Thursday, August 31, 2006

Define "Social Group"

Once a year my employer encourages that each of us attends "Wellness Week." They kicked this off when it became apparent that hospital employees, faced daily with the stress of tending to the needs of physically and mentally ill patients as well as the more stressful stress of dealing with their concerned, frightened and sometimes just rude, family members, might be, themselves, becoming mentally ill.

Ten years ago, the Wellness Week took a couple of hours out of one of our days and consisted of going to five different booths where we were weighed and educated about weight loss and offered a ton of brochures as well as the support of the dieticians on-staff to help us maintain a healthy weight in a setting where the only entertainment one gets is stuffing one's mouth with candy bars and Little Debbie snack cakes from a vending machine and washing it down with a can of Diet Coke on our massive ten-minute break. We looked then, and still do now, like addicts, huddled together in the break room, our eyes showing the strain of some tragedy or other that has befallen us that day, eating massive amounts of sugar and consuming gigantic amounts of caffeine to insure that we can head back into the battlefield for another four or six hours.

Another booth taught us stress management. That one was always the one with the line. Frazzled-looking healthcare workers dressed in scrubs with beepers attached to their pockets. More often than not, three of those would be going off at the same time and almost always while we were in the stress management line. It was almost like they were watching and finding the perfect time to page us, like an experiment using people instead of rats or monkeys. As the paged person shuffled out of the line and toward the door, the entire stressed out line would turn and watch him go with looks of empathy and sympathy on their tense faces. It was usually the most depressing part of my day, just watching those people leave accompanied by, "Beep, beep, beep, beep..." You could hear it even as they went out the door at the end of the hallway and approached their hell. But, if you were ever able to get to the head of that stress line, there was a social worker, looking well rested and happy, who would sweep you into the solitude of her cubby and reward you with cartoons and a quick five-minute counseling session before shuttling you out and into the next line.

That next line was usually a smoking cessation line. It, too, was pretty long. Nothing like having the nurse taking care of a nauseated, vomiting sick person while saturated with cigarette smoke. It did not take long for the hospital to realize there just was something not right about treating lung cancer patients who have smoked for fifty years, when your healthcare workers stunk like Camels (the cigarettes, not the animals...although there WAS a personal hygiene line for the people who tended to smell like the animals).

By the time I would make it to the smokers line, I needed a cigarette. Never having so much as taken the first puff from a cigarette myself in my entire life, I fully understood it's calming properties just the same. I would stand in that line for five minutes and just take deep breaths to give myself the motivation to move on to the blood pressure booth.

Blood pressure BEFORE the needles. That always made sense. By the time people had spent an hour in lines worrying about the final one, which was the vampire line, they really were stressed, blood pressures were high, emotions were boiling over. There were times I thought they should probably reverse the order; get the pain out of the way, take care of the fainting and needle phobics, then send us out to those other lines so we could relax and get something out of them. Yes, healthcare workers are big babies.

Now, the Wellness Week takes ten minutes out of the day. Most of the work is done as a preliminary packet of information that takes a month of investigation. Make a note of this: Always know what your LDL and HDL values were at your last physical exam. We hand this packet in as we go in the door, they give us a keychain for participating, and like a blur...weight and weight counseling two minutes; blood pressure check times three three minutes; Count Dracula one minute, two if you have bad veins.

But the paperwork you do before even entering the room...priceless. One of the questions that gave me the most trouble was, "Do you have a social group?"

I called the Wellness Wagon: "Would you define 'social group,' please?"

She said, "Do you have a group of people you hang out with on at least a weekly basis?"

I answered, "Yes, do they have to be real or is an Internet group okay?"

The lady answered, "These are the times we live in, an Internet group is fine. Do you like the people?"

"Some of them."

"Most of them?"

"No, just some of them."

"Well, do they like you?"

"Not much."

The interested woman asked me, "Does it make you happy to communicate with this group?"

And I had to be honest, "Usually."

"Does this group of people make you laugh?"

"Oh, yeah, all the time."

Then she threw out the bombshell: "Do you feel less stress when you talk to them?"

I sat there quietly and reassessed all the information Ms. Wellness Person had given me concerning the meaning of "social group." Okay, they have to like me, I have to like them, they have to make me laugh, I have to make them laugh, I have to be able to communicate with them and not need a Xanax at the end of the conversation to calm me down.

Quietly I hit the big red X and closed the messageboard down and popped a Xanax.

Back to Yahoo. There has to be a social group out there for me somewhere, and I am going to stay up all night and drink caffeine and find it, dammit! My Wellness papers are due tomorrow!

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Canceled Trip to Pluto

Everyone needs a hobby. Some people play music or grow flowers or buy clothes...I travel.

There was a time, when I was much younger and had not learned how to tap into my brain and make wise decisions, that I traveled constantly, which sometimes interfered with that other hobby, eating. It was nothing to book four round-trip tickets to Los Angeles a year, a couple to Phoenix to visit my cousin, a couple to Texas to visit the same cousin, another one to Phoenix to visit the SAME cousin (she finally decided on Phoenix and has stayed there, thank God, well, so far, but the year is young - I hated Texas with a passion), one to Rhode Island to visit with my friend, one to New Mexico to visit with the SAME friend (see a pattern?) and one to Boston to visit the stable friend in my life, who has stayed put...so far, but then something happened. One day I woke up and the passion for cramming everything I own into a suitcase and heaving it in and out of the trunk of my car, off the baggage carousel and past fifty whining kids, five barking dogs and three hundred rude adults at an airport, not to mention the four huge, camouflage-clad men carrying assault weapons, the whole time sweating and pushing my glasses back up on my nose and my hair out of my eyes and dragging my ass out of bed at two o'clock AM to drive 90 miles into the later time zone to make a seven AM flight, was undeniably gone. The very things I embraced about traveling became more my idea of visiting Hell, so I stayed put for several months, content to make a trip to Wal-Mart the most harrowing, crowded and longest trip into the bowels of rudeness I was willing to make. Everyone knows there are two places in the United States that rival one another for jerks of any kind: Wal-Mart and any major airport.

Then, I began to miss the whole idea of packing and that feeling of excitement the day of a long-awaited vacation, and dipped my big toe in to test the water by flying off on a vacation to the mountains with my boyfriend. Prior to the mountains, though, we visited Roswell, New Mexico, and learned all there was to know about alien abductions, alien visitations and UFOs. The study of space escalated for Don and me and probably the one statement I will forever be known for among my circle was, "I can't wait to book a trip to Pluto someday!"

Well, guess what happened next. They took Pluto away. That's correct. Scientists have now decided that Pluto is not part of our Solar System. There are a lot of ramifications to that declaration: First, they will be able to charge more for the flight since it is to a foreign solar system, and the little phrase that has been drilled endlessly into Baby Boomer's heads: My very educated mother just served me nine pickles, is totally obsolete. What now? My very educated mother just served me nine, just does not make any sense.

So I am putting away my solar suitcase and rethinking my Star Gazer's Weekend to Pluto. I am pretty sure I will not be able to afford it now, and I'm sure the language will change and they will no longer speak English there, adopting their own Plutonian gibberish, Plenglish, that only Generation ZZZ will be able to understand.

Goodbye, Pluto, it sure has been nice having you as the pickle! I wonder what I could wear to Neptune.

Sunday, August 06, 2006

The Dachshund Chronicles

I challenge anyone to live with a Dachshund and not smile at her constantly or go insane. There is no in-between emotion with these dogs. They are little leaping frenetic tubes of pure, unbridled energy who want to start their days at six o'clock every morning even if their "masters" (that would be me, by the way...it's just that none of us know it, least of all the dog) had to baby-sit another nonstop but taller tube of frenetic energy (from here on out referred to as a "grandchild") until midnight the night before.

The routine is always the same:

Me: Sleeping soundly.

Dog: Pouncing all over the bed at five-forty-five Sunday morning, putting her nose on my nose, climbing onto my pillow like she's dragging herself up a fourteen-hundred foot peak in the Rocky Mountains, using those little front, short badger-digging legs to claw at my scalp, winding her little nicely-pedicured toenails in my hair then removing them in one strong tug, burrowing under the covers and touching that wet, cold nose against my back, then running the last five feet of the Boston Marathon back up onto the pillow to plop her twenty-five-pound miniature Daschshund body onto the top of my head until, at six o'clock, I cry uncle and extract myself and get up.

Those are our roles and we have rehearsed them for the past four years, everyday, and are now just waiting for our big Hollywood break.

There is one rule that is mine, that Annie has to respect, only because she cannot reach the doorknobs...I WILL have a cup of coffee before we head to the back yard to chase birds.

Mother Nature provides a virtual Pandora's Box of creatures right in my own back yard, who can keep Annie amused for five minutes, or until her attention span wanes, whichever comes first. Birds are her challenges. Ever since a cat allowed her to play with a bird that he had caught and dragged into The Beach House a year ago, which Annie immediately took proud credit for, which is probably why she has no friends, she has had the idea that she will catch a bird to play with.

Every time we go outside, the first thing she does is attempt to sneak up on whatever birds are eating bugs in the grass. Now, I have watched this sport of hers for years, and believe me, so have the birds. They have impeccable timing. Just before Annie reaches them, the flutter off unceremoniously and say to their pals in the tree, "That stupid dog." I can almost speak the language well enough to understand that now.

Open the door, out runs Annie at six-fifteen in the morning. The first two or three birds are chased to the fence or the tree by a black and brown, overweight, floppy-eared imitator of Sneaky Snake; Annie acts indifferent and tries to not look embarrassed, then rushes the fence to see if possibly, this time, she might be able to somehow persuade the big red male cardinal to lose his mind and land at her feet so she may claim victory at last!

This morning was no different as far as the routine, right up to the point when Annie caught her first bird (here on out known as a large butterfly). She was so excited! She was barking and telling the entire neighborhood that she had CAUGHT A BIRD!!

I can imagine her telling the story to her grandchildren, her hair gray, toothless gums withering with age, " Yeah, children, I caught a bird once! It was just teasing me, making fun of my short, stubby front legs and my long, lithe, perfectly toned body and I chased it around and around and around! I wouldn't give up, kids...no I would NOT give up! I chased and swiped my tail at it, growled ferociously, barked, drove it INSANE, I tell you! Then, after an hour of playing its game, I went in for the kill!"

This is where the grandchildren would gasp and jump back a little, then move back in, hungry to hear the rest of the story.

"With all the energy I could muster, I made one final leap and took...him...down! So the moral of this story is, don't you EVER give up on your dreams!"

I glanced up from my cup of coffee, still in my early morning stupor, to see Annie taunting the poor unsuspecting prey, then gobbling it up wing by wing to prevent me taking it away from her, like there was any chance I was going to touch a wet-with-dog-slobber, half-mauled butterfly. I started to say, "Hey, Annie, sorry to disappoint you, girl, but that's just a butterfly you've captured." But then I smiled, patted her on the head and shuffled back to my chair.

If she wants to believe she finally, after four years caught a bird, who am I to kill the mood?

For Susan - Writing Crap

Note for my friend, Susan: I was writing this whole thing in third person because the constant use of "I" seems so self-serving. Then I realized, "Hey, it's MY book. What can be more self-serving than writing a piece of literature (or crap, as my Aunt Helen will lovingly call it) with my name plastered on the cover?" So I'm changing the format. Now, if you'll excuse me, I have some crap to write...