Thursday, June 20, 2013

Expanding my concept of heroism

I miss my friend Merle. I miss his good humor and his crazy wisdom. Throughout a really awful time in his life he managed to maintain a sense of humor and purpose making him my hero as well.

Over the last few months I've thought of Merle a lot and my view and understanding of heroism has expanded. It takes a hero to be sick and maintain a positive attitude. It also takes a hero to be a caregiver and not completely lose your mind. It takes a hero to coordinate the lives of children and family while caring for someone. And, to be able to add the care of yourself into that mix makes you nothing short of Super(wo)man.

My hat is off, and my heart goes out to all the caregivers out there. You are all my heroes. If you can do it with grace and good humor, then heroism only scratches the surface of my admiration.
Merle was my "work spouse". We met in 2006 when he was hired onto the team I worked on, and I will never forget the grace with which he navigated questions during his interview that left me cringing. Merle was a people-person, but more than that, he was my friend. We shared the same academic interests, sense of humor, and tendency toward irreverence. Every year we celebrated our birth week together -- our birthdays are separated by exactly 1 year and 1 week -- Why celebrate for just a day when you can celebrate for a whole week was our theory? When I got married in 2008, Merle read the 7 blessings at my wedding.
Merle was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer at the age of 42, and immediately turned his formidable people-skills to advocacy, and his even more formidable will-power to living his life to the fullest. He began a blog ( and chronicled his experience from start to finish. He concentrated on living in the moment as much as possible. He adopted the mantra, borrowing from Monty Python's Holy Grail, "I'm not dead yet!", and celebrated his life though parties with friends and family with titles like "Tumor B Gone" -- commemorating his Whipple surgery, where guests were instructed, per the invitation, to "deposit tumors, illnesses, malaises, and other discomforts into the Flaming Chalice of Health at the front door"; and Tumorpalooza -- Versions I and II, in honor of the anniversary of his diagnosis. Merle worked until the last few weeks of his life, worrying all the time that he was not doing enough, when in fact, he was doing more than enough. When he could no longer work, he graciously invited visitors to his bedside 24/7.
Merle is the most heroic person I know. He is an inspiration for how to live, even when living seems hardest. I, along with many others, will miss his kindness, humor, intelligence, friendship, and bravery.

Merle Hamburger
Mar. 1, 1966 - July 19, 2011

Keep searching for that Holy Grail...

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

New house rule: Check your prey prior to entry

Note to all household members and visitors:

It is a new house rule that all prey, living or dead, must be checked at the door prior to entry

This rule applies to all individuals regardless of the number of legs on which you walk.

And yes, this includes you, Mr. "little man" Socks...
don't be fooled by that cute, innocent face
Our previous cat, Luna, was quite the hunter. He brought us all manner of presents - living, dead, and somewhere in between (eeew).

Some favorites include the 1/2 dead baby squirrels he deposited on the living room rug; squirrel
the pile of feathers that was once a bird, left on the welcome mat on a windy day (I'm still finding little feathers in corners and under furniture);
and the nasty looking and even nastier smelling live vole that caused all 3 girls to stand on the couch and shriek.
Once again, don't be fooled by cute. Voles are nasty.
And stinky.
And nasty stinky.
However, the Socks-man is about 1/2 the size of Luna and, until recently, didn't show particular aptitude or interest in predatory behavior.

But in the last couple weeks, Socks has made contact with his inner hunter and feels he must demonstrate his love for us by bringing gifts. First it was 1/2 a bird on the welcome mat. Then, a few days later, a chipmunk minus 1 leg, again on the welcome mat.

Although its pretty disgusting to walk out the front door and nearly step on a partially masticated token of feline affection, the welcome mat is one of the least offensive options for depositing gifts. At least its outside.

And speaking of outside, we have a kitty door. We tried to teach Luna to use it but Luna acted like the kitty door was the gateway to hell and refused to have anything to do with it. Not Socks. He comes and goes at will - mostly to snack, and occasionally for a dose of Brenna torture, but mostly to eat.

However, now that he has demonstrated his true love for us in gifts he seems to think that means he i welcome to invite his "friends"inside for a visit.

Last night, Brenna was sitting at the table enjoying her dinner-snack (because snack  is so much tastier than dinner). I had gone into another room to get something, when BANG! something went crashing to the floor in the kitchen. I ran back into the kitchen and Brenna was staring, horror-struck, to her right. As I came running in, she turned to me, pointed back where she'd been looking and said, "Mommy!!"
I went around her chair and saw............................



And then I saw......................................................

A chipmunk.

Not ok.

The visitor was frozen in a position closely resembling a hunting dog pointing toward a recently downed duck.

Socks was sitting tall and could not have looked more proud of himself if he'd been able to stand up on his hind legs and say, 'Yeah, baby. That sucker there is MINE! I caught it all by myself just for your enjoyment.'

He had apparently brought this gift in through his kitty door and knocked the cover for the door over as he jumped in.

My response: "Oh! Lun...Socks! Chipmunk! Dude!" (yes, I have an advanced degree.)
Brenna: "Mommy! We don't bring chipmunks into the house, do we?"
Me: "Uh, no, we don't. You're right." (It's important to establish boundaries.)

Meanwhile I am wondering what I am going to do with a perfectly healthy but frozen with fright chipmunk, and how the hell I'm going to get it out of the house.

Instead of doing the obvious: open the back door, grab a broom and sweep Sock's gift out the door, I did the, uh, stupid. I ran to the front porch, grabbed my gardening gloves, ran back inside, and attempted to grab the chipmunk so I could throw it out the door.

Needless to say, this was a bad idea and I was completely unsuccessful. I went into the grab without the predatory authority necessary and the chipmunk was instantly shocked out of his frozen state and into a panicked run....straight across the kitchen and living room, into my bedroom and directly under the bed. Gotta love the open concept floor plan.

The cat and I took off in quick succession in pursuit, with Brenna yelling in the background, "Mommy! We don't let chipmunks into the house!And not squirrels either!!"


Our bedframe sits no more than 3 inches off the ground. Plenty of room for a chipmunk. Not quite enough room for a cat. And certainly not enough room for a human.

Socks takes up tiger mode - pacing from one side of the bed to the other, crouching down on each side to look under the bed.

I go into CSI-Atlanta mode and grab the small flashlight from the side of the bed, throw myself flat on the floor, and peer under the bed sweeping the light from side to side.

Aha! There, hiding between the bed leg, dust balls and the powerstrip is the chipmunk. I run back to the kitchen, grab the broom, run back to the bedroom and poke the broom under the bed toward the chipmunk.

In retrospect I'm not sure what I expected to happen when I shoved the broom under the bed toward the chipmunk but what I didn't expect was for the chipmunk to take off in a blur at mach 3 and disappear.
Evidently, Socks didn't expect this either and remained in the bedroom pacing the bed. In his anxiety to get to the chipmunk, who was no longer actually under the bed, he managed to pancake himself and squeeze under the bed where he had to log-roll to move. I watched him briefly as he rolled deeper under the bed - first right-side-up, then up-side-down, then right-side-up again.

Realizing the futility of his mission, and figuring it was his problem to figure out how to get himself out from under the bed, I took the flashlight and went on a mission looking for where the chipmunk might have gone. When I did not find it in any closet, the bathroom, or behind any of the bedroom or bathroom furniture or doors, I gave up.

Socks soon did the same, once he realized that all he was menacing under the bed was dustbunnies and a chapstick that had rolled under the bed weeks ago, and he wandered back outside.

So, now I had a chipmunk inside and a cat outside. Fan-tastic.

Before bed I did another CSI sweep through the house with the flashlight and found more dustbunnies and some small lost toys but no chipmunk. I went to bed.

5:13 am - I am awoken by high pitched squeeks that sound like they are coming from the foot of my bed. I turn on the light expecting to be confronted with little beady black eyes staring back at me from the end of the duvet. But apart from seeing my feet, there was nothing to see.

5:15 am - More squeeking. I realize the sound is coming from outside the bedroom in the living room. I tiptoe out of the bedroom and stand in the middle of the living room. More squeeking from the corner of the room. I tiptoe forward and see the cat has cornered the chipmunk behind the endtable.

It's 5:18 am. I have established that the chipmunk is in the livingroom, which means it's not in my room. Good enough. I go back to bed.

8:30 am. I have taken Brenna to school (after reassurring her again that chipmunks aren't supposed to come into the house). I need to switch the carseat into my mother's car so she can do pickup after school. We usually put a towel onto the seat of the car before installing the carseat and I have left a towel on the floor by the coat closet for this purpose.

yes, i am a chipmunk and
i am hiding in the towel you just grabbed
I lean down and grab the towel. Well, my right hand grabs towel. My left hand grabs something soft, fuzzy, warm, and BREATHING! I scream like the girl I am and throw the towel to the floor. Then I look down and am eye to eye with the chipmunk.

Upon hitting the ground the chipmunk proves that its species is not as dumb as it looks and has obviously learned something from his experiences the previous evening and it takes off. Once again I curse the open floor plan concept.

I run out and grab my garden gloves (again) and my mother grabs the broom (again - it is evident that while chipmunks are not as dumb as they look, humans on the other hand, learn nothing from their mistakes simply repeat them over and over) and we take off in hot pursuit of a 3 inch, 3 ounce chipmunk.We chase it through the kitchen, down the hall, into the family room and under a cabinet. Then we scare it out from under the cabinet, whereupon it runs diagonally across the room, under the couch and into the opposite corner where there is a milk crate of wires and crap that we have yet to figure out what to do with. The chipmunk is now stuck in the milk crate and trapped. Ha ha!

I reach down and grab with authority (see? I did learn something)...

I take my prey out the front door and with a "Fly! Be free!" I toss the creature into the grass, run back to the house and slam the door.

Sayonara chipmunk!

Saturday, June 15, 2013

Talking on the phone

From the conversations with my child files...

This morning I had my first real phone conversation with Brenna. She is spending the weekend with her sisters. She loves sleepovers. She loves her sisters. What could be better than combining the two for an entire weekend?

This is not her first time staying with her sisters but it is the first time I have gotten a call. At 10 this morning I got a text from Karen (Mel and Ella's mom) saying that B wanted to talk with me, could I call when I got a chance. My first thought was, uh oh, what's wrong? Has she done something that she has to call and tell me about - like barf in the middle of the living room carpet or take permanent marker to the walls or a scissors to her/Mel's/Ella's hair. So I messaged back that I would call in 5 min and was everything ok. Apparently, all was fine, she just wanted to say hi. 

Conversation went something this:

B: hi mommy!
M: hi sweetie! what are you doing?
B: [silence]
M: are you having fun?
B: Yes!!
M: are you playing, playing, playing?
B: Yes!!
M: What are you going to do today?
B: Um...I don't know.
M: Are you going to go swimming?
B: Yes!!
M: What did you have for breakfast?
B: mmffff..smmr..mffth 
(um, ok, not sure what that is)
M: That sounds yummy! Did you sleep and sleep all night?
B: Yes.
M: Did you sleep in Melany's room?
B: No, I slept in the fun room (the play room)
M: All by yourself?! 
B: Yes!
M: What a big girl you are! I'm so proud of you!
B: And I got a cookie!!
M: A cookie! As a treat? 
B: Yes!
M: What kind of cookie?
B (mumbling in the background): an Oreo!!
M: Lucky you. Is this the first Oreo you've ever had? (as far as I know it is)
B: No. (well, that's news to me)
M: Do you want to do another sleepover tonight or do you want to sleep at home with me?
B: Another sleepover!!!
M: Ok, I will talk with Ms. Karen about that.
B: Mommy?
M: yes?
B: um, um, um, um, um, um, um, um, um...
M: are you trying to think of a question for me?
B: yes. 
B: I love you mommy. bye.
M: i love you too sweetie!

It was the best phone conversation I think I've ever had and I can't believe I could actually have a real phone conversation with my baby. Such a big girl!

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Why I could never be a physician...
One of life's mysteries has been solved. Well, really only a life mystery to me and, honestly, not that much of a mystery since I never really thought about it until the last 5 days, but now I know why it was not in my life plan to become a physician.

I have the wrong name.

Yes. That's the reason.

It's not because organic chemistry would have been more aptly named "creative chemistry" based on my approach to figuring out sis- and trans- molecular models.

Nor because I bailed out of pre-med my junior year in college after a disasterous semester-long date with intro to physics.

Nor even because I had to work 100 times harder for C's in my biological/earth science classes than I did for A's in all my other classes.

And certainly not because my amazingly compassionate and understanding undergraduate academic advisor looked at my GPA after my sophomore year in college and said, "And, you think you're going to be able to get into med school with grades like this?!"

Seriously, had this person never heard of the freshman I'm-so-smart-I-don't-need-to-go-to-or-study-for-any-of-my-freshman-classes-and-can-stay-out-all-night-7-days-per-week-drinking-all-the-beer-I-wouldn't-touch-in-high-school syndrome?? Or at least s/he (I can't even remember what gender the advisor was!) could have been a bit more positive and suggested that perhaps I really apply myself for the next 6 semesters and if I still really wanted to take my chances with med school applications consider making applications to programs other than the highly selective top 10 schools like Johns Hopkins, Columbia, and UNC-Chapel Hill. (Duke medical school is up there on the top 10 list but I wouldn't have applied there if they'd begged me since Duke sucks. YOMV*)

Oh, and I showed that advisor anyway and went on to apply for programs that were even more competitive and selective than med school...not that I got into any of them. But that's not the point. Or maybe it is the point. Oh, who cares anyway?  (Come to think of it, I ended up getting degrees from 2 out of 3 of the above listed institutions.)

No, in the end it turns out, that none of those reasons are why I there was never any chance I would become an MD. In truth, I simply have the wrong name.

We have been at Northside Hospital for the last 5 days, which has given me the opportunity to come in contact with a variety of MDs. The current team of physicians who visit us daily includes:

Dr. Lord
Dr. Wisdom
Dr. Blass (ok, his application for med school must have slipped by unnoticed - probaably because he entered medical school prior to the initiation of the computerized application process when there was still the possiblity for over-looking certain selection criteria due to human error.This does not imply that we do not think he is a good doctor. In fact, we think he is great. But in light of his name, he must have been accepted into and received his medical degree through human error.)
2 Drs. whose names I can't even pronounce (which may be the other way you are able to become an MD, because if your name is unpronounceable with combinations of consonants and vowels that look like they should not be combined in any language, your name might actually be "Lord" or "Wisdom" or "Demi-God" and no one knows, so med schools figure better safe than sorry.)

This concludes today's lesson on appropriate career choice.

You're welcome.

* Your Opinion May Vary - and if it varies in a way that you don't think that Duke sucks, well, then you suck. No offense intended.