Empty Tubes and Tests for Days

Man, I tell you. Coming back from Santa Barbara was a great, big, freezing cold splash of reality. Wes had to leave on a series of business trips, which is normally the cue for both my kids to get all kinds of peeved about their father’s absence and take it out on me.

They did not disappoint.

Me in my giant scrubs, mere moments before yet another health professional jammed a needle into my poor knee.

Adding to the fun, I did another MRI with contrast to see why my knee continues to be a literal and figurative pain and lo and behold, it wasn’t all in my head (ha?). I have a flap of cartilage that’s collecting edema, and the microfractures I had done a couple years ago healed irregularly, which means things are all kinds of messed up in there.

Before I go in for (yet another) surgery, I’m going to get tested by a rheumatologist to see if it’s possible to determine why the cartilage in my knee is shredding like a nice mozzarella.

As if all that wasn’t enough, I’m currently undergoing testing from an endocrinologist to see whether he can figure out why I keep gaining weight despite healthy eating and exercise habits.

Just think blood tests. Blood tests for days. All the doctors are holding up empty tubes with my name on them.

It’s all stressful, and at times terrible, but I’m keeping my focus firmly on the things that are going right. Things like:

  • Wes is home from his business trips, and will be home for awhile.
  • I have friends and family who care about me and all my suddenly myriad health issues. My best friend, husband, and mother-in-law all collectively spent hours on the phone with me when I found out about my knee, just letting me feel sorry for myself and assuring me things would turn out ok. I’m inclined to believe them.
  • I’m free of deadlines for now and making progress on revisions for Bai Treason (book 3 of the Bai Hsu series). I love it as much now as I did when I wrote the first draft, which is always a good sign of a worthwhile story.
  • There’s a book blog tour of Bai Tide (book 1 of the Bai Hsu series) that’s happening now and the reviews are uniformly positive so far! Like this one, and this one. I’m always particularly gratified when people who don’t normally read my genre enjoy my books. It shows me I wrote a good story, not just a good spy story.
  • I might be getting LASIK soon because you know what? My knee may be FUBAR but damn it, there’s still hope for my eyes.

That just about brings you up to current. Rest assured, if I’m not blogging it’s probably because I’m hiding from my health woes by writing stories. Given all the feelings around here lately? Bai Treason is going to end up being a goooooooood book. Trust me on that one.

I Got (a) Shot

Me when I need another knee injection.

Any week that starts with a big effing needle getting jammed into your knee is bound to be a weird one.

On the one hand, I’m lucky because I’ve been able to get my health insurance company to pay for the medication that comes with the big effing needle. For some reason, health insurance companies have all decided that patients with osteoarthritis in their knees can just deal with it because said companies are tired of paying for SynVisc injection for all of us gimpy freeloaders.

Every time I need a shot (which is roughly every six months), I have to go through round after round of appeals until a third-party reviewer takes a look at my file, tells my health insurance company that they’re being a bunch of tools, and makes them cover my shots. We go through this twice a year, which means I’ve gotten to be really good friends with the lady who handles my appeals.

So yes, I’m fortunate that I don’t have to pay $1,500 twice a year for the privilege of getting the medication I need to make sure my knee doesn’t grind itself to dust.

On the other hand, it’s never fun to get these shots. They hurt, and the needle has to stay in my knee for a long time (probably only fifteen seconds or so, but it always feels like a full minute at least), so it’s all just terribly discomfiting. Afterward, my knee gets all puffy and sore and achy and stays that way for three to four days. Fun stuff, right?

To add to the merriment, there was a staffing change at my orthopedic surgeon’s office. You see, I’ve had the same guy doing my knee injections for years at this point. He knows my shtick and has gotten pretty good at making small talk with me during the shot to distract me from what’s happening.

I’m not normally what I would consider a chill person. I talk fast, I work fast, I rarely stop moving. When I’m nervous, though? It’s like someone’s opened the tap on my brain and I can’t stop talking. It’s like a free association word flood, and it can be a lot to handle.

This poor new guy, I don’t think he was prepared for it. He handled it okay, though, so maybe next time he’ll be prepared and bring his earplugs.

Here’s hoping the rest of this week is a little less stressful. I’m frustrated to be gimpy and sore again. It’s like after recovering from the microfractures surgery in 2015, my brain figures I’ve paid my physical disability dues so the rest of my life should be smooth sailing. Every time I’m stuck on the couch with my feet up while stuff all around me needs doing, I get antsy and vaguely irritated. Haven’t I done this enough already?

Soon, I tell myself. This is the worst you’ll feel for awhile, and you’ll be even better tomorrow. And until then? Well, there are worse things to be than stuck on the couch for a few days.

Things People on Crutches Know

Carer and patient on crutches smlUp until May 21, 2015, I had no idea what life on crutches was like. Being possessed of a decent imagination, I could have offered some educated guesses about the various hardships and indignities of life a la crutch, but until two aluminum struts are your absolute best friends every hour of every day, you can’t really know.

That is, unless you read this post. After you read this post, you will have a true insider’s view of the crutch life. It’s the next best thing to being injured enough to need them, really.

  • The first thing you need to know about crutches is that they’re tricky to learn, especially if you’re high on painkillers while you’re trying to get to get the hang of them. You’ll probably fall a couple times. It’s really best to avoid being alone if you can help it.
  • Pants/shorts with pockets are now a necessity, if for no other reason than you’ll want your phone on you at all times in case you fall. True story: I tried to get a water bottle from the garage for myself, fell down while trying to go up the steps back into the house, and had to lay there on the garage floor yelling for Wes until he happened to walk close enough by the door to the garage to hear me. A cell phone in my pocket could have saved me a fair bit of indignity.
  • A wet wood floor is a hazard. A wet tile floor is basically a death sentence. If your crutch slips out from under you, you’re going down and, because the floor is wet, now you’re all wet too. Tiny steps are the only way to escape unscathed.
  • The palms of your hands will develop calluses and hurt all the time. The worst time is in the morning. The first crutch of the day hurts the worst.
  • You will also get burns on the side of your torso where the top of crutch rubs against you every time you walk. Fuzzy accouterments like Crutch Buddies can help, but you’re still going to feel the burn.
  •  Every able-bodied person in the world is doing their best to park closest to the door. Best get yourself a disabled parking pass ASAP or you’ll be doing a lot of resenting as you sweat and hobble to your destination past a sea of people who can all walk and yet are parked closer to the door than you are.
  • Let people be nice to you. Let them open the door for you. Let them help you bring your groceries to the car. It’s okay to need help, and it’ll make them feel good.
  • Grocery shopping on crutches is a nightmare and way more work than it’s worth. Riding those motorized carts around the store, however, is a hoot. I highly recommend it, especially if you have little kids who want to ride with you.
  • If you do happen to have little kids while you’re disabled, know this: They will steal your crutches while you’re sitting down. You will be stranded until they give your crutches back. They will think it’s hilarious.
  • This might not happen to you, but it sure did to me: Your thumbs will hurt horribly, as will your wrist and forearm. Even someone brushing up against my thumbs was enough to make me suck in my breath in pain. I wince just thinking about it!

All this sounds pretty great, right? It’s not. At all. The great part comes later, when one crutchless day you wake up and realize your palms don’t hurt, and neither do your thumbs. You look at your torso and realize there are no sore red burns there, and you can walk through a narrow doorway without inching through it because you no longer have crutches to either side of you.

I’m so SO glad to be on the other side of my crutch experience. Walking is still difficult and I get tired quite quickly, but man it feels good to be using my own two feet again. If you see someone out in the wild using crutches, remember this post and try to be extra nice to that poor soul. It ain’t easy out there for crutchers.

Whatever Happened to Erika Mitchell?

Wow. Almost three months between posts. I think that may just be my longest ever break from blogging. It feels weird.

So much has happened since April 20. I survived two weeks of solo parenting while Wes was away on business, my trusty laptop Optimus died right in the middle of writing something, I had surgery on my knee that morphed into something way more intense than I was planning on, I led a session for the PNWA (dream come true!), I saw the new Jurassic World movie, and I developed a deep, fervent hatred for the crutches that have been my more or less constant companions for the last seven weeks.

Where to even start?!

I miss my laptop. It’s really hard to be a blogger without a laptop. I stared at my phone many times, thinking I should really write something, but always talked myself out of it because iPhone screens are small and typing on one for any length of time is unpleasant and exceedingly avoidable.

As for surgery, I went in for meniscus tear removal and woke up to an overwhelming wall of pain that only went away after I smacked it down with a handful of pain pills. It turns out the cartilage on the bottom of my femur was scraped away to bare bone and my surgeon needed to drill some micro fractures there so I could grow new cartilage. It’s really quite upsetting to come out of surgery expecting to be off your feet for a few days only to find out you’ll be on crutches for at least six weeks.

As of tomorrow, I’m seven weeks post op and just today took my first un-assisted steps. My left leg has completely forgotten how to walk and, were it not for my ace physical therapists, I’m fairly certain I’d have a limp for the rest of my life. Lucky for me, my physical therapists are the bee’s knees AND the cat’s pajamas, which means my recovery has been smooth sailing so far.

Yes, I’ve fallen. A couple times. Stupid crutches. I tell you, though, crutches and Percocet do not mix. That’s a steep learning curve and it really hurts to fall off of it.

I’m getting there, though. My first steps went well and I have the feeling that I’ll be really solid on my feet by the time we leave for Cannon Beach next month. My goal is to walk on the beach. Pretty ambitious, huh?

For those of you who have noticed the long lapse between posts, I’m sorry. Recovery and running a family from the couch are somewhat time-consuming. I haven’t worked on anything writing-related (including promotion of the new book that just came out in April {oops}) since May and I miss it. I’m usually in New York City shmoozing with other thriller authors at ThrillerFest right about now and believe me, I’ve noticed that physical therapy and healing are not as fun as roaming Manhattan left to my own devices.

I’m on the right road, though, and am very nearly back to a life I recognize. In answer to the question in the title of this post, life is what happened to Erika Mitchell. The good news is, I survived it and live to write about another day. I’m back! I think. I hope.

Vacation Eating

There's no way I'm picking an apple for breakfast when these are just sitting on the counter in front of me. I mean, come on. What am I, a cyborg?

There’s no way I’m picking an apple for breakfast when these are just sitting on the counter in front of me. I mean, come on. What am I, a cyborg?

I’m going to go out on a limb and assume I am not the only one who falls so completely off the eating healthy wagon while on vacation that not only does the wagon hit her while it rumbles by, it backs up and promptly collapses on her, too.

What is it about vacation that brings out the competitive eating side of me? It’s like no sooner are we out the door than I’m like, “Hey Wes, you know what would be great? If we could find a bagel sandwich to tide us over until we can get our hands on some Frappuccinos and donuts!”

There’s just something about the relaxation, limited time window, and overabundance of junk food in my nearish proximity that converges into this perfect maelstrom of dietary apocalypse. I wouldn’t want to live like that forever (I like it when my pants fit), but man is it fun to not give a crap while you’re on vacation.

Then again, you have to deal with the post-vacation letdown when you get home. There’s just something dispiriting about sitting down with an afternoon snack of almonds and string cheese when you’ve spent the last week whiling away the afternoon with Hershey’s bars and hard apple cider. I don’t care who you are, getting back into healthy habits is kind of depressing. I mean, sure. Yeah. Vegetables are good, and I definitely like how I feel when I’m eating well, but in no way does chomping down on baby carrots compare with the irresponsible, negligent pleasure of eating Pringles and hot dogs for dinner.

For the record, though? My knee hurt worse on vacation than it has in months. My mouth was happy, but the rest of me? Pretty pissed.

Just goes to show you, no self-destructive deed goes unpunished.

Oh, on a related note: I’m feeling pretty repentant for my many and obvious dietary sins from last week, but can’t go to the gym this week because of Wes’s work hours, so I decided to do a ten-minute Pilates workout I streamed through Hulu. I ended up trying to do half the workout with my son glued to my side (because he wanted to do it too, but reeeeeeeally close to me) and my daughter darting under my upraised legs, squealing with mischievous glee every time I had to dodge kicking her in the head.

Sigh. Welcome back indeed.