November 24, 2020

The Up-The-Nose Covid Test

Yesterday I went for my pre-surgery covid test. I'm having a partial mastectomy this week so the covid test is a precaution to protect the health care workers just in case I'm harbouring some of that coronavirus in my bod. Unlikely given that I've been pretty much isolated since last March, but you never know. 

I admit I was a little nervous about this test; my son and daughter have both had the up-the-nose test and both told me it was the worst thing ever. All weekend I kept trying to imagine what it would feel like to be probed deep into my noggin.

The hospital test center was solely for pre-surgery patients, so no one was lined up with symptoms. It was really quick! I went in, sat down, and a nice nurse lady explained that she was going to be very gentle. She took out what looked like a very long white mascara wand with a teensy brush on the end of it. Nurse Lady said she had to stick it up my nose and twirl it around for ten seconds. I nodded, ok. I'm ready.

She holds the wand up to my cheek horizontally, as if measuring how far to stick it in. Out of the corner of my eye, I'm thinking YIKES that's like SIX INCHES man! Wat?

up the nose covid test is no big deal
Twirl it for ten seconds.


And in it goes. It kind of burns. But not much. Nurse Lady says she now has to start the twirling for ten seconds. Ok, let's go.She starts counting out loud, "One Mississippi... two Mississippi... three Mississippi..."

The burning intensifies just a little, and a sound starts coming out of me, "OOOOooooooOOOoooo". I mean it was hilarious, I had no control over this noise, it was completely involuntary.

Nice Nurse lady counts faster, "Five Mississippi, six Mississippi, seven Mississippi,"

Me: "oooooOOOOOoOOooOOOOoOOO!"

NNL: "EightMissippinineMissppiTEN!!!" and she whips it out from the depths of my nasal passage.

The burning stops, and a tiny tear rolls its way out of the corner of my left eye. And that was it. To be honest I felt a little bit let down. And like, somehow, they should do the other nostril as well, just to keep things balanced and symmetrical. I suggested it, but Nurse Lady just laughed.

It was really not as bad as a colonoscopy, or a PAP smear, or even having your teeth cleaned. You don't have to take off any clothes, and it's only ten very fast seconds.

Mind you, this was a pre-surgery covid test with a Nice Nurse Lady. If I had had symptoms, and was stressed and worried about getting sick, or getting my loved ones sick, and burdening the healthcare system, not to mention waiting in line for hours, it would be a different story.

Things that are worse than the up-the-nose covid test.


Have you had the up-the-nose covid test? Let me know if it was better or worse than anything on this list.

Stay safe and mask up!



November 21, 2020

How My Dog Saved My Life (probably).

It was the end of July and I was walking my dog Chuck. The weather was warm and luscious and we sauntered together slowly down the sidewalk. Suddenly Chuck pulled sideways towards a parked car; there was a cat sulking underneath it. 


It wasn't a hard pull, just an unexpected tug. Chuck is 150 lbs to my 100 lbs, but he's a good walker and I led him easily away and thought nothing more of it.

Why my boobs got to do me like this.

Two days later I felt a pain in my right breast. Not remembering that cat incident, I immediately thought, uh-oh, something's up with the Old Girl. 

My left = Old Maid. My right = Old Girl.



Having had a lump removed from the left breast in my early 40s (turned out to be just a lump) plus being over fifty, I get a mammogram every year. This year I was thinking, "There's a pandemic out there! I'll just skip it, no big deal." But when I got this weird pain, and felt no lump, I got worried and went in for the scan and also an ultrasound.

A few days later, the radiology clinic called me back for another scan. The following weeks they called me back for two more "magnifications" and different views. Weirdly, they were focusing only on my left breast, the Old Maid, while completely ignoring the Old Girl.


Next thing I know, the doctor told me I needed a biopsy because I have some micro-calcifications in the Old Maid. You guys: "stereotactic" is a word. A stereotactic biopsy is a thing where you lie face down on a table with a hole in it. It looks like a massage table! Your boob goes in the hole and hangs down (in my case, to the floor). They freeze your tit, and then do the biopsy whilst simultaneously scanning it for accuracy. For the record, it hurts about as much as going to the dentist; a tiny needle prick, some pressure, and that's it. (The next few days were a bit ouchie though. Just like the dentist haha.) 


Around this time I was diagnosed with Old Lady mononucleosis. And tummy troubles exacerbated by my osteoporosis medication (barf). The Huz was away in the UK visiting his mum. My friend Kym was struggling with her cancer. There's a raging pandemic. The world is on fire. And now a looming breast issue. It was a lot.

So it turns out I don't have cancer! I have pre-cancer. Also known as stage zero Ductile Carcinoma In Situ. And I'm having surgery next week to carve that bitch out. Partial mastectomy. It sounds dramatic, and I know it's going to hurt, but I'm not scared. As my doctor said, "We caught it early. This is why we do mammograms." 

I was listening to NPR in the car and there was a medical expert saying that in two to three years, something like 20,000 women were going to die because they delayed their mammograms due to the covid situation. That might've been me. So basically, if Chuck hadn't yanked me, I probably wouldn't have gone for my yearly mammogram. The dangerous micro-calcification clusters would have laid undiscovered until possibly stage 1 or 2 DCIS. Thanks Chuck: you saved my life (probably).


Yes, I still have to get over the wretched mono and tummy troubles as well as surgery and whatever that reveals. But the good news is I have every chance of good results in the future. Also the Old Girl doesn't hurt anymore.

Please tell Chuck what a good boy he is. And if you feel so moved, give a small donation to SOS Quebec Newf Rescue. Don't delay your mammograms!

PS Wear a mask. I don't want my surgery canceled due to Covid overload.


November 12, 2020

Kym and me.

One can say a heck of a lot about Kymberli Barney. Beyond her family and friends, Kym touched many people with her gifts. I'm sifting through my memories of her and it actually blows my mind not only how much she accomplished, but also the precious communities she blessed with her heart. It's not a surprise to see how loved she was. I only met Kym in person once, but I first got to know her as a fellow blogger, and so that's what I'll spring from here.

To be a blogger, and to spark and nurture the very specific kind of friendship that exists on the Internet, is a new and divergent behaviour in the realm of human connection. It's a relationship that can expand very quickly from casual witticisms to sharing the intimate intricacies of our lives. Like pen pals on steroids, thanks to technology. Quite often bloggers share the subtle nuances of hopes and fears with their blogging community that they may never feel safe or comfortable sharing with In Real Life loved ones. The intensity of such a friendship has baffled those who exist in-person; how can you feel this depth of caring for someone you've never met?

How, indeed? The written word is powerful, and so are drawings. Words and pictures open doors. And that's pretty much what happened with Kym and me.

It was 2011. There I was, happily blogging my drawings right here, when some lady called The Smartness started waving at me on Twitter. She said she'd drawn me (usually it's me who draws people) and put it on her blog and was terrified that I'd be mad. 

I
Kym's drawing of me, on a mug. I'm actually terrified to break it now.


Well. As if. LOL.
I clicked the link and promptly fell in love.

Kym had dubbed me an Honorary Gangsta in her drawing, complete with baddass attitude and hefty bling. Gangstas and Bling were identifiers she often invoked in her writing to connect her readers, and sometimes as a trope to push a point, as only a Black woman could. Kym's sense of humour was both mightily sophisticated and steeped in the Brew of the Potty; damn she was funny. I can't count the number of times she showed herself out. 

That's how it started. Kym drew me, and in so doing, drew me to her. I drew her right back and sealed the deal, Gangsta 101

As Kym would say: WORD.

What I saw in Kym was a kindred creative spirit. Her humility, thoughtfulness, curiosity and sheer brains, it all shone through in her writing. She was a natural leader, organizing fundraisers and support for others. We put our heads and hearts together on projects, as friends and bloggers, as teachers and artists, as mothers and wives. She inspired me. Kym was generous with her light

The rest was history. Eight years of comments on blog posts and social media, advice asked and given by email, endless meandering conversations via private messages. Always there, just one click away. Even when she got sick. I did my best to make her laugh.

Radio Kym!

Kymotherapy!

I told her I loved her. She said she loved me too. And then she was gone. 

*****

Kym had often ninja-posed for photos after some of her cancer treatments. When her mum asked me to draw a cartoon of Ninja Kym to print on their Celebration-Of-Life t-shirts, I thought about drawing her in the usual way: cute, hilarious and kicking cancer's ass. Kym was funny but she was beautiful too, and so much more than a simple stick-figure cartoon could convey. 



So I went with my super-hero style; classic ninja pose, ascending with dreamy heart-shaped radial wings, and a halo, the ultimate Bling.


Did you know Kym?



November 23, 2019

My personal CBT Toolkit

When Inkling died suddenly in March of this year, it made me realize how much of a load I had been carrying throughout the year, and how much I was leaning on my dog to provide a framework for balance and strength.

Inkling was gone, and during a week of bad news about The Huz's cancer, and the death of my father-in-law, it really destabilized me. There was a mix of guilt and shame. I felt lost, invisible and unable to cope. The edge of the cliff rushed up to me and beckoned.

At my husband's urging, I signed up for Cognitive Behavioral Therapy. Really it was like going to a class where I was the only student. My therapist was wonderful; she recognized the way I learned visually, and guided me at my own pace. She also told me I was already using some CBT in my thinking, which was super encouraging.

I'm not really qualified to explain in depth as to what CBT is, but I can share that it provided me with ways of thinking that I could practice whenever I encountered a trigger: to recognize it, analyse it and deal with it. And let's face it, life is full of triggers, right?

My personal CBT Trigger Island.

At the end of the therapy, which lasted about four months, my final assignment was to create a "tool kit". I drew a map of Trigger Island, a danger-scape with all the pitfalls and traps I might encounter in myself or others: you'll see the Quicksands of Grief, a flaming Passive Aggressive Snowman (hot and cold!), Fear of the Unknown Haunted House, a Forest of Depression and Isolation, and the Howling Winds of Change, to name a few. The edges of the map are possibly the most dangerous of all.

My personal Mindfulness Cards.

There's also a set of  Mindfulness Cards, and Power Cards. I use the mindfulness skills to help give me a chance to recognize, unpack and analyse things that happen or that I do. Power cards are things that I can actively do to move myself forward, and put things in perspective, either with my thoughts or my actions.

My personal Power Cards.

I created Green Flags and Red Flags, so that I could recognize when I'm doing well, and when I'm getting into trouble. Funnily, the Green Flags were harder to nail down, perhaps because we tend to take them for granted when life is humming along as it should.

My personal Green Flags and Red Flags - they have little pictograms on the backs but no way to show them here.

If CBT was offered in schools, I think more people would have the skills to cope better when life throws them a curve ball. More of us would understand why we feel what we feel, what others are going through, why they behave the ways they do, and how to counter or protect ourselves with assertiveness and respect.

Inkling is gone, and even though I have another dog now, I still miss him so much. Grief is interesting; it seems to steal your joy but it also gives you an opportunity to grow, and I'm grateful for that.

Love you guys,

JC



March 30, 2019

My Inkling.

I’m grieving hard. I don’t want to forget. Writing it down helps.

Inkling the Newfoundland dog is in heaven, probably.
I'm not really religious, but he looks so darned cute with these wings.


I love dogs, and I’m especially fond of Newfoundland dogs. I’ve had other dogs before and mourned them at their passing. But Inkling was more than just my dog, he was a support system. I leaned on him because I'm susceptible to so many things including alcoholism, morbid intrusions, and depression. The attention Inkling demanded saved me from spiralling. His solid dependence was my strength. I raised him with the utmost care, using positive reinforcement and force-free training. We went for walks in the forest, and we had daily playtime. I fed him wonderful home-prepared food and treats. I taught him to do some amazing tricks – he was so clever. Inkling never had a punishment, a swat, or a leash jerk. He would not have understood it if I yelled at him. He trusted me. And when he showed signs of fear reactivity to strangers, barking and lunging at them, I rolled up my sleeves, educated myself, and did the work. I counter-conditioned and desensitized him to triggers like strangers, horses, car rides, and the vet. I muzzle-trained him – Inkling loved the muzzle! None of this was easy or quick, but we did it. Our bond deepened, and, over time, he calmed. Some might say I doted on him, but the focus on his needs kept me from veering off the road.

What happened to Inkling? Some yarn got tangled up in some bark and found its way into him. He had emergency surgery to remove the obstruction from his tummy. He didn’t make it. He was only three and a half.

I am plagued with “if only’s” and “what if’s”. I try to keep them at bay but the mind circles round and round, caught in a loop of repeating scenarios where the outcome is different, to make sense of the loss, to cope in some way. One of these scenarios is that, somehow, the yarn from my crochet clung to the back of my trousers and fell away in the garden without me knowing. Thinking this gave me some comfort. I mean, people tell you not to blame yourself, and in my head I know that dogs just eat stuff. But…I had worked so hard to keep him safe, nagging at my kids to pick up their socks, to not bring home gum with xylitol in it, to shut the toilet lid, to keep all the trash bins up out of dog-reach. I had trained Inkling to “drop” and to “leave it” in case we encountered a potential foreign body. In the end I wasn’t able to keep Inkling from ingesting 12 inches of yarn. I never even saw it go in him. I didn’t keep him safe and I will regret this forever.

Everywhere at home, I feel my Inkling. His leash and harness on the footstool; I stop and sniff them when I walk past. Opening the freezer in the laundry room, packed with containers of raw dinners, each one carefully weighed to precisely 2.2 lbs; giant freezer bags filled with home-made treats; tubs of Kong stuffing mixture; and some soft cooked food I prepared for when he would have returned home from the vet because I believed he would live. That freezer is filled with love.

The wooden stand for food and water bowls, the dog bed in my studio, the grooming table in the garage, and the slats of wood that cover up the gaps in the garden fence: my husband made all these things for Inkling. The toys carefully put away, the muzzle I trained him to love, the carpets I’d put down for traction at playtime, so many brushes, and the dog hair in that found its way into everything, including the cookie I’m now munching.

I will miss our quiet bond. The way I communicated my wishes to him, the way I could read him. The subtle nuance of hand gestures, tone of voice, and complex dog signals, the tension of impulse-control and the joy of the release command, together these things made my world good. In the last week of his life, spent in the Intensive Care Unit, Inkling was not triggered. The ICU team were gentle with him, and he allowed all the necessary medical interventions, and there were many, with nary a growl. They could even cuddle him. He was suffering a lot after the surgery but he did not have fear-based anxiety. He was a brave boy and a very good boy.

We were with him. I held Inkling's gigantic head in my hands when the vet gave him the dose, my face down on the floor close to his. I told him we were going to go outside and play. Just like a Newf, he began to snore.

I can’t believe he’s really gone.


March 28, 2019

Lost in Space

We like to believe that we keep our dogs on a leash, but the reality is that it is we who are tethered to them.






Inkling left us yesterday; he was only three and a half, but nonetheless a robust 160 lb Newfoundland with a deep and mighty WOOF! He was with me every minute that he was awake and I gave him all the time, care and love a dog could want. In return, he kept me focused, slobbered all over me and let me stroke his beautiful fur.

Rest in peace, Inkling. I am adrift without you.


March 15, 2019

Five Years Sober

Today, I acknowledge you, my pretty, clever, elephant. You are a part of me now.


I was at a "Port Tasting Party" last week and someone asked me if I'd tasted the Feist. When I explained that I wasn't drinking because I'm an alcoholic, the person was surprised that I could handle being at a party like that. I'm not immune to triggers; they do surface sometimes, but it's rare and they're so fleeting. Then came the questions and we slid effortlessly into a conversation about how I struggled in darkness before quitting drinking five years ago.

Isn't it funny how you have to step into the light to see your shadow?