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Not sellin’ anything but consciousness here

Sunday, December 23rd, 2012 by admin

So I have all reader comments to my blog posts moderated, because I DO NOT WANT TO SELL SOMEONE ELSE’S VIAGRA. For Pete’s sake.

Today I noticed six new comments on older posts which required moderation. While reading all these posts peppered with links for Cialis, Levitra, Viagra, and Louboutin shoes nestled amid nonsense text, I guess I would be helping ‘online retailers’ immensely if I quit moderating comments.

And for Pete’s sake, people, do you really expect your comments to be APPROVED after I’ve read them? Do us both a favor, save us each a tremendous amount of aggravation, and don’t even try to spam my blog.

But even though they’re blatant attempts at marketing questionable drugs and faux designer accessories, there’s a corner of my mind that whispers “Hey, people are still reading you even though you haven’t written anything for ages!” In order to spam me, they’ve got to FIND me, after all. Is it pitiful of me to hope that these spammers are at least glancing through the posts they’ve ‘commented’ on? It is, isn’t it?

MinuteRant™: Turn off your recirculation feature

Tuesday, October 11th, 2011 by admin

It’s a beautiful, rainy fall day here in East Tennessee, sort of cool-ish, and it drives me up the wall that so many people don’t understand what their “recirc” buttons in their cars do for them.

Lots of people are turning on their windshield defrosters to cope with condensation inside the car on this rainy, somewhat cool day. But if the number of people I see driving around with COMPLETELY fogged-up windows is any indication, very few know how to use their heating/cooling systems in their car properly. It’s dangerous to drive when you can’t see out your windows, people. And if you use your defroster (or heater, or air conditioner) with the recirculate feature enabled, that means your car is only going to pull air from inside the cabin to heat or cool it.

Don’t get me wrong, ‘recirc’ is a great feature when you’re trying to cool off the interior of your car or warm it up quicker. But please realize that when you recirculate the air in the car’s interior many times, you’re also recirculating moisture from your breath, from your sweat, and from your rain-dampened hair. So that super-humidified air, while lovely for plants and for your skin, makes for poor driving visibility, vis-á-vis those foggy windows.

So if you have a button on your car’s dashboard that has a little arrow chasing itself around in a circle, please make sure that button is NOT in use all the time. K, thanx, bai.

Burning the split-pea-with-ham soup

Sunday, October 2nd, 2011 by admin

I like to make food from scratch, partially to prove to myself that I can, but mostly to save some money. Today I put a pot of split pea soup on the stove, with garlic and onions and carrots and a wonderful, meaty hambone that I’d saved from our Christmas ham last year. Mmmm.

This should have resulted in enough satisfying food to last us for at least two meals. And because the ham bone was essentially ‘free’, the split peas were purchased on clearance for 50 cents a pound, and carrots, garlic and onions are not terrifically expensive, this really should have been a mondo-affordable meal.

I had everything set up and simmering, and because I wanted it to reduce a little bit, I turned the burner up to medium instead of medium low; I then proceeded to the Batcave, where I became engrossed in Facebook. Bad idea. The peas were already cooked by then, and everything was starting to thicken more than I thought, so without me there to stir it every several minutes a layer of ham chunks and peas scorched themselves to the bottom of the stockpot.

Several minutes later I was pulled out of my computer stupor by the barest whiff of burning; I hurried out to the kitchen, and (gasp) saw wisps of smoke (not steam) spiraling up from the surface of the soup. I hurriedly ladled off the bulk of the soup, and hoped I was in time–there was only a seven-inch scorched spot in the middle of the pot–but it was too late. Even though it looked wonderful, the soup was permeated with burnt-ness. Sigh.

Like the kids on Hell’s Kitchen, I tried to brazen it out; I hoped it wasn’t really that badly burnt. Unable to tell if the burning smell was from my nose or from my tongue, I tried it out on the Pumpkin, but after a few spoonfuls I had to admit that it tasted primarily of scorch.

“It’s got a smoky flavor,” The Pumpkin said thoughtfully, after rolling a spoonful around on his tongue. He’s such a good guy.

I replied, “Yeah, it’s smoky, but it’s smoky in a bad way, like ‘Who’s burning leftover construction material scraps in their leaf pile?’, not a good smoky-ham taste.” So I devoted a half-hour to flushing this big batch of soup down the toilet. It takes quite a while to flush three quarts of soup, ya know.

It’s probably not as big a deal as I make it out to be. After all, what was I out, maybe two or three bucks for the electricity for the range, and the veggies, and the 50-cent-bag of split peas? My time is another matter, but I’m incapable of calculating the cost of that, so I won’t include it.

I think the greatest disappointment is not having two wonderful meals of soup, from that beautiful, meaty ham bone, and the loss of having two meals which cost us next-to-nothing. When you’ve been working really hard to be frugal and save money, one of the things that can make you feel cosseted and indulged is a tasty meal, and if you make a lot of food from scratch, it’s possible to have wonderfully satisfying, nutritious sustenance for very little. So the more food I can make for the least money, the greater ‘kick’ I get.

Except this time, I gave myself a kick right in the seat of my pants. Dangit.

I’m not alone in living with Sjögren’s Syndrome

Friday, September 2nd, 2011 by admin

Last February I was diagnosed as having Sjögren’s Syndrome, a chronic autoimmune disease in which my body attacks moisture-producing tissues like tear ducts and saliva glands. Hadn’t ever heard of this disease before then, but I guess I wouldn’t have without knowing someone who has it–I’m not a doctor, after all. Don’t even play one on TV.

Since my diagnosis however, I’ve come upon some more people who have it. This feels kind of like when you finally choose your new car, feeling as though it’s unique and wonderful, and then you begin noticing many more of the same car on the road, in the neighborhood/parking lot/drive through. My friend Dannette, who lives in Arizona, knows someone who was just diagnosed with Sjögren’s a few months ago, and now of course, there’s tennis player Venus Williams, who was diagnosed just two weeks ago. I’m not feeling very special or unique anymore, dangit (pouting). Since better than 4,000,000 Americans have Sjögren’s, I guess I was never alone to begin with. It’s one of the most-common autoimmune disorders, and 9 of 10 patients are women.

Sjögren’s causes a collection of symptoms which include dry eyes and mouth, and can cause muscle and joint pain and lack of stamina and energy (which Venus and I both share, so I feel closer to her already!), as well as damage to the tissues of the eyes, mouth, stomach/digestive tract, kidneys, central nervous system and lungs.

Due to a shortage of saliva Sjögren’s patients will have difficulty chewing and swallowing at times, and low saliva production also makes dental problems commonplace. We’re also more susceptible to lymphoma. Also, a piece of dust or a hair in our eye isn’t just a temporary discomfort; tears help flush impurities and foreign objects out of the eye, helping prevent injury and infection, but Sjögren’s patients don’t have that built-in ‘flushing’ capability anymore. So a piece of dust may carry bacteria into our eye, and scratch the cornea when our eyelids scrape it back and forth over the surface. I carry eye drops, mouth spray and now nasal saline spray to mitigate the symptoms.

It’s not unusual for a Sjögren’s diagnosis to take 6 1/2 to 7 years, because the individual symptoms are easily mistaken for something else, like asthma. In fact, Venus had been misdiagnosed four years ago with exercise-induced asthma, but the asthma medications never helped her. It was only after unsuccessful treatment for asthma, combined with her enlarged and painful joints and extreme fatigue, that her doctors put them all together and discovered she has Sjögren’s.

I have no idea how long I’ve had Sjögren’s, and I’ll probably never know. I’ve been hurting and dragging my sorry, tired ass around for years, but my diagnosis back in February was the result of a very pointed problem with my parotid salivary glands: They were extraordinarily painful, and so swollen that I looked like a short John Goodman in drag.

If I saw something I wanted to eat, my parotid salivary glands would of course try to do their job and flood my mouth with saliva–and that resulted in stinging, twinge-y pain, truly a reverse-Pavlovian experience. Having had a gallstone before, I compared the sensation to the pain of a gallstone attack and guessed that I had ‘stones’ which would occasionally obstruct my salivary glands. Granted, this twinge was on either side of my jawbone, and the other was in my gut, but somehow it felt similar.

I couldn’t have imagined the pain and inflammation was due to my own white blood cells trying to kill my salivary glands.

I visited my regular doctor, who saw my unusually-square jaw and said “Oh my gosh, I’m going to get you to a specialist TODAY.” That was on a Friday, but amazingly by the end of the day I was being seen by an ear, nose & throat doctor who worked me in to her busy schedule.

She examined my mouth and said my parotid salivary glands were not obstructed, nor were they oozing pus as they would if infected (thank GOD and all that is holy). On the medical history form I’d filled out, she noted that I’m hypothyroid due to Hashimoto’s Syndrome, which is an autoimmune malfunction where my body attacked and killed my thyroid. She said she was ordering blood draws to check for Sjögren’s Syndrome, another autoimmune malfunction, and sent me home with prednisone and an antibiotic, just in case.

I went Monday for the blood draw. The lab tech, a kindly woman who’s drawn blood for me many times before to monitor my thyroid and cholesterol levels, had a bit of trouble entering the test coding; when she saw what the draw was for, she clucked and told me she was sorry. At that point, I was a bit dismayed at her reaction because I didn’t feel critically ill and had no idea what a diagnosis of Sjögren’s would mean.

Went back to see the ENT with my Pumpkin in tow, and we laughed and joked while waiting for her in the examining room. Yes, my blood showed the antigens for Sjögren’s, and also for rheumatoid arthritis. No ‘cure’ for it, just treatment of the symptoms and therapy to mitigate the disease’s effects, which of course included prednisone.

It was truly and actually a relief to know that there was something truly wrong with me. I’ve been feeling like walking garbage for a long time now, but each of my symptoms seemed commonplace and explainable by everyday causes. I attributed all my aches and pains to osteoarthritis, and my dry mouth to my relatively new job in a call center–essentially, I talked for eight hours a day, so whose mouth wouldn’t be dry?

During her Good Morning America interview a couple days ago, Venus also said that after suffering for so long and not knowing why, her Sjögren’s diagnosis was a relief. Now she can concentrate on treating her Sjögren’s effectively, and recovering from it as much as possible. I can identify with that relief.

But what then? Because now that we know what we have, we can rest easy knowing that we’re not crazy or hypochondriac; medicines can help us manage the symptoms, and we know that there will be times when we can’t do the things we used to do.

But the fact remains that we’re no longer functioning the way we used to, that there IS something wrong with us. With that knowledge comes an consciousness that we are finite and mortal and when that realization finally hits, it is a sobering, sad day–or at least, it was for me. I don’t know how Venus feels, but I can imagine that the pride and confidence she once had in her amazing body and athletic talent has taken a blow.

Sjögren’s doesn’t mean that we can’t be physically fit and happy and healthy otherwise, but it means that we will have to change some behaviors and ideas to accommodate our new physical status. I hate to use the phrase “suffering” to describe my experience because it seems lurid and hyperbolic, but that’s what’s happening: I am ‘suffering’ with this syndrome, and so is Venus, and so are the other 4,000,000 of us in the U.S. So in order to thrive again, we must learn to adapt.