I had slept in a bed since the surgery.  We got 6 pillows and made me a sort of inverted V shape and I slept on my back propped up with my arm resting on a pillow.  My other triumphs were: taking a shower on my own for the first time (still washing my hair one-handed though) AND I managed to tear the TP off the roll myself.  All in all, I’m so glad I went.  

Today, at four weeks, I feel like I’m slowly getting better.  It is so clear when I overdo it, and I pay the price for days.  I tried to go for a long walk over the weekend, and ended up doing 3.5 miles, including some small hills.  It took me an hour and a half to walk, including two breaks.  I ended up having to sit on a wall outside someone’s home because I thought I was going to get sick.  Once I got home I laid down and could not get warm for hours afterwards.  That night we went to the tree-lighting on Main St and out for a drink, with a plan to walk to a neighbor’s party.  But the walk was too much and we ended up having to turn around just half a block from their house.  I went home and went straight to bed.

As I’m sitting here now, my shoulder is hurting.  I still do my routine of icing and passive exercises and Tylenol.  I stopped taking the pain meds about a week ago and stopped taking Ambien two nights ago.  The nights are still very difficult as I am still sleeping in my sling and lying on my back.  I’ve had terrible nightmares and insomnia.  The pattern seems to be one very bad night followed by a good one, over and over.

What else to report?  The days are longer now since I don’t get as many visitors and I can’t sit in the chair for one minute longer than I need to.  I feel like I can’t watch any more TV and I’ve never been much of a movie person.  I do lots of crossword puzzles and am reading a book about every three days (“The Thousand Autumns of Jacob De Zoet” was unbelievable.  David Mitchell is a virtuoso).  PCA has been working a lot and that’s a good thing.  We were together every minute for three weeks (except for breaks when my sisters or mom came to take care of me) and he has been there pre-tearing TP, fastening my bra, getting me dressed, putting my hair up (still a source of frustration), tying my shoes, filling my ice machine, washing my hair, making tea, hosing me down in the shower, cleaning the whole house, cooking to order, running errands, grocery shopping, doing laundry AND working.  But more than anything, he has been my cheerleader.  He has patiently listened to me through the worst of my fears, anger, doubt and sadness.  He forced me to follow the doctor’s orders exactly, and forbid me to overdo it.  And through it all he stayed positive and always brought me back from the “dark place” to one of hope and excitement for the future.  Had I any doubts about marrying him — which I never did — they would certainly have been squashed by now.  He is the most wonderful person on the face of the planet and he’s my rock.

Right now he is dozing in my reclining chair.  I so wish I could wrap (both of my) arms around him.

Anyway, the past few days have seen huge milestones.

  • We had people over for brunch on Sunday and I felt great the whole time.  That night we went to the movies and although I was uncomfortable sometimes, I found that shifting my arm around seemed to help.  P.S. “Lincoln” was incredible.
  • I drove for the first time — to the gym 1 mile away.  I don’t think I’ll be driving any farther for a while, as it’s still one-handed and it’s hard to do any type of twisting to look behind me which makes parking a small challenge BUT it’s so great not to feel trapped
  • I went to the gym and rode the recumbent bike for 20 minutes, then walked to the library a few blocks away to get a few new books.  A guy in the gym told me I was hardcore.  So true.
  • And…I finally managed to reach my hair with both hands!  By crouching over and tilting my head down to my right hand, and keeping my arm firmly pressed against my side, I could almost sort of put it up.  It’s a weird-looking retro side bun but it is huge progress!

Tonight we are heading to the Promenade to get a little Christmas spirit.  I’m about to make coffee with cinnamon whipped cream and can’t wait!

Here’s a pic of my messy side bun: