Breathing

When Robin Williams died, the world grieved to lose his talent and his spirit. And a lot of conversation about depression and suicide rose up in the wake of that pain. Awareness and support.  I don’t think it’s an accident that Facebook has finally improved it’s intervention actions (I haven’t looked at it yet, but I noticed it was there).

I felt a very personal pang when I read Leonard Nemoy died of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).  I’ve always decribed this as the “upgraded asthma” breathing issue.  This happens when something has damaged the lungs. It is incurable because when you damage the lungs, they don’t fully heal.

My grandmother had COPD. My mother has COPD. I’m at risk.

Let me begin by describing an asthma attack a little bit for those that don’t understand. It hurts. You know when the air is really cold and it hurts to inhale? You feel that cold all way down your sternum. My asthma attack is a little bit like that – only without cold.  It’s the pain of it though as my diaphragm and lungs strain to drag the air in. I can feel it in my back as the muscles which should just work stretch and strain, trying to expand even as the tubes internally are clearly contracted. I feel the space expanding and nothing (or not enough) coming in to fill the space. It’s like trying to expand a vacuum sealed bag – the struggle to pull it apart without anything to fill it…

There is also a perception reaction during attacks. In a bad attack, my eyesight narrows.  I can’t focus much more than a few feet in front of me. People come and go from a room and I can’t tell you about them. I rarely feel much aside from what’s happening in my lungs. I’ve had people walk up and touch my hand or my foot during an attack and I don’t notice them.

I also can’t process more than one person talking.  It turns into Charlie-Brown-Adult-Speaking when two people talk at the same time.  Even with just one person, each word has to be processed like I’m translating it. I have to go look up meaning in my mind and what normally is a nigh-instant process becomes a tedious workload on my mind.  And for me to make decisions… Every little decision requires much more effort. Every ounce of oxygen is processing one thought at a time. Air in. Air out.

The horrible thing is when someone asks me questions.  I can’t get air in and out correctly – don’t expect an answer other than a nod or a shake of the head. Single syllables are difficult. Multiple syllables are like climbing Mount Everest.  The worst thing someone can ask during an attack is “What do you need?” – there is always a little piece of me that replies in the nastiest way possible “oxygen”, but that’s a 3-syllable word.

Despite the struggle, underneath Air-In-Air-Out, there is a level of my mind that is racing, running through every possible solution. Cause matters. If I’m having an attack because I was exposed to something (smoke, dust, etc.) than moving away to fresh air is a good place to start. The terror is when I don’t know the cause. Waking up in the night gasping. Sitting watching a movie and realizing I’m wheezing and struggling. Realizing I keep trying to take a deep breath for no apparent reason. What will work? Is there something triggering the attack I didn’t notice? Do I need to use my medicine now (not what I want to jump to first)?

The panic makes the attack worse, so once the panic of “there is no trigger. Oh God I can’t breathe!” then I have to mantra calm and peace, try to push back the adrenaline rushing through me. God forbid someone around me start being wiggy – their panic makes me panic.  “Am I underestimating how bad it is? Am I turning blue or something?” Someone just calmly giving me tea, putting me in a quiet corner and keeping people from staring at me so I’m not adding into my mental process “I’m sorry, I know I’m some kind of freak who can’t breathe for no good god damn reason…”

After the attack there is still pain. I usually have a headache. I described the back pain in 2012 as “I was kicked by a house” – I ached basically from shoulders to belly front and back. My throat is often raw. I’ve usually been fighting tears of fear and frustration, so my eyes itch. I’m shaking from that post-adrenaline rush. All I my mind can process is that I’m ok and I’m ok and I’m ok. This time.

In December 2012, I had an asthma attack that ended me in the ER for 4+ hours.  After this I finally agreed to go to my mother’s pulmonologist (lung doctor).  She treated my grandmother and treats my mother.  She talked to me about the dangers of not breathing for extended periods of time (my entire time of attack was about 7 hours because I resisted going to the ER). Every time my asthma attacks – even just “extended low-level problems” – there is a risk of scar tissue building up.

Here’s what happens in the body (per my the un-medical-degree understanding): the alveolis are the part of the lung that actually transfers oxygen into the blood.  When asthma (or emphysema) attacks, the bronchial tubes contract.  Everyone learned in early anatomy about the major tubes (the trachea that branches into each lung), and these branch into secondary and tertiary tubes.  ALL of these contract during an attack- denying more and more oxygen down the path.

When a part of your body isn’t getting oxygen it begins to die.  When those tertiary bronchial tubes close down they deny oxygen to the alveoli.  The alveoli will begin to die along the edges of your lungs.  This creates scar tissue that over time builds up in the lungs – leading to COPD.

The doctor made it clear to me that extended attacks, like I had, are very bad because the longer alveoli are denied oxygen, the more damage is done. The more damage done, the more likely it is I will develop COPD. The Asthma & Allergy Foundation of America states that 9 people die of asthma every day. When I first read that Leonard Nemoy had COPD (and that’s why he went to the hospital, etc. etc.) I will admit I selfishly thought, “Does this mean I’ll see a facebook feed telling everyone what to do when I’m having an attack?”

But no, it is just a line-item in the news articles: cause of death. I see “live long and prosper” bandied about and there is a piece of me hurt beyond measure. What about those of us who can’t live long and prosper because we can’t breathe?

Manners: Snow in the South

I live in the “heart of the south” – Atlanta.  We’re rather infamous for shutting down for snow. Every time it really pisses me off. Yes, some people freak out at the word “snow” and take all the bread and milk from every grocery store in range. Somehow these are always the people the media seems to get their hands on.

A) We don’t get snow. We tend to be hovering right at freezing. So we don’t get the nice, fluffy snow flakes that build up into banks of traction.  It hovers at 0’C or 31-33’F, so it’s slushy and when it freezes it’s ice, not snow anymore. And no one drives well on ice (see stories from New York, Ohio, and my favorite over 600 accidents in Minnesota in the last 2 months).  Somehow when ice hits the south and we can’t drive on it, suddenly making fun of southerns on national news is perfectly acceptable. You don’t hear about the over 600 accidents in 12 hours in Minnesota on national news for days on end, talking about the failure of the city to prepare for snow and ice.  Why didn’t we make fun on them? They should know how to drive on it. Don’t they get snow and ice for months on end every single year?

B) We don’t have trucks.  I mean snow trucks, ice trucks – you know the tools that northern states keep on hand in order to prepare roads and treat roads during ice and snow. How many trucks do we need?  How many tax dollars should we devote to maintaining a fleet? How much time should we devote for drivers to be trained? How should we train them when we don’t have the conditions?

C) We don’t have enough salt, snow tires, or anything else that is sold every year – all winter – in northern states. Why would Home Depot or Walmart or any store stock up on ice salt in a city that isn’t going to buy it regularly?  They know the market is smarter for using that shelf space for other things. BBQ is a year-round activity here and the grills take up a lot of floor space…

D) Lastly, (perhaps even most strongly) the city of Atlanta have averaged less than 3″ of snow in over 70 years or record-keeping (SE Regional Climate Center). Yeah, snow is weird to us. As weird as a massive hurricane to New York City. I will be honest, I had to bite my tongue a little when Sandy swung north.  know how horrible hurricanes can be – and I can only imagine how bad it is if you live in a part of the country that doesn’t have the supplies, the infrastructure, or the experience to deal with this type of weather. Sound familiar?

So yes, we freak out and post pictures about single flakes and light dustings. Good manners might be remembering that it isn’t nice to make fun of someone who has a cheap, frustrating imitation of what you have and may not have the resources to take care of it as well as you do.

Manners: Who controls your body?

I couldn’t sleep this morning, so at 5:30, I rolled over and started browsing facebook.  Two things popped up in my feed that made me see a little red.  The first was an old friend trying to make a joke:

“Remember ladies men are dogs. Which means when we do something wrong like grab your ass or fondle your tits you are supposed to rub our noses in them to teach us a lesson.”

The second was a story about a Montana legislature who wants to outlaw wearing yoga pants in public.

I tend to avoid commenting on bait like these, but both of the showed up within a few scrolls of my thumb and I just… I had to.  So to the friend I told him I’m not sure that literally comparing women to crap is the message he wants to convey – even if he’s trying to be funny.  To “reply” to the second I decided to bring it here.  So first off, the man wants to ban any and all exposed nipples – male or female.  Apparently, when this man sees another man’s nipple, he is reminded that women have nipples too and loses all self-control.  And seriously, women wearing yoga pants are just reminding him that they all have vaginas. Because you know. Ankles and legs and hips are just… OMG.  So for him to avoid having to remember to control his own self he expects women to have their bodies regulated so that we don’t remind him that we could have sex with him.

This is some of the worst of the concept that women can be responsible in any way for a man’s thoughts. And there are some great blog posts (here and here are good starts) that already address the lunacy of women being in any way responsible for a man’s lustful thoughts.

I always like to point out to men how insulted I would be if everyone kept telling me I’m worse than an animal. Yes, I said worse than an animal. I have explained this to several of my guy friends before this way (and there is irony given what prompted this post:

Does your dog shit on the floor? No? So you are telling me your dog has enough self-control to hold it until he can be in the proper environment before he takes a shit? Good, we’ve established that dogs have a concept of self-control.  I don’t know about you, I’d be pretty pissed about those people saying you are dumber than a dog.  All I’m saying is you shouldn’t shit on the floor.

Most of them get very defensive and I can’t entirely blame them. It is a crass comparison. It is insulting to make them think of controlling their lustful thoughts along the same bodily function lines as going to the bathroom. The ones who get most upset are the ones who don’t want to have to be responsible for their thoughts (and actions on those thoughts). Unfortunately, when I  tell people this they tend to call me a bitch.  But hey, I guess they’re still saying I’m smart enough that I don’t shit on the floor.

Short Story: Squirrels in the Attic

The family had three cats and a dog.  Two of the cats were hunters and came from the same litter – Taffy and Cinnamon. There was a long debate about which cat to put into the attic the first time the family heard squirrels.  Taffy was far and away the superior hunter.  He brought in everything from snakes to bats.  Alive. Apparently bringing them home and letting the humans play with them was the most affectionate thing he could think.  No matter how many times he got yelled at. No matter how often he was reminded “you bring it inside, you lose it!”

Cinnamon might or might not be an amazing hunter; she was smart enough not to be seen bringing in her prizes. The only time anyone knew she had been hunting was when remains were discovered.  Her favorite spot to take these “toys” was the bathtub in the hall.  Somehow she learned that if you put a mouse in the bathtub – you can play with it all night.  Brilliant and scary in a super-villain sort of way.  So great hunter who catch anything, or the smart one?

It finally got decided to put Cinnamon up there first, see what happened.  The entrance to the attic was an access hole in the parents’ closet.  Space was cleared, a ladder brought in, and Cinnamon picked up.  Being smart, she knew something was going on, and looked at the humans with great suspicion.  Then set out exploring the dark of the attic.

Imagine what it was like, the pink paper-covered insulation, the wooden beams of the ceiling crisscrossing. Cinnamon’s green eyes expand their pupils until she can see in the dark.  She moves on the beams to avoid the crinkle of the paper, her claws retracted completely so only the pads touch the smooth two-by-four.  She slinks along the beam, smelling and seeing the traces of the squirrels which are invisible to the human eye.  A cross-beam away, there is a flicker of movement and she turns, muscles tense as the squirrel darts off along a parallel beam, along the outer edge of the roof where the beams are close and tight.

Cinnamon darts across the beam, leaps to the next one – and the squirrel is out the hole underneath the eaves and scolding her from the safety of the sun-drenched roof.  Cinnamon back-tracks the squirrel’s path to find where it had been sitting when she began her hunt.  She memorizes the scent of the prey and prowls through the attic, searching for any sign of another squirrel.  Eventually, she returns to the hatch to go back down to the brightly lit world of food and water.

The family put Cinnamon back into the attic sporadically for the next several weeks.  Then came the day when the squirrel didn’t just run out.

There was no foreshadowing that today would be different. The parents heard the squirrels above their bedroom, found Cinnamon, and put her up through the hole.  They had found the hole where the squirrels came in and out, but without making sure the squirrels were outside – they didn’t dare patch it. The only thing worse than living squirrel in the attic would be starving or rotting squirrel in the attic.

Cinnamon made her way along the beams and then found them. The family. The squirrels had been carefully building up their little nest and had their little ones now among the pink insulation, twigs, and leaves the squirrels had brought in. The parents, with little ones too small to make it outside yet, didn’t run for the hole.  They stayed to fight.

The sound of the fight came through the hole in the attic. The outcome was pretty assured. One strong hunter-cat would win. In the closet below her brother, Taffy, was tortured. He could hear it all. Why should she get all the fun? Taffy is the one who could catch a bat and bring it home uninjured for the humans to play with. Snakes… lizards… a baby possum once… He paced at the base of the closet, staring up at the darkness.

If you were there, you would understand that prayer does work.  At least for a poor cat who is hearing his sister get to do what he loves above all else. Whatever cat god lives in the universe heard his plea.  As the sounds above continued there was a grey puff falling from above, one of the young squirrels fleeing death had not known what the word “hole” would mean.  The little puff landed on the floor practically between Taffy’s paws.

Taffy hardly hesitated, snatched up this morsel and took off. He knew the rules of the humans. Bring the toy inside, you lose it. He couldn’t make it to the cat-door fast enough. The rest of his days, Taffy spent waiting for the god-of-the-hole-in-the-closet to hear his prayers again. When he was a fourteen year old cat, beginning to waste away from illness, the humans picked him up from the floor of the closet on his last day.

Life Memories: The Dime Theory

As a trainer, the most-dreaded question is “why do I need this.”  Especially if the person signed up to take my class. I can tell you then and there, they are going to be obnoxious from here to next week.  Everyone remembers in school the question “why do I have to learn _______” whether it was math, history, a foreign language, or Shakespeare.  How many teachers had good answers?

My mother is the one who always gave me the best answers to this.  “Why do I need to learn Shakespeare, it’s sooo boring.”

“You’re learning how people interact. Shakespeare lived hundreds of years ago, but people still behave like idiots and make these types of crazy choices and look what happens.”

As the youngest of three, I had already learned the lesson that I could avoid making the same mistakes my siblings made… so the idea that even “old” books could teach me about people…. suddenly opened a world of literature up to me.   My mother did the same with other subjects as well (the rare days I asked).

This same application came to life-skills as well.  And sometime in high school my mother and I were talking about skills and I complained how I seemed to “get it” yesterday but not today. I managed it all yesterday, but today… it was like I couldn’t keep my life together and everything was spiraling out of control.

“You dropped a dime,” my mother said.

“What?”

“Ok, skills are like dimes.  You need to do all these ten things today – you need these ten dimes to accomplish them.  One for showering, one for cooking breakfast, one for homework… got it?”

“Yeah, ok.”

“Well, you have to hold all these dimes in your hand at the same time and then at the right moment use your other hand and pluck out the dime you need.  Sometimes you have too many dimes, or your finger gets in the way, or you are also walking on a tightrope and loosing your balance… and you drop a dime. Maybe that was the homework dime. Or the how-to-keep-temper-in-check dime.”

“And that’s ok?”

“No. But it happens. As you get older, you have to try to keep more and more dimes in your hand, and they are everything from finding the right thing to say to reading to making dinner. Part of growing up is learning to hold more dimes. And good parents help you learn how to hold more dimes. You are going to spend your life trying to pick up new dimes and add them.  The trick is to realize when one of them is falling out of your hand and try to catch it.  If you can get really good at it, you’ll catch the dime before anyone else realizes you dropped it.”

When I graduated from college, my mom gave me a little round frame with a dime glued to some felt backing. Most people thought it was the weirdest present ever. But to me, she was saying how proud she was that I had those dimes.

Money Hand with Coins 13005 480x360 jpg

Manners: The Console Question

Ask a gamer why they like the console system of their choice. Most will tell you they picked it because of the hardware inside the case. It has better graphics, more memory, has mod capabilities other models don’t, plays the right apps and games to stay fun and interesting…. the list can go on and on.
A good console matches up play style and extra apps. The best consoles are the ones you feel like you never need to turn off because they are good at letting you switch apps and games without fighting about it. Some consoles are just really cranky… And some consoles get cranky about specific games.
There is a horrifying movement to judge a console by the case only. I mean, we finally got out of the brand-dependency era and started encouraging people to look outside the big manufactures to all the indie (or nontraditional as the brand insist) console choices. There is so much potential out there and people are wasting it by only looking at the case – chassis don’t last. Haven’t you heard that the good consoles out there self-update to the latest firmware?
When you pick a console  just because of a nice case, it’s easy to find that that console doesn’t play any of the right games. No Netflix??? Pandora can be jury-rigged, but it crashes every thirty minutes? The Console obsessively switches to their favorite reality tv show…
And then there are the worst culprits of all. The ones who only look at the controller.  And I mean ONLY. They are so singularly focused on that one aspect of the system, they don’t even seem to remember you can play games with a good console! I think the ones that think they need the console with the absolute biggest controller in a room are sad and funny at the same time.
Especially because when you don’t keep the firmware up to date, you can run into some pretty nasty problems. That cranky-to-play game inevitably gets worse. Sometimes the console gets a virus and begins infecting all the other hardware around. Worst, you may have a total system crash and you are left with no console at all.
Take care of your console. If everyone decides to take care of the consoles in their life, then hopefully everyone playing on your hardware will take care of you too.

Writing: My Love Affair with the English Language

I pity people who don’t love English. I am not ashamed of my love affair with the language. Part of the beauty is in the acceptance the English language has for the nuance and culture which other languages can provide.  Oh, I will grant you that sometimes it’s gets a little creepy the way the English language has “borrowed” things from so many languages – especially the European languages. Yet, when you approach vocabulary, the English language is quick to adopt a word that allows us [the speakers] to become more precise in our language.

This topic really enticed me to write about it when I was talking about my job recently.  I told the person “Yeah, I’ve been pretty frenetic recently” and their first response was “don’t you mean frantic?”

“No, frantic implies something distraught and out-of-control and bad. Frenetic is the same kind of wild energy without the negative connotations.”

These two words, so alike and yet with such different nuance of meaning allow me to communicate more succinctly with educated people. And this is where I struggle with a form of classism – I can’t understand “non-readers.” People who say they never read for fun; only when forced. No articles. No books. Not even comics. How do they live without consuming new words?  How do they live without absorbing the new inflections and seeing how our favorite words (or hated words) are evolving in new context?