Thursday, July 25, 2013

Let's Call It What It Is--A Tribute

I am 31 years old, and while I’ve been through a lot, I’ve experienced one thing that not many people my age have, and no one should ever have to: the loss of a best friend and mentor.

I first met Gita when I was 19 and working at my first hospital job. I started working in a pharmacy to decide if I really could stomach hospitals and the work involved before I went to nursing school. She was so smart, funny, and had the most infectious laugh and smile I’ve ever seen or heard. She was always after me to go to pharmacy school, but she was also encouraging during my pursuit of nursing. She even came to my graduation and gave me a Dallas Mavericks watch as a gift.

In addition to our love for medicine, we also shared a love of basketball, New Kids on the Block and dogs. She was always impressed that I, in my five-foot, ninety-eight pound glory, was not afraid in the slightest of her three German shepherds—each well over 100 pounds. If I could impress her that much over something so “small”, then I was honored.

To say she was mad at me when I moved three-and-a-half hours away would be an understatement. I thought moving would be the best way to handle a difficult situation I was going through, and she thought I was crazy—especially because I was going to a place where I knew no one and had no support system. However, when I flourished in career and life in general, I don’t know that anyone was more proud than she was. She was always one of my biggest cheerleaders.

Eventually, I got an advanced certification as a diabetes educator—a role I was born to play due to my own experience with diabetes. Life came full-circle the day I received a phone call from her asking if she could refer a patient to me for some help with initial teaching. She said I was the best educator she knew. I couldn’t believe it—a published expert pharmacist was referring someone to me. I can’t tell you how honored I was.

I still have the text she sent me back in December 2011 informing me of her diagnosis of pancreatic cancer. I sat in shock with my mouth hanging open as I took it all in. She was 36, married with two kids, never drank, never smoked, no prior risk factors. This was one of those times when I wished I had no medical background. I was angry at the situation, and most of all, cancer. She told me not to worry, that she and the doctors were hopeful. 

Over the next few months, I regularly kept in touch with Gita via Facetime, texting, phone calls and email. She especially loved it when I sent her pics of Thing 1 and Thing 2. She would update me on how well she was responding to chemo, and tell me that she felt bad for me wearing an insulin pump after her experience with an indwelling port. I didn’t bother telling her she had the raw end of the deal.  I went to see her at home about four months after her diagnosis, and she looked great! There was some weight loss, but overall, she looked fantastic. I felt encouraged.

I spent my 30th birthday in New Orleans, and I remember the texts she sent me on July 2, 2012 to wish me a very happy 30th. I still have those texts, too. I asked if I could bring her anything, and she said all she wanted was for me to eat some beignets for her. I dutifully went back to Café du Monde and ate another three beignets (not that it was a real issue). I sent her a pic of it, and she responded with her happiness. I could totally see her smiling.

On July 5, I received a Facebook message from a friend I hadn’t spoken to in awhile asking me to call her ASAP. I didn’t want to. I knew. Sure enough, Gita had passed away at 3:30 am. I was sitting at Sonic when she told me. I tried calling Gita. She didn’t answer. Her husband called back, saying, “I guess you heard.” Basically, she started going downhill on July 3, and eventually drowned in the fluids that had been periodically filling her lungs since she was diagnosed. I don’t remember the rest of the conversation. I just remember wailing. I managed to call someone to come get me. I couldn’t see straight. I was hysterical. 

The next few days were a blur. I barely remember the funeral, other than her lying in her casket, bald head and all. I just remember really dreading going, because it wasn’t fair. It wasn’t fair that one of my best friends was dead. I didn’t even get to see her after New Orleans. It wasn’t fair that she knew the end was near and she was trying to save me. But that’s how she was. Always worried about everyone else. By sending me those texts, she was telling me goodbye in a way that I would always remember her the way she was. In hindsight, I can see the gift she was giving me.

I’ve struggled with writing this, mostly because I’ve wanted to make sure I give Gita a proper send-off, and that she—and you—would understand how much I loved (still love) her. I’ve worried that I wouldn’t write enough to really capture her essence, and most of all, that you wouldn’t want to read it.

I still miss her, and there are days I want to send her pics of my dogs and receive her happy responses. My heart bleeds as I write this, and I know I’ll go back and read this, and say to myself, “I need to write one more thing,” or, “I forgot this detail.” The fact is, memory isn’t linear, especially when you’ve had a friendship and professional relationship as long as we did. However, I can be thankful for this: that we had so many memories to even be non-linear, and she is permanently cemented in my heart. I hope she knows that. 

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

That Time I Almost Died

Today, I went to the doctor to have a steroid shot put in my back. You have to understand: I'm mortally afraid of needles in my back, which is almost ironic because a) I'm a nurse--you would think I'd be used to that by now, and b) I'm diabetical, and you'd think I'd be used to that by now. If I ever have kids, I'd rather just have laughing gas, because really, I should get to have fun with that.

Anywho, I was told I couldn't eat anything after 2 am. I just knew what was going to happen: I was going to be super-massively-hungry right around 1:30, shovel food like a refugee from a third-world country, and then they wouldn't give me the sleepy-juice I was looking forward to. As luck would have it, I was super-nauseous and didn't feel like eating. I'm not generally thankful to be nauseous, but these were different circumstances. Plus, it's kind of a pain in the tuchus (no, I don't speak Yiddish, but I can't imagine anyone would have a problem with my gentile self using that word) to have to do all the thinking that goes along with being diabetic and not allowed to eat. Take blood sugar at 1 am, if less than 100, drink juice. Eat last snack. If greater than 200, give half correction. If greater than 250, pee on stick. Set pump to go down 30%, Recheck at 3 am, repeat.... Garg. Aren't you tired? I am. And not just because I barely slept imagining a giant monster shoving needles into my back like jackhammers.

Before I go any further, I need to give a huge shout-out to my friend Debbie for being willing to get up absurdly early to take me to have this shot put in my back--and she brought STARBUCKS! Black, with nothing in it! Just like I like it! I couldn't wait to be done with all this so I could drink it.

So this was me before the Great Exodus From Pain 2013:

They put me in what was called the "VIP Suite", which was actually a cubicle with a recliner and a curtain. Whatevs. They took my vitals. Debbie and I discussed how we were going to get me out of the clinic, and we decided it would be funny if she grabbed me by an arm and dragged me across the floor and out to the car while we got someone to photograph the whole thing for posterity. You have to understand, Debbie is about my height, which is an even five feet. 

After they took some vital signs and declared that I was indeed alive, they went over the procedure with me. It went something like this: "Sothey'lltakeyoubacklayyouonyourstomachputsomestickiesonyoutomonitoryourvitalswipedowntheareawithBetadinegiveyouashottonumbyouit'llfeellikeabeestingthenthey'lluseanx-raysoheknowsexactlywheretoputthesteroidshotbecausewehavetobesafewiththatonethenyou'llbedoneit'lltakeabout15minthenwe'llbringyououthereinawheelchairandwatchyouinrecoveryforabout15minthenwe'llgiveyouyourdischargeinstructionsandyoucangohome. Any questions?" Nope. 

True to their word, they brought me back into a room that was so cold, I think they were trying to either cure my pain through hypothermia, or freeze me out until I cried "Uncle!" and said I was lying and really didn't need the steroid shot after all. Either way, I made it through the Lightning Round. Next thing I know, I'm lying face-down on a table that--I kid you not--looked just like the table they use for lethal injections at the State Pen. I knew I was in trouble if they asked me if I had any last words, because, quite frankly, I had nothing prepared. 

They did everything they said they would, including the initial shots (yes, I said shots--plural). Then, the doctor told me he liked my shorts (khaki with pink flamingos). Then, they told me that these shots would feel like a bee sting, which they did. In hindsight, I have to ask myself this: If I don't like bee stings when they're not supposed to happen, why would I feel reassured about this so-called numbing medicine that feels like a bee sting that is supposed to happen? I did not feel reassured. 

Then the x-rays started, and before I knew it, I felt like someone was pressing down very hard on my back, and I was squirming around on the table like a dancer from Soul Train. They kept telling me to relax, but I have to tell you: it's really hard to relax when you know four shots are going into your spine and could cause (albeit highly unlikely) me to never walk again. And if that happened, how was I ever going to run another marathon from the couch to the fridge? 

Notice something that did not happen between the bee stings and the pushing on my back? That's right--no sleepy-juice. So now, I've gone nearly eight hours without eating a thing, and I'm in a freezing room. This is an equation that goes something like this: Cassie+hungry+cold+very much awake for bee stings to my back=pissy. 

They wheeled me back to recovery, where a very cute nerdy medical assistant offered me juice, a granola bar, or water. I may have been hungry, but I was not about to eat a granola bar (I find them not terribly satisfying), so I took the water. They asked the usual questions: how are you? Still here. Are you dizzy? No. Can you feel your legs? Yes. Are you short of breath? No. Are you still alive? Let me look.

This was me after the harrowing procedure: 

After one more round of this, they read off my discharge instructions: take it easy for 12 hours, no chainsaw juggling, dirt biking, cross country marathons or driving a car. I've had jackhammers in my back and now I can't even do my usual form of Wednesday entertainment in the form of chainsaw juggling? Dang...IT!!! I was able to walk out of the clinic without any numbing to my legs, which was slightly disappointing, because Debbie and I were totally looking forward to that pic of her dragging me out of the clinic. Oh well. Maybe next time. 

The highlight of our trip was the post-trauma breakfast, which was fabulous, compliments of Central Market. This was the challah French toast that I had:

I would say that made the whole experience worthwhile, but that would be a tad overzealous. Perhaps this was more of a selling point: 

Nah. I kind of dig the idea of much less pain. I had also decided that if I saw the guy who hit us, I would run over him with my Prius and ask him how his back felt, but Debbie told me the law frowns upon that, and I realized she was right, so I decided I would visualize it in my head--which made me giggle. So no running over drunk driver. 

Well, all of this has taken a lot out of me, so I think I'm going to go take a nap. If I wake up, I might post an update later. If I don't, will someone make sure my mom gets Thing 1 and Thing 2 and the trust funds I set up for them? 

**UPDATE: As of 3:30 pm, Central Time, I have lived. Thank you for your support. As you were.**

Monday, July 22, 2013

The Princess Diaries: a Letter to the Royal Baby Part I

Dear Royal Baby:

Today is a big day for you! While you were cooking, you have been much waited for and already adored--not just by your loving parents, but by the world. The next few days/weeks/months/years (your whole life, pretty much) are going to be a whirlwind, full of nifty stuff like famous people, the Olympics, meeting presidents and stuff; and some boring stuff like meetings or high tea. Anyway, I wanted to offer you a short (haha, you actually believed that?!?) welcome to the world. 

First of all, can I say that I really, Really, REALLY hope your royal title is "Count", because it would be sooooo cool if your first words were "Onnnnnnne, batty, batty...." Just sayin'. Also, if you could do your little neonate thing and somehow communicate to your parents that you would like to be named after me (because trust me, after reading this, you will want to be), that would be cool, too. We're kind of neighbors, you know--my mom's side of the family is Scottish, which you guys practically own, so I'm pretty sure something could be worked out. Count Cassandro. That would be neat. 

If you think about it, you and I have a lot in common. First of all, we were born in July. Me on the 2nd, you on the 22nd. Thank God you weren't born on the 2nd. I would feel a little bit bad if you had to share your birthday with someone so important. Now, people can go to both our parties. 

I was a Duchess once. It was Homecoming Duchess, but it still counts. I had to dress up and everything. I was also named "Grinchess of C6" back when I worked at this place called Children's Medical Center of Dallas (you'll probably get to go visit on one of your royal visits someday). And that whole Scotland thing? Well, there just so happens to be a town there named after my familiy. Yep. My "mum"'s people were royalty over a lot that collectively "borrowed" cattle from Galloway--which is pretty tasty, I might add. That being said, you and I have the royalty bond going on. 

You and I will probably have had the finest educations...I would say "that money can buy", but mine was free until college. I went through the public school system, and I turned out pretty fabulous, so save your parents some money and security detail until you get to university. God knows you already have an automatic in to Eton, Oxford, the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts, whatever. 

You're a boy, I'm a girl. You're the first of Prince Charles' grandchildren, I was the ninth of my grandparents'... Okay, scratch that one--it's not really that important. I was still allowed to be Duchess and Grinchess, I'm pretty sure you can still be Count. 

No doubt you will be the most stylish baby since that Kardashian kid was born. I was also a budding young fashionista pretty much from the time I came out of the birth canal. Stick with me, Kid--we'll go places in the fashion world. If anyone--and I mean anyone--tries to dress you like Austin Powers, scream...LOUDLY. 

Well, I don't want to overwhelm you yet. I know you're very busy right now eating, napping, and pooping. Besides, you can't even read yet. But here's the take-home point: we're both pretty fabulous. Happy birthday, Baby--may you one day be as fabulous as me! 

Thursday, July 18, 2013

If At First You Don't Succeed...Try the Fridge

I was reminded of the forthcoming blog post today when my darling friend Kelley Crumpler (author of Sugar's the B* Not Me--go check it out. I'll wait. posted the following on the Interwebs:

      If youuuuu were my Dexcom....where would you beeeee...?

I ask myself that question a lot--except take out the "Dexcom" (except for those instances when it actually is what I'm looking for) and insert whatever it is I happen to be looking for. Keys. Food. Charlie. Dirk. Whatever. 

Which is interesting, because for all the times I'm looking for food, I never seem to find it in the fridge. Everything else? Observe. People's Exhibit A.

See that black thing? It has my name written on it in cute little letters and hearts. That would be my glucometer, aka one of my lifelines. I use it to check my blood sugar. This would be the third one I've had in as many years. Why? Let's see. The first one was this really slick little meter to talked to my pump so I could actually give myself insulin by pushing buttons on the blood-sugar-checker-thing. Well...I lost it and couldn't find it for like two weeks (don't worry, my diabetical friends: I had a backup meter so I did not go untested for two weeks). I finally gave it up and called to order a new one. The cost? A "measly" $200--a price that I wouldn't even know of had I not lost the first one. On the day the new meter arrived, I decided it was time to clean out my fridge. Wanna know what I found in a bag of leftovers that almost made it to my Hefty trashcan? You guessed it--a slick little meter that talked to my pump. It will henceforth be known as "Meter #1". 

As for Meter #2...all I can tell you is that it definitely is not in the fridge. 

What you see in Exhibit A would be Meter #3. On top of the Chinese takeout container. Draw your own conclusions. 

I've lost two entire sets of keys in yards because they fell out of my pocket, or I accidentally flung them one way when Charlie or Dirk flung me the other. I now have to keep my keys on a long lanyard so I can easily spot them. 

Would you care to know what else I've found in the fridge? My wallet, and, at one point, my work pager...which I have since re-misplaced (is that even a term? Is that even a necessary term for anyone except for me?). I had to pay a $75 fine because of the second misplacement. I think that's stupid, given that hardly anyone knows what a pager is, let alone what one looks like. Craziness. Luckily, my fridge isn't big enough for Charlie or Dirk to fit in, because I guarantee you, I've accidentally closed the door on them a few times.  Don't judge me! I didn't know they snuck in there! 

So I think the take-home point is this: if you need me to hang on to something, glue it to me. I was going to go read a book, but since I can't find it, I guess I'll go get a bedtime snack instead. How convenient...

Friday, July 12, 2013

"We Got Gypped!"

I took my first communion at eight years old.  Now, I've watched enough Real Housewives of New Jersey to know that this is kind of a big deal. However, I was raised Methodist, so I didn't get a frilly white dress with a veil or have to say catechisms or such. In fact, I probably wore the same ugly blue polka-dotted dress I wore for everything else back then. Whatever.

Anyway, my mom sorta kinda told me it was a big deal when we were leaving for church that morning. In fact, her words were, "You're taking your first communion today." And that was pretty much it. I don't know what my thoughts were, but I'm almost certain they were along the lines of, "do we get free food," "do we have to make a speech," or "do we have to get dunked". I had an ungodly fear of immersion baptism up until a couple of months ago; one of the reasons I wanted to be baptized Methodist was because they didn't do immersion baptism. Isn't that terrible?

Where was I? Oh. Right. Communion. My mom was sorta kinda explaining to my curious 8-year-old self that communion was a sacrament using physical elements to join with the Holy Trinity. She was doing a really good job...I think. What I remember was her talking about the bread being the body of Christ, and the blood of Christ being signified by the wine.

Waaaaaaait a minute. Wine? Did you As in, the alcoholic beverage?

Yes, I was eight years old, and this was exactly where my mind went.  And to be honest, I have no idea why. I never saw a drop of alcohol in my house until my grandparents decided that raisins soaked in gin would help with weight loss (another story, another time), so where this was coming from, I still don't know.

I asked my mom, "they even give it to the kids?!?" I guess she assumed I was generally speaking, because her answer was, "well, of course." This was all going on in whisper mode, by the way--as in during the church service. Why we didn't have this conversation beforehand, I'll never know, but alas...whatevs.

Anyway, I watched the other congregants as the rounds were made. All I could think was, "I wonder what it will taste like," and "they're really going to let me have this and I won't be in trouble?!? Oh boy!!" I also think something like, "I can't wait to tell everyone at school tomorrow! They won't believe it!" I know, I sound horrible, right?

Finally it was our turn. We slowly made our ceremonious walk to the railing. For whatever reason, I had a really hard time figuring out where I was supposed to go, which later became one of the reasons I hated taking communion, because I didn't like the pressure of having to find my exact placement.  It gave me great anxiety. Anyway, I knelt down, to the left of my mother.

The pastor went down the line, breaking the bread, saying the ritual "The body of Christ is broken for you..." I snatched up my bread and started gnawing on it (I was hungry by this time, okay?). I would for sure need something to wash it down. How convenient...

Here the lay leader came with the wine. I could taste it, I could taste it, I could taste it!! She said something about "the blood..." Yada, yada, yada, get on with it!!! Finally! Down the hatch...

The next thing I knew, I was whisper-yelling, "M-O-O-O-O-O-M!!!"

There's no other way to say it, other than she was visibly pissed. "Whut?!?" She hissed it with gritted teeth and scrunched lips, which is why it came out as "whut".

I was yelling now. "M-O-O-O-O-O-O-O-M! We got gypped! This isn't wine...IT'S WELCH'S GRAPE JUICE!! We...were...gypped!" 

I have never felt a hand fly over my mouth so fast. She was so mad she had her trademark I'm-going-to-breathe-fire look. Oh crap. Luckily (or unluckily for one of us), the time between communion and the end of the service was short. And that's the last thing I remember from that day...

As an update to that event, I eventually got to try the real deal at another church five years after that incident. After what had happened during the first try, I wasn't nearly excited about this go-round. Let me tell you--it was THE WORST stuff I have ever tasted, The only thing I can equate it to gasoline, and I've never even tasted that. And you know what? Welch's grape juice wasn't so bad after that.