Wednesday, July 23, 2014

42 + 100

Tomorrow is my birthday. And this is my 100th blog post.

I have been writing this blog for exactly one year. Yet, today, I find myself at a loss for words. Which is—let’s be fair—an unusual state for me. I’ve been staring at this blank page for about 2 hours now. I keep checking in on it. So far, I’ve got nothing. I type, I delete, I put it aside.

This one seems like a significant post. A marker. A representation of a year gone past. And I've got nothing new to say. So, instead, here is my Prime Year of 41 in review:

The Good

I got brand new skates.

I found a new appreciation of my body.

I added some color to my life.
(Sorry this isn’t filed under “The Lasts”, Dad…)

I found some heroes.

The Bad

I started injecting myself with Avonex.

I became discouraged.

I felt so sad.

I nursed a broken heart.

I fought depression.

I embraced my pessimistic side.

The Ugly

I got my ass kicked in Fresh Meat practice.

I lost any tenuous grasp on faith.

I found new enemies I had to battle.

I had my first MS relapse.

I endured more MRI procedures.

And the Beautiful

I found great beauty in needles.

I found some peace.

I figured some things out about myself.

I allowed me to think of myself as nothing less than spectacular.

This Prime Year--Year 1 A.D.--has been filled with many firsts and many lasts.

The Firsts

(I did a crossover!!)

The Lasts

It’s been an amazing, crazy, emotional, beautiful Year 41. And as it draws to a close, I am keeping this in mind: 43 is a prime number too…

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Ten Lessons

Sometimes, I just coast. Just complete my daily tasks and rest up to do it again the next day. Brush my teeth, sit through a work meeting, feed something less-than-nutritious to Kidlet, put a dish in the dishwasher. Lather, rinse, repeat.

And coasting is just fine sometimes. Coasting is my favorite part of a bike ride. To coast is to reap the benefits of working up to traveling speed. Coasting lets you gear up for the next big hill you need to climb.

It’s not that life is tedious or mundane (OK, of course it is now and then). It’s just--sometimes--getting out of bed in the morning, having nothing of significance happen during the day, and getting back into bed that evening is something I have to consider a success.

Coasting is great. But this wasn’t a week of coasting. It has been an educational week. I learned a lot. It was a lot of pedaling and shifting gears. Here is what I learned:

Lesson 1: College doesn’t make you smart. And smart people don’t always need college.

I knew this to be true in an academic sense (excuse the pun). But this week, I was schooled (excuse another pun! What is wrong with me!) by a musician, a person that knew a lot about some incredibly interesting things. So deeply thoughtful, so interestingly philosophical, so goddamn creative. The Musician is someone to know.

He doesn’t have a university degree. But he has explored more of this world than 90% of the alumni of any school. He knows things because he has seen things. He has sought things. 

I have known some incredibly educated people in my lifetime. And I have never actually experienced the following strange phenomenon. Not once.

The Musician and I were talking about the origins of the universe. (I don’t do boring date-talk about reality TV or commercially-exploitive sports tournaments.) He was telling me about a stunningly beautiful mapping of the universe.

And that is when the something amazing happened. He was talking about the universe expanding so far and wide that it will--one day--collapse back onto itself, condensing into this tiny, infinitely dense dot of matter. Which, when no longer able to contain its energy, will explode in a big bang--The Big Bang--once again starting the cycle of the universe.

Musician: Every society and every religion that has ever existed on Earth has had this knowledge of recurrence of time. Time repeats.

Me: We will exist in this very life again? Living through these exact events again, and again. Forever. I think Nietzsche referred to time as a flat circle.

Musician: I have no idea. I never read any Nietzsche.

My point is this: The Musician didn’t read a book in a Philosophy 101 class to learn this theory. No one taught him the idea of flat circles or the repetition of time. He just… got there. Under his own power. 

I’m willing to bet that old Friedrich never took Philosophy 101 either.
Aside: I will neither confirm nor deny that the conversation noted above was enhanced by any herbal supplements… The good news is I get to smoke that great stuff again in a few billion years. I mean… you know… if there was something being smoked…

Lesson 2: People in Brazil care about soccer in ways which I believe to be unhealthy. Did you see and that sturm and drang? I mean really. I only cry like that for really important things. Like a performance of The Lion King or when I think about how much money that idiotic Shades of Grey shit made. Well, now I am crying because that terrible writer is going to make all that money all over again in a few billion years.

Lesson 3: Never tell your sister about the Google news alerts you have set up. For some reason, she will mock you for keeping an eye on all things related to Roller Derby, MS, and Atheism. “Really?” she will ask. “You need to see it as soon as news breaks that there is still no proof of God?” Smartass sisters. Sheesh.

Lesson 4: Silver linings are abound.

The next person that tells me to count my blessings is going to get punched in the ear. Be forewarned. Couldn’t be helped. It was predestined when it happened the first time billions of years ago.

I know I am blessed. I know I am lucky. I know that I am not really want for anything. Not really. Clean water comes out of my tap. A roof shelters me from storms. Both my child and I have shoes, vaccines, and education.

And I am thankful. Thankful for my wonderful Kidlet. My (mostly) good health. My job. It actually feels a little perverse and gluttonous to count up all these blessings. But somehow, it feels differently to count silver linings. Maybe it is just the nomenclature of the phrases. Blessings implies something being bestowed. Linings implies something being unearthed.

Blessings are given. Silver linings are earned. To find a silver lining, you have to wade through all the shit. To see the silver lining, you have to process and learn. It is a joy to uncover a beautifully gilded lining, birthed from pain.

Maybe I am splitting hairs. But I think we should all stop counting blessings and start mining for some silver.
Lesson 5: Someone needs to stage a telethon or fun run to raise funds to combat the effects of summer boob sweat.

Lesson 6: Being called “pretty” is a charmingly sweet, endearing compliment. I get adorable, gorgeous, hot. I mean, just look at me with all that boob sweat, for hells sake. Who wouldn't think that was super hot? Being called sexy is great. But when I got called pretty this week… butterflies. (Doesn’t mean you get to stop calling me sexy.)

Sometimes, I catch myself being optimistic and sunny. Which—let’s be honest—is not my baseline condition. This good cheer is often caused by a boy. It is also fair to point out… often when I am feeling dour and cynical… that is also caused by a boy. 

Life can be really confusing. So I will take the butterflies when I can find them.

Lesson 7: Holga makes an iPhone case with photo filters!!! How did I not know this??? 

Lesson 8: There is nothing that isn’t made better with balsamic vinegar. Or pesto. Except maybe ice cream (and the jury is still out about balsamic for that one).

Lesson 9: I really, really hate that I will never again get to read Harry Potter for the first time. Or Bag of Bones. Or To Kill a Mockingbird. But, I love that I will never again have to read Ethan Frome.

I do, however, get to watch my kid read my favorite books for the first time. Kidlet has only this past year discovered that reading can almost be as fun as mindlessly staring at an iPod screen for three hours. After he finished his last book (the one having to do with Zeus’s summer camp for weirdos, or something like that), he asked me what he should read next.

Angels sung. Confetti was tossed. Vodka was drunk. Oh, wait… the vodka part really had nothing to do with it. Moving along…

I had been waiting for that question for ten years. What should he read? What shouldn’t he read? I have a stack of books for him to curl up with. I started him with one of my favorites: The Westing Game. Murder, mystery, puzzles, money. I knew it would be right up his alley. It was so amazing to watch him turn pages of a book that I so love. Now… What next? So many to choose from!
Lesson 10: The greatest feeling in the world is when Kidlet says this: “You are so much funnier than my dad.”

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

It’s All About Results

I got the MRI results from my doctor. “Stable, with no new lesions.” So that means that the Avonex is doing what it is supposed to be doing.

I skated with adorable Ali last Thursday. She said that the only setback she was noticing from my hiatus was my endurance. That resulted in my fatigue setting in earlier. But my form was good. Well, except for that last jump, which landed me on my ass.

Right now, the entire office is gathering in the large conference room, watching soccer and drinking beer. (Well, most of the office. I am upstairs writing a blog post.) I like neither soccer nor beer.

I need results. I need to see what my investment of time or money or energy will reap. I need a tangible--or at least understandable--thing that I can point to and say "This plus this equals that."

Avonex plus vitamin shots equals no new lesions. 

Ali plus skating equals stoking the derby desire.

Soccer doesn’t promise results. After 90 minutes, the score can be zero-zero, and the players shake hands and go home. You can watch men running in shorts for only so long before you ponder the idea that soccer is as meaningless and pointless as a great deal of other things encountered in life.

Call me when it's time for hockey and margaritas.

Monday, June 23, 2014

Gd Damn It

I had a rough weekend. And not in one of those awesome-time-please-send-bail-money kind of ways.

Things kicked off with an MRI. Which isn’t a big deal. I’m (sadly) getting to be a pro. Close your eyes, think of something nice, and try to dose off a bit. It’s gotten formulaic. But—as seemingly happens every time—I left with a large, colorful bruise from the contrast agent.
The incredibly cute, incredibly tall imaging tech put an IV into my arm and shot me full of Gadolinium. I know what you are thinking. Wasn’t that a character in Lord of the Rings?

Nope. Gadolinium is a elemental rare earth metal. With the chemical symbol Gd and sitting in space 64 on the periodic table, gadolinium was injected through my IV, coursing up to my brain in a mere 20 seconds. Kinda cool, isn't it.

And it’s magnetic.  Paramagnetic, to be specific. This means it is attracted by an external magnetic field. Like an MRI machine, for example.  Science. Yeah…
I have found that a hospital gown renders my flirting ability useless. I tried to charm my way into Tall Tech telling me how alight my brain was. Denied. I asked if I could take a quick peek myself. I even tried to look slightly seductive. Nothing will put you in your place as quickly as--while flirting--looking down and seeing your feet clad in hospital socks. Hot.

Needless to say, I didn’t get to peek at my films. Now I have to wait for the doctor to call me. I hate waiting. Have I mentioned that before?

Right before the MRI, I spent 20 minutes trying to get my nose stud out while using the mirror on my car visor. Don’t mock me. It isn’t as easy as it looks. I swear, it crossed my mind more than once just to cancel the whole Gd procedure. (Get it? Ahh... I amuse myself...) I finally wrestled the stud out of my nostril, then took another ten minutes to slide the plastic retainer stud into the vacated hole. This was to prevent the piercing from closing up. Because I’m not doing that little nose-piercing procedure again if I can help it.

So, now my nose hurts too.

I decided to take a derby sabbatical. The summer is just too overwhelmingly hot for me in the un-cooled Derby Depot. So I am going to refocus my energy, working on skating basics on an indoor, climate-controlled rink. I’m going to be tutored once a week by adorable Ali. I’ve also made plans for weekly skating with Sara and skate-dates with fellow-freshie Katie.

This plan feels like the right thing to do. But, I still feel a little bad about it. Like I’m quitting. Which I know I’m not. But it does kind of feel that way.

So throw that on the rough-weekend pile.

I went to a wedding Saturday night. It was a lovely outdoor ceremony and reception. I was feeling good. Feeling pretty. 
And, about 20 minutes into it, I could feel myself beginning to overheat.

I’m starting to be able to identify the oncoming heat wave. It starts with the sweating. On this particular evening, the sweating was ruining my well-coiffed hair. And the makeup I had carefully applied had begun to slide off my face. The ceremony hadn’t started yet, so I couldn’t even pretend that it was due to emotional tears.

So I took myself inside the nearby building with a synthetically-created atmosphere. And that is when I started getting the chills. I was just not going to win. I toughed it out until my tremors were noticed by my little niece and the back of my dress had a sweat stain running down the spine. That’s when I called it a night. And I didn’t have any cake. Boo.

Anyway, I’m going to put the dress in the wash and the weekend behind me. This upcoming weekend will be a good one. I’m due for one, I think.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

A Pearl Among Fries


Michael Jackson was black. The Supreme Court was white.  Nixon was in the White House.  Armstrong was on the moon. The Mets, the Jets, the Celtics all won championships. Majestic Price won the Kentucky Derby.  Sports Illustrated ran a feature on Roller Derby.

Woodstock. Altamont. Sesame Street. Easy Rider, Slaughterhouse-Five.  Stonewall.

And this happened:
Yup. Mom and Dad got married.

That was 45 years ago. And Mom was not old enough to be drinking whatever was in that glass. Dad had hair!

If I got married today, I don’t think I would see my 45th anniversary. Even if everything went absolutely perfectly. I’m a month away from being 42. I would be 87 years old on this speculative Sapphire anniversary. Let’s face it. My odds of seeing 87 are long. Which is just fine with me. But it puts a 45th wedding anniversary out of my reach.

Also, if I got married today, please check to see that I didn’t have a stroke or get possessed by the body snatchers. Thanks.

My parents were high school sweethearts. I know. It is almost too cheesy to believe. But they were. I didn't have a high school sweetheart. I didn't have a date in high school. I never was asked to the Homecoming dance or the Prom. One time, a guy I was crushing on asked if I wanted to leave the school campus to get some lunch. Turns out it was only because I had a car and he wanted Taco Bell.

Much to the displeasure of my paternal grandmother—the same one that warned me not to try on a hat because “a black person (except, she didn’t say black person) might have tried it on”—my father proposed to my mother with a pearl ring hidden in some McDonalds fries.

And that kind of sums up their entire marriage.

Beautiful but not flashy. Basic, not pretentious. Accessible. Casual. Enduring. And it comes with a prize.

Aside—invest in pearls. In a few years, when we have ruined our oceans beyond repair, they will be more rare and valuable than diamonds.

Another aside—I love that the diamond stud in my nose comes from one of Racist Grandma's rings. Seems appropriate on so many levels.

They were married so young. Which automatically stacked the deck against them. They were such young parents. When I was 21, I couldn’t be trusted with my dad’s Jeep, let alone an infant daughter.

But they made it work. I wish I knew how. I wish I was able to learn the secrets from them.  My parents are the one thing that makes me think that soul mates might be real. But I never learned the trick to finding one.

Maybe the secret is that there is no secret. It’s effort, engagement, partnership. It's trust, openness, friendship. And, let’s face it, an awful lot of luck.

Or maybe it is as simple as this: they still can make each other laugh.

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

It's All in Your Head

Fair warning: this is a football post. Kind of.  No, I have not had a stroke or been possessed by the ghost of Walter Camp.  Also, for all my friends across the pond, when I say football, I am referring to the American game that hardly ever involves using feet to advance the ball.

This post really is about football. Kind of.
I saw an article on the CNN website, reporting that Dan Marino is suing the NFL over concussions. Many former NFL players have joined together in a class action lawsuit, suing the league over the long-term health impacts of concussions. They claim that the NFL had known for years that there was a link between concussions and long term neurological issues and did nothing to prevent further injury.

Because I have experience with both concussions and neurological issues, of course I was curious. And, as it turns out, I now have helmets and full contact sports in my life. So, yeah. I have a vested interest in this topic.

We will save the discussion about tort reform for another post. Let’s also table the issues of personal responsibility and common sense. I think most people know that if you repeatedly ram your head into a wall, there will be consequences. But anyway…

I have a bit of experience with concussions. A couple years ago, Kidlet’s daycare called me while I was at work, telling me that he wasn’t feeling well. When I asked what was wrong, they said he was complaining of nausea.

Now, being nauseous is Kidlet’s go-to symptom when he wants to “be sick.” Which sometimes nets him a day off of school or a night sleeping in my bed. So, when daycare called, I didn’t rush right over. Kinda wish they had mentioned he had collided heads with another kid on the playground.
When I arrived to pick him up, he was sitting by the toilet, looking glum but otherwise fine. No cuts, no bruises, no goose eggs. But when my sister arrived to pick up her own kids, I started to suspect that strange things were afoot.

Kidlet kept asking me for soup. It didn’t strike me as a particularly odd request. I often serve him soup when he is sick. If his tummy was upset, soup seemed logical to me.

But then his cousin started teasing him and mimicking the whiny “I want soup” voice. Kidlet can quickly become very annoyed with his cousin. And—at that moment—his cousin was being pretty annoying.

But Kidlet did nothing. He didn’t get frustrated, or yell back, or tattle. Those would be the behaviors I would have expected.

He just asked for soup again.

And that was the point I drove him to the hospital. We were there the whole night while he was getting scanned and x-rayed and fed slushies. The verdict? A “doozy” of a concussion, requiring a couple days of being still and quiet.

You know what happened to the kid he ran into? That kid got a black eye. And was perfectly fine, looking tough and ready for fight club.
The difference between a hospitalization and a bruise? The way the kid’s noggin absorbed the energy of the hit.

Here is the football problem, as I understand it. Please chime in if I am misunderstanding or misrepresenting.

A helmet is a great thing to have on when you hit something with your head. It absorbs a great deal of the energy of the impact. It protects your skull from being fractured. But, in reality, it isn’t your skull that needs protecting. It is your brain.

A skull fracture isn’t fun by any stretch. And every once in a while, a skull fracture can have a catastrophic outcome. But a skull fracture isn’t the same thing as a concussion.

Here is how the ER doctor explained it to me: If you shake an egg with enough force, you can scramble the egg without cracking the shell. When you are wearing a helmet, your skull is the shell and your brain is what is getting scrambled.

When you hit your head, your skull absorbs the force. When you hit your head while wearing a helmet, the helmet absorbs some—if not most—of the force. But because the rest of that hit’s energy is not exhausted on the skull, the brain spends it by shifting and bouncing around the inside of the head.

And that is a concussion.
Worse still, concussions are like compounded interest paid by your gray matter. The ER doctor told me that they stack. He suggested that Kidlet take it easy for a while and not involve himself in activities with higher-than-normal risk of hitting his head. Because the second concussion is always worse than the first. And the third is worse still. The brain doesn’t really heal like a deep cut or a torn ligament.

Trust me. I am now an expert on brains.

As an added feature (not a bug!), non-head injuries can be caused by helmets. Helmets can inflict a great deal of damage with little consequence to the hitter. Career-ending knee injuries have been caused by an opponent’s polycarbonate-protected head driving into a player’s leg.

We are really quite amazing. The human body is a stunning example of design. We walk around with a natural helmet protecting our delicate brain.

Seat belts are great. I don’t want to live without pasteurization. I am a rabid and vocal supporter of vaccinations. But—maybe—sometimes we need to admit that we just can’t improve on nature.

Most of us carry phones in our pocket with more computing power than what was used for the Apollo Space mission. In the insane pace of today’s technological advances, it is hard to remember that sometimes the answer can be quite simple: Step back from the technology.

Modern day helmets are excellent at saving players from fracturing their skulls. They protect ears, jaws, teeth, noses. But, not only do they not protect the brain, they may be causing more harm than good.*
The NFL and the company that manufactures the helmets for the league—Riddel—are developing prototype headgear that include crush zones, impact alarms, and better skull protection. But… is that really the correct solution?

Talk to the physicists and they will give you an answer. Don’t make a better helmet. Go back to the old-fashioned leather helmets. Leather helmets protect the head, ears, and scalp of a player, without interfering with the job of the skull to protect the brain. They provide instant feedback and remind players not to lead with their head. They help prevent ancillary injuries.

And, lets face it, they look pretty badaass.

There is precedent for this in the sports world. Rugby. Martial arts. Murderball. The entire continent of Australia.

Aside—OMG, have you not seen Murderball? Rent it immediately.

OK, nerds. Want to listen to something really cool? Go download Neil DeGrasse Tyson’s StarTalk podcast titled The Physics of Football. I think you will find it very interesting.

Bonus fun fact:  From the beginning. helmets were painted with team colors, logos, and player positions. In 1948, a player named Fred Gehrke—halfback for the Los Angeles Rams—painted a horn design on all of the Rams' helmets. Gehrke studied art at the University of Utah.

Derby girls decorate their helmets too. But we prefer to dress them in panties.
*Of course you need to wear a helmet while riding motorcycles, bobsleds, or bicycles. When you can be hit by something that can move faster than a human, protect your coconut.