Sunday, October 12, 2014

Deeper meaning

I have had that cough since the early 1990s, thanks no doubt to my long history of exposure to too much fresh air in the foothill of Seattle where I grew up, and a complete lack of cigarette smoke.  Of course spending a summer in Spokane after the volcano blew didnt have anything to do with it, even though everyone I know from that period in my life who was in Spokane is plagued with respiratory complaints.   Mine, however, arrived one day on the heels of a minor cold, and settled in for the long haul. I had tried antibiotics, antihistamines, cough syrup, aroma therapy, steroids up my nose, and hypnosis, to absolutely no effect. Well, last week, I went to see Derek, my acupuncturist about a pain in my right knee. A half hour later, he was happily poking tiny needles in my arms, legs, and OUCH feet, and about the time I was starting to smile ironically to myself, remembering a recent study published by the Institute of Studies for the Acupuncture Society that was only able to conclude that acupuncture was extremely effective at covering people with lots of little tiny holes, he quite unexpectedly removed the lavender-scented mask over my face and in one deft move thunked one right between my eyes, in order to, as he put it, see if "we could do a little something" about my cough. Too startled to respond, I stared cross-eyed for a few seconds at the needle waving around in front of my eyes, like some liliputian spear... And the cough stopped. Not a little while later, or the next day, but right then and there. Derek smiled a knowing smile, turned down the lights, turned on a little heater pointed down at my feet, and left me alone wrapped naked in a sheet with Eastern music playing softly in the background, to ponder the meaning of life. And acupuncture.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

A Doctor's View of the NRA Call for More Guns in Our Schools

Originally posted at

I will never forget the day I was called to our trauma center ER to intubate “Bobby.” The pager exploded in alarm: 1-01-1. One victim, 1 minute, level 1. 

 I ran. 

 Arriving breathless as medics crashed through the door with a child on a stretcher, I see a puzzlingly clean scene. No gore, no blood-soaked blankets. The boy’s terrified blue eyes search silently for help. His chin is tilted up and mouth open, chest heaving in short gasps, like a stranded fish. It’s ok, it’s ok, I say to him as his story is recited and an intubation tray is set beside me. Eleven years old, home with older brother, found the key to the gun cabinet and shot himself showing off the Glock, which was supposed to be empty. Unlike most kids, he isn’t thrashing, crying, shoving us away. He isn’t moving at all. He isn’t making a sound, every fiber trained on getting that next breath. A laryngoscope is shoved into my hands, a nurse prepares the succinyl choline, a paralyzing drug to make placing a breathing tube easier. But I stay her hand. 

 There is a small trickle of blood from the corner of his mouth and an almost innocuous-looking hole in the side of his neck the size of the tip of my little finger, with a single drop of blood. The bullet has torn through his vertebra and spinal cord, then ricocheted around inside. There is no exit wound. He is paralyzed, barely able to breathe…and God knows what is in his throat. He is losing strength quickly, but with trauma in the airway, I don’t know if there will be a clear track for an endotracheal tube. I make a quick decision, grab the bag and gently apply the smallest mask I have to his face, carefully assisting him in his own fading breaths, and call for an operating room team stat. It will be ok, I tell him, his eyes locked on mine, his pupils dark holes in his terrified face. It will be ok. I will not leave you. I promise, I promise you will get enough air. He nods faintly. The trickle at the corner of his mouth grows slightly. 

 The operating room is silent and tense. Everyone stands ready. At this moment, I may open his mouth and find that all is well—slip a tube in, and assure that he won’t die of suffocation. Or I may find chaos, swelling, bleeding, an airway I can’t access. We will have only seconds. A shake of the head will tell the surgeon to start cutting a hole in his neck, and I will keep trying in the meantime, because emergency tracheostomy in these situations often fails, the neck swollen and distorted by the bullet’s mayhem. It is a roll of the dice…and this time we almost lose. 

 I tell him once more that all is well, and nod to my assistant, who delivers a stun-dose of hypnotic drug. But when I look inside, there is nothing familiar in his torn throat to slip a tube into. Blood wells up obscuring my view. I shake my head, the surgeon cuts, and I suction the kid’s mouth and try again. And again…. And again. The boy’s arterial oxygen saturation starts to fall with each heartbeat, and the pulse begins to slow…I hear the surgeon curse, and I curse, and then, suddenly I’m able to see distorted vocal cords and pass a tube through them. We all take a deep breath. Besides suturing tissue and taking him to the intensive care unit, however, we have done all we can do for this child. This is what his life will be now, on a ventilator, unable to move independently, for the rest of his life. 

 Is this, I remember thinking, what I aspired to? 

Children’s deaths touch us all deeply. The most recent horrific mass killing grabs our attention and rage for a few days, but the problem seems too overwhelming to tackle and so we get discouraged. The NRA would have us believe that we can arm our schools, change the video games, lock up the nuts and all will be well. But we don’t talk seriously about giving up our guns, which is actually what we must do to turn the tide. Because, Dear Readers, Sandy Hook is an aberration. Don’t let the NRA fool you. Mass killings are not how or why our sons and daughters are dying in a hail of bullets—mass killings account for fewer than 1% of all gun-related deaths in the United States. The other 99% of victims are dying because we have too many guns. Over 75,000 people are maimed and permanently disabled in the U.S. every year from gun violence. And the vast majority of the guns involved were easily obtained, most of them legally. Eric Harris and Dylan Liebold used weapons bought for them by their friends. All of the weapons that Adam Lanza used were available to him from his own home. James Holmes obtained his firearms legally over the internet. “Bobby” got his gun out of Daddy’s closet.

 NRA says they don’t oppose gun violence research, so long as it is objective. Well, here’s news for the NRA. The research is in. Guns don’t kill or maim people. People with guns kill and maim people, and they do it in breathtaking numbers.

In 2013 there will be more deaths from guns in the U.S. than from automobile accidents. Over 37,000 people will die from a bullet. That is one life every 12 minutes, 24/7 all year long. That’s another 9/11 every single month, every single year, as far into the future as we can see, until something is done. The annual death toll is almost quadruple the total number of Americans killed in the 9/11 attacks, the Iraq War and the War in Afghanistan combined. Wars usually end, and we can calculate the final numbers. But the death toll from gun violence repeats over and over annually. The leading causes of death in people age 15-34 in the U.S. are homicide and suicide, the majority of which involve a gun. The annual death rate from firearms among children under age 15 is more than 12 times higher than in 25 of the next top industrial countries combined. Putting an armed guard in every school will not save many of those lives.

A significant portion of deaths related to criminal violence involving firearms…in many if not most cases involving guns that were obtained legally under current Federal and state laws. An armed guard in every school will not save many of those lives, either.

In the aftermath of Sandy Hook, many called for increases in mental health expenditures and more programs to keep the mentally ill in confinement. But the fact is that mental health issues play a minor role in homicides in the United States. Most homicides occur in the home, as the result of domestic disputes or emotional crises, combined with poor impulse control and the ready availability of a deadly weapon…in the vast majority of cases, a weapon that was obtained legally under current Federal and state laws. An armed guard in every school will not save any of those lives.

In the U.S. approximately 5 million new guns enter the market every year. The per-capital gun death rate of the US is over 10 times that of the UK. Surely our founding fathers did not intend the for constitution to become a suicide pact with future madmen and criminals, or with gun enthusiasts who appear willing to sacrifice our future generations in an unwavering ideology that, bluntly stated, puts political motives above our children’s and young people’s lives. Nor did our founders likely ascribe to the belief that there is some sort of “God-given” right to manufacture and own assault weapons whose only purpose is to kill human beings, kill quickly, and kill in unprecedented numbers. The founding fathers were fighting a war with a hostile invader on their own soil. “A well-armed militia” might have been necessary then, but that is a far cry from a right to have a recreational assault weapon (or three) in every home.

The NRA argues that “right to carry” laws reduce crime. But well-respected research by the National Research Council and other groups has shown that there is no correlation between right to carry laws and crime reduction. Gun lobbyists argue that other weapons are used to murder people: knives and hammers can kill, too. But not as easily. And not as many. It took under 10 minutes from the first shots that broke down the door to the last trigger pull for 26 people in that elementary school to die. About 18 appear to have died within the first two to three minutes. Two minutes is not enough time for rescue from the bullets of an assault rifle. It is not enough time to retrieve a weapon for self-defense. It might be just time enough to realize what is happening and scream down a hallway. It might be just time enough to turn and try to run...

….but it is not enough time get away.

The NRA says all we need is a good guy with a gun, but as Gabrielle Giffords (a gun owner herself) just pointed out; “a good guy with a gun” came out of a store nearby and nearly shot the very man who was finally able to wrestle down Jared Loughner and put a stop to his wave of killing.  In over 60 mass killings in the last 3 decades not a single one was stopped by a private citizen carrying a gun.

Let’s take the blinders off and admit that liberalization of gun laws--such as allowing the Brady Bill assault weapon ban to expire in 2004--has been associated with unprecedented peacetime civilian death and mayhem. Let’s finally admit the truth: that most people who murder with a gun are not madmen or alienated video game enthusiasts, as the NRA would have us believe, but human beings who reached a breaking point—but who would not have killed, or would have killed far fewer people, if they had not had the ready availability of a gun in their own home. Let’s admit what we actually do know: that gun-locks, gun safes, and personalized guns are useless in the advancing slaughter. We’ve tried them. They are unpopular, and they don’t work. Fewer than one-third of gun owners store their weapons unloaded, or even bother to lock up their guns.

Close to one-half of American households have at least one firearm. The average gun owner has at least 2 firearms. In over 9 million U.S. homes, that number is more than 10. Five years ago we hit a milestone: there was essentially one gun for every man, woman and child in America—more than any other country in the world. At close to 100,000 deaths and injuries annually, gun violence literally constitutes the greatest single public health threat to our young generations.

As a physician, it is my duty to speak up. The time has come to open the second amendment, for the sake of all our children.

What we really need is fewer guns.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

New Year's Resolutions 2017

New Year’s Resolutions 2017

Many of you may remember what you were doing in 2009 on New Year’s Eve. I know I sure do. I had been huddled in Mazama amongst many colorful images of the Christmas season--a crackling fire in the fireplace, snowy Christmas trees, a glittering white field filled with deer just off the back porch---thoughtfully pulling spaghetti off of the cat (don’t ask), while trying to finish that darned book. My husband the pastor, who hates the uninhibited language that literally bursts out of me when I have to re-do the same type-set corrections for the 12th time in a row, had decided to go home a few days early, having quickly become bored with me asking him questions like “How do you spell obsequious?” and "how should I answer the following question:  'do the double quotes come before or after the question mark?'?" and leaving me on my own to wrestle over the internet with the copy editors (who were British, and therefore kept insisting on misspelling words like ‘oesophagus”) and using words like "whilst" and "amongst" as subordinating conjunctions.

So on a clear, sunny New Year’s Eve, I packed up my things (including the cat), stuck them in the back of a completely inadequate snow vehicle (Minicooper, regular tires, no chains) and struck out for home--neglecting, of course, to first check the weather on Blewett Pass. Which is pretty much how I found myself later that day driving up the pass in a blinding blizzard while simultaneously leaning out the driver's side window and reaching over the windshield to free up the frozen wiper blades, cursing the bl--dy British editors and wondering how I was going to get the car turned around with all of those monster trucks sliding sideways in the snow past me, the drivers gesturing in my general direction in what one can politely describe as being in a less-than-friendly fashion.

Thus I spent New Year’s Eve 2009 alone with my cat in a Holiday Inn Express in Wenatchee Washington, where, while awaiting rescue by my husband, I learned that Bob’s Goodtime Broiler lets out at about 2 AM, and—forget fireworks--they have real guns in Wenatchee and know how to use ‘em.

Now, this is an example of precisely the kind of experience that makes writing my New Year’s Resolutions every January so very easy. I have long since given up making New Year’s Resolutions I can’t keep. I know I am actually never going to clean out the attic or pay off the credit cards, and I have grown confident they will both sort themselves out after I am dead. Instead, I believe this is the time of year to reflect back, consider what I would be willing to do again, what I should try anew this year, and what I should definitely never, ever repeat. So here goes:

Resolution #1. I’m not spending another New Year’s Eve alone in Wenatchee, and if I ever do, I’m at least going to have the dog with me.  I mean, come on. The cat was totally useless, just sitting there like a big, hairy, purring pillow on the bed when that immense-sounding guy came pounding on the door at 3 AM begging someone named “Jennie Darlin’ ” to forgive him and let him in since all he’d been doin’ was funnin’ it up with the boys. The next time that happens, I think “Jenny Darlin” deserves to have an insanely furious, barking maniac in a fur coat scratching and slobbering at the door on her behalf, even if the dog’s next move when the door opens will be to dive under the bed and let her face the music alone.

Resolution #2. If I ever write or edit another book, it won’t be about ethics.  After a while, even all the “right stuff” starts to look….well frankly wrong. And there’s a kind of irony in having to explain (for the 12th time) to a doctor why it would be wrong for physicians to torture people, while simultaneously enjoying a mental picture of said doctor standing in the snow with his tongue frozen to a tetherball pole like that kid in “A Christmas Story.”
And to the doctor who stole a copy of my book from the Medical Library at the University, I have two things to say: 1) I am honored and delighted that you find my book so compelling and obviously want to read it and 2) Please turn to chapter 35.  While it is not about stealing, per se and why that is wrong, it is about plagiarism, which is a kind of stealing, and I think you might find the ethical principles detailed in it relevant to your particular situation.

Resolution #3. The next time someone offers to pay my travel and expenses to take a business course in July, I am going to ask where it’s being held before answering the question.  This resolution is quite similar to one I made in 2008, which actually was “The next time my husband asks me if I want to go for a ‘little walk’ with him in Spain, I am going to read a travel book about it before agreeing to take an 800 kilometer trek to Santiago.”
Houston this July was 95°F, 95% humidity. Need I say more.

Resolution #4. I am going to eat more chocolate again this year.  You non-medical types out there may believe that “an apple a day keeps the doctor away,” but in fact there is no evidence that apples do much of anything special for your health, and I personally don't like them. Now that I think of it, forcing your favorite doctor (that would be moi) to eat an apple a day probably would keep her away. Chocolate, on the other hand has flavonoids, which lovingly wrap your little platelets in a gooey and tasty coating, leaving them too slippery to reliably cause blood clots, strokes and heart attacks. Chocolate releases narcotic-like substances in the body, and increases the levels of dopamine in the brain (and I know you Discovery Channel fans out there know what that means).

Resolution #5. I am going to try to avoid teasing the pit bulls by walking around in my own neighborhood.  This one didn’t go well at all, as you can imagine. And this resolution may turn out to be surprisingly difficult to keep, since my friend and I didn’t actually recognize that we were annoying the dog by simply walking down the street (that is until it was too late), and also because there appears to a strong pit bull lobby working hard to keep this breed from being regulated, for god-only-knows what reason. But clearly we must have been teasing the dog (as was reported in a local blogpost), since we both ended up in the hospital (me mostly because I had stupidly let my tetanus shot lapse, my friend because she needed significant surgical repair). I remember it vividly-- thinking as I was scrubbing my friend’s leg out in the kitchen sink and telling her not to look while she was madly dialing my husband for a ride to the ER, that I sure as heck wasn’t going to ever try that again. At least now I have an interesting new scar to talk about if I ever find myself meeting new people and the conversation lags.

Resolution #6. I’m going to learn to play bridge.  Now, this one will  runs the risk of violating one of my critical criteria for a New Year’s resolution: easily attainable so you don’t feel like a failure if you….well…fail. Bridge is hard. Omar Sharif must be much smarter than he looked in Dr. Zhivago, but at least I now know why his eyes are always bloodshot. There’s nothing like staring at your hand, which has no face cards, no aces, no hearts and no spades, and hearing Sally’s husband (aka Brad my partner) bid 4 spades after the opposing side has bid 3 no-trump. This is because a) I have no idea what he’s talking about, b) I can’t remember the super-secret bridge code words for “Brad, I have no idea what you are talking about but I’ve got nothing I mean nothing in my hand and c) I really like Brad, with whom I feel I have formed a close theological bond, and whose book I am quite enjoying, and I don’t want him to think I’m stupid if he already doesn’t.

Resolution #7. I have decided to use up my leap second this year.  Remember that leap second we all got in 2008? Well I never used mine. And since they’re talking about abolishing leap seconds in 2013 (before another one is due), I think I should use it before it vanishes. So this is the year. I just haven’t decided exactly how I am going to use it yet. Knowing me, though, I just won’t have the presence of mind to use it at that exact moment during parallel parking when I should have hit the brakes to avoid leaving my mark on that $75,000 Mercedes that both chronically and deliberately uses up 2 whole parking spaces right in front of our house while the owners are attending church down the street.

Resolution #8. I’m going to wear more interesting lingerie to the airport this year.  Yes, the time has come. Remember when your mother used to warn you to make sure your underwear didn’t have any holes in it in case you were in an accident and people got to see it? I have always thought in retrospect that it was a little silly, since with rare (albeit somewhat weird) exceptions the status of people’s underwear is about the last thing on your mind when you’re cutting the bloody clothes off of someone who has just been in a head-on on Highway 101. But now the TSA has decided that if they can’t convince us to all fly naked (I would rather walk), they can at least make us feel both naked and inadequate via the use of xray vision and intimate pat-downs. Sure, they think it’s all gonna be so titillating and fun. But I suspect, that like those of us in the medical field, they’ll find it to be a) more boring than they ever imagined and b) more than a little bit creepy at times.

Resolution #9. I really am going to quit Facebook this year. I mean it this time.  Sure, I say this every year. And every year someone floats in on the ether just as I am about to hit the ‘delete’ button and saves my profile for one more day. Usually it’s someone I thought was dead. This year, it was a long-lost niece. Which was especially interesting since I thought my brother only had sons…..

And finally….

Resolution #10. I am going to give a little more this year.  It’s not that my husband and I don’t give to charity. We do. In fact, his whole job is about helping the needy. And a pretty big part of mine is, too, now that I think about it. But in these hard times, there are still 2,000 people sleeping outside in Seattle tonight, most either because they have no choice, or they are too ill to be capable of making a choice—as well as thousands of abandoned animals, some left behind when the owners also lost their homes. And that’s just too many. So I’ll do what I can, even if it only seems like a little. In the legend of the Star Thrower, a boy on a beach is asked by a passerby why he is throwing starfish back into the water one by one that have been exposed by the tide and are dying in the blazing sun—when there are thousands upon thousands upon thousands of starfish dying on that beach that day and he won’t be able to save them all. “Well,” he answers, picking up another starfish and tossing it into the waves, “I think I just saved that one, anyway.”

….. if we all went down to the beach together this year…..think of what could happen.

Friday, March 5, 2010

Another New Year's Reflections--2 Months In

I was huddled in Mazama last December, working on a textbook and watching the snow fall, thinking back about 2009. When I wasn’t picking spaghetti off of the cat (don't ask), slogging through the snowdrifts to feed carrots to the neighbors' horses, trading emails with friends, watching the fire, or just generally procrastinating about The Book, I had time to ponder my annual New Year's resolutions list.

As you all know, I’ve stopped making New Year’s resolutions that I will never keep. For example, let’s face facts. I’m never going to look fabulous like Sandra Bullock, no matter how hard my personal trainer kicks my butt. (Pam, on the other hand, has a real shot at it as we all know). Rather, the end of the year is always a great time to reflect on its general course, to consider what I would do again, and what I should definitely try not to repeat. So here goes:

Resolution #1: I'm never putting roller skates on the dog again.

Sure. It all seemed so hilarious in theory. And just like last year, the dog was so eager to try new things. Who expected the delivery guy to show up at just the wrong moment? I'm telling you--the fur explosion, the furious psychotic barking, the roaring of those wheels rolling on the hardwood floor followed by the terrifying noises of breaking glass and a man’s screams….. then that ominous dead silence…. wiped the smile right off my face. The dog was none the worse for wear. To the contrary, she seemed pretty thrilled with the lightening speed, shock and awe with which she was able to engage the enemy. But I'm guessing I won't be seeing the Fed Ex truck again anytime soon, which could be a problem.

Resolution #2: That’s it. I’m getting a 4-wheel drive vehicle.

Ok, this feeling will undoubtedly pass. Because I really do love Sophi. She’s “green,” she gets 57 mph under the worst of driving, requires a tank of gas only every 6 weeks or so, and can sneak up on and scare the crap out of bicyclists who insist on riding right in the middle of the road (a guilty pleasure), due to her ultra quiet electric hybrid engine. And she’s much more patient than most people I know. If I ask her for directions and then decide not to take them, she simply pauses, recalculates and in her soft, calm feminine voice gives me new ones. And she doesn’t criticize my driving. However, as we learned last January, she is as useless as high heels in a snowstorm. And when you’re stuck in Wenatchee on New Year’s Eve (OMG those people actually have guns over there—it was like a wedding celebration in Afghanistan!!!) then you get to thinking how nice it would have been to just be able to ‘punch it’ and get over the pass back home.

Resolution #3: I promise not to text while soaking naked in the bathtub anymore.

True, it's warm and relaxing and the other person doesn’t even have to know you're naked. True, you actually can't electrocute yourself the way it turns out you can while blow-drying your hair in the tub. But bubble bath makes your fingers slippery, and dropping your iPhone among the suds when somebody texts something startling to you can be distracting... and expensive.

Resolution #4: We’re not selling, buying, renting or remodeling a house this year.

Now this one is going to be a BIG disappointment to our real estate agent, mortgage broker, contractor, and interior designer, not to mention the real estate market in Seattle in general this year, since over the last 7 years we have been single-handedly keeping it above water—having bought (and sold) 4 houses, rented 2 and remodeled one. It took a full-on 12-step program, otherwise known as our Home Remodel, to cure us. Remember The Money Pit? All true. There’s something a little disturbing about getting up in the morning and wandering downstairs in your bathrobe with your hair all askew to find that your contractor is waiting with your morning coffee, and knows exactly how much sugar you take in it, because he’s been there every morning for 6 months.

I really miss his eggs benedict, though.

Resolution #5: I’m going to practice more.

Not medicine--piano. And not just to annoy the neighbors (another guilty pleasure). Apologies to the actually famous musicians in my family, but the last time I played Clair de Lune, it came out sounding too much like Twinkle Twinkle Little Star. Even though I was the only person in the room, I was heckled. In one way it was pretty interesting, though…I had actually never heard a cat laugh like that before.

Resolution #6: The next book I write is going to have only one author.

I’m still deciding if it will be me.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

My Former Life

If you, like me, have a profile on Facebook, then you almost certainly fall into one of two categories. (At this juncture I fell compelled to point out that one of my oldest friends says that there are two kinds of people in the world...people who put people into categories and people who don't. She accuses me of being one of the ones who does.  I think it's her).

As I was saying, if you have a profile on Facebook, you probably either A) have a quadrazillion people signed up as "friends," many of whom you have actually never met, but now know better than you should because you get posts every two minutes about what they are thinking, where they are going, who they are fans of, what dental floss they are using, and when they had their last colonoscopy (sometimes complete with photos), or you B) have a couple of friends who are nice enough to let you link with their Facebook site, but none of you can really think of anything meaningful to say to one another since when you do, you actually pick up the phone and call. If you are the first sort of person, then you don't mind all the dings, pokes, snowballs, gifts, cards, plants, games and quizzes sent your way, and you may even have put your mobile device on vibration mode just to make each and every contact that much more fun. If you are the latter, you actually can't stand all the noise and have been contemplating removing your profile from the site, particularly this last week after Facebook declared that they had the right to use your face, your profile, your blog, your poems, your posts and your creative genius for any purpose whatsoever without notifying you or getting your permission before hand, even if you have already pulled your profile from their site.

I clearly fall into the latter group. I have been thinking about leaving Facebook since.....well actually since about 5 minutes after I joined, when I received my first "dental floss" update. But just when I decide I'm going to do it, somebody I haven't heard from in 35 years and thought was dead asks to be friends, or someone sends me something interesting and irresistible. Yesterday, just as I was about to hit the "delete" button, my friend Z floated in on the ether from somewhere in Maui and asked me who I had been in my former life.

Now I have pretty much assumed I was someone who had had waaayyyyy too much fun in my past lives, since some pretty tricky things have happened now and then in this one, probably just to even things out. Either that, or sometimes I think I might have been my favorite TV personality of all time (Lassie). So when Z asked me who I was in my former life, I had no choice but to delay hitting the "delete" button, and take the quiz to find out.

In answer to a series of probing questions, I responded that (among other things) war is tragic, life is sometimes a battle, loneliness is tolerable, I turn my cell phone off a lot (in fact, I try not to turn it on) and that when I negotiate I intend to win. Oh, and given the right circumstances or payoff, I would use my body for money or power. (My students were shocked years ago when after being asked "as The Department Ethicist," I said that it was perfectly ok for Monical Lewinski to sell nude photos of herself to a magazine, since it was not only a screamin' deal (whose going to give me a half a million dollars for my naked pictures?), but also probably the only payoff she was ever going to get in this life, because years from now, when she discovers the cure for cancer, she will still just be known as the girl who "did" President Clinton in the oval office. You really should be careful how you invest your 15 minutes of fame.)

Long story short, in my former life, it turns out that I was Queen Elizabeth I.

Surprised? I know I was at first. But after I thought about it for awhile, I realized that this actually explained several eerie similarities I had noticed over the years between the Virgin Queen and Myself. Take for instance:

1. One of us has red hair. It's actually not me, though. I've only had red hair since 1992, when I was working out some "stuff" after my first marriage ended, and I decided that all of my favorite women, including my sister-in-law, had red hair, and I wanted to have red hair, too. I don't bleed more than normal when I'm cut, and I don't need 20% more anesthetic than normal, like a real redhead. But then, nobody ever discussed "Bessie's" bleeding tendencies, and when she was alive, anesthesia had not been invented yet.

2. Neither of us is a virgin. Oh, come on. This is a surprise? I've been married twice, and Elizabeth was pretty, smart, accomplished, queen of all she surveyed, and nobody's fool. So you didn't really think she saved herself, did you? Ah, the stories I could tell you. ..that is if I could only remember my former life. As I said before, I'm pretty sure I had a good time.

4. Neither of us is Catholic. Elizabeth came pretty close, though. Her father was Catholic, that is until he wanted a divorce and couldn't get one, and Elizabeth established the Church of England, which is almost Catholic, only without a pope. I've been to Catholic mass and Anglican services--and I can't say that I can really tell the difference. The costumes, songs, and scriptures are all the same. There's incense, too. They both have the same Savior, and the same Cross, and the same Apostles. I guess some folks in Elizabeth's time found the difference worth a few beheadings, or a fun burning at the stake or two, but I personally think that if you're going to discriminate against someone, it should be over something truly meaningful, like what sex person God made them fall in love with.

5. Our fathers both liked the songs "Greensleeves." At least I assume Elizabeth's father liked it, since he wrote it. My father sang it all the time, even when it wasn't Christmas. I would have grown up believing it was an earworm, except I happen to like it, too.

Ultimately, I was so enthralled with the incredibly accurate results of my past lives quiz, I confess I logged onto Sandy's Facebook site and took it for him when he wasn't home. In answer to the same probing questions I said that war was tragic, that life is sometimes a battle, that loneliness is tolerable, that I never turn my cell phone off, and that when I negotiate I intend to win. I didn't actually know if he would use his body for money or power, but just to finish the quiz I said "possibly." Small things, it seems, can make big differences.

Turns out he was Ghandi.

 Go figure.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Baptism...Or How Bob Rescued Cinnamon, Won Her Heart and Kept His Wife From Killing Him All in One Day

I grew up with dogs, and have seen them do a lot of oddball things. But the first time Cinnamon (also known as SweetyPuss, My Little Girl, and Bad Dog! Bad Dog! ) saw snow, she did something I had actually never seen a dog do before. We were on our way to Mazama, a little town in the North Cascades where Highway 202 ends in the winter time after the pass is slammed shut by a dam of  winter snow. We had stopped at Sleeping Lady for dinner, and I had just opened the car door, when a brown and white blur shoved past me going Mach II with her hair on fire with a long red leash whipping behind her like an angry snake. She made a beeline straight for the nearest snowbank, stuck her head in all the way past her eyeballs up to the base of her ears and then just stood perfectly still, with only her ears sticking out of the snow. Startled, I remember wondering if dogs get headaches. Then she suddenly jerked her head out, looked around, ran straight to another snow bank and did the same thing again. And again. I didn't know Cinnamon very well then. Of course, now I realize that this was a sign. She didn't have headaches. She was nuts.

Now this happens sometimes when you adopt an adult dog. You don't know them, they don't know you, but you're glued together for life, and occasionally one or both of you turns out to be crazy. This time, I swear, it's her.

The fact that I'm a dog person didn't mean much to Bob when we met. Bob didn't have much experience with dogs. He is a classic cat person. He secretly figured that when the last member of my pack of geriatric border collies "went to heaven," I'd be happy in a one-cat family. So when Mac died after sharing my life for 17 years, and Bob caught me late at night cruising photographs of rescue dogs on Border Collie Match.Com, he was truly caught off guard. After the third or fourth night in a row, he finally sighed and said something like, "Ok, but it better be a pretty PATHETIC story," clearly not anticipating just how pathetic some of these dogs could be.

A few searches later, and I had found her. She had been abandoned in a small town in rural Utah, and was wandering the streets in ragged condition at about 6 months of age. They caught her easily...the first couple of times. She escaped twice from her first "forever family," the second time while "Mom" was doing a little "time out" at the local jail for drug possession. She escaped again from an animal control officer, and was ultimately recaptured, largely because the shotgun blast she had taken to her hindquarters sometime after her escape had rendered her left hind leg useless, slowing her down to something less than warp speed. I first saw her at the back of a pack of howling rescue dogs, running back and forth on three good legs, not making a single sound. Her fur was orange from malnutrition, a set of "dew" claws stuck straight out on her back legs like an extra set of thumbs, and her eyes were a startling golden brown. When her rescuer handed me her lead, she bolted away from me so quickly that she nearly decapitated herself when she hit the end of the leash. The wild look on her face transformed to complete shock when she spotted Sandy, and she promptly wet herself. Wow, I thought instantly, I'm in love.

On the day I brought her home, she cowered in the back of the car and cried softly for over one hundred miles. Back home, after two packages of wieners and three viewings of Ocean's Eleven (she loves George Clooney, as it turns out) we were buds. At the end of the day, she jumped up on the couch, rolled on her back and let me rub her belly with a big, heavy sigh.

We named her Cinnamon for her brown color. We discovered that she snores when she sleeps on her back, and has very frequent, smelly farts if she eats apples. She's really smart. She quickly learned to accept a leash and to poop outside. She stopped trying to eat the cat after only one or two days. She can sit, lie down and shake hands, and knows right from left. But she was convinced that something scary lived underneath the cold air return grate in the living room, and she refused to eat from a metal bowl. She stopped dead in the street to watch airplanes in the sky. She had to be taught how to make dog toys squeak. And she had some sort of problem with Bob. She would hide behind me and peak at him around my legs. She would run away and hide under the bed. Bob had to avoid direct eye contact or she would pee on the floor. After five weeks, things were not getting better. Run, hide, peak out from behind me, spot Sandy, pee on the floor.

In December we planned a winter break at a rental cabin in Mazama. We couldn't bear to put Cinnamon in a kennel, so she came along. The cabin sat in the middle of a meadow on the Methow River, deep in snow and isolated, except for the occasional sound of voices of cross-country skiers passing on the trails nearby. Bob and I settled into a routine of soaking in the hottub, walking the dog in the snow, reading books, more soaking in the hottub, sudoku, sipping red wine, cooking and then soaking in the hot tub. Cinnamon settled into her routine of poop walks, on-leash frisbee, gnawing on a fancy new giant red lobster squeak toy, chewing up a pair of the owner's slippers, and diving under the bed whenever snow slid off the roof or Bob got up out of a chair--both of which happened fairly often. Outside, the snow fell relentlessly, sifting around the doors and the steps and covering our tracks. In the evenings the deer moved like ghosts through the field outside, chest-high in snow.

Although we were out in the middle of nowhere, I still suggested that we keep Cinnamon on leash both indoors and out, because a) she didn't come when she was called, probably because b) she didn't understand that Cinnamon was her name yet and c) for whatever reason, Bob still scared the crap out of her. When Bob said he didn't think she'd run away, I mentioned that losing the dog would be the least of his worries--mending his wife's broken heart would be the real challenge. I got the "Husband Smile" in response, so I was pretty sure he wasn't listening.

On the morning that Cinnamon went missing from her walk with Sandy, I had just settled by the fire to read a book.

Bad decisions are often easy to identify in hindsight--take for example that time in 1994 when I decided to pet a drugged-out 500-lb gorilla I was anesthetizing in a local zoo hospital. The instant that humongous hand closed in a lightening-quick grab around mine and I felt the bones in my fingers start to rearrange painfully in its grip, I realized two things; that this animal was both phenomenally strong and unbelievably quick, and that I had just made a potentially fatal error. Lucky for me, IV drugs work really fast, even on gorillas.

So the second I saw from the corner of my eye a familiar brown and white blur porpoising her way all alone in great snow-showering leaps across the snow drifts in a straight run for the river and the highway beyond, I knew that "somebody" had goofed up.

A lot of cursing ensued. And an explosive scramble for boots and coat and hat and gloves. By the time I hit the snow, Bob was already 50 yards ahead of me at a dead run. Or "dead plow," anyway. Neither of us was moving very fast through thigh-high drifts. It took a several minutes to reach the river, where I caught up to Bob, and then nearly keeled over from the effort.

Here, the silence of the snowfields was replaced by the dull low roar of the river, flowing in a lazy "s" below the high bank where we were standing. A couple of downed lodgepole pines lay across the water to the west, to the east the bank flattened out and ran along side the river. But where was Cinnamon? We searched around frantically, calling her name, as if that would do any good. We found a set of tracks that went off to the east, curved around and ended at the water. A large piece of snowbank appeared to be freshly broken at the water's edge, with no tracks leading away. My heart sank. Nothing could survive long in the ice cold water.

Bob and I looked at each other in despair, and then something moved on the bank across the river. Standing on the opposite side, completely drenched and wild-eyed, was our dog. We called, we clapped, we whistled, we tried to "good dog" her into coming back across and all the while she ran back and forth on the opposite bank, whining. No way was she getting in the water again. After a while, she began to look longingly behind her to the woods, and that's when Sandy decided to try to wade across to get her.

He slid down the twelve or so feet of bank to the edge of the water and walked out near a shallow area where the dog had apparently crossed. Sandy was wearing high boots and wasn't worried about getting his feet wet, but as it turned out, what we both took for snow at the river's edge was actually a thin layer of snow-covered ice camouflaging about 4 and a half feet of fast-moving water. One small step--and I could see the shock on Bob's face as he went in unexpectedly up to his armpits. The bank was sheer with nothing obvious to grab onto. I had the shock of knowing at once that the dog was now a lost cause, because the real question had suddenly become whether Bob would still be alive in another 10 minutes. I did something for which Bob never entirely forgave me. I stood absolutely still and waited.

It's my day job to manage emergencies. Ninety-eight percent boredom, two percent sheer terror. That's how people describe what I do for a living. And during the two percent part, panic is definitely not on your side. I took a deep breath and glanced back to the house, making terrible calculations. Three or four minutes for me to get to the house. A 911 call to bring help from the nearest town--twenty minutes away. That would take another four or five minutes. Did the cabin owners have a rope, chain, or anything around with which I could pull Sandy from the river? Where would it be? In the garage? Where was the garage key? It would be at least ten minutes to go and come back, and then only if I was fast and lucky and did everything right on the first try. I thought back to the day my older brother fell into the creek in the middle of winter when we were teenagers. He had been walking on a wet bank and fell into only about 3 feet of water, getting tangled in some submerged barbed wire when he slipped. Dad and I heard him yell as he went in. Some boys on the neighboring farm heard him too, and came running fast across the fields. When we got to him, only his nose and mouth were sticking out above water. He had been submerged for less than 5 minutes, and was so cold he could barely move. It took two grown men to pull him out of the water, and then he had barely survived. How in the world was I going to get Bob out of the water by myself?

I waited as Bob reached for the bank. One try, I thought. He gets exactly one try and I'm gone, I'm running for help. I watched. Seconds passed. He reached for a branch dangling from the bank, pulled on it, and then another. Then, a miracle happened and he hoisted himself up and out of the water. I looked across the river--Cinnamon was heading for the woods. We had lost her. And Bob wasn't completely out of danger yet--in those wet clothes, he could rapidly become hypothermic, and we were still a long way from the cabin.

I started to walk toward Bob, but he shot me a sharp look and marched right on past me and down river to where the trees had fallen over the water. I caught a glimpse of him as he crossed the river. He reached the other side and called Cinnamon's name. And that is when the second miracle happened.

She turned and she came to him. Her head was low, and her tail was wagging a little. He clipped the leash on her collar and lead her back to the fallen trees. When she refused to cross the river he hoisted all 40 lbs of her up under one arm and carried her across the river. And instead of struggling, she let him. I was going to get to keep them both after all.

Bob didn't say much on the way back to the cabin, other than that he wasn't cold at all, and what the heck did I think I was doing, just standing there like that on the bank not saying a word? When we got back to the cabin, I made him strip and get in the hottub. After about ten minutes, when he complained that the hot tub must be malfunctioning because it wasn't very warm, I just smiled and made him stay in until he was no longer hypothermic. The thermometer in the tub read 104 degrees.

So that is the story of how Bob saved Cinnamon and won her heart. From that time on, she stopped peeing on the floor, and no longer dove under the bed whenever he moved. After a few months, she started talking and "roos" whenever she's happy or excited. And she flies into a frenzy of joy whenever Bob comes home, because like me she knows it's a miracle to get to see someone you love one more time.

Thursday, January 1, 2009

My Seven New Year's Resolutions for 2009

2008 is drawing to a close and 2009 can be heard creeping up the hall on little cat feet, so it's time to reflect on the year past and look forward to the year to come in an annual celebration of lessons learned called:  My New Year's Resolutions.  As many of you know, I have adopted the Ellen Degeneres philosophy, which is to set goals I actually have some hope of achieving, and simultaneously celebrating the things that seem to be working well for me so far, by not changing a thing.  So here goes:

Resolution #1.  I resolve not to go sledding with the dog anymore.  True, there was this brief moment--with her leash tied to the front rail of my Mountain Boy Ultimate Flyer and that beautiful, unblemished, snow-packed street laying before us like a glittering white and virgin Olympic luge track...a moment just before the squirrel skittered across the street and the dog exploded with a deafening howl in a cloud of fur and a hail of ice clawings--when sledding with the dog had actually seemed like a funny idea.  At 45 mph careening down 37th behind a howling Devil Dog and the Bottomless Potholes in front of Epiphany Parish Episcopal Church looming straight ahead, not so much.

Resolution #2.  I resolve to drink more sage margaritas.  This is to replace the red wine I have to give up because even a sip now gives me a pounding headache.  Sage margaritas are not only tasty, but they put me in a good mood.  And I sing much better and more loudly after 3 or 4 of them.  True, sage margaritas don't have the cardiovascular sparing advantages of red wine (which contains lots of antioxidants and is therefore good for your coronaries), but then again, I will always have chocolate, whose flavenoids and antiplatelet activities will more than make up for it.  For those of you who remember last year's resolutions, see 2007 Resolution #1 "I resolve to keep eating chocolate."  I was particularly successful in 2008 at keeping Resolution #1.

Resolution #3.  I resolve to look at a travel book the next time before answering impulsively when Sandy asks something like "Hey, Pookie, wanna go for a little hike in Spain?"  Travel books often contain key information like just how many thousands of feet straight up the "gentle hillside undulations" are, whether there is anything to eat besides boiled rabbit and cabbage, and will there be decent shopping at the end.  It is precisely such key information that can help you formulate a more practical and meaningful response like "Sure, Snookums, but only if we spend a weekend in Tahiti afterwards where I can just lay on the beach and have nice young men bring me umbrella drinks while my blisters heal."

Resolution #4.  I resolve not to vote in the 2009 Presidential Election.  The current president has certainly not been boring.  In fact, he has been both occasionally entertaining and, most of the time, a little scary.  And not just because he's so conservative.   Sure, he's called on the world to join together in fighting terrorism, has injected faith into government, and lowered interest rates so that more people could afford homes.  But he has clung to an oil-based economy while the world continues to overheat and suffocate in greenhouse gases, has been slow to support minorities and women, and, well, frankly his national energy policy, which includes ramping up heavily in nuclear power, not only sucks, it poses a clear and present danger to the rest of the globe.  So President Ahmadinejad will just have to win re-election without me.

Resolution #5.  The next time I am on an international flight and they call overhead for a doctor, I'm sending Sandy.  This will accomplish two things;  it will keep me out of unusual quasi-medical situations at 37,000 feet, and it will satisfy Sandy's secret longing to be called "Doctor."  And let's face it.  If you, oh, let's say for example, decide to go into precipitous labor somewhere over the Atlantic, where the only medical supplies are a kid's lunch pail filled with gauze, a pair of scissors, some smelling salts and a bottle of nitroglycerin, you're probably better off having a real professional sit down and pray for you than have an anesthesiologist, or even worse, a radiation oncologist or an orthopedic surgeon show up and try to figure out which way the baby is supposed to come out.

Resolution #6.  I'm going to live my leap second to its fullest.  It isn't every year you get an extra 1/60th of a minute just tossed in for good measure.  And no one says I had to use it right after midnight last night.  I'm saving mine for when I really need it.  That extra leap second may come in handy before I respond the next time a male hospital administrator calls me "sweetie."

Resolution #7.  After discussing it with Sandy, I have decided against running for a seat in the US Senate this year.  Caroline Kennedy has Camelot, and Roland Burris seems very nice, but I have something critical that they both lack, and which is uniquely valuable in this particular year.  I'm a political nobody.  No one can accuse me of currying favors from my Governor, since I have no money and absolutely no political capital with which to influence anyone.  There is absolutely no danger that I will be seated in any real election, which means that the people who want to duke it out for the full term have about a year and a half in which to get their act together, while I hold down the fort.  I also want to point out that I have actual administrative and financial experience heading a multi-million dollar corporation (seriously), have ideal skills to deal with narcissistic personalities (I work with doctors), and I have bona fide hard-ball negotiation skills (I'm married).  I come complete with my own personal organizer (a border collie) and security system (don't forget the pink sequin-adorned taser I acquired during last year's after-Xmas sales).  With these attributes, and as a short-term appointee with no hope of re-election, I can actually get stuff done, since I won't care who-owes-what-to-whom at the end of my term.  Unlike a recent candidate for even higher office, I have actually visited several foreign countries (just see my Facebook page--"places I have visited" if you don't believe me), I know some real actual Russians (and not just looked at them with binoculars from my front yard), and I regularly read Newsweek to keep up with world affairs.  Despite all of these wonderful reasons to make myself available for public service, Sandy points out that unfortunately I lack what apparently are the only hard qualifications necessary for those senate seats:  I don't live in either New York or Illinois.