Adventure #17–Septoplasty, Part 3

My doctor’s office gave me a list of pre-surgery instructions before my septoplasty: I needed to take a shower the morning of my procedure to help reduce the risk of infection; I needed to make sure I had someone to drive me home afterward and stay with me for the rest of the day; and I needed to fast. I wasn’t allowed to eat or drink anything after midnight the night before, which was tough because my appointment was at noon–I wouldn’t have anything to eat for more than twelve hours.

I was pretty worried about the fasting part. My metabolism is weird, and I usually have to eat a small snack every 1-2 hours or I don’t feel right. Luckily, the surge of adrenaline I got that morning from freaking out about the surgery kept me from feeling hungry. Thanks, adrenaline!

I also kept myself distracted (from both hunger and freaking out) by cleaning my kitchen and bathroom. Normally I hate cleaning, but that morning I was convinced that I had to finish tidying up the whole house or something was going to go wrong. I also blow dried my hair, which I don’t often do, because I was worried about getting bed head while I was under anesthesia. Panic does strange things to people’s brains.

I started feeling better as soon as my sister drove me to the surgical center. Everybody at the center was super friendly and took very good care of me, especially Sharon and Steve, the pre-op/post-op nurses.

They gave me a gown and surgical socks to change into, which made me wish (as I always wish when putting on a hospital gown) that they’d make hospital sweatpants for people who were only having procedures on their top halves. I just feel like I’d be more confident if I had pants on–especially since I was between gown sizes and looked like I was playing dress-up in someone else’s gown. At least Sharon had a blanket waiting for me when I got into the hospital bed. It had been warmed up and felt lovely.

Sharon and Steve checked my height, weight, pulse, and blood pressure, and then Steve hooked me up to an IV while Sharon checked my list of medications with me. After that was done, Sharon had me spray some Afrin up my nose. They asked me about my work and were very interested to hear that I taught Irish dancing. Steve told me about visiting Ireland with his rugby-playing brother. Both of them were so calm and friendly that it really put me at ease.

Once I was prepped, they brought my sister back to sit with me while I waited to go back to surgery. We played Scrabble on my phone (she won), and occasionally one of the doctors or nurses would come back to check on me and see if I had any questions. They all made sure they had my name and date of birth right, and also that they knew if I had any allergies. That turned out to be a really good precaution, because the lady going in ahead of me was allergic to latex and they had to reset the operating room with non-latex gloves before her procedure.

One of the doctors who came to talk to me was the anesthesiologist. She introduced herself and told me about the different medications she would be giving me before and during the operation. She also made sure that I hadn’t had anything to eat or drink that day. I really appreciated her telling me about her part of the procedure; it always makes me feel better to know what’s going on. Like all the staff at the center, she had a warm and professional manner which made me feel like I was in good hands.

When it was my turn, the surgical nurse came by, did one last check of my info, and then wheeled me into the operating room. Steve told her that I was an Irish dancer, and the nurse told me that she’d learned an Irish dance at school once and loved it. While she talked to me, she put some patches on my chest that I took to be monitors, and then she had me scoot myself over onto the operating table.

The anesthesiologist came in and told me that she’d be putting the general anesthetic into my IV. I’d be asleep during the procedure (THANK GOODNESS!) and would wake up in the recovery room.

“Before I inject the anesthesia, I just want to give you some oxygen,” she said, putting a plastic mask over my nose and mouth. “Breathe normally, with nice even breaths. Now I’m going to add the anesthesia. You might feel a kind of buzzing as it starts to work; that’s normal.”

I didn’t know what she meant by “buzzing,” but a moment later I felt a strange sensation, like my IV needle was filled with fireflies. “Oh, yeah!” I said. “I feel the buzzing! It feels like beeeeshzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz…..”

And then I was unconscious.

While I was out, they put a breathing tube down my throat, since I wasn’t going to be able to breathe through my nose. Then the surgeon came in for the procedure itself. He made an incision in the lining of my septum and then removed enough of the cartilage to straighten out my airways. He also reduced the size of the turbinates, which are spongy bones inside the nasal passages. In deviated septum cases, the turbinate in the larger side can enlarge, which is why I couldn’t breathe well through either side. He fixed that and then inserted splints into both nostrils for support during the healing process. The whole surgery took less than an hour and apparently went off without a hitch.

I was blissfully unaware of anything during this process. The first thing I remember was a voice saying, “You’re in the recovery room.” I don’t know if I’d asked where I was, or if the nurse was just talking to me to help me wake up. She must then have asked how I was feeling, because I said, “I’m cold.” I was freezing. She brought over one of the warm blankets and put it on top of me, and it was one of the most wonderful feelings ever.

I really need to get one of those special blanket toasters they have.

It was hard to keep my eyes open, and the urge to just shut them and go back to sleep was very strong. I’m not sure why I didn’t, actually, since being awake wasn’t especially fun right then. My nose felt like it had been scoured out by two wire brushes, and my throat was so raw from the breathing tube that I couldn’t decide which part of me felt worse. But the nurse asked if I was hungry, and when I said yes she brought me a graham cracker and a can of apple juice. They were like the ambrosia and nectar of the gods, and having them made me feel much better about being awake.

After a bit, Steve came by and asked how I was doing. He checked on my pain level (about a 3 out of 10—thanks, drugs!) and said that was exactly what they wanted. I told him about the pain in my nose and throat, and he said that was all normal. I also told him that my upper teeth hurt, which he said he hadn’t heard of happening before, but I later read online that some people do experience tooth pain (since the nerves of the upper teeth are very close to the sinus cavities).

They brought my sister back to sit with me again, and she had my bag of clothes. Since I seemed to be coming out of the anesthesia well, they took out my IV and let me get dressed with my sister’s help. I couldn’t see myself, but my sister said that I had giant red hickeys on my chest where the monitors had been stuck. Luckily for me, she did not take a picture of them.

I also had this nose sling on (which my sister did take a picture of). It was very similar to one of those blue hospital masks that doctors wear during surgery, only it was less than two inches wide and sat right under my nose, held in place by elastic loops over my ears. Its job was to hold a gauze sponge under my nostrils, since I was having the most epic nosebleed ever. Steve had to change the gauze once while I was sitting there, and then I had to change it again myself right after I got home (and about every two hours after that). They gave me a box of spare gauze and an extra nose sling, just in case. The sling looked so funny that I drew a Groucho Marx mustache on it with a marker.

I was not allowed to sign any papers (or drive, or buy real estate, or make any important decisions, since people coming out of anesthesia are not known for mental sharpness), so my sister had to sign the papers to discharge me. Then Steve took me out to the car in a wheelchair.

I thanked him for a great experience, and he laughed, but I was serious. Having surgery on my face could have been very traumatic, but the team at the surgical center was fabulous, and I felt cared for from beginning to end. I just hope that if I ever have to have surgery again, I have an experience exactly like this one.

Up next: Recovery!

Adventure #17–Septoplasty, Part 1

I’ve had mono since July (, which has been the pits. Mono can take months to get over sometimes, with lovely side effects like exhaustion, body aches, and a bad sore throat.

My doctor told me that it might be December before I really started feeling better, so I wasn’t particularly worried that my sore throat wasn’t going away. I just thought it was part of the enormous suckage that is mono, and I tried to resign myself to it, like I was resigned to sudden urges to curl up on the floor and go to sleep.

However, when I went in for a checkup in early November, my doctor told me that my sore throat should have cleared up by then. She was concerned that the pain was being caused by something else, so she asked me to go see an ear, nose, and throat specialist (usually called an ENT, because no one knows how to pronounce “otolaryngologist”).

“It’s probably nothing,” she said, writing down the name of the ENT she wanted me to see, “but better to scope your throat and make sure.”

Well, the “it’s probably nothing” made me feel like it wasn’t urgent, and I was getting ready for the big Regional Championships, and I didn’t really feel like seeing ANOTHER doctor (, and between one thing and another I didn’t call the ENT office until the week of Thanksgiving. By then, my sore throat was getting worse, not better, and I was starting to feel like maybe it was a bit more urgent than I’d thought.

I finally made it in to see the ENT during the second week of December. The doctor, a friendly man in his forties, listened to my story and made me say “ah” while he looked in my mouth with a little flashlight.

“I think your sore throat is probably caused by acid reflux,” he said. “You say that you have problems with heartburn anyway, and the mono seems to have made it worse. Heartburn is caused by stomach acid moving up into the esophagus, and if the acid moves high enough, it can cause a sore throat as well.”

UGH! It was like a horror movie. My stomach was eating my esophagus.

“I’ll go ahead and check out your throat with the scope just to make sure,” he continued, apparently oblivious to the look of dismay on my face. “My assistant will be in momentarily to give you an anesthetic, and then I’ll be back.”

His assistant, a woman in her twenties or thirties with the harassed look of someone with more work than time, came in and thrust a clipboard with a consent form at me and told me to sign the bottom. I did so, catching some disturbing words higher up on the page, like “swelling,” “vomiting,” and “spinal fluid leak.”

Spinal fluid leak? Uh…wait a second…maybe I didn’t want to do this…

But by then she had pulled the clipboard away and was instructing me to look at the ceiling. She sprayed something up each of my nostrils with two efficient squirts, and then she told me to sniff.

“Keep sniffing,” she said, handing me a Kleenex, and then she whirled out of the room on the way to her next patient.

At first, I couldn’t feel anything when I sniffed. Had the spray even worked? But then the spray reached the back of my throat and I wished—oh, how I wished!—that I could go back to that beautiful time when I hadn’t been able to tell that the spray was there. That liquid anesthetic was one of the worst-tasting things I had ever experienced. I could feel it rolling down the back of my throat like some kind of terrible chemical weapon, numbing my nerve endings but leaving my taste buds tragically intact.

When the doctor came back several minutes later, the awful taste had receded somewhat and I’d stopped making horrible faces. Thank goodness.

The scope the doctor had with him (called a laryngoscope) looked something like a black high-tech turkey baster with a flexible rubber straw at the bottom. He had me sit in the exam chair, a stiff, high-backed chair that would have been perfectly at home in a torture scene from a spy movie, and then he started threading the black rubber straw through my right nostril. After a moment, he stopped and switched the straw to my left nostril instead. The tube went up my nose and then down the back of my throat, but, fortunately, I did not feel a thing. For the first time, I felt thankful for the disgusting anesthetic.

“Do you have trouble breathing through your nose?” the doctor asked casually, peering through the eyepiece on the top of the scope.

“Yeah,” I said.

“Do you have more trouble with one side than the other?”


He pulled the tube back out. “You have a deviated septum.”

The septum (I found out later) is the bone and cartilage that divide your nose into two nostrils. A deviated septum is when this bone and cartilage are crooked, making one nasal passage smaller than the other.

“Oh,” I said.

“That has nothing to do with your sore throat, though. Your sore throat is caused by acid reflux. I’m going to give you directions for some medication and dietary changes that will help, and I want you to make the changes and then come see me again in six weeks.”

He sat down and started making notes in my chart. “You might also think about having surgery to correct the deviated septum. I do two or three of the surgeries a week in an outpatient facility, and the surgery is 99% effective. A few days for recovery, and then you’d be able to breathe better. If you’re having a lot of trouble, it might be worth it for you.”

I laughed. “Well, I’ve gone forty years without even knowing that I had a deviated septum, so I think I’m probably okay.”

But on my way home, I gradually started realizing that I WASN’T okay, not really. My nose had never worked right. I’d always had a hard time breathing through my nose, and it always felt both stuffed up and runny. Once or twice, I’d mentioned my nose issues to my various doctors, and we’d tried allergy medicine and nasal sprays and even snorting water up my nose (THAT was fun), but nothing had made a difference. I’d just figured that my nose was kind of quirky and left it at that.

Now, I wondered whether this “quirkiness” was caused by the deviated septum.

I looked up “deviated septum” online and found some lists of symptoms caused by the condition:

* Nasal congestion (check; I had that, pretty much all the time)

* Frequent nosebleeds (check; I didn’t have them much anymore, but as a kid I got nosebleeds several times a month)

*Postnasal drip (check! It didn’t seem right to have both nasal congestion AND postnasal drip at the same time, but I did!)

*Dry mouth (check!)

*Difficulty breathing through the nose (check!)

*Loud breathing and/or snoring (have to ask Ray about that one…)


I stared at the computer screen. Oh, man. I DID have a deviated septum!

When Ray got home that night, I told him about my visit to the ENT. “The doctor said that I should think about having corrective surgery,” I said, “but I don’t know. It’s scary. And I’d have to miss a week of work. And it would be expensive. Plus, I’ve gotten along fine for forty years.”

“Kind of,” said Ray. “Remember that time in Ireland when we got separated in the big book store and I found you by your sniffling? Your nose doesn’t really work. The surgery might help! And if you could schedule it before the end of the year, you not only have time off coming up anyway, but we’ve reached our insurance deductible—it would probably be close to free.”

Oh, geez. I’m a cautious soul at heart, and I like time to think about decisions and all the possible consequences that go with them—A LOT of time. Deciding to have an elective surgery and trying to schedule it sometime in the next three weeks?


Well, it wouldn’t hurt to at least call the doctor’s office and see if it was even possible to fit me in before December 31. By 9:00 the next morning, when I picked up the phone, I’d decided that doctor’s offices and insurance companies were always slow about everything, and they’d never be able to get the approval and schedule a surgery in time. Then I wouldn’t be able to get a week off again until July, so I’d have lots and lots of time to think it over and get used to the idea.

The receptionist I talked to agreed with me. “It usually takes the insurance company longer than three weeks to approve the surgery, so we probably can’t get you in. But I’ll talk to the doctor and call your insurance, and we’ll see what they say.”

Part of me was relieved. If the insurance company took a month to approve the surgery, than the scary decision was out of my hands. Gee, too bad, I couldn’t have the surgery right now after all.

However, through some alignment of the stars, the insurance company got back to the doctor’s office in THREE DAYS and approved everything, confirming that there would be no out-of-pocket expense for me. And the doctor happened to have one surgery slot still available during the last week of December.

It seemed like fate.

And that’s how I find myself getting ready to have surgery tomorrow morning to correct my deviated septum. Ray keeps telling people that he’s giving me a nose job for Christmas. Ha ha ha. I have reached the panicky “I am out of my mind oh why oh why am I doing this” stage, and the only thing that’s keeping me even slightly calm is the thought that at least I can get a funny blog post out of it.

So stay tuned!








Mono Log

My dance school ran a competition the second weekend of July. Partway through the weekend, I started getting a sore throat and a cough, and by Sunday afternoon I was so hoarse that I sounded like I’d been drinking whiskey and smoking cigarettes on a month-long bender.

I spent the next several days in bed.

My annual physical was scheduled for Thursday of that week, and I dragged myself to the appointment even though I felt more like dragging myself to the morgue and saving everyone the trouble. But I’d had to wait three months for the appointment, and I didn’t feel like waiting another three months, so I went.

I told my doctor (hereafter referred to as Doctor #1) that I wasn’t feeling well, and she looked in my ears and throat and told me that I probably had a virus. She didn’t sound worried. Get some rest and drink some fluids, she said, and I would feel better soon.

We did the rest of my annual physical stuff, including a blood draw at the end. Doctor #1 told me that she would be out of the office the next day (Friday), but if there was anything unusual in my blood work, one of the other doctors in the practice would call me. I’d never had abnormal blood work at my physical, and I don’t think either of us thought anyone would be calling me.

So I was very surprised when I did get a call.

I’d dragged my carcass to the dance studio office on Friday to finish up our quarterly taxes before the due date. It took me about five times as long as usual to do them because I kept zoning out in the middle and just staring at the numbers on the screen. All I could think about was finishing up so that I could go home and go back to bed.

About 2 o’clock, my phone rang. It was my doctor’s office.

“Hello,” said the receptionist on the other end. “We have the results of your blood tests from yesterday, and your white blood cell count is abnormally low. The doctor says you need to go to the emergency room right away.”

“Um, what?” I said.

The receptionist repeated herself. Nope, no mistake–she really had said that I should go to the emergency room.

“Um,” I said.

It didn’t seem real. I mean, I felt absolutely terrible, but I was at work and moving and not bleeding or screaming or anything. It didn’t feel like emergency room material.

“I’ve got a virus,” I said. “Could that possibly have affected the blood test results?”

“Maybe,” the receptionist said.

“So maybe I don’t need to go to the emergency room?”

“Let me double check with the doctor and get back to you,” the receptionist said, and hung up.

My sister was in the office with me, and I told her what had happened. “Weird, right?” I said, and then I went back to the taxes, but it was even harder and slower than before, since now I was worried about my abnormal blood test results.

Surely it was some kind of mistake. Maybe, since my doctor (Doctor #1) was out of the office, this other doctor in the practice (Doctor #2) had called the wrong patient or something.

The receptionist called me back fifteen minutes later.

“The doctor says that if you’re feeling sick at all, you need to get to the emergency room right now.”

Oh, geez.

Well, it looked like I really did need to go to the ER. But I just wasn’t feeling…emergencyish. Even after my sister looked up low white blood cell count online and found out that it can indicate some REALLY bad stuff, part of me was having trouble taking it seriously.

Don’t get me wrong; the rest of me was freaking out. But our taxes were due the next day, and I really needed to get them done, so I decided to go ahead and finish them. I mean, I wasn’t feeling any worse than I had yesterday, so an hour or two longer couldn’t hurt, right? And I knew that Ray would worry if I told him that I wasn’t going to the ER right away, so I just decided to wait a little before telling him about the situation.

Was that bad?

By the time I’d finished the taxes, I’d actually decided that I could go home and wait for Ray to get off work. Then we could discuss whether or not I really needed to go to the ER at all. Maybe I could ask one of my doctor or nurse friends what they thought before making a final decision. I was still having a hard time taking the situation seriously.

But when I finally called Ray to let him know what was going on, he told me that I needed to go to the emergency room RIGHT THEN and he would meet me there the second he got off work. He was so worried that he didn’t even want me to drive myself; he told me to get my sister to drive me instead.

So that’s what I did. On the way over, my sister (also very worried) told me about all the bad low-white-blood-cell medical problems she’d read about online. I felt a jumbled-up combination of worry, sickness, and humor. Man, this was going to make a GREAT blog post.

When I got to the ER, I kind of expected to get hustled back to surgery or something, given the urgency with which my doctor’s office had sent me there. Also, one of the judges at our dance competition had told us a story about how he’d had a stomach ache once and went to the ER, and the second the ER docs looked at him they rushed him back for emergency surgery and he was in the hospital for a week. That story was forefront in my mind as I checked in.

I was not hustled back into surgery. When I told them why I was there, the nice ladies at the front desk could best be described as “non-plussed.”

“Your white blood cell count is low?” the receptionist repeated. “We don’t get a lot of people coming in for that.”

The nurse who took me back was even less impressed. “You look fine to me,” she said, eyeing me up and down.

I started to feel like I should have gotten a note from my doctor to prove I wasn’t a hypochondriac. I kept wanting to whine, “But they made me come here!”

The ER doc (Doctor #3) who came in to look at me didn’t think I was a hypochondriac, but he also didn’t understand why Doctor #2 had sent me there. “The low white cell count was probably a lab error,” he said. “Even if it wasn’t, there’s not much we can do for you here in the ER.”


However, since I was there, he decided to re-run the blood tests and also do a chest X-ray to see if I had pneumonia. I didn’t.

“See? Everything is normal, honey,” said a nurse, handing me a printout of my blood test results and patting me on the shoulder, again like I was a panicky hypochondriac. “Just go home and get lots of fluids and rest and you’ll feel better in no time.”

So I spent two hours and $1200 in the ER, and all I got was a lousy printout.

(And actually it turned out that they’d accidentally given me someone else’s printout, and I had to come back the next day to get mine—which was normal, too).

I spent Saturday and Sunday feeling frustrated and confused (as well as sick), and then on Monday morning I called my doctor’s office (Doctor #1) to find out what was going on.

I was put through to a nurse who listened to my story and then said that she would have Doctor #1 give me a call. But when the phone rang an hour later, it wasn’t Doctor #1; it was the Rocky Mountain Cancer Center calling to make an appointment with me at, they said, my doctor’s request.

Ironically, this phone call freaked me out way more than the original phone call on Friday. Cancer center? But the ER said I was fine! OMG! What was going on?

Sounding much calmer than I felt, I explained the situation to the woman on the phone and asked if it was possible that the request from my doctor’s office had come on Friday, before my ER blood test. She said she didn’t know. I said that I’d talk to my doctor and then call back if I needed to make an appointment.

Now I REALLY wanted to talk to Doctor #1.

Sadly, the feeling wasn’t mutual. The person who finally called me back in the afternoon was the nurse I’d spoken to that morning, not my doctor, and she said that Doctor #1 “had no idea what had happened” with my blood test. I was instructed to come back in a month and have a follow-up.

Have a nice day.

I was very upset. It seemed to me that, having sent me to the ER for an expensive and apparently unnecessary checkup, the office could have at least let me talk to my doctor directly on the phone instead of giving me a secondhand brush-off.

I decided that it might be time to find a new doctor’s office.

Using my insurance company’s website and a variety of online reviews, I did a lot of research over the course of the next several weeks and eventually found a doctor who was close to me, took my insurance, and got good reviews. I called and made an appointment for a day in August in order to do my follow-up blood test and get a second opinion.

Unfortunately, the office of Doctor #4 did not live up to the reviews. The waiting area was made up of metal folding chairs on a bare tile floor, with a TV in the corner showing a daytime talk show where the hosts were discussing the morality of wearing yoga pants in public (no, seriously). The two young receptionists at the front desk seemed like they were already disenchanted with the reality of being adults, and the middle-aged nurse who took me back was surly and hardly said a word to me. When she took my pulse and blood pressure, I had a close-up view of all the stains and torn places on her white lab coat. Ew.

Doctor #4, when she came in, had a friendly, professional manner, which made me feel a little better. She took the time to explain why she thought the low white blood cell count from my original blood test was a lab error, and she talked to me about how lab errors like that could happen. She went ahead and ran another white blood cell count for me, but she said that the results would almost certainly be normal.

I mentioned that I was still feeling lousy, although the cough had finally gone away. Doctor #4 did not seem concerned about that. I had a virus, that was all, she told me, and the fatigue and general crapiness I was still feeling would eventually go away with rest and fluids. She also very kindly told me that I should go see my psychiatrist, because some of the symptoms were probably depression-related.

Ugh. I left feeling like a panicky hypochondriac again, and like no one was taking me seriously. It was funny—when I’d gotten the initial call about the abnormal lab results, I hadn’t believed that anything was wrong, but now that everybody kept telling me I was OK, I was becoming more and more convinced that I wasn’t. I was willing to believe that the lab results had been an error and I shouldn’t have been sent to the ER, but I did not feel right. Something was the matter.

Doctor #4 had told me that her office would call me within three days with my lab results. I didn’t hear from them, so I called back on the fourth day after my appointment. The bored receptionist said that, yeah, they had my lab results and they were normal. Sure, I could come pick up a copy if I really wanted.

Check. STILL needed a different doctor’s office.

Since online reviews hadn’t done the trick, I decided to ask friends if they had a doctor they would recommend. I got several recommendations, but all of them were either far away or didn’t take my insurance. I waffled for a while, trying to decide if I should give one of the recommendations a try anyway, and a few weeks passed. I continued to feel tired, faint, and very discouraged.

Then, at the end of August, I got another call from the Rocky Mountain Cancer Center.

The nice receptionist who called me said that they had a note that I was supposed to make an appointment, but they hadn’t heard back from me. Did I want to make an appointment now?

She sounded so friendly, and I felt so generally frustrated, that I told her the entire situation. “I don’t know what to do,” I said at the end. “What would you suggest?”

“Well, I’m just a secretary,” she said, “but even the numbers on your repeat blood tests look pretty low. I would go ahead and come in.”

So, after talking to a number of my friends (including several nurses and a doctor) who all agreed that it wouldn’t hurt to go, I went.

The facility was lovely, and the front office staff was warm and welcoming. It was everything that the office of Doctor #4 hadn’t been, and I breathed a sigh of relief. My relief, however, was short-lived.

“Why are you here?” asked Doctor #5, a brisk, no-nonsense woman who seemed extremely competent but not exactly cuddly. “Your numbers are completely normal. The first white blood cell count was obviously a lab error. You do not have cancer.”

I fought against the urge to slink out of the office with my tail between my legs. I was there, and I’d already gotten the panicky-hypochondriac treatment; what else did I have to lose?

“I wanted to double-check that there wasn’t something actually wrong,” I said, with as much confidence as I could muster. “I’ve felt terrible for six weeks, and because of that first lab test, I was worried.”

“What are your symptoms?”

“Originally, I had a bad cough, and I had a fever for about 24 hours. The cough and fever are gone now, but I still have a sore throat, and I am completely exhausted. I have trouble getting out of bed. I have trouble working. I have trouble even thinking straight sometimes.”

“Do you have trouble sleeping?”


“Do you suffer from depression or anxiety?”



The knowing tone in her voice made me angry. “I know that fatigue can be a symptom of anxiety,” I said, trying not to snap, “but I’ve suffered from anxiety my whole life, and I have never felt anything like the exhaustion I feel now.”

She looked at me consideringly. I looked back. “Well,” she said, “let’s go ahead and repeat the blood work and see if anything shows up. I’ll also run a test for mononucleosis. I had a patient once who had similar symptoms, and that’s what it turned out to be.”

And guess what? The mono test came back positive.

Doctor #5 called me with the results herself, which I was super impressed by (she was the first doctor in this whole process who had called me herself). She said that I had a very bad active infection, and that’s why I was experiencing the fatigue and malaise. There wasn’t any kind of treatment for mono, though; just rest and fluids, and it would eventually go away.

Kind of ironic that it took an oncologist to figure out that I had mono. But I guess everybody had been right about the rest and fluids, anyway.

Even though there wasn’t anything I could do about the mono, I felt better knowing that there WAS something wrong, something with a name that I could tell people about. When I finally did find a new primary care doctor (Doctor #6), being able to tell her that I had mono meant that we could skip the why-are-you-here stage and go directly to the what-are-we-going-to-do-about-it stage, which was great. She told me that people with mono could sometimes be sick for 6 months, and to help with recovery I should cut back to working half days until I felt better. Because I had mono, my employees and students were happy to help me figure out how to do this, for which I was extremely grateful.

Knowing what I had also helped me read about the condition so that I could answer people’s questions. Many people wanted to know how contagious I was, for example (usually expressed as, “Stay away from me!”), and I was able to tell them that mono isn’t as contagious as the flu or the common cold, so as long as they weren’t kissing me, they were probably fine. Ray was pretty worried about getting it, especially since it was mid-September before I was finally diagnosed and I’d had it since July, so he called his doctor and asked if he needed to get tested.

“Have you kissed your wife since she’s been sick?” the doctor asked.

“Yes,” said Ray.

“Then you got exposed. If you’ve never had mono before, you have it now. But don’t bother to come in for a test. You don’t have any symptoms, and we couldn’t do anything to help you even if you did.”

That sounds callous, but I knew from my reading that most adults are immune to mono because they’ve already had it. The #1 question that people had was, “How on Earth did you get MONO?” I could tell them that 99% of the population has actually been exposed to the Epstein-Barr virus (which causes mono) by the time they reach adulthood, and they still have the inactive virus in their systems. Only about 50% of people exposed to the virus have any symptoms at all, and most people with symptoms have a mild case and think it’s the flu. Only a relatively small percentage of people end up with a serious case like I have. Once you’ve mono, the virus can activate again from time to time, but you don’t get sick again.

So I could have gotten mono from anywhere, really. The strange thing was that I hadn’t had it before.

Oddly, one of Ray’s employees had mono at the same time I did. What a strange coincidence, I thought. At least, that’s what I thought until Ray came home one day and said, “Um, don’t be mad, but I think I might have gotten you sick.”

“What do you mean?” I asked.

“Well, you know how Tommy has mono, too? Like you, he had it for a couple months before he knew about it. And when we’re working together hanging up a white board or something like that, we usually put our shared pile of screws on the floor between our ladders. Then, to make sure our hands stay free when we’re on the ladder, we grab the screws that we need and put them in our mouths….”


Sometimes, while I was lying on the couch feeling like an energy-sucking vampire had been draining me of my will to live (because that’s what having mono feels like), I would think about Ray’s unhygienic screw-sharing practices and wish that he could feel what I was feeling as punishment. But he’d apparently already been exposed to the virus and was immune. He could just pass it on to innocent, unsuspecting people like me, a kind of Typhoid Mary. His name could be Mono Ray.

It’s December as I’m writing this, and I’m on the mend. I’m not 100% (some people who have had serious cases of mono said they didn’t feel 100% for about a year), but sometimes now I actually have energy, which is great! For months, I was so exhausted I could hardly even write, but now I’m back to writing, and I made it through our big Regional Championships in November, which was quite an achievement.

The ironic thing about the mono is that it sometimes gets caught because your white blood cell count gets abnormally HIGH, but mine didn’t. The low blood cell count on my original blood test must have been a lab error, so the thing that kicked off this whole adventure was a mistake. But I guess it turned out OK in the end, and now I have a doctor that I like in an office that I like, which is good.

And I was reminded to trust my instincts where my health is concerned, which is also good. Because nobody knows YOU like YOU do, and nobody cares as much about YOU as YOU do either. So sometimes you have to be your own advocate, and that’s OK.

So if you feel like something’s wrong and everybody is treating you like a panicky hypochondriac, keep talking to people until you find someone to listen. It’ll be worth it.



The Christmas Ninja

‘Twas the day before Christmas, and poor old Saint Nick

Was lying at home in his bed, very sick.

He sneezed and he coughed and his throat was quite sore.

His temperature rose to one hundred and four!


The doctor said, “Santa, you can’t possibly go

On your sleigh ride tonight in the wind and the snow.

You’re far, far too sick. You must stay in bed.”

“But who will deliver the presents instead?”


Groaned Santa. “It’s Christmas! The girls and the boys

Must wake up tomorrow to a house full of toys!

Someone must load up my jolly old sleigh,

Harness the reindeer, and fly it away.


“Someone must slide down each chimney with care,

And fill up the stockings the kids have hung there.

Someone must place the gifts under the tree.

Who else could do it? It has to be me!”


But the doctor was firm. “You must rest yourself.

We’ll just have to find a substitute elf.”

And so Mrs. Claus and the doctor began

To interview elves, every woman and man.


They had to find a substitute quick

To save Christmas Eve for poor old Saint Nick.

But they soon found out it was no easy task—

There was a big problem with each elf they asked.


Tom couldn’t drive. Dom hated the dark.

Chester could drive, but he just couldn’t park.

Keeley got lonely. Lill always got lost.

Jessamine’s hands turned blue in the frost.


Bree was too little. Bill hated heights.

Mona got scared if a space was too tight.

Waldo Elf liked getting lost in a crowd.

Rock and Roll Elf was much, much too loud.


Giantess Elf was simply too big.


Bulldozer Elf could do nothing but dig.


Mrs. Claus said, “Well, there’s just one person left:

Ninja Elf, who protects us from theft.”


Ninja Elf was a mysterious guy

Who wore a black hood that showed only his eyes.

He listened politely as Mrs. Claus said,

“We need you to fly Santa’s jolly old sled


“And deliver the toys for Christmas tonight.

Can you do it? Will you?” And the elf said, “All right.”

He bowed very low and then sprinted away.

He called the elf workers to load up the sleigh


While he harnessed the reindeer, from Rudolph to Donner.

He had to work fast to save Santa Claus’ honor!

When all was made ready, he jumped to the seat

And urged on the reindeer with their fast flying feet.


They leaped into the air, and the sleigh followed too.

Above the North Pole they galloped and flew.


As fast as a jet they sped into the night,

And in a very few minutes the first house came in sight.


Ninja Elf sprang down very nimbly,

And like a black shadow crept down the first chimney.

He carefully listened but did not hear a sound.

He crawled out of the fireplace and then slid around


The wall of each room ‘til he came to the tree.


He unplugged the lights, and in the darkness then he

Pulled all of the presents from his big, black sack.

He arranged them neatly in a pyramid stack,


Then replugged the lights and snuck back toward the door.

Oh no! All the stockings fell down to the floor!

He had to rehang them! But what could he do?

He had no nails, no tape, no glue—


But he did have three shuriken, sharp throwing stars.

He tacked up the stockings and filled them with cars,

And candy, and cute little dolls.

Santa would be proud—he had just decked the halls!


First mission accomplished, he went back to the sleigh,

And they flew off to visit the next house on the way.

No one heard him exclaim as he flew out of sight—

Ninjas don’t shout; they blend into the night.


And that is the story, if you choose to believe,

Of how Ninja Elf went and saved Christmas Eve.

I have told you the tale with these cookies of ginja

To celebrate Santa’s own brave Christmas Ninja.



2010 Regional Championships, Wrap-Up

Originally written 11/23/2010.

When my alarm went off at 4:45 a.m. on Monday morning, my first thought was, “WHY did I book a flight that leaves at 7:45 a.m.?”

Oh, right. Because I procrastinated so long before purchasing my tickets that it was the only flight left.

My shuttle driver was a model of the modern multi-tasker. He was programming his GPS, talking on his Bluetooth, and texting at the same time. That was worrisome as he drove downtown, especially since none of the lights downtown were actually working; they’d all been set to flash. I figured that was normal for downtown Sacramento at 5 a.m., since the driver didn’t say anything about it. Or maybe he was too busy texting.

Anyway, I didn’t really start worrying until we got onto the freeway and he was still texting (while changing lanes in that nonchalant California way, where the vehicle just sort of slides over into a space that doesn’t look nearly big enough). It turned out he was texting his dispatcher. Um…isn’t that what the radio is for?

On the flight home, I sat next to a three-year-old and her mom, but this three-year-old could not have been more different than little Taylor on my flight out. She was well-behaved, and when she did get fussy, her mom took care of it. It was great. I slept most of the way home.

I realize that there were several things I meant to write about but forgot, like the dresses. Unfortunately, I didn’t get any pictures of ugly dresses. I just couldn’t bring myself to walk up to someone and ask to take their picture when I was planning on using the picture to show how unattractive her dress was. So you’ll just have to make do with my descriptions. The trend I hate most is animal print. Zebra-striped sleeves, cheetah-print stripes down the front of the bodice, orange leopard-spotted stretchy lycra. Ugh. Why? Why, dressmakers? There aren’t any zebras in Ireland.

There were also a lot of fancy hairpieces. My favorite was a giant silk turquoise flower that a girl was wearing on the side of her head, with peacock feathers coming out of it. The flower was bigger than her bun wig.

The other thing I forgot to tell you about is one of the most important jobs a stage manager has to do: answer questions. Most of these are normal, straightforward questions: What number is this competition starting with? Did you find the buckle that flew off my shoe while I was dancing? Are you checking in dancers for the traditional set special?

But, beyond these mundane questions, the stage manager for a long solo championship always has to be prepared to answer one of the great philosophical questions of our time: When are they announcing my recall?

This question has no answer. It’s like a zen koan: What is the sound of one hand clapping? If a tree falls in the woods and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound? How long is a piece of string? The problem, you see, is that many steps have to be taken before the recall round (the medal round, basically) can begin. The stage manager, or another licensed teacher, has to take the score sheets from the five judges and take them to the tabulation room. The hardworking, underappreciated people in tabulation then have to take the score sheets from the five judges and enter all the numbers into the computer. This is harder than it sounds. For one thing, all the score sheets are handwritten, and sometimes judges’ handwriting is like doctors’ handwriting. Also, in our region, a girls’ competition can have as many as 150 dancers in it. 150 times 5 is 750, so there are 750 different scores to be deciphered and then typed in. If at any point the tabulators can’t read a number, they have to track down the judge and find out for sure what the number is before entering it. And of course the tabulators aren’t just doing this for one competition. There are four ballrooms at the regionals, and all of them have at least two competitions during the day.

So there’s just no telling how long it will take for the tabulation room to enter the numbers, generate the report that shows which dancers are in the top 50%, and then get the report back down to the ballroom. It usually takes at least an hour after the finish of the second round of competition, and, depending on all the various factors, it can take longer. As soon as the stage managers get the recall list, they read it, and then the recall round can start. But no one–NO ONE–has any control over when the recall list is going to get there. Anyone who has ever been to an Oireachtas before should know that.

However, that doesn’t stop dozens of anxious dancers from coming over the announcer’s podium and asking, “When will you be announcing the recall?”

Ah, Irish dance grasshopper, you ask a deep question indeed. The recall will be announced as soon as it is here. Led us meditate on this truth.

Anyway, that’s it for my updates from the Oireachtas. I hope you’ve enjoyed it–I always do. Happy Thanksgiving!

2010 Regional Championships, Day 4

Originally written 11/21/2010.

Did I say that all the stage helpers at the regionals needed to do was announce? I forgot that was only true for short competitions. Today, after watching the first of my two dancers, I ran my second dancer’s stage for all three of her rounds. I was reminded pretty quickly that running a solo competition with more than 100 dancers involves a lot more than announcing.

The funniest part of the job for me today was the janitorial part. Whoever is running a stage is responsible for sweeping it. I swept my stage twice in the eight hours I worked it, for instance. Mostly what I swept off the stage was sequins, which tend to fall off Irish dance dresses like autumn leaves fall off trees. Since teachers are supposed to dress professionally, I was busily plying my giant dustmop in a nice skirt and blouse. At least I wasn’t wearing stiletto heels. Gotta be hard to sweep in those.

While sequins need to be swept up between rounds, it’s bobby pins that a stage helper really needs to watch out for. The wigs the girls wear are anchored in place with lots of long bobby pins, and when the dancers jump and the wigs bounce, bobby pins go flying. They’re dangerous because a dancer could step on one and slip and fall, a la a cartoon character stepping on a marble (but really not funny).

So, whenever a stage helper sees a bobby pin on the stage, he or she has to wait until the dancers on stage finish their round and then run out and pick it up. It has to be picked up quickly, because a 100-girl competition takes a long time to complete and every second is precious. So you run up the stairs, scurry out onstage (trying not to run into the dancers who just finished or the dancers just coming on), and bend down to pick up the bobby pin before running offstage again. Again, since you’re wearing a skirt and blouse, you do this carefully (and thank goodness that you’re not wearing the stilettos).

For some of the time today, this oft-repeated process was complicated because I was by myself. When there are two helpers on a stage, one can announce while the other one is in charge of bobby-pin wrangling and any other similar jobs that need doing. When you’re by yourself, you have to scurry onstage, scurry back, and then introduce the next two competitors.

At one point, I guess I wasn’t doing this one-man-band act well enough for one of the adjudicators judging my stage, because he hopped off his raised platform, ran over to the stage, and picked up the stray bobby pin himself.

For the most part, though, I did ok, and my two dancers did even better. One of them recalled for the first time, which was great. Even better, her competition was announced first at awards, so she got her trophy and then we all got to go home early. It was like having your cake and eating it too.

Well, I’m on a 7:45 am flight tomorrow, so I have to pack. Another reason to be grateful that we weren’t at awards until 11pm! Ta ta for now.

2010 Regional Championships, Day 3

Originally written 11/20/2010.

For the first time since my very first trip to the regional championships as a teacher, I don’t have any team dances. That meant that I didn’t have anyone competing on Saturday. Not that I got a day off, though. Teachers are required to do 5 hours of volunteer service at the championships, and I get mine by running stages. At this level, running a stage mostly involves announcing and troubleshooting, but I was still a little nervous. Stages I run tend to have bad luck, like the time there was a gas leak in the room.

Fortunately, everything went smoothly this time. My competition was a small one, just 7 teams, so with preparation & then dancing I was only there an hour. Then I went out to walk around the area a little bit. Since my hotel was right across the street from the convention center, I hadn’t seen anything of the rest of downtown yet.

The area right around the convention center is very pretty. There are several parks (including an extensive one around the capitol building a couple blocks away) and lots of trees. Sacramento’s climate makes it possible for them to have palm trees and evergreen trees planted in the same place, which I’d never seen before. There were even orange trees, with oranges growing on them. In November. Crazy!

There are some chain restaurants in the area, including (of course) a Starbucks, but even more funky local coffee shops and delis, including one I stopped at for
a late breakfast. There was an old movie theater, lots of sculptures, and a beautiful marble cathedral hemmed in on all sides by cages and office buildings.

Being a downtown area, there were less picturesque parts, too. On J Street, where the convention center is located, a whole block of older buildings were boarded up, including an old hotel with a metal fire escape running across the front. There was also a man sitting on corner of the K Street Mall and shouting obscenities and prophecies. It was a little spooky, because just at that moment there wasn’t anybody else in sight except the two of us, which made me realize that downtown exploration in a strange city is more fun with my husband along.

I passed a lady at a bus stop a little later who was muttering to herself. Bluetooth headsets make it harder these days to tell whether people are crazy or just talking on their cell phones, but I don’t think she had a cell phone.

After lunch, I got to take a nap, which was an unbelievable luxury at a championships. That was great. Then I had a nice practice with my last two dancers, who are competing tomorrow morning. Now a bunch of us are going to watch Harry Potter at the movie theater next to my hotel.

More tomorrow!

2010 Regional Championships, Day 2

Originally written 11/19/2010.

Question: how do you spot an Irish dance teacher at the regional championships?

Answer: they’re the person in stiletto heels/tight skirt/business suit sprinting down the hallway.

Convention centers are nice for competitions because they’re so roomy, unlike some hotel ballrooms. However, that also sometimes means that the ballrooms are really far apart. In this case, two of the ballrooms are on the first floor of the Sacramento Convention Center at the south end. The other two are on the second floor, on the north end, about the equivalent of a block away. To get from one set of rooms to the other, you have to go out the doors, around a corner, down a hall, around another corner, down another hall, and up two escalators.

This wouldn’t be a problem except that my 8 dancers were spread out among 3 of the 4 ballrooms, and it kept happening that two of the dancers would be performing more or less at the same time. So my dance parents would keep me posted via text (one of the greatest inventions ever for a feis), and as soon as one dancer would finish I would pick up my purse and go running down the hall, waving as I passed other teachers doing the same thing.

Maybe we could market an Irish stepdance teacher’s workout video. First, put on your stiletto heels…

Once you get to the ballroom in question, you push through the crowd of people in the doorway and find yourself looking down the room at the raised platform stage at the far end. Most of the rest of the room is filled with chairs for spectators. The very front row of chairs is reserved for teachers, which is great except that the 5 judges are sitting on a platform between the front row of chairs and the stage. Therefore, only the outside edges of the front rows have anyone in them; you can’t really see the stage from the middle.

In fact, the only really good view of the stage you can get is by standing against the side walls. Usually, about 25 percent of the audience is standing against or one of the other of the side walls. Since two of the three aisles through the chairs are on the sides, getting anywhere in the room is a slow, winding affair, involving lots of “excuse me”s and careful stepping.

All the running around and maneuvering was completely worth it, though. My dancers all performed beautifully, even better than in practice. 6 of the 8 got recalled, which meant that they got to come back and do a third dance. Everyone who recalls gets a trophy, so it was very exciting that so many made it.

The announcement of the recalls takes a while, and the third round takes a long time, too, because the dancers go one at a time (and there can be up to 75 people in the round). It was 4:30 by the time the last of my dancers was done. We knew it would be a while before awards, so we went and had dinner first. It felt really good to sit down and rest.

Awards are…well, you know those teen parties in movies where the kid’s parents are out of town and he invites everybody he knows over? There are way more people than the house can hold and there’s loud music playing and everyone is dancing? Well, imagine that everyone is wearing a giant curly wig, and that’s what awards are like.

Once again, though, it was totally worth it. All 6 of my recalled dancers placed in the top half of their recall group, and all 6 of them qualified for the National championships. Three of them placed in the top 10 and qualified for Worlds. One dancer even won his competition, and I got to go onstage and get a trophy, too! It was a wonderful evening.

I went back to the hotel after the awards finished at almost 11 pm. I’d gotten to the convention center at 7:30 that morning, and so had most of the dancers. A long day, but a good one. I slept very well.

2010 Regional Championships, Day 1

Originally written 11/18/2010. Content edited slightly because, you know, it could be a little better.

Greetings! Here I am again at the annual regional championships of Irish dance, which is called the Oireachtas. However you think that last word is pronounced, you’re wrong. Someone once told me that God created Gaelic so the Irish wouldn’t rule the world.

This year’s Oireachtas for our region is being held in Sacramento. I flew out early this afternoon.

One of the things I love about flying is that being at the airport always inspires me to ponder life’s deepest mysteries:

Do people really want to read Jorge Luis Borges or Lord of the Flies on an airplane? If not, why does the airport bookstore sell them?

Do the airport shops that sell hideous and expensive snakeskin cardigans and Christmas ornaments shaped like bears using the toilet really sell enough stuff to stay in business? If so, who buys those things?

And, most importantly, why do people think it’s okay to use their cell phones in the bathroom?

The flight itself was enlivened by a 2-year-old girl named Taylor, who was traveling alone with her dad (I suspect, from some of the things that happened, that her parents were separating). Taylor threw a fit in the waiting area when her dad started to take her on the plane, and the fit mostly featured loud, high-pitched screaming. Dogs all over Denver were probably jumping their fences and running towards the airport.

The screaming continued when she got on the plane, and as a bonus she added words. First she screamed that she wanted her mommy, which had some of the people on the plane feeling sorry for her (Taylor was the #1 subject of conversation on the plane).

Then she started screaming, “Enough!”, a word she clearly heard a lot. We heard it a lot, too, and people weren’t feeling so sorry for her anymore.

Finally, she shouted, “Daddy, if you don’t take me home right now, I will wait until you are sleeping, take your glasses, and throw them out the window!”

That’s when the last holdouts stopped feeling sorry for her and started wondering if she was a demon disguised as a two-year-old.

At this point, the head flight attendant came over. She had a bag of candy in her hand. She told Taylor that if she didn’t scream anymore, she could have the bag of candy. All of us, even the ones who normally wouldn’t have approved of bribing toddlers with sugar, breathed a sigh of relief. Maybe now we would have quiet and the plane could take off (we were still sitting on the runway).

Taylor said okay and took the bag, but as soon as the flight attendant turned away, she started screaming again.

The flight attendant came back, and I don’t think I would have heard what she said if I hadn’t been sitting one row up. She said, in a quiet but firm voice, “No screaming. If you scream again, I will have to ask you and your daddy to leave the plane, and the police will be there too.”

The word “police” was like magic. Taylor stopped screaming and was well-behaved the whole rest of the flight.

“How did you do that?” one passenger asked the flight attendant in an awestruck voice.

“I used to be a kindergarten teacher,” said the flight attendant.

Once in Sacramento, I shared a taxi with one of my dance students and her mom. The highway was backed up with traffic, so our cab driver took us to our hotel via a back way instead, along a levee road beside a river. The road featured tantalizing glimpses of the river dappled with sunshine, as well as huge riverfront houses with Porsches out in front. The scenic route for sure.

After we reached the hotel, I had a lovely sandwich at a little deli across the street and then ran a practice for the 8 dancers I have competing tomorrow. It was a great practice. Everyone seemed relaxed and confident, and they danced well. Plus, at the end they sat in a circle and told each other what was good about their dancing. I love my students.

Off to bed now-more tomorrow!