Just beneath the surface of normal

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Who ARE You People?

You’re weird and curious and annoyed – I like you!

Following The Bloggess’ lead, I’ve decided to post my search terms, because they’re strange and hilarious. I’ve only been doing this for a few months, so I can show my all-time terms instead of a single term:

Search terms

I always assumed that the really long one that sort of rhymes was some kind of song lyric. It isn’t. Just someone who really really doesn’t want to talk.

Lots of these make fine sense and I understand why they’re here. But then there’s “Dionne Warwick a vampire” and I begin to wonder about the person on the other end. Were they searching because they are genuinely concerned about the health of Dionne Warwick and the people around her? Or is this more of a metaphoric vampirism? Are they serious or silly? Are they alone? Which is where my line of speculation starts getting creepy and I move on.

“Neck sounds like breaking glass”? Oh dear. I really hope you’re okay. You should probably get that checked out. I mean, my neck gets a little crunchy sometimes, but never ever does it sound like GLASS.

My newest search term came today: “penis sleeve banner.” I don’t know why they are, but I desperately want to know because WHAT?! You, sir or madam, are the type of absurd I can probably relate to most. Welcome!

Finally, a word of caution: If you thought you were Googling weird things in total secrecy, rest assured that strangers somewhere are looking at your search terms right now and scratching their heads. They don’t know who you are, or why you searched for it, but they’re having a lot of fun making up stories about it. If you want real secrecy? Use incognito mode. But know that you are depriving the internet of the joy of a good “WTF?!”  I so desperately want to know what those 34 unknown search terms are and it breaks my heart that I never will. I like to assume they were super-weird, like those guys who like speculum porn, or some radiology resident vanity searching himself and assuming that the hot one I mentioned earlier MUST be him.


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It’s Officially a Movement

The older I get, the more I realize that none of us are as weird and ill-fitting as we feel. We put up the face of whatever it is we think “normal” is supposed to look like, and tie ourselves into knots because it’s an act and we’re convinced that if anyone ever saw us as we really are, they’d run screaming. Like how I used to run around frantically cleaning my house before someone would come over and then nonchalantly apologize for the “mess” – which was in fact cleaner than it had been in ages, but wasn’t Cleaver clean so I was supposed to apologize. I have finally accepted that I am not that person with a clean house, and have given up apologizing for the mess, because the fact of the matter is that this is me. If you want to love me, you have to love my mess. If you happen to come over during one of the five days every six months that the house looks great, lucky you, but I can’t pretend that’s me anymore. Maybe someday it won’t be, but for now it is. Shaming myself over it certainly isn’t going to make it any better. Also, I’m pretty sure most people with immaculate houses are either hiring someone to clean or struggling with OCD. There are probably also people who just casually like to clean, but for lots of people it’s probably hiding some sort of terror about not fitting. The fence always distorts the view of the other side.

And yet, we all do it on the internet all the time. Look at us, only posting pictures at our most fabulous moments and then zeroing in on whatever slight imperfection we can find. Suddenly everyone knows how to Photoshop. Or do pretty Instagram filters. Just like in the eighth grade, there is still a part of us desperate to fit and sure we don’t. So we do what we’ve always done: we find our tribe of people who are similarly weird, and we create codes so we can recognize others in our like-minded circle of square pegs, wither it’s rainbow flags or “Geronimo!” or using a special word that sounds like gibberish if you’re not inside the specialized circle, we have a secret handshake that says “relax, it’s not just you!”

Blessedly, one of the things the internet is actually pretty good at is showing us how very not alone we are in whatever weirdness we’re about. That’s both bad and good – even some people whose weirdness is immoral (by this I only mean it does harm to another) and/or illegal can probably find someone who isn’t alone in their love of [insert the weirdest thing you can think of – I would do it myself, but inevitably someone would be all, “but I LOVE watching lesbian cowgirls eat soup with forks!” and then it would be all awkward, especially because I happen to love more than one lesbian cowgirl myself. But for anyone who was ever confused by their feelings about stuffed animals, obscure graphic novels, or a very specific make or model of antique RV, the internet reassures you: you have people.

My people are the ones who think it’s perfectly logical to wear a panty on your head in response to a difficult situation, and are willing to share that fact with the world of Facebook:

Asha's Pantyhat

Asha says, “It is scientific fact that you cannot be pulled into a black hole if you are wearing a Pantyhat(TM)!” Which is an important fact for the future of space travel if you ask me. Pantyhats should be included on all future manned space flights, in case of a freak black hole. OR, maybe we could explore black holes WITH Pantyhats!

This is Asha. I had the biggest friend-crush on Asha when I was a kid. We all have that neighborhood kid who is a few years older and seems so impossibly, unattainably cool that all we can hope to do is emulate them in hopes that they’ll accept us…don’t we? Maybe just me. Except it’s almost never just me. Anyway, Asha was mine. She was also the only other kid in the neighborhood, because our neighborhood was a commune 15 miles outside of a small town in the Ozarks and we were both there for the better part of most summers. So she was pretty amiable about tolerating me while I idolized her and did my best to walk in her shoes whenever she’d let me, because even hanging out with a kid five years younger than you is better than nothing. Now, thanks to Facebook and the blessed age equalizer that is time, Asha is once again shining her rays of coolness at me. This time she’s reading my blog and wearing Pantyhats when she’s struggling with illness. If I could, I would reach back in time and tell eleven year old me about Asha and Pantyhats, and how she’s one of my people and it really is all going to be okay. I would also reach ahead in time and thank future Asha for getting present Asha through her tough times with the amazing power of Pantyhats.

I guess my point is this: if I offer nothing else to civilization than the lesson that it’s not only acceptable but crucial to be entirely, weirdly, vulnerably yourself, I will be entirely satisfied. And also that there is probably nothing the absurdness of Pantyhats can’t make better. Evidently including avoiding your doom in black holes, because Science says so. You’re welcome.

Want to be featured in a barely-read blog wearing a Pantyhat? Send me yours, along with any surprising scientific discoveries and I will totally post it.


Part IV (or II): Heeeey, No Mirena!

Depends on how you count. It’s part 2 of yesterday’s (now fully written) saga, or part 5 of the story since I first thought it might be nice to stop peeing every time I sneeze. Also? That’s supposed to be like “heeey, macarena” but I can’t seem to make my title sing for you, so in case you were all, “WTF?” That’s what.

So after my IUD came up MIA, my doctor sent me down to to radiology to get an ultrasound so that we could play “where’s Waldo” with a small, hormone-soaked piece of plastic. Because evidently they’re prone to wandering and we have to find out if it “migrated” anywhere interesting that might require inserting a tool through my belly button to retrieve. While my doctor is by no means a newb, I was her first migration patient. Lucky me. Fortunately, she already knows to wear her learning pants when Maya comes for a visit. Still, I felt kind of bad since she’d fit me in early and what should have been easy-in-easy-out just got complicated.

If you’ve never had the pleasure of a pelvic ultrasound outside of pregnancy, then you don’t know that you need a full bladder to provide reflectivity so the ultrasound can make images (presumably the amniotic fluid does this job when you’re pregnant). I was instructed to chug 32 ounces of water and wait. For someone who came to this strange world of complicated pelvic health issues through having pee troubles, every ultrasound is an anxiety attack in the making. Especially this one, since I happen to have a cold.

But I am nothing if not a good girl, and I drank my water and started blogging about this absurd development on my phone, while trying to ignore the Zimmerman trial coverage on TV because I’m already pretty emotionally delicate and the whole thing is so beyond disturbing. Since I was a STAT patient (which is a lot like being a VIP, except without being much fun because you’re cutting past cancer patients with walkers) I didn’t have to wait long. Except that my bladder wasn’t full enough yet, so I had to drink 2 more glasses of water and wait until it felt full. Awesome. Back to phone blogging. Except I forgot to charge my phone overnight, and the low-battery alert popped up. I hit save and prepared to brace myself for trial coverage.

Then the word “published” popped up on my phone, and I realized that my half-written post, including the phrase “[add story of insertion]” and a bunch of half-completed sentences, had not just saved, it had posted. If you ever wondered about my writing process, there it was. I started panicking as I looked for a way to take down the post without deleting it, but I couldn’t figure out how on the stupid WordPress phone app. So I added a desperate plea to look away and come back later, and swept it back into the “things I can’t do anything about” pile each time it tried to escape.

So, bladder full to bursting, I returned to the exam room for the most thorough ultrasound I’ve ever had in my life, by the most silent, focused technician I’ve ever had in my life. It was So. Boring. If they had put it on the ceiling, I would even have read VCR instructions, just to have something to do. I suggested that they put important information that they can’t get patients to read otherwise on the ceiling. Usually the tech will chat and joke with me, but this one didn’t even hear me the first time I said it. The second time she responded that some places put TVs up. I hate ubiquitous TV’s – I’ll take blank ceiling and an opportunity to be in the moment or something. I did take advantage of her brief attention to ask if there was something wrong or if she was just really thorough.

“I’m thorough,” she said. “Ever since I found one that had perforated this poor woman’s bowel, when everyone else thought it was in her uterus even though she was in excruciating pain, I take this stuff deadly seriously. Those things will go anywhere.”


Finally, blessedly, she let me pee so she could do the transvaginal ultrasound, which is where you stick a very long gel-drenched wand in your vagina and she waves it around your uterus like a really intimate fairy godmother who ultimately grants you a single wish: to get that fucking thing out of me. It also lasted awhile, because she’s so thorough (see above). Finally I cleaned myself up and went back upstairs to await the results and the fate of my day.

After a few minutes, the nurse came out and took me into a private room, which scared the holy hell out of me because I figured it must be really bad if she needed to tell me in private. It turned out she just didn’t want to tell me in public, “doc wants you to go back down for a few more views, just to be sure,” because evidently there are people in the world who think this sort of thing is private instead of blog fodder. But still no one would tell me where the damn thing was, or if it was in there at all. I was sort of beginning to wonder if it’s five year mission is to seek out new areas of the body and boldly go where no IUD is ever supposed to go.

So back downstairs I go, which turns out to be a good thing because I totally forgot my travel mug in the waiting room because I was too busy trying not to forget my new umbrella. I went back immediately and fortunately it was another transvaginal (yeah, I know – “fortunately? really?” That just shows you how far down this rabbit hole we’ve gone) so there would mercifully be no more water drinking. Though my kidneys were still working on the last batch, so I probably wouldn’t have needed more anyway.

She handed me a gown, which looked like it had to be the largest one they had and I probably could have wrapped it around my body at least three times. It’s a good thing I left my shirt on, because once I pulled it around me the sleeves opened across my boobs, offering absolutely no coverage. Still, at least it negated the need for a lap sheet.

She ran out to get the doctor – which I foolishly assumed was mine – and I found myself greeting with great familiarity…a random radiologist! …and her resident. Her very. hot. young resident. So now there are three people (one of whom I’m trying not to stare at) crowded in a dark room to watch my fairy godmother at work. Fortunately, they were all singly focused on the monitor. The radiologist, after several rounds of “huh, I don’t see it”, starts giving instructions: “Forward. Back. No, a little lateral…almost there…too far!” like some crazy anatomical version of Hot/Warm/Cold. I started giggling. I couldn’t help it. It just kept getting more absurd, just when I thought it couldn’t possibly.

And then she starts saying, “oh there’s a part of it! Do a sweep. Oh, there’s another part,” and I’m imagining that my uterus took this little piece of plastic and broke it into bits in protest, and I’m thinking, “of course it did. Only me.” I asked if I had indeed crumbled plastic with my bare uterus, and she responded that it was in one piece, was still in my uterus, but hiding behind a fibroid.

Let’s go over that again: Hiding. Behind a fibroid. Why is my uterus acting like a kindergartner? Hide and Seek, Hot/Warm/Cold, Keep-Away…is my uterus a playground bully?

I was released back upstairs and returned to the Sick-Vagina-Cave waiting room. I had enough battery left to text Jim that I wouldn’t be needing a scope and he could relax, and I resorted to reading magazines. I read three before the receptionist came over to ask me if I’d been seen yet. I hadn’t. Another patient in the Cave asked me how long I’d been there and I explained that I’d been there since 8 and had to have surprise ultrasounds, but that I had been fit in right before her vacation and didn’t mind waiting as long as it took. She commended my patience, which I felt really uncomfortable about accepting because we were in an oncologist’s office and the patience of waiting your turn to get a little plastic T removed is nothing compared to the patience required to go through cancer treatment where you’re getting little zombie pieces of your own flesh turned against you removed, and then need to continue monitoring it forever. So yeah, I can totally waste a day in a waiting room without needing special recognition.

She asked me if I wanted to know what time it was; I decided I didn’t. I knew it had been 11:30 when I texted Jim after radiology, and that the tea cart came around with cookies not long after and I was starting to feel hunger pangs again. But once you know the time, you start needing to keep knowing the time, and then it starts creeping by just to make sure you don’t miss knowing it. Instead I found a fourth magazine. It was the last, unless I wanted to get into titles about parenting or wine, or the latest in cancer treatment. Fortunately it had a bit more substance than the fashion and fitness mags I’d already flipped through, but I still cursed my chargerlessness.

The Cave cleared out. It re-filled and cleared again. I was reminded, as I struggled to ignore it, of just how bad daytime television is (MORE ubiquitous televisions! Did I mention that I hate those things with the fury of a thousand suns?). Finally, the nurse came out to tell me I was next. When I went into the room, it was sometime after 3 and I was really glad I hadn’t let that other patient tell me the time. The doctor came in and asked if I’d gotten her message. I hadn’t, because my phone was dead. Someone had told her I left, and she had called me an hour or so ago to find out where I was. Fuck. This. Day. Really.

She explained that she’d do her best to fish it out, but that if she couldn’t get it we’d have to do surgery. I don’t want more surgery; anesthesia is not my friend. Fortunately (?) I have what she considers to be a disturbingly high tolerance for pain when it comes to poking around in my uterus, and she said that if it were anyone but me she wouldn’t even try. I explained that once you’ve had the skin of your vagina burned off with acid and been stuck in transitional labor for hours, a bit of poking around with pliers isn’t so bad. I mean, it’s not what I’d choose for a vacation activity, but it’s nothing a bit of deep breathing can’t manage. I don’t know how I manage to be simultaneously hypersensitive to medications and almost completely insensitive to uterine mauling, but hey, what the heck?™

Which is not to say it was comfortable. I could actually feel her trying to push the fibroid aside to get behind it. She kept mumbling about feeling it but not being able to grab it. She pulled out the pliers to give me a break before having another go, but to her surprise, she’d come out holding the gory device and cried victory.

I did what I like to believe anyone in my position would have done after a day of poking and prodding and waiting and not getting a chance to eat anything but a small bag of cookies: I reached down between my legs and I flipped that motherfucker off. Mirena is an asshole.

And then my doctor did something that secured her place in my heart as my favorite doctor ever: she flipped that motherfucker off, too. She certainly had a right; she was supposed to be in a meeting all afternoon, but instead she wound up dealing with a big dose of “what the heck?”™ But it’s truly a rarity when you get to bond with your doctor over flipping off an inanimate object, and I treasure it.

Also? She let me keep it. I’d make it into a necklace, but it would keep rubbing levonorgestrel on my chest and I am done with that chemical (unless I ever need Plan B). So I ask you, dear readers: what should I do with my useless $800 piece of torture plastic?

Fuck you, Mirena.

Mirena is an asshole. But like Harrison Ford, it was expensive and I should probably do something with it anyway. Not that I bought Harrison Ford. But early in his career he was supposedly a real dick to work with, and…you know what? Never mind. Just: Mirena is an asshole.

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Here Lies Maya Cook – “What the Heck?”

That title? That’s what I’m putting on my gravestone, because that phrase, “what the heck?” seems to follow me wherever I go. I should come with a disclaimer, “please disregard everything you ever thought you knew and get your learning pants on, because I’m about to be the exception.”

I know it’s been awhile since I posted, and I’m sorry about that, but Mirena broke me. Hard.

Let me start at the beginning. Or at least, just after the point we left off in the Great Junk Adventure of ’13. If you’re new to this whole saga, start here (then go here, then here, and finally here, which is the same as the first link in this paragraph in case you’re totally confused).

So. April was surgery, May was recovery. Late May was my first period since my teens that involved having to use maxi-pads, which totally sucked because it was at the same time as our beach vacation and totally derailed our plans and they leaked over all of my clothes. But it was also amazingly, profoundly, mercifully short, so that was nice. In early June I went in to get Mirena installed (I know that makes it sound weirdly like it’s cable or a new phone line, but it actually is surprisingly like that: they put in a sort of antenna thing and then you don’t have babies or new polyps and maybe your fibroid shrinks. Would that Comcast could offer so much for eight hundred dollars). I didn’t blog about it because things got busy: Jim’s birthday, end of the school year, busy garden season, deciding whether the Philly School budget crisis is bad enough that I need to find someplace else for Corinne to finish high school since now they have neither an assistant principal, a guidance counselor, or extracurricular activities. And a thousand other little things that keep life whirring past and your to-do list from ever. ending. Also, I kind of got cripplingly depressed.

But so I went, and it was pretty quick. It was funny in the way that anything having to do with me and trying to do anything normal is funny. In that she couldn’t get my cervix open for anything. “I think your cervix is mad at me,” she informed me, before grabbing the end of it with a hook and trying to squeeze in the tiniest of dilation rods. Still, she finally managed to pry me open and get the hormone-infused plastic T inserted. She also cut the string super-short so it wouldn’t stab Jim, which is really nice of her, I guess. Though it implies that most men get stabbed repeatedly in the penis by their partners’ IUDs, which is sort of not what I had in mind when they talked about 99% efficacy in preventing pregnancy. Although in my case, preventing pregnancy was more of a happy side effect to the whole not-having-more-pelvic-surgery primary purpose.

OH, and also my friend Susie did me the huge favor of calling me during the insertion so I got to answer the phone and say, “sorry, I can’t talk now, I’m getting my IUD in. Can I call you back?” which was SO awesome, and maybe one of the nicest gifts anyone has ever accidentally given me. My doctor is an excellent sport, though I’m pretty sure we’ve already established that.

Where was I? Oh right: not being stabbed in the penis = good.

Less good was the part where she told me not to have sex for two weeks, and I was all “c’mon, please?! His birthday is Saturday and that would totally suck.” (no. that fruit is hanging far too low for someone with your level of dignity to pick, so you just let it lie). To my surprise, she relented, which makes me doubt forever the veracity of her sex moratoriums (moratoria? Spellcheck says no. But it also says no to “spellcheck,” so there’s no point in trusting a program having an existential crisis). It’s good that she did, because it would turn out that Saturday would be the last time I felt normal for a very long time.

It started out subtly. I would wake up before dawn with my mind racing, struggling to get back to sleep. Sometimes it would take hours. This is not normal for me. When I was younger, I trained my brain to shut off in bed. I have a word, and when I start repeating it in my mind, instant unconsciousness happens. That I could spend hours attempting to repeat it only to start obsessing over imaginary scenarios from years past and future is just not how my brain goes. I don’t know why it wasn’t a huge red flag, but I convinced myself my brain just wanted me to stop sleeping so late.

Next came the sensitivity. I felt like a huge carpet burn; like the layers of protection I used to have around conflict with people just rubbed off in one bad bout of friction and suddenly everything was awful. Any tiny criticism was a wholesale condemnation of my failure as a human being. Either I would burst into tears or erupt into rage. I was, needless to say, a tad irritable. I forgot how to feel joy and pleasure. It was like someone cut the top off of my emotional body; I could feel all the stuff below the line: sadness, rage, frustration, anxiety – just nothing positive. And you can forget about sex; I sure have. I called my primary to tell him my antidepressants weren’t working. His office sucks and he never got back to me.

Meanwhile – bear with me, I need to take time to explain why this next part took so long to realize – it’s been hot as hell this summer in New Jersey. Like, Missouri hot. When I was a kid I was pretty well acclimated to 98 degrees and 90% humidity. Even as a fair-skinned ginger who overheats easily, I had my ways of coping. There are many things I miss about Missouri, but those hot, humid summers aren’t one. I have lost my ability to cope with stifling heat, and I feel pretty good about that. I love that I can throw open the windows at night because the temps are in the low 60’s. I love that once the humidity gets over about 55% it’s an abomination. I don’t need callouses like that. But this summer I kind of wish I still had them, because holy shitballs it’s hot. I look at the weather reports in my hometown and many days it’s actually been hotter here in New Jersey. What. The. Hell.

I know that looked like meandering, but my point is this: it’s really hard to notice that you’ve started having hot flashes when it’s already so hot out. It’s really easy to justify your sudden sheen of sweat and desire to hump an air-conditioner or climb into the deep-freeze as a completely normal response to some extremely impolite weather. So I didn’t notice at first. Except eventually I started noticing that I would be the only one sweating profusely in air-conditioned rooms. And I would ask if anyone else was hot, and they would, through blue and chattering lips, stutter out the word “no.”

So nearly a month later, after two therapy sessions devoted entirely to “what the hell is the matter with me? It feels like I’m emotionally 21 all over again” and countless really tense and weepy interactions with Jim, whose patience was running quite thin, I went back in my mind to the last time I felt good and finally put two and two together.

And then I went online and made a discovery: I am not alone. The internet is full of women whose depression and anxiety ramped up when they went on Mirena. And then I learned that in Canada, the literature states that it’s not recommended for women with emotional disturbances, because it can make it worse….AND it’s a severe side effect in up to 15% of the population. How do they even get to leave that out of US literature?!?! What, like that’s only a side effect in Canada, and you cross the border and now *boom* no more crippling depression? If I’m anxious and depressed in the US, does that mean that I need to be diagnosed Canadian?

I immediately called and made an appointment with my Gyn-Onc to get it the hell out of me.

Meanwhile, I had to take Corinne to the primary to do a strep culture. He finally asked me about my phone message and I told him what’s up and that I wanted to go at it with herbs for awhile. Do you know what he suggested as a next step instead? He suggested I get chemically-induced menopause. Do you know what’s a really bad idea? Telling someone who’s more or less going through accidental chemically-induced menopause that intentional chemically-induced menopause is a good idea. Because I then turned the full brilliance of my hormonal madness at him and let fly, much to Corinne’s extreme discomfort and irritation. But seriously? He is SO. Fired. I’m 38 goddamn years old, with a family history of severe osteoporosis (and really severe menopause symptoms).  I need menopause like I need a hole in my head – which, considering the osteoporosis, is actually a distinct possibility.

Fast forward to this week. It occurred to me the other day that nobody ever called me back from the Gyn-Onc to confirm my appointment for today (which was totally a squeeze-in so the doctor had to agree) so I called again. Lo, it was not in the system. I had fallen off the radar. I was…a tad devastated. This shit takes three weeks to leave your system entirely, and I am so ready for this to be behind me. Another week of this was really not what I needed right now. But as much fun as it can be, there’s no point in arguing with reality, so I might as well try to figure out how to work with what is, for as long as it takes.

And then, to my groggy surprise, she called me at 7 this morning, fresh out of surgery, asking what’s going on. I explained about the hot flashes and the emotional toplessness and she told me to meet her at her office in an hour. She’s going on vacation and didn’t want me to have to live with this for two more weeks. Bless her. I grabbed my coffee and headed out the door.

I didn’t figure it would come out any easier than it went in, so I told the nurse to get out all the special tools in advance. What I didn’t expect was what actually happened, which just goes to show how pointless worrying actually is. What happened was this: SHE COULDN’T FIND IT. Not that she couldn’t catch it, but she couldn’t feel it at all. Not for lack of trying – she wiggled around in there so deeply it felt like a baby kicking and I could see my stomach move. And then she said unto me those magic words I have become so accustomed to hearing when it comes to my body and my luck in general:

“What the heck?”

And then came the saga of the unexpected ultrasound, which I need a good long break before recounting, but whose moral can be summed up thusly: there is no doctor visit so cut and dried that it cannot be turned into a surprise 7-hour medical marathon, so don’t forget to eat something before you go, and bring a snack just in case. I’ll probably post that part tomorrow.

Continue reading here.