Category Archives: Challenges

Ask the Hippie: Surviving a Hysterectomy without Opioids

Q. A hysterectomy is major surgery. How did you get through yours without opioids, and what are the advantages and disadvantages?

A. Opioids are magnificent painkillers, but I can’t keep them down, and the last thing I wanted was to have my stomach acting up immediately after abdominal surgery, so my doctor prescribed 800 mg of ibuprofen every 8 hours instead.

The medicine worked pretty well when I remembered to take it. More helpful than the ibuprofen, I think, were two tips I picked up from HysterSisters, which is a pretty good resource.

Tip 1: Use an abdominal binder to support the incisions and keep your internal organs from squirming around too much. I didn’t have a binder, but the extra-wide Ace bandage I’d used to support a ribcage injury years ago made a serviceable substitute.

Tip 2: Get a couple of those flat ice packs that are designed to go in lunchboxes. Keep one in the freezer, tuck the other between the top and bottom layers of your bandage, and rotate them out as needed. Instant relief.

At its worst, my pain really wasn’t any worse than moderate cramps, and by skipping the opioids, I avoided the constipation and mental fog that come with prescription painkillers. The former does not play well with abdominal incisions, and the latter makes me nervous, so I was just as happy to dodge those bullets.

I was a little concerned about the risk of inflammation, so the week before my surgery, I made myself a big batch of those frozen fruit bars I use to cool down after a workout. To make them, you just puree frozen berries, which have anti-inflammatory properties, with enough cranberry juice to make a pourable liquid, pour it into molds, and freeze it. I figured the cranberry juice would also reduce my risk of catheter-induced bladder infections. Bonus: The frozen treats made a pleasant antidote to hot flashes.

Hope that’s useful to somebody.

Emily

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Problem solved.

I have struggled with painful gynecological problems on and off for decades. During that time, I have tried every imaginable treatment, from medical to spiritual, with varying levels of success. The Pill kept most of the obvious symptoms at bay for several years, but as I entered perimenopause last year, it became less and less effective, until one bright afternoon this spring, my uterus decided to eject an endometrial cast the size of a hamster through my undilated cervix.

After roughly 30 years of highly unpleasant symptoms, I have the pain threshold of a rhinoceros on heroin — especially where my reproductive system is concerned — but on a standard pain scale of 1 to 10, passing an endometrial cast ranks somewhere around a 37, which is obnoxious even by my standards.

About five weeks later, I managed to get an appointment with a gynecologist in Clovis, who promptly scheduled me for a June 6 hysterectomy with bilateral salpingo-oophorectomy (removal of the uterus, tubes, and ovaries).

The surgery went very smoothly, as has my recovery thus far. I had some post-op pain for several days immediately following the procedure, but nothing severe — the worst of it felt about like moderate cramps, which lasted for two or three days, and within a week, I could sit at my desk for a few hours or walk several blocks with minimal pain. Not bad, considering I can’t take opioids and had to tough it out on Advil and ice packs.

When I had my stitches taken out last week, my doctor gave me a copy of the pathology report. No wonder I felt like crap; I had a uterus full of fibroids (10 of ’em), cysts all over both ovaries, and endometriosis gluing my right ovary to my uterus.

At this point — 19 days removed from surgery — I feel almost normal again. I tire easily, which is annoying. I’m not allowed to lift anything heavy or walk any dogs for several more weeks. It’ll be a while before I’m really comfortable with the idea of jogging on soft trails, much less asphalt streets (though I’m considering buying a cheap elliptical to use in the meantime). And in the absence of ovaries, I’ve had some spectacular hot flashes (which I’m already having fairly good luck controlling with diet; more on that in a future post). But those are small prices to pay for a surgery that has eliminated several health problems that compromised my quality of life for many years.

Emily

Standing porter

What a year.  I’ll have some updates on my goings-on once school is out, but today, I just want to share the most valuable thing I’ve done in a while:

I deleted my Twitter account.

I’ve been considering it for years. There are a few people I really enjoy following on there, but most of the time, reading good content on Twitter is like bobbing for apples in a cesspool: You’re ingesting an awful lot of crap for a pretty unimpressive ROI.

For me, the last straw came when I looked at a thread containing 40 comments and realized at least 35 of them had been posted by what appeared to be fake accounts created for the sole purpose of harassing women and minorities. When I realized I’d blocked and reported 39 suspected fake accounts in the span of 48 hours, with zero response from Twitter, I made a decision: If that number reached 50 before I got a satisfactory response, I was done.

Amusingly, the 49th and 50th accounts I reported were fake accounts with single-digit follower counts that popped up to troll me for calling out fake accounts with single-digit follower counts.

How meta.

I set up my Twitter account in 2008, but I didn’t really use it heavily until I took a job doing social media for a hotel in Tulsa in 2012. I learned some useful things from the people I encountered online, but I find it interesting that in the past seven years, my health has gone to hell in a handbasket.

This might be a coincidence.

I doubt it.

Mary Baker Eddy writes in Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures: “Stand porter at the door of thought. Admitting only such conclusions as you wish realized in bodily results, you will control yourself harmoniously.”

I used to do that. And I used to feel a lot better than I do right now.

Probably not a coincidence.

Emily

I’m not your Mary Sue.

I recently ended a 23-year “friendship.” I don’t regret it, but I think the details might be instructive for others who are tolerating manipulators out of kindness or habit, so I’m sharing.

The conflict began when I decided to boycott a Peter Yarrow concert after learning about Yarrow’s 1970 conviction for molesting a 14-year-old backstage. My then-friend (I’ll call him “Andy”) inexplicably took exception to this, and when I noted that Yarrow’s victim was about the same age as my students — of whom I am extremely protective — Andy announced he didn’t give a damn about my students.

If you don’t care about my kids’ safety, we cannot be friends. Period. So I replied, “You are dead to me” and blocked him.

That was the end of the conversation, but it wasn’t the beginning. It wasn’t even the weirdest part.

Andy had a crush on me when I was 19. I wasn’t interested in dating him, largely because his perception of me bore no resemblance to reality. It felt as if he’d seen my face, written some fanfiction about it, and then confused me with the Mary Sue he’d created in his mind. Every time I tried to explain that his perceptions didn’t match reality, he refused to listen and insisted I was [insert litany of flattering adjectives that don’t apply to me].

It was awkward, and I was never quite sure how to respond –especially when he paired his compliments with remarks about how unattractive he was. At the time, I read this as insecurity. In retrospect, it looks more like manipulation: The more self-deprecating you are, the more people will coddle you.

Despite the awkwardness, we became friends — or, at least, I was friendly toward him, and he fawned over the Mary Sue he imagined me to be. I’m not sure that constitutes friendship, but it seemed to make him happy, and it wasn’t costing me anything.

Two decades later, Andy started this weird habit of stanning for celebrities accused of sexual misconduct — whereupon he was confronted by the cold reality that I wasn’t a fictional character he could control; I was a living, breathing, thinking woman whose opinions did not necessarily match the headcanon he’d dreamed up to go with my face.

When I said I wasn’t going to buy Peter Yarrow tickets, Andy immediately accused me of hypocrisy, asserting that if Hillary Clinton or Dianne Feinstein pulled something like that, I would fall all over myself to defend her. (Yeah, I don’t know what a couple of female politicians have to do with a folksinger molesting a kid 48 years ago, either. The logic probably works better if you’re drunk.)

When I asked him whether he honestly believed I would give somebody a pass just because I agreed with her politics, he said something that really clarified the nature of our long “friendship”:

“…i (sic) do believe that about you … . I think your politics ranks (sic) above all, because I DO know you.”

Andy does not, in point of fact, know me. AT ALL. He never has. He just knows a character he’s invented with my name and face, onto whom he has projected wishes and whatifs for 23 years. And when he finally had to confront the fact that I am not that character — when he finally had to choose between the real Emily and his imaginary friend — he reacted by saying something that was certain to end our friendship immediately.

I don’t appreciate being manipulated into being the bad guy, especially publicly. But I also don’t need someone in my life who prefers a fictional version of me to reality, and if he insists on dreaming up fanfic about me — well, let’s just say that I am MUCH more comfortable as a villain than as a Mary Sue.

Emily

Mission accomplished

We finished paying off our dead Subaru this week.

*Breaks finish-line tape*

*Spikes football*

*Circles bases while pointing at sky*

*Does touchdown dance in the endzone*

*Sends a “Dear Subaru: t(-_-t) ” note*

Now that we’re all done paying off a station wagon that doesn’t run, we can pour those resources into retiring the loan we took out to replace the sewer line last year after the roots of the neighbor’s tree grew into it and clogged it up. (I still don’t understand why I am legally responsible for damage caused by somebody else’s tree, but I’d like a word with whoever made that rule.)

Emily

Sunday Self-care: Funny Farm

We were driving down Route 66 in Granite City, Illinois, one spring afternoon in 2004 when the thought came out of nowhere:

It’s going to be a good summer. It’s going to be an interesting summer. It’s going to be a really good summer.

That summer, we moved to Tulsa.

I was driving down Route 66 in Tucumcari, New Mexico, one winter afternoon in late 2012, thinking — as I often do — that we should just move out there and be done with it, when the thought came out of nowhere:

Hang on. I’ve got a better idea.

That spring, we moved to Cape.

We were driving down Route 66 in Granite City one afternoon last February when the thought came out of nowhere:

It’s going to be a good summer. It’s going to be an interesting summer. It’s going to be a really good summer.

I wasn’t sure what that meant, but given my track record, I started bracing myself for major life changes.

I bookmarked the websites for several school districts in the Southwest. I bookmarked the New Mexico page on JournalismJobs.com. I kept an open mind. I listened for guidance. I waited. And while I waited, I worked.

I applied for a New Mexico teaching certificate. I looked into local possibilities. I gave serious thought to applying when two positions opened up in the Illinois newsroom where Ron and I met. And I spent a lot of time doing projects meant to make our house attractive to prospective buyers.

It is almost September.

We haven’t moved to New Mexico. We didn’t go back to Illinois. I didn’t change careers.

But at the end of this very interesting summer, I’m $6,000 closer to paying off my Subaru. I’ve redone the living and dining rooms. I’ve covered my porch with plants, installed new flowerbeds, covered an arbor with wisteria, and filled my home with mid-century furniture. Our bungalow looks warmer and neater and prettier than I ever dreamed it could. And I am content.

I suspected this might happen.

basil

One spring morning, as I was tending the garden, I thought:

You watch. This is gonna be like the Chevy Chase movie Funny Farm.

Remember Funny Farm? A Vermont couple bribe their cranky neighbors into helping them charm prospective buyers so they can sell their house — and in the process, they charm themselves into staying.

That’s basically what I’ve done. In trying to make my house irresistible to buyers, I’ve made it irresistible to myself.

arbor

I’d still swap it for New Mexico. And if I feel led somewhere else, I’ll go, as I always do. But for the moment, I am content — and it has, indeed, been a very good summer.

Emily

A little gloating

With the last Friday and Saturday of 2014 behind us, I can gloat a little bit about the fact that I’ve kept my New Year’s resolution: I’ve posted an entire year’s worth of weekly Vegan Friday and Eco-Saturday projects.

I wasn’t sure I’d have enough Eco-Saturday ideas to keep going after this year, but after I sat down and looked at what was left on my original list and went through some books and websites in search of other possibilities, I realized I had enough potential material to carry me well into 2015, so we’ll keep rolling with that tag until I run out of ideas.

Vegan Friday was a bit trickier, partly because my standards are high: If a vegan recipe is a pain in the arse to make, I’m not trying it, and if I try a recipe and it doesn’t taste good, I’m not posting it. That filters out a lot of recipes. It was a worthy project while it lasted, but I just don’t have the time or will to continue it for another year.

Instead, I’m turning Vegan Friday into Vegetarian Friday. Aside from an occasional batch of chicken posole or pigs in blankets, just about everything I cook is meat-free, so coming up with 52 different recipes should be easy, and staying in my culinary comfort zone should give me more time to stage photographs properly instead of trying to snap something with my iPhone on the fly because I just realized it’s Thursday night and I still haven’t come up with a good replacement for the vile-tasting-but-gorgeous Brussels sprouts I made Monday or whatever. It occurs to me that my light-therapy lamp and a couple of sheets of foamboard would probably go a long way toward making my recipe posts a little more Pinterest-friendly.

The vegetarian recipes should help advance one of my long-term goals, which is to reduce my meat consumption in a sensible, sustainable way. (I’m still sorting out the details, but in essence, I’m hoping to phase out one food category per quarter until I’m more or less vegetarian again.)

I have a couple of other projects up my sleeve, too, but I’ll share those once I figure out the details.

Emily