Road Rage

Today’s Daily Prompt says, “Tell us about a time when you flew into a rage. What is it that made you so incredibly angry?”

It was only ten years ago. Not 1952. The importance of that fact will become apparent.

My little car had served me well, but it was 12 years old and reaching the stage where every routine oil change meant another costly surprise, and every surprise meant an intensive cost-benefit analysis. Time to go car shopping.

I went on my own. This was my car. My husband had his van. While there was some occasional swapping of vehicles depending on who was doing what, for the most part I would be driving this car. And paying for it. The importance of those facts will also become apparent.

I had done some research first, and narrowed the field to three mid-size cars that I wanted to test drive. When I finally set out on my shopping expedition, my experience with each of the three dealers I visited was vastly different.

At Dealer #1 I was greeted by a salesman. He was pleasant, but there was no mistaking the fact that he was working hard to sell me a car. He had a lot of carefully rehearsed things to say, and when the time came for me to test drive the vehicle he hopped in beside me and continued his running commentary on the car’s highly desirable features the whole time. By the time I left, I knew everything there was to know about that car except whether or not I really liked it.

At Dealer #2 I was greeted by a young man who was considerably more laid back in his approach. Somehow he managed to be enthusiastic without being pushy. He answered my questions thoroughly, volunteered helpful information without overloading me, and genuinely listened to my thoughts about what I was looking for. When I reached the point in the discussion where I asked to test drive it, he handed me the keys and said, “I’ll be here if you have any questions.”

“You aren’t coming with me?”

“That’s up to you. I can come if you want, but you’re welcome to take it out on your own.”

“Really? Well, yes, I think I would prefer to take it on my own. Are there any limitations on where I take it?”

“Not really. Take it on the highway if you want.”

So off I went, driving where I wanted to drive, thinking my own thoughts and not feeling self conscious about driving with an “audience.” Relaxed. When I returned with the car I asked a few more questions of the easygoing young man before I headed up the road to Dealer #3.

Twelve years earlier, I had made my last car purchase from Dealer #3, and for twelve years I had faithfully frequented Dealer #3’s service department. I was a loyal customer. My twelve years of tune-ups had undoubtedly contributed to university tuition for Dealer #3’s offspring. The service staff always greeted me by name.

Today, however, I needed to talk to someone on the sales floor, which I soon discovered was inhabited by quite a different species.

This guy was a car salesman in an almost stereotypical sense. He was slick and pushy. He chattered excitedly, peppering me with questions. Who would be driving the car? Was it for work or pleasure? Did I do a lot of highway driving? etc. etc.

I told him exactly what I told the other two salesmen. That I was buying the car for my own use. That my husband might drive it occasionally, but that he had his own vehicle.

When the time came for a test drive, I was somewhat taken aback when he insisted that he drive first. I questioned why this was necessary, but he was adamant. He made out as though it was so he could demonstrate certain key features, but it quickly became apparent that he wanted to get the car into a less “traffic-y” area before letting me behind the wheel. Eventually he pulled over on a sleepy residential street and offered me the keys. After my freedom with Dealer #2, I was beginning to feel like I had been demoted.

I puttered cautiously and self-consciously around his strategically selected safe streets, and then he insisted on driving back to the dealership. In the short time I was actually allowed to drive I was already feeling like this wasn’t the car for me, so I bid him farewell and said I would think it over and get back to him if I was interested. As I turned to walk out the door, he cheerily called out after me:

“If your husband wants to drop by and take it for a drive, tell him he can take it out on his own.”


He said WHAT??

My initial reaction was shock. I could barely process what I had heard. I just stared at him dumbfounded for a minute before turning and storming out the door.

As I drove home the initial shock work off and I grew angrier by the second. By the time I walked into the house I was beside myself with fury.

It took me until the next day to calm down enough to phone the Sales Manager at Dealer #3 and repeat the story to him. I made it abundantly clear that a) this kind of blatant sexism was BEYOND INAPPROPRIATE in 2003, b) I expected that the salesman would be severely reprimanded for his insulting behaviour towards me, and c) after twelve years of my loyal business they should not expect to see me ever darken the door of their dealership again. Ever.

I still get angry when I tell this story.

Oh, and I went back to Dealer #2 and bought a car from the nice young man who trusted me. I’m still driving it.

It had more hubcaps when I bought it.
It had more hubcaps when I bought it.


Today’s Daily prompt invites us to write about anxiety.

No way was I going outside.

I’d been actively avoiding “outside” all summer. My mother must have been at her wits’ end. It’s pretty hard to avoid the outside world at the summer cottage. It must have been exhausting having to battle with me every time the family wanted to go out somewhere that summer. I don’t recall how old I was, but I recall the anxiety like it was yesterday. At first it was triggered by the faintest buzzing sound. As time went by it reached the point where I assumed that the danger was present even if I couldn’t see or hear it.

“It” being bees and wasps. ESPECIALLY wasps. I was terrified of being stung.

So I stayed inside, depriving myself of summer fun in the name of protecting my hide from what I imagined to be a fate worse than death.

One warm September evening my dad set about barbequing supper in the back yard. My younger sister played outside, while I huddled on the safe side of the screen door. My mom made one more attempt to coax me outside.

“Come on out, Anna. It’s so nice out. We’re going to have a picnic supper!”

Don't be fooled by the pretty butterfly. If there was a flower there was bound to be a bee somewhere!
Don’t be fooled by the pretty butterfly. If there was a flower there was bound to be a bee somewhere!


Please come out.”

“Are there bees?”

“I don’t see any.”

I screwed up my courage, stepped outside, and started down the wooden steps. The same wooden steps from which hung, unbeknownst to all of us, a massive wasp nest that had been expanding undisturbed while we were away at the cottage.

The wasps, always more aggressive in the fall, were already getting riled by the increased human activity and the smell of grilling meat. My footstep on their roof was the last straw.  They swarmed me.

Surrounded by a cloud of buzzing fury, I froze in panic and screamed. And screamed. And screamed.  My mother, realizing I was too terrified to move, waded into the fray and pulled me down off the steps. I was stung in three places– once on each leg, and once on a forearm. My mother’s rescue effort was rewarded with one sting on the arm that grabbed me.

For half an hour I was a sobbing, hysterical mess. Having ascertained that I was not having any sort of allergic reaction, my mom calmly tweezed out all the stingers and applied antiseptic and Band-Aids.

And then something amazing happened. I was able to go outside. The worst had happened and I had survived. It turned out that my imaginings were far more painful than the real experience.

I have never again felt the kind of anxiety about stinging insects that plagued me all that summer. In my household, I have become the one who swats the wasp that comes in through the hole in the screen. I am the one who takes down the nests under the deck at the cottage before they get too big.

That was the first time in my life that I understood that worrying about something could be worse than the thing itself. It is a lesson I have returned to over and over again. When the familiar buzz of anxiety starts up in my head I remind myself that the sting of reality is seldom as horrible as anything I can conjure in my imagination.

Actually very beautiful --once the tenants have moved on.
Actually very beautiful –once the tenants have moved on.

Dance in the darkness

Today’s Daily Prompt asks, “What’s your learning style?”

I had a terrible time  zeroing in on a topic for my Masters thesis. I had so many ideas, all of which interested me, but most of which seemed overwhelming. Then one day my advisor rescued me from my self-imposed cognitive chaos when she said. “Anna, you’re trying to do a PhD. This is just a Masters degree.”

If “biting off more than you can chew” can be said to be a learning style, it would be mine.

kolbI have made the study of how people learn my life’s work. That makes it difficult to know where to start in responding to the question asked by today’s Daily Prompt. I could  get technical and tell you that on the Kolb Learning Style assessment I fall into the most extreme reaches of the “accommodating” quadrant. Which means I learn by doing, and I put my feelings before my thoughts when it comes to processing what I have learned.

That’s pretty accurate, actually, and according to an analysis that plots ideal careers against the Kolb learning style model, I am ideally suited to educational administration. Which is, coincidently, what I do for a living.

brainI could take a theoretical approach and tell you that I am primarily a constructivist. In layman’s terms, that means I believe that we learn by constructing new knowledge out of our experiences.

I could also say that I’m a visual learner, even though current research has pretty much discredited the notion that some people are primarily visual or auditory or kinesthetic learners. It is more likely true that we are capable of “taking in” learning through all of these modalities, but that we might have a preference for one over the other.

But the truth is that for all of my academic study of learning styles and theories, I still think the best way to describe how I learn is “reflective bumbling.” I just do stuff, and then I ponder what it felt like doing it. If I like how it felt, I keep doing it. If I don’t, I do something else.

I headed off to church this morning thinking about this prompt, and contemplating what I wanted to write about it when I got home. And then, wouldn’t you know it, we sang these words:

Dance in the darkness, slow be the pace.

Surrender to the rhythm of redeeming grace.

And it struck me that “dance in the darkness” is exactly how I learn.

You can do this dance too. There’s only one step, and it’s simple: take a step forward. It doesn’t matter if you can see where your foot will land. It will always land on something.


The theme of today’s Daily Prompt is “Texture.”

Freezing 4Back in mid-November, when the river was just beginning to freeze along the edges, I stumbled upon a fascinating textural effect along the shoreline. There must have been a wind blowing as the clay along the river’s edge was freezing, because frozen into the ground were distinct ridges capturing in solid form the ephemeral texture of the water lapping against the muddy shore. I was lucky to catch this sight– the conditions must have been just right to create the effect. A day or two earlier the ground was still malleable. A few days later the frozen ripples were hidden by a blanket of snow.

When that snow melts in the spring it will raise the river and saturated the shore, so this particular texture will no longer be present on this surface. The surface itself will be submerged, hidden by real ripples of surging water.

freezing 2Even if I walked the same path every day, the magic of nature is that it continually offers up new gifts. Some of those gifts, like my rippling water frozen both in temperature and time, are ephemeral. If we don’t stop to notice– to accept the gift– we may not be offered a second chance.

First you save a life

I can’t pass up today’s Daily Prompt, which invites bloggers to “Tell us about a bullet you’re glad you dodged — when something awful almost happened, but didn’t.” My biggest challenge is deciding which bullet to write about.

In a previous post I treated you to an excerpt adapted from an unpublished book manuscript. Here’s another snippet from that same manuscript…

030117-N-5996C-003It is never fully night in the Intensive Care Unit. There are always lights, and a steady buzz of human and mechanical activity. If you are in the ICU, it is because you are not stable enough to be entitled to eight hours of uninterrupted sleep. You need frequent checking, and so do all your neighbours.  The classic hospital joke—where the nurse wakes you to say it’s time to take your sleeping pill—is not a joke in ICU.

Although ICU nights consist of catnaps wedged between inspection tours, there is a distinctive rhythm to the 24 hour period that helps to maintain some semblance of day and night. Hospitals in general are very rhythmic. Everything is scheduled—except, of course, the crises.  If you want to see frenzied improvisation at its most improvisationally frenzied, hang out in the adult Emergency Room of a downtown hospital on a Saturday night. Travel up into the medical wards where people with slower paced problems are slowly getting better (or worse), and you will find everything chugging along like clockwork. Mind numbingly boring clockwork.

But in ICU, the two poles of this continuum arc around and crash into one another. This is the reason that, in my opinion, there is no human being—not even the most perfectly disciplined athlete or ballerina—who can embody a more exquisite balance of precision and flexibility than an ICU nurse.

The ICU nurses I encountered were made of tough stuff. They worked 12-hour shifts tending to the sickest of the sick. They were in constant motion—each nurse only focused on a couple of patients per shift, but they kept up a seamless rotation of activity. Check vitals. Clean patient. Change bedding. Calibrate tubes. Chart progress. Repeat.  Competent, efficient, and in the case of the nurse I recall most vividly, in possession of a wicked sense of humour.

You’d have to have a sense of humour to survive a job like that. I think ICU nurses would make good astronauts. They have the patience and attention to detail necessary in a situation where the smallest error could mean the difference between life and death, and when the crisis hits they somehow keep that control and levelheadedness, but at a much accelerated pace.

The ICU doctors too, were a different breed. As the head of ICU, succinctly put it: “first you save a life.”

His colleague explained this philosophy in more depth to my mother: “When someone is as sick as Anna is now, our priorities shift. Priority number one is to keep her alive. Priority number two is to save her kidneys. Priority number three is to get the bleeding under control.  While her eyesight is important, at this point, it can wait for another day.”

Of course controlling the bleeding would have been easier if they had known where I was bleeding from— they still couldn’t explain why my haemoglobin kept dropping.  The doctors were now tossing around terms like “multi-organ breakdown”—as always more descriptive of what was happening than of why. One doctor admitted to my husband that the entire medical team was “baffled” and they were considering the option of transporting me to the Mayo Clinic.

But by the next day it was decided I was too unstable to transport, so the Mayo Clinic was out.

Unstable I was indeed. An MRI confirmed that the fluid was now collecting in my head—putting pressure on my brain and messing with my perception and cognition. Sometimes I had double vision, and sometimes my vision was clouded. I was vomiting blood, and the diarrhoea continued unabated. Pressure on my lungs from the fluid in my abdomen made it difficult to breathe. Dialysis made me dehydrated, but they were afraid to give me fluids because they still couldn’t explain why I was retaining so much fluid.

I was anchored to the bed by an impossible spaghetti-tangle of tubes. I had IV tubes to keep me hydrated. Stomach tubes to deliver the liquid food substitute on which I was subsisting.  Oxygen tubes clipped to my nose. And the nasty intra-jugular tube, in my neck, through which I received hours and hours of dialysis for my failing kidneys as well as transfusions of whole blood and plasma.

Shortly after my arrival in the ICU, one of the nurses decided it was warranted to bend the rules and allow my five-year-old daughter in for a visit. Much later my husband confessed that the staff agreed to the visit on the grounds that, at that point, the odds of me making it out of ICU alive were looking pretty slim.

I was too weak to interact with her. She just stared down at me from her father’s arms, wide-eyed and silent. Back at daycare, after what must have been a truly horrific experience for a 5-year old, she made an attempt to express the inexpressible in a drawing. On a tiny scrap of pink paper she drew a meticulously detailed depiction of me—in a bed—surrounded by a tangle of tubes. Her caregiver recounted to me later how she laboured over the portrayal of each tube. When she was satisfied that she had captured the scene fully, my daughter sat back and stared at the portrait in silence for a long time. After this period of reflection, she picked up her pen again and scribbled a heavy “blanket” over the figure in the bed—effectively obliterating the tubes from view. If only.

The ICU was a big room with patients arranged in a ring around a sort of “command centre.” The beeps and hums of the machines busily keeping me alive blended into the beeps and hums from everyone else’s machines, and the result was an oddly comforting white noise.  I didn’t mind the machine noise, but the endless talking of the staff irritated me and kept me awake. Each bed had a curtain for when privacy was called for, which didn’t seem to be often. The fact that I was too sick to care about my surroundings meant that I equally didn’t care about being “on display.” If I wasn’t noticing my neighbours, they sure as heck weren’t noticing me. Although it was possible to see other beds, they seemed to be arranged so that, open curtains notwithstanding, I was never really aware of what was going on with the other patients.

Except once. On one of the not-quite-nights when I was at the lowest of the low, I had more trouble than usual sleeping. In my disoriented state I was having trouble making sense of what was happening around me. I remember feeling irritated throughout the night by the lights from the neighbouring bed shining in my eyes. I was vaguely conscious of a commotion that deviated from the usual slow dance of night-time activity. I recall a curtain being sharply drawn—enough to obscure my view, but not enough to mask the lights and sounds. Still, I didn’t put it together, even in the morning when I could see that the bed next to me was vacant. It was evening again before my husband explained to me that my neighbour had gone into cardiac arrest in the night and had died.

            It felt quite plausible that I would be next, so I started mentally planning my funeral.

Without a net

What’s the thing you’re most scared to do? What would it take to get you to do it?

I always chuckle a little when people ask me about my “career plan.” I’ve had a varied career– made several significant changes in role and focus. But there wasn’t a lot of planning involved.

Well actually there wasn’t any planning really. What there was, was a lot of gradual evolving and (sometimes very happenstance) networking. And lots of being in the right place at the right time.

And, there has been an unbroken safety net positioned squarely underneath every one of my career moves.

I’ve been fortunate in that I’ve always been in a position to move from one job to the next without a gap– without unemployment. And I should also acknowledge that I have the good fortune to never have had a job that was so stifling or unpleasant that I felt I just had to escape regardless of the risks.

But I would be lying if I said I’ve never been tempted. There have been lots of times when I have fantasized about walking away and winging it. Times when I’ve thought “what if…”

But I’ve never had the courage to jump without a net. The closest I ever came was leaving a full-time, “permanent” teaching position for a part-time term position with an employer I considered more desirable. But even then I was going directly from one paycheque to another. One pension plan to another. One benefits package to another.

You get the idea.

Once in a while I catch myself dreaming about going out on my own. Freelancing. Consulting. Being my own boss.

I know people who’ve done it– who do it very successfully. I know it can be done.

But I always stop short of giving up the net. When you get to my age, a good pension plan can be pretty addictive.

The good news is that, notwithstanding the fact that every job has its ups and downs, I actually like where I work right now. Fortunately I am in a job that has enough change built right into it to satisfy my endless craving to learn new things.

I don’t know who it was that originally said, ““Change happens when the pain of staying the same is greater than the pain of change.”  Perhaps I’ve never had the courage to just plain quit any job because I’ve never had a job that was that kind of painful. I know I should be grateful for that. Because I know people who have reached that kind of breaking point in their work life and have had to make the leap–without a net–for the sake of their own well-being and personal integrity.

I still think it takes guts to jump overboard, even if  you are convinced the ship is sinking!

A couple of months ago Marina Shifren resigned from her job with a video that went viral. Now that’s what I call jumping without a net.

Busy learning

The Daily Prompt is a lofty one today: What do you love most about yourself? What do you love most about your favorite person? Are the two connected?

The snow has finally arrived. We woke this morning to white on the ground. White in the trees. White on the car.

Every errand takes a little longer when you have to stop to scrape the ice off the windshield. When you have to stop to put on your boots. When you have to slow down to accommodate the slippery roads.

And yet, at this time of year things don’t really slow down at all. Rather they start to speed up with an ever accelerating frenzy. Shopping for gifts. School concerts. Seasonal social events. Some years, by the time I rolled up to Christmas I have been practically panting from exhaustion.

I have been very busy this weekend. Too busy to squeeze in even a short walk along the river. Too busy to sit and write. Too busy even to reflect on what I might want to write about.

All of the busy-ness consisted of things I wanted to do. Things I enjoy. With people I love. If I had the weekend to live over, I don’t think I would change anything. And yet, I feel the lack of opportunity for reflection on a cellular level.

The truth is, there aren’t enough hours in the day for all the things I want to do. Consequently, it is all too easy for me to get snowed under with activities, only to find myself feeling frantic for a few minutes to stop and think about it all.

I don’t think there is one thing I “love most” about myself, but I know I love that I am always learning. I know for certain that I don’t have a “favourite person”– there are too any people who are dear to me for me ever to be able to single one out above the rest– but I do know that my favourite people tend to be the busy ones. They tend to have lots of interests, and be forever venturing out in new and often unexpected directions. They aren’t just busy for busy’s sake. They are busy with a purpose, not just filling their time.  And they are able to balance the busy-ness with quiet and contemplation–with the right amount of reflection time to enable them to mine from their varied experiences the richest gems of learning.


Whew. Where did that work week go? Today’s Daily Prompt poses an interesting challenge:  “Write about evil: how you understand it (or don’t), what you think it means, or a way it’s manifested, either in the world at large or in your life.”  And darned if I hadn’t already started work on a post that fit that theme…

I think it’s fair to say that evil comes in degrees. Big evil would be things like genocide and thermonuclear war and hunting white rhinos into extinction. But big evil can be so big and remote that it’s difficult to wrap your head around. I sometimes think it’s the smaller, day-to-day sorts of evil that have a more noticeable impact on our lives.

People, I’m talking about telemarketing.

I fervently hope that when Alexander Graham Bell arrived at the Pearly Gates he was held accountable for the evil unleashed by his invention. And whoever first thought of using the telephone to intrude on people’s lives with unsolicited sales calls should surely be consigned to the seventh circle of hell.

I hate telemarketing calls.

Not just because they are always timed for the moment I’m trying to put supper on the table.

Not just because they interrupt MY precious personal time to try to sell me things I don’t want and couldn’t afford even if I did.

Not just because I KNOW that there’s a huge scammy catch hidden behind that cruise that I seem to win at least once a week.

Mostly, I hate them because they have the ability to conjure ghosts.

phoneLet me explain.

The phone rang the other day. I noted that the call display said “unknown” and picked up. A heavily accented voice asked for me by a tortured pronunciation of my name. Except it wasn’t my name. It USED to be my name, pre-divorce. But it hasn’t been my legal name for more than five years. And seriously, if you’re trying to get me to buy your product or contribute to your cause, starting off calling me by a name that I have chosen to relegate to my past is not the best way to get my attention.

Years ago, when we were waiting out my grandmother’s final days, I got a cold-call from a telemarketing firm flogging, of all things, pre-arranged funerals. I lost it, and not just on my own behalf. I gave the caller my mother’s phone number and demanded that he make sure she did NOT get a call. This was not the right time for that particular intrusion in my mother’s life. It enraged me to think about all the other people who might be struggling with the recent or imminent loss of a loved one who might be getting the same random call.

My absolute worst moment on the receiving end of a telemarketing call happened well over 20 years ago, and yet I can recall as though it was yesterday the distress it caused me. The intensity of that distress likely came as quite a shock to the innocent minimum-wage earning caller at the other end of the line. I’m sure he was used to being brushed off or hung up on, but I doubt he was prepared for the full-on rant with which I lambasted him. After all, he was offering me a gift! A free offer. All I had to do was bring my new baby in to the portrait studio for a photo shoot and I would get a free 8 x 10 print!

Except there was no baby. There had been, briefly. Just long enough to squeeze in one trip to the maternity wear store and fill out one innocuous little draw ballot with my name and phone number. Then, as the first trimester drew to a end so did my hopes and dreams that maybe, just maybe, I would carry this one to term. Unlike the three I had already lost.

Talk about target-marketing gone wrong. How dare they assume that everyone who gets the call is either happy or indifferent? How dare they presume to be able to piece together enough data about my life to be absolutely 100% confident that this call from a stranger is not going to be a trigger? How dare they barge in on my healing to rub salt in my wounds, all in the name of drumming up business?

The head office for that portrait studio got quite the irate letter, and I also marched back to the maternity shop in person and demanded that they remove my name from whatever call lists it had been placed on. But it was too late to totally stuff that genie back into the bottle, so I continued for months to get coupons in the mail for diapers and baby food.

So really, it doesn’t matter what you have to offer. You have no way of knowing which of my ghosts it might bring forth out of the darkness. So don’t call me.

Just don’t.

Soup Day

The theme of today’s Daily Prompt is: “Food for the Soul (and the Stomach ).”  That’s convenient, because in addition to being Remembrance Day, which in my part of the world is a statutory holiday, today is Soup Day in my household.

Twice a year I cook a turkey.  Roast turkey is the default menu for my family’s Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners. And, although my mother and sisters are all very competent cooks, somewhere in recent history a secret vote was taken when I wasn’t looking, and it was decided that Anna Always Cooks the Turkey.

I don’t mind, really. Cooking a turkey is about the easiest contribution to make to one of our communally prepared meals, and I have gotten quite adept at transporting an enormous roaster full of steaming bird to whichever house is hosting the event in question. And to be honest, my daughter and apprentice turkey roaster deserves all the credit for the most recent turkey. (That had something to do with my index finger being in a splint.)

Now the whole point of turkey is the leftovers, as far as I’m concerned. And the best part of the leftovers is the carcass. (Apologies to any vegetarians who are starting to wish they hadn’t started reading this. Feel free to get out now!)

Since mid-October the Thanksgiving turkey carcass has been stashed in plastic bags in the bottom of my freezer– waiting for a time when we could count on being home all day. Days like that are rare in my household.  Most of our days are characterized by much frantic-running-about.

Today, however,  is a perfect Soup Day.

soup potA whole day at home is necessary to see the process through. It takes a good 4 hours to simmer the carcass into a rich stock. Then it takes a while to cool it down enough so that the meat and bones can be handled. We painstakingly pick out all the tidbits of meat that have fallen deliciously off the bones and set them aside. Then we strain the broth and add the meat back in, along with vegetables, seasonings, and finally noodles.

I have a recipe, but I don’t really follow it. In fact I’m not sure why I even bother opening the book except out of some sense of ritual.

If you start the process right after breakfast, the soup is ready to eat right around the time you are starting to contemplate supper. All that you need to add is a tray of hot baking powder biscuits, thrown together at the last minute while the noodles cook.

soup bowl

After supper we portion the soup into containers  for freezing. In the coming weeks we look forward enjoying a home-cooked meal, even on the frantic-running-about days. Or rather, especially on the frantic-running-about days!


Not so fine

Today’s Daily Prompt states: “Describe the last time you were surprised by the intensity of a feeling you had about something, or were surprised at how strongly you reacted to something you thought wouldn’t be a big deal.”  This one was easy, because I’d already written it.

Excerpted and condensed from a chapter of an unpublished book manuscript.


In October 2012 I arrived at my rheumatology appointment planning to ask for a surgical referral. We had been discussing hip replacement surgery for some years, and I felt the time had come. It had, in fact, been coming for 13 years, since 1999 when a critical illness left me with damage to the cartilage in my left hip joint. The joint had been steadily deteriorating ever since.

At my previous appointment I had expressed frustration at repeatedly being cautioned that 50ish was “young” for hip replacement. But my doctor’s response had been encouraging: “Ultimately, Anna, what matters is what you are experiencing—how much pain you’re in, your loss of mobility, and how it is impacting your ability to live your life.”

So I spent six months soul-searching. I researched the surgery. I talked with a colleague who has undergone a hip replacement about her decision and her recovery journey. I tried to rest and exercise a little more and eat a little better. I (grudgingly) traded in my heels for sensible shoes.  And I made a concerted effort to monitor what aggravated my hip—what it could and couldn’t do. I gave a lot of thought to how it was affecting my ability to live my life.

The routine at my appointment is that an assistant — a doctor in training– sees me first to update my file and do a preliminary examination. I don’t know the assistant all, and he doesn’t know anything about me beyond the technical details in my chart. He doesn’t know my story. He begins to ask the usual questions:

“What medications are you currently taking?”

I recite my laundry list of pharmaceuticals.

“Are you experiencing any problems?”

Here, I think, is my invitation. “Yes, actually. The pain in my hip has been getting significantly worse. The acetaminophen is not managing the pain. My mobility is also getting worse…”

I don’t get very far at all into my carefully rehearsed speech before I realize that he has stopped looking at me. Instead, he is paging carefully through my file. He lands, triumphantly, on an X-ray report from roughly a year ago. “It says here,” he declares in a tone that is clearly intended to be encouraging, “that the hip wasn’t that bad.”

A dark cloud blows over my psyche and I feel myself begin to fold inward. Suddenly, I desperately need him to stop talking. I don’t want to be told my hip looked OK in last year’s X-ray when I have just told him that today it is not OK. The X-ray does not tell him that my hip hurts now. That it wakes me up in the night and makes me walk with an uncomfortable limp. That it has become a barrier to basic daily activities like tying my shoe and trimming my toenails. That it stops me from enjoying things I want to enjoy. But I am suddenly unable to articulate any of these things to him. Instead, I feel a wave of panic rising and can no longer fight back tears. My capacity for rational thought falls away as I sink into the overwhelming despair that no one cares about my lived experience. I fear that I am just going to be told that I will have to put up with the growing deterioration of my hip until I am much, much older or completely unable to function—whichever comes first.

I am too distressed to be able to explain to the assistant why his attempt at reassurance has affected me this way.  In the moment, I don’t even fully understand it myself. All I can do is blurt out, “I just want to talk to my doctor!” I have to repeat this request three or four times, before the assistant finally scurries out of the exam room in search of her. When he arrives back with my doctor in tow, I am still in a state of high agitation and barely able to articulate why.

It takes me 48 hours to process for myself why I fell apart so completely in that moment, and to recognize my reaction as a post-traumatic stress response.

This was not the first time a doctor had glibly told me that I was“fine” when I knew that I was not. And the last time that happened…well actually the last several times that happened…

Are the subject of the rest of my book.